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Open is a state of mind

10 July 2013 946 views 13 Comments
English: William Henry Fox Talbot's 'The Open ...

English: William Henry Fox Talbot’s ‘The Open Door’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Open source” is not a verb

Nathan Yergler via John Wilbanks

I often return to the question of what “Open” means and why it matters. Indeed the very first blog post I wrote focussed on questions of definition. Sometimes I return to it because people disagree with my perspective. Sometimes because someone approaches similar questions in a new or interesting way. But mostly I return to it because of the constant struggle to get across the mindset that it encompasses.

Most recently I addressed the question of what “Open” is about in a online talk I gave for the Futurium Program of the European Commission (video is available). In this I tried to get beyond the definitions of Open Source, Open Data, Open Knowledge, and Open Access to the motivation behind them, something which is both non-obvious and conceptually difficult. All of these various definitions focus on mechanisms - on the means by which you make things open – but not on the motivations behind that. As a result they can often seem arbitrary and rules-focussed, and do become subject to the kind of religious wars that result from disagreements over the application of rules.

In the talk I tried to move beyond that, to describe the motivation and the mind set behind taking an open approach, and to explain why this is so tightly coupled to the rise of the internet in general and the web in particular. Being open as opposed to making open resources (or making resources open) is about embracing a particular form of humility. For the creator it is about embracing the idea that – despite knowing more about what you have done than any other person –  the use and application of your work is something that you cannot predict. Similarly for someone working on a project being open is understanding that – despite the fact you know more about the project than anyone else – that crucial contributions and insights could come from unknown sources. At one level this is just a numbers game, given enough people it is likely that someone, somewhere, can use your work, or contribute to it in unexpected ways. As a numbers game it is rather depressing on two fronts. First, it feels as though someone out there must be cleverer than you. Second, it doesn’t help because you’ll never find them.

Most of our social behaviour and thinking feels as though it is built around small communities. People prefer to be a (relatively) big fish in a small pond, scholars even take pride in knowing the “six people who care about and understand my work”, the “not invented here” syndrome arises from the assumption that no-one outside the immediate group could possibly understand the intricacies of the local context enough to contribute. It is better to build up tools that work locally rather than put an effort into building a shared community toolset. Above all the effort involved in listening for, and working to understand outside contributions, is assumed to be wasted. There is no point “listening to the public” because they will “just waste my precious time”. We work on the assumption that, even if we accept the idea that there are people out there who could use our work or could help, that we can never reach them. That there is no value in expending effort to even try. And we do this for a very good reason; because for the majority of people, for the majority of history it was true.

For most people, for most of history, it was only possible to reach and communicate with small numbers of people. And that means in turn that for most kinds of work, those networks were simply not big enough to connect the creator with the unexpected user, the unexpected helper with the project. The rise of the printing press, and then telegraph, radio, and television changed the odds, but only the very small number of people who had access to these broadcast technologies could ever reach larger numbers. And even they didn’t really have the tools that would let them listen back. What is different today is the scale of the communication network that binds us together. By connecting millions and then billions together the probability that people who can help each other can be connected has risen to the point that for many types of problem that they actually are.

That gap between “can” and “are”, the gap between the idea that there is a connection with someone, somewhere, that could be valuable, and actually making the connection is the practical question that underlies the idea of “open”. How do we make resources, discoverable, and re-usable so that they can find those unexpected applications? How do we design projects so that outside experts can both discover them and contribute? Many of these movements have focussed on the mechanisms of maximising access, the legal and technical means to maximise re-usability. These are important; they are a necessary but not sufficient condition for making those connections. Making resources open enables, re-use, enhances discoverability, and by making things more discoverable and more usable, has the potential to enhance both discovery and usability further. But beyond merely making resources open we also need to be open.

