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James Boyle on keeping public science open to the public

The Financial Times yesterday ran a terrific op-ed by James Boyle, explaining the ridiculousness of the Conyers bill “that would eviscerate public access to taxpayer funded research.” The op-ed is written in Jamie’s light-hearted-yet-penetrating style, and should be read simply for that reason — preeminent legal scholars of copyright are not supposed to be entertaining.

Then, at the end, he adds an argument that I think is crucial because it addresses the Internet’s effect on knowledge and authority:

Think about the Internet. You know it is full of idiocy, mistake, vituperation and lies. Yet search engines routinely extract useful information for you out of this chaos. How do they do it? In part, by relying on the network of links that users generate. If 50 copyright professors link to a particular copyright site, then it is probably pretty reliable.

Where are those links for the scientific literature? Citations are one kind of link; the hyperlink is simply a footnote that actually takes you to the desired reference. But where is the dense web of links generated by working scientists in many disciplines, using semantic web technology and simple cross reference electronically to tie together literature, datasets and experimental results into a real World Wide Web for science? The answer is, we cannot create such a web until scientific articles come out from behind the publishers’ firewalls….

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One Response to “James Boyle on keeping public science open to the public”

  1. I read James Boyle article and indeed it horrified me.
    Being geographically quite far from US Congress, I did not hear before Conyers bill.
    Your post opens our eyes to the facts we know – science community, that helped to bring web to its current state of grace – is still far away from the openness and transparence. This is huge paradox, but while scientific articles and findings published there ARE in public domain – the free access to them is blocked by commercial strongholds of publishers.
    How crazy I was recently going to Journal of Physical Chemistry website, to find that one of the articles I co-authored in the past … costs 30$ to read !!
    Over a couple of months I was pondering why Semantic Web does not grow as it should/could ? Maybe, there are other reasons, maybe. But until science, which, by design, IS in public DOMAIN, is not public SPACE of the web – we should forget about our dreams about Semantic Web – and, in essence, about getting Web into the next round of thrilling development.
    And – last but not least – if it is important for you guys in US – how far more important it is for us in so-called Central & Eastern Europe. “We toppled the system (ONLY 20 years ago), but we still carry its genes” – and if open science does not help us – we may forget about the real growth….
    Thanks David, for this post …

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