Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Saturday, March 22, 2003

ERIC is in jeopardy. A project of the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), ERIC is the Educational Resources Information Center, and by far the most the comprehensive and venerable open-access resource in the field of education. The problem in a nutshell is that the ERIC Clearinghouses, which collect and index the material in the ERIC database, come up for reauthorization this year. But the DOE offices that oversee ERIC and its Clearinghouses are being reorganized, and the current plan shrinks the ERIC system and eliminates some of the Clearinghouses. Kate Corby has created an extremely useful web page on the threat to ERIC, covering all the relevant issues, players, actions, and dates. See her page, especially her log of open letters, for ideas on how to help ERIC survive.

The problem isn't exactly like last November's defunding of PubScience, which was the result of a deliberate, anti-FOS lobbying campaign by a trade association of commercial electronic publishers. But the effect might be the defunding of another government-supported open-access resource, this time a much more significant one. ERIC is older, larger, and much better entrenched in its niche than PubScience was. It was launched in 1966, tying with Medline as the oldest known open-access initiative. ERIC is "the largest education database in the world --containing more than 1 million records of journal articles, research reports, curriculum and teaching guides, conference papers, and books."

Friday, March 21, 2003

The final report (in English) of Denmark's Netarkivet Project is now online. From the Introduction: "The overall purpose in establishing an Internet archive is thus to ensure the preservation of this contribution to the cultural heritage and thereby the source materials that will provide the foundation for future research not only into the Internet’s own history, but also into all the ever more comprehensive cultural, institutional and business activities that take place especially --and in some cases exclusively-- on the Internet or in close connection with it."

A public comment period has begun for the new OpenURL standard. The UKOLN demonstration resolver shows the standard at work. Comments are due by April 15.

Northwestern University is putting the first complete English translation of Vesalius' 1543 anatomy of the human body, De Humani Corporis Fabrica, online free of charge. For details, see the site or the press release.

David Dickson, The threat to science as a 'public good', SciDev.Net, March 17, 2003. A call on the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to adddress "the range of growing threats to the flow of scientific information, both between individuals and between nations." Dickson is especially critical of "those who are imposing increased constraints on access to information, including scientific information, in order to benefit commercially from the growth of the information society." These constraints primarily take the form of profit-seeking through patents on research tools and profit-seeking through tolls on literature that ought to be free. "The growing privatisation of scientific knowledge is widening the knowledge gap between rich and poor countries at precisely a time when --in principle-- the potentially marginal costs of access to electronic information is offering a way to close it." Dickson is aware of the many initiatiives to address these problems. "But most of these initiatives are ad hoc arrangements....In issues from intellectual property rights to electronic publishing, an international consensus is now required that the needs of the disadvantaged cannot be met by palliatives alone." (Thanks to Leslie Chan.)

The April/May issue of the ASIST Bulletin is devoted to the semantic web.

More on the JSTOR theft....JSTOR is abandoning the insecure method of IP authentication that made the theft possible, and that most other publishers of priced ejournals still prefer. It is turning to Shibboleth to authenticate users, a new method developed for the Internet2 consortium. Shibboleth uses a digital token stored in the user's browser. The tokens are sophisticated variations on cookies that take information from the university's directory server and tell the journal server what level of access is authorized.

Jason Krause writes in the March 6 issue of the ABA Journal that while the web is increasingly valuable for lawyers, it "has rarely supplanted Lexis, Westlaw or even print materials as a primary legal research tool." Krause's article is especially good at summarizing the free and priced services now available for legal research. (Thanks to LIS News.)

Thursday, March 20, 2003

The presentations from the conference, Death of the Book? Challenges and Opportunities for Scholarly Publishing (Sydney, March 7-8, 2003), are now online.

David Prosser of SPARC Europe has written a plan for converting traditional journals to open-access journals. It's based on the Thomas Walker idea reflected in the Florida Entomologist and the journals of the Entomological Society of America. Basically, a non-OA journal might decide to provide OA to individual articles when the author or author's sponsor could pay the journal's dissemination costs up front. The ratio of OA articles to non-OA articles from the same journal might start small and grow over time.

