A button to ease the flow of knowledge

A button to ease the flow of knowledge

Sunday, December 8, 2013 - 12:24
In his 1597 essay Meditationes Sacrae Sir Francis Bacon wrote "ipsa scientia potestas est"  or to those of us who don’t speak Latin “knowledge itself is power”. The pool of scientific knowledge is certainly powerful; it is the means by which we can eliminate disease, build rockets that take us to the moon and (as it’s the festive season) light up our Christmas trees. 
 
Now, a new project conceived by medical students David Carroll and Joseph McArthur is challenging this artificial barrier to knowledge. The Open Access Button is a tool that can be plugged into any Internet browser and used to record instances of knowledge restriction.  You can find out how to quickly install it and use it here. 
 
Come up against a pay wall? With the OA Button you can register exactly when and where a ‘published’ paper is not being made public. This instance of restriction will then be added to a map, showcasing all of the occasions that someone has pressed the button. More and more of those occasions of ‘access denied’, of knowledge barriers are now laid bare.  
 
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The Button was launched just under 3 weeks ago and already there have been 2499 recorded instances of collisions with pay walls. David Carroll told me last week that; “The spark for the Open Access Button came from a number of things. This time last year Joseph and I didn't even know what Open Access was. We were both on a year out from our degrees working as researchers in well-funded institutions. Despite how well these institutions were funded, we were denied access to the research we needed to work and learn on a daily basis. Back then, we didn't know there was a solution.” 
 
In March the pair met Nick Shockey, Director of the Right to Research Coalition and realized how big of an issue the scholarly pay wall represents. “We've seen that restricting access to research slows innovation, kills curiosity and harms patients. Collisions with publishers' pay walls occur regularly, not just for members of the public with limited or zero access to university libraries, but also for researchers, both rich and poor, whose libraries cannot maintain subscriptions to every journal.” 
 
In David’s words this is when the pair  “got angry about the problem, wanted to do something about it and had an idea. This idea was the Open Access Button.” Joe and David’s commitment has also been strongly influenced by their own experience. It’s an experience that I share. 
 
“We haven't lived in a time in which we haven't had instant access to the information we need. We want to take ownership of the system of scholarly communication that we're inheriting, as it conflicts irreconcilably with the power of the Internet that we've grown up with.” 
 
David and James are already looking towards the future, using their passion for open access and knowledge distribution to conceive the next version of the Button “We're already engaging with the community to see what the next edition of the button should look like and then finding the funding and developers to build it, launch it, and support it.” 
 
David ended by letting me know that “There is much, much more to come. Trust me.” Personally, I believe him. I also believe the OA Button to be a really fantastic project, I see scientific research as a force, with quite literally the power to change the world. Science is all about enquiring minds, for students, for researchers, for nations and for everyone. I look forward to the day when we wave goodbye to the restriction of scientific knowledge. Here’s hoping that the Open Access Button will help us to see in that day a bit quicker. 
 
Jenny Mitchell, Communications Assistant, eLife.  
 

 

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