As a high-school student building a science fair project, Jack Andraka developed a highly innovative method for detecting a rare type of pancreatic cancer. Like all scientific discoveries, Jack’s research built on the progress of other researchers. But without an institutional affiliation, he didn’t have access to the expensive scholarly databases that many scientists have. Therefore, he’s quick to extol the value of free and open access to scientific research. “Access to knowledge is, you know, a basic human right,” Jack says. “Knowledge should not be commoditized; it wants to be free.”
While collecting background information for his project, Jack spent hours searching for journal articles to guide his work, and often found it difficult or impossible to get them. He explains how access to research findings is essential for other discoveries like his: “I’ve seen so many great ideas get killed in the lab when my peers are stopped by closed access [to research articles].”
Jack spent close to a thousand dollars to view journal articles and regretted paying for many articles that ended up not being useful after he’d purchased them. In some cases, he had to reach out to researchers by email to ask them if they could send him copies. Jack is quick to point out that that for scientists around the world who aren’t affiliated with research institutions, these costs and other barriers to access are stalling new discoveries. “We need the best and most recent research to be available to everyone,” says Jack.
He relied heavily upon the free articles archived on the National Institute of Health’s PubMed Central research archive, whose Creative Commons–licensed holdings make up over one-third of a million articles. CC licenses act like grease in the gears of scientific progress, allowing important innovations like his to be shared between researchers and spread throughout the community more quickly.
Since then, Jack has become a vocal advocate for the open access movement, which seeks to give the public free, immediate access to publicly-funded research. He continues to look to open access research to guide his future work, and is developing his award-winning project into an invention that may save lives and lead to other advancements in science and healthcare technology. Jack’s story is a reminder of what’s possible when motivated young people can get their hands on knowledge, which is only possible if researchers and journals share their work with everyone.
Jack Andraka (Team Open) was written by Billy Meinke for Creative Commons. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
The illustration of Jack Andraka was created by Luke Surl. To the extent possible under the law, Luke Surl has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights under the CC0 Public Domain Declaration.