Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

OA and scientific revolutions

MIT is distributing a new 14.5 minute podcast by John Wilbanks on Barriers to the Flow of Scientific Knowledge.  John is the Executive Director of Science Commons.  From the MIT blurb:

Following the recorded interview, Wilbanks agreed to answer just one more question, which we did not have time to include in the recording:

Ellen Duranceau: I understand you majored in Philosophy as an undergrad. Is there is particular philosopher’s work that you draw upon to support his efforts with ScienceCommons?

Wilbanks responds: “Philosophy has turned out to be directly relevant to our work at Science Commons - the principles behind the Semantic Web are essentially the same as those investigated for centuries by philosophers from Hume to Plantinga. In terms of influence, I could list a dozen philosophers that have influenced one element or another of our work. I know that Thinh Nguyen, our counsel, is deeply influenced by the work of Daniel Dennett (and everyone involved in science should read Dennett’s “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea“). But I’m probably most influenced overall by Thomas Kuhn, who wrote “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” and introduced the idea of the paradigm shift....[T]he core arguments about how ideas emerge in science, are beaten down by the establishment, and have to force general changes in the overall knowledge structure of science - those arguments resonate deeply with me. And a huge part of what we’re trying to do at Science Commons is enable the overall acceleration of the cycles Kuhn describes, to make it faster and faster and faster for ideas that deserve to emerge to emerge, and to let as many people into the process as want to be there.

This mix of accelerating research cycles and increasing participation in science through lowered barriers means that we get more revolutions, faster. It’s one of the only non-miraculous approaches available to us. We need theoretical breakthroughs in fields across the sciences, we need more revolutions, and Science Commons is trying to deploy the infrastructure of knowledge and that can make those revolutions easier to achieve.” ...

Comment.  I've also cited Kuhn in my own approach to OA.  From January 2003:

[T]the expectation by the rising generation of researchers that full-text journal articles ought to be free and online is one of the greatest assets of the [OA] movement. As Thomas Kuhn argued, doddering paradigms tend to topple not because someone produced sufficient evidence or a decisive experiment, but because the diehards died off and a new generation took their place. I welcome evidence that young researchers look first in free online sources. They should. That's by far the most convenient place to look. Our job is to put more information in that basket, not persuade researchers to start with less convenient sources. Students should understand that free online sources are not yet adequate in most fields. But the rest of us should understand that the best remedy is to make them adequate.

(Before anyone writes to insist that students should look at the best sources, whether free or priced, I say the same thing in the original piece.  I'm just editing to highlight the reference to Kuhn.)