RE : Open Access Priorities: Lay Public Access or Researcher Access?

From: (wrong string) édon Jean-Claude <jean.claude.guedon_at_UMONTREAL.CA>
Date: Tue, 9 May 2006 16:30:48 -0400

-------- Message d'origine--------
De: American Scientist Open Access Forum de la part de Stevan Harnad
Date: mar. 09/05/2006 11:52
Objet : Open Access Priorities: Lay Public Access or Researcher Access?
> SH: It was that the
> primary motivation for open access to research is so *researchers* should
> have access, for the sake of research impact, productivity and progress.
> And the reason it is so important to make it crystal clear that that is the primary
> motivation for open access is to make sure that the publishing lobby cannot use
> arguments against the weak, secondary motivation (lay public access) to defeat
> the strong, primary motivation (peer researcher access).

Could we know a little more how the publishing lobby might use the "lay public access" argument to defeat the so-called "strong, primary motivation"? This has always sounded like a red herring to me.


>> ANON: When the U.S. government provided free on-line access the professional
>> audiences benefited enormously, but the unintended consequences in terms
>> of public good have been even greater. Actually, I shouldn't say
>> "unintended" because the reason that the government was forced (kicking
>> and screaming I might add) to make SEC and patent data free is precisely
>> because the argument was made that the general public would benefit. Of
>> course, the big data purveyors like Thompson Publishing and also IBM that
>> ran a patent database (initially freely accessible but then fee-based)
>> lost revenue sources but their lobbying fell on deaf ears when the "public
>> benefit" argument was raised. Enough said.

> SH: But the second part still does not follow: I likewise do not understand
> what use lay people make of SEC and patent data, but if giving them
> access yielded palpable benefits that outweighed business loss to the
> database providers, that's splendid. Yet there is still definitely no
> such case to be made with lay use of research data in general: There is
> an argument for the special case of clinically relevant biomedical data,
> and perhaps a few other special cases as well. But the reason I said those
> were a Trojan Horse is that if the FRPAA's general case for mandating
> self-archiving rides on those special cases, then the natural publisher
> strategy is to make a side-deal: We will make clinically relevant articles
> publicly accessible -- but leave the rest of published research (the
> vast majority of it) alone, because the public does not need or want it.

The whole argument in the paragraph above rests on a big assumption -
namely that most of the research results (this includes more than
data, incidentally) is beyond the intellectual reach of the lay
public. For one thing, the lay public is not one homogeneous mass of
ignoramuses. There is a huge gradient in the distribution of knowledge
in the whole population. There exist possibilities of translating and
making meaningful large parts of research results that become possible
with open access, and this is obviously important for the general good.

In the case of the humanities and the social sciences, this is even
more obvious and important. Just to give an example, the sociology of
crime could be of great importance to large segments of teachers and
enlightened readers and could lead to important political debates that
are presently truncated because people do not have the means to get
seriously informed about the research in these areas. Let us remember
that in many universities, SSH researchers constitute a majority.

If we admit that the general population is a very heterogeneous lot
with widely varying capacities when it comes to making use of knowledge,
and if we further admit that those best prepared to do so can redirect
these results to wider groups - think of journalists who might want to
do a serious background on a problem with no university library access
at hand - then we must admit that a large proportion of research is of
some interest to some people in the general public and we can further
admit that satisfying this interest is positive for the public good.

All this is commonsensical, incidentally.

Now, as for the Trojan horse theory. I do not quite understand, because it
there is a Trojan horse, it would work the other way. Once some areas of
knowledge, say bio-medical research, or clinical results, are liberated
for whatever reason for the general public, someone, somewhere, will
find it useful to try liberating yet another sector for whatever reason,
and so on.

Finally, I do not think that anyone has ever argued that mandating
should be defended first or only on arguments related to public access
to research results; I think most people have argued that, *in addition
to* the advantages provided to researchers by open access, these other
forms of argument work in the same direction and, therefore, should be
used in conjunction with the purely scientific or scholarly arguments.

> SH: Remember that the publisher lobby's argument is that mandatory
> self-archiving puts their revenues at risk. There is no evidence for
> this, but the question becomes moot if there is no strong reason for
> even *taking* the risk in the first place! And for lay use of the vast
> majority of peer-reviewed research there would be no strong reason for
> taking the risk (if there were one).

???? I just do not understand the argument above. In any case, the lay public was never part of the market for scholarly and scientific publications.

> SH: The battle of the risk -- i.e., showing, again, that there is no evidence
> for any risk, let alone the size of the risk, and that the only way
> to find out is to mandate self-archiving and see whether it diminishes
> subscription revenues, and if so, how much -- that battle will have to
> be fought in any case, for the FRPAA mandate. But if the argument for
> the *benefits* to the public is based on the potential benefits from
> lay use of the vast majority of this literature, then those benefits are
> so nebulous and negligible that they are immediately outweighed by even
> the *talk* of hypothetical, potential risks!

??? I continue to be mystified by this argument.

> SH: And, to repeat, *nothing is gained* by insisting on giving lay
> access primacy in making the case for Open Access. Basing the case
> for OA on the far more solid and defensible researcher-to-researcher
> access/impact problem -- a real, demonstrable problem, with real,
> demonstrable benefits from OA -- allows the proponents of the bill to
> counter the publishing lobby's arguments against the weaker, secondary
> motivation (lay, public access) and at the same time *nothing is lost*:
> because Open Access for researchers *also* means Open Access for the
> lay public.

Once again, who is giving primacy to lay access in making the case for
OA? Asking to add the argument of lay access to other OA arguments is
not asking to give primacy to lay access.


Jean-Claude Guédon
Received on Wed May 10 2006 - 02:21:06 BST

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