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February 06, 2009

Open orienteering

It seems to me that there is now quite a general acceptance of what the 'open access' movement is trying to achieve. I know that not everyone buys into that particular world-view but, for those of us that do, we know where we are headed and most of us will probably recognise it when we get there. Here, for example, is Yishay Mor writing to the open-science mailing list:

I would argue that there's a general principle to consider here. I hold that any data collected by public money should be made freely available to the public, for any use that contributes to the public good. Strikes me as a no-brainer, but of course - we have a long way to go.

A fairly straight-forward articulation of the open access position and a goal that I would thoroughly endorse.

The problem is that we don't always agree as a community about how best to get there.

I've been watching two debates flow past today, both showing some evidence of lack of consensus in the map reading department, though one much more long-standing than the other. Firstly, the old chestnut about the relative merits of central repositories vs. institutional repositories (initiated in part by Bernard Rentier's blog post, Institutional, thematic or centralised repositories?) but continued on various repository-related mailing lists (you know the ones!). Secondly, a newer debate about whether formal licences or community norms provide the best way to encourage the open sharing of research data by scientists and others, a debate which I tried to sum up in the following tweet:

@yishaym summary of open data debate... OD is good & needs to be encouraged - how best to do that? 1 licences (as per CC) or 2 social norms

It's great what can be done with 140 characters.

I'm more involved in the first than the second and therefore tend to feel more aggrieved at lack of what I consider to be sensible progress. In particular, I find the recurring refrain that we can join stuff back together using the OAI-PMH and therefore everything is going to be OK both tiresome and laughable.

If there's a problem here, and perhaps there isn't, then it is that the arguments and debates are taking place between people who ultimately want the same thing. I'm reminded of Monty Python's Life of Brian:

Brian: Excuse me. Are you the Judean People's Front?
Reg: Fuck off! We're the People's Front of Judea

It's like we all share the same religion but we disagree about which way to face while we are praying. Now, clearly, some level of debate is good. The point at which it becomes not good is when it blocks progress which is why, generally speaking, having made my repository-related architectural concerns known a while back, I try and resist the temptation to reiterate them too often.

Cameron Neylon has a nice summary of the licensing vs. norms debate on his blog. It's longer and more thoughtful than my tweet! This is a newer debate and I therefore feel more positive that it is able to go somewhere. My initial reaction was that a licensing approach is the most sensible way forward but having read through the discussion I'm no longer so sure.

So what's my point? I'm not sure really... but if I wake up in 4 years time and the debate about licensing vs. norms is still raging, as has pretty much happened with the discussion around CRs vs. IRs, I'll be very disappointed.

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Comments

A licence in a codified norm. Hence, I fail to understand the "or" in the question.

Yishay,
This issue, I suppose, is one of how heavily codified we want things to be.

For me, a CC licence is primarily a statement of intent - I don't actually care much whether it is legally binding or not. All I care is that it says something about me and about the stuff I make available.

For others, the legal side of things is much more important and there has been a lot of work over the years in that area.

So I think there definitely is an 'or' here - it's an 'or' between "statement of intent" or "legally binding", between "encouragement" or "enforcement", between "informal" or "formal" ??

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