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Once more: There's seldom a trade-off between prestige and open access

Times Higher Education just published an accurate story with a misleading headline: "Scholars favour prestige over access."

Why is the story accurate? See the survey the story summarizes:  "UK Survey of Academics 2012," from Ithaka S+R, JISC, and RLUK, May 14, 2013. In particular see Figure 40 at p. 71. Here's how the authors of the survey interpret the results: "Three factors —all closely related to the prominence and reach of the publication— were rated as very important by more than 4 in 5 respondents: that the current issues of the journal are circulated widely, are well read by academics in their field, and have a high impact factor....And other factors —the journal’s accessibility in developing nations...and the journal making its articles freely available online so there is no cost to purchase or read them— were rated as important by less than a third of respondents overall."

Why is the title misleading? Because it suggests that there's a trade-off between prestige and OA. Unfortunately, this is a widespread misunderstanding. It arises from unfamiliarity with the growing number of high-prestige OA journals (a fact about gold OA) and ignorance of the long-standing willingness of most TA journals, including most high-prestige TA journals, to allow deposit in OA repositories (a fact about green OA). I put the trade-off between prestige and OA in the elite group the top 25 misunderstandings about OA in my 2009 field guide to misunderstandings about OA.

In my book at p. 55, I try to put the accurate result in a context that removes any false impression: "Most publishing scholars will choose prestige over OA if they have to choose. The good news is that they rarely have to choose. The bad news is that few of them know that they rarely have to choose....There are two reasons why OA is compatible with prestigious publication, a gold reason and a green one...."

The new survey from Ithaka, JISC, and RLUK confirms earlier findings from surveys conducted by Ithaka alone. See for example the Ithaka US Faculty Survey 2009 (April 2010) at pp. 25-26 and Figure 23.

I discussed the 2009 version of these results in my article June 2010 article on unanimous faculty votes for university green OA mandates: "I don't dispute the Ithaka findings. In fact, I've often argued myself that scholars will choose prestige in their field over OA, when they have to choose. I've only tried to make clear that they rarely have to choose [here citing four earlier articles]....[I]t's not hard to reconcile this evidence with the evidence of the unanimous faculty votes. The Ithaka finding is about gold OA, and the unanimous faculty votes are about green OA. Green OA policies allow faculty to submit their work to the journals of their choice. One of the primary reasons why OA mandates focus on green rather than gold OA (or repositories rather than journals) is precisely to preserve this sort of academic freedom....When the high-profile journals in a field are TA, then a green OA policy allows faculty to have the best of both worlds: prestige from the journal publishing the article and OA from the institutional repository. It's not at all surprising that faculty, or faculty who understand their OA options, will take the best of both worlds when they can. That explains both the preference for high-profile journals and the support for green OA. Meantime, more and more OA journals are moving into the top cohort of prestige and impact in more and more fields, a second reason why authors rarely have to choose between prestige and OA...."

Don't let simplistic headlines or uninformed colleagues persuade you that authors must choose between prestige and OA. 

#oa #openaccess #prestige  
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Let me simply react to a small detail related to the following passage in Peter's remarks: "The bad news is that few of them know that they rarely have to choose...."

This is, I believe, the essential point: researchers involved in OA, and convinced that the matter lies in their own hands will indeed know that, in many cases, perhaps most, there is no need to choose between access and prestige. But "few of them" know it, and indeed work on the contrary assumption. Moreover, as tenure and promotion committees are obsessed with prestige and do not care a whit about access, most researchers will simply adapt their behaviour to this context. Grantsmanship works, alas, on the same basis. So long as prestige is measured by journal titles and not by article quality, we will hit this wall (and publishers will do everything possible to keep prestige parameters as they are, i.e. based on journal titles and not on articles).

In reiterating this point in its title, the THE simply echoes the dominant perception. This is regrettable, but not surprising. Battling this perception in a blog is fine, and should be done, as Peter has done. However, to be really effective, the great majority of researchers should know, discipline by discipline, which journals really exist that are both OA and prestigious. This might be an important task to do for DOAJ.

Meanwhile, if OA repositories began to create tools to raise the prestige of their holdings, this would help too. Networks of repositories have the means to produce new forms of evaluation that would foreground the article as againt the journal title. This move is potentially very powerful. And it would begin to bring about the gradual convergence of the Green and Gold roads that we need so much (certainly a lot more than a silly competition between the two, which is completely disastrous).
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