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Wikipedia Founder Wants to Kill Research Paywalls

Via Meadia has occasionally poked fun at the dubious value of much academic scholarship, as well as the ridiculous cost of accessing articles in traditional academic journals. Subscriptions to some of these journals can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and a significant portion of many college library budgets are spent on securing access to mountains of frequently subpar research for their students and professors.

A new initiative in the UK has enlisted Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales in an effort to change this. This new initiative seeks, within the next two years, to put all research articles backed by government funding in a free, online database accessible to anyone with an internet connection. The Guardian explains the proposal:

This initiative is most likely to result in a central repository that will host all research articles that result from public funding. The aim is that, even if an academic publishes their work in a traditional subscription journal, a version of their article would simultaneously appear on the freely available repository. The repository would also have built-in tools to share, comment and discuss articles.

This is an ambitious project, and it’s difficult to say how it will play out. The technology may prove difficult to implement, and journal publishers are likely to continue to play a role in the market for academic research. But the potential is there to revolutionize the world of academic research, opening up access at a fraction of the current cost. This is the sort of innovation we should be looking for as we search for ways to reform our often bloated and expensive institutions. Schools of the future should be encouraged to do more of this kind of creative, cost-cutting thinking before engaging in massive tuition hikes that currently dominate the college landscape.

There’s a bit of a downside to the proposal from the academic point of view: journalists combing through the free online databases are going to have a field day exposing the turgid prose and inane ideas of the various academic hacks who have managed to snaffle a government grant. The less taxpayers know about what they are paying for, the better, reason many academics, and on this subject, at least, their instincts are right.

From the VM point of view, it’s all good. Research needs to be as freely available as possible, and the academy needs restructuring as much as the medieval monasteries ever needed reform. The goal isn’t to kill academia, or learning, but to save it from itself.

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  • Anthony

    Legitimate, quality research available to inquiring public can only be societal benefit – a better informed and knowledgeable citizenry inures to body politic.

  • Dimitry Papkov

    I see only one issue with this. How scientific journals will continue to finance themselves. Without those subscriptions they would need to find an alternative model. Maybe something like google :-)

  • Jim.

    Academic journals will depend on the quality of their editing for income. You can spend a multitude of lifetimes studying everything that is published in a field like, say, history of technology. Editors will be paid to sift through the dross and bring to peoples’ attention the useful and interesting bits. To a great extent, journals like Nature do this already.

    Academic journals need to look to news aggregator sites for their new business model.

    As for the traditional model? Professors themselves are eager to poke holes in that, handing out copies of their papers for free to any interested students or fellow researchers.

    Both the customers and the suppliers for the current model are not well served by it. There are alternatives that would serve far better. This industry is ripe for change.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    I hope this works. It will be a boon to independent scholars.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    Come to think of it, didn’t a few of my tax dollars go to finance some of this research? At this point I can’t even access the articles I wrote myself.

  • pst314

    “journalists combing through the free online databases are going to have a field day exposing the turgid prose and inane ideas of the various academic hacks who have managed to snaffle a government grant.”

    It will be trivially easy to find, since in many fields turgid [garbage] is completely mainstream.

  • Corlyss

    “to put all research articles backed by government funding in a free, online database accessible to anyone with an internet connection.”

    Well, if the new government data base is no more searchable than, say, GAO’s exceedingly valuable data base of reports and rulings, they needn’t bother. The government’s idea of a valid search tool is the venerable card catalog in which searching on phrases is impossible and you better know who wrote it or what the title of the document is or you’re [in trouble].

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