22 May 2009

How Open Access Beat the Inquisition

One of the reasons the idea of open access is so powerful is that it plugs straight into the basis of science: that results and methodology should be available to all so that they can be verified. This idea goes back a long way, but I'd never really thought of them going back this far:

Galileo is often remembered as a martyr of free intellectual inquiry--browbeaten by the Inquisition, confined to house arrest, forced to recant. But he could afford to placate the knowledge mafia because by that time, the 1630s, any censoring by authorities was too little too late. He'd already succeeded in proving Copernicus right and spreading the word enough that the new epistemology had taken root. Those religious authorities wouldn't have been so upset if Galileo's Open Access campaign hadn't already succeeded.

Of course Galileo didn't call his campaign for spreading scientific knowledge "Open Access publishing," but Galileo was following the same principles that animate today's movement to liberate scholarly knowledge. Most in his day were operating within a different paradigm--one that privileged the restriction of knowledge. That paradigm has proven as limiting to the advancement of learning as the Ptolemaic model was for understanding the galaxy.

It's a great piece, well worth reading.

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