Being open goes in two directions. First we need to be open to unexpected uses. The Open Source community was first to this principle by rejecting the idea that it is appropriate to limit who can use a resource. The principle here is that by being open to any use you maximise the potential for use. Placing limitations always has the potential to block unexpected uses. But the broader open source community has also gone further by exploring and developing mechanisms that support the ability of anyone to contribute to projects. This is why Yergler says “open source” is not a verb. You can license code, you can make it “open”, but that does not create an Open Source Project. You may have a project to create open source code, an “Open-source project“, but that is not necessarily a project that is open, an “Open source-project“. Open Source is not about licensing alone, but about public repositories, version control, documentation, and the creation of viable communities. You don’t just throw the code over the fence and expect a project to magically form around it, you invest in and support community creation with the aim of creating a sustainable project. Successful open source projects put community building, outreach, both reaching contributors and encouraging them, at their centre. The licensing is just an enabler.

In the world of Open Scholarship, and I would include both Open Access and Open Educational Resources in this, we are a long way behind. There are technical and historical reasons for this but I want to suggest that a big part of the issue is one of community. It is in large part about a certain level of arrogance. An assumption that others, outside our small circle of professional peers, cannot possibly either use our work or contribute to it. There is a comfort in this arrogance, because it means we are special, that we uniquely deserve the largesse of the public purse to support our work because others cannot contribute. It means do note need to worry about access because the small group of people who understand our work “already have access”. Perhaps more importantly it encourages the consideration of fears about what might go wrong with sharing over a balanced assessment of the risks of sharing versus the risks of not sharing, the risks of not finding contributors, of wasting time, of repeating what others already know will fail, or of simply never reaching the audience who can use our work.

It also leads to religious debates about licenses, as though a license were the point or copyright was really a core issue. Licenses are just tools, a way of enabling people to use and re-use content. But the license isn’t what matters, what matters is embracing the idea that someone, somewhere can use your work, that someone, somewhere can contribute back, and adopting the practices and tools that make it as easy as possible for that to happen. And that if we do this collectively that the common resource will benefit us all. This isn’t just true of code, or data, or literature, or science. But the potential for creating critical mass, for achieving these benefits, is vastly greater with digital objects on a global network.

All the core definitions of “open” from the Open Source Definition, to the Budapest (and Berlin and Bethesda) Declarations on Open Access, to the Open Knowledge Definition have a common element at their heart – that an open resource is one that any person can use for any purpose. This might be good in itself, but thats not the real point, the point is that it embraces the humility of not knowing. It says, I will not restrict uses because that damages the potential of my work to reach others who might use it. And in doing this I provide the opportunity for unexpected contributions. With Open Access we’ve only really started to address the first part, but if we embrace the mind set of being open then both follow naturally.

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  • http://tjm.org Tim McCormick

    In his blog post “Open is a state of mind” (10 July 2013) Cameron Neylon, Advocacy Director at Public Library of Science, writes on “the motivation and the mind set behind taking an open approach.” ‘Open’ is good, I’m all for ‘open’; after all, who isn’t? But I’d suggest that what Neylon describes isn’t open in a deep sense, because a) it proposes to discuss ‘open’ in a general way, but then implicitly assumes and scopes to particular types of knowledge work, which aren’t everybody’s or every scholar’s; and b) it reflects a non-universal, positivist view that human social concepts/practices even *can* be given a single definition.

    Here’s my summary of his post:
    a) It’s unpredictable who and how others may make good use of your work, so you should try to open it to enable that.
    b) By contrast, people are habitually oriented to small groups because historically they usually *could* only be.
    c) It’s also arrogance, an assumption that others, outside our small circle of professional peers, cannot possibly either use our work or contribute to it.
    d) What matters is embracing the idea that if we do this collectively that the common resource will benefit us all.
    e) Core definitions of “open” say that an open resource is one that any person can use for any purpose.

    First, taking the issue of definition, Neylon writes:
    > All the core definitions of “open” from the Open Source
    > Definition, to the Budapest (and Berlin and Bethesda)
    > Declarations on Open Access, to the Open Knowledge
    > Definition have a common element at their heart – that
    > an open resource is one that any person can use for any
    > purpose.

