October 2008 Transcript: Openness 2.0 - Part 1 The State of Openness: Sandra Braman, Mary Case and Steve Jones

[Introduction: Audio Montage]

Mary: Openness is really not an end in itself but a means to an end and that end really is laying the foundations and making sure that the information is there and available for the kind of society and benefit of society that we want.

Steve: It’s gonna change too many things, it’s gonna change everything, it’s gonna change existing financial models...well, things change, that’s kinda what happens with time and you can’t stop time. So you’d better figure out what you’re going to do to change in the long haul.

Sandra: Each type of openness and each dimension of openness has a necessary counter which is closure....[J]ust because the word openness is being used does not mean in reality that’s what we’re experiencing.

AJ: But what exactly is openness? I’m AJ Hannah

Joy: And I’m Joy Austria, welcome to First Monday Podcast’s Openness 2.0 series.

AJ: Something got lost. A disconnect between the data and the page, the research and the results, and a din arose around the efforts to find a clear path to openness.

Joy: The Openness Movement - It goes beyond just academic publishing, computer codes. It influences how our government shares information, it shapes our cultural values. Over a series of five episodes, First Monday Podcast will revisit the ideas originally presented at the 2006 First Monday and University of Illinois at Chicago’s Library’s conference Openness: Code, science and content.

AJ: We’ll take a look at the openness movement, what are the goals, accomplishments, failures, futures, and more importantly and how can we make that future a reality? Even when an idea like openness seems so simple, it gets buried in nuance and various complexities. But dismantle the idea, take it apart and find a clearer path to the core issues.

Joy: That’s what our three guests try to do in this first episode. Each represents a distinct area of the Openness movement.

Sandra: I think it’s an extremely vague and broad term. What social process are we talking about? Are we talking about information creation processing flows ofuse? Are we talking about cultural habits and practices? Are we talking about political decision making, I could go on and list more, but we have openness as applied to each of those social processes. Within each of those you’re going to have multiple types of openness, and for any given type of openness you can have multiple different analytical dimensions.

AJ: That’s Sandra Braman a Professor of Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. For over twenty five years she’s been doing research on the macro level effects of digital technologies and their policy implications. She describes it as the co-construction of society, technology and the law.

Joy: Mary Case is the University Librarian at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Before her current position Mary was a program officer at the Association of Research Libraries, specializing in scholarly communication helping to creating SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition. One of the groups behind the open access movement as it relates to scholarly literature.

Mary: I come at this from a very different, more practical narrow perspective I guess I would say in terms of the word “openness” and the context in which I’ve worked with it.

AJ: Lastly, Steve Jones is Professor of Communications and Associate Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Senior Research Fellow at the Pew Internet and American Life Project. His interests have focused on the intersection of the Internet and social relations, sound, music, technology, and now new media.

Steve: It’s such a big, vague term. It brings to mind all sorts of other words, things like sharing, trust, you know knowledge, information. If you think about, you know for me openness in an academic context has to do with how we choose simply to get along with others. How to work with other people, how to share our work, their work, and how to keep knowledge going in the field.

Joy: I don’t know if it was a matter of fate or coincidence that the date we recorded this episode was September 11th. Of course after the attacks on the World Trade Center security agencies from local police departments to the FBI and CIA were critized for their failure to share information, to be more open with one another.

So we asked, are we a more open society?

Steve: If we think about openness in terms of politics I think we can think of all sorts of ways that there could be consequences in any number of countries not the least of which and perhaps in some ways the most of which is the U.S. So because we’re sort of an increasingly opaque government. I say that not coincidentally because it’s 9/11 today, so if we think about openness beyond the realm of academia we think about what possible impacts it might have in relation to impacts on people’s lives, their potential for representation, their potential for understanding the workings of their government, it could have absolutely enormous implications. But the enormity of the implications is sort of in direct proportion to the difficulty that I think openness can be established in a lot of places.

There’s some incredibly mundane uses that can have huge impacts. If a government were willing to share information about the sort of the daily measurement of the quality of water in various communities so people could make you know some informed decisions about whether or not they had to boil it, that kind of sharing information can have enormous impacts on people. I think it’s you know perfectly fine to talk about openness in developing countries in this context, on the other hand if you put it alongside the enormous arrays of issues with which citizens of those countries are dealing with I think it behooves us to think about these alternative ways to conceptualize openness beyond the academic realm.

Mary: And I think openness and sort of the government realm we had a great example recently with the Olympics. The threat of openness to a government is quite clear and I think certainly those were alluded to in terms of what, you know how does a government begin to look at this set of issues and what becomes open for them and what not and if there’s a little bit of openness will there be a greater demand on the part of the population for that and do we begin to create some wedges through scholarly work or other kinds of initiatives?

