In a recent Twitter polemic, Randy Olson advocates that those who support open access (OA) should “Refuse to submit work to, review for, & read work published in closed-access journals.” He goes further and suggests that “as a community, we need to devalue publishing in these journals” by seeing it “as a negative when [authors] publish in high prestige, closed access journals”.

I agree with him on goal, but not on method. I believe very strongly that we have to disengage from the current journal system. The solution, however, is not to devalue those who publish in it, or to devalue their work, but rather to evaluate any work for its contribution to knowledge and thought, no matter where it is published. As researchers of course, it is to our advantage to find valuable contributions wherever they are published, and to build on them. As faculty on hiring committees, we need to evaluate applicants for their contributions, wherever they are published. As members of granting agency juries, we need to support the work of those who make valuable contributions, no matter where these are published.

What about students and junior scholars?

In the same Twitter thread, @goingpostale reasonably asks whether Olson has any “Advice for grad students & ECRs who want to support open access but may need/rely on prestige associated with closed access publications to be seen as “serious” & “legitimate” scholars?”

I am in a very fortunate position when it comes to disengaging from the journal system. If I never published another paper in a traditional refereed journal, it probably would have no impact on my career. I can afford not only to pontificate on the evils of the current system, but to completely and comfortably ignore it if I wish.

But I don’t. I still publish in journals (even non-OA ones), and I still participate in review and sit on an editorial board (for a pay-walled journal!). How do I reconcile my convictions with my actions?

I have former and current students, I have junior colleagues, and hopefully even future students. They can’t ignore the prestige economy of the academy if they want to build an academic career. I believe very strongly that they have valuable contributions to make. I want them to make those contributions, so I want them to be professionally successful.

I can encourage them to disengage, where they can, from the system, and to participate in the establishment and consolidation of a new, better system. I can support and facilitate their efforts to the best of my ability. While it is tempting, I shouldn’t forcefully enlist them in my struggle against the system, and I certainly shouldn’t punish them for participating it.

Scholars who publish in pay-walled journals are not the problem. Pay-walled journals are the problem. Those who evaluate academic work, those who do the hiring, those who award the grants, those who give the degrees, can and should be part of the solution. In case you need me to be specific, “those”, are us. The journals have no power we don’t give them.

Those who simply try to build an academic career because they want to make a contribution should be supported, no matter where their valuable contributions appear.

Disengagement from the journal system is necessary, and in my view inevitable. It will happen. The systemic forces are in motion. By our actions, we can help determine how painful the process will be, and for whom. As established scholars and administrators, we have a duty to protect the most vulnerable from the most disruptive consequences of this transition. We shouldn’t hold them hostage, or wield our power against them in the pursuit of our goal. We should invite them on the journey, and be grateful for what help they can provide.


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