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09 February 2009

Mmmm Free Information

"If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me." - Thomas Jefferson

When I first read that it struck me how readily the internet can disseminate ideas, papers, research studies, music, television, movies, books, etc. to one person or 6.7 billion for essentially the same price of free. The amazing thing of course being that Jefferson called it over 200 years ago, but not in some clairvoyant sense but rather because it is an intrinsic property of ideas that they have transaction costs approaching zero and are infinitely scalable. The entirety of Jefferson's letter can be viewed here.


Wikileaks released about a billion dollars worth of research enacted by Congress since 1990.

I've read about projects to make government and private university funded research accessible to the public, but it still remains difficult to search through the current scientific literature. Here's the best article I could find on the subject. To find academic papers for free you can either visit your local library and log on to JSTOR or you can just search on Google Scholar. It seems very counter productive to spend so much time and (public) money on a research study then keep the results hidden behind large fees and access codes. If you were a researcher wouldn't you want people to see your results? The less people have to work to get at this information the more widely it will be read and implemented. The same concept is used to make a web page more effective. By reducing the number of pages a visitor has to click through to get somewhere web traffic increases. Come on acadamea - drag your big brains out from under that rock.

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