Archaeological Institute of America #FAIL! Can’t Learn from Others Mistakes

Posted on April 16, 2012


When it came out in January and February that the American Anthropology Association and the Archaeological Institute of America had both come out against Open Access there was a large uproar. The AAA quickly back tracked but the AIA got off pretty lightly. Apparently the AIA did not look at what happen to the AAA or maybe they just felt embolden by the fact that they got off light because now they are throwing salt in an open wound. Here is a letter from the president of the AIA, with some of my comments:
From the President: Open Access
Volume 65 Number 3, May/June 2012
by Elizabeth Bartman

Several bills currently making their way through Congress are causing considerable concern( Not the word I would use, Joy?) in the archaeological and broader scientific community. The Federal Research Public Access Act of 2012 was introduced in both houses of Congress on February 9 of this year.

The legislation would require that publishers of academic and scholarly journals provide the government with final peer-reviewed and edited manuscripts, and, six months after their publication, those manuscripts would be made available to the public, on the Internet, for no charge. The House bill states, “The Federal Government funds basic and applied research with the expectation that new ideas and discoveries that result from the research, if shared and effectively disseminated, will advance science and improve the lives and welfare of people of the United States and around the world.”

(Sounds good so far. Taxpayers getting what they pay for.)

We at the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), along with our colleagues at the American Anthropological Association and other learned societies, have taken a stand against open access (WHAT! do you hate the public. This is like being pro-cancer, no one is pro-cancer). Here at the AIA, we particularly object to having such a scheme imposed on us from the outside (ok, why did you wait till it was forced upon you?) when, in fact, during the AIA’s more than 130-year history, we have energetically supported the broad dissemination of knowledge, and do so through our extensive program of events and lectures for the general public and through our publications (hmmm really? How many full publications, not individual articles, do you make available to the public for free?). Our mission statement explicitly says, “Believing that greater understanding of the past enhances our shared sense of humanity and enriches our existence, the AIA seeks to educate people of all ages about the significance of archaeological discovery.” We have long practiced “open access.” (No, No you don’t. At least not in any definition of Open Access I have ever seen)

While it may be true that the government finances research, it does not fund the arduous peer-review process that lies at the heart of journal and scholarly publication (provided to you for free), nor the considerable effort beyond that step that goes into preparing articles for publication (This is a good point). Those efforts are not without cost. When an archaeologist publishes his or her work, the final product has typically been significantly improved by the contributions of other professionals such as peer reviewers (provided free), editors, copywriters, photo editors, and designers. This is the context in which the work should appear. (Almost all scholarly books and many articles lead off with a lengthy list that acknowledges these individuals.)

We fear that this legislation would prove damaging to the traditional venues in which scientific information is presented by offering, for no cost, something that has considerable costs associated (does it really) with producing it. It would undermine, and ultimately dismantle, by offering for no charge, what subscribers actually support financially—a rigorous publication process that does serve the public, because it results in superior work.

Elizabeth Bartman is the president of the Archaeological Institute of America.

I have several problems with this, first is easy to guess, I am pro-Open Access and this isn’t. Beyond my personal feelings on the subject matter I see some key flaws in their argument. They, the AIA, take a whole “States Rights” view to the issue. For those of you who are not from the US, “States Rights” is the argument used by State governments in the US for over a 100 years, till the civil war, to slaughter and enslave millions of human beings. It was then used for 100 years after that to deny basic civil rights to a good portion of their people. All in the name that States should be able to kill their own people for no other reason then the color of their skin.

Obviously, this is not on the same scale, Slavery and Jim Crow was magnitudes worse, but it is the same concept. “We do not want the government protecting its citizens from us” is what the AIA is saying. The AIA does not want to be forced to provide the public, who by the way pays for the research, the ability to access that same research they paid for. Coming out against Open Access makes as much sense as coming out against civil rights for black people in the US. The moral high ground is on the side of the oppressed but financial and power incentives are on the side of the oppressors.

The next problem is the whining about how this is unfair cause publishing costs money (mind you they don’t mention how many papers they would have to make Open Access, if any). I have no doubt that publishing costs money. My question to the AIA is, “are you a publishing company or a Society?” Is your aim to provide services to your members or insure that your publishing arm stays employed? You have 200,000 members because of your magazine, Archaeology, NOT your scholarly publication. I remember when my parents first bought me an issue, I was like 8. It was amazing and still is. However this is not about your magazine, which I actually believe is reasonably priced, its about your journal and your members. Unfortunately it appears  your favoring one over the other.

For God’s sake AIA join the moral high ground, do what’s right, support Open Access. By support I don’t mean point me towards a page with half a dozen articles and book reviews I can look at, I mean actually care about Open Access.

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