Plan S in Latin America: a precautionary note

A preprint worth reading.


Latin America has historically led a firm and rising Open Access movement and represents the worldwide region with larger adoption of Open Access practices. Argentina has recently expressed its commitment to join Plan S, an initiative from a European consortium of research funders oriented to mandate Open Access publishing of scientific outputs. Here we suggest that the potential adhesion of Argentina or other Latin American nations to Plan S, even in its recently revised version, ignores the reality and tradition of Latin American Open Access publishing, and has still to demonstrate that it will encourage at a regional and global level the advancement of non-commercial Open Access initiatives.

Debat H, Babini D. 2019. Plan S in Latin America: A precautionary note. PeerJPreprints 7:e27834v1

Reforming Scholarly Publishing

Jon Tennant (@protohedgehog) published a very nice commentary on my piece in Issues in Science and Technology.

Plan S and the Democratization of Knowledge

Issues in Science and Technology just published a piece I penned a while back on Plan S. The point of the piece is to question the extent to which Plan S is in line with the Open Science ideal of democratizing knowledge production and use.

Despite the steady progress that has been made over the decades, many [Open Access] OA advocates have become frustrated by its glacial pace and pin the blame for the delay on scholarly publishers. They argue that although technology has dramatically reduced the cost of dissemination, scholarly publishers continue to insist on both the value of traditional publications and the high cost of “quality” publishing. Publishers have also remained a step ahead of policy-makers by inventing new ways to take advantage of the push for OA. For instance, publishers developed a hybrid model that allowed the same journal to provide access to articles via the traditional subscription route, as well as via article processing charges (APCs) that would, if paid by the authors, make certain articles in the journal available OA. This hybrid model essentially enables publishers to double-dip, charging the subscriber and the author for OA articles. Policy-makers are now trying to turn the tables on publishers by putting funding agencies in charge.

To spur the pace of progress, in September 2018 a partnership of 15 European and one US-based research funding agencies formed cOAlition S and developed Plan S to make all research funded by their agencies immediately available for free for anyone to read and reuse. Slated to into effect by January 2020, Plan S could be a game-changer. But in order for it to succeed, funders beyond Europe—especially those from China and the United States—will have to join cOAlition S. China has announced its “support” for the plan but has not officially joined the coalition. In February 2019, India announced its intention to join, and Plan S architects are actively recruiting more members.

Plan S has set a lofty goal and a frenetic pace, but we would do well to remember that open access to the literature is not the ultimate aim. We should keep our eyes on the real prize—the democratization of knowledge pushed for by the champions of Open Science. OA alone is insufficient to change the practice of science to make it more responsive to society’s needs.

Comments on the piece are welcome.

‘Plan S’ and turmoil in scholarly publishing

A good summary of many different positions on Plan S from Oxford Brookes University.


Dan Croft~

In early September 2018 a number of European national research funders – including our own UKRI – joined together into cOAlition S to announce a bold new set of Open Access requirements for how the research they fund must be published. This scheme, quickly branded ‘Plan S’ by commentators, started with 10 principles that were later expanded into Guidance on the Implementation of Plan S (to which cOAlition S invited feedback).

The arguments for Open Access per se are well established and compelling (particularly considering the proportion of academic research that is publicly funded):

Publication paywalls are withholding a substantial amount of research results from a large fraction of the scientific community and from society as a whole

Why Plan S?

As such, opposition to Plan S has typically agreed with the principle of Open Access and of Plan S in general, but criticised the particulars of…

View original post 1,781 more words

Feedback on guidance on implementation of Plan S

The public was given the opportunity to provide feedback on the draft implementation guidance on Plan S.

We were asked to provide answers to two questions. Here they are, along with my responses.

Is there anything unclear or are there any issues that have not been addressed by the guidance document?

The guidance suggests, “CC BY 4.0 demands that licensees indicate if changes are made when re-using licensed material, and this means that the CC BY-ND license should not be necessary for due protection of the rights of the author.”

It is not clear how the demand that licensees indicate if changes were made when re-using the licensed material means that the CC BY-ND license should not be necessary to protect the rights of the author.

CC BY 4.0 does not demand that licensees indicate what changes were made, only that changes were made. How, exactly, does that protect the rights of the author? Which author rights does it protect?

Even if Creative Commons were to develop a CC BY 5.0 that demands that licensees indicate what changes were made, how would that protect the rights of the author? Which author rights would it protect?

CC BY-ND protects the right of the author to grant/withhold permission for specific derivative works.

My understanding is that CC BY 4.0 does not protect that right, since it explicitly grants permission for derivative works.

If I am the rightsholder, then I am legally entitled to grant or withhold the permissions I choose. By imposing the CC BY (or CC BY-SA or CC0) requirements on rightsholders, cOAlition S is taking that power from the rightsholder. According to the original Preamble to Plan S, this sort of power grab is justified in terms of our “collective duty of care for the science system as a whole.” How are we to understand this collective duty of care? Is the idea that our collective duty to the system as a whole ought to trump our individual rights? Why?

