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"As knowledge policy, for the creators of this knowledge, this is crazy"
April 20, 2011 10:54 PM   Subscribe

"The Architecture of Access to Scientific Information: Just How Badly We Have Messed This Up" Lawrence Lessig speaking at CERN on April 18, 2011. Long (~50 min), but wonderful and totally worth it (and the second half is about Youtube and remix culture).
posted by unknowncommand (53 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

 
Haven't finished watching yet, but I'd like to start the conversation out on the right foot by criticizing the author's choice of font and sms-speak shorthand. Both are very poor choices.
posted by ryanrs at 11:01 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Classic Lessig. Also, a Lessig remix event currently underway at my old stomping grounds based on his more recent Change Congress cause.
posted by victors at 11:06 PM on April 20, 2011


This version includes the Q&A, about 2/3 of the way through.
posted by unknowncommand at 11:12 PM on April 20, 2011


Only about 20 minutes in but I see where he is heading and I totally agree. I find myself slamming up against that JSTOR wall with increasing frequency too, so frustrating.
posted by unliteral at 11:23 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


l look forward to listening to the whole of the video, but this is something that people I know have been ranting about for years.

Academic publishing is one of the most messed up things on the planet.

In the journal system, the authors - the creators of the content - are not paid for their material. For some science journals, they even have to pay per page to have their work published. The reviewers are not paid. For some smaller journals, even the editors may be unpaid.

But is this work freely available to those who need access? No - and it's getting more expensive very year. Not only are independent researchers and researchers at poorer universities (such as in the developing world) cut off from the literature, but governments are pumping millions of dollars every year right into the hands of private publishers via university libraries and grants which pay those page-payments.

Once upon a time, we needed a printing press. We don't anymore - most academics prefer to get their content online. Heck, some journals won't even copyedit but demand camera-ready pages. What are we paying for? The publishers add nothing.

We do not need them.

But how long will it take before we kick them to the curb? Academia, even as it pushes back on the boundaries of knowledge, is nonetheless so reluctant when it comes to changing its professional habits.
posted by jb at 11:37 PM on April 20, 2011 [28 favorites]


University professors and staff all hate it too, and are approaching open revolt at this point. It's frequently the case that course packets are illegally photocopied or distributed digitally with no remuneration to the publishers, because the costs involved are simply too high for students to pay. I'm happy because my collection of DRM-free PDFs is growing rapidly!
posted by mek at 11:50 PM on April 20, 2011


Yesterday I caught an interesting story on NPR about someone who's starting a social media site strictly for scientists called ResearchGate.com to address some of these very issues.
posted by zagyzebra at 11:58 PM on April 20, 2011


I'm not sure how Lessig can seriously consider himself a member of "Free" culture. It seems like his point is that capitalism can be so consumed by the profit motive that it begins to become toxic to itself. This is the standard Marxist idea of contradictions inherent to capitalism: it relies on a basic commons of cultural production and intellectual labor that takes place outside of the market which is then expropriated to generate a profit. Lessig's whole point is to save capitalism from it's own self-destructive tendencies, to preserve the commons so that it can continue to be exploited by private interest. This is what he has in mind when he assures us that copyright is necessary.

If metaphorically we are the sheep and our cultural production is the wool that is harvested by capital, Lessig claims that the sheep should be allowed to engage in a minimal degree of normal behavior, not kept in too confining cages, etc., because it encourages wool production. And somehow this counts as being an advocate of "Free culture"?
posted by AlsoMike at 12:13 AM on April 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'll just leave this here, as an example for all of the other sciences to follow...
posted by kaibutsu at 12:49 AM on April 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


Scientific information! You think scientists have it bad?! You try getting JSTOR to cough up a 10-page article from half a century ago on some long-forgotten obscurity of East Asian literature, written by someone long since gone to that great library in the sky, without blessed communion in an institution willing to pay up! (Okay, I accept that the lack of scientific information has more severe real-world consequences, especially in poorer countries. Just letting off steam.)

Like jb said, the system is insane. Authors don't get paid. Reviewers don't get paid. Most of the time editors don't get paid, and when they do they certainly don't get paid well. So who, exactly, would suffer if JSTOR and the like let everyone read everything, or even everything older than X months if you insist on maintaining some sort of library shakedown system, for free or even for a nominal fee covering the actual costs of provision? (Note to most academic publishers who deign to even offer a purchase option to the great unwashed: a $35 fee for a 5-page article is neither nominal nor acceptable.)

