Humanities left behind in the dash for Open Access ?

In the last few days I’ve been very gratified at the reception (insofar as I’m aware of it) to my article in last week’s Research FortnightI’m particularly grateful to the following Twitterers for their kind comments:  @Ghaylam@Emmanuel_clerc@rmathematicus@beckyfh@j_w_baker and also @ukcorr . It happens also to have appeared at the same time as other significant blog posts on similar themes, by Sara Dorman on the DeadDogBlog  and by Mark Carrigan (@Mark_Carrigan), both drawing attention to the implications of a shift to Gold OA on those without the means to pay, as I do.

The article notes the disparity between the adoption of OA, both green and gold, between different parts of academia, and just how far the humanities are behind. This is based on some sample research I’ve carried out in the last few months, the detail and methodology of which I’d be happy to share. It then goes on to examine some of the reasons, one of which is the speed with which research passes out of date:

It is rare to find competing research groups racing to find the historical equivalent of a cure for cancer or the Higgs boson. Humanities research often retains its currency for a good deal longer than work in the natural sciences, and so there is not the same need for speed; a lag of a year or two between submission and publication is not felt so keenly. The most downloaded of my own papers in 2012 is also the oldest, published in 2006 and largely written in 2004.

The second reason is the small proportion of humanities work which is funded directly by research grant, and again there are some impressionistic numbers for this, for what they’re worth:

…. but there is clearly a gulf between the amount of research being published and the amount that is directly funded. If this is to be bridged, universities will need to find funds to cover the upfront charges for gold open access for their staff…..

which will need to be found from somewhere; wiser heads than mine will need to figure that out. Of my ten articles to date, not a word has been directly funded by any organisation, despite my having worked in UK universities for all that time.

The final point relates to  independent scholars, of whom there are a great many publishing top-drawer work in the humanities, not to mention post-doctorate scholars looking for a job, and everyone else to whom university publication funds won’t be open.

By and large, humanities scholars do not need large capital equipment and facilities, beyond a good library. As such, scholars outside universities—in museums, libraries, archives, across the professions and not least among the retired—regularly publish world-leading research. Universal gold open access funded by the author would wipe much of this work out.

It ends:

All the disciplines stand to gain from a successful move to open access. However, much of the discussion about open access has been driven by the needs of the sciences. Let’s not allow the humanities to be collateral damage along the way.

Read it all here.

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