Re: Discipline Differences in Benefits/Feasibility of Open Access?

From: Imre Simon <is_at_IME.USP.BR>
Date: Sun, 24 Nov 2002 17:20:03 -0300

Dear All,

On Sat, 23 Nov 2002 04:19:04 +0000 Subbiah Arunachalam wrote:

: Why is it that Open Archives/ E-prints works well in
: some fields (physics, astronomy, computer science) and
: not in other fields (say, agriculture)? I would like
: to hear from members of the list.
: Arun
: [Subbiah Arunachalam]

I believe that the collective behavior and information exchange
pattern of any community depend on their culture, their shared values
and their past and current practices. These things are very difficult
to change, but given the appropriate excitation they can change very

An outstanding example is the behavior of (a part of) the computer
programming community where FLOSS (Free, Libre, Open Source Software)
practices spread in just 18 years from an individual attitude (of
Richard Stallman) to a worldwide practice occupying a substantial
space in the economics of software, in the media and even in the
agenda of powerful governments, such as Germany, China or France.

FLOSS and science do share many common characteristics as they also
have many features distinguishing them from each other. In particular,
peer-review is considered absolutely essential to both, though the
peer-reviewing processes are of quite different nature.

I believe that FLOSS might be an important example to be studied and
understood if one wants to answer Arun's question. Two interesting
features are:

  . they managed to successfully start a transition to open and
    universal access, whether they will be able to complete it until
    it becomes a universal practice, at least for widely used software,
    is quite another question, still to be discovered;

  . their astounding success is prompting some very deep and
    very interesting research which is beginning to appear and which
    tries to explain and understand the phenomenon.

I believe that we should read, and perhaps review and discuss this
research in order to understand better our own problem. I suggest as a
strating point an outstanding paper by Yochai Benkler:

  Yochai Benkler
  Coase's Pinguin, or, Linux and the Nature of the Firm


Coming back to the original question, if we are looking for universal
acceptance then it should be clear that each community will have to be
conquered, will have to be charmed, each one conditioned by its own
culture, to practice self-archiving. They will have to be convinced,
one by one, that self-archiving is in their own best interest. Each
community will have to have their own early adopters, etc. The whole
process of diffusion of innovation will have to be made.

I believe that at this time such a consensus is missing in every major
field of study. It has to be constructed. Even in physics or in
computer science, which are early adopter fields, as has been pointed
out. And whoever is going to try to construct a consensus will have to
create practical tools which will be recognized as useful, even
compellingly useful, in his own community.

I also believe that ResearchIndex and CiteBase are outstanding
examples in this direction. These tools still have to be perfected to
a point where their use is essential in any research activity. They
will have to become clearly more pleasant, more informative and more
effective than a visit to the library or the use of one's own
knowledge of the literature. Much, much more! And I, for one, believe
that they are coming quite near to this. But relatively few people
realized this until now, even in these more technology prone fields of

The point is that the new tools have to offer something very valuable
to the researcher. The ones I mentioned do offer this: they already
can be used to make a user driven analysis of the research literature
in a given area. They are the search engines of a scientific library,
even though a still incomplete library. But they already are
indispensable research tools for those who use them. These will be
easily convinced to liberate their own research output for the
inclusion and analysis by these robots. I believe that this is the way
to go!

Once these services will be able to work properly in one area they
will have to be ported to other areas, to prove their usefulness for
other communities too. If they will be open source, like eprints
(another very important tool in this process), the porting will be
much faster and much easier. Proven and successful practices in one
field might then easily spread to other fields. Probably the search
and analysis tools will have to be adapted to the local culture of
each community.

All in all, I think that there is a long and adventurous road ahead,
before self-archiving might become a universal practice in all areas
of science!! Lots of work and lots of fun. But it will have to come,
there is no plausible and sustainable argument I know of against its
universal adoption.

Cheers to everyone,

Imre Simon
Received on Sun Nov 24 2002 - 20:20:03 GMT

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