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"Archaeology must interfere": The Initiative "Open Access 2020" and the big fuss about it in spring 2016.

A comment by  PD Dr. Frank Siegmund and Diane Scherzler M. A.

On March 21st, 2016, with a significant number of participants from Germany, 30 scholarly organizations of international importance presented their initiative "OA 2020" or - to be more precise - "Open Access 2020 – initiative for the large-scale transition to open access" to the public. Their aim is that – by 2020 – the publishing of all scholarly journals world-wide will be completely transformed to Open Access. This means that the readers will have open and free reading access to all scholarly journals. The financial basis for this will be created by dissolving the currently state financed subscription fees for journals and use that money for publication fees of Open Access journals.

The logo of OA2020

Ultimately, libraries keep paying the same amount of money, but for a different purpose. In the end, academia would pay the publishing fees, but not the fees for permission to read the journals. The initiative OA 2020, with the German Max Planck Society as one of the driving forces, goes back to the 12th Open Access Conference held in Berlin in October 2015 which has now resulted in a specific document. In its press release, the MPG calls for support and drafts of the initiative – which the DGUF did on March 23rd, 2016.

Big fuss about Open Access

Die DGUF gibt ihre Schriften im Open Access heraus.

Certainly one can scoff about the current big ado: "everything has already been said, but not yet by everybody". There is much truth in this common saying when committee sessions drag on endlessly. It also applies here. In principle, everything of importance now being trumpeted out loud by OA 2020, can be found in the Budapest declaration of 2002, but above all in the Berlin declaration of October 2003 and in the many documents based on it. Only on February 4th, 2016, with great enthusiasm, did the influential alliance of European Universities (EUA) present something similar, but only following suit with what the LERU ("League of European Research Universities") already proposed in October 2015. Only a few days before the launch of OA 2020, the ad hoc working group "Open-Access-Gold in the frame of the Priority Initiative 'Digital Information' of the alliance of German scholarly organizations" published their recommendations regarding Open Access. It seems that currently there is a race when it comes to publishing documents in favor of Open Access.

What is new about it?
The texts set high demands ("global") and appear pragmatic and substantial, ("transformation roadmap") although for the moment these are the only good resolutions. In comparison to the studies of 2002/03, the only new thing is that more careful calculation was conducted. Additionally, substantial studies (e.g. Lawson, 2015; Schirmer, Geschuhn & Vogler, 2015) have concluded that a consequent conversion to Open Access under a collectivized state payment of otherwise author-financed publication fees (APCs, article processing charges) overall is no more expensive than the present subscription model where scholarly publishing is paid via subscriptions, i.e. the costs are paid by the reader. This, however, is a conclusion which does not need the support of any extensive studies, but is rather a reflection of comparably simple economic interrelationships.

An assessment of the Initiative from DGUF’s perspective
With a mocking smile moving on to more important things? This, from the DGUF’s perspective, would be too short-sighted. The number of the current protagonists is too large and since the initiative is in accordance with relevant tendencies within the scope of EU-Research funding ("horizon 2020") as well as being a concept that has turned mainstream, it has good prospects. But also because the OA 2020 lacks four essential factors, which in our opinion are important and which, particularly in the humanities, must be discussed before it is too late once again:

  • OA 2020 almost exclusively speaks of scholarly journals. Monographs which particularly in the humanities play an essential role in publishing, are not included. Humanities scholars should not allow an OA 2020 discussion without monographs being taken into account.
  • OA 2020 focuses on the expensive subscription-based journals published by leading scientific publishers and wants to change their financing model. In doing so, important pioneers are overlooked; like, for example, the DGUF and its journal "Archäologische Informationen" already published in Platinum Open Access (i. e. without APCs). These journals, too, require fair and sustainable financing models. Or is it intended that those who benefit from the change are only those who have resisted for the longest time and most consistently?
  • Another trouble spot is the recommendation by the "Ad hoc working group Open Access Gold" to accept offsetting contracts in place of conventional subscriptions. The problem here is that it overlooks that such contracts with important scientific publishing houses always apply only to employees of the contracting partner’s institutions. In doing so, citizens (key word "citizen science") as well as independent scholars (which are found particularly in the humanities) without any institutional ties will not have access to numerous publications.
  • OA 2020 as well as the other initiatives still leave out the subject of copyrights for images like scholarly photographs and illustrations. This is a subject of central importance for archaeological OA-publications (Canny, 2015; Siegmund & Scherzler, 2015).

Archaeology must interfere
In brief: almost all of these declarations and initiatives which are nearly identical in content and often are signed by the same protagonists, still do not represent the key interests of the humanities. We, including archaeology, must participate in these debates and exert influence so that in the end archaeology with its specific requirements and conditions can benefit from these positive developments.

March 24th, 2016


Translation: Folkert Tiarks M. A., TopTransArchaeo Translations

Urgeschichte, Vorgeschichte und andere Archäologien: Eine Begriffsklärung
Das Fach, um das es der DGUF geht, wird mit unterschiedlichen Begriffen bezeichnet.
Hinter dem bekannten, scheinbar einfachen Begriff "Archäologie" verbergen sich viele unterschiedliche Archäologien. mehr

More on

Frank Siegmund
Vice Chair of DGUF (in German)

Diane Scherzler
Chair of DGUF (in German)

Siegmund, F. & Scherzler, D.: "Die Archäologie muss sich einmischen" (German version of the comment)

DGUF journal "Archäologische Informationen" (Platinum Open Access)

DGUF monograph series "Archäologische Berichte" (Platinum Open Access)

More on WWW

Ad-hoc-working group Open-Access- Gold im Rahmen der Schwerpunktinitiative "Digitale Information" der Allianz der deutschen Wissenschafts-Organisationen (Hrsg.) (4.3.2016): Empfehlungen zur Open-Access-Transformation. Strategische und praktische Verankerung von Open Access in der Informationsversorgung wissenschaftlicher Einrichtungen.

Canny, N. (2015): Opening Access to Archaeology. Archäologische Informationen, 38, 21-29.

EUA European University Association (4.2.2016): EUA Roadmap on Open Access to Research Publications.

Lawson, St. (2015): "Total cost of ownership" of scholarly communication: managing subscription and APC payments together. Learned Publishing, 28(1), 9-13  [23.3.2016].

LERU (12.10.2015): "Christmas is over. Research funding should go to research, not to publishers!" Moving Forwards on Open Access. LERU Statement for the 2016 Dutch EU Presidency (12.10.2015).

Max Planck Society (21.3.2016): Press release "New initiative to boost Open Access. Research organizations declare support for an OA transformation of scholarly journals".

Pampel, Heinz (21.3.2016): Open Access. Globale Initiative gestartet - ein Kommentar vom Open-Science-Koordinationsbüro der Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft [21.3.2016].

Schimmer, R., Geschuhn, K. K., & Vogler, A. (2015): Disrupting the subscription journals’ business model for the necessary large-scale transformation to open access. doi:10.17617/1.3.

Siegmund, F. & Scherzler, D. (2015): Open Access und Open Data in der Ur- und Frühgeschichte: Bestandsaufnahme und Ausblick. Archäologische Informationen, 38, 11-19.

Website "open access 2020"

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