Open Access Week 2014 - Dr. Michael E Smith on Open Access

Dr. Michael E. Smith is a Professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. He is an archaeologist with two research themes: The Aztecs and other societies in ancient central Mexico, and comparative urbanism. He has directed fieldwork projects at numerous sites in the provinces of the Aztec empire in central Mexico. His fieldwork focuses on the excavation of houses and the study of daily life. By analyzing ancient cities using concepts and methods from contemporary urban studies, Dr. Smith also explores the similarities and differences among cities throughout history and around the world. Neighborhoods and the provision of urban services are two of the few urban universals, and Dr. Smith is part of a transdisciplinary research group addressing these topics, with support from ASU and the National Science Foundation. He also participates in an informal working group at ASU and the Santa Fe Institute to determine whether the regularities of urban scaling (worked out for contemporary cities) also apply to ancient cities. This project investigates cities and urbanism at the most fundamental level: the interactions of people in built environments. Dr. Smith also publishes on comparative empires, economies, and systems of social inequality.


What is your experience with open access publishing?

I write about open access publishing in my blog, Publishing Archaeology, and I speak out within my scholarly community (archaeology) through papers and workshops at conferences, publishing in newsletters, and such. I have posted papers in online open access “journals” (non-peer reviewed). I post most of my papers, somewhat inconsistently between my personal ASU website,, and the Selected Works site. I like to try out new scholarly programs and sites to see if they are useful for promoting open access and the values and benefits of OA. turned out to be a great site, but Researchgate turned out to be not at all useful, but with many annoying traits, so I unsubscribed. Selected Works has a very attractive interface, but seems less widely used the and slightly more difficult to use. I have a deep personal and professional commitment to open access (that is one reason I started my publishing blog in 2007), although I have become somewhat cynical over the lack of progress, and even signs of retrenchment or anti-progress, in the past few years.

Do you believe that open access to scholarly research is important? Why or why not?

If scholarly research is important, then open access is important. One does research in order to build knowledge that is communicated to others: colleagues and the public. Open access contributes in a strong way to the basic and fundamental goals of research and publication. Much of my research is funded by U.S. taxpayers, and they have a right to know what I have done with the funds, and to see my results. Traditional publishing in journals used to serve the goals of research/publishing very well, but today with the Internet we can promote the goals and values of research far more widely, and traditional journal publishing only serves a limited sector of our potential audience. Furthermore, commercial journals now serve to limit access to published papers by refusing to engage in open access (without a big fee).

I do research and fieldwork in Mexico. As such I work as a guest of the Mexican government and the Mexican nation. Most of the journals I publish in, however, are not available to my Mexican colleagues or the Mexican public. They are locked behind a paywall, and people in Mexico (and most of the rest of the world) simply cannot afford the fees required to get access. When and Selected Works provide access statistics, my Spanish-language papers often have a higher download rate than my English-language papers. I interpret this as a function of the lack of availability of journal articles around the world. Most of my U.S. colleagues can get access to online journals through a university website, but that is not true in Mexico. Posting my papers online is the only way around this obstacle, yet that very simple and basic example of scholarly activity—making my own papers available online—is being turned into a crime.

What do you see as the biggest barrier to open access publishing options for scholars?

Let me list three barriers to open access publishing. First, the commercial publishers who lock up published papers behind a paywall are perhaps the largest barrier to open access. Modern academic research is the only realm where one works with compensation from the public and from one’s own time and resources, then gives the results for free to a large corporation, who then make profits from one’s work while preventing others from seeing it. Does this sound right? Not to me.

The second barrier to open access is apathy and ignorance by researchers. Most researchers just want to get on with their research without being bothered by setting up websites, posting papers, or dealing with the ethical and professional issues of open access.

The third barrier is universities that fail to recognize the substantial gains they could make if they embraced open access. Few universities have an institutional repository where all papers published by faculty (and students) are archived. While journals have the legal right to suppress the public posting of article pdfs, authors have the right to send pdf reprints to colleagues. The “reprint button” is a way around the barrier, by automating sending of reprints while maintaining the lack of open posting of pdfs. How would universities (such as ASU) benefit from embracing open access, setting up a repository, and promoting other open access ideas and procedures?

First, research carried out at the university would become better known. Citations will increase (this has been shown quantitatively) and overall familiarity with university research will increase. This promotes science and scholarship and its availability to colleagues and the public. Faculty will benefit from this. Second, by boosting the research profile, it will increase the prestige of the university and its faculty. More people will see more of the activity taking place at the university. One of the basic missions of universities—creating new knowledge through research, will thus be promoted more explicitly and more intensively. Third, people outside the university will become more familiar with what the university is doing, and the university can thus have a greater impact on such people in the local region. Fourth, the global reach and engagement of the university will be improved with open access, as constituents around the world getter better access to the research findings of faculty and students. Fifth, the public display of research that is at the cutting edge of individual disciplines, and research that breaks new ground by synthesizing multiple disciplines, will benefit by finding a wider audience, which encourages communication and synergies.

In the case of ASU, these benefits of open access (and this is just a quick off-the-cuff list; there are surely more) fit with many of the principles of the New American University. I continue to be surprised at the lack of action on open access at this university.

What advice or recommendations about open access publishing (or scholarly publishing in general) would you give to early career researchers?

My first piece of advice would be that conducting research and publishing is more important than worrying about open access. I know of at least one colleague who put so much time into an OA project that they failed to produce sufficient scholarship to get tenure (and they were denied tenure). Everyone is grateful for this person’s professional contributions, but that person, and probably the discipline generally, would probably be better off if they had spent more time getting their own scholarship in order. That said, one rarely has to make a stark choice between basic scholarship and OA activities. I would advise early career researchers to make their publications available in one or more repositories or websites. Publish in OA journals, agitate within professional societies for OA policies and practices. Young scholars are generally highly media savvy, and they should explore the growing number of options for scholarship and scholarly communication, including OA and OA-related activities.

(Note: The ASU Libraries host the ASU Digital Repository, an institutional repository that supports open access. ASU faculty and graduate students may create personal collections to archive their work, or add their articles individually to the ASU Scholarship Showcase collection. Send an email to if you would like more information.)