Response to Moshe @Vardi’s CACM Editorial on Open Access

In the most recent CACM editor’s letter, Moshe Vardi, the CACM’s editor-in-chief, addresses the question of open access from the perspective of the ACM [1]. The ACM is a non-profit organization for (mostly) computer scientists, and a publisher of conference proceedings and journals.

I find the editorial rather disconcerting. Vardi views “the open access movement” as being in “the IP communist camp”. There are so many things wrong this terminology. For one, I didn’t know there was one open access movement; I see many different streams of activity. Then, using 19th century terminology like communists and capitalists isn’t really going to help either; if meant as a provocation it probably achieves its goal, but to what end does this provocation help us? I’m a proponent of open access and most certainly don’t consider myself an “IP communist”. Finally, by pigeonholing well-intentioned efforts as a communist endeavor, it wholly ignores the struggle for new and innovative models of publishing research.

Above all, it does not do service to the members of the ACM, of which I am one. I joined the ACM when I was a Bachelor student and over the many years since have served the ACM, its SIGs, and its conferences and publication organs in various capacities. Despite its shortcomings, I remain a member and supporter of the ACM, and if only because there sometimes seems to be no better alternative in town.

Rather than waxing meta, it may be helpful to use the situation of OpenSym as an example to understand “the reality on the ground”, that is, the various forces pushing towards and against open access. OpenSym is a conference on “all things open”, including open source, open data, open educational resources, wikis and Wikipedia, etc. (OpenSym was formerly called WikiSym.) Next week we will celebrate our 10th birthday at OpenSym 2014 in Berlin, Germany, on Aug 27-29, 2014. This includes 10 years of conference proceedings in the ACM digital library, for mutual benefit, and a service for which we are grateful.

A major sponsor of OpenSym is the Wikimedia Foundation; it is unclear what would happen to OpenSym if we were to lose that sponsor. Applying for Wikimedia conference grants can be a grueling experience, including personal attacks for my insistence of publishing through the ACM digital library. To give the reader an impression, you can read up on the grants discussion for 2013 and 2014. However, this our major sponsor has a justified right to inquire about open access solutions: It is a derivative of their mission respectively philosophy. Why should they keep sponsoring us if we wouldn’t take their concerns around open access seriously? We take them very seriously and consequently I’m rather disenchanted to see that the ACM as another stakeholder of OpenSym calls “the open access movement” something to be found in “the IP communist camp”.

The ACM should be searching for innovative solutions to publishing that foster its mission. However, the editorial reinforces the impression that the ACM is still in denial over open access. I don’t see anything in the ACM mission that prevents open access; rather it seems highly compatible.

The ACM clearly has made progress towards open access solutions; these options exist now and the author-pays price points are comparable or even preferential to commercial publishers. At the same time, the editorial gives me the impression that this progress was only a reaction to outside forces rather than true leadership.

I think this needs to improve. The ACM should take a leadership role in fostering its mission, in response to changing conditions, and in response to the needs of its members. The current author-pays model cannot be the end of open access. For one, it disadvantages those without the funds to pay for publishing. Again, we should be exploring alternative models, and the ACM should be taking a leadership role.

Join me at OpenSym 2014 in Berlin next week, if you would like share your thoughts with me on open access and related topics.

Dirk Riehle
General Chair, OpenSym 2014
Founder, the OpenSym conference series

[1] Moshe Vardi. “Openism, IPism, Fundamentalism, and Pragmatism.” Communications of the ACM (August 2014), vol. 57, no. 8, page 5.

2 thoughts on “Response to Moshe @Vardi’s CACM Editorial on Open Access

  1. Andreas Kuckartz

    Illustrating the importance of Open Access: I can easily read your respose but not the “editor’s letter”.


Leave a Reply