Reflections on COVID-19 and open access, March 23, 2020:
The need to address common problems affecting all or much of humanity is one of the compelling reasons for open access. Given major issues of concern today, particularly climate change (and the short-term need to focus on the current pandemic), this makes OA, along with open data and other innovations in scholarly communication, urgent.
The immediate need is to open up access to scholarly material and data that is directly relevant to the epidemic, as well as to freely share cultural materials that will help people cope with social isolation. Many of my colleagues are already doing this. Thank you!
In my opinion, the best time to have a broader advocacy-oriented conversation for the public at large will be in a few months (except in countries like China and South Korea that are ahead in addressing the pandemic). This is because the immediate focus for most of us needs to be slowing the pandemic (flattening the curve) to avoid overwhelming health systems as much as possible, address shortages of medical equipment and supplies, and to allow time for research on treatments and development of vaccines. People in my country are undergoing unprecedented massive social change in a short period of time. Collectively, we need time to grasp that this really is serious, learn about the illness, how to prevent and deal with it, and adjust to the need for social distancing and isolation.
For the benefit of colleagues in the OA movement, following are copies of 2 posts that I wrote on this subject on The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics (in 2007, and 2012), with some links (that I haven’t checked).
Jim Till’s post on Open Access Science and Science Policy on Be Openly Accessible or Be Obscure, nicely sums up one of the most important reasons why we need open access.
The most rapid advances in science come with open sharing of information, and collaboration. That is how the world’s scientists accomplished the mapping of a human genome in a matter of years. If traditional publishing practices had been followed instead of open sharing, it seems likely that mapping the human genome would have taken decades, if not centuries.
Our world shares some issues on a global basis; some of these are, or will become, urgent. One example is global warming; surely this needs the kind of open sharing and focus on the problem that went into the human genome project.
Another example is bird flu. The more our neighbours know about viruses, the better equipped they are for early identification and dealing with an epidemic, the lesser the chances that the epidemic will arrive at our shores.
We will save money with an open scholarly communications system, as preventing people from reading has significant costs. However, even if it did cost more, the question would not be how could we afford OA, but rather how could we not.
One of the benefits of open access is accelerating discovery. This benefit is most evident with libre open access (allowing for re-use and machine assistance via text and data mining), and particularly in evidence with little or no delay from time of discovery to time of sharing of work.
There are always many reasons for accelerating discovery – here are just a few examples of why we need full, immediate, libre, OA, and why we need it NOW:
Multiple drug resistance: we have developed a range of drugs that has worked for us in the past few decades to combat bacteria, tuberculosis, and other diseases. Now we are seeing increasing levels of resistance to antibiotics and others drugs, including anti-malarial drugs. Maintaining the health gains of the past few decades will take more than continuing with current solutions; we need more research, and the faster we can do this, the better the odds of staving off the next epidemic.
Another example of why we need to accelerate discovery, and we need to move to accelerated discovery fast, is the need to find solutions to climate change and cleaner, more efficient energy. We literally cannot afford to wait.
So as much as some of us might wish to give current scholarly publishers time to adjust to a full libre open access environment, this is a luxury that we cannot afford.
These examples of acceleration will likely provide new business opportunities, too. If this happens, it is a welcome, albeit secondary, benefit.