Transformative Zombies

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” – Antonio Gramsci


The maligned “transformative agreement” is racking up a body count. Or, more accurately, it’s helping to create zombies…zombie journals. There has been a cluster of editors and editorial boards resigning (or getting fired!) from oligopoly-owned journals this year. And even though I once referred to “transformative agreements” (TAs) as “a new monster [vomited up by the publishing oligopoly] to haunt us,” I didn’t see this connection developing. I love seeing defections because they speak to a level of consciousness, disgust, refusal, and collective action that’s all too rare.[1] In this post, I will explore who’s defecting, why, where they’re headed, and, of course, an analysis of the contradictions in motion.



  • Design Studies – “the unacceptable actions of Elsevier of 1) demanding a seven-fold increase in publications or facing closure; 2) appointing a new Editor-in-Chief without experience of publishing in the journal and without notification; and 3) changing the scope of the journal without consultation either with the editorial team or the Design Research Society.”
  • Critical Public Health – it seems to boil down to T&F forcing the journal to convert from a hybrid journal to a fully ($3500) $APC-based model
  • NeuroImage and NeuroImage: Reports – “excessively high article-processing charges ($APCs) set by the publisher”
  • Journal of Political Philosophy – “Wiley has been pushing the journal to publish more articles per year—a demand they’ve made of other journals to varying degrees of success—because of the turn towards open-access publishing [“transformative”] agreements.”
  • Journal of Biogeography – “Dawson listed several concerns from his resignation letter, including proposed growth targets for the journal, equity issues in adopting an open access model in which authors pay fees to publish their work, and compensation for the editors.”

See a pattern? $APCs are the root cause. Editors recognize the inequity of $APCs, especially at oligopoly rates. These $APCs are priced well above the cost of production. Where editors once balked at the subscription price of the journals they labor for, they now protest the $APC. Oligopoly profits are directly tied to volume of articles and $APCs. Which means that editors are now pushed into a role that directly generates revenue. Some of the defecting editors note pressure to increase the number of acceptances. And a former editor of Journal of Political Philosophy links that phenomenon to “open-access publishing agreements”, more widely known as “transformative agreements.” Editors reject being turned into invoice-generating, yes people, but this is where the logic of capital has brought us.

Image of money counter operating

Undoubtably, other editors are pressured by the oligopoly to increase acceptances and are not going public about it. We’re witnessing the inevitable consequences of the TA. Increasing acceptances helps publishers maximize the potential revenue from their TAs. If the absolute volume of acceptances increases across their journal portfolio, it will likely yield more authors that come from institutions that signed TAs. Boom! Guaranteed revenue. The oligopoly surely has calculated the likelihood of this happening. And even if authors are not covered by a TA, a portion of them will find the money to pay a full-rate $APC. It makes a lot of sense to capitalists to increase acceptances in the hybrid model. Another consequence of the hybrid model (which the TA reinforces) is the diminishing value it causes for institutions holding traditional subscriptions:

When an institution signs a TA and makes more articles OA inside of hybrid journals, everyone else effectively pays more. The price of a subscription or “big deal” doesn’t drop as the percentage of OA articles in hybrid journals increases. This means that everyone else’s subscription immediately loses value as more articles are made OA through a TA [or $APC]. An institution is almost guaranteed to overpay for a subscription to hybrid journals (which are most of the oligopoly’s journals) when paying in advance as opposed to paying after the fact and accounting for articles made open through $APCs.

This, in effect, creates a first-mover advantage. The universities that signed the earliest TAs not only get a greater article dissemination-visibility-citation advantage over competing universities, but the latter are also set back in their subscriptions’ values.

The TA is sometimes branded as a “read and publish” agreement, but “read and publi$h and publi$h and publi$h…” seems more appropriate.


  • Design Studies – No new home
  • Critical Public Health – Editors heading to University of Calgary to start the Journal of Critical Public Health as a diamond journal (no fees for authors or readers)
  • NeuroImage and NeuroImage: Reports former editors going to MIT as Imaging Neuroscience with an $1,600 $APC. MIT Press received a $10 million donation from Arcadia recently.


It might seem self-defeating that TAs and $APCs are leading to the creation of zombie journals, but the oligopoly is extremely powerful.[2] They’re confident that they can withstand the opposition from editors, boards, and a not insignificant number of scholars because they’ve done it before. Zombie journals get new editors (possibly paid) and continue to publish for years, even with the new journal directly in competition. In this respect, a contradiction is heightened, not resolved. Glossa exists and so does zombie Lingua. The weakest link in a zombie journal seems to be reviewers. Authors can reasonably argue that they need to get published—add a line to their CVs—for career survival. The oligopoly can hire new editors.[3] But I’m struggling to find a good reason to review for a zombie journal.

Defecting to a new publisher that still charges an $APC creates a quantitative change and not a qualitative one.[4] It will carry inequity over to a new home. Any $APC is a barrier to someone. This does not negate the defection but illustrates the need for more work—as there are not many ports in academia waiting to welcome editors in this storm. Additional organization and power are needed to create new diamond journals, which would be a qualitative change.

We are in Gramsci’s interregnum. The system is rotting from the inside, and we can hasten that progress. Unite → Fight → Win

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[1] Relatedly, the u.s. staff of PLOS has unionized

[2] Lingua is earliest journal I can find that is referred to as a zombie journal.

