I’ve been enthusiastic about OA (open access to academic texts) for a number of years. I don’t tend to be extremely active in the OA milieu but I do use every opportunity I can to talk about OA, both in formal academic contexts and in more casual and informal conversation.
My own views about Open Access are that it should be plain common-sense, for both scholars and “the public.” Not that OA is an ultimate principle, but it seems so obvious to me that OA can be beneficial in a large range of contexts. In fact, I tend to conceive of academia in terms of Open Access. In my mind, a concept related to OA runs at the very core of the academic enterprise and helps distinguish it from other types of endeavours. Simply put, academia is the type of “knowledge work ” which is oriented toward openness in access and use.
Historically, this connection between academic work and openness has allegedly been the source of the so-called “Open Source movement” with all its consequences in computing, the Internet, and geek culture.
Quite frequently, OA advocates focus (at least in public) on specific issues related to Open Access. An OA advocate put it in a way that made me think it might have been a precaution, used by OA advocates and activists, to avoid scaring off potential OA enthusiasts. As I didn’t involve myself as a “fighter” in the OA-related discussions, I rarely found a need for such precautions.
I now see signs that the Open Access movement is finally strong enough that some of these precautions might not even be needed. Not that OA advocates “throw caution to the wind.” But I really sense that it’s now possible to openly discuss broader issues related to Open Access because “critical mass has been achieved.”
Case in point, for this sense of a “wind of change,” the latest issue of Peter Suber’s SPARC Open Access Newsletter.
Suber’s newsletter is frequently a useful source of information about Open Access and I often get inspired by it. But because my involvement in the OA movement is rather limited, I tend to skim those newsletter issues, more than I really read them. I kind of feel bad about this but “we all need to choose our battles,” in terms of information management.
But today’s issue “caught my eye.” Actually, it stimulated a lot of thoughts in me. It provided me with (tasty) intellectual nourishment. Simply put: it made me happy.
It’s all because Suber elaborated an argument about Open Access that I find particularly compelling: the epistemological dimension of Open Acces. Because of my perspective, I respond much more favourably to this epistemological argument than I would with most practical and ethical arguments. Maybe that’s just me. But it still works.
So I read Suber’s newsletter with much more attention than usual. I savoured it. And I used this new method of actively reading online texts which is based on the Diigo.com social bookmarking service.
What follows is a slightly edited version of my Diigo annotations on Suber’s text.
Peter Suber, SPARC Open Access Newsletter, 6/2/08
June 2008 issue of Peter Suber’s newsletter on open access to academic texts (“Open Access,” or “OA”).
Quote-based annotations and highlights.
Items in italics are Suber’s, those in roman are my annotations.
Open access and the self-correction of knowledge
- This might be one of my favourite arguments for OA. Yes, it’s close to ESR’s description of the “eyeball” principle. But it works especially well for academia.
- Nor is it very subtle or complicated
- Agreed. So, why is it so rarely discussed or grokked?
John Stuart Mill in 1859
- Nice way to tie the argument to something which may thought-provoke scholars in Humanities and Social Sciences.
OA facilitates the testing and validation of knowledge claims
- Neat, clean, simple, straightforward… convincing. Framing it as hypothesis works well, in context.
science is self-correcting
- Almost like “talking to scientists’ emotions.” In an efficient way.
reliability of inquiry
- Almost lingo-like but resonates well with academic terminology.
Science is special because it’s self-correcting.
- Don’t we all wish this were more widely understood?
scientists eventually correct the errors of other scientists
- There’s an important social concept, here. Related to humility as a function of human interaction.
persuade their colleagues
new professional consensus
benefit from the perspectives of others
- Tying humility, intellectual honesty, critical thinking, ego-lessness, and even relativist ways of knowing.
freedom of expression is essential to truth-seeking
opening discussion as widely as possible
- Perhaps my favourite argument ever for not only OA but for changes in academia generally.
when the human mind is capable of receiving it
- Possible tie-in with the social level of cognition. Or the usual “shoulders of giants.”
protect the freedom of expression
- The problem I have with the way this concept is applied is that people rely on pre-established institutions for this protection and seem to assume that, if the institution is maintained, so is the protection. Dangerous!
If the only people free to speak their minds are people like the author, or people with a shared belief in current orthodoxy, then we’d rarely hear from people in a position to recognize deficiencies in need of correction.
- This, I associate with “groupthink” in the “highest spheres” (sphere height being giving through social negotiation of prestige).
But we do have to make our claims available to everyone who might care to read and comment on them.
- Can’t help but think that *some* of those who oppose or forget this mainly fear the social risks associated with our positions being questioned or invalidated.
For the purposes of scientific progress, a society in which access to research is limited, because it’s written in Latin, because authors are secretive, or because access requires travel or wealth, is like a society in which freedom of expression is limited.
scientists who are free to speak their minds but lack access to the literature have no advantage over scientists without the freedom to speak their minds
many voices from many perspectives
exactly what scientists must do to inch asymptotically toward certainty
enlisting as much help
validate knowledge claims in public
OA works best of all
- My guess is that those who want to argue against this hypothesis are reacting in a knee-jerk fashion, perhaps based on personal motives. Nothing inherently wrong there, but it remains as a potential bias.
