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The Architecture of Access to Scientific Knowledge

Lawrence Lessig is skilled at taking complex issues and reducing them to their fundamental critical elements. I’ve crossed paths with him at several conferences over the last few years…and just last year, Athabasca University hosted him for an honorary doctorate for his work (most prominent of which is Creative Commons). I interviewed him in 2003 as part of the Open Education group Stephen and I were developing at the time.

To date, much of Lessig’s work has targetted copyright through the lens of books, music, and video. He hasn’t spent much time on a far greater travesty: the closing access to scientific knowledge. Artists and authors produce for money. The copyright system, in theory, provides their incentive to produce by protecting ownership so their work can be distributed and sold.

Academics, researchers, and scientists don’t function under similar incentives. An academic doesn’t get paid to produce an article – at least not directly. She publishes because it’s part of her work and her research. However, once published, access to her work is essentially blocked as only those libraries and universities that have purchased access can make the article available to students. Which is a huge problem: academics need their work to be disseminated as broadly as possible. Closure=bad. The random, inter-disciplinary connections that drive creativity and advance a field are essentially blocked to researchers in certain parts of the world.

In Lessig’s presentation to CERN – The Architecture of Access to Scientific Knowledge – he addresses the insanity (immoral) aspects of today’s knowledge-blocked publishing system. I think even the staunchest capitalist to the most devoted socialist can agree that the system of knowledge access fostered by closed journals is antithetical to research, health of science, and knowledge growth. It’s an outstanding presentation. Take the 50 minutes needed to watch it…