Re: Free the Facts!

Dave Gray, Stephen's Web, Jan 29, 2009
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Dave Gray wrote recently regarding my criticism of his use of Popper to defend open access. We are agreed, I think, that we need not rely on Popper's analysis to make the case. But he poses the question, what is the "current or more valid answer to the question 'What is a scientific fact?' that would supersede or replace Popper's." Scientists, I would say, don't use the language of 'facts'. Talk to a scientist, and you will hear statements about data and generalizations, theory and evidence. Research and discovery, meanwhile, does not consist of striking insights and critical experiments, but is rather a community practice of dialogue and interplay. Nothing is conclusively proven or refuted, but rather, a consensus slowly emerges out of a welter of studies and papers, a consensus not only on the nature of theory and the nature of the world, but also of the language we use and the criteria we accept for proof and evidence. The vocabulary - the words used - by the scientific community in the process of this endeavour consists of scientific papers, conference presentations, email and discussion posts, and the rest. These words (rather than 'facts') are what must be open: to close them under a cloak of copyright and access management is to mute the scientific community, to silence the very instrument we use to create and discover and innovate. This link is an unfortunately brief account (there seems to be very little on the subject online; the Wikipedia article is terrible) but has an excellent bibliography.
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