The “One Size Fits All” Problem in Debate

You-Keep-Using-That-Word_Literallya reply to “Academics: Ask not what Open Access can do for you, but what it can do for your disciplines” in LSE Impact of Social Science blog, by Samuel Moore (PhD candidate at Kings College London studying Open Access in the humanities, and managing editor at Ubiquity Press). 

There seem to be problematic assumptions here, as suggested by the rhetorical construction of this article. Consider the premise:

many humanities researchers have reacted angrily to RCUK’s approach of mandating Open Access….As Open Access advocates we therefore need to be using this time to stimulate discussion among the detractors and non-engagers

so apparently a thing called ‘Open Access’ has arrived, via the UK government’s mandate, and some of the thereby angered humanities scholars are now “detractors and non-engagers.”

But “Open Access” isn’t something that came down from heaven, like the speed of light or scripture. It’s an at-least 20-year old body of arguments and practices, without a single or settled definition or consensus, which humanists have helped to shape, and debated, all along. RCUK interpreted this to create a particular policy, and did so in a way which observably reflects primary influences of positions from the natural and biomedical sciences, and the incumbent publishing industry.

To present those who raise objections as “detractors and non-engagers”, or as others often do, “anti-OA,” implies that those raising objections are not Open Access advocates, and their views are merely resistant or uninformed; not that they could be articulating or pointing to legitimate, alternate approaches. While you talk about “engaging” academics on this issue, actually you frame the discussion in a way that tends to marginalize and invalidate their differing views, thus disengaging.

Lastly, you say this approach will “allow us to challenge the dogmatic…assertion that ‘one size does not fit all.’” I’m not sure why a discussion of Open Access needs to or could take on the (impossible) task of generally disproving a common saying, any saying; but in any case, wouldn’t the result be to assert “one size does fit all”? Wouldn’t that be exactly the sort of maxim that would incline people to dogmatism, and failing to consider alternate views?

If I have to pick between one size fitting all, and one size not fitting all, I’m going to pick the latter; as should, I’d suggest, anyone who thinks our understanding is provisional and evolving — all scientists and scholars, for example.

Tim McCormick
@tmccormick Palo Alto, CA, USA