Sandra: I think the question always is to which information do we actually have access. If the question is do we have more access to information now than we did before 9/11 to the information we need as individuals and as a community and as a society to make informed decisions about how we live our lives together, then the answer is, no.

If the question is do we have more access to to scholarly publications of some types not of other types? Do we have more access to content produced by independent cultural producers of content, then the answer is, yes.

Do we know about what the government is doing? No. Do we know about the environmental quality of the environment of our own homes are located? No. I could go on.

AJ: Who should make these policy decisions?

Sandra: Historically it was in Congress, under current circumstances we’ve had the Executive Branch actually taking over much of that congressional function. Some of it very clealyr to serve very direct political ends rather than based on a policy justification. I think that these are unfortunately questions that all citizens have an interest in but they are very difficult to understand and involve...you know I teach media law. I've got students who can’t tell the difference between Congress and the Supreme Court let alone understand something about the relationship between the Office of Management and Budget and a federal agency. So there’s a kind of policy literacy question there in terms of making it a matter of public debate.

AJ: But that’s always the question isn’t it? How do we bring policy literacy questions out of the ivory tower and into the hands of everyday people like you and me? How can we get the public to initiate participation or push for policies that promote openness in our government? And you’d think by now we’d learn there isn’t an easy answer. Both Sandra and Mary point out the complexities of making openness a matter of public of debate.

Sandra: In defense of analytical complexity, often the concept of openness is simple and big and easy to grasp in a certain sense you have a gut response to it even if you can’t define it. But it’s often in the intricacies of all of the analytical dimensions I introduced that it takes place. So I know from experience that if you say you’re going to give a public talk to a non-academic audience about the impact of Office Management and Budget, on our access to information people will fall asleep on the streets in front of you. It is just deadly...and yet that is one of the most effective means that is currently in place to prevent us from having access to information we need about our lives.

Mary: It is complex and it’s all related and it’s very hard to have these discussions in a way that speaks to the public. And you know we’ve gotten ourselves in trouble, myself included, by trying to simplify and you end up having to back off but it’s you know how do you craft those messages that will resonate with a particular audience.

Joy: Steve Jones, brings up a different perspective. This might not have anything to do with bringing these concepts out of the ivory tower, but rather, this is more of an issue of the public understanding its new role as active producers of content.

Steve: I think this is one of the potential - and it’s only really potential at this point - one of the potential things that we’ll look back you know maybe fifty years from now and kind of at the rise of the Internet if you will and say the signal moment here isn’t about access, it’s not about openness, it’s not about how many people are using the Internet, it’s not about any of those things, it’s that for the first time people became acutely aware of the consequences of policy on communication because they were the ones doing the communicating. Because prior to the Internet you know few of us were directly involved in producing media in a way in which policy would impact.

Whereas with things like Net Neutrality now, it’s much more simple to understand what happens if Net Neutrality goes away. It’s simpler to understand what happens if particular types of access are taken away because you’re using those not as someone who’s sort of getting information but who’s also creating information and producing it and this becomes the implications of policy become understood in a much different way sort of in the Internet era for users.

AJ: Sandra brought it around to current real world examples of how the public is becoming active in openness policy issues.

Sandra: First of all we seen a very exciting move just in recent years of a growing number of websites that are making things incredibly accessible once you’ve gotten an interest and you’ve found your way to them. So actually OMB Watch, which is a non-profit organization that tries to keep an eye on the Office of Management and Budget has a fabulous and very easy to use and very accessible website for those who want to become involved with putting policy into government - how do I send a notice? How do I respond to an FCC call for input?

We are beginning to see political organizing around communication policy issues in a way that we have not in the past and I think there are two avenues through which that’s happening. One is the linking of communication policy issues like media concentration with other social issues in which you may be interested - gender issues or environmental issues, often there is a communicative dimension of those and in the world of activist movements people are becoming much more attuned to the linkage between their policy issues. A second way that that’s happened has been a devoted movement, the Free Press Movement, that is focused on media concentration issues and that has now got thousands of people people in high school and undergrads who are now turning to media concentration as an issue in a way that race issues or the Vietnam War or something may have been an issue in the past.(2)

As somebody who has been doing policy analysis and committed myself professionally to this kind of work for now over twenty five years, what I’m interested in now is writing textbooks for seventeen year olds. I think it’s more important to really shape how people think about the world in which they live and therefore I am now much less interested in talking to policy analysts, I’m much more interested in speaking to youth.

