It is the 5th of August, and I have noticed that I’ve already run out of access to ‘free’ articles on various newspapers around the country. I like to check in on the Seattle Times now and then, since that’s my hometown paper, but I’m remote enough that I don’t think it’s worth subscribing…which means that if something happens there at any time in the month other than the first few days of the first week, I’m not getting it from a local source. I think I almost certainly have a few free articles left in the NY Times, but that’s because I despise that paper and only get anything from them when I am surprised by an unlabeled link.
I’m in a privileged position with respect to science articles, since I have access to institutional subscriptions through my university, but even there there are a lot of journals I can’t read. We’ve also got the Elsevier problem, where one greedy publisher buys up rights to a few essential journals and then only lets libraries subscribe if they buy a package that includes a lot of drecky bad journals.
Nathan Robinson has seen the situation clearly: The Truth Is Paywalled But The Lies Are Free.
But let us also notice something: the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, the New Republic, New York, Harper’s, the New York Review of Books, the Financial Times, and the London Times all have paywalls. Breitbart, Fox News, the Daily Wire, the Federalist, the Washington Examiner, InfoWars: free! You want “Portland Protesters Burn Bibles, American Flags In The Streets,” “The Moral Case Against Mask Mandates And Other COVID Restrictions,” or an article suggesting the National Institutes of Health has admitted 5G phones cause coronavirus—they’re yours. You want the detailed Times reports on neo-Nazis infiltrating German institutions, the reasons contact tracing is failing in U.S. states, or the Trump administration’s undercutting of the USPS’s effectiveness—well, if you’ve clicked around the website a bit you’ll run straight into the paywall. This doesn’t mean the paywall shouldn’t be there. But it does mean that it costs time and money to access a lot of true and important information, while a lot of bullshit is completely free.
Then we wonder why the public is so poorly educated on current events and science. I am particularly appalled that we tax everyone twice on science: once to do the state funded research, which we then immediately turn over to for-profit publishers, who then demand that the public pay them, the middlemen, to read the results. They’ve even got scientists hoodwinked into doing all the reviewing of papers for free, and often into paying to have their own work published.