The Cost of Knowledge

As mentioned in my description of the OA event at the HU, I was impressed by what the mathematicians achieved. I went to thecostofknowledge.com and wanted to sign their protest against Elsevier. There are three options one can check: I refrain from publishing, refereing, editorial work.

Editorial Work, Reviewing, Publishing

I thought about how this would affect my everyday scientific life. I do not do any editorial work for Elsevier, but I am on an editorial board for Springer and de Gruyter, who aren’t any better (see below). For Springer, I am on the editorial board of The Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics. I am in this editorial board as someone working in a minority framework (HPSG). I always thought that it is good to be in there since this may encourage people to submit to the journal and journal submissions are very important for a small subcommunity to increase outside visibility. Could I quit? Probably yes.

I also plan to submit an article to this journal, since it has exactly the right profile for what I am doing and I do not know any comparable journal. What should I do? A lot of us publish exclusively in the HPSG proceedings, but although this publication has an ISSN number and is freely available, it is hardly ever read. You may look at my Google Scholar profile to get an idea of what is cited and what is not. One could say: OK, you submitted the good papers to journals, but this is not quite true for all the papers there. (If you grant me the ability to judge my own work …). So, I will submit some of the proceedings papers to journals and one would go to the JCGL. Do I want to refrain from this? No. Well, maybe after two months of further thinking …

The journal Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft that is currently published by de Gruyter is a special case, that will be discussed below.

This leaves us with refereeing. I do a lot of review work (I think it is a lot. Are there statistics?) I changed the part of my homepage about reviewing so that it is clear how many articles I review per year. What would happen if I stopped? This would mainly affect Lingua, JCGL, and the de Gruyter journal Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft. As Martin Grötschel said in this OA panel discussion, researchers like to have influence on their field. So is it vanity? What would happen if I quit? I somehow feel that I have the duty to review. As a service to the field. One aspect that is important to me is again the issues of minority frameworks. Chomskyan linguistics is dominant in theoretical syntax and often work in other frameworks is not cited. So one of my tasks of a reviewer is to point authors to papers that they did not read or have choosen to ignore. Do I want to refrain from reviewing? Hm, maybe after one month of further thinking.

What are we talking about?

The following is a list of journals run by Elsevier, Springer, and De Gruyter. Elsevier has profit margins of 37.17% and Springer 35.80% (see Müller, 2012 for the math and references). English Wikipedia lists the wrong numbers. Check the Reed Elsevier Annual Reports and Financial Statements, p. 9 for the actual profits of Elsevier. We do not know the profits of de Gruyter, but since the prices per page are similar, I guess the profits are too. If they are not, de Gruyter is inefficient and expensive, which is worse than beeing efficient and expensive, isn’t it?

Here the lists:

  • Elsevier:
    • Assessing Writing,
    • Computers and Composition,
    • Discourse,
    • Context and Media,
    • English for Specific Purposes,
    • Journal of Communication Disorders,
    • Journal of English for Academic Purposes,
    • Journal of Fluency Disorders,
    • Journal of Neurolinguistics,
    • Journal of Phonetics,
    • Journal of Pragmatics,
    • Journal of Second Language Writing,
    • Language and Communication,
    • Language Sciences,
    • Lingua
  • Springer:
    • Linguistics and Philosophy,
    • Journal of Logic, Language and Information,
    • The Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics,
    • Journal of East Asian Linguistics,
    • Journal of Psycholinguistic Research,
    • Language Resources and Evaluation,
    • Machine Translation,
    • Morphology,
    • Natural Language & Linguistic Theory,
    • An International Journal of Semantics and Its Interfaces in Grammar,
    • An International Journal of Modern and Mediaeval Language and Literature,
    • Russian Linguistics,
    • International Journal for the Study of Russian and other Slavic Languages
  • de Gruyter:
    • Journal of African Languages and Linguistics,
    • Linguistics,
    • Theoretical Linguistics,
    • The Linguistic Review,
    • Folia Linguistica,
    • Probus,
    • Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft,
    • International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching,
    • Zeitschrift für Angewandte Linguistik,
    • Journal of Politeness Research,
    • Cognitive Linguistics,
    • Chinese as a Second Language Research,
    • Journal of Literary Semantics,
    • Multicultural Learning and Teaching,
    • Intercultural Pragmatics,
    • Zeitschrift für Rezensionen zur germanistischen Sprachwissenschaft,
    • Humor,
    • Text & Talk,
    • Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur,
    • Germanistik,
    • Anglia

Some of these journals I never heard of before, but some are pretty important and I would not want to miss them. So, what can we do? Maybe the approach by the DFG to support author pays models is better than I first thought. It is Wandel durch Annäherung (`change through rapprochement‘). People see that there are free articles and want more of that kind. But on the other hand it is protectionistic: It increases the visibility of researchers working in Germany. Researchers that do not have such financial support cannot publish that way.

