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You are here: Home Blogs Community AcaWiki uses free software--and a free software approach--to liberate scientific research

AcaWiki uses free software--and a free software approach--to liberate scientific research

by root Contributions Published on Oct 08, 2009 05:36 PM
AcaWiki is a promising new project to build a body of scientific knowledge that is free to use, study, improve, and redistribute. Instead of waiting for journals to make papers more available, they're building a free equivalent that will be just as useful.

Even though sharing knowledge is one of the most basic principles of science, and even though much scientific research is funded by public institutions or universities, the vast majority of scientific papers end up in inaccessible troves controlled by private journals. AcaWiki is a brand new project to change that, using free sotfware and with freely licensed contributions.

From their announcement: "Currently, it can cost up to $35 to download an academic paper—a significant cost, especially because thorough research on any topic usually entails downloading many papers. AcaWiki’s approach takes advantage of the fact that copyright does not apply to ideas, only to the written expression of those ideas. Scholars can thus post summaries of their or others’ research online as long as they are not copying verbatim beyond what fair-use laws permit."

In other words, scholars can now access long, meticulously detailed summaries of the articles they're interested in. Summaries can be written by any community member with access to the original article, or by the original team of researchers themselves. Even if academics face strong incentives or requirements to publish in private journals, nothing in copyright law prohibits them from republishing a summary elsewhere.

AcaWiki is built on Semantic MediaWiki, which is free software available under the GNU GPL (it's the same software the FSF uses for LibrePlanet). But beyond just using free software, AcaWiki takes a free software approach: rather than waiting for journals make papers more available, they're organizing a community of experts to build a free equivalent that will be just as useful to students and scholars.

If you'd like to be an advocate for AcaWiki in your institution, or help summarize key papers in your field of expertise, get involved.

In a related story about people making progress against limits on the sharing of ideas, see the FSF's amicus brief in the Supreme Court "Bilski" case.

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