Saturday, June 14, 2008

Knowledge, Now! Or why we cannot afford embargoes

Through open sharing and knowledge and a collaborative rather than competitive approach, the world's researchers came together to map the human genome within a few short years; an advance that would have taken decades, if not centuries, pursuing more traditional approaches to science.

We humans have other problems to resolve, and we need to figure them out quickly. One is global warming. Figuring out how to slow or reverse the trend is an urgent need. We need to find environmentally friendly ways of producing and consuming energy, and the sooner the better. In our globalized world, we need to learn how to live together in peace.

It is understandable that publishers accustomed to a subscriptions approach to disseminating information worry about whether open access will impact their revenues - whether these are needed revenues, or hefty profits. It is generous that many in the open access movement are more than willing to compromise, to agree to embargoes or delays on open access.

However, we cannot afford embargoes. The point of scholarly research is advancing knowledge. In the course of pursuing knowledge, money is spent. Some will profit by this, whether they sell laboratory equipment, or publish the results of research. This is a fine thing, but it is not the point. If the lab finds a better way of doing research and no longer needs to purchase an outdated piece of equipment, would we say that the lab must continue doing research the old way, to keep the equipment-makers in profits? Of course not!