The Bigger Picture

In David Weinberger’s Too Big To Know, he further discusses the largely disputed topic about having knowledge creation and circulation being based upon networked and open systems. Scientists, and scholars in general, really have no issues coming about with new factual information, but it’s the issue of connecting those newfound facts together. Bernard K. Forscher in his letter, titled “Chaos in the Brickyard,” describes that the issue within the new generation of scientists as one in which they were too preoccupied churning out ‘bricks’ of new information rather than indebting themselves to creating a solid, big picture (124). I could not agree more.

The Internet, in and of itself, is actually extremely hard to navigate because works of academia lie behind defense walls of closed source and open source systems, in which creates a fragmented picture of research based upon a particular topic. Strangely, this is not new to our society. Newton’s method to solve nonlinear equations was believed to be first discovered by Joseph Raphson fifty years before Newton, lost in the abyss of papers published without the advantages of open source accessibility. James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins could not have the Nobel Prize if it were not for Rosalind Franklin’s x-ray diffraction work in the 1950s, yet many history books fail to mention the importance of her work. I am not arguing that such scholars should have removed recognition, but rather I am making the claim that a lot of research goes unnoticed due to the lack of connections to their work and the difficulty of overcoming the impact factor pressure still enforced by academic institutions.

Is there a way to solve such an issue? Not exactly. Particularly, I like the approach of Jean-Claude Bradley, an associate professor of chemistry at Drexel University, who began a blog called “UsefulChem” to document his research with chemical compound reactions against the malaria strain (139). Although it may be difficult to search for it and it may not be dependable upon credibility, I believe it is important to publish research as it is in progress. For diseases that impact populations in poverty or it impacts small populations (visit https://www.rarediseases.org to browse the numerous rare disorders and diseases that lack funding), it is hard to receive grants for research because it is not deemed profitable. Negative results are still results that may eventually lead the way to a cure.

We are now presented the opportunity to crowdsource and work together as a community to answer the many questions that having been plaguing mankind for centuries, yet we are still ruled by a system that demands a price tag for the knowledge presented to the public sphere. Open source information is important, but I am hungry for more. As an academic myself, it is inevitable in the process of research to encounter several sources that require payments or even special permission to use their own research. We undoubtedly have come from a long way in terms of open source accessibility, but there is much more that needs to be done.

 

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