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Communication or Competition: Reading “Open Access: Toward the Internet of the Mind”

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Jean-Claude Guédon, one of the original attendees and signatories of the “Budapest Open Access Initiative” (BOAI) (2002), has written a moral history of the open access movement and a vision for the future of scholarly communication. In “Open Access: Toward the Internet of the Mind,” he provides a narrative of how open access (OA) has evolved (for better and for worse) and calls for an increase in support for cooperative, nonprofit solutions.

Guédon’s narrative revolves around international inequities in scholarly publishing and the damage that these inequities do to the health of communities around the world … and, by association, to all of us. The strength of this approach is that it makes the global exchange of knowledge everyone’s problem. Likewise, it reveals how a system that sort of, sometimes works for the wealthy, is a system that shuts out and excludes other voices. Like most entrenched systems of privilege, it can leave many of its beneficiaries blind, indifferent, or resigned to injustice. On the other hand, the difficulty of building a narrative around global issues is that local responses to the global problem can be hard to imagine. Guédon calls for broad, state-based and organization-based collaboration to build technologies and funding mechanisms to make scholarly communication open for everyone — free to readers, free to authors … which is to say: subsidized by universities, research funders, and governments. Ultimately, one might follow the money back to taxpayers … or, perhaps, “consumers” (a.k.a., students).

For an example of how this cooperative approach might work, Guédon uses OpenAIRE (https://www.openaire.eu/), a European Union supported archival and publishing network. For motivation, he calls all of us to focus on the value of communication (and community) above that of competition (and individualism). Citing William D. Garvey, he insists that the essence of the scientific enterprise is communication … not competition. Thus, authors would communicate with each other the results of their (peer reviewed) scholarship on a distributed, subsidized network such as OpenAIRE.

In his account, the reputation economy is the primary barrier to the global adoption of a shared infrastructure for scholarly communication. As long as individual countries, universities, libraries, journals, and authors rely on reputational rankings (especially the journal impact factor), the nonprofit, cooperative approach will be undermined. In a competition for individual reputations, authors will seek to publish in the existing “top ranked” venues … putting their best work there … and universities will continue to purchase these (if not pay-walled, high publishing fee) titles. In the reputation economy the rich get richer. Right now, comparatively, the “Global North” is rich and the for-profit publishing companies are very rich.

Guédon’s global narrative and account of OA at the crux of a conflict between communication and competition might leave some readers in the United States at a loss for what to do. Even if many U.S. authors might agree that communication is the goal of science, most have been fully co-opted by the competition for reputation. Likewise, the U.S. struggles to adopt non-profit solutions to providing healthcare for its citizens. It’s hard to imagine (particularly in the current political climate) a “big government” or cooperative, nonprofit solution to scholarly publishing. Arguably, many of the U.S. faculty members that edit, write, and review for for-profit publishers (mostly for free) have established (false) allegiances with these brands. When I talk to authors, many worry more about how OA will affect their publisher or their society … even when the journal is owned by one of the big five, for-profit publishers … than they do about how these publishers are draining the budgets of their employers.

So, what is it that Guédon would have a lone U.S. author to do? What is it that he’d want a U.S. academic librarian to do?

I agree with Guédon that scholarship grows best on a foundation of cooperative communication. All the same, I’m fairly certain that more than half of the people living in the United States would rather just let the rich get richer. And, in a political climate in which accusations against the “academic elites” stirs a large political base (e.g., from Wayne LaPierre (see Beckett)), I don’t expect to see much of an increase in public funding for a (non-profit) scholarly publishing infrastructure. On the other hand, if everyone rolls over in a fit of resignation … the world becomes a very dull place.

For my part, I’ll strive to fight the reputation economy. Particularly, reputation competitions based on proxies for quality — especially the journal impact factor. That means finding ways to help authors find more socially responsible, more humane, and more accurate ways of describing the value and importance of the work that they do. In the long run, these more humane approaches to “metrics” will not only alleviate global inequities in scholarship, but will support the health of the humanities (see, for example, HuMetrics), the social sciences, and, of course, libraries. (Librarians, stop offering to help people find journal impact factors … you’re feeding the monopolies and killing your own job.)

I’ll also strive to build systems, workflows, and communities that value the communication in “scholarly communication.” That means working for and on nonprofit open access projects. Not only will that be where I’ll be writing, reviewing, and editing … but that’ll be what I’m advocating for on my campus and in my communities of scholarship. I do not control a large university library budget and I’m just one small voice supporting the reallocation of funds away from for-profit publishing, but my time is valuable and I plan to spend it well.

References

Beckett, L. (2017, May 1). “I agree 100%”: NRA members back Wayne LaPierre attack on “leftist zealots.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/01/nra-wayne-lapierre-guns-leftist-zealots

Budapest Open Access Initiative. (2002, February 14). Read the Budapest Open Access Initiative. http://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/read

Garvey, W. D. (1979). Communication, the essence of science: facilitating information exchange among librarians, scientists, engineers, and students. Pergamon Press.

Guédon, J.-C. (2017, February 23). Open Access: Toward the Internet of the Mind. http://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/open-access-toward-the-internet-of-the-mind

Mangiafico, P. (2016, May 31). HuMetrics: Building Humane Metrics for the Humanities. https://trianglesci.org/2016/05/31/humetrics-building-humane-metrics-for-the-humanities/

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Written by Jere

June 19, 2017 at 2:18 pm