On Open Access, Academic Freedom, and Science Policy — A Reply to Suber

I have argued that Plan S, if we were to take the 10 principles as currently written as policy, would impinge on academic freedom. It’s interesting who dismisses this claim out of hand and who actually responds to my argument, even if they disagree with me. I think Peter Suber is a member of the latter camp, even if his responses have not been as long and involved as my exchanges with Stephen Curry.

In what follows, I try to reconstruct Suber’s position on academic freedom and Open Access (OA), to go a bit further in my various attempts at defining academic freedom, and to argue more fully, pace Suber, that Plan S does impinge on academic freedom.

This reply struck me as odd, given Suber’s position on whether university OA mandates impinge on academic freedom:

6) Open access mandates infringe academic freedom

This is true for gold open access but not for green. But if you believe that all open access is gold, then this myth follows as a lemma. Because only about one-third of peer-reviewed journals are open access, requiring researchers to submit new work to open access journals would severely limit their freedom to submit work to the journals of their choice. By contrast, green open access is compatible with publishing in non-open access journals, which means that green open access mandates can respect author freedom to publish where they please. That is why literally all university open access mandates are green, not gold. It’s also why the green/gold distinction is significant, not fussy, and why myths suppressing recognition of green open access are harmful, not merely false.

To be clear, Suber is arguing that the claim that OA mandates infringe academic freedom is a myth. The myth would hold as reality, for Suber, only if such policies mandated publication in Gold (journal) venues. Insofar as such policies mandate Green OA (depositing some version of a published work in an institutional repository), they “respect author freedom to publish where they please.” I think it’s safe to say that Suber — at least the Suber of five years ago — held that author freedom to publish where they please is an aspect of academic freedom.

Since Plan S does restrict options for authors regarding where they publish, it seems like Suber ought to conclude that Plan S impinges on academic freedom. But he doesn’t; so, there must be more to the story.

It’s possible Suber changed his mind that freedom to choose their publication venue is part of academic freedom. I don’t think this is the case, though. Here’s more of our Twitter exchange:

So, the relevant principles to which Suber referred me a week ago are as follows:

2.  Universities should not limit the freedom of faculty to submit their work to the journals of their choice.

2.1.  If it weren’t for Principle 2, universities could require faculty to submit their articles to OA journals rather than deposit them in an OA repository (a gold OA mandate rather than a green OA mandate).  But there aren’t yet enough OA journals; there aren’t yet first-rate OA journals in every research niche; and even one day when there are, a university policy to rule out submission to a journal based solely on its business model would needlessly limit faculty freedom.  Not even the urgent need for OA justifies that kind of restriction, as long as we can achieve OA through OA repositories.  That’s why all university and funder OA mandates focus on green OA (through OA repositories) rather than gold OA (through OA journals).

But of course OA journals still deserve support.  See Principle 3.

2.2.  If annotation 2.1 doesn’t stand on its own, it may be because it presupposes another premise.  As I put it elsewhere:  “The purpose of the campaign for OA is the constructive one of providing OA to a larger and larger body of literature, not the destructive one of putting non-OA journals or publishers out of business. The consequences may or may not overlap (this is contingent), but the purposes do not overlap.”

2.3.  If it weren’t for Principle 2, universities could require faculty to deposit some version of their peer-reviewed journal articles in the IR, for OA, with or without an embargo, and faculty would have to avoid journals that did not allow OA archiving on those terms.  But that would needlessly limit faculty freedom to submit to the journals of their choice.  To respect faculty freedom, universities must allow exemptions (waivers, opt-outs) for faculty submitting to journals that do not allow OA archiving on the university’s terms.  However, when enough universities adopt OA mandates, then all journals would have to accommodate them, and therefore the first type of policy (no opt-outs) would no longer limit faculty freedom or violate Principle 2.  But until we approach that point, Principle 2 requires the second type of policy (with opt-outs).  Moreover, allowing an opt-out on OA is compatible with not allowing an opt-out on IR deposits themselves.  See the Appendix for more detail.

2.4.  The strategy to require OA archiving, and to require researchers to avoid publishers that will not allow it, was pioneered by the Wellcome Trust.  The WT’s example has been followed by some other funding agencies, most notably the UK Medical Research Council and the US National Institutes of Health.  Because I support these policies, as well as annotation 2.3, I should therefore point out that Principle 2 is designed for universities, not funding agencies.  Funding agencies are essentially charities, spending money on research because it is in the public interest.  They have an interest in making that research as useful and widely available as possible, and virtually no competing interests.  Universities have the same charitable purpose but many competing interests, such as nurturing researchers more than research projects, nurturing them over their entire careers, and erecting bulwarks of policy and custom to protect academic freedom.

2.5.  If we hasten the day when all or most journals allow postprint archiving, then we hasten the day when universities could adopt no-opt-out OA policies (as opposed to both no-opt-out deposit policies and opt-out OA policies) without violating Principle 2.  One way to do that is for universities to demand the right for postprint archiving when negotiating licensing terms for subscription or renewal.  OhioLink publicly committed itself to this strategy in 2006, the only library consortium I know to do so.  (OhioLink is a consortium of 86 academic libraries in Ohio representing more than 600,000 faculty, students, and staff.)  Several major universities are also trying this strategy, but so far without a public announcement.  Public or private, I recommend that all universities do what they can to negotiate better terms for their authors, not just better terms for their readers.

