Open Academic Publishing
I circulated the following on the Practical Design for Social Action (PRADSA) list. I’m involved as Co-investigator in this project looking at design practices in civil society (see http://www.technologyandsocialaction.org for more detail).
Universities’ research activities have been assessed every 7 years through a Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The latest and last was completed at the end of last year (with results due out at the end of this). The outcomes are significant in determining where a large proportion of research funding goes. This system was based on peer review. The system has never been universally popular, and is now being replaced a ‘Research Excellence Framework’ (REF) using ‘metrics’-based assessment.
There are a lot of reasons to be unhappy about this, but one reason has a particular consequence for collaborations like PRADSA. One of the key metrics to be used is the number of times a particular article gets cited in other articles. The assumption here is that the more often an article is cited, the more significant (better) it must be. It is debatable how reasonable an assumption this is, but that’s not my point. Such a method requires a dataset which can readily be analysed to identify who has been cited by whom. A recent document identifies Thompson’s Web of Knowledge – an academic bibliographic database subscribed to by (I imagine all) UK HEIs as the data set that will be used. The problem is that WoK doesn’t index open-access journals such as the Journal of Community Informatics (and there are now quite a few such open access journals). Frustrating though this may be for the general public (who after all have already paid for most of this research through taxation), this may not be a major problem for research whose ‘users’ are primarily other academics or researchers in large corporates who will have access both to the bibliographic databases and journals.
For those academics working in PRADSA-like contexts, though, it raises a substantial disincentive to publishing research in journals which are openly accessible to research users. If we publish in open journals, it may not be recognised as legitimate by resource allocators in HE; if we don’t, then potential users won’t easily be able to access the results of our work and a completely unnecessary boundary is erected between those with access to the academic databases and those without.