[3] Journals should be required to disclose which editors are paid by the publisher, especially for those charging $APCs.

[4] Quantitative Science Studies, whose editors left the Journal of Informetrics, also levies a two-tier $APC at MIT Press

Open, Power, and the Organized Masses

“Power can only come from the organized masses. All of our power to bring change in this country comes from mass struggle. That’s clear. So, if the power comes from mass struggle, it is clear, to change things, political power can come from the organized masses to ensure those changes. And since the mass of our people are not organized, we can have no power at all. None whatsoever.” – Kwame Ture on PBS


It’s been a while since I last posted on here, so this post is more of a scattering of thoughts and analysis of developments in the last year, literature I’ve been chewing on, and significant conclusions worth revisiting and refining. When I formulate these posts, I’m asking myself: what’s the most true thing I can share at this moment?

I’ve also been studying dialectics in the past year. I’ve always been a dialectical thinker, but I’m developing a deeper understanding of it so that I can employ it as “an instrument of war.”[1] I refer people to the links at the top of my study guide to learn more. Three intentional practices include:

  • Attempting to identify relations between parts (which are usually treated in isolation or independent of each other)
  • Beginning with observations of the Whole and then drilling down to its significant constituents
  • Studying objective conditions; not how we wish things should be


I’m going to start and end with Kwame Ture’s insight: “Power can only come from the organized masses.” He was talking about the fact that Black representation in the elected government (“Black faces in high places” a.k.a. the Black Misleadership Class) does not translate into power for everyday Black people. His clear statement about regular folk building power through organized struggle has been on my mind a lot recently.


I found a term used in Sam Popowich’s excellent book Confronting the Democratic Discourse of Librarianship applicable to the state of open access (OA) and scholarly communication (scholcomm): recuperation—“a process whereby a radical social or political movement or idea is assimilated into mainstream culture, thus diminishing its subversive force.” (Oxford). To be clear, only a subset of OA’s proponents has ever considered it be part of a radical social project. But, if we can pull back from narrow slices of scholcomm we occupy, it’s clear that OA has been captured by commercial publishers. It’s been assimilated into for-profit, hierarchical, exploitative publishing models that perpetuate the status quo. There is a greater quantity of OA literature than any time before, but are we any freer? How much of a qualitative difference has been made?

In an act of self-criticism, I looked through the wrong end of the telescope for too long. Taking a liberal, maybe even libertarian, and idealist approach to all things open led me to support forms of scholcomm that served the Establishment. I mistook open access things as the object of primary importance rather than labor, our relations, our freedom, and our power (or lack thereof). This was an act of reifying or fetishizing OA. Narrowly focusing on the open thing for so long led to “mistaking the relations between people for the relations between things. Because we are alienated from the products of our own labor, from each other, and from ourselves, it is impossible for us to see the commodities that we use, work on, produce, purchase, or consume as products of an almost infinitely complex web of labor relationships.”[2]

I try to move with some humility, so I recognize others have been problematizing OA along these lines for many years. I plan to respond to a subset of that criticism in a future post, focusing specifically on Golumbia’s and Bacevic’s articles.


“How can the slavemaster and the slave be right?” – Amiri Baraka

When capitalists and academic laborers, many who struggle to make ends meet, are on the same side of an issue such as OA it looks like a flashing red light warranting further investigation. The capitalist publishing oligopoly has integrated OA into for-profit models. Popularity for “transformative agreements” continues to increase, and (surprise!) springer nature’s president for research loves them. Subscribe-to-open is gaining ground as a for-profit model as well. Hybrid journals are ubiquitous! Another set of capitalists (self-described philanthropists) are increasingly demanding OA as conditions of their grants. A group of extremely powerful billionaires support the latest OSTP memo. The slavemaster and the slave can’t both be right. OA shouldn’t be a class collaboration. This is more reason to shift emphasis beyond OA, so that we’re not reifying certain scholarly objects. Instead, we can focus our collective well-being, autonomy, power, etc.


The exploitation trifecta refers to the way in which academic labor resulting in publication is exploited in up to three ways at once:

  1. By one’s direct employer
  2. By publishers that extract surplus value (unpaid wages)
  3. By “funders” that demand an OA deposit as a grant requirement

The academic laborer can only overcome these overlapping forms of exploitation with the correct ideology and a protracted, collective struggle. I plan on fleshing this out in greater detail.


Why is diamond OA (no author or reader fees) not more popular than it currently is? I turn back to Kwame Ture for the major aspect of the answer, “Power can only come from the organized masses. All of our power to bring change in this country comes from mass struggle. That’s clear.” The OSTP Memo, for example, did not come from mass struggle. It is a “gift” given to us from above with the support of billionaires[3]. Capital is organized. The elites are organized. We must be too. The more I analyze, study, and discuss, the more I think that we’re further behind. But I’d rather know that than not. Nah mean?


I revised and updated my Study Guide and Independent Media Recommendations pages. I also added a page with links to some of my previous writing and presentations. These will continue to be living webpages.

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[2] Popowich, Confronting the Democratic Discourse of Librarianship, 136.

[3] Freire calls this “false generosity” in Pedagogy of the Oppressed

A Critical Examination of the OSTP Memo

A PDF of this essay is available at

“Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories . . .”

