11th AIPEN Workshop Draft Programme

The draft programme is now out for the 11th Australian International Political Economy Network Workshop to be held on 6th and 7th February at the University of Sydney.

I am giving a talk on 6th February called Australia’s Liberal Meritocratic Capitalism and the Political Economy of Mobilisational Counter-Power (abstract).

AIPEN and the University of Sydney have kindly awarded me a travel stipend to attend the Workshop.

24th February 2012: Open Access Publishing: The NHMRC & ARC

Fortificated walled garden


In the past several months, academic publishing has become a lightning rod for public debate. The Research Works Act introduced to the US House of Representatives in December 2011 seeks to restrict open access publishing. The publisher Elsevier faces boycotts by academics and online criticism. University of Sydney academics are being sacked if they have not produced four publications in the past three years (my original response to the announcement). Several prominent Australian academics and policymakers have debated academic blogging, the role of academic entrepreneurs, and superstar economics.


Australia’s research agencies differ on open access publishing. From July 2012, the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) will mandate that grant-sponsored research is published in open access repositories. In contrast, the Australian Research Council simply “encourages” open access publishing “as appropriate”, chief executive officer Margaret Sheil has told The Australian.


“In many areas of our research there is no community interest in the outcomes until much further down the track,” Sheil stated. There is, however, significant community interest where academic publications are publicly and affordably accessible. For many people, the publishing and distribution model is Apple’s iTunes store and Amazon.com’s Kindle e-book software; Google Scholar (to search for academic publications); or a free site like Scribd.com. Many people are still not yet used to academic research being publicly accessible.


“In the humanities and many other areas it can be difficult to get published,” Sheil notes. Humanities is an area in which the ARC’s ‘original creative works’ category serves an important purpose. The economics of Australian publishing has led some universities to pursue e-presses. The academic blogging debate noted that other, non-journal avenues are increasingly being explored — areas which are not included in the ARC’s definition of academic publication.


“And what do you do about research for which the main form of publication is books?”, Sheil asks. This is an issue for publishing contracts. Mainstream and major academic publisher books are still more accessible to the community than many academic journals are. Book prices compare more favourably to the high prices charged for a single journal article. Many publishers now have lower-cost e-book versions.


I differ on Sheil’s final comment: “It’s not that hard for a scientist to get papers into some sort of repository that’s open access.” In fact, academic publishers place restrictions on repositories: only allowing the author’s final version sent to the publisher rather than the final journal version, for example. I’ve noted previously that the internet used to be a freer place for academic publishing; that open access publishing enhances peer review; and that academics currently sign-over control of their intellectual property to the major academic publishers in order to get published (and to get recognition from university promotions committees and their peers). This enables publishers to use a ‘walled garden‘ approach and to charge a high price for an individual article. The authors and their universities usually never receive a portion of these future revenue streams. In contrast, book publishers can give academics a royalty stream, and creative industries such as music have rights agencies and different approaches to the underlying intellectual property.


Sheil raises some important issues and problems that need further debate. However, the NHMRC has a more progressive approach.


“It’s a complex area,” Sheil told me.


Sheil later clarified her comments in April 2012 to The Conversation blog.


Harvard Library has asked its academics to publish using open access.


Photo: flibble/Flickr.

7th December 2011: 4 Publications, 3 Years

New Matilda recently published articles by Henry Barnes and academic staff on Sydney University’s announced budget cuts.


Buried in the debates about academic institutional governance and infrastructure projects is one decision rule: academics must have published four articles over a preceding three year period (January 2009 – November 2011) to be exempt from potential job loss.


This is a mixed rule which prioritises publishing volume over strategic research programs and citations impact. Three A* journal articles are far superior to four C ranked papers (although the ARC’s Excellence for Research in Australia initiative has now dispensed with letter rankings for journals). Publishing cycles can vary for ARC Discovery and Linkage grants. More prestigious journals have higher rejection rates and longer cycles for ‘revise and resubmit’ drafts and blind peer review feedback. Collaborations can also take longer. The decision rule doesn’t address quality criteria for research programs.


That said, Sydney University’s decision rule sets a low threshold for publications output. It’s far lower than the output levels expected of Associate Professors and is on par with the research active index of a senior lecturer (Level C academic) at most institutions. Academics with a coherent research program; research design knowledge; and existing collaborations should be able to publish four journal articles over a three year period. That’s roughly 20,000 to 28,000 words over three years — or 12,000 to 15,000 words for some online journals. There are even guides like Wendy Laura Belcher‘s Writing Your Journal Article In 12 Weeks (Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks CA, 2009) that take you step-by-step through the drafting process. Throw in a personal productivity framework like David Allen’s Getting Things Done and you can navigate some common workload issues. (Sure, perhaps workload issues are important to you — and there are ways to reframe how you deal with them without getting caught up in workload model arguments.)


Some New Matilda respondents feel the decision rule is a travesty. I disagree. I know plenty of sessional academics with no job security and vastly lower pay who can still meet the decision rule’s threshold. In many cases, so can newly hired academics who have a strong sense of identity and have conceptualised a research program. The problem will be staff who don’t have publication outputs (and the reasons vary on a case-by-case basis) or academics who almost meet the threshold but have delays in their research programs. But maybe some underpaid, productive, new voices deserve a shot.


If you want to outmaneuver such decision rules and the administrative, finance and management staff who formulate them, then take a lesson from asset management and private equity firms: read a book like Michael Watkins’ The First 90 Days (Harvard University Press, Boston MA, 2003) or George B. Bradt’s The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan (John Wiley & Sons, New York, 2009) and develop a new action plan every 90-100 days. Scott Berkun‘s Making Things Happen (O’Reilly, Sebastopol CA, 2008) provides most of what you need to know about project management. Have two or three analytical research questions to pursue. Join a professional association in your expertise area. Read the top journals and study their research designs. Know who the national and international teams are for your research questions. Your colleagues who get promoted to Associate Professor or Professor have already worked out some of these strategies.


Increasingly, academia is like Moneyball: in a winner-takes-all market you need to be creative, innovative, and productive to excel.