I’m a hypocrite (of sorts)
Having praised the Physicists for the use of arXiv. I’m now going to out myself as a hypocrite. I recently heard confirmation that my first paper, ‘Knowing when to consult the oracle of Delphi’ (co-authored with Efrosyni Boutsikas) will be published. It’s not in an open access journal, nor will the offprint appear in an open archive. It’s certainly a problem, or at least half a problem. In my defence, apart from AJA there are no suitable open access journals to publish in. The DOAJ lists the Stanford Journal of Archaeology, but with the last volume online being volume II, 2003, I think it’s dormant. Now I have a paper I’d like people to read it. I’m trying to come up with some options disseminate the paper as widely as possible without miffing the publishers mightily but I’m open to suggestions.
There are two good reasons for open access in the humanities (Roy Rosenzweig has several via Open Access News). One is that if the public are paying for the research then they should have a right to be able to access it. I’d be persuaded by this if I’d received any public funding. The part of me that knows all the shades of red that banks use when they print balances is pondering writing a brief e-booklet and releasing via Amazon for $5 or so. The second, and far more practical, reason is that I am effectively a second-year PhD student who will need a job soon. The more potential employers that have access to the paper, the better my prospects.
Fortunately for this article I’ve fallen on my feet. It will appear in the September issue of Antiquity, which is the UK’s most widely read archaeological journal. Even classical departments should have relatively easy access to it. As far as the public goes, never in my wildest dreams would I imagine anyone paying £50 to subscribe to Antiquity, nor paying £15+VAT for nine pages. It’s a shame, but with my eyes on the job market does it really matter? I suspect it does, because academics are members of the public too.
If publication was enough then I’d may as well publish in Welsh. It isn’t enough. If it’s going to be meaningful it needs to be cited, which means it has to be noticed. Public attention leads to academic attention. I also think it can lead to some resentment. At the recent Classical Association meeting there were a couple of comments on ‘self-publicists’. There is a feeling that scholarly work lies at the opposite end of the scale to ‘popular’ works. It’s a beguiling dualism, but nonsense. It leads to the notion that deliberately making something obtuse and inaccessible automatically makes a work more scholarly. This is a rant for another time, but returning to the Classical Association, there were plenty of good papers there, many of them by post-grads. But does anyone seriously suggest that anyone at the early stages of their career at a conference isn’t engaging in self-publicity? Publicising work is not inherently anti-scholarly and, if it brings the attention of scholars to a work without compromising the academic content, is pro-scholarship.
Publicity at least in the UK is a sore issue for many. At the National Astronomy Meeting last year there was grumpiness among some academics that the Americans were getting funding while the British struggled and were undervalued by the government. In a media session David Whitehouse of the BBC was kind enough to explain why American universities tend to get much better press in the UK media than British universities. The secret, he explained, is to tell people what you’re doing. When it comes to publicity Americans seem to have an attitude of “Hey! Wow! Look what we’ve just found!” while the British just have an attitude.
My solution then is to produce a publicly accessible re-write. In many ways this is a step beyond public access in the sciences. I can access the articles in PLoS Biology, but I certainly cannot understand them. My work is non-disciplinary which means I have to write for classicists who know no archaeology or astronomy, archaeologists who don’t know the texts or maths, and astronomers who don’t know where Delphi is. If the article is written properly then it should be understandable by anyone. To an extent this is more feasible with a historical topic than a hard scientific subject as the data is descriptive rather than numerical, so it is more amenable to being re-written. If I’m clever and remember to give it a different title it also looks like new work. You can add your own links to academics who recycle more papers than Andrex – I’m too nice.
I thought to write the astronomical data up as a note for Nature and see if it’s accepted, to draw attention to the Antiquity article. I’ll have a PDF from Antiquity which I can use as much as I like to email or make offprints once the article is published. Then there’ll be an entry either here or on a suitable OA journal (probably a classical journal). And finally PR releases to everyone from New Scientist to Prediction if I get my way.
I know this will annoy some people, but it was drummed into me from day one that an archaeological project isn’t complete until it’s published. If you publish work in the middle of a forest, but tell no-one about it, is it really published?