How would I harm the system as a whole, even if I were to apply a CC BY-ND license to everything I publish? I can imagine how my individual reputation could be severely compromised by derivative works — say, a bad translation of my work — for which I had been forced to “grant” permission under a mandatory CC BY license. I can imagine how the system as a whole could be harmed by bad translations. I can also imagine how society could be harmed by bad translations. How would the system as a whole be harmed by my retention of the right that those who want to create a derivative work contact me to obtain permission?

The other argument in favor of mandating a CC BY license seems to be consistency with the Berlin Declaration definition of Open Access. What is the justification for imposing that definition on everyone funded by cOAlition S partners? I have a problem with that definition, since it entails the idea that imposing fewer restrictions on reuse is always better than allowing some restrictions. I think that claim is false. I grant that allowing fewer restrictions is more open — in the sense of more libre — than allowing more restrictions; but how is that better? Perhaps the idea is that imposing fewer restrictions on reuse is better in the aggregate — for the system as a whole — than allowing some restrictions. But I have not seen a good argument for that claim. Please clarify your thinking on imposing the Berlin Declaration definition of Open Access.

Finally, to shift topics, it is not clear how — or why — cOAlition S plans to sanction researchers who have neither the funds to pay APCs nor access to a compliant repository. Since there are so few currently compliant repositories, and since researcher funds are limited, this seems like a real possibility. I think it would be wrong to sanction a researcher who could not comply with Plan S (ought implies can). There is a further complication here. Suppose I am on a team of researchers from different universities. My university does not have a compliant repository. If one of my team members at another university deposits the Version of Record of a co-authored work on her repository, will that count as my having complied with Plan S, or will I still be subject to sanctions?

Are there other mechanisms or requirements funders should consider to foster full and immediate Open Access of research outputs?

Yes, you should consider the contrasting approach laid out by AmeliCA here.

Consider that disempowering publishers is not the only way to achieve Open Access.

Consider that imposing unreasonable requirements on researchers is not the best way to achieve buy-in from researchers.

Consider choosing a different way that *begins* with buy-in from researchers from around the world.

Consider that Open Science is more than Open Access; that Open Access is one among many means to achieve Open Science; that there are many ways of achieving Open Access; and that some ways of achieving Open Access can empower researchers and society.



The humanities do not need a replication drive

From the fact that a small portion of research in the humanities may be replicable, it does not follow that all research in the humanities ought to be replicable.

A post on the CWTS Leiden Blog, written with Bart Penders and Sarah de Rijcke.

If you’d like a PDF, you can visit Humanities Commons.

Concerning CC BY mandates, part 2

In my last post, I addressed those who fail to understand why anyone would object to funders mandating CC BY licenses for all publications that result from research they support. There, I made a distinction between those who support CC BY mandates because they fail to understand objections to CC BY and those who fully understand the objections but support funder mandates of CC BY regardless.

I hope that the vast majority of those currently willing to impose a CC BY mandate as part of Plan S suffer only from a failure to understand why someone might sometimes object to a CC BY license. I fear that some, however, fully understand why someone might sometimes opt for a different license and yet feel fully justified in mandating CC BY for everyone, always. Those who understand the objections to a CC BY license mandate, yet fail to take those objections into account, are guilty of embracing domination.

I also promised a second post in which I address those who understand objections to funder CC BY mandates, yet support them nonetheless. This is that post (hence, ‘part 2’ in the title).


The language of ‘domination’ is not mine. I take it from Philip Pettit, the leading proponent of what’s sometimes called neo-republicanism. Neo-republicanism is a political theory that proposes the notion of non-domination as a sort of regulatory ideal. For those familiar with Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts of Liberty,” with its ultimate defense of ‘negative’ over ‘positive’ liberty, I take Pettit’s notion of non-domination as further thinking along the same lines. Freedom as non-domination is a version of positive liberty that allows us to overcome Berlin’s argument in favor of negative liberty (or freedom as non-interference).

I issue some caveats.

First, I am not a Pettit scholar. I am not offering here the authoritative reading of Pettit. I don’t know whether Pettit would agree with my reading of him. I don’t know of any places where Pettit discusses academic freedom (but if anyone does, please let me know). I am taking Pettit’s ideas, offering my own interpretation of them, and applying them to the ongoing discussion of Plan S. There are some obvious disanalogies between being a citizen of a republic and a member of the scholarly community. So, insofar as I warp Pettit’s views, please blame me, not Pettit.

Second, I don’t want this post to turn into a philosophic tome. I will endeavor to offer the simplest reading I can of the notion of freedom as non-domination and how it applies to the discussion of Plan S. Again, any resulting distortion of Pettit’s views are my fault.

Third, I am specifically addressing the CC BY mandate of Plan S. I am not arguing against all funder mandates, nor am I arguing against open access to research (or even against Plan S). I am not arguing that the current publishing system is great. I am not arguing that no one should ever publish under a CC BY license. I am arguing that the CC BY mandate should be removed from Plan S. In addition, I also think that mandates, in general, should not dominate the population to which they are applied.

Here’s a short video of Pettit himself discussing the idea of freedom as non-domination.

