Mandated self-archiving, anthropology, and power

Steven Harnad suggests that institutions could mandate self-archiving to get researchers to comply, as opposed to voluntary policies that have proven ineffective.  The ineffectiveness of voluntary policies is backed up by my own research where very few professors were aware of the legalities behind it, many arguing it would not be legal due to copyright, even though the American Anthropological Association and the SSHRC both claim support of it.

That they are not aware, and not making their students aware, show how these voluntary mechanisms for achieving self-archiving are not working.

This pushes me to support self-archiving mandates.

But let’s integrate the discussions I’ve been having with Max, an anthropologist who has spent a lot of time with politically marginalized groups. He asserts he is a “reformed open access advocate”, who while having founded an open access journal KACIKE, has since developed concern over the way the accessibility of the internet leverages existing power relationships even more. Access on the internet is not equal, not only due to government support of particular media monopolies – but also in the way programs can be developed to harvest information.

Open Access works to balance out unequal distribution – by giving those without access, access. But once everyone has access, there are other ways for inequality to present itself. In order to compile all the information, it requires massive man power – as is found among thousands of Chinese citizens working as internet censors. Open Access makes it easy for these censors to filter information, to find names, places, targets, etc. By posting an article about Falong Gong on a blog, or in an Open Access journal, programs developed in part by companies like Google can scan through the information and “harvest” it. Posts on such topics are automatically tagged and saved away for a human to scan through later.

So what kinds of information are people harvesting? The U.S. military has offices setup where soldiers can earn “distance drilling credit” by gathering data online from “open source” sources. Since the information was all open source, I wish I could tell you what they harvest, but they take “open source” info, and turn it into an inaccessible, but “unclassified” database. (also see here.)

The Chinese government has intelligence/censoring staff working full time, and they have in effect created a very different internet than the one we can access here. They, like the U.S. government, make sure they can “sniff” through the most traffic possible online, so they force telecom companies to make sure there are “choke” points on the internet where all information flows through. This lets them setup powerful monitoring tools..

The point here is, that state and corporate powers are colluding to control and observe peoples internet use. Companies need to track transactions, just as much as some states need to track citizens. These technologies are extremely powerful, but only available to dominant groups.

Enter Open Access. We share everything online, but who benefits the most? The academics, and interest groups, we might expect to read anthropology articles? Or, in being so open, are companies like Google and state powers benefiting more?

Google scans through every single email I send, and receive, using a computer program that looks for advertising key words. They don’t actually read it, but they created the technology to do so, and now governments are getting into the game too.

So back to Falong Gong. Do I really want the information making its way into corporate/state databases? Because with Open Access, it will. With “closed-access” it probably will too, but not as quickly or easily – and those accessing it will have to know about it, select it, and go through it – as opposed to information being flagged or blocked automagically.

For anthropologists, the concern over “what should be shared” in a publication is nothing new and there are massive debates as to how one can ethically go about doing and publishing research. And since I’m dealing with OA, I’m not even talking about researchers who collude even more directly with military powers.

To mandate self-archiving would remove a “gray” area that currently exists for material no one can identify as “safe” or “dangerous” to share. Since the concerns over what kinds of research are proper haven’t yet been worked out, then I agree, mandates might be too extreme. At the same time, I’d rather research methods and topics be developed – that address the kinds of content that are damaging.

I stand by the idea scholarship is meant to be shared. So I’m excited to see what Max’s upcoming presentation, “Useless Anthropology”: Strategies for Dealing with the Militarization of the Academy” turns out.

[another angle against mandated self-archiving, is the need for culturally appropriate rules for dissemination – as argued by Kimberly Christen and demonstrated on the Mukurtu Archive project website. There are collaborations between communities and academia that develop into interesting research, but that demand other forms of publication. Mandated self-archiving universalizes the properness of “being open”, which has been shown to cause conflicts, and perhaps unnecessarily limits the kinds of publication that can be developed out of research.]

[and this doesn’t mean we can’t have self-archiving mandates, that allow for exceptions!]


