OA @ Duke — why it matters very much!

As part of our Open Access Day celebration at Duke, we held a keynote and panel event on Tuesday, Oct. 14th featuring Duke faculty and a student talking about why open access is important to them and important to Duke.  About 50 staff and faculty members attended, and following is a brief summary of the very exciting talks we heard.

Prof. James Boyle of the Duke Law School and the board of Creative Commons began the afternoon with an entertaining and inspiring talk on why Open Access matters.  He pointed out that the Web, which was designed to share scientific information, now works very well for sharing pornography or bargain offers for shoe shoppers, but really is not very effective at sharing science.  The message of his talk was “Its the links, stupid” — the ability to build links into scientific work is key to speeding up the progress of science and innovation to the pace promised by this powerful technology.  Linking permits all kinds of new discovery, whether through text mining or “waterhole searching” (following the tracks of other).  But linking depends on information being freed from the access barriers that currently wall off most scholarship on the web.

Boyle offered a vision for open access based on three stages.  At “Open Access 1.0,” scientific research and information will be exposed to many more human eyeballs.  At the stage of Open Access 2.0, computers will have access to a depth of scientific information that will permit text mining for new and serendipitous discovery.  Finally, with Open Access 3.0 computers and humans will work together to create a map of knowledge within in a given field and amongst fields where relationships were previously not discoverable.

Law School Assistant Dean for Library Services Melanie Dunshee followed Boyle with some interesting information about Duke Law’s ten-year-old experiment with open access to legal scholarship.  Her talk gave a nice illustration of the path to open access, which consists in aligning faculty interests with the mission of the university to produce and disseminate knowledge.  The services provided by the Law School Library, and the many new ways that faculty scholarship is exposed and promoted, made the point about how to accomplish that alignment very concretely.

Next up was Dr. Ricardo Pietrobon from the Medical School, where he chairs the group that is doing “Research on Research.”  His presentation really built on Boyle’s call by suggesting that we need to move beyond text mining and data mining (once we get there) to consider what he called “scientific archeology.”  Only at that point, when open access encourages not just access but replicability, accountability and transparency, will the promise of the Internet for scientific learning be fulfilled.

The climax of the afternoon, and what made the need for open access very real to our audience, was the remarks by Josh Sommer, a Duke student who was diagnosed with a rare form of brain tumor during his freshman year.  Now three years out from surgery, Josh has refused to accept the “average” seven year life span of chordoma patients that he was given.  Instead, Josh has co-founded the Chordoma Foundation and has himself become actively involved in research to understand and treat this disease.  His story of how the privileged access he has as a Duke student has helped significantly in his research is only part of the story.  He also tells of previously unknown connections between other forms of cancer research and the effort to treat chordoma that have been discovered using open access medical literature.  Finally, Josh talked about his young friend Justin who died from chordoma earlier this year; a young man who did not have the advantages that have given Josh the ability to fight his grim prognosis (see the link above for more on Justin’s short life).  As Josh puts it, there is no reason that the knowledge that could have saved Justin’s life is walled off behind access barriers.  Josh Sommer personified for our event  the very message he wanted to deliver to those engaged in the effort to acheive more comprehensive open access to knowledge — perseverance.

One thought on “OA @ Duke — why it matters very much!”

  1. Hi Kevin
    That sounds like a good day. Would James Boyle’s text be available anywhere? I’d love to read it.

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