Open Update

Interview transcript - Samuel Moore (Open Update)

In: Open Update

This is a transcript of the interview with Samuel Moore (Season 2, Episode 2). Listen to the podcast here. The transcript is slightly edited for readability and available under a CC0 Public Domain Dedication.


Chris Hartgerink: Welcome to the second season of the Open Update! For Liberate Science—I'm your host Chris Hartgerink. In this season we interviewed 10 guests over the course of nine weeks about the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science. We talk about what it means to them, their work and the future of research, so that we can also better understand what it means to us, our work and our future in research.

What new ways of being lie in store for us. If you have agreements or disagreements in this series of interviews, you can leave voice messages throughout the season. We'll be giving something away as a token of appreciation to the voice messages that come in, but be sure to include a way to reach out when you leave your message.

Today, we talked to Samuel Moore about the wanted, desired limits of open in order to scale small and how the UNESCO recommendation performs on setting limits to open. Coming with a unique blend of experience and research publishing and organizing, Sam has a PhD in the digital humanities and is a sought after speaker writer and podcast guest.

He was on a podcast just a few weeks ago, and he's currently working on his new book with the working title "Publishing beyond the market." We're very happy that he's joining us today to share some of his thoughts on the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science.

We'll talk to Sam today about what are the limits to open? Should there be any, or does open mean unrestricted?

So welcome to the open update, Sam.

Sam Moore: Thank you so much, Chris. Very happy to be here.

Chris Hartgerink: So the UNESCO recommendation on open science came out several months ago. I hope you had the chance to take a look at it. And we're asking all of our guests throughout this series, what are some of the low hanging fruits for this recommendation and what are really some of the potential pain points to realize?

Sam Moore: I think that's a really good question. I think the UNESCO recommendations seemed to be the first time a large scale policy attempted intervening in Open Science in a way that doesn't presume that everything should be the same for everyone. I think that was kind of why I'm really interested in it.

That preserving, the idea that locality is good. That diverse cultures of knowledge is good and that they should be sort of foregrounded in open science. So that's kind of the easy win, that those kinds of things are good. That locality is good and recognition of that is good.

But the problem of that is that by the same token, it's incredibly complicated to have a policy mandate that sort of preserves, particularly marginalized cultures of knowledge and diverse cultures of knowledge. So, that's a sort of tension, what kind of follows from that. It's kind of hard to know what the next steps are.

One of the things they tried to do with the UNESCO recommendations is argue for a common accepted definition of Open Science. On the first hand, open science is probably not the best term anyway, it kind of erases the humanities. I'm a humanities researcher. I know they're sort of aware of this, but it's still, it seems like kind of awkward phrasing to have this kind of really nice approach to open science and then actually say that it is open science. Why not open research? But then kind of moving on from that and saying so why do we need an accepted definition between various local approaches of knowledge? I mean, not just homogenizing, the very thing that you want to kind of preserve, which is diversity.

It's kind of weird, like the quick wins or the fact that it's complicated and the recognition that it's difficult. The recognition that for-profit actors are not the best kind of to lead this space, but then there's this problem that, that we need to step back and actually understand how therefore we go forward is, is open science or open research or openness even actually that helpful anymore.

And my reading of that was that actually, they want something different to open science, but we're stuck with it because that's the thing that's evolved over the last however many years.

Chris Hartgerink: There's so much in this. It almost sounds as if you're saying the low hanging fruit is the policy, but implementing it is going to be very complicated and I get a lot of associations immediately with other of these policy documents.

I think of the Paris Accords for the climate and so this paradox of open in the recommendation comes forward. I wonder then  how do you see these path dependencies within openness or within these recommendations shape the future of the implementations? As you said, these are going to be very difficult, but how does this document even limit the potential?

Sam Moore: I think that that is the ultimate limitation though, isn't it? I mean, my PhD was about the fact that policymaking in this space presupposes that policies that force people to do certain things are kind of a good thing. If you are taking this big grand approach of "we need collaboration between everyone" and "we need kind of everyone to have this sort of understanding."

We need to find common grounds, that all of those things are going to prioritize a conservative approach or that approach that is grounded within, what you would call sort of the global north or people who already have power, even if we've understood that kind of locality is a thing to preserve.

We then do that on a global scale. And those two things are completely in opposition to one another. So what I think is actually quite good about the UNESCO framework though, is that it's not actually making too many sort of recommendations in a sort of "you have to do this immediately." It's so it seems to be implying that capacity building is the thing we need to do and that bibliodiversity is the thing that we need to explore.

I was initially kind of a bit skeptical about this term bibliodiversity, because at first it sounded like a sort of idea of like diversity for the sake of diversity, but it's not that. It's like about linguistic diversity and cultural diversity as sort of translated through publishing practices.

