Peter Suber – a model for us all

I have just read Richard Poynder’s interview with Peter Suber: The Basement Interviews: Peter Suber, Open and Shut? October 19, 2007. It’s 80 pages and Richard records that it took 3 hours on Skype and landline. It’s almost the equivalent of a small book – and it could benefit from being bound as one. Please read it. And it could be used as a text for students in several areas.
PeterS’s written material is honoured for its clarity, precision, consistency and recall of all the relevant background material. What is equally remarkable is that his spoken answers read in almost the same way (I don’t know whether there was much or even any editing). I’ve never spoken with Peter but have corresponded frequently, and fancifully I think of him as having the same verbal impact as Alistair Cooke where every word has its place. Maybe one day I shall be (dis)illusioned.
The interview is remarkable in its honesty and coverage. He is not afraid to talk about disagreements, especially with Stevan Harnad. The interview gives a picture of how the early Open Access movement depended centrally on both of them and the insights into the difference “B”s of the B-B-B declarations. Much of this was news to me – my physical interaction with the OA movement is sporadic and depends mainly on selected invitations. In fact I now have a greater appreciation of the value of the Green aspects of Open Access, while still arguing that permission, as well as price, barriers are critical for effective digital scholarship.
Where would be be without the central role that Peter plays? We would be far worse off. We could be disagreeing over badly presented facts and arguments (I and others are guilty of this). We could leave large errors that undermined the validity of our case. And, as Richard and others make clear, the clarity and equal-handedness of his writing is probably our strongest weapon. In almost all cases he allows that the opponents of OA have an understandable position. Only when it comes to the recent misrepresentation of the effect of OA on peer-review does he become severely critical:

RP: … [PRISM members] claim that they are defending peer-review, or trying to avoid the collapse of the scholarly communication process?
PS: Yes. What bothers me is the dishonesty of some of the arguments. Instead of arguing that their revenues are at stake, publisher lobbyists argue that peer review as such is at stake, that OA is a form of censorship, and that authors and publishers will be forced to “surrender” their articles to the government. There’s a gray area in which we can’t distinguish very weak arguments from deliberate disinformation, or innocent misunderstandings from culpable misrepresentations. But these are well outside that zone. They’re cynical attempts to mislead anyone who doesn’t know the facts, especially policy-makers and journalists. They’re arguments that only work with an ignorant audience, and they know that.
What’s ironic and frankly astonishing is that academic publishers should be making these arguments, or allowing their lobbyists to make them. They should be trying to prove that they are especially careful with reasoning and evidence, and deserve to be entrusted with
the management of peer review. But the ones behind the PRISM campaign are proving that they are careless with truth and do not deserve that trust.

This is the strongest that Peter gets, and those familiar with his writing recognise it.
Personally I should thank Peter for his many private emails (and you will see from this interview how much of his day is taken with answering them). For his support for The Open Knowledge Foundation. For spending an hour discussing chermistry with Antony Williams. (A Conversation with Peter Suber – Navigating the Complexities of Open Access Definitions)
and for providing his daily blog from which so many  other blog comments and posts arise.

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