AAAS – Blocking Access to the Scientific Literature Even When They Say It Is “Free”

UC Davis professor Jonathon Eisen should be knighted for winning his battle to obtain “free access” to his own 1999 paper.

…And finally I had it. It took about an hour. This may seem minor to many out there but it seems inappropriate to me. This paper represented hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars of work funded by the Department of Energy and was published in 1999. The goal of the work was to share knowledge. And this is a major roadblock to sharing that knowledge. Plus, all the restrictions on use and reuse mean that anyone wanting to share the knowledge with others also is restricted. The agreements imply that I should not use anything from the paper in a talk or a class or in any way. There is no mention of Fair Use or any other hint that it would be OK to share the material for educational or scholarly purposes. And who knows what crap I am going to get sent to the email address I used for this registration.

So – why are there all these restrictions? I presume, to make AAAS money in some way. Is that a bad thing? Well, in principle I am all for publishers making money. I subscribe to many newspapers. I subscribe to many magazines. I buy lots and lots of books. I pay for music and movies and other works. I don’t download anything illegally. So why not just accept that people should pay for scientific papers? Well, because this paper, and 1000s and 1000s of others are different than all the other works I list above. Owen White and I (with some help from some others) wrote this paper. AAAS and Science did little except handle the peer review and do some copy editing. They just simply do not deserve the rights they are claiming to this article and to all the others. And as a society supposedly for the “advancement of science” it seemed to me that they should make it easier to access the old literature. They could certainly make all papers published more than 12 months ago freely and openly available and deposit them in Pubmed Central. It would be incredible beneficial to science and to scientists. But they do not. Is this in the interest of the “advancement of science”? Unquestionably no. But I guess they have decided it is in the interest of the “advancement of Science” where the journal and money for the society is the goal and the advancement of science is lost in the ether.

In the end, I deeply regret having ever published in Science. 15 years after publishing this paper I would definitely say it would have been better to have published in another journal – one that makes papers more openly and freely available. I cannot change the past. But I will not support AAAS or its activities in the present or the future unless they change policies and practices.

If you are an academic you really have to read Jonathon’s complete account, especially if you have free access through your university library to most everything behind the “academic paywalls”. If you are a civilian you already know how bad it is to be “outside the wall”. I deal with it every day, it sucks.

Full disclosure about the PLOS Mafia: Jonathan Eisen is the brother of open access journals PLOS Co-Founder and UC Berkeley evolutionary biologist Michael Eisen. Jonathan Eisen is also PLOS Biology Advisory Board Chief. Here is a 16 minute video interview of the brothers on the 10th anniversary of PLOS Biology. Thank you PLOS!

Frédéric Filloux on Legacy Media: The Missing Gene

Legacy media is at great risk of losing against tech culture. This is because incumbents miss a key driver: an obsession with their own mortality. Such missing paranoia gene negatively impacts every aspect of their business.

At the last Code conference (the tech gathering hosted by Walter Mossberg and Kara Swisher), Google co-founder Sergey Brin made a surprising statement (at least to me): Asked by Swisher how Google sees itself, Brin responded in his usual terse manner: “There is the external and the internal view. For the outside, we are Goliath and the rest are Davids. From the inside, we are the Davids”. From someone who co-founded a $378bn market cap company that commands more than 80% of the global internet search, this is indeed an unexpected acknowledgement.


This deep-rooted sense of fragility is a potent engine of modern tech culture. It spurs companies to grow as fast as they can by raising lots of capital in the shortest possible time. It also drives them to capture market share by all means necessary (including the worst ones), and to develop a culture of excellence by hiring the best people at any cost while trimming the workforce as needed while obsessively maintaining a culture of agility to quickly learn form mistakes and to adapt to market conditions. Lastly, the ever-present sense of mortality drives rising tech companies to quickly erect barriers-to-entry and to generate network effects needed to keep incumbents at bay.


Such behaviors leave the analog world completely flummoxed. Historical players had experienced nothing but a cosy competitive gentlemen-like environment, with a well-defined map of players. This left incumbents without the genes, the culture required to fight digital barbarians.

