Friday, January 15, 2010

The peculiar practice of democracy? in America

The neighbours down south are a little hard to figure out sometimes. Recent consultations on open access policy are a great example. While the Office of Science and Technology Policy consultations on public access policy are a veritable model of openness and democracy, the secretive and undemocratic nature of the deliberations of the House and Science Committee read like a scene from C. Wright Mills' "The Power Elites".

My submissions to the OSTP are openly posted, as usual, on IJPE. The only thing I have to add here is applause for this completely open process; anyone can participate, and everyone can see all of the comments.

The House Science Committee is another story. A small group of 14 individual "experts" was selected in a secret fashion, and conducted meetings in secret. Much is being made of the "consensus" of 12 of the 14 individuals. There are a few librarians among this group; but what about the rest of the librarians in America? Why not invite the major library associations to select a representative, for example? Why have a group meeting to decide on the future of scholar publications - with no scholars invited to participate?

For the record, as someone who is considered an expert on scholarly communication (I have published a book on the topic, and developed and taught a course on scholarly communication), while I appreciate the group's support for free access, there are some points in the report that I strongly disagree with. For example, it is inappropriate for a group of librarians, publishers, and university administrators to make a decision that there needs to be a "Version of Record" for scholarship; this is a decision that only scholars can make. There are areas in scholarship where multiple versions of documents are the norm; for example, in both physics and economics, it is very common to post preprints or working papers. My own perspective is that there are advantages to having multiple versions. For example, having different versions presents advantages for preservation purposes (if one version does not survive, the other might). If authors are concerned about consequences of posting preprints with errors, then they can wait for peer review and post corrected versions.

For links to the report of the House Science Committee and Peter Suber's comments, see: