The Cost of Knowledge, a matter of life and death

Did you know that psychological research can be a matter of life and death? Two researchers, Rodin and Langer, showed in the late 70-ties that elderly in nursing homes lived longer and had improved quality of life when they were more involved in daily events such as the choose of diner, type of leisure activity and so on. This is a result of a well-known fundamental psychological process, namely the relationship between perceived control and reward. It is a process that is often studied with visual illusions like the dot-illusion. However, this is not about illusions, but about the fact that even the most fundamental theoretical research can have a profound impact on real world problems. There is only one crucial problem… the accessibility to this knowledge.

With our traditional publication systems, people have to pay to have access to published research. This means that professionals from outside the scientific world have often no access to it, because they are often not willing to pay the exorbitant prices for it. But, also scientist themselves have often no access to the their peers research or even to their own research because their academic institution cannot afford to subscribe for all the scientific journals. This problem is known as the pay-wall and access barrier which seriously limits the value of our scientific research.

Although the problem was already known for several years and many researchers drew the attention on it, it was not until 2012 that the problem got a lot of attention both within and outside the academic world. On January 21, 2012 the mathematician Timothy Growers of Cambridge University posted his blog “Elsevier – my part in its downfall”. In this blog he stated that he refuse to have anything to do in the future with one of the biggest commercial publishers, Elsevier. According to him and many researchers who supported his statement Elsevier is an exemplar of everything that is wrong with the current publication system. The pay-wall and access barrier were the central points in his objections toward them.

As a response on his call to attention, the petition “The Cost of Knowledge” was created. In this petition researchers declare that they will not publish, refer or do editorial work for journals published by Elsevier. Nowadays, almost 14,000 researchers signed the petition and so, support the boycott of Elsevier. At the same time, it enhanced the Academic Spring, a movement formed by researchers, academics and scholars who oppose the traditional publication system and promote open access as an alternative model. Their ultimate goal is fairer access to published research. Only then can science fully contribute to our society and its problems, and… can it makes the difference between life and death.

Evalyne Thauvoye


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>