We can make our written works free to everyone, with only a little extra effort. Too much of what we write is behind publisher paywalls. The current system is socially unjust and irrational. It hampers the spread of scholarship’s benefits, costing more than it should, limiting our impact.1 It is easy to blame the publishers or ignore the problem. But today, we have the power — and thus the moral responsibility — to make our works Open Access (OA). This letter is a call to action: From now on, we must make our works freely available to everyone.2 Below, I explain how.
First, though, I should confess that I am breaking a promise: to create an OA criminology journal, which I titled Criminology Open.3 While trying to develop it, I learned a lot about journal publishing, OA, and open science more broadly.4 Ironically, the biggest lesson is we do not need OA journals to make our works OA. Already, we are able to share the vast majority of our works in a legal, free, public manner over the internet. The major problem, then, is not publishers, copyright or technology. It is us.
For readers new to OA, it is important to list and define a few key concepts.5 In a work’s “life-course,” it transitions from being a complete draft (called a “preprint”) to accepted for publication (“postprint”) to finalized for publication (“publisher version”). Those stages correspond with color-coded types of OA. In this letter, two are most important: “green access” — the sharing of postprints (or preprints); and, “gold access” — the sharing of publisher versions.
Compared to our peers in many other fields, criminologists know less about OA and engage in less of it. I assume the former causes the latter; hence this letter. Yet there are other inhibitors.6 Most of us cannot afford to pay the substantial “processing charge” to publish our works as gold access.7 There are OA outlets without those fees,8 called “diamond access,” but they are not “top”9 outlets in criminology. We could, nevertheless, prioritize OA by publishing in them. But personal rewards — promotion, tenure, money, and so on — are more important to many of us, so we opt to get our works published in paywalled outlets (that we deem) closer to the top.
There is a compromise, however. To make your works OA, you do not have to pay expensive fees or change where you publish. We can and should take advantage of green access. This is already allowed by the vast majority of criminology journals, for example. By going green, we will free our works from paywalls, making the system more socially just and rational by facilitating the free sharing of scholarship, thereby increasing its benefits, lowering its costs, and increasing our impact.10 Your works will gain usage, downloads,11 and citations, especially among people — in and outside academia — who do not already enjoy privileged access. Better still, providing green access is not difficult or time consuming; more about this, below.
I think green access is the best way to make criminology more open because it is cheap and requires little systemic change. That said, prescriptions for how to pursue OA should cover the full range of options — green, gold and diamond access — for articles, chapters, and books, conceivably more.12 With that in mind, below is what I think every criminologist should do.
Make OA an important part of deciding where we publish. When considering potential outlets, know if each is diamond access, provides gold access, or permits green access.13 There are other considerations, but leaving those constant: Prioritize publishing in outlets that are, one, more accessible and, two, less expensive to publish in. That makes diamond access outlets the best, but, if none is right for a given work, submit to those that permit immediate green access or, if you can afford it, provide gold access. Among the OA options, the least good is embargoed green access; this should be the last resort.14 Forgo all other outlets.
When a work is accepted for publication, take advantage of the ability to make it OA. Get the publisher version (if diamond or gold access) or postprint (if green access) uploaded to the websites of your choice. One should be your institution’s repository, and another should be more personal (e.g., CrimRxiv) but to everyone’s benefit.15 Don’t be shy about asking your librarian for help.
This letter is the first in a series on how we can be better stewards of criminological information, knowledge, and understanding. In the meantime, if you would like to share your thoughts or learn more, please comment below or email me. I hope you will.
For a more open future,
PS: This letter benefited from input by Alex Stevens, Bill Sabol, David Décary-Hétu, Richard Wright, Sandy Schumann, and Toby Davies. I encourage readers to learn more about PubPub, a member of MIT’s Knowledge Futures Group, which I used to write and publish this letter.