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Open Access

January 26, 2009

Short posts Monday and Tuesday – in Vegas for biz.

Thank FSM for Reddit; it tipped me off to the site for MIT’s Computational Linguistics journal.  Since the field deals with natural language processing (critical info to have if you’re developing the ultimate, albeit fictional chatbot), this is a bonanza for me.  Previously only available to academics and libraries, it’s just opened to the public.  From the editor’s note in the last issue:

There are a number of definitions of the term ‘open access’ in circulation, but almost all share the key principle that scientific literature should be freely available for all to read, download, copy, distribute, and use (with appropriate attribution) without restriction.  At the time of writing, the vast bulk of scholarly literature is not open access: Either you pay for access directly as an individual subscriber (for example, in the case of Computational Linguistics, via your annual membership subscription to the Association for Computational Linguistics), or you gain access via an institutional subscription (typically, your library’s annual subscription to MIT Press).

There is an increasingly widely held view that this is just not right. Given that almost all the research published in scholarly journals is paid for by the taxpayer, it’s reasonable to ask what justification there can be for restricting public access to this research by requiring that a further payment be made to read about it. And ‘toll access’, as it is sometimes called, is not only bad for the reading public; it has been frequently argued that it is bad for authors too, because any barriers to access may decrease the likelihood of citation and the general impact of the reported work.

As I put it in my Reddit comment:

I’m a late convert to “open source/open access” – as a novelist I’ve always been afraid that if the cost of accessing information becomes zero, the wage for producing it will also become zero. Writing, unlike music, can’t be supported by concert tours (and nobody is buying t-shirts with a writer’s picture on it unless you’re dead and famous), so on the day the printed novel dies, many of us are in deep doo doo.

All the same, I’m currently writing a new novel about AI, and have decided to post it, and the process of creating it, on the web as I go (, in the hope that one day I’ll either be able to ask for donations or its success will lead to …. well, something that pays. Better to be ahead of the curve than behind it, and honestly I can use the input I hope to get from making it “open access.”

As a non-academic, there is just no way I could do the research for this book if I had to pay for every article on this technical subject. Just having spent a few minutes on this journal’s site, I’ve already found four or five “plain English” articles with information I feel the need to incorporate into my process. So this site opening up has already contributed to work in another field. Thanks for posting the link!

I’ll definitely be posting much more on these articles as I make time to read them.

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