Socialism in science – Part 4 – Conclusion

March 6, 2009 at 6:11 am 4 comments

photo modified from lemuelinchristDear Open Access Enthusiasts,

In my last three posts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) I have talked about several aspects of Open Access publishing, mostly criticizing what I felt were weaknesses in the model as it stands today. If you haven’t read my posts, I invite you to do so now, before you proceed. I also recommend related posts by Coturnix and Cameron and the discussions that followed, as well as the discussion of my posts in the Science 2.0 friendfeed room.

The feedback I got was mixed – ranging from cautious support, to ridicule and outrage. Most comments, however, were very informative and insightful, if not always supportive of my way of thinking. I enjoyed the whole experience thoroughly. It is a rare pleasure for me to have an intelligent discussion with extremely bright and passionate people and I hope that through the attention my blog got in the process I will be able to enjoy that pleasure on a more regular basis.

To conclude the discussion, I would like to share my last thoughts in the form of an appeal to all of you actively engaged in the great Open Access experiment. You are doing an immensely useful job and you are all contributing to the betterment of the scientific publishing field, and for this I am grateful to you. Even if OA doesn’t take the publishing world by a landslide, the benefit of additional pressure on traditional closed access publishers will ultimately result in their more fair, less exploitative behavior towards subscribers. However, please keep in mind, that OA is a means not an end in itself, the final goal being wider dissemination of scientific information and more efficient communication between scientists. Maybe OA will turn out to be the best way to reach this goal, maybe there will be better ways, I don’t know.

In any case, in order for you to be successful at introducing OA on a larger scale, you will need all the help and good will you can get. Don’t dismiss voices of disagreement as “journalistic curmudgeonism” or “snippy little rants”. I found one statement by Coturnix particularly disturbing in that context: “Reading Peter Suber’s archives first […] is necessary requirement for discussing this topic before opening one’s mouth – he has covered every detail […] and noted all proposed solutions to all the problems”. Did I get that right? Is the self-proclaimed visionary of OA and ardent supporter of free circulation of information really denying me my constitutional right to speak my mind on my own blog just because I haven’t read his friend’s opinions on the subject? This question aside, I doubt that even Peter himself, doubtless one of the most brilliant and hard-working supporters of OA, would be vain enough to subscribe to Coturnix’s notion that he has predicted and solved all the problems of OA. One man, even as intelligent as Peter, cannot possibly see the whole problem of Open Access in all its staggering complexity and have all the answers, while at the same time being actively engaged in promoting the model. People like me, on the other hand, don’t have an agenda, they haven’t invested their lives into supporting either model, they don’t carry the burden of dogmatism reinforced by being among the same people and hearing the same opinions all the time, and so they sometimes see things more clearly and can provide a much needed fresh perspective. That is why I am asking you to listen to cynical and uneducated naysayers like myself. In order for the system to work you will have to persuade us about its utility and feasibility, and so far, at least in my case, you have failed. Treat us like partners in the process, rather than trying to ignore us, ridicule us, scold us, or proselytize to us with an air of superiority*.

What I have also noticed is that many of you focus on situations confirming their views, repeating them like some kind of mantras, while completely ignoring examples to the contrary. Try to learn from failures of the system, rather than constantly reveling in victories. Analyze the reasons why journals such as BMJ and JCI said “no” to open access, while in some other fields, such as physics, OA and CA seem to coexist peacefully. Try to take into account all the cultural and psychological factors that underlie differences between fields and their inclinations to adopt the OA model.
Unbounded optimism often clouds your judgment. Be realistic about what you can and cannot accomplish. Yours is not an all or nothing game. You may have to settle for less than you have dreamed of and it will still be better than what you started off with. The seemingly perfect solutions sometimes turn out to be impractical or plain disastrous, and the danger is not realized until much later. At the risk of being yet again being accused of Godwin-ing, let me remind you of the example of David X. Li, a brilliant Wall Street quant, who thought he had the perfect solution to the problem of high-risk loans. He thought he could make both lenders and bankers happy thanks to his magical formula. We are all feeling the consequences of his mistake right now. Don’t be David Lis of scientific publishing. Don’t ignore the basic facts about human nature and assume that people will do what you want them to do. Keep in mind, that the ones with most power and influence in science are the ones who will benefit least from the OA revolution and have the most to lose by it.
If you feel that there is at least a grain of truth in all my rantings, feel free to discuss any or all the issues covered on my blog or in private. I hereby volunteer for the position of the Open Access Movement’s first Official Devil’s Advocate***. If you ever require my services, just pop me an e-mail and I will do what I can to help bring your lofty visions back down to earth. Finally, If there is one take-home message I would like you to remember from this whole discourse it is this: Open Kool Aid** may impair your long-range vision and objective judgement. Please drink responsibly.


* Yes, Coturnix, I am talking to you
** a phrase used by Bill Hooker in the Science 2.0 friendfeed discussion about my post; it is meant to signify infatuation with the Open Access ideology
*** Update: Sadly, I’m being told that the position is already taken. I congratulate David Crotty on his appointment, and I am relieved that the OA movement is in good hands. Nevertheless, I will keep blogging on OA from time to time in an unofficial capacity.


Entry filed under: Computers in science, Philosophy of science, Scientific publishing. Tags: , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Abhishek Tiwari  |  March 9, 2009 at 12:43 am

    thanks for commenting on blog, not cause I like comments because I discovered your blog in this way, this is really fantastic blog 🙂

  • 2. niewiap  |  March 9, 2009 at 3:09 am

    Glad you liked it. Hope to see you around more often.

  • 3. Abhishek Tiwari  |  March 9, 2009 at 3:10 am

    Ya I am already here completing my backlog 🙂

  • 4. Benard Solomon  |  April 2, 2009 at 9:40 am

    Just to let you know that I was here.
    The posts are informative and educative.

    Benard Solomon

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