open access

It’s getting to the end of the year, and I’m feeling a little retrospective and I’m (anxiously) looking forward to the future. We have enjoyed a great year with Open Context (see here).

More generally, it’s obviously been a big year for all things “open.” The White House has embraced Open Access and Open Data policies, and even recognized the work of some advocates of reform, and that has been hugely exciting. It seems that the arguments for greater openness have finally led to some meaningful changes. All of these are signs of real progress.

However, I’m increasingly convinced that advocating for openness in research (or government) isn’t nearly enough. There’s been too much of an instrumentalist justification for open data an open access. Many advocates talk about how it will cut costs and speed up research and innovation. They also argue that it will make research more “reproducible” and transparent so interpretations can be better vetted by the wider community. Advocates for openness, particularly in open government, also talk about the wonderful commercial opportunities that will come from freeing research.

This last justification boils down to creating a “research commons” in order to remove impediments for (text, data) mining of that commons in order to foster entrepreneurialism and create wealth. This is pretty explicit here in this announcement from Europeana, the EU’s major open culture system (now threatened with devastating cuts). I don’t have a problem with wealth creation as an outcome of greater openness in research. Who doesn’t want more wealth? However we need to ask about wealth creation for whom and under what conditions? Will the lion’s share of the wealth created on newly freed research only go to a tiny elite class of investors? Will it simply mean a bit more profit for Google and a few other big aggregators? Will this wealth be taxed and redistributed enough to support and sustain the research commons exploited to feed it? The fact that the new OSTP embrace of Open Data in research is an unfunded mandate makes me worry about the prospect of “clear-cutting” the open data commons.

These are all very big policy issues, but they need to be asked if the Open Movement really stands for reform and not just a further expansion and entrenchment of Neoliberalism. I’m using the term “Neoliberalism” because it resonates as a convenient label for describing how and why so many things seem to suck in Academia. Exploding student debt, vanishing job security, increasing compensation for top administrators, expanding bureaucracy and committee work, corporate management methodologies (Taylorism), and intensified competition for ever-shrinking public funding all fall under the general rubric of Neoliberalism. Neoliberal universities primarily serve the needs of commerce. They need to churn out technically skilled human resources (made desperate for any work by high loads of debt) and easily monetized technical advancements.

This recent White House announcement about making universities “partner at the speed of business” could not be a clearer example of the Neoliberal mindset. It was written by Tom Kalil, one of the administration’s leading advocates for open science. The same White House that has embraced “open government,” “open science,” and “open data” has also ruthlessly fought whistle-blowers (Snowden), perpetuated ubiquitous surveillance (in conjunction with telecom and tech giants), hounded Aaron Swartz (my take here), and secretly negotiated the TPP, a far reaching expansion of intellectual property controls and punishments. All of these developments happened in a context of record corporate profits and exploding wealth inequality. And yes, I think these are all related trends.

How can something so wonderful and right as “openness” further promote Neoliberalism? After all, aren’t we the rebels blasting at the exhaust vents of Elsevier’s Death Star? But in selling openness to the heads of foundations, businesses, governments and universities, we often end up adopting the tropes of Neoliberalism. As a tactic, that’s perfectly reasonable. As a long-term strategy, I think it’s doomed.

The problem is not that the Open Movement is wrong. The problem is that the need for reform goes far deeper than simply making papers and data available under CC-By or CC-Zero. Exploitative publishing regimes are symptomatic of larger problems in the distribution of wealth and power. The concentration of wealth that warps so much of our political and economic life will inevitably warp the Open Movement toward unintended and unwanted outcomes.

Let them Eat Cake Open Data

Let’s face it. Most researchers that I know who are lucky enough to be employed are doing the work of 4 or 5 people (see also this paper by Rosalind Gil). Even some of my friends, lucky enough to have tenure or tenure-track positions, seem miserable. Maybe it’s survivor guilt, but they are stressed, distracted, and harried. Time and attention are precious and spent judiciously, usually in a manner where rewards are clear and certain. Data management plans, data sharing or collaboration on GitHub? Who has time for all that?! They don’t count for much in the academic rat-race, and so the normative reward structures in the Academy create perverse incentives for neglecting or outright hoarding of data.

Data sharing advocates talk about how data should get rewarded just like other forms of publication. Data should “count” with measurable impacts. As a data sharing advocate, much of this really does appeal to me. Making data sharing and collaboration part of the mainstream would be fantastic. If we convince universities to monitor data citation metrics, they can “incentivize” more data sharing. We can also monitor participation in social media (Twitter), version control (GitHub), etc. All of these statistics can be compiled and collated to provide an even more totalizing picture of a researcher’s contributions.

But are more metrics (even Alt-metrics) really the solution to the perverse incentives embodied by our existing metrics? The much derided “Impact Factor” started out as a way for librarians to make more informed choices about journal subscriptions (at least according to this account). In that context, the Impact Factor was relatively benign (see this history), but it then became a tool for Taylorism and the (coercive) monitoring of research outputs by university bureaucracies. That metric helps shape who gets hired and fired. And while metrics can be useful tools, the Impact Factor case shows hows metrics can be used by bureaucracies to reward and punish.

What does all of this have to do with the Open Movement?

One’s position as a subordinate in today’s power structures is partially defined by living under the microscope of workplace monitoring. Does such monitoring promote conformity? The freedom, innovation, and creativity we hope to unlock through openness requires greater toleration for risk. Real and meaningful openness means encouraging out-of-the-ordinary projects that step out of the mainstream. Here is where I’m skeptical about relying upon metrics-based incentives to share data or collaborate on GitHub.

By the time metrics get incorporated into administrative structures, the behaviors they measure aren’t really innovative any more!

Worse, as certain metrics grow in significance (meaning – they’re used in the allocation of money), entrenched constituencies build around them. Such constituencies become interested parties in promoting and perpetuating a given metric, again leading to conformity.

Metrics, even better Alt-metrics, won’t make researchers or research more creative and innovative. The crux of the problem centers A Hunger Games-style “winner take all” dynamic that pervades commerce and in the Academy. A rapidly shrinking minority has any hope of gaining job security or the time and resources needed for autonomous research. In an employment environment where one slip means complete ejection from the academy, risk-taking becomes quasi-suicidal. With employment increasingly precarious, professional pressures balloon in ways that make risk taking and going outside of established norms unthinkable. Adding more or better metrics without addressing the underlying job security issues just adds to the ways people will be ejected from the research community.

