Scientific knowledge is a public good. In order to be used in a optimal way for further knowledge production or application, it is argued, scientific knowledge needs to be freely accessible. Yet, the current system of scientific knowledge dissemination with peer-review journals at the centre stage exhibits significant barriers in monetary terms and regarding institutional affiliation. Web 2.0 technologies promise to ease these constraints and to get closer to the ideal of free communication in the scientific community. They support the nearly universal and quick distribution, storage and debate of research finding while further offering new possibilities for the collective generation of new knowledge.The technically feasible however is not necessarily in line with publishers’ interests or the system of incentives prevalent in science. On these grounds an open access movement has formed which is inspired by the Open Source movement in the software development community, e.g. the GNU General Public License, Berkeley Software Distribution License or Creative Commons licenses. Advocates of open access to scientific knowledge are plentiful and span from the Alliance of German Science Organisations on the national level to the European Union, UNESCO and SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) on a global scale. A prominent manifesto is the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to knowledge in the sciences and humanities, which derives its content mainly from the Budapest Open Access Initiative by George Soros and the Open Society Institute. The former stipulates 2 main principles:
1. “The author(s) and right holder(s) of such contributions grant(s) to all users a free, irrevocable, worldwide, right of access to, and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship [...], as well as the right to make small numbers of printed copies for their personal use.”
2. “A complete version of the work and all supplemental materials [...] in an appropriate standard electronic format is deposited (and thus published) in at least one online repository [...] that is supported and maintained by an academic institution, scholarly society, government agency, or other well-established organization that seeks to enable open access, unrestricted distribution, inter operability, and long-term archiving.”
It is claimed that open access to scientific papers and data would increase the visibility of research findings, speed up discussions, support interdisciplinary and international cooperation, facilitate technology transfer and that flaws in peer-review processes as well as in informal scientific communications could be ameliorated.
However on may also argue that open access isn’t a natural law or worldview but a movement or methodology having its origins in a specific historical, social and local context – US software development communities. Thus caution had to be exercised when transferring this concept to the scientific community. Openness and accessibility of knowledge may support progress but the question is if the organizational structure of science supports such a paradigm. For instance, John Wilbanks argues that science in contrast to software development would neither possess a „crowd“ of professionals with comparable and combinable skills (but rather experts in fragmented disciplines or subfields), nor would object orientation allow for a modular and distributed organisation of knowledge generation (on the scale of specific research questions). Furthermore technology still lacked advancement, e.g. regarding text mining and the semantic web. Science would also suffer from non-disclosure policies when private actors are involved in research processes as well as an institutional set-up and incentive structures unfavorable to the idea of open access.
Would it consequently be futile or even counterproductive to implement an open access policy in science? Or is it worth to try anyway?