Monday, December 30, 2013

The APA privatizes, too

Unlike many of my colleagues and friends in Classics Departments around the US and abroad, I will not be travelling to Chicago this week for the annual meeting of the American Philological Association.  The APA continues to accept donations to a recently completed capital campaign with the goal of supporting a digital "Center for Classics Research and Teaching."  (See the description here.)  The APA claims that its center will "make high quality information about the Classical World available in accessible formats to the largest possible audience by using technology in new and exciting ways," but has never clearly addressed the fact that, as proposed, the center will include material for APA members only.

Like Elsevier and some other distributors, in other words, the APA wants to control who can read scholarly work as part of its "business model."  Like Elsevier, the APA leadership is doubtless sincere in its belief that its "business model" is paramount.  But like Elsevier, the APA winds up in a Wonderland, where, with Humpty Dumpty, we can make words mean whatever we choose.  The idea that closed-access material could be available to "the largest possible audience" is ludicrous.  In 2012, over a billion IPv4 addresses were in use, and, while difficult to estimate, the number of individual internet users is certainly much higher.  It must exceed the APA's membership by at least six orders of magnitude. (That is, the number of internet users is surely at least 100,000 times greater than the number of APA members.)

More simply, like Elsevier, the APA's plan privatizes scholarly work that should be published.  In criticizing Elsevier's business practices, I argued that

Scholarly publication in a digital world means that a work is openly accessible for others to inspect, critique, and build upon, and we should insist that in reviews for tenure and promotion, only scholarly publications meeting this definition qualify as published work.

We should hold professional organizations to the same standard.

Unfortunately, just as these essential scholarly values are often ignored in reviews of individuals for tenure and promotion, they are often likewise neglected in evaluation of funding requests from educational institutions, federal programs and private philanthropic organizations.  There is no quick or easy way to change these entrenched practices that directly oppose the basic working method of scholarship.  But I have the choice not to become a member of (and support with my membership fees) an organization that is building a system of information apartheid.

If you are at the APA this week, try to get a clear answer to a yes/no question:  will the APA's digital publications be openly accessible for others to inspect, critique, and build upon?


Unknown said...

Thanks for pointing out the dead link. I've added it to the redirect table. :-)

I can't speak for the APA as a whole, but I can say that the Digital Latin Library Project, a joint project of the APA, MAA, and RSA, plans to operate on an Open Access model with respect to the new critical editions and commentaries that it will publish.

Neel Smith said...

Thanks -- I've updated the text to point to the live link instead of Google's cached version.