Why is this project needed?

Academia is trapped in a collective action problem: individual researchers are incentivised to act in ways that hold back progress and hurt the research community’s best interests (e.g., publishing in legacy journals, or keeping one’s code and data private). Any one individual could take a stand against this pressure, of course, but by doing so they would most likely be placing their career at risk. Fears like these have held back progress in academia to the point where today, decades after the internet was developed, we are still disseminating knowledge via antiquated formats (e.g., ‘papers’ published in ‘journals’) and failing to use the internet to its fullest advantage (e.g., sharing data and code openly and collaboratively).

How could we fix this problem?

Imagine if every researcher in the world decided that from tomorrow, we would do things differently. For example, we might decide that code/data sharing will now be mandatory, meaning that every researcher can build on one another’s work in the most effective way possible. Alongside this, we might decide to radically change the way we allocate authorship/attributions, so that researchers get credit for all their outputs and not just their publications. We might also decide to exclusively support community-based, no-fee (‘platinum’) open access journals, thus boosting their reputation (or ‘prestige’) and allowing us to escape the ‘vicious cycle’ (Kriegeskorte, 2012) that keeps us locked into expensive legacy publishing systems. By acting collectively, the research community could shape the academic system in any direction we desire because we are the system. This strategy, known as collective action, has been used for centuries to address collective action problems in a wide variety of contexts (e.g., worker’s strikes, Kickstarter), but remains to be implemented within academia in any kind of systematic way.

What are we doing?

At Project Free Our Knowledge, we are building the world’s first collective action platform for researchers. Using our website, researchers can make anonymous pledges to support certain progressive (e.g., open science) behaviours if and when a critical mass of support for that behaviour is met in the community. Then – after the pre-determined number of pledges is reached – we will publicize everyone who has pledged on our website and direct them to carry out the action together, thus protecting each other’s interests as they drive progress together.

What is our vision for the future?

In the early days, we expect our campaigns will ask small cohorts of researchers (tens or hundreds of people) to adopt simple actions (e.g., uploading some data, posting a preprint, or supporting a new initiative in some way). In the future, however, we plan to build on these small-scale successes to host ever-larger and bolder campaigns that ask thousands or tens of thousands of researchers to adopt progressively bolder and system-changing behaviours (e.g., permanently changing one’s publishing practices, or pressuring institutions to change their hiring practices). By probing the academic system from multiple directions at once, across multiple fields at once, we hope to tap into the latent desires of different research communities and, through collective action, empower disenfranchised researchers around the world to create positive change in academia.

How can you help?

First and foremost, make a pledge! Then tell your friends and colleagues about the project. It would also be great if you could follow us on Twitter and Facebook, share our posts and sign up to our mailing list. Beyond that, there are plenty other ways to get involved with the project – check out our Join Us page to find out how.

Who are we?

Project Free Our Knowledge is a grassroots movement driven by early career researchers who seek a fairer and more secure future in academia for our friends and colleagues. We are currently 100% self-funded (but seeking support!). The project is currently driven by:

And has been supported by:

  • Dawn Liu Holford
  • Megan Campbell
  • Kelly Garner
  • Jon Tennant
  • Claire Bradley (among others)

And advised by:

  • Luis Pedro Coelho
  • Alex Holcombe
  • Brian Nosek
  • Daniela Saderi

Partner organisations

The following organisations have kindly offered to help increase our reach using their networks: