Sunday, January 23, 2011

On Academic Journals

Why aren't all Academic Journal articles available fully Free On-Line?

In the U.S.A. the words of their Constitution, "Of the People, By The People, For the People", are applied in many areas.
One of which is Publicly Funded Research and Education:
If public funds were used to create, discover, invent something, then it is put into the Public Domain. Locking it up with patents or other Intellectual Property protections is seen as double dipping. [Not universally accepted, especially in pharmaceuticals and genetics.]
I haven't looked for any formal policies nor widely prescribed "mores".
This was the rationale in 1977 behind the massively successful ancestor of Linux: BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution).

A line-of-thought that resulted directly in Free and Open Source Software. (FOSS)
Even that bastion of Proprietary Software, Microsoft has used or modified FOSS.
NeXT, then Apple, based its revamped system, OS/X, on Open Software: Mach and BSD.

FOSS isn't just mainstream, it underpins The Internet and increasingly the platforms we use to access it.

The reason the ARPAnet, now The Internet, blossomed  since1969  going on to sweep all competitors before it, Proprietary and "Standards based" (e.g. OSI/ITU), is simple:
The Reference Documents and Implementations were available for Free.
Anyone could, and did, build a service/tool, improve existing code or propose, build, and distribute entirely new things - like DNS, HTTP/HTML, ...

This is exactly how the work of Tim Berners Lee and c/o, "The Web", got out there and spread like wildfire. There was no barrier to entry: download the (free!) code for a server or browser and go on-line...
This simple approach arose for many reasons, but it led to the fastest, most flexible (and in the end, the most robust and scalable) development of network and services.

The value of "The Web" and its revolutionary impact on the world (and most aspects of daily life) is incalculable - and due solely to the Nil-Cost and Full Source availability of the original source code.

All the subsequent problems and incompatibilities stem from companies attempting, deliberately or not,  to create a commercial advantage by a) creating their own "extensions" and b) not releasing the source code for those extensions.

There is a role for Product Differentiation and a necessity for commercial entities to make a profit.
The lesson of the decade long "Unix Wars" (ironically made irrelevant by Microsoft taking the market) is:
Product Differentiation doesn't mean Difference by Incompatibility.
Any Telco or White Goods manufacturer can tell you "interface Standards" are necessary and strict compliance mandatory to achieve maximum Consumer Utility and Producer Benefit.

Whatever you build, it must plug-in and "Just Work" for the end-user... Any other approach is madness and Commercial suicide...

FOSS hasn't lessened in importance:
Most of the dominant internet services, languages, tools and platforms are either FOSS projects or derived from them.
There's even a branch of Psychology and Game Theory that shows/proves in the majority of situations sharing, a.k.a. co-operation, provides not only the best outcomes for everyone, but is massively better.

It's also the reason we have countries: "In Unity there is Strength."

So why can't I get Free access to articles in Academic Journals in this Age of the Internet?
  • Universities, Researchers and Educational Institutions all heavily rely on the Internet.
    They intimately know and understand the technology and its benefits.
  • Since the early-1990's every Article has been produced electronically.
  • Since the mid-1990's, every (first major, then minor) Education and Research institution had extensive Internet and e-Mail infrastructure and presence.
  • Indeed, the current review, editorial and publication process are exclusively electronic/Internet.
  • The whole of the Content and Editorial Process is provided gratis by the Subject Matter Experts: the Academics/Researchers in the field.
  • Overwhelmingly, Academic Journal articles are written by Publicly Funded academics:
    So having already paid for the work and the writing/publishing of the article, why do I have to pay to an extortionate amount to get a copy?
I can't understand the "Value Add" of Journal Publishers.
  • There is no selling/marketing to be done.
  • Printing, Distribution and subscription collection are well known and highly-competitive fields.
  • Website, webservers and Internet links are already maintained by all Education and Research Institutions.
  • Search and Cataloguing are well known and well solved problems. It doesn't cost the Earth and many nil-cost options exist. "Google Scholar" is sufficient proof.
  • The text and diagrams of whole of the last century's Academic Journals will now fit on commodity servers costing under $10,000.
There aren't any reasons why  the Academics in Education and Research Institutions won't have thought about Fully Free publishing, there have even been attempts to establish on-line Journals.

The only reasons I can see to maintain the status quo are:
  • The commercial interests of the Journal Publishers.
  • Academics and Researchers feel no pain, they are happy with things the way they are.
  • The "Public Paywall" doesn't affect those within Education and Research Institutions: the same Public Funds that paid for the whole Journal Content, pays for their access.
But if you're not in a major institution, say just a High School or "Community College", or worse a Second or Third World backwater, you're Out of Luck...

There are convincing public and social equity reasons to remove the Public Paywall, but the people who might, Politicians, Public Servants and Academics, are not interested. Things work for them, the very privileged and unconscious minority, just as they are...

Meanwhile, the rest of us here and in the Developing World, are held out to dry.

No comments:

Post a Comment