(PS: I like this plan very much. Prosser lists seven advantages, but here are a few that he doesn't mention. Over time the journal will gain experience in the process and economics of OA publishing. The transition to OA can be as slow or partial as the journal wants, and needn't be considered an all-or-nothing proposition. Every author who likes this idea can raise it with the journal of his or her choice, distributing the work of promoting OA to the authors who will benefit most. Finally, journals can experiment with OA before making any decision to go further. Their decision to experiment and their decision whether or not to go further will be rational business decisions made in their editorial offices far from the heated rhetoric of conferences. That's exactly how it should be put: a business proposition, not an insurgent action. I'd like to hear from authors who raise this possibility with journals.)

Another journal declares independence from Elsevier....Until this month, the European Economic Review was the official journal of the European Economic Association (EEA). Elsevier has published the journal since 1969, before the EEA adopted it. But over the years, the EEA grew increasingly unhappy with Elsevier's subscription price (now $950/year for libraries) and its requirement that the publisher, not the association, hire the journal's editors. So in 2001 the EEA started the process of declaring independence. This month MIT Press will launch the Journal of the European Economic Association. The new journal will have a much lower price ($325/year for libraries) and be owned by the EEA. For more details, see the new journal's page on its own history, the EEA's press release, or David Glenn's story in the March 21 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education (accessible only to CHE subscribers). For precedents, see my list of journal declarations of independence.

A while back Tara Calishain published a reader's question in ResearchBuzz: "I am interested in finding databases of searchable academic journal articles (unlimited by topic). Do any readers know of any such databases? Can be free or fee-based." Tara was deluged with replies, which she's collected online.

In the March 18 Chronicle of Higher Education, Andrea Foster reports the worries of some university administrators that the TEACH Act conflicts with the DMCA. The TEACH Act liberalizes copyright law for online education and the DMCA prohibits circumvention for any purpose. What are schools allowed to do when the material the TEACH Act lets them use is copy protected by its publisher?

The March issue of the Journal of Digital Information is devoted to "E-education".

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

More on patents to block free inquiry...In the March 10 issue of The Scientist, Ed Ergenzinger and Murray Spruill summarize the consequences of last year's holding in Madey v. Duke University (Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, October 2, 2002). You might know that "experimental use" is a defense against patent infringement. That's true. You might think that scientific experimentation in universities is covered by this rule. It isn't. The experimental use defense doesn't apply when the experiment serves the business interests of the alleged infringer. Since the business of universities is "educating and enlightening students and faculty" and securing "lucrative research grants", and scientific experimentation serves these goals, the experiments are not covered and patent-holders may sue for damages. Madey was the first case to apply this doctrine to universities.

In Madey, the alleged infringement was the unauthorized use of a patented laser in a scientific lab. But to see how the Madey doctrine can thwart even basic research into nature, without regard to the technologies of research, recall the application by Andras Pellionisz to patent any attempt "to count, measure and compare" the fractal properties of DNA introns (blogged to FOS News on 11/26/02).

Christina Dyrness profiles ibiblio, the University of North Carolina's venerable free online archive, in the March 12 issue of the Raleigh News & Observer. Did you know that it was launched in 1992 as the SunSite repository of public domain source code? Did you know that Eric Raymond managed the archive for a time? (Thanks to LIS News.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

The California Digital Library's eScholarship Repository has reached several major milestones. For example, it "recently reached 1,200 papers. Users have logged 60,000 full-text downloads of repository scholarship. Nearly 100 UC institutes, departments, research units and centers from nine UC campuses have joined the repository."

Jonathan Sallet, Just how open must an open network be for an open network to be labelled "open"? First Monday, March 2003. Part of the abstract: "This paper argues that the debate between "open" and "closed" networks has been insufficiently precise and, therefore, has failed to bring to policy makers' attention critical factors of decision. That is because the choice between "open" and "closed" networks is not binary; rather it consists of different policy bases operating from different perspectives on the network. Arguments for or against governmental opening of a network can be premised on a variety of disciplinary regimes that include, for example, engineering principles, economic theory, social philosophy and legal analysis. Often ignored is the plain fact that these disciplines do not always line up with each other. This will be critical to understand if in the future policy makers are asked to weigh claims of economic theory — say the need to encourage investment — against claims of social philosophy — say the value of free speech and experimentation."

The University of Toronto Internet Censorship Explorer (ICE) helps web surfers bypass national censorship filters. ICE works by scanning for open ports in other countries. When it finds one, it conscripts the foreign machine as a proxy server. Port-scanning is legal in the U.S. and Canada but illegal in many other countries and widely criticized as a deceptive path to the unethical end of resource theft. Is it worth it to help defeat net censorship?

In his February DisContent column for EContent, Walt Crawford argues the benefits of adding dialogue to professional writing, especially in online publications without firm size limitations. The example that inspired this line of thought arose from his comments on the BOAI FAQ in the October issue of his newsletter, Cites & Insights. I wrote a lengthy reply to his comments, which he reprinted verbatim in his November issue.

Monday, March 17, 2003

In the March issue of Information Today, Dick Kaser interviews Pieter Bolman about open-access initiatives. Bolman is vice-president and Director of STM Relations at Elsevier and former CEO of Pergamon and Academic Press. Kaser lobs some softballs, and Bolman hits them. A valuable window into what commercial publishers are thinking about the prospects of open access and how publishers have been misunderstood by researchers and librarians.

Version 2.0 of the Bath Profile has been released. The Bath Profile is "[a]n international Z39.50 specification for library applications and resource discovery."

Microsoft is building an interface for priced information services into Office 2003. Every application within Office 2003 will support XML and DRM, and include a new Research Task Pane offering access to participating information vendors. So far, Factiva, Gale, and eLibrary have signed up. Actual access will be limited to free services or those for which individual users have paid subscriptions. The feature is included in the Beta 2 edition of Office 2003 and is expected to stay in beta until November 30 of this year. (PS: Does anyone know of free services that plan to participate? How about free details on the API? Of course an app doesn't need DRM to offer a similar interface to open-access sources. Is anyone working on, say, a browser or editor plug-in for searching OAI-compliant archives?)

I just discovered a Barbara Quint story on the same feature in the March 17 Information Today. Quint gives more technical detail on the interface, quotes some vendor reassurances to libraries, discusses some risks to users (such as buying subscriptions to services already licensed by their institutions), and names more of the participating information vendors, including West's WestCiteLink, LexisNexis, ProQuest's XanEdu, and BridgeInSight.

Steve Lawrence's paper online or invisible has been referred to before in this blog. But its conclusion is so important that the paper is worth highlighting again:

"Articles freely available online are more highly cited. For greater impact and faster scientific progress, authors and publishers should aim to make research easy to access."

His paper concludes:
"Free online availability facilitates access in multiple ways, including online archives, direct connections between scientists or research groups, hassle-free links from email, discussion groups, and other services, indexing by web search engines, and the creation of third-party search services. Free online availability of scientific literature offers substantial benefits to science and society. To maximize impact, minimize redundancy, and speed scientific progress, author and publishers should aim to make research easy to access."

Chinese authorities have arrested Nanjing resident Zhang Yuxiang for posting articles to the internet. The content of his articles is unspecified. Others in Zhang's position have been sentenced to seven years in prison, and Zhang himself has served time for helping to create the Chinese Democratic Federation. Quoting Liu Qing, president of the New York-based Human Rights in China: "Zhang Yuxiang is just the latest example of the Chinese government's relentless suppression of free expression and free exchange of informatiom."

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Escalating the copyright rhetoric....On Thursday a group of copyright industry executives testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property. Joining them was John Malcolm, a deputy assistant attorney general, who offered this syllogism to the subcommittee. Much copyright infringement can be traced to organized crime. Organized crime syndicates engage in many kinds of wrongdoing, "including supporting terrorist activities". Therefore, "[a]ll components of the Justice Department...will do everything within their power to make sure that intellectual property piracy does not become a vehicle for financing or supporting acts of terror." (PS: There are two intersecting lines of hysteria here. First, every hot crime must be shoehorned into the category of terrorism in order to justify expanded surveillance and heightened sanctions. Second, copyright infringement must be inflated to the most serious offense that the public test of ridicule will allow. The analogy to pillaging ships worked for a while, but the Justice Department now perceives an opportunity for ratcheting up.)

In today's New York Times, Ed Regis reviews John Sulston and Georgina Ferry's new book, The Common Thread: A Story of Science, Politics, Ethics, and the Human Genome (The Joseph Henry Press, 2003). A big part of the "ethics" in the book's subtitle is the ethics of sharing scientific knowledge freely. Regis quoting Sulston: "Open access and early release [of data] mean that anyone in the worldwide biological community can use those data and turn them into biological understanding and ultimately into new inventions that can be patented. But the sequence itself in its raw form when publicly released becomes unpatentable.''