Metrics, while valuable, need to carry fewer professional consequences. In other words, researchers need freedom to experiment and fail and not make every last article, grant proposal, or tweet “count.”

Equity and Openness

“Big Data,” “Data Science,” and “Open Data” are now hot topics at universities. Investments are flowing into dedicated centers and programs to establish institutional leadership in all things related to data. I welcome the new Data Science effort at UC Berkeley to explore how to make research data professionalism fit into the academic reward systems. That sounds great! But will these new data professionals have any real autonomy in shaping how they conduct their research and build their careers? Or will they simply be part of an expanding class of harried and contingent employees- hired and fired through the whims of creative destruction fueled by the latest corporate-academic hype-cycle?

Researchers, including #AltAcs and “data professionals”, need  a large measure of freedom. Miriam Posner’s discussion about the career and autonomy limits of Alt-academic-hood help highlight these issues. Unfortunately, there’s only one area where innovation and failure seem survivable, and that’s the world of the start-up. I’ve noticed how the “Entrepreneurial Spirit” gets celebrated lots in this space. I’m guilty of basking in it myself (10 years as a quasi-independent #altAc in a nonprofit I co-founded!).

But in the current Neoliberal setting, being an entrepreneur requires a singular focus on monetizing innovation. PeerJ and Figshare are nice, since they have business models that less “evil” than Elsevier’s. But we need to stop fooling ourselves that the only institutions and programs that we can and should sustain are the ones that can turn a profit. For every PeerJ or Figshare (and these are ultimately just as dependent on continued public financing of research as any grant-driven project), we also need more innovative organizations like the Internet Archive, wholly dedicated to the public good and not the relentless pressure to commoditize everything (especially their patrons’ privacy). We need to be much more critical about the kinds of programs, organizations, and financing strategies we (as a society) can support. I raised the political economy of sustainability issue at a recent ThatCamp and hope to see more discussion.

In reality so much of the Academy’s dysfunctions are driven by our new Gilded Age’s artificial scarcity of money. With wealth concentrated in so few hands, it is very hard to finance risk taking and entreprenurialism in the scholarly community, especially to finance any form of entrepreneurialism that does not turn a profit in a year or two.

Open Access and Open Data will make so much more of a difference if we had the same kind of dynamism in the academic and nonprofit sector as we have in the for-profit start-up sector. After all, Open Access and Open Data can be key enablers to allow much broader participation in research and education. However, broader participation still needs to be financed: you cannot eat an open access publication. We cannot gloss over this key issue.

We need more diverse institutional forms so that researchers can find (or found) the kinds of organizations that best channel their passions into contributions that enrich us all. We need more diverse sources of financing (new foundations, better financed Kickstarters) to connect innovative ideas with the capital needed to see them implemented. Such institutional reforms will make life in the research community much more livable, creative, and dynamic. It would give researchers more options for diverse and varied career trajectories (for-profit or not-for-profit) suited to their interests and contributions.

Making the case to reinvest in the public good will require a long, hard slog. It will be much harder than the campaign for Open Access and Open Data because it will mean contesting Neoliberal ideologies and constituencies that are deeply entrenched in our institutions. However, the constituencies harmed by Neoliberalism, particularly the student community now burdened by over $1 trillion in debt and the middle class more generally, are much larger and very much aware that something is badly amiss. As we celebrate the impressive strides made by the Open Movement in the past year, it’s time we broaden our goals to tackle the needs for wider reform in the financing and organization of research and education.

Editing Note: fixed a few typos on Friday, Dec. 13, 2013.

This blog post looks at the open access debate, and notes how sustainability is as much of an ideological and political question as it is a financial issue. It is intended to follow up on previous blog posts (first, second, third) that discussed how the Aaron Swartz prosecution and death highlighted tremendous injustices in the legal framework governing scholarly communications.

At this year’s Society for American Archaeology (SAA) conference in Honolulu, I took part in discussions about open access in various forums, including the Digital Data Interest Group and a forum sponsored by the SAA Committee on Ethics. Sarah Kansa, a member of the SAA Publications Committee has also been participating in open access debates. There’s very little to report just yet, except that the issue of open access is clearly on the agenda of archaeology’s professional societies. The Obama Administration’s (Feb 2013) move to require open access of federally funded research outputs has clearly raised the stakes and urgency of the open access issue. This policy move followed years of advocacy efforts, culminating with a petition signed by over 65,000 people.

In these debates, open access has little explicit opposition as an ideal. Rather, resistance to open access focuses on fears of financial “sustainability.” The leaders of professional societies tend to cling to the status quo because they do not see a way to underwrite the costs of open access publication.

So let’s look at the issue of sustainability more closely.

Any form of publication has costs. Quality publication costs more. With Open Context, we’re working to develop editorial processes to publish higher-quality data, and we’re getting a better understanding of the required labor costs. As a publisher (but also as an academic author), I am very aware of the real costs and effort involved in publication.

However, publication costs make up only a fraction of the larger costs of doing quality research. Good research requires costly training, facilities, and in archaeology, it often requires access to remote locations, workers, labs, equipment, curation, site conservation, etc. Often these costs are financed with public funding (or publicly-regulated philanthropy). But even in cases where research costs are not directly financed through public support, field work is a highly regulated activity. Archaeological field work is almost universally governed or, in the case of Cultural Resource Management (CRM), mandated by public laws and agencies.

Since dissemination is an integral aspect of archaeological research, archaeological dissemination practices also should work toward building public knowledge goods. The open access critique of status quo publishing, is that conventional publishing models subvert the public interest and do not produce public goods, despite public financing of research. Conventional publishing channels public support of research (which finances and regulates all the facilities and the effort that occurs before an article even reaches an editor) into private “all-rights reserved” intellectual property.

One may argue that archaeology has gotten along just fine for many, many decades of conventional publishing, so why change it? There are two reasons, both involve the Web. First, the Web makes global distribution (copying content from servers like the one serving this blog, to clients like the browser you’re using) very cheap and easy. (Note: I said copying and distributing content is cheap; producing quality content is still expensive, as explained above). Cheap and easy copying and distribution is critical. It’s why open access is even on the agenda.

