by Brian Hitson on Wed, 22 Jul, 2009
Even the most outrageous Ponzi scheme couldn't promise a return of 10 million percent, but that's the return to be realized by opening the Department of Energy's historic R&D findings to the web. Yes, you have to accept certain assumptions, but it's not a major leap. Let's review the math.
Since the early 1940s (even before the Atomic Energy Commission -- a DOE predecessor), the U.S. government has been investing billions of dollars in energy-related and basic scientific research. Up until the late 1990s, most of the results from this work were recorded in papers (literally). The vast majority of these papers are under the watchful eye of DOE's Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI). Since 2000, DOE's R&D reports have been generated entirely electronically; so, all of these are available on OSTI's Information Bridge web product. And, through a combination of its own efforts and collaborations with key partners such as the IAEA's International Nuclear Information System (INIS), OSTI has been able to digitize technical reports dating back to the early 1990s -- also available through Information Bridge. In addition to these efforts, OSTI is also trying other innovative approaches, such as Adopt-A-Doc, where individuals or organizations can sponsor the digitization of individual reports or small subset collections. But that leaves essentially 50 years of R&D -- 1 million technical reports -- virtually inaccessible to the scientific community and a public hungry for science.
In today's dollars, DOE easily spends $8 billion per year in unclassified research. If we assume that is a fairly accurate historic average over a 50-year period, that would come to a roughly $400 billion investment. OSTI estimates that the entire collection could be digitized for $4 million; in other words, a collection that cost $400 billion to build could be unlocked and unleashed with an investment of $4 million; by my math, that's a return of 10,000,000%. A pretty good investment to say the least.