Access to research: Nobody in the history of the world has ever liked raisins. NOBODY!!
March 8, 2016
THE STORY SO FAR: Erin McKiernan can’t get access to the research she needs in Mexico, Mohammad M.M.H can’t get it in Jordan, and Nora Turoman can’t get it in Serbia. Meanwhile, Christy Collins is in America, but can’t get the research she needs to understand her son’s health condition because she’s not a full-time academic. Josephine Hellberg is a full-time academic — at the University of Oxford, even — but also doesn’t have access to the research she needs. Oh, and the richest university in the world can’t afford its scholarly subscriptions.
We now take a detour to the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is the comments section of The Scholarly Kitchen. That site has always been a mixed pleasure at best, but in the last few days I’ve found myself unable to look away from the car-crash that’s been going on in the comments* on the recent Sci-Hub post. What I’m seeing — over and over and over again — is the utterly specious claim that everyone who needs access to research has that access; and that those who don’t have access don’t need it.
I know, I know — it sounds impossible that anyone could be so cloth-eared, so impervious to reality, as to make that claim. But don’t take my word for it. Read the comments for yourselves:
David Wojick writes:
I personally doubt that there are large numbers of people who (1) have the expert knowledge required to read and benefit from the scholarly literature but who (2) cannot find a way to access what they need. The arguments I have seen to this effect are completely unconvincing.
Harvey Kane follows up:
Mike I don’t know how to break this to you but it is not the millions but rather the dozen or so.
I thought Jason Lowther’s tweet was a good response: “Wow – what a coincidence that I know them all personally. I’ve had three local government practitioners raise this THIS WEEK”. But apparently not:
The list of supposed millions that you link to embodies an absurd model of the diffusion of scientific knowledge. This is one of the fundamental fallacies of OA, namely that non-experts should read journals. […] Only a few people can understand the typical journal article. (Local government officials are certainly not among them.)
(This will come as a surprise to Jason, who is a local government official currently engaged in a Ph.D on how research can influence policy.)
Toby Green pointed out that “40% of OECD population is educated to tertiary level, which means there are millions capable of reading much scholarly literature” and linked to data supporting this. Impressive? Again, no:
Having a tertiary degree does not make one capable of understanding a scientific article, far from it.
At this stage in the discussion, Christy Collins stepped in to explain just one of the many reasons why non-academics might need access. Christy has a child who suffers from a rare genetic condition, M-CM. She has educated herself to understand this condition and leads a support-and-advocacy group for other parents in the same situation. I urge you to read her comment on the Scholarly Kitchen post, as it’s a model of polite restraint and careful explanation. Surely that would be enough to sway the Kitcheners? Not a bit of it, according to Wojick:
Christy, keep in mind that the issue here is a need so compelling that it justifies the forced restructuring of the science journal industry. I do not think that supporting political advocacy meets that high threshold requirement
Then Harvey Kane steps in to publishersplain why Christy can’t possibly care about whether articles are open or not:
Christy: I looked at your site and you have a list of papers. Whether open or not could or could not be a concern to your audience, their decisions are theirs.
There is plenty more like this — check out for example the sub-thread arising from Mickey Mortimer’s contribution. I could go on all night, but I won’t because this is making my guts tired. I will highlight justone more exchange:
That everyone should read journals is simply a fallacy.
And yet, people inconveniently keep wanting to read journals. A fact that must surely put some kind of a dent in your hypothesis? Or do you just conclude that they are all mistaken in wanting to read the journals?
Mike just who wants to read journals? I know of no one except those involved in the topic of the journal.
Which is just … I can’t … Well — I mean to say — what? How is it possible for anyone to hold this position towards the back-end of a discussion that’s already encompassed Christy Collins’ need for medical research, Mickey Mortimer’s need for palaeontology research, links to the Who Needs Access website and to Harvard’s Your Story Matters collection?
Then I realised how very simple the explanation was: these people are simply impervious to evidence. It just doesn’t matter to them.
And once I’d realised that, I twigged why the whole shape of the discussion felt so strangely familiar to me: I’d seen in before in this Basic Instructions cartoon:
And this, it seems, is the entire basis for the argument often found at the Scholarly Kitchen that no-one other than career academics needs access to research:
- Make claims that are so outrageous that your opponent will be left sputtering in disbelief rather than refuting your claims.
- Make them prove their point beyond all possible doubt. When they can’t, take it as proof of your point.
- (Not pictured) Simply ignore all evidence.
- Later, even if you lost the argument, say that you won.
The only way they deviate from the Basic Instructions script is by choosing a topic of enormous importance, with immense ramifications for millions of people.
The Nobody-In-The-History-Of-The-World-Has-Ever-Liked-Raisins strategy (hereafter, the NITHOTWHELR Strategy) is how these legacy-publishing relics are able to remain living in their dream world, in the face of all the evidence.
From now on, every time I hear someone claiming that everyone who needs access to research has it, I will just think to myself:
Nobody in the history of the world has ever liked raisins. NOBODY!!
Because that’s all they’re saying.
*In the interests of fairness, note that these commenters do not speak for the The Scholarly Kitchen — although Wojick, at least, is a 30-post veteran author on that blog.