I’ve been working up to a rant on twitter lately about Open Access, as the Access2Research petition’s first week drew to a close (sign it).
The usual suspects are making the usual arguments - OA will dictate where scientists have to publish, OA will kill peer review, and most offensively to me, science is too complex for us unwashed liberal arts heathens to possibly understand, so no good will come of access.
But science is a place where we keep out the unwashed masses. We no longer credential computer scientists (well, universities churn them out, but your credentials on github matter a lot more to savvy programmers than a CS degree from a state university - you’d be better served majoring in something fun and checking in code to open source projects).
Has innovation in computer science been a problem? [crickets chirping]
Basically every knowledge based discipline that runs on digital content has been transformed. Software. Journalism. Music. Video. And you can track the innovation patterns of each one based on the level of control that institutions maintain.
Note: not all innovation is useful - most of it is shit - so part of my argument is that radically increasing the rate of *all* innovation is the best mathematically certain way to increase the rate of *useful* innovation. It’s like art. Most art sucks. But if enough people make art, then even if the rate of awesome artists doesn’t improve, making more people overall be artists means more awesome art.
That’s what’s happened in software. More people make it. That means more shit software. We just don’t use it (ever browse the Android app store’s dregs? Sheesh). It’s happening in journalism, whose business model turned out to be based on classified advertising and got eaten by Craigslist, the ugliest website on earth. It’s happening in music, where Apple ate the music industry’s lunch, where artists can raise a million dollars on Kickstarter just as their old labels go bankrupt.
But science isn’t like that. Science is a lot more like the cable industry. Comcast and a few behemoths control the last mile of the internet to most houses, and so we don’t even realize the world we live in is radically limited. Internet in the US is so bad compared to so much of the world and we don’t even see it. Toll access publishers of science are just like Comcast. They want to control the last mile.
And scientists who buy into the argument that those of us in our houses, lacking credentials to understand their science, are perpetuating a knowledge lockup. They’re on the wrong side of history.
You see, it does not matter if 999 of the 1000 people who read an open access article, who might not otherwise have been allowed to read it without paying $50, fail to understand it, believe they have disproved the second law of thermodynamics, etc. It matters that the one person does read and understand is provided access.
Because then, in that moment, we’ve created a scientist - or at least the makings of one. And the only people that threatens are those counting on their credentials to keep them competitive, or profitable, or employed. Since I’m none of those three it’s pretty easy to support open access.