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.