The Open Access Debate
A debate that is currently raging in Academia is a discussion about how and where scientists and academics publish their work. Some commentators have said that academics who publish their work in journals with paywalls are immoral, but this is a simplistic view. As noted in the Guardian Science Blog, academics are incentivised to publish their work in high-ranking, high-quality journals. To avoid these, and publish in less well-regarded journals, would be detritmental to one’s career.
In Glaciology and Glacial Geology, the top journals are generally considered to include Nature Geoscience, Quaternary Science Reviews, Earth-Science Reviews, Journal of Glaciology, Journal of Quaternary Science, Global and Planetary Change, AGU journals like Geophysical Research Letters, and so on. These well-regarded journals have high impact factors and a suite of these on your CV would be a boon to any researcher. They generally provide their authors with an excellent service, including prompt peer-review, rapid typsetting and advance online publication. However, none of these are open access (although you can somestimes pay higher page charges to do so). Alternatively, you can publish in The Cryosphere, a relatively new and highly regarded open access journal, but one which does have page charges.
In an ideal world, instead of University libraries paying huge suscriptions to publishing houses like Elsevier, Springer or Wiley, authors would pay page charges at point of publication and their article would be free to read. This is the Gold Standard of Open Access, and is obviously attractive. Afterall, academics do want people to read their work. We work in areas that are of significance to the general population (otherwise our work wouldn’t get funded), and we hope our papers may indeed be relevant and interesting to people beyond the University campus.
Difficulties with Open Access
However, in reality, this is a difficult objective to achieve. As an early-career researcher with limited funds, if I spend our grant on page charges I must do without something else; some piece of equipment, a conference, or some fieldwork. It’s even harder for those earlier in their career. PhD or MSc students looking for their first job and desperate for a well-received publication to help them on their way simply do not have the funds to pay the higher open access page charges. In many cases, journals recognise this and may subsidise early career researchers, but not always, and generally not if open access requires higher page charges.
I believe passionately in open access and devote large parts of my time to outreach and talking about my work to non-academics. I’m excited about my research and (perhaps misguidedly) think everyone else should be too. However, paying open access page charges or publishing purely in open access journals is, for the time being, impractical, expensive, poorly funded and potentially damaging to my career.
Blogging about your work
Fortunately, there is a way around this. As pointed out in this blog post, publishers generally only own copyright on the typsetting and final edit of your work. Your words and figures are your own. You can often mount a pre-print version as a PDF on your own website, University webpage or server (check your copyright form before doing this).
Another way around the whole open access debate is to write shorter, simpler versions of your published work, and to include a citation and a link to the final published version on the published website. This means that people interested in your science and data can read it if they like, without needing to wade through long academic papers that can be difficult to understand without a degree in the subject. Academics or students in universities or research institutes will generally have a university suscription to that paper, and if not, I’ve yet to find an academic who isn’t happy to email their paper to a colleague who asks for it. This can have further benefits as well; many authors have noted that downloads of their papers increase following blogging or tweeting about them.
This is the model that AntarcticGlaciers attempts to follow, and interested parties can read short summaries of my papers on this website, or follow the links to the online published version if they like. For example, they can read my work on the Patagonian Ice Fields or the Antarctic Peninsula glaciers, or about the glacial geomorphology on James Ross Island on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Open Access: a possible solution?
I am, however, aware that academics are very busy people and that not everyone has the time and energy to devote to writing and maintaining a blog. Perhaps an interim solution to the open access debate would be for publishers to encourage their authors to write freely available short summaries (> 1000 words) of their publications in laypersons terms that could be posted online alongside their final published article. Because, let’s face it, I only read the entire article thoroughly from cover to cover occasionally, and I work in this field. For many, especially those who are not specialists in an area, a shorter summary would be just fine.