Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Next Conspiracy Theory?

A humanities publisher is always happy to be recognized by the STM world, especially a giant like Elsevier, so it is delightful to receive a message addressed to the Editor of Hesperia telling us that "in recognition of the quality and relevance of your journal to the scientific community, we are pleased to inform you that the publication listed above has been selected to be covered for indexing in SCOPUS; the largest abstract and citation database of research literature across all subject areas and quality web sources."

"By being indexed in Scopus," we are told, "your publication will be visible to millions of users every day. Once these users discover the abstracts of your journal in Scopus, they will then make use of (or request access to) the print and/or electronic version in your own library."

We immediately say "yes please" of course, but it leaves me wondering about why we are getting this unprecedented interest from a commercial giant. Although our publishing is wonderful, of course, why is an STM giant suddenly so fascinated in the relatively obscure products of a small humanities non-profit? Maybe they have just hit "H" in a random trawl through some serials list but, even if that is the case, the question remains "why now?"

As small non-profit publishers like ASCSA become increasingly persuaded by their more activist scholarly stakeholders and by the library community to allow their authors to self-archive post-prints, to remove the subscription barriers to older content, to preview larger quantities of text, and generally to engage in various forms of open access experiment, a cautionary note from the ever-perceptive Don Waters' (published in the Winter 2008 edition of the Journal of Electronic Publishing) comes to my attention:

"It is easy to imagine—especially in the absence of hard-nosed and aggressive strategic planning by, and collective action among, scholars, libraries, information technologists, and their universities—that the large, heavily capitalized publishing and other media firms will simply exploit open access repositories, cherry-pick the most valuable open access products, combine them with the most valuable new databases and resources, and sell them back to the academy at a significant profit, thereby chasing out sources of capital from within the academic community that are desperately needed to advance scientific, humanistic, and social science study. If the academy is unwilling or unable to think carefully now about possible downstream consequences of open access publishing and ways to steer clear of undesirable consequences, then the mantra about journal publishing—that the academy gives away its products only to buy them back at exorbitant prices—will surely return to haunt the academy in an even scarier garb than before, and prove to be even more financially debilitating."


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While the tone is light, you've hit a real nerve. The "giants" in science, social science, etc. Are not
easily magnanimous. One always wonders,"Hmmmm?" Information is these guys bread and butter. They aren't in the business of giving anything away for free. They imped, rather than facilitate, spread of knowledge. When I was a psychologist I disliked them. When I became an ecologist, it was worse. Now I'm trying to move into the area of south american archae-ecology (whatever), it's snags all the way. I'm with you all, where ever this leads. Michael Canoy