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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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I saw, going around on Twitter today, a 2012 article on the Open Access Irony Awards. This site is dedicated to the practice of humorously exposing articles/editorials that are pro-open access, but locked behind paywalls. As someone who has written in support of OA in closed venues, I wanted to quickly write to ask: what is so ironic about this practice?

A few points spring to mind:

  1. The point of writing in support of OA is to persuade people that it is the right thing for scholarly publishing. Sure, if you write about it in an OA venue, then you will likely have a better and larger readership -- I genuinely believe that or I wouldn't advocate for OA. However, a core group who need persuading of the merits of OA are those who read closed subscription publications and exist solely in those spheres. Those who read the LRB, Nature etc. It isn't ironic to publish in those venues if the result is to reach an audience who are otherwise out of range.
  2. One of the (false) claims about OA is that it is akin to blogging, just a form of opinion being expressed on the internet among a jumble of cat videos on YouTube. Now, again, I don't buy that, but some people seriously do. It is important, therefore, to get articles advocating for OA into venues that hold prestige. These are, frequently, closed silos. This should not deter us, though, from harnessing their prestige to advance the cause. Even if fewer people can access the material, it lends a validation quality to the expression that is hard to come by outside of those circles.
  3. The best form of critique is immanent critique; making people aware of the boundaries that structure and limit their thought and practice from within. Critiques of others are easier to ignore than criticism that sits within the bounds of that which it criticises.

For those reasons, I don't really hold with the whole "OA irony" stuff. Sure, it's great to point out that it isn't open (and this enhances the power of point #3 above) but make sure you're not shooting the messenger. There are good reasons to advocate for OA in closed venues.