Framing the Open Access Debate

Phil Davis, The Scholarly Kitchen, Mar. 2, 2009


…Now let’s look at the phrase, “open access.”  Open is about visibility, transparency, and freedom.  Its antithesis is “closed access” which is often used to describe subscription-access.  We are shut out, kept in the dark, barred from access.  Subscriptions are about denying freedom.

You will note that this implies something very different than the phrase “free access,”  which does not assume access as a right, but as a privilege.  In this frame, access is a gift that someone else paid for and something for which we should be grateful.  Free, as in “free beer.”

“Open access” has a long history as a frame, but it did not originate in the open access movement. Rather, it comes from the politics of democracy.  We need open access to government records and the dealings of our elected officials.  Without transparency, accountability is impossible.

…The more I think about open access, I’m coming to realize this debate is not about science or economics or business models.  Open access is about policy, and policy is rooted deeply in core values.  The language simply reflects those deeply held values.  Open access advocates will continue to accuse publishers (as a group) of being uncaring and working against the public good.  In turn, publishers will continue to accuse open access advocates of being irrational ideologues.

One thing is clear — this debate was never about science.