The Loss of Aaron Swartz, the Need for Open Access, and a Comment on Depression.

Hey everybody! I know, it’s Tuesday…I’m behind…yah…I’ll get to fixing that.

Before I do, I wanted to talk a little about Open Access and Aaron Swartz. There isn’t a whole lot I can add to the discussion. What happened to Swartz, and what was going to happen to him was, in a word, horrible. It’s horrible that MIT and the US Government hounded him to an early grave, it’s horrible that he was sentenced to more prison time than a serial rapist or mass murderer, and it’s horrible that all this was over the access to and sharing of academic information.

We, those of us who are part of or participating in academia, should be ashamed of ourselves, because We are the ones that allowed this to happen. Fortunately, WE are also the ones who can change it.

Many others who are much better informed on this topic have talked about it, and instead of ranting on here, I thought it would be better to link articles and quote the parts that stuck out to me. I encourage you to read the articles in full and follow the links in them. I also encourage you to do what you can to push for the free and open publication of academic papers.

Carl Sagon urged that ideas and information be free and open to all, to do otherwise would create a “priesthood” of professionals and encourage the dissemination of pseudoscience in an information starved would. He’s right, as anyone who is aware of the Anti-Vaxer movement can attest too, or anyone trying to combat the idea of ancient alien visitors knows.  One of these is simply annoying, the other is deadly, both could be remedied by open access and the education of the public.

So, please read the articles, and feel free to comment. I’ll see you later this week with our regularly scheduled postings.

RIP, Aaron Swartz by 

Not gonna lie, this is really hard to read, manly for the end where the author discusses Swartz battle with depression.

Most people think they have depression, but they don’t . They have blue days, and they’re stressed, but real depression is more than that. It’s not easy to shake or to think clearly when you’re in the grips of it. And you are in the grips of it. It’s a living, breathing thing that holds onto you and won’t let go. You don’t just “get over it”, and you don’t just have a happy thought and suddenly life is all good again. It sneaks up on you, it ambushes you, it isolates you, and it lies to you. I’m not “puzzled” as to why Swartz did what he did, I am sad that he did, but I understand.

Archaeology, Open Access, and the Passing of Aaron Swartz by Eric Kansa

“We have to remember, we, as a discipline work in the public interest.” (emphasis mine)

“There are many excellent reasons to promote Open Access in archaeology, summarized in this recent issue of World Archaeology dedicated to the subject. But the Swartz case helps to highlight another. Professional society reluctance (in the case of the SAA) or outright opposition against Open Access (AIAAAA) puts many researchers at risk. Many researchers, particularly our colleagues in public, CRM, and contract archaeology or our colleagues struggling as adjunct faculty, either totally lack or regularly lose affiliations with institutions that subscribe to pay-wall resources like JSTOR. Many of these people beg logins from their friends and colleagues lucky enough to have access. Similarly, file-sharing of copyright protected articles is routine. Email lists and other networks regularly see circulation of papers, all under legally dubious circumstances. Essentially, we have a (nearly?) criminalized underclass of researchers who bend and break rules in order to participate in their professional community. It is a perverse travesty that we’ve relegated essential professional communications to an quasi-legal/illegal underground, when we’re supposedly a community dedicated to advancing the public good through the creation of knowledge about the past.”

“It’s time we also start seeing the ugliness in the current dissemination status quo, where the information outputs of archaeology become privatized, commoditized, intellectual property. This status quo carries the baggage of a legally oppressive system of copyright control, surveillance, and draconian punishments. Rather than dismissing Open Access off-hand, we have an ethical obligation to at least try to find financially sustainable modes of Open Access publication (see Lake 2012,  Kansa 2012 [pay-wall][open-access pre-print]).”

Fred Limp (SAA President) Responding to Open Access in Archaeology by Eric Kansa and Fred Limp

“However, the SAA is but one publisher. Even if its publication costs are relatively low, archaeological discourse takes place across many, many titles, typically managed by expensive commercial publishers. Legally accessing these requires institutional affiliations to get e-Journals, JSTOR and all the rest. Though you may get a few titles with your SAA membership, researchers lacking academic affiliations are still cut-off from the great majority of scholarly discourse. Most of them are stuck with extra-legal workarounds, putting these researchers in dire legal jeopardy. While I can understand Fred’s concern over financing SAA publications (and motivating membership), accepting the dysfunctions and legal dangers of pay-walls and strong intellectual property does not advance the interests of archaeologists or archaeology.”

Archaeology, Open Access, RIP Aaron Swartz

“I was at the Society of Historical Archaeology’s conference last week and in a panel discussion the issue of access to resources was brought up. Again, the time worn excuse that “we can’t go open access because then no one would join our society was used”. What I then said was, “well, have you polled your members to actually see why they join your society? The SAS polled theirs and found only a small percentage joined because of the journal.”

“What I wanted to say (and what did say later in a heated discussion about it) was, “Are you a fucking society trying to better mankind or fucking publisher in it for profit????” While societies do many great things I am starting to get real tired of them protecting the high salaries of their employees at the expense  of the rest of us, when, unlike a for-profit company, they are suppose to be helping us.”

I know it seems easy to vilify the SAA’s, but I want to strongly caution against it. Fred Limp at the SAA, to my current knowledge, is the only society representative to respond to this. That should actually give credit to the SAA because they are willing to participate in the discussion openly, whether you agree with them or not. This took guts, good for them.

Anyway, I am a strong advocate for open access and public access. I am also aware that there are aspects of this discussion I am not privy too, mainly because they are behind closed doors where I don’t have access. I also know that there are some valid reasons for not opening the flood gates and letting anyone and everyone have access to academic research. However, there is a middle ground, and it’s high time we find it. We didn’t need Aaron Swartz to prove that to us, but I hope something good will now come out of what he did.

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Categories: Rants, Weekly News Round Up | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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