"All human knowledge is there—so why can’t everybody access it?"
June 11, 2016 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Will we ever realize the dream of everyone having access to all of human knowledge? Glyn Moody summarizes the open access movement.

The article covers a lot of ground in a relatively short space, from Sci-Hub to the Ingelfinger rule to overlay journals to scholarly skywriting. It's obviously biased in favor of open access, but takes time to address anti-open concerns seriously. (SLAT; via)

(Previously)
posted by doctornemo (23 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's an interesting question, but it anticipates something revolutionary and astonishing in a sort of blithe, almost entitled way.
posted by clockzero at 8:59 AM on June 11, 2016


if you want a world where the fruits of society are available to all, then you should make an argument for building such a world. there's nothing special about "knowledge" as a product of society.

absent an argument for such a world you just have Archie Bunker saying "I bought it with my taxes so I own it" combined with disruptions ala Napster or YouTube. and you can see how YouTube turned out ie. a quasi monopoly for distribution of "content" controlled by wholly private interests. why will knowledge-content behave differently from music-content on the internet?
posted by ennui.bz at 9:07 AM on June 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


Huge underappreciation of the technical hurdles there.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 9:24 AM on June 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


we have the technical means to share all knowledge, and yet we are nowhere near providing everyone with the ability to indulge their learned curiosity

"We have the technical means to share all food and shelter, and yet we are nowhere near providing everyone with the ability to eat and a place to live."

(Aside from the political naivete, it's weird how articles like this always seem to claim that they're covering all of scholarly publishing and then talk all but exclusively about the sciences.)
posted by RogerB at 9:49 AM on June 11, 2016 [7 favorites]


No one will care for all that knowledge as long as you have to spend most of your time working for money to survive. If we can have lives without the obligation to work for money I guess things will change a lot.
posted by zouhair at 9:50 AM on June 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


Seriously, if public access to scholarly publishing is what we really want, we should just socialize Elsevier, not pretend that we can get the same result from a patchwork of compromised consumer-level boycotts while it continues to gobble up more and more of the copyright on what's already published. It's not like "what do we do when a cartel or monopoly has cornered the market in a needed public resource" is a hard question to answer, politically.
posted by RogerB at 10:01 AM on June 11, 2016 [10 favorites]


Huge underappreciation of the technical hurdles there.

how so? Imho the biggest obstacle is that scientific publishing is only superficially about "content distribution". publishing is driven by the pressures of recreating the social power hierarchy of people who actually run science ie. publish or perish. the cost of this can then be conveniently shifted to the library budget and everyone can pretend that science doesn't have a HR department and it's all just wise sages pruning and fertilizing the tree of knowledge. it's why prominent scientists are the worst advocates for "publishing" reform.

in the end you can't get around the fact that the output of science isn't really scientific research but people ie. scientists. knowledge is people, dammit.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:01 AM on June 11, 2016 [8 favorites]




Aside from the political naivete, it's weird how articles like this always seem to claim that they're covering all of scholarly publishing and then talk all but exclusively about the sciences.

The framework used by Sci-Hub may have been inspired by the need to access "scientific" research, but its framework is indiscriminate about which articles is scoops up into its database. For example, the contents of JSTOR are well-represented, which includes history, language studies, literary criticism, and many other disciplines in the humanities.

Additionally, a reason for emphasizing the sciences is because the "chief scholarly products" (in terms of accruing prestige) in much of the humanities are not peer-reviewed articles, but books, largely published by university presses. There hasn't been quite the rush to "liberate" those works because they aren't perceived as having been penned in behind paywalls by multinational corporations.
posted by belarius at 10:33 AM on June 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


"We have the technical means to share all food and shelter, and yet we are nowhere near providing everyone with the ability to eat and a place to live."

What are you people even talking about? Yeah, if we had the ability to instantly and infinitely copy and redistribute food, shelter and energy for free, then it totally would be reasonable to expect those problems to have been solved. The people standing in the way of feeding the destitute because "we own the idea of bread" would be rightly pilloried as selfish and foolish and inexplicably cruel.

Knowledge isn't food. Knowledge is information. As I write these words, I am preparing them to be copied tens of thousands of times by a global system of distribution that cost me a one-time contribution of five American dollars. A single article in Nature Reviews Cardiology (which is important information for, say, cardiologists) costs more than five hundred dollars, US.