I included all of the annotations of principle 2, since I think all are relevant to this discussion. But one thing is clear: the Peter Suber of 10 years ago (author of the principles), 5 years ago (the mythbuster), and one week ago (on Twitter) agree that restricting a researcher’s choice of publication venue would impinge on academic freedom.

So, why would Plan S not impinge on academic freedom, according to Suber? There are actually two answers. One is contained in 2.4, above: “Principle 2 is designed for universities, not funding agencies.” I will get into the details of Suber’s argument for separating universities and funding agencies in a moment. But the bottom line is that Suber here allows funding agencies to adopt policies that would, were those policies adopted by universities, impinge on academic freedom.

Second, Suber holds that although the freedom to choose venue of publication should not be restricted by university policies on pain of impinging on academic freedom, freedom to choose venue of publication is not all there is to academic freedom.

So, although Plan S impinges on researchers’ free choice of publication venue, it does not infringe on what Suber calls the heart of academic freedom: to pursue the truth in teaching and research free from reprisals other than disagreement among academic peers.

I agreed with Suber on Twitter that, if we limit academic freedom to this “heart” definition, then Plan S does not impinge upon it. But what is the argument for limiting our definition of academic freedom in this way? Or does Suber want to say that Plan S infringes on academic freedom, but only at the margins (not the heart)? If the former, I still want to see an argument. If the latter, then why should universities be restricted from infringing on the ‘marginal’ freedom of researchers to choose the venue where they submit manuscripts for publication?

Suber offers a few reasons for thinking that his Principle 2 should apply to universities but not to funding agencies. The first is the claim that, “Funding agencies are essentially charities, spending money on research because it is in the public interest.” Because they are charities, Suber holds, “They have an interest in making that research as useful and widely available as possible, and virtually no competing interests.” Universities, on the other hand, “have the same charitable purpose but many competing interests, such as nurturing researchers more than research projects, nurturing them over their entire careers, and erecting bulwarks of policy and custom to protect academic freedom.” This is a really interesting comparison; but I’m not convinced.

I’m especially not convinced that universities and funding agencies have the same goals, but that the university has ‘competing interests’ that call into question its commitment to those goals. Maybe the idea here is that universities are more invested in individual researchers and therefore need to erect barriers against societal interference? So, perhaps Suber holds that funding agencies are freer to pursue the goal of benefiting society, since agencies don’t have to worry as much about individual researchers? Although I grant that funding agencies and universities play different roles in knowledge production, I don’t think it’s quite right to suggest that they both charitably aimed at the public good, but that universities also have to prioritize the special interests of their faculty, which sometimes gets in the way of their charitable aims.

But let’s run with the idea for a moment and suppose that, where funding agencies are charitable organizations, universities are philanthropic organizations. The difference is that charities provide somewhat more immediate — and one-off — relief for particular individuals suffering from particular problems, while philanthropic organizations take a longer view and try to address underlying issues and attend to systemic causes of problems. Where charities offer tactical interventions to alleviate instances of suffering (providing food or clothing, say, like the Salvation Army), philanthropic organizations are strategic, aiming to eliminate suffering from a particular cause tout court (ending poverty, like the Gates Foundation).

On this interpretation, funding agencies provide grants to benefit individual researchers or research teams, but universities nurture the research enterprise as a whole.

As intriguing as such a comparison might be, it breaks down in various ways. First, charitable organizations don’t give their charity in the expectation of an immediate return on their investment. They might give you food to alleviate your hunger; but they don’t then turn around and say, OK, now that you’ve had your breakfast, what are you going to do for society? Funding agencies do, however, often ask researchers for returns on their investment. I think that’s justified. But that’s because public research funding agencies are not charities. There’s a real difference between the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Distribution Programs and its National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The latter funds research on food, while the former distributes food. Since it’s obvious that public money used for research might be used for other purposes, there is a necessity for public funding agencies to make a case for their benefits to society (aka ‘broader impacts’). I agree that OA policies should be part of that case; but not in ways that hinder rather than empower researchers.

Second, it’s far from clear that funding agencies don’t also try to nurture researchers, sometimes over their whole careers, and that they don’t try to erect “bulwarks of policy and custom” to protect academic freedom. Many researchers experience continuous, career-long support for their research. Agencies even try to nurture early career researchers in their efforts to establish themselves. And there is no greater bulwark of policy than the process of peer review of grant proposals (Holbrook 2017, Baldwin 2018).

I grant that there is a difference in the roles played by funding agencies and universities; but the difference between them is not one that supports the idea that funding agencies can infringe on academic freedom in ways universities cannot (Suber’s principle 2.4). If anything, funding agencies have to be more careful than universities about infringing on academic freedom.

Here I want to invoke something that Robert Post said, and which I think is vital to this conversation: “The most basic point about academic freedom is that I, as a professor, can only be judged by my peers.” This claim expresses the same intuition underlying my earlier appeals to academic norms as key to academic freedom, since it’s about us academics giving ourselves the law (it’s a matter of autonomy). Existing academic norms support the idea that academics should be able to choose the venues to which they submit manuscripts for publication.

