What’s ‘unethical’ about Plan S?

In a recent blog post, my co-authors and I refer to Plan S as ‘unethical’. Doing so has upset Marc Schiltz, President of Science Europe.

Schiltz claims that disagreeing with some, or even many, aspects of Plan S does not in itself justify calling Plan S ‘unethical’. I completely agree. To justify calling Plan S ‘unethical’ would require more than simply disagreeing with some aspect of Plan S.

What more would be required? Calling Plan S ‘unethical’ would require an argument that shows that Plan S has violated some sort of ethical norm or crossed some sort of ethical line. Insofar as Plan S impinges on academic freedom, it has done just that.

Academic freedom is a contentious topic in and of itself, but particularly so when engaging in discussions about Open Access (OA). Part of the reason for the heightened tension surrounding academic freedom and OA is the perception that for-profit publishers have appealed to academic freedom to pummel OA advocates, portraying them as invaders of academics’ territory and themselves as defenders of academic freedom. As a result, anyone who appeals to academic freedom in an OA discussion runs the risk of being dismissed by OA advocates as an enemy in league with the publishers.

It’s also the case that academic freedom means different things in different contexts. In some countries, such as the UK and Germany, academic freedom is written into laws. In the US, the AAUP is the main source people use to define academic freedom. I’m a philosopher and an ethicist, not a lawyer. I’m also an American working at an American university, so my own conception of academic freedom is influenced by — but not exactly the same as — the AAUP definition. In short, I approach academic freedom as expressing an ethical norm of academia, rather than in terms of a legal framework. No doubt there are good reasons for such laws in different contexts; but academic freedom would be a thing — an ethical thing — even if there were no laws about it.

I won’t rehash the whole argument from our original post here. I direct interested parties to the sections of the blog under the sub-heading, “The problem of violating academic freedom.” If I had it to do over again, I would suggest to my coauthors altering some of the language in that section; but the bottom line remains the same — Plan S violates academic freedom. Insofar as Plan S violates academic freedom, it violates an ethical norm of academia. Hence, Plan S is unethical.

This is not to say that OA is unethical or necessarily violates academic freedom. I have argued in the past that OA need not violate academic freedom. In the recent flurry of discussion of Plan S on Twitter, Peter Suber pointed me to the carefully crafted Harvard OA policy’s answer to the academic freedom question. That policy meticulously avoids violating academic freedom (and would therefore count, for me, as an ethical OA policy).

To say that Plan S is unethical is simply to say that some aspects of it violate academic freedom. Some are an easy fix. Take, for instance, Principle #1.

Authors retain copyright of their publication with no
restrictions. All publications must be published under
an open license, preferably the Creative Commons
Attribution Licence CC BY. In all cases, the license
applied should fulfil the requirements defined by the
Berlin Declaration;

The violation of academic freedom in Principle #1 is contained in the last clause: “In all cases, the license applied should fulfil [sic] the requirements defined by the Berlin Declaration.” Because the Berlin Declaration actually requires an equivalent of the CC-BY license, that clause totally undermines the “preferably” in the previous clause. If Plan S merely expressed a strong preference for CC-BY or the equivalent, but allowed researchers to choose from among more restrictive licenses on a case by case basis, Principle #1 would not violate academic freedom. The simple fix is to remove the last clause of Principle #1.

Other issues are less easily fixed. In particular, I have in mind Schiltz’s Preamble to Plan S. There, Schiltz argues as follows.

We recognise that researchers need to be given a maximum
of freedom to choose the proper venue for publishing
their results and that in some jurisdictions this freedom
may be covered by a legal or constitutional protection.
However, our collective duty of care is for the science system
as a whole, and researchers must realise that they are
doing a gross disservice to the institution of science if they
continue to report their outcomes in publications that will
be locked behind paywalls.

I won’t rehash here the same argument my co-authors and I put forth in our initial blog post. Instead, I have a couple of other things to say here about Schiltz’s position, as expressed in this quote.

First, I have absolutely no objection on academic freedom grounds to making all of my research freely available (gratis) and removing paywalls. I agree that researchers have a duty to make their work freely available, if possible. Insofar as Plan S allows researchers to retain their copyrights and enables gratis OA, it’s a good thing, even an enhancer of academic freedom. The sticking point is mandating a CC-BY or equivalent license, which unethically limits the freedom of academics to choose from a broad range of possible licenses (libre is not a single license, but a range of possible ones). Fix Principle #1, and this particular violation of academic freedom disappears.

