Re: Pascal's Wager and Open Access (OA)

From: Fred Spilhaus <FSpilhaus_at_AGU.ORG>
Date: Sun, 5 Dec 2004 14:55:40 -0500

I don't think we are looking at any sort of conspiracies or
doomsday scenarios. What Sally suggests is just one of the
consequences that are certain in at least some small measure if
the variety of sources of support for science publication are
reduced. Each contributor to the system now has some say in how
it will operate. That fact is not going to go away. If readers
have no say it will be a different forum.

Fred Spilhaus Executive Director, AGU
2000 Florida Avenue NW Washington DC 20009 USA

Stevan Harnad wrote:

> On Sun, 5 Dec 2004, Sally Morris (ALPSP) wrote:
>>I am sure members of this list are all aware of the US Government's
>>all too recent attempts (a) to censor what type of articles
>>publishers can publish and (b) to censor the countries from where
>>authors' work may be edited
> Don't you think, Sally, that governments that are bent on censorship
> would want to go to the source -- suppressing *publication* (as above)
> -- rather than just coyly leaving the user's (institution's) ability to
> pay the access tolls as the determinant of who can *access* what? (For in
> that case, it is publishers themselves that are at risk under this sinister
> speculative scenario, not OA!)
> And (to lay to rest the conspiracy-theoretic temptation to see OA
> as yet another dark instance of "government control"): Do you also
> imagine a collective conspiracy on the part of institutions to suppress
> access to their *own* research output, when that output is distributed
> across institutional OAI archives (instead of being placed just in the
> arbitrary central/governmental archives being contemplated here)? (For
> then it is the author's freedom to publish that is under speculative
> assault, not OA.)
> Is this threat-level (code yellow?), then, as high as the threat that
> universities will want to remove the journal *print* editions from their
> shelves -- and particularly the articles by their own researchers? (For
> then it is the freedom to do research at all that is under fancied
> assault, not OA.)
> Or are we to imagine the countries of the world co-conspiring to
> suppress the Internet itself? (For then too, OA would hardly be the most
> consequential casualty.)
> No, Sally, this is special pleading; it cannot be called by any other
> name: There is a status quo; I want to find all possible arguments to
> preserve it exactly as it is. I worry about an eventuality that may pose
> a risk (OA). I cannot attack it intrinsically or directly (because,
> being a scientific journal publisher, I am committed to access-provision,
> not to access-suppression), so I instead generate hypothetical doomsday
> scenarios -- as many as possible, preferably, for in case this one is
> not seen to be convincing, maybe that one will be. Just as long as it
> serves to hold OA at bay.
> That was the transparent (and rather disreputable) strategy of the APS's
> team of legal sages recently; and their breathless panorama of phony
> forensics will now stand as a permanent historical record of that
> pathetic ploy.
> "Critique of APS Critique of NIH Proposal"
> I am not saying, Sally, that you too are practising this conscious
> and systematic policy of dreaming up any far-fetched counterfactual
> speculation, just so it makes OA look menacing, and might thereby retard
> its progress: I think you truly believe the journal publishing status quo
> to be at risk from OA (and possibly, eventually, you might be right). But
> then stick to the specific, plausible terms of that risk (OA publishing
> might not be able to make ends meet, OA self-archiving might drive us
> toward OA publishing) and not desperate and implausible ones that merely
> serve to up the ante of apparent risk and fear!
> Besides, the worst offenders in OA risk-mongering are neither lawyers nor
> publishers but the intended beneficiaries of OA: the researchers themselves.
> No one could have come up with a greater number of spurious reasons
> for worrying (and accordingly being sluggish) about OA than they. Their
> current record stands at 32, and it ain't over yet!
> "I-worry-about..." 32 prima facie concerns"
> Let me close with an abstract point I have made before, on the subject
> of selective, self-serving doomsday scenarios, from the standpoint of
> Pascal's Wager. (Those weary of reasoning, or reading, may wish to tune
> out here.)
> "There is something in [pre-emptive doomsday speculations] that
> sounds like the logic of Pascal's Wager: It is better to act in
> conformity with Belief, even if it is false, because the cost of
> being wrong if the Belief is true (burning forever in hell) outweighs
> the cost of being wrong if the Belief is false (leading a somewhat
> more constrained lifetime on earth). But of course this logic is all
> wrong, for Pascal simply presupposed the received Credo, the Christian
> one, C, with its myth of heaven, earth, and eternal damnation as the
> default option -- the null hypothesis, so to speak. But I could always
> raise the stakes, with another arbitrary Credo, Q, even more vengeful
> than the first, promising that if you believe C rather than Q, your
> punishment will not just be eternity in damnation, but your soul will
> split into an infinity of souls, each in its own hell, and each will
> feel not only its own suffering but that of all the others too!)...
> So one can reverse Pascal's Wager by simply arbitrarily changing
> the [sci-fi] pay-off matrix, by fiat."
> A proposition can always prevail, in other words, if one weighs support
> from doomsday prophecies on a par with actual empirical evidence. But then
> all it takes to tilt the balance in the favour of the counterproposition
> is to dream up a still more menacing counter-prophecy!
> I would suggest staying away from doomsday prophecying, and sticking to the
> empirical facts and probabilities. All the evidence to date is that OA can
> and does peacefully co-exist with the prevailing toll-access (TA)
> cost-recovery system. There may (or may not) be some eventual risk to
> the TA system, and if so, it is not clear how much or how soon. All that is
> clear is that the actual empirically demonstrated benefits of OA for
> research and researchers today outweigh the hypothetical risk to TA for
> publishers. Hence we should proceed with OA rather than being deterred
> by doomsday scenarios.
> "The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition"
> Stevan Harnad
Received on Sun Dec 05 2004 - 19:55:40 GMT

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