Freedom of knowledge and Sci-Hub

If you are a nerdy science type who likes to read academic and or research papers (for fun or for knowledge) you will have seen for a long time now that a lot of the papers get blocked behind a page that asks you to pay for access to the paper. These “paywalls” usually amount to around $30 to see one individual paper. If you are a university student you can get around this if your institution pays the publisher, but for your average person you do not have free access.

Science Paywall

This is very frustrating. Knowledge needs to be openly shared for the human race to advance. The power of shared knowlegde the Internet brings should not be restricted.

SCI-HUB is the latest completely awesome solution (note, may not be truly legal – see wikipedia article for the full history) that gets you access to these paywalled papers. Taken down for now, but mirrors will always crop up (including harder to kill TOR onion sites).

Newton Quote

I could go on for pages about the arguments out there. Do some googling on “academic paywalls” to read all the hatred against them. I gave up trying to find a page that said it thought paywalled knowledge was a good idea.

Ever since starting this blog I have always tried to only post positive topics. The old “if you don’t have anything good to say then don’t say anything at all” line. But this topic has and will continue to annoy me past the point of silent indignation.


Shared Knowledge

I have been meaning to post about this for a long time.

In the past I used to keep my latest secrets secret. As a developer writing fractal software (or any other software) you want your application to have those “wow” features that no other app can duplicate.

That was a simple-minded and foolish belief. The entire evolution and progress of the human existance is based on people sharing their knowledge and discoveries.

Fractal Forums (actually there is only the one forum, so maybe it should be Fractal “Forum”) was one of the major things that changed my mind. Seeing people happily sharing ideas and developing them together that lead to incredible discoveries (outside the usual scientific community and peer-reviewed papers) was a welcome breath of fresh air. The original thread covering how the Mandelbulb was discovered shows this process.

Ever since then I have tried my best to share and explain ideas and it has been a very constructive and inspirational experience. Many a time I have shared a snippet of code with another chaos enthusiast who wanted to implement the same thing in their own code. The majority of the time they are very grateful and usually find a new twist to the code or idea I never would have had. This creates the feedback effect of leading to knew ideas that neither of us could have created before.

With this blog I have tried to change from making it an advert for a new release of Visions Of Chaos into a place I can hopefully help others understand the (relatively) simple maths behind chaos theory related ideas so they can enjoy and understand these principals themselves and (most importantly) come up with new ideas and advance the field.

Before the Internet was out there and when I was originally interested in fractals and chaos I only had books from the library to rely on to try and understand and learn how these ideas worked. The first real inspiration was Gleik’s Chaos that really got me into trying to code software to create those simple things like Mandelbrot Sets and Lorenz Attractors. Since the Internet that has all changed. The incredible result of shared knowledge is mind blowing. Whatever obscure topic you are interested in will be covered by someone else out there. You can usually find PDF versions of important papers on any topic. CiteSeer is an excellent resource when researching papers. If that doesn’t work a Google search for “paper name” pdf will usually find a cached copy somewhere. Sites like Open are brilliant with source code to explain how an idea works.

All of this does lead to attribution. If you do share an idea then it can (and usually will) lead to someone using that idea and (in the worse case) calling it their own. This can be discouraging, but don’t let it get you down. I try my best to cite the original sources when I develop a new bit of code. Everyone likes to know that their knowledge and ideas were appreciated and repsected.

Another sig at Fractal Forums included “I beg of you to enrich others as you have been enriched” and I think that sums it up. Without the vast pool of knowledge out there I would have never been able to add all the features into Visions Of Chaos that I have so far and will into the future.

Share the knowledge.


Knowledge must be free

The human species advances from building on prior knowledge and sharing knowledge.

The Internet is amazing for this (in the words of Lisa Simpson “Bart, The Internet is more than a global pornography network!”). Being able to access and search for information on any topic has been invaluable for myself when writing Visions Of Chaos.

But recently (actually not so recently as it has happened for a while now) when trying to access a research paper on a specific subject you get sent to some registration page that gives you a quick abstract overview and then wants $25 to be able to download the paper. This sucks and should be outlawed.

Luckily if you then search on the title of the paper you are after you can usually find a cached copy somewhere, but not always.

There are still good indexes and search engines out there specifically for scientific related papers like CiteSeer which caches copies of the papers in PDF, PS etc. For anyone into research into any science related field CiteSeer is brilliant.

Knowledge needs to be free and accessible by anyone.