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{Saturday, November 01, 2003}

breaking open the head

Information wants to be valuable by Tim O'Reilly
"Information doesn't want to be free. Information wants to be valuable." I first heard this gem from Larry Wall, creator of the Perl programming language. Like many other open-source software authors, from Linus Torvalds, creator of Linux, to Tim Berners-Lee and his spiritual descendants at the Apache web server project, Larry discovered that one way to make his information (i.e., his software) more valuable was to make it free. Larry was thus able to increase its utility not only for himself (because others who took it up made changes and enhancements that he could use), but for everyone else who uses it, because as software becomes more ubiquitous it can be taken for granted as a foundation for further work. The Internet (based on freely available software including TCP/IP, BIND, Apache, Sendmail and so on) demonstrates clearly just how much value can be created by the distribution of freely available software.
Nonetheless, it is also clear that others, Bill Gates being the paramount example, have found that the best way to make their information valuable is to restrict access to it. No-one can question that Microsoft has created enormous value for itself and its shareholders, and even its critics should admit that Microsoft has been a key enabler of the ubiquitous personal computing on which so much of our modern business world depends.
What many people fail to realize is that both Larry Wall and Bill Gates have a great deal in common: as the creators (albeit with a host of co-contributors) of a body of intellectual work, they have made strategic decisions about how best to maximize its value. History has proven that each of their strategies can work. The question, then, is one of goals, and of the strategies to reach those goals. The question for publishers and other middlemen who are not themselves the creators of the content they distribute, is how best to serve those goals. Information wants to be valuable. Publishers must focus on increasing the value, both to its producers and to its consumers, of the information they aggregate and distribute.

Free consciousness articles
And how to find them on the Web

The Budapest Open Access Initiative arises from a small but lively meeting convened in Budapest by the Open Society Institute (OSI) on December 1-2, 2001. The purpose of the meeting was to accelerate progress in the international effort to make research articles in all academic fields freely available on the internet.

Franck Ramus - Freeing the scientific literature
Scientific journals are getting more and more expensive, to the point that libraries have to dramatically restrict the range of journals to which they subscribe. As a result, many scientists have trouble accessing articles that are important to their research.

Thomas J. Walker - Free Internet Access to Traditional Journals
"In 1665, the Royal Society of London published the first issue of the first scientific journal. The journal's purpose was to disseminate the results of members' research, allowing scientists to reach a wider audience than they would by exchanging private letters. Journals soon became a means of establishing priority for new discoveries, were accepted as the permanent record of research and were archived by libraries. Peer review of all or most articles was instituted as a means of screening and improving what was published. Citations to earlier articles provided a way to weave previous research into the fabric of the new."

The Guardian - Publishing progress
"Backed by Nobel prize winners and a respected US charity, "open access" aims to overturn three centuries of publishing tradition. This alternative has arrived just in time - as even well-financed university libraries are finding it difficult to stock the full range of scientific journals, thanks to annual subscriptions which now carry a price tag of as much as �15,000. But for the new publishing model to work, two things have to change: one is to do with mindset; the other with money. First, scientists must start using the online journals rather than established outlets for important new bits of research. Second, the way of funding the process of peer review, which ensures scientists can trust what they read, must be redesigned."

New Scientist - Free online journal gives sneak preview
Kurt Kleiner writes: "Some journals already make their contents available for free on the web. But scientists often compete to publish in the most prestigious journals - the kudos gained is valuable in advancing careers and winning grants.
So PLoS wants to convince scientists its journals belong in the top league. With a $9 million, five-year grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and a team of editors who previously worked on Cell and Nature, PLoS may have the initial resources to do it."

Scientists take on the publishers in an experiment to make research free to all
New academics' journal launched in challenge to multinationals
David Adam writes: "While PLoS Biology is not the first open access scientific journal, it is the most high-profile and best supported so far, and, crucially, it is financed by a grant of several million dollars from an American charitable foundation. It is probably also the first science journal to advertise on US peak-time television."

The BBC Creative Archive: what the Internet was invented for
Hangingday :: Journal :: Alan Connor

Wired 11.09: MIT Everyware by David Diamond
Lam Vi Quoc negotiates his scooter through Ho Chi Minh City's relentless stream of pedal traffic and hangs a right down a crowded alley. He climbs the steep wooden stairs of the tiny house he shares with nine family members, passing by his mother, who is stooped on the floor of the second level preparing lunch. He ascends another set of even steeper steps to the third level and settles on a stool at a small desk, pushing aside the rolled-up mat he sleeps on with one of his brothers. To the smell of a chicken roasting on a grill in the alley and the clang of the next-door neighbor's metalworking operation, Lam turns on his Pentium 4 PC, and soon the screen displays Lecture 2 of Laboratory in Software Engineering, a course taught each semester on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Here," he says, pointing at the screen. "This is where I got the idea to use decoupling as a way of integrating two programs."

