Senate Hacker Ethics - should scientific information be free?

Discussion in 'Archive: The Senate Floor' started by SuperWatto, Jan 27, 2013.

  1. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

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    Most people will be familiar with the life and times of internet whiz kid Aaron Swartz. If not, here's a good profile. In short:

    Swartz, who hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment on January 11, 2013, had been under federal indictment since 2011. He was charged with illegally downloading more than four million documents from the academic journal database JSTOR on the campus of MIT in late 2010. Although JSTOR refused to pursue the matter, the prosecutors in Massachusetts did not, resulting in a federal case against Swartz which, if found guilty, could have resulted in up to 35 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.

    It's obvious that the prosecution intended to make an example out of Swartz. Instead, he turned into a martyr. However, important questions remain unanswered. Should academic journals be in the public domain? Is it ethical for individuals to take the lead in this? And should the state be allowed to pursue a case when the victim doesn't want to pursue it?
    Last edited by SuperWatto, Jan 27, 2013
  2. VadersLaMent Chosen One

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    I may, may, attempt a more in depth opinion later on. But this is essentially a debate ranging from everything is open source to every thought is patented and charged a fee.
  3. Rogue_Ten Chosen One

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    yes. axiomatically yes
    Last edited by Rogue_Ten, Jan 27, 2013
  4. Alpha-Red Force Ghost

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    I think I heard the argument that if scientific literature were all free, then scientists wouldn't know where to go for the better quality stuff or something like that.
  5. Rogue_Ten Chosen One

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    please tell me the genius that said this wasnt a scientist/planning on going into science?
    Last edited by Rogue_Ten, Jan 27, 2013
  6. Alpha-Red Force Ghost

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    Uh, I really can't remember. Didn't really keep a bookmark of the page. It was something a while back when some scientists were complaining about the fees that the scientific journals charged and something, and someone brought that up as a counterargument.

    The scientists wanted to boycott the journals to make them lower their fees or drive them out of business...but the journals still exist so I imagine they're doing something of value or else they wouldn't exist.
    Last edited by Alpha-Red, Jan 27, 2013
  7. Lord Vivec Chosen One

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    arXiv is free, and you get the best quality stuff there.
  8. Alpha-Red Force Ghost

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    Last edited by Alpha-Red, Jan 27, 2013
  9. NYCitygurl NSWFF Manager

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    I've used JSTOR plenty of times for academiic material. And though I appreciate that I had free access while at my university (or, rather, any fees were rolled into tuition), I don't think it should be available for free.

    I worked with a science professor for years and saw the long, intense, and sometimes painful process he went through for research, from getting the grants to doing the work to getting published. I think he should have the right to his material (and the right to give/sell it to whatever journal or academic institution he chooses, assuming that's agreed upon when he receives grants). And if the grants were given with the idea of getting some or all of the rights for the institution giving it, then the institution should have the rights to the work.

    It was not easily accomplished, and it shouldn't automatically be given to the public for free just because its scientific research.

    EDIT: I guess that didn't really answer the question. But still, no, academic journals shouldn't be in the public domain. They should have the rights to the work they're given or sold, just like any other publication.

    And the state shuoldn't pursue matters that don't relate to public endangerment. No one was physically hurt. JSTOR should have the right not to pursue legal action, and the state should have to abide by that; no harm was done to the state.
    Last edited by NYCitygurl, Jan 27, 2013
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  10. Rogue_Ten Chosen One

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  11. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

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    Well, to somewhat limit the scope of the discussion, I thought it seemed prudent to stick to scientific publications. Or do you think that what would apply to scientific publications automatically applies to all copyrighted material?

    Yes to the first question, you mean? If so... why?
    Last edited by SuperWatto, Jan 27, 2013
  12. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

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    Actually, I believe the typical standard is not that you're being paid to be in the journal, it's that you're paying the journal to be able to be in it. (generally)

    Academic journals absolutely shouldn't be public domain, however, I think the papers should be easily available. This, however, is easily up to the respective fields to fix. Vivec brought up arXiv, and probably 90% of the papers I need are on there. However, that skips over being peer-reviewed, and that still is a very key thing in evaluating a paper. As such, there is still a very tangible benefit of the journals, because they do represent papers that have gone through that process and helps filter which papers do have credibility and gone through at least some evaluation by others in the field.

    I think this open nature is a great benefit for physics/astronomy, and I would say that for other fields, the change shouldn't be trying to destroy the journals, but distinctly change how papers are published in a way that supplements the journals so that there is still a peer review process, but with scientists putting their papers into a more public forum.
    Last edited by Lowbacca_1977, Jan 27, 2013
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  13. AaylaSecurOWNED Force Ghost

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    I don't know if you're intentionally changing the discussion or if you're misunderstanding the question. No one is proposing that scientific research and articles should be in the public domain - the question is whether they should be freely available. I don't think anyone in this thread (except maybe @Rogue_Ten ) would argue that the author of a piece of scientific research should automatically relinquish any copyright or intellectual property rights to the work they have done. Whether they and the publishers of such information should be able to charge -sometimes extortionate fees - to share that information with the public, and restrict the sharing of scientific knowledge only to people who are able to pay for it, is the question - which you haven't addressed.
  14. Jabba-wocky Chosen One

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    If you're paying significant out of pocket fees to publish, the journal is terrible and you ought to produce higher quality work. Journals make their money from their subscriptions and royalties, which are significant because, through their prestige and impact factor, they attract the best minds to publish their best work in them. Authors get their money from the academic appointments and grants they win as a result of being well published. No one gets primary income from the act of publishing an article. There shouldn't really be much of any money trading hands at all at this level.