    To me, these aren’t “core” definitions of ‘open’, in any global sense; they’re definitions drawn from the communities which espouse what he is advocating for, so it’s basically circular reasoning. I understand that the practices Neylon supports may make excellent sense in, say, biomedical science, the field which Neylon comes from and in which his employer PLOS operates. But he’s not scoping to that; he’s arguing for a global and normative notion of
    ‘open’ that apparently applies to all scholarship, even all knowledge work (“Open Source, Open Data, Open Knowledge, and Open Access”).

    Neylon speaks of “the constant struggle to get across the mindset that ['open'] encompasses.” I find this statement quite suggestive — of an advocacy framing, rather than reasoning. Rather then debating, constantly “struggling” to convey to others what one knows to be true. The speaker understands the matter, but it’s “non-obvious and conceptually difficult,” which makes understandable why others struggle to comprehend. It’s not *a* model of open, but *the* mindset synonymous with openness. Which is, of course, also that of the advocate. One size fits all.

    This isn’t so much a logical argument as a rhetorical procedure of projecting the audience as an extended, similar except unenlightened version of the author. I was like you — it suggests — and then the right way was revealed to me. Wouldn’t you, too, like to know the way out of your perplexity?

    So, who is that projected audience which we are being enrolled in here? For one thing, I’d observe that the model of open contribution described by Neylon, and most science Open Access advocacy, and relatedly the Open Knowledge Foundation, the present Creative Commons, etc., typically reflects the assumption that creators and scholars have means of sustenance independent of the specific work done. For example, an academic salary, a professional day job outside of which you can do volunteer work on “open culture” or civic hacking projects or so on. Further, the greatest proponents of such open contribution models often come from backgrounds in technology/software or science, particularly biomedical science, which have some unusual characteristics. They’re among the most lucrative, highly funded, and globalized of any areas of work, in which people with skills often have tremendous economic bargaining power and mobility to find well-paying professional work. These are areas with unique, massive inflows of private investment, and foundation and government funding (e.g. US National Institute of Health, around $40B/yr, or $100Bs of venture capital investment in software). In other words, they’re quite unlike most areas of scholarship or knowledge work, or most people’s economic situation.

    Let’s say, by contrast, that you’re an aspiring humanities scholar, or a cultural entrepreneur, or a startup non-STEM scholarly publisher, or a government agency with a publishing operation — certainly, a bona fide members of the global knowledge community, in any of these cases. It’s probably clear to you that to do the knowledge work you want to do, or stay in business or even stay employed in the field, you personally have to solve the non-obvious and conceptually difficult problem of economic provision: of getting paid a satisfactory amount to live on or run your operation.

    You have little reason to trust that government or any institution is going to provide for you or your field — in fact, most humanities scholars don’t find work at research universities or anything like it; much work across the whole the cultural sector is unwaged and done speculatively in hope of later compensation; and most publishing enterprises fail.

    Neylon argues that “licenses are just tools, a way of enabling people to use and re-use content”: but for those without secure, separate economic provision, they may be not ways to *give away*, but one of your only ways to protect and be compensated for your work. “Openness” should mean, in my opinion, that which lets people participate in knowledge creation and use; not just, what fits with the practices and norms of those in economically privileged positions and stable income.

    Even more fundamentally, and humanistically, we might question even attempting a “definition” (rather than description) of any human social concept or practice, which is inherently complex and irreducible. As Nietzsche puts it in “On The Genealogy of Morals,” 1887: “All concepts in which an entire process is contained escape definition. Only that which has no history is definable.” (http://bit.ly/15fiQUq).

    Nietzsche argues that any long-existing concept like ‘good’ or ‘punishment’ (or I’d suggest, ‘open’) is a deep linguistic and historical accretion of many practices and articulations, including possibly contradictory or entirely hidden/forgotten meanings/uses. In fact, as he suggests in “Beyond Good and Evil”, the hidden or unconscious meaning/use may be in a sense the real one, containing a frame or agenda or position related to the speaker: “Every philosophy conceals a philosophy…every word is also a mask.” (http://bit.ly/106Xr1n).

