Open Access and Self-Destructive Acts (edited rant repost)

Open access to research funded by the U. S. Government at any level is not really a matter of debate any longer. What we are witnessing with attempts to head off open access may be a DMCA-like act of desperation. In any case, the behaviour of citizens, whatever they do for a living, has changed as they interact with increasingly democratcized channels of information distribution over time. The trend is obvious and resistance is indeed futile. This much is plain and I believe we all agree on the ubiquity of the conversion of these cultural artifacts to digital form.

What we don't agree on is the right of last year's concessionaire to be this year's gatekeeper. Certainly a graceful segue into a different business model is the proper solution, but at whose expense?

As we see in the courts, it will be many years before we see a political body that is prepared and knowledgeable in issues of advancing science and technology. Perhaps it is naive of me to think people who are afraid of the future and unwilling to adapt should admit it. Delaying tactics appear to be the order of the day.

I don't want to draw inappropriate parallels, but look at the way Al Gore was treated publicly over his advocacy on global climate change. You have a situation where a long-term trend is recognized by people you pay to research stuff you don't have the inclination to learn, then ignore what they have to say - or - "Decide for Yourself" the immortal motto at Fox News. Obviously the journal publishing industry has a long way to go before they throw money to the think tank prostitution industry the way ExxonMobil does but it's worth considering. Are we indulging in self-destructive acts?

There is evidence that humans will need every single minute available to them in order to learn to deal with earth's changing systems. Delay in this case (global warming) may end up causing irreparable damage to civilization. Delay in the case of open access holds the potential of hindering the movement of information to places we never foresaw, preventing developments we never imagined.

Some of this perspective comes from attending the open access symposium at the 2005 AAAS meeting in Washington, some from watching what the Department of Energy and others such as Deep Web Technologies, think about the future of collaborative research over the last few years, and some from observing the evolution of knowledge systems online.

I'll admit to being unscientific and indulging in advocacy as well but I have students who need need new systems in place for learning and for advancing knowledge. Not tomorrow, but today.