I know open access is a regular topic on twitter and in the blogosphere, (and I've already been beaten to this punch, here and here and here) but it's something that many of us grapple with. Before I start I want to state that I support open access, have published in OA journals and paid for OA in journals that provide that option. But I don't limit myself to only OA solutions. Why? Because I can't afford it.
We'll deal with the financial aspect of OA in a minute, but there's more to "affording" something than the dollars. Like practically anything, academia is a hierarchical system. There's the obvious hierarchy that can be seen in career stage, but there's the sometimes less obvious divisions that exist.
Institution of employment is next on the list, followed closely (and slightly more opaquely) by lineage. Who did you train with? Where did you train? Who has your back when it comes time for nominations, honorary positions, invitations, etc. It's pretty clear from a variety of studies that gender and ethnicity further complicate these factors and add sub-layers to the whole mix. What does this all have to do with OA? Plenty.
The OA movement is admirable and I wish I could be more a part of it. The truth is, I care more about getting a foothold in my field and establishing my career than I do about the OA movement. Is that selfish? In the short term, yes. In the longer term, I hope to be in a better position to use OA journals without being concerned about the evaluation of my publication record. I didn't start my career with an academic silver spoon, so my margin of error is slimmer. I network the shit out of contacts because I can't count on being introduced around to all my mentors' National Academy friends. There are certain doors I have to pry open, and I don't have to deal with the gender and ethnicity issues that others face on a daily basis. Even for the riff raff, I have it pretty good. Does that mean I can pick journals simply because they are OA? No.
For one, regardless of Impact Factor, there are certain journals that have broad name recognition in my particular corner of science. Whether it is tenure evaluation, grant panels or nomination boards, the journals on your CV matter. It's one thing to say "those panels need to change their thinking!" when your job and funding are highly secure, but another for those of us scrapping it out. Then there's the problem of where My Community will see my publications. Some OA journals are not on everyone's radar. Can I take that risk?
The second issue is the actual cost. Those who say "It's just $1000" maybe haven't published in a while because the fees for PLoS everything but One are a bit steeper than that. Three grand for PLoS Biology? Add in institutional overhead and now we're at $5K. I've spent that on preliminary data that got us a grant, which supports three people in my lab. Where's the intersection of OA morality and my lab's bank account?
I really respect both the work that comes out of Michael Eisen's lab, and his passion for causes he throws himself into. However, browbeating junior faculty and postdocs into making career choices that are likely to not be optimal for them because of his own moral convictions is not the way to greater OA acceptance. If one of us doesn't make tenure or never gets a TT job because of our journal choices (or because we burn up critical start-up on OA fees), that neither helps the OA movement, nor science. But casualties are just the price for a morals war, right? Infantry are always the easiest to replace.
Thanks, but I'm going to continue to make journal choices that maximize my ability to compete in my field. If that's morally reprehensible to you, enjoy your high horse. I'm going to keep my people paid and ensure they leave my lab in a position to compete for the jobs they want. Martyrism never looked good on me anyway.
*h/t Isis for the title correction.