    So, for example, ‘open’ advocacy à la PLOS or Open Definition focuses on means of access, but not means of economic provision, and excludes knowledge which may be patentable. We might ask, why this particular construction? If we’re claiming universal principles/definitions here, what is the universal principle of knowledge that would logically apply only to expression, not to invention (patentable) knowledge, a historically accident of distinction? Might it relate it to the central role of patent intellectual property in the structure and economics of the software/technology and biomedical science fields?

    I don’t know the answer to those questions, but the point is, Open Access isn’t a term you can strictly define, it is de facto a social construction and institution, occupying a particular but evolving position at the intersection of many people and organizations practices with a variety of motives and self-conceptualizations. Which is nothing sinister, it’s just the human universe we live in. Nothing really “follows naturally,” because we are not natural, we are human; and this isn’t science.

    Taking another perspective, I’d note that in locating and presenting the Nietzsche quotes above, showing them in the context of the original works, I used Google Book Search, as I do many times every day. Google Book Search, however, fails just about every notion of “open” that Neylon puts forward, as it is definitely not given for unrestricted use, and is done by a public for-profit corporation with clear self-interested and profit motives for the work. But nonetheless, that economic structure has delivered this extraordinarily valuable economic good, which does exactly what I want done, for free, and offers the same to any Web user on the planet.

    Should we accept a specific definition of “open” that would completely exclude Google Book Search, or for example any other type of mixed/versioned, self-sustaining economic model like OECD’s publishing program or Unglue.it or OpenEdition or DeepDyve? No, that would probably be narrow and short-sighted; it would deprecate and misunderstand and exclude innovators in related fields; it would be, you might even say, not very open.


    Tim McCormick
    @tmccormick tjm.org Palo Alto, CA, USA

  • Mike Taylor

    Needless to say, I profoundly disagree with Tim on this. For my money, Cameron’s article is one of the most visionary and inspiring expositions of openness I’ve ever seen.

    “Being open [...] is about embracing the idea that – despite knowing more about what you have done than any other person – the use and application of your work is something that you cannot predict.”

    There’s an Open Manifesto in 33 words, right there.

  • Bill Hooker

    What Mike said. Bravo Cameron!

  • SP

    Although I am a fan of open access efforts, Cameron advocating for open-access research is kind of like someone who works at McDonalds extolling the virtues of hamburgers. Although hamburgers may be a good thing, the McDonalds worker benefits from people eating more of them. Cameron’s arguments will hold more weight for me when the exorbitant costs of publishing in PLoS journals are reduced to more reasonable levels.

  • http://cameronneylon.net Cameron Neylon

    I would accept that there is a conflict of interest – although I think I’m pretty clear on that. But I’d also note that if I do persuade everyone to move to Open Access then I’m out of a job.

  • http://tjm.org Tim McCormick

    you might say that most participants in most debates have “conflict of interest,” as almost everyone’s project is in some way affected by the affair. The truly disinterested are probably uninterested to discuss, and not as interesting to hear from.

    Also, was thinking it’d be a pretty good band name, for some band of others, some happy few OA combatants off shift — the Conflicts of Interest..|

  • http://cameronneylon.net Cameron Neylon

    Tim, you’ve taken an attempt by me to explain my mindset and try and step above issues of definition and then attacked me for using words, which are naturally contested. You’ve also constructed a straw man rather than following my argument through.

    The point of what I’m trying to say is to express my viewpoint. There isn’t a single point in that post where I say what someone should do in any given case – I talk about ways in which I suggest one should approach the tools available with the aim of maximising the potential value of the good created out of scholarship.

    Where this view leads is one of risk/opportunity assessments. Is Google Books “Open” as per the OKD or BOAI? No. Is it useful in creating more access, making more connections? Indubitably yes. Are the risks of having that in the hands of one corporate entity out weighed by the benefits created by the resources that corporate entity has donated? I don’t know. We should look into that.

