Open access to publicly-funded knowledge

Seattle Public Library

Image credit: Flickr,wheelo50411

I’ve been thinking a lot about the academic journal industry lately, inspired not least by Prof Jason Baird Jackson’s blog posts from a perspective of American Anthropology. I’ve also been inspired by the news that the Ordinance Survey in the UK is to make its maps available for free.

If the public pays for researchers to produce academic articles, why should the public pay a second time over for research libraries to buy back those articles? And a third time in paying the wages of those same academics when they work for ‘free’ editing commercial scholarly journals?

If the Ordinance Survey did what universities do, they’d give their maps away for nothing to Wiley or Blackwells or Routledge, second their staff to edit them for free, then buy them back at extortionate rates just to put them back on their own shelves. Yet when academics do this, everyone seems to think it’s reasonable or at least inevitable. Why?

I’ll write more on this but for now a couple of thoughts:

  1. How is this not a profiteering exercise? Answers on a postcard, please.
  2. Is this profiteering (if that’s what it is) not a very temporary situation, which will be/ is already being made obsolete by converging technologies of knowledge sharing?
  3. Doesn’t the opposition to such practices sometimes go beyond the perfectly reasonable claim that private firms are making money from free labour, and veer towards the possibly less reasonable claim that academia should keep its hands clean of involvement with the ‘for profit’ sector’? Or is it just me?
  4. Oh and doesn’t fake tilt-shift photography look good?

Read more about open access and GM technology.

6 thoughts on “Open access to publicly-funded knowledge

  1. Thank you for your interest in my essay on enclosure and scholarly communications. Regarding your query #3, I would stress a point that I made in discussion elsewhere. They essay was written on a wonderful laptop computer made by a for-profit firm and sold to my university. I sat in a great office chair when writing it. Debating bigger economic questions is worth doing, but my focus in this instance was limited to the conflicts of interest and misalignments found in the scholarly communications system today. Since I was criticized for muddying the waters relative to the open access movement, I can also reiterate that I am an open access advocate, but that this is not my only concern and that media consolidation and processes of corporate enclosure are also important to me and that they were my primary concern in that essay. Thanks again for your interest.

    1. Agreed! My point is that supporters of Open Access are often doing so from a more basic position of Egalitarianism, which is not universally held. Antipathy to this perceived Egalitarianism then masks the good reasons for open access. One possible solution to this is to make the point, as I think you have done, that well before it is a matter of some supposed free-information Utopia, it is, more simply, about rewarding academics appropriately for their work and not exploiting them.

  2. A collaborator of mine is very involved in working (empirically, theoretically and as an activist) in the territory to which you point–getting beyond the “information wants to be free” vs. hegemonic+harmonized global IP system binary. Both positions are universalist and hostile to such things as indigenous rights and cultural diversity. Her name is Kimberly Christen and you can find her work on her website, Long Road. Thanks for the good discussion.

  3. Under Open Access philosophy, Redalyc aims to contribute to the editorial scientific activity produced in and about Ibero-America making available for public consultation the contents of 550 scientific journals of different knowledge areas:

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