Reconciling points of View

Over the last few weeks there has been strong and active discussion about issues relating to Openness and some of these have been commented on (or even initiated) here. Some people feel that I have may been simplistic or overly polemic and there is a danger of unnecessary polarisation, so I have taken a few days off blogging to reflect.
The issues range from open access publishing (OA), through the BBB declarations to Open Data and the role of commercial companies. There is so much that is new and changing that all of us have to rethink our position on a frequent basis. We see daily changes in the balance of the Open Access practice and community and many think that the change is unstoppable. However it seems clear to me that there is currently a major struggle for the control of information and data, with ownership and licences as important concepts.
The blogosphere is a critically important area for these issues to be raised, and it’s an excellent way of drawing in new voices. Going back a year we would see little discussion of the issues in chemistry, whereas now there are several active blogs.
It is also clear that the issues are complex, probably more complex than any of us realised at the beginning. There is a spread between the “religious” – “this is my point of view and it’s self-evidently right” – to the all-inclusive “nobody should be criticized”.
These tensions have been clearly visible in the Open Source movement where Richard Stallman (Why “Open Source” misses the point of Free Software.) has often disagreed with approaches different to his. I believe that this disagreement has been constructive as it has required everyone to think clearly about the issues and to create instruments (licences) to manage practice in the community. Similarly in Open Access I regard the organized publishers’ lobby (reported by Peter Suber) as something that has to be challenged, and if necessary with robust language. If this struggle loses friends it may be the price, but it would be a pity.
Other areas also show major differences of opinion. Stevan Harnad has a strongly and long held view of Green Open Access and believes this is the best solution for the Open Access community. I believe in much of what Stevan has done and achieved but I differ over the value of Green OA for scientific data. Stevan has recently written:  Time to Update the BBB Definition of Open Access, Open Access Archivangelism, October 18, 2007. where he calls for a review of the BBB declaration(s). I suspect this may be similar to the development of Open Source licences – there will be no simple solution and it will take time. It looks as if Stevan wishes to adjust BBB so it doesn’t talk about permission barriers and only relates to sighted human readership. This may be useful, but it will have to be accompanied by considerable work on licences relating to permission, or otherwise we may have gone backwards. In any case it will have redefined what “Open Access” means (and this reminds us that words are both our friends and our problem).
There has also been a lot of discussion about Open Data, especially catalysed by the Chemspider discussions.

Who Gets to Choose Whether Data is Open or Not?

and an important contribution from Joerg Wegner

which review some of the aspects of the Blue Obelisk’s Open Data, Open Source, Open Standards (ODOSOS).
It is clear that there are a variety of opinions, but it is also clear that there is a more-or-less identified community which wishes to make progress. That community is wider than Blue Obelisk but has limits in that it does not, for example, include any publishers.
So it may be useful to regard the discussions of the last few months as the labour pains of the birth of a movement in chemistry. There will have to be limits – it would be difficult to have people or organizations who wished to control data for their own purposes. It’s clear that we have to accommodate a wider range of views and practices than a year ago – then ODOSOS seemed fairly simple – now it may be less clear.
I would like to be part of a constructive discussion and practice in the future. Here are some of my points of view – like Peter Suber’s Nomic some are immutable and some are mutable (although I’m not always clear which):

  • we have the possibility to develop the next phase of net-based chemical collaboration. This will include the enhancement of practice and standards. I am committed to being part of this.
  • I have been involved in several virtual communities (e.g. XML Dev-Mail List) which develop new approaches. They are rarely free from occasional flame (though XML-DEV was remarkable), but I will from now on be very careful to avoid tensions. I hold no personal animosity to any individual.
  • commercial organisations may have a role. However there have been examples where commercial organizations have used collaborations to develop their own interests at the expense of the community. These tensions still exist in the Open Source community.
  • We have to use words and algorithms as management devices. We cannot assume that simple (English) words have an obvious meaning. “Open” and “Free” are now so heavily overloaded that we cannot use them without the risk of confusion. So, for example, Joerg writes “Open must not be free: I strongly believe that ‘open’, means not ‘free’ of charge.”. This is very similar to the debate in Open Source. I assume that here it means that you may (not must) charge for Open Data. If it means you must always charge for Open Data then I have to disagree. My phrase would be: “you may charge for Open Data but you must also allow the Open data to be accessible without charge”. This emphasizes that this is not simple.
  • I welcome the chance to collaborate with Antony Williams on Open Notebook NMR spectra and hope this takes off.
  • I welcome the exploration of companies such as Chemspider developing Open Data licences and practices. It will not be easy. For example I am a strong supported of what Talis has done with their Open Data licence. If I feel that any company has an honest desire to support Open Data I will be happy to work with them.

I will be concentrating on Open Notebook Science next week – Christoph will be visiting us.

This entry was posted in "virtual communities", open issues. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Reconciling points of View

  1. What can I say? … Thanks !!!
    I will invite you to a drink I see you the next time.
    Cheers, Joerg

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *