Open Access and Its Enemies, Redux

I don’t have time to be doing this, but it’s important. Making time is a state of mind — as, claims Cameron Neylon, is ‘Open’:

Being open as opposed to making open resources (or making resources open) is about embracing a particular form of humility. For the creator it is about embracing the idea that – despite knowing more about what you have done than any other person –  the use and application of your work is something that you cannot predict.

There’s a lot to unpack, even in this short excerpt from Neylon’s post. Whether, for instance, the idea of ‘humility’ is captured by being open to unintended applications of ones work — surely that’s part, but only part, of being open — deserves further thought. But I really do think Cameron is on to something with the idea that being open entails a sort of humility.

To see how, it’s instructive to read through Robin Osborne’s post on ‘Why open access makes no sense‘:

For those who wish to have access, there is an admission cost: they must invest in the education prerequisite to enable them to understand the language used. Current publication practices work to ensure that the entry threshold for understanding my language is as low as possible. Open access will raise that entry threshold. Much more will be downloaded; much less will be understood.

There’s a lot to unpack here, as well.  There’s a sort of jiujitsu going on in this excerpt that requires that one is at least familiar with — if it is not one’s characteristic feeling — the feeling that no one will ever understand. What is obvious, however, is Osborne’s arrogance: there is a price to be paid to understand me, and open access will actually raise that price.

In my original talk on “Open Access and Its Enemies” I traced one source of disagreement about open access to different conceptions of freedom. Those with a negative concept of freedom are opposed to any sort of open access mandates, for instance, while those appealing to a positive concept of freedom might accept certain mandates as not necessarily opposed to their freedom. There may be exceptions, of course, but those with a positive concept of freedom tend to accept open access, while those with a negative view of freedom tend to oppose it. The two posts from Neylon and Osborne reveal another aspect of what divides academics on the question of open access — a different sense of self.

For advocates of humility, seeing our selves as individuals interferes with openness. In fact, it is only in contrast to those who view the self as an individual that the appeal to humility makes sense. The plea is that they temper their individualistic tendencies, to humble their individual selves in the service of our corporate self.   For advocates of openness, the self is something that really comes about only through interaction with others.

Advocates of elitism acknowledge that the social bond is important. But it is not, in itself, constitutive of the self. On the contrary, the self is what persists independently of others, whether anyone else understands us or not. Moreover, understanding me — qua individual — requires that you — qua individual — discipline yourself, learn something, be educated. Indeed, to become a self in good standing with the elite requires a certain self-abnegation — but only for a time, and only until one can re-assert oneself as an elite individual. Importantly, self-abnegation is a temporary stop on the way to full self-realization.

Self-sacrifice is foreign to both of the advocate of humility and the advocate of elitism, I fear. Yet it is only through self-sacrifice that communication is possible. Self-sacrifice doesn’t dissolve the individual self completely into the corporate self. Nor does self-sacrifice recognize temporary self-abnegation on the road to self-assertion as the path to communication. Self-sacrifice takes us beyond both, in that it requires that we admit that content is never what’s communicated. A self with a truly open mindset would have to be able to experience this.  Alas, no one will ever understand me!


Hawk-Eye, stakes, and murder: two sports articles, no binary decisions

I noticed two articles on sports concerned with officials’ decisions today, and their juxtaposition raises more questions than either, alone.

The first was an article in The Guardian questioning Hawk-Eye, the technology used in tennis to determine whether balls landed in our out of bounds, thus usually to determine points won or lost. Anyone who watched the Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Final yesterday witnessed Novak Djokavic yelling “What is going on?!” at the umpire when calls — including challenges that were resolved by appealing to Hawk-Eye — seemed continually to go against him.The article describes the results of a paper that critiques Hawk-Eye’s accuracy and ends with an interesting question:

The paper concludes that Hawk-Eye should be used as an aid to human judgement (their italics), and that, if used with a little more nuance, it could provide added enjoyment of the games involved and public understanding of technology, its uses and its limitations. What do you think? Do you want a simple binary decision in your sports, or would you rather know the accuracy of Hawk-Eye’s output?

I’m old enough to remember a time before Hawk-Eye, and I recall when it was introduced. I remember being skeptical at the time. Why think that a model of what happened would be better than human judgment?  And, really, is the issue which is more accurate? Part of sports is overcoming bad calls. Our collective mania for objectivity borders on madness.

To answer the author’s question at the end of the article: neither. I’d prefer if we took such technologies, including instant replay, completely out of all game-time decisions in sporting events. If leagues want to review officials’ decisions later, after the game has been decided, fine. But this rush to judgment, as if we have to have the ‘objectively’ correct answer right then and there, is a bane to sports.

Do we really enjoy Djokavic’s comparatively mild protests more than John McEnroe’s? You cannot be serious!

