« Philosophical Intuitions | Main | Open Access: What is to be done? »

June 26, 2008



There is a collective action problem. I am untenured and I need to keep an eye on my reputation. That means that there is a handful of journals (you know which ones) that I have to aspire to publish in; if they don't sign on to open access principles, such as allowing posting of papers on websites, then I am in a bind. If most people in the profession signed on, then of course those journals would be marginalized and would be forced to change their policies. What to do? Tenured philosophers can lead the charge, publishing their best work in open access journals and pressuring the top 10 journals. So far as I can see, this isn't happening (witness the pitifully slow progress of Philosopher's Imprint).


#5 seems too demanding. You don't, or shouldn't, claim that the old, journal-based vetting procedures don't succeed in giving us a fairly reliable way of distinguishing good from bad philosophy. Indeed, the information these procedures supply is far superior to the information any one philosopher could get simply by using her own judgment and by soliciting direct advice. So I think it is unreasonable to expect people to abandon use of the old system, and to go solely on personal judgment/direct advice, until new systems have evolved. A better requirement would be for people to (a) actively support the evolution of new vetting systems, and (b) choose the new systems over the old whenever that choice is available.


David was right. I don't want to argue that the current system doesn't work at all or that its results should be ignored. What I wanted to convey was the fact an publication is on-line/open source should not in itself be counted against it.

NB. I have revised #5 accordingly

What are urgently needed are mechanisms of peer review that are not tied to hard-copy presses. "Best-of" lists and contests might be a good start, provided that everyone involved treated them as serious business.

I would suggest that group blogs like Public Reason, Forking Paths, Pea Soup and Ethic's etc should start to see ranking and review as one of their primary functions. Certainly those blogs' members views should carry as much weight as most Journal editorial boards.

What better place to do peer review than on the group blog of your peers.

Other ideas welcome. Of course, for any of this to get traction it is vitally important that the senior and the tenured get involved.


Peter Suber, Editor of Open Access News offers some very useful http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/2008/06/free-philosophy-pledge.html> comments. ( Anyone interested in the open access movement should visit his site . ) I have revised the pledge considerably in light them.

The new version is more clearly compaitible with the practices of many hard-copy journals. After all, the goal of The Pledge is not to drive them out of business but to free the discipline from dependance upon them.

Contrary to Peter's advice I have retained a clause which expresses a commitment to developing new mechanisms for peer review.

Peter is correct that, in principle, there is nothing to prevent distinguished philosophers from starting open access on-line journals with high standards. The costs are trivial and no technical expertise is required. But anyone who has any experience of the internal politics of hard-copy journal production will know how difficult it might be to pull this off in practice. So I think we need to think of new alternatives.

In any case, it seems to me that the whole idea a "journal" may be one whose time is past. Thomas Nadelhoffer's and Eddy Nahmias' terrific Online Philosophy Conferences seem to me a better model of what we should aim at. What we need are tenure and promotion committees who recognize that participation in venues like this is not just "as good" as being in a hard-copy journal but in many respects better because it exposes one's work to immediate critical assessment by the whole of the philosophical community.

John Protevi

Very good post on an important issue. I'm not sure that we scale up from journal articles to books in a completely smooth manner however. It's one thing for me to download and print a 40 page article ms., but something else again for a 500 page book ms. The reading technology of the book, if I can put it that way, is still very effective for longer works, especially for ease of transport and ease of making marginal notes. On the other hand, the ease of searching for key words in a PDF file is very helpful too!

I suppose that this readability issue is tangential to the tenure and promotion issue, which is one of the key points of the OA movement as I understand it. Here's another twist on the book vs. article question, however, which does concern tenure. For better or worse, the tradition among departments tenuring continental philosophers is to require a book for tenure, as opposed to a set of articles in good journals. Your point #6 seems close to this issue, though perhaps not directly relevant as written.

Michael McIntyre

I found an interesting paper on Brazil's push toward OA scholarly publishing here: http://elpub.scix.net/data/works/att/288_elpub2008.content.pdf

The problem is that while countries like Brazil are pushing forward with the principles of the Berlin Declaration (http://oa.mpg.de/openaccess-berlin/berlindeclaration.html), the vast majority of signatories to that declaration are from continental Europe or Latin America. With English the dominant language of scholarship, until the US and Britain get on board, this movement will remain marginal.

It seems to me that the collective action problem requires a top-down solution, one that is easily attainable in principle. Just as IRB approval is now demanded of all human-subjects researchers in US universities receiving any sort of public funding, it could be required of those same universities that all research conducted under its auspices (i.e., all research that matters for tenure and promotion) be placed in an OA archive, regardless of publication venue. Britain, with its centralized system, could act even more directly.

