Friday, May 2, 2014

In Defense of Geniuses Among Us: Against Academic Journal Paywalls

Genius is fueled by Knowledge. Let's say you meet this person, we will call him Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadu and he is creative and intelligent and has skills in a wide variety of disciplines that makes him capable of solving many problems in Science and Technology. Using Quantum Dots for Solar Cells maybe? Joey Joe Joe is ready to apply his knowledge from patterning biological materials but he can't. Why? Because Joey doesn't know much about Quantum Dot Solar Cells and when he tried to find out he hit academic journal Paywalls. What if Joey had access to this information could he change the energy landscape of the world by developing highly efficient solar cells?

The one thing in Academia that there are more of than Ph.D.s are egos. Most every Professor, PostDoc, Graduate Student I have met has a huge ego (graduate students tend to lose it towards the end of their schooling and the beginning of their PostDoc). I guess I am not really excluded in the area of ego. This ego makes people feel as if they are Geniuses and that they have no bad ideas and are the best in their field. Someone said to me today that "It's the Professor's lab they can do what they want." to which I replied, "Without the PostDocs and Students they would not have a lab." What people outside Science don't know is that what most people consider "Actual Scientists", ya' know the people you read about in magazines and such? These people have not done experiments in 10s of years. They are not Scientists they are Managers and they are Tyrants. Science is not a democracy. The best idea doesn't win. This becomes even more pronounced because of the publication system. Papers are thought to be more "Genius" if they are in a publication such as Science or Nature or Cell or &c. If your ideas are so great then why does it matter where they are published?

Who is a Genius? Someone with a Ph.D.? I have meet some Geniuses with Ph.D.s and without(especially growing up in the 90s Hacker scene). I have also met some Ph.D.s that people would be bamboozled by their stupidity. There is this feedback system where Academics want to feel superior to the "common" human. I have heard before when discussing Open Access, "Why would your average human want to read an Academic journal?"(sad) What are these Academians so afraid of? Being found out as frauds? Being required to do actual Science and not just have "ideas"? Being judged by their work and not just what journal you publish in?

So there is Joey Joe Joe and he could change the world if he had access to knowledge and there are maybe thousands of Joey Joe Joes out there. The reason that computer science, programming and engineering have progressed so rapidly over the past 20 years is probably because access to all the knowledge you need to do these things is free and available. That's how I taught myself to program in C and Perl, that's how I taught myself Electronics. Why I was hired by Motorola at 19 to do Network Engineering. Now I can't even read a damn journal article on recent advances in Synthetic Biology that would allow me to progress my research. Neither can a high school kid or someone trying to do DIYScience. I work for NASA to add even more shame to it. The government publishes its work in journals it can't even afford to have subscriptions to!!! How messed up is that? How does the world expect organizations like NASA to be cutting edge when we have extreme difficulty obtaining journal articles from modern literature. Shame on you $cience magazine and Naturmagazine and El-slime-vier.

I think the worst part, the thing that is most distressing to me is that our world could be so unbelievable. If Science became accessible, who knows the limits of what human beings could do with this? We could have treatments for many diseases, biotechnology that would blow your mind but instead we are held hostage by publishers. How much do you believe in people? How much do you believe that giving people knowledge can completely change the world?

I challenge you as a Scientist and Scholar to never again publish an article that is not made freely available to all. So go on, withhold your knowledge from humanity in hopes that you might be well known in a small circle of Scientists for work you didn't actually do. Because ya' know a 5 point increase in impact factor is worth way more than making sure human knowledge is spread far enough that it can change the world.