CUPped: Relevant Organs, Tudor zombies join forces, attack


Now that Cambridge University Press has tried to obey PRC orders to censor academic journals, its prestige, surely its only remaining attraction for an author or reader, has vanished. Loubere and Franceschini remind everyone that there’s no actual need for scholars to rely on publishers like CUP. As an example of how things can be done differently, I would like to point to the Zombie Lingua case.

Zombie Lingua is a nickname for the crawling corpse of the linguistics journal Lingua, owned by Dutch publishing house Elsevier. Some time ago, Lingua editors tried to get Elsevier to make the journal open-access. Elsevier didn’t appreciate that, so the editors scuttled the journal, resigned, moved to the Open-Access plane and restored the journal there. Since Elsevier own the name Lingua, they renamed the reincarnation Glossa, which is Greek for ‘glossy’. Unhappy with the reincarnation, Elsevier decided to revive the vacated journal, beginning the Zombie Lingua saga. Eric Baković and Kai von Fintel have been covering it on Language Log. Their latest piece (‘More Zombie Lingua shenanigans‘) links to raw correspondence with Elsevier executives.

From the article:

[T]his was an attempted negotiation between the full editorial board of the journal, entirely responsible for the vetting and shepherding of its content, and the journal’s publisher, entirely responsible for charging readers too much for subscriptions to particularly-formatted versions of this content and authors too much for the apparent privilege of publishing individual articles in Open Access (with no compensatory discount on subscriptions, mind you – this is what has been properly called ‘double-dipping’).

Willing academics have been found to raise the residual title from the dead. Baković and Fintel claim one of them wrote this: “We should consider ourselves lucky that publishers deign to even touch our work.” I wonder who would like to write for, read, or be caught in the vicinity of such a publication as Zombie Lingua.

I wouldn’t touch Zombie Lingua with a toilet brush.

That said, it’s hard to blame companies for seeking profit. Academics and university administrators have set up a non-competitive system where you can charge both suppliers and customers for content produced by free labour. Bedoctored indentureds, deals with Beijing, admin’ mingling op de gracht, loads of face, all aux frais de la princesse. What’s not to like? There aren’t many such legal niches left.

The fault doesn’t lie with Else4 (Springer, T*F, the Jay Store…). If they evaporated tomorrow, anyone able to concoct a posh/heraldicky logo would take their place, as long as scholars are willing to channel funds into the double-dipping/één halen, twee betalen industry. As Baković says, Elsevier don’t offer any service remotely commensurate with their charges. All they do is let you play the citation-stats game. You’d think that institutions made up of educated grown-ups would be above vying for likes, or at least paying for the privilege. And gooey, would you be wrong. I’ve yet to find a teenager grateful that Facebook &al. “deign to even touch” their posts.

The ‘academic community’ does include many bright minds, so it’s remarkable it’s taking them so long to devise a way out of this madness. Like everyone else providing services to academia, publishers work for a living and see such ‘motives’ as the progress of some scholarly endeavour as a side effect, if any of their business at all. They act rationally, as Baković says; indeed it would be creepy of them to care about your sciencing. Let them stick to profit. The difference between publishers and other university outsourcees, like cleaners, is that the latter provide a useful service and are expected to be competent. As initiatives like Glossa show, publishing a peer-reviewed journal no longer requires subcontracting to a publishing house. We’re talking about tasks like contacting reviewers, exchanging emails, doing or delegating basic proofreading, LaTeX typesetting and web design. These do demand time and money, but the bulk of the work, namely producing quality content, is already done by authors and reviewers.

Even those who don’t care about the efficient use of university funds might consider how the current non-open access model affects academic freedom. This is highly topical, days after Cambridge University Press chose to collaborate with Xi Jinping’s ongoing bibliocaust, as instantiated in the selective censorship of China Quarterly. The CUP statement does say they’re “troubled” and have “already planned meetings” with “[R]elevant [A]gencies[ 有关部门] at the Beijing Book Fair”, but anyone familiar with the idiom will read that as just fraffly-sorreh for ‘we’re in bed with the censors; live with it, or tell us how CQ is going to generate £300m p.a.‘ CUP volte-faced this time, but the long-term trends are obvious. According to Glossa editor Rooryck, they might be at play at Elsevier, who “just coincidentally happened to sell a lot of new subscriptions in the populous Asian country that the new associate editor should have come from.” Academics submit to these publishers at their own peril; their work might get CUPped any minute, should it obstruct smooth business with authoritarians.

Perhaps CQ should just do to CUP what Lingua did to Else4, and others might do to Springer, the Jay-Store or T*F. Not denying CUP has published all manner of cool stuff, but it might have outlived its purpose, like other Henry VIII things. CQ could very well follow Lingua’s lead and teleport itself to the Open Access world, after some inevitable slight renaming (e.g., 拆哪 Chāi nǎ: Quartered).

But while it’s academics who keep feeding Tudor zombies, predators and double-dippers, I don’t mean to deflect attention from Baković and Fintel’s target, which is Zombie Lingua‘s shenanigans. Who would want to be associated with something so inauspiciously-named as Zombie Lingua? ‘Zombie Lingua’ brings up all manner of wrong associations, like bad kissing, to use a euphemism.

[Pic: Cambridge’s Henry VIII, via Wiki]