Welcome to the Free Online Scholarship (FOS) NewsletterNovember 26, 2001
I'll be attending an FOS conference in Budapest next week sponsored by the Open Society Institute. As a result, the next issue of the newsletter will appear after I return and catch up on my news-gathering.
Case study in freshman search syndrome
When you run a web search on a topic you don't know well, how can you tell when you get authentic information and when you get ideology, superstition, pseudo-science, or even parody? Sometimes you can't, especially if you're downloading pages in a language that isn't your native tongue, in a discipline you haven't mastered, from a culture with a very different sense of humor. Your first-year students aren't the only ones trapped in the cloud of unknowing. Meet al-Qaeda.
When reporters Anthony Loyd and John Simpson walked through the abandoned rooms of an al-Qaeda safe house in Kabul, they found half-burned documents showing that al-Qaeda had been trying to build a nuclear bomb. When they held some of the pages up to a BBC camera, the learned folks at _Daily Rotten_ recognized one as a copy of a 1979 spoof of bomb-building from the _Journal of Irreproducible Results_. One clue to the parody was the source, a humor journal that hosts the Ig Noble Prizes. Other clues were scattered through the article itself. It cites the previous month's column on building a time-machine. It instructs the reader to buy 50 pounds of weapons grade plutonium "at your local supplier" and those who don't have one should contact their "local terrorist organization, or perhaps the Junior Achievement in your neighborhood". The completed bomb makes "a great ice-breaker at parties". For next month's column it promises to teach "how to clone your neighbor's wife in six easy steps" with nothing but kitchen utensils.
Al-Qaeda didn't have sufficient understanding of physics, English, or geek humor to catch this piece in their filters. I would have thought that a native command of English and a good general education would be enough to catch the parody. But it isn't. Anthony Loyd was also taken in --or else this London Times reporter was playing dumb when he described the parody as abstruse and confusing. This small incident wouldn't be worth more than a sentence if it didn't illustrate a problem already common and likely to become more common as FOS and drek continue to grow in juxtaposition on the internet. Every search presupposes unpredictably many variables for discriminating judgment. Without antecedent knowledge, inquirers cannot reliably distinguish new knowledge from error or deception. As Socrates said to Meno: searching for truth is pointless if I'll either find what I already know or be unable to recognize it as truth when I stumble across it. (Plato, _Meno_, 80.d.)
Taliban Thwarted by Irreproducible Result
Farhad Manjoo, Osama's Nuclear Plans Half-Baked
Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), formerly the Journal of Irreproducible Results (JIR)
The 1979 bomb-parody story from JIR(The story is not archived at the JIR/AIR site, but was apparently rekeyed by this site, among many other sites.)
More on the relevance of what Socrates said in the _Meno_
* Postscript. Our new defense against terrorism: Misinformation naturally produced by a free people speaking freely.
* MathWorld is back online, after being forced off for more than a year by a lawsuit from CRC Press. MathWorld is a free online mathematical encyclopedia edited by Eric Weisstein. Weisstein has now put online a detailed, depressing, and eye-opening account of how CRC took unwanted control of his work. After Weisstein agreed to let CRC publish a "snapshot" of the continuously growing web site, it asked him to remove some content from the web in order to stimulate book sales, then dropped the book from its catalog, and finally sued him for copyright infringement. Contract language favoring CRC forced MathWorld to settle the suit. Bravo to Weisstein for publishing these backstory details online and to Wolfram Research for supporting free online access to MathWorld.
Eric Weisstein, What Happened to MathWorld
* DP9 is an open source gateway service that allows general search engines, like Google, to index OAI-compliant archives. It stands between the crawler and the archive, intercepts the crawler's requests, forwards them to the archive, and translates the archive's output from XML into HTML. This allows OAI archives hidden in the deep internet to be indexed by search engines that don't venture into the deep internet. DP9 was developed by Xiaoming Liu of the Old Dominion University DLib Group.
DP9 home page
Source code for downloading
* The Resource Discovery Network (RDN) has launched RDN-Include, which allows higher education sites to put the RDN search engine on their pages. Sites may use the RDN search engine for a specific discipline or the general RDN search engine. Users see RDN's hit list of hand-picked resources and the useful RDN annotations on each one. The service is free for UK education sites and may be licensed by others.
