Informing public access to peer reviewed scholarly publications and data resulting from publicly funded research

January 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

The US government (OSTP) has recently issued Requests for Information on Open Access to data resulting from publicly funded research. The deadline for responding to the RFI has been extended to January 12.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/12/21/extended-deadline-public-access-and-digital-data-rfis

Detailed responses are openly available for collaborative editing and signing, here:

For digital data – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1QA1eGBynqh-yN0bo3_nYzD3d26nEhvuVPMUR2ffi17o/edit?hl=en_US

For peer reviewed scholarly publications – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1vEcWqAz6bwIIR6qQqWZYc8iUBrOpJ9NrvC9HiiQMc2Y/edit?hl=en_US

Please take time to respond, either via the above responses or directly to the OSTP.

Consider the gold rush upon which expanding colonisation of America so successfully relied; why did people care about gold that much? why did they go to such great lengths to traverse the wilds and dig it up, risking or losing their lives in the process? Of course, the answer is because it was highly valued – and the reason it was so highly valued was precisely because it is so hard and risky to come by.

Controlling access to a resource is a common way to generate profit; because gold is inherently hard to access, it is a good basis for an economy. Similarly, all sorts of materials that are found to have desirable properties become valuable, usually as a function of their desirability in relation to accessibility.

Digital artefacts, however, are very easy to copy and distribute. In cases where an industry has grown up around the distribution of a product that has become digitally easy to copy and share, efforts have been made to artificially maintain that difficulty via the application of the concept of digital piracy.

If gold were easy to find, easy to copy, easy to distribute – would it help if we made it poisonous?

Encumbering digital artefacts with artificial accessibility restrictions does not make them hard to find, copy, or distribute – it just makes them needlessly complicated.

The traditional increase desirability / decrease accessibility paradigm does not readily apply to digital artefacts. Fortunately, the problem of profiting from them has been solved, and solved often; they are regularly purchased or consumed via profitable services on the basis of convenience or improved user experience. In such cases, open access to a resource facilitates building a useful (or at least desirable or fashionable) service – consider Google, Facebook, Youtube, Spotify.

The case of publicly funded scholarly output is further complicated by the fact that accessibility is inherent to desirability – the point is to build on what we learn, and we cannot do that if we cannot access it. Achieving anything with these artefacts – discovering, sharing, learning, communicating, archiving, profiting – is best done in the ideal environment where they are easy to find, copy, distribute – and are not poisonous.

We need open access, not restricted access.

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