Access to information is, and should be, a natural human right. The Science-Industrial-Complex doesn’t agree. Science is NOT an open-source world.
Understandably, most scientists are pissed about this, and they are fighting back.
In the software world, there are two ideas about the word “free” that get used a lot:
- Free as in Beer
- Free as in Freedom
Sometimes, open-source software is both (like WordPress, the software that runs this blog).
If a piece of software is truly open-source, that means — literally — that you have access to the source code of that software. You can see how it works, and in most cases, you can even “fork” it and build on top of it, if you have the ability and interest. Even if the software is not free (as in beer) — the people who wrote it are selling it to users — you are still allowed to get your eyes on the code, and even use the code in your own projects.
In other words, the key idea of the open-source movement is ACCESS to INFORMATION.1
Horribly, during the 20th century, the entire scientific enterprise was hijacked by publishing houses, who now have a collective monopoly on the publishing of scientific knowledge.
Why I Pay for My Beer, But Won’t Pay for (Access to) Science
Call me an American, but I strongly believe that paying for things is good. I’m a hard-core, pro-free-market, life-long entrepreneur. I believe in the postive sides of the capitalist economic system and its deep-integration with the philosophy of liberty and human rights that we inherited from the Enlightenment.
But (<– I know you saw that coming), I do NOT believe that EVERYTHING should be in the market.
Some things MUST be FREE, as in Beer. From schools to fire departments to police to the military, there are plenty of things we have decided are better off being public, and FREE to all, no matter what. We pool our resources, we work together, and we do this because we know that we’ll all be better of by doing so.
Scientific knowledge, the information itself, must be free and open to all humans on earth.
Don’t Confuse the Blueprint with the Building: What I Charge For… and What I DON’T Charge For
Ben Franklin didn’t patent his woodstove (the Franklin stove). He thought it was WRONG to hold back information from the world that might be useful to people. I feel the same way.
I only charge for coaching. That coaching can come in many forms: in person; online; in the form of a book or journal; etc. I never charge for information. If you haven’t noticed by now, I put ALL of my programs — from physical to mental training — online for FREE (as in beer).
That is, I charge for the building (of the building of your body and mind), NOT for the blueprints.
What’s the difference?
- The information is just that: it’s blueprints, source-code, ideas.
- Coaching is me helping you put that information into practice, showing you HOW to use it.
In other words, Ben Franklin was more than willing to give you the blueprints to his woodstove. But he was NOT going to come to your house, chop wood for you, and show you how to use it. If he had written a book about how to use his woodstove, I promise you, he’d have charged for that too. Rightfully so.
Old Ben was in the publishing business. He charged for his Almanacs and other writing. But, he didn’t charge for his INFORMATION, the raw code, the data that his time as a scientist and inventor produced. That was meant for the world, not for his pocket book.
My business is modeled after that. I charge for my role as a teacher and coach. But ideas are meant to be shared for FREE. No one owns those. No one should be barred from seeing the source code. I consider that immoral.
What’s Being Done About This Shit?
I spent 10 years of my adult life in academia, in a large research university, and had access to the majority of the biggest science journals. But that was then. Once I left university, I lost access.
Just 4 years ago, that was devistating, because the internet hadn’t yet caught up. It was the first time I felt my face slam against the wall of seperation. But, things are looking better now.
You’ll notice that when you go onto Google Scholar and do a search, it is quite common that the results will include a link to the full PDF of the paper you searched for. The reasons for this are myriad.
- One of them is that scientists are posting “pre-prints” of their papers onto their own websites before the “official” one gets published by the journal. (The official one is usually copyrighten, but the pre-print is owned by the author. As a rule, these are identical. Sneaky, but smart.)
- Another is that there are now sites like Arxiv.org, hosted by Cornell, which is a pre-print archive where authors post up their work long before it ever (if it ever does) get published — this one is dedicated to mathematics, physics, etc. (In fact, Arxiv.org is so ubiquitous in mathematics now, that it’s becoming the goto place for the whole field.)
You have a RIGHT to the information produced by the scientific process. Demand it.
Now go lift something heavy,
- This gets a little hairy, as you might expect. For instance, the blog software WordPress is open-source AND free. But many of the best plugins for it require payment. However, because these plugins use, and literally “plug in” to WordPress, the license WordPress uses forces these plugins to also be open-source. The particular wording of the license, in turn, allows for anyone to take that source code and give it away for free. That means that it doesn’t actually make much sense for companies that sell WordPress plugins to charge for USING the plugin, but rather for tech-support, updates, etc. That is often what they do. ↩