Tag Archives: Aaron Swartz

Stephane Hessel

“Stéphane Frédéric Hessel (20 October 1917 – 27 February 2013) was a diplomat, ambassador, writer, concentration camp survivor, former French Resistance fighter and BCRA agent. Born German, he became a naturalised French citizen in 1939. He participated in the editing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. In 2011, he was named by Foreign Policy magazine to its list of top global thinkers. “[wiki dixit]

Hessel is the author of Indignez-vous! (french version, english version). In my mind, he stands near Aaron Swartz, like a kind of symbolic couple grandparent and grandson. This type of affinity, which jumps over a generation, seems to be a modern phenomenon. I began to recognize it by reading the very interesting book (in french, but maybe there are also english translations) ” Génération 69 : Les trentenaires ne vous disent pas merci” by Laurent Guimier and Nicolas Charbonneau.


To comment or not to comment, that is the question?

Some comments  to Gowers post “Why I’ve also joined the good guys” make me write a third reaction note. I want to understand why there is so much discussion around the idea of  the utility of comments to articles “published” (i.e. selected from arxiv or other free OA repositories) in epijournals.

UPDATE: For epijournals see Episciences.org and also the blog post  Episciences: de quoi s’agit-il?.

UPDATE 2: Read “Comments in epijournals: we may learn from Wikipedia” for a constructive proposal concerning comments (and peer-reviews as well).

I take as examples the comments by Izabella Laba  and  Mike Taylor.  Here they are:

Izabella Laba, link to comment:

I would not submit a paper to a journal that would force me to have a mandatory comment page on every article. I have written several long posts already on this type of issues, so here I’ll only say that this is my well considered opinion based on my decades of experience in mathematics, several years of blogging, and following (and sometimes commenting on) blogs with comment sections of varying quality. No amount of talk about possible fixes etc. will make me change my mind.

Instead, I want to mention a few additional points.

1) A new journal needs to develop a critical mass of authors. While having comment pages for articles may well attract some authors, making them mandatory pages will likely turn off just as many. In particular, the more senior and established authors are less likely to worry about the journal being accepted by promotion committees etc, but also less likely to have the time and inclination to manage and moderate discussion pages.

2) It is tempting to think that every paper would have a lively, engaging and productive comment page. In reality, I expect that this would only happen for a few articles. The majority of papers might get one or two lazy comments. The editors would have to spend time debating whether this or that lazy comment is negative enough or obnoxious enough to be removed, in response to the inevitable requests from the authors; but the point is that no greater good was achieved by having the comment page in the first place.

3) It is also tempting that such comment pages would contain at least a reasonably comprehensive summary of follow-up work (Theorem 1 was extended to a wider class of functions in [A], Conjecture 2 was proved in [B], and the range of exponents in Theorem 3 was proved to be sharp in [C]). But I don’t believe that this will happen. When I write an article, it is my job to explain clearly and informatively how my results relate to existing literature. It is *not* my job to also post explanations of that on multiple comment pages for cited articles, I certainly would not have the time to do that, and I’m not convinced that we could always could on the existence of interested and willing third parties.

A better solution would be to allow pingbacks (say, from the arXiv), so that the article’s journal page shows also the list of articles citing it. Alternatively, authors and editors might be allowed to add post-publication notes of this type (separate from the main article).

4) Related to this, but from a broader perspective: what is it that journals are supposed to accomplish, aside from providing a validation stamp? The old function of disseminating information has already been taken over by the internet. I believe that the most important thing that journals should be doing now is consolidating information, improving the quality of it, raising the signal to noise ratio.

I can see how this goal would be served by having a small number of discussion pages where the commenters are knowledgeable and engaged. In effect, these pages would serve as de facto expository papers in a different format. I do not think that having a large number of comment pages with one or two comments on them would have the same effect. It would not consolidate information – instead, it would diffuse it further.

On a related note, since I mentioned expository papers – it would be excellent to have a section for those. Right now, the journal market for expository papers is very thin: basically, it’s either the Monthly (limited range of topics) or the AMS Bulletin (very small number of papers, each one some sort of a “big deal”). But there is no venue, for instance, for the type of expository papers that researchers often write when they try to understand something themselves. (Except maybe for conference proceedings, but this is not a perfect solution, for many reasons.)

I will likely have more thoughts on it – if so, I’ll post a longer version of this on my own blog.

Mike Taylor, link to comment:

“I would not submit a paper to a journal that would force me to have a mandatory comment page on every article … No amount of talk about possible fixes etc. will make me change my mind.”

I am sorry to hear that. Without in the slighting expecting or intended to change you’re mind, I’ll say this: I can easily imagine that within a few more years, I will be refusing to submit to journals that do not have a comment page on my article. From my perspective, the principle purpose of publishing an article is to catalyse discussion and further work. I am loath to waste my work on venues that discourage this.

“It is tempting to think that every paper would have a lively, engaging and productive comment page. In reality, I expect that this would only happen for a few articles. The majority of papers might get one or two lazy comments.”

The solution to this is probably for us to write more interesting papers.