The basic idea is that we lack freedom insofar as we are subject to another’s will. A slave is not free, even if the slave is subject to a master who never interferes with the slave’s choices or actions. Simply being subject to the will of a master (dominus) renders the slave subject to domination, even if the master never exercises that power. According to the neo-republican conception of freedom as non-domination, then, a slave is not free, no matter how little their master interferes in their life.

This neo-republican account of freedom as non-domination is a version of positive liberty, which Berlin ultimately rejected in favor of his notion of negative liberty, or freedom as non-interference. According to a negative liberty view, as long as the master didn’t interfere with the slave, the slave would be free. According to Pettit’s view — and my own — some measure of interference is actually compatible with freedom as non-domination.


Berlin argued in favor of negative liberty because he saw a danger in positive liberty — it can be co-opted by totalitarian impulses.

Since, as Berlin saw, positive liberty allows for interference, I can be interfered with under the guise of that interference being an actualization of my freedom. If I want to make Great Britain great again, I have to support Brexit, since that is the general will of the people (we voted leave, so have to get on board; and not doing so would make me an enemy of freedom — including my own!). The only possible antidote to this sort of totalitarian rationalization, according to Berlin, was to reject the notion of positive liberty as ‘freedom to _____’ (where the blank may be filled in as the general will decides) and embrace the notion of negative liberty as freedom from interference.

Pettit actually redescribes the notion of positive liberty that Berlin rejects in negative terms. Yes, Pettit suggests, freedom is a negative ideal; but instead of freedom from interference, it should be understood as freedom from domination. This allows Pettit to maintain the classical (positive liberty) republican idea of freedom as self-determination, without abandoning us tout court to the general will (which, after all, as Berlin clearly saw, can easily be co-opted).

According to Pettit’s notion of freedom as non-domination, then, I can tolerate interference as long as I’m not being dominated, or subjected to another’s will. Non-domination thus marks the limit of acceptable interference. Advocates of negative liberty also have to admit that a certain amount of interference is necessary — just enough to prevent me from interfering with others, so that the limits of my freedom can be found where my freedom limits the freedom of others. Of course, to an advocate of negative liberty, necessary interference is a necessary evil. A neo-republican, on the other hand, can tolerate quite a bit of interference, as long as it doesn’t rise to the level of domination.

In short, I have to have a say in the laws to which I am subject, such that the imposition of those laws does not dominate me. This doesn’t mean I have carte blanche to reject or disobey laws with which I don’t agree. If I am a member of a constitutional republic (which, as a US citizen, thankfully, I am), some decisions will go against me (alas). But Donald Trump is still my president, even if I voted for a different candidate. The results of that election don’t amount to domination, because I don’t feel I’ve been disenfranchised. Likewise, I pay taxes, both because it’s the law and because I feel I should, even though I don’t like it — again, no domination.

I accept the result of decisions or policies and follow laws, even those that go against my own wishes, just insofar as I don’t feel dominated. As long as I am not dominated, I tolerate the interference. This leaves open the possibility that one could justifiably reject decisions under which one did feel dominated (if I felt my vote weren’t counted, if I were part of a group that had been systematically disenfranchised, if government failed to provide equal protection under the law, if people in government were not subject to and didn’t follow the law, and so on). But votes and policies that go against my wishes without dominating me are simply what Pettit terms ‘tough luck’.

That I feel dominated is a sign of possible domination, but it’s not the only factor. I could be mistaken and shown to be mistaken. Maybe I feel dominated, but I should really accept the result as tough luck. We should be able to determine, in principle, whether a decision we don’t like is a matter of domination or just tough luck. How one goes about that process will depend in many ways on the context. But whether one is dominated is a matter of fact, not simply a matter of opinion.


There are several ways in which the Plan S CC BY mandate makes me feel dominated.

First, I don’t have a vote. I grant that membership in the scholarly community is disanalogous to citizenship in a state in myriad ways. So, I shouldn’t necessarily expect the same sort of representation I have in government from my membership in the scholarly community. Public funding agencies are strange, half-government-half-academic beasts. But there are rules and norms — and even in some countries, laws — governing the relationship between the state and the academy. For the sake of brevity, let’s group all of these under the rubric of academic freedom.

Setting aside the specifics, that there exists academic freedom in general signals a special sort of relationship between government and academic institutions. Some think academic freedom means non-interference. I never have.

There are myriad ways in which the state can interfere with academic institutions and academics that do not constitute violations of academic freedom. The state can make laws or policies about how research money can or cannot be spent (a prohibition of spending public funds on alcohol or bribes or baubles, for instance); the state can make laws or policies about responsible conduct of research (requiring research on human subjects to undergo IRB review, for instance); the state (or in the US, the states) can make decisions about how much funding to put into university budgets. The list goes on. These sorts of interference do not constitute domination, in my opinion, because academics support them, of our own accord. No academic I know, for instance, would seriously argue that academic freedom implies the freedom to abuse human subjects of research.

