Tag capitalism - humanist @ roua.org :

open-access

Written by Romeo Anghelache no comments

Some organization (The Royal Society, henceforth TRS) has published a position paper on open-access and it's nagging me.

TRS starts with a slow introduction aiming to put the reader in a kind of open-access state for the ideas that follow (by suggesting they are in the open-access camp, but with some nuances): TRS states that "At present, all papers appearing in Royal Society journals can be accessed free of charge 12 months after their publication". And the reader should be impressed? I don't think so. The results published in those papers are funded from which source? Why should the paying public wait 12 months until the results are available for their reading? I see no reason.

Here's a perspective on copyright and access to publicly funded research results.

Further, TRS states that "some organisations threaten to hinder rather than promote the exchange of knowledge between researchers. " And how comes this? Because "some participants in the debate" ( the only debate worth its name is on implementations of open-access, not on open-access as a concept) "aim to stop commercial publishers from making profits".

Why are commercial publishers automatically entitled to make profits from charging, for access to publicly funded research, those who paid for it already? Well, they were entitled when they put some managing effort in putting that on paper (and only for that activity only), ok, but in the digital world where is their added value?

Listing the article names, authors and offering content in pdf is trivial, that can be done directly in the research institutions which are creating those results. A webmaster or a librarian should be responsible in setting up such systems.

And there goes the traditional publisher's glory. The publishers should earn those profits by providing some non-trivial services, I won't tell here what kind of services, they should invest in that first.

The publishers' profits are a hindrance to scientific exchange: the librarians can't cope with high-priced subscriptions, so the researcher can't relate to resources.

I personally lived in extreme conditions as a physicist researcher, due to national research policy's stupidity and high subscription prices: I was doing research in 1990-1996 based only on articles published before 1976, or newer donations from other European libraries, that was in Romania. Based on this experience, nobody can convince me there's something wrong with "aiming to stop publishers from making profits".

Anyway, TRS continues by stating the obvious: "this should not be the primary factor guiding future developments in the exchange of knowledge between researchers". It's not the primary factor indeed, it's the secondary factor. The primary factor is to provide access to the results, and the secondary factor is to dismantle possible ways of weakening the primary factor. The publishers are still free to offer charge-based, alternative, value-added services to the research community, they just have to figure out which, and how to do it; meanwhile, open-access should be provided.

Further, TRS states: "Few of the proposed new models for open access publishing appear to have been properly assessed financially and shown to be sustainable".

The current publishing model has been assessed financially and shown to be unsustainable, that's why open-access is here. So, I can only interpret this TRS statement as a suggestion that open-access initiatives need more strategical (economical, political) support until various implementations settle to well-understood models.

I can already estimate the outcome of open-access: it's more viable and sustainable than the traditional publishing through private publishers.

Here's why: the expense of rendering it on paper is moved directly onto the reader computer time/printer paper (that's the expense which was worth paying to the publishers), the expense of locating it moves onto a library server in the research institution which produced the article (finally the libraries will have a usage for researchers younger than 60), the expense of peer-reviewing stays constant: there's no reason to believe that peer-reviewing open-access journals is costlier than closed-access journals, on the contrary, the open-access structures are more flexible in accomodating the peer-reviewing process. And there goes the TRS statement "New models that rely on public funds to operate open access journals or repositories could even cost the public purse more overall if they operate less cost-effectively and efficiently than existing alternatives."

Otherwise, TRS states "any viable new open access model must adequately cover the costs of high quality, independent peer review". Now, as much as I know, the cost of peer-review is not covered by the current publishers: researchers are doing it as part of their jobs. Open-access has nothing to do with the quality of peer-review. So what's the meaning of this request?

Open-access has two steps: free-access to self-archived works and free access to peer reviewed results. My having access to self-archived articles, wether or not they are published under peer-review, doesn't hinder my research activity, it helps me put my work in context before some high-quality reviewer sends me to read his previously published paper of which I wasn't aware because my library couldn't pay the subscription. More, TRS seems to imply that the traditional publishing model makes peer-reviewing somehow high-quality. As in anything, you get high-quality and low-quality peer-reviewing, no matter which is the publishing model.

