On Open Access and Equity: Thoughts from our Authors

our authors Oct 28, 2021

The trouble is that there is equity;
and "equity".
There is the ideal;
and the marketing/PR construct.
Many of us support the one;
but not the other.

Tony Gardiner held the position of Reader in Mathematics and Mathematics Education at the University of Birmingham until December 2011. In 2011, Tony was elected Education Secretary of the London Mathematical Society. Author of Teaching Mathematics at Secondary Level and co-editor of The Essence of Mathematics Through Elementary Problems.

My decision to choose open access publishing for my book was twofold. First, as a former university administrator who oversaw library acquisition budgets,  I was acutely aware of the structural and access challenges of conventional commercial academic publishing and the need to be part of the movement towards open access. Second, I knew that my potential readers included students as well as people at universities with scarce professional resources, and that my book relied on extensive use of color figures that ordinarily would make it extremely costly. Publishing my book as open access was thus an opportunity to reach audiences everywhere at no cost to the reader, and to simultaneously maximize the number and kinds of people who would read it. It was also a way for me to signal, through one personal action, the importance of addressing equitable access in producing and using open knowledge and in supporting the infrastructure of open access.

Andrew C. Comrie, Ph.D. Professor & Director, School of Geography, Development & Environment, University of Arizona. Author of Like Nobody's Business: An Insider's Guide to How US University Finances Really Work.

This is a screenshot showing which countries people come from who visit my website "History of International Relations: A Non-European Perspective." The web page is also a textbook, published by Open Book Publishers. The book tells the story of international relations as they existed before European colonialism. This is a story which rarely gets told, and ordinary textbooks, even outside of Europe, often ignore it. Yes, the US is overrepresented among the visitors to the web page, and so, for some reason, is India, and no one in Greenland, Svalbard, and the Central African Republic seems to care. However, the rest of the world is colored in the same pink hue. The pages get between 200 and 500 visitors a day, and there have been more than 100,000 visitors in total. I like to think that the textbook is used in classrooms around the world. It's freely downloadable from the OBP web site.

Erik Ringmar, Professor, Dept of Political Science and International Relations
at Ibn Haldun University, Istanbul, Turkey. Author of History of International Relations: A Non-European Perspective.

In the little-recognised field of folklore studies, all books should be freely available to read and reuse online. Graduate students of folklore in US and Europe are no richer than other students; new introductions to the field are published fairly often, and important new studies appear every year. The same is true in African studies, even more true in African folklore studies, for a more poignant reason: students and scholars in African countries have painfully little access to the expensive books published in Europe and America. But their internet access is growing apace, and they will gobble up new and old studies online.
My deceptively titled ‘How to Read a Folktale’, published by OBP, is a translation of an epic from Madagascar, of interest to a pretty small number of these specialist readers. The book I’m writing now, which I’ll submit to OBP, ought to be more popular. I’m eager that it be available to the general reader through online publication for all the same reasons. OBP’s alliance with the World Oral Literature Project is another inducement.

Lee Haring, Professor Emeritus of English at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. Author of How to Read a Folktale: The 'Ibonia' Epic from Madagascar.

Open Access, Equity and Peer-review: Over the years I have become increasingly frustrated with the peer-review system, especially in case of interdisciplinary topics and methods. There seem to be few journals in the humanities and social sciences whose editors are able and willing to find appropriate reviewers even when they claim their journal accepts and encourages interdisciplinary research. This hinders the dissemination of and access to new ways of thinking about old-age problems. There is also research on and countless anecdotes about the influence on editors of an author’s affiliation and name (male/female, Anglo/non-western). The peer-review process should become much more “open access” and equitable. One possible solution to maintaining research integrity while opening up access and debate would be to modify one step in the process. Quite frequently, in my experience, the author is asked to make revisions which is then sent back to the reviewers. At this point it is possible, in fact quite common, that one of the reviewers recommends publishing while the other does not and on this ground the editor rejects the paper. I believe a more equitable outcome that would be better for progressing knowledge in an open manner would be to publish the revised paper together with the anonymised reviews of the revised version. This would enable everybody to see what problems may still be with the research – according to the negative reviewer – and decide for themselves while making whatever merit the paper has available for further debate in the public domain. Such a process would limit the opportunity for “gatekeeping”, and contribute to open and equitable access to disseminating new ideas and approaches to data collection and interpretation, especially if the platform is openly available to the entire world.

Dorottya Fabian, (PhD, FAHA) Professor of Music, UNSW Australia. Author of A Musicology of Performance: Theory and Method Based on Bach's Solos for Violin.

Ideas fill an unbounded space, a receptacle to which all can contribute and from which all can take what is useful.  But imagination and selection are critical skills; the first for making ideas worthy of the space; the other for discerning what is appropriate in a context.  There are also two barriers, neither intrinsic to the space though both deter access to it.  One is language: we can’t use ideas formulated in a language we don’t understand.  We await software that translates among principal languages and ultimately among all languages.  A different barrier is the complex product of commerce and vanity: we’re persuaded that the worth of our ideas depends on the reputation of their publisher. Wanting an imprimatur that vouches for the quality of our ideas, we harm the free exchange of ideas, and diminish ourselves.

David Weissman, Professor of Philosophy at City College of New York. Author of Agency: Moral Identity and Free Will.

Open Book Publishers

We believe that knowledge should be available to everyone: our books are free to read and download online, and we are working to create a world in which all research is freely available to all readers