Sunday, January 27, 2013

Nest of Rebel PhDs

I was in a nest of PhDs yesterday, and noted something interesting: the comment was repeatedly made that one or another of them was "probably doing something illegal" by making their papers freely available to anyone who asked -- after they had been published in one of the scholarly journals.

"It's probably a violation of copyright, but I don't care," quoth one. They expressed nothing but dismay and contempt for the scholarly journals because the journals were preventing public access to published papers by charging outrageous fees to read them online ($35 is typical for one paper). But that wasn't all; they charged libraries outrageous subscription fees (a figure of $1,000,000 a year in aggregate paid by the university library was mentioned) for providing limited access to students and faculty. The library counters by opening to anyone. The public at large is always welcome.

They pointed out that practically all their research is funded by the public through the university or various agencies of the government, and it is completely unacceptable that the journals continue to maintain strict policies that prevent public access to the results of their research. A movement is afoot to bypass the journals (and therefore JSTOR which maintains a digital library of journals and published papers and also serves to prevent public access to it despite claims to the contrary). They are seeking to publish and make their papers freely available independent of the journals but say they are stymied for the time being by university expectations/requirements that they publish in "respected journals" -- which puts them right back where they started.

How far their rebellion will get is anyone's guess at this point, but I was glad to see there is an ongoing rebellion regarding public access to academic research and papers.

They never mentioned Aaron Swartz, but it was clear that their fury at the journals and JSTOR was no less than that of Swartz, and in their own way, they are doing what they can to subvert a system that actively prevents public access to their work.


  1. On the message boards I frequent, the Swartz suicide has been an occasion of a lot of authoritarian sniggering and gloating. Seriously, if Heymann and Ortiz ever want to be cheered up in this temporary, minor hiccup on their road to glory and power, they need to read the comments under some of these articles.

    A lot of Americans, it seems, are great believers in the Sentence First, Verdict Afterwards model of criminal trials first pioneered by the Queen of Hearts and so aptly applied by her spiritual descendants in the "Justice" department.

  2. They do like it this way, don't they? Disparate "justice" in this country is a scandal, or it would be if anyone important thought it was, but they only think it is when their own ox is being gored. Which they make damn sure is very rare indeed.

    Otherwise, proceed!

    I was surprised at the vehemence of some of these scholars, though, and their contempt for the journal/publication system they are forced to utilize. Literally no one defended it.

    Their denunciations need to get a lot louder.