As someone sympathetic to the neo-republican notion of freedom as non-domination, I think self-determination is vital to academic freedom. If we compare institutional OA mandates on which faculty have voted with funder mandates that some researchers resist but on which they don’t have a vote, the former respect academic freedom and the latter don’t. That’s because, in the former, the faculty voted to give themselves a mandate. For those who voted against the policy, it was just tough luck. But when we have no ability to vote, as in the case of funder mandates, we are subject to the will of the funders.

Second, on top of the fact that I don’t have a vote, I am worried that I don’t even really have a say. Although I was granted an audience with Robert-Jan Smits and Marc Schiltz and have had conversations online with them (see comments), both of which I appreciate, nothing I said seems to have made an impact. We went from Plan S, to a conversation in which they told me they heard my concerns about the CC BY mandate, to draft guidance that’s unresponsive to my concerns about the CC BY mandate. Unfortunately, I now don’t have high hopes that offering feedback to the draft guidance will have any effect, either.

Compare the cOAlition S request for feedback with what happened when the Common Rule (the US regulation governing research on human subjects) was revised. In the US, comments received detailed responses and quite often changed the proposed policy. When suggested changes were rejected, a detailed rationale was given. Can we expect those sorts of detailed responses to feedback from cOAlition S? Can we expect the implementation guidance to change much? I doubt it.

Maybe they considered my arguments and rejected them, without going into detail as to why (although that wasn’t the impression I was left with after our meeting). Maybe I’m the only one making this argument about the CC BY license mandate. But the mandate negatively affects a group — albeit a small one compared to researchers in the sciences — of researchers across the humanities (and perhaps others in some other fields). I’m not arguing only on my own behalf.

Third, I am not the only one who seems to have an issue with the CC BY mandate. In its response to Plan S, the British Academy writes:

All surveys of HSS academics indicate a substantial majority who will insist on the inclusion of a ‘No Derivatives’ (ND) element in the licence for any OA publication. The Academy thinks their concerns are fully justified.

ALLEA, a federation of almost 60 academies from 40 countries around Europe, writes in its response:

As stated in previous statements, further consultation with the research communities is needed before a licensing model is agreed upon and any
prescription should leave some choice as to the type of open license to adopt.

Insofar as the CC BY mandate systematically discriminates against a minority group of researchers, it dominates us.

Finally, and this is the most disturbing evidence of domination, there appears to be a group of my fellow researchers that views the preceding considerations as irrelevant. Some of them, at least, have fallen prey to the potential corruption of positive liberty that so concerned Berlin. They have slipped into totalitarianism. If we want to make science great again, we are told, supporting funder mandates is the only way to go.

I am not suggesting that every researcher who supports funder mandates doesn’t care about dominating other researchers. I, too, support Open Access. I support some aspects of Plan S. I even support some funder mandates, including some in Plan S, as long as they don’t dominate researchers. Ideally, funder mandates would be crafted to empower researchers.

The CC BY mandate, however, must go. The CC BY mandate must go because it dominates a group of researchers who have legitimate interests in opposing mandatory CC BY licenses. No mandate that dominates a group of researchers in that way should stand; and no researcher should stand for mandates that dominate a group of fellow researchers.

The CC BY mandate must go because it also contributes to totalitarian tendencies among a portion of the research community that sees only one way to achieve Open Access — funder mandates — and Open Access as only one thing — that which meets the definition provided by the Berlin Declaration. Funding agencies should not support such tendencies. Funders should listen to concerns expressed by the researchers they fund, especially when those concerns are expressed by a minority group of researchers.

Above all, my fellow researchers should think again before they suggest that funders mandating CC BY is the only way I can truly be free.


When Pettit discusses the eyeball test, which he introduces (along with the tough luck test discussed above) as a “user friendly” test of non-domination, he does so from the perspective of a potential slave.

The eyeball test requires that people should be so resourced and protected in the basic choices of life — for short, the basic liberties — that they can look others in the eye without reason for fear or deference.

If I can look you in the eye, then, it’s because I am not, and needn’t fear, being dominated by you.

I think we academics share a sense of basic equality as academics (i.e., we typically assume that those with terminal degrees in physics or chemistry are no more deserving of respect than those with terminal degrees in philosophy or the arts). In general, then, I think we pass the eyeball test and should expect to be able to do so.

But there seems to be another aspect to the eyeball test that Pettit doesn’t discuss — the view from the perspective of a would-be dominus. If, assuming that fellow academics deserve a basic equality of respect, we attempt to dominate some subgroup of academics, would we be able to look them in the eye? I think not. I could do so only if I were comfortable dominating them and I expected them to submit — in other words, only if I failed to see them as equals.

In other words, if, as a would-be dominus, I cannot look my fellow academics in the eye, I actually pass the eyeball test. It is because I recognize that I have attempted to dominate them and because I recognize that as wrong that I look away. Recognizing my wrong, I can correct it and refuse to dominate my fellows.

If I were fully to embrace my attempt to dominate my fellows, however, I could look them in the eye and tell them the mandate they oppose for legitimate reasons is actually for their own good. Or I could look them in they eye while telling them that, even if the mandate harms them, they should support the mandate for the greater good. To be able to look a fellow academic in the eye, expecting them to look away, is just as much a failure of the eyeball test as when someone looks away out of fear or deference.

