From Peter Suber’s Open Access Blog:
15:39 26/02/2008, Open Access News
InfoInnovation has blogged some notes on Robert Massie’s talk at the NFAIS Annual Conference (Philadelphia, February 24-26, 2008). Massie is the president of the American Chemical Society’s Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS). Excerpt:
…It turns out that from its beginnings in the 19th century until 1966, CAS’ abstracts were written by volunteer abstractors – a robust early example of user-generated content. True, Massie noted, today new standards for chemical information exchange are developing; open access repositories are growing; collaborative websites are emerging; and political/social pressures for more free access characterize the age. “But do [these trends] have to be opposed? Or assimilated?” Massie noted in particular an article that appeared this month in Nature – “Chemistry for Everyone.” In it, noted research Peter Murray-rust argues that CAS is “incompatible with the requirements of Web 2.0”; that “closed publications, binary software and toll-access databases are being swept away by emerging philosophies and approaches.” But, Massie noted, universities are the Web 2.0 homeland, and SciFinder Scholar now serves over 1500 schools. Not only that – many sites in China have sprung up to provide information on how to break into the computer systems of major US universities in order to gain access to SciFinder. So, clearly, “young people in China like SciFinder a lot.”
Massie asserted that the question of Web 2.0 vs. traditional publications is “not a binary problem.” …
Comment PeterS). I wish I had access to the full talk in order to see two parts in full context. First, what did Massie mean by asking whether the trends toward OA (or Web 2.0?) “have to be opposed? Or assimilated?” It sounds like he thinks opposition is unnecessary and unwise. But does assimilation mean adoption? Second, I’d like to see whether he went beyond a narrow response to Peter Murray-Rust’s claim that the new models were sweeping away the old, and offered a wider response to his argument that the new models were superior.
PMR: Like PeterS I only have this snippet to comment on – perhaps Robert can make his slides available? A few points:
- SciFinder (Scholar) is a good and valuable product. It is de rigeur in chemistry departments. However it is also expensive and many institutions cannot afford it. (I believe that some countries manage a national deal).
- The information cannot be re-used (it is protected by copyright). This prevents mashups, compilation of secondary resources, etc. It cannot be linked to in a Web 2.0 manner, tagged, etc.
I am prepared to believe the assertion about China. There is a hunger for scholarship. I would also assert that “young people in China like Pubmed a lot” is true.
I will not comment on the ethics or politics of the alleged Chinese actions. However it seems clear that, for whatever reason, scientific information is becoming a battleground. I have already suffered from getting the University cut off by the ACS publications server (for actions that were entirely legal and where the server behaved IMO in an automatic and inappropariate manner – it thought I was stealing info – I wasn’t).
There is clearly a cost to the closed publishing community in trying to protect its content. Whatever the rights and wrongs of copyrighting scientific raw data, it is clear that the content in Chemical Abstracts is won by the sweat of many brows and is copyrightable. If the Chinese students are trying to get this by hacking into subscribers rather than providers there is a threat to academic systems in general. I’m guessing, but I would assume there will be an increasing pressure in contracts for the subscriber to have to provide mechanisms to prevent misuse of the subscribed information. This, of course, goes beyond SciFinder and may have to be seen as a major concern of academia. Do we have to police our information sources in the same way as we police access to airplanes?
But where the information is free these arguments vanish. I’m not arguing for the complete abolition of copyright but there is increasingly little value for it in the promotion of scientific activity. That is why I have urged publishers to prepare for Open Access (and Open Data) as it seems inevitable. The costs (financial and social) on controlling access to what increasing number of scientists regard as Open information will become unacceptable.