However, we have real reservations about the committee’s recommendation to restrict embargo periods to six months for STEM subjects and 12 months for humanities, arts and social sciences. This will directly limit where researchers can publish, will constrain academic freedom and could potentially damage the international standing of UK universities.

Wendy Piatt on the BIS Committee Open Access Report

Blue skies, impacts, and peer review | RT. A Journal on Research Policy and Evaluation

This paper describes the results of a survey regarding the incorporation of societal impacts considerations into the peer review of grant proposals submitted to public science funding bodies. The survey investigated perceptions regarding the use of scientific peers to judge not only the intrinsic scientific value of proposed research, but also its instrumental value to society. Members of the scientific community have expressed – some more stridently than others – resistance to the use of such societal impact considerations. We sought to understand why. Results of the survey suggest that such resistance may be due to a lack of desire rather than a lack of confidence where judging impacts is concerned. In other words, it may be less that scientists feel unable to judge broader societal impacts and more that they are unwilling to do so.

Blue skies, impacts, and peer review | Holbrook | RT. A Journal on Research Policy and Evaluation.

Open Access and Its Enemies

I was thrilled to be invited to participate as a speaker in the University of North Texas Open Access Symposium 2013. It’s ongoing, and it’s being recorded; video of the presentations will be available soon. In the meantime, I’ve posted slides from my presentation on figshare.

I thought I’d add some thoughts here expounding on my presentation a bit and relating it to presentations given by my fellow panelists. I’m a proponent of open access, for several reasons. I think closed access, that is, encountering a pay wall when one goes to download a piece of research on is interested in reading, is unjust as well as inconvenient. The case for this claim can best be made with reference to two main points revolving around the question of intellectual property rights. Generally, in the case of closed access publications, authors are asked to sign away many, if not all, of their copy rights. Now, authors are free to negotiate terms with publishers, and we are free not to sign away our copy rights — but often the only choice with which we are left by many publishers is simply to take our work and publish it somewhere else.

Many otherwise ‘closed’ publishers will allow authors to retain all their copy rights for a fee (which varies from publisher to publisher) — this is known as the ‘author pays’ model of Gold OA (the latter term refers to OA publications in journals, as opposed to publications made OA via some sort of repository, which is known as Green OA). There is probably no better source for learning the terminology surrounding OA than Peter Suber’s website.

There is also the argument that when publicly funded research is published, the public should at least have free (gratis) access to the publication. Some publishers have argued against this on the grounds that they add value to the research by running the peer review process and formatting and archiving the article. They do perform these services, which do cost money (though peer review itself is done for free by academics). So, they argue that simply giving away their labor is unjust. If it is unjust to have the public pay again and unjust to ask publishers to give away the results of their labors, then, many argue, the ‘author pays’ model of OA makes the most sense. This, of course, ignores the fact of the free labor of academics in conducting peer review. (The labor of actually writing articles is arguably covered as part of an author’s base salary.) But even if authors are already paid to write the articles, it doesn’t follow that it’s just to ask them to pay again to have the articles made freely available once they are published.

Publishers, including Sage, are experimenting with different versions of the ‘author pays’ model of Gold OA. Jim Gilden was another member of my panel. He discussed Sage’s foray into OA, some of their innovations (including the interesting idea of having article-level editors who run the peer review process for individual articles, rather than for the journal as a whole), and some of the difficulties they have encountered. Among those difficulties is some sort of prejudice among potential authors — and members of promotion and tenure committees — against OA journals. This surprised me a little, but perhaps it should not have. One of the themes of my own talk is that ‘we’ academics are included among the enemies of open access. Our prejudice against OA publications is one indicator of this fact.