I'll tell you who: rentiers.

I wish that Harvard or MIT or the Gates Foundation or some other institution with deep pockets and a public image to maintain would just buy the system outright, make the rent-seekers get a real job, and open the vaults to all.
posted by No-sword at 1:20 AM on April 21, 2011 [16 favorites]


There was a programme about this on BBC Radio 4 a couple of years ago. One of the contributors was a senior exec from Elsevier or similar, and said 'We're not doing this to get rich. We invest in the science'. The interviewer pressed him on this, but he was a bit reluctant to go into details. Turns out that what he meant was that his company's equity portfolio included shares in various research spin-offs.

Which was such a thin excuse, one might even suspect an element of shame came into the argument.

On reflection, this seems unlikely.
posted by Devonian at 1:58 AM on April 21, 2011


They seem to be doing it right in meteorology. The AMS has a near-monopoly on the most important journals, and fortunately they are aggressive about putting huge swaths of journals online for instant access, much of it going back many decades. The only material you don't get without a subscription is anything published in the past two years. In principle I agree that any scientific journal needs to be free... anything less is a bottleneck in the exchange of ideas, but it's hard to complain here. The only time I hit the JSTOR wall (and don't get me started on Google serving up paywalls in its regular results) seems to be when I'm looking at things in other scientific fields.
posted by crapmatic at 2:21 AM on April 21, 2011


@AlsoMike Lessig is not a Marxist and that's OK with me.

He doesn't seem to defend free culture as much as make the appropriate apology for it and yet by the time he is finished apologising; anyone using the law as a clumsy lever to extract rent while buggering up the means of intellectual production is going to see him as a Marxist no matter what.
posted by vicx at 2:41 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is brilliant.
posted by nickrussell at 3:43 AM on April 21, 2011


Nthing "it's a crazy system". I do have an institutional access to many journals in my field of work, but I'm still banging my head on paywalls several times a day (even when I should be able to get the papers: Elsevier, I'm looking at you).
Much of the papers I'm interested in concern tropical agriculture in developing countries and are not available unless you cough up 25-45 USD by article, i.e. a good chunk of the monthly salary of a researcher in said countries. I just don't get how the system is viable in the first place. Do researchers actually buy articles that way? At this point, it's really up to the scientists (and their institutions) to start fighting against the absurdity of having public research being kept hostage by parasitic organisations. Unfortunately, many of my scientific colleagues have only a passing awareness of those issues.
Let's praise Brazil: more than 200 Brazilian scientific journals are released not only free of charge but under a Creative Commons License. Guess what papers will be more cited in the next years?
posted by elgilito at 4:22 AM on April 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure how Lessig can seriously consider himself a member of "Free" culture. It seems like his point is that capitalism can be so consumed by the profit motive that it begins to become toxic to itself. This is the standard Marxist idea of contradictions inherent to capitalism: it relies on a basic commons of cultural production and intellectual labor that takes place outside of the market which is then expropriated to generate a profit. Lessig's whole point is to save capitalism from it's own self-destructive tendencies, to preserve the commons so that it can continue to be exploited by private interest. This is what he has in mind when he assures us that copyright is necessary.
Wat?

I disagree with Lessig about the necessity of copyright, but seriously, what?

Lessig is talking about copyright you can expect him to say that the solution to our copyright system is to overturn capitalism so that artists, like, don't have to work and can spend all their time making art.

He is arguing that copyright is essential to artist getting paid, but that copyright has become a system that publishers use to rent seek profits they don't deserve and by using copyright to create unnecessary barriers. That's especially true in the sciences where scientists don't even get paid at all for their papers.

Is copyright exclusivity necessary for artists to get paid? I personally think a system of taxation and tracking could work. A tax is levied, and then users self report what art they consume, and the government pays out based on that. Seems like that would work fine. But there would be no middle man collecting fat paychecks.
posted by delmoi at 5:02 AM on April 21, 2011


I laugh every time I hit the paywall. "These guys are so last millenium!"
posted by telstar at 5:04 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hidden perk of open access to journal articles? Moms of grad students everywhere stop pestering kids to print off their publications for 'the family album.' With a new and improved paywall-free system to access articles, the only thing standing in our Moms' way is their ability to use Firefox. We're doomed.
posted by genekelly'srollerskates at 5:16 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


But is this work freely available to those who need access? No - and it's getting more expensive very year.

