It’s hard (and feels wrong) to criticize the open access movement. The push for findings and reports stemming from federally funded research to be available to all seems like a no-brainer. In this case, the issue is less about access in the digital age and more about the Freedom of Information Act and the public’s right to benefit from the use of public funds.
Some of the other issues surrounding open access, however, are less clear. In her 2017 article for EdSurge, Jessica Leigh Brown sums up one of the central concerns with open access publishing in her title “Will ‘Publish or Perish’ Become ‘Clicks or Canned’?” In her article she addresses the recent increase in academic social networks — networks where scholars can upload their own work and read/cite the work of others.
In an ideal world, an open and free interchange of ideas would be amazing. Within the confines of cognitive and digital capitalism, it is concerning. The traditional journal publication goes through a series of revisions and peer reviews. Although daunting and stressful, this process improves the work. Especially for us humanities-types, it helps us hone our argument and clarify confusing passages.
Brown’s title suggests that traditional publishing prior to tenure could be replaced with quantifying your paper’s “reach” or number of citations (or number of “likes”?). According to Brown, uploading research to Academia.edu results in a 69 percent increase in citations over five years. I’m really uncomfortable with the idea of introducing market demand to academia. Doesn’t this push scholars into feeling like they have to center their research around the newest, hottest theories? Working less within their own interests and insights and more in the realm of what they think will be popular? I don’t know any academic who wants to cater to the whims of social interest.
More than this, what if our position as scholars (and perhaps our tenure) relied more on how often our article were read, clicked on, or cited? Obviously open internet access (without going through a library system) will increase citation. But using these as measures for tenure will lead to the same issues currently facing journalism today — clickbait headlines, sensation over importance, and lots of quickly produced product over fewer quality articles.
Let me be clear. I’m a fan of open access. But we simply can’t allow open access to become a playground for capitalism, where the pressures to self-publish online increases exponentially because the value of the product had decreased. In an online realm without editors and peers to review papers before they go online, how can students or other scholars trust the authors’ interpretations of texts or citations? What kind of quality assurance is there?
I’d prefer there to be a system that forces critical engagement through the writing process prior to papers made available for free online. There exists thousands of books self-published on amazon that might have been interested and good had they gone through a traditional editorial process. To a certain extent, it doesn’t matter how much access you have to research if it isn’t good research.
In addition to quality control, what remains to be seen is how academic social networks will impact the way we, as scholars compete, for jobs and verify our worth.