My Journey to Open

Science and the Shared Self

Jake Orlowitz
Nov 12, 2016 · 3 min read

As a kid in Philadelphia I loved researching, memorizing, and organizing information about baseball card prices. Even though the monthly card price-magazines cost as much as my allowance, I would scrap together enough change for each issue.

In high school I found refuge and inspiration in long-form journalism that my parents purchased, which opened up events in my mind with detailed human stories. In college I read ancient but now public domain texts that shaped political theory throughout the 16th-20th century and interrogated them with essay after essay. After college I used online resources to teach students how to conquer topics and tests as an academic tutor.

In my mid-20’s I was staying in a cabin in Colorado with no running water, and my connection to civilization was Wikipedia. Even as my mental health deteriorated and I isolated myself further and further from the world, Wikipedia was an open universe I still felt safe, useful, and valued in. After I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, Wikipedia helped me learn which medications were appropriate to help me recover. As I recovered, Wikipedia became my vocation and playground for bringing people together around open knowledge.

When the 2011 Egyptian Revolution was breaking in the streets, I helped hundreds of thousands of people follow the events through Wikipedia’s synthesized and explanatory near-live coverage. When Aaron Swartz died, I learned that he he been an influential early Wikipedian and I felt emboldened to push on further. My Wikipedia work became a program I started: The Wikipedia Library, getting donations from JSTOR, EBSCO, OUP and 60 other publishers for our top editors.

Then I met Open Access leader John Willinsky at Stanford and I told him, it had been too long before we started working together. I’ve been working for you this whole time, he said. He meant that Wikipedia was just the tip of the iceberg, open knowledge, with open access the foundation beneath it.

When brilliant, spitfire OA advocate Michael Eisen blasted us for partnering on access donations with Elsevier, I realized we were making a public move that put short-term access to free summaries of paywalled knowledge ahead of shifting an entire publishing ecosystem towards open. I had to own that decision, while affirming all the moreso that we were advocating for long-term change.

Then I met Antonin Delpeuch, the lead coder of journal-repository search tool Dissemin, and I knew immediately that we would create a bot to add free-to-read citations right alongside their paywalled versions on Wikipedia. OAbot has the potential to improve Wikipedia’s citations for readers 10–20% in its first year, and it will keep getting better.

That’s my story, how I got from organizing shiny cardboard idols of pitchers and outfielders on my childhood bedroom floor… to working with publishers and open access advocates, doing anything I can to get people closer to knowledge now — and also in the next decade.

I write about my experience with mental health openly these days, and I know that one open node encourages others to open: this is true with journals and also with people. When we are open we are stronger, because when we are open we can connect — and our connections make us powerful.

The J Curve

It gets better. First, it gets worse.

Jake Orlowitz

Written by

Internet citizen. Founder of The Wikipedia Library. Seeker of well people and sane societies. Read my book:

The J Curve

It gets better. First, it gets worse.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade