Tag Archives: internet

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.

K. Kris Hirst – All About Archaeology.

It’s International Women’s Day today, and I thought that to celebrate I would bring you the first Women in Archaeology post about a living woman! 

K. Kris Hirst was kind enough to let me interview her, and I know she’s busy, so this was extra nice of her. Hirst is a content provider over at About.com, where she writes the Archaeology section of the site, and is a science writer and editor for a variety of journals and books. She’s been at it since 1997, you know, when the internet got big. I have to admit, I’ve been to this site more then once looking up hard to find facts, I’ve been pretty impressed. Her site covers concepts, careers, human history, sites of interest and more. It’s a pretty solid site, and that’s Hirst ‘s contribution to the field.

Archaeology isn’t immune to the new information age, and trust me, there is lots of bad information out there, but this site does a great job of putting things back into perspective and answers questions. Our problem is, until recently , the people who know the most about archaeology, apparently didn’t know much about the internet or social media, Hirst knows both. Hirst ‘s site works to provide information to the curious and educate those that want to learn. She puts it all out there and makes it accessible to the public. Something the field is still struggling with, in my opinion. Hirst has been doing this for 15 years now, she may not have been the very first, but she is certainly one of the best. 

So lets get to the intervew!

I really toiled with this, I wanted to edit it and make it more like the formats of my past posts, but Hirst has such a great personality, I was afraid that it would get lost in my editing. So I decided to go a minimalist route, here with minimal editing is the full email interview with K. Kris Hirst:


AF: Where and when were you born?

KH: I was born in a little log cabin—oh, no, that’s Abe Lincoln. I was born in Illinois, on Abraham Lincoln’s (and Charles Darwin’s) birthday. I’m not as old as those guys—I was born in 1954.   


AF: Do you have any interesting childhood stories pertaining to archaeology?

KH: The earliest I can remember knowing about archaeology is when my parents took us to Dixon Mounds, a Mississippian burial mound that was open to the public. The burials are now closed, of course, and there’s a terrific museum, which is better for all concerned. You learn more now about the people and how they lived—but I have to admit I was fascinated by human bones. I also had a junior high school pal who knew she wanted to be an archaeologist even then—Linda Derry. But basically I was a moony introvert who kept her nose in books and wandered around the scrubby suburban woods, with no thought to future careers—besides writing, of course.  


AF: Where did you go to college and when did you graduate?

KH: I went to Illinois State as an English-Education-Theatre major, and graduated in 1978 with a BS in Education with three majors and five minors. I took an MA in Anthro from the University of Iowa in 1985. Started a PhD at University of Wisconsin, but bombed out, for a variety of reasons some of which have to do with being an inveterate generalist.


AF: Do you have any interesting stories about your time in school?

KH: My favorite thing about undergraduate school was I had no clue what I wanted to do, and ISU was big enough that nobody was watching me, so I could and did take courses in everything (except, oddly enough, archaeology or journalism). I remember sitting in a graduate level classroom at Iowa when one of the students perked up and said he got into archaeology because of Indiana Jones—that was right after the first movie came out (and no, I don’t remember if he actually followed through with his career). I remember pronouncing Oaxaca “Wox-a-co” in a graduate level theory class, much to the amusement of my classmates. Since I didn’t have a single course in archaeology before embarking on my MA, I spent every waking hour in the university library, reading all the current journals and going back some 20 years. I really liked doing that, total immersion type study, and I still keep current with about 80 journals a year. 


AF: Do you have any suggestions for students who might be seeking a degree in Archaeology?

KH: Yeah, don’t do what I did. Pick a subject and learn it in depth. To be a successful archaeologist,  you need to specialize: I’m a writer.


AF: Can you tell me a little about your professional career? 

KH: My first excavation was at Plum Grove, the first territorial governor of Iowa, my first advisor was the Mesoamericanist Tom Charlton. He was wonderfully supportive and I’m grateful to this day for his belief in my weird turn of careers—not all my advisors were happy that I left archaeology to work on the Internet. I met Lewis Binford once (he was rude to every graduate student in those days); I met Sandra Olsen and briefly entertained the notion of specializing in mussel shell research (following along in her footsteps in usewear on bones); I embarrassed myself in front of George Quimby by meeting him once and having complete brain death about his vast and important work (they call it “l’esprit d’escalier” if you’ve been insulted, I was just crazy tired); and I met Ofer Bar-Yosef and just about fainted. As a grad student I loved going to meetings and staying up until 3:00 am singing dig songs. (Do they still do that?) (AF: Yes they do, and they have archaeology themed bands now): I still like going to meetings, but now I go find sessions to kibbutz on subjects I know nothing about. The SAA is great for that, 17 concurrent sessions! Hoo boy! My favorite conference was WAC in South Africa in 1999. That was flat out wonderful.


AF: Can you tell me how archaeology impacted your life both professional and personal (if you don’t mind sharing).

KH: Archaeology provided me with something to write about. I was going to be a writer, from the time I was maybe 9 and first read Madeleine L’Engle, and I went to undergraduate school with a vague notion I was shopping around for something to write about. I didn’t find anything that tripped my trigger until I got into archaeology: imagine, it encompasses everything, every bit of human knowledge—but they don’t teach it in high school! How crazy is that?  But if we’re talking transformative experiences, the opportunity to work at About.com, where I’ve been since 1997, has simply changed everything. If I’d stayed in archaeology (I worked in the field for 20 years), you wouldn’t be asking me these questions.