* Thanos Tzounopoulos, a Greek-born U.S. neuroscientist and Fulbright scholar was kicked off an Alaska Air plane before take-off when another passenger complained that he looked strange. He had been reading neuroscience papers, concentrating and puzzling over them, and occasionally looking off into space. (PS: The next thing you hear will be a knock on the door.)
* Questia is not as popular or profitable as its founders projected and has cut its workforce by 50%. Questia is a very expensive source of online texts and study aids aimed at college students (see FOSN for 7/31/01, 8/31/01, 10/26/01). (PS: I commend all those college students who saw through this attempt to exploit ignorance of less expensive online resources including those licensed by their own libraries. Nietzsche said, "Push what is falling.")
* Oxford University Press will put 100 "well-known and trusted dictionaries and reference books" online with a unified front end and search engine. It plans to launch in March 2002. The service will not be free.
* Students and faculty in economics, business, and finance now have free online access to the huge EDGAR database, for which others pay $100/year.
* The National Institue of Health, which operates the National Library of Medicine, has been looking a small browser for hand-held wireless platforms to help doctors take PubMed to the bedside on a PDA. It just awarded the contract to Gomid.com.
* The University of California libraries have received a Mellon grant to study how users respond when they have online access, and not print access, to selected journals.
* Other media are making much of the fact that the pope is distributing _Ecclesia in Oceania_ electronically as well as in print. But it's only a piece of email and so far the public has no access to it. The document apologizes for the sexual abuse of children by priests and for the exploitation of native peoples of the South Pacific by missionaries.
* ContentWire reports that ViewSum has launched a desktop version of its text summary software. Text summary software, like taxonomy software (see FOSN for 11/2/01), was developed for busy executives but has natural applications to research. ViewSum will summarize a text in as many words as the user chooses. If you have the text in electronic form, then you simply drag it to the ViewSum icon, or right click and select the ViewSum option. Imagine turning your "must read" pile from 100 articles to 100 paragraphs. If you can trust the summaries, then you can use them to decide which articles need a full and careful read. When this kind of software becomes trustworthy, it will be one of the most useful fruits of AI. I'd love to test ViewSum, but unfortunately the company home page does nothing to help prospective buyers or testers put their hands on a copy. Instead of running this story last week, I wrote the company to find out how to buy or test its software. So far I've received no answer.
New on the net
* _Best of Science_ is a new free online peer-reviewed science journal covering nearly all scientific disciplines. It recoups the costs of online publication through fund-raising and author fees, which it reduces for authors from developing countries. This is welcome but standard fare. More remarkable is the pro-FOS statement of principles inspiring it, issued jointly by the ICSU (International Council for Science) and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
Best of Science
ICSU-UNESCO statement of principles on electronic publishing in science
* The Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity has released free, downloadable software tools to create and query scientific data stored in its national network of XML documents.
* The papers presented at the November 9-11 conference on the public domain at Duke Law School are now online. (PS: Nice touch: For the PDF files, it recommends Ghostscript, the open source PDF viewer, over Adobe Acrobat.) About half the papers have a strong connection to FOS.
* A revised and updated second edition of the handbook, _Licensing Digital Resources: How to Avoid the Legal Pitfalls_, is now online. It is produced by the Central and Eastern European Licensing Information Platform (CELIP).
* Springer-Verlag's Landolt-Boernstein, a 290 volume database on chemistry, physics, and technology, will be available in its entirety on the web after its launch on December 4. Only the volumes up to 1990 will be free.
* Bookmark this useful chart to refresh your memory on when works of different vintage pass into the public domain. Thanks to the University of North Carolina's Task Force on Intellectual Property.
* The four major papers from the 2001 SLA conference on electronic journals have now been put online.
* Walt Crawford has put online the index to volume 1 (2001) of his newsletter, _Cites & Insights_.
* Cisco Systems has put online the results of its unique poll of Nobel laureates. The prize winners still active in research use the internet, and those whose research careers are largely behind them say they wish it had existed earlier. (Their median age is 72.) 67% said it would have enabled them to do their research more quickly, and 91% said that it will accelerate their current research. 87% said it will improve education. 91% said it will enlarge educational opportunities. 93% said it will give students greater access to libraries, information, and teachers around the world. 95% said it will help scholars disseminate their work.