The other member of our panel was Jeffrey Beall, best known for Beall’s List of Predatory Open Access Publishers. Jeffrey talked about his list, including how and why it got started. That story is pretty simple: he started getting spam emails from publishers that didn’t quite feel right; as a cataloger, he did what came naturally and started keeping track; thus, Beall’s List. Things got more complicated after that. Many publishers appearing on Beall’s list are none too happy about it. Some have even threatened to sue Jeffrey — one for the sum of $1 billion! There are other, less publicized, sources of friction Jeffrey has encountered. He’s not too popular with his own university’s external/community relations folks. And he’s subject to a negative portrayal by many advocates of open access, who don’t appreciate the negative attention Beall’s list draws to the open access movement.

Criticism of Beall from publishers on his list is to be expected. In fact, it was serendipitous that I wrapped up the panel and ended my presentation with the slide of CSID’s list of ‘56 indicators of impact‘ — a list that includes negative indicators, such as provoking lawsuits. Jeffrey serves as a very good example of the sort of thing we are getting at with our list. The most important fact is that he has a narrative to account for why getting sued for $1 billion actually indicates that he’s having an impact. Unless a publisher were worried that Beall’s list would hurt their business, why would they threaten to sue?

Jeffrey and Jim were both excellent panel-mates for another reason. All three of us are not exactly full-fledged members of the open access enthusiasts club. Beall can’t be included, since his list can be interpreted as portraying not only specific publishers, but also the whole OA movement, in a negative light. Gilden can’t be included, since, well, he works for a for-profit-publisher. Those folks tend to be seen as more or less evil by many of the members of the OA crowd. (It was interesting to me to see the folks at Mendeley trying to — and having to — defend themselves on Twitter after Mendeley was bought by Elsevier, the evilist of all evil publishers.) And I? Well, as I said at the beginning of this post, I am an advocate of open access. But I am not an uncritical advocate, and I argue that a greater critical spirit needs to be embraced by many OA enthusiasts.

This was, in essence, the point of my talk. The text parts are pretty clear, I think. So let me focus here mostly on the images, and especially on the ‘Images of Impact’ slides. First, I explained how I derived my title from Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies. This seemed fitting not only because of the play on words, but also because I have come to see much of the struggle surrounding open access in terms of different conceptions of liberty or freedom. Popper’s emphasis on individual liberty was something I wanted to expand on, and I also linked it with Isaiah Berlin’s account of positive and negative conceptions of liberty. I also think Popper has an ambiguous relation to Neoliberalism. Popper was an original member of the Mont Pèlerin thought collective that many credit with the development and dissemination of Neoliberalism.

That Popper’s relation to Neoliberalism is unclear is an important point — and it’s another reason I chose him to introduce my talk. Part of what I wanted to suggest was that much of the open access movement is susceptible to being subsumed under a neoliberal agenda. After all, both use similar vocabularies — references to openness, to crowds, and to efficiency abound in both movements.

I didn’t really dwell on this point for long, though, in deference to the Symposium’s keynote speaker’s views on ‘neoliberalism‘. At the same time, I did want at least to reference Neoliberalism as one thing members of the open access movement need to be more aware of. I’m worried there’s something like a dogmatic enthusiasm that’s creeping into the OA crowd. Many of the reactions from within the OA enthusiast club against Jeffrey Beall (or against Mendeley) seem to me to betray an uncritical (and I mean un-self-critical) attitude. Similarly, I think it would be better for OA enthusiasts to examine carefully and to think critically about OA mandates and policies being considered now. Most, I fear, only think in terms like ‘any movement in the direction of more open access is good’. I just don’t believe that. In fact, I think it’s dangerous to think that way.

Sorry — on to my images of impact. I love altmetrics. I think that’s where you find many of the brightest advocates of open access. I also think the development of altmetrics is one of the areas most fraught with peril. After all, given the penchant of neoliberals for measurement-for-management-for-efficiency that goes by the name of ‘accountability’, it’s not difficult to see how numbers in general, and altmetrics in particular, might be co-opted by someone who wanted to do away with peer review and the protection that provides to the scholarly community. Talk of open, transparent, accountable government sounds great. But come on, folks, let’s please think about what that means. That drones are part of that plan ought to give us all pause. Altmetrics are the drones of the OA movement.

