Kurt Möser ist Professor am Institut für Geschichte des Karlsruher Instituts für Technologie. Im Wissenschaftsverlag des KIT sind bereits zahlreiche Veröffentlichungen von ihm erschienen.
Im Rahmen der Aktion „A European Open Access Champion Showcase“ der Organisation SPARC Europe (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) hat KSP mit Prof. Möser über Chancen von Open Access Publizieren speziell für die Geisteswissenschaften und Herausforderungen auf dem Weg zur Öffnung des Wissenschaftsprozess gesprochen. Das Gespräch wurde am 30.11.2015 in der KIT-Bibliothek geführt. Biographische Informationen und Kontaktdaten finden Sie am Ende dieses Beitrags.
1. What got you interested in Open Access originally?
I got in touch with Mrs Regine Tobias from KIT Scientific Publishing. Mrs Tobias explained the OA idea to me and she convinced me of its advantages.
2. What Open Access activities are you currently involved in?
I have published one monograph with KSP so far and since I was very happy with the OA model of KSP and the services offered by KSP the second monograph is currently in the making with KSP. I also make many of my essays available online because I want to convey the knowledge of my area of research – i.e. history of technology and cultural history of technology – more widely and more publicly. I strongly support a public academic discourse and I want my work to be read and to be discussed. I time and again receive feedback along the lines of „That‘s great what you’re doing there. Why haven’t we heard of that before?“ So my area of research really presents itself for OA, especially considering the popularisation of the topics. E.g., if journalists approach me I do not have to point them to a specific title in print, I can just point them to an online OA ressource and the journalists can check it themselves with a few clicks.
3. Why, in your opinion, do we need Open Access to research?
For the Humanities OA is a great opportunity to spread ideas and discussions and to make research papers more easily accessible. The Humanities profit from OA in particular since they are a discipline building very much on discourse, i.e. they rely on putting their research output into the open and making it available for discussion.
Before OA, the academic communication process was slower. Even today conference proceedings need two to three years to be published in print and then it takes even longer until they are made available in the relevant libraries: you suggest the publication for acquisition, the acquisitions department purchases it, then it has to be catalogued and only after that it becomes available. So this whole process has become much faster thanks to OA.
Of course, one can see this acceleration critically. Critics might say that the process of reflecting on ideas or the intensive thought process is disturbed by this fast movement. But I actually do not share that opinion, mainly because there is another important means of communication for my area of research: conferences. Every time I return from a conference I have new ideas, new stimuli, recommendations for literature and new contacts. All this does not necessarily have to happen via face-to-face communication and open access to research is a good method for that too.
4. Can Open Access have a positive effect on research careers?
OA is a great chance for young researchers. Before OA, young researchers had to wait a very long time until their research got published. They tried to negotiate with publishing houses but were often ripped off because the researchers had no choice but to publish with those publishing houses. All this is much easier thanks to OA.
Also, in contrast to the life sciences, we have a slower „turnover rate“ in the humanities. That is, some of my essays which date back to the early 2000s are only now being noticed in the community (which would be out of the question in the life sciences where research might be outdated after 6 months). If such old publications are made available OA they can still be easily accessible today and this can have a positive effect on a researcher’s career.
5. What can scholars and/or administration do to promote Openness to research?
Doing what we are doing just now: conducting and publishing interviews like this and more generally just spreading the message. My publisher KSP is very active in this area, promoting OA on conferences and among the researcher community. But I admit it depends on the right kind of personality to be able how to best promote the OA idea and how they present it towards authors who might be sceptical at first.
6. Who do you engage with to spread the OA message, and how?
I am not a specialist of the various license models available in the OA area. My editor Mrs Tobias, however, keeps me informed me about these issues and I strongly support open licenses such as CC-BY-SA. Many scholars are afraid that by assigning CC-license they lose the copyright of their work which is just not true. An open CC-license instead helps making the publication known and that is the best argument in favour of OA which I can also forward to my colleagues: your work just gets read more.
7. What are the challenges here?
I see a couple of challenges:
Some of my older colleagues are not quite that open towards OA and I think this is simply a generational issue. Also, there still is a strong scepticism against OA in that some authors fear that their own intellectual authorship gets lost through OA and that their research circulates online without their name being mentioned. For example, if you voice an idea or contribute to a discussion on a conference someone could publish your idea half a year later under their own name. (Conference proceedings are still the main type of publication in the Humanities.) Of course, this would be plagiarism but this causes a lot of concern among some colleagues.
Researchers in the Humanities are also anxious to build or keep up their reputation and this is why they continue to publish with traditional commercial publishers. This problem is notably apparent among younger colleagues: they still want to publish with the traditional publishing houses because it is a matter of prestige where one has published one’s thesis. So if they publish their thesis OA they fear that they cannot gain this prestige. Of course this is connected to personal habits: when you receive catalogues from commercial publishers and flip through them you think that if an author has published with this and that publisher his or her research cannot be that bad. But I think this is a very ephemeral factor which will lose traction over the next 10 years. And I believe if good people move towards OA the quality of OA publications will improve automatically.
Also, the possibility to get published faster and more easily must not lead to sloppiness! Everyone involved in the OA process, from authors to publishers, needs to maintain a self-discipline in this respect. An OA publication must not be of a worse quality than an „old-fashioned“ print publication.
8. What still needs to be done to get more Open Access to research?
It is a question of money: as mentioned above, scholars in the Humanities still publish with traditional, commercial publishers simply because of their reputation. The problem is that traditional publishers do not know how to make money with OA. OA basically is an economic attack on the traditional publishing business model. Although there might be possibilities even for those publishers, for example if they started out with putting their titles online and requesting just a small licence fee. When I look at the steep prices of journals, especially Anglo-American journals, I think that is quite worrying. I have been in business for around 30 years now and I see how libraries, particularly from smaller institutions with low budget, have to cancel journal subscriptions and need to tell their user if they want to read the journal they have to travel 50 km to the next library! So this is a very strong argument for moving away from the traditional publishing business.
I am about to publish an article in a Swiss journal which is not OA. But the journal is sponsored by a private foundation and this organisation enables a wide distribution of free copies so that nearly all German-speaking libraries will get free samples. This would be another way of achieving open access to research but of course, this only works with a substantial financial support.
The traditional commercial publishing houses need to change if they want to retain their authors. I notice that US-American publishers especially become more and more accomodating towards authors. The publishers have become aware that they have to offer something more to the scientific community.
Another example: I published my habilitation dissertation with a traditional commercial publisher ten years ago and I was very happy about their editing process, the support they extended to me during the process, and their marketing activities. For me as an author, good editing is the most important service offered by publishers. So as long as the publisher fulfills their traditional tasks – editing, author support, marketing – to my satisfaction I would actually still want to publish with them. But I feel like this is an exception nowadays. The big publishing houses today take a lot of money and make promises to you as an author. Then, however, you can find your book on the backlist very quickly. (I noticed that my book in question can now only be obtained from antiquarian bookshops online and Ebay!) This would be different if my book had been published OA in the first place.