Cold War Open Access

I’m immediately suspicious of anything that has bipartisan support in congress and the full approval of the u.s. president. When both parties unite around a bill or set of policies, I can pretty much rest assured that it wasn’t done with my best interests in mind. Such bills are almost always meant to serve the Ruling Elite, especially in the absence of mass organization. Any benefit for regular folk is secondary, marginal, or non-existent. And that’s why I’m not celebrating the senate’s passage of an anti-communist, Sinophobic, nationalistic, proto-fascist, corporate-welfare, imperial bill that includes a provision requiring open access to more federally-funded research.

I refuse to stick my head in the sand and look the other way on this bill. You can’t strip away any good that comes from the OA in the bill from its context. The senate didn’t help out the little guy and sneak the OA requirement in a completely unrelated bill. The OA requirement in this bill was only included as part of a new, bipartisan Cold War with China. The politicians aren’t even mincing words about their quest to maintain global hegemony. joe biden said “We are in a competition to win the 21st century, and the starting gun has gone off.”[1] He also stated, “America must maintain its position as the most innovative and productive nation on Earth.”[2] senator mitch mcconnell said “Needless to say, final passage of this legislation cannot be the Senate’s final word on our competition with China…It certainly won’t be mine.”[3] Not to be outdone democrat chuck schumer added “Whoever wins the race to the technologies of the future is going to be the global economic leader with profound consequences for foreign policy and national security as well.”[4]

There should be no doubt about the intentions of this bill: to keep the u.s. empire afloat in the face of china. The bill is Sinophobic, not very different than what trump would’ve wanted, and will continue to stoke anti-Asian violence. The latter is manufactured by the ruling class and trickles down into anti-Asian bigotry and interpersonal violence. Anti-Asian violence will not be stopped by appealing to an end of personal bigotry, but by tackling it systemically and at its origins.

Yes, there is open access in the bill. But for who and at what cost? Self-archiving is a pretty inefficient form of OA. The corporate publishers will still make plenty of profit as we’ve seen in the decade-plus since the passage of the NIH Public Access Policy. It seems like the feds would take responsibility for providing OA in a PubMed Central-type arrangement, which will add to cost of access (as opposed to nationalizing the publishers or requiring OA at the point-of-publication). Also, the primary beneficiary of the open access is meant to be corporations. This bill funds research with the intent of private commercialization of the findings and developments. The feds want their corporate donors and the business community to have greater access to research that they can turn into profit. Some of the resulting products and services will then be purchased by the feds as well. The increased research funding in the bill is aimed primarily at artificial intelligence and quantum science. Given the motivations for this bill and the capitalist nature of our economy, I don’t have much confidence that this research will lead to many socially necessary outcomes or benefits for regular people. In fact, I think it will be turned against the people—at home and abroad. If you and I get our hands on literature about AI at the same time as the corporations do, who’ll come out on top?

I used to point to the NIH Public Access Policy as the shining model for OA ten years ago. Not anymore. Sure, there would be some social benefits from greater OA to federal research (I’m not necessarily arguing against that), but given the status quo, we’re not coming out ahead. I stopped agitating for federally mandated OA, mainly because I think it detracts from a larger project of directly empowering knowledge producers, readers, and the broader masses. So, it should come to no one’s surprise that you won’t see me using the #OAintheUSA hashtag. I refuse to feed the nationalist sentiment behind the slogan and its contradiction—OA doesn’t respect artificially drawn state boundaries. It’s international in nature. And we should be as well.


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[3] ibid

[4] ibid