Lisa Guernsey - 'Digging for Nuggets of Wisdom'
(Excerpt from The New York Times, 16 October 2003)
"The best-known anecdote about text mining involves Don R. Swanson, a professor emeritus of information science at the University of Chicago who in the 1980's decided to take a deep look at medical literature on migraines. Starting only with the word "migraine," he downloaded abstracts from 2,500 articles from Medline and looked closely at the titles. When certain concepts caught his eye, he conducted new searches to see whether that concept existed in the full texts of other articles related to migraines.
In one instance, a reference to a neural phenomenon called "spreading depression" caused him to look for articles with that term in their titles. Reading those pieces, he found that magnesium was often mentioned as preventing this spreading depression. Other connections to magnesium deficiencies started to appear, so he dug further. In a 1988 paper on his research, he wrote, "One is led to the conjecture that magnesium deficiency might be a causal factor in migraine."
Today, Dr. Swanson's work is considered significant both for migraine studies and for text mining. The link between the headaches and magnesium deficiency was soon backed up by actual experiments.
Information scientists say his 1988 discovery is a perfect example of the unexpected connections that can reveal themselves among scattered text fragments ..."

Wired News: The Great Library of Amazonia
Gary Wolf writes: "... it's still shockingly difficult to find information buried in books. Even as the Internet has revived hope of a universal library and Google seems to promise an answer to every query, books have remained a dark region in the universe of information. We want books to be as accessible and searchable as the Web. On the other hand, we still want them to be books.
An ingenious attempt to illuminate the dark region of books is under way at Amazon.com. Over the past spring and summer, the company created an unrivaled digital archive ...
[...] Udi Manber is correct when he says that Amazon's Search Inside the Book is not an ebook project. It is merely a catalog. But a decade of Internet history proves that the catalog is exactly what you want ..."

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a non-profit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world's scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource.
The internet and electronic publishing enable the creation of public libraries of science containing the full text and data of any published research article, available free of charge to anyone, anywhere in the world.
Immediate unrestricted access to scientific ideas, methods, results, and conclusions will speed the progress of science and medicine, and will more directly bring the benefits of research to the public.
To realize this potential, a new business model for scientific publishing is required that treats the costs of publication as the final integral step of the funding of a research project. To demonstrate that this publishing model will be successful for the publication of the very best research, PLoS will publish its own journals.

A Fight for Free Access To Medical Research
Online Plan Challenges Publishers' Dominance
(The Washington Post, 5 August 2003)
Rick Weiss writes: "Scientists and budget-squeezed librarians have long railed against publishers' stranglehold on scientific literature, to little avail. But with surprising political acumen, the Public Library of Science -- or PLoS -- has begun to make "open access" scientific publication an issue for everyday citizens, emphasizing that taxpayers fund the lion's share of biomedical research and deserve access to the results.
"It is wrong when a breast cancer patient cannot access federally funded research data paid for by her hard-earned taxes," Rep. Martin O. Sabo (D-Minn.) said recently as he introduced legislation that would give PLoS a boost by loosening copyright restrictions on publicly funded research. "It is wrong when the family whose child has a rare disease must pay again for research data their tax dollars already paid for."
It remains to be seen whether the newly bubbling discontent among citizens and politicians will boil over into a full-blown coup, fulfilling scientists' longstanding goal of democratizing the scientific publication enterprise. But whether it succeeds or fails, historians of science say, the effort is a remarkable social experiment in itself. After all, publication is at the heart of the scientific system of rank, respect and power. So the movement to dissect and rewrite the rules of that system is, in effect, a rare opportunity to watch scientists experiment on themselves."

Open Access Now + Open Access News

'Who needs the internet when you can leaf through Whitaker's?'
John Humphrys - BBC Radio 4

The Wolfram Atlas of Simple Programs
An Open Resource for Research & Education

Stevan Harnad - For Whom the Gate Tolls?
How and Why to Free the Refereed Research Literature Online Through Author/Institution Self-Archiving, Now.

How the Simple Side of High-Tech Makes the Developing World Better
In conversation with Eva Harris (New York Times, 30 September, 2003)
Claudia Dreifus writes: In her own soft-spoken way, Dr. Eva Harris, 38, has become the Robin Hood of biotechnology.
She takes new discoveries in molecular and biological technology, breaks them down into their simplest forms, figures out ways to replicate them at lower costs and then transfers the information to public health workers in the developing world.
The idea is to take some of the biotech breakthroughs from the United States and Europe and make them available to the world's poor. All of this is done through her nonprofit organization, the Sustainable Sciences Institute of San Francisco, which she founded with a group of like-minded scientists and the money from her MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called genius grant of $210,000 that she won in 1997.
Dr. Harris, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at the School of Public Health at the University of California here, says that besides her technology work she "leads at least three other lives": teaching, running a lab that is investigating the mechanisms of the dengue fever virus and being mother to 3-year-old Paolo Harris Paz.
"I see science as a social contract," she said over coffee in Berkeley. "I do it to understand the biological functioning of cells and to understand disease to eradicate it. To me, science is about making a better world."

