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Lessig on Digital Barbarism

Lawrence Lessig has posted a review of David Halperin's recent book, Digital Barbarism.

Halperin, who authored the (in)famous New York Times article calling for perpetual copyright, has now compiled his ideas into a book. Lessig offers a much-needed critique, including citing misconceptions about Creative Commons (Halperin conflates it not only with "freeware" with software... more

What Bob Marley puts in his Open Access pipe - Smoke this, publishing industry!
Adrian Woodhead & Philipp Schmidt · London and Cape Town (South Africa) · May 22nd, 2008 5:10 pm · 29 votes · 1 comment
Smoking the pipe in a buddhist monastery, phitar (, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (
Smoking the pipe in a buddhist monastery, by phitar
Open Access - feasting on knowledge like manna

Hello hello - tuning in straight from the retirement home computer room, Schmatler and Waldhead are back to rear other peoples' ugly heads. Last week (yes, we know what you want to say - but once you get to our age, months can seem like weeks and vice versa) we spent most of our column wallowing with the wailers over the miseries of the status quo of scholarly publishing - and what a load of stinky socks it really is. To recoup: scientists (the guys in lab coats) do all the work (find out new things, write them up, review each others' drafts) and the publishers then get to charge for it, and even the scientists themselves have to pay to read the results of their own work. Not so clever after all Professor Doctor! But however bad things have become, there is always hope somewhere. Please note that the last sentence does not apply to Waldhead's dancing or Schmatler's singing.

All those horrible secrets about the scientific publishing world that we uncovered in our last column might be more acceptable if we hadn't gotten used to the World Wide Web and having a mountain of usually free information at our finger tips (literally) at all times. What is the point of publishing all these articles in paper form and then charging a lot of money for them - when new technology offers tremendous opportunities to improve the system? Since both of us have worked in developing country universities when we were young we know that convenient access to the Internet is of course not true for all the people all the time, but only for some people sometimes. Irie - respect to Brother Bob Marley. But still, there is no denying that the web has emerged as an alternative publishing opportunity which by its very nature lowers the barrier to entry for would-be-publishers and reduces the costs of publishing, while delivering a potentially huge global audience. This opens up all sorts of avenues for new and innovative publishing models, which is what we are looking at today.

To stay with our great Rastafarian mentor, some people decided to stand up for their rights, and by some people, we don't mean the publishing industry clinging to its copyrights! But rather we would like to focus our electro-magnetic microscopes (okay, prescription spectacles) on two key projects in the world of open access. First up is First Monday which is an open access journal publishing Internet related research and is "super" free. That means free as in beer, free as in freedom, and free as in freezing (since they were started in Denmark). The second project is PLoS, the Public Library of Science, a non-profit organisation that publishes a range of very well respected science and medical journals, and which charges authors a fee for its peer-review and publication services.

First Monday could be considered the grand old eminence or the Peter Tosh of open access publishing with a twist. Since it's launch in May 1996 it has published more than 800 papers by more than 1,000 authors - including some of the most important thinkers on matters to do with the Internet. It was set up in collaboration with the Danish publishing house Munksgaard initially experimenting with a (free of charge) registration requirement, but soon after this it started offering completely free and open access. An interesting fact from the history of First Monday is that Munksgaard originally owned the journal, and according to Chief Editor Edward Valauskas, First Monday was a way for Munskgard to learn about the Internet and experiment with Internet publishing. After the first few years the journal was taken over by Valauskas and two colleagues. First Monday is entirely volunteer driven and benefits from hosting and technical support from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Valauskas says that he considers each issue a miracle. We feel the same way about our columns.

For an example of scientists taking things into their own rubber-gloved hands (rumours have it that some were waving banners that read "e=mc2 to the people" but who knows if that is really true) and giving it more of a Linton Kwesi Johnson vibe, we swivel our lab chairs to another project. PLOS, the public library of science is a non-profit organisation of scientists that has grown into an open access publishing power house and today publishes 7 journals in the sciences and medicine. Besides its innovative business model and open access publishing, PLoS looks surprisingly like a "regular" (by this we don't mean traditional) journal, with a commitment to excellence and scientific integrity fixed in its core principles. PLoS considers itself as a reliable resource of top-quality scientific research and open access as the most effective way to achieve that, rather than a means in itself. One way to measure its success is by the amount of attention it receives both from within the scientific community as well as the broader public. In early April the PLoS blog reported that its flagship journal PLoS One had been mentioned in the New York Times in each of the previous 6 weeks.

That brings us to the question - why would anyone want to publish in an open access journal rather than in something that starts with "New England Journal of ... " that is printed on heavy paper and reminds us of vast libraries, tweed jackets, and the comforting smell of old wood. Firstly, and this is often overlooked partly since it is so obvious, because it is what academics have always done. They share their discoveries with each other to review and critique them, to build on what others have done and by working together as collaborators and competitors arriving at a better understanding of the world. That's what open access supports. Secondly, there is a growing body of literature that argues that open access publishing is also a more effective way of disseminating research - which ties into the existing incentive models of researchers by reducing the cost for access to research and increasing the visibility and diffusion of their articles. Early studies show that at least in some disciplines open access publications receive higher numbers of citations (other people mentioning your work in their own articles) which act both as an indication of an article's "value" within its discipline, and a nice source of ego-fuel for the researchers themselves. In the words of James C. Carrington and Zhixin Xie, who wrote a paper in PLoS Biology that was picked up by a major scientific indexing service (Thompson-ISI) as a "fast breaking paper" in December 2005: "We are very pleased that this paper has received the citations it has, in part because in a small way it validates the open access publishing model." Edward Valauskas confirms this and reports that First Monday contributors "have repeatedly told [him] that their work in First Monday happens to be their most read, most popular papers" and that these contributors value the diverse and international readership that First Monday provides. Thirdly, some large government-funded bodies and independent donors are demanding that any work they pay for ends up being publicly accessible. Examples of this are the National Institute of Health public access policy and the Wellcome Trust's Open Access Policy.

What does this mean for the traditional publishers? Well, let's be honest - if someone starts doing what you do, but charges less for it, that usually means trouble. The distribution mechanisms of the music industry (shipping CDs around the world to put them into stores) seemed somewhat silly when compared with the efficiency of downloading the same music via the Internet instantly. Next week (ahm, month?) we will look at how publishers are reacting - some are embracing semi-open publication models, others are fighting back. Until then...

Yours hosts,

Schmatler and Waldhead

tags: south africa science-research open-access publishing developing-world plos first-monday

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I expect Eve will mention this too, information technology can make publishing easier, but publishing requires some skills. First Monday and PLoS have developed those skills. Universities, research centres and Non-Profits can also develop those skills for themselves. But it is important to remember that those skills are required for successful publishing.
Andrew Rens · Cape Town (South Africa) · May 22nd, 2008 6:15 pm
your call: is this comment useful?
your take: useful lame

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