Monday, October 13, 2003

Get your brain on

It looks like people are finally finding the internet to be useful for something other than porn distribution and file sharing...

The Public Library of Science is an effort to make the world's scientific and medical literature a public resource, taking the realm of scientific discourse away from the big-money ivory-tower world of scientific journals and putting it into the hands of anyone with a web browser. When I was an engineering student I found that it was exceedingly difficult to obtain details of the most recent research - if the university didn't carry the specific journal in which the information was published, there was no way to get the information. Just think how much effort is wasted reproducing the work of others simply because the information isn't publicly available... this was a problem in Newton's time, and it is more of a problem now, when intellectual property and hubris are deemed more important than the free flow of information.

The folks at MIT have become hip to this issue as well... just last month they unveiled MIT's OpenCourseWare, which placed the lectures, assignments, and exams of 500 courses online... some of the courses even have videos of the lectures. In time they intend to have all of MIT's courses be available online. These guys are so far ahead of the pack they have nothing to fear... contrast that with the petty empire-building profs I studied under at Oregon State University and Portland State University. Free up the knowledge!

On a smaller (but still noteworthy and quite interesting) scale, Neal Stephenson's MetaWeb strives to be a collaborative structure for learning, starting with a discussion of the ideas and eras explored in Stephenson's books and branching out from there to wherever the collective consciousness takes it. This is what the web was supposed to be in the first place... a tangle of interconnected ideas, a creative commons of knowledge.