Owen Barder’s recent post Development and the Death of Aaron Swartz struck a chord with us. That one could face felony charges for trying to share published academic research is at once rational – from an IP and copyright perspective – and ridiculous. It’s also the reason that our proposed content offering has diverged from our original vision.
There is a wealth of “development-related” research out there. It was originally our intent to consolidate key findings and surface trends to bring to light much of this information to practitioners in a user-friendly manner. And yes, on a for-profit basis. Although there are fantastic ideas swimming around via blogs and institutional websites, we found that many interesting papers were located behind paywalls. Of course we can subscribe to the myriad individual journals, but that would rapidly increase the cost of our service and usage rights were a little too hazy for our tastes. Furthermore, it would defeat the purpose of our undertaking as it would be pointless to direct subscribers to research to which they don’t have access.
Okay, well, the minds behind DP – both creators and advisors – have extensive experience in published research and content, so we understand the importance of being able to monetize intellectual property. But if a researcher is ultimately funded – or heavily subsidized/lightly taxed as in the case of strategic industries – by the taxpayer, then surely that information should be freely available? Taking this a little further, is pay-walled research aligned with “purpose” – to perhaps educate and enlighten – of academic institutions? Mike Taylor has argued that it is immoral for scientists to hide research behind a paywall as it is their “job to bring new knowledge into the world”.
We see Taylor’s point – and the applicability to development research – but we hesitate to attribute anything or anyone as “immoral” unless it involves direct harm. Nonetheless, these are interesting dialogues and the tide of technology means that ivory towers may succumb to an ultimate fate of sustainable community bungalows (ahem, Coursera? Khan Academy? even Wikipedia?); already media empires have either crumbled or shrunk as access to information has been hammered open and shared extensively through virtual networks.[Image: © vladgrin - Fotolia.com]