On Community and OSTP

As generations evolve, will we have to hold onto community? And the Nelson memo faces bigger challenges than a sniper in a budget bill

This week seems to be about shorter pieces, so I’m going to embrace it. After all, variety is the spice of life.

Individuality vs. Community

One of the big themes of the book I recently reviewed, “Generations: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millenials, Gen X, Boomers, and Silents — and What They Mean for America’s Future,” is that the world has been slowly moving toward empowerment of the individual and away from communities, as technology has allowed individuals to do what once required coordination with others.

For instance, to generate hundreds of invitations from a dignitary 75 years ago required a typing pool of dozens and a busy supply chain. These workers formed a cohesive unit, fell into friendships, and so forth. Now, we set up an evite in isolation, where we also track RSVPs, and the only supply chain is a router. No gossip, no camaraderie, no community.

This led me to think about how we’re seeing far more conscious efforts to create community — mostly from the grassroots and not the top down. We are social animals and do better when we mix with each other, coordinate activity, and feel part of a larger whole. Individuals seem to have felt pushed too far into individualization by the pandemic and work from home, so are actively seeking community connection.

Social media was sold to us as a community-building technology, but even at its best, it is a weak simulacrum — and most benefits are negated by the ways in which social media traumatizes youth, polarizes opinions, and exploits our identities. Healthy communities do none of these things.

Some people saw the emerging importance of communities long ago, starting companies like Community Roundtable to help companies and civic groups deal with the need to consciously create communities. You are probably also seeing more references in site menus and navigation to “Community,” as well.

What this means for journals that exist without explicit communities — the mega-journals, in particular — or thrive by hoodwinking communities for a time — predatory journals — is that they are to some degree on the wrong side of what I see as a fundamental aspect of human nature that is rising in importance: the desire to find one’s tribe.

As technology continues to cater to the trend toward individualization, I’m seeing more people stepping outside technology to find real community. This is the threat to Threads, Twitter, Snap, TikTok, and Facebook — the growing weariness many feel toward social media and the false communities there. The rush of reconnection post-pandemic has reminded us that real communities, the kind that get you laughing and your blood pumping, are where human connections are really made.

Is Nelson on the Cutting Block?

I wasn’t going to write about this, because I think it’s news that is ultimately non-news, but since there’s chatter about it, I thought I’d lay out my point of view.

Careful readers/searchers of government documents have discovered that the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill includes language that would defund the OSTP’s policies initiated by the Nelson memo last August:

SEC. 552.
None of the funds made available by this or any other Act may be used to implement, administer, apply, enforce, or carry out the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s August 25, 2022, Memorandum to Executive Departments and Agencies entitled, ‘‘Ensuring Free, Immediate, and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research.’’

Commensurate language is not to be found in the Senate version, making this largely a symbolic gesture, as the Senate has more leverage over the final wording of any reconciliation process.

However, it is notable that the Nelson memo continues to have a target on its back in Congress. You may recall the memo was chided almost immediately by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. As I wrote shortly after their letter to OSTP was made public:

Dated October 18, 2022, the tone of the letter is one of barely constrained alarm bordering on anger — at how the new guidance applies to all federal agencies, not just those with budgets of more than $100 million; creates new requirements for access to government data; threatens the subscription model and the flourishing society publishing world that developed on its back; creates funding requirements for the government to pay publishers; and, eliminates the 12-month embargo, which seemed a reasonable compromise everyone adapted to with relative ease.

The letter makes the Nelson memo sound fairly radical and misinformed, with worry about “unintended consequences” mentioned multiple times.

The obviously frustrated committee is requiring responses from OSTP to 10 enumerated concerns by October 31, and is requiring OSTP “to initiate a second round of stakeholder engagement and conduct public workshops with the range of affected stakeholders in order to address these critical implementation issues in the next few months.”

Since then, questions about the constitutionality of the OSTP “taking” peer-reviewed manuscripts from the work of private industry without fair compensation have arisen, as has the more cut-and-dried legality of the proposed approach.

I don’t think the mention in the House bill is particularly newsworthy, as there are bigger issues around the Nelson memo. For instance, has its oversight committee received an updated plan? What was the response to the “10 enumerated concerns”? There are bigger issues around OSTP and the Nelson memo than funding.

Correction: The initial version of Monday’s post listed John Long as the President of IEEE. This was a mistake. He is the President of the Solid-State Circuits Society (SSCS), one of 46 Technical Societies and Councils that are part of the wider IEEE. I apologize for the error.

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