Sunday, March 04, 2007

Mandate debate

Peter Suber is weighing in on the mandate debate. In one of the comments on my previous post on his blog (March 3, 2007) he says the following about his own position on mandates:
"One objection is that a mandate paternalistically coerces [authors] for their own good. If true, this would be a serious problem for me, though perhaps not for everyone who defends mandates. I cannot support paternalism over competent adults....Fortunately, the paternalism objection misses the target and is easily answered....First, I only support mandates that are conditions on voluntary contracts. They might be funding contracts: if you take our money, you'll have to provide OA to your research; if this bothers you, then don't take our money. They might be employment contracts: if you work here, you'll have to provide OA to your research; if this bothers you, then don't work here....Second, I only support mandates with reasonable exceptions....Third, an OA mandate [advances other interests beyond the author's]. The [author] interest is greater visibility and impact. The university [or funder] interest is that an OA mandate will better fulfill the university [or funder] mission to share the knowledge it produces, and better assist researchers elsewhere who could benefit from this knowledge...."
Peter is a philosopher, and thus can be expected to be more careful with choosing his words than a mere mortal like me. Yet I cannot square the idea of a mandate, given its usual definition of 'an official or authoritative command; an order', with the idea of a condition, a stipulation, in a voluntary contract. If you mean starter pistol, don't say machine gun. You might confuse some people. If you mean contract stipulation, don't say mandate. Such a heavy word is, well, too 'loaded' (no pun intended).

And how voluntary is a funding contract actually? Only in the sense that if you don't sign, you have the option of leaving science altogether. In comparison, the condition in a voluntary contract that asks authors to transfer their copyright to a publisher seems a very mild and decidedly benign one, especially if the publisher is 'green'.

Jan Velterop

1 comment:

  1. Dear Jan,

    Thanks for responding to my comment.

    I agree with you about the usual connotations of the word "mandate". It *can* have the sense you describe, even if it doesn't always have that sense. I addressed this problem in the first half of my blog comment, which you didn't quote. So perhaps you won't mind if I quote it here: "[W]e should assess the coercive impact of a mandate by looking at the actual practices implementing it, not at what might theoretically be covered by the word. As I wrote in SOAN for January 2007: '[S]uccessful mandates rely on expectations, education, assistance, and incentives, not coercion.' "

    However, even in common parlance we use words like "mandate" to describe requirements that are merely conditions on voluntary contracts. For example, most academics speak of publish-or-perish policies as creating a requirement, obligation, or mandate to publish. But this requirement is not absolute and only applies to faculty who sign employment contracts. Likewise, we speak of funding agencies creating a requirement, obligation, or mandate to report the results of funded research; but this requirement is not absolute either and only applies to researchers who who sign funding contracts.

    If it weren't so clumsy, I'd be glad to follow your suggestion and call for an OA archiving "contract stipulation" rather than an OA archiving "mandate" for publicly-funded research. In fact, I've often avoided "mandate" talk by calling on funding agencies to "put an OA condition" on their research grants.

    But on the whole, calling for an OA "mandate" is understood the same way and creates no misunderstanding. Does anyone really think that a funding agency could mandate OA archiving in some unconditional way that applies even to those who have not signed funding contracts?