Going Open Access is Like Transitioning Into a Vegetarian Lifestyle

Image by Deborah Breen Whiting from Pixabay
Image by Deborah Breen Whiting from Pixabay


It doesn’t have to be all or nothing and you’ll be fine. 

I feel like many scholars tempted to try open access often don’t even begin for two main reasons. Either they refuse to respond to external pressure from their institutions or their peers (“You need to be visible”, “You agreed on publishing everything in open access to get this grant”) or they feel that they have to publish everything in open access from now on. But you don’t have to do it for anyone else than for you — so you’d rather ask yourself: how will it be beneficial for me? What will gain from it? And from this perspective, what and where do you want to put in open access? 

This is why I compare it with a journey towards vegetarianism: you have to do it if/when you feel like it, because you want to give it a try, because you (want to) believe that it makes (even a small) difference. Not because you feel guilty not doing it or because everyone tells you it’s cool. And once you’ve begun, you can always change your mind, adjust, and still eat / publish whatever you want whenever and wherever you want. You will just probably notice, after a while, that your habits have gradually changed, and that you may be ready for more. 

I was not predestined to become committed to open access, and it just kind of happened. Here are some tips that I feel would have reassured me when I first began reflecting on fostering open access in practice. 

You can publish in reputed journals and in open access at the same time (the same paper!)

Many people associate open access with low quality, basically because they attach open access to relatively new journals that may be extremely demanding but have not proven their worth yet. I won’t engage in a debate on whether open access journals are good or not (and, conversely, whether non open access journals are good or not). Many (open access and non access alike) journals do excellent work, have an editorial board, a peer-review process (anonymous or not), and strong acceptance criteria, but this is not the point. 

This view is misleading because it reduces open access to journals, while you can publish in open access afterwards, i.e. after being published in a non open access journal. You can still publish in non-open access journals if they are valued in your community and upload the postprint (the non-formatted version from the editor, i.e. without the final pages) in an open access repository.

You ensure the dissemination of your work and you publish in a well-ranked journal. 

You get to be recognized by your peers and to make your work available in open access.

You are the one benefiting from it.

You can do it little by little, in your own rhythm

One of the most common misunderstandings when it comes to open access is that you need to put everything in open access, right now, including unpublished / rejected / forthcoming journal articles. When it comes to this, I often hear that peer review exists for a reason, and that you don’t see why you should expose yourself by making unfinished work available to the scientific community (that will judge you). But this is not what open access is about!

Nobody forces you to make anything available online that is just not ready (yet). By putting things in open access, you take the control back on your publications. You decide what to publish, when, and where (i.e. on which platform). 

  • You can decide to put everything you’ve done until now in open access or only future work.
  • You can decide to register all your papers on an open repository (such as HAL-SHS, no, Academia and Research Gate are not open access) but to upload only some of the full papers. (This way, your papers with keywords are easy to be found on any search engine and all your papers are listed at one place, making your work easy to spot and follow, but you still get to choose what is freely available.)
  • You can decide to make your slides available in open access because they are such a condensed version of your thoughts that you know that you will still be able to develop them adequately in a full research paper, but you already want to get feedback.
  • You can decide to put some of your lecture notes online in open access because you think it can be useful to colleagues and students. 

You ensure the dissemination of your work on your own terms, following your agenda and your priorities.  

You get to be read by your peers when you want it, where you want it, and you still contribute to the open access movement. 

You are the one benefiting from it. 

Don’t get me wrong

I still believe that more open access is always better. But not wanting to publish work in progress in open access —which is a perfectly valid point — is not a good enough reason not to put anything in open access. Just as eating meat once in a while is not a good enough reason to just stop trying to eat less meat. 

So, it really is a bit like vegetarianism, huh? Everyone talks about it, not everyone actually knows what it entails (“Of course you eat fish when you’re a vegetarian”), everyone thinks they should try because it is somehow a ‘good’ thing in an abstract way (nature, the earth, our future, research, knowledge, science…), yet not everyone actually takes action because it seems like such a big step. 

Yet there is no need to be revolutionary and advocate for open access for all your publications, all the timeall at once. Just do what works for you. Just give it a try. 

You are the one benefiting from it.

Cite this article as: Naomi Truan, "Going Open Access is Like Transitioning Into a Vegetarian Lifestyle," in Ici et là, 21/01/2019, https://icietla.hypotheses.org/872.

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