In association with heise online

25 March 2008, 19:45

Three penguins, two wiki facts, and a free partridge recipe

Susanne Schmidt

Part 2: Free research and science

Open source and Linux are on everyone's lips. Newspapers are always filled with the next internet hype: Web 2.0, social networking, user generated content - and all of it free for everyone. Or is it?

Our three-part series goes hunting for the free content available on the internet - from entertainment and education through science and research to knitting patterns and photo collections. Part two investigates scientific texts and free data, language courses, and teaching materials.

Part 1: Free music, movies and books
Part 2: Free science, research and education
Part 3: Hobbies and culture

Only recently, the German Federal Council decided against backing Open Access as a medium for scientific publication - after all, traditional scientific publishing was tried and tested. Of course it does work, and many scientists publish their texts and treatises with the established scientific publishing houses. Does it have to be like this, though, in these times of global networking, and at the current prices which just make libraries cringe?

Those who are used to obtaining tons of how-tos and texts especially about IT subjects can only shake their heads and ask: "Why not verify by self-organisation and simply publish on the internet?" The answer: the citation indices, which so far only include printed materials, are too important for the reputation and the financial support of scientific projects to allow scientists to simply publish outside of this system. Despite this, various initiatives endeavour to publish freely on the internet while observing the citation index.

Free Science

In general, the information on IT and maths available on the internet can be viewed as superb - compared with the humanities and social sciences. Almost everyone knows CiteSeer, the central search engine for IT documents. Publishing houses for computer books are also quite willing to make their publications available online - O'Reilly, for example, co-operates with the Creative Commons Project to release online versions of phased out books under Creative Commons (CC) over the long term.

Citeseer: IT search engine

At present, there are two major initiatives for the publication of scientific materials according to open source models. In a nutshell, the Open Access Initiative is responsible for the content and the Open Archives Initiative for the form of the published materials.

Budapest Open Access Initiative aims to make scientific publications freely accessible, printable, copyable and shareable. What's crucial here is not that scientists relinquish the copyright to their papers or give immediate permission for wild plagiarism, but that people are allowed easier access to scientific publications. Of course, this doesn't absolve students from using proper scientific procedures including adequate citations and references to their sources - but with Open Access, text collections for seminars, for example, can be placed on the web for general access.

Open Archives The Open Archives Initiative deals with open archiving standards and has, therefore, a very different goal from the Open Access Initiative. It deals with digital data formats, Dublin Core, XML and digital archiving.

Generally, scientists and students interested in Open Access should make sure they read Peter Suber's blog, where current news and discussions about this topic are posted. Suber's newsletter contains references to dozens of institutions, initiatives and journals dedicated to OA.

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