Why this #AAAfail is Epic- How the American Anthropology Association is throwing the public under the bus and killing books for no good reason!

Posted on February 1, 2012


This post is part of a series- The 30 Pieces of Silver the American Anthropology Association Sold Us Out For, American Anthropology Association FAIL!!!! This Time on an Epic Scale, Why this #AAAfail is Epic- How the American Anthropology Association is throwing the public under the bus and killing books for no good reason! and Former Cultural Anthropology Editor Speaks Out About #AAAfail

Now that it is no longer mid-night and I have had a few hours of sleep I will better articulate why the American Anthropology Association AAA coming out in favor of a Research Works Act concept is an epic FAIL(internet slang) (my previous post was more emotion and less facts). Of course there  is the basic argument that the Research Works Act is an attempt by commercial publishers to keep US tax payers from accessing the results of research they paid for and is wrong. To be fair, the AAA does present a case, in their full response scholarly-pubs-(#282) davis, as to why they are against taxpayers accessing the research they pay for. As pointed out by Daniel (read this, it is much better then my first post on the subject) they use research that is for medical journals, not anthropology, and the model they are trying to protect mainly helps publishers.

Moreover, Daniel points out that “First, many will dispute Davis’ implicit definition of the relevant “public” in the AAA January 12th letter. In the opening paragraphs, there is mutual agreement about “enhancing the public understanding” and reaching “those in the public who would benefit from such knowledge.” But Davis’ definition of “public” changes dramatically when he argues against expansion. Rather than the multitude of publics an anthropologist might imagine – the general reading public, the communities with whom we work, advocacy groups located outside the university system – Davis restricts access to researchers and scholars. Since these groups already have good access, no further expansion is needed.” I would like to expand upon this and show why this is hypercritical of the AAA. They say, “A separate study found that 93% of the researchers surveyed reported easy access to original research articles in journals. This study surveyed 3,800 researchers and evaluated their access to 18,000 journals. … AAA independently corroborated there results in a survey about anthropological information with its members who reported in February 2009 very high levels of access to peer-reviewed journals and scholarly monographs”. Funny thing is I went looking for this February 2009 report on the AAA website and all I found was the Work Climate, Gender, and the Status of Practicing Anthropologists (Prepared for the AAA, 18 February, 2009) report that has as a complaint section about the AAA, “The need to promote equal representations in publications and access to publications” (p. 61) here is a quote from that section-

“Non-affiliated anthropologists (not affiliated with a university), that is, have difficulty
getting access to scholarly journals, current research, AAA resources.” (Female, 40-49,

Now maybe I have the wrong report, the AAA puts out so many survey reports over the years, (sarcasm- the webpage has the results of 17 since 1973, 1 every year and a half) but if not they lied to the federal government. I am not accusing the AAA of lying as I do not know which report they are referring too but the report I found tells a very different story-  “Practitioners report that they are largely dissatisfied with programs and services provided by the AAA” (executive summary) and many anthropologists “have difficulty getting access to scholarly journals, current research, AAA resources.” .

I digress, even if the whole of the membership found they had decent access to publications, clearly women anthropologists don’t feel that way, that is only 11,000 out of 310 million Americans (there are Canadian and citizens from other countries who are members but for arguments’ sake we will say 11,000 our of 11,000 are American) which is .00000354 of the population. That is not the not the 99% vs. the 1%, that is the 99.99% vs the .001%. I find this stance hypocritical as only a few months ago the AAA complained about Governor Rick Scott’s comments that we don’t need more anthropologists. How can we say that the world needs anthropologists when we are willing to throw under the bus 99.99% of the public?

It gets worse, in the defense of not letting the public view research they paid for they say, “One final note: in anthropology and in the humanities, book-length publications is still a meaningful publication unit. Journals play a critical role in the success of these works be reviewing the books and publications. In 2010, AAA’s journals published 411 book reviews. If the AAA journal publishing program cannot be sustained, it may be that university presses and other scholarly publishers of book-length works could also be irreparably damaged.” The real irony is that by defending journals the AAA is actually killing books. The prices of journals are increasing above inflation (estimated at 6-8% for 2012) and have so for decades. In the 1990’s when prices of journals were going up by 10% a year most library switch from spending 40% of their budgets on books to 30% while journals went form 60% to 70%. In 2002 “the ratio was roughly 83:17 serials to books” for universities in Australia. In 2007 the Southern Illinois University Carbondale only spent 10% of their library budget (all budgets are for acquisition and not total library budgets) on books and were worried that a raise in periodical prices would wipe out their book budget.  It is very hard to get recent accurate numbers but let me tell you a quick story-

I am on the library committee for my school, as the student archaeology representative, so I have a view of the research materials budget. Usually, we receive an allotment (determined by university to college to school to department) to purchase both books and journals. The journal subscriptions are automatically taken out at which point staff and students can submit monograph titles to be purchased. When that money runs out the titles requested, but not bought, are put in a queue and when next years budget rolls around they are first in line to be bought. Well this year was the first year that our backlog wiped out this years budget (left over after journals- a number that keeps shrinking). In other words, we don’t have any money to buy new books this year because we had to buy last years books (we eventual went cap in hand to the history department which gave us a little money). This will probably occur again next year and the year after. The queue of books will get longer till the point that several years will pass between a request and actually getting the book. In  probably less than 5-7 yrs there will be no book budget because it will all go to journals.

By supporting journal publishers the AAA is killing the monograph. Budgets for books and journals come from the same source, by giving to one you are taking away from another. If no one can buy a book then no one will make a book. I am not just talking hard copy but digital books as well. No money affects both digital and hard copy resources.


The AAA is killing books and throwing the 99.99% of people under the bus for being forced to make this number of articles open access (numbers are open access article in 2010 i.e. after the one year embargo has to be lifted):

YES, three articles are open access out of 21 journals. Another, kicker is I don’t even know if they were forced to make them open access as per the requirement about taxpayers funding (mainly only applies to HEALTH funding, currently) or if they were made open access by other means. Even if the mandate was expanded to all federal funding how much federal funds go to anthropology and how many of those funded projects would get published in a AAA journal?

Edit I have run the numbers and it turns out that 17% of articles would be affected see full numbers here

Here is the original post sections

Lets look at the numbers: 255 grants for archaeology from the National Science Foundation between 2007-2011 which is roughly 50 a year. There are over 250 English language dedicated archaeology journals to publish in of which one is run by the AAA. Assuming a even distribution of funded projects among journals the math puts it at 1 possible article every 5 years that the AAA would have to worry about from Archaeology. Cultural Anthropology has 181 (2007-2011), which includes doctoral awards, about 35 a year. I don’t know how many cultural anthropology journals there are but assuming there is 200 and the AAA has about 18 of them that is roughly 3 a year they might have to publish for free (after one year of charging to see that article), maybe. I could go on but the point is that even if the federal government mandated open access for all projects they funded you are looking at maybe a handful of articles (biological anthropology might have the most but not from NSF sources only 157 awards 2007-2011 chances are it would be from other grant bodies other than the NSF)

In summation, the AAA is helping kill books and throwing the world under the bus for a grand total of 0-5 articles spread out over 21 publications 1 in 6 articles that they might have to make open access every year (again, the mandate of open access currently only applies to health funding and only a portion of that. Even if it did apply more broadly the impact will not be much). If you read my first rant you can kind of understand the emotion of “how crazy are you?” that came out in that one. I think this qualifies as a epic FAIL.

Posted in: Publishing