4 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks Owen, your posts are very engaging as usual. My paper will be up later this week, though I doubt that its contents will be anything new to you — maybe the phrasing and emphasis might be a little sharper than in the past, maybe not.

    One *might* mandate self-archiving, you should mention, only with publicly funded projects. Where research was not funded by public programs, the public can lay no claim at all. Moreover, public funding can never trump ethics, in my view, and our primary responsibilities remain to the people at the heart of our research.


  2. One big problem with the “public funding -> self-archiving mandate” argument, that Steven Harnad raises:

    “(7) One tricky point to watch out for is the “public access” argument: The rationale that OA is needed for the tax-payers who funded the research is a very shaky one. It may be a good vote-getter for a politician, but it definitely does not have the empirical, logical and practical force of the demonstrated research impact benefits of OA;p nor does it need to. The way to rebut the publishers’ (valid) claim that it is unfair to ask them to put their revenues at risk merely or mainly for the sake of general public access to a literature that almost none of the general public is ever likely to want to read (except in a few practical areas of medicine, etc.) is to firmly redirect the “public right” and “public good” argument toward the public benefits of the research that the public funds, which are maximized by making research maximally available to the users for whom it is mostly written, namely, researchers, so they can use and apply it in further research and applications, as intended, for the benefit of the public that funded it. (It will be publicly accessible too, but only as a secondary benefit, not the primary rationale for OA, which is free access to publicly funded research, for researcher use, for public benefit.)”

    Looking at anthropology, I would think the “public access” argument is stronger than it is with less politically involved disciplines.

    Harnad is arguing that the public access argument isn’t necessary, since OA has been demonstrated to benefit “research impact” so well.

    But in our discussions, it seems the problem is more of “research impacts” -> ie. it isn’t impacting one group, but many. The “research impact in the academy” is very different than “the research impact outside the academy”, or the “yet-to-be-determined impact in yet-to-be-determined-political-contexts”.


  3. just wanted to comment on the idea that once you have something published as open access, and everyone has internet access, it seems as if everyone has that something.

    first, even in Canada, access to the internet is not universal (in spite of what the stats say). access does not mean simply ‘internet connection available’, but also the skills required to find, to make sense of and to make use of the online content.

    second, any information is symbolically coded within a particular discourse, and to make sense of it you need to be proficient in that discourse (i’m not talking about digital coding, but about symbolic coding, in Bourdieu’s sense).


  4. Thanks for bringing this up. While marking a few 200 level “Introduction to Culture” exams a few semesters back, I encountered numerous misuses of the term “primitive”. The exam was an open book exam, and a few people thought it perfectly correct to use the same language that was used in old anthropology essays. In this sense, OA to old anthropology essays, without any disclaimer or without presenting current discussions with it, might be a terrible idea.

    And in speaking about Bourdieu, I picked up a few books of his in hopes they would help with this thesis… I can’t get into any of them, mostly because of the language. Which bugs me, because I was hoping books would be more accessible than journal articles for diving into a subject.

    Where I think Open Access can help in this regard, is that with OA publications it will be easier to organize material in more comprehensive ways, where related and necessary discussions are included in the same place.

    Right now, it is almost impossible to track discussions through all the anthro journals – concepts develop over several articles, and often over the course of decades.

    Edited readers work to bring such articles together in meaningful ways, but I see a great future for edited compilations online – fueled by the open access movement. Complimented with syllabus, discussions/comments about the articles, and with links to other related articles, I believe researchers will be able to present anthropology in more accessible ways.

    But right now, with the current copyright setup, it’s difficult for researchers to arrange the material in such a way.

    That not everyone with an internet connection can properly navigate the internet is another really good point. I think the developments online are making it easier to work through information however, and I wonder how many people can navigate the library any better than the internet (err google).

    While I tried to avoid the issue of access to the internet in my proposal, I would like to include a paragraph disclaimer saying why such a discussion didn’t make its way in, and perhaps link to where it can be found. Do you have any suggestions for anthro articles dealing with access to the internet?

    Thanks very much for your comments,


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