Home » ProSeminar in Anthropology » 2014 Publication & Anthropology » Dismantling the Ivory Tower: Risk, and the Viability of Open Access Publication for New Academics

Dismantling the Ivory Tower: Risk, and the Viability of Open Access Publication for New Academics

Jordan Lynton

Academia has long been criticized for being too exclusive. Much of the work done by academics has been critiqued as being riddled with confusing jargon and encapsulated within journals that are too expensive for the casual perusal of non-academic audiences. Furthermore, while paid journals may protect intellectual property, their lofty fees are not conducive to inclusive conversations with non-academic populations and smaller universities that may not be able to afford the steep subscription costs. As the world becomes more digital, the ways in which intellectual discourse is facilitated, created, policed, and maintained have shifted. Through this digital medium, online open access journals promise to create spaces that facilitate immediate dialogue between intellectuals around the world by granting “unrestricted access to … all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and other curious minds” (Budapest Open Access Initiative 2002).

Many people have great expectations for these open access journals. In its manifesto, the Budapest Open Access Initiative states that “removing access barriers to [academic journals] will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and vice versa, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge”  (Budapest Open Access Initiative 2002). However, while many new academics (graduate students, post docs, recent graduates, etc.) find opportunities for the expansion of academic conversations exciting, they may also be hesitant to participate in them for one important reason: hire-ability.

As the list of requirements for tenure track and postdoc positions become increasingly challenging and the field more competitive, neophyte academics often feel pressure to dedicate their limited time to prestigious and well-established journals. During the journal decision-making process many may wonder: what kinds of people are publishing on open sourced journals? How can we gauge their legitimacy? Additionally, tenure track, or recently graduated students may consider how often their open access publications will be cited; as citations and publications are an important factor in achieving tenure.

Thus, the overall dilemma is one of risk. Specifically, what is the cost/benefit for open access publication in academia, and specifically in anthropology? Therefore, this project seeks to analyze online open access anthropology journals in order to determine both the perceived legitimacy of open access publishing for new academics, as well as whether open access journals have achieved the goal of acting as spaces that facilitate international, multi-disciplinary discourse both within and outside of academia


While many open access journals are still relatively young, their number is rapidly growing across all scientific fields. In order to focus my research I decided to focus on open access journals that were listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) as:  anthropology journals, free, peer reviewed, US based, written in English, and accessible online. Given the short two-month time restraint of this project, I limited my data to the five most viewed articles from five journals; for a total of twenty-five articles. I also discarded journals that were run by or specifically targeted graduate and/or undergraduate students. Furthermore, because one journal began tracking their data in August 2013, I limited the articles to those published during or after 2013. While this scope limits my findings (as it often takes many years for papers to have an impact) I found that many of the “most viewed” articles were published within this time frame.

I gathered my data by emailing the editors of six journals to request information on their most viewed (or clicked on) articles. Those who responded sent spreadsheets that displayed data such as downloads and views over time.

 With only three email respondents, I supplemented my data with two journals that displayed their most viewed articles on their website. My final list of journals included: InVisible Culture, AmeriQuests, Structure and Dynamics, Cities and the Environment, and the International Journal of Society, Culture, and Language. For journals with online data I choose the top five articles with the most views during or after 2013 to keep the data as comparable as possible. This left me with twenty- five articles and forty-five authors.

For data analysis, I conducted a Google search of each author and used CV’s, LinkedIn profiles, and academic/university profiles to ascertain their discipline of degree, professional title, current occupation, tenure status, and current nationality/country of hire. I also input each article into Google Scholar in order to determine how many citations they had accumulated (as Google Scholar counts citations on websites and blogs as well as academic papers, and has more citation information than the Web of Science Citation Index). I then input the data into an excel spreadsheet and converted it to bar charts, in order to visualize the trends.

With more time I would have preferred to expand the search to add more journals (to a total of at least 30) as I believe including more articles may have allowed me to generalize more confidently. I would have also liked to complete semi-structured interviews with faculty and graduate students in order to determine if public perceptions of open access journals aligned with my results.