This is by no means to say that altmetrics are bad. I love altmetrics. I have said publicly that I think every journal should employ some form of article level metrics. They’re amazing. But they are also ripe for abuse — by publishers, by governments, and by academic administrators, among others. I just want altmetrics developers to recognize that possibility and to give it careful thought.

The development of altmetrics is not simply a technical issue. Nor are technologies morally or politically neutral. I suggested that we consider altmetrics (and perhaps OA in general) as a sociotechnical imaginary. I think the concept fits well here, especially linked to the idea of OA as a movement that entails an idea of positive freedom. There is a vision of the good associated with OA. Technology is supposed to help us along the road to achieving that good. Government policies are being enacted that may help. But we need to think critically about all of this rather than rushing forward in a burst of enthusiasm.

The great danger of positive freedom is that it can lead to coercion and even totalitarianism. The question is whether we can place a governor on our enthusiasm and limit our pursuit if positive freedom in a way that still allows for autonomy. I refer to Philip Petitt‘s notion of non-domination as potentially useful in this context. I also suggest that narrative can play a governing role. I do think we need some sort of localized (not totalizing) metanarrative about the relationship between the university and society (this is what I referred to in my talk in terms of a ‘republic of knowledge’). But narrative must also serve the role of de-totalizing in another sense. Narratives should be tied to articles and accompany article level metrics. We need to put the ‘account’ back into accountability, rather than simply focusing on the idea of counting.

So, to sum it all up: OA is good, but not an unqualified good; altmetrics are great, but they need to be accompanied by narratives. The end.

Nigel Warburton’s negative vision of what philosophy isn’t

Philosopher Nigel Warburton, of philosophy bites fame, has just resigned his academic post at the Open University to pursue other opportunities. The Philosopher’s Magazine conducts an extended interview with Warburton here. Much of what he reveals in this interview is both entertaining and, in my opinion, true.

But one aspect of the interview especially caught my attention. After offering several criticisms of academic philosophy today with which I’m in total agreement (in particular the tendency of hiring committees to hire clones of themselves rather than enhancing the diversity of the department), Warburton offers what he seems to view as the ultimate take down of academic philosophy. I quote this section in full, below. If you’ve been paying any attention to this blog or our posts at CSID, you’ll understand why, immediately.

He reserves particular venom for the REF, the Research Excellence Framework, a system of expert review which assesses research undertaken in UK higher education, which is then used to allocate future rounds of funding. A lot of it turns on the importance of research having a social, economic or cultural impact. It’s not exactly the sort of thing that philosophical reflection on, say, the nature of being qua being is likely to have. He leans into my recorder to make sure I get every word:

“One of the most disturbing things about academic philosophy today is the way that so many supposed gadflies and rebels in philosophy have just rolled over in the face of the REF – particularly by going along with the idea of measuring and quantifying impact,” he says, making inverted commas with his fingers, “a technical notion which was constructed for completely different disciplines. I’m not even sure what research means in philosophy. Philosophers are struggling to find ways of describing what they do as having impact as defined by people who don’t seem to appreciate what sort of things they do. This is absurd. Why are you wasting your time? Why aren’t you standing up and saying philosophy’s not like that? To think that funding in higher education in philosophy is going to be determined partly by people’s creative writing about how they have impact with their work. Just by entering into this you’ve compromised yourself as a philosopher. It’s not the kind of thing that Socrates did or that Hume did or that John Locke did. Locke may have had patrons, but he seemed to write what he thought rather than kowtowing to forces which are pushing on to us a certain vision, a certain view of what philosophical activities should be. Why are you doing this? I’m getting out. For those of you left in, how can you call yourselves philosophers? This isn’t what philosophy’s about.”

Please tell us how you really feel, Dr. Warburton.

