Thursday, February 04, 2010

Parallels between open access and clean energy

The brilliant Peter Suber has outlined 4 analogies between open access and clean energy.

"When I think about the political fortunes of open access, I find that I compare them privately to the political fortunes of clean energy.  I know there are differences, but I keep returning to the similarities. 

I'm not ready to say that the similarities are more salient than the differences.  But it's time to get these analogies out in the open.

(1) The gap between breakthrough and uptake

Lots of smart and well-funded people are looking for a source of energy that is renewable, inexpensive, efficient, low-impact to produce, low-impact to use, and doesn't require a police state to keep byproducts out of the hands of terrorists.  Suppose they succeed.  That would be a momentous breakthrough.

This is already a key difference between OA and clean energy.  On the energy side, we're well-embarked but still moiling through primary difficulties of physics and engineering, trying to raise efficiencies and lower prices.  But on the OA side, the breakthrough is in hand, and has been since the birth of the internet.  We've long since replaced the difficulties of engineering with the difficulties of uptake and persuasion...
(2) Putting obstacles in our way

Imagine the same breakthrough in efficient, inexpensive, clean energy.  Now imagine that during the age of dirty energy we had adopted laws and practices which turn out to deter the development, uptake, and use of the spectacular new technology.   Some of the obstacles clogging the path to adoption are of our own making.

We might have provided subsidies to dirty energies, which in turn created jobs and revenues, which in turn elected politicians and enriched corporations who now fight to protect those jobs and revenues at the expense of any energy breakthrough.  We might have grown to depend on cars, which spawned suburbs, which not only elected politicians but changed the landscape of life for millions of people and now make almost irrelevant any energy breakthrough that doesn't work in cars.  We might have grown to depend on cheap oil, which nurtured whole industries and lifestyles which we find it inconceivable to abandon...
(3) Slowing down to protect the incumbents

Imagine the same breakthrough technology producing efficient, inexpensive, renewable, clean energy.  Imagine that the only downside seemed to be that it would jeopardize the revenue streams of oil companies and coal mines. 

Should we hesitate to use it?  Should we wait until we can find a way to ensure the survival of the threatened industries?  When policy-makers weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the new technology, should the effect on oil companies and coal mines count as a disadvantage?  If so, how much environmental and economic good are we willing to forego in order to prop up the old industries? ...
(4) Some pay for all

The economics of wind power are peculiar.  The benefits are global (reduced reliance on oil, reduced greenhouse gas emissions) but the costs are local (expense, sight, sound, wildlife damage).  The costs and benefits largely affect different groups.  Some other clean sources of energy, and some dirty ones, share the same peculiarity.

So do OA resources, and especially OA journals.  The benefits are global (barrier-free access for everyone, increased research productivity) but the costs are local (expense, labor).  Moreover, the costs and benefits largely affect different groups.  The costs are borne by the publisher and those who support it through publication fees or subsidies.  The benefits are enjoyed by researchers everywhere.

I often point out that not all (and not even most) OA journals charge publication fees...

...and that there are many different business models for OA journals,

But one thing that all OA journal business models have in common is the "some pay for all" principle.

"Some pay for all" (SPA) applies equally to fee-based and no-fee OA journals.  It also covers green OA as well as gold OA.  The cost of a repository is borne by the institution hosting it, and perhaps a few benefactors elsewhere such as foundations or consortial peers.  But the benefits are global."
Highly recommended.

No comments: