There was a lot of activity around the topic of open access at this year’s Canadian Health Libraries Association / Association des bibliothèques de la santé du Canada Conference in Kingston, ON:
- Our new Open Access Interest Group had its first meeting,
- I got to give a talk about where we are with OA in 2010 and what this might mean for health librarians,
- and then there was this really fun keynote presented as a debate over OA.
While the interest group meeting and paper presentation are probably pretty much what one might have expected from such events, the debate merits some special discussion, and I finally have a minute in which to do so. The two presenters were Dr. Udo Schüklenk & Dr. Sergio Sismondo.
The conference blurb about the event states:
Like many others in the academy, Udo and Sergio, both philosophers at Queen’s University, hold considered views on the question of the ‘open access’ versus ‘subscription’ models in academic publishing. As it turns out, they find themselves on opposite sides of the spectrum. Sergio thinks that ‘open access’ is ultimately the way to go, while Udo thinks that the ‘open access’ business model is fatally flawed. Unlike Sergio, Udo carries the baggage of a serious conflict of interest, being the paid editor of a monthly subscription based journal. The two of them have engaged in vigorous debates about the pros and cons of both models on various occasions. During our conference they will put their respective cases to the audience test. Each of them will talk for about 15 min, with a 5 min slot for a rejoinder available to both. Afterwards we will open up the debate to the floor. (emphasis mine)
The debate was lively and jovial, with this clearly not being the first time this pair had engaged in verbal sparring. Neither speaker hailed from a health or library background, and both said things that caused the audience to gasp audibly (e.g., the moment in which Udo said he couldn’t imagine why anyone would ever read the journal Social Science & Medicine!). More significantly, neither demonstrated a clear understanding of the distinction between access models and business models.
As Sergio identified from the start, Udo was intended to wear the “black hat” in the debate. Sergio made pro-OA arguments that might be considered overblown, advocating for the “OA system.” (Not sure what the “OA system” is…perhaps this is like the “gay agenda”?)
Udo, on the other hand, gamely played staunch defender of the possibly-dying print journal (and pointing to the recent JAMA article-revision kerfuffle as rationale), conflating OA with online publishing.
Both debaters tried to pin journals’ ethical transgressions on their access models. While both gentlemen were clearly experts in philosophical-ethical issues, it was evident that they were not experts in scholarly publishing, as they seemed unaware of initiatives such as LOCKSS as well as disciplinary trends in citation behaviour.
When the floor was opened up to the audience, I joined a few others in scampering up to the microphones. It was not long before Sergio had to concede that, no, OA will not change anything other than access. A moment later, Udo had to admit that not only would OA improve access, but he (the alleged anti-OA debater) archived all his publications under “green” OA.
And thus, our “OA debate” was suddenly revealed as a green OA vs gold OA debate.
I started this post claiming that the “OA Debate” at CHLA/ABSC 2010 was not about OA at all. Upon reflection, that’s not true. It was about OA, just not in the way we all expected. It was about how far we’ve come in the past decade+, that nowadays an OA debate is not about “whether OA” but rather “how OA.” Pretty awesome that “opposite ends of the spectrum” can now mean “believing in different OA futures.”
Thank you to all the OA movers & shakers who have been working on this issue since before I even knew it existed.