This week’s reading had interesting ideas about periodicals (more specifically, journals) and the matter of open-access publishing and the issues it might pose against legitimate research and authors’ financial well-being. Also, we have our “how-to” of the week! Read on:

A definition: “Periodicals”

The most important takeaway from this entry in the Oxford Companion to Music, is that periodicals serve to bridge a large gap between pillars in history: books are usually devoted to key figures or happenings, but might leave us wondering about what else happened at any given period of time.

There are different periodical publications devoted to many different subjects (just in music!): Musicology, Older Recordings, different instruments (Tibia, The Clarinet, Piano Quarterly), and even periodicals devoted to the life, story, and music of some of the most prominent composers (how nice would it be to have the “Berrido Digest” in about 100 years?).

If we need to find out about what happened in the day-to-day (not literally) of musical life in a certain subject area, the best and most official way to get to this information is periodicals. There are also periodicals that spread musical scores like the SCI Journal of Music Scores, an anthology of music by members of the Society of Composers. It becomes, then, incredibly important to pay attention to these publications, if we are to discover the smaller-scale circumstances that push the poignant happenings of history.

A new way of doing business: “Do Open-Access Articles Have a Greater Research Impact?”

It is quite curious that we read this one (by read I meant SKIMMED, as advised on “It’s Not Harry Potter”). Because we just read about “Periodicals” and their importance, and Periodicals are usually subscription-based sources. The new business model, open access type of resource (OA from now on), provide readers with the ability to purchase the full text of articles, without the need to subscribe to a specific publication. The impact of these OA publications has been researched, but the current evidence existing around these premises is still indirect, or being collected at the time of the publication of Antelman’s study.

Antelman lets us into research that proves open access to articles maximizes their impact, which is not a surprise: there are more people that don’t have a subscription to JSTOR, than people who do. She notates that this is a complex subject, and sharing articles openly will have many publishing considerations for entities looking to support this initiative, but “Studies such as this one can help to shed light on the “dark matter” of open access.”

I think the premise behind OA is fantastic: Open the gates so everyone can have access to knowledge easily! But there are other considerations about this matter too, and it’s about publishers who reverse the business model and put the financial burden on the AUTHOR, making it more difficult for knowledge to be even generated in the first place.

A danger: “Predatory publishers are corrupting open access” and “Scientific Articles Accepted (Personal Checks, Too)” — Welcome to the dark side of OA.

These two readings are very connected, as Jeffrey Beall’s “Predatory publishers…” serves as support for Kolata’s NY Times article.

As much as OA publishing is very good for spreading knowledge and for researchers to generate impact in their field, as established by Antelman, there are also predatory Open Access publishers to be aware of. These publishers will spam researchers, look legitimate, ask for a submission, and when the paper is accepted (spoiler alert: most of it is) the author gets billed a big sum of money.

Some may say “well, just exercise caution.” But Beall’s article presents an issue: in some places, like in India, researchers look for publication outputs so they can get tenure and promotions. So I don’t think it’s unreal to expect some people just take whatever route convinces them in order to get a publication (depending on how much a person needs this “publication”). Another example pops up in Kolata’s NY Times article: Scientists thought they would go on and make a presentation in a highly-regarded conference, only to find out not only that they weren’t accepted to the conference they thought of, but also that they had to pay for “the privilege” of being there. Lastly, there’s the issue of quality: the dishonorable publishers promise faster publication times, and one of the ways of ensuring that is to cut the peer-review process short.

The question then becomes, if anybody can publish fast, as long as they have the money, how do we distinguish the real deal, from garbage research? If you can pay your way to be in a conference, how do we distinguish garbage conferences from legitimate ones?

Hopefully the fantastic open access philosophy doesn’t become corrupted by fraudulent publishers that damage the prospects for everyone else. Until we find out a way of ensuring quality of the publication (both for the reader and the researcher), researchers will have to take it easy, and some times opt for a stronger resume built slowly on publications in legitimate journals and peer-reviewed sources.

As a composer, a producer of content just like many of these researchers, this reading makes me think about call for scores for festivals, conferences and such. How do we make sure we end up submitting our music to calls that really matter? How do we make sure we don’t end up in a commitment that we later wished we had not gotten into? I’d say to myself and my fellow composers… “exercise caution.”

In the end, people just need to do their research about whomever is asking for permission to publish their work (unless it’s a mammoth in their industry or a publicly-recognized institution). If it’s not a known publication, (meaning most likely the author will be asked to pay), people need to ask themselves how beneficial it would be for them to be there, from a career strategy standpoint. Odds are that if the publisher has already gained a fame for publishing poorly-reviewed articles, the opportunity is one to pass on.

Jeffrey Beall maintains a list of these “predatory open-access journals” and you may access it here.

How-to of the Week: “It’s Not Harry Potter” and “How to Read a Scholarly Article”

Rob Weir immediately connects with the reader (his audience) when he explains the struggle of convincing undergraduate students to consult experts and not pop culture icons (or bloggers, although I would argue some bloggers are experts), and reliable sources versus Wikipedia or other not-scholarly or reviewed texts.

However, Weir identifies an issue that is more fundamental than the typical “oh it’s just that teenagers don’t read!” answer: The problem might just be that his undergraduate students don’t know how to tackle heavy readings like this, and in particular, journal articles. In a manner that connects with Leyba’s how-to guide on reading actively he proceeds to lay down useful advice, this time not for the student, but for his intended audience, the teacher.

Similar pieces of advice from last week come up in this reading: By all means read the abstract and introduction, and skim through the article. However, the new pieces of advice that come up are:

  • Take the reading in small doses: this is heavy stuff, so break it up!
  • Evaluate the sources: Instead of determining if “this is a primary or secondary source,” make sure that the article’s sources are “legit.” Are these sources credible? Do we have sufficient evidence to carry the weight of the thesis?
  • Determine the writer’s habits — how do they communicate? If you know their M.O. you won’t have to decipher what you are reading every new paragraph.

He offered these (and more) pieces of advice to his peers regarding undergraduate students, but he did say that other kinds of students (mainly upperclassmen/women) or professionals do need to read articles carefully — as we move up the academic ladder, reading these sources becomes easier, so understanding them more and more becomes expected of us.

By stating the fact that scholarly readings are not stories (or “Are Not Harry Potter”), Weir and the Western University video give us the simplest of insights into scholarly reading. We are to read smart, so don’t read in order, like a novel! No final plot twist would be spoiled, but rather we will save ourselves the necessary time we need to evaluate if the source is or isn’t relevant to our research.