Share your thoughts
* The Electronic Literature Institute (ELI) seeks your nominations for this year's Independent e-Book Awards. Generally these awards are for commercial ebooks, although some of the non-fiction categories (computer, ecology, history, reference) might accommodate scholarly ebooks. ELI will accept nominations until November 30.
* Syracuse University's School of Information Studies wants your nominations for its second annual 21st Century Librarian Award. Librarians working toward FOS will satisfy several of the criteria listed on the award web site. Nominations are due by February 8, 2002.
* FacultyOnline will pay for every book review "submitted and approved" by January 1. If you review a book marked as "key", you get $10; reviews of other books bring $5. FacultyOnline maintains a free online database of textbook reviews to help faculty pick books for class.
* Joseph Pelton, Research Professor at George Washington University and Director of the Arthur Clarke Institute, claims that the volume of the world's information is growing 200,000 times faster than the world's population. If true, then (to quote Bonita Wilson's summary of Pelton's talk), "the only certainty is that the way we deal with information must and will fundamentally change."
In other publications
* In the November 26 _Law.com_, Larry Keller reports on the state of Florida's attempt to balance the public's right of access to court records with the privacy of those involved in lawsuits. A judicial panel has decided to limit access to certain records, but as one judge admits, "There's no easy answer." The judges are also worried that "the chilling effect of reduced practical obscurity" (great phrase) will make witnesses and jurors less willing to participate in legal proceedings.
* In the November 21 _Los Angeles Times_, D. Ian Hopper points out an under-reported implication of recent counter-terrorist legislation. The U.S. now claims jurisdiction over all internet content that travels on U.S. wires, and it turns out that 80% of all internet nodes in Asia, Africa, and South America receive their traffic routed through a U.S. city. So the new U.S. definition of terroristic computer acts, which can include some rights-preserving hacks and online scholarship on sensitive subjects (see FOSN for 9/28/01), essentially applies to most of the world, not just to U.S. citizens. The U.S. could demand the extradition of foreign nationals working in their own countries and try them under U.S. law. Quoting Mark Rasch, from Predictive Systems, a computer security firm: "It's a massive expansion of U.S. sovereignty." Quoting David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center: "It was enacted under the guise of counterterrorism, but it is in fact applicable to all types of crimes."
* In the November 20 _Wired_, M.J. Rose brings us up to date on the recent expansion of ebrary, the sale of netLibrary, and the merger of Bookspan and Booksonline.
* In a November 19 report for _Hastings Research_, Nicholas Carroll argues for an "anti-thesaurus" allowing a site author to tweak its metadata in order to decrease its relevance for certain search terms. For example, I could use it to decrease the relevance of the FOS home page for "scholarships" and "financial aid". (PS: Neat idea. Why turn away visitors, even if they're visiting in error? The same reason we put up free content: to be helpful.)
* In the November 18 _Los Angeles Times_, Eric Lichtblau gives a good overview of the deletion of scientific information from government web sites, the extent of the deletions, and the debate about its necessity. One new nugget: the government has asked federal depository libraries to destroy CD's containing information it now regards as high-risk.
While law-abiding federal depository libraries are destroying high-risk information, Timothy Tobiason is selling a book at gun shows telling anyone with $10 how to make biological weapons that can destroy cities.
* The November issue of _D-Lib_, has a large number of FOS-related articles:
Lee Zia on the current state of the NSF's National Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education Digital Library (NSDL) Program.
Linda Pearce on what the University of Calgary learned from developing electronic reserves.
Jola Prinsen summarizing the sixth International Summer School on the Digital Library (August 5-10, Tilburg, the Netherlands).
Dale Peters on an open source model for digital library development in South Africa.
Betty Neuwenburg on joint project of IBM and the national library of the Netherlands to solve the problem of long-term preservation and access for ejournals.
William Moen on the Z39.50 Interoperability Testbed (Zinterop) with an invitation to libraries to participate (see FOSN for 11/2/01).
Anjlee Bhatt and Pete Dalton on eVALUEd, an evaluation model for digital libraries.
Polly Christie on the UK's Visual Arts Data Service, its plan for a National Fine Art Digital Collection, and how to curate a distributed collection.
