08 March 2008


The message is spreading within the citadel:

Other than in the realm of life-saving medicine, why should any of this matter to nonacademics? Well, for one thing, barriers to the spread of information are bad for capitalism. The dissemination of knowledge is almost as crucial as the production of it for the creation of wealth, and knowledge (like people) can't reproduce in isolation. It's easy to scoff at the rise of Madonna studies and other risible academic excrescences, but a flood of truly important research pours from campuses every day. The infrastructure that produces this work is surely one of America's greatest competitive advantages.

In fact, open access might help to moderate some of the worst forms of academic hokum, if only by holding them up to the light of day -- and perhaps by making taxpayers, parents and college donors more careful about where they send their money. Entering the realm of delirium for a moment, one can even imagine public exposure encouraging professors in the humanities and social sciences to write in plain English.

Keeping knowledge bottled up is also bad for the world's poor; indeed, opening up the research produced on America's campuses via the Internet is probably among the most cost-effective ways of helping underdeveloped countries rise from poverty. Closer to home, open access to scholarly work via the Internet would help counteract the plague of plagiarism that the Internet itself has abetted. Anyone suspecting a scholar of such chicanery could search for a phrase or two in Google and see if somebody else's work turns up with the same unusual text string.

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