However, the traditional peer-reviewing model has its own problems: small tribes of people can behave, anonymously, overly protective to their own works, that is, against the results of others who may surpass their current work, it's still up to the morality of the reviewer to give an objective review. But I digress.

The fact that I have access to a self-archived article and give an informal feedback to the author is peer-review itself.

If you need formal peer-review (want it to resemble the traditional peer-review model), set up a system of online anonymous peer-reviewing, the technical mechanisms are already in place, take a peek at the blogs today (pick one and make it accesible only by e-mail, make it slow to answer, delay the messages for weeks, allow only department heads to write, make them delegate any work sent to their assistants, only by means of printed paper, set a random reminder every now and then, to thusly overworked reviewers, and you'll get an exact copy of what's happening now in closed-access models of publishing). Some of it may become high-quality, with the same probability as in the traditional, closed-access, publishing practices.

From all the arguments above, it's obvious, to me at least, that there's no reason for the researcher to pay specifically for his publishing, or the reader to pay for the access. The implementation of open-access systems is cheap (see below). It will only get expensive when various managers with no technical clue will be allowed to get involved and start complicating things more than is necessary (coming with concepts like branding, and whatever else makes them worth of hanging around).

Further, TRS states "A 'one-size-fits-all' model is unlikely to benefit everybody, and may cause the significant problems outlined above.", comparing the needs and resources of an Ethiopian post-doc with a senior fellow in a UK lab. As I argued before, the current model: 'one-profit-fits-all', doesn't work at all.

TRS states also: "The worst-case scenario is that funders could force a rapid change in practice, which encourages the introduction of new journals, archives and repositories that cannot be sustained in the long term, but which simultaneously forces the closure of existing peer-reviewed journals that have a long-track record for gradually evolving in response to the needs of the research community over the past 340 years. That would be disastrous for the research community."

This is not an argument of keeping current publishing practices ongoing. If a model 'adapted' for 340 years, there shouldn't be a problem of adapting now, right? Unless some rigidity installed meanwhile. Even if that will happen, it's not open-access the reason of their closure, it's the current model who's responsible for it. The subject here is: will the research results published in those 340 years be still available in the digital world? That is also what open-access addresses, while commercial publishers cannot warrant such access, due to their nature: if some publisher goes bankrupt, it no longer has any obligation to the reader.

Finally, TRS states "In view of this, the Royal Society welcomes an open debate between funders, researchers, institutions and publishers (both commercial and not-for-profit) about, the likely consequences of new models for the publication of research results, before they are introduced. To inform discussion, the Royal Society recommends a thorough study of proposed new models, including an assessment of the likely costs and benefits to all. Funders should resist the temptation to act before being informed by such a study.."

Sorry but this favors the involvement of clueless managers: based on a fake science, they know already an estimate on how many people fit on the tip of a needle. My opinion is to let funders pay, cautiously of course, for scientific and technical work on open-access models, let various open-access models be implemented and then carry on the studies on which kind of open-access implementations are viable or self-sustaining.

So, here's a sketch of how open-access should look like:

  1. mandate self-archiving at the creator's institutional library, give the article an URI, (self-)classify it, provide a point of access to its content and metadata, ensure long-term preservation (that is what "Cautiously", above, means)
  2. keep non-technical managers at bay
  3. charge a webmaster to ensure smooth serving/locating online the digital content in that library, and raise his salary a bit or lower his salary for not being able to do anything more but providing a google button on the Institute's web-page (achieved local self-archiving at this point)
  4. keep non-technical managers at bay
  5. use an exchange protocol to synchronize resources between all libraries in the background, to enable location of digital content from every Internet access point (worldwide self-archiving)
  6. keep non-technical managers at bay
  7. set up an anonymous peer reviewing system online, which ranks references of the articles above (which are stored in the libraries)
  8. keep non-technical managers at bay
  9. ask social science researchers, philosophers, the research authors themselves, how's this system doing
  10. tune the odd steps and repeat until settled
  11. (optional) hire a manager to work for a decade and spend the millions which would have been spent on closed-access publishing, on branding, or buy some value-added services from the new-generation publishers, if available.
  12. enjoy the results, and wonder what was there to "debate" about the open-access in the first place. make fun of it.