And that's the thing which comes through capacity building; through actually just funding communities, giving money to communities to go and do interesting stuff. And you don't actually have to do that through expensive kind of publishing networks or, or large corporations, or even like through kind of universities.

You can just fund communities. I don't think that in the actual UNESCO recommendations, they explicitly say that, but it seems that that's the next step: that we now take a step back. We've realized that that, that we can't just mandate a particular form of open science or open access or anything open.

And now we need to figure that out. What does openness actually kind of lead to? What is it helpful for? What are the values that we want to prioritize as a result of that? So it is very difficult to see an actual pathway to impact, but the impact would be things like how we see in, in particularly in Europe at the moment, this push for diamond Open Access. That's capacity building.

That's about saying we know that we don't want to exclude people from publishing on economic grounds. And we don't want to exclude them from accessing publishing on economic grounds. So we will fund the capacity to do that. Obviously we see now Elsevier and kind of big publishers kind of circling and saying we want a piece of this and we're going to be the people who kind of do that.

That's why you need antagonism. You need to say "no, we don't want you to do that." So we want to fund the right communities. The thing about openness is, actually we need closure. We need to have certain areas where we don't have commercial actors bearing down on us. We don't want areas where indigenous communities feel exploited and they can protect their own stuff.

Again, there's that tension between the big and the small. We have a big policy framework, like UNESCO, which is taking this kind of real sort of landscape view. When in fact the smallness is the thing that ultimately the recommendation is pointing towards. It's difficult, but at least it recognizes it's difficult.

Whereas Coalition S or these other big ones are kind of a bit less good at that. I guess they're a bit more sort of simplistic where if we just tell researchers to publish there, here's five grand to do it, then everything will be okay. And that's, that's definitely not the right, the right approach.

So, so I think it's, that's kind of why I'm sort of more optimistic about UNESCO.

Chris Hartgerink: I really like this phrase that you use about capacity building, and there's a lot of components to this, but I want to ask the question: So you build capacity in the smallness in the local, aspects, but you may also build capacity in the bigger aspects where already a lot of power is concentrated. Do you think that capacity building will increase the differences if you do it with everyone or do we have to pick and choose where we increase the capacity and say, this is already enough capacity?

Sam Moore: Well, I mean, when I talk about capacity, maybe a better word for it is community. That ultimately publishing is about community, it's a community led activity.

And it's a community led activity in the sense that to be, to be a journal is to be a community, that's the Cameron Neylon and colleagues framework. They came up with this phrase that a journal is a club, which also implies exclusion. Which I think is actually a good thing, as long as it's the right form of exclusion.

So what you want to be doing is treating publishing and open science in that way as a series of commons, or we'll call it common pool resources, that just need to be funded for their own sake. Not necessarily that they're going to do something really great. I don't know what the right level of capacity is, but I know that we don't have anywhere near the right level right now.

I particularly wanted to push back against the ideas that we see that publishing costs too much at the moment or that publishing is something which can be technologically handled way more efficiently than it can be handled via labor. It's the labor that makes it.

And so when we talk about capacity building with funding community, we're funding the labor behind that community. I was actually kind of struck actually that the UNESCO recommendations don't mention the word labor at all. I mean, there are obviously many other ways you can put it, like work and such, but, but it's kind of a frame that I would have expected at least. So, that's a roundabout way of saying that you can't presuppose too much about capacity building, but you do, you have to do it again in a small way, rather than big grants to a small number of organizations.

You want small grants to a large number of organizations, and you want to target the ones which do not already have power or that are already minoritized and marginalized. Because that's where the equity is going to come from.

Chris Hartgerink: I hear you say community is capacity and community is also inherently excluding people because you, you delineate. So it brings me to this question. You said before that the UNESCO is rather conservative. And yet now you also raised that they don't include labor.

Does that rhyme for you? Does that conservativeness and this exclusion of labor in the recommendation does that rhyme?

Sam Moore: I certainly want to emphasize conservative with a small C; it's just conserving the stuff that is already happening. So there is definitely a connection there between the fact that we look towards open science as a technological issue rather than a labor issue. That's certainly seen not just in UNESCO. That's the biggest problem with open science, that it's focused way too much on the outputs and not enough on the actual production. That's pretty much what my book is about: that production is the thing, which makes something a commons, commonly shared.

Not the actual end end results or the resource. And so all of these policy kind of interventions, they take this idea that is: if we can give people freely accessible resources, publications, data code, however that's been created, it could be, it could have been created by the market. It could have been created by the worst kind of capitalism.