-Amilcar Cabral


Open access (OA) takes many forms. It can be the product of voluntary associations that are cooperative and mutually supportive. It can result from the “free market,” where Springer Nature charges an $11,000+ article processing charge (APC) to make a single article OA. It can also be produced through a regulatory-compliance-and-punishment system. The latter is what’s found in the new Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) memo issued on August 25, 2022.[1] The OSTP’s stated aims in the memo give anti-imperialists much to be concerned about, especially as the biden administration previously justified increasing public access to federally-funded research as a way of battling China in a new Cold War. Those of us in the belly of the beast—the u.s. empire—have an obligation to develop, share, and act upon a critical analysis of the OSTP memo. This analysis is rooted in the historical and present-day evidence that the executive branch manages a corporately-controlled state and is not accustomed to giving gifts to the working class. I attempt to explain and predict in this essay.

We also should not be afraid to question and problematize OA. OA should not be treated as a moral good that places it beyond interrogation.[2] OA cannot be viewed in isolation, but rather as an interrelated act or object within larger processes and systems. What happens before an article is made open and what are the effects afterwards? How can we try to view this all as a moving picture rather than a single image? What does OA in a capitalist economy mean? What does OA in a society with very little worker power mean? Who controls the wealth and is it being redistributed? These are just some of the framing questions used in this analysis.


After reading the OSTP memo, accompanying economic policy document[3], and public statements[4], —which function as sophisticated forms of propaganda[5]—it seems that business owners and corporations will be the primary beneficiaries. Researchers, scholars, students, and others will gain from the increased open access as concurrent, but secondary beneficiaries[6]. I’m in favor of people having greater access to articles stemming from federal funding if it improves their lives in ways that don’t harm others. It’s a good thing if people in other nations can use these articles in similar ways. However, is there any evidence to believe that “this policy will likely yield significant benefits on a number of key priorities for the American people, from environmental justice to cancer breakthroughs, and from game-changing clean energy technologies to protecting civil liberties in an automated world”?[7] The administration is overstating the benefits of public access for regular folks because the OSTP memo cannot serve two masters at once. I don’t see how it can serve both the working class and the ownership class well at the same time.

The u.s. capitalist class (corporations, business owners, “industry”) seem to be the clear winners. The federal government finances what’s called basic research—research that aims to understand how natural phenomena work. Funding basic research is risky from a corporation’s perspective because commercialization is uncertain. Private companies prefer that the federal government bear the risk and fund as much basic research as possible. That then allows business owners to select which research findings to use in subsequent applied research and product development. The end game is commercialization and profit-making. Increased public access to federal-funded research and development (R&D that’s mostly STEM focused) will allow the commercialization process to occur more quickly and cheaply. More public access will also be a boon to platform/surveillance capitalists, data analytics companies, aggregators, and the automated intelligence (AI) industry. More open data will enlarge the range of research findings available for commercialization.

The business class controls u.s. governmental agencies through regulatory capture. The much-applauded OSTP is reeling from an ethics and corruption scandal. POLITICO broke what needs to be a widely read story depicting the undue influence that billionaire eric schmidt had in the OSTP. Agency employees surfaced ethics violations and sought whistle-blower protection, which led to then agency head eric lander’s resignation. schmidt had a very close relationship with lander and was paying the salaries of OSTP employees through his philanthropy (Schmidt Futures). POLITICO pointed out how schmidt sits on the boards of various companies that stand to benefit from OSTP policies. You can read the article and draw your own conclusions, but it seems like a clear case of regulatory capture and doesn’t give me confidence in the OSTP. Maybe we should reconceptualize public access to federal R&D as a new form of public infrastructure. In some respects, it’s a highway system—information roads and bridges that everyday people can use but is shaped in various ways to serve capitalism. Physical roads and bridges connect sites of concentrated capital very well, just like federal research funding favors certain types of potentially commercialized research over others.


The propaganda in the white house documents needs to be broken down and translated. Phrases like “efforts to broaden the potential of the American innovation ecosystem by leveling the playing field for all American innovators”[8] in the OSTP press release can have greater clarity by substituting “innovation” with “capitalism” and “innovators” with “capitalists”. The OSTP memo talks about “restoring public trust.” Trust can be interpreted several ways. It can refer to the credibility, soundness, and reproducibility of scientific findings. On some level this is a signal from the feds to the private industry. They want to give private companies confidence that the potentially commodifiable basic research is sound. There’s an implicit attempt to increase the public’s trust in the federal government as well. Increased open access can give the appearance that the government is not hiding anything; that all is above board. When OA is treated as a moral good and OSTP makes false promises, people might be disinclined from examining what’s getting funded or not funded and to what extent the u.s. government is serving corporate interests.

Similarly, “transparency” can be interpreted in at least two ways. Transparency can lead to greater integrity of scientific conclusions. But transparency in a neoliberal environment also means increased availability for markets and commercialization. It also means there’s the potential for greater and faster disciplining of researchers.

