ACM: Good Defense or a Business Play?

March 8, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

Professional publishers want to use the trappings of peer review, standards, tradition, and quasi academic hoo-hah to add value to their products; others want a quasi-monopoly. Think public legal filings and stuff in high school chemistry book. The customers of professional publishers are typically not the folks at the pizza joint on River Road in Prospect, Kentucky. The business of professional publishing in an interesting one, but in the wild and crazy world of collapsing next-gen publishing, professional publishing is often ignored. A publisher conference aimed at professional publishers is quite different from the Jazz Age South by Southwest shindig.


Yep, free. Thanks, MSFT Copilot. How’s that security today?

But professional publishers have been in the news. Examples include the dust up about academics making up data. The big time president of the much-honored Stanford University took intellectual short cuts and quit late last year. Then there was the some nasty issue about data and bias at the esteemed Harvard University. Plus, a number of bookish types have guess-timated that a hefty percentage of research studies contain made-up data. Hey, you gotta publish to get tenure or get a grant, right?

But there is an intruder in the basement of the professional publishing club. The intruder positions itself in the space between the making up of some data and the professional publishing process. That intruder is ArXiv, an open-access repository of electronic preprints and postprints (known as e-prints) approved for posting after moderation, according to Wikipedia. (Wikipedia is the cancer which killed the old-school encyclopedias.) Plus, there are services which offer access to professional content without paying for the right to host the information. I won’t name these services because I have no desire to have legal eagles circle about my semi-functioning head.

Why do I present this grade-school level history? I read “CACM Is Now Open Access.” Let’s let the Association of Computing Machinery explain its action:

For almost 65 years, the contents of CACM have been exclusively accessible to ACM members and individuals affiliated with institutions that subscribe to either CACM or the ACM Digital Library. In 2020, ACM announced its intention to transition to a fully Open Access publisher within a roughly five-year timeframe (January 2026) under a financially sustainable model. The transition is going well: By the end of 2023, approximately 40% of the ~26,000 articles ACM publishes annually were being published Open Access utilizing the ACM Open model. As ACM has progressed toward this goal, it has increasingly opened large parts of the ACM Digital Library, including more than 100,000 articles published between 1951–2000. It is ACM’s plan to open its entire archive of over 600,000 articles when the transition to full Open Access is complete.

The decision was not an easy one. Money issues rarely are.

I want to step back and look at this interesting change from a different point of view:

  1. Getting a degree today is less of a must have than when I was a wee dinobaby. My parents told me I was going to college. Period. I learned how much effort was required to get my hands on academic journals. I was a master of knowing that Carnegie-Mellon had new but limited bound volumes of certain professional publications. I knew what journals were at the University of Pittsburgh. I used these resources when the Duquesne Library was overrun with the faithful. Now “researchers” can zip online and whip up astonishing results. Google-type researchers prefer the phrase “quantumly supreme results.” This social change is one factor influencing the ACM.
  2. Stabilizing revenue streams means pulling off a magic trick. Sexy conferences and special events complement professional association membership fees. Reducing costs means knocking off the now, very very expensive printing, storing, and shipping of physical journals. The ACM seems to have figured out how to keep the lights on and the computing machine types spending.
  3. ACM members can use ACM content the way they do a pirate library’s or the feel good ArXiv outfit. The move helps neutralize discontent among the membership, and it is good PR.

These points raise a question; to wit: In today’s world how relevant will a professional association and its professional publications be going foreword. The ACM states:

By opening CACM to the world, ACM hopes to increase engagement with the broader computer science community and encourage non-members to discover its rich resources and the benefits of joining the largest professional computer science organization. This move will also benefit CACM authors by expanding their readership to a larger and more diverse audience. Of course, the community’s continued support of ACM through membership and the ACM Open model is essential to keeping ACM and CACM strong, so it is critical that current members continue their membership and authors encourage their institutions to join the ACM Open model to keep this effort sustainable.

Yep, surviving in a world of faux expertise.

Stephen E Arnold, March 8, 2024


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