I’m reading ‘The Access Principle’ by John Willinsky, a Canadian scholar now at the Stanford University School of Education. He is also the driving force behind the Public Knowledge Project, dedicated to improving the scholarly and public quality of research. I heard about his book some time ago when developing an interest in the open access movement (especially in relation to research in developing countries). But I got really interested after reading the intro to this book review by Scott Aaronson:

I have an ingenious idea for a company. My company will be in the business of selling computer games. But, unlike other computer game companies, mine will never have to hire a single programmer, game designer, or graphic artist. Instead I’ll simply find people who know how to make games, and ask them to donate their games to me. Naturally, anyone generous enough to donate a game will immediately relinquish all further rights to it. From then on, I alone will be the copyright-holder, distributor, and collector of royalties. This is not to say, however, that I’ll provide no “value-added.” My company will be the one that packages the games in 25-cent cardboard boxes, then resells the boxes for up to $300 apiece.

But why would developers donate their games to me? Because they’ll need my seal of approval. I’ll convince developers that, if a game isn’t distributed by my company, then the game doesn’t “count” — indeed, barely even exists — and all their labor on it has been in vain.

Admittedly, for the scheme to work, my seal of approval will have to mean something. So before putting it on a game, I’ll first send the game out to a team of experts who will test it, debug it, and recommend changes. But will I pay the experts for that service? Not at all: as the final cherry atop my chutzpah sundae, I’ll tell the experts that it’s their professional duty to evaluate, test, and debug my games for free!

On reflection, perhaps no game developer would be gullible enough to fall for my scheme. I need a community that has a higher tolerance for the ridiculous — a community that, even after my operation is unmasked, will study it and hold meetings, but not “rush to judgment” by dissociating itself from me. But who on Earth could possibly be so paralyzed by indecision, so averse to change, so immune to common sense?

I’ve got it: academics!

This was just the hilarious but oh so true intro to the actual review. Read the rest here. Or order Willinsky’s book here. And of course you can also download his book for free right here.

This article has 3 comments

  1. Ivo

    But unlike game developers working for free, academics earn a salary and their papers are published after research funded by grants. That makes a whole difference.

  2. Eric

    @ Ivo
    True. But it’s not argued here that academics shoud get paid individually for their papers and other products. The problem with the current system is that much of the work is done by publicly funded academics and then the results disappears behind the pay wall of the publisher. There are actually already plenty of examples of how to deal with this (especially in sciences and medicine). It however does require a collective effort.

  3. Andrew

    I don’t know if I’m going to take the time to read the book, but goodness, that was a funny review. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

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