What kind of follows is that as long as the resource is freely accessible, then it conforms to a definition of openness and that's definitely wrong. That's pretty much the definition of what's wrong with open science, that it should be so much more about labor and so much less about the resource that's being shared.

If I were to be a policy maker myself, I would have reoriented all of it around this mode of production. The fact that as a community generation, you fund the community, you fund people to do stuff. And that means publishing itself. If we're thinking about open access, it is never going to be cheaper. It's never going to cost less. We're just going to give less money to Elsevier, to commercial actors, or to bad actors. Because otherwise you just argue for austerity. You're saying that everything should just be kind of funneled through a really easy production process where no one's got involved.

Everything's so automated and then we share it at the end and it's free, but actually it's kind of shit, that's the sort of, that's sort of the main issue.

Chris Hartgerink: And can you contextualize for the listener a bit more about this austerity? What phase of this austerity, this cost cutting, are we finding ourselves in, in 2022 compared to say 2000?

Sam Moore: I mean, that's a really big question. I'm not sure what the best answer would be, but I think when you take Elsevier's profit margin, it's something we always come back to, because they're sort of the instigator of so much around Open Access and how awful they are. And they are awful like a hundred percent, I will say they're a terrible company, but they are representative of a particular model that has been developed. A model of publication that has been kind of marketized to the extent that the universities have kicked stuff out to the market.

And that has allowed profiteering to continue, the way to get that back is not to say "we need to give less money to Elsevier" — it's to say that we need to have governance over the kind of publications that we use and give people a reason not to use Elsevier.

So much about these big publishers is "We can do it for cheaper than them," but it's just not the way to look at it. We can do it. It may well be cheaper. I'm completely onboard with the fact that if Elsevier is not taking a 30% profit margin or whatever it is, then money can be saved elsewhere. But if we know the history of the university, that probably isn't going to work in the favor of my disciplines in the humanities where we kind of cut left, right, and center. Probably other disciplines too. It's going to end up going to a new sports hall or something like that. So we don't want to make the argument too much that we need to be sort of reducing our expenditure on publishing. If anything, throw as much money as we can get at it, because it's a really cool activity.

And that would allow us to experiment and to do a bunch of interesting stuff that is not dictated by the market. So the austerity there is like, it's just bad. And we've been living under neo-liberal capitalism for 40 years, 45 years of policymaking and defining everything by the market.

And that's the thing to get away from. Not just like the more egregious forms of that, which is to say the Elsevier's and the Wileys and the SpringerNature's of the world, they're just the worst forms. But we just don't need, we don't want capitalism anywhere. Like, that's just the thing to get back.

Obviously we're not going to fix that. But, it's a helpful way, a helpful frame, at least for me to think of it in those terms.

Chris Hartgerink: I think that's a nice segue. You said, if I were a policy maker before and, you seem to sort of say you are not, but at the same time, you are part of the organizers of the Radical Open Access Collective. So how do you see your position in that and what kind of policy or what kind of capacity building are you working towards there? What does, what does radical mean in that sense?

Sam Moore: I mean the Radical Open Access Collective, it's an interesting collective of member presses that come together in order to facilitate mutual reliance and to share resources to make scholar led publishing a a model that's workable that other people can do. And we can push for that as an important thing. No, I don't want to say that all scholars should publish and publish their work, but it's just a good thing to do, and it's a good thing to support.

But that capacity building would be the thing that would actually be really helpful because at the moment it's just myself and my colleague Janneke Adema, at Coventry university. We have co-organized this thing in practice. We don't do a huge amount and it's kind of dormant for that reason, because we haven't got time. And so the money would provide time that would provide a space to actually work on that stuff. That's not to say that we're looking for any money or anything like that, but it would be where the capacity would come from I think.

Chris Hartgerink: So if somebody would now say "Hey Sam, here's a bag of money" what would you, would you say?

Sam Moore: That's a good question. I would take it. If we're talking about smallness, the way to do it is if someone gives you a hundred grand, give, give 10 grand to 10 organizations or something like that.

I think, from the perspective of Radical Open Access, that would probably help them quite a lot. They are all labors of love, very unsupported. And that would be a one way of approaching it. I think, I mean the radical open access or the radical aspect of open access is that we wanted to position ourselves away from what we saw as essentially sort of market led approaches to open access and all of the bad stuff that came along with that. Profiteering, but also kind of cookie cutter modes of production, which do not really take into account local cultures of knowledge and linguistic diversity and all that stuff. That doesn't feel very radical to me. It just feels like that's sort of normal.

It was always a project in the space of the UK university, where we had to sort of talk the language of the university. So if you want to, politically left or whatever you call it, radical because you can't call it communist, socialist, or something. That's the kind of a roundabout way of saying that I don't think we're actually that radical.

