Science shouldn’t be a luxury ; Knowledge shouldn’t be a commodity

 

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.back up remaining pix 9 2013 209

 

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.

 jack mashable social good

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23 Responses to Science shouldn’t be a luxury ; Knowledge shouldn’t be a commodity

  1. Your thougths about availabilty of scientific knowledge are extremely relevant to mine, thank you !
    I was born in the country where the knowledge was thought of exactly as you described your vision and it was normal to wait for the time coming soon when this availability will bring up totally new and exciting state for humankind. That country was named USSR and this state was known then as Communism.
    The effort so far failed but I strongly hope that the Dream still exists and will eventually come true making happy everyone on the Planet !
    Sincerely,
    Vladimir Romanovsky

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  2. What a sensible guy! And clearly smart. Somebody else committed the typo in About Jack Andraka that reads, “… has been names …”.

    I’m hoping to read his paper in PLoS about detecting pancreatic cancer in order to develop a similar method to detect nagalase, also known as Alpha-N-acetylgalactosaminidase. Nobuto Yamamoto has shown that the nagalase level in blood is proportional to tumor burden. Such a quick cheap test would permit any treatment to be tracked week by week to detect if and when it stops working so a different treatment can be tried next.

    This may have to be done away from the jurisdiction of the FDA since many gentle treatments that work do not involve newly patented drugs. This means that monopoly profits cannot be used to pay back the immense cost of getting FDA approval for cancer cures that work. Otherwise we need to find another way to fund the roughly billion dollars required for the testing.

    But I would rather not wait for that political battle to be won to start curing most cancers by means other than cut, burn, and poison. Even just using insulin potentiated chemotherapy, which is taught and used in Great Britain, would be a great advance. Big pharma doesn’t allow it to be taught in U.S. medical schools since it only uses a tenth as much of the expensive chemo poisons. And your hair doesn’t fall out.

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  6. Samuel Valiente says:

    I am not a teen anymore (27), but I am an aspiring scientific too, and sadly this also applies for Us in the developing countries (Guatemala).

    Greetings from Guatemala.

    Sam.

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  7. Samuel Furse says:

    Fine sounding words, but it might help change things more if you were clearer about how the huge undertaking of publishing science was to be paid for.

    Also, I find your reasoning a bit weak. Scientific articles are not written with general or young audiences in mind. More than that, they are written for specialist audiences, i.e. professionals in particular scientific disciplines. It’s unlikely that anyone even partly removed from that will get worthwhile use out of them, let alone untrained children. I am afraid the idea that funding the vast task of making countless hundreds of thousands of scientific articles available to teenagers is going to change the world is an over-reached argument.

    Making articles available to all is a good idea, but if coherent, strong arguments are ignored in favour of specious ones like these, it will do the movement more harm than good. There are strong arguments, like making papers available to scientists who do not have affiliation to an institution and to institutions who cannot afford the subscriptions, but making papers available to those who have not been trained and are not in training, should not be confused with them.

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    • Jack Andraka says:

      Your comments seem quite condescending and I feel like you are patting young researchers on their heads and telling them to run off and play. I feel just the opposite: that if people read and think for themselves they can ask interesting questions and perhaps come up with interesting answers. I hear from so many people around the world who are hungry to learn. Dr Quackenbush, a fellow White House Champion of Change , helps engage multiple myeloma patients as partners in defeating the disease and provides advanced analytical tools to make the invaluable
      study data open to scientists everywhere who are interested in finding cures. Rather than the outdated idea of hoarding information we should embrace the new open access model and believe in human collective intelligence and potential.
      My friend “The Winnower (http://thewinnower.com/blog/science-welcomes-all-ideasif-you-can-pay/ ) notes :” In the past, charging such high rates to publish scientific discoveries was justifiable because of printing and distribution costs. Now however, because of the Internet, this is no longer the case. New discoveries are disseminated instantly, formatting is performed automatically and thus, prices could dramatically shrink.

      Indeed, an analysis by Deutsche Bank states:

      “…the publisher adds relatively little value to the publishing process … if the process really were as complex, costly and value-added as the publishers protest that it is, 40% margins wouldn’t be available”

      Love the discussion and I’m so glad you shared your opinion!