I mean, that's ok, I suppose, because all that profit goes to the hard working researchers who produced it. So if we stopped paying cardiology researchers for their articles, they'd never have a motive for producing new cardiology research.

Oh wait, sorry, I got turned around there for a moment. Actually none of the profit goes to the people who produced the research. Also, none of the profit goes to the people who review or edit the articles, or to the people who manage the research, or to the people who pay for the research to be conducted. All of the profit, to the tune of something like 10% of total research funding, goes to publishing companies whose primary cost is the administrative burden of sending emails to people asking them to do more work for absolutely free.

Could you imagine if we took 10% of research funding and set up, say, a web site that would act as a central repository for research findings that anybody could access? So, like, a small country like Canada would spend a billion dollars a year on this website. A billion dollars buys you a very, very nice website.

But no, you're right, the idea of publishing research findings in a way that everybody access them is just a pipe dream, because we, as a species, have yet to find a way of transmitting information around the globe and at low cost.

ennui.bz is right: the barrier to open access of information is not technology or money or practicality or even will. The barrier to open access is that the people who run the academic world got to be the people at the top because they prospered in the current system. They're not going to tell hiring committees to judge publication quality based on whatever metric an internet-based system would provide, because people who get power in the profit-based system think it natural that people like them should have power.

But please, let's not kid ourselves and say it's because the inexorable power of the market's against it. The inexorable power of the Senior Combination Room is what's against it.
posted by Dreadnought at 11:47 AM on June 11, 2016 [26 favorites]


why will knowledge-content behave differently from music-content on the internet?

Because the authors are not looking to make money from the content and the people who want to access that content are not the ones paying for it, in an open access system. At the very least it should change how that content spreads and is controlled, I think.
posted by Stood far back when the gravitas was handed out at 11:53 AM on June 11, 2016


Yes, absolutely vast amounts of information will be freely available -- and almost everyone who isn't independently wealthy will be working so hard to keep a roof over their heads they'll barely be able to glance in that direction, much less understand and work with it.

Quite a bit like today, in other words, only moreso.
posted by jamjam at 12:26 PM on June 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Knowledge isn't food. Knowledge is information.

It certainly is food to the person producing it. If you cannot distinguish between typing into a comment box, with the time and expense involved in furthering knowledge, then perhaps you don't really understand the issues at all.
posted by lilburne at 12:54 PM on June 11, 2016


The highest possible bar for the technical hurdle of sharing the vast majority of human knowledge is "hand someone a thumb drive". Giving access to only the tiny fraction of human knowledge someone needs or wants at any moment, over the network through riding on the back of the massive infrastructure we've created for sharing cat videos by the petabyte, is an infinitesimally smaller technical hurdle than even that.

Did you ever see, around a quarter of a century ago or so now, a cafe or other place that had papered its walls with the silvery surfaces of hundreds of discarded AOL CDs? Or even just used CDs people had paid for but didn't like? The effort required to do this in the 21st century, at the technological scale of our civilization, is below that of distributing mass-produced plastic toys in breakfast cereal boxes.

Maybe I'm unusual but I already end up reading about nearly any medical or health issue I'm curious about in medical journal articles on PubMed Central (as mentioned in the article), without needing to take any time off a job for it. When Google Books first came online and you could basically read any copyrighted book through it, I remember being able to look up almost any information I needed in an academic work or college textbook.

So I, personally, would definitely make use of the ability to find and read any published research. Thanks for posting this article, OP!
posted by XMLicious at 12:58 PM on June 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Knowledge isn't food. Knowledge is information.

It certainly is food to the person producing it. If you cannot distinguish between typing into a comment box, with the time and expense involved in furthering knowledge, then perhaps you don't really understand the issues at all.


That seems a bit hostile. But I don't understand the point of your retort. Academics don't get paid by publication, they get paid by universities, and partially by grants. In the latter case, they definitely need publication records to acquire the grant dollars, but there's nothing integral to that grant system and the the current system of walled off journal access. Prestigious journals will be prestigious whether or not your uni library has to pay Elsevier $20k to subscribe to them.
posted by dis_integration at 1:00 PM on June 11, 2016 [9 favorites]


Yeah - speaking of not understanding the issues, not only are the people producing the knowledge here already being paid through other channels, the people editing and reviewing and doing almost all of the other practical work are being paid. The question is over whether academic "publishers" should be able to leverage their position as legacy middlemen who traditionally let everyone else do all of the work, to still capture the copyrights of and obtain control over the end product.