    What I do know is that observing systems that work and do not work in the context of networked information that there are patterns. Those patterns are informative but they are also often non-intuitive, you can make more by giving stuff away, sharing freely can generate better returns than retaining control. Note also that this is not always the case. Do I think these patterns extend beyond application to science? Yes, because they demonstrably do – there are more books on Amazon from prior to 1927 than there are from after the public domain watershed. Sociology and anthropology get systematically left out of policy briefings in favour of economics because the greater accessibility of economics work via RePEC. Free culture from music to visual arts is creating an amateur renaissance and a few people are making a living off it.

    Indeed Peter Suber talking about his early exploration of sharing his work online talks precisely about how his existing work in philosophy reached new audiences, was translated, and garnered more interest. The BOAI was written by sociologists, philosophers, linguists, as well as scientists – it was a shared vision.

    It is true that OA has been largely implemented in the sciences, and particularly in the well funded sciences (although not only in those sciences with significant free cash funding). And there are challenges in transferring those models to the humanities and social sciences – although there are success stories there as well. We will almost certainly need to find different ways to fund scholarly communication in the humanities because neither the current system nor a pure APC system is viable. There are lots of things to try – and I’m happy to watch and help with those experiments.

    I will also own to being short tempered with some of these discussions, but there is a reason for that. It’s because people keep telling me I can’t possible know what I’m talking about because I’m a “mere scientist”. You know that point when talking to a student who demonstrates with some comment that they haven’t mastered the basics – I get that over and over again. And you know what…its a good thing, it means new people are coming to the debate and bringing their experiences, expertise and perspective.

    But ultimately you’ve constructed an ad hominem argument against the post you think I wrote. The post wasn’t about definitions. It mentioned in passing how definitions grow out of and reflect a particular point of view. Your comment is quite instructive in how *it* is shaped in attacking my supposed framing and assuming my position on small businesses, and knowledge or cultural enterprises, or independent scholars. Indeed you’ve assumed my position on these rather than asking what it is.

    Now if this were a pleasant intellectual debate it might not matter. But I, with a small number of others, with limited resources are trying to tackle some of the largest corporate lobbyists in the world – the ones that suck out all the oxygen making it harder for the independent scholar, or the small enterprise to develop its own economic sustainability and restricting access to existing knowledge and resources. Diluting the potency of the political message makes it harder for us to get good policy in place and makes it easier for the legacy incumbents to obfuscate and slow down the transition.

    Call it “public access” and we’ll support you, PLOS has done, I have done. Its a good step in the right direction. Argue that its a better fit for the humanities – I’ll disagree, but that’s a discussion to have. But appropriate a term that is defined tightly and carefully within the intellectual tradition that I am part of and you’ve got to expect some push back. Do that in a context which makes it easier for the legacy publishers to promote bad policy that continues to prevent scholarship from taking full advantage of the web and I’ll push back hard.

  • Mike Taylor

    Also, SP and others should note that Cameron’s pro-Open activism long-predates his working for PLOS (and of course the reason he now works for PLOS is because he believed in and still believes in openness).

  • http://tjm.org Tim McCormick

    thanks, Cameron, for replying at length. I realize it takes time to engage in this way, and we both want it to be productive.

    To me these discussion help explore both the immediate topic of Open Access, and larger questions of how we (one) might discuss anything. As I’ve written about in, e.g. “Collaborative Argumentation and Advocacy“(01 June), I’m as or more interested in doing pattern recognition on this debate around Open Access, and see it as a case study in evolving, mixed scholarly/public/engaged inquiry.

    It’s a somewhat unique case of a public policy/philosophical matter impacting, at once, a wide cross-section of academics and scholars, where we can look at different ways it gets argued and engaged with, and perhaps learn from this for future scholarly communication and open peer review. So, what other might call getting into the weeds, I call ethnography..

    To me, the OA situation raises intriguing questions such as: can, should, or how might scholars/scientists/publics engage in such a debate, in a scholarly/scientific/public manner? and what expertises might or should be considered most useful? As you not, you get distrusted for being a “mere scientist”; and me, not a scientist, and so on; as I see it, we all have just pieces of the picture, so what might we do about that?

