Five years ago, I competed in my very first science fair. At the time, I was a tiny 6th grader, who was still trying to learn the difference between independent and dependent variables but I was absolutely fascinated by the scientific method. It provided a way for me to explore my mysterious surroundings and answer so many of my questions. And my partners-in-crime, Google and Wikipedia, seemed to instill in me all the worldly knowledge I would ever need.
Since that year I’ve learned a lot about science fairs and my projects kept becoming more and more sophisticated. They ranged from using bioluminescent bacteria to detect water contaminants to investigating the impacts of nanomaterials on environmental species to my latest project on detecting pancreatic cancer in its earliest stages. As my journey continued, I met many new friends from different regions of the world at different science fairs. However all of my friends, regardless of where they were from, seemed to have a similar problem that I also was experiencing.
You see— we’re all high school or middle school students. Young aspiring scientists like us don’t have a lot of background in the fields that we’re studying. Unfortunately we don’t have our bachelor’s degree or doctorate, so we still have much to learn. But we just don’t have the funds to get access to a lot of the latest and best scientific research out there. At $35 per article or $40,000 per subscription bundle, those precious articles are completely out of our reach.
Lately we’ve become a bit creative with our methods of retrieving these articles— such as searching on Google for free pdf versions or begging the authors for a copy. However, a lot of the time we end up empty handed and either have to spend $35 or find a different article that might not be as relevant.
That’s the true scourge of paywalls: they prevent young, budding scientists from getting access to the latest scientific research, which prevents us from being able to do significant research. By locking out the younger generation, paywalls first accomplish the task of denying some of the most creative and innovative researchers out there (the kids!) but also prevents a lot of kids from being interested in science in the first place.
To many of my classmates at my school, science is this enigmatic, arcane thing that is pretty dry and uninteresting. And that’s because we can’t connect to it because of the prohibitive cost. Imagine if we made science as accessible as music or pop-culture, if the cost of a scientific article cost the same as a song on iTunes! Allowing access of scientific articles to the youth is a must, because if we don’t then we simply won’t have a next generation of scientists.
I’ve seen far too many great ideas destroyed by the inaccessibility of knowledge, great ideas that could improve the lives of millions and change the world. All because we just can’t get access to the right articles. Scientific publishers have to begin to realize that there are more scientists than just those at wealthy academic institutions. That anybody, no matter where they come from, how old they are, or how much money they have, can be a scientist. Because scientific knowledge shouldn’t be a luxury for a select few, that the dissemination of scientific knowledge is a public good, that everybody benefits from. The unrestricted flow of science can help people improve their condition, no matter who they are. Because just think, if we all act as one united human race against closed scientific publishing and paywalls, then together we can bring down one of the greatest road blocks in scientific research.