Archaeological Institute of America #Fails Again with Open Access: Because the first time was so much fun

Posted on October 1, 2012


The Archaeological Institute of America is at it again with their hatred (might be a strong word, distaste? loathing?) of Open Access. The president has come out with a new letter to

clarify, about the AIA’s position toward open access.

It is basically a more articulated version of their old letter in which they came out against Open Access. Now, I use the term fail in the title not as a put down but in the Twitter sense of the word e.g. you made a mistake, now would be a good time to learn from said mistake. However, the AIA does not seem to be learning from their mistakes. Here is their rational about why they are against Open Access-

The AIA does have concerns, however.  Our primary objection to the bill is to its mandate that the published research reports be made available online and free six months after publication. This time frame is too short: the AJA depends on subscriptions, especially institutional, for its financial survival. If libraries could get access to its articles free within six months they would rightly cancel their subscriptions and wait.  Free online access would also force us to increase subscription prices to the extent that we lose revenue from reprints or access to our archive.

Another objection to the proposed bill is to the online publishing of the published research reports. Federal grants usually do not cover publication costs; they normally cover only the acquisition of raw data. Published reports add interpretation and expertise, both the result of years of contemplation and the combined efforts of many scholars, not to mention the involved and expensive publication process itself. None of this is usually paid for by Federal grants.  Nor do these grants cover our costs, especially editorial and production.

We support the concept of open access and we will encourage and facilitate ongoing discussions with our professional members about what open access entails. But perhaps the public should get access to what it has actually paid for: if raw data (e.g., the photographs of objects) or finished article, both would be available through open access. Many excavations already do publish their raw data on project websites and authors make their articles available online, and in doing so they are all in compliance with current regulations set down by funding agencies like the NSF and NEH. We would support legislation that continues this process and we would even advocate for it.

They single out National Science Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities as the funding sources they would require the articles resulting from research payed for by the Government i.e. you and me the taxpayers. The AIA implys that all of the articles in their journal, AJA, would somehow be Open Access. But, after a little digging it seems like a tempest in a teapot. There is no risk of AJA having to make all or even most of its articles Open Access, at best one extra article a year. I don’t think subscriptions will be cancelled over because a single article becomes free.

Here is how I came to that conclusion. The scope of the AJA is defined by the Governing Board of the Archaeological Institute of America as “the art and archaeology of ancient Europe and the Mediterranean world, including the Near East and Egypt, from prehistoric to Late Antique times.”

First, I exmined the National Science Foundations funding for the last five years (access here and a really cool map here). Out of 268 funded projects I found a total of 16 that met that criteria and a further 29 maybes. Those maybes include southern Russian, Neanderthals, and several other articles I just don’t see making it into AJA but who knows. My data is at the end  so you can check it out for yourselves. Yes, 6-17% of articles produced by NSF projects may (they have to be submitted to AJA and accepted) be made open access over the period of 5 years in the subjects covered by AJA. That comes out to roughly 3-5 articles a year MAY need to be made Open Access by the AIA.

This is vague because there is no guarantee that these few projects will be published in AJA. To get more detailed data I looked at the last 3.5 years of AJA (2009-2012. 2009 is partial as JSTOR suspended my account for looking at too many articles in a row, again data at the end) to see how many articles and field reports were funded with US federal grant money (It is a requirement of grants to list the funding body in any publication). The results, 4 out 88 articles, field reports, and debates were supported by funds from the US government. That is 5% of all articles over a 3.5 year period. About one article a year would have to be made Open Access.

So I have to ask, what is the AIA thinking???? Why are they positioning themselves to be the bad guy when only 1 article a year would have to be made OA. Not only is that crazy but they already make a little more than that available as Open Access already. Yes, the AIA already makes more of its content Open Access from AJA than they would have to if the law in question, that they are fighting, passed. If anyone from the AIA is reading this please pass along the info. to those who are making the decisions because as my relatives say, “you are acting the fool”.

As promised here is my data:


Posted in: Publishing