See my previous two reports on the livestream from the “Envisioning a World Beyond APCs/BPCs” international symposium held November 17-18, 2016 at the University of Kansas here and here. (You can view recordings of the livestream on the KU MediaHub here and here.)
The second hour of the livestream involved feedback from designated responders to the brief presentations of the panelists and questions from the online audience, which spurred an engaging conversation on a variety of issues that play into the stated intention of the symposium to “consider models that are available for achieving an expansive, inclusive, and balanced global ecosystem for open publishing.”
The threads in the conversation I found most interesting related to how mission-driven values (which should be seen as compatible with the intentions of open scholarly communication) are under increasing pressure from market-driven institutional competition, and questions surrounding who controls and legitimizes scholarship, both for academic advancement at the local level and visibility and recognition at the global level. On this last point, it was especially instructive for me as an academic from the United States to have my presuppositions challenged by listening to voices from Africa and Latin America. The assembled group also grappled a bit with how the rise of nationalism might impact the development of a global open scholarly publishing system. Following are just a few excerpts from the conversation.
In responding to comments raised regarding the need for other kinds of accessibility (e.g., providing translations, disability access, etc.) as well as support for other kinds of scholarly reporting beyond the journal article, Martin Eve, from the Open Library of Humanities reminded us about the challenges of costs, just renumeration for labor performed, and the current problems of resource distribution:
We have utopian potential in the digital space to create new forms that have new types of scholarship in them, and new reaches of accessibility for different audiences. The challenge is that all of those come with commensurate labor demands. And if we’re going to see this as a social justice issue, we also have to think about people being paid. Switching to a wholly volunteerist system, and asking people to take on more and more labor in order to support those forms—it might be the lesser of two evils compared to not allowing people to read it, but it’s not something we should dismiss. It’s a kind of balance between the supposed abundance and utopian nature of the digital space, and the scarcity of our renumeration for forms of labor. Balancing those out is an important challenge if we’re going to have new forms, if we’re going to think beyond the PDF and beyond conventional audiences. … You have enormous entities who are making a lot of money out of scholarly communications with vast profit margins. They’re held up as what we want to do away with. On the other hand, you’ve got university presses who are one lawsuit away from bankruptcy. It seems to me that the mission-driven presses rarely are the one’s doing well here. We have to think about a reallocation of resources across the spectrum. It’s been pointed out that we have enough resources within the system to do it. But like William Gibson’s future, they’re just not evenly distributed.
Williams Nwagwu, Director of Documentation and Information Centre, CODESRIA (The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa) raised the issue of access to African research outside of Africa as it is tied to a “political economy of knowledge,” where African scholars feel pressured to seek legitimacy outside of Africa in order to gain visibility in the dominant Western/Global North scholarly communication system:
The question of access is a very serious one in Africa, where often we’re angered by the illusion that there is no research going on in Africa. Why is this so? Because what we do in Africa is not accessible outside. In Africa, we have an avalanche of knowledge produced elsewhere that enters into Africa to submerge and swallow up our local capacity. What CODESRIA has done in the last year is to initiate an African citation index, to enable African research which has never gone outside of Africa to be properly organized in a source where people can access it. [But there is also the issue of] the political economy of knowledge where it does appear that knowledge produced in Africa must be weighed against “some criteria,” and it is only those that pass “some criteria” that find a venue in journals that are published elsewhere. The others are never referred to.
[And so,] I have for quite some years grappled with this issue of visibility. It is not a global science policy issue. It’s a Latin American issue. It’s an African issue. Why do I have to struggle to be visible in America and England? It’s an insult to my intelligence, because I have applied my scholarship across the world. I have distinction. I think we have to revisit this language of visibility. African scholars should work towards assuring utility, not visibility. … In the open access era whatever you publish wherever can be seen wherever. The way I see it, [the problem is related to] an enduring colonial heritage. It’s an issue that has to do with decolonialization of knowledge. It’s an issue that has to do with the political economy of knowledge. Because whoever has your knowledge has you in his or her pocket.
The best of science in Africa—[and I know because I am an indexer]—is not in Africa, it’s elsewhere. Because there is a wrong emphasis on visibility. … We have to balance between the purpose of doing research, which is utility, and what is actually happening vis-a-vis African scholars who are struggling to publish abroad [for the sake of visibility within this dominant system of scholarly communication].
International journals with high visibility (measured by impact factor) tend to be owned by publishers in the Global North. Jean-Claude Guedon, from the University of Montreal contends that pressure to publish in these journals can effectively set the research agenda for scientists and scholars, especially in the Global South:
When we evaluate the quality of scholarship by the place where it appears rather than by its intrinsic intellectual value I think we make a very bad mistake. But it goes even beyond that. When you are being pushed by your university to publish in so-called international journals, [we need to understand that] the journal itself is in competition with other journals, thanks to the impact factor, because it wants to take market share in the market of ideas. [That] journal favors certain types of questions at certain times of its history. That’s part of its strategy to establish its identity. So, the person in Africa or Latin America that has to publish in an international journal, has to submit an article that is going to be of some interest to that journal. … The scholar may prefer to do the work that will go in the direction of getting into that journal rather than following questions that may be of more direct and immediate interest to him or her [or that address the problems originating in his or her country]. The result is that there is competition between journals, and the judgment through journals ends up acting like a latent global science policy. Think about why there are so many neglected problems—some of them very pressing. I constantly remind people that the Zika virus was identified in 1947, and we still don’t know anything about it. Why? We have to think about what the perversion of the system does. It extracts intellectual power out of relatively poor countries … and it forces a kind of competition. This doesn’t help the great conversation of science and scholarship.