Second, the low cost of Web-based digital dissemination has helped to spark a political and legal context that makes open access increasingly needed for ethical, research, and instructional reasons. Cheap and easy copying and distribution represents a threat to traditional media business models, including publication business models. In response to this threat, media conglomerates have pushed for “the best laws money can buy,” (quoting copyright scholar, Pam Samuelson) and have pressured legislative bodies and law enforcement agencies to enact stricter controls, more intrusive surveillance, and harsher (actually oppressive) punishments for copying.

Unfortunately, these laws not only apply to popular music and movies, they also govern scholarly communications. Worse, many commercial scientific publishers actively promote and lobby to further strengthen these laws, leading to loss of privacy, invasive surveillance, and ever more draconian penalties. This transformed legal context, together with massive industry consolidation, makes conventional academic publishing very different from the “good ol’ days” before the Web. Here are some highlights of just how bad, in a legal sense, the publishing situation has become:

  • Many researchers (CRM, adjunct) without regular university affiliations, who beg university-library logins from friends and colleagues, are effectively a criminalized underclass, facing grave legal risks. How many of us do this on a regular basis? These practices violate the same sort of violations of terms-of-service that made Aaron Swartz face 50 years in prison. For instance, JSTOR’s terms of service (that Aaron Swartz allegedly violated in his felony charges) specifically prohibited actions like sharing logins.
  • Sharing papers (mainly in email, but also on social networking sites like also carries risks. These risks are mainly in civil (not criminal) law, but that could change if something like SOPA passes. Mass copyright lawsuits with financially ruinous penalties do happen, some involving 100,000 people at a time, including children.
  • In 2007, law Prof. John Tehranian published a study where he calculated a jaw-dropping $4.5 billion (yes, with a b) in potential copyright liability involved in routine academic research and instructional activities over the course of a single year.
  • Copyright has expanded in scope into a more or less absolute and perpetual property right. No US copyrighted works entered into the public domain last year. None. If archaeologists only communicate their results as all-rights-reserved intellectual property, they’re clearly engaged in a form of appropriation. The (more or less) absolute (no fair use) and perpetual (de facto unlimited copyright terms) nature of these property rights increasingly excludes all uses, save commercial transactions. Doesn’t that reduce the scholarly record of the past into commodities? Doesn’t this put mainstream archeology uncomfortably close to the antiquities trade?

Killed by Sustainability?

Archaeology’s professional societies need to consider arguments about “sustainability” carefully. If we make financial sustainability our only concern in scholarly publishing, we undermine the whole point of research as a publicly supported pursuit. Our field is not sustainable, it does not turn a profit, and it requires continued public support (or public mandates in the case of CRM) to survive. We have to ask where monetizing the work of archaeology to make it “sustainable” only succeeds in breaking or distorting our field beyond recognition.

Open Access and Open Data can reduce overall costs and increase research opportunities. But open access is hard to sustain if the locus of sustainability rests solely on individual organizations and projects. A recent court case helps to illustrate this. Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, and SAGE sued Georgia State University over e-reserves to curtail “fair-use” (limitations in copyright law to allow research, instruction, critique, free speech). The suit was dismissed, but at the cost of over $3 million in legal fees to the university, and appeals are still pending. $3 million could have fully endowed a new professor chair in archaeology, relieved student debt, funded research, or underwritten a new high-quality open access publishing venue. Worse, the high cost of defending against such charges, even when dismissed(!), creates a chilling effect. Though the publishers lost in this round, fair use is notoriously ambiguous and risky to defend in court. The risks involved will no doubt motivate university administrators to make it much more cumbersome and costly for faculty and students to exchange publications in instruction. This legal dispute will only contribute to the general bloat of overhead and administrative hassles that increasingly burden scholarly life. Sadly, we lack clear information or accounting of the insidious costs of copyright protectionism. This greatly complicates policy making.

The Georgia State University case highlights the dangers of thinking about “sustainability” too narrowly. Standard paywalls and strong copyright ended up benefiting nobody but the attorneys. Fixating on narrowly defined notions of sustainability leads to what economists call a collective action problem. Each individual project or organization tries to survive so they have a strong incentive to monetize their intellectual property (paywalls, absolutism in copyright). Damaging negative externalities (legal risks and costly barriers) are problems for others. Thus, the current system clearly pits the interests of professional societies and publishers against those of society members, students, adjuncts, researchers lacking affiliations, libraries, funding agencies, and the public. We should not forget that university administrators find cutting archaeology, like the rest of the humanities and social sciences, very tempting and easy. The high costs of publication in STEM fields leave less money for both open and paywalled humanities publications.

Ignoring these issues and failing to address the collective action problems just reinforces and promotes an ideology that activities that can’t be monetized are not worth pursuing. I see this as particularly dangerous for archaeology, since our field is highly dependent on laws to protect heritage from the negative impacts of market forces.

Let’s put it more bluntly. Our professional societies seem willing to accept that paywalls, whose breach means 50 years in a federal prison (such as the JSTOR / Aaron Swartz affair), are a necessary cost of doing business. If so, what is wrong with bulldozers plowing through archaeological sites without restriction or mitigation. Isn’t that a necessary cost of doing business in construction? Or what is wrong with a university closing an anthropology department and canceling subscriptions to archeological journals? Can’t that be justified in the name of sustainability? What negative externalities can’t be defended for reasons of sustainability?

Where do we go from here?