Source: Monday Note. I appreciated Filloux’s insights, especially the above-quoted points on fragility. Some media leaders are applying tech principles and thriving. The Atlantic is my favorite example. Too soon to assess what will become of Vox Media.

Nate Silver on op-ed columnists


New York Magazine interviewed Nate Silver about the launch of his new data-driven journalism enterprise FiveThirtyEight

So if you all are the foxes, who’s a hedgehog?

Uhhhh, you know … the op-ed columnists at the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal are probably the most hedgehoglike people. They don’t permit a lot of complexity in their thinking. They pull threads together from very weak evidence and draw grand conclusions based on them. They’re ironically very predictable from week to week. If you know the subject that Thomas Friedman or whatever is writing about, you don’t have to read the column. You can kind of auto-script it, basically.

It’s people who have very strong ideological priors, is the fancy way to put it, that are governing their thinking. They’re not really evaluating the data as it comes in, not doing a lot of [original] thinking. They’re just spitting out the same column every week and using a different subject matter to do the same thing over and over.

It’s ridiculous to me that they undermine every value that these organizations have in their newsrooms. It’s strange. I know it’s cheaper to fund an op-ed columnist than a team of reporters, but I think it confuses the mission of what these great journalistic brands are about.

For the big picture read Nate’s manifesto What the Fox Knows.

Inside the slow and dangerous clean up of the Fukushima nuclear crisis


JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we take you to a place that garnered headlines around the world three years ago, but has hardly been seen since, because it’s so dangerous.

Is it possible to make a negative $ contribution to PBS? The February 28th PBS Newshour on Fukushima is shocking. Imagine a script written by Arnie Gunderson and Helen Caldicot, designed to create maximum fear and anxiety. 

Hiroshima Syndrome has posted a March 4th critique titled PBS Fukushima Report is Fear-mongering at its Worst which begins:

The February 28 PBS report, Inside the slow and dangerous clean up of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, is fear-mongering at its most disturbing extreme. The obvious intent is to scare and upset the viewer with exaggeration, innuendo, and thinly-veiled conspiracy theory, all predicated on proliferating fear, uncertainty and doubt. (FUD) There seems to have been little or no effort towards rational informing of the viewers.

Even the lead-in by anchor Judy Woodruff drips with fear and doubt, “Now we take you to a place that garnered headlines around the world three years ago, but has hardly been seen since, because it’s so dangerous.” Hardly seen since? Who is she trying to kid? Fukushima has been in the Japanese Press every day for three years, and the internet has been inundated with apocalyptic scenarios made by leading international antinukes on a regular basis. Plus, what about the Fukushima radioactivity reporting coming out of the Pacific coastline of North America the past two months? “Hardly seen”? Give me a break. In addition, the implication that the Press in Japan isn’t covering Fukushima “because it’s so dangerous” is a complete fabrication! They are all over it… like white on rice.

The report itself begins with end-of-the-world insinuations by PBS’ Miles O’Brien, when he says the evacuation zone around F. Daiichi “remains a post-apocalyptic landscape of abandoned towns, frozen in time. We were on our way to one of the most hazardous places on Earth, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.” Who wrote the script? Harvey Wasserman? Arnie Gundersen? Helen Caldicott? This is straight out of the antinuclear persuasion’s “Fukushima 101” rhetorical guidelines. The apocalyptic beginning follows with a quote from the plant manager posed in a fashion that makes it seem as if he is not taking his job seriously enough, “After all, if you are just cleaning up after an accident, there is a lack of quality, meaning speed is the only concern. I feel that isn’t enough. We need to look ahead, 30 to 40 years.”

Next comes two misleading statements – “Engineers believe some of the nuclear fuel has melted right through the steel containment vessels on to a concrete basement floor, where it is exposed to groundwater.” (Which it isn’t) – “As the ground water passes through the pump, it gets mixed in with the contaminated water that is used to cool the melted-down cores.” (What is O’Brien talking about? What pump? How is the pump mixing the waters? Is he making this up, or does he simply not have a clue?)

