OA Isn’t Always DEI

Lightly edited version of a virtual talk given to the Virginia Scholarly Communication Interest Group in July 2022

Background material
● Cold war OA: https://ghamandi.hcommons.org/2021/06/09/cold-war-open-access/
As U.S. Hunts for Chinese Spies, University Scientists Warn of Backlash

I think many of us are interested in OA because we feel its related to positive change, fits with our values, or somehow advances equity and justice. However, as we might know, OA doesn’t always fit into DEI or diversity, equity, and inclusion. One major example of how OA doesn’t automatically equal DEI is with APC-based OA, which includes so-called transformative agreements or read-and-publish agreements. For a deeper explanation of this claim visit my HCommons account[1][2][3] and critiques from other librarians[4][5][6].

The starting point for what I want to focus on today feels like decades ago—2020. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, people and institutions were adopting the language of antiracism. Ibram Kendi was making the rounds. Organizations were acknowledging, at least on paper, that racism is systemic and that it’s not good enough to not be racist, but we should be antiracist. However, progressive rhetoric from that summer has not translated into many material changes. We have a president who suggested that cops shoot Black people “in the leg instead of the heart” and police killed Jayland Walker with 60 bullets two weeks ago in Akron Ohio. My talk is dedicated to Jayland.

We’re also seeing a disturbing rise in anti-Asian violence in the past two years. Asians, especially East Asians, are being assaulted and killed in greater numbers. In March 2021, six Asian women were killed in spas in Georgia. The LA Times reports a 177% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in California in 2021. This is being attributed to racists using the COVID pandemic to spread their hate and increase their power. There are serious attempts to convince white people that they are being replaced, which is directly leading to white men harming and murdering people of color in this country. This was also the alleged motivation for the murder of Black folks in the Buffalo supermarket.

OK, what does any of this have to do with scholarly communication? Well, we like to view things historically and deflect blame in this country. It’s easy to say well after the fact that the internment of Japanese people during WW2 was racist. It’s easy to point the finger at shooters and say they’re racist. But white supremacy is an intricate system that permeates our institutions. It’s most powerful when it works without raising eyebrows. Which is why I want to pay attention to a bill in the u.s. congress. A bill that SPARC, ALA, ARL, and ACRL are all backing because it seeks to codify public access to federal research: the u.s. Innovation and Competition Act. The public access requirements to federally-funded research that Obama used executive power to broaden would become codified in law if the house and senate can come to an agreement when they reconcile their separate versions of the bill.[7]

The problem is that bill is part of an anti-Chinese, imperial project. There’s no other way to put it. There seems to be a significant difference between the governmental motivations for open access and what motivates some of us. In fact, biden said this about the u.s. Innovation and Competition Act: “The House took an important step forward today in advancing legislation that will make our supply chains stronger and reinvigorate the innovation engine of our economy to outcompete China and the rest of the world for decades to come…I’m heartened by Congress’ bipartisan work so far, and its commitment to quick action to get this to my desk as soon as possible. Together, we have an opportunity to show China and the rest of the world that the 21st century will be the American century – forged by the ingenuity and hard work of our innovators, workers, and businesses.” 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.” [national anthem]

This bill is pretty disgusting and is part of a bipartisan Cold War, a so-called “AI Cold War” with China. And the reason I’m pointing this out because I can’t isolate the OA elements of the bill from the broader context and goals of the bill. The public access requirement is there to serve u.s. global hegemony—singling out China as the enemy. As I pointed out in an earlier blog post, “The increased research funding in the [senate] 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.” Look through the bill and you’ll see money going towards UAV, unmanned aerial vehicles, a.k.a. drones, for example. Those types of drones are commonly used to surveil and bomb Brown people.

The real-time racism in the bipartisan bill will have the effect of increasing anti-Chinese hatred and violence towards them domestically and abroad. We are already witnessing increased surveillance of Chinese american scientists and the suspicion that they are stealing technology. We’ve seen before that when the ruling class identifies an enemy, it trickles down to inter-personal violence. Trying to end personal bigotry and stopping violence on-the-ground would not end racism if anti-Asian bills are everyday business in congress. So, what does it mean to support this bill as several library organizations have done?…organizations that have DEI statements. Can the OA be separated from the bills’ imperial goals? Are we paying close attention to the rise in anti-Asian violence? Is OA worth supporting at any cost? Are DEI goals disposable when “public access to federally-funded research is a key element of our innovation and competitiveness strategy”? OA has become very complex. We need to be paying close attention to its manifestations, especially when there are differing motivations for OA. As a conclusion, I wanted to pose one more contradiction. A hashtag—#OAInTheUSA—is being used to support the bill. What does OA in the u.s.a. mean? Not only is the nationalist sentiment concerning, but isn’t OA automatically internationalist in nature?

[1] “Transformative Agreements” & Library Publishing: A Short Examination:

[2] Uncensored Scholarly Communication Fragments: http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/xmj2-zd67

[3] Librarypunk podcast on TAs: https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-2n3ic-ffaac8

[4] Message from the Grassroots: Scholarly Communication, Crisis, and Contradictions: https://doi.org/10.33137/cjalrcbu.v7.36448

[5] https://drive.google.com/file/d/1R02opfBvAZWJ7Uf3TUx5hnIDWWw1aWLi/view

[6] https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1iD0lf6VvkvGiLLwwKdkWoPoPzgxtkP1h_azRNeV-Ffk/edit?usp=sharing

[7]  senate version has the OA provision. House version is called america competes act.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 OA Isn’t Always DEI by Dave Ghamandi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.