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      • Samuel Furse says:

        No, that’s not what I said. The point I made was that making published scientific research available by what we currently understand as OA, to people who cannot hope to understand it is not a good justification for mounting a change as large and expensive as OA. More importantly, there are better ones. Like, for example, institutes in the third world that do have trained scientists but cannot afford subscriptions for journals to stay up-to-date, and thus cannot themselves publish in them. In my opinion, this means in effect that their science is being wasted. This would also have the effect of raising the standard, and avoid trash like this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/16/nigerian-student-gay-marriage_n_3934518.html

        The fact that OA means that papers are available to everyone, including those with more enthusiasm than experience or understanding, is a very happy co-incidence of OA and one I like. There is a strong argument that one cannot learn about how to read papers critically if one does not read them at all. However, that is not the complete story and so should not be taken in isolation. Someone who does not yet really understand the mechanism of acidic ester hydrolysis is not going to find cutting-edge papers about the subtleties of nucleophilic substitution intellectually accessible. It’s just too nuanced and advanced. (I am a trained teacher as well as a scientist, so I know whereof I speak.). I would add that I don’t think this is a good enough reason to take it away from them, or deny it them, however.
        Perhaps this clarifies what I was saying about the strength of an argument justifying such a move–I’m sorry if it seems strong, but we can’t ignore it, I am afraid.

        Happy to contribute :)

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        • The argument Jack makes is quite simple and strong. How anyone can argue against accessibility to scientific research is baffling. Indeed, he is walking proof of why there should be more access to those “untrained” and “trained.”

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          • Samuel Furse says:

            I don’t think anyone here is arguing against it — certainly neither he nor I has adopted that position. I am not sure whether your comment relates wholly to what I wrote, or to other things too, but just to re-iterate a comment I placed below, I plan to write at greater length about this as my point isn’t getting across. :)

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          • Samuel Furse says:

            I have written further about the p.o.v. I was attempting to present. This can be found here: http://wp.me/p1Xm4K-ob

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        • Dr. Furse, you make Jack’s case in this comment. If the Nigerian magnets twit had had open access to top science, vs. the bowdlerized version available in Nigerian (and many other developing nations) schools, his conclusions would have been much different. Scientifically relevant, in fact.

          When Harvard University says “even though scholarly output continues to grow and publishing can be expensive, profit margins of 35% and more suggest that the prices we must pay do not solely result from an increasing supply of new articles,” I think they shine a light on the real issue here: publishing revenue.

          The scientists who write the papers don’t get any part of that subscription revenue, nor do the universities where they do their research. Unless that university is the publisher of the journal, which I think might not be a bad re-tool in this area, provided they don’t get 35-40% Margin Disease along with the subscription revenue.

          I respect your doctorate. I think you could show Jack, even though he doesn’t have his bachelor’s degree yet, a level of respect, given the work he’s already done by the age of 16 …

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      • Mike Taylor says:

        I congratulate you, Jack, on maintaining the moral high-ground by responding with such courtesy. I would not have been able to do the same.

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  9. As I understand the copyright laws, the KNOWLEDGE is not a proprietary commodity so anyone with access to a paper can extract key bits of knowledge and create an open access paper with different phrasings and perhaps different orderings that presents the knowledge offered. The original paper should of course be properly cited even if it cannot be easily sighted or well sited. Did I get the law part right?

    I’d particularly like the form of a bushy tree of questions, answers, and pro and con arguments. This new paper could be placed into a wiki to be extended with further new questions, alternative answers, more arguments, and even footnotes and links to related information. Such papers could slowly or quickly grow to be even more useful and more important than the original article.

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  11. Jack, your maturity in writing this post made me doubt about your age. Anyways, what more people should know, is that the companies that publish research and want you to pay for it DID NOT finance research anyhow. Actually, most of it was paid for by our money (taxes). And I’m not sure you know this, but when authors send you pdf copies of their own work, they are acting illegally, as when publishing they accepted transferring their copyrights to the publisher. And yes, a lot of authors had to PAY PRINTING CHARGES for publishing, too. Open Access is not a question of charity or goodness, it’s just moral.

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