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Open Thesis

Creative Commons License
Freedom for scholarship in the internet age – DRAFT Jan 22 2012 by Heather Morrison is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada License.
Based on a work at pages.cmns.sfu.ca.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://poeticeconomics.blogspot.com/2011/12/education-is-public-good-not-commercial.html.

Heather Morrison thesis draft Jan 21 2012 – download as PDF



Chapter 1: Introduction(see below)

Chapter 2: Scholarly Communication in Crisis

Chapter 3: Open access as solution to the enclosure of knowledge

Chapter 4: Economics of scholarly communication in transition

Chapter 5: Scholarly communication and the discipline of communication

Chapter 6: Conclusions


Appendix A: Open access journals by region and country

Appendix B: The dramatic growth of open access: rationale and method

Appendix C: How many active, scholarly peer-reviewed journals?

Appendix D: Communication as a discipline and scholarly journal publishing

Appendix E: Communication journals by impact factor (top 10)

Chapter 1: Introduction

This is the first draft of the introduction for my thesis, tentatively titled Freedom for Scholarship in the Internet Age, posted to the web as an illustration of an open thesis approach. Please cite as: Morrison, H. Introduction (draft, March 2011). Freedom for Scholarship in the Internet Age. Early draft for thesis, Simon Fraser University School of Communication http://pages.cmns.sfu.ca/heather-morrison/open-thesis-draft-introduction-march-2011/. This introduction may undergo substantial changes after the rest of my thesis is completed. Comments (moderated) are welcome – please go to this blogpost to comment as the comment option does not appear with this page. Please note that the commenting function does not appear to be working at the moment; please send comments to hgmorris at sfu dot ca. I will assume that any comments are for posting unless notified otherwise.


An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good. The old tradition is the willingness of scientists and scholars to publish the fruits of their research in scholarly journals without payment, for the sake of inquiry and knowledge. The new technology is the internet. The public good they make possible is the world-wide electronic distribution of the peer-reviewed journal literature and completely free and unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and other curious minds. Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge [1].

This paragraph, from the Budapest Open Access Initiative, beautifully expresses an immanent liberating potential for scholarly communication facilitated by the internet. This is a vision that I share with my colleagues in the open access movement. The central challenge for achieving this vision is overcoming the equally immanent potential for increasing enclosure and commodification of scholarly communication that is inherent in capitalist society and can be assisted by the electronic medium, for example through digital rights management.

Struggle between these opposing tendencies at the present time is intense. The following examples are only two among many, included here for illustration purposes only. As of early 2011, the Canadian Access Copyright collective is seeking a multifold increase for rents for copyrighted material, and at the same time a decrease in rights to use these materials, including the rather odd assertion that linking to paid-for electronic resources cannot be considered part of normal usage[2].  Meanwhile, the Public Knowledge Project has developed free, open source software for journals management (Open Journals System), currently used by more than 8,000 journals around the world, with almost all being fully open access or freely available after a delay period[3].

Another broader way to view the struggle is that of contest conflict between the exceptionally profitable multi-billion dollar scholarly publishing industry seeking  maximum extraction of profits, and the scholarly gift economy that characterizes the vast majority of the creation and use of scholarly communication todaythe tradition of scholars giving away their peer-reviewed journal articles and peer review services, and the rationalization of the university system which may well be a necessary condition for this gift economy. That is, traditionally scholars have given away their work – largely as part of their tenured positions, or in preparation for these positions. As academia increasingly hires scholars on a part-time basis for very specific purposes such as lecturing, we may be inadvertently cutting the support not only for peer review, but also for many of the other tasks that a full-time faculty member takes on – like writing reference letters for students.

Once the excessive profits are factored out, there is more than enough money in the system to fund a fully open access scholarly communication system, with access to the world’s scholarly knowledge freely available to anyone, anywhere with an internet connection. The challenge is to overcome the considerable inertia of the existing system, which, through an inelastic market, sucks up all available funds through highly constraining and often multi-year academic library licenses. Academic traditions such as tenure and promotion committees’ emphasis on journal impact factors can present formidable obstacles to change.  While many scholars and activists have been working in this area over the past few years, a great many research questions remain unanswered[4].

The purpose of this thesis is to further the work of transitioning to an open access scholarly communication system designed to support and prioritize scholarship and the public good rather than profit. The method will involve analysis of key underlying historical trends in society and how they impact scholarly communication, as well as original empirical work on the growth of open access, economic analysis to inform economic aspects of transition, and a case study of scholarly communication in the discipline of communication.

The first section will situate scholarly communication within the broader context of the trends toward commodification and rationalization in western society in general and in the university context in particular. Selected alternatives to commodification and rationalization will be briefly explored.

The next section will feature an overview of open access, including in-depth definitions and articulation of sub-types and related movements, and major open access initiatives. This will be followed by original empirical work on The Dramatic Growth of Open Access, an often-quoted informal study that I have been working on since at least 2004[5].

One chapter will focus on a macro economic view of scholarly communication that will articulate the potential for transition from an economic perspective, supplementing early major studies that have been conducted in this area[6].

A case study of scholarly communication in the discipline of communication will be presented, taking into account the current system of scholarly publishing, and exploring the potential for liberation of communication scholarship to prioritize scholarship rather than commodification.

Finally, the conclusion will highlight original contributions of this thesis and make recommendations to further transition of scholarly communication towards a global open access system.

This thesis emerges from a confluence of my volunteer work over the past few years as an open access activist and theoretical studies through the School of Communication. Examples of previous work can be found through my scholarly blog, The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics http://poeticeconomics.blogspot.com, and previous publications and presentations, most notably my book, Scholarly Communication for Librarians (Oxford: Chandos, 2009).  Other publications and presentations are available as open access through the SFU Institutional Repository[7].

[1] Budapest Open Access Initiative, February 14, 2002. Retrieved Feb. 26, 2011 from http://www.soros.org/openaccess/read.shtml

[2] See Access Copyright Interim Post-Secondary Educational Institution Tariff, 2011-2013, Resources. Retrieved Feb. 26, 2011 from http://www.accesscopyright.ca/, for the Access Copyright perspective. For dissenting opinion, see the Canadian Association of Research Libraries’ CARL Supports the AUCC in its Objection to the Proposed Access Copyright Post-Secondary Education Tariff 2011-2013. Retrieved Feb. 26, 2011 from http://www.carl-abrc.ca/new/new-e.html

[3] OJS Journal User Numbers, retrieved February 26, 2011 from http://pkp.sfu.ca/ojs-user-numbers.

[4] For example, see the Research Questions section of the Open Access Directory, retrieved Feb. 26, 2011 from http://oad.simmons.edu/oadwiki/Research_questions, a section that I contribute to on a regular basis.

[5] Available through my scholarly blog, The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics, retrieved Feb. 26, 2011 from http://poeticeconomics.blogspot.com/2006/08/dramatic-growth-of-open-access-series.html

[6] For example, see Houghton et al.

[7] Morrison, Heather. SFU Institutional Repository http://ir.lib.sfu.ca/handle/1892/79/items-by-author?author=Morrison%2C+Heather