Perhaps, one of the biggest propaganda attempts is the implication that the federal government is truly interested in making evidence-based, people-centered policies: “When federally funded research is available to the public, it can improve lives, provide policymakers with important evidence with which to make critical decisions, accelerate the rates of discovery and translation, and drive more equitable outcomes across every sector of society.”[9] Some of the stated aims of the policy are to advance “pandemic preparedness response, national security, climate change, energy, cancer, [and] economic justice.”[10] There’s very little evidence to show the u.s. government tackling these issues in the interest of the working class. Look at cancer research. Any new discoveries stemming from increased public access would feed into the same sickcare system that plagues our country. In the absence of Medicare for All, the benefits of new cancer research would be highly stratified. Those who are already the most privileged (white, wealthy, insured, etc.) will accrue the most benefits. In the absence of a federally or publicly owned pharmaceutical manufacturer, any new cancer drugs stemming from increased public access will increase profits for big pharma. What evidence is there to believe that increased public access will lead to a better pandemic response when the current administration has removed nearly all COVID protections? There’s already published science that shows we need enhanced air ventilation and filtration in public buildings to mitigate the spread of COVID, but there’s no nationwide campaign to do so. The failure to tackle these issues, just to name a few, doesn’t support the notion that greater availability to scientific articles will lead the feds to do much that benefit regular folks.[11] It’s ahistorical to think that this policy will meet the needs of this nation’s working class. Policymaking passes through several filters, and u.s. politicians routinely ignore evidence when it doesn’t serve the elites’ interests.

Finally, we can also analyze the role increased public access to federal research plays in epistemic hegemony. This type of hegemony refers to the domination of certain types of knowledge over others. In this case, it’s Western (Global North) knowledge, with its unspoken and/or underrecognized methodologies, values, frameworks, etc., achieving greater global dissemination and impact over others. Science is highly politicized, and the u.s. settler-colonial state will extend its dominance and global reach through this memo by projecting its knowledge and ideas more easily and quickly. Global faith in the u.s. empire is waning, and this memo can be seen as an attempt to restore some trust in the u.s. by granting free worldwide access to its research. The more sophisticated empires understand that cultural and epistemological dominance can be more effective than physical force and coercion. If the u.s. was genuinely concerned about the health of its residents, it would end its blockade of Cuba so we can all benefit from Cuban medical breakthroughs.


Sam Moore and Jeff Pooley wrote some of the better reactions to the OSTP memo, noting the likelihood that the larger commercial publishers increase their profits via an acceleration of APC-based OA. The public access mandated in this memo (green OA) is not mutually exclusive from APC-based OA. A close reading of the OSTP economic policy document alludes to this outcome, despite some ambiguity in the language. Notably on p. 7, the “OSTP proposes that remaining agnostic on these [OA] models would allow opportunities for business model innovation in this space while supporting zero-embargo public access to federally funded research publications and results.” The OSTP made it very clear that they’re not picking sides when it comes to favoring diamond vs. APC vs. green OA. This “agnosticism”, however, is a form of neutrality that favors the status quo and the elites and, therefore, more profit-heavy APC-based OA. The u.s. state is designed to serve capitalism, so it would be naïve to think that they’re pulling an okey doke on the largest publishers[12]. In fact, springer nature welcomes the new policy because they don’t see it as diminishing their profits[13].

Not only does the OSTP not vigorously condemn APCs, but it also paints “transformative agreements” as a win-win. Speaking on the University of California’s “transformative agreement” with elsevier: “This shift set an important precedent, demonstrating the industry’s capacity to absorb major shifts in public access policies and negotiate agreements that are agreeable to both parties.”[14] On page 15, the OSTP acknowledges that they expect APCs to increase and imply that federal grants may increase to pay them. The accompanying OSTP blogpost encourages grant writers to include APC costs in their proposals even though depositing peer-reviewed manuscripts in a federal repository would be free for authors!

Federal grant recipients have legitimate reasons to be concerned about the new policy. Alarmingly, the OSTP writes that “any economic burden falling on individual researchers resulting from a zero-embargo publication policy would likely be offset by the greater benefits of increased visibility, consumption, and potential impact that their research would realize.”[15] Economic burden in return for immaterial benefits with no guarantees? This speaks to the risks inherent in bureaucratic, top-down policymaking. Springer applauds the memo while authors are at risk of economic burdens. OA faces resistance when it’s done through regulation, compliance, and punishment. Mandates that demand compliance by individual authors understandably create anxiety because of uncertain risks, rewards, and punishment. OA via mandates lead to auditing cultures and more bureaucracy[16]. OSTP’s regulatory approach to OA doesn’t diminish corporate power in any meaningful way but creates new obligations for workers instead.[17] Spending (wasting?) the next few years trying to bend the OSTP policy implementation in the public’s favor will steal precious time and resources from building a worker/scholar-led publishing (diamond OA) system.[18]


This analysis is not meant to be exhaustive and is predicated on assumptions that may not be widely shared.

  • I’m not disappointed in OSTP because I don’t expect freedoms to be granted by the government. It seems naïve to expect kindness or gifts from a federal government that routinely abandons people during times of greatest need (Jackson water crisis, Hurricane Katrina, etc.). The u.s. government is not interested in healthcare, infrastructure, or a biosphere that benefits the masses. We may never know the true extent of regulatory capture, but I refuse to ignore the significant influence that billionaires like eric schmidt have in policymaking and regulations. It’s easy to miss the simple point that funding for science is political, and what’s being made open is political despite efforts to appear neutral, true, and transparent. What gets funded (and not funded) is shaped in many ways, including by business owners who sit on federal advisory boards
  • If something is equally available to individuals and business owners (our exploiters), the outcomes are often asymmetrical. So, it’s worth examining why and how this will happen with OA to federal research. Minimizing disparities in power would be a right-wing libertarian approach. A study of history leads me to expect uneven outcomes that favor corporations at the expense of the working class.
  • I plan to elaborate more on how scholarly publishing reflects class struggle. The rulings elites will continue to shape the world in their interests, exploit, and extract until we are powerful enough to liberate ourselves. We’ll get free if we study collectively, recognize our class position as workers, and organize forcefully and for the long term.[19]

I welcome comments, criticisms, clarifications, discussion, and elaboration, especially from a labor perspective.