But there is one thing we can do right away: We can take the journals of our societies and turn them into Open Access journals. The computational linguists did this with their journal Computational Linguistics (MIT Press). Basically all important publications in CL (except books) are OA now: the journal and the conference proceedings of Coling and ACL. The Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft (the journal of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sprachwissenschaft, DGfS) is published by de Gruyter. Every member of the society gets a printed copy and the society pays de Gruyter for this. We could negotiate with De Gruyter to make the journal OA. If they do not want this, we change the publisher. The same applies to Language, the journal of the Linguistics Association of America (LSA). OA is a topic of their next meeting, and maybe they decide something like this.

Books

Now for books. When I think about books, the situation is much clearer for me. I will not work in editorial boards or do any reviewing, if the book prices are higher than a factor of 8 of the costs of Amazons CreateSpace. That is, a 450 page book should not cost more than $84/80€ ($0,184/0,176€ per page). I do not think that 80€ is cheap, but this is a first step that will not affect smaller publishers with reasonable prices, but our friends from Elsevier, Springer, and de Gruyter.

I will never again publish a book by a publisher that has profit margins. (The translation rights for Grammatiktheorie and Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar belong to Stauffenburg and I try to get them back. So this is an open issue. The books are freely available in German, but I made a mistake as far as the translation rights are concerned.).

Software Needed

What I would like to do next is set up a web page that has the thecostofknowledge options but in addition the options (or rather opt outs) for books. We could also state price ranges that individual signers accept.

We could use this for gathering supporters for OALI. Currently I have a list of professors who support this, but it is hand maintained … The academia list does not really work since it does not allow the opt outs and there is no possibility to leave comments. Question: Does anybody know of software that we can use? Is somebody willing and able to write it? It would be great to have a counter and some motivating animation as we have it here and all the features of thecostofknowledge. The decisions for refraining from work should be editable to allow for people like me to change their minds later.

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8 Responses to The Cost of Knowledge

  1. It may interest you to know that the LSA has already made its decision regarding the future of Language: http://www.linguisticsociety.org/content/update-status-lsa-publications

    Of particular interest is point 7, where it’s stated that the LSA’s agreement with eLanguage – one of the few current outposts of fee-free gold OA in linguistics – will come to an end at the end of 2013.

    Language itself will be moving onto a delayed OA model, with an APC for those authors who wish to have their content published immediately.

  2. Thanks! I did not know all the details. I knew of one journal that published with elanguage and that is looking for a new platform now, since they do not like the Author Pays model. I did not know that Author Pays also applies to Language. What a step backwards! The Article Processing Charge (APC) is $400. Is there any transparency how this number is calculated? Does this correspond to the number of print/online subscriptions they expect to loose?

    But at least the stuff is publicly available after a year. This is at least something. For Marga Reis’ paper Gegen die Kompositionstheorie der Affigierung that appeared 1983 in ZS you pay $42/30€. (OK. I admit that it is great to have it in digital form now. De Gruyter did this work and somehow deserves to be payed for this, but the time for scanning the article is in no way equivalent to $42/30€)

  3. Adam P. reminded me that there is a lot of petition software around. For instance http://www.thepetitionsite.com/. This is correct, but what I want is more specific. thecostofknowledge lets you search: How many people from arts and humanities subscribed? Did X subscribe? We could have the subdiciplines indicated: How many morphologists did subscribe? And we and the publishers would get some idea what the consequences are. For instance: 50% of the signers will stop working for expensive publishers. So if there is software that does this and if somebody is willing to set this up, that would be great. The cost of knowledge allow links back to the signers blogs/pages where she or he can give a statement why she or he signed. This helps for networking and may also help the publishers since they get a better idea of what is going on and why.

  4. A piece of the solution, at least for journal publication, can be found in grass-roots development of alternative journals that are built on relatively low-cost open-access models which that move the production from for-profit publishers to the academy itself. After all, the academy provides the bulk of the labor inputs (research, editing, refereeing) for “free” to the publishers. So, why not keep these inputs in the academy in the first place? The key is to work with institutional libraries, which can commit to a digital repository. Libraries are doubly motivated to take on this commitment: first, library budgets are the first to be affected by the exponential rise in journal costs; second, their mission is the stewardship and preservation in perpetuity of information. Investments in digital preservation can, in the long run, lower the costs to rent access to commercial journals. We have had a good deal of success at the University of Kansas, the first US public university to have a faculty-driven open-access policy. An example of of a journal built on a gold open-access model with institutional backing is the niche journal Slovenski jezik / Slovene Linguistic Studies, a joint publication founded by the Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences, Ljubljana and the University of Kansas. Articles go through the regular refereeing, editing, and typesetting processes–the costs of the latter being shared by the institutions through in-house typesetters–and are then published through the digital repository, KU Scholarworks (D-Space). In addition to the cost-saving benefits, authors also find that their works are far more visible to the field than they would otherwise be (they are indexed by Google Scholar, among others), a fact which can be verified by usage statistics associated with each article. For example, see my niche article on rhotacism in South Slavic and its associated usage statistics. It is hard to imagine how, in the long run, commercial publishers can continue to profit so richly providing a severely restricted product when an equally good product can be provided freely and openly by the academy itself. But the academy will first need to become aware of its aiding and abetting the restrictive model and do something about it.

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