Maggie Hite on the World Library Partnership's search for volunteers to help libraries in South Africa and Honduras make the exploding world of information accessible to their local communities. It looks like a librarian's Peace Corps.
* In the October issue of _Information Research_, Donald Hawkins describes a bibliometric study of the ejournals for the field of information science.
* In the same issue of _Information Research_ Kira Tarapanoff and three co-authors describe an experimental use of data mining for scholarly research. They mined a database of French doctoral theses for knowledge about Brazil.
* In a September 18 column for _eBookWeb_, Sam Vaknin writes a brief history of the book, with intriguing parallels to the rise of electronic media. Soon after moveable-type books appeared, there was a period of intense competition, inconsistent content, rapid innovation, flagrant piracy, and criticism of the new medium as a threat to culture by the monasteries that controlled the old medium.
* In the Fall 2001 issue of _Processed World_, Howard Besser documents "the attack on public access to culture" and the erosion of the three most important rights that copyright law originally reserved for the public: the public domain, fair use, and first sale. "We need to stop the fencing off of our information commons and seize it back as a public space."
* In the Fall 2001 _Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship_ Kathy Fescemyer describes the six wishes of a public service librarian. Here's what we face: "I ask students, if information is valuable, will it be given away on the web for free? Very rarely is complex, sophisticated information freely available."
* In a November 1 article in _Library Journal_, Priscilla Caplan shows why reference linking (linking between citations and sources) is more complex than it may appear, and describes the role of DOI's and the efforts of CrossRef and SFX in working out a solution. She does not mention jake or OpCit, the more open solutions to this problem.
* In an October 1 article in _Library Journal_, Carol Tenopir collects usage data on the major scholarly databases. Which are the most used and how have their relative positions changed over the past decade?
* In a recent but undated story for _CNN_, Todd Weiss gives a brief look at the role of (corporate) archivists in the digital age.
* In a recent but undated issue of _Shift_, Christopher Shulgan interviews Douglas Rushkoff on _Exit Strategy_, his new "open source novel", to which readers can add footnotes. Quoting Rushkoff: "I really believe that top-down, sole authorship is not going to be as interesting, or as relevant, as something that's community-authored."
* How can you explain to students and colleagues when a search engine is better than a directory? Try pointing them to this funny, undated piece from a recent issue of _The Onion_. Quoting its fictional hero, Larry Wisniewski: "Last week, we had a houseguest who was wondering if there were any Jesuit colleges in Ohio. All I had to do was open up my AOL software, enter my password, point the browser to www.yahoo.com, and click on Society & Culture, followed by Religion & Spirituality. From there, I had only to click Faiths & Practices, then Christianity, then Denominations & Sects, and then Catholic. Then I simply clicked on Orders, Jesuits, Colleges & Universities, Ohio, and boom, right there in front of me are Xavier University in Cincinnati and John Carroll University in Cleveland."
* SafeWeb is pulling the plug on its free privacy service, though it may return later with a paid version. SafeWeb was an award-winning service to give users access to web sites that their government, employer, or school wanted to block (see FOSN for 9/21/01). It was one of the most effective technologies to create anonymous and safe access to the web in countries or other environments where viewing certain sites was punishable. SafeWeb had funding from the CIA.
Elinor Mills Abreu, CIA-Backed Web Privacy Firm Closes Service
* SafeWeb (see previous item) was much used and very successful in Saudi Arabia. I can't help but notice the juxtaposition of SafeWeb's demise and Jennifer Lee's story in the New York Times that 11 companies are competing intensely for a lucrative Saudi government contract to block Saudi citizens from viewing certain religious, political, and pornographic sites. The site-blocking companies know they are being hired to censor and have various rationalizations for their line of work. Quoting Matthew Holt of Secure Computing: "Once we sell them the product, we can't enforce how they use it."
* In several past issues, I've supported the idea of book and article summaries as a service to help scholars stay up to date and save time. So I was sorry to read that a Japanese court has ordered Kometto Hanta, a bookstore in the Fukui Prefecture, to stop posting book summaries to its web site. I can't tell whether the books summarized were fiction or non-fiction. The problem here seems to have been the length of the summaries (up to 4,000 characters), not their free accessibility or mere existence.
