Branding vs. Freeing

C P Chandrasekhar (2013) Only the Open Access Movement can address the adverse impact of Western domination of the world of knowlege. Frontline (Oct 4 2913)

Interesting article, but I am afraid it misses the most important points:

1. As so often happens, the article takes “OA” to mean Gold OA journals, completely missing Green OA self-archiving and the importance and urgency of mandating it.

2. The article greatly underestimates the role of quality levels and quality control (peer review standards) in the perceived and actual importance and value of research findings, journal articles and journals — focusing instead on over-reliance and abuse of citation metrics (which does indeed occur, but is not the central problem behind disparities in (a) user access to journals to read, (b) author access to journals publish in, or (c) researcher access to funding to do research with).

Providing OA can completely remedy (a), which will in turn help mitigate (b) and that in turn may improve (c). (OA will also greatly enrich and strengthen the variety and validity of metrics.)

But not if we instead just tilt against impact factors and press for new forms of “branding.” Branding is simply the earned reputation of a journal based on its track-record for quality, and that means its peer review standards, as certified by the journal’s name (“brand”).

What is needed is neither new Gold OA journals, nor new forms of “branding.” What is needed is Open Access to the peer-reviewed journal literature, such as it is, free for all online: peer-reviewed research needs to be freed from access-denial, not from peer review.

And the way for India and China (and the rest of the world too) to reach that is for their research institutions and funders to mandate Green OA self-archiving of all their peer-reviewed research output.

That’s all there is to it. The rest is just ideological speculation, which can no more provide Open Access than it can feed the hungry, cure the sick, or protect from injustice. It simply distracts from the tried and tested practical path that needs to be taken to get the job done.

Stevan Harnad