[Musical Interlude]

It’s gonna change too many things, it’s gonna change everything, it’s gonna change existing financial models...well, things change, that’s kinda what happens with time and you can’t stop time. So you’d better figure out what you’re going to do to change in the long haul.

AJ: It’s not only engaging young people or the public in the openness movement; part of the disconnect that occurs for many in discussions of openness might be where the term actually applies. Are there real world examples of it in everyday life or is it only philosophical? Steve draws upon his background as a musician to begin building a bridge between the two arenas.

Steve: Discussions along these lines are incredibly difficult. There are no simple answers in any of this, I mean, we’ve had amazing new forms of music, thanks to the use of new technologies, and things like digital sampling and turntables. It’s enabled us to, to kind of reconfigure music and sound in interesting ways.

Music and words in some sense the beauty of it is you’re creating something from nothing. And, you’ve got a situation in which many people rely on that active creation as a means of, of livelihood. And how do we on the one hand protect that opportunity for them to continue to be creative, while at the same time provide an opportunity for people to benefit from that creation, and you know, in as broad a way as possible and these are pretty contradictory tensions. It sets up a very difficult situation, whenever you try to reconcile this kind of tangle between commerce and art, and there’s no simple way to do it.

Because it calls into question how do we value music? This is why you see the gyrations about, about pricing. iTunes prices every song at ninety-nine cents, which you know, in some ways is absolutely hilarious, right? Is a song that’s ten minutes long, well, let’s use “Hey Jude,” right, by the Beatles. Seven minutes long. Is that worth ninety-nine cents, and is it worth the same you know, as a two-minute long song by the Stooges? Well the answer of course is, it depends. But how do you deal with “it depends” in a concrete fashion, in a commercial world?

Openness is not somehow intrinsically apposed to money. It’s not somehow intrinsically opposed to some sort of ability to continue to profit in a way that enables you to continue to write or make music and so on. These are problems awaiting a solution. They’re not something to have knee jerk reactions about. And so this kind of dialog is I think enormously valuable about something like openness, because we can figure this stuff out.

AJ: Whereas Steve approached this issue from an artists perspective, Sandra sees the place of politics in communication culture. She uses the example of inference attacks.

Sandra: I would like to just offer a speculative thought about one very small area, or way in which Openness may stimulate the development of new cultural forms. It’ll take a couple of steps to get from here to there. An inference attack is your ability to reach a militarily or politically unwelcome conclusion on the basis of information to which you legally have a right of access. So it’s not classified information, it’s stuff that’s out there, but if you read it over here and you read something else over there and you link the two, you figure something out. It may be my guess is that say within say ten years we’re going to start seeing laws and regulations that forbid modes of logic, lines of argument, ways of making inferences.

In that environment, then how we speak to each other through open media such as blogs, becomes then a very political matter. They’re already trying to link certain kinds of things you read with certain kinds of political arguments that are unwelcome, that’s already happening. So if as the Openness, assuming the degree of Openness we’re experiencing continues and or expands, and, if I’m right about where the security establishment is going down the road in terms of trying to protect us against inference attacks, then if we want to be able continue to communicate with each other meaningfully about political matters, we will constantly need to be inventing new narrative forms, so that we elude the algorithmic filters that are being used in data mining on that communication.

[Musical interlude]

Each type of openness and each dimension of openness has a necessary counter which is closure....[J]ust because the word openness is being used does not mean in reality that’s what we’re experiencing.

Steve: Openness kind of underpins the scholarly enterprise. And from there I think it sort of becomes to what are the degrees of openness, what purposes does it serve, and how do we make decisions about openness? And without openness in a sense, we can’t really have scholarship because we couldn’t share our findings. There wouldn’t be a very good way to make any kind of progress with knowledge.

Joy: The area most people closely associate with the Openness is in the world of academics and scholarly publishing - most notably the Open Access movement. Peter Suber defines Open Access as “putting peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly literature on the Internet. Making it available free of charge and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. Removing the barriers to serious research.”

But according to Steve Jones, generalized research regulations are a barrier to Open Access.

Steve: I’ve long been a critic of the mission creep that’s resulted from the kind of ongoing regulation and desire to try to keep an eye on virtually all research that goes on at a lot of institutions. Some are harder than others in terms of their oversight of research. And so these policies exist to try to kind of generalize situations that are not generalizable. But we’ve built up a system for it, and we’re going to use that system because it’s become institutionalized.

AJ: What kind of effect does that have on openness, that’s such a broad brush...?