* In the last issue I included a link to a discussion thread in the Electronic Resources in Libraries (ERIL) list in which librarians were airing their complaints about EBSCO Online. Unfortunately the link only works for ERIL subscribers and and ERIL does not accept non-academics as subscribers.
* Amy Smithson has responded to press coverage of her Congressional testimony on forcing certain web sites to remove information, including some scientific information, that might be useful to terrorists (see FOSN for 11/16/01). Quoting her: "I thoroughly respect and advocate the public's right to know of the industrial dangers in their communities..." but citizens should get this information in F2F meetings with local chemical plants and emergency planning committees, not from print publications or the web. (PS: Again we face the question of excessive accessibility for information that all agree should be available to the public; see the item on "practical obscurity" above, and FOSN for 10/12/01. FOS drags the slider to the max; Smithson drags it to the opposite extreme. When a statute requires that certain information be made public, must it specify the degree of difficulty?)
Catching up (old news I should have discovered earlier)
* Tom Wilson maintains a large index of free online sources of information and research for the fields of information management, information science, and information systems. It's one of the best disciplinary guides to FOS that I've seen.
BTW, he only disciplinary guide to FOS I've seen that is comparable to Wilson's in scope is Bernd Sebastian Kamps' Free Medical Journals. If you know other exemplary disciplinary guides to FOS, please let me know about them.
* In July, the Computing Research Association put online its Best Practices Memo on how to resolve the conflicts between academic computing research and the commercial possibilities and entanglements which often accompany it.
* Wilfrid Hodges has written a wonderfully detailed and helpful online checklist for mathematicians deciding what contract terms to request, or to accept, from a publisher. The checklist was approved and recommended by the International Mathematical Union's Committee on Electronic Information and Communication. Though aimed at mathematicians, Hodge's checklist and advice apply to all academic authors.
* MemoWare collects free online texts readable on PDAs. It now has more 10,000 texts, organized into fiction and many kinds of "reference" (e.g. engineering, history, law, math and science). You can't preview the files unless you have a PDA or a PDA reader (Palm, EPOC, or PPC) on your desktop, but I suppose this no drawback for the intended users of the service. You can search the collection by keyword, subject, file format, platform, or language. (PS: If all FOS were available in PDA formats, then the revolution would spread beyond research to classroom teaching. Imagine assigning electronic texts knowing that students would have electronic access to them in class; see the Benjamin Ray story in FOSN for 5/18/01.)
If you plan to attend one of the following conferences, please share your observations with us through our discussion forum.
* Eighth Call for Proposals of the European IST ProgrammeLondon, November 27
* European Forum on Harmful and Illegal Cyber ContentStrasbourg, November 28
* Canadian Digital Library SymposiumToronto, November 28-29
* Debate between Lawrence Lessig and Jack Valenti on the impact of intellectual property rights on innovation and creativityLos Angeles, November 29(There will be a live webcast for those who cannot attend.)
* Fall 2001 CNI Task Force MeetingSan Antonio, November 29-30
* eGovernment [in Europe]: From Policy to PracticeBrussels, November 29-30
* Digital Media Revolution in the AmericasPasadena, November 29 - December 1
* Fourth SCHEMAS Workshop: Sharing [metadata] schemasThe Hague, November 30
* 2001 IST Exhibition and AwardsDüsseldorf, December 3
* School for Scanning: Creating, Managing, and Preserving Digital AssetsDelray Beach, Florida, December 3-5
* Developing Digital Collections: Why, What, Who, How?Southborough, Massachusetts, December 4
* Online Information 2001London, December 4-6
* Second Meeting of the Centre for Educational Technology Interoperability Standards (CETIS) Educational Content Special Interest Group (EC SIG)Luton, December 7
* The Electronic Library: Strategic, Policy and Management IssuesLoughborough, December 9-14
* 4th International Conference of Asian Digital LibrariesBangalore, December 10-12
* Moving Beyond the Catalog: Bibliographic Access in a Web WorldWorcester, Massachusetts, December 11
* Academic Institutions Transforming Scholarly Communications (SPARC/ARL Forum at the ALA Midwinter Meeting)New Orleans, January 18-23
The Free Online Scholarship Newsletter is supported by a grant from the Open Society Institute.
This is the Free Online Scholarship Newsletter (ISSN 1535-7848).
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Copyright (c) 2001, Peter Suber