January 31, 2012

The American Anthropological Association opposes open science

Why am I surprised? This is the same group of people who wanted to remove "science" from the definition of anthropology. Apparently, not only do they think that science might not be "inclusive" enough for them (=they want to include under their auspices those who don't do science), but they also think that it should not be open.

We write today to make the case that while we share the mutual objective of enhancing the public understanding of scientific enterprise and support the wide dissemination of materials that can reach those in the public who would benefit from such knowledge (consistent with our associations' mission), broad public access to such information currently exists, and no federal government intervention is currently necessary.
Really? Try accessing the current issue of the flagship journal of the AAA, the American Anthropologist. If you're in the small part of the population that is a member of the AAA or in a subscribing institution, you can. If you are not an anthropologist, or not in a subscribing institution: tough luck. You have to pay! Either by buying access, or by spending time and money to go to a library that has access.

What is the effect of this? That anthropological knowledge will remain locked away from the vast majority of the population; that the population that funds the AAA either directly or indirectly will have no access to its work; and, most importantly, that the population at large will never be exposed to the kind of heavy-on-the-prose/light-on-the-facts/heavy-on-the-politics/light-on-the-science drivel that their tax money buys from the good folks at the AAA (*).

More from the AAA response:
We kow of no research that demonstrates a problem with the existing system for making the content of scholarly journals available to those who might benefit from it.
Read on: by "those who might benefit from it", the good folks at AAA mean "other researchers". Apparently, for AAA, plain anthropoi might not really benefit from their product. What a nice way to create an insular community of anthropologists reading and citing each others' papers with no reference to society at large?

Indeed, AAA is right: plain people do not really benefit from their papers. And, sooner or later, people will wake up and decide that either the good folks of AAA must not lock away their product where it cannot be seen, or they'll have to do without the (direct or indirect) funding that keeps them alive.

we dispute assertions underlying many of them suggesting that the federal government has the legal right to mandate public access to scholarly journal articles which result from federally funded research.
Their argument is that since journal articles are the product of non-federally funded individuals (such as editors and designers), the federal government doesn't have the right to mandate public access.

Trouble is, that these "non-federally funded" persons aren't really so non-federally funded. They are paid by publishers, who make money largely from subscribing anthropologists, and subscribing libraries, who... get their money from government. They don't get funded from government directly, but if government stopped funding anthropology departments and libraries, most of their income would disappear.

It's a nice racket: let's protect the interests of designers, publishers, and distributors! How about we protect the interests of the regular people who fund anthropology departments and libraries via their taxes, and shouldn't be forced to pay twice for the same product?

(*) With exceptions, of course.


Easy772 said...

So they're trying to make us pay to read studies basically?

pconroy said...

More like, they're asking the public to pay to read studies that the public originally funded!

Charles said...

All priesthoods become stultified due to vested interests. They keep their sacred cows and want to be the exclusive intermediaries between the hoi polloi and the mysteries. Once in a while we need a Jesus or a Dienekes to rattle their priestly jewelry from time to time and scare living hell out of them!

Dienekes said...

Let's not get carried away....

Jim said...

"Let's not get carried away...."

Don't worry Dienekes, we will protect you from the howling mob. That's why God made machine guns. Don't worry.

Crimson Guard said...

American Anthropological Association Changes Opposition to Open Access


LP said...

I can understand your frustration. The World Council of Anthropological Associations (WCAA) is working towards making anthropological research openly accessible by accumulating a list of anthropological journals, many of which are open access, at http://www.wcaanet.org/publications/mem_pub.php, you may also want to check out this post on their blog at www.wcaanet.org/blog/?p=27.

Anthony said...

we dispute assertions underlying many of them suggesting that the federal government has the legal right to mandate public access to scholarly journal articles which result from federally funded research.

They're lousy lawyers, too. If federal funding can be conditioned on requiring (theoretically) sovereign states to alter their laws in significant ways, then a mere professor has very little protection. For that matter, doesn't federal research money already come with lots of strings attached? Requiring open-access publication is just one more string.