Free For All? Myths of Open Access

I got a paper accepted a few weeks ago 🙂 All good – especially as it had been more than s year since my last paper was accepted. There’s a ‘publish or perish’ culture in UK academia at the time of writing, so I was more than a bit pleased that one of my papers had made it into a journal.

This week, I got an email about the publication process – it opened my eyes more widely to the publishing system we have in academia , and I thought I would use this blog post to dispel some of the myths surrounding journal publication, at a general, and more specific level.

Myth One – Authors get paid for papers This one seems quite popular among my non-academic friends. The myth is that every time I write a paper, the journal that accepts it pays a fee to the authors in order to publish it – they buy the copyright to it, if you like. This is very much not the case. I get no money from publishing journal articles. The copyright for the article (which strictly speaking belongs to the university, in common with all the intellectual work I produce while I work there, like lectures and workshop materials) is signed over to the publishers around the time of acceptance.

Myth Two – The University gets paid for publications . This myth is a bit more complicated, because within it, there is a kernel of truth. The university is given government money according to the quality of the publications produced by its staff. But, indirectly, the university pays the journal companies large sums of money, in order to have access to journal articles produced by its staff, to populate its libraries.

Myth Three – Authors have access to their own papers . Another tricky one. Unless I delete the original files, I do of course have access to the text that I wrote. But I only have access to the published paper to the extent that I, or the university, pay for that access. At a previous university this access was not forthcoming.

The journal I recently got a paper into allows by default, for me to have a link to send to 49 colleagues free of charge. This is beyond what most journals usually provide. I should, in fairness, as first author, divide this quota by the paper’s seven co-authors. After, and only after, an embargo period, I am allowed to place it in the university repository ( and thereby link to it for free on my own websites). Unless, that is, I pay a fee. I can pay for special access, so that my paper is accessible free-for-all, and I am allowed to link to it on my website. As I understand it, from the publisher’s website, the charge for this is £1 788 per article, for the journal in question. I won’t be choosing this option, and don’t know of any post-docs in a position to do so. If you are in this position, please let me know….


So, open access certainly doesn’t seem synonymous with free-for-all, as things stand. Of course, I recognize that someone has to pay for article production, and definitions of what counts as ‘intellectual property’ are beyond the scope of this post. That aside, at the moment, with my papers stuck behind expensive journal subscription pay walls, however much I write, not much good is being done for either the academic or public dissemination of scientific knowledge. I publish or I perish. But who reads?


Is Anonymity Key? Unlocking The Malice of Cyberbullying

Following the recent, tragic suicide of Hannah Smith, aged 14 years, in Leicestershire, UK, last Friday, a string of hateful messages were found to have been posted to her via her page. The reporting of her death led to an outcry about cyberbullying, the site, and its policies. A part of this outcry has been about the role of anonymity in cyberbullying. Some, including the director of Beatbullying, Niall Cowley, have argued that:

 it was the anonymity that was proving the huge draw [to] for young people [….] Anonymity increases disinhibition. You think you will get away with it and that there is no recourse so you are more likely to behave in a way that you would never do in real life

(, 6th August, 2013)

Others have argued that anonymity is not the root of the problem, and it is the way in which people behave, be that on- or offline that needs to be addressed:

Blaming anonymity is the wrong target – it is a tool in our hands that can be used for good or for harm. The site operators, the sites themselves, and the anonymity they allow are are not the true problem; we are. (Vicky Beeching, 9th August, 2013)

The assumptions voiced by Niall Cowley are not new. I’ve published the same assumptions myself on papers on cyberbullying, for example:

Cyberbullying is particularly pernicious because it is a potentially anonymous route to attacking a target. (Jones et al., 2011, p. 89)

photoNeither have these assumptions come out of the blue. It is known that people behave more anti-socially online than they do in face-to-face interactions (Patchin & Hinduja, 2006). Among adults,  the social identity de-individuation [SIDE] effect (e.g., Reicher, Spears, & Postmes, 2011) posits that  anonymity gives flight to people being more able to express their group identities (and thus to be more horrible, for example, as part of a friendship group attacking an individual). And my later research shows that group identities and group norms are important in perceptions of cyberbullying.

But, is there any research evidence that anonymity acts as a facilitator for cyberbullying? I decided to take a look. I found lots of papers voicing the above assumption, and some linking anonymity with cyberbullying but not as many as I thought I might. A study by Kowalski and Limber (2007) found that nearly half of the targets of cyberbullying in their study did not know who their aggressors were. But that doesn’t place anonymity as a causal factor in the cyberbullying of those individuals. Sticca and Perren (2013) showed bullying scenarios  to 14 year-olds, finding that where bullying was said to be done anonymously, it was seen as more severe than when the identity of the perpetrators was known. But this was regardless of the medium through which the bullying took place (be that traditional or cyberbullying). Moore et al. (2012) found that on the question-asking site,, the aggressiveness of posts was correlated with anonymity. I only found one study which showed that, among a sample of middle school students, anonymity led to increased levels of cyberbullying (Wu & Lien, 2013).

That said, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. If nearly half of Kowalski and Limber’s participants did not know who their aggressors were, then more than half of them were known. And as Mishna, Saini, and Solomon (2009) states, although students report that anonymity makes bullying feel worse, most of the cyberbullying reported to the study was done by identified aggressors. Burton, Florell, and Wygant (2013) further found that those engaged in traditional bullying were the same students who were engaged in cyberbullying.

So, it could be the case, in many instances that cyberbullying is a continuation of what is happening elsewhere, in non-virtual reality.  A true ganging up in number, method, and space. It seems that the jury is out regarding the causal link between anonymity and cyberbullying. There is good reason to suppose that one exists, and more research would help to clarify the extent to which anonymity online leads to cyberbullying, and whether there is reason to restrict anonymous posting in interactions with and between children on social media sites.

The Wood and the Trees of Research

woodsTwo roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less travelled by,

~ Robert Frost

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing recently. This was the plan so that’s all good. Apart from, I now find myself empathizing wholeheartedly with one of my dissertation students who wrote to me to say that she had done the reading I suggested, but now it seemed that a lot of factors were intertwined in the research area, and she wasn’t sure what her focus should be.

I research bullying, and have done for some time, so I know that the area is messy. There are group factors, family factors, individual factors, even genetic factors that need to be accounted for. Even if we narrow this down, and say that my focus is groups there are many possible emotions, thoughts, actions, schools, classes, consequences –  and myriad types and methods of bullying to look at.


Image adapted from ‘Life’ by Edward Monkton

The problem I am having is not so much in realizing  that the area is messy, but in reading a good paper, and coming up with four or five ways that the research could be extended in, useful ways, reading another paper to support one of these possibilities, and coming up with four or five new paths for future research. And that’s before I’ve even considered the recommendations I diligently set out in the General Discussion chapter of my PhD thesis.

I recommended to my student that she further research and think about a factor that she is particularly interested in. That she thinks “small and beautiful” for the potential research design of her project. I am finding it very difficult to follow this advice. All the possibilities are interesting, and could lead to useful research and intervention.

I need a grant proposal to be successful, to continue in academia. I’m just not sure how to determine which road to travel by…..