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[1] OSTP memo –

[2] I hope that I’ve taken a more sophisticated view on OA since 2011, when I started studying it deeply. Back then I probably would’ve cheered for any OA. APCs have helped me question the forms in which OA are produced, as have folks who criticize OA mandates. See also Bacevic, J. & Muellerleile, C. (2017). The moral economy of open access. European Journal of Social Theory

[3] OSTP Economic Policy –

[4] Press Release:

Blog Post:

[5] Media professor Jared Ball says we (USians) are the most propagandized people on Earth

[6] This is a qualitative comparison of beneficiaries. It’s also worth noting that OA is automatically international and it’s a conservative talking point to keep emphasizing u.s. taxpayers.

[7] OSTP press release

[8] Press Release

[9] OSTP memo p. 2

[10] The notion that the u.s. government is interested in “economic justice” is laughable. This article states that public access advances “economic prosperity”, but more accurately it will lead to corporate prosperity:

[11] Ashish Jha announced that the administration plans to further commercialize its pandemic response – meaning the uninsured will have to pay for future vaccines, testing, etc.

[12] The white house was just thanking springer and elsevier for making monkeypox research freely available


[14] Economic policy p.14-15

[15] Economy policy p. 17

[16] Auditing and compliance are essentially police work. I’d love to hear more from UK librarians dealing with OA compliance

[17] In this sense the OSTP is trying to reconcile the irreconcilable—capital vs. labor

[18] Capitalism has truncated our imaginations so that we rarely, if ever, take the time to recognize possibilities beyond what already exist. We are trapped in social systems that were made by humans and therefore capable of being undone and replaced.

[19] Our very survival as a species depends on it

Black August

Free Mutulu Shakur!

Free Mumia!

Free all political prisoners!

According to Hood Communist, “Black August is an African (Black) institution that is commemorated annually to honor the contributions of our African freedom fighters who sacrificed in order to strike blows against the U.S. capitalist empire on behalf of the African masses.” You can learn more about the importance of commemorating Black August and the challenge to fight, study, fast, and train at Hood Communist and Black Agenda Report.

Library-Cop Collaborations are Nothing to Celebrate

My Twitter timeline exploded with different variations of “Don’t Mess with Archivists” this week in the aftermath of the FBI raid on 45’s house.[1] Archivists at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) were praised for defending our democracy due to their collaboration with the Department of Justice and FBI in seeking the return of documents that the fascist pig took with him when leaving the white house. That an archive-police collaboration could generate so much professional praise and pride is disturbing, but not surprising. Some people were probably just joyful that 45’s home was raided, but that is support for the same system of policing that disproportionately harms Black people and other people of color. Some felt a deeper pride; that our library and information science (LIS) profession helped protect our democracy. Maybe they saw NARA archivists as fulfilling the role congressperson jamie raskin outlined for librarians at this year’s ALA conference—LIS workers as “the guardians of freedom, democracy, and civilization in our country.”

If “democracy” is read as bourgeois democracy—the actual existing form of democracy in the u.s.—then yes, NARA is a guardian. NARA is there to help ensure the smooth operation of the u.s. government. And as the administrator of records for the empire, NARA is not immune from bad behavior. A previous head of NARA, allen weinstein, is credibly accused of sexually assaulting employees. Last year a judge found that NARA wrongfully gave ICE permission to destroy records related to the latter’s sexual abuse and assault cases. Needless to say, NARA’s effort to obtain documents from 45 is not of much concern to working people in this country. 45 survived two impeachments, and it’s unlikely that much will come of this. NARA’s recommendation that ICE destroy records of sexual assault is consistent with their dogged pursuit of records that 45 stole because they both align with the interests of the established ruling elite (the majority of whom dislike 45).

What is worth noting is the reinvigorated vocational awe both externally imposed and generated among LIS workers.[2] The dominant narrative that was formed this week supports the notion that NARA, government archives, libraries are inherently good, sacred, and are sustainers of democracy. Archivists were praised mostly by partisans who hardly have a mumbling word to say about the previously mentioned abuses or about the state of LIS labor. It’s cheap and easy to have a feel-good moment. This is quite a turn from the aftermath of the 2001 Patriot Act when some librarians earned praise for resisting FBI power. The latter were angered by librarians’ resistance to their solicitation of user records. An internal FBI email stated they:

…should be embarrassed that the FBI has used this valuable tool to fight terrorism exactly ZERO times… The inability of FBI investigators to use this seemingly effective tool has had a direct and clearly adverse impact on our terrorism cases. While radical militant librarians kick us around, true terrorists benefit from OIPR’s failure to let us use the tools given to us.

Celebrating LIS-police collaborations is a dangerous game. Policing will continue to harm the oppressed. The popularizing of abolitionist ideas like defunding and abolishing the police during the 2020 uprising were systematically attacked. The selection of biden, the architect of the 1994 crime bill, and kamala harris, a self-described “top cop”, can be interpreted as a counterrevolutionary move by the Establishment. Consistency, which is all too rare, would require folks who believe that Black Lives Matter to also care about abolition. It would require paying attention to how the FBI has always been a racist organization responsible for much death and harm. It would require paying attention to the fact that COINTELPRO never ended and most recently manifested itself in the FBI’s raid on the African People’s Socialist Party a few weeks ago. Abolition is also self-preservation. Why was a woman training to be a “library police officer” when she was shot dead during training? How will we protect ourselves as prosecutors threaten to criminalize our sharing of LGBT and reproductive health material?

