WWMM slashdotted

Yesterday I got a comment: “smile, you’re on slashdot”, and thought relatively little about it. Slashdot (WP) or /. is essentially the first major community discussion site – it predates blogs and although some of its functionality is duplicated by blogs it retains a fairly unique and complex system of recursive moderation. Glyn Moody had seen my post about “paying for my own article” and posted it (or caused it to be posted) on slashdot. Thanks (seriously), Glyn:

Scientist Must Pay to Read His Own Paper

Posted by samzenpus on Tuesday September 04, @12:00PM
from the who