21 July 2016

Brexit and the urgency of open access and usability

A very interesting perspective on Brexit in relation to open access has been shared by Stevan Harnad in a discussion with Richard Poynder on the Open Access ePrints blog.

But one would have thought that the mature democracies would serve as a civilizing bulwark against that. Yet no, Brexit has shown that the same primitive, sinister, shameful inclinations are alive and well in the United Kingdom (and Trump is rallying them in the US too). 
No, freedom-of-information and open access did not serve as an antidote, as hoped. Disinformation profited more from the power of open media than the truth did. And the proliferation of destructive weapons is only beginning to be exploited by the genetic and cultural heirs of our most barbaric roots.
Perhaps both democracy and liberalism were always doomed; perhaps it was just a matter of time before the law of large numbers, the regression on the mean, would bring out the meanest in us.

The idea that the collapse of the 20thC socialist idea allowed market fundamentalism to grow unchecked, which has inevitably caused base populism and inhumanity to thrive, is a summary that rings true enough to me. But we can't yet know if this populism and inhumanity is leading to - as Harnad would characterise it - an apocalypse of humanity. Perhaps instead what we're seeing is a strange wisdom of the masses, bringing the collapse of 20thC capitalism.

The characterisation of Brexits, Trumpies, Hansonites as racist xenophobes doesn't ring true to me. It may be true that darker elements exist within them (as they do us all), but a more generous characterisation would pay attention to their better arguments, from the more thoughtful voices.

Here's Richard Boyd Barrett speaking about Brexit.

Bringing about the collapse of the EU - or more specifically the super rich and the corporate elites that lobby it, or voting for Trump is largely an expression of disillusionment with the political class and economic elite.

Here's the same argument that Barrett succinctly put out, but from the very people he spoke for - Why we voted leave - voices from northern England.

It is a worry that these arguments and perspectives are so quickly and easily dismissed by the "Progressive Left", and allowed to be characterised as racist, nationalistic and xenophobic.

There have been more hopeful phenomena that I would include in this general movement of resistance. There's the swaths of people that Bernie Sanders appealed to (as likely as it is that Sanders simply contains and ultimately controls opposition). There's the dramatic rise of Jeremy Corbyn, re-energising the socialist principles. There's some justice about to be served via Chilcot and The Killing$ of Tony Blair (to my knowledge, the first feature length documentary to be crowd funded). There's the fresh and progressive ideas of the PirateParty, the disruption by Wikileaks and Occupy, and the various inquiries and possible trails for the ongoing financial fraud and economic mismanagement globally.

How does this relate to open access?

I think the open access movement should focus on these sorts of hopes, and radicalise accordingly.

More than access, we need usability

It is not enough to lobby for educational media, academic research papers and data to be made openly accessible in the formats and customs that they are. Right alongside all that needs to go an active alignment to the issues of the day, and development of novel ideas around popular usability. Not just format usability, but designed usability.

Summaries and takeaways

If we consider the function of an abstract that goes with an academic paper - that it serves as an effective summary to the whole paper, then we should be willing to recognise similar devices in popular media and consider such designs for usability generally. Executive summaries, infographics, synopsis and trailers.

Partnerships with major information highways

Why is it still the exception to the norm, that the multi lingual Wikipedia, the media rich Wikimedia Commons, or the wonders of the Archive and Way Back machine are not entirely in the discourse and workflows of the public service information, research and education sector? Quite the opposite in fact, ignorant and disengaged snobbery prevails toward those bold projects. Why isn't it normal practice for people in those same public service information, research and education services to make bite-sized video abstracts of information and knowledge and distribute them on Youtube and Facebook? Why do they still insist on creating unreliable websites that block the Waybackmachine from archiving them, that will go offline when the funding dries up and have no distribution or communication plan through popular media channels? Why do the so-called professions of instructional and education design still obsess over how to use a learning management system, or how to work within the narrow band of restricted user-pay access, and pay little to no attention to ideas and methods for instruction and education in an open distributed network of society? In that area, the darker professions of advertising and public relations are far more advanced.

Open access is little c conservative

In my opinion, the open access movement has been cobbled with conservatism while the PirateBay, Wikileaks and Aaron Schwartz have been trail blazers. There have been global issues that the open access movement could have been part of - taking relevant openly available information and distributing derivatives with usability in mind. More importantly, this workflow would have been made self evident by now - as getting information in multiple languages on Wikipedia and Youtube is self evident by now. Open access would not only be a matter of course, but creating usable versions of it would be expected as well. But we in the public service information, research and education sector generally seem happy to sit by and let popular debate degenerate into private public relations.

The defeat being discussed by Stevan Harnad and Richard Poynder, should be answered with radicalisation. I thought the very foundation of why we work toward open access and use was to prevent the world that Harnad and Poynder are resigning to. Can we now redouble the effort in linking up the research, information and education sectors with the radical open access and use movement? The justification for it would seem as urgent as ever.

Unless of course the masses turn out to be substantially wiser than the anxious experts give them credit for. In which case, they don't need them.

No comments: