A Public Knowledge Project Commitment in Light of the Trump Presidency

February 20th, 2017 by  | Comments Off on A Public Knowledge Project Commitment in Light of the Trump Presidency






The Public Knowledge Project develops open source software for scholarly publishing and conducts research on scholarly communication. With its administrative home at Simon Fraser University in Canada, it has employees, contributors, and users throughout the world, including the United States and the seven countries that President Trump has attempted to ban from travelling to the U.S. We join those who have expressed dismay over the new administration’s action, including the U.S. universities that have filed briefs with the courts pointing out the damage this executive order could do to their academic mission and the global exchange of knowledge.

We are no less concerned, as individuals and as an organization, with the impact that the president is having on the democratic and intellectual climate of the United States. In his first month in office, Trump has sought to undermine the credibility of the courts and the press (recently referring to leading outlets as “an enemy of the American people”); he has placed gag orders on government scientists; threatened to close the National Endowment for the Humanities and withdraw federal funds from Berkeley, while displaying a flagrant disregard for both well-researched studies and the simplest of factual matters.

These actions have led to international calls for an academic boycott of the U.S., and some members of the Public Knowledge Project are making arrangements to participate in conferences there remotely. So, in addition to registering our concerns over these threats posed to the academic community, we also want to issue a statement of commitment and support, given our involvement with the countries in question.

We are determined to continue providing support to the thousand or so journals and presses using our publishing software in the U.S., as well as to any others who are interested in becoming users, just as we are determined to assist the more than a hundred instances in the seven countries identified in the president’s order, as well as others in this region who wish to do so. Scholars are employing these tools to publish peer-reviewed, systematic studies in journals and with presses that make their content freely available as part of an open access movement in scholarly communication. Their efforts to make what they find and learn part of the public sphere are to be commended. This change of government in the United States is making clear to us is that at no time since we began this project in 1998 (to advance what has become known as “open access”) has it been more vital for the public and the media to have ready access to empirical findings, verifiable results, and scholarly inquiries in their efforts to redress the forces of willful ignorance and prejudice.

It is not that we believe throwing research at the current administration will remedy this uncivil state; this is not a time when the truth will set us free. It is time, however, for the academic community to set a better example than it currently does in restricting public access to a good part of its work, even as this administration’s proposed policies suffer from a dearth of evidence. It is not, fortunately, that this community wants for scholarly initiatives that are increasing access to research and scholarship, often through innovative forms of cooperation among libraries, journals, and presses. Yet these ventures, with the Public Knowledge Project among them, have now to work that much harder at reaching out to and collaborating with their colleagues in other groups, with the scholarly societies being a prime example, if we are to move more of this work into greater public circulation.

There is a new urgency to the academic community making more of what is known that much harder to deny or be cast aside in favor of alternative facts and fake news. Access to knowledge bears on the democratic and educational quality of people’s lives, which is all the more so today about how we are govern ourselves.

John Willinsky
Khosla Family Professor of Education, Stanford University
Director of the Public Knowledge Project

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