Here is the text of the petition:
WE PETITION THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO:
Require free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research.
We believe in the power of the Internet to foster innovation, research, and education. Requiring the published results of taxpayer-funded research to be posted on the Internet in human and machine readable form would provide access to patients and caregivers, students and their teachers, researchers, entrepreneurs, and other taxpayers who paid for the research. Expanding access would speed the research process and increase the return on our investment in scientific research.
The highly successful Public Access Policy of the National Institutes of Health proves that this can be done without disrupting the research process, and we urge President Obama to act now to implement open access policies for all federal agencies that fund scientific research.
To sign, or not to sign? that is the question. But isn’t the answer obvious? I don’t think it is.
You might get immediate results by promising too much, but you’ll reap what you sow. The question of whether to sign the petition turns on whether the petition is over-promising. I think it’s at the very least over-simplifying things.
There are two claims that I think have crossed the line into over-promising. First:
[Open Access] would provide access to patients and caregivers, students and their teachers, researchers, entrepreneurs, and other taxpayers who paid for the research.
Well, in one sense of the word ‘access’ this is obviously true. Provided internet access, non-academics would obviously be able to access research that’s available via Open Access. But given the specialized character of most research today, true accessibility — in the sense of being able to understand the research — will still be available only to the few. If we want to argue for Open Access by claiming that taxpayers deserve access to research they’ve paid for, then we’ll have to take this point seriously.
Expanding access would speed the research process and increase the return on our investment in scientific research.
I don’t think it’s over-promising to claim that Open Access will speed research. I think it probably will do so, although I also think it’s likely to lead to some research moving in the direction of breadth over depth — something that anyone who values only specialization would interpret as impeding the pace of research. But the claim that Open Access will increase the return on our investment in science is really quite dangerous. It’s not just a matter of showing me the proof for this claim (which I don’t think exists). If Open Access is mandated on these grounds, it will only be a matter of time before Congress demands that we show them the money.
Here’s a Storified discussion of the issue on Twitter.
I support the idea of Open Access. I try to make my research accessible both on UNT’s institutional repository and on my own site. I also strive hard to make sure my research is connected with those who might benefit from it. I think all researchers should do the same. But I
won’t MAY WELL sign this petition AFTER ALL.
THIS IS AN UPDATE ON JUNE 2.
So, as I said in the comments, below, I’ve be reconsidering my decision not to sign the petition. Here’s why.
First, simply from a pragmatic point of view, I agree with Stephen that it’s simply too late to reword the petition. I went to the We the People site yesterday, and I saw at least three (maybe more) petitions asking for an apology for calling Nazi death camps in Poland ‘Polish death camps’. This obviously deserves an apology, but it’s less likely to get one via petition simply because there’s more than one.
Second, I may be letting the perfect (or the better) be the enemy of the good in this case. That is, just because I would’ve worded the petition differently, does that mean I shouldn’t sign it? I actually think that I’ve got a different idea of what it means to promise a return on the taxpayers’ investments in research — an idea that entails addressing to specific societal problems. My idea has a lot less to do with money and a lot more to do with the value of research (measured in terms of something like broader impact). Making research more easily available can’t guarantee that sort of impact. But maybe it can help.
Finally, I’ve done some reading around in the OA community and have been interacting with several members of that community on Twitter. One thing that’s really interesting to me is that they disagree with each other. A lot. The most recent evidence for this was contained in today’s SPARC Open Access Newsletter. Peter Suber goes through the history of libre OA in some detail, and there’s an interesting point at which he says, basically, we don’t all agree about this. He then links to all sorts of dissenting blogs. I really appreciated that. Even more, though, I appreciate the fact that I can’t seem to find anyone in the OA community who’s not on board with the petition. If thoughtful, intelligent people who often disagree with one another can all get behind something and work together for the same end, then there’s probably something worthy of support there.
So, I’ll likely sign the petition, despite my reservations. And I’m happy to have been going through this period of working through my thoughts on the matter. Thanks to all who helped.