Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The world's entire scientific and cultural heritage... is power

I write to you one day after Aaron Swartz's death.

Before any kind of premature judgement let me say that this is no political website, but when confronted with the fight for freedom of speech and the free sharing of knowledge, I can't help but feel defeated constantly as those who believe in it are "silenced" day in day out.

May we become followers of knowledge as fiercely and steadily as Aaron Swartz was in such gentile, fresh and inspired fashion. 

I was reading a PDF last night before trying to sleep around midnight; the article was about human emotional and psychological development. I couldn't help reading the same sentence over and over just because it made tremendous sense to me. The author wrote "THE ONLY RELIGION SHOULD BE THE PURSUIT OF TRUTH". I couldn't agree more with the statement. Divinities aside, rituals and beliefs aside, protocols and traditions aside, the only concern the human kind should put their effort in, before anything else, is the pursuit of truth. We would learn to love more, respect more, need less and wish the appropriate. Somewhere, some-when I heard from someone that "The real meaning of life is personal evolution, knowing yourself to better understand others". Exactly what science in its many fashions and branches is trying to do for centuries, but there is an umbilical chord that takes a lot from the embryo and arrests its development just because there is an imposed system of dependence that has never been discussed. 

A few weeks ago I watched an interview from Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins' front man) actually sharing with his audience that the greatest problem in the United States is exactly not discussing things. People are not allowed to discuss things anymore, they are entitled to this sick liberty because big corporations want issues to be dealt in their own political agenda, when politics actually concern people, common people; when these people are the last ones to be heard for any issue that ultimately will concern and affect their lives, their own freedom. A robotisation of the human nature perpetrated by the massive indulgent entertainment industry that simply feed people's direct visual senses with lack of mental stimuli. I wonder if any of us think of the word Tertulia anymore! Debating, discussing, chatting, listening to those who will be the end consumers of products. But these days it's not about what people want to be produced, but a lot more about  what big companies want people to want. The thinking is being replaced by the accepting and that my friends is just Orwellian and far too dangerous.

To a certain extent Aaron Swartz was advocating exactly that somewhen at his existence he dedicated a few moments to thinking and writing his personal opinion on the sharing of information. As he said once "Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. THE WORLD'S ENTIRE SCIENTIFIC AND CULTURAL HERITAGE, PUBLISHED OVER CENTURIES IN BOOKS AND JOURNALS IS INCREASINGLY BEING DIGITIZED AND LOCKED UP BY A HANDFUL OF PRIVATE CORPORATIONS". I am personally forced to agree with such sincere and clear statement as it is blatantly true. 

Swartz was in favor of an open access movement, something that to some of us would sound like piracy: - "The open access movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights  away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it". Straightforwardly it does actually recalls the ripping off of copyrighted property, but if we read his argument clarifying his position we are to understand that there is a principle of equilibrium, balance, equity and justice in it: - "Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleague's? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It's outrageous and unacceptable".

I believe it is common ground that Knowledge needs Investment, Investment needs Resourcers, Resourcers want their funding to return and generate Profit, Profit asks for Market Control, Market Control equals Restriction to Access; and the vicious circle goes on and on with no doubt something must be done. I am not entirely in favor of giving away other people's work just like that when the funding for research generating scientific articles comes from private companies. They have employees, they need to pay wages, full stop. But when funding comes from charities and public entities, I see no reason for restrictions to access being applied based on nothing but despotism, envy and ignorance. And this is the moment, one of those rare moments where Knowledge actually generates Ignorance... the other one being false knowledge being published under pretext of great achievements, but that's an entirely different story by the way.

- "Sharing isn't immoral, is an imperative". I do agree under the foundations of the public origin of the funding. But worse than restricting access to sharing is imposing silence. Large corporations don't even accept to have these issues publicly debated. They are afraid of what might come out of it, and when one shows fear one immediately demonstrates a weaker position, a position of fragility, and one only feels fragile when the opponent's arguments are more solid, more reliable and more capable.

Privatization of knowledge is a mistake. It resembles the days of the Inquisition when books were burned and a few guys felt illuminated by the divine and again restricted access to information, with thousands of amazing pieces of work being burned to ashes and the human kind seeing an imposed arrested development of its own nature.

When Aaron Swartz wrote about these matters he made a mistake that it would cost him his life. Using words as civil disobedience, make our copies, take stuff, buy secret databases, fight for Guerrilla Open Access.

On the 11th of January 2013 Aaron swartz was found dead by hanging. Some say suicide, some go way far than that and state he was silenced. I am not stupid enough to have an opinion on the matter. There are entities that do play their role in analyzing these cases and bring facts to broad daylight.  My opinion here is about people's work, what they offer to society, what they build rather than destroy, the knowledge they share rather than restrict. I am not in favor of any particular bill that is put up without discussion. I am in favor of letting people exercise their thinking and criticism, positive or negative, about whatever matter or issue. I personally believe science would gain a lot more if at least the matters for which Swartz was an activist for could be discussed without intimidation techniques, prosecutions or despotism that is becoming such a popular approach by those who infer that capital is the greater good and people the mere lambs.

In the end of the day what is science's diesel if not debate, discussing, conferencing.


The Toxicologist Today.

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