I’ve been an idiot for three years; or, goodbye Brexit, hello Open Access!

February 27, 2020

If you check out the Shiny Digital Future page on this site, where we write about scholarly publishing, open access, open data and other such matters, you will see the following:

  • 2009: 9 posts
  • 2010: 5 posts
  • 2011: 9 posts
  • 2012: 116 posts! Woah!
  • 2013: 75 posts
  • 2014: 34 posts
  • 2015: 31 posts
  • 2016, up until the end of June: 34 posts
  • 2016, July onwards: 8 posts
  • 2017: 12 posts
  • 2018: 6 posts
  • 2019: 4 posts
  • 2020: nothing yet.

In four and a half years up to the end of June, Matt and I (but mostly I) posted 290 times in the Shiny Digital Future, for an average of 64.4 posts a year (one every 5.6 days). Since then we’ve posted 30 times in a bit more than three and a half years, for an average of 8.6 posts a year (one every 42.6 days).

Shiny Digital Future posts by year (2016 split into halves)

Something happened half way through 2016 that cut my Shiny Digital Future productivity to 13% of what it was before. (And, no, I wasn’t bought off by Elsevier.)

Here’s another funny thing. My eldest son was taking his A-levels in the summer of 2016. He had got so good at the Core 4 paper in maths that he was reliably scoring 95–100% on every past paper. He took the actual exam on the morning of 24th June, and scored 65% — a mark so low that it prevented him getting an A* grade.

Well, we all know what happened on the 23rd of June 2016: the Brexit referendum. I know that opinions differ on the desirability of Brexit, but for our family it was emotionally devastating. It’s the reason Dan was so knocked sideways that he botched his Core 4 paper. It’s hung over us all to a greater or lesser extent ever since, and it’s only with the recent triumph of the “Conservative” Party1 in the 2019 General Election that I’ve finally attained the ability to think of it as Somebody Else’s Problem. There is something gloriously liberating about being so comprehensively beaten that you can just give up.

I’m not going to rehearse all the reasons why Brexit is awful — not now, not ever again. (If you have a taste for that kind of thing, I recommend Chris Grey’s Brexit Blog, which is dispassionate, informed and forensic.) I’m not going to follow Brexit commentators on Twitter, and read all the desperately depressing analysis they highlight. I’m certainly not going to blog about it myself any more. More importantly, I’m not going to let the ongoing disintegration of my country dominate my mind or my emotions. I’m walking away: because obviously absolutely nothing I say or do about it can make the slightest bit of difference.

But there is an area of policy where I can hope to make some small difference, and that is of course open science — including but not limited to open access, open data, open reviewing and how research is evaluated. That’s where my political energy should have been going for the last three years, and it’s where that energy will be going from now on.

Because so much is happening in this space right now, and we need to be thinking about it and writing about it! Ludicrously, we’ve never even written anything about Plan S even though it’s nearly eighteen months old. But so much more is going on:

Each of these developments merits its own post and discussion, and I’m sorry I don’t have the energy to do that right now.

What I offer instead is an apology for letting my energy by stolen for so long by such a stupid issue; and a promise to refocus in 2020. I’ll start shortly by writing up the R2R debate that I was involved in on Monday, on the proposition “The venue of its publication tells us nothing useful about the quality of a paper”.


1The more right-wing of the two large political parties in the UK is called the Conservative party, and traditionally it has adhered to small-c conservative ideals. But at the moment, it’s the exact opposite of what it says on the tin: it’s been hijacked by a radical movement that, contra Chesterton’s Fence, wants to smash everything up in the hope that whatever emerges from the chaos will be better than what we have now. It may be exciting; it may even (who knows?) prove to be right, in the end2. What it ain’t, is conversative.

2Spoiler: it won’t.


2 Responses to “I’ve been an idiot for three years; or, goodbye Brexit, hello Open Access!”

  1. Fair Miles Says:

    So bitter-sweet news, I guess: let’s concentrate on getting THIS boat to the coast while the whole Titanic is sinking [shrug emoji]. From the point of view of my interests, I not only celebrate your courage and hope to make a difference but also the decision on your priorities. I did have some fun with dino’s necks and dissection projects in the meantime, but I must confess I was mostly just peeping and deleting (RSS into a pop3 mailbox anyone else?) while waiting for better times to come back. ;-)

    Open Access and related issues caught my attention around 2013. Your posts and opinions (within the Shiny Digital Future Golden Era, now I see) appeared not only relevant but frequent, so I started following them [not necessarily to feel proud about it, but I am rather selective with “pushed” information]. Looking back (then on your previous posts, now on the time since then), you helped me learn a lot on Open Science and tie so many of those Ioose threads that have been making made me increasingly unconfortable with The Scientific System as seen from (and in) the southern end of The Global South. I hoped (and did some minor effort) to inform researchers (i.e., my team) so they would now see and understand, and then take better, necessary personal and collective decisions. However, in the last years “my Open Access” have followed the path of “your Brexit”: I lost any hope because “obviously absolutely nothing I say or do about it can make the slightest bit of difference”. I should be focusing on research. I should be trying to publish fast in one of the few remaining free-to-publish “high impact” journals before APCs gets me (all us?) out of the system. I should not be writing all this to Mike in a trying second language.

    Times have become hockey-stick exponential, and I still struggle to track linear increases. I don’t have the time (energy? guts?) to follow all the updates on the subject matter, less so every irrelevant commentary on Twitter (what do I say: I don’t even use Twitter!!!).

    Your Shiny Digital Future project will be my informed editor. You will not only separate the grain from the chaff for me but also help me think and understand (and discuss) the grain itself. So please be aware that I will suck on your energy and courage to, maybe, make me question my feeling of hopelessness and disintegration.

    So we never left, but let us welcome back!

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thank you, Fair Miles — in among all the pain there, is a lot of encouragement too. I really appreciate it.

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