Archaeological Institute of America against Open Access

The Archaeological Institute of America has come out as completely opposed to open access in an editorial by Elizabeth Bartman, president of AIA, in the current issue of AIA’s popular magazine Archaeology.

We at the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), along with our colleagues at the American Anthropological Association and other learned societies, have taken a stand against open access. Here at the AIA, we particularly object to having such a scheme imposed on us from the outside…

This letter is a more extreme version of what the AIA submitted to the White House last December, where the AIA aligned itself with the initial American Anthropological Association’s position against open-access (which later shifted in response to public outcry; update: see Joslyn Osten’s comment below on the official AAA stance).

Founded in 1879, the AIA is the largest organization in North America devoted to archaeology. With more than 220,000 professional, student, and lay members belonging to more than 100 local societies throughout the US, Canada, and overseas, it represents a very diverse population joined by an interest in learning about the material remains of the past.

One of the primary tools for advancing its mission of education is the scholarly quarterly American Journal of Archaeology (AJA), whose annual print length is approximately 800 pages. While AJA does present some primary archaeological reports (i.e., through its occasional “field reports,” data gathered in the field) almost all of its content deals with archaeological interpretation rather than the primary reporting of archaeological data.

We agree with the AAA that “while the government might have a right to the unfinished work product (i.e., the research data or ‘findings’) of researchers to whom they provide financial support, it does not have the right to journal articles that are the cumulative result of the significant time and financial investment of reviewers, editors, copywriters, designers, technology providers, archivists, publishers and distributors of such journal content—none of which is supported by federal research dollars.”

Chris Kelty has a step-by-step dismantling of the Bartman AIA letter in his post Not that kind of “living in the past” AIA obfuscates the issues involved, from what the federal legislation would do to what counts as open-access.

In particular, the AIA uses a slight-of-hand to imply that professional companies are the ones who take charge of the arduous peer-review process, and thus significantly improve the final publication:

When an archaeologist publishes his or her work, the final product has typically been significantly improved by the contributions of other professionals such as peer reviewers, editors, copywriters, photo editors, and designers. This is the context in which the work should appear.

In other words, for-profit companies provide the necessary context for research. Well, in archaeology, context is everything!

If the context were simply one where for-profit companies compete to provide a service to professional organizations – taking charge of submissions and type setting and distribution – then I wouldn’t have much of a problem. Companies would compete, and that would drive both innovation in that service and help keep prices low for providing that service. In turn, the companies provide significant money to organizations like the American Anthropological Association and the Archaeological Institute of America, which is used to support the organizations’ activities.

But of course the context is not so simple. The companies make a profit off of the research; little of that money flows back to the researchers and communities involved. The majority of the editing and peer-review is provided for free as well by professional archaeologists in university settings. Finally, the companies make their money largely through university libraries paying exorbitant fees for access to research produced in university contexts – we give it away, and then have to pay to get it back. At every step, companies take the work done by researchers, reviewers, and librarians and uses that work for their own benefit. Put bluntly, the AIA as a professional organization is reaffirming the rules of a rigged game to the detriment of its own members.

The other pernicious effect is that companies, by taking charge of the production process, have legal rights over the final products – the papers reporting the research. These companies do not always act in the best interests of the researchers who did the research, or of the communities where the research was done. They limit access to the public, including 220,000 professional, student, and lay members, because it is through restricting access that they can charge higher price – that’s basic supply and demand.

But most research is driven by the discovery of new knowledge, and the recognition that archaeology has much to say about peoples’ pasts. Restricting access for others’ profits needs to be justified against the importance of sharing knowledge and giving communities’ access to knowledge about their own past. Should companies own that knowledge? Or should researchers and communities?

The Archaeological Institute of America has come down on the side of companies, who use the legal framework imposed by the federal and state government to take ownership of research. Then the companies and the AIA profit from the money generated.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
This entry was posted in Critique, Society. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Archaeological Institute of America against Open Access

  1. Thank you, Daniel, for lucid follow-up on this issue. I’ve recently posted statements on Open Access for some of the AAA Executive Board election candidates, and wondered what people thought of those. Is this an indication of a growing gulf between membership and administration in scholarly organizations, or could there be significant sources for change within the AAA?

  2. Joslyn Osten says:

    The American Anthropological Association (AAA) is not opposed to open access. I would like to refer your readers to our recent AAA Executive Board motion (, which states, in part, that the Association has a “commitment to ‘a publications program that disseminates the most current anthropological research, expertise, and interpretation to its members, the discipline, and the broader society” and “the AAA opposes any Congressional legislation which, if it were enacted, imposes a blanket prohibition against open access publishing policies by all federal agencies.” To learn more about AAA’s publishing program, please visit the Publishing FAQs:

  3. Sebastian Heath says:

    The AIA President’s letter doesn’t seem to reflect what is actually going on there. I’m an AIA member (and former officer) and was very surprised to read about any “stand” against Open Access. My colleague Chuck Jones, also a member, and I have posted a response and Chuck has gathered a list of OA content on various AIA websites. We don’t mean this as a defense of the Institute – there’s something at least a little awry going on – just an indication that we don’t seem to have the full story.

  4. Pingback: A curious article opposing open-access to the products of state-funded research at Roger Pearse

  5. Nico Tripcevich says:

    A follow-up has been posted by AIA president Elizabeth Bartman
    Dialogue on Open Access
    April 27, 2012
    My recent letter in ARCHAEOLOGY magazine has opened discussion concerning the AIA’s position on open access. I am personally opposed to slated government legislation on the issue. I am not against open access as a concept, however. The AIA itself already endorses open access through the extensive posting of content online, gratis, including articles and reviews from the American Journal of Archaeology, articles and interactive digs from ARCHAEOLOGY magazine, and resources for students such as field school and job placement listings.
    Open access has become an increasingly important issue in academic publishing, and, as a non-profit learned society, the AIA wants to engage in the dialogue. We hope that through critical inquiry and debate we will be able to find ways to balance the interests of the public with those of our authors, our subscribers, and of the Institute itself.