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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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