When someone cannot look us in they eye because they feel subservient, we fail the eyeball test. When we can look another in the eye and expect them to look away, we fail the eyeball test.

In our relations with our fellow academics, we should all, always, be able to pass the eyeball test. This is why, far from supporting funder mandates that dominate a group of academics, we should listen to their concerns. We do not have a vote. We are not represented. But we can, perhaps, together, still have a say. Even if funders attempt to dominate us, we academics should stand together in resisting.


Draft “Guidance on the Implementation of Plan S” fails to alleviate concerns about CC BY

Earlier this week, cOAlition S released its draft Guidance on the Implementation of Plan S, which retains the requirement that publications resulting from cOAlition S funding be licensed under terms laid out in the Berlin Declaration.

For scholarly articles the public should be granted a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, irrevocable license to share (i.e. copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format) and adapt (i.e. remix, transform, and build upon the material) the work for any purpose, including commercially, provided proper attribution is given to the author.

Unfortunately, this guidance fails to respond adequately to the fact that many researchers – especially in the arts and humanities, but including also some scientists – would sometimes choose a license granting fewer reuse rights.

I know that my particular Twitter bubble doesn’t represent everyone; and it does include quite a few Open Access (OA) advocates, who tend to support the use of maximally open licenses (such as CC BY). Nonetheless, I’ve been surprised to find that most of the folks I interact with on Twitter seem either not to understand why anyone would object to mandating such an open license or have no problem supporting such a mandate over the objections of colleagues. Not understanding the objections is one thing. Not caring about the objections is quite another. I address each possibility, in turn. Here, I focus only on the problem of not understanding the objections. In a later post, I will address the problem of not caring.

First, though, a few points of clarification. The draft Guidance (at least with reference to licenses) explicitly concerns scholarly journal articles only, leaving guidance on books and book chapters until a later date.

The following guidance further specifies the principles of Plan S and provides paths for their implementation regarding scholarly articles. The guidance is directed at cOAlition S members and the wider international research community. cOAlition S will, at a later stage, issue guidance on Open Access monographs and book chapters.

I do think this makes some difference. Personally, I am much less likely to opt for a more restrictive license on scholarly articles than I would on a book. For me, book chapters are actually closer to journal articles in this regard. That doesn’t mean I fully support a license mandate for journal articles; but I do think I’d have less frequent or momentous worries about open-licensing an article or book chapter than I would a book.

For the sake of brevity, and since the draft Guidance will mandate CC BY 4.0 licenses for all scholarly articles, I use ‘CC BY’ to refer to the sort of open license mandated by the draft Guidance.

All scholarly articles that result from research funded by members of cOAlition S must be openly available immediately upon publication without any embargo period. They must be permanently accessible under an open license allowing for re-use for any purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship. cOAlition S recommends using Creative Commons licenses (CC) for all scholarly publications and will by default require the CC BY Attribution 4.0 license for scholarly articles.

I also refer to ‘the author’ throughout this post, even though the author may not be the copyright holder of the work. Plan S initially mandated that authors retain copyright. The draft Guidance seems to have opened the door to the idea that there may be other rightsholders (such as the author’s institution, although perhaps even the publisher). I don’t address this question in this post.

For the record, I have no objection to the requirement to make journal articles immediately available and free to read (gratis). It is the option virtually all authors would choose, given the power. Insofar as Plan S “mandates” immediate gratis OA, it actually empowers authors. Mandating CC BY (or CC BY-SA or CC0 versions of libre) does not. Adopting a license mandate is a matter of domination, not empowerment. More on that, later.

One more preliminary: acknowledgements. In addition to the inhabitants of my Twittersphere, with whom I’ve had some excellent exchanges, I heard a great presentation as part of the NJIT Department of Humanities Fall Colloquium Series that spurred my thinking on this matter. On November 7, Lisa DeTora of Hofstra presented on “Not Quite Mythology: The Functional Limitations of Biomedical Language.” The views I outline below owe much to her talk. 


Mandating CC BY treats all articles as if they were scientific articles. But published articles mean different things in different fields. In the sciences, for instance, it is more typical to perceive the publication as simply describing the experiment or reporting on the results of the research. Although priority in publication of results is vital, scientists fully expect others to build upon, modify, and eventually abandon their results as science progresses. A CC BY or equivalent license makes some sense in the context of articles considered as merely containers for information to which the scientist is not wedded in a personal way.

But in the humanities, to paraphrase Nietzsche, nothing is impersonal. In the humanities, the publication itself actually constitutes the research. I still quote the Ancients in my own field of philosophy. That’s not because I haven’t read the latest literature. It’s because Plato and Aristotle have stood the test of time. At the risk of sounding as if I have delusions of grandeur, I hope the same for my own works.

In the sciences, articles might be thought to contain information that, like water, could be poured into various containers and retain its essential characteristics. Although one might prefer to be published in Science or Nature, ultimately, the container doesn’t matter. What matters most is the discovery, and to a lesser extent, the discoverer. Attribution is sufficient.

