The Academic Circle Jerk

Even though I want to go into academia, I definitely have some problems with its culture and how things are done.  One thing that I definitely hate is how exclusionary it is, especially in terms of the information.  The information created from research and academic should be available and accessible to the public if indeed this research is being done for some sort of public good.  What good is any of this if the findings that could be applied to real world situations are not disseminated to the masses in an accessible manner? One example: how expensive singular articles can be if you don’t subscribe that journal or attend a university that has a subscription.  If you’re not lucky enough to find somewhere else on the internet that happens to post that article, you’re gonna be out of a bit of money if you do decide to pay for that article.  One time I found an article that cost $32. Yeah, that number is no exaggeration.  What’s crazy is that memberships in organizations that produce these journals and that give you a free subscription don’t even cost that much.  But if you are not in an academic circle, you may not be privy to such information.  A lot of academic texts are very expensive.  Handbooks and other texts can cost hundreds of dollars.  Why does all of this have to cost so much?  The commodification of information is something that worries me. By making these things so expensive, it precludes anyone who can’t afford it from having access.

Then there are issues of copyright with these things so they can’t just be posted anywhere and to make sure you have to pay for it.  My research lab wrote a book chapter for a handbook.  When our chapter was accepted, we had to sign this contract giving our rights to the material to the publisher.  Basically, means that we have no control over how the information is disseminated and the publisher can do what they please.  Additionally, referring to two things I mentioned before, I received a contributor’s copy of the e-book that is locked and the print version of the handbook is $150+.  Even though I had a hand in creating this material, I cannot disseminate it in any way.  I can’t even print out any part of the e-book because of the lock that is placed on the file.  Also, if I wanted to be able to post our chapter anywhere or even be able to print it or do anything with it, I would have to pay the publisher quite a bit of money.  If I wanted to buy the print version, I could not afford it.  What does that say when people who have a hand in creating a product cannot afford the product?

I know some people will say “but you have a copy of the book, so why you trippin about it?” That is not the point, my point is that these things should not be this expensive.  This is indicative of a part of academia I don’t like.  You have these publishers and journals that want to make money in combination with this overall idea that publishing in peer review journals (particularly the big ones) is the gold standard and only legitimate form of disseminating knowledge.  It’s basically a group of people who want to keep their club as exclusive as possible.  I think a lot of people revel in their own “intelligence and knowledge” and that knowledge being easily accessible threatens that sense of intellectual superiority some academics have.  Hence that’s why I call this the "Academic Circle Jerk."  A bunch of people in their own little group feeling themselves about how smart they are.  It seems so masturbatory. “Oh, I published in this journal” or “I edited this book, I’m so great.”

I know all of these things are prestigious in academia, but why does this prestige have to come at the price of accessible information and making sure the people who this research is supposed to help or inform actually get this information?  Yeah, I want to publish in journals and be invited to write book chapters and stuff like that.  I also want to know that my work is actually going to get to the people who need it.

One of my friends asked me if when I became a professor would I make students buy a book I wrote. At first, I said no, but admittedly if the book was actually relevant to the class, I would probably make them get the book.  BUT…considering everything that I said, if that book ended up somehow costing $150 or some wild ass price, I’d just photocopy the pages or something like that because I think it is absurd for a professor to make students pay that much money for something they produced.  If I wrote a book, if I had a say in how much it cost, I would want it to be really cheap. Like less than $20, if they really had to buy the book. I also would not be offended at all if they somehow found a free pdf version of it on the internet (which I try to do all the time lol).

I’m all about sharing information and everything, which is why all this stuff bothers me so.  I get why it happens. Elitism, capitalism, all those -isms.  The points I’m trying to make are 1) information should not be exclusive and inaccessible to a large majority of people, 2) academics need to stop trying to hoard the knowledge and keep it to themselves, and 3) all this research and information does no good if the people who really need it can’t get to it.  Please feel free to provide your own comments and insights.

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