Green, gold or diamond access

There is been much buzz about on the question of the open access model of publishing in academic literature, and in particular, there has been recent excitement in mathematics with the recent announcement of the Forum of Mathematics led by Terry Tao and Tim Gowers. This is touted as “potentially cheap” gold access (in that there is a period of no charge to get it started, with perhaps a lengthening of this period depending on external funding) and thought to many to be the least of all evils. However, with some imagination, perhaps we shouldn’t abandon the “diamond”-hued model?

Here are some basic definitions of what each colour represents (see also Gowers’ blog):

Green access: Pay to read, but available free elsewhere as an unofficial/unscrutinised version

Example: This is very common place at the moment, whereby a publication is both behind a pay-wall of a journal, having been through a rigorous refereeing process, but the original preprint also appears on

Gold access: Pay to publish, but free to read.

Example: This is common place in other disciplines such as the biological and medical sciences, but one simple example is Nature. See Peter Cameron’s view here. One of the major drawbacks is that it is open to corruption. If one wants to make a profit, they can drive the quality down by publishing more. In the case of Gowers and Tao, we all have a wealth of trust that their journal will be excellent and non-for-profit. However, we can’t say the same of some other characters out there!

Brown access: Pay to publish, free to read, but not refereed!

Example: I refer to Gordon’s post on this issue. This is a hideous thing that seems to have a momentum at the moment that worries me. I’m sure everyone reading this has seen the weekly email or two from one of these journals asking for us to publish our articles there.

Diamond access: Free to read, free to publish, but you need hard-working volunteers.

Example: Electronic Journal of Combinatorics and the Theory of Computing.

There is much debate in the blogosphere about which model is best, both in philosophy and practicality. The diamond access model is clearly the ideal option except for the problem that we need type-setters and managers of editorial material. I would like to add some optimism to this option. There already exist positions in mathematical societies for people who oversee diamond access publishing. For example, the Gazette of the Australian Mathematical Society usually has two people running the whole thing, completely voluntarily. This task is recognised at least by the mathematical community as a good thing, and IF universities acknowledge it too, then people will want to do it. That is, of course, a big IF. So we need one of two things to make diamond access practical:

  • The job of running a diamond access journal needs to recognised within universities just like a “Head of School” position is (though an honorarium is perhaps too much to ask). It should be understood that time is taken away from the usual activities (such as research) to fulfill such an important role in the mathematical community.
  • Groups of universities run their own collective journal. For example, The Conversation is a joint online magazine founded by The University of Western Australia, The University of Technology Sydney, The University of Melbourne, Monash University and CSIRO.
  • We run diamond access like other magazines on the web: with ads that pay for the type-setting and maintenance.

I predict the third of these will probably prevail.


4 thoughts on “Green, gold or diamond access

Add yours

  1. The AustMS constitution specifically prohibits the Society paying any remuneration other than out-of-pocket expenses to anyone who is a member of the Council (which, for example, includes all the journal editors). It has been recent practice for AustMS to provide funding that can be used for teaching relief or other activities to academic staff who take on significant editorial responsibilities. Travel and other expenses incurred in performing the role can also be covered. (I’ve summarised a paragraph from Peter Taylor’s article in the May 2012 issue of the Gazette).

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