Welcome to the Free Online Scholarship Newsletter
     August 23, 2001

Introducing the Guide to the FOS Movement

I'm very pleased to announce that I've finished the first draft of my Guide to the FOS Movement.  This is a guide to the terminology, acronyms, initiatives, standards, technologies, and players in the movement to publish scholarly literature on the internet and make it available to readers free of charge.

Now that it's online, I can revise, enlarge, and update it, which will be much easier than writing the present draft.  I welcome your suggestions.  I have about 30 entries waiting to include, but don't hesitate to report omissions.  I also welcome corrections and comments of any kind.

The guide has many purposes.  It should help you find background on unexplained terms or names you encounter in research on any FOS-related topic.  For the same reason, it will allow me to use terms and names here in the newsletter without explaining each one every time.  Above all, it should make it easier for specialists from one sector (e.g. research, libraries, publishing) to understand the contributions to this movement made by specialists from other sectors. This movement isn't only multi-disciplinary, encompassing all the academic disciplines, but also multi-industrial, drawing on libraries and universities and such varied economic sectors beyond the academy as publishing, telecommunications, software engineering, philanthropy, and government. It is also multi-national, building on the work of individuals and organizations from around the world. Without special study one cannot appreciate the contributions of all these players to the FOS movement. I hope the guide brings recognition to the contributors and understanding to those hoping to see the big picture.

Guide to the FOS Movement


The Ellen Roche story

Ellen Roche was a healthy 24 year old lab technician at the Johns Hopkins (JH) Asthma Center.  She volunteered to take part in an experiment to understand the natural defenses of healthy people against asthma.  Roche was part of a group that inhaled hexamethonium, a drug which induced a mild asthma attack.  Physicians stood by in case of complications and to measure how the subjects responded to the asthma attack.  Within 24 hours of inhaling the drug, Roche had lost one-third of her lung capacity.  Within a month she was dead.

The consent form she signed warned of coughing, dizziness, and tightness in the chest, but not death.  It called hexamethonium a "medication" although its approval by the FDA (as a treatment for high blood pressure) had been withdrawn in 1972.

Here's the FOS connection:  Dr. Alkis Togias, the director of the experiment, apparently limited his hexamethonium research to one contemporary textbook and PubMed.

The use of hexamethonium in the 1950's to treat high blood pressure created an evidentiary trail revealing some disturbing risks.  Several articles published in print journals during the 1950's showed that hexamethonium could cause fatal lung inflammation.  Unfortunately, PubMed's coverage starts in the mid-1960's.  When the FDA withdrew its approval of hexamethonium in 1972, it cited the drug's "substantial potential toxicity".  Unfortunately, PubMed covers medical research, not FDA rulings.

The JH internal investigation found literature on the dangers of hexamethonium in Google and Yahoo.  Medical librarians who subscribe to the MedLib listserv found relevant information in online sources other than PubMed.

At least one expert witness has already zeroed in on the sloppiness of the research.  Quoting Dr. Frederick Wolff, professor emeritus at the George Washington School of Medicine:  "This is just laziness.  What happened is not just an indictment of one researcher, but of a system in which people don't bother to research the literature anymore."

Ellen Roche died on June 2, and the Roche family has apparently not yet filed a lawsuit.  However, JH still faced a serious sanction.  On July 19 the federal Office for Human Research Protection (OHRP) suspended all JH research on human subjects.  This halted 2,400+ ongoing experiments with 15,000+ human subjects.  The disruption was administratively chaotic, devastating to research, and potentially grave for patients participating in experiments who suddenly found their medication withheld.  Perhaps for this reason the OHRP lifted the suspension three days later, though with the requirement that experiments meet new safeguards.

What does this case imply about PubMed and FOS generally in high-stakes research?  See the next item below for some comments.

Eva Perkins, Johns Hopkins' Tragedy:  Could Librarians Have Prevented a Death?

