Open Science: Too Much Talk, Too Little Action [Lessons For Political Opposition]

Open Science: Too Much Talk, Too Little Action by Björn Brembs.

From the post:

Starting this year, I will stop traveling to any speaking engagements on open science (or, more generally, infrastructure reform), as long as these events do not entail a clear goal for action. I have several reasons for this decision, most of them boil down to a cost/benefit estimate. The time spent traveling does not seem worth the hardly noticeable benefits any more.

I got involved in Open Science more than 10 years ago. Trying to document the point when it all started for me, I found posts about funding all over my blog, but the first blog posts on publishing were from 2005/2006, the announcement of me joining the editorial board of newly founded PLoS ONE late 2006 and my first post on the impact factor in 2007. That year also saw my first post on how our funding and publishing system may contribute to scientific misconduct.

In an interview on the occasion of PLoS ONE’s ten-year anniversary, PLoS mentioned that they thought the publishing landscape had changed a lot in these ten years. I replied that, looking back ten years, not a whole lot had actually changed:

  • Publishing is still dominated by the main publishers which keep increasing their profit margins, sucking the public teat dry
  • Most of our work is still behind paywalls
  • You won’t get a job unless you publish in high-ranking journals.
  • Higher ranking journals still publish less reliable science, contributing to potential replication issues
  • The increase in number of journals is still exponential
  • Libraries are still told by their faculty that subscriptions are important
  • The digital functionality of our literature is still laughable
  • There are no institutional solutions to sustainably archive and make accessible our narratives other than text, or our code or our data

The only difference in the last few years really lies in the fraction of available articles, but that remains a small minority, less than 30% total.

So the work that still needs to be done is exactly the same as it was at the time Stevan Harnad published his “Subversive Proposal” , 23 years ago: getting rid of paywalls. This goal won’t be reached until all institutions have stopped renewing their subscriptions. As I don’t know of a single institution without any subscriptions, that task remains just as big now as it was 23 years ago. Noticeable progress has only been on the margins and potentially in people’s heads. Indeed, now only few scholars haven’t heard of “Open Access”, yet, but apparently without grasping the issues, as my librarian colleagues keep reminding me that their faculty believe open access has already been achieved because they can access everything from the computer in their institute.

What needs to be said about our infrastructure has been said, both in person, and online, and in print, and on audio, and on video. Those competent individuals at our institutions who make infrastructure decisions hence know enough to be able to make their rational choices. Obviously, if after 23 years of talking about infrastructure reform, this is the state we’re in, our approach wasn’t very effective and my contribution is clearly completely negligible, if at all existent. There is absolutely no loss if I stop trying to tell people what they already should know. After all, the main content of my talks has barely changed in the last eight or so years. Only more recent evidence has been added and my conclusions have become more radical, i.e., trying to tackle the radix (Latin: root) of the problem, rather than palliatively care for some tangential symptoms.

The line:

What needs to be said about our infrastructure has been said, both in person, and online, and in print, and on audio, and on video.

is especially relevant in light of the 2016 presidential election and the fund raising efforts of organizations that form the “political opposition.”

You have seen the ads in email, on Facebook, Twitter, etc., all pleading for funding to oppose the current US President.

I agree the current US President should be opposed.

But the organizations seeking funding failed to stop his rise to power.

Whether their failure was due to organizational defects or poor strategies is really beside the point. They failed.

Why should I enable them to fail again?

One data point, the Women’s March on Washington was NOT organized by organizations with permanents staff and offices in Washington or elsewhere.

Is your contribution supporting staffs and offices of the self-righteous (the primary function of old line organizations) or investigation, research, reporting and support of boots on the ground?

Government excesses are not stopped by bewailing our losses but by making government agents bewail theirs.

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