Open Access statement from the Review of African Political Economy

Subject: Open Access statement from the Review of African Political Economy
Date: Tue, 12 Mar 2013 07:14:38 +0000
From: Miles Larmer <m.larmer@sheffield.ac.uk>
Via H-NET List for African History and Culture <h-africa@h-net.msu.edu>

*Yes to egalitarian ‘open access’, no to ‘pay to publish’: *

*A ROAPE position statement on Open Access*

**

Recent policy changes, by research funding agencies and government, have forced journals such as *ROAPE* to reconsider the ways in which their readers access their content and researchers publish their work. A system of ‘Gold Open Access’, in which authors or their institutions pay for immediate online publication, is being foisted upon us. In a rapidly changing context, as funders, publishers, authors and journals debate how to respond, this statement sets out the principles that *ROAPE*’s Editorial Working Group wishes to see reflected in this new environment.

Technological changes have in recent years permanently revolutionised the ways in which readers access journals. Electronic distribution means the readership of journals has multiplied enormously. For a journal such as *ROAPE*, which sees its role as political as well as academic, the widening
of its audience is welcome. Our African readership, within and outside universities, is strongly supportive of genuine ‘Open Access’.

It is recognised that such a system profoundly challenges the commercial basis of current publishing models and the financial basis on which most journals, including *ROAPE,* currently depend*. *A period of consultation and transition will therefore be necessary to establish a workable model of
genuine Open Access. So-called ‘Green’ OA in which free access is ensured through self-archiving or in public repositaries must at the same time enable journals to maintain the practices that are their *raison d’etre*: assembling material according to collectively agreed goals (in our case a radical analysis of African society and political economy), together with anonymised peer review exclusively on the basis of intellectual excellence. Any resultant system must be based on these criteria, not on the self-interested defence of current journal or publisher income bases. Consultation must involve the active participation of non-western researchers and stakeholders, whose concerns have hitherto been ignored.

The potential gains of OA are fatally undermined by the ‘pay to publish’principle that underlies ‘gold’ models of Open Access, recommended by the Finch Report in 2012 and endorsed by the UK government and its research councils. Gold models, whilst claiming to achieve open access to academic
research, serve in practice to entrench academic inequality between and within nations; squander research funding on new publishing fees; and prop up an archaic and ultimately unsustainable model of academic publishing.

The disastrous potential effects of gold OA have been identified by its many critics. Firstly, some of the Creative Commons licences associated with gold OA threaten the ownership by intellectuals of their ideas and work. Secondly, gold models establish inequalities of access to journals, for both researchers and readers. Authors whose institutions are able to pay (a tiny minority of research-intensive western-based universities) will enable some academics in their employ to make their work freely available to all readers, whilst those who cannot pay will have their work imprisoned
behind paywalls for lengthy periods, rendering it inherently second-class. Readers, the supposed beneficiaries of OA, will be denied open access to research which is not paid for in this way. Thirdly, gold OA threatens to take the power over whether, where and how to publish away from academics and places it in the hands of university bureaucrats and research funders.

For *ROAPE *and other African studies journals, a primary concern is to ensure accessibility for both readers and researchers on the continent. Whilst we welcome efforts by publishers to introduce ‘fee waivers’ for non-western researchers, the very need for such a scheme demonstrates that
gold-based OA will increase existing inequalities between resource-poor African researchers and their western counterparts, divisions which we are committed to overcome. We will reject any form of OA which does not ensure equal access to all researchers, wherever they are based.

**

*ROAPE *has therefore determined that, for the time being, it will not support gold or other OA initiatives currently being launched by its publisher Taylor & Francis and other academic publishers. *ROAPE *will join other Africanist journals, the African Studies Association of the UK and
other allied organisations to promote egalitarian access for both readers and researchers, and to reject the iniquitous gold model of OA, which threatens to commodify intellectual activity and to sow divisions between African and western researchers engaged in the common goal of understanding
and critically analysing society and political economy.

Categories: AFRICA, Journal, RESEARCH

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