There seems to me at least two ways to acquire elite intellectual status. First, you could write your ideas for others to see and acknowledge the fact that you are indeed an elite intellectual. On the other hand, you could purchase the most expensive scientific instruments and work in the most exclusive laboratories and, without doing anything others so equipped could not do, see into some microbe deeper than ever before.
The elite intellectual status our university achieved, along with only a few others, as of the beginning on this calendar year was, I think, of the second sort of eliteness. It’s the type you achieve by being born richer than everyone else or the sort a corporation achieves by stealing its competitors ideas — but changing them ever so slightly, so as not to violate the patent.
This eliteness agreement was signed by provost Cheryl Misak. For some background, aside from her current occupation as our provost, she was first famous for being a pretty stellar philosopher. She once argued persuasively that, “The right answers to our political questions are not the answers given by a sovereign, or by a deity, or by some canon of Reason, but rather, the right answers are those which we [the people] would arrive at were we [the people] to debate, deliberate, and inquire in an open fashion.”
Another word for ‘the people’ is ‘the public.’ But, as John Dewey wrote close to a century ago, “There is no public without full publicity in respect to all consequences which concern it.” The Access Copyright agreement does not allow for this full publicity — or anything like it. It allows for very narrow and defined margins of publicity. Indeed, many other predatory publishers are doing the same. But knowledge in dark quarters is too often idiocy when exposed to the light of day. There’s a reason mischievousness sleeps during the day.
As Provost Misak writes of Dewey, he “thought, with Peirce, that if a belief were to always withstand challenges, if it were to always stand up to experience and argument, there is nothing higher or better we could ask of it.” What she fails to write is that it is quite difficult for scientists working at Memorial University’s labs to challenge the results of experiments conducted at the University of Toronto if they do not have access to the scholarly journals University of Toronto scholars do have access to.
As Dewey writes, “…a thing is fully known only when it is published, shared, socially accessible.” The epithet on Ariel Katz’ website reads, “Civilization is essentially an open-source project.” They both seem to me to be making the same point. Those unjustified authorities Provost Misak writes of are blocking the way of inquiry — and thus, contradicting Peirce’s first rule of logic. They stop you from asking sensible questions like “But what if the king is wrong?”
Likewise, if we are keeping our answers to difficult questions from the scrutiny of anyone else who would like to take a shot at them, we are stopping others from asking, “what if Ariel Katz is wrong about Access Copyright?” Fortunately, Professor Katz does not hide his views — and has had to withstand his fair share of criticism. So what does it say about your university when it limits the access others have to the works of its scholars? Well, save nocturnal creatures — and shift workers — we ought to be suspicious of anyone who sleeps during the day.
The Access Copyright agreement signed by Provost Misak in January of 2012, essentially signs away her confidence in her faculty. She signed away the integrity of your work for you. This, in itself, is a high crime.
But what about all the reasons people who are more practical than me give for being outraged over the agreement? You’re being charged twice for work we pay scholars to produce — whether via taxes or tuition — and please let us lean towards the former for a change. You’re being charged once to pay them to do the work, and again so you can see it when they’re done. And this is aside from the fact that legal scholars in the appropriate areas of law are shouting at the top of their lungs that we shouldn’t be worried about Access Copyright in court.
Dewey thought we should publish the findings of the social sciences in newspapers — and, for Dewey, all science was social. The academic journals should be reserved only for methodological squabbles. And was he really so crazy? If it concerns you, shouldn’t you know about it? Why should my grandfather, a former pharmacist, have to borrow my UTORID to find the latest information about my grandmother’s type-2 diabetes? Are we afraid our medical professionals would be out of a job if our grandparents didn’t have to go to them as often? There just seems to me no reason — except for evil self-interested reasons (yum, my favourite) — to be against information and ideas being spread across the fields of the world as widely as possible so that they may grow as widely as possible.
Bahram Farzady is GSU Academics & Funding Commissioner for the Art, Humanities and Social Sciences