Report of FDA investigation

Report of Johns Hopkins internal investigation

MedLib listserv postings on searching online for hexamethonium risks


In writing this report, I also relied on these stories from the Baltimore Sun:
6/17/01, http://www.baltimoresun.com/features/health/sns-health-testingdeath.story
6/23/01, http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/health/bal-panel.story
7/3/01, http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/health/bal-fdastory.story
7/8/01, http://www.baltimoresun.com/bal-te.hopkins08jul08.story
7/17/01, http://www.baltimoresun.com/bal-te.md.hopkins17jul17.story
7/20/01, http://www.baltimoresun.com/bal-te.hopkins20jul20.story
7/21/01, http://www.baltimoresun.com/bal-te.md.hopkins21jul21.story
7/24/01, http://www.baltimoresun.com/bal-te.md.hopkins24jul24.story
8/12/01, http://www.baltimoresun.com/bal-te.md.experiments12aug12.story

[Thanks to Denise A. Troll for bringing this case to my attention.]

* Postscript.  JH is not out of the woods yet on the ethics of experimenting on human subjects.  The Maryland Court of Appeals has just ruled that JH researchers violated informed consent rules when they deliberately exposed healthy children from low-income families to lead.  The result was a measurable increase in the level of lead in their blood.  The experiment was approved before the Roche case erupted, but the court ruling was delivered only last week.

Dan Curry, State Court Denounces Johns Hopkins-Approved Study That Exposed Children to Lead Dust

Maryland Court of Appeals decision (August 16, 2001)


Comments on the Ellen Roche story

PubMed is a premier example of FOS, a contender for FOS at its best.  So does the Ellen Roche case prove that FOS is inadequate, even hazardous?  How just is this interpretation?  What are the lessons of this case for FOS?  Please post your thoughts to our discussion forum.  Meantime, let me exercise my privilege as editor and offer a first take on this.

We should be careful in drawing lessons from this case.  It's not true that limiting a search to *online* sources would hide the dangers of hexamethonium.  We know this because the medical librarians on the MedLib listserv found the relevant information in online sources.  Nor is it true that limiting a search to *free online* sources (like PubMed) would hide the dangers of hexamethonium.  We know this because the JH internal investigators turned up articles on these dangers from Google and Yahoo searches.  Today, free online sources may be a feeble subset of online sources, which are in turn a feeble subset of published research.  But apparently even free online sources were adequate to ground good care in this case, if diligently consulted.  However, this does not vindicate FOS.  Even if free online sources turn out to be adequate in this case, there is clearly a large number of other cases where it will not yet be adequate.

If there is a problem with free online sources here, it is that they are not sufficiently connected (or in the industry jargon, "interoperable") with other sources, so that Dr. Togias' search on PubMed did not bring up results buried in other collections.  As long as this is true, then researchers will have an obligation, especially in high-stakes research, to run parallel searches on multiple collections.  In the meantime, architects of the free online scholarship system of the future are already at work on metadata standards that make interoperability and cross-archive searching commonplace and transparent.  Moreover, others are hard at work on the retroactive digitization of selected bodies of print literature.  In short, we're already on the right track to make FOS nearly as adequate as the general body of published literature, and more adequate insofar as electronic sources can generate answers more quickly than print resources.

How can we answer the objection that the Roche case proves the inadequacy, even the hazards, of free online scholarship?  First I'd point out the evidence (above) that free online sources contained the relevant information in this case.  Second, I'd admit that we are in a transition period in which there is significantly less literature online than in print, and less free than priced.  The ratio of FOS to published literature (an approximate measure of adequacy) changes from discipline to discipline and from day to day.  But we can't pretend that the corpus of FOS is as adequate as the corpus of all published scholarship when, on the contrary, it's a mere subset.  Third, I'd admit that we are likely to be in this transition period for a long time.  Fourth, I'd urge researchers to draw the conclusion that relevant information may exist without being online, let alone free and online.  When easy searches fail, we do not have a bona fide negative result from which we can draw scientific conclusions.  Instead we must spend the time and calories to undertake a more arduous search.  Fifth, I'd wonder out loud whether there is a good scientist anywhere who didn't already know this.

Finally, I'd point out that part of the underlying problem here is that FOS is compellingly attractive.  It is only hazardous because it tempts busy people to rely on it to the exclusion of other research methods.  What makes it tempting is not false advertising but spectacular convenience.  This is not a hazard of FOS, then, but of unresisted temptation.

