The other days, we all celebrated the Nobel prizes in medicine, chemistry and physics. Many of us were really happy to see different faces, female ones, rather than those we are used to seeing any time, white old men. In the broad scheme of science, women, people of colour and any other minority are underrepresented. This is why we don’t tend to see these faces the only moment of the year when science is in the spotlight.
As a white person born in a western country, I come from a position of privilege. I had a good education and do research in a resource-rich institution. This doesn’t mean that I’m better off than anyone else. When comparing myself to others, I believe the competition is unfair.
Let’s talk about another issue. Is science accessible to everyone?
Do you know who started the business of the academic publishing? Maxwell back in 1800. He realised that other scientists should be informed about the progress in the field. His real purpose was to make money and he himself called the scientific publishing “a perpetual financing machine”. He realised that he could make money out of nothing. Science is funded by taxpayer money, PhD researchers do all the work and editors make the real💲💲
Nowadays, half of the scientific knowledge is published by 5 major companies (I’m sure everyone knows the names). Libraries pay a fortune for the annual subscription and if you don’t have access to one of the journals, you need to pay up to $50 to get a paper.
This lucrative system isn’t only preventing the general public to read sciency papers but also our fellow scientists in the resource-poor countries who can’t pay the price to join the elicist circle of the sciency editors.
At the moment the only person who is challenging this system is a young Kazakhstani scientist Alexandra Elbakyan who created sci-hub, a platform for free access to peer-reviewed journals. Like many researchers with poorly funded scholarships, she couldn’t do research without pirated articles. Last year she was sued by Elsevier and the American Chemical Society for breaking the rules of copyright and fined around 20m dollars. Alexandra lives in hiding, beyond the jurisdiction of the USA courts at the moment.
If we want to see all the faces and colours in science, we need to address a wider problem which is the unfair competition when doing science between the high and low-income countries. If we are accustomed to see always the same faces is because The Nobel prize, and everything else, go where the 💲💲 are.
To make a fair competition, we should provide anyone doing science with the same resources, money, equipment, availability for travelling, access to publications etc. Colonialism, slave trade and imperialism destroyed 2 contin
ents back in the days and we’re all facing the consequences now, in science and beyond.
Encouraging everyone in STEM also means allowing everyone to do science in their home countries where they can contribute to the growth and progress of their nations, rather than making rich countries much richer.
Doing research in western institutions is a privilege. WE ARE AMONG THE MOST PRIVILEGED CITIZENS IN THE WORLD, in academia and beyond. We have access to everything, resources and money to do the work. Please take a moment to consider that not everyone is as lucky as we are.