In the humanities, we have similar preferences for pet journals. I agree that this tendency should be corrected, and that the particular journal in which one is published should matter less than what’s published. But our conception of what’s published — of articles — is different. It’s not so easy to separate form and content in the humanities. To suggest that a philosophy article is simply information that could be transferred easily from place to place would be akin to suggesting we try to pour a marble statue — not water — into a container that could barely hold the statue’s volume of material. To manage it, one would have to destroy the statue.

One tends to attach a name to a theory or discovery in the sciences in one of a few circumstances: 1) when the discovery is new or big or a prize is awarded — as with the Higgs boson (though everyone seems uncomfortable focusing on Higgs alone, and credit is shared around); 2) when the theory has been surpassed — as with Aristotelian physics; or 3) when one wants to undermine a theory — as with creationist attacks on ‘Darwinism’.

In the humanities, attaching names to works or theories is important and routine.  Despite what you may have heard, there’s no such thing as ‘Utilitarianism’, but rather Bentham’s, Mill’s, or Singer’s versions thereof. It makes a difference whether one refers to a Jamesian or Deweyian pragmatism. The practice of naming in the humanities is not reserved for a flash in the pan or for theories that didn’t pan out. In the humanities, one’s name — including, but not limited to, one’s reputation as a good researcher — is important.

Derivative works are a more sensitive matter in the humanities than in the sciences. One’s works present oneself — not just one’s findings — to the scholarly community. The focus of a translated work in the humanities is on the author, not on the translator. It is the author’s introduction to a new country’s readers. It is not by chance that most works in the humanities are single-authored.

Translating a work of philosophy, to pick my own field, is not something that can be done willy-nilly by an algorithm without destroying vital aspects of the work, thereby misrepresenting the author. Nor can a translation simply be thrown together by anyone who understands both languages. A good translation of a difficult text is more difficult than that.

A good translation depends on forming a relationship with the translator, such that he or she is actually familiar with the author’s work in the original language. They need to understand the subtleties of the argument and the choices the author made between terms in the original language in order to craft a good translation in the new language. Ideally, the author would have a relationship with more than one such person, so that the translation could be checked by someone the author trusts. All of this would involve a great deal of time, effort, and discussion.

A bad translation of a difficult text misrepresents the author’s views in ways that can severely damage their name. A good translation can help make it. Rumor has it that even native speakers of German read Norman Kemp Smith’s English translation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. No one, however, is under the impression that the author of the work is anyone other than Kant.

On the link to the Google Books version of the Critique of Pure Reason, the preview is from Kemp Smith’s introduction, in which he describes the process of translating Kant. He was careful and meticulous and thought everything through. He studied and benefited from previous translations. He was writing commentaries on Kant — which is to say, he was a Kant scholar, not simply a Scotsman who spoke fair German. It took years. Kemp Smith’s is the sort of translation we need and generally aspire to in the humanities.

This is not to say that all translations in the humanities are good. Martin Paul Eve discusses the controversy over a particular translation of Michel Foucault, noting that perhaps some translation — even a poor or controversial one — is better than no translation at all. An author who holds such a view and has no objection to subjecting their work to rough translations can always choose a CC BY or equivalent license. Mandating that all authors explicitly grant permission for their works to be treated roughly, though, is unfair and fundamentally misunderstands the nature of research in the humanities.

The application of a more restrictive license — CC BY-ND, say, which would prevent others from making derivative works without the author’s permission — does not bar the author from granting permission for other uses in the future. Indeed, since the potential translator would actually need to contact the author to obtain permission to translate the work, such an arrangement could facilitate the formation of the sort of trusting relationship necessary for a good translation.


I hope that the vast majority of those currently willing to impose a CC BY mandate as part of Plan S suffer only from a failure to understand why someone might sometimes object to a CC BY license. I fear that some, however, fully understand why someone might sometimes opt for a different license and yet feel fully justified in mandating CC BY for everyone, always. Those who understand the objections to a CC BY license mandate, yet fail to take those objections into account, are guilty of embracing domination.

Since this is a strong charge, I want to take my time in making it. I also want to appeal relatively quickly to those who simply misunderstand objections to a CC BY license mandate. For these reasons, I will publish this post now and issue a promise to complete the second post later. [EDIT: part 2 now available HERE.]

I should add, briefly, that I am now rethinking my position on the CC BY license mandate. Heretofore, I had floated the possibility that cOAlition S could safely mandate a CC BY license without dominating authors as long as they were to offer a no-questions-asked waiver. Providing such an opt-out option would mirror the Harvard Open Access Policy, which I discuss in some detail here. Upon further review, however, I am leaning toward the position that even a mandate with a waiver would dominate authors. If anyone is interested in how my thinking has developed and cannot wait for the second post on this topic, here’s a hint.




Open Reflections: OpenCon 2018

So good to see folks connecting research, education, and a concern to avoid injustice!

