Group Discussion on Accessibility

Accessibility in the age of information is a paramount concern in which all of us  must contend. In a world where knowledge is not only power but a commodity to be bought and sold the question of who has access comes with immense economic and social implications along with a disparate impact on the intellectual health and productivity of our society.  This idea is rather clearly posed in the Martin article where the  author details the complex and almost bureaucratic nature of contemporary knowledge production. He states how almost all intellectual research  is done on a  conditional basis with the agenda of the benefactors in mind. These agendas can include the avarice of corporations, the strategic and logistical foresight of the military, or more  inconspicuously the desire of academia to preserve its institutional hierarchies. As a result of these vested interest much of new knowledge is produced and disseminated in a restrictive fashion that serves their priorities. Fortunately, there  are those like the late Aaron Swartz who successfully subverted these interest in the name of free exchange of ideas.  As the Samuelson article writes Swartz was an internet activist who thought that government-funded research should be made available to the public since the public had essentially paid for it through taxation. The author also pointed out how this should  be applied especially to older works being that any monetary gain that could be incurred by an academic institution  had long dissipated and as a result no financial loss would occur with there release. Unfortunately, even with all this Aaron Swartz still  faced criminal charges for illegally downloading and releasing a myriad of articles for MIT’s JSTOR. This article along with the former show the arduous and legally vexing barriers to greater accessibility and the disconcerting effects they have.

1. Should all academic research funded by the government be open to the public?

2. Do academic institutions have an ethical responsibility to ensure that their research  can be easily obtained and understood by outsiders?

3.  Does the profit motive inherently hinder accessibility?

4. Should intellectual property laws be undermined if they serve a public good?

5. What are effects of a lack of accessibility on a democratic society?


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