Here is the full transcript of author and teacher Erica Stone’s TEDx Talk: Academic Research is Publicly Funded – Why Isn’t It Publicly Available? at TEDxMileHighWomen October 2016 conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: Academic research is publicly funded – why isn’t it publicly available by Erica Stone
Erica Stone – Author & Teacher
Do you ever find yourself referencing a study in conversation that you didn’t actually read?
I was having coffee with a friend of mine the other day, and I said, “You know, I read a new study that says coffee reduces the risk of depression in women.” But really, what I read was a tweet.
That said, “A new study says drinking coffee may decrease depression risk in women.”
And that tweet had a link to the “New York Times” blog, where a guest blogger translated the study findings from a “Live Science” article, which got its original information from the Harvard School of Public Health news site, which cited the actual study abstract, which summarized the actual study published in an academic journal. It’s like the six degrees of separation, but with research.
So, when I said I read a study, what I actually read was 59 characters that summarized 10 years of research.
So, when I said I read a study, I was reading fractions of the study that were put together by four different writers that were not the author, before it got to me. That doesn’t seem right.
But accessing original research is difficult, because academics aren’t regularly engaging with popular media. And you might be asking yourself, why aren’t academics engaging with popular media? It seems like they’d be a more legitimate source of information than the media pundits. Right?
In a country with over 4,100 colleges and universities, it feels like this should be the norm. But it’s not.
So, how did we get here?
To understand why scholars aren’t engaging with popular media, you first have to understand how universities work.
Now, in the last six years, I’ve taught at seven different colleges and universities in four different states. I’m a bit of an adjunct extraordinaire. And at the same time, I’m pursuing my PhD. In all of these different institutions, the research and publication process works the same way.
First, scholars produce research in their fields. To fund their research, they apply for public and private grants and after the research is finished, they write a paper about their findings. Then they submit that paper to relevant academic journals.
Then it goes through a process called peer review, which essentially means that other experts are checking it for accuracy and credibility.
And then, once it’s published, for-profit companies resell that information back to universities and public libraries through journal and database subscriptions. So, that’s the system.
Research, write, peer-review, publish, repeat. My friends and I call it feeding the monster. And you can see how this might create some problems. The first problem is that most academic research is publicly funded but privately distributed.