Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, November 02, 2007

Rhetorical strategies to support OA

Marcus Banks, Talk at the Public Library of Science, Marcus' World, November 2, 2007.  Excerpt:

This morning I gave a talk at a Public Library of Science (PLoS) staff meeting, to express my concern about some of the rhetorical strategies used to support open access publishing....

Health sciences librarians have been among the strongest supporters of open access publishing. Traditional, subscription based journals are increasingly unaffordable. Plus, in many cases public funds have supported the research that appears  in scholarly journals --to the extent that this is true, the research is a public good that should be available for everyone.

These arguments for open access still resonate with me, but over the years I've grown weary of rhetoric that tars all traditional publishers --even scholarly societies operating on tight budgets, for whom journal subscriptions are a key source of revenue-- as being on the wrong side of scientific progress.  What seemed so simple and right when I was a PLoS booster in 2004 feels complicated in 2007.

But even so, I still support the mission of PLoS; I hope that people perceived my talk as a way to have an honest discussion among friends.

There were two central points, related to each other: 1. that the rhetoric on behalf of open access can be too simplistic; 2. and that this rhetorical battle with traditional publishers is unnecessary because we are moving into a future in which scholars will publish more than just papers. It  is possible that interactive publications which contain multimedia and 3D elements will become the norm.

As defined by the National Library of Medicine, an interactive publication is a  "self-contained multimedia document that enables reader control over media objects and reuse of media content for further analysis." Assuming that publishing an old-fashioned paper becomes passe, I argued for focusing instead  on shaping a future that contains maximum access to such publications.

PLoS staff members (both in person in San Francisco and over the phone from the UK) asked some tough questions.  Several people pointed out that if the rhetoric opposed to traditional publishing becomes too tame, we could set ourselves up for never achieving full open access.  At one point a staff member presented a fully fleshed out theory of rhetoric--that it's OK to praise tentative steps towards open access (such as a scholarly society publisher might take) in private, while pushing hard in public for full open access immediately. The logic is that a tough public line is one means of setting the terms of debate. My response was that pushing too hard could stimulate a well-organized (and funded) response from publishers, so that it's best to be cautious....