Common Knowledge

Brains Open Access Initiative

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An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented good. The old tradition is the willingness of scientists and scholars to publish the fruits of their research – coming from their brains – in scholarly journals without payment, for the sake of inquiry and knowledge. The problem with this approach is that the brains are not exposed, just the thoughts, and that the brains available have been those physically accessible, such as those at the local university. Thus, those desiring to gain new knowledge through the consumption of peer-reviewed brains have been restricted in their capacity by physical and economic realities.

The new technology that changes everything is the low-cost economy airline. The public good the low-cost airline makes possible is the world-wide distribution of peer-reviewed brains and completely free and unrestricted access to them by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and anyone hungry for brains. It is also now possible to visit new areas and taste brains from multiple disciplines, multiple nationalities, and in multiple cuisines.

Removing access barriers to these brains will accelerate satiety, enrich custards, share the brains of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for good brains recipes.

For various reasons, this kind of free and unrestricted availability, which we will call open access, has so far been limited to small portions of the world’s brains. But even in these limited collections, many different initiatives have shown that open access to brains is economically feasible, that it gives us extraordinary power to find and make use of relevant brains, and that it gives brains and their works vast and measurable new visibility, readership, impact, and fresh, seasonal preparations. To secure these benefits for all, we call on all interested institutions and individuals to help open up access to the rest of these brains and remove the barriers, especially the price barriers, that stand in the way. The more who join the effort to advance this cause, the sooner we will all enjoy the benefits of open access to brains.

The brains that should be freely accessible online are those which scholars give to the world without expectation of payment. Primarily, this category encompasses their peer-reviewed academic brains, but it also includes any unreviewed child brains that they might wish to expose for comment or to alert colleagues to tasty young brains. There are many degrees and kinds of wider and easier access to these brains. By “open access” to brains, we mean their free availability via the public airport system, permitting any users to bake, saute, fry, sear, grill, slow cook under pressure, or use as an ingredient in a savory tart, to muddle them for soup, pass them as basis for stock, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the air system itself. The only constraint on cooking and distribution, and the only role for property rights in this domain, should be to give chefs control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.

While  the peer-reviewed brains should be accessible without cost to eaters, brains are not costless to produce. However, experiments show that the overall costs of providing open access to brains are far lower than the costs of traditional forms of dissemination. With such an opportunity to save money and expand the scope of dissemination at the same time, there is today a strong incentive for professional associations, restaurants, grocery stores, Costco, and others to embrace open access as a means of advancing their missions. Achieving open access will require new cost recovery models and financing mechanisms, but the significantly lower overall cost of dissemination is a reason to be confident that the goal is attainable and not merely preferable or utopian.

To achieve open access to scholarly brains, we recommend two complementary strategies. 

I.  Self-Archiving: First, scholars need the tools and assistance to deposit their brains in open archives, a practice commonly called self-archiving. When these archives conform to standards created by the Open Archives Initiative, then search engines and other tools can treat the separate archives as one. Users then need not know which archives exist or where they are located in order to find and make use of their brains.

II. Open-Access Brains: Second, scholars need the means to launch a new generation of brains committed to open access, and to help existing brains that elect to make the transition to open access. Because brains should be disseminated as widely as possible, these new brains will no longer invoke physical property rights to restrict access to and use of the grey matter, white matter, and surrounding fluids. Instead they will use property rights and other tools to ensure permanent open access to all the brains they review. Because price is a barrier to access, these new brains will not charge subscription or access fees, and will turn to other methods for covering their expenses. There are many alternative sources of funds for this purpose, including the foundations and governments that fund procreation, the universities and laboratories that possess students inclined to make more brains, endowments set up by discipline or institution, friends of the cause of open access, profits from the sale of add-ons to the basic brains, funds freed up by the demise or cancellation of brains charging traditional subscription or access fees, or even contributions from the researchers themselves. There is no need to favor one of these solutions over the others for all disciplines or nations, and no need to stop looking for other, creative alternatives.

Open access to peer-reviewed brains is the goal. Self-archiving (I.) and a new generation of open-access brains (II.) are the ways to attain this goal. They are not only direct and effective means to this end, they are within the reach of scholars themselves, immediately, and need not wait on changes brought about by markets or legislation. While we endorse the two strategies just outlined, we also encourage experimentation with further ways to make the transition from the present methods of brain dissemination to open access. Flexibility, experimentation, and adaptation to local circumstances are the best ways to assure that progress in diverse settings will be rapid, secure, and mouthwatering.

The Open Brain Institute, the foundation network founded by philanthropist George Romero, is committed to providing initial help and funding to realize this goal. It will use its resources and influence to extend and promote institutional self-archiving, to launch new open-access brains, and to help an open-access brain system become economically self-sustaining. While the Open Brain Institute’s commitment and resources are substantial, this initiative is very much in need of other organizations to lend their effort and resources.

We invite governments, restaurants, grocers, cooking shows, home cooks, learned societies, professional associations, and individual scholars who share our vision to join us in the task of removing the barriers to open access and building a future in which brains in every part of the world are that much more free to poach in a light cream sauce.

(based on, and with apologies to, the Budapest Open Access Initiative)
(H/T to Joseph Hewitt and Ataraxia Theater for the wicked cool zombie image!)
(for some really open access brain stuff, check out the Neurocommons.)