Diversity, Meet Dogma

Can diversity initiatives pay dividends if options for innovation don't exist?

Diversity, Meet Dogma

Scholarly and scientific publishing finds itself between the Scylla and Charybdis of two opposing concepts — diversity and dogma.

On the one hand, there is the reasonable and overdue pursuit of employees, executives, and leaders ostensibly with varying backgrounds, life experiences, perspectives, and belief systems to make the professions involved in what we do more vibrant, resilient, and reality-based. On the other hand, there is the fact that in many circles, you can survive in scholarly publishing currently only if you overtly claim fealty to the concepts of OA and open science.

Diversity, meet dogma.

These two forces are not only in direct opposition conceptually, but are bound up in commercial defeatism due to consolidation and superficial traits as befits an age of appearance, performance, and recursive virtue signaling.

On the commercial front, OA and open science require scale to work, meaning that the diversity of the market has been sharply curtailed in the last decade, and now revolves around a handful of large publishers — and, by extension, a handful of brain trusts. Add to this the influence of a few funders and funding coalitions, and you can count the major forces on two hands. Rather than the dozens of voices once at the table around market innovation and quality standards, we have just a few.

Diversity has been defeated in the market because of the practical requirements of OA and open science.

On the individual front, diversity is often driven by how someone looks, and how they will appear within and across the various vanity systems we currently rely upon for communication.

Yet, remove the visuals, and it’s clear that many who look different aren’t, as they come from similar regions, educational backgrounds, social strata, and societal norms. Meanwhile, others who look non-diverse come from regions not typically represented, educational backgrounds not normally seen, and social strata and norms that can cause discomfort. Yet, appearance is the priority that shapes diversity choices in the majority of cases.

For OA and open science signalers, I detect (and have been told) that many signal alignment with OA and open science simply to “go along to get along,” even while holding strong reservations about the increasingly obvious downsides, the lack of evidence of efficacy, and doubts about their career options as consolidation and commoditization trample a once-thriving ecosystem.

Given the need to present an “OA-abiding” face, many remain either silent, or provide token assent. Some even switch all the way over, realizing there is no need to hold onto prior value systems because the game has changed, and we’re playing by new rules they enjoy defending simply for the sport of it.

So, here we are — pursuing diversity in an industry and profession that is being forced to collapse commercially and conceptually around one central idea.

What good is personal diversity if the rest obviates the potential for new ideas, new approaches, and new perspectives? What potential for serving society, science, and scholarship with innovation can exist when the pathways to innovation all begin and end at one place?

Is our pursuit of diversity sincere? Or just window dressing to make us look like we’re open to change when really we’re not open to new ideas any more?