Open Access

When I was in grad school in the late 90s, not very much scholarly work was on the web. I had to walk over to the campus library to access scholarly papers, and sometimes make photocopies of the physical papers I wanted.

Things have gotten better, but it’s still harder to do research than it needs to be. One potential improvement is called Open Access. Open Access is about making peer-reviewed papers available online where more people can benefit from them.

This topic has a lot of details and nuances that I’m going to skip over. Suffice it to say that I support Open Access strongly. Across the nation, the Open Access movement has been gaining momentum across the nation as well.

Two tidbits crossed my radar screen this week. The first was a piece by Alexander L. Wolf, president of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM). In that piece, Wolf states “there is a sense among a portion of our community that we have still not done enough” regarding Open Access. To which I say: damn straight.

The ACM is an organization that has and should be focused on the future. I remember the first time I got to touch and play with a Macintosh computer. It was at a college ACM event and I was only twelve years old at the time. I still remember the sneaker demo. The fact that the ACM has not done more to embrace the future and to encourage wider dissemination of research through Open Access is shameful.

Luckily, a piece of much bigger–and happier–news about Open Access also emerged this week. The Gates Foundation announced that they will support a strong Open Access policy.

Under the new policy, the Gates Foundation will pay for publication costs, but after a two-year transition period, the papers must be accessible immediately upon publication. The underlying data must also be open and accessible. This is critical to help other researchers verify results.

So while the ACM continues to drag its heels, the Gates Foundation has made a big move to encourage Open Access. That should make it faster and easier to build on important research in order to make the world a better place.

4 Responses to Open Access (Leave a comment)

  1. Hmmm.. I would say, not a single thing that i could get. What i could assume is that you’ve ruined your youth. [ of course I’m kidding ] <:-)

  2. Great post Matt – it seems as though research, like technology, is best served in open environments where people can consume, digest, and then innovate in order to advance. Not to mention, because of the social aspects of the web, the amount of PR and authority that can be attributed to the source (person, group, university, etc…) of the research. In this regard, why would anyone or any organization, purposely restrict open access…?

    thanks again for posting

  3. If you, and presumably many at Google, respect Open Access, why does Google not offer an API to its search results?

    • I can’t speak officially for Google on this point, but I know that we saw a lot of abuse, like spammers scraping Google’s search results to produce cheap/automated doorway pages for phrases. I think nailing abuse issues is one of the trickiest parts of running an open or free service.