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The Philosophy of Open Access

The

The Philosophy of Open Access


It’s fair to say that most who know about Open Access (OA) in reasonable detail will be aware of the name Professor Peter Suber.




“I work for the free circulation of science and scholarship in every field and language. In practice that means research, writing, organizing, and pro bono consulting for open access to research. I wear several hats: Director of the Harvard Open Access Project, Faculty Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Senior Researcher at SPARC, Open Access Project Director at Public Knowledge, and Research Professor of Philosophy at Earlham College”.

Suber was written a handful of books, the most recent is simply entitled “Open Access” (MIT Press, June 2012). The book will become OA (CC-BY) one year after publication. Over the years, he has done a large number of talks/presentations and a small number of interviews. The most recent was with Christopher Kenneally of the Copyright Clearance Centre which was uploaded as a podcast earlier this week. The interview lasts 26 minutes and is most certainly worth a listen in full.


In contrast to previous interviews, this one covers in some detail the philosophy of OA. If you don’t have time to listen to it in full, here are some of the highlights.


Peter Suber

Suber describes how he became, as he puts it, “the expert” in OA "...And for the first two years of the newsletter’s existence, I kept saying to myself, somebody else should do this. I’m just a philosopher who’s excited by this potential, I’m not an expert. Then I realized nobody’s an expert, this is something that’s brand new. And after about two years, I realized I had become the expert that I was waiting for”.


When discussing the “Access” part of OA, in response to Christopher’s question of “So the revolution really is in access”, Suber responded with “That’s right. It’s free of charge for everyone with an Internet connection. It’s not our job to make sure everybody has an Internet connection; other people are taking care of that one. We’re making it available to those. It’s like broadcasting something for free on television or radio. You’re making it freely available for those who have the right equipment”.


Also worth a mention is Peter Suber’s extensive “Guide to Philosophy on the Internet”.


Spinning back to the start, Suber was asked, what the Philosophy behind OA was? His short but poignant response was:

The basic idea is to make work, scholarly work, available free of charge and free of usage restrictions online, preferably from the moment of birth”.

This pre-dates the BOAI definition in 2002 of OA which reads:

"By ‘open access’ to [scholarly] literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself."

Spinning further back in this interview, in response to the question “What did you imagine you were getting involved with?”, Suber said:

“At the time, I didn’t really know. I was a professor of philosophy when the World Wide Web came along, and I had a history of print publications, and I started putting them into HTML and putting them online, mostly to play with HTML, I have to admit. But I didn’t know exactly what the effect of this would be. I thought the Internet was very cool, I thought the Web was very cool, and I wanted to play with it, but I didn’t think of it at that time as a medium for serious scholarship”. “When I light my candle from yours, I gain from you without subtracting from you. That’s what sharing knowledge is like”. Suber paraphrases a famous quote by Thomas Jefferson.

Suber continues:

“Digital text is non-rivalrous the same way knowledge is, and so for the very first time in history, we can record knowledge in precise symbols or sounds or images or text without reducing it to a rivalrous commodity that we have to share, that we have to take turns when sharing. So we can finally make the record of knowledge as free as knowledge itself. And if we don’t take advantage of that, something is wrong with us”.

To conclude this interview from a Citizen/Open Science point of view, when asked about members of the public seeking access to such knowledge, Suber said:

“When the National Library of Medicine made its content open access in the last decade, usage went up more than a hundredfold. It was already digital, it was already online, but it was behind a price wall. And when it became free, usage went up a hundredfold, showing that there was a mountain of unmet demand, and studies have shown that a huge percentage, maybe 40%, comes from non-.edu domains. That is, these are lay-readers who have been waiting to get access”.

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