The rise of the internet may have created our current predicament, but the people who populate the internet can help us get out of it. Next time you go back and forth with someone over a controversial issue online, stick to facts with good sources, and engage in open dialogue. Most importantly, be nice. You may end up being a small part of the process whereby information chaos becomes knowledge.
There’s a conflict, a tension, an inherent contradiction in the open access movement, and while it could be resolved, that seems increasingly unlikely.
The inconsistency goes like this: the shift to open access publishing started idealistically, with enthusiasm and pressure from the grassroots. The business model for disseminating scientific results would be changed. Instead of putting research into journals that were expensive and exclusive, we would make articles available for free. No charge at all. Ready to be downloaded by anyone with an internet connection.
Shaking in their boots
We developed more and more arguments for open access — not just solidarity with colleagues in poorer countries, but also the (im)morality of paying first for research to be done (through salaries) and then for the articles to be reviewed and edited (through volunteer work for journals) and then paying once again to be able to read them (through subscriptions). Add to this the monopolistic price gouging of the biggest publishers, whose profit rates exceed those of oil companies, and change seemed inevitable.
Wall Street analysts say open access has failed, but their analysis might help us succeed. If we dare.
Some of these arguments worked. Gradually, research councils pulled themselves over the gunwales and got onboard. Governments articulated policies. Universities gave their researchers a nudge.
The publishers started to shake in their boots. They really did. They got worried.
But then they got over it.
And this is where the other side of the inconsistency comes into play. The tension in the movement is that its idealistic and anarchistic origins are in conflict with what is needed for success, namely a clear message articulated by visible and visionary leadership.