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.