Such a policy, if adopted, would force the hand of the big three (Elsevier, Springer, Taylor & Francis). If they refuse to allow their articles to be archived, their supply would dry up. If they allow archiving, they would have to lower prices enough to make it worth a library's while to subscribe to a journal whose articles are freely available. The most likely result would be a collapse of their business model, creating a shortage of publication venues. A parallel government policy of subsidizing open access publication could create a supply of open access venues to replace the big three's moneymakers.

Perhaps the fact that none of the big three is a US firm would give this policy a ghost of a chance, even in a money-dominated US political system?

Kenny Easwaran

I know that in the sciences much of this seems to be made possible by a move towards journals where authors pay to submit articles. When people have large research grants an additional $3000 (for Springer) to make the article open access is largely negligible, but in philosophy this seems a bit more problematic. Since there are some costs in running a journal (paper or otherwise) one might think that something like this would be the result. Of course, there's no reason to think that the price should be anywhere near that high, but it also seems somewhat unreasonable to think that something that provides the editorial services of a journal could come entirely for free.


It might be worth pointing out that I am presently consulting with Blackwell concerning an interdisciplinary on-line they are presently organizing. I am also talking to them about converting the OPC into an on-line conference/journal. So, at least one major press has their finger on the pulse of the future. Of course, in order to ensure that the material is open-access, there will likely be academic oriented advertising (new books, etc.), but that is already the case with other useful but free services (e.g., google, gmail, etc.). So, I don't view it as problematic in this context...

Stevan Harnad

Good idea, but:

(1) Why self-archiving on your website rather than in your OAI-compliant Institutional Repository?

(2) Why pledge to self-archive only the unrefereed preprint? Why not also (and preferentially) the peer-reviewed final, accepted draft?

(3) I suggest separating a pledge for peer-reviewed journal articles -- which all authors want to give away -- and other forms of text, such as monographs, which not all authors want to give away.

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum


Nice post, I'm very sympathetic!

In response to Neil's collective action problem, the ideal would be for existing editorial boards to simply switch "their" journal to open access, i.e. walk away from the commercial publisher whilst keeping the academic/editorial structures unchanged. Then we don't need anyone to be the first to gamble on a new open access journal of unknown reputation. We can keep on submitting to our established journals, it's just that now the academics, not the commercial publishers, are in charge. There's just no reason for academics to be beholden to outside publishers here; the latter have nothing to offer. See here for further discussion on this point.

(While Kenny is right that you can't run a journal for free, I don't think either readers or authors should be paying for it -- the latter system is clearly biased against independent scholars, for example. The obvious solution is to have institutional libraries share the burden. [I gather the University of Michigan deserves kudos in this respect, as the home of Philosophers' Imprint?])

Tomkow - on alternative forms of online publishing and review, see my PhilReview project that's currently in the works.

P.S. Any chance you could fix it so that comments display in the standard order, i.e. oldest first? It's a real pain to try following a thread from the bottom up.


You should inform yourself about open access journals before writing about open access. Publishing your work on your private homepage doesn't do much good.


Peter Suber

Hi Terry. I like the new draft much better than the previous draft. Just two quick comments.

(1) In #1 (and elsewhere for consistency) I'd change "on my personal web site" to "on my personal web site or in an open-access repository". This increases the options for pledging authors without reducing their commitment to OA. In general, putting papers into OA repositories is better than putting them on a personal web site because repositories provide permanent URLs, take steps for the long-term preservation of their contents, facilitate crawling by Google and other search engines, and make the growing volume of OA literature more visible and thereby encourage other scholars to follow suit. Repositories are also interoperable and support "cross-archive searching" as if they all formed one grand, virtual repository. More than 1,000 universities around the world now host interoperable OA repositories, and new ones launch every week. At least the pledge shouldn't steer philosophers *away* from the use of OA repositories by limiting them to personal web sites.

(2) In my original comments, I wasn't criticizing attempts to reform peer review (which in fact, I support). I was only arguing that achieving OA and reforming peer review are independent projects, and that it would be a tactical mistake to link them. If we insist on a link, then the OA movement loses allies who support peer review as it is, or we delay progress toward OA while we try to reach some consensus on the best way to reform peer review. I suggest working for OA and peer-review reform in parallel.


Rick Grush

I agree with this, and in fact is something I've been thinking about for a while. I invite you and anyone to take a look at a webpage devoted to an initiative of my own, at http://commercialfreephilosophy.org

Since it strikes me that bold steps are needed to make change happen, I have decided to completely stop publishing in, or contributing to, non-open access publication venues. This is going to be a pain for me, but as you will see (for reasons I discuss on the webpage), I can no longer in good conscience support the commercial publication model.

ed hardy

Agree. It's a good article that I can apply this for my routine. I loved it, so usefully. Thanks :)

The comments to this entry are closed.