Read the whole thing…

Mobile Trends to Keep In Mind

Frederic Filloux

On mobile devices, the Average Revenue per User should be a critical component when shaping a mobile strategy. First, let’s settle the tablet market question. Even though the so-called “cheap Android” segment ($100-150 for a plastic device running an older version of Android) thrive in emerging markets, when it comes to extracting significant money from users, the iPad runs the show. It accounts for 80% of the tablet web traffic in the US, UK, Germany, France, Japan, and even China (source: Adobe.)

Washington Post Style Invitational (“Mensa Invitational”)

Style invite 1000

The Style Invitational circulates every year as the “Mensa Invitational” – a humorous collection of word play. If you have not encountered this before, it started in the late 1990’s as the Style Invitational at the Washington Post. I gather that MENSA enjoys the humor as well, and to set the record straight MENSA has devoted a web page to “Mensa Invitational” debunked

A Washington Post humor column titled “The Style Invitational” runs a series of popular contests, some of which since 1998 have featured taking any word; adding, subtracting or changing one letter; and creating a new word as well as its definition. As you would expect, many of the entries are clever and relevant — which is probably why someone who is now lost to the mists of time grabbed an early set of winners, changed the title to include a reference to Mensa, and sent it floating out into the Internet ether.

The revised “article” continues to circulate to this day on various Web sites, blogs and social networking sites, as well as in email. Looking at the Style Invitational’s “report from Week 278,” you’ll see that many of the original responses mirror the list of words on the purported “Mensa Invitational” — including “intaxication,” “bozone,” “foreploy” and “glibido.” Since 2005 or earlier, the “Mensa Invitational” has been suspected to be a hoax but no confirmation has ever been made prior to this. So we’re here to debunk this urban legend.

Neither American Mensa, nor any other Mensa entity, has ever been affiliated with The Washington Post’s “Style Invitational” column and/or its contests, to the best of our knowledge. It wouldn’t surprise us if many of our members have entered the contests — and perhaps even have won — but that would be the limit of the interaction.

Because we appreciate their humor, we encourage the enthusiastic wordsmiths who continue to send American Mensa their new words and definitions to read and enter The Washington Post’s “Style Invitational” contest. At the same time, we also heartily encourage them to consider joining American Mensa! We think they’d be at home here.

Word Play Masters Invitational has a section of their site that is continuing the collection of gems. And here is the version of the “Mensa Invitational” that Word Play Masters says is the “original”. Enjoy!

The Washington Post’s Mensa invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are the 2009 winners:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Ignoranus : A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxication : Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation : Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6. Foreploy : Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

7. Giraffiti : Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

8. Sarchasm : The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

9. Inoculatte : To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Osteopornosis : A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

11. Karmageddon : It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon (n.): The gruelling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

13. Glibido : All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug (n.) : Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. Caterpallor ( n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.

The Washington Post has also published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. And the winners are:

1. Coffee , n. The person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted , adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.

3. Abdicate , v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade , v.. To attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly , adj. Impotent.

6. Negligent , adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

7. Lymph , v. To walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle , n. Olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. Flatulence , n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash , n. A rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle , n. A humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude , n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon , n.. A Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster , n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism , n. The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. Circumvent , n. An opening in the front of jockey shorts worn by Jewish men

Image credit Washington Post

Style invite 1000

Can Democracy Survive Television?


Frank’s comment

When I lived in Fiji, a letter in the “Fiji Times” stated that its writer found TV very educational; every time someone turned on the TV, he read a book. Before TV, people probably did more reading.

reminded me to link one of the often cited Manheim papers on the TV effect: Manheim, J. B. (1976), Can Democracy Survive Television?. Journal of Communication, 26: 84–90. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1976.tb01385.x

I can’t find an ungated link but there is an earlier op-ed here which concludes with this:

(…snip…)And for hype. When the lead story is over, what’s to keep the audience in place? Unless the second, third, and fourth story are equally gripping, viewers may still change channels. How to keep them? Crank up every story to make it seem fascinating, compelling, hugely important — even though by doing so you abandon any serious effort to set an agenda of significance.

