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March 05, 2006

Open Access publishing costs less, which we can prove only by doing it

Jan Velterop, Rituals, The Parachute, February 22, 2006.

Excerpt and comment (below) by Peter Suber:

"Open access publishing, in addition to all the other benefits it has, also keeps the cost of scientific literature in line with research spending. This isn't, of course, proven yet, let alone scientifically. But how would one prove it without doing it in the first place? The proof of this pudding, I'm afraid, can only be in the eating, as the saying goes."

Comment: Exactly right. How do we respond to those who want the proof in advance? I'm thinking of those who want proof that OA publishing costs less before doing it, as well as those who want proof that high-volume OA archiving won't harm journals --at least outside physics, where we already have proof of both harmlessness and synergy. Part of the answer is that the subscription model, with annual price increases above inflation, could never have gotten off the ground if it had to provide proof prior to experience. (Nor could it justify its continued existence if it had to prove its continuing sustainability.) No innovation could get off the ground if it had to answer all skeptics in advance.

There's a nice generalization of this observation by Ronald Bailey in the February 17 issue of Reason, Culture of Fear: Dealing with cultural panic attacks.

Excerpt: "Earlier this week, the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, held a remarkably interesting conference titled "Panic Attack: The New Precautionary Culture, the Politics of Fear, and the Risks to Innovation."...[I]t looked at how many Western countries are losing their cultural nerve, as evidenced by the increasing cultural acceptance of the so-called precautionary principle. The strongest versions of the precautionary principle demand that innovators prove that their inventions will never cause harm before they are allowed to deploy or sell them. In other words, if an action might cause harm, then inaction is preferable. The problem is that all new activities, especially those involving scientific research and technological innovation, always carry some risks. Attempting to avoid all risk is a recipe for technological and economic stagnation."

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