Honoring an "Open" Activist by Taking Action
By Heather Joseph
As we struggle to digest the news of the loss of Aaron Swartz, a brilliant intellect, a passionate activist, and a very human 26-year-old, I am, as I suspect we all are, wrestling with conflicting emotions. Heartsickness over a promising life ended too soon; anger over the circumstances that drove his actions, and frustration that we’re still faced with a world where we are fighting for something as basic as open, equitable access to scholarly and scientific research. Perhaps the strongest emotion of all is an overwhelming desire to do something to help ensure that the values – open access to information and the free diffusion of knowledge – that we as a community share with Aaron continue to be protected and advanced.
His death has clearly touched a nerve, not only in the academy, but deep within the general public as well. The swell of media coverage has grown in the past 48 hours to include stories on NPR, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, CNN, Wired, PBS and scores of other outlets. Likewise, the community response to the call for academics to pay tribute to Aaron by posting PDF's of their scholarly papers online (#pdftribute) is growing rapidly; with tens of thousands of tweets since its launch.
While it is a bitter pill to swallow, it is also a reality that Aaron's death has inserted Open Access squarely back into the mainstream consciousness. This widespread attention highlights the breadth of support for fully realizing the vision of Open Access, and underscores the deep public desire for action. There is, of course, great sensitivity around the tactics that Aaron might have used, and no one is condoning them, but the reasons behind them certainly merit greater visibility – and continued action. Inaccessibility of scholarly works (especially those supported by taxpayer dollars) is inexcusable in 2013, and it is a problem that we can help solve right now.
SPARC was formed to be a catalyst for action. It seems an entirely appropriate and fitting response to individually and collectively revisit the priorities we have established for taking positive and pragmatic action to make Open Access a reality, and to reaffirm our commitment to getting the job done, by:
These are, of course, top-level strategies that represent scores of individual actions that must be taken, regularly, by a critical mass of our community. We’re operating under no illusions - we’ve all known from the get-go that there is no shortcut to implementing the full vision of Open Access. For the past 8 years, our strategy at SPARC has been to move forward, putting one foot in front of the other, in a steady, inexorable progression towards our end goal. To me, Aaron’s death doesn’t change this. It just makes me want to reaffirm my commitment to Open Access, pick up the ball, and run like hell to get there faster.