And that takes us back to the top of this column. No wonder Americans have difficulty assigning priorities to such a story list. Those who depend heavily on television may not even think setting priorities is germane. For them, a crime in Erie risks becoming as important as a shift toward North Korea — not because they’re uninformed, but because to make everything of equal importance is, in fact, to make nothing particularly important.

Result: a trivialization of the essential, which is the fundamental moral danger of the television age. Not because television journalists are bad at what they do: Many are excellent. And not even because (as a top network executive once explained to me) television in the United States exists not to deliver programs to viewers, but rather audiences to advertisers.

No, the problem lies with the structure of the medium itself. When the only way to hold attention is to hype every story, the basic moral responsibility of a citizenry — to distinguish the important from the merely interesting, and to vote their support for what most matters — gets dulled, blunted, and finally lost.

The real question is, Can democracy survive television?

Image credit XKCD

What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?

If you get depressed by the low quality of media [and politicians], spend some time at The Edge:

It’s ever more delectable that the Edge Foundation— the network of prominent scientists and intellectuals founded by literary agent John Brockman in New York — has worked against the reciprocal ignorance of literary cultures and sciences of each other. Successfully. If you take the algorithms developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, which measure the value of links, Edge’s website ranks seven on a global scale of ten. The New York Times ranks nine, eBay at eight. — Sueddeutche Zeitung


Twitter: a channel to high quality curated information

Personally I use Twitter primarily as an efficient channel to access curated citations. This is increasingly effective for me as more and more academics, scientists and researchers are using Twitter as a vehicle for noting useful citations as well as quick Q&A on work in progress. Some do this as they work, when they find a reference that could be useful to their community. Some tweet links relevant to their own publications. E.g., economist Tyler Cowen tweets reviews and criticism of his books and papers.

In your own fields of interest you have probably identified experts that you respect — if so, then you are ready to give this Twitter technique a try. Once you’ve organized your preferred sources into Twitter “Lists”, then a click on say “Education Innovation” brings you thumbnails of your personalized citations for the list topic.

If you would like to trial this idea I suggest trying the iPad app Flipboard as an efficient way to review what your curators have on offer. Another app that I use regularly on both Mac and iPad is Tweetbot. Once you have used Tweetbot you cannot “go back”.

Anne Trubek: Only the literary elite can afford not to tweet

If there is a problem in literary fiction, it may be that some of our best writers have missed out on one of the most exciting and transformative moments in American letters. Social media is primarily text-based; it propels people to write more than they have in decades – centuries, perhaps – and it is complex, fluid and resistant to simple conclusions. No wonder so many writers love it. Luckily, I now know many of them, and with them I talk, alone in my study. –Anne Trubek

 Anne Trubek is the editor of the Cleveland focused Belt Magazine. I liked the way Anne captured the value Twitter offers to writers in this short essay.

When I go to my office in the morning, I can talk with the editor of the Washington Post Book Review section about what he is reading, with author Gary Shteyngart about a review of Zadie Smith‘s novel or to the president of the Modern Language Association about the state of the humanities.

But when I leave my office – logging off Twitter and going out the back door of my house – I can walk my dog up my leafy street and talk with baristas about the Browns, but rarely do I interact with book-review editors, novelists or literary critics. I live in Cleveland, a city that supports few such full-time jobs.

Twitter has offered me an intellectual community I otherwise lack. It cuts the distance, both geographic and hierarchical. Not only can I talk with people in other places, but I can engage with people in different career stages as well. A sharp insight posted on Twitter is read, and RT’d (retweeted), with less regard for the tweeter’s resume (or gender or race) than it might be if uttered at, say, a networking event. Social media is a hedge against the white-shoe, old-boys’ networks of publishing. It is a democratizing force in the literary world.

Read more of Trubek’s essay. And for some tidbits on how I exploit Twitter see Twitter: a channel to high quality curated information.