Drew Story’s opinion piece Give People What They Paid For in Inside Higher Ed really caught my eye. In this piece, Story addressed the declining support and funding for scholarly work. Two sentences in particular caught my eye:
“For too long, colleges and universities have held a monopoly on new knowledge, mostly with specialized language, but recently more with exclusivity. The fact is that, aside from what the news media passes on, the public can’t access scientific research in its original published form.”
In the same vein, Maximillian Alvarez writes, “The biggest obstacle to democratizing access to and production of academic knowledge is the reality that many academics and academics-in-training don’t actually want this to happen. The university currently provides incentives for knowledge producers (greater prestige, salary bumps, more freedom with reduced teaching loads) that make it altogether undesirable for those in elite institutions — and those who desperately want to join them — to reject the system of privileges from which they benefit, or hope to someday.”
This statement gets at my biggest issue with higher education and scholarly research. All throughout my college experience, and especially while in my Master’s program I have been exposed to (or maybe more accurately forced to read) scholarly article on scholarly article. If I hadn’t attended college I likely would not have read even a tenth of the scholarly articles that I have. I don’t know anyone who spends their spare time perusing academic journals; many people aren’t even aware of the overabundance of articles that are out there overflowing with information, and why would they when people like me, who have a degree and are in the progress of getting a second, still struggle to understand them sometimes.
To combat this issue, Story suggests that researchers include a “General Public Summary” with their regular article. This summary would be aimed at the general public, meaning that it would be written at no higher than an eighth grade reading level and would be freely available to the general public on the publisher’s website. Although I think this is the start of a great idea, I think that the issue of making the public aware that this information exists and getting them to see value in utilizing it remains a difficulty.
I am NOT a very research oriented person; the idea of spending the rest of my life collecting, analyzing and writing about data makes me want to crawl in a cave and hide, and part of these reason for this negative attitude toward research is the result of its exclusive nature. I am a firm believe in the idea that research should be conducted for the good of the public, and research can’t help the public if it isn’t available to the public. I am trying to practice what I preach by making my thesis as practical as possible for the people involved and directly providing them with an “executive summary” that is created for the purpose of aiding them in applying my findings to their everyday work, but I am already finding that in order to make it “valuable” in the research world, I am sometimes limiting its practicality, and it’s a shame that this is the case.
I would love to hear from some of you in other disciplines about how prominent this issue is in your field, and your thoughts on it.