Abolition of policing in its various manifestations, including inside of libraries, is one of the best weapons we have against vocational awe. Policing exists to protect the rich, their property, and to enforce unequal social relations. Anytime LIS institutions participate in this activity is cause for concern.

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[1] I use libraries and archives and librarians and archivists interchangeably

[2] My focus is on archives and libraries as institutions and the functions of LIS workers, not a commentary on individuals per se. weinstein being an exception

OA Isn’t Always DEI

Lightly edited version of a virtual talk given to the Virginia Scholarly Communication Interest Group in July 2022

Background material
● Cold war OA:
As U.S. Hunts for Chinese Spies, University Scientists Warn of Backlash

I think many of us are interested in OA because we feel its related to positive change, fits with our values, or somehow advances equity and justice. However, as we might know, OA doesn’t always fit into DEI or diversity, equity, and inclusion. One major example of how OA doesn’t automatically equal DEI is with APC-based OA, which includes so-called transformative agreements or read-and-publish agreements. For a deeper explanation of this claim visit my HCommons account[1][2][3] and critiques from other librarians[4][5][6].

The starting point for what I want to focus on today feels like decades ago—2020. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, people and institutions were adopting the language of antiracism. Ibram Kendi was making the rounds. Organizations were acknowledging, at least on paper, that racism is systemic and that it’s not good enough to not be racist, but we should be antiracist. However, progressive rhetoric from that summer has not translated into many material changes. We have a president who suggested that cops shoot Black people “in the leg instead of the heart” and police killed Jayland Walker with 60 bullets two weeks ago in Akron Ohio. My talk is dedicated to Jayland.

We’re also seeing a disturbing rise in anti-Asian violence in the past two years. Asians, especially East Asians, are being assaulted and killed in greater numbers. In March 2021, six Asian women were killed in spas in Georgia. The LA Times reports a 177% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in California in 2021. This is being attributed to racists using the COVID pandemic to spread their hate and increase their power. There are serious attempts to convince white people that they are being replaced, which is directly leading to white men harming and murdering people of color in this country. This was also the alleged motivation for the murder of Black folks in the Buffalo supermarket.

OK, what does any of this have to do with scholarly communication? Well, we like to view things historically and deflect blame in this country. It’s easy to say well after the fact that the internment of Japanese people during WW2 was racist. It’s easy to point the finger at shooters and say they’re racist. But white supremacy is an intricate system that permeates our institutions. It’s most powerful when it works without raising eyebrows. Which is why I want to pay attention to a bill in the u.s. congress. A bill that SPARC, ALA, ARL, and ACRL are all backing because it seeks to codify public access to federal research: the u.s. Innovation and Competition Act. The public access requirements to federally-funded research that Obama used executive power to broaden would become codified in law if the house and senate can come to an agreement when they reconcile their separate versions of the bill.[7]

The problem is that bill is part of an anti-Chinese, imperial project. There’s no other way to put it. There seems to be a significant difference between the governmental motivations for open access and what motivates some of us. In fact, biden said this about the u.s. Innovation and Competition Act: “The House took an important step forward today in advancing legislation that will make our supply chains stronger and reinvigorate the innovation engine of our economy to outcompete China and the rest of the world for decades to come…I’m heartened by Congress’ bipartisan work so far, and its commitment to quick action to get this to my desk as soon as possible. Together, we have an opportunity to show China and the rest of the world that the 21st century will be the American century – forged by the ingenuity and hard work of our innovators, workers, and businesses.” senator mitch mcconnell said “Needless to say, final passage of this legislation cannot be the Senate’s final word on our competition with China…It certainly won’t be mine.” [national anthem]

This bill is pretty disgusting and is part of a bipartisan Cold War, a so-called “AI Cold War” with China. And the reason I’m pointing this out because I can’t isolate the OA elements of the bill from the broader context and goals of the bill. The public access requirement is there to serve u.s. global hegemony—singling out China as the enemy. As I pointed out in an earlier blog post, “The increased research funding in the [senate] bill is aimed primarily at artificial intelligence and quantum science. Given the motivations for this bill and the capitalist nature of our economy, I don’t have much confidence that this research will lead to many socially necessary outcomes or benefits for regular people. In fact, I think it will be turned against the people—at home and abroad.” Look through the bill and you’ll see money going towards UAV, unmanned aerial vehicles, a.k.a. drones, for example. Those types of drones are commonly used to surveil and bomb Brown people.

The real-time racism in the bipartisan bill will have the effect of increasing anti-Chinese hatred and violence towards them domestically and abroad. We are already witnessing increased surveillance of Chinese american scientists and the suspicion that they are stealing technology. We’ve seen before that when the ruling class identifies an enemy, it trickles down to inter-personal violence. Trying to end personal bigotry and stopping violence on-the-ground would not end racism if anti-Asian bills are everyday business in congress. So, what does it mean to support this bill as several library organizations have done?…organizations that have DEI statements. Can the OA be separated from the bills’ imperial goals? Are we paying close attention to the rise in anti-Asian violence? Is OA worth supporting at any cost? Are DEI goals disposable when “public access to federally-funded research is a key element of our innovation and competitiveness strategy”? OA has become very complex. We need to be paying close attention to its manifestations, especially when there are differing motivations for OA. As a conclusion, I wanted to pose one more contradiction. A hashtag—#OAInTheUSA—is being used to support the bill. What does OA in the u.s.a. mean? Not only is the nationalist sentiment concerning, but isn’t OA automatically internationalist in nature?

