OA Is Part of a Larger Problem

The denigration of theory, human intelligence, and individuality through the lens of quantity-based success narratives

Jason Farago wrote recently in the New York Times:

I remain profoundly relaxed about machines passing themselves off as humans; they are terrible at it. Humans acting like machines — that is a much likelier peril, and one that culture, as the supposed guardian of (human?) virtues and values, has failed to combat these last few years.

Scholarly publishing has gone from a field in which influential editors with compelling editorial visions and discerning minds were celebrated. It is now one in which editors are sidelined if not denigrated, and where a lack of editorial intervention is celebrated as a way to get more information “out there,” which mainly means into computer systems. The goal is to feed systems as part of a vague philosophy about more information leading to more insights through some nonexistent computational miracle. The technologies are themselves celebrated by people who seem obeisant to them, perplexed by them, and who treat them unquestionably as inevitable digital endpoints.

The OA movement is part of a much larger story in this regard — one that is about the bureaucratization of science, the diminution and dehumanization of individual contribution, and the sidelining of human minds, breakthrough theories, and individual insight.

The idea that we serve the machines has insinuated itself everywhere you turn, once you start to look for it — this despite after decades of effort and billions spent, only 11.1% of US manufacturing plants use robots.

It turns out that many of the simplest things people do well with their eyes, ears, and hands are too difficult for robots to accomplish.

When it comes to cognition and creativity, things only get more complicated.

An entry in TIME magazine’s retrospective issue last month listed 13 ways the world got better, an approach to reporting I applaud because too often we get mired in the doom and gloom cycle. Given the approach, it seemed unusual to see something celebrating the dehumanization of science — but that’s now something we think we should celebrate.

This overarching philosophy of science is counterproductive to the overall enterprise — that is, the elevation of quantity and computing and the denigration of individuals and theoretical advances means being mired in the past and not supporting people who can create a better future. The TIME piece fits into this new and pernicious thinking by celebrating gobs of papers, but no advances, leaders, or human brilliance:

More scientific studies were free for anyone to access

The movement to increase public access to scientific research and data made huge strides in 2023. Major publishers and institutions including Springer Nature and MIT continued to operate fledgling programs dedicated to open access, including providing funding to researchers and supporting journals committed to sharing their data. Wiley, another academic publisher, surveyed more than 600 researchers, and found that in 2023, 75% had published open access papers in the past three years, compared to just 44% of respondents in 2021. Transformative agreements, which are a popular funding strategy enabling journals to move gradually toward open access, accounted for more than 272,000 scientific articles published in 2023, up from 233,000 in 2022 and just 167,000 in 2021.