In math, at any rate, I can't think of any researchers under 50 who doen't post .pdfs of all their papers on their personal websites. Nor can I think of any journals that object to this. Nor do I think any of us would submit our papers to such a journal.

Older papers are, indeed, sometimes behind a paywall. But all this does is reproduce the system that already existed, with some improvements to convenience. Before JSTOR, you couldn't read those papers unless you had access to an academic library that subscribed to the journals. Now, you can't read them unless you have a university log-in; so the same restriction, only now I can carry .pdfs of the papers around on my laptop.
posted by escabeche at 5:18 AM on April 21, 2011


Finally paid my $5 after years of lurking just to complain about the journal system.

I work in a corporate R&D lab and though my company subscribes to many journals, they aren't in my field. My company will buy (at $40 per article) others upon request... But the thing is, I generally don't know if an article has the information I need until after I read it. $40 a pop is a hell of an expensive way to browse.

So I pay something like $400 per year out of my pocket in professional society memberships to have access to the top two or three (non-profit!) journals so I can actually browse those, and rack up a couple hundred per week at times on my company's tab paying for articles that don't really help.

Coming from academia, I thought my company was incredibly stupid for not buying subscriptions to everything, but then I read this on MeFi, and I understood...
posted by OnceUponATime at 5:19 AM on April 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


the fundamental distortion in the academic publishing market is not rentiers but the publication driven tenure and promotion system in academia. The problem with 'free' journals is that they have an upward hill to climb convincing tenure committees/deans that they are meaningful. the value in writing a paper is to get or keep a job. the value in editing or reviewing papers is power over who gets or keeps jobs. demand is essentially inelastic, so... rentiers are going to rent.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:38 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure how Lessig can seriously consider himself a member of "Free" culture.

Have you read any of his books? I think your comment misses the mark by quite a bit.
posted by odinsdream at 5:43 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


In math, at any rate, I can't think of any researchers under 50 who doen't post .pdfs of all their papers on their personal websites. Nor can I think of any journals that object to this. Nor do I think any of us would submit our papers to such a journal.

Unfortunately the cites all still go to the journals, and your rights all go to the journals, and the money all goes to the journals. It's terrible all the same.

I'm actually very proud that my first article was published at the Electronic Journal of Combinatorics, which doesn't take hold of copyright and provides all the articles free of charge. Of course, I'm lucky to work in a field where there exists a reputable (and in fact quite good) journal with that property. As Lessig mentions, there is a serious need for senior faculty to champion open access journals, because it's far too risky for grad students or postdocs to risk their future careers on this kind of moral stand.
posted by TypographicalError at 5:52 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem with 'free' journals is that they have an upward hill to climb convincing tenure committees/deans that they are meaningful.

I'm not gonna keep making this thread all "follow the example of math," but again -- in math, what's happened is that top researchers annoyed by the pricing of journals launched their own free or cheap journals, which drew excellent papers and which "counted" for tenure from the very first issue.

XP: Right, like Electronic Journal of Combinatorics, and Geometry & Topology, and Algebra and Number Theory. Senior mathematicians have been beating this drum for a long time, publicly refusing to submit to or referee for the most expensive journals. TypographicalError is right -- for math it's been quite important that the researchers leading the charge were so prominent that the absence of their papers in certain "top" journals was a problem for the journals, not the researchers.
posted by escabeche at 5:59 AM on April 21, 2011


I work at a small start up biotech and I've had to buy papers a few times for our scientists that wrote the papers themselves. It's insanity.
posted by pwally at 6:00 AM on April 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm not gonna keep making this thread all "follow the example of math," but again -- in math, what's happened is that top researchers annoyed by the pricing of journals launched their own free or cheap journals, which drew excellent papers and which "counted" for tenure from the very first issue.

except it's very hit or miss. geometry & topology is strong for geometric topology but not, broadly, differential geometry. I just submitted my first paper (in differential geometry) and i submitted where the papers it cited were published despite the fact every single citation was on the arxiv.