[1] “Transformative Agreements” & Library Publishing: A Short Examination:

[2] Uncensored Scholarly Communication Fragments:

[3] Librarypunk podcast on TAs:

[4] Message from the Grassroots: Scholarly Communication, Crisis, and Contradictions:



[7]  senate version has the OA provision. House version is called america competes act.

Cold War Open Access

I’m immediately suspicious of anything that has bipartisan support in congress and the full approval of the u.s. president. When both parties unite around a bill or set of policies, I can pretty much rest assured that it wasn’t done with my best interests in mind. Such bills are almost always meant to serve the Ruling Elite, especially in the absence of mass organization. Any benefit for regular folk is secondary, marginal, or non-existent. And that’s why I’m not celebrating the senate’s passage of an anti-communist, Sinophobic, nationalistic, proto-fascist, corporate-welfare, imperial bill that includes a provision requiring open access to more federally-funded research.

I refuse to stick my head in the sand and look the other way on this bill. You can’t strip away any good that comes from the OA in the bill from its context. The senate didn’t help out the little guy and sneak the OA requirement in a completely unrelated bill. The OA requirement in this bill was only included as part of a new, bipartisan Cold War with China. The politicians aren’t even mincing words about their quest to maintain global hegemony. joe biden said “We are in a competition to win the 21st century, and the starting gun has gone off.”[1] He also stated, “America must maintain its position as the most innovative and productive nation on Earth.”[2] senator mitch mcconnell said “Needless to say, final passage of this legislation cannot be the Senate’s final word on our competition with China…It certainly won’t be mine.”[3] Not to be outdone democrat chuck schumer added “Whoever wins the race to the technologies of the future is going to be the global economic leader with profound consequences for foreign policy and national security as well.”[4]

There should be no doubt about the intentions of this bill: to keep the u.s. empire afloat in the face of china. The bill is Sinophobic, not very different than what trump would’ve wanted, and will continue to stoke anti-Asian violence. The latter is manufactured by the ruling class and trickles down into anti-Asian bigotry and interpersonal violence. Anti-Asian violence will not be stopped by appealing to an end of personal bigotry, but by tackling it systemically and at its origins.

Yes, there is open access in the bill. But for who and at what cost? Self-archiving is a pretty inefficient form of OA. The corporate publishers will still make plenty of profit as we’ve seen in the decade-plus since the passage of the NIH Public Access Policy. It seems like the feds would take responsibility for providing OA in a PubMed Central-type arrangement, which will add to cost of access (as opposed to nationalizing the publishers or requiring OA at the point-of-publication). Also, the primary beneficiary of the open access is meant to be corporations. This bill funds research with the intent of private commercialization of the findings and developments. The feds want their corporate donors and the business community to have greater access to research that they can turn into profit. Some of the resulting products and services will then be purchased by the feds as well. The increased research funding in the bill is aimed primarily at artificial intelligence and quantum science. Given the motivations for this bill and the capitalist nature of our economy, I don’t have much confidence that this research will lead to many socially necessary outcomes or benefits for regular people. In fact, I think it will be turned against the people—at home and abroad. If you and I get our hands on literature about AI at the same time as the corporations do, who’ll come out on top?

I used to point to the NIH Public Access Policy as the shining model for OA ten years ago. Not anymore. Sure, there would be some social benefits from greater OA to federal research (I’m not necessarily arguing against that), but given the status quo, we’re not coming out ahead. I stopped agitating for federally mandated OA, mainly because I think it detracts from a larger project of directly empowering knowledge producers, readers, and the broader masses. So, it should come to no one’s surprise that you won’t see me using the #OAintheUSA hashtag. I refuse to feed the nationalist sentiment behind the slogan and its contradiction—OA doesn’t respect artificially drawn state boundaries. It’s international in nature. And we should be as well.


You can support my writing and research by buying me a coffee 😊




[3] ibid

[4] ibid

MEDIUM READ: System Change is in Order

This is a repost of my contribution to the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication editorial. Originally published May 12, 2021 at

In the spirit of Walter Rodney’s guerrilla intellectual, I’ve tried to dissolve the scholar-activist dichotomy within myself for several years now.[1] I find it increasingly impossible (and not even a desirable goal) to divide my personal and professional beliefs. That is why I see a common force affecting the COVID-19 pandemic, the global uprisings sparked by the police murdering Black folks, and scholarly communication—capitalism. I want to briefly explore these three areas using critical theory as a tool to explain and predict. And, because capitalism is responsible for producing (and benefitting from) these major crises, I see system change as the only solution.

