Sunday, July 28, 2013

ACM's optional Open Access is effectively a NOOP

Not all academics have the great moral luck to be working in NLP, where almost everything we publish is going to be Open Access whether we care about OA or not -- barring some out-of-the-way venues who really need to get their acts together.

For example, Lindsey Kuper (both my favorite programming languages researcher and my wife) just put in a paper at the Functional High-Performance Computing workshop at ICFP. And roughly five minutes after she got the acceptance notification, she got the form to sign over publishing rights to the ACM.

Now the ACM has recently made open-access publishing available through their Digital Library -- for $1100 to $1700, depending on the circumstances. I’m not opposed to APCs (“article processing charges”) as such; this seems like a step in the right direction. But I’ll argue that this particular approach is effectively a no-op.

It was unclear to Lindsey’s advisor whether they could pay the Open Access fee out of their grant money -- and while he’s a great, upstanding guy, he’s also a young pre-tenure professor, so he didn’t have a lot of spare time to look into this. He’s trying to do some science, not get bogged down in policy details. They went with the “retain copyright, but the DL copy won’t be OA“ option. I imagine this scenario will be pretty typical.

So this new policy effectively won’t change anything for the ACM’s Digital Library: all old papers are still locked down, and for most of the new ones, the authors won’t fork over the money for the OA option.

It’s a giant missed opportunity; the Digital Library could be a phenomenally useful resource. But for people without ACM membership or institutional access -- e.g., almost every working programmer -- the situation is the same as before. If you accidentally click on a link to the DL, that’s just a momentary dead end. Hopefully you can find the paper somewhere else.