In this highly recommended interview by David Weinberger, open access advocate Peter Suber offers a pithy explanation of how open access means more than simply making scholarly communications freely available online:
Open access is not the end, it’s the means…to enhanced forms of research.
By making vast swaths of publications freely available online, we make it easier for us to design systems for text mining, meaning extraction, and automated classification and abstracting.
Definitely check out the full interview, which can be found in episode #2 (“Free Knowledge”) of the Library Lab podcast.
I’m deep in the middle of James Gleick’s wonderful new book, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, and ran across this complaint from 1954 by scientists feverishly working the decode DNA who found inadequate the traditional communication channels of journal publishing:
They all had different coding ideas. Mathematically the problem seemed daunting even to [George] Gamow. ‘As in the breaking of enemy messages during the war,’ he wrote in 1954, ‘the success depends on the available length of the coded text. As every intellegience officer will tell you, the work is very hard, and the success depends mostly on luck…I am afraid that the problem cannot be solved without the help of electronic computer.’ Gamow and [James] Watson decided to make it a club: the RNA Tie Club, with exactly twenty members. Each member received a woolen tie in black and green, made to Gamow’s design by a haberdasher in Losa Angeles. The game playing aside, Gamow wanted to create a communication channel to bypass journal publication. News in science had never moved so fast. ‘Many of the essential concepts were first proposed in informal discussions on both sides of the Atlantic and were then quickly broadcast to the congnoscenti,’ said another member, Gunther Stent, ‘by private international bush telegraph.’ (p. 294)
The “private international bush telegraph” of today’s scholars has expanded to a range of communication channels and tools, including subject repositories, FriendFeed, Twitter, IRC, wikis, etc.
Nearly done with Lawrence Lessig’s Remix. In the final chapter, Lessig offers this great quote by Thomas Jefferson:
If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. (p. 290).
The full quote can be found in a letter Jefferson wrote to Isaac McPherson on August 13, 1813, and is reprinted in volume 6 of The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Andrew A. Lipscomb and Albert Ellery Bergh (Washington: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1905). The letter can also be found online on a site from the University of Chicago Press.