the problem, again, is that the market for academic papers is really part of the market for academic labor/promotion. 'rent' isn't a moral crime but an economic problem, it's symptomatic of the fact that the economics of academia are broken (see job market.)
posted by ennui.bz at 6:10 AM on April 21, 2011


sorry for double posting, but I wanted to amplify a point: every single paper I used in my research was on the arxiv, I never actually had to go to a journal to read a paper. all of the research is effectively in the public domain. but, all of these papers were published in (unread) academic journals and I am trying to publish my research in a paid academic journal.

the (economic) purpose of the journals *is not* primarily dissemination of information.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:14 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


What? You trying to get some weed..?...holla atcha boy, I know the spots.
posted by cashman at 6:22 AM on April 21, 2011


ennui.bz, SCOAP3 is a proposed consortial subscription arrangement that some (many? all?) in the High Energy Physics community think could address a similar situation as to what you're describing in mathematics.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:28 AM on April 21, 2011


I work at a small start up biotech and I've had to buy papers a few times for our scientists that wrote the papers themselves.

Why? Surely the scientists retain the prepublication versions of the papers, up to the final copy-editing from the journal (if they did copy-editing). And it's perfectly easy to cite an article you don't actually have.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:43 AM on April 21, 2011


Open Access is what you're looking for
posted by leotrotsky at 6:54 AM on April 21, 2011


University professors and staff all hate it too, and are approaching open revolt at this point.

What's taking them so long? It's been 15 years that online distribution has been superior to print. A whole generation. And yet still, many journals have rules that technically make it illegal for a researcher to publish his or her own article on a personal website.

The usual answer is "the journal system acts as gatekeepers of quality". That is, until you get bullshit like Elsevier's fraudulent Chaos, Solitons, and Fractals journal, a required purchase at $4520 / year for a journal full of nonsense articles approved (and often written) by a charlatan editor-in-chief.
posted by Nelson at 7:26 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't have time to watch this right now, and I will have to at some point.

I can understand how the journal system began - particularly back when printing was a hella lot of work. That we're still acting like someone is hand carving copper printing plates in a day and age where I could set up a laser sintering apparatus in my basement and make you a solid gold journal for a few thousand dollars gold not included is madness.

But how badly have we messed this up? I'm carrying around a PhD thesis right now that has been my go to document for some key information I've been looking for. How did I find this? Well, I had a paper (Warning: pdf of dry scientific paper ahead) on which she was second author and her section pointed in the direction I was looking to go in. So starting with her name and the the title of that paper I managed to find her my space page, her husband's pandora radio profile and her home address (irony time - she lives like six miles from me) before I could find the title (much less a pdf) of her thesis. I could have walked to her house and asked for a copy (ignoring how absolutely weird that would be) in less time than it took me to find it on the web. So if you're reading this Karen M. Kwarta, some guy on the internet owes you a beer!

That's got to be a couple points off for access.

But, hey, quality and ethics are important too. (via Teresa Nielsen Hayden's Particles)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:26 AM on April 21, 2011


I'm not gonna keep making this thread all "follow the example of math," but again -- in math, what's happened is that top researchers annoyed by the pricing of journals launched their own free or cheap journals, which drew excellent papers and which "counted" for tenure from the very first issue.

XP: Right, like Electronic Journal of Combinatorics, and Geometry & Topology, and Algebra and Number Theory. Senior mathematicians have been beating this drum for a long time, publicly refusing to submit to or referee for the most expensive journals. TypographicalError is right -- for math it's been quite important that the researchers leading the charge were so prominent that the absence of their papers in certain "top" journals was a problem for the journals, not the researchers.


The thing is, math is a cultural outlier on stuff like this, in that it's less institutionalized than the other "hard" research fields. You can still do important mathematical research for free. (In fact, there are very few branches of math where spending money gives you any advantage at all.) You don't need access to the sort of support that a university provides: a pool of human subjects, IRB supervision, permits to handle radioactive isotopes. You don't need lab assistants or physical space. And it's still the case, at least in some mathematical subfields, that amateurs can make real contributions — which is almost unheard of in most other fields.

Whereas in psychology, say, or chemistry, or physics, there are no independent scholars — and no broke scholars who "matter": the people making the biggest contributions to the field have big research funding, just as a basic prerequisite for playing the game at that level. Either you're running a lab at a research university, or you're doing R&D for a private company, or you couldn't possibly be doing serious shit. And for what it's worth, I don't think that's just in-group prejudice. I think it's often true: someone trying to do hardcore lab science without any funding or institutional support really would be handicapped in so many ways that the cost of journal subscriptions would be the least of their worries. This is changing, but in many fields it's only started changing very recently.

