Information wants to be free

One of the many knowledge production systems we have, the one named scientific research has had an odd habit of charging for its results even if the work mostly is paid for by the society. If one wouldn’t know how the payment works it would seem quite ordinary in a market economy that those researchers who have the most interesting or useful results would get some extra for being successful researchers. But no.

Those charging for the research results are the publishing companies who publish the research. Now this is of course totally crazy because any researcher or research institute can nowadays publish anything on the internet for the whole world to see, virtually (sic!) for nothing. But the business and the sociology of western science has not allowed that to happen, and companies like Elsevier are quite happy with their 37 % profit margin. Springer and Wiley both lay around 30 %.

Socially-wise the payment for a researcher is measured in reputation, and reputation does not come through interesting or useful  results per se, but through how respected the institute s/he works for is and how respected the  journals  s/he publishes in are among other researchers in the field. And the respected journals are owned by the big publishers. A real money making machine, which leaves important information hidden for those who cannot pay. Like the developing countries. Ethics in science is limited, as we can see.

But there are cracks developing in the machinery. Recently, two major actors have made statements that show that things might change. First out was Harvard University, recommending their researchers to publish in open-access journals due to the huge cost for the library of Harvard to buy all ”commercial” journals needed by Harvard’s researchers and students. This is an excerpt from the memorandum:

Consider submitting articles to open-access journals, or to ones that have reasonable, sustainable subscription costs; move prestige to open access.

Here in Europe EU has made an important decision to make at least some of the research which is funded by the EU, public:

To make it easier for EU-funded projects to make their findings public and more readily accessible, the Commission is funding, through FP7, the project ‘Open access infrastructure for research in Europe’ (OpenAIRE). This ambitious project will provide a single access point to all the open access publications produced by FP7 projects during the course of the Seventh Framework Programme.
‘To try and push more open access publishing, the European Commission has made open access publishing mandatory for around 20 % of FP7 projects,’ explains Natalia Manola, the project’s manager.

May be  information really will be free sometime?

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