Second, there’s a trickier issue concerning individual freedom and group obligations. I discussed the issue in greater detail here. But the crux of the matter is that Schiltz here displays a marked preference for the rights of the group (or even of the impersonal “science system as a whole”) over the rights of individual members of the group. That position may be ethically defensible, but Schiltz here simply asserts that the duty to science overrides concerns for academic freedom. Simply asserting that one duty trumps another does a good job of communicating where someone stands on the issue. However, it provides absolutely no support for their position.

Insofar as Plan S is designed on the basis of an undefended assertion that our collective duty to the science system as a whole outweighs our right as individuals to academic freedom, Plan S impinges on academic freedom. In doing so, Plan S violates an ethical norm of academia. Therefore, Plan S, as written, is unethical.

Response to Plan S from Academic Researchers: Unethical, Too Risky!

Happy to have contributed to this. If you have comments, please post below the original at For Better Science!

For Better Science

By announcing a radical and controversial Plan S, the European Union has created facts on the ground with Open Access (OA), which is to become Gold standard (pun intended) by the year 2020. I am honoured to present you, exclusively on my site, an Appeal by several European scientists protesting against Plan S, which they fear will deprive them of quality journal venues and of international collaborative opportunities, while disadvantaging scientists whose research budgets preclude paying and playing in this OA league. The appeal authors around the Sweden-based scientist Lynn Kamerlin offer instead their own suggestions how to implement Open Science. 

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Camp Engineering Education AfterNext

This looks like fun!

Interdisciplinarity and evil – Understanding incommensurability

Totally brilliant, of course. 😉

Integration and Implementation Insights

Community member post by J. Britt Holbrook

J. Britt Holbrook (biography)

Incommensurability is a recognized problem in interdisciplinary research. What is it? How can we understand it? And what can we do about it?

What is it?

Incommensurability is best illustrated by a real example. I once co-taught a class with a colleague from another discipline. Her discipline depends on empirical analysis of data sets, literally on counting things. I, on the other hand, am a philosopher. We don’t count. One day she said to our students, “If you don’t have an empirical element in what you’re doing, it’s not research.” I watched the students start nodding, paused for half a beat, and volunteered, “So, I’ve never done any research in my entire career.” “That’s right!” she replied, immediately, yet hesitating somewhere between a discovery and a joke.

What this exchange reveals goes beyond a mere disagreement about…

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Tools for Serendipity: SHERPA/RoMEO

I really want to post a pre-print of my recently published article in the Journal of Responsible Innovation: “Designing Responsible Research and Innovation as a tool to encourage serendipity could enhance the broader societal impacts of research.” Here’s a link to the published version. One thing about this article that would be obvious if one were to compare the pre-print to the final published version is just how much the latter was improved by peer review and input from the journal editor.

Since I still don’t have an institutional repository at NJIT, I could post it at Humanities Commons. Before I do that, I want to make sure I don’t get sideways with Taylor and Francis. So, the prudent thing to do is to check with SHERPA/RoMEO to see what the journal policies are. The problem, however, is that SHERPA/RoMEO hasn’t yet ‘graded’ JRI, so they don’t tell me what the policies are. This is all sort of understandable, since JRI is still a relatively new journal. Searching an older journal put out by the same publisher, Social Epistemology, tells me that I could post both pre-prints and post-prints — that is, my version, but not the actual publisher’s PDF, of the article after it went through peer review — of articles I published there. So, maybe I could go ahead, assuming that Taylor and Francis policy is consistent across all their journals. Instead, I requested that SHERPA/RoMEO grade JRI.

I can wait a while to post the pre-print, and I want to gauge how long it takes to get a grade. I’m also waiting to find out how long it takes for JRI to show up in Scopus (their main ‘about‘ page says they are indexed in Scopus, but it hasn’t shown up in Scopus, yet).  I’ve also been told that NJIT is getting bepress soon.

All of these — Humanities Commons, SHERPA/RoMEO, bepress — are tools for serendipity in the sense in which I outline the term in this article. As soon as I can let everyone see it, I will!



Thoughts from the Public Philosophy Network 2018 Conference

First, I’ve been away from my own blog for far too long. My apologies. Second, no more ‘Press This’?! Ugh. So, here is a LINK to the full program of PPN 2018.

