Sep 22 2010 Published by under Open Access

Not shockingly, there's quite a bit of confusion in the research enterprise about what exactly "open" means. Open access is bad enough, with its green and its gold and its gratis and its libre and its cha-cha-cha (okay, I made that last one up). Open data is worse, partly because it started happening on a noticeable scale before the Panton Principles could frame it properly.

It's pretty safe to say, though, that the Cacao Genome Project ain't open data. Glen Newton has all the details, but the basic upshot is that to get to this supposedly (and trumpeted-ly) "open" data, one has to register (pseudonyms need not apply) and agree to an extraordinarily restrictive license that precludes data mashups and publications, among other things.

Now, I don't know what happened here. It may not have been the researchers' fault. Maybe somebody's lawyer wasn't clear on the concept—funny how often this seems to happen in an "open" context, as open-source developers in academia and industry will tell you at great length. Maybe somebody's website developer was asleep at the switch. I won't poke fun at the researchers themselves, nor assume malice or cluelessness, until more is known.

Just for a moment, though, let's think about what this false claim tells us about the brand value of "open." With regard to data, particularly genome data, it seems to be higher than I would have guessed at this early date. The CGP didn't just quietly put their dataset out there; they made a big deal of its supposed openness. That's fascinating, and it's hopeful. Science is prestige-mad. If open data is a prestige brand, that's a good thing for those of us who want to see more of it.

Curiously, I can't come up with analogous cases of "fauxpen" in publishing. There are the lovely hybrid publishers who can't tweak their website designs enough to get rid of demands for money on articles whose authors have purchased the open-access option, I suppose. In my head that's not quite the same thing, though; it's not really trying to leverage the "open" brand falsely, more trying to ignore "open" in order to grab at more money. I might suggest that publishers have done enough of a smear job on open-access publishing that the "open access" brand is worth less than "open data." I hope that sad situation can be reversed.

The comments are open for LOLresearchers, LOLpublishers, or any other (PG-13, please) illustration of the post title. If I get some good ones, I'll post them here (with credit, naturally).

9 responses so far

  • [...] licenses that restrict what can be done with the data, including prohibitions on publication (eg, via). The Panton Principles provide a useful framework for what can be considered a [...]

  • [...] “OPEN” UR DOIN IT RONG [...]

  • Graham Steel says:

    re: " Open data is worse, partly because it started happening on a noticeable scale before the Panton Principles could frame it properly".

    Abolutely. And having spent 8 hours over the weekend transcribing 1/3 of this recent discussion, http://poynder.blogspot.com/2010/08/open-data-panton-discussions.html at least from the section that I was involved with, there was a fair amount of detailed clarification. #alawyerwaspresent

    I/we look forward to reading the whole discussion as soon as the (transcribed) pieces of this audio jigsaw have been put in place.

    It should all be stitched together in about two weeks, I think.

    D, having listened to the full recording, in a reasonably stark contrast to what I've read from Poynder over the years, let's just say, he was outnumbered in the Panton Arms.

  • Mr. Gunn says:

    Thanks for raising this issue, Dorothea. I first realized openwashing was going to become a practice when I heard that Facebook had decided to call their "all your data are belong to us" mechanism "Open Graph".

    This pic would serve as a decent visual representation, don't you think?

    • Ba-hahahahahaha! Good one!

    • In the software world, openwashing of the sort like Facebook's OpenGraph has been going on for a while. The justification for calling something like that "open" is that the _standard_, the description of the protocol is "open". That is, in the sense that it's an actually published standard, not a trade secret or what have you. Which doesn't mean that the standard is controlled by a public body, rather than a single corporation. On the other hand, we have standards controlled by public bodies (like ISO), which cost money to get a copy of! Which is more 'open'?

      But either way, open-ness of a standard/protocol is yet another category, different than open source software or open access articles or 'open data'. And open-ness of a standard/protocol is generally less exciting to users than this other stuff -- and has basically definitively 'won', most software making companies recognize the value of open standards these days (although still some try to call only sort of kind of open standards 'open' for branding. MS Office Open XML, anyone? An actual 'open' standard, that actually is maintained by a public standards body, but which is so complex and fit to the workings of MS products, that nobody else would ever want to use it.).

      Definitely one big reason companies like to attach the name 'open' to their standards is the 'branding' benefits Dorothea talks about -- even if the standard really is 'open', they want the name 'open' to imply more to people who don't neccesarily realize that there are different things 'open' can apply to.

      This is why standards for 'open-ness' like the Panton Principles for data, or for open source from OSI, are so important. OSI actually publishes an approved list of open source licenses; is there anyone 'verifying' that a paticular data license, or a particular data set, is 'really' open according to the Panton Principles?

      • Dorothea says:

        That last question is KEY, Jonathan. The answer is "no" for now. In gold open access we have OASPA; they don't seem to do a very thorough job, but they're better than nothing.

        I'm sitting on my hands because I want to announce something I know about that's relevant to this question, but it's not mine to announce so I won't.