In fact as the OP article discusses what's left are the fees paid by the academics for the ability to publish in an open journal and various parasites are even figuring out how to get themselves a piece of that by setting up sham journals where there's no editing or review just to collect fees.
posted by XMLicious at 1:13 PM on June 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


not only are the people producing the knowledge here already being paid through other channels, the people editing and reviewing and doing almost all of the other practical work are being paid

Someone tell my bank account!
posted by RogerB at 1:21 PM on June 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


if we had the ability to instantly and infinitely copy and redistribute food, shelter and energy for free, then it totally would be reasonable to expect those problems to have been solved

It is totally reasonable to expect these problems to have been solved. The reasons they haven't been solved is not that it's technically impossible, or even particularly challenging, to feed everyone, but that it's politically difficult to create systems whereby we do. It's not that free knowledge is a pipe dream, rather that it's part of a broad set of problems wherein resources are hoarded by a small set of people for reasons of personal power and gain.

I should also say that I appreciated the irony of reading an article about the freeing of knowledge in a format which requires me to click clumsily from page to page in order to maximise the revenue generated from me.
posted by howfar at 2:20 PM on June 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


Today, the only actual value added by Elsevier and co is the legacy accumulation of social capital (ie the impact factor and the "prestige" of certain journals). Their 30-40% profit margin comes from this, and it's insane, because anything else they do is either useless (paywalls, byzantine access systems...) or could be done cheaper (administration, editing). Public money should not be siphoned by the maintenance of systems that actively prevent the public dissemination of information created and validated by researchers paid by the public. But those systems are still widely embraced by public institutions. Most researchers, unfortunately, don't have much choice even when they're aware of the problem. But I've also heard scientists tell me that OA was some sort of a sinister plot created to destroy scientific careers ("we'll end like those poor musicians killed by Napster") and turn into Gollum at the mere idea that their precious research could fall into the hands of the unwashed masses...

The solution can only come from the funders. Some major ones (like the EU) already make OA publication a condition for funding, which is good but not enough, because in the end taxpayers are still subsidizing publishers through gold OA and subscriptions, as the article says. What funders need to do is to make green OA mandatory for funding, which will force research institutions to grow a spine and rethink the way they assess researchers and disseminate information. If the EU suddenly said "No H2020 money for gold or hybrid OA", I bet anything that we'd quickly see green OA become part of researchers' social capital and green OA publishing to be adopted by public institutions that would discover that one does not need a 30-40% profit margin to run journals efficiently.
posted by elgilito at 2:54 PM on June 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


It is totally reasonable to expect these problems to have been solved. The reasons they haven't been solved is not that it's technically impossible, or even particularly challenging, to feed everyone, but that it's politically difficult to create systems whereby we do. It's not that free knowledge is a pipe dream, rather that it's part of a broad set of problems wherein resources are hoarded by a small set of people for reasons of personal power and gain.

albert wenger is good on this!
the (digital) knowledge loop:*
If the knowledge loop combined with digital technologies is so powerful, why do we need to work at becoming a knowledge society? Why not just keep government out of the way and let entrepreneurs and markets take care of everything from here on out? Because we are living with older structures that are the legacy of over a century of industrial society.

We have based our economies around the Job Loop, which is currently breaking down. We have based our laws about information access on locking up information and selling it like industrial products. And we have developed a culture that supports our participation in the industrial economy, both as producers (workers) and consumers. Both collectively and individually, we have adopted a range of assumptions and beliefs that enable us to structure our lives around our jobs and to fuel the economy through consumption. To participate fully in a knowledge society, we will have to free ourselves psychologically, re-thinking our behavior as consumers and embracing new assumptions and beliefs that enable us to learn, create, and share knowledge.

If we want to truly unleash the knowledge loop, if we want to make it central to our lives, if we want to reap its benefits and limit its downsides, then we need to make major changes regulation and self-regulation. These are the subject of Part Three...
also see cesar hidalgo and ramez naam :P
posted by kliuless at 7:28 PM on June 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Just came in here to say, "all human knowledge" does not reside on the Internet. That's a pretty gross exaggeration.
posted by newdaddy at 6:57 AM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


We need to transition to an array of overlay journals that use sites like arxiv.org, eprint.iacr.org, etc.

At present journals like Elsevier do not do any editing work, so really they're pure parasites. If we want editing services, then I'd suggest that universities hire a few PhDs who fared poorly as researchers, but write and edit well.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:20 AM on June 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


The Web's Creator Looks to Reinvent It - "Tim Berners-Lee and other computer scientists are pondering newer technologies to create a web with more privacy and less government control."