    ON THE MAIN TOPIC: I have to admit being sort of confused here. Should this stuff be widely and freely available? Yes. But in many ways, it already is. Certainly any public university, (and many other institutions freely accessible to the public) will carry a subscription to these databases. Someone is paying for it, but it's not the average citizen. The question we're actually asking then, is one of convenience. I think one is rather hard-pressed to say it should be free "at home" versus free if you simply take trip to a library.
    Last edited by Jabba-wocky, Jan 27, 2013
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  15. NYCitygurl NSWFF Manager

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    Actually, that was one of the questions in the first post.

    I, as I said, don't believe they should be.

    Ideally, it would be accessable to those who want it. However, it shouldn't be at the cost of journals losing their rights to sell subscriptions and charge people.
  16. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

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    This is going to be ridiculously old, but as of the late 80s, this compared the major journals for astronomy. I believe that since then, the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society has added submission fees and the structure of the fees for the others may have changed (Astrophysical Journal has changed structure to $35 for every 350 words and more for figures) but the others had something between 25% and 60% of their income coming from submission costs. It would still be in the realm of several hundred dollars per paper now. So in that sense, I'm not sure what you're talking about when you say 'produce higher quality work'. This isn't finding weird journals that are equivalent of "Who's who" that just take money, these are what are considered to be the standard journals for publication.

    The exception here that comes to mind first would be conference proceedings that don't have a cost, but do require that the work was presented at a conference in the first place, so there's a cost inherent in that, although then it's also not peer reviewed.

    So, money is changing hands, and it's a decent amount, but at least with academia, it should be budgeted for. I've never heard a conversation where there was concern about publishing because of the cost associated, anyway.
  17. Jabba-wocky Chosen One

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    That perhaps may be something unique to astronomy, then. It's certainly not been my experience with scientific journals from other disciplines, unless the journal is relatively unknown and the peer review is relatively weak.
    Last edited by Jabba-wocky, Jan 27, 2013
  18. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

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    Vivec may have an idea on the physics side, but there is also that almost every astronomy paper I'd need has the preprint available publicly with no pay wall. One can also then see what's been submitted or accepted to a journal, without having to go through the journal or wait for publication.
  19. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

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    To me, it's not so much about publishing (I will not be writing anything remotely academic in my life) as it is about the money paid to access the material. I like to look up stuff to verify if my position on something makes sense, but the cost always outweighs the merit. Here is an interesting article that sheds some light about the profits academic publishers make.

    Reading a single article published by one of Elsevier's journals will cost you $31.50. Springer charges €34.95, Wiley-Blackwell, $42. Read 10 and you pay 10 times. And the journals retain perpetual copyright. You want to read a letter printed in 1981? That'll be $31.50.

    Of course, you could go into the library (if it still exists). But they too have been hit by cosmic fees. The average cost of an annual subscription to a chemistry journal is $3,792. Some journals cost $10,000 a year or more to stock. The most expensive I've seen, Elsevier's Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, is $20,930. Though academic libraries have been frantically cutting subscriptions to make ends meet, journals now consume 65% of their budgets, which means they have had to reduce the number of books they buy. Journal fees account for a significant component of universities' costs, which are being passed to their students.
    Last edited by SuperWatto, Jan 27, 2013
  20. Rogue_Ten Chosen One

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    how can you read the above and not think "smash the journals"?
    Last edited by Rogue_Ten, Jan 27, 2013
  21. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

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    Yeah, and at that point, then the pressure is, imo, on the field to fix that problem. There are certainly ways to deal with that. Physics as a whole has adapted a model that allows for a lot of papers to be accessible without having to go through the journals, if necessary, and it creates a need for those journals to lower costs or justify them. So, I'd like to see if the same thing is going to happen in other fields. Those in a field do have the ability to change the concepts of how this works. For example, with the move to digital, there's also a new thing showing up in astronomy publications to include multimedia in papers (although still very much in its infancy) so there's certainly room for change there.

    For this to change, it shouldn't be coming from trying to 'liberate' articles from behind the paywall, it should be from those in the field pushing for a restructure of how papers are accessed and evaluated.
  22. NYCitygurl NSWFF Manager

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    That amount is insane. It's beyond what people--or libraries--should be expected to pay.

    That's why sites like JSTOR are nice; people can pay a much smaller amount for access to material from journals in a ton of academic fields. And now it's offering whole books from academic presses, according to the site. Though perhaps those specific journals with the ridiculously high prices aren't part of the system (and I no longer have access to my university's account to check).

    JSTOR (and LexusNexus and others) seem to be a good route for the future.
    Last edited by NYCitygurl, Jan 27, 2013
  23. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

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    Seems a bit like a cop-out... it's not their problem, so why should they solve it? Besides, it would require quite some cooperation from people who might not always see the benefit. To be honest, if it's left up to the scientists, I don't think it will change.
  24. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

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    It's their research, it's their field, it's their model for distribution of information. Like I pointed out, physics and astronomy DID do this, so I don't see what would make those scientists so much better than others that no other field could/would do this.
  25. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

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    Well, I hope you're right. Did that change recently, for physics and astronomy? And what was the motivation for that change?
    And do you think it's likely or unlikely that those fields are less burdened by competition than others?