Saturday, 23 January 2010

The OA-Butterfly Effect

We talk a lot about the importance of sharing publicly funded research, but those working with the under-resourced countries sometimes get frustrated by the never-ending discussions between researchers in the more privileged countries about OA this and OA that, when all we urgently want is OA now.

So I felt a sense of familiarity as I was watching an excellent BBC TV documentary on January 16th, ‘The Secret Life of Chaos’. The presenter, Professor Jim Al-Khalili, reported that a remarkable Russian mathematician and chemist, Boris Belousov (above), had discovered an oscillating chemical reaction (but had been repeatedly rejected publication of his results and was accused of dishonesty). At the same time, Alan Turing was developing the mathematical theories that lead to modelling and computing and ultimately the chaos theory – now commonly referred to by the butterfly effect metaphor. The BBC programme suggested that had Belousov been able to meet and work with Turing, the understanding and applications of the chaos theory could have been advanced spectacularly. And Turing could have vindicated Belousov’s findings. But what would have been a natural and productive cooperation could not take place because of Cold War embargoes.

As I began to get lost in string, rope and chaos theories, my mind suddenly switched to the old question - what were current research communication embargoes doing to retard research progress? What would be the consequence of just a single butterfly wing-flap in, say, Sweden on some new medical development in Peru?

We can never know, but happily the progress of open access is gathering speed - and bravo Italy for providing the news yesterday that 13 of their universities had set up OA repositories and associated mandates for a variety of scholarly output! This brings the total of institutional/funder/departmental/theses mandates to 195 and the number of institutional repositories to 1564. When we can stop counting and when there are no embargoes left to block the exchange of research findings – then the research community can focus its energy on OA this and OA that. We just need OA first.

Posted by Barbara Kirsop

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