Why the World Is Drawing Battle Lines Against American Tech Giants - "European efforts to rein in the largest American tech companies are only a taste of what countries like Brazil, India and China are likely to do."
The result is fragmentation. Once, not too long ago, many in the tech industry thought that digital technology would bring about the dawn of a new global order.

The internet’s structure was decentralized and nonhierarchical; it therefore seemed immune to control by any single government. Under this dream, the network would bridge vast distances and connect cultures, creating a new system of legal norms that were more uniform around the world.

But that is not how it has been playing out.

“My assumption is that this is only the beginning,” said Dongsheng Zang, director of the Asian Law Center at the University of Washington School of Law. “We’ll be seeing more of these governments make their own demands, and the problem is a fragmentation of the global tech companies.” He added, “This could be a problem for America in the 21st century.”

This dynamic may not sound very new. Whether it comes to taxes, privacy, free speech or security, national governments have always sought to impose rules on transnational corporations.

But the battle with tech giants promises to be more spectacular. Over the last decade, we have witnessed the rise of what I like to call the Frightful Five. These companies — Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, Google’s parent — have created a set of inescapable tech platforms that govern much of the business world. The five have grown expansive in their business aims and invincible to just about any competition. Their collective powers are a source of pride and fear for Americans. These companies thoroughly dominate the news and entertainment industries, they rule advertising and retail sales, and they are pushing into health care, energy and automobiles...

“What’s happening right now is the nation-state is losing its grip,” said Jane K. Winn, also a professor at the University of Washington School of Law, who studies international business transactions. “One of the hallmarks of modernity is that you have a nation-state that claims they are the exclusive source of a universal legal system that addresses all legal issues. But now people in one jurisdiction are subject to rules that come from outside the government — and often it’s companies that run these huge networks that are pushing their own rules.”
Cesar A. Hidalgo: Under the Hood — The Computational Engine of Economic Development - "The economy is made of people, networks of people and the things that people make. People and networks of people accumulate knowledge and knowhow, both individually and collectively, and they use that knowledge and knowhow to produce a variety of products that, in turn, augments people’s capacity to produce new products (Hidalgo 2015). A traditional interpretation of products as physical capital would tell you that products are past production and would abstract products numerically based on a product’s cost or commercial value. Under the hood, however, products are made of order — or information..."

Intel & ME, and why we should get rid of ME - "If you did not know, built into all modern Intel-based platforms is a small, low-power computer subsystem called the Intel Management Engine (ME). It performs various tasks while the system is in sleep mode, during the boot process, and also when your system is running... The ME firmware runs various proprietary programs created by Intel for the platform, including its infamous Active Management Technology (AMT), Intel's Boot Guard, and an audio and video Digital Restrictions Management system specifically for ultra-high definition media called "Intel Insider." While some of this technology is marketed to provide you with convenience and protection, what it requires from you, the user, is to give up control over your computer. This control benefits Intel, their business partners, and large media companies. Intel is effectively leasing-out to the third-parties the rights to control how, if, and when you can access certain data and software on your machine."

Powerful facial-recognition software can shred your privacy with just 1 photo - "Soon anybody with a high-resolution camera and the right software will be able to determine your identity."

Rethinking Knowledge in the Internet Age - "The networking of knowledge does not achieve the aims traditional knowing has set for itself. It is settled only within a community of believers — and not all communities of believers are right. It is inextricable from its social context. It inevitably contains differences, but those differences are now linked. It is as discursive as the net itself. It often comes in small bites, but those bites are linked out to a world larger than all the libraries that ever existed. Everyone gets to speak, even stupid, evil people. Authority generally has to be earned, not declared. The rules of reasoning vary not only within domains but within each conversational forum. Knowledge is being replaced by knowing, and knowing is now a free-for-all. At its best, this knowing does what Lynch recommends: it thinks explicitly about its rules of justification. At its worst, it's a howling mob... Ultimately, knowledge's only hope is for more and better humanity."

June 2016: Adventure - "We are moving at all times through thick, humid, innumerable layers of memories, expectations, daydreams, regrets, projections, movie scenes, music videos, our shit, other people's shit, and a unanimously shared, although not necessarily consented to, hammered-in system of ideas about the way the present moment 'should' go."
posted by kliuless at 3:45 AM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


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