I totally agree with Mike Taylor and I am tempted to add that authors not willing to accept comments to their articles will deserve a future Darwin award for publication policies.  But surely is their right to lower the chances for their research to  produce descendants.

Say you are a film maker. What do you want?

  • a) to not allow your film to be seen because some of the critics may not appreciate it
  • b) to disseminate your film as much as possible and to learn from the critics and public about eventual weak points and good points of it

If the movie world would be alike to the actual academic world then most of the film makers would choose a), because it does not matter if the film is good or bad, only matters how many films you made and, among them, how many were supported by governmental grants.

A second argument for allowing comments to be made is Wikipedia.  It is clear to (almost) anybody that Wikipedia would not be what it is if it were only based on the 500-1000 regular editors (see the wiki page on Aaron Swartz and Wikipedia). Why is then impossible to imagine that we can make comments to the article a very useful feature of epijournals? Simply by importing some of the well proven rules from wikipedia concerning contributors!

On the reasons of such reactions which disregard the reality, another time. I shall just point to the fact that is still difficult to accept models of thinking based not on pyramidal bureaucratic organizational structures but on massive networked collaboration.   Pre-internet, the pyramidal organization was the most efficient. Post internet it makes no sense because the cost of organizing (Coase cost) went to almost nil.

But thought reflexes are still alive, because we are only humans.

AZ open access

Instead of Diamond OA (as mentioned in Tim Gowers very interesting “Why I’ve also joined the good guys“) I suggest that a better and inspiring name for this yet mysterious idea if epijournals would be

AZ open access

or open access from A to Z. There is another, better justification for this name, see the end of the post!

Diamond and Gold names just betray that many people don’t get the idea that in the age of the net is not good to base one business model on the SCARCITY OF GOODS. Gold and diamonds are valuable because they are scarce. Information, on the contrary, is abundant and it thrives from being shared. Google got it, for example, they are not doing bad, right? Therefore, why base the business publishing model on the idea of making the information scarce, in order to have value? You already have value, because value itself is just a kind of carrier of information.

The name AZ OA is a tribute. It means:

Aaron SwartZ Open Access.

Aaron Swartz

Just learned about this via this post on G+ by , which I reproduce here, with some links and short comments added by myself, in order to provide more information.  The parts of the  mentioned post will appear as quoted ” and my addition will appear unquoted, but [between brackets].

[Who is Aaron Swartz: (wikipedia), (official website), (blog) .]

This is terribly sad news: Aaron Swartz committed suicide in New York City on Friday, according to this MIT Tech article:

Aaron was facing possible life in prison because he allegedly tried to make journal articles public. The Justice Department’s indictment accuses Aaron of connecting his computer to MIT’s network (without authorization — he was at Harvard, not MIT) and sucking down over 1 million already published academic journal articles from the JSTOR database, which the professors and other authors who wrote them probably would have liked to be free to the public anyway. Here’s the indictment:

Aaron’s scraper wasn’t that well-programmed, and it’s true that he allegedly did this without authorization from MIT. But he downloaded no confidential data from JSTOR — again, these are academic journal articles — and released no data at all. Because Harvard had a JSTOR subscription, Aaron actually had the right to download any of the JSTOR articles for his own use (but not to redistribute or perform a bulk download). Demand Progress compared it to “trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.”

If JSTOR was upset, this seems like the type of wrong that could have been remedied through civil litigation. But JSTOR decided against it, with its general counsel Nancy Kopans telling the New York Times that “we are not pursuing further action” against Aaron:

[Maybe worthy to mention a passage from the linked article: “In 2008, Mr. Swartz released a “Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto,” calling for activists to “fight back” against the sequestering of scholarly papers and information behind pay walls.”]

The especially sad thing is that JSTOR announced this week that it is now making “more than 4.5 million articles” available to the public at no cost:

BTW, Aaron helped to create RSS, founded Demand Progress [link to the website], which was active on the anti-SOPA front, and sold Infogami to Reddit (now part of Conde Nast):

Perhaps Aaron should have been punished for trespassing, which he did do if the DOJ has its facts right. But last fall the Feds instead slapped him with a superseding indictment featuring 13 felony counts that would mean a worst-case scenario of $4M in fines and possible life in prison (I think we can safely say that 50+ years in prison for someone in their late 20s is life):

I’d be shocked if Congress ever intended for computer crime law to be used this way; I wonder what Lanny Breuer, the head of the DOJ’s criminal division, would say if asked about it the next time he testifies on Capitol Hill. Perhaps Breuer would say this case is a model of restraint: after all, Aaron wasn’t charged with violating the No Electronic Theft Act, which would have added yet another set of felony charges! Paging Harvey Silverglate…

I never met Aaron, and don’t know what led him to this point. Perhaps it was unrelated to the criminal charges. But it’s very sad news, and I can’t help thinking that the possibility of life behind bars, because of alleged bulk downloading that many Americans might be surprised even qualifies as a crime, led to Aaron’s decision to commit suicide. His criminal trial was scheduled to begin in two months.