Saturday, February 24, 2007

Open Access

Given that I am very much in the open source and open content world, it will not be a surprise that I am very much in favour of open access and that I do not think highly of the patent system.

I think that it is easy to argue that patents kill. My argument goes like this; the pharmaceutical industry is documented to be only interested in patentable medicine. When a medicine is not patentable, they do not have an incentive in researching its application for particular purposes. Recently the university of Alberta found by accident that dichloroacetate (DCA), appears to suppress the growth of cancer cells without affecting normal cells. The problem is that there is no funding for doing the research to prove the efficacy of this medicine. It is therefore easy to understand that only substances that are patentable are considered in much of the bio-medical research.

I think that is is easy to argue that the classic business model for scientific publishing kills. The cost of reading scientific articles is staggering. The article published in Nature about what is demoed on, for me it is a really exciting article, for me this really relevant article costs $30,- to read. I can not lawfully send it to my mother to read. I can only tell her. Scientific journals assume that the only people who need to read their papers are scientists; the scientific libraries will have a subscription and that is how it has always been. Except that it is not true. Laymen have as much a need to read bio-medical science papers; they or their loved ones are affected by all kinds of afflictions. They have a need to understand what is happening to them. Often doctors do not know all the details that are available and , there are enough documented cases where research on the literature by laymen made a difference. One famous example is known as "Lorenzo's oil", a story about a disease called adrenoleukodystrophy or ALD.

Not only laymen are denied access to literature, many universities cannot afford the cost of literature. With the science results owned by business, it is important to understand how vital the whole "open" movement already is. A new, a different business model is needed and many organisations are developing these. The big challenge is for science to become science again; to be able to research without having the public pay again and again and some companies walking away with only an eye for profit.

The challenge will be to find a balance that does justice to all parties involved.

Post a Comment