Open-source and open-access news

I think as a global society we need to start working together to benefit everyone. Being in South Africa I’m constantly exposed both to sections of society that are incredibly poor and sections that are incredibly rich. One of the ways to move out of poverty and work towards a better world is through education and technology, but that costs money. Sometimes a lot of money, which is why I am supportive of various initiatives for free and open-source software. Previously I’ve expressed support for Mendeley and disapproved of attempts to prevent the public having access to research they funded. I’ve seen a few pieces on the topics recently and thought I’d share them in one convenient post.

First up is an interview with Linus Torvalds, one of the biggest figures in the open-source world. He is responsible for starting the Linux operating system which now powers both the majority of supercomputers and formed the basis for the highly successful Android smartphones.

The idea of open access is also a big issue in science today. For humanity to make the best possible decisions we need access to the best possible information. We also need to be able to check that that information is reliable, that’s one reason why it’s important to reference things in science. I do it in this blog too. Each link lets you go to where I got the information and judge for yourself whether it’s reliable. (Actually in a blog format it’s really more for if you’re interested and want to read further but you get the idea.) Thinking about things that way makes it seem a bit strange that a lot of scientific research is actually very difficult to get a hold of because of the huge costs involved. In a sense that’s a lot like making a big claim but refusing to show anyone your evidence.

This problem has been noticed and recently there have been calls to boycott certain publishers which have attracted thousands of supporters. They don’t seem to have been futile gestures as open access has been identified as a priority for Europe’s €80 billion Horizon 2020 research funding programme. Even my own university is aware of open content and has made some resources available for free.

This week both Nature and Science have reports about a new open access journal, PeerJ. The idea behind PeerJ is that scientists pay a once-off fee for an unlimited ability to publish in the journal. Hopefully it will succeed but in any case it’s good to see more activity on open access and open source projects. Perhaps one day information, from Wikipedia to scientific journals, will all be freely available.

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