For me, this is  the key difference between university OA policies and funder mandates. The former — like the policy at Harvard — have been voted on by the faculty. Insofar as it comes from the funders, rather than being voted on by the faculty at universities, Plan S would be an ‘outside’ imposition. If waivers to university policies are essential in order for the university to avoid infringing on academic freedom, they are even more necessary in the case of funding agency OA mandates. Suber’s Principle 2 should apply to funding agencies, as well.

Philosophy and Science Policy: A Report from the Field I

I’m actually going to give a series of reports from the field, including a chapter in a book on Field Philosophy that I’m revising now in light of editor/reviewer comments. In the chapter, I discuss our Comparative Assessment of Peer Review project. For a brief account of Field Philosophy, see the preprint of a manuscript I co-authored with Diana Hicks. That’s also being revised now.

Today, however, I will be focusing on more pressing current events having to do with Plan S. So, I will give a talk at the NJIT Department of Humanities Fall Colloquium Series to try to let my colleagues know what I’ve been up to recently. Here are the slides.

As a philosopher, my approach is not simply to offer an objective ‘report’. Instead, I will be offering an argument.

If we want to encourage academic flourishing, then we need new ways of evaluating academic research. We want to encourage academic flourishing. Therefore, we need new ways of evaluating academic research.

Of course, the argument also refers to my own activities. I want my department to understand and value my forays into the field of science policy. But that will mean revaluing the way I am currently evaluated (which is along fairly standard lines).

Mr. Smits Goes to Washington

News article just published today in Nature.

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.

Modernising Research Monitoring in Europe | Center for the Science of Science & Innovation Policy

The tracking of the use of research has become central to the measurement of research impact. While historically this tracking has meant using citations to published papers, the results are old, biased, and inaccessible – and stakeholders need current data to make funding decisions. We can do much better. Today’s users of research interact with that research online. This leaves an unprecedented data trail that can provide detailed data on the attention that specific research outputs, institutions, or domains receive.

However, while the promise of real time information is tantalizing, the collection of this data is outstripping our knowledge of how best to use it, our understanding of its utility across differing research domains and our ability to address the privacy and confidentiality issues. This is particularly true in the field of Humanities and Social Sciences, which have historically been under represented in the collection of scientific corpora of citations, and which are now under represented by the tools and analysis approaches being developed to track the use and attention received by STM research outputs.

We will convene a meeting that combines a discussion of the state of the art in one way in which research impact can be measured – Article Level and Altmetrics – with a critical analysis of current gaps and identification of ways to address them in the context of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Modernising Research Monitoring in Europe | Center for the Science of Science & Innovation Policy.

Reflections on the 2014 Carey Lecture at the AAAS Forum on S&T Policy

Cherry A. Murray delivered the Carey Lecture last night at this year’s AAAS Forum on S&T Policy. I want to address one aspect of her talk here — the question of transdisciplinarity (TD, which I will also use for the adjective ‘transdisciplinary’) and its necessity to address the ‘big’ questions facing us.

As far as I could tell, Murray was working with her own definitions of disciplinary (D), multidisciplinary (MD), interdisciplinary (ID), and TD. In brief, according to Murray, D refers to single-discipline approaches to a problem, ID refers to two disciplines working together on the same problem, MD refers to more than two disciplines focused on the same problem from their own disciplinary perspectives, and TD refers to more than two disciplines working together on the same problem. Murray also used the term cross-disciplinary, which she did not define (to my recollection).

All these definitions are cogent. But do we really need a different term for two disciplines working on a problem together (ID) and more than two disciplines working on a problem together (TD)? Wouldn’t it be simpler just to use ID for more than one discipline?

I grant that there is no universally agreed upon definition of these terms (D, MD, ID, and TD). But basically no one who writes about these issues uses the definitions Murray proposed. And there is something like a rough consensus on what these terms mean, despite the lack of universal agreement. I discuss this consensus, and what these definitions mean for the issue of communication (and, by extension, cooperation) between and among disciplines here:10.1007/s11229-012-0179-7

I tend to agree that TD is a better approach to solving complex problems. But in saying this, I mean more than involving more than two disciplines. I mean involving non-academic, and hence non-disciplinary, actors in the process. It’s actually closer to the sort of design thinking that Bob Schwartz discussed in the second Science + Art session yesterday afternoon.

One might ask whether this discussion of terms is a distraction from Murray’s main point — that we need to think about solutions to the ‘big problems’ we face. I concede the point. But that is all the more reason to get our terms right, or at least to co-construct a new language for talking about what sort of cooperation is needed. There is a literature out there on ID/TD, and Murray failed to engage it. To point out that failure is not to make a disciplinary criticism of Murray (as if there might be a discipline of ID/TD, a topic I discuss here). It is to suggest, however, that inventing new terms on one’s own is not conducive to the sort of communication necessary to tackle the ‘big’ questions.

AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy

Those not in attendance can follow along on Twitter using the hashtag #AAASforum.