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Access to knowledge: a basic human right

Elliot Harmon, January 7th, 2014

Jack Andraka - Team Open

At the age of 15, Jack Andraka developed a new method for detecting a rare type of pancreatic cancer. Like all scientific discoveries, Jack’s research built on the work of other researchers. Unlike those researchers, however, he lacked access to the expensive scholarly databases usually paid for by their universities. Fortunately, open access databases carrying a Creative Commons license gave him the tools he needed.

“Access to knowledge is, you know, a basic human right,” Jack says. “Knowledge should not be commoditized; it wants to be free.”

There’s been a lot of talk about open access to science research over the past year. In February, the U.S. White House issued a directive requiring that most publicly funded research be available to the public. It was a step in the right direction, but the fight is far from over.

For example, not all of the papers Jack needed were free. He spent nearly a thousand dollars paying to read the research he needed that wasn’t open. He’s the first to admit that he was lucky: for most young scientists around the world, those expenses aren’t an option. “We need the best and most recent research to be available to everyone.”

If you think that everyone should have access to the most current scientific knowledge, then stand with Jack and thousands of other scientists who believe in open by making a gift to Creative Commons.

The Brin Wojcicki Foundation has agreed to match every donation that Creative Commons receives in January 2014.

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3 Responses to “Access to knowledge: a basic human right”

  1. The opening paragraph of this appeal is full of errors.

    “At the age of 15, Jack Andraka developed a new method for detecting a rare type of pancreatic cancer.”

    His discovery is in dispute, as he has never published a paper showing anyone the evidence to back up his claims. This is overstating the situation. A more accurate depiction would be, “At the age of 15, Jack Andraka claimed to have developed a new method for detecting pancreatic cancer.”

    “Like all scientific discoveries, Jack’s research built on the work of other researchers.”

    Unclear. As noted, he has not published his results, so we don’t know what sources he used as the basis for his claims.

    “Unlike those researchers, however, he lacked access to the expensive scholarly databases usually paid for by their universities.”

    Untrue. He had access to the same materials, and paid for plenty of articles, to conduct whatever research he did. He says as much in many accounts of his story. This is misleading.

    “Fortunately, open access databases carrying a Creative Commons license gave him the tools he needed.”

    You have no evidence of this. This is a wild claim.

    I don’t expect you’ll publish this comment, because you’re exploiting the same story without examining it, and that suits your purposes (fundraising). However, I hope you are willing to do more than scratch the surface of this story, and maybe you’ll learn not to promulgate stories without checking them out, even if they suit your goals.

  2. Elliot Harmon says:

    Hi Kent, thanks for your comment. I agree with a lot of your points. I read Scholarly Kitchen, and I enjoyed your post there about this too.

    One point of clarification: we interviewed Jack as a part of our Team Open project. You can see the full interview that these quotes were pulled from at teamopen.cc/jack. He talks there about the open-licensed research he used.

    He /did/ pay for plenty of articles, which is a big part of the point. As we said in this email, he’s the first to admit that he has access to resources that most people don’t.

  3. Then why don’t you correct this to read accurately from the start?

    “At the age of 15, Jack Andraka won a science contest claiming to have found a new method for detecting early-stage pancreatic cancer. While those claims have yet to produce a published paper or be validated by peer-review . . . ”

    And eliminate the part about him not having access to “expensive databases” because he later says he spent plenty on articles from these same databases. What, are you saying you need access to Ovid or Proquest to do research?

    Being accurate is paramount to good science communication. I’d excuse a little vagueness of language now and again, but these statements are quite misleading. Even Andraka, in other interviews, is sorry this has all taken on a life of its own. Remember, he’s a young man swamped with fame. His head has to be spinning. We adults need to help him out, not exploit that. He has too much potential.