In fact, in a civilized society, open-access is a synonym of library: open-access is a civil service for which every citizen has already paid.

There you have it, the open debate. Ignore it on your own money.

humanitarianism

Written by Romeo Anghelache no comments

"Humanitary assistance is given to children, women and elders". What about the others, who are not involved in the war, but affected by it?

Here's a rather useful sort of preemptiveness: warmongers should be jailed instantly along with the warmongers from the related camps, and let only those out, who will decide to cry, loudly, for a humanitarian amount of time, "war is stupid, I want to be part of, and help build a, civilization".

civilization

Written by Romeo Anghelache no comments

Here and there, I hear or read about civilization, and, while the dictionary says it's an advanced state of human society, i'm pondering a more operational definition of it.

A civilized society should be able to guarantee coverage for the basic needs of the modern human: food, shelter, health, knowledge (communication, education, research). As a limit, if a human is born today, he should be provided with these resources to live to the estimated end of his life, unconditionally. I mean that he should have no obligation to do any kind of formal work to acquire those resources, except the actions necessary to use and maintain them.

This provision is, in my opinion, what a civilized society basically means.

A society not being able to provide food, shelter, health and knowledge (communication, teaching, research) to all its new members, gratis (for free, as in free beer), is not civilized, I would call it primitive.

A truism: a primitive society is a society which can't afford to grow a modern human.

So, I'm pretty dissapointed I haven't heard of a civilized country yet (and I'm 40+, btw). If you heard of one, please let the readers and the author of this blog know. Note: I'm not talking about making people compete for these resources, that still belongs to the animal realm, to a primitive world; a modern human is defined by having a natural access to them, and by his ability to maintain or create them so any neighbour can have natural access to them too.

There's a horrible term today, in wide circulation: "earn a living". What??! Why did you bring a newborn in this world? To put him to "earn a living"? Did you ever ask yourself if it's worth it? Better find a way to check that out before enslaving him to this idiocy.

Quite a few adults would say it's no problem with this, you have to earn a living, but if asked to state the motives for this attitude, it becomes clear that this answer is a matter of instinct: while you're alive, you should check the neighborhood first to satisfy your instincts, certainly you'll be able to satisfy some, and you can keep going hunting until you die. Fine, but that's just animal instinct, nothing part of the definition of a modern human, a civilized human. Again, it's nothing wrong with being animals, that's what we are, basically. But my point is that 'basically' isn't enough to make me or the surrounding society, civilized.

Some other adults would be shocked to listen to any alternative to "earn a living", their point being that, letting a human do whatever he thinks, the human would do nothing except consume food, so he will harm himself and the society around. That would be true only if the human wouldn't be naturally endowed with something beyond the animal features: capacity to learn. A human, starting as an animal in a civilized society, can't simply consume resources (knowledge among them) without feeling miserably after a while, he will start looking for something to make him happy, and he will, given the resources above, understand rather soon that he'll not be happy himself unless the modern humans in the neighborhood are happy too. A modern human, in a civilized society, would start acting as a consequence of understanding his civilized context, that is, in as much freedom as is humanly possible.

Unfortunately, this is not the current situation with us, all of us. We are either born on somebody's property or work for somebody's property (watch carefully around), or work for 'our own' (those of us are the 'happy' primitives, the ones whose instincts are about to be temporarily satisfied mostly at the expense of their neighbours), so most of us are still animals and still living in primitive, tribal, societies.

So why give birth to children until those resources (food, shelter, health, knowledge (communication, education, research)) are there to let the modern human be? I see no reason. I barely understand the reason why we, the primitives, are still here and keep on going with the current tribal rules.

My only civilized reason of sticking around this mess is to help somehow building a situation where those resources will be available for the newcomers, this time by natural right of the modern human. Friendly advice: don't take this goal too seriously, although everybody has at least the same civilized reason, we are so far away from civilization that you may find yourself, sometimes, forced into an aimless drift, aka, in primitive terms and in a primitive context, ignorant, jobless, homeless or hungry, whatever suits you.

