This one's just in from New Scientist Tech
where they're reporting on a new scheme that aims to cut the costs for poorer countries with regards the cost of providing textbooks.
The scheme is called Global Text
(though at this time I can't actually get the website to load) and is based around the wiki software that is perhaps best known due to wikipedia
, a free online encylopedia where the pages can be created and edited by the users. Currently the encyclopedia is available in 11 different languages each of which has upwards of 140,000 articles.
Where Global Text differs is the aim to use the technology to write accurate, up to date, and most importantly free text books covering a range of topics. At the moment the project has set themselves a target of producing (a mere) 1000 textbooks and next year hope to start translation of the textbooks into Spanish, Arabic and Chinese. As any user of wikipedia will know there is always the problem of users who spam, vandalise or even delete pages for a variety of reasons. It was only last year that a high profile complaint was made
by a journalist who found they'd been falsely implicated in the Kennedy assassination. Normally it is hoped that other users or administrators will notice errors and falsehoods and either make corrections or restore the page to a previous version. For the most part it works, but then wikipedia has never claimed that it is suitable for anything other than general research.
This though is where Global Text differs, in order to be of any real use the information needs to be as accurate as possible but at the same time must not lock out the ordinary people who are essential for updating the pages. To get around the problem they've come up with a rather nifty solution which just isn't practical for a site such as wikipedia. For each of the textbooks a number of academics with knowledge of the field are given admin responsibilities. Other users are free to contribute and edit pages but until these are approved by one of the admin the changes show up in a different colour, altering users that the information has not been verified.
Whether the scheme manages to get the support that it deserves is something that we'll have to wait and see. Personally I am a large fan of both open source and open access both on and off the web, science is something that should, in my opinion be completely open access and available to all if it is to be used properly. Virtually everybody is familiar with the saying that knowledge is power, giving that knowledge to everybody makes the power accessible to everybody and prevents any single person, group or nation from monopolising the opportunities made available from that knowledge. Within the scientific community open access could potentially reduce the potential for fraud to enter the literature by allowing the data to be made available to all. Nature for example has recently been testing a new model for peer review
where articles are available prior to publishing for anybody to pose questions for the authors. While the trial is still underway I hope that the results are positive and lead to the peer review process being made more open in not only Nature but many other journals.
(Once I can actually get the Global Text website to load I'll expand this entry further to give a better opinion of the scheme.)