Invisible logic

Scientific publishing is a side-topic on this blog. It’s fun to harass scientists who insist on keeping their knowledge invisible and block access wherever they can. Now some more proof: In a project at Sweden’s Lund University the librarians sent emails to 377 scientists about self-archiving of their articles. 269 did not even respond! Dry comment from librarian Jörgen Eriksson:

Since the authors only had to reply to an e-mail to get an article self-archived this only emphasises the general lack of awareness of and incentives to self-archiving at Lund University and, it seems, most other universities.

Related: A new report from the OECD concludes:

Governments should increase access to findings from publicly funded research to maximise social returns on public investments.

Let’s see how long it takes for the first scientist/researcher to label this another “neoliberal” OECD initiative.

Breaking news: Journalists discover links

Inspired by a Reuters piece on Wikipedia’s rise and rise, Editors Weblog recommends …linking:

“…the future newsroom may have an additional employee: a ‘link editor’ (if the position ever takes hold I’ll try to come up with a more original job title). The bearer of this responsibility would be charged with reading drafts of articles before they are published, adding any relevant links to names, places, events, etc., in the text. The journalist, as many of you may realize, does not have time to complete such a task.”

A link editor! To any blogger without a background in journalism it must sound like the most ridiculous idea ever. Of course it shouldn’t be necessary to even tell web journalists to link to the sources they use for a story, if available, or to additional sources. If anyone should love the hyperlink, it should be journalists. But believe me, it isn’t that way. I’ve spent more time than I like to think about trying to make stubborn or lazy colleagues link (*wipes forehead*).

Phew. I’ll try the positive approach… It must be seen as a major breakthrough and a sensational development that positive reports recognizing the power and importance of links start to turn up. After all, it isn’t long ago that newspaper publishers wanted to take people to court for making “deep links” (an absurd name for it) to their stories. They wanted to ban links!

(via teknomedia).

The Block Access Movement

Here’s John Willinsky’s conclusion in a recent First Monday essay:

Open access to research and scholarship would foster a global exchange of public goods. It would extend and sustain an open, alternative economy for intellectual properties. It would strengthen the links between open source software – which is vital to providing open access to research – and the university’ls long– standing tradition of open science. Given the encroachments, not to mention the temptations, of the knowledge business, this is no time to take the commonwealth of learning for granted. It falls to the members of that commonwealth to recognize and support the current convergence of open initiatives that represent dedicated efforts to ensure the future of that learning.

This month, employees and students at the University of Oslo will elect a new chancellor. It is regarded as an important election, with five different candidates. Norwegian universities are experiencing a period of reform and rapid change. Many are concerned about academic freedom, and complain about commercialization. So you would expect at least one candidate to embrace ideas such as those Willinsky presents in that essay? You would be wrong. Not one of the five candidates even mentions the words open access or scientific publishing in their manifests (available in Norwegian).

You are surprised? You shouldn’t be. University people often prefer to be invisible and unlinked. They will defend “academic freedom”, but not by making their texts available to the public (who essentially is their employer, as these universities are state funded). So they become The Block Access Movement [I also think some of them are confusing open access to scientific articles with the general book market, which is something else altogether. The Open Access movement isn’t about killing off book publishing]. There was an interesting example of this when Lawrence Lessig visited Oslo in June. Check Lessig’s shocked remarks afterwards:

[A] professor (…) was celebrating the system where he was compensated every time someone copied one of his articles. I had criticized this. That criticism led to my being called “naive.” I said that while I had no problem at all with people paying to listen to music, or novels, we had to be extremely sensitive to the way price might block the spread of knowledge. And that for academic and scientific work, the best model for producing and spreading knowledge might not be one that meters each use. Professors should be paid. But let that be their compensation, and let the knowledge they produce spread widely. Yet there was a general view at the conference that this was wrong. That we hurt developing nations, for example, if we give them knowledge for free.