AF: Do you think there were and/or are any obstacles unique to women in the field. If so, what did you do to overcome them?

KH: Where I went to school there was a famous woman anthropologist, and I went to her to talk to her about how you overcome those issues. She threw me out of her office: she was of the school that said, if I did it by myself, so can you. I think that’s wrong, but, she was, like me, ensconced in her own era. I bombed out of Madison, but not because of my gender. It was a tough time for graduate students there. I sort of regret not moving to another school and trying again—but I just didn’t have the money and I was pretty disheartened. I got passed over for promotion a couple of times when I was working in CRM, and I was disappointed at the time, but I think if all of these less-than-ideal experiences had any effect, they kept me from being “just” an archaeologist. Don’t get me wrong—I loved being in archaeology, but I needed to write.


AF: Can you tell me a little about what made you chose to leave the field and become a science writer? How has that affected your life?

KH: In 1995, I was already fascinated by the Internet. I remember I was in my boss’s office at the State Archaeologist’s Office in Iowa, and he showed us the website for Lascaux Cave. I started working on the OSA’s nascent website, writing and designing webpages (I’m not visual, so that didn’t go too far). In late 1996, I heard through the CNET grapevine that there was this new company called “the Mining Company” that was planning on hiring a bunch of specialists to “mine the web” and find the best resources available in their areas of expertise. I was pretty interested, but also pretty skeptical (as somebody once asked me, suspiciously, why would a mining company be interested in archaeology?) But in March of 1997, the site went live and it was wonderful, and so I signed up to be the archaeologist, and went through a rigorous training schedule. My site went live on July 9, 1997.


At first, we were just supposed to write about what other people were doing on the web, but it soon morphed into writing about our topics. We changed our name to About.com, went public and were bought by the New York Times Company in 2001. I love working here, even after nearly 15 years. I was really lucky to find a place where I could write on anything I wanted to, and have a substantial audience, with somebody else doing the marketing and site design for me.


AF: How did your training as an archaeologist prepare you for the challenges of science writing?

KH: To some extent, it ruined me as a science writer. I’m truly fascinated and want to learn everything I can about archaeology and the history and prehistory that you are all researching and reporting on, wherever and whenever in the world that might be. But, there are very limited openings for “archaeology writer” in science writing, for the same reason I got into it—the things that really sell well in mass markets about archaeology are the very oldest stuff or the richest find or the spookiest, nuttiest theory about aliens or end of the world fantasies. None of that interests me. If you’re smart as a science writer, you write about archaeology but also about biology and chemistry and botany and physics. I’m at once too narrow and too broad to be really successful as a science writer. Plus, I split infinitives. But, I found in my archaeology studies a wealth of nuance and so many interesting science-based stories that to this day I write something like 60,000 words a month, at least, and never, never, never run out of ideas.


Another truth about science writing: many, many newspapers and magazines have ditched their science writer staffs, and a lot of really terrific science writers who once had staff positions are now scrambling for freelance jobs. It’s not a good economy for anyone. I’m very fortunate to be doing what I love and getting paid for it.


AF: Do you have any interesting stories about being a science writer?

KH: I was at an SAA meeting once, wearing my About.com name tag, when somebody came up and said, I know About.com, what do you write for them? I said (duh) archaeology, and the guy pulled away from me like I’d told him I was running for political office. I turned around and there was Jerry Sabloff, president of the SAA, and he said “Hi Kris, what are you writing these days”. That’s kind of the life I lead, shame and glory, glory and shame, closely intertwined <grin>. I’ve met a lot of really great science writers, including of course the fabulous Brian Fagan, but also more generalist science writers who are all my role models, like Nicholas Wade and  Heather Pringle and Ann Gibbons and Michael Balter. Lots of others.


AF: What’s your next step in your career?

KH: In 2005 I quit my day job to become a fulltime freelance writer, and in 2009 I had to go back to work because of the economy (George Bush has a lot to answer for). I want to go back to being a fulltime freelancer. The day job (which isn’t in archaeology) puts a crimp in my ability to do anything but write—I have no social life, except my husband and I go out for pizza occasionally. No time for social networking, either: I’m hideously in arrears over my Twitter and Facebook responsibilities, and worse—I can’t keep up with anybody else who is writing for the web. Sorry! Someday, I’ll be back there. In the meantime, I still get to write, and my productivity and traffic are satisfyingly huge, so I’m pretty happy, by and large. I’d like to travel a bit more than we have in the past, but career wise, I like being a freelance writer best of all. Of course, if somebody would offer me an endowed chair in public archaeology at Oxford, I’d probably accept. Or at least mull it over. Carefully.


AF: Do you have any publications in your name that you would like me to mention?

KH: I edited a collection of quotations for Left Coast Press a couple of years ago (The Archaeologist’s Book of Quotations), and I recently had a gig on the advisory board of the forthcoming Oxford Companion to Archaeology (2nd edition), for which I also updated an article on PreClovis. I wrote a biographical sketch of myself (hmm) for the SAA Record a couple of years back, and some pieces for Science and Archaeology magazines. But, by and large, I write on the Internet.


AF: Is there anything else you want to share?

KH: I have a great recipe for Greek chicken, but… another time. Two words: sun-dried tomatoes. 

Again, I want to thank Hirst for her time, check out her site at http://archaeology.about.com/. Next time we’ll be getting that Greek chicken recipe.