So today is Open Access Day.
(If you don’t know what Open Access is, get thee to Peter Suber’s blog for background).
I’ve spent a lot of the past week in and around OA meetings. I went to the Bethesda 2 meeting on Friday at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, where a lot of the people who started the movement were gathered to talk about the next five years. I’m sitting in a meeting of scientists in NYC right now trying to figure out how principles of OA, expanded to include the idea of open for data, databases, biological materials, and more, can transform the way rare diseases get explored and treated. I’m going on from here to Philadelphia and then Tallahassee this week, all in the service of how open makes innovation happen faster.
OA’s gone a long way since the BBB declarations. OA day itself has exploded in the last year. And I salute it – since I got involve myself four years ago it’s been a constant source of joy, frustration, and frequent flyer miles. I love the ideas and have made dear friends in the pursuit of global OA.
But today there’s plenty of congratulations to go around. I’d rather focus on some of the things I think we need to do…
In all my work, what strikes me again and again is a set of repeated elements, whether I’m at a meeting of OA evangelists or a small working group of neuroscientists, knowledge managers or university faculty.
First, the original debate about libraries and cost, though essential, is woefully insufficient. The cost of journal articles is a severe problem – especially in the developing world – and is a legitimate part of the debate. But it’s just not the core of the problem in my eyes – the problem is that closed access stifles new development, not that it’s expensive.
Second, the anger in the debate is hurting, not helping – on both sides. I’m not saying that anger isn’t justified. Hamhanded efforts like the PRISM astroturf attack on access are infuriating, misleading, and in bad faith. But so too are some of the attacks on the publishers, many of whom are struggling in good faith to figure out how to survive in a weird and different world than the one they were used to. I’d like to see those of us in the OA movement spend more time brainstorming on how business models that exploit the new world of open might work – if we can convince the businesses involved that open makes more money than closed, then the markets start to help us and not fight against us.
Third, as Hal Abelson notes, most of us who care about this stuff live in the future. We see the world as we believe it must be, and we hack towards it every day. We don’t always think about how deeply strange that new world feels to those of us who don’t live in the future. This fits into point two but is somewhat different – it’s about the individual, not the institution. We need to explain to the individual scientist why open means more impact, just as we need to explain to the individual citizen why open means better value for tax dollars invested in research.
Fourth, there aren’t enough powerful examples of how open changes everything. We need some unambiguous stories of invention and discovery, of scientific breakthroughs impossible without openness, and we need to hammer them in unison. There’s nothing more powerful than a shared set of stories.
Anyhow. It’s a day for celebration, and a day to be proud we’re all part of an earthchanging movement in scholarly communication. Let’s just not forget how long we have been fighting and how far we still have to go.
ps – i got a great comment on my first post about common sense v. common knowledge. i’ll be on a train today for hours and plan to reply to that one in a new post.