Social ecologists, such as Murray Bookchin, have observed that the way humans treat each other is reflected in the way that we treat nature.[2] These theorists see domination and hierarchy as a commonality across capitalism, racism, patriarchy, and ecological destruction. They note that relating to nature as something to be dominated and exploited has fragmented landscapes, polluted our air, and made us more susceptible to zoonotic viruses such as the one that causes COVID-19.[3] Social ecologists warn that capitalist agricultural practices will increase the occurrence of these viruses. Sadly, the corporate capture of the US political structure has worsened the pandemic while benefiting the super-rich. Billionaires became 27.5% richer between April and July.[4] Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, alone is $74 billion richer. Relatively few people can only accumulate that much wealth when millions of people are made to suffer. Black people in the US have died from COVID-19 at twice the rate of white Americans.[5] Women have been disproportionately saddled with more childcare and household labor.[6]

The global uprising sparked by the murder of George Floyd is rooted in the same injustices seen in the pandemic. If George Floyd tried to use counterfeit money, as was alleged, he did so as a victim of a racist economic situation. For several decades, the capitalist system has not needed as many workers in the US as it once had. This has confined large numbers of Black folks to lower paid work, underemployment, unemployment, and/or subjugation to the criminal-legal system. The police, whose roots are in slavery, are an institution designed to enforce social and economic inequalities. There is no other reasonable explanation for why they inflict so much violence on Black and Brown people, while prioritizing the safety of the wealthy and private property. While the interminable call for reforms have failed to stop police violence, abolitionist ideas and values reached a level of popularity that few could have predicted. Abolitionists, who often have an intimate knowledge of racist violence, are full of imagination and love for their communities. We are not content with the symbolic painting of “Black Lives Matter” on city streets. The potential implications of abolitionist thought on scholarly communication deserves further elaboration beyond this editorial.

The lesson I am receiving from the pandemic and uprisings is that our economic system leads to social and physical violence, and we can do better. Our structures in scholarly communication are mostly capitalist in nature, which leads to forms of intellectual violence as well.[7] How else can we describe the profit-making we see in journal pricing? Or e-books that are not licensed to libraries because there is more money to be made by selling individual licenses? Unless we examine, undermine, and replace the underlying ideology, we will continue to be disappointed by whatever happens after the pandemic is over. I do not share the optimism that some of my peers have, especially because we need to brace ourselves for years of austerity—budget cuts, a smaller workforce, increased pressure to be productive, and shrinking paychecks.

Austerity will highlight and increase the unresolved tension between researchers and their employers. Within their institutions, researchers and scholars (employees) are offered little to no decision-making power regarding publishing as an economic activity. The knowledge that we produce is converted by our institutions into revenue and accumulated wealth that is controlled by relatively few people. This is a result of the logic of capital pervading both the private and public sectors. Scholarly communication is shaped in a way that benefits university brands. The higher-ranking institutions, especially, are wedded to a publishing paradigm based in prestige. This may explain why some of them embrace “transformative agreements,” which do not upset the status quo. It is also more apparent than ever that all open access is not made alike and that capital does not rest. Elsevier launched 100 new open access journals in just nine months.[8] As the relatively higher-ranking schools use publishers like Elsevier to increase the value of their brands, the publishing oligopoly will remain well-entrenched. Barring a radical change, scholarly communication will continue to be part of a larger system based on domination, exploitation, and oppression. If scholarly publishing is not controlled by its authors and readers is it worth having?

[1] Rodney, W. (2019). The groundings with my brothers. London: Verso.

[2] Amargi, W., & Amargi, S. (2020). Communalism: a liberatory alternative.

[3] Smith, E. G. (2020, March). Coronavirus and the need for a social ecology. Institute for Social Ecology.

[4] Neate, R. (2020, October 6). Billionaires’ wealth rises to $10.2 trillion amid Covid crisis. The Guardian.

[5] Pilkington, E. (2020, September 8). Covid-19 death rate among African Americans and Latinos rising sharply. The Guardian.

[6] Chemaly, S. (2020, April 20). Coronavirus could hurt women the most. Here’s how to prevent a patriarchal pandemic. NBC News.

[7] The prosecution of Aaron Swartz and his suicide showed multiple types of violence.

[8] Abrahams, P. [@paul_abrahams]. (2020, October 22). RELX 9 month trading update. Elsevier underlying revenue growth +2%. Article submissions up 25% [Tweet]. Twitter.

Happy Birthday, Malcolm X!

“I’m not the kind of person who come here to say what you like. I’m going to tell you the truth whether you like it or not.” – Malcolm X

In my first post, I’m honoring Malcolm X, on his birthday (May 19). He is, of course, the inspiration for the blog’s name and tagline. I’m forever striving for his combination of courage, clarity, insight, honesty, and provocation when I speak and write.

Malcolm was clear on his solidarity with the Palestinians, who will be free in our lifetime:

In short the Zionist argument to justify Israel’s present occupation of Arab Palestine has no intelligent or legal basis in history

I particularly like this essay by LEFT on Malcolm. I agree with LEFT’s quote from Kwame Ture:

Kwame Ture (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael went as far as to emphasize that, “we who have an ideology today use Malcolm X as our framework. Our basic framework. Our point of reference.

Later on LEFT says:

Malcolm X is alive in the hearts and minds of every one, whose evolution in life involved the reading of his autobiography. He is alive in every lashing out for liberation by Black folks uncompromisingly fighting tooth and nail against the interlocking systems of white supremacism and anti-Blackness.

There are too many Malcolm quotes to choose frosm, but I highly recommend (re)reading his autobiography and listening to his “The Ballot or the Bullet” and “Message to the Grassroots” speeches.

Keith LeBlanc’s No Sell Out track is pretty dope too.