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Through a PRISM darkly

29 August 2007 No Comment

I don’t really want to add anything more to what has been said in many places (and has been rounded up well by Bora Zivkovic on Blog Around the Clock, see also Peter Suber for the definitive critique, also updates here and here). However there is a public relations issue here for the open science movement in general that I think hasn’t come up yet.

PRISM is an organisation with a specific message designed by PR people which is essentially that ‘Mandating Open Access for government funded science undermines the traditional model of peer review’. We know this is demonstrably false in respect of both Open Access scientific journals and more generally of making papers from other journals available after a certain delay. It is however conceivable, for someone with a particularly twisted mindset, to construe the actions of some members of the ‘Open Science Community’ as being intended to undermine peer review. We think of providing raw data online or using blogs, Wikis, pre-print archives or whatever other means to discuss science as an exciting way to supplement the peer reviewed literature. PRISM, and other like-minded groups, will attempt to link Open Access and Open Science together so as to represent an attempt by ‘those people’ to undermine peer review.

What is important is control of the language. PRISM has focussed on the term ‘Open Access’. We must draw a sharp distinction between Open Access and ‘Open Science’ (or ‘Open Research‘ which may be a better term). The key is that while those of us who believe in Open Research are largely in favour of Open Access literature, publishing in the Open Access literature does not imply any commitment to Open Research. Indeed it doesn’t even imply a commitment to providing the raw data that supports a publication. It is purely and simple a commitment to provide specific peer reviewed research literature in a freely accessible form which can be freely re-used and re-mixed.

We need some simple messages of our own. Here are some suggested ideas;

‘Open Access literature provides public access to publicly funded research’

‘Publically supported research should be reported in publically accessible literature’

‘How many times should a citizen have to pay to see a report on research supported by their tax dollars?’

‘Open Access literature improves the quality of peer review’

Emphasis here is on ‘public’ and ‘literature’ rather than ‘government’ and ‘results’ or ‘science’

I think there is also a need for some definitions that the ‘Open Research Community’ feels able to sign up to. Jean-Claude Bradley and Bertalan Mesko are running a session in Second Life on Nature Island next Tuesday (1600 UTC) which will include a discussion of definitions (see here for details and again the link to Bill Hooker’s good discussion of terminology). I probably won’t be able to attend but would encourage people to participate in whatever form possible so as to take this forward.

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