Author: Jack Andraka

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

Category: Access, Cancer, Open Access, The Student Blog | Tagged , , , , | 23 Comments

Why Science Journal Paywalls Have to Go

A guest post by student scientist Jack Andraka

After a close family friend died from pancreatic cancer, I turned to the Internet to help me understand more about this disease that had killed him so quickly. I was 14 and didn’t even know I had a pancreas but I soon educated myself about what it was and started learning about how it was diagnosed. I was shocked to discover that the current way of detecting pancreatic cancer was older than my dad and wasn’t very sensitive or accurate. I figured there had to be a better way!

I soon learned that many of the papers I was interested in reading were hidden behind expensive pay walls. I convinced my mom to use her credit card for a few but was discouraged when some of them turned out to be expensive but not useful to me. She became much less willing to pay when she found some in the recycle bin! One of the best journal articles was called Carbon Nanotubes: the route towards applications.

This was the [paywall to the] article I smuggled into biology class the day my teacher was explaining antibodies and how they worked. I was not able to access very many more articles directly. I was 14 and didn’t drive and it seemed impossible to go to a University and request access to journals.

Some adults have told me I should have done that but, as a 14 year old, it was intimidating. It was also hard to get my parents to drive me to a University library since they didn’t really believe in my project and were trying to convince me to change projects! So there are a lot of barriers for kids to learn more and educate themselves. Open access would help people like me who may not drive or have access to a University library.

Luckily I was able to convince my mom to finance some more articles I needed and I learned to try different ways of circumventing the pay walls. I emailed one author with some questions though and he was able to provide me with a copy. Writing authors directly is a good way to get articles without paying but I didn’t figure this out right away.

I was persistent enough to be able to get access or at least the abstracts to enough journals to help me write my proposal which I then used the Internet to find and email over 200 local professors who were working on pancreatic cancer. Of course, most didn’t take me seriously or were too busy or just not interested in helping but I finally did get into a lab. Of course when I did get into a lab, then the University had access to so many articles because they subscribed to them. However, even universities are feeling that the subscriptions are expensive.

I was on a panel with Luis A. Ubiñas , head of the Ford Foundation, and heard him describe how running times at the Olympics plummeted after African countries started participating. I was thinking that if kids around the world could get connected to the internet and journals and each other, that even more creativity would be harnessed to solve the world’s problems.

Open access would be an important first step. I would love to see research that is publicly funded by taxes to be publicly available through neighborhood libraries and public school libraries.

 It would make it so much easier for people like me to find the information they need.  If I can create a sensor to detect cancer using the Internet, imagine what you can do.



At 15, Jack Andraka of Crownsville, MD won $75,000 in scholarship funds at the 2012 Intel Science Fair for his invention of an early ‘dip stick’  test for pancreatic cancer. Now 16 and a high school sophomore, Jack continues his research activities while serving as an advocate for STEM education and Open Access to scientific research.

Follow Jack on Twitter  @jackandraka


Category: The Student Blog | Tagged , , , , | 25 Comments