In my opinion the big rationale for open access journals is that they open up the field to scholars in poorer countries. But again, in a lot of high-budget fields, you can't play without money anyway, so I think a lot of folks don't see the need for that sort of openness. ("Why do I care if some guy from Bangladesh reads this article about high-energy physics? He's never going to do any high-energy physics — unless he comes over here as a grad student, and then he'll read it at the library like everyone else.")

So I do think everyone else should follow the mathematicians on this one. But I'm not surprised that it's taken longer in fields that treat "researcher" and "recipient of grant money" as synonyms.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:37 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cartographic Perspectives, the journal of the North American Cartographic Information Society for academics and professional cartographers, is now (partly) released free on the web under this cc license. (Look down and to the right on the first link to find two volumes for download). They still call those two volumes "experimental," but they are also working to "define formally the transition mechanism to the digital medium." The letter from the guest editors in Vol. 66 is an interesting look at the rationalization process for the change.

From that letter: "This year we hope you will join us as we lead the field in an experiment to convert our journal to an open access, online publication. A move to an open access journal carries with it many strategic advantages that will maintain CP as an outlet that encourages communication and coordination among cartographic thinkers. It is almost assured that the transition will increase readership, as anyone with an Internet connection can now access its contents. We expect the transition to increase the number and quality of contributions to the journal, as the wider circulation should result in greater opportunity for citation (for academic articles) and application (for practical articles); the ability to have peer-reviewed content publicly available within 4-6 weeks of submission is something that is not offered by competing Cartography journals, or really any other journal in Geography. Finally, and most importantly, a switch to open access is simply the right thing to do from an ethical standpoint, as David DiBiase so eloquently emphasized in his position paper leading the first special digital issue. The open access model is congruous to the mapgiving movement within NACIS (rather than data or designs, we are giving our knowledge) and provides an additional way in which we can build connections with and facilitate the success of other mapping communities. Thus, we view the transition to open access important not just for the continued health of CP, but for the mission of NACIS as a whole."
posted by BlooPen at 7:46 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just published my first academic paper, in a ecological journal controlled by Elsevier, and I've vowed that it will be the last paywalled article I will ever publish. My research, and that of my coauthors, was funded by grants from the NSF and other institutions. Research equipment and infrastructural support was provided by my public, land-grant university. My research took place in a national forest, where I received generous assistance from USFS employees. The managing editor for my paper is a professor at another public university, who may or may not have been payed for his work, although it's unlikely. My paper was greatly improved by the comments of two peer reviewers, and although I don't know who they are, the odds are very good that they also teach at a public university--if they are not directly employed by the government. My paper is on a topic of some public debate. Should a taxpayer wish to read this paper about research that she essentially payed for every step of the way? $31.50.

Fuck.

That.

Noise.
posted by Tsuga at 8:50 AM on April 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


This is a huge problem for academics as well, especially young researchers, folks at small and poor institutions, and people in older fields. I work in bacteriophage biology where in the fifties and sixties the discipline created genetics, molecular biology, and bioengineering but as graduate students went into these new fields they left their professors to retire in the 70s. This means that, though the discipline began to be reborn twenty years ago, a significant amount of the research on the cutting edge was done in the 60s. If you have ever needed to find a paper published before 10 years ago, you would understand how this could be a problem.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:54 AM on April 21, 2011


I'm looking forward to the day that this all becomes more manageable and accessible. Or if some entrepreneur finds a way to bunch all of these journal resources together and offer some monthly fee. I'm not the only person who would pay a lot of money for easy access to a variety of academic journals.

Longer term, it will be interesting how open-access academic articles (and wiki-like platforms) will break down traditional roles between researcher and layman, and how communities of dilettantes and paid researchers may start to collaborate.

(By the way, Routledge is offering complete open access to their education journals for the month of April.)
posted by mammary16 at 8:54 AM on April 21, 2011


Open Access is what you're looking for

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this problem, and I think that open access is actually not the solution. Here are my arguments:

The current peer review system is 400 years old, and beginning to show its age. We have fantastic new systems, not just for distribution but for review which are faster, more nuanced, and responsive to changes in the status of an article. We should replace this with a fully modern system which uses the latest in internet distribution and continuous peer review technologies.