Really Popular Science - Rupert Sheldrake (New York Times, January 4th, 2003)
"I believe that if 1 percent of the money now being distributed for science went to research that was of real interest to taxpayers, science would become more popular.
At present, money generally goes to research sought by the scientific establishment, corporations and government bureaucracies. The administration of science is neither democratically accountable, nor carried out in a democratic spirit.
My proposal is that 99 percent of the research funds continue to be allocated in the usual way. But I suggest that 1 percent be spent in a way that reflects the curiosity of lay people, who pay for all publicly financed research through taxes. It would be necessary to create a separate body. One possible name would be the National Discovery Center."

Science -- Essays on Science and Society
In monthly Essays on Science and Society, Science features the views of individuals from inside or outside the scientific community as they explore the interface between science and the wider society.

Scientists attack Blair over GM - BBC News - 31 October 2003
More than a hundred scientists have written to Tony Blair, complaining about the handling of the public debate on genetically modified crops. The group criticised ministers for not correcting "misleading" reports about GM technology in the media.

Q & A: Fears over MMR
BBC News, 31 October 2003

MMR row expert urges jab take-up - BBC News - 31 October 2003
Writing in this week's Lancet, Dr Simon Murch states that there is unequivocal evidence supporting the safety of the MMR vaccine. Dr Murch says: "No other vaccine has ever been studied in such depth, and the evidence for its overall safety is comprehensive."
[...] Dr Murch adds: "MMR immunisation, which should be an easy decision, has become a worrying issue for many British parents. Although this situation reflects in part a broader mistrust of official pronouncements, and has been fuelled by media campaigning, it is founded on the misinformed perception that there is ongoing scientific uncertainty. There is now unequivocal evidence that MMR is not a risk factor for autism - this statement is not spin or medical conspiracy, but reflects an unprecedented volume of medical study on a worldwide basis. An unprotected child is not only at personal danger, but represents a potential hazard to others, including unborn children. Unless vaccine uptake improves rapidly, major measles epidemics are likely in the UK this winter."

Scientific research put under spotlight - BBC News - 10 August, 2003
Britain's academy of science is to set up an inquiry into how scientific research is made public. It follows rows about the reliability of some studies which, although they were published in journals, were later found to have been based on false or poorly interpreted results. There is also concern about organisations which make scientific claims in press releases and at media conferences but then present no evidence to support their announcements.
A working party for the Royal Society will look at how research information that could influence public opinion and policy is checked. It may then recommend changes and some "best practice" guidelines for scientists.

The Scotsman - Scientific establishment shuns 'outside' research - by Alastair Dalton
"A controversial French scientist has accused the scientific establishment of condemning researchers working outside the mainstream as heretics. Dr Jacques Benveniste ..."

The Plant Protection Racket by Thomas R. DeGregori [via ALD]
"No previous transformation was as beneficial to human enterprise and crea�tivity as the Industrial Revolution. Yet it was damned for being dehumanizing, and its technology was considered antithetical to artistic endeavors. The dual�ism between thought and practical action that characterized earlier civilizations such as that of classical Greece was revived with a vengeance. It is more than appropriate that among the anti-technology artists and artisans, there was a revival of Greek forms in neoclassicism. William Blake, who is famous for his reference to "dark Satanic Mills," was himself "dependent upon prosperous patrons for his livelihood" (Boime 1985, 111). The "fiery chariots," the furnaces, and other technologies were important images in Blake's poetry and drawings, reflecting more of an ambivalence to industrialization than is recognized by many who quote him. The neoclassicism in fine arts that followed Blake and the revival of Greek ideals were facilitated by "one of the first and most refined products of modern manufacture ... the steel pen, which everyday recorded the images, means, and ideas of the new era" (Howard 1985, 790-2). Steel pens were better and they were cheaper (Howard 1985, 794)."

Wrestling with devils - The Guardian, 1 November 2003
PD Smith reviews Hitler's Scientists: Science, War and the Devil's Pact by John Cornwell
"During the long genesis of Bertolt Brecht's play The Life of Galileo, the most destructive weapon yet invented was unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For Brecht, the use of the atomic bomb on Japanese cities and the crimes of Nazi scientists like Josef Mengele arose from the refusal of scientists to accept their responsibility to humanity."

Hot Words: A claim of nonhuman-induced global warming sparks debate
David Appell writes: "In a contretemps indicative of the political struggle over global climate change, a recent study suggested that humans may not be warming the earth. Greenhouse skeptics, pro-industry groups and political conservatives have seized on the results, proclaiming that the science of climate change is inconclusive and that agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol, which set limits on the output of industrial heat-trapping gases, are unnecessary. But mainstream climatologists, as represented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), are perturbed that the report has received so much attention; they say the study's conclusions are scientifically dubious and colored by politics."

Ton Maas - Re: Memes are interactors
"[Gregory] Bateson used to point out how traditional zoologists run into problems when asked to explain the 5 pound femur that is "floating" in a fat layer of a twenty ton blue whale. They call it a "rudiment" and predict that it will completely disappear in time. According to his own branch of biology the femur might fulfill a vital balancing function in terms of preservation of flexibility."

posted by Andrew 11/01/2003 05:15:00 PM