    You’ve also constructed a straw man rather than following my argument through.

    I am sorry it appears so to to you. I might also push back on this slightly, though, and ask, what does that really say? It’s inevitable that no respondent perfectly represents the other position as the other person sees it, and so to some degree we are always debating a “straw man,” it’s just a question of to what degree and with what good-faith effort to counteract. I’d say the point of a reply is not, as you suggestively put it, for me to “follow your argument through”; it’s to create a productive angle of incidence, and help build a scaffold of inquiry.

    The point of a dialog, I believe, is not merely to address precisely the arguments you understand yourself to have made in your post, but to present counterpositions, both responding to you and incorporating other references and directions, so we possibly end up somewhere other than where we started. If it becomes my job to strictly follow your argument, then it isn’t a dialogue. Not a problem, as long as you’re perfectly sure you’re in the right place already.

    I would at least observe that in this thread and by general habit, I do just about everything I can to find appropriate references, quotations, names, and data to support, or support more exploration on, what I say. I try not to use language of aggression like “you’ve attacked me,” “short-tempered,” “I’ll push back hard,” etc. — although admittedly, aggression has many forms and dialects — or claim anything I can’t evidence. I also, in this case, began my response by summarizing what I understand to have been your key points, for the precise purpose of helping you or any other reader consider how well I’ve understood you, and attempting to keep my response well engaged with yours. Normal “mirroring” and context-bridging methods.

    You seem to be objecting that I refer to statements or matters outside your article, but forgive me — you’re a public figure, I’ve read and heard a lot of material from and about you. Also, let’s not forget, I know you: other readers might not realize, but we’ve met and spoken at length on a number of occasions, and we have many mutual acquaintances. I contribute to PLOS’s Article-Level Metrics initiative, have attended many events and hackathons at PLOS, and the last 3-day ALM workshop, and am so far invited and registered for the next one in October, hope to see you there, and to remain invited, etc..

    On this specific question of defining “Open Access,” you’ll recall that in March we both were part of an extended Twitter conversation about this, with a whole set of prominent voices including BioMed Central‘s co-founder Matthew Cockerill and founding director Jan Velterop, John Wilbanks formerly of Science Commons, David Mainwaring of Sage Publishers in social sciences, Martin Paul Eve of Open Library of Humanities, et al. I gathered and published the whole public conversation, with comment, in a post “Is the definition of Open Access closed? leaders debate language strategy.

    My point in tracking and republishing such engagements is exactly to foster and preserve patterns of good engagement between diverse and sometimes clashing views. And pronounced those views were. It started with my tweet of Wilbanks’ Nature article “Licence restrictions: A fool’s errand” and in which he called for Open Access to refer only to BOAI-compliant, CC-BY licensed publishing. Creative Commons tweeted a quote from the article, “Licences that distinguish between kinds of reuse… fail every definition of open access.”

    Wilbanks followed by taking, as Defoe said, the shortest way with dissenters, suggesting my approach was to “pervert the term open access,” and “OA=defined. Don’t like? Define a new term.” You tweeted: “I’m with @wilbanks #openaccess is free & immediate access with no restrictions on re-use except reqrmnt for attribution cf #BOAI.” Finally, just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water, Peter Murray-Rust at Cambridge followed up with a blog post that concludes, pronouncedly, “A: Open access [defined strictly as BOAI-compliant, CC-BY] means people can live and make a better planet. Not-A: Closed access means people die.” Not to put too fine a point one it.

    As I think you are aware, the effort to control how the term “Open Access” is used — specifically to oppose its use for non-BOAI / CC-BY publishing — is widely articulated by you and other OA advocates, sometimes quite bluntly. That’s a larger, but not at all hidden context.

    you’ve constructed an ad hominem argument against the post you think I wrote.