In fact, what's quite annoying though, is that this push for diamond open access, we see no end of reports about how diamond open access and capacity building is this thing we should be doing. And none of them mentioned the Radical Open-access Collective. We've been doing this for seven or eight years now. And the whole idea of the collective is to build this mutual reliance and this capacity and to weave one another's projects between one another.

And to say that if we share resources and time and we look out for one another, then we become bigger than that. And that's what we have termed scaling small. It is that the idea that if you have enough small projects working together, or with a a shared horizon of what you want to do, then that becomes bigger and you get an economy of scale that doesn't rely on kind of cookie cutter approaches.

Chris Hartgerink: It's interesting to hear you say that. So, talking to people about this, do you have the sense that more people feel like radical is actually the normal? That that sentiment is not just something that is your own perspective, but that things like diamond and open access where you publish and you read for free, to a lot of people that sounds very enticing.

It sounds very non radical, as you say. So does that mean that many more people are in fact radical, then they might realize?

Sam Moore: I think so. I always find it strange that I'm considered, so  radically in that regard. To look at the open access movement, I don't think many people would look at that movement and say, this is going well.

Like where stuff is freely accessible. Yes. But who, who is locked out of it is the control of publishing still. Done by big publishers, people who make a lot of money and all that stuff. And yes, that's what's happening with the open access movement. And so we just tried to kind of offer a counterpoint to that.

My feeling is that most people probably agree with it in the sense that the open-access movement was never purely about freely accessible research. It was about kind of other things that underpin scholarly production, ethics, and those sorts of things. And we're just trying to keep hold of that or bring it back in or however you want to look at it.

But I don't think it's particularly radical in any sense. Even the Budapest Open Access Initiative, they're no longer saying that open access is the end itself. That it is actually a means to other ends, which is fantastic. And it's something that lots of us have been saying for many years, but that seems to be the direction of travel is that we leave behind openness and open access and open science, just leave them behind and think of something that they enable or that they can kind of move towards.

Chris Hartgerink: That's a very interesting perspective. I want to segue into the end of the interview and also want to make sure that we highlight the specific thing that's completely related to the theme of desired boundaries to open. The UNESCO recommendation specifically says in it's document that access to knowledge may be restricted on a set of grounds.

Things like national security. They also mentioned, intellectual property rights protection, and other areas. How do you feel about these restrictions to knowledge within the recommendation? Do you feel like they're justified? Do, do they fit what you considered to be normal or in some people's perspective, radical?

Sam Moore: I think I would always come back to the idea, if you stop thinking about open science or I guess I want to talk about the commons more than anything I think, if we think about the idea that we're all working together and sharing resources and such, if we think about the way those things are produced, that's, that's the sort of the key distinction.

And so of course that means things will have to be open and have to be closed. I mean, national security. Intellectual property. I'm less interested in those things. I don't think that I particularly care about that, but if you think about indigenous communities where people go in extracting data from them and sharing that kind of with other scholars, like that's terrible.

And obviously we don't want to be promoting that kind of thing with openness and you don't want to be too open. I mean, human subject research, all of these things where people can be deanonymized and all that. That happens a lot. So I'm less interested in whether or not things should be open or closed at the resource level.

I just think it's, if you treat the communities that generate knowledge with enough respect and give them enough responsibility to maintain what they're doing, that it will follow that they will do things in a responsible way. And in many ways, shoehorning this idea that all has to be open, which I don't think many people are saying, but having openness as the default might lead to some kind of weird conclusions where people think actually I really should be sharing this stuff that actually shouldn't be shared.

So I think that good boundaries are necessary. And if anything, that's the definition of what we're doing in the commons. Rather than taking this big approach, we look for the boundaries and we cultivate the right kinds of boundaries. Which is not to say boundaries where we exclude people from certain things for the sake of it.

But we do so because that's just the best way of approaching, we invite the right people in and we share things. When we cultivate things according to expertise and according to labor and all that stuff, and you value those things. And so those are definitely good boundaries. And then if what follows from that, that the thing has to be kind of closed at the end or economically prohibitive.

That's not the worst thing. It would be great if stuff could be open, but it's not the end of the world when it can't.


You just listened to our original interview with Sam Moore here on the second season of the Open Update. What did you think? Did anything inspire new thoughts? What resonated? What did you disagree with?

You can use the link in the show notes so you'll take part in our lottery for a small token of appreciation. We'll announce details of that in episode four, but for now, have a good rest of your day. Take it easy, get some rest.

Next week we'll be back with our interview with Iryna Kuchma, where we'll talk about the undesired boundaries of openness.

Written by
Chris Hartgerink
Researcher and director at Liberate Science.
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