Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

OA vs. "intellectual apartheid"

Gideon Burton, Academia must divest from Intellectual Apartheid, Academic Evolution, March 21, 2009.

Apartheid is alive and well today. I don’t mean South Africa’s social policy that once enforced a harmful racial divide; I mean academia’s policy that enforces an unnecessary and counterproductive intellectual divide. What intellectual divide? It is that gaping chasm between two opposing models of disseminating knowledge: toll access and open access. ...

In disheartening irony, the very stewards of knowledge have become its jailers in the information age, for the ones who sustain Intellectual Apartheid are the academic publishers, research universities, and scholars themselves. Academics and their institutions have sold out to economic interests in the name of preserving the only system trustworthy enough to produce authoritative information. ...

I believe it is fair to label as “apartheid” any artificial social construct that privileges an elite minority to the detriment of a majority. The artificial construct doing that in the world of knowledge is the toll-access system of traditional scholarly communication.

It works like this. If you wish to have access to the most authoritative information–-knowledge vetted by experts-–then you must pay for the privilege. Even research which has been funded for the public good by governments or granting institutions lives mostly quarantined behind commercial barriers that keep it from those it could benefit most. It doesn’t need to be. It shouldn’t be. But the fact of the matter is that most of the world’s most important knowledge remains out of reach of most of the world.

Let me repeat that. Despite all the digitizing and online publishing now extant, despite the proliferation of websites and web users, despite the largely up-to-date technological infrastructure within academia, it is still the case that most of the world’s most important knowledge remains out of reach of most of the world. ...