OA mandate, FLOSS contrast

The Obama administration:

has directed Federal agencies with more than $100M in R&D expenditures to develop plans to make the published results of federally funded research freely available to the public within one year of publication and requiring researchers to better account for and manage the digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research

A similar policy has been in place for NIH funded research for several years, and more are in the works around the world.

Peter Suber, as far as I can tell the preeminent chronicler of the Open Access (OA) movement, and one of its primary activists, seems to have the go-to summary post.

Congratulations and thanks to all OA activists. I want to take this particular milestone in order to make some exaggerated contrasts between OA and free/libre/open source software (FLOSS). I won’t bother with cultural, educational, and other variants, but assume they’re somewhere between and lagging overall.

  • OA is far more focused on end products (papers), FLOSS on modifiable forms (source)
  • OA is far more focused on gratis access (available on-line at no cost), FLOSS on removing legal restrictions (via public licenses)
  • OA has a fairly broad conception of info governance, FLOSS focused on class of public licenses, selection within that class
  • OA is far more focused on public and institutional policy (eg mandates like today’s), FLOSS on individual developer and user choices
  • OA is more focused on global ethics (eg access to knowledge in poor regions), FLOSS on individual developer and user ethics

If you’ve followed either movement you can think of exceptions. I suspect the above generalizations are correct as such, but tell me I’m wrong.

Career arrangements are an obvious motivator of some of these differences: science more institutional and tracked, less varied relative to programming. Thus where acting on individual ethics alone with regard to publishing is often characterized as suicidal for a scientist, it is welcome, but not extraordinary nor a cause for concern for a programmer. At the same time, FLOSS people might overestimate the effectiveness of individual choices, merely because they are relatively easy to make and expressive.

One can imagine a universe in which facts are different enough that the characteristics of movements for something like open research and software are reversed, eg no giant institutions and centralized funding, but radical individual ethics for science, dominance of amazing mainframes and push for software escrow for programming. Maybe our universe isn’t that bad, eh?

I do not claim one approach is superior to the other. Indeed I think there’s plenty each can learn from the other. Tip-of-the-iceberg examples: I appreciate those making FLOSS-like demands of OA, think those working on government and institutional policy in FLOSS should be appreciated much more, and the global ethical dimension of FLOSS, in particular with regard to A2K-like equality implications, badly needs to be articulated.

Beyond much needed learning and copying of strategies, some of those involved in OA and FLOSS (and that in between and lagging) might better appreciate each others’ objectives, their commonalities, and actively collaborate. All ignore computational dominance of everything at their peril, and software people self-limit, self-marginalize, even self-refute by limiting their ethics and action to software.

“Commoning the noosphere” sounds anachronistic, but is yet to be, and I suspect involves much more than a superset of OA and FLOSS strategy and critique.

3 Responses

  1. […] potential of knowledge commons. Every bit of using, recommending, building, advocating for as policy, and shifting the conversation toward intellectual freedom […]

  2. […] funders are very slowly making and coordinating their demands of fundees, eg Open Access mandates. How can crowdfunders/democratic patrons make analogous […]

  3. […] writ large, the result of “political action” above) in the 11 or so years since (e.g., Open Access mandates), but not nearly enough to outweigh global ratcheting of intellectual freedom infringing regimes, […]

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