The internet begins to finish the job that Aaron Swartz started, at the rate of a paper per minute

Last Friday Aaron Swartz committed suicide, shortly before his Federal trial was due to begin. According to the US Attorney’s press release, “if convicted on these charges, SWARTZ faces up to 35 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, restitution, forfeiture and a fine of up to $1 million”. Swartz' crime? Downloading research from the JSTOR database of academic research. 

Within days of the death of Aaron Swartz, academics began posting their research papers online for free using the Twitter hashtag #PDFTribute. Within minutes a scraper popped up to database the links at Now, a browser plugin called the "Aaron Swartz Memorial JSTOR Liberator" has been developed which will use an individual's credentials to "liberate a single document" every time the bookmarklet is clicked. Users are warned this is a breach of terms of service, similar to that committed by Aaron Swartz. Once again we seem to be witnessing the Streisand Effect in action.

Micah Allen, a neuroscience researcher and open data activist has mused on idea of whether we are seeing the beginnings of "Papester" for academic research, an analogy to napster. For members of the public who fund research through taxes and the many researchers at institutions (often but not always in the third world) that can not afford journal subscription fees; and the patients whose lives depend on doctors and scientists having access to cutting edge research, this development may not be a bad thing.

Regardless of how things develop, one thing researchers can do to help ensure Aaron Swartz did not die in vain is to ensure their research is published in open access journals. For work already published researchers do not always have to break the law or the terms of service of the publishers who now hold the copyright to their work. Researchers can simply go back to the publishers of their research, (and perhaps - but probably best not, remind them that they never earned a penny - and often indeed spent large amounts of money on publishing fees - for their research which has now been locked away) and request permission to publish a copy of their own work on their blog. An example of a researcher who has done this very successfully is Vaughan Bell, author of the Mindhacks blog who has posted a direct link to the PDF's of all his research online. Once this is done, anyone with a Google account can access your research and indeed researchers can access your researchers without juggling VPN's, logins, and other other hoops placed by publishers that hinder access to research.

Misbehaving: being clever and wicked is a form of creativity

Creativity can bring about unchecked harm, but it's up to us how we wield it.Aeon counter – do not remove

Mind & Brain

Suppose you forgot it was your partner's birthday, but you know that they would appreciate the smallest of gestures, say a bouquet. It's late at night and no florists are open. The cemetery on your way home has recently had a funeral, and you walk across the site and pick up a good-looking bouquet of roses from someone's grave. You then head home, and the flowers are happily received by your partner.

Would you say that you hurt anyone?

Keep reading Show less

Study: Memories of music cannot be lost to Alzheimer's and dementia

The part of your brain responsible for ASMR catalogs music, and appears to be a stronghold against Alzheimer's and dementia.

The parts of the brain highlighted in red and yellow are thought to control your sense of attention and memory. (image c/o Brain Network Lab)

Some music inspires you to move your feet, some inspires you to get out there and change the world. In any case, and to move hurriedly on to the point of this article, it's fair to say that music moves people in special ways. 

Keep reading Show less

In 1999, David Bowie knew the internet would change the world

Musican. Actor. Fashion Icon. Internet Visionary?

Technology & Innovation
  • David Bowie was well known as a rock star, but somehow his other interests and accomplishments remain obscure.
  • In this 1999 interview, he explains why he knows the internet is more than just a tool and why it was destined to change the world.
  • He launched his own internet service provider in 1998, BowieNet. It ceased operations in 2006.
Keep reading Show less