1. Peer review, as it stands, is a single bar to jump over. Either a paper is deemed 'good enough' or it is deemed 'unworthy'. There is no status for 'some people hate this, some people think it's great' or 'great data but poorly written' or 'this particular one fact in the paper disputed'. We need a 'peer moderation' system which is flexible, and we now have the technology to make this happen.

2. The journal system, even the open access system, is achingly slow. In my field, time to print can be as much as three years (!). Open access says they can get this down to a 'mere' four to six weeks. Factor in, then, the time it takes a researcher to write and rewrite a paper. Historically, papers were quick to write and submit, but now we spend so much time haggling about format and language that it takes weeks or months just to write the article, time in which no real research is happening.

Thus it is that it is now easier for an undergraduate to share information about how drunk he got last night than it is for a senior researcher to share the contents of her latest research. This is crazy.

3. The current system systematically ignores null results or confirmatory experiments. Thus we have a distinct bias towards the novel, the surprising, and the radical. Most experiments don't work, and most investigations show that the obvious or trivial is true. Our monkey brains don't like this, but such findings are every bit as important and necessary as the breakthroughs and surprises. This makes for bad scholarship, period.

4. The current system is inflexible when information is superseded. If a work turns out to be completely fraudulent, a journal can 'withdraw' an article, but a) that's still a very high bar to jump over and b) that article is still sitting out there, in the stacks of libraries, waiting to be discovered by some poor sap who didn't get the later message. If we had an electronic system, the note about withdrawal, or the general 'reputation' of the article, could be printed right up there in the header for everyone to see.

5. The current system makes collaborators hard to find. I have interesting datasets. I have been advised not to put them on the web because somebody could just steal my data and scoop me. But if my dataset was, itself, a publication, they wouldn't be able to scoop me; indeed they could cite me! The point is this: I don't know everybody in this world working in my subject. I might think that I do, but when I started out, nobody in my area knew me. A global, internet resident system would allow researchers to find one another when the work is still at an early stage, and thus encourage collaboration or burden-sharing.

6. In many field the current system is hard to search. This is not true in fields like medicine, but in the humanities, where most of the publication is done in small journals, most research is uncatalogued, and thus almost impossible to find systematically.

7. Miscellaneous other points that have already been raised in this thread: we have an exploitative system in which companies soak up billions in research funding and give nothing back while academics work for free, locking their data away from other academics and especially from developing world researchers and independent scholars.

What We Need:

We need a system that is global, thus internet based.

It needs to be real time, which means we should have access to information as soon as it is published, and we should know the 'reputation' of the article on a day to day basis, not just when it was published.

The system needs to be canonical. This means that when I publish a data set or a note, everybody in the world needs to be able to agree that I published it and at that particular time. No more do I worry that somebody else might scoop me. If I have an idea or some data, I simply 'publish' a rough note and thus claim my stake. Other people can immediately develop my thing, and I don't have to worry about not getting credit.

The system needs to have flexible moderation. The reader should be able to tell whether something is a first, rough draft. They should know if something is loved by one school and hated by another. They should know if a single fact is wrong, or a single table is super-useful. They should, in other words, have access to deep metadata about an article in the way that we often can with collaborative internet projects.

Naturally, the system need to be free to use. This means that it would probably have to be run by a government, international organisation or a big university.

Arguments Against This Idea:

I have heard many arguments against these points, none of which have managed to convince me:

- This would be too expensive.

Yes, it would cost money. But as long as it costs less than several billions a year (and we're talking a budget in the low millions here) it would still be vastly less expensive than the current system.

- I don't want to publish rough drafts online! Everybody would think me incompetent if they saw early drafts of my work.

Fair enough. But if everybody was doing this, then people would understand that a first draft was a first draft. There is actually a very large and successful international network of technical/creative professionals already doing this: the world of open source software. Open source programmers regularly put their faults right out there in permanent archives of bug reports and old software sources, and they feel unembarrassed to do so, because they think that finding fault with one another's work is helpful collaboration not uncomfortable, interpersonal fighting.

- This would open the floodgates for bad research.

True, but it would also, simultaneously, give you the means to get to the best and most useful material in that flood. Look, the current publishing system already turns out more than you can possibly read. This wouldn't make the problem worse; it would give you the tools to get to the stuff that you actually want to read.

- Who is going to waste time moderating and commenting on stuff?