Most of these thoughts were generated during the workshop run by Paul Thompson on day 1 on ‘Evaluating Public Philosophy as Academic Scholarship’. This issue is important for everyone who would like to see public philosophy succeed; but it is vitally important for those of us on the tenure track, since not being able to evaluate public philosophy as academic scholarship often means that it is reduced to a ‘service’ activity. Service, of course, is seen as even less important than teaching, which is often seen as less important than research. This hierarchy may be altered at small liberal arts colleges or others that put special emphasis on teaching. Generally speaking, though, one’s research rules in tenure decisions. I’ve never heard, or even heard of, any advice along the lines of ‘Do more teaching and publish less’ or ‘make sure you get on more committees or peer review more journal manuscripts’. Whereas ‘Just publish more’ is something I hear frequently.

So, it’s vitally important to be able to evaluate public philosophy as academic scholarship.

I want to add that, although many of these ideas were not my own and came from group discussion, I am solely responsible for the way I put them here. I may mess up, but no one else should be blamed for my mistakes. What follows isn’t quite the ‘Survival Guide’ that Michael O’Rourke suggested developing. Instead, it is a list of things I (and perhaps others) would like to see coming from PPN. (This may change what PPN is, of course. Can a network that meets once in while provide these things?)

We need:

  1. A statement on the value of public philosophy as academic scholarship. [EDIT: The expression of this need came up at the workshop, but no one there mentioned that such a statement already exists HERE from the APA.  Thanks to Jonathan Ellis and Kelly Parker for help in finding it! Apologies to APA for my ignorance.]
  2. A list of scholarly journals that are public philosophy friendly (i.e., where one can submit and publish work that includes public philosophy). The list would need to be curated so that new journals can be added and old ones removed when they fit or don’t fit the bill.
  3. A list of tools for making the case for the value of public philosophy. I have in mind things like altmetrics (see HERE or HERE or HERE), but it could also include building capacity among a set of potential peers who could serve as reviewers for public philosophy scholarship.
  4. Of course, developing a cohort of peers will mean developing a set of community standards for what counts as good public philosophy. I wouldn’t want that imposed from above (somewhere?) and think this will arise naturally if we are able to foster the development of the community.
  5. Some sort of infrastructure for networking. It’s supposedly a network, right? Is there anywhere people can post profiles?
  6. A repository of documents related to promotion and tenure in public philosophy. Katie Plaisance described how she developed a memorandum of understanding detailing the fact that her remarkably collaborative work deserved full credit as research, despite the fact that she works in a field that seems to value sole-authorship to the detriment of collaborative research. Katie was awesome and said she would share that document with me. But what if she (or everyone) who did smart and cool things like this to help guarantee their ability to do public philosophy had a central repository where all these documents could be posted for everyone to view and use? What if departments that have good criteria for promotion and tenure — criteria that allow for or even encourage public philosophy as scholarship — could post them on such a repository as resources for others?
  7. Leadership! Developing and maintaining these (and no doubt others I’ve missed) resources will require leadership, and maybe even money.

I’d be interested in thoughts on this list, including things you think should be added to it.

On Rubrics

Faculty Development

This semester I’m attending a series of Faculty Development Workshops at NJIT designed to assist new faculty with such essentials as teaching, grant writing, publishing, and tenure & promotion.

I’m posting here now in hopes of getting some feedback on a couple of rubrics I developed after attending the second such workshop.

I’m having students give group presentations in my course on Sports, Technology, and Society, and I was searching for ways to help ensure that all members contributed to the group presentation, as well as to differentiate among varying degrees of contribution. Last Tuesday’s workshop focused on assessment, with some treatment of the use of rubrics for both formative and summative assessment. I did a bit more research on my own, and here’s what I’ve come up with.

First, I developed a two-pronged approach. I want to be able to grade the presentation as a whole, as well as each individual’s contribution to that presentation. I decided to make the group presentation grade worth 60% and the individual contribution grade worth 40% of the overall presentation grade.

Second, I developed the group presentation rubric. For this, I owe a debt to several of the rubrics posted by the Eberly Center at Carnegie Mellon University. I found the rubrics for the philosophy paper and the oral presentation particularly helpful. I am thinking about using this rubric both for formative evaluation (to show the students what I expect), as well as for summative evaluation (actually grading the presentations).

Third, I developed the individual peer assessment rubric. I would actually have the students anonymously fill out one of these for each of their fellow group members. For this rubric, I found a publication from the University of New South Wales to be quite helpful (especially Table 2).

I’d be quite interested in constructive feedback on this approach.