Movement of the Day: Occupy Science, Global revolt of scientists against major science publishers

Now also the Scientist and Researchers of the world are revolting. That is remarkable since they are the peak and pride of the Middle Classes. And relevant for all of us since these (mentally) young men and women are the core and hope of our Knowledge Society. With their knowledge and creativity they drive most of the value creation which can fuel our economies and society.

Excerpted from Jaap van Till:

“After the Arab Spring, European Indignados and Occupy meetings on squares worldwide, now the higher educated academic communities and linked to them the educators in schools are angry and protesting in what is called ‘the Academic Spring’ but IMHO should beter be designated as “Occupy Science”.

What triggered the revolt? Among other things the proposed Research Works Act (RWA) in the USA, which aims to prevent US government-funded researchers from being required to publish in open-access journals. This is a rather outdated nationalistic policy proposal that seems to say that the valuable knowledge of American scientist should not freely leak out of the country. What is meant is that bloody foreigners should pay for that knowledge. This is an outdated view since science and its “business process” is by its nature as trans-nationational as the air we breathe. Scientists do research, define new views and create new methods in cooperation with others scientist, based on their special knowledge creativity and track record of quality contributions; irrespecive of their nationality or shoe size. Aron Jacob of New Scientist has very eloquently described what the Scientist Revolt is about in : . An online petition at can be signed, in which scientist declare no longer to be available for peer-reviews and other functions in the processes towards publication in the highly respected peer-reviewed journals. And at the same time are prevented to publish their own work or show it directly online to their collegues. Scientist are forced by their own universities to submit their papers to these Journals since the universities can simply count the number of their published papers by the high quality journals as a degree of success (and position & pay) of the scientist.

For superficial observers this revolt is a quarrel between the Scientists and the Publishers, like the Elsevier and Springer who have near-monopolies on scientific publications, about money. If people have nothing substantial to discuss they talk about money as it that is all. For instance the Netherlands quality newspaper NRC-Handelsblad devoted an editorial to the ‘Academic Spring’ called “Maak wetenschap vrij” (Liberate science). That editorial is right but too narrowly focssed on the role of the Journals and their business plans. These seem to be rock solid and in place if you look what for instance the CEO of Elsevier declared for their near term financial prospects: “we are a non-cyclic, crisis resistant company”. No mention in his yearly report presentation was made of the revolt. Strange because Elsevier is known to be aware of it. The crux is however that this issue is not about Elsevier but about how science is done and how that can be improved as collective creativity.

The main critique of the scientist is that the whole process of doing science has been changed into a kind of industrial production chain, in which the publishers have less and less added value since most work is done by the researchers, and done faster and better helped by Internet.

Cameron Neylon has explained what is wrong with the present factory-like process

1. The peer-review process is slow and cumbersome.

2. Information that can be important and very useful for scientists outside the narrow group of reviewers and readers who are active in the narrow field in question and have access is filtered out, and too soon. As is are insights and unexpected mental leaps which are not recognized by groupthink of the specific specialists. These seldom get through peer review.

3 Knowledge should flow unobstructed through all of society, who will judge and filter themselves for usefulness. The the public has collectively payed the scientist by taxation so why should they not get access to the results and have to pay again to intermediaries?

What Neylon proposes is that the whole process of doing science is redesigned with an Open Data and Open Science policy and the emphasis on User Side Filtering instead of pre-filtering by peer review. Then the benifits of Internet for the knowledge society will be boosted with: interaction, speed, access and transparency. But above all cooperation and collaboration to boost collective knowledge and learning, to solve problems.

Information flows of knowledge will be much richer, deeper and broader useful in many fields. And it will allow cross domain combinations of knowledge and solutions to complex problems.

And this is not a vague dream, it has been shown to work for instance by the recent PolyMath project:

As one of the Polymath Project initiators said (translated by me) ” instead of many specialists each solving small problems in thousands of isolated fields, with the help of networked cooperation we can now solve one more complex problem fast by concentrated mental efforts of thousands of scientists at the same time. And YES the publishers can get new and interesting (moneymaking) functions in such Science 3.0 structure. Just as long as they are not construct new obstacles and toll booths. I am working on a new idea for ‘Structured P2P Reciprocity” cooperation which may be useful to the user side filtering mentioned by Neylon.

I hope that the scientists, researchers and educators will rediscover that their academic task in life is not only to publish numbers of high quality papers, but to DO SCIENCE and contribute to collective knowlegde and creative solutions to practical problems in society.”

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