If recent history is any guide, our professional societies will likely attempt to undermine the Obama Administration’s tentative steps to promote open access. They will likely do this out of fear, not malice. I don’t think underwriting the costs publishing peer-review open access literature are insurmountable. Financing open access is a challenge, but there are many models and many years of experimentation from which to learn. Some points:

  • Green Open Access: The Whitehouse seems to have endorsed a “green” model of open access, where copies of peer-review publications become available in open access repositories after an embargo period. (Gold Open Access is another approach, where papers are immediately available, free-of-charge, under liberal licensing conditions). Green Open Access enables publishers to profit on exclusive access for a limited time. Unfortunately, green models have a limitation in that even after articles are publicly available, they are still under “all rights reserved” copyright. This may still leave reuse costly and and difficult. Routine reuse such duplication of a previously published image for comparison as well as innovative approaches to text-mining can still be stymied in costly and complex licensing and permissions negotiations. Nevertheless, despite these problems, public mandates for green open access would still represent tremendous progress.
  • Article Processing Fees (Gold Open Access): Article processing fees, such as the $1350 – $1500 charged by the Public Library of Science (PLOS) for immediate, free-of-charge, open access publishing in their journals, represents the most widely known model. This level of expense is far too high for archaeology, a field struggling with much more limited grant and publication budgets. But smaller author-side fees may be feasible via subsidizing publication costs from other sources. Such subsidies may be an ethical necessity, since any fee to publish represents a barrier. A “pay-to-say” model of open access, while less legally dangerous in terms of copyright and access, can also have equity problems. This issue just reinforces my overall point that under-financing research and research dissemination leads to many dysfunctions.
  • Membership Fees: PeerJ, an important new commercial publisher, believes it can make a profit publishing free and open peer-review papers financed with only $495 in membership dues levied on contributing authors per year. That price-point starts approaching feasibility for some archaeologists, though most will still need more subsidized support. PeerJ, which only recently launched, is currently focusing on biomedical sciences. It remains to be seen if its model can be extended to archaeology.
  • Redirection and Subsidies: The points above note that subsidies likely need to play an important role to finance open access. The most obvious source for such subsidies comes form redirecting library subscription income to directly underwriting open access publication costs. The particle physics community recently made this shift, where libraries, physics journals, and other stakeholder came together to form the SCOAP3 consortium that now finances open access publishing. This kind of approach needs to be explored for archaeology.

The Need to Reinvest in Public Goods

It may be that archaeology’s professional societies can find no viable path to finance open access with existing funding. Archaeology is clearly underfunded and it may be too hard to find an acceptable mix of subsidies, advertising, author-side fees, and member fees to pay for open access. If that is the case, we shouldn’t count on libraries to continue paying subscriptions and supporting the current model much longer; a lack of public support inescapably bites one way or another. Even Harvard University, blessed with higher education’s deepest pockets, claimed it can no longer afford the costs of paywall scholarship. For reasons of sustainability (oh the irony!), Harvard urged its faculty to publish in open access venues.

Professional societies need to openly acknowledge the costs and risks (especially draconian legal risks) of our current publishing model. If open access is too hard to finance with given resources, we need to clearly communicate to public and private granting foundations and other financial supporters the severity of our financial situation and the costs of under-investing in the public good. Pretending that all is fine and well with our current paywall approach to publishing will do nothing to solve our discipline’s financial problems. Worse, it will only perpetuate a crippling ideology that research endeavors need to be more “business-like” (profit seeking) to be worth pursuing.

Academic institutions, including archaeology’s professional societies, have drunk the Kool-Aid of sustainability for too long. They have hiked tuition and fees raising student debt loads to dangerous and unprecedented levels, off-loaded teaching to an abused and disposable class of continent adjunct faculty (a process now rapidly accelerating with the rise of online courses- aka MOOCs), and have resisted open access reform efforts to break the grip of monopolistic publishers. Sustainability justifies all of these moves. But the real cost of these sustainability efforts leaves a scorched-Earth impact on the public good, undermining the whole point and rationale for the existence of higher education and research societies in the first place.

Sustainability is really a political issue. It cannot be divorced from larger debates about privatization, public goods, wealth inequalities, and how and why we conduct research. Instead of simply accepting the ideology of privatizing and monetizing everything – the ideology that underlies many ideas of “sustainability” – our professional societies should loudly highlight the inequities, risks, and real costs of our current publishing regime. If we can’t fund open access with available financing, we are under-supported. Our professional societies should use the issue of open access as the focus of capital campaigns and public policy efforts to support ethical practice in research and research dissemination.

It’s high time we get out of the ideological trap at the center of most debates about sustainability, and make a clear case that publication needs to reflect our scholarly values and our obligations to the public.

Mitch Allen, a publisher that I greatly respect, commented on my blog posts about Aaron Swartz and scholarly communications in archaeology. His comments got me thinking again about the issue in some depth, and I want to take the opportunity to write about it in preparation for the SAA conference in Hawaii.

Allen thought I was probably overstating the legal issues associated with sharing logins and sharing files to get scholarly publications. Sadly, I don’t think my statements were hyperbole:

  • Sharing logins to gain access to university library systems can involve grave legal risks. It violates the same sort of violations of terms-of-service that made Aaron Swartz face 50 years in prison. For instance, JSTOR’s terms of service (that Swartz allegedly violated in his felony charges) specifically prohibited actions like sharing logins.
  • Sharing papers (mainly in email, but also social networking sites) also carries risks, mainly in civil and not criminal law (but that could change if something like SOPA passes). Mass copyright lawsuits with financially ruinous penalties happen- even involving 100,000 people at a time, including children.
  • Litigiousness has entered the scholarly domain. University presses are suing universities over e-reserves to curtail “fair-use” (limitations in copyright law to allow research, instruction, critique, free speech).
  • Law Prof. John Tehranian published a study where he calculated a jaw-dropping $4.5 billion in potential copyright liability involved in routine academic research and instructional activities over the course of a single year.

I think the evidence is clear that current intellectual property rules carry significant legal risks for everyone. It’s worse for researchers at the margins of the profession who lack their own institutional logins.

Normative Publishing Practices and Antiquities Trading

Network security laws and copyright laws are unjust because they carry such disproportionate penalties. Huge commercial scientific publishers like Elsevier push to further strengthen these draconian laws. Elsevier lobbied in favor of SOPA, a bill that would have made even non-commercial infringement a felony offense. That would have put many routine library activities at risk. Copyright has expanded in scope into a more or less absolute and perpetual property right. No US copyrighted works entered into the public domain last year.

Like it or not (and I don’t), this legal context shapes academic communication and shapes its ethics. Regarding my point about the antiquities trade, yes, that was purposeful polemic to highlight these ethical issues. To expand on this point, if archaeologists only communicate their results as all-rights-reserved intellectual property, they’re clearly engaged in a form of appropriation. The (more or less) absolute (no fair use) and perpetual (de facto unlimited copyright terms) nature of these property rights increasingly excludes all uses, save commercial transactions. Doesn’t that reduce the scholarly record of the past into commodities?

Status quo publishing practices also carry similar destructive externalities as the antiquities trade. In the antiquities trade, only beautiful or rare objects get valued and contextual information is neglected and destroyed because it has no market value. How different is Academia then, when researchers think that only the final polished article or monograph has any value? What happens to all of that rich contextual information that can’t be squeezed into a 10 page paper? While researchers have very different and much more pro-social goals than antiquities traders, publishing incentives and practices clearly need to better align to those goals.

Open Access and Commerce

Lastly, the open access and open data movements are not anti-commercial. The public good that comes from public financing of research means making information resources that can be used commercially. The normative definitions of “Open Data” explicitly allow for commercial uses, as do open access publishers like PLoS. With Open Context, we happily work with commercial publishers to try to build incentives for the better treatment of primary data.

While Open Data and Open Access are not (usually) anti-commercial, these movements are anti-monopoly. They grew in response to the increasing absurdities of global intellectual property regimes that perpetuate monopolies of big media conglomerates. My objection to the status quo is not that publishing involves commerce, I object to fact that we’re largely failing to make any public goods (despite public funding), since the vast majority of academic communication happens in a monopolistic and exclusionary way.

Getting Past the Dysfunctional Status Quo

Something is obviously very screwed-up when university presses sue universities over e-reserves and many researchers lack the means to legally participate in their discipline’s communications. I don’t think the current situation works to anyone’s interest, except for large conglomerates like Elsevier. It certainly doesn’t help small publishers like Left Coast Press, since the cost escalations of the big commercial science publishers mean less budget to buy humanities and social science books (as eloquently noted by Cathy Davidson). It is self-defeating for archaeology’s professional societies to fight (or avoid) open access, since they are simply helping to perpetuate cost-escalations in the areas of scientific publishing (chemistry, biology, computer science) that university administrators prioritize over the humanities and social sciences. Our professional societies need to consider this larger economic reality when determining their positions on open access.

The work of publishers like Mitch Allen are important to the health of archaeology. His efforts add value and quality to archaeological communications. I am very open to debate about what constitutes the right balance between public and private in archaeology’s information resources and also a debate about how we finance quality publishing. However, I stand by my point that our current policy of investing almost nothing in public (open) information resources hurts our discipline and puts many of its practitioners in legal jeopardy.


Lawyers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation just posted a piece about the issues of felony violations of terms of service. Look at Point 4, substitute Pandora with JSTOR or a university library and you’ll see how all this applies to scholarship. See also this discussion of library licensing terms, since:

It is, however, very clear that licensing terms, which govern an increasingly large proportion of our collections, are a fundamental issue in the present and future usability of library resources by our campus populations.



Again, thanks to everyone for the thoughtful comments and discussion on my prior post here and elsewhere. I also want to thank Fred Limp, President of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) for taking the time to share his thoughts on the topic, including posting them on this blog. Below are the comments he emailed to me (with permissions to post):


Thank you for calling to my attention your thoughtful post at

All of us have been terribly saddened by this event. There are many others much more capable than I who have already spoken to the many issues and injustices that this personal tragedy has brought into stark and public focus. I do want, however, to speak to some of the specific points that you raise as the issue of open access relates to archaeology.

I need to clarify three points at the outset. Articles from the SAA journals, American Antiquity and Latin American Antiquity, are available in Jstor two years after their first publication. Members of the SAA who do not have access to Jstor through other sources can access all of these back issues of both journals  for a $25 annual fee –or just  $5 per year for members living in Latin America and a number of other countries. Starting in the early part of 2012 online access to the contents of these two journals became available to all members of the SAA as soon as the articles are published. The contents of the SAA’s Archaeological Record are available electronically at no cost to everyone. The society is initiating a new journal,  Advances in Archaeological Practice, in 2013. It will be available electronically to all members of the society who select it as their journal. Also in 2013 the Society will initiate Current Research Online.  The contents of Current Research Online will be available to everyone at no cost. However, only members of the Society may enter research project information into the system.

I provide this information as background to the following discussion about the relationship of the Society and the open access initiative. The SAA’s Board has given considerable thought to the issue of open access. It is important, I think, to make some distinctions about the nature and variation of open access. The first distinction is the significance of open access discovery. By this I mean that individuals can determine whether relevant information may (or may not) be available using search engines and other methods. All of the SAAs journal publications have this capability. The second element, of course, is whether the content itself is available. All of the last two years of the journal content for both American Antiquity and Latin American Antiquity is available to any member. It is not available, obviously, to the general public. The question then becomes what is the larger good that is served if these journals were open access to the general public – beyond the membership – versus their current situation. As you know many journals have subscription fees of many thousands of dollars. That is not the case for the Society. These journals are available to members as part of their standard membership fee, which is $140 per year. It is $65 per year for members living in Latin America and a number of other countries. If you wish to take both journals the second is $60 (or $38 for members living in the Latin America and other counties).

Clearly $140 (or $200 for two journals) is not free. Can it be justified, is it appropriate? The Society has conducted a number of studies of the membership, their interests and their perception about various Society programs. The complete reports are available on the SAA webpage. In all of these the most significant reasons people give for joining the Society, the overwhelming reason, is to attend the annual meetings and to receive the journal. While there are many other important functions, for most of our members the Society exists to serve these two purposes. The revenues generated by the modest membership fee and the modest meeting registration fee generates all of the revenue necessary to accomplish these goals. So the simple question becomes this – if the journal were available freely would the society’s membership shrink to the degree that there would not be adequate revenue to publish the journal? It might be possible to provide the journals at no cost to the public by increasing substantially the membership fees for those who remain members. Should members subvent the costs for others? Remember the SAA does NOT charge page fees or use other publication subvention costs – as many journals do with funds paid by grants or other sources. There is modest advertising revenue but it is a very minor fraction of the journals’ production costs.

