Not actually about open access

While following AHA tweets, I found the text and slides from a lecture about open access journals (or, more specifically, the OA movement, its implications, and discourse). The contents overall seemed sensible: OA has potential benefits and costs, and they should all be considered when discussing publishing models.

I am generally informed, but by no means deeply knowledgeable, about academic journal publishing. I have a sense of the debates, pressures on library budgets, and so forth. I’m not an academic, or an academic librarian, or involved in academic publishing. I don’t really have a dog in the fight, but I’m an animal lover so I’m quite interested in the outcome.

I thoroughly approve of the idea of finding data, analyzing it, and talking with stakeholders. My quibbles with the piece are either very minor or very fundamental, depending on one’s perspective. (Me? I consider them unrelated to the specific question of OA, but important for communication in general and particularly online, where you have people with varying backgrounds, expertise, and agendas engaging in conversation, and it can be tough to figure out who’s actually a dog, and whether it matters.) The tweet I saw (which I can’t find at the moment, so can’t quote directly) also called attention to the nature of the comments on the piece as a useful illustration of the problems of comment sections.

First up are the exhortations to avoid motivational and “poisoned well” arguments. In general, I do agree that good ideas can come from unexpected sources, and ineptitude in one area does not preclude expertise in another. But some wells are pretty damn poisonous. How likely is it that a “miserable person of ill will” will contribute meaningfully and constructively to a debate if they have a track record to the contrary? Some people (let’s just call them trolls, although that risks underplaying their toxicity) should just be ignored, screened, or dismissed as quickly as possible. Otherwise, important conversations get derailed, hijacked or contaminated. In an ideal world, this would never be the case. In an almost-ideal world, it’s a corner case. But it’s still a case to be reckoned with.

The second thing is the use of the word “rational.” No, I’m not actually going to do a close reading of the article and discuss the placement of every comma, largely because my point isn’t about the article or OA. But “rational” is one of those words that makes me sit up and pay attention. This is partially due to the fact that I’m part of the fifty-ish percent of the population in possession of a uterus, and therefore at somewhat higher risk of being deemed irrational, hysterical, etc.

“Rational” is a word that I associate with clear thinking, intelligence, analysis, and numerous other positive attributes. But I’ve also seen it wielded as a weapon in arguments where the goalposts shift, some nits are picked while others are dismissed, ‘splaining occurs, and early exposure to Atlas Shrugged is the basis for expertise in every conceivable discipline. I’m not about to cede the word “rational”…but I am going to pay attention to the context in which it is used.

And that is why, despite largely agreeing with the Anderson’s approach to examining the costs and benefits of open access publishing, I harbor doubts about the advisability of some of his conversational goals.