Another variable here is that researchers often work under deadlines, pressures, and expectations that jack up the temptation to take short-cuts.  The problem is still unresisted temptation.  But we don't have to conclude that Dr. Togias didn't know how to do good research.  He might have been too busy to use the research methods he knew were more reliable and comprehensive.  I doubt that many scientists would be willing to throw the first stone here.

If FOS is spectacularly convenient, but not yet adequate, then it may be hazardous to put before people who don't understand its inadequacy or whose will has been weakened by various pressures.  But the same is true of potato chips and money.  If the problem is that FOS is available for use before it is adequate, then the real objection is to stepwise progress.  Which is better, to make FOS repositories available as they are ready, and let them grow and interconnect in real time, or to hold them back until the network of such repositories encompasses all published literature?  Serious scientists would be the first to object to the latter plan.  Running a close second would be people with debilitating medical conditions anxious for research breakthroughs.

Let's admit that we're in a transition period.  FOS is large and growing, but still small and inadequate compared to the domain of extant published literature.  To misunderstand this is like believing that every house can be reached by a superhighway.  Some houses can't even be reached by a paved road.

Let's also admit that PubMed doesn't pretend to be more than it is.  Its scope does not go back to the 1950's or extend to the rulings of federal administrative agencies.  What it does, it does very well, giving users free access to a searchable medical bibliography with over 11 million citations and abstracts.  For 18 months, it has been supplemented by PubMed Central, which provides free online access to a growing number of full-text articles.  If it appears to a researcher through a veil of illusion, the illusion of sufficiency, then it is the researcher's illusion.  The same is true of a print library.

You've probably heard the joke about the person searching for a contact lens on the sidewalk under a street light.  "Did you lose your lens here?"  "No, but this is where the light is."  Dr. Togias, and the JH board which reviewed and approved his experiment, committed the Street Light Fallacy.  Once we admit that we're in a transition period, then we must take the responsibility to avoid the Street Light Fallacy in our own research, and teach our students to avoid it in theirs.  FOS is growing toward adequacy in every discipline, at different rates, but is probably not adequate in any discipline today.  We can advance this cause best by working to make it more adequate without inviting others to presume its present adequacy.  Convenience and adequacy are independent variables.  This is not esoteric.  It's a lesson we learned long ago from McDonald's.

FOS discussion forum
(Anyone may read; only subscribers may post; subscription is free.)



* The first worm to infect PDF files has emerged. Called "Peachy", it is carried by PDF files sent as email attachments, not (yet) by PDF files downloaded from document archives.  PDF is a common format for ebooks, white papers, and other forms of online scholarship.

* Envisional is a British company in the anti-piracy business.  As part of its research it has discovered that more than 7,500 full-length copyrighted books are available for free on the internet, without the permission of the copyright holders.  This could be true, but I'm not sure how Envisional knows it.  (I've put one of my copyrighted books online and was never queried about my permission by researchers or software.)  But if you believe the claim, you might hire the company.  See the next item, below.

* Envisional and Exelum have developed copyright enforcement software.  When rights holders set it to find their intellectual property and sic it on the web, it searches for copies that may be unauthorized, notifies the rights holder, and sends a "cease and desist" email to the site maintainer, all automatically.  I hope it's more intelligent than the spammers who think I've expressed an interest in their product.


New on the web

* ChemWeb has launched the Chemistry Preprint Server (CPS).  Not only are the preprints online and free, each has an associated discussion forum.  CPS plans to be OAI-compliant within the next two months.

* Since March, the developers of eprint software (for creating OAI-compliant archives) have been conducting a survey of users and non-users.  The preliminary results of the survey are now online.
(This link worked three days ago, but now directs users to a second link, which is dead.  I leave it as is for now, in case it is fixed before I can publish a correction in an upcoming issue.)

* R2 Consulting has created a fascinating and useful dynamic map of ebook business models.  Each genus branches into many species, each in a color-coded box.  Click on a box and it moves to the center, pivoting the rest of the map.  Double-click on a box and the page to which it points opens in a separate window.  An enjoyable way to explore a landscape you might have thought too dull to explore.
(Thanks for Sam Vaknin for bringing this to my attention.)

* The JISC Charging Working Group has posted its final report with recommendations on charging for electronic information.  This report covers datasets; another working group is studying the charging policy for journals.

* (This is old news that I didn't discover until now.)  A free current awareness service allows you to run searches on PubMed and GenBank, store them, have them repeated daily, and see new search hits either on a custom-built web page or by email.  The service is called PubCrawler.  This is the way to do current awareness.


Share your thoughts

* The Library of Congress wants your comments on its draft action plan, Bibliographic Control of Web Resources.  The plan has six goals:  "1 increased availability of standard records for Web resources; 2 enhanced record display and access across multiple systems; 3 collaboration among metadata standards communities for better bibliographic control of Web resources; 4 development of automated tools for harvesting and maintaining metadata; 5 provision of appropriate training for the Web environment; and 6 support of research and development to enhance bibliographic control of Web resources."  The LOC will accept comments until September 1.

* The Text Encoding Initiative wants your comments on its draft version 4 of the Guidelines for Electronic Text Encoding and Interchange.  It will accept comments until mid-September.

Solicitation of comments

Draft Guidelines

* The developers of the eprints software want your comments on an alpha release of version 2, now online.  The development team knows that this version is unstable and isn't ready for bug reports yet, but would like feedback on the interface and design.


In other publications

* In the July/August issue of the _Educause Review_, Michael Looney and Mark Sheehan have a substantial primer on ebooks.  It covers reading technologies, usage limitations and security, dynamism (revisability), and the usefulness of ebooks for teaching and learning.

* In the 2001 issue of _The Craft_, William Bostock contends that electronic journals do not have weight or impact of print journals because of concerns about their quality, visibility, and continuity.  He argues that all these concerns can be answered in time, and when they are fully answered the electronic journal will be the premier vehicle of scholarly publication.

* Peter Haddad, Director of the Technical Services Branch of the National Library of Australia, wonders whether global, digital knowledge is a blessing or a threat to libraries.  The answer, he argues, is up to libraries.  The paper he delivered at a July 23 conference in Brunei has now been posted to the web.



If you plan to attend one of the following conferences, please share your observations with us through our discussion forum.

* The Fundamentals of Digital Projects (Illinois Digitization Workshop)
Urbana, Illinois, August 28 and September 20

* The International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting http://www.archimuse.com/ichim2001/index.html
Milan, September 3-7

* 5th European Conference on Research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries
Darmstadt, September 4-8

* DELOS Workshop on Interoperability in Digital Libraries
Darmstadt, September 8-9

* Experimental OAI Based Digital Library Systems
Darmstadt, September 8

* Preserving Online Content for Future Generations
Darmstadt, September 8

* International Autumn School on the Digital Library and E-publishing for Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics
Geneva, September 9-14

* Digital Libraries:  Advanced Methods and Technologies, Digital Collections
Petrozavodsk, September 11-13

* Intellectual Property and Multimedia in the Digital Age:  Copyright Town Meeting
New York, September 24; Cincinnati, October 27; Eugene, Oregon, November 19

* Digital Resources for Research in the Humanities
Sydney, September 26-28

* EBLIDA Workshop on the Acquisition and Usage of Electronic Resources
The Hague, September 28

* Summer School on the Digital Library 2001:  Electronic Publishing
Florence, October 7-12

* IT in the Transformation of the Library
Milwaukee, October 11-14

* International Conference on Dublin Core and Metadata Applications 2001
Tokyo, October 22-26

* Information in a Networked World:  Harnessing the Flow
Washington D.C., November 2-8

* Electronic Book 2001:  Authors, Applications, and Accessibility
Washington D.C., November 5-7


This is the Free Online Scholarship Newsletter (ISSN 1535-7848).

Please feel free to forward this newsletter to interested colleagues.  If you are reading a forwarded copy of this issue, you may subscribe yourself by signing up at the FOS home page or the FOS Newsletter page.

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Guide to the FOS Movement

Peter Suber

Copyright (c) 2001, Peter Suber

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