The democratization of many activities, both social and professional, has not made a sufficient and expected impact on the world of scientific and technical information (STI). This is particularly evident in the traditional ways and forms of creating, distributing, accessing, and using information. Although open access and open science movements are making some progress, the STI is still operating within an old paradigm. However, free and uninhibited access to information and to the results of scientific research and technological advancements are necessary for the world to overcome its current challenges and problems.
Balanced openness and security, transparency, support to open innovation and collaborative value creation are the major indicators of information democratization. As is the case with other social and economic changes, the overall factors that can be regarded as instrumental in creating a need for the democratization of STI are, first, a knowledge-based economy and the knowledge worker as a user of information, and, second, developments in the area of information technology (IT), particularly the impact of internet growth.
Knowledge workers with new and very dynamic demands for information, coupled with emerging IT possibilities, create strong demand for the democratization of information. There are at least three major areas where the democratization of STI is taking place — the process of information creation, the ways and means for distributing and accessing these valuable resources, and the conditions for using the information found.
The creation of STI is the starting point in the process of democratization. Over-commercialization of information can negatively impact the safety and security of running various endeavours and projects. Knowledge can now easily be codified and reduced to information, as well as transmitted around the world at relatively low cost. As a commodity, diffusion of knowledge is directly impacted, either positively through accelerated information exchange or negatively through limiting the access via high prices.
It is not only over-commercialization. Academic science has also barricaded itself behind walls of official titles, such as professor, assistant, researcher, or required degrees. At the same time, valuable scientific and technical research and development are being performed by engineers, technicians, students, amateurs, and enthusiasts. The results of their work and research are often disregarded as ‘not scientific enough’ and are omitted from the mainstream of scientific information. In addition, the use of social networking and collaboration tools is not regarded as sufficiently appropriate for scientific environments. However, the value of social networks for scientists lies in faster access to the information relevant to their research and in the enhanced networking communities made available by new tools.
Democratized science creation needs to open its doors to everyone who devotes time and energy to these activities. The same applies for publishing the results of such findings. Unless coming from a prestigious university, publishing attempts are more or less disregarded by leading scientific and technical journals. Open access journals, such as those listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals, are slowly gaining ground, but they have a long way to go. The peer-review system established to control the quality of published articles in journals is too rigid for the new opportunities offered by today’s web-based comments, blogs, and social network-based evaluations.
DISTRIBUTION AND ACCESS
Information distribution and access also contain high potential for democratization. It requires freedom of access to information and worldwide knowledge, particularly for educational purposes, and reliable and unbiased sources of information. Greater use of open access journals for publishing purposes, instead of commercial journals, can also make a major impact on the democratization of distribution and access.
The increased use of web and e-publishing could be a major catalyst for this change. The number of new publishers starting up as open-access publishers is increasing. The Public Library of Science (PLOS) is a well-known example. Similar trends are found in the opening of commercial science databases to the general public through free distribution channels or through the use of aggregators such as World Wide Science, regarded by many as a global science gateway. Some commercial publishers, such as Springer, Elsevier, and John Wiley & Sons, Inc., offer open access options.
Conditions for using information is the third area that needs to undergo some major reorganization and democratization. The current system of copyrights, licenses, patents, and trademarks is counterproductive and dysfunctional from the perspective of a global society and its long-term sustainability and well-being.
Even creators of some intellectual property are not always in the most favorable position. For example, the copyright of a published article does not remain with the authors; it is waived and transferred to the publisher of the article. Thus, society at large pays twice for the same work. In the case of academic work, a society initially pays through the grants given to the researchers to do the research and then later pays again through subscriptions to journals or through the purchase of published articles.
This area is probably the most difficult to change and democratize, because it involves the dismantling of some fortified publishers’ privileges and benefits. New models are emerging, such as Creative Commons or the GNU General Public License (GPL) in the area of software publishing. They are gaining ground and could be applied in almost any other area.
The democratization of STI is not a static goal. It is a process whereby information technology and modern information management practices are combined to bring maximum benefits to end-users by making the information easily accessible and freely and openly usable.
DISCLAIMER: Any views or opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer.