Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Slowing down to protect the incumbents - or speeding up to protect the earth?

In this February's issue of the SPARC Open Access Newsletter, Peter Suber discusses some analogies between open access and clean energy.

One of Peter's discussion points is the issue of whether to slow down to protect the incumbents; in the case of clean energy, this would mean continuing to support environmentally harmful energy industries when clean ones are available, just because the incumbents are there; in the case of open access, this means slowing down to protect the interests of the existing publishing industry - interests which are not synonymous with the interests of scholarship, or of the public at large.

Peter raises some interesting points. My own take on the relationship between open access and clean energy: we need breakthrough research to move to clean energy, on several fronts - the hard science, economics, and social sciences research as change requires changes in attitudes and behavior. This is an urgent matter - we are running out of the old energy resources, and in trouble if we do not address global warming - and because it is an urgent matter, we need innovation in scholarship. We need our scholars to focus on innovating towards the breakthroughs - this means sharing results as early and as widely as possible. The kind of rapid transformation that led to mapping of the human genome in such a short time involved open sharing of information and a collaborative approach. This is exactly what we need to move to clean, renewal energy resources. This means that we need to rethink things like academic tenure and promotion processes; while academic traditions, in my opinion, have a great deal of merit, we cannot currently afford the luxury of taking significant time to consider change. We need to figure out how scholars can be supported to advance our knowledge in these areas in the ways that will lead to the most rapid possible change - not holding back knowledge to publish in the most prestigious journal possible.