Monday, July 2, 2007

Richard Poynder Interviews Stevan Harnad

Richard Poynder recently conducted a long and fascinating interview of Stevan Harnad, a leading advocate of the Open Access movement and a cognitive scientist at the Université du Québec à Montréal. From the introduction:

Harnad is often portrayed as a bully and a fanatic — a man so determined to get fellow researchers to make their papers freely available on the Web that he will brook no disagreement, responding to all contrary views and dissenting voices with such a relentless barrage of rebuttals and reproaches that his opponents are eventually forced to retreat.

But this is too simplistic a picture of the man. For Harnad, OA is not — as his critics claim — the obsession of a pedant with a one-dimensional view of the world, but the prelude to a fourth revolution in human cognition and communication. (The first three, he says, were language, writing, and print).

The goal of OA, Harnad says, is to unleash a potential long latent in mankind's unique language capacity, one that will allow us to exploit at last the full power of our collective intellect through "scholarly skywriting" — a form of communication, he contends, for which our brains were pre-adapted a hundred thousand years ago, but that has been awaiting the online era for its realisation.

However, before we can exploit the potential of this new form of communication, he says, we first need to make all research OA — an obvious next step that has been within our reach since the onset of the online era, but that we have still failed to take. And until we do, he says, we are denying ourselves access to our full potential. . . .

What cannot be denied is that Harnad has exerted a very powerful influence on the development of the OA Movement. To a great extent he is the person who has articulated the main issues, and it ishe who has — obsessively perhaps — kept people's minds focused, both on why OA is essential, and how we can best, and most rapidly, achieve it.

Moreover, as Harnad is keen to point out, in addition to archivangelising for the last thirteen years, he has also created and commissioned many of the concrete practical tools now being used in our faltering steps toward OA. . . . The full interview

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