- longevity in a free society
- Interesting way to put it.
- the friction in a non-OA system
- The academic equivalent of cute.
- For scientific self-correction, OA is lubricant, not a precondition.
- much of the scientific progress in the 16th and 17th centuries was due to the spread of print itself and the wider access it allowed for new results
- Limits on access (like limits on liberty) are not deal-breakers, just friction in the system
- “See? We’re not opposed to you. We just think there’s a more efficient way to do things.”
- OA can affect knowledge itself, or the process by which knowledge claims become knowledge
- pragmatic arguments
- The Millian argument for OA is not the “wisdom of crowds”
- Not exclusively, but it does integrate the diversity of viewpoints made obvious through crowdsourcing.
- without attempting to synthesize them
- If “wisdom of crowds” really is about synthesis, then it’s nothing more than groupthink.
- peer review and the kind of empirical content that underlies what Karl Popper called falsifiability
- I personally hope that a conversation about these will occur soon. What OA makes possible, in a way, is to avoid the dangers which come from the social dimension of “peerness.” This was addressed earlier, and I see a clear connection with “avoiding groupthink.” But the assumption that peer-review, in its current form, has reached some ultimate and eternal value as a validation system can be questioned in the context of OA.
Such online watchdogs were among those who first identified problems with images and other data in a cloning paper published in Science by Woo Suk Hwang, a South Korean researcher. The research was eventually found to be fraudulent, and the journal retracted the paper….
Not only is it fun as a “success story” (CHE’s journalistic bent), but it may help some people understand that there is satisfaction to be found in fact-checking. In fact, verification can be self-rewarding, in an appropriate context. Seems obvious enough to many academics but it sounds counterintuitive to those who think of academia as waged labour.
Really impressive round-up of recent news related to Open Access. What I tend to call a “linkfest.”
What follows is my personal selection, based on diverse interests.
- The venerable French encyclopedia, Larousse, will publish a free online edition, open to vetted user contributions.
- Harvard Law School joined the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences in adopting an OA mandate. Just as in the FAS, the Law School mandate was adopted by a unanimous vote of the faculty.
- The Canadian Library Association approved a Position Statement on Open Access for Canadian Libraries. It not only calls for a mandate OA for publicly-funded research, but regards embargo periods as a temporary compromise, justified only to help publishers adapt during a transition period.
- Google Books and WorldCat agreed to link their records to one another.
- Microsoft pulled the plug on Academic Search, Book Search, and its book-scanning program. It will fulfill existing contracts (e.g. with the British Library), give digital copies of scanned books to their publishers, donate its book-scanning equipment to its partners, and remove usage restrictions the public-domain books it has already scanned.
- The Open Humanities Press launched with a portfolio of seven peer-reviewed OA journals.
- Gramophone Magazine converted its 85 year backfile to OA.
- Scholars Without Borders created a list of peer-reviewed Open Access Journals published in India and the subcontinent.
- Science Commons and partners announced Health Commons, an ambitious ecosystem of OA literature and data, the semantic web, intelligent licensing, specimen-sharing services, and economies of scale, all in the service of developing cures. The other partners are CollabRx, CommerceNet, and the Public Library of Science.
- Medecins Sans Frontieres launched an OA repository.
- Scientists Without Borders launched an OA database to “coordinate science-based activities that improve quality of life in the developing world.”
- The folks at EPrints revamped ROARMAP, the database of funder and university OA mandates. The front page now has a very useful tally of the worldwide OA mandates in six categories.
- The Open University of Israel started publishing OA textbooks.
- The Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic signed the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge.
- Stanford University will provide OA to the papers of Stephen Jay Gould, and add cross-links to his sources.
- SURF released a new guide for scholars: How to use copyright wisely within scholarly communication.
- The Research Information Network released a major report on the costs and funding of scholarly communication in the UK.
- The University of California Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education released a new report on faculty views on the future of scholarly communication.
- The Association of Research Libraries updated its Brown-Bag Discussion Guide Series on Issues in Scholarly Communication, adding new guides on Author Rights and New Model Publications.
- Les Carr reported that monthly deposits in UK institutional repositories doubled in the last 18 months.
- Two OA activists won Berkman Awards “for their outstanding contributions to the Internet’s impact on society over the past decade”: Richard Baraniuk (of Connexions) and Carl Malamud (of Public.Resource.Org).
- Sean Kass, a third year Harvard law student, has released a 14 minute video, Open Access to Scholarly Publications. The video is a project in the course, The Web Difference, taught by John Palfrey and David Weinberger.
- Siyavula is a large, new open education project in the planning stage by the South African government.
- Britain will provide temporary OA to its UFO files. After a month of OA, the files will convert to TA.