May 1, 2009

NPR does story on public access movement

On April 28, American Public Media's Marketplace program did a story on "Publicly funded research for a price."

The opening anecdote puts a human face on the issue of public access to publicly funded research:

People who grew up with the Internet expect information to be free. That's what 21-year-old Josh Sommer thought.

In 2006 he was a typical college freshman. Studying environmental engineering, hanging out, making new friends. Suddenly, he started to get severe headaches. He had a series of routine tests.

Josh Sommer: End up having an MRI and being told that I have a mass right in the very center of my head, entwined with critical arteries, in one of the most difficult locations to operate on.

The cancer Josh has is called Chordoma. It's a rare disease with a low survival rate. Even doctors don't know much about it. So Josh threw himself into Chordoma research. He Googled the disease to find out all he could about it, but kept hitting roadblocks.

Sommer: I'd find an abstract, and I'd click on it. And oh, you have to pay $60 to read this article. Oh, you have to pay $40 to read this article. I mean, I have this disease, I want to know about it.

Journal subscriptions -- like the Journal of the American Medical Association -- can cost thousands of dollars each year. With universities and libraries trimming budgets, they can't afford all of them either.

And Duke University law professor James Boyle gives a colorful take on the issue as well:

The Web works great for porn or for shoes, or for flirting on social networks. But it doesn't work really well for science. We haven't done for science what we did on the rest of the Web, which is basically to have this open Web with everything linked together.

Many reader comments on the piece are intriguing as well.

Read or listen to the story here:

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