RE : APA: Open Access and Public Understanding

From: (wrong string) édon Jean-Claude <jean.claude.guedon_at_UMONTREAL.CA>
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 2006 12:11:50 -0400

I think there is a little more to this than Stevan wants us to
believe. To put it in a nutshell, science is relatively autonomous
from the rest of society - a point generally made by sociologists
of science as diverse as Robert K. Merton and Pierre Bourdieu. It is
sufficiently autonomous from the rest of society that it makes sense to
talk about a science-communication system in terms of exchanges limited
to scientists. It is not so autonomous as to prevent communicating with
non specialists. They can often read and make sense of at least some
of this literature. And this "some" is not an insignificant fraction
of the total scientific literature of the world. In the case of the
humanities and the social sciences these two categories constitute 53%
of the faculty at my university), most of the research literature is
accessible to educated laymen. The open access movement is not limited
to science, technology and medicine, so far as I know. It includes all
the peer reviewed literature. SSH research falls into this category.

There is more to this issue. Over and over, Stevan Harnad has
accumulated evidence and arguments to demonstrate that open access
provides concrete advantages to researchers. Despite these (excellent)
arguments and despite the fact that he has often been addressing his
peers, i.e. fellow scientists, Stevan Harnad does not appear to have
convinced them to a great extent. And they probably are the fraction
of the population most open to logic and facts as opposed to beliefs
and prejudices. As a result, Stevan Harnad has advocated (and I support
him, to repeat myself) mandating self-archiving in our universities and
research institutions. Alas, this time, the call for mandating goes to
whole new categories of people - namely administrators and politicians
- for whom logic and facts import less than they would scientists. And
this is where we stand now.

What we need now are strategies to bring this mandating about in as
many institutionsas possible. How do we do this? One way not to do
this is hectoring the administrators and politicians to demonstrate
their ultimate stupidityunless one is intent on failing; one way among
many to achieve this transformation, obviously, is precisely to show
the advantage of open access for "the rest of us" to a number of
non-scientists. This kind of argument stands a chance of influencing
decision makers, administrators and politicians. It will do so because
achieving a mandate, in each institutional case, will be the result of
political efforts. Political efforts, alas, do not rest on logic alone.

For a long time, on this list, we have been turning in circles precisely
because of this kind of short-sightedness in Stevan Harnad's position:
he defends a very good position and does so very logically. So long as one
limits oneself to the description of OA objectives, logic is very central
and useful; however, when it comes to finding the strategies and tactics,
the mechanisms and transformations that may help bring about open access,
the sitation becomes laso very political. Stevan Harnad does not seem
to understand this simple point; or rather he seems to refuse looking
at it as if adopting openly political strategies to achieve a shift
which is political in nature could adversely contaminate the nature of
the objective sought, or deter from the straight, perfect, logical road
to success.

I will make more specific comments below.

-------- Message d'origine--------
On Mon, 24 Apr 2006, Christopher D. Green wrote:

>> CDG: Did you see this?
> SH: Why would NIH have set itself up for the kind of obvious prima facie
> criticism opened up by using public access as the rationale for Open
> Access? Partly because (viewed superficially and naively, as most things
> are), it *sounds* like a good argument for Open Access: your health, the
> health of your loved ones, new medicines your doctor may not know about,
> cautions about possible side-effects -- and even general "right-to-know"
> issues are all dramatically engaged by the public-access argument. It has
> political and tax-payer lobbyist appeal. And it is in fact perfectly
> valid, for the small fraction of the target Open Access literature that
> it applies to.
> But unfortunately, *it does not scale*! On the contrary, it provides an
> excellent argument (and APA is making it) for *not* providing Open
> Access to most of the target Open Access literature because it not only
> has no interest for the general public, but the general public could not
> make the faintest sense of it even if they showed the slightest inclination
> to do so (and they don't). So APA can in this way effectively lampoon
> the entire case for OA -- *if* public access were indeed the primary or
> sole rationale for OA. But it is not.

If public access "were the primary or sole rationalefor OA. But it is
not indeed. This said, it may be a second-order argument, a
supplementary argument - one that may influence people who are in
positions to make important decisisons but who are not scientists.

> SH: Not even educational access for teaching/learning is a compelling
> enough argument for making the primary research literature OA, because
> most of the primary research literature is not used in teaching and
> learning. The only ones who make heavy use of the primary research
> literature are researchers, and no wonder, since that literature was
> written by and for them. But the trouble is that no researcher can
> access all or most of it, because no researcher's institution can
> afford to buy access to all or most of it. And hence much of the
> research that the public funds is losing much of its potential usage
> and impact. And *that* is the real rationale for OA.

Again, saying that this will *also* help education does not deter from the
primary goal; it only aims at influencing people who may have education
in mind, may have power, and are not research scientists.

> SH: It would be nice if the NIH (and others) got this into focus,
> because as long as they keep going on and on about minoritarian
> trifles like public access to research that the public has next to
> no inclination or ability to read, the optimal and inevitable outcome
> for research, researchers, *and* the public that supports them will
> continue to be delayed.

This would be true if NIH were gibving up the primary, purely scientific,
objective. What I read in NIH's position is not a rejection of the
objective that SH (and I) seek; I only see adding these arguments to
the primary one and modulating the message according to the nature
of the listener. Most Senators, so far as I know, are not practising

Jean-Claude Guédon
Received on Tue Apr 25 2006 - 19:30:32 BST

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