Of the 45 authors in my study, 17 were non-tenured, 14 were tenured, and 14 were in non-academic fields. The percentage of non-tenured academic authors (38%) was only marginally higher than the tenured authors (31%).  Of the non-tenured academics 5 out of 17 were in tenure track positions. Additionally, among the 31% of tenured faculty, 2 were emeriti and one was a distinguished professor. Graduate students comprised of only 13% of authors, and many were co-authors (see figure 1in Appendix I).

This data shows that not only is there great diversity in status (undergraduates vs. emeritus faculty) among the authors, but also that the journals are fairly competitive (as more seasoned faculty are publishing in them than graduate students). Moreover, most of the graduate students and academic faculty were from four-year universities (rather than faculty at community colleges), or had graduated from Ivy League universities/ research one institutions, which further implies prestige and competitiveness.

Although there was a large diversity in authorship, there were very few citations. Of the twenty-five articles studied, only three articles had been cited (4 in total); and of the four (one article was cited twice), two were by blogs and personal websites. Although these numbers seem troubling, they may be due to the short one-year time lapse since publication, as the time for an article to be read and cited generally takes longer than a year. An earlier sample would be required to confidently determine citation risk.

 Additionally, there was a relatively even distribution of people from the social sciences (19) and humanities (11). Their disciplines included: Education, Communications, African American Studies, English, Linguistics, Art and Design, Geography, Regional Planning, Environmental Studies, and Anthropology. Furthermore, while this project specifically focused on journals published in the United States, the authors represented a diverse array of countries including: Iran (5), Canada (4), Qatar (2), Ireland (1), Germany (1), and the United Kingdom (3). Surprisingly, 31% of authors surveyed were non- academics (see Figure 2). However, many of these authors worked for related governmental and non- profit sectors (especially in environment and conservation). Additional fields included administrators and artists.

Through these findings we see that by facilitating international conversation and drawing in non-academic and applied authors, open access publication has achieved some of its lofty goals. The engagement of authors from various backgrounds and levels of education creates a space where stakeholders can have conversations that expand beyond the limited reach of the academic “ivory tower.” A great example of this is the articles in Cities and the Environment, many of which were coauthored by academics and environmental activists as well as government researchers.

 However, while these results indicate the promise of open access publication they are not without their limitations. Because this research was limited to a two-month time frame, these results are tentative and more extensive work on this topic is necessary. Further research could include a comparative study of open access and paid journals in order to determine whether the trends observed in this project are limited to open access journals. Additionally, in a longer-term research project it might be useful to include semi-structured interviews from graduate students and faculty in order to establish whether these results are reflective of popular opinion, as well as surveys to determine how widely read the journals are and what kinds of academics (graduate students, assistant/ associate professors, or full professors) are reading them.

As I mentioned before, if given more time I would have preferred to expand the search to add more journals. In my limited selection, I found a high concentration of authors from other countries and specific non-academic fields (for example relatively high numbers of Canadian and Iranian authors, and individuals from non-profit sectors).  If I had increased my sample size to 30 journals or more, I would have been able to determine with more certainty whether the high concentrations of international and non-academic authors were a product of the open access’s aim for inclusivity or specific to the journals I chose. Additionally, it would have been more productive to study publications older than a year, as they may have had more time to mature and accrue more citations. However, the selected time frame of the research was restricted due to the relative youth of the journals (the average age being 8 years old), and whether they had the resources and staff to compile analytic data.


Lynton chartLynton Chart 2


Chan, Leslie, and Darius Cuplinskas, Michael Eisen, Fred Friend, Yana Genova, Jean-Claude Guédon, Melissa Hagemann, Stevan Harnad,
Rick Johnson,
Rima Kupryte, Manfredi La Manna, 
István Rév, 
Monika Segbert, 
Sidnei de Souza,
Peter Suber,
Jan Velterop.

2002. “Read the Budapest Open Access Initiative”. Budapest Open Access Initiative. http://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/read