Yeah, because if there's one thing academics really hate to do, it's rag on one another's work and interfere and demonstrate greater wisdom. Look, I wouldn't be suggesting this if there weren't already precedents in the world for how this kind of system would work in practice; not because I would be too timid to do so, but because I wouldn't have thought of it. From the early days of the collaborative internet, with user-moderated sites like Slashdot, through to the open source movement and Wikipedia (which whatever one thinks about any given page or project, must stand as two of the greatest intellectual achievements of the last century), experience has shown that peer moderation works very well. Communities quickly create a culture in which moderation is an honour and an activity which generates honour. Within a year or so of this system going in place, I guarantee that you'd have university hires and promotions taking place on the basis of 'excellence in community moderation and peer review'. Do you currently get credit for all the work you put in reviewing and making suggestions on other people's articles? I thought not.

... wow, that's already super-long. There's plenty more where that came from, but I think I should just arbitrarily cut it off there.
posted by Dreadnought at 9:06 AM on April 21, 2011 [13 favorites]


Blasdelb - I can't read the editorial you've linked to because it's behind a paywall - oh the irony.

Access is a serious issue. I'm finishing my PhD while not registered at a university - history is like pure math that way, there are are many independent scholars. I have cobbled together access to journals, dictionaries and other sources, but not everyone has the personal connections (friends who are professors) that I have.

And the public money point really should be made as loudly as possible. We all, as taxpayers, are paying for research twice over. We pay for many if not most of the grants, we pay for all of the salaries and equipment at public universities, and then we pay again -- through the nose-- for access to the results of the information, whether as individuals or by funding the subscriptions for university libraries.

To draw an example from my own field, the massive History of Parliament projects are funded by the British Parliament. But not even British taxpayers will have free access to this resource. Sure, maybe not everyone needs to look up the death date for some guy who invested in drainage in the seventeenth century, but the point is that someone wrote a whole article about him (as obscure as he is) because he was an MP and this was paid for with public money, but access is not freely available.
posted by jb at 9:09 AM on April 21, 2011


In math, at any rate, I can't think of any researchers under 50 who doen't post .pdfs of all their papers on their personal websites. Nor can I think of any journals that object to this. Nor do I think any of us would submit our papers to such a journal.

My recollection is that Springer journals (specifically, Discrete and Computational Geometry) does not want you to post your article on your personal website after it has appeared in print. You can pay some large amount of money ($500? I forget) to make your article open access, but who has the money to do that out of the goodness of their heart?

I'm not sure of the details, because I typically publish in electronic journals (Electronic Journal of Combinatorics, Ars Mathematica Contemporanea, Contributions to Discrete Mathematics), not because they are open access per se, but because I need to be able to publish a lot of diagrams in color, and print journals can't do that (well, DCG publishes the paywalled online versions in color, but (I presume) the print versions are black and white).

Oh, and I am a researcher under 50 who does not have her articles in .PDF on her website. Partly because I don't really have a website.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:13 AM on April 21, 2011


By the way, what do people think about the weird journals that send solicitations by email which all seem to be located in India or something? They all have innocuous sounding names like the Journal of Geometry, and they don't appear to have page charges (a sure sign of a spammy scam), but I'm pretty weirded out by being solicited to submit to a journal I've never heard of by someone I've never heard of.

Are they legit?
posted by leahwrenn at 9:16 AM on April 21, 2011


In math, at any rate, I can't think of any researchers under 50 who doen't post .pdfs of all their papers on their personal websites. Nor can I think of any journals that object to this. Nor do I think any of us would submit our papers to such a journal.

In history, on the other hand, most journals will not consider any article that has been put out in any other form, and it's common for the publishers to say 'now we've accepted your article we will not allow you to talk about the findings in public until we print it two years from now, because your work now belongs to us'. Must be nice in the maths world.
posted by Dreadnought at 9:17 AM on April 21, 2011


Oh, and I am a researcher under 50 who does not have her articles in .PDF on her website. Partly because I don't really have a website.

Physics here. I find it mixed, mostly because everything is on arXiv anyway. I have a selection of mine on my faculty web page, but not any of my Nature articles. I had them up and then received email requests to take them down. Now I just have links to the articles on the Nature web site. I'd avoid publishing in Nature at all if it weren't so important to have Science and Nature articles for career purposes.

