Is the definition of Open Access closed? leaders debate language strategy

cover_natureNature magazine published a special issue “The future of publishing: a new page” 27 March 2013. The next day, Cameron Neylon published a Comment, “Let’s get this straight: Open-access terminology needs to be employed accurately“), in Times Higher Education.

This is a “storify” or gathering of an extended conversation on Twitter, referencing the issue and article above, between me and a number of leading advocates of and commentators on  Open Access publishing:

I. Conversation archive
II.  Afterword:  proposing “Collaborative Advocacy”
III. Followup conversation (added 31 Mar)


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Intelligibility and public scholarship: the problem with research

I commented on the article “Open access for the people” by Stephen Curry in The Guardian, March 20, 2012.


thanks, excellent article. I agree that intelligibility & translation for many audiences might usefully be considered part of “open access” in a broad sense. Personally, I’m especially interested in ways to do this through social media, possibly supported by algorithmic, crowdsourced, or peersourced summaries & extractions.

I’d like though to suggest a slightly broader context to the basic premise:

“Open access publishing is making the research literature freely available to the public….the primary function of the research literature is to facilitate and formalise the exchange of information between experts in a particular field.”

I’d suggest this notion of “research” is perhaps an unduly particular notion of scholarship, associated with contemporary science. In that context, yes, publication may be indeed primarily directed at the small group of people who may be able/interested to specifically reproduce, build on, or evaluate the research result.

On the other hand, as you note, publication spreads research across boundaries. Scientific journals have always been in part about sharing results to a broader field — from their origin in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1665, to the most prestigious journals today such as Nature, Science, and Cell. In many fields now, exchange with experts in your particular field may be more likely occurring through more informal mechanisms than journals, such as preprint or data repositories, blogs, or mailing lists; and formal publication mainly a public, archival record.

Instead of “research” I think in some ways “scholarship” may be a more historically accurate and inclusive term, especially from the standpoint of non-scientific fields. In the words of the foundational Budapest Open Access Initiative declaration of 2002,

“The literature that should be freely accessible online is that which scholars give to the world without expectation of payment.”

This “literature” is not limited to science, or to journal/article content, and might well include “public scholarship” of various forms for various publics. Many social scientists and humanities scholars may and arguably should see broad publics as the audiences for their work, and there are not necessarily any insurmountable barriers of vocabulary or method or context required for broad audiences to engage with the work, unlike with most research science.

In my opinion, the use of the term “research” across all disciplines suggests a certain hegemony of scientific peer-review literature as the model and ideal of scholarship, one which posits specialists rather than publics as the audience. I believe fields outside of natural science, particularly, should question this model, and look to reclaim their rich history of — and greater potential for — broad public engagement.

Tim McCormick
Co-founder, Open Library of Humanities
@tmccormick / / Palo Alto, CA, USA

Featured in New York Times for Houselet ideas

18arieff-parking-blog427My explorations and writings about adapting urban parking spaces for housing were featured in a New York Times design article on October 19, 2012: “How Small Is Too Small?” by Allison Arieff.

“Most people see a parking space and promptly back up into it; Tim McCormick sees one and thinks, ‘I could live here.’

“Who would willingly choose to live in something with the footprint of a parking space (8x10x16 feet)? Millions already do, argues McCormick, a communications consultant: bedrooms, dorm rooms, motel rooms, hostels, mobile homes and the like. ‘I myself live comfortably in a converted one-car garage of 200 square feet,’ he says, “which allows me to live inexpensively near downtown in super-expensive Palo Alto.’

“In cities where space is at a mind-boggling premium, McCormick’s idea of taking up residence in a parking space — in what he refers to as a ‘Houselet’ — isn’t all that far-fetched. It may in fact be more appealing than the so-called ‘hacker hostels’ that got a lot of buzz earlier this summer. Essentially apartments that house herds of would-be startup entrepreneurs willing to pay market rate to live in near-migrant-worker conditions, hacker hostels are proliferating in cities like San Francisco and New York where work culture calls for 24/7 commitments and lots of food-truck takeout (which no doubt inspired upLIFT’s prefab parking pods for the city).


“’When you ask people to consider spaces smaller that what they’ve normalized to,’ says McCormick, ‘I think it tends to trigger elemental associations of constriction and claustrophobia. I think you have to find ways around all those acculturated and visceral reactions, and observe that we’re usually O.K. with that for certain times and purposes.’

“The Bay Area, suggests McCormick, could allow radical experimentation to occur ‘because we have the genius, the resources, the culture of innovation — and the need.’

“For now, that radical experimentation will have to wait for the likes of McCormick: The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has delayed its vote on decreased square footage until after the November election.”