So it’s a difficult question, and one the Society continues to address. What is in the best interests of not just the Society for American Archaeology but for archaeology generally? Do the benefits that would be achieved by making the journals open access overwhelm the negative implications of less resources to produce these same journals? Are the modest membership fees a significant barrier to an individual who is not an archaeologist? And a basic question should be asked – at the end of the day – if you are an archaeologist is it not reasonable to expect that you may want to (or perhaps even should be) a member of the very society that, in many ways, makes your profession viable?

While I respectfully disagree with this position, I want to thank Fred for his comments and for taking the issue of Open Access seriously. His comments reflect some of the discussion of the recent Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) meeting noted in Doug’s Archaeology.


I’m looking forward to further, productive, and collaborative discussion on the topic. Perhaps professional societies can find some productive ways forward on the Open Access issue and do more to seek additional public support to help make Open Access financially (more?) feasible. We’ve long taken it for granted that public support only gets cut. Perhaps it is time to see this issue as a way for our field (and other sciences) to make a stronger case for public support by more directly contributing to the common good of public knowledge.


Now that I’m back from lunch, I can digest this further. Fred’s comments reflect his perspective with regard to SAA publications. However, the SAA is but one publisher. Even if its publication costs are relatively low, archaeological discourse takes place across many, many titles, typically managed by expensive commercial publishers. Legally accessing these requires institutional affiliations to get e-Journals, JSTOR and all the rest. Though you may get a few titles with your SAA membership, researchers lacking academic affiliations are still cut-off from the great majority of scholarly discourse. Most of them are stuck with extra-legal workarounds, putting these researchers in dire legal jeopardy. While I can understand Fred’s concern over financing SAA publications (and motivating membership), accepting the dysfunctions and legal dangers of pay-walls and strong intellectual property does not advance the interests of archaeologists or archaeology.

I don’t post to this blog as much as I used to, but every once in a while there are some developments in the world of data sharing and scholarly communications that I think worthwhile discussing with respect to archaeology. This blog post is an attempt to gather my thoughts on the issue of Open Access in advance of a forum on the subject that will be held at the Society for American Archaeology’s (SAA) annual meeting in Honolulu in April.

Yesterday, I learned that Aaron Swartz committed suicide at age 26. Aaron Swartz was active and prominent in many “open knowledge” efforts.  I had no real personal connection with him, and only remember meeting him once at a party thrown by Creative Commons in 2006 or so. I had no idea he was so young. His tragic death is reverberating around a community of activists that value sharing of knowledge and a free and open internet.

What does all this have to do with archaeology?

The story of Swartz’s death involves JSTOR. Most archaeologists have some familiarity with JSTOR, the online journal repository. JSTOR was originally funded by the Mellon Foundation. In some ways it is a resounding success, as it serves many, many scholars worldwide, including many archaeologists. Unlike many digital scholarly communications initiatives, JSTOR is also financially “sustainable.” It is held up as a model for how to do digital scholarship right. It serves a large community and does not have to come back year after year begging for more grant money. JSTOR’s revenues come largely from subscriptions. If you don’t have an affiliation with a subscribing institution to JSTOR, you don’t get access to the vast majority of its resources. In other words, JSTOR sustains itself by setting up a “pay wall.”  That pay wall blocks some 150 million attempts to access JSTOR every year.

Here’s where this ties back to Aaron Swartz. Swartz was caught attempting a mass download of some 4.8 million articles from the JSTOR repository via MIT’s network. To JSTOR’s great credit, it did not pursue charges against Swartz. However, MIT and the US Dept of Justice come out looking far worse. US prosecutors charged Swartz with criminal hacking, and he faced 35(!) years in federal prison. Essentially, US prosecutors charged Swartz with terrorism (see Lessig’s excellent account), all for downloading academic articles in a manner that did not damage MIT’s network or JSTOR (see this expert witness). According to Swartz’s family, this legal hounding directly (and understandably) motivated his suicide.

This is obviously a tragic case, and another sad example of routine abuse of the legal system with regard to intellectual property and computer crime. JSTOR did not want to threaten Swartz with 35 years of prison for downloading articles. But, in the end, that did not matter. He still faced a draconian prison term, roughly equivalent to the punishment for 2nd degree murder, because he violated network rules and barriers JSTOR put into place around research materials.

And that’s the crux of the problem, and why Open Access is  one of the key ethical issues now faced by archaeology. Pay walls and intellectual property barriers carry real, and clearly very oppressive, legal force. I doubt, the SAA, the Archaeological Institute for America (AIA), or the American Anthropological Association (AAA) would want to press for felony charges or long prison terms if someone illegally downloaded a journal article from one of their servers. Nevertheless, Swartz’s case demonstrates that such barriers clearly carry dire legal implications.

There are many excellent reasons to promote Open Access in archaeology, summarized in this recent issue of World Archaeology dedicated to the subject. But the Swartz case helps to highlight another. Professional society reluctance (in the case of the SAA) or outright opposition against Open Access (AIA, AAA) puts many researchers at risk. Many researchers, particularly our colleagues in public, CRM, and contract archaeology or our colleagues struggling as adjunct faculty, either totally lack or regularly lose affiliations with institutions that subscribe to pay-wall resources like JSTOR. Many of these people beg logins from their friends and colleagues lucky enough to have access. Similarly, file-sharing of copyright protected articles is routine. Email lists and other networks regularly see circulation of papers, all under legally dubious circumstances. Essentially, we have a (nearly?) criminalized underclass of researchers who bend and break rules in order to participate in their professional community. It is a perverse travesty that we’ve relegated essential professional communications to an quasi-legal/illegal underground, when we’re supposedly a community dedicated to advancing the public good through the creation of knowledge about the past.

We have to remember, we, as a discipline work in the public interest. Public funding directly (grants) or indirectly (heritage management laws) supports, permits, and regulates our efforts. Doesn’t it make more sense to remove barriers to scholarship and remove harsh legal threats to sharing research?

Of course, many would say this is utopian and not financially sustainable, and that the only way to finance high-quality publication in archaeology is through pay walls and the commoditization of our discipline’s intellectual property. But commoditization has its costs. We have a model for totally privatized and commoditized archaeology that is “financially sustainable” in that it does not require any input of public or philanthropic funding. It’s called the antiquities trade. And it is ugly and destructive.