In the US, we are not subject to the REF. But we are subject to many, many managerial requirements, including, if we seek grant funding, the requirement that we account for the impact of our research. We are, of course, ‘free’ to opt out of this sort of requirement simply by not seeking grant funding. Universities in the UK, however, are not ‘free’ to opt out of the REF. So, are the only choices open to ‘real’ philosophers worthy of the name resistance or removing oneself from the university, as Warburton has chosen?

I think not. My colleagues and I recently published an article in which we present a positive vision of academic philosophy today. A key aspect of our position is that the question of impact is itself a philosophical, not merely a technical, problem. Philosophers, in particular, should own impact rather than allowing impact to be imposed on us by outside authorities. The question of impact is a case study in whether the sort of account of freedom as non-domination offered by Pettit can be instantiated in a policy context, in addition to posited in political philosophy.

Being able to see impact as a philosophical question rests on being able to question the idea that the only sort of freedom worth having is freedom from interference. If philosophy matters to more than isolated individuals — even if connected by social media — then we have to realize that any philosophically rich conception of liberty must also include responsibility to others. Our notion of autonomy need not be reduced to the sort of non-interference that can only be guaranteed by separation (of the university from society, as Humboldt advocated, or of the philosopher from the university, as Warburton now suggests). Autonomy must be linked to accountability — and we philosophers should be able to tackle this problem without being called out as non-philosophers by someone who has chosen to opt out of this struggle.

On British higher education’s Hayek appreciation club | Stian Westlake | Science | guardian.co.uk

British higher education’s Hayek appreciation club | Stian Westlake | Science | guardian.co.uk.

I think Stian Westlake is on to something here, though I think the explanation goes deeper than British academics’ secret memberships in the Hayek Appreciation Club (HAC).

Before any academic is considered for membership in the HAC, she first must become a super secret member of the super secret Humboldt Alliance (SSHA, or just HA for short). It was Humboldt, after all, who argued not only that research and teaching should be integrated in the person of the professor (a claim I support), but also that the university must be autonomous from the state (a claim I question, to a degree).

Underlying Humboldt’s demand for autonomy is a view Isaiah Berlin termed negative liberty. Briefly, negative liberty entails freedom from constraint or interference. Positive liberty, on the other hand, allows some interference insofar as such interference may actually allow us to exercise our freedom on our own terms. For those who espouse negative liberty — including not only Humboldt and Hayek, but also Popper (mentored by Hayek) and Berlin himself — autonomy means laissez faire. For those who espouse positive liberty — including Kant, Hegel, and Marx — autonomy means self-determination.

Humboldt also held the view that the state will actually benefit more if it leaves the university alone than if it attempts to direct the course of research in any way. I discuss similarities with Vannevar Bush, the father of US science policy, here. But the same argument gets recycled every time any policy maker suggests any interest in the affairs of the university.

Before there was a Hayek Appreciation Club, Hayek was a member of the Super Secret Humboldt Association. I’m pretty sure that Humboldt was also a member of the Super Double Secret Lovers of Aristotle Foundation (LAF); but that’s difficult to prove. Nevertheless, it was Aristotle who laid the foundation for Humboldt in arguing that what is done for its own sake is higher than what is done for the sake of something else. Aristotle also thought that the life of contemplation (a.k.a. philosophy) was better for the philosopher than any other life. But he didn’t take it as far as Humboldt and argue that it was also better for society.

To me, there’s a relation to this post on the CSID blog, as well.

‘Pure hype of pure research helps no one’ says Sarewitz; what this says about freedom

I tend to agree with a lot of what Dan Sarewitz argues here:

Pure hype of pure research helps no one : Nature News & Comment.

But I also want to suggest that there’s an argument to be made against the High Quality Research Act that goes beyond Sarewitz’s claim that it helps no one.

To be fair, that’s just the headline. Sarewitz also claims something I think is a bit more controversial — that the HQRA is really nothing to get too worried about. Not only does it help no one, but also it doesn’t hurt anyone.

This strikes me as mistaken. I’ll try to articulate why in terms of the distinction between negative and positive freedom I’ve been exploring. Here goes.