Last point: There are institutional open archives both at the University of Oslo and Bergen now. Most of the material you’ll find there are master theses and doctoral dissertations – because they now force students to publish there. I fear the professors will have to be forced, too. Unless they discover what the rest of the world is starting to find out: That publishing in open access journals gives greater research impact (link via jill/txt).

The “who pays” question

When printed newspapers continue their decline, reducing staff, who will pay for journalism that requires investment in time and knowledge? Investments that might only yield dividends after a period of time instead of instantly? Journalism that deals with difficult issues and requires specialized competence? Where it’s difficult to imagine bloggers and other citizens stepping in? Tim Porter commented on Yahoo’s announcement of its “SoJo” project. Here is an attempt at some more questions and answers in my local context – mostly questions, I’m afraid:

  • New sources for funding: Foundations such as The Freedom of Expression Foundation in Oslo might increasingly fund projects and initiatives not relying on the “eyeballs for advertising” model. This particular foundation has already funded TV documentaries and has also taken ownership positions in the Norwegian press. Problem is, we should have more of them. In Sweden, a country with a stronger tradition for public benefit foundations, the Ax:son Johnson foundation funds the magazine Axess, where it’s possible to find in-depth analysis and reporting.
  • News websites must prove themselves: The easiest solution would be the market mechanism. News on the web will inevitably grow as paper declines. But how will news websites develop? The Norwegian news sites now look strong on paper (!), with several of them turning good profits last year. So far, this hasn’t really been followed by rising journalistic ambitions (as noted before). Norwegian news websites prefer to invest in consumer-oriented journalism. So it’s an open question: When the websites feel they have the necessary financial stability, will they become more ambitious? Or just start subsidizing the declining paper version?
  • How about institutional knowledge? It’s likely that we will see a fragmentation of the media business. If journalists eager to make a difference will have to hunt for new funding sources, and if website editors keep giving priority to the instant-click-gratification news production, what happens with the long-term building of knowledge inside a news institution? The human capital, in other words. If, say in the field of foreign news, a model of one or two commissioning editors and a lot of freelancers replaces 10 or 20 full-time reporters, will the quality suffer? The heretics would say no, it will be good to bring in more voices, and I would tend to agree with them. But…
  • What about the really heavy assignments? Such as war reporting, or going to failed states and unstable areas. That requires special skills, and here is one area of journalism where the distinction between amateur and professional still makes very much sense. You do not want to send an eager, but unexperienced reporter into Iraq. A current example: Norway has military forces in Afghanistan, involved in both the ISAF force and in the US-led Enduring Freedom operations. We are getting almost no reporting on what these forces do, or about developments in Afghanistan generally. Who will ascertain that there even are reporters capable of going there, not to mention pay for them?

The Occam of blogs

“The race is on to become the Google of blogs,” says the WSJ Online today in a very useful and informative piece on blog search tools. It’s correct, of course. If it’s one thing the web needs now, it’s a Google of blogs, or rather an Occam of blogs, that helps you cut right to the original, exciting thought or factoid you didn’t even know you needed. Sometimes the mere thought of all the millions of blogs and billions of links can be overwhelming.

Good thing then that Technorati and the others are at work sharpening their tools, as noted by a blogger with a very well chosen name.

What if Indian blogs ruled?

A long established strand of media studies is to argue and lament the global dominance of the Western/Northern/American media business over the South/Developing World. Now a rambling thought experiment: Aggregation tools such as Technorati (check their new blog finder) calculate a blog’s or site’s importance more or less according to how many incoming links they have. More links and buzz, more visibility. If we stick to the English-writing world, so far Americans have been the most active bloggers. And Americans dominate the “charts”. But what if, say, Indians really embrace blogging (OK, they don’t seem to be quite there yet). And assume they would write and discuss mostly Indian issues, and link to other Indian blogs. Wouldn’t they then start racing up the charts, become more visible, and …dominate?

I also assume here that Technorati & co are objective – i.e don’t have any geographical bias. Is it so? I haven’t been able to find out.