On the same page as the Hawk-Eye article is a link to another article in The Guardian, this one on a recent local soccer match in Brazil during which a referee stabbed a player, then was mobbed, stoned, and decapitated by the angry crowd. Say what?! Look, I’m from Alabama, so I’m well aware of people who do really stupid things in the name of sports. As an Auburn fan, I’m glad no one has decapitated Harvey Updyke, yet. But it’s interesting how the story of the Brazilian double murder (yes, the player stabbed by the ref also died) is treated — as an image problem:

Brazil faces mounting pressure to show it is a safe place for tourists before 12 cities host the 2014 World Cup and Rio de Janeiro the Olympics in 2016. The Confederations Cup in June was marked by violence as anti-government protestors angered by the amount of money being spent on the events clashed with police.

So, unless Brazil can clean up its act and tone down the violence to a level that’s acceptable to tourists, the World Cup and the Olympics are in trouble? Someone must be Djoking!

When did we lose all perspective about what’s important? Sports are a form of entertainment, one that’s more entertaining when we take it seriously. But it’s possible to take sports too seriously. Killing someone is an extreme example, obviously. But treating murder as an image problem reveals that we take sports too seriously in other ways, as well. As if the real problem is whether Brazil will respond to mounting pressure to show it is a safe place for tourists in time to save the World Cup. Imagine the economic fall-out were people to stay away in droves! As if that were the problem, rather than the problem being our thinking of sports in economic — or technoscientific — terms. Or our thinking of the protests as a problem for sports, rather than an expression of a cultural moment.

So, to rephrase the question raised by the initial article: Do you want simple, binary decisions rendered by someone — or something — else, or would you rather do the hard work of thinking?

Andy Stirling on why the precautionary principle matters | Science |

SPRU Professor Andy Stirling is beginning a series in The Guardian on the precautionary principle. Stirling’s first article paints an optimistic picture:

Far from the pessimistic caricature, precaution actually celebrates the full depth and potential for human agency in knowledge and innovation. Blinkered risk assessment ignores both positive and negative implications of uncertainty. Though politically inconvenient for some, precaution simply acknowledges this scope and choice. So, while mistaken rhetorical rejections of precaution add further poison to current political tensions around technology, precaution itself offers an antidote – one that is in the best traditions of rationality. By upholding both scientific rigour and democratic accountability under uncertainty, precaution offers a means to help reconcile these increasingly sundered Enlightenment cultures.

via Why the precautionary principle matters | Andy Stirling | Science |

Stirling’s work on the precautionary principle is some of the best out there, and Adam Briggle and I cite him in our working paper on the topic. I look forward to reading the rest of Stirling’s series. Although I’m a critic of the Enlightenment, I don’t reject it wholesale. In fact, I think rational engagement with the thinkers of the Enlightenment — and some of its most interesting heirs, including Stirling and Steve Fuller, who’s a proponent of proaction over precaution — is important. So, stay tuned for more!

Unexpected idea in the packing area

Good stuff. The reference to Taylor makes up for the lack of reference to Humboldt. We might even think of the Tayloring of the university as its de-Humboldtification. Here’s a quote from Taylor on “scientific management”:

It is only through enforced standardization of methods, enforced adoption of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced cooperation that this faster work can be assured. And the duty of enforcing the adoption of standards and enforcing this cooperation rests with management alone.

It does seem many believe the university can benefit from such Tayloring ….

Phylopic Phryday Photo

Phylopic Phryday Photo

Haliaeetus by Steve Hillebrand/U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (source photo), T. Michael Keesey (vectorization)

The library, the cloud, and the digital scholar

Mark Carrigan and I have continued our discussion begun here about the difference between various media (in this case, blogs and Moleskine notebooks). We haven’t discussed aesthetics, yet — but, to be clear, I’m not into technophilia.

Dalek, you look maaaavelous! Makes me want to exterminate you.

Instead, our conversation took a turn toward libraries. Initially, I suggested that archiving and preservation were more of a problem for digital products than for physical books or notebooks. But that’s not quite right. After all, libraries are figuring out how to go digital while still archiving and preserving things.

I then suggested a comparison that I now don’t agree with: that the library is like a bank, while the cloud is like a mattress. (Yes, I apologized to libraries at the time for comparing them to banks.) Part of what I don’t like about this comparison is that it evokes security concerns. Yes, these exist and are legitimate concerns for folks storing things — even thoughts, such as in a blog — online. Privacy and trust are even bigger issues these days (I’m looking at you, NSA).

But when it comes to scholarly communication, I think we have additional needs — needs libraries fill, even if we don’t appreciate it.

I then suggested that a more apt comparison was the museum. That captures something that goes beyond mere security concerns and includes things like preservation and curation. But even that’s not quite enough. This post suggests ‘stewardship’ as the proper role of the library. To me, this is closer to what I was getting at. It includes a kind of sustainability angle. Libraries collect, preserve, and help disseminate our work with an eye to future generations.

Now, maybe we only care about that sort of stewardship for our official scholarly work — you know, books and articles. But if we’re serious about blurring the traditional distinctions of scholarly communication — and I am — then I think we also need to be concerned about the stewardship of our blogs. It’s this sort of vague awareness brought about by my engagement with libraries and librarians that prompted me to join this list of academic blogs being put together by Lee Skallerup Bessette (@readywriting).