The Future is Inclusion

Critical Openness

At OpenCon 2018, attendees built upon inclusive practices in open education and open research. Denisse Albornoz, an OpenCon alum, a Research Associate for the Open and Collaborative Science in Development Network and The Knowledge G.A.P. kicked off the conference with the concept of “critical openness.” This reflection is influenced by her as well as the other speakers who shared their incredible work with the OpenCon community this weekend including Jasmeen Patheja, Alexis C Johnson, Leslie Chan. For those interested, I highly recommend that you view the panel on Diversity and Inclusion. It is by far one of the best panel presentations I have ever seen.

Critical openness is a call for challenging questions – ones contextualized in the histories and lived experiences from people around the globe – with the goal of generating productive and meaningful dialogue across power and difference. Critical openness…

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If you take the red pill, Plan S will show you the way to academic freedom

As readers of this blog and a few people on Twitter know, I’ve been talking a lot recently about academic freedom, especially as it relates to Plan S. In case anyone wants to explore the blog or things I’ve published, they’ll see three things: 1) I generally argue against the idea that Open Access (OA) mandates infringe upon academic freedom; 2) I am generally in favor of OA, especially insofar as it empowers researchers to have positive impacts on society; and 3) I have some specific issues about the way Plan S is formulated. I make distinctions between Plan S and other OA mandates and don’t think that being critical of certain aspects of Plan S means that I’m anti-OA. It doesn’t even mean I’m anti-Plan S. It means I have some specific concerns about how Plan S might impact academic freedom.

In the past couple of months, I’ve had nice exchanges on the topic with Rebecca Lawrence, Stephen Curry, Martin Eve, Peter Suber, and others. Along with Lynn Kamerlin, Stephen and I published a correspondence piece in Nature arguing that discussions of academic freedom are vital, ongoing, and ought not to be dismissed as stifling debate surrounding Plan S.

Indeed, the Fair Open Access Alliance Board recently penned a set of recommendations on Plan S that included the following:

We recommend formulating a detailed statement on how the demands of Plan S interact with legal and cultural norms of academic freedom to select a publication venue. Laws and customs vary enormously around the world. In the UK, for instance, there is no legal statute that confers an explicit right of researchers to select publication venue, but in the States this is more thoroughly encoded, since, academic freedom explicitly extends to choosing the publication venue under the 1940 AAUP declaration. In Germany, authors have a constitutional right to publish where they want.

This is not to suggest that the FOAA Board agrees that Plan S infringes on academic freedom.

As we have said before, academic freedom does not extend to burying one’s research behind a paywall. To paraphrase a well-known dictum: your academic freedom to publish wherever you want ends where my right to freely access your research starts.

But it is to suggest that, despite the fact that they tend to think that Plan S does not infringe upon academic freedom, they nevertheless recommend working out in detail how Plan S impacts academic freedom. Academic freedom is a serious, non-trivial issue whether you think Plan S infringes upon it or not.

Unfortunately, too many OA advocates are too dismissive of any discussion of academic freedom. In what follows, I’m going to examine a thread on Twitter from today that I saw when Micah Vandegrift tweeted about it.

I know Micah and we’ve been tweeting back and forth on the question of academic freedom. So, I replied; but I also looked at the thread by Jason Hoyt. I don’t know Jason. After reading Hoyt’s thread, I intended to ignore it and simply continue my discussion with Micah. I still plan to continue that discussion. However, Hoyt’s thread came up again today in a context that made it unavoidable for me to discuss.

For those who don’t know, David Sweeney (along with John-Arne Røttingen) has taken on the task of composing the implementation language — drafting the actual policy — that will be based on the Plan S principles. Given that I think the most serious problems with Plan S are those surrounding its impact on academic freedom, and given that I think issues surrounding academic freedom are generally growing in importance in today’s political climate, what Sweeney thinks about academic freedom is too important to ignore.

Let me preface this discussion with the following caveat. What follows is not a personal attack. I do not know Jason Hoyt, and I have no reason to attack him personally. I am, however, going to attack the argument he put forward in his thread.

Hoyt’s thread is more involved than other dismissals of discussing academic freedom in connection with Plan S; but it also jives with many other tweets I’ve seen from OA advocates who aren’t as inclined to think critically about OA and academic freedom as the folks already mentioned, above. In order to attack Hoyt’s argument, I’ll try my best to reconstruct it in the strongest possible form; then, I’ll show why it fails.

To put my critique of Hoyt’s argument in a nutshell, the thread employs more pseudoreasoning than actual argumentation. It unfairly represents the position of those it is arguing against (that’s a strawman); it attacks its opponents, rather than arguing against their claims (that’s an ad hominem);  and it ends in a way that preempts any criticism of the thread (this sophistic-ated move doesn’t have a name with which I’m familiar).

Let’s begin at the end, with this sophistic-ated move.

These are the penultimate and final tweets in the thread. Focusing on the final tweet, it impugns those who would pick out the weakest points of Hoyt’s argument to attack as “weaker-minded critics,” who “won’t volunteer their Conflicts of Interest.” We’re warned to “keep that in mind” in order to inoculate  Hoyt’s argument against attack. Holbrook thinks Hoyt’s argument is weak? Holbrook must be weak-minded. I wonder what Holbrook is hiding? It’s a sort of preemptive ad hominem that I’ve dubbed a ‘sophistic-ated’ move, because it’s reminiscent of the — rationally illegitimate — moves Plato describes the Sophists making against Socrates.

