Scholarship Wants to Be Free
Henry Farrell makes a persuasive case that political science journals, particularly those which exist to provide scholarly insights into matters of public policy, ought to be freely available online:
Perhaps this could be justified as long as other professional organizations were doing the same thing. But that isn’t true any longer. I see no justification whatsoever for continuing to hide Perspectives behind a paywall when the American Economic Association is providing full, unfettered access to its cognate journal. Political science is supposed to communicate to a broader public. We political science bloggers do bits and pieces here and there to push research as much as we can. Sometimes (as with Paul Staniland’s guest posts in the last several days), we do a lot of work to try to summarize internal debates for outsiders and to draw out the publicly salient implications. But we’re working without any professional support, and there is only so much we can do. Perspectives is the obvious vehicle for a genuine, concerted outreach effort by political scientists to broader debates. Indeed, such outreach is supposed to be part of its mandated mission. But as long as it is effectively inaccessible to the public, it cannot fulfill this vocation.
Aside from the ability to charge for access, there’s no justification that occurs to me for keeping any scholarly journal — especially in the social sciences but, really, any discipline — behind a pay wall. The scholars themselves are generally paid for their work and happy to see it disseminated as widely as possible.
But there is a cottage industry in selling journals to libraries at outlandish rates and/or doing the same with electronic versions through arcane systems that arose during the earliest days of the modern Internet (the early to mid 1990s).