The Irony of Paywalled Articles Is They Can Be Made Open Access for Free

Scott Jacques & Eric L. Piza (2022)

Originally published in March 2022 edition of ACJS Today. Reproduced with permission.

The field of criminal justice (CJ) uses research, education, and outreach to make the world better. CJ scholars have become increasingly concerned with applied science, whereby research findings are widely disseminated and used to positively impact the CJ system. The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) serves this mission by captaining three journals: Justice Quarterly (JQ), The Journal of Criminal Justice Education (JCJE), and The Justice Evaluation Journal (JEJ). Their articles advance what’s known about the CJ system, education, and research itself. This knowledge helps people to improve their practices. All of us in the academy want ACJS journals to be read and used by colleagues, students, journalists, community leaders, legislators, policymakers, police chiefs, judges, wardens—everyone and anyone.

There is a big problem holding back ACJS journals: Their articles, like most in our field, are prohibitively expensive to read, leading them to go unused. Most people can’t afford to unlock the paywall. For a single electronic copy, the cost is $47. Some of us have free access via our library or membership in ACJS, but most of us don’t. Journal paywalls make it harder for CJ practitioners to create and implement evidence-based policies and services (Bennell & Blaskovits, 2019). These paywalls are a challenge to students, staff, and faculty, too. The skyrocketing cost of journal subscriptions have led many universities to cancel their deals; the trend will only grow (Gaind, 2019; McKenzie, 2018).

Unequal access to knowledge is a social injustice. It’s a detriment to scholarly impact. It stands against the ACJS Code of Ethics, which affirms faithfulness to “free and open access to knowledge, to public discourse of findings, and to the sharing of the sources of those findings whenever possible.”[1] It’s counter to many of ACJS’s purposes per its Constitution & By-Laws.[2]

ACJS can provide complete open access (OA) to its journals. It can do so easily and quickly at no-cost. This transformation would enable anyone with an internet connection and a computer to freely read and share ACJS journal articles. This would be socially just. It would increase the journals’ citation metrics and altmetrics. Properly executed, this poses no legitimate threat to ACJS’s revenue from licensing its journals to a publisher, currently Routledge (an imprint of Taylor & Francis).[3] A lot of progress can be made because there’s a long way to go. Of any leading journal in our field, for example, JQ has the smallest percent of OA articles; 91% of articles published between 2017 and 2019 are fully paywalled (see Ashby, 2020).

To understand how such dramatic change is possible, you need to know about the different types of OA. With respect to ACJS journals, two kinds are most important: “green” and “gold.” They are defined by their relationship to different types of papers: preprints, postprints, and versions of record (VOR). A paper is a preprint if it hasn’t been accepted for publication, and a postprint if it has been. OA is “green” if to preprints and postprints. “Gold OA” is to the VOR, or the “final” version published in the outlet, and always entails an article processing charge (APC). The tables show the major distinctions.

Table 1. Types of Papers

Stage of PaperType of Paper
PreprintPostprintVersion of Record
Submitted for publicationX
Accepted for publicationX
Published by outletXX

Table 2. Types of Open Access Pertinent to Current ACJS Journals

Type of PaperType of Open Access
GreenGold
PreprintX
PostprintX
Version of RecordX

At ACJS journals, the APC to make an article gold OA is $3,400.[4] Unsurprisingly, few authors pay this fee. At the time of writing, for example, only 5% of the journals’ “Latest articles” (i.e., “OnlineFirst”) are gold OA. This is fine with us because, generally speaking, we think it is irrational to pay APCs. Why? Because paywalled articles can be made OA for free. Authors do so by sharing their preprints and postprints on their personal websites, institutional repositories, field-specific (e.g., CrimRxiv) and general-purpose repositories (e.g., SocArxiv, Zenodo), and professional networking sites (e.g., ResearchHub, ResearchGate, Academia).

Green OA isn’t perfect. By definition, preprints and postprints are not the versions of record, which are the best ones to use. Short of access to them, postprints and preprints are useful replacements. The substance of a paper’s postprint and VOR should be exactly the same, though they may have stylistic differences. The substance of a preprint may match that of its VOR, but it may not if changed by the review process or otherwise. In short, then, gold OA is too expensive, and preprints may not adequately reflect the VORs, which make green OA to postprints the best of the bunch.

Every major CJ publisher expressly permits authors to provide green OA to their postprints (and preprints). This has an interesting moral and practical implication: Publishers are not to blame for the lack of OA at ACJS journals and elsewhere. Authors are the culprits, we hate to say. It’s understandable that they can’t afford gold OA, but green OA has no APC. It’s an easy, fast, and free way to promote social justice and unlock potential impact. There’s no good reason not to do it.

That said, CJ researchers and educators are not experts in library and information science. CJ programs offer no or little training in OA and “scholarly communication” more broadly. Our professors told us to publish frequently and/or in good places. They didn’t tell us to maximize our impact and serve the public good by making our papers OA. After all, OA is a relatively new development, especially given the slow pace of change in academia. Back in the world of print publications, OA wasn’t possible. We’re now in the digital age. It’s time to capitalize on new opportunities.

There are many people who want to help authors make their work OA. Librarians are available to assist in all sorts of things, including copyright, licenses, and getting papers into repositories. Some of your colleagues (us included) are available to take questions and steer you in the right direction. CrimRxiv is establishing a network of moderators to serve as “local” points of assistance. You can always tweet at @criminologyopen or send an email to hello@criminologyopen.com. Ignorance of OA can’t continue to be an excuse.

What can ACJS do to help authors provide green OA to articles in JQ, JCJE, and JEJ? A lot. Some of the options are difficult, expensive, or slow. We encourage everyone to avoid them. The best example of a bad idea is transitioning the journals to all gold OA. After all, few of us can afford to pay thousands of dollars for APCs. There are many better options: easy, fast, and free to implement. ACJS can provide completeOA to its journals. How so? The first step is asking for help. We are thankful for the opportunity to write this article for ACJS Today. Future efforts are too many to list out here. But OA can’t be an after-thought. ACJS needs a dedicated group of people working on the issue for the academy and its stakeholders.

References

Ashby, M. P. J. (2020). The open-access availability of criminological research to practitioners and policy makers. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 32(1), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/10511253.2020.1838588

Bennell, C., & Blaskovits, B. (2019). The case for open police research. In R. J. Mitchell & L. Huey (Eds.), Evidence based policing. An introduction. (pp. 117–129). Bristol, United Kingdom: Policy Press.

Gaind, N. (2019). Huge US university cancels subscription with Elsevier. Nature, 567, 15–16.

McKenzie, L. (2018). “Big deal” cancellations gain momentum. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/05/08/more-institutions-consider-ending-their-big-deals-publishers


[1] https://www.acjs.org/page/Code_Of_Ethics

[2] https://www.acjs.org/page/Constitution

[3] See Peter Subner’s submission to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy: https://suber.pubpub.org/pub/apqb1mp4/release/3

[4] See https://authorservices.taylorandfrancis.com/publishing-open-access/open-access-cost-finder

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