    An ad hominem argument would, by definition, be about a person and not about a post, whether represented correctly or not. I would respectfully disagree that I attack you rather than your statements, or make primarily ad hominem rather than real arguments. Anyone can reread my post and see that my every step references a statement by you or an outside reference. (in fact, to acknowledge one of your/our causes, a text-mining / analytics tool could be used to “read” the post and characterize its argumentation type and level, so potentially we could let the Machine decide that one).

    There isn’t a single point in that post where I say what someone should do in any given case

    See above. In the March conversation I curated and reposted, you publicly chimed in to agree with John Wilbanks who’d just said that to use ‘Open Access’ for non-BOAI-compliant cases is to “pervert” it, and “OA=defined. Don’t like? Define a new term.” In your last comment post you say rather forcefully, “appropriate the term…and I’ll push back hard.” How is that not saying what someone should do?

    framing and assuming my position on small businesses, and knowledge or cultural enterprises, or independent scholars. Indeed you’ve assumed my position on these rather than asking what it is.

    sorry, where/how? I discussed a hypothetical of how publishing/licensing options might look from the perspectives of a non-STEM publishing startup or cultural entrepreneur etc.; I didn’t say anything about any position of yours on these cases. It was suggesting the exercise of imagining what an “open state of mind,” in your title’s terms, might be from those other perspectives. This is quite far from being ad hominen or speaking for you.

    I, with a small number of others, with limited resources are trying to tackle some of the largest corporate lobbyists in the world – the ones making it harder for the independent scholar, or the small enterprise to develop its own economic sustainability and restricting access to existing knowledge and resources. Diluting the potency of the political message makes it harder for us to get good policy in place and makes it easier for the legacy incumbents to obfuscate and slow down the transition.

    Yes, I am well aware of the pitched battle with incumbent publishers; and incumbents’ proclivities for stalling, recuperation, lobbying, misrepresentation, language politics, etc., in this as in other fields. I’m not exactly of the incumbent stripe or to the manner born myself, as it happens. Also, I’m familiar with a lot of these companies and organizations, and people at them, from working full-time in the scholarly publishing industry for a lot of years, in startup and not-for-profit and university and consultant contexts; so I’ve seen a few tricks.

    I respect the project of battling incumbents’ reactionary tendencies, and consider that it’s generally a way to “fight the good fight of faith,” as it’s put in my namesake book of the Bible, Timothy 6:12. But to be blunt, if I or anyone else decides we’re not in agreement with your approach, for whatever reason — why should we follow it?

    appropriate a term that is defined tightly and carefully within the intellectual tradition that I am part of…and I’ll push back hard

    First, I’d ask the same question I did of William Gunn in my comment July 11, 2013 at 10:04am: what kind of broad consensus around your definition can you demonstrate, countering the long list of opposing evidence I give such as the usages of Peter Suber, Stevan Harnad, Wikipedia, RCUK, Wellcome Trust (non-CC-BY Open Access policy on monographs), NIH, and hundreds of organizations globally and their policy documents listed in ROAR?

    Second, let’s say you did demonstrate this point. It would still leave open the question of why a usage defined “within the intellectual tradition [you are] part of” would have any normative or persuasive power over anyone who doesn’t consider themselves part of or bound by that tradition? People such as, apparently, me and many humanities scholars, entrepreneurs, publishers, cultural institutions, and libraries (see the “Library License” model, for example, proposed by Digital Public Library of America and the Harvard Library Innovatioj Lab).

    No matter how important or true you consider your project to be, it’s your project, and the brute fact is that generally it’s nobody else’s job to serve your project. If it’s not also or helping their project, they’ll probably be at best secondarily supportive, more likely indifferent and uncognizant, and possibly quite opposed if it has any possibility of harming their project or if they’re threatened or affronted in any way. “It’s important to me and my tradition and my goals” is simply not an argument; nor is “If you don’t do as I say, I’ll push back hard”: that doesn’t engage me, persuade me, or suggest respect other than that of a combatant. Even if you’re not ultimately concerned about my opinion, you’re conversing in public here, and potentially signaling to many other people how you might respond to their viewpoints.

