Open Research in practice – an interview Prof Aleardo Zanghellini

As part of the efforts to improve the Open Research culture at the University of Reading, according to the Committee on Open Research and Research Integrity action plan, the Open Research champions for the School of Law, Marzia Briel and Tahlia-Rose Virdee, conducted a brief interview with Professor Aleardo Zanghellini on his experiences of Open Research and Open Access Publishing.

A portrait photo Professor Aleardo Zahghellini Professor Zanghellini is a Professor of Law and Social Theory at the University of Reading’s School of Law. His research interests are legal, political and moral philosophy, gender and sexuality, socio-legal studies, and Law and literature.

Tahlia: When did you first come across Open Access publishing, and how did you find out about it?

Professor Zanghellini: A few years ago I started seeing open access (OA) journals appear at about the same time as OA started being discussed by the University; so it was a mixture of witnessing the emergence of a phenomenon while also being told about it.

Tahlia: Where have you published Open Access?

Professor Zanghellini: Most recently in Philosophia (a hybrid journal with open access options). My first OA piece was, I think, in Laws (a pure gold, fully open access journal). Other articles I have published in recent years in Open Access format include one that appeared in Jurisprudence (a hybrid journal with OA options) and one in Sage Open (fully  OA). There have been others.

Tahlia: What were your motivations for publishing Open Access? Had you published traditionally before?

Professor Zanghellini: I had published traditionally before. The main reason for OA publishing is increased visibility of my work. E.g., Sage Open is Sage’s most read journal.

Tahlia: How does the Open Access process differ from publishing traditionally? Are there different outcomes than publishing your work traditionally?

Professor Zanghellini: The main different outcome is more visibility and hence greater potential for influencing debates and perceptions, and also higher citation numbers. That said, if your topic is of niche interest it tends to remain so, whether published in OA journals or not.

There are, however, some possible drawbacks to OA publishing when you publish on politically controversial topics. Basically, the increased visibility of your work beyond academic circles may expose you to trolling, online character assassination, and attacks on your professional integrity. Some sections of the general public have no qualms in misrepresenting academic work which they have a reason to hate, stopping at little in order to get attention. This includes the use of hacks that will improve the google ranking and general visibility of webpages the non-academic activist has created about you and your OA work, for example by giving those pages the look of your official webpage or of a personal blog authored by you.

The fact that OA publishing almost always involves the payment of an article processing charge on the part of your University (for the journal needs to make up the money it loses by not putting the article behind a paywall) may also be turned into a false allegation that your article was published only because you paid for it. This is of course nonsense: OA publishing in reputable journals has exactly the same standards of peer review as traditional publishing.

Foxhill House, the building where the University of Reading law department is based

Foxhill House houses the University of Reading Law department

No doubt, most OA work is published without anyone batting an eyelid, but when it is on controversial topics, as critical legal scholarship may often be, the sort of situations I mentioned above can be a risk. This can be unsettling for everyone, especially less seasoned, early-career researchers. I think that Universities, in encouraging their research active staff to publish OA, have not quite caught on yet to some of the possible adverse consequences on staff. As far as I am aware, they do not have dedicated mechanisms in place to assist scholars in managing and countering some of the potential negative consequences of OA. In a world in which populism (typically, but not always, of the right-wing variety) increasingly takes the form of animus against academic and intellectual ‘elites’, I think this will have to be taken much more seriously.

Tahlia: What advice would you give to a student or early career researcher considering publishing their work Open Access?

Professor Zanghellini: Many Universities set aside funds for publishing OA to pay for the article processing charge, and most traditional journals these days also offer the option to publish OA. Familiarise yourself with the process and go for it — but be mindful of the issues I noted in response to your previous question, especially if your work is politically controversial!

Acknowledgements

The School of Law Open Research Champions (Marzia and Tahlia) would like to thank Professor Aleardo Zanghellini for his time, for sharing his experiences of Open Access Publishing, and for contributing to the culture of Open Research and Knowledge Sharing on this project.

Interview conducted, designed and transcribed by Tahlia-Rose Virdee and Marzia Briel.

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