It’s a horribly chilling effect. You can manage your research in such a fashion that you can probably find a way to do what you want to do. In other words, if your research relies on interaction with minors you have to go through a whole lot of steps and jump through a lot of hoops to do it. And so there's a chilling effect I think particularly again among young scholars who look at this and go, “Look if I just change my research a little bit, I won’t have to jump through those hoops, and so that’s the easy way to deal with it.” So I think there’s that kind of almost self censoring effect, that you’re going to make a decision based not on what’s good research, but based on what you have to do in order to get your work done to keep your career going.

If we’re not open with it at least to some degree, in some sense there’s no point to it. If you’re going to choose an academic career you have to be open.

AJ: Sandra follows up on Steve’s examination of openness in the research process.

Sandra: The concept of Openness is very broad, even when you’re talking about open science or open knowledge production or open publishing it still refers to many different phenomena and processes, each of which is unfolding in different ways within a given society let alone across societies.

They’re [Europe is] about up to twenty percent now of all research funded by the European Union has to, after either six months or a year depending on the discipline, be put into publicly accessible, freely accessible institutions or other types of archives. That’s further than the U.S. has gone at the moment. In the U.S. it’s largely voluntary (3) depending on your institutional home. Increasingly state universities, in particular, have language and support systems to help scholars to permission from publishers to put their work into freely accessible institutional archives. And we’re even beginning to see copyright statements that incorporate that right in so you don’t have to ask for an addendum.

So I think Europe has gone a bit further with asking for that for the publications that result from funded research, government funded research. The U.S. has gone further with mandating access to the raw data of funded research. Those are two very different things.

One thing that’s been fascinating when we look at the raw data issue is how much if you have the data how much do you have to include in the archive the context in which the data was collected, of the experimental conditions if that’s appropriate, of test material and so forth. There’s some kinds of data, that you need to have all of that to make any sense of the data. Some of the kinds of research that are treated as the least economically valuable, like years of ethnographic research in a community by an anthropologist, are turning out to be the most difficult to be put into a knowledge reuse archive because of the cost to the individual.

If you’re the anthropologist that’s your life, you spent three years doing that. No one’s going to replicate it to give it all up to the archive. Is giving away too much of what you've done. If you’re doing massive lab experiments and you’ve got massive amounts of data with types of experiments that people are replicating all the time it’s much easier for you to give it up. So it’s kinda having an impact on the way we understand the economics of the research process as well.

So one positive thing down the road is that I think we will have a much more sophisticated and highly articulated way of understanding, conceptualizing and theorizing differences among different stages of the research process and different kinds of data once we’re done negotiating what open access to data means.

AJ: So what does all this openly accessible research amount to? Mary brings us back to the human element, the reason for all this research.

Mary: From my perspective, am really looking at it in terms of scholarly publishing per se and the responsibility of the scholar in essence to make his research and his findings openly available. Those who are not necessarily in favor of the kind of open access that we've been promoting would argue, is that in fact scholars in the current system are sharing their information with other scholars so that everybody who needs to know already has access through the kind of library subscriptions and systems that we have in place.

The kind of social change, the kind of medical improvement that could happen by having a more open environment, having consumer access to resources, ensuring third world access to these resources and lots of other layers, that this is what’s important in terms of trying to ensure a more healthy research environment in addition to a more healthy society.

Joy: Are there any examples you can give us?

Mary: Well, the whole NIH [National Institutes of Health] thing is very interesting because that has captured the public in a way that us talking to each other you know in terms of the importance for scholarship of that happening hasn’t.

The Alliance for Taxpayer Access it really looked at the public funding piece of this and saying this research that all these universities and other entities are doing has been funded by the federal government and that the results of that research should be available to the public. And a lot of that interest comes from advocacy groups for different diseases for example various cancer groups, lung disease, diabetes, all of these folks particularly when you personally [are] involved you have a child, you have a relative - where you want access to this literature.

So that’s a message that I think is in fact getting out publicly and it’s a message that in fact I think the publishers are most concerned about. Today [Thursday, September 11th] there was a hearing and an introduction of a new bill and the House Judiciary Committee where there is an attempt through changes to copyright law to roll back the NIH mandate. How do we argue the private benefit of these companies to be exploited versus the public benefit of having access to this research? So I think the desperation factor of the publishers at this point to be able to spend the money and to take that tact I think shows that they're very worried and very worried about this argument and that this is actually having more success than they could have imagined.

Joy: But despite all the good intentions of Open Access publishing there are those ignoring the original ethos of the Openness movement.

