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?


When he's not tired, fixing his car or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.

2 Responses

  1. Athena says:

    Well, I for one will hap­pily and indis­crim­in­ately pho­to­copy the art­icle and read it:) Which issue is it sched­uled for? Antiquity is flip­ping expens­ive online, I’ve got to har­ass the lib­rary and ask when they will be get­ting us online access.

    You said: 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.

    Oh gee, gosh, are you per­chance refer­ring to Pierre Bourdieu? . He almost ruined my Xmas, until I firmly gave the book back to the lib­rar­ian, ask­ing her to des­troy all cop­ies. Somehow, my request was ignored 😉

  2. Alun says:

    It’s due for the September issue, which may be bet­ter for me news-wise than June.

    Alan Campbell, Tricky Tropes: Styles of the Popular and the Pompous in Popularizing Anthropology tackles Bourdieu. I’ve just real­ised that ‘beguil­ing’ isn’t in my vocab­u­lary, so it may be a lift from that. I per­son­ally wouldn’t stop at Bourdieu.

    I think for some enlightened illit­er­acy is the goal. Not only that but when I have time to trawl through my books I’ll write some­thing that pulls a quote the philo­sopher who argued that writ­ing should be obscure in order that it was given the respect it deserved. One of the French post-modernists I think, but I can’t remem­ber which one.

    I accept that there will be a schol­arly style of writ­ing as long as text remains phys­ic­ally bound. There are lim­its on the space of a prin­ted journal and in a book so words will be at a premium. That leads to a con­cise and spe­cial­ised lan­guage. Nevertheless there should be some­thing more to schol­arly writ­ing than bash­ing your brains against a sheaf of paper and hand­ing in whatever sticks.