It seems we live in a fourth world, in fact: most of what we do is hunting and being hunted, and breed in between; the current, tribal, categorization of the world (in 'developed', 'developing' and 'underdeveloped' peoples), is mainly a matter of hunting intensity and hunting tools: who gets the honors for grabbing that only bloody sausage and who's left to make the next one in the following hunting season.

This boring repetitiveness is due to lack of food, shelter, health, knowledge (communication, education, research), so, either we're too many as a total or we're mixed with too many hypocrites. Whichever is true (and nobody can really check either of them), we should breed less and think more (this one keeps the natural proportion of honesty/hypocrisy constant and, besides, it stays the cheapest) before moving things around, until our followers (yes, somebody will keep breeding, nonetheless) will manage to get their act together and build a civilization, so that their followers will be able to live as modern humans and not in hunting packs, like us.

"Oh lord, Oooh you are soo big, Soo absolutely 'uge, Gosh we're all really impressed down here, I can tell you...", Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, that an insight.

publicly funded copyright

Written by Romeo Anghelache no comments

If the public of a country funds some research or educational activity which results in an article, book or report, that should be accessible unconditionally to that public.

In other words, the results of any kind of activity that is at least partially funded from public money, should be accessible to the public, right? There's no justification for copyright, then.

Ah, some would say, public money, ok, but accessing the results of private research should be paid for. Wait a minute, the public pays that too, if you buy an apple, or a kind of detergent, you are funding the research of that company which sells you the detergent or the apple. So you have the right to access it and use the results.

When you hear that a large company is funding a large musical event, remember it's your own money at work if you ever bought something from them, if not, then it's your neighbour's money, so go thank him for that.

Copyright is a form of getting paid at least twice for the same thing. And it is only encouraged by the people who get a profit out of maintaining the copyright without participating in the creation effort of the copyrighted work (lawyers, publishers).

In the current form, copyright is just another way of transferring money from those who work, to those who make a business out of handling that work, and outside of that work. Aren't you tired of it?

Sounds too radical, or abstract? Read on.

For example, the spanish people should have the right to access directly the results of a group of spanish researchers who seem to have found an effective solution for a certain class of cancers. Clicking on the above link will give you the abstract, would you like to see the details? Pay 23 USD. But the spanish people already paid for that.

So, what's the point of the copyright then? The only point is to make money at least once more for those who claim to protect such a concept, without ever getting involved in the real work. The irony is, they are already paid once by the same public, either by private or public funding, or by buying from them different consulting services.

Nobody writes or does something out of thin air, there are research grants people use to write books, and they get a salary for that too, or a raise, from either the government or a private company. And the public pays them both. So the public has the right of accessing their results.

My point is that whoever structures information, has the natural right to be considered the author of that work, and that's all of it. Because of that, the author gets known, consulted, hired and paid for those services. Who will hire someone else for help in that specific area where the author commited the work, unless that someone else became a specialist in the same area by making some other work visible?

Beside paying several times for this, everybody's access to the work paid for is effectively cut: copyright stands against progress, it slows down or postpones work built on previous works. If you want to acknowledge the funding of your public, copyleft your work or use a Creative commons license which ensures others can build their work on yours.

It's relatively cheap these days to provide access, electronically, to the research the public paid for, because almost everybody's editing on a computer. Don't forget to ask that access for "free" to your government, today. It's not for free anyway: you already paid for it.

on limited wealth or property

Written by Romeo Anghelache no comments

I was defining, a few days ago, the principle of limited property.

Today, I used Google and Yahoo to locate "the principle of limited property", or "put limits to wealth", or "imposing limits to wealth", curious enough, only my blog entry was shown, or no finding at all.

However, playing with alternative formulations of it, I found a page containing something qualitatively equivalent.

But I was expecting most of us are concerned with this issue because it's the primary thing which shuffles our lives permanently since the history has been heard of. Surprise. What were the socialists been doing? Just tuning up the taxes?

I'll keep an eye on this, and will add new links if I discover anything related.

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