Academic Spring: it's over nine thousand

Since Monday, a recent article in the Guardian about the Academic Spring movement has helped push the movement's main petition, "The Cost of Knowledge", past the milestone of 9,000 signatures by researchers. Although I've been busy for the past two weeks, preparing two papers for a conference (both of which will become open-access if they pass peer review), I figure it's time to make my stand.

Many of my Google searches lead me to paywalled scholarly papers, and many of these papers -- being mainly in the hard sciences -- aren't in journals my small, mostly liberal-arts oriented, university doesn't subscribe to (and won't provide me, a lowly grad student, with a budget to buy). Paywalls are a time-consuming nuisance, even when my university turns out to have the subscription or (more common) one of the authors -- or sometimes a random prof who obtained it for an undergrad class -- has posted a reprint online.

Even if I had the funding to buy all the paywalled papers I wanted, I would have had to spend dozens of hours filling out expense reports and typing in the university's credit card number. Eventually, the value of my time would probably add up to more money than the publishers were earning.

I'm against artificial impediments to the academic research process, because human prosperity for the rest of the 21st century will depend on the Law of Accelerating Returns. The sooner researchers' productivity reaches the limit of human capacity, the sooner researchers will discover a way to increase that limit, and the sooner the cycle will repeat. Paywalls never help.

Even if a university doesn't accept government funding for publication fees, plenty of taxpayers have paid for it indirectly through their undergraduate tuition. Research scholars like myself pay even more for it indirectly, by working for salaries far smaller than what we could earn in industry. If we're to give up wealth, social status and market visibility for our quasi-monastic devotion to the cause of science, the least society can do for us is to help keep greedy publishing companies out of our way.