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The Academic Publishing Scandal in Two Minutes
Why universities can no longer afford to access the research they created themselves.
Academic and scientific publishing is a unique industry. In every other area of content creation, the interests of the publisher rest in increasing sales or exposure on behalf of creators, but publishers of academic journals have a vested interest in locking away knowledge from the majority of humanity. This two minute video with commentary from Aaron Swartz explains why:
In other areas of publishing, the creator is paid for their work. Authors are paid for books, artists are paid for art, and musicians are paid for albums; all can generally expect ongoing payment in the form of royalties.
For scientists and universities practices are different. Academics must generally hand away all rights to copyright of their best creations, creations that often take millions of dollars of public money to make. Even the editing process is done by academics acting as unpaid volunteers in a practice known as peer review. Once finished, the work is given permanently and for free to publishers who reap a higher profit margin than practically any other industry. Elsevier, the largest academic publisher, reports annual profits of over a billion dollars.
The public are often charged hundreds of dollars to access even a single decades-old study, but while the public are priced out of the market, universities and hospitals must pay millions of dollars per year to access work academics produced decades ago, work that was generally funded by the public purse or charitable grants at great expense.
Researchers aren't stupid, they are under intense pressure to publish in "high impact journals" because this is how they are assessed. They exist in a "publish or perhish" culture in which, if they fail to publish in top shelf journals, they can't win the grants they need to exist. It just so happens that historically, high impact journals are often privately held and very expensive to access. There are journals run by scientific organisations with a genuine interest in science who support academics with their profits, but increasingly private corporations accountable only to their shareholders are dominating the market.
The value of academic research is incalculable, so publishers can charge whatever they want. The price of access to academic research is rising exponentially, doubling three times over the last three decades; in that time it has never fallen. While every other industry rises and falls with the tides of change, the profits of academic publishers seem infallible and that's because publishers know they hold a monopoly on the information they possess, and universities and hospitals depend on this information so they will break the bank to pay.
As knowledge remains a goldmine of ever-increasing value, the keys to the mine are fast becoming out of reach not just of the public and public libraries. Now whole countries of professional researchers are losing access en masse. Even students at the world's richest universities can no longer expect guaranteed access. Harvard and Cornell can no longer afford access to previously affordable journals.
Researchers and scientific organisations around the world are now working hand in hand to change the system to one based around open access. They are not alone — a tide of change is afoot. Over the past year, governments in countless countries have moved to increase access to publicly funded research — click here to find out what your nation’s government is doing to prevent the keys to public works being handed to private corporations.
None of this will do much to change the problem of research produced up until today, much of which will remain in the hands of private corporations who are free to act as gangmasters. Over the last fortnight I wrote "Meet The Robin Hood of Science", the tale of a young man named Aaron Swartz driven to his death for trying to change the academic publishing system, and the young woman now faced with a multi-billion dollar lawsuit for taking matters into her own hands, illegally making public 48 million scientific papers, nearly every scientific paper ever published. Your response has been utterly overwhelming. The post has now been read nearly half a million times, including people from every single country in the world from Gambia to the Congo. Far from everyone in all of those countries can read English, but as I write this it’s being translated into Hebrew, Spanish and Turkish for reprint in newspapers and magazines from South America to the Middle East. Knowledge, it seems, really does want to be free.
Part 1: Meet the Robin Hood of Science
The video above is an excerpt from the fantastic documentary on the subject, The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License) Watch the full documentary here. Image Credit: Shutterstock.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.