As usual, though, the librarians are way ahead of us in thinking about this stuff philosophically. ‘We scholars’ really ought to engage with our libraries much more than we do. We might actually learn something.


A Reply to Schadt’s Rant on Strawberries, Open Access Licenses, and the Reuse of Published Papers

This rant has been lighting up the twittersphere — at least, the little corner of it inhabited by people I follow. And for good reason — it’s a good read, and the comments are also well worth reading!

A Rant on Strawberries, Open Access Licenses, and the Reuse of Published Papers | C.W. Schadt | ORNL-UTK Microbial Ecology Lab.

I’ve got something to add to the discussion that goes beyond a comment, which is why I’m replying here. In my reply, I’ll assume you have already clicked on the link and read the initial rant and comments. My basic point is this: this sort of reuse of published papers has little to do with open access (OA) or OA licenses.

It’s tempting to blame open access — publishers, licenses, and the whole OA movement be damned! To his credit, Schadt doesn’t do so. Instead, he expresses surprise mixed with a sort of indignation that someone could take his published, freely available paper, slap it into an anthology, and then sell it for profit — and all this without so much as a word to him or the other author of the paper. Schadt lists 5 reasons he’s really irked, which I won’t list here (all strike me as good reasons, and interestingly are reminiscent of many of the reasons humanists give in favor of CC-BY-NC licenses over CC-BY). But here is a more troubling paragraph:

Anyway, Im not sure who to be more upset with.  The “editor” and publisher that republished the article, or myself for not noticing the reuse clause in the open access license.  From now on I vow that I will pay closer attention to this, and it may influence where I end up submitting future papers.

Schadt admits that he should have paid more attention to the license under which the paper was published, and then suggests that he will have to consider whether he wants to publish future papers under the same license in the future. Ross Mounce (@rmounce) comments that Schadt shouldn’t blame the license, which is a good thing: CC-BY prevents authors from blocking reuse “for no good reason.” Of course, this leaves open the question of what would constitute a good reason for not wanting your paper republished without either your knowledge or your permission. It’s a good question, and one that is at the heart of the debate surrounding CC-BY. But the really good thing about CC-BY and cases like Schadt’s is that they draw our attention, or should, to the question of copyright.

In fact, it’s entirely possible for the same scenario to be played out anytime an author gives up her copyrights, whether to an open access publisher using CC-BY or not.

I know this because essentially the same thing happened to me. My co-author and I published this article in Issues in Science and Technology. You’ll notice that at the bottom of the page, it clearly states the terms of copyright:

Copyright © 2007. University of Texas at Dallas. All rights reserved. 800 W Campbell Road, Richardson, TX 75080-3021.

The hyperlink takes you to the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), where it’s possible* to obtain permission to republish the article. Once permission has been purchased (yes, it costs money that varies with the venue and circulation of the intended reuse), it’s possible — and now legally permissible — to republish the article.

See, the California Science Teachers Association did it here for an issue on “Ethics in Science” that can be purchased for what appears to be $10 plus tax.

Of course, all this was done without contacting either my co-author or me. I was surprised to find it one day on Google when searching for the hyperlink to the original publication. I wrote a nice (I thought) email to the California Science Teachers Association asking them why they had republished our article without contacting us first. They wrote back that they’d obtained the required legal permissions through CCC and were under no obligation to contact us. And, legally speaking, they were right. I still think this move is a breach of etiquette and is ethically questionable, even if it’s perfectly legal.

Now, I don’t mind supporting science teachers. I hope they made their money back, and then some. But it would have been nice to receive an email telling us how happy they were to republish our article — or even asking us whether we might be happy about it and would care to add it to our CVs. I might even have appreciated a free copy of the issue. It looks pretty interesting. Instead, I got the legally correct answer, which came off as a double rudeness.  Needless to say, that left quite a bad taste in my mouth, and I do not include this republication on my CV.

But my hurt feelings (or Schadt’s) aren’t the point here. I signed over my copyrights, which means my feelings are irrelevant. Schadt signed over his, which means the same. But it has nothing to do with whether the license is CC-BY or all rights reserved by the entity to whom one has signed over one’s copyrights. Once an author gives up her copyrights, she has no legal right to reassert them (short of obtaining permission from the new holder of those copyrights). This isn’t about open access or the CC-BY license. It’s about copyrights. This is what makes resources like SPARC’s author addendum so important.

I’m not upset with Schadt, who hasn’t done anything wrong. I’m not upset with Ross Mounce, either. I think this is a discussion we need to be having. (Oh, and like Schadt, to be clear, I’m not upset at strawberries, either.) What would be upsetting to me, however, is if cases like Schadt’s were used uncritically to disparage open access.  What would please me is if authors would take some time to educate themselves about copyrights. I promise it’s interesting — and it may even affect you, one day.


* When I click on the copyright hyperlink, I get the CCC site and it asks me to search for the article. I can’t find it by searching the title. There is an additional hyperlink on the article page that takes one directly to the CCC site to purchase permissions for the article here: For more information regarding reproduction of this article, please click here. However, when I follow the link and try to get a quick price quote, for some reason I keep getting a ‘sorry, we cannot process orders for international customers’ notice.