    If I may offer my own observation from the field, I’ve been working on humanities/social-science Open Access advocacy for some time, and have heard from many humanists, particularly in the UK, who feel more pushed around than engaged by the people they’ve seen calling themselves Open Access advocates. They may or may not particularly identify or agree with incumbents publishers and learned societies, etc., but these are at least the devils they know and who talk their language, while they may feel regularly alienated and scorned by many of the prominent advocates in the regular & social media.

    The opinions I’m relating here are those of scholars, professors, deans, publishers — not generally an ignorant horde. If that is the face of Open Access advocacy, in these fields I’d say it has a rather long and unnecessarily difficult road ahead.

    What is to be done?
    what might one do, what strategies? First and obviously, coalition. Plenty of factions and movements decide to coordinate with others they care for little or not at all, because it’s a net benefit over not aligning. As I’ve suggested to Mr. Gunn, I even think in this case we have powerful principles of open knowledge supplying a great big tent-pole for a big-tent approach. It’s not nearly so bad as, say, your typical Parliamentary coalition or child’s second birthday party.

    Second, because clearly I am not one to put my voice first.. I think’s it’s valuable to look at how movement veterans operate and communicate. For example, I’ve been following Stevan Harnad and Peter Suber, in particular, for over ten years now, and have observed how after playing key roles in and signing the BOAI declaration, and being extremely engaged in debate, by 2008 they had both publicly decided to support usage of / definition of “Open Access” for broader cases than just the BOAI-compliant. Harnad, obviously, has been a strong proponent of transitional practices like “Green OA” (yes, deprecated, I know), and Suber moved to a terminology of “gratis” and “libre” variants of open access, rather than a single definition.

    Meanwhile, another key advocate, John Willinsky (now at Stanford) in his work and book The Access Principle focuses on articulating underlying principle to bridge different specific specfic approaches of perhaps varying adherence to or interpretation of those principles.

    So from my perspective, it appears to be the strict-BOAI / CC-BY wing that is appropriating the term “open access” by insisting on a single and specific definition that clearly is not shared by much of the movement. I’m not telling people they can’t use their own interpretation or definition; I’m being told that, e.g. by Wilbanks and you. Even if you’re not concerned that your view differs from mine, I’d say, perhaps you might reconcile it with those of Willinsky, Harnad, Suber, Wikipedia, RCUK, or Wellcome, i.e. the authorities which most everybody else looks to?

    But ultimately, I don’t particularly want or see the need for this, because I think that in the big picture we basically agree and have much better things to work on together. For example, your blog post before this one was a guest post from the makers of the “Open Access Button” for gathering OA usage/denial-of-access data via Web browsers. This is closely related to ideas of “demand data collection” which I wrote about in my post “Six Paths to a global Open Access Repository” just a month ago. Clearly, we are thinking along many of the same lines, and looking to innovate, build, and not just discuss or dispute, so let’s do that.

    I’m reminded of a remark made by humanities scholar and recent Modern Language Assocation president Michael Bérubé in his 2003 essay “The Utility of the Arts and Humanities” (PDF), discussing humanities and sciences: “we should adopt the long view…from which disputants like Kant and Hume…can be seen to be working opposite sides of the same street.”

    You and I may have disjunctive dispositions and worldviews, perhaps related to primarily scientific vs primarily humanistic outlooks, but the difference of position we have on this matter of Open Access is, frankly, so small that it would take some time and difficulty to even explain it to somebody new to the topic. I don’t see that it’s necessary to man the barricades, when we’ve on the same street, going the same direction, just on different sides of the street.


    @tmccormick tjm.org Palo Alto, CA

  • Graham Steel

    “the exorbitant costs of publishing in PLoS journals” I’m surprised by that comment.

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  • Chris Taylor

    Against my better judgement I offer my view: as I perceive it the (problematic, thus largely unaddressed) issue at the root of this schism is the difficulty of tracking and crediting reuse. If that is solved then the economics become functional and less contentious.

    I also think that the above issue is confused by the separable question of _when_ to share, which should be informed by the relative worth in various contexts of data (however defined) and analysis.