At first, it did not seem to be something worth writing about. But a few days ago, a totally unexpected attack came up in a commentary by Peter Murray-Rust, a well known chemist at Cambridge University, in Richard Poynder’s blog, « Open and Shut« .

Richard’s blog article of December 17th, « Open Access slips into closed mode ? » was about his surprise to discover that « Berlin 12 », the 12th edition of a major yearly gathering of the Open Access (OA) community, was paradoxically “by invitation only”, something you could call « restricted access »…!

His astonishment was understandable (even though he came up strangely with the concept of « secret society »). But to me, another surprise came from Murray-Rust’s aggressive and unfair comment (or perhaps simply paranoid) :

I have sympathy with Richard on the issue of the « secret society. Look at ‘Enabling Open Scholarship‘ (EOS) « where the great and good set up a secret organisation to manage OA. It includes many of the professors, etc. of OA [sic] and shuts out people like me and you. This was 7-8 years ago and suggests that the OA movement was a privileged clique that dictated what others should do. There is no sense of « Open » in the way that « Free/Open Source is Open » (underlining is mine).

It was of course shocking to me and all other EOS members, even though we have been targeted by the same person before, but never publicly. This time, it cought the attention of Richard Poynder and that of Rick Anderson, who reacted on the same blog and on Twitter and wondered if EOS was really open to all organisations and if it was truly public, calling for answers by someone involved in EOS. As Chairman, I could not do less than send the following declaration which was made public by Richard on his blog:

The EOS story is actually much simpler and it lacks all the spicy stuff of conspiracy theories that some would like to see in it. I am sorry to disappoint them now with a very dull explanation…

EOS was created originally by Alma Swan and myself after a small meeting held by us in Liège in October 2007. It was a time when, as rector of the University of Liège, I had recently passed a new regulation at the University Board mandating green open access with a strong enforcement based on a link to assessment procedures. Our primary objective was to encourage university leaders to adopt the same policy. Indeed, we thought that propagating green OA needed strong personal involvement by academic authorities, and not only that of librarians who were already widely convinced themselves but generally less able to convince researchers.

We thought the name of the Association was explicit enough, and its contraction, EOS, meaning « Dawn » in Greek, was symbolic of the rise of a new era.

We asked a few people we knew in various countries (their names are listed on the website’s « People » section) and who could contribute to expand our goals (clearly defined on the website) to join us for a start.

Due to administrative slowness, it took some time to establish the Association, a legal entity under Belgian law (no international plot, not even to set up a Brussels lobby…, but just because I’m a Belgian citizen, sorry about this lack of gloom !).

Our aim was clearly to create a web support to disseminate information about OA to universities and research centers and to provide them with technical and legal advice as well as with experienced counseling.

To make a long story short:
– The only universities/research centers who actually joined EOS were the Queensland University of Technology, the University of Salford and the University of Liège, where Tom Cochrane, Martin Hall and myself were holding leading positions.
– The only personal members who ever joined were those listed in the « People » section on the website, i.e. the Founders.

These two facts have nothing to do with restrictions or selectivity on our part, they were just failures to recruit, I must admit. This lack of recruitment made it difficult to generate enough money to hire someone, even part-time. So everything (i.e. the site and the answers to questions) rested mostly on Alma’s benevolence and I take this unfortunate opportunity to congratulate her and thank her warmly for her valuable efforts. Thanks Alma ! Some people may be disappointed you are no Mata Hari…

This lasted until 2013, as shown clearly by the last updating of the website. Indeed, in the meantime, EOS has been instrumental, as a partner, in developing and obtaining an investigation program financed by the European Union and called PASTEUR4OA.

The management of this project needed so much involvement and dedication by Alma that she could not longer conduct both activities in parallel. I envisioned for a while to take over but soon realised that my duties as a rector and my uneasiness in English made it almost impossible. It was definitely too time-consuming. Moreover, the rise and success of other OA-promoting websites and discussion forums made it less essential to keep spending more time on the EOS one. Perhaps our mistake was to keep it open…! None of us though that our negligence would some day be mistaken as obscure malevolence…

If EOS has been useful only once, it would be when it helped setting up the PASTEUR4OA project. The latter will end in July 2016 and will provide the research community and political powers with very complete information on the various national OA policies, leading hopefully to a homogenisation throughout Europe and possibly elsewhere in the World.

After completion of this programme, the future of EOS will be reexamined.

So much for that. I am terribly sorry that this does not sound like a novel by John LeCarré but constitutes a very simple and unexciting story, revealing nothing but candid characters and a lot of good will. Not even the plot for a B-series spy movie…