Open Dissent

Last Sunday Evgeny Morozov published an opinion piece in The New York Times, “Open and Closed”, which addresses openness as a fad:

…”openness” has become a dangerously vague term, with lots of sex appeal but barely any analytical content… Openness is today a powerful cult, a religion with its own dogmas … “open” has become the new “green”

There’s some truth to this. “Open” is being prefixed to a lot of things, almost as a sales technique, in the same way as the words sustainable, natural, organic, and local. And to some extent perhaps I have been susceptible- for example, the Links page here directs readers to initiatives for open data, open science, open peer review, etc. While I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about open access, I know much less about these other “open” efforts and hoped to use this blog to examine them.

The problem, as Morozov states, is that “open” everything emerged from the open source movement and was then translated to other areas. But that is a unique domain with its own problems and solutions. So the takeaway, which I think most of us already knew, is that

We must differentiate the many different types of “open.”

His later point about MOOCs perhaps has some merit, although I find it odd that he falls in with the strongest advocates of open in saying that MOOCs should “also give users the ability to reuse, remix and repurpose their content.” So it isn’t that “open” is unfocused or misguided, it’s that it isn’t open enough.

We should always evaluate claims critically, particularly in the university, where we claim to promote just that, though those involved in the open access movement have been examining particular problems and potential solutions for years now.

On the whole I find a critique of openness intriguing, though I actually wish it had a bit more bite to it. It’s an issue I’ll be returning to again.

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About Philip Young

Philip Young is Scholarly Communication Librarian at Virginia Tech where he supports outreach about open access, copyright/open licensing, open data, ORCID, and metrics/altmetrics.

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