First, I agree that the HQRA helps no one.  But it’s not just that the HQRA is redundant — though this is certainly true. It’s also that it doesn’t allow us to do anything more to demonstrate our accountability, as I think the Broader Impacts Criterion does. In other words, it doesn’t increase anyone’s positive freedom.

Second, it actually decreases our negative freedom. By requiring NSF to re-certify what the merit review process already certifies (at least when it’s working as designed), this ‘added layer of accountability’ actually just increases the kind of bureaucratic red tape we should be trying to decrease if we’re interested in an efficient government. This makes about as much sense as the Florida Blue Ribbon Task Force’s suggestion to charge more for classes in majors that supposedly won’t result in better jobs for graduates. Majors that result in higher paying jobs actually should be in greater demand, and so should cost more, not less. But not according to the Blue Ribbon Task Force (see pp 22-3).

Finally, I think the HQRA might be a case study in how to reconcile notions of positive and negative freedom — or at least how to think of both ideas of liberty as possibly working together. It’s sort of a test. Sometimes, a policy that might increase our positive freedom can be seen as decreasing our negative freedom. I think the NSF’s Broader Impacts Criterion is a case in point. Yes, it places an additional burden on researchers, and so in this sense it is a limitation on their negative freedom. But it also increases their positive freedom, so that a trade-off is possible. The HQRA, on the other hand, decreases our negative freedom without also increasing our positive freedom. Any policy that doesn’t increase either our positive or our negative freedom is highly questionable — or so I am suggesting.

What does it take to be ‘liked’ by scientists?

Scientists don’t like me. Or, at least, they don’t show any evidence of liking what I have to say about NSF’s Broader Impacts Merit Review Criterion. Last week, I blogged this ScienceInsider interview (here and on the CSID blog) with an unnamed congressional aide connected with Rep. Lamar Smith and his efforts to add “an extra layer of accountability” to NSF’s Merit Review Process.

I also left a couple of comments in the comments section under the article itself. It’s possible for readers of ScienceInsider to press buttons to indicate their agreement — or not — with comments. The site then tracks the number of likes or dislikes (expressed by pressing up or down carrots), displays them with each comment, and moves those comments with the most likes up to the top.

Guess whose comments are dead last in line?

Here are the two most-liked comments:

lollardy3 days ago

Studying dairy production in China is a very poor choice for an example of what constitutes a bad grant. It has direct relevance to something most people in America consume every day. It could reduce cost for millions, increase food safety, improve the quality or nutrient density of a commonly consumed item, etc. Every time I hear a story on Fox about a “wasteful” study, I can usually think of ten ways it could benefit people and industry here. Somehow I think the time would be better spent putting in an “additional layer” to cover pentagon spending.

Kenneth DeBacker4 days ago

A lot of smoke is being blown by Rep. Lamar Smith’s aide. The aide’s answers are slick and cover’s the real intent of the bill- to politicize the sciences through selective funding or defunding of areas of study Republicans do not like. The most egregious example would be the ban on studying gun violence in America.

Each of them has received twelve likes.

I suppose if I were simply to say that Congress is out to politicize science or that Smith is out of his depth or that scientists should be left alone to pursue research however they wish, scientists might like that. But I’m willing to give Smith the benefit of the doubt, at this point. My contention is that he (or his aide) doesn’t yet understand the revisions to NSF’s Merit Review Process. If he did, then I think he’d see that accountability is already built into the process. I think Smith should not introduce the High Quality Research Act, but instead should seek to monitor how scientists respond to the new Broader Impacts Criterion.

But there’s a real problem with what I’m suggesting. And it’s not that Smith is a Republican out to get science. The problem is that scientists themselves don’t understand the Broader Impacts Criterion. They don’t understand that this is their last, best hope to preserve their academic autonomy while meeting accountability demands. And they don’t want to hear it, either.

To see my comments on the ScienceInsider interview, simply follow this link and scroll to the bottom of the page.