Sandra: I’ve been quite concerned about some organizations that are deeply abusing the current interest in open access publishing. So, we’ve seen some publishers showing up with dozens -- hundreds -- of new journals [that] they launch. They put someone’s name as editor of the journal. None of those people knew they were in [editorial] positions, including the editor. They’re sending out manuscripts to review with no discrimination regarding subject expertise. There is no copy editing or substance editing following submission of the manuscript -- they’re taking the position that what you send us must have been good because after all you’re a serious guy in the first place. And the whole thing is trash. The whole thing is trash. That kind of activity is really causing damage to the Open Access journal movement around the world.(1)

AJ: So what to do? Should academics that support openness in research only publish in open access journals? We asked the panelists if they had, during the last five years, exclusively published in such a manner and they had this to say:

Steve: No.

Sandra: No, and I’ll add a sentence. It’s all about capital. It’s all about money, money is actually just one form of capital. What capital really is is the ability to do something in future. We started thinking about what that meant in ways that were non-monetary, beginning really in the [19]60’s and [19]70’s, and we now have pretty well developed notions of social capital and cultural capital and human capital. It is not a coincidence in my view that the faculties that feel they can go to open access journals are those with the most social and cultural capital. These are people who are already in such deeply embedded, in such privileged positions, that where they publish isn’t going to affect their professional futures. I’m not in that position.

Steve: Everything I publish goes up on my website, regardless of what the copyright agreement says. Publishing with commercial ventures, if you will, journals, presses, etc., that brings capital for other purposes too. Journals employ you know, any number of graduate assistants, for whom without that support graduate school might not be possible.

These are incredibly complex issues. So, to sort of make a blanket decision - I’m not going to publish in anything but open access journals - to some extent there’s a bit of be careful what you wish kind of thing because let’s say that we do that, thought experiment here, and so commercial publishing houses go away. What else goes away with them? What other types, what other elements of the scholarly infrastructure go with them? And how can we imagine replacing those?

The degree to which this is intertwined in the academic enterprise is enormous, I don’t know if it’s really a best of both worlds situation or not, but I’ll pretty much publish where I think it’s appropriate and useful in terms of the work that I’m doing and then I’ll make it available to anyone for free and so far nobody’s cared? Nobody’s actually said you can’t do this, take this down, or we’re gonna come after you. And frankly, I would probably find ways around that anyway. There’s a degree to which it’s probably somewhat unenforceable to put the cat back in the bag. So I’ll, at least for the time being, I’ll try to have my cake and eat it too.

Mary: Steve’s right though, if all the commercial companies were to decide tomorrow that they were getting out of the business we’d be in big trouble. We don’t have the infrastructure in place to really pick up what’s a pretty significant amount of publishing that’s going on, and to me that’s one of the important roles that libraries and institutions should be doing now, is creating these repositories, developing these open journal systems that in essence can begin to lay that foundation and build the experience, so we can begin some kind of migration process if this were to ever happen. But I think we somehow need to try to sort through this and try to think about what the ultimate goal is and is there a better way to try to provide the experience or to provide that scholarship openly?

AJ: In spite of all the grey areas, complexities, and complications, Openness in policy, culture and academics – why do we do it? Mary sums it up by keeping focus on the goal of openness:

Mary: Openness and open access are not the end. They’re a means to the end. And the end is really a society where we have access to information at where we can improve health, improve you know the decision making and policy making where perhaps even the economy can be impacted by having access to this information and in an open environment and where research can be conducted much more vibrantly and effectively.

Joy: Openness is always around. It isn’t a new idea. And it certainly isn’t tied to technology or the Internet or even to words.

AJ: If openness is a means to an end, sometimes it can just be a sound, a place that leads to an idea, that leads to way of life, a way of thinking, a way of being...

We leave it up to you...

Joy: We’d like to our guests Sandra Braman, Steve Jones and Mary Case for taking time out of their schedules to spend the day with us. Thanks to The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Daley Library for hosting our event.

AJ: And of course, Linda Naru, special thanks to he for her keen eye to detail, making the arrangements, and meeting our every need. We appreciate all you’ve done and continue to do for the series.

Joy: Thanks, always, to Ed Valauskas for giving us this opportunity.

AJ: And special thanks to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for their generous support.

Joy: As always any questions or comments email us at comments [at] firstmondaypodcast [dot] org. I’m Joy Austria

AJ: And I’m AJ Hannah. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you guys next month.End of article

Notes
(1) In a October 10, 2008 email message Sandra notes, “Though the reference here is plural, and more than one publisher has raised questions in my mind about such matters, I am, thankfully, only familiar with one publisher across all of the details of possible processes mentioned here.”
(2) Free Press is only one among a growing number of non-profit organizations, activist, and advocate groups now working on communication policy issues around the world, working at the local, national, regional, and global levels.
(3) According to Sandra’s knowledge, the National Institutes of Health grant requirements go the furthest with this in the US.