Public Knowledge (was: Pitbull)

From: Alexandre Enkerli <enkerli_at_GMAIL.COM>
Date: Mon, 29 Jan 2007 18:12:01 -0500

Been lurking for a few days, reading with interest what seems to be a
rather broad consensus on a set of issues related to access to the
results of academic research.

(I'm an anthropologist and a long-term Ph.D. candidate in ethnomusicology.)

What makes me react now is Peter Banks's description of his
involvement in creating public-oriented publications which are helping
the general public understand some health-related scientific issues.
Whether we call these "secondary sources," "popular science
magazines," or even "grey literature," it seems that such publications
provide a valuable service in parallel with our work as researchers. I
thus salute Mr. Banks's initiatives as they seem readily compatible
with the overwhelming (and global) trend toward public knowledge and
open access.

Unless I'm mistaken, articles appearing in Mr. Banks's publications
are likely to refer to primary academic sources in peer-reviewed,
academics-oriented journals. Yet, those secondary publications are
apparently palatable to the general public (for instance,
Spanish-speaking homemakers in the Houston area who may be concerned
with some health issues). Obviously, OA would greatly benefit those
readers of Banks publications who have an interest in learning more
about issues covered in those articles. In fact, easy access to all
primary sources would likely increase the sales of Banks Publishing's
products, as those secondary articles would serve the intermediate
level between the apparent complexity of academic literature (some
might call such literature "rebarbative") and the needs of the public
in general. In fact, the Cornyn bill seems especially enthusiastic
about the prospects of these publications:
"Journals also publish non-federally funded research, valued review
articles, editorials, news and views, letters, and opinion columns ^
literature that is not contained in federal public-access
repositories. Journal readers will continue to seek access through
their personal or library subscription to the full journal content."

Nothing magical about this. Only simple principles of access to
information and knowledge processing. It might even increase the
attractiveness of academic fields as the general public gets to see
science in action. For instance, Scientific American's subscriptions
would likely go up as people get increasingly motivated about looking
for information themselves. Not to mention that open access would
benefit international and interdisciplinary contacts which would, in
themselves, decrease the "Ivory Tower" impression of academia from the
so-called "general public."

We all seem to agree that sharing information to grow public knowledge
is a worthy goal. As professors, teachers, authors, and writers, we
not only disseminate information but "add value to information" by
training people (co-workers, readers, television viewers, students,
policy makers, etc.) to gain as much as they can from the academic
literature. We do react strongly when secondary publications
misinterpret our results but the move to Open Access makes these
misinterpretations less likely and, more importantly, less damaging.
Here's an interesting blog entry about such issues, from the point of
view of linguistics:

What I like in all of this discussion is that we are focusing on the
positive effects of the new structure which is being set up, thanks in
large part to advances in information technology. Not that the shift
is really revolutionary (as we maintain the same ideals as to the
value of academic research), but the possible outcomes are quite
far-reaching and compatible with any academic endeavour.

Let's keep up the good work as a friendly community of public intellectuals!

Alexandre Enkerli, Part-Time Faculty
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Concordia University
Received on Tue Jan 30 2007 - 02:07:43 GMT

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