Should we boycott gated journals on social media? How about a pledge?

October 25, 2017

     By Duncan Green     

It’s International Open Access Week, so this seems a good time to post on something that’s been bugging me. I had a slightly tetchy exchange on twitter recently with someone (who wishes to remain anonymous) who sent me a link to their paper and asked me to circulate it if I liked it. Problem was the link was to a journal, where you had to pay to read. I could read it for free if I really wanted to, thanks to my LSE job (universities subscribe to all the big journals), but it’s still a hassle, and anyway, that’s not really the point – I hate the elitism of gated journals, so why link to them? The would-be self publicist replied that for a young academic, there’s no option, and then various other people weighed in (twitter’s fun like that).

If you’re in an NGO that doesn’t have a subscription, the paperwork to reclaim your $20 for buying a paper online is likely to put you off altogether. The broader consequence is that academia retreats inside it’s self referential, peer-reviewed, paywalled filter bubble, and the rest of the world remains largely oblivious, deepening the gulf between the universities and the practitioners. Not good for either camp, I would argue.

Net result, I think I now have a personal policy of not linking to gated journal articles on twitter or in the blog, but should I go further and set up a sign-up pledge for other social media users, as Owen Barder has done so laudably on manels (1296 currently signed up)?

Arguments for:

  • Keep up the pressure for Open Access, which is making significant progress, even if it is prompting journals to now demand that authors pay to publish their articles (see this brilliant long read on how Robert Maxwell established the journal model for superprofits).
  • Push authors to publish drafts on ResearchGate, blog their findings, and otherwise try and cater to the mass of humanity that languishes outside Academia and the paywall.
  • Encourage people to use Sci Hub as an alternative way to find content (I checked and sure enough, the original article that prompted the exchange is on there for free, as is my bête noire, the ODI’s unacceptably gated Development Policy Review (note, no link!), but are all development-related journals up there?).
  • Dance on Robert Maxwell’s grave (there’s a queue, so you need to plan ahead)

Arguments against/complicating factors:

  • Apparently health and education journals won’t publish your article if you have put up the data elsewhere, eg on ResearchGate
  • Some tricky grey areas – eg gated newspapers like the FT and the Economist. Also, book publishing is way behind on Open Access. OK, OUP was willing to publish How Change Happens free online (and they swear it has actually improved sales), but most books are not. Does that mean I should stop reviewing books until they’re Open Access?

So I ran a twitter poll, and of the 113 votes, 76% supported a pledge – how about this for a text? The pledge: ‘I will not promote or link to gated journals on social media’


Q: Won’t this punish researcherS trying to get their work known?

A: Researchers have a number of options, from blogging the findings of their papers, to creating a landing page for their work, to publishing in draft on ResearchGate. There is no excuse for just publishing behind a paywall.

Q: Won’t this deprive social media of access to scholarship?

A: See above, plus this is part of a longer term exercise to reduce the barriers that prevent knowledge circulating

more widely in society.

Q: What about books?

A: Agreed, this is tricky, since Open Access is in an earlier stage in book publishing (Google Books, and some publishers starting to go OA). But the level of price gouging in journals is far greater than for most books.

Would appreciate your help with further suggestions for FAQs and views on the topic. Unless you convince me otherwise, I will then put up a pledge for people to sign up to.

And thanks David Steven for this wonderful excerpt on pledging from Catch 22

October 25, 2017
Duncan Green