It’s time we also start seeing the ugliness in the current dissemination status quo, where the information outputs of archaeology become privatized, commoditized, intellectual property. This status quo carries the baggage of a legally oppressive system of copyright control, surveillance, and draconian punishments. Rather than dismissing Open Access off-hand, we have an ethical obligation to at least try to find financially sustainable modes of Open Access publication (see Lake 2012,  Kansa 2012 [pay-wall][open-access pre-print]).

Swartz’s tragic case demonstrates that some models of financial sustainability are not worth the cost.


Thanks for all the retweets, comments, and discussion. Please constantly pressure professional societies, universities, an government to make research dissemination more just. Also, I was wrong about the severity of Swartz’s threatened punishment. It would have been better for him to have been accused of murder, selling slaves, or helping terrorists build a nuclear bomb.  A complete travesty of justice that taints Academia.

In case you all didn’t know, today is the last day of 6th annual Open Access Week. I’ve been very busy lately with software updates to Open Context, an open access data publishing service for archaeology, so I haven’t had a chance to cover archaeology developments as much as I would like.

However, I recently submitted a paper about open access in archaeology that was accepted to a special issue of World Archaeology.  Like most of archaeology’s mainstream, conventional journals, World Archaeology is a closed, toll-access venue. Participating in this kind of publishing is not ideal, since it perpetuates a high cost scholarly communications system that impedes access, opportunities for new research (especially text-mining), and uses public research funding to, in effect, subsidize the creation of private intellectual property. Most people who read blogs like this know the story.

However, I decided to publish there because I thought it important to reach a different audience, one that does not follow blogs or discussions about scholarly communications. Mainstream archaeology needs to participate in arguments about open access, and needs to understand why open access is an important issue. The highly problematic stance of the Archaeological Institute of America serves as a case in point (see Ancient World Online, Doug’s Archaeology, and this letter Jessica Ogden wrote that I co-signed).

My paper introduces some of the basic arguments in favor of open access to a mainstream archaeological audience. None of these arguments are especially new to folks following the issue on the Web, but I think it’s useful to enter into a conversation with other members of our profession less familiar with the topic. Also, the paper introduces ideas about Open Data, a related area of innovation in researcher communications.

One area that I touch on in this paper is an issue of “open architectures.” It’s an emerging area of interest to me, and one where I’m still formulating some thoughts. But I think it’s as important an issue as licensing and access for the future of archaeological communications. It directly touches on the issue of centralization and decentralization in archaeological information systems. Centralization can save money, and has other efficiencies, especially in performance for searches and analysis. However, it can also reduce and constrain freedom and innovation, since implementation choices, technologies, interfaces, and development directions are under control of one group with its own set of agendas. Decentralization, on the other hand, allows wider participation and choice in development strategies. However, decentralization can dilute resources too widely, leading to lots of varied, under-supported, and poorly coordinated implementations. Decentralized systems can also have performance and user experience problems. For instance, a distributed search across lots of different systems involves many trade-offs. It  is only as fast as the slowest  participant in the distributed networked offering search results.

I wonder about ways we can reconcile the polar opposites of centralized versus decentralized systems. When you think about it, the distinction between centralization and decentralization depends on how narrowly or broadly you see your environment. In archaeology, the big centralized systems are the Archaeology Data Service repository and the tDAR repository. But, in the larger world of scholarly communications and scientific data sharing, these are just two of a wide number of systems serving different constituencies. Which gets me to the point of this post.

Openness and interoperability are vital because even big and centralized systems (within the scope of archaeology) are still small when one considers the bigger picture of the world of research. This is particularly important for archaeology, because archaeology is inherently multidisciplinary. We will always need to link and reference data and other content from other disciplines. Those disciplines will have their own data systems and repositories. So we can’t escape the need to think about building distributed systems.

Can we find ways to have our cake and eat it too, and enjoy benefits of both approaches while mitigating their problems? I think the Pelagios approach may point to a good direction. In Pelagios, several distributed systems offer data according to a simple common standard. The Pelagios team harvested these data and built a centralized index facilitating fast and efficient search and retrieval of resources from these different collections. Pelagios is also interesting because it achieves much with very little effort and cost and its participating collections have such widely varying disciplinary themes and emphases (only some of which were archaeological).

This is an important point. Centralization is indeed useful, but people will need to define the focus of centralization in very different ways, and only sometimes will the need to centralize align with traditional disciplinary boundaries. In a later blog post, I will follow up with more on centralization versus decentralization. But for now,  please enjoy a pre-print draft of my paper on open access for World Archaeology.

Openness and Archaeology’s Information Ecosystem



Henk Moed had a look at the methodologies underlying the often-quoted Open Access (OA) impact studies available so far: “Does open access publishing increase citation or download rates?” (in Research Trends, 28, May 2012). He points out two limitations:

  1. “based on citation analyses carried out in a citation index with a selective coverage of the good, international journals in the fields” only;
  2. “not all publication archives provide reliable download statistics” and “results are not always directly comparable across archives.”

They “limit the degree to which outcomes from case studies can be generalized and provide a simple, unambiguous answer to the question whether Open Access does – or does not – lead to higher citation or download rates.”

Quick update
A related but more lengthy and scholarly article is “Scientific Utopia: I. Opening scientific communication” by Brian A. Nosek and Yoav Bar-Anan (in

Existing norms for scientific communication are rooted in anachronistic practices of bygone eras, making them needlessly inefficient. We outline a path that moves away from the existing model of scientific communication to improve the efficiency in meeting the purpose of public science – knowledge accumulation. We call for six changes: (1) full embrace of digital communication, (2) open access to all published research, (3) disentangling publication from evaluation, (4) breaking the “one article, one journal” model with a grading system for evaluation and diversified dissemination outlets, (5) publishing peer review, and, (6) allowing open, continuous peer review. We address conceptual and practical barriers to change, and provide examples showing how the suggested practices are being used already. The critical barriers to change are not technical or financial; they are social. While scientists guard the status quo, they also have the power to change it.

On the heels of SOPA, a bill that will make libraries vulnerable to lawsuits and felony charges for trying to do essential library functions (preservation and access to cultural works), comes another worrisome piece of legislation. The problematic bill is H.R. 3699, the “Research Works Act“.

