APA supporting Open Access?

Four years ago, the President of the American Psychological Association, addressed the ‘thorny debate of Open Access’ as she puts it. What is APA’s standing on open access?

Does APA, probably the most influential organization in psychology today, support the goal of open access to research? I am a bit confused as to an answer to that question, so I tried to write an informed perspective on APA’s policy on open access. You can find what my inquiry has elucidated in the rest of this post.

In her aforementioned column, Dr. Sharon Stephens Brehm, the former APA President, concluded that caution is needed regarding open access with these words:

“In many ways, the open access movement reflects the tenor of our times. Information technology has created all sorts of possibilities barely imagined a decade ago. With increasing ease, individuals can maintain their own archives and organizations can publish their own journals or conference proceedings without peer review or editing. Distributed networks are rapidly replacing centralized operations.

But lets keep in mind that the United States has built the most successful scientific enterprise in the history of the world, and scientific publishing has been central to that achievement. Before dismantling the current system, we need to think very carefully about how best to build a new structure that will nurture sciences future growth and productivity.”

Interestingly, with her cautionary note, Dr. Stephens Brehm painted a somewhat limited picture of open access. In her view, open access threatens the very foundation of reporting scientific findings – the review process. The guerrilla open access activists, by extension, threaten the whole scientific community.

Her perspective is somewhat understandable considering this column was written as a response to a controversial policy instituted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States, requesting that the author’s final manuscript should be made available to other researchers and the public through the NIH National Library of Medicines (NLM) PubMed Central. Basically, it was a NIH policy advocating Green OA (reminder: we covered what Green OA is in this post).

But, the former APA president didn’t critique green OA. She cautioned against open access in general. As an editor in an, albeit student, scientific journal I find it odd that our policy of open access threatens the health of the review process in science. With three rows of review in JEPS (the technical, PhD-student and academic(s) with PhD review), I always thought we were at the forefront of the review process for a student scientific journal.

Is it really possible that open access threatens the health of scientific review process in science?


Green OA, what the former APA President attacked in her column (pardon, cautioned against) is the very grassroots response to the limited access to published research in the first place. It’s an attempt by the authors to make their research accessible without pay-to-view, because all or most of the journals they publish in aren’t open access. This problem she cautions against is directly caused by the publishers like APA – if they made the journals they publish open access, the authors wouldn’t need to self-archive. In OA lingo, if everything was gold OA there wouldn’t be a need for green OA. Or at least, the need wouldn’t be that vital.

I suspect that the scarecrow scare painted by that column against open access isn’t because of the actual risk to the review process or the scientific rigor of published work. It is a fear for lost profits. APA is funded by their scientific publishing.

I hope that since 2007, when this column was written, they have opted for finding a way to migrate their publishing to a more accessible model which is also sustainable from the publisher perspective. Claiming that such models do not exist and that APA would fall apart if it migrated to an open model just shows a lack of initiative, especially when we take into account what professionals in open access publishing like Caroline Sutton, the president of OASP, say today:

“Some of the early criticism of open access publishing pointed to a lack of sustainable business models. In this context it is also worth noting that since 2007 the Public Library of Science has demonstrated a positive financial result, and BioMed Central became profitable. The financial stability of these publishers can be added to that of Hindawi Publishing Corporation and Medknow. Smaller enterprises such as Copernicus Publications and Co-Action Publishing have also demonstrated that open access models can provide the basis for a successful small or medium enterprise.”

Moreover, a report by the Joint Information Systems Committeeoffers an exhaustive analysis of the economic implications of alternative scholarly publishing models. In their 200 and some pages report, they draw a conclusion along these lines (p. 136):

“Those publishing scientific and scholarly works also stand to gain from open access as it may provide an opportunity to shift towards more sustainable business models, as the traditional subscription publishing model becomes increasing fragile and unsustainable in the online era. The increased visibility of titles may encourage more submissions and greater participation from external editors and reviewers, and make it easier to increase revenue from authors, advertisers and sponsors, all of which would be likely to improve the titles’ rankings, thereby creating a virtuous cycle. The ease and reduced cost of peer review and related possibility of quality improvement would also benefit publishers, helping to improve quality and enabling them to recruit reviewers from a wider field, which may also contribute to this virtuous cycle. Learned and professional society publishers could raise their visibility and profile, not only more effectively disseminating scholarly work in their area, but also potentially attracting greater membership and increased membership revenues.”

Not surprisingly, the authors of the report imply that OA does not only allow peer review, but creates opportunity for improvement. I wonder if the policy makers in APA ever found or read this report? It should not be too difficult of a task, considering it can be found in full online under open access. Unlike most APA published material.

So, in conclusion, the American Psychological Association, as the leader in the world of scientific publishing in psychology, should show initiative and vision in open and staunch support of open access. They should publish open access journals and research sustainable models of doing so. Token support and cautionary notes are not exactly what is considered support, especially when we take into account that OA publishing in psychology is much behind the current trends in other sciences.

Psychology needs it now. So make it happen.

Note on sources:

When researching APA’s connections and activities regarding open access, I used Google search and the search option on APA webpage. The only open access material I managed to procure this way was the former President column cited here. If you come across or are aware of more APA open access activities and initiatives, please share with us here.



Ivan Flis is a graduate student of psychology at the Center for Croatian Studies at the University of Zagreb, Croatia. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of European Psychology Students (JEPS) and the Chair of the Right to Research Coalition Coordinating Committee for Africa, Europe and Middle East.

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Ivan Flis

Ivan Flis is a PhD student in History and Philosophy of Science at the Descartes Centre, Utrecht University; and has a degree in psychology from the University of Zagreb, Croatia. His research focuses on quantitative methodology in psychology, its history and application, and its relation to theory construction in psychological research. He had been an editor of JEPS for three years in the previous mandates.

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