Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Revolution and evolution together

Philip Davis, Access: Revolution or Evolution?  Scholarly Kitchen, March 26, 2009.  Excerpt:

[Is OA changing people's behavior, or is are people simply ready for it?]

...Through the revolutionary lens, open access is a movement started by scientists and librarians who see their purpose as wresting control of scholarly communication away from those who control the publication process and returning it to the people.  The NIH Public Access Policy and self-archiving mandates, most notably Harvardís and now MITís, can be seen as the result of collective public action to right historical inequalities and empower the oppressed.  Itís about the rights of taxpayers, mothers with sick children, and the poor in developing countries.  Revolutions donít get any better than this.

And yet science has always been about making things public.  In order for new discoveries to become part of the scientific discourse, they must be made public and opened to scrutiny and verification.  And the more public the better, which is why high-circulation print journals were considered the most prestigious places to publish.  Information does not want to be free, it needs to be free in order for it to become part of science.

Informal communication in science reaffirms this point.  Scientists share manuscripts and working papers, travel to conferences, give invited talks, and talk to the press (when asked).   Sharing of information is an ethos of science, because science is, at heart, a public endeavor.  Through this lens, the Xerox machine and the arXiv did what scientists wanted them to do ó help share their discoveries.

Through this evolutionary lens, Federal and institutional mandates to improve access could be viewed as the  bureaucratization of the inevitable, and declaring victory over the inevitable is a bit like cheering on continental drift.

Comment.  Phil's final sentence suggests that it makes no sense to cheer for the inevitable.  But I'm not sure why.  First, inevitable things --at least things like OA-- can be sped up or slowed down by human action.  So our support or opposition can actually make a difference, at least for the timing.  Cheering, then, and even hard work, can be justified.  For opponents, jeering and resistance can be equally justified.  Second, something might be inevitable and still be good for our interests or bad for our interests.  Hence, as it unfolds, we might have reason to cheer or lament, even if we can't even affect the timing and have no illusions that our attitudes will affect our fate.  Right now, for example, I'm cheering the signs of spring.