Greed vs. Openness

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‘Openness’ on the Internet refers to people’s ability to find and view all content published by academics from all different sectors and departments online, without having to pay. It may come as a surprise to most people, but most of the academics who write journals and books about their discoveries don’t do it for the money. The reason behind their motives is simply to share their knowledge with others. After all, the World Wide Web was invented by Tim Burners-Lee at CERN in the 1980’s with the intention for it be a platform [1] “for automatic information-sharing between scientists in universities and institutes around the world.”  I would just like to point out that there is no mention of any of these professionals benefiting financially from the sharing of their information.

Over the years since the Web was created, the opportunity for people all over the world, regardless of social class, to access academic content online has become increasingly restricted. It is now at the point where many academics often have to pay  money to academic publishers to view their articles and journals online. Although there are numerous online organizations that only grant paying researchers access to their databases, there is also open journals and archives freely available for public use. But the issue with open access still stands. There are publishers who reap the billions of dollars in profit through their costly restrictive schemes, whereas the vast majority of authors would be lucky to receive any proceeds for their work. [2] According to a blog post by Senior Lecturer, Nick Hopwood at the University of Technology Sydney, “There’s heaps of money in it (just not for you)”. He also says that it is only the lucky few who would manage to earn a single figure % back in royalties from their publishers.

The above is a tweet from Twitter account user @Jadwiga_98, who is also a Digital Humanities student. In her tweet she explains what ‘Openness’ is with the aid of a diagram made up of various keyboard characters. In her visual description she shows how information is locked away in a box by publishers, and to view such material you must pay ‘(plz play)’. I found her diagram extremely creative and effective in explaining how we are only allowed to “think outside the box”, for free at least. She also used the hashtag ‘#sharingiscaring’ to highlight the total greed of these publishing companies and that sharing was the original purpose of the web. So as you’ve now guessed, academic publishing is a thriving business in today’s world with some companies making multi-billions in profit per annum. The restriction of this content began when publishers started becoming greedy. If you promise to fulfill someone’s dream of having a piece by them published then it is quite easy from there on to let them do all the work themselves while you benefit from it all. It appears as though it is a win-win situation: the author gets their work out into the world wide web, and the publisher makes it’s money. However, in the recent past there have been many movements in the digital world to liberate restricted information online. One of the most famous ‘Open Access’ activists is Aaron Swartz. He states in his [3] ‘Guerilla Open Access Manifesto’ that “Information is power”, and that this is both how and why publishers make such a profit from this business.

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In this tweet from account user @Aiserz pls, she explains how restricting the information online also restricts the expansion of the mind and limits research that could potentially save lives. For example, in recent times when a medical journal was made public online, a 15-year-old boy named Jack Andraka was able to develop [4] a method to detect an increase of a protein that indicates the presence of pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer during their early stages. His is most noted for his [5] pancreatic cancer test that is 168 times faster and considerably cheaper than the gold standard in the field. Even after this story was released, there are publishers that still only want their money and have no concerns for the people who could benefit greatly and have their lives saved by making information accessible online.

Ultimately, a fight for Open Access is a fight for equality amongst the people of all social classes. There is no justifiable reason that only the inhabitants of the upper class world should have access to information that was written with aspirations of reaching a world wide audience. Money should not be the determining factor in how much information each individual person is allowed to know.


References:

[1]  “The Birth of the Web | CERN.” Accessed October 22, 2015. http://home.cern/topics/birth-web.

[2]  Hopwood, Nick. “A Few Things To Know About Academic Publication | Nick Hopwood.” Accessed October 22, 2015. https://nickhop.wordpress.com/2013/08/20/a-few-things-youve-always-wanted-to-know-about-academic-publication-but-were-too-afraid-to-ask/.

[3] Swartz, Aaron. “Full Text of ‘Guerilla Open Access Manifesto.’” Accessed October 22, 2015. https://archive.org/stream/GuerillaOpenAccessManifesto/Goamjuly2008_djvu.txt.

[4]  “Jack Andraka – Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.” Accessed October 23, 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Andraka#cite_note-BBC-1.

[5]  “US Teen Invents Advanced Cancer Test Using Google – BBC News.” Accessed October 23, 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-19291258.

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