Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Quickie: Let it be Free

I was thinking about how the "scientists" in the Climategate scandal are hiding their raw data. If the science is really objective, then by its own merits other researchers will reach the same conclusions.

If you're afraid that they won't, then you're hiding something.

As such, no scientific researcher should ever hide their data. Ever! Not only that, but their work should be out there too -- formulas, theories, methodologies, everything -- to be judged not only by their peers, but also by the public at large. If science is a quest for the truth, then the truth has nothing to fear from inspection.

But I realize that it is not just our disgraced climate researchers who have adopted policies of secrecy. You can't, for example, get most of the academic work in Computer Science unless you join the ACM. In fact you can't get most works in academia unless you join some tight-nit clique. It's all closely guarded.

Long ago, I could understand how these organizations needed to charge money in order to recoup the costs of publishing on paper. It makes sense that they shouldn't take a loss. But amazingly that changed in the Information Age, and instead of offering free downloads it appears that most organizations choose to monetize their IP (business speak for "go for the profits").

You could make some well thought-out arguments about how the funds collected go back into the organizations to help spread their good works, but oddly one can easily suspect that most of the income is really used to protect the revenue generation (business speak for "stuff that causes profits") and pay salaries.

Academia -- data, papers, methodology, everything -- should be free and done out in the public. It should be open, and visible. Approachable. Companies hide their research because they are locked in competitive battles. Universities (and other research institutes) are not companies.

Research is not competition, it should be co-operative. And it shouldn't matter who contributes (particularly when we live in a day and age were so many people are both eager to help, but also have the available time).

I should never be told that I can't download a paper unless I pay a big sum of money. It should be free.