Science relies on systematically testing ideas with evidence gathered from the natural world. Not everyone realizes this, but science affects our everyday lives in all sorts of different ways. One principle of science is to let it be public and accessible. This way, researchers can check, respond to and build on each other's work and the general public can be informed about public knowledge, too. There are many ways scientific knowledge can be disseminated to the general public. One important way is through the general education everyone gets. Parts of scientific knowledge find their way into the basic education of everyone (although this sometimes remains a struggle). Another way is through popularized science books (example), a great way to reach massive audiences. An interesting and useful development is also how some universities have started to create chairs for the public understanding of science (for instance Oxford). Then, there the many information technology-driven approaches which enable the further spread of scientific knowledge. Much scientific knowledge seeps through by the wonderful wikipedia technology and community. There are now even peer reviewed scholar sites (scholarpedia.org). And there are more and more researchers uploading pdf files on their websites (example). Some universities are very generous in sharing their knowledge, too (example). Youtube also offers wonderful opportunities for sharing scientific knowledge broadly (example). In addition, websites like Google Scholar can be a great help in identifying articles.
Unfortunately, despite all of these initiatives, there remains a substantial gap between scientific developments and the public's knowledge and understanding of it. Some worry that the gap growths. Even basic scientific knowlegde is unknown to large proportions of the population of many countries. As an example: A US national survey (American adults flunk basic science) carried out this year showed that only 53% of the adults know how long it take for the earth to revolve around the sun. Only 59% of them know the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time. Only 47% of them can roughly approximate the percent of the earth's surface that is covered with water. A recent poll in the UK found that half of the Britons do not believe in evolution and many are confused about what it means. These are indications there is room for improvement, so to speak. On a mailing list I am subscribed to, one of its members started a lively discussion on the dissemination of scientific knowledge. He argued for a free open access to all scientific knowledge for everyone. He said: "Scientific publishers can be viewed as "rent-seekers" in economic theory. They are acting as a third party between the taxpaying public and taxpayer-funded research by depriving them of access to each other. This lands them in the economic neighborhood of illegal drug trade, taxi medallions, lobbyists, bribery and regulatory capture... quite a fall from the vision of the Enlightenment. "
If you are not a scholar or a student it can be hard and expensive to get hold of certain scientific articles. For many people, educated at universities but now working outside academia, this will keep them from closely following scientific developments within their discipline, which could lead to an unnecessary gap between science and practice.
What do you think?
- Would it be a good idea to create open access for all to scientific knowledge?
- Is it possible to do this while sticking to important quality standards? If yes, how?