Nobody here has mentioned PLOS. What do people think about that publishing model? I'm about to submit my first PLOS One article.
posted by overhauser at 9:46 AM on April 21, 2011


Communities quickly create a culture in which moderation is an honour and an activity which generates honour. Within a year or so of this system going in place, I guarantee that you'd have university hires and promotions taking place on the basis of 'excellence in community moderation and peer review'.

If only there was such a system...
posted by euphorb at 9:47 AM on April 21, 2011


Dreadnought, I'm not sure that a Wikipedia-like writing process would work very well in the sciences, where the are commonly dozens of coauthors, who in theory would all have to agree to any change in the paper. I think making it easier for academics to comment on papers is a terrific idea, though. In ecology, probably under 1% of papers ever get a formal response paper, because it's such a tedious process, and is mostly reserved for strong disagreement. I'd love to see something like an add-on to Google Scholar where anybody could go to discuss a paper that shows up in the search results. Anybody could go there and write comments, ask questions, or read what others have to say about the paper.

Actually, if somebody wanted to make a system like that, and sought funding via kickstarter, I would definitely chip in...

(On review, while F1000 is a good thing, what I'm imagining would be less formal. More like, say, Metafilter.)
posted by Tsuga at 10:05 AM on April 21, 2011


If only there was such a system...

F1000 is a good potential model, but it's not exactly what I'm looking for.

1. It exits only for certain fields, and (as far as I know) only in bio and med.

2. It doesn't connect directly to the article. Ideally, any person off the street finding the article should immediately know how it's rated by the community.

3. It's hierarchical, with no opportunity for new schools and clusters of scholarship to spontaneously emerge.

4. It is wholly dependent on the current journal system, and is not extensible or easy to integrate into other, similar systems.

One possibility for a 'global, peer-moderated academic database' model of publication would be to have important institutions choose 'editorial boards' (like the F1000) that would 'endorse' papers. I see this as something of a half-way step to a true system of distributed moderation and emergent prestige.
posted by Dreadnought at 10:32 AM on April 21, 2011


I hate JSTOR. I keep having to pester a friend who is at a .edu when I want to read math articles. Also: arXiv.
posted by oonh at 10:52 AM on April 21, 2011


delmoi: Lessig is talking about copyright you can expect him to say that the solution to our copyright system is to overturn capitalism so that artists, like, don't have to work and can spend all their time making art.

I don't expect him to say that, because it's clear that he thinks copyright is a problem only insofar as it undermines capitalism. He can advocate for whatever he likes, but I think we're being bullshitted by free culture's insistence that this is liberating for the non-CEO class.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:46 AM on April 21, 2011


it's clear that he thinks copyright is a problem only insofar as it undermines capitalism.

Whoa, I don't know how you could even suggest that, much less think that it's clear.
posted by Llama-Lime at 1:21 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


My recollection is that Springer journals (specifically, Discrete and Computational Geometry) does not want you to post your article on your personal website after it has appeared in print.

Uh-huh. Like almost every other member of the DCG editorial board, I post my DCG papers on my personal web page.
posted by erniepan at 10:54 PM on April 21, 2011


Lessig's appeal to older faculty and senior administrators is significant. That cadre can tip the system over towards open access, almost by themselves.
posted by doctornemo at 8:08 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd agree that the mathematical sciences like mathematics, theoretical physics, and computer science are much more successful than the experimental sciences in moving towards free access journals. Indeed, the only experimental science present on arxiv.org is experimental physics who're (a) closely linked with theoretical physicists and (b) created the web in the first place.

I'd disagree that laboratory funding is the primary cause however. In particular, arxiv.org does host articles on quantitative finance. Yes, that's a very young field, but still .. it's finance.

Instead, I'd imagine the single biggest reason the mathematical sciences have made so much progress is : Articles have far fewer coauthors, frequently only one author.*

In other words, any professor has the freedom to send their own articles to younger cheaper journals, but push their students towards well known but overpriced journals, like say Inventiones.

By comparison, an experimental sciences article with ten coauthors will always have some authors who's careers must be taken into consideration.

There is also the fact that mathematical science utilize latex almost exclusively, meaning articles need not be retyped for publication. Experimental sciences are far more likely to actually use the publishers retyping facilities, maybe they're less computer savvy people on average.

* Authors are listed alphabetically in the mathematical sciences, but solo author papers usually "count more", kinda like first author papers elsewhere.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:17 AM on April 29, 2011


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