This week was a revolutionary week in the sciences—not because we discovered a new fundamental particle or had a new breakthrough in quantum computing—but because some of the most prominent world leaders announced an initiative which asserts that European scientific papers should be made freely available to all by 2020.
This would legally only impact research supported by public and public-private funds, which are a vast portion of the papers produced annually; however, the goal is to make all science freely available. Ultimately, the commitment rests on three main tenets: “Sharing knowledge freely,” “open access,” and “reusing research data.”
- Academic publishers are grotesque rentiers for the most part. Just awful. It’s embarrassing that we don’t fix this problem.
- Most open access stuff doesn’t fix this problem. Instead we have NEW classes of rentiers and scammers cropping up. Now every individual author has to keep an eye on which of the new pay to play journals are real and which aren’t. Individual authors have to find cash to pay the open access fee <–TYPICALLY PURE RENT!!! Ridiculous.
- I’m inclined to think that we’re pretty much solving a non-problem. Most people in places with richish universities can get access one way or another (most universities I’ve been affiliated with have community memberships). Most people don’t use most papers and, more importantly, most papers don’t get used.I don’t see the same push for open access monographs and textbooks by the funding agencies. The latter is a particular disgraces that hits millions of people every semester.
- It does solve one real problem: Access for people around poor universities. That’s a big deal and good show.
- It does nothing to solve the over-publication and publication bias problems. Nor does it help with reproducibility.
“But the public paid for the research, they should have access to it.” If we’re going down this route then Universities should take out no patents, open source all their software, and businesses that get any public money should release their stuff for free. It’s a coherent position, but it’s nowhere the general policy nor is this a step toward it. Heck, cf monographs. It feels like a lot of lip service, but more disruption for disruption’s sake.
Shorten the term of copyright and you’ll have a bigger impact. Easier to administer too, in a lot of ways. Never going to happen!
4 is important though. That probably balances everything else.