Since it appears Hoyt thinks the weakest part of his argument is his extended metaphor comparing our academic freedom to that of a frog in a pot of water being brought slowly to a boil,

I won’t spend any time attacking it. (Who wants to embrace a charge of being weak-minded, after all?)

As we’ve seen, Hoyt begins the thread by calling the argument that Plan S infringes on academic freedom a red herring. In order to substantiate that claim, Hoyt would have to examine the actual argument and show that the truth of the premises is irrelevant to the truth of the conclusion. He doesn’t do either. He just asserts that the academic freedom argument is a red herring.

He then proceeds to make some assertions about academic freedom.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that it’s true that we misunderstand academic freedom. Let’s assume it’s true that it was invented “decades ago” and now has taken on a new meaning very different from “being in control.” We think we have academic freedom, he suggests, but we are mistaken. The academic freedom of old has been reduced to the illusion of control.

He continues, suggesting that the academic freedom that doesn’t exist is merely a manipulative ploy.

The illusion of academic freedom — perhaps that’s why Hoyt keeps putting ‘Academic Freedom’ in scare quotes — is being used by a minority to defeat the emerging new normal of OA.

There’s an extended frog-in-water interlude, followed by this:

The meaning of academic freedom — now without scare quotes, so maybe a non-illusory version? probably just a typo — can change. Sometimes, in order for old (now illusory, presumably) norms to change, we need an outside agent (because frog).

Enter Plan S to save us!

Plan S cannot single-handedly restore academic freedom to its true glory, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Trying hard to offer a charitable reading here, I think Hoyt’s claim is that the illusion of academic freedom is propping up the current monopoly of “subscription paywall” journals. From the previous tweet, though, Plan S will help us recover actual academic freedom, I guess by breaking this illusion-supported monopoly?

OK, good — it seems I was following. So, far from impinging on academic freedom as the illusionistas would have us believe, Plan S is actually our only hope for restoring academic freedom to its original glory.

Embrace Plan S, because it’s your only hope of regaining your freedom from the illusionistas!

Now to attempt to reconstruct the argument in its strongest possible form. When Hoyt claims that the academic freedom argument against Plan S is a red herring, he doesn’t actually mean that he’s examined the argument and found its premises irrelevant to the conclusion that Plan S impinges on academic freedom. What he means is that those making the argument are trying to fool us with a false notion of academic freedom. Opponents of Plan S are telling us they’re protecting our academic freedom, but they are lying. In reality they are keeping us trapped in a monopoly of subscription journals. Plan S can’t be impinging on academic freedom, because Plan S is trying to kill the monopoly of subscription journals and open up space for new OA entrants to provide the reality, rather than the illusion, of academic freedom.

Notice that I left out the final tweet in my reconstruction of Hoyt’s argument. That’s because it’s really a low blow that has no place in a good faith argument. Imagine if I were to suggest here that anything that Hoyt or anyone who defends his argument says is a clear indication that they are merely publishing populists who want to destroy scientific institutions and profit from the resulting confusion. It’s not fair play to employ such a preemptive attack on critics.

Unfortunately, even the strongest possible reconstruction of Hoyt’s argument utilizes both the strawman and ad hominem attacks.  It’s a strawman because it presents its opponents as arguing Plan S impinges on academic freedom only to fool us into supporting the status quo monopoly of subscription publishers. That’s simply not what I or anyone else I’ve seen making the academic freedom argument about Plan S is saying.  It’s an ad hominem, as well, since — even leaving out the preemptive attack at the end — it impugns our motives. Hoyt’s thread suggests that anyone arguing against Plan S on academic freedom grounds is a liar.

There’s plenty of room for rational disagreement on the issue of Plan S and its impacts on academic freedom. Unfortunately, there’s also a plethora of tweets that echo the tone of Hoyt’s thread. Some advocates of Plan S have simply dismissed the academic freedom argument as ‘baloney’. Saying it doesn’t make it so. Arguments are needed. I and others have presented some arguments that Plan S, as written, has the potential to infringe on academic freedom. I invite anyone to offer an argument in response. I’m very happy to engage. But those merely offering disdain and dismissal should reconsider.

I am currently waiting to see the implementation language that Sweeney and Røttingen are crafting. Since it will be made available for public consultation, we’ll all have the opportunity to examine the draft policy and offer our input. I hope that people realize that we might disagree; but there’s a way to do that respectfully and without resorting to misrepresenting others and personal attacks.

I expect that Sweeney and Røttingen and others charged with finalizing the implementation of Plan S will listen to input from a wide variety of perspectives. No doubt, they are already aware that some have their own prejudices already built in to their positions. Many established subscription publishers may resist the implementation of Plan S. Many emerging OA publishers may embrace it. Researchers views are likely to vary pretty widely. I hope the implementers of Plan S are able to take these different perspectives into account and to distinguish carefully between rational arguments and pseudoreasoning attacks. If we work together in good faith, we can attempt to craft a policy that actually empowers researchers and society to engage in open knowledge practices for the benefit of all.