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Is OA doomed to fail in HSS?

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Publishing Technology recently featured an interesting interview with Ziyad Marar, Global Publishing Director of SAGE. The interview focused on the role of publishers in scholarly publishing, especially in the Humanities and Social Sciences. It is worth referring to this interview, especially since some of the assertions by Ziyad Marar touch on the matters raised in the article “Do OA journals need Editors?” published on Here is a bunch of my thoughts on the interview.

In his statement, Ziyad Marar emphasizes the role of editors especially in HSS-publishing. He says:

“The question people who consume scholarly content still have to answer is “how do I decide what to read?” Scholarly publishers and journal editors currently play a key role in helping answer that question. This is especially acute in the humanities and social sciences, which make their impact diffusely and over time – often in ways that are somewhat distant from the underlying scholarly or research process – culminating in that final form of expression, whether as a book, essay, chapter or article. In these fields, the publishing process helps to establish knowledge claims as authoritative, which is particularly important to early career authors.”

The editors whom I approached for my piece ‘Do OA journals need Editors?‘ expressed similar concerns:

“I do think that open access journals benefit from having editors. The editor is a useful third contributor to the publishing process along with the author and reviewer. I thought about how a journal would be without an editor. It could be argued that the quality control of plagiarism detection, design and layout advice, and language editing to improve readability could be automated or performed by production (e.g. language and typesetting) staff. However, an editor also provides the author suggestions on how to improve a manuscript’s scientific content, and suitability for the intended readership, be that an expert or less-informed audience. These tasks require a high level of familiarity with the area of study.”

Dr. Neil Youngson, Journal Editor of Non-Genetic Inheritance

However, Ziyad Marar gives us to understand that the quality of editing in the HSS can be provided only, though not exclusively, in the traditional model of publishing. Referring to OA, Ziyad Marar points, in particular, to the problem of insufficient funds for publishing monographs.

This problem is certainly present and pressing. Grants for research in HSS are small and often do not take into account the possibility of publishing in Open Access. However, this is a systemic problem concerning the allocation of resources, not the open access model itself. It does not mean that publishing in OA is a worse solution than publishing in the traditional model. The issue of the quality of an editor’s work is present in both. Publishing in the traditional way does not guarantee that editing is more professional.

I am not saying that Ziyad Marar repudiates Open Access. However, it can be inferred from the tone of the interview that he considers the traditional model to be more suitable for the HSS and supports this opinion, not surprisingly, by statements from the practitioners of those disciplines.

Indeed, the issue of Open Access in the Humanities and Social Sciences is quite difficult. Research and publication in these fields of learning have specific features. While in other areas, such as mathematics, physics, medicine, chemistry and biology, the adaptation of OA progresses quite smoothly, it is not the case for the HSS. There is also the general problem of the lack of funding for research in humanities. However, the benefits of OA, in the form of greater visibility and levels of citations pertain also to OA monographs. Currently there is a discussion in the scientific community on the ways to implement OA in the HSS. It is worth paying attention, especially since Open Access is not just about a publishing model, but rather a way of thinking about science – its directions and development.

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  1. Dear Richard. Open Science is affiliated with Versita and its aim is to promote open access as well as to educate prospective authors about funds and mandates and to instruct them on editorial process – be it about books or journals.

    1. Thank you for this Kamil.

      I wonder if you could clarify what you mean when you say that Open Science is affiliated with Versita. The “About” page of the blog makes no mention of Versita. Yet I note that you are listed on the company’s web site as one of its “People” (, and your job description is defined as, “Keeping company’s blog about Versita and e-publishing worldwide”.

      Are you an employee of Versita? Do you receive any payment from the company?

      I do feel it would help if the relationship between Open Science and Versita was made more transparent. Would you agree?

  2. Dear Richard, I thought that we were transparent. But let me try again:

    Affiliated to Versita means – the blog was initiated and is supported by Versita as an independent forum for general discussion and exchange of news about OA in totum. What it does not mean, is that the blog is an extension, an appendage, a surreptitious partisan of Versita’s or anyone else’s interests, other than the generic promotion – intellectual and practical, of OA as a new and positive form of scholarly exchange. My relationship with Versita is, in other words, that of support and independence, not any different to that of any university researcher – affiliated, supported by an institution but independent in words, ideas and deeds. OpenScience is my project, and every word in it (for better or worse) comes from me unmediated by any advice, prompting or qualification of any kind, from any quarters, save for thel advice from one of Versita’s bilingual staff. Should you find that troubling and were to offer to proof-read my sometimes Idiosyncratic English, I would be delighted. As to who pays me, Richard, you show me your payslips first;)

  3. The subscription model reigned until the mid-1990s, but there is now a mixed economy for journal publishing, moving increasingly to the Open Access (OA) model since 2006. Journal publishers’ main downstream customers are changing from librarians and readers to authors and funders. There is also the involvement of ministries and government departments. The transition is underway with a 2020 target for the full Gold OA model. The US is less keen on Gold; some of Europe is pro-Green; the HEFCE document is awaited. However, we know that QR funded work counts as ‘publicly funded’ research. Journal publishers greeted this with dismay as Finch indicated a fully-funded transition to a new article publishing model. Most publishers have signed up to the STM statement to ‘support sustainable Open Access’.

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