Basically, the aim of the bill is to step back from recent reforms advocated by the “open science” community and prohibit federal agencies from requiring open access to the outcomes of grant funded research. For example, the bill would stop the NIH from requiring public access to $20+ billion in NIH funded medical research.  The bill would further entrench the current system and hugely costly system of scholarly communications, that works as a lucrative subsidy for [increasingly monopolistic] commercial publishers.

Commercial publishers, like Elsevier see huge profit margins, on the order of 35%. They have an excellent business model, since they don’t pay their authors or reviewers. The vast bulk of the blood sweat and tears behind a publication comes from grant funded research, presented (for free) by researchers, and reviewed and edited by other research peers (as a free service to their community). The publishers get all that effort and the copyright, then they lease it all back to universities (many of which are public institutions) under huge subscription regimes with draconian access and intellectual property controls. The costs of serial publications has exploded over the past two decades, and we even see some academic publishers suing faculty and universities for including works in course websites behind login barriers. The title of a recent article in the Guardian sums it up nicely: “Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist

University libraries deal with crushing price escalation by reducing services and passing costs to the rest of the university, which means tuition hikes, reduced faculty salaries, reduced research budgets, and reduced faculty hiring. It’s part of the reason why higher-education is such a dreadful mess. Disciplines like archaeology suffer disproportionately, since archaeology is relatively low in priority in terms of funding and facilities, and is more likely to see cuts.

The fact that so many archaeological researchers routinely and uncritically continue to participate in a manifestly broken system of closed-access scholarly communications is ultimately self-defeating. If archaeological researchers want to see their discipline thrive, they really need to pay much more attention to how their research is communicated. This bill would make it harder to reform the status quo and reduce the costs, access restrictions, and intellectual property encumbrances that stifle research.

So please speak up and actively lobby against this bill. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), a non-profit coalition of libraries, has an invaluable set of resources for contacting your legislators about this misguided bill.


It looks like the Ecological Society of America (ESA) has a disturbing response to this, by putting the interest of its publishing wing ahead of the interests of its members.  Jonathan Eisen does a brilliant critique of the ESA’s confusion on these issues. The ESA’s position reminds me of the American Anthropological Association’s high-profile (and highly problematic) lobbying against open access 5 (!) years ago. (Savage Minds also has some good, pointed critique of the open access opponents, keeping up the same good work they’ve been doing for over 6 years!)

In some ways I can’t believe that we’re still having these fights; the broken status quo is very, very deeply entrenched. I wonder what would happen if libraries would just cancel subscriptions in mass. Perhaps then we’ll see some pretty rapid adoption of open access.


Update 2

Wow! Lots of blogosphere / Tweetosphere activity about this bill. Jason Baird Jackson provides some great links, including a post by UC Berkeley’s Michael Eisen noting how one of the bill’s sponsors Rep. Maloney gets lots of donations from Elsevier (no less!). Search and web-services on those data are provided by MapLight, a leading open government / transparency organization. It looks like the Research Works Act represents one of the best laws money can buy.

Yesterday was Archaeology Day organized by the AIA. (BTW. In case you didn’t notice, despite some prophetic warnings, the world apparently did not end to ruin Archaeology Day).

It’s also Archaeology Month here in California. “Archaeology Months” are sponsored by various state historical societies and various state and federal government agencies. They help spotlight local archaeology and archaeologists, and offer a focus for organizing, reaching out to a larger community and highlighting accomplishments and challenges. The Society for California Archaeology runs an annual great poster competition that helps encapsulate some of the activities of an Archaeology Month.

Which brings us to the last alignment of the calendar that I’ll note. Next week is Open Access Week! Which brings us to a fortuitous alignment in the calendar, especially with respect to the themes long explored by this blog, namely, archaeology and open access.

I see open access (and open data) as an important aspect of making archaeology broadly relevant and a more integral part of scientific, policy, and cultural debates. Open access is a necessary precondition to making archaeology part of larger conversations. It’s also an important issue when so many of our colleagues work outside of university settings and have to live, work, and make their research contributions without access to JSTOR or subscriptions to other publishers. While there’s been lots of discussion about how “grey literature” (that is, research content that’s hard to discover and sees very limited circulation) is bad for the discipline, few in archaeology have noted that many mainstream archaeological journals are “grey literature” to people outside the academy.

Of course, most people, including most archaeologists, are outside of the academy. If we want our publicly supported (through direct funding and grants, or through regulatory mandates) research to have any positive impact to our peers inside and outside of our discipline, we need to consider access issues. At the same time, we need to consider access issues when thinking about how archaeology relates to many different communities in the larger public. From the outset, it’s clear open access is not sufficient in itself to make archaeology intelligible to the public.  It often takes lots of work to help guide non-archaeologists through often very technical archaeological findings.  But at the very least, open access to archaeological literature can make it easier for outside communities to learn, even through simple Google searches, that archaeology has something (though probably very technical) to say on many different issues and many different places.

So, I’m glad these chance calendar alignments help put some focus on these issues.

BTW: In keeping with these themes, the e-journal Internet Archaeology (an essential resource for some of the best in digital archaeology) is going fully open access this week! So fire up Zotero and go get some great papers while you can!

(Cross posted on Heritage Bytes)

We’re delighted to announce that Archaeology 2.0: New Approaches to Communication and Collaboration is now available via the University of California’s eScholarship repository, at the following link: 

This book explores the social use and context of the World Wide Web within the discipline of archaeology.  While the Web has radically altered journalism, commerce, media and social relationships, its sees very uneven adoption in professional scholarly contexts. Case studies discussed in this book help illuminate patterns of adoption and resistance to new forms of scholarly communication and data sharing. These case studies explore social media, digital preservation, and cultural representation concerns, as well as technical and semantic challenges and approaches toward data interoperability. Contributors to this volume debate the merits and sustainability of open access publishing and how the Web mediates interactions between professional and nonprofessional communities engaged in archaeology.


Archaeology 2.0 is the first book in the Cotsen Institute’s new Digital Archaeology Series ( The editors want to thank all of the book’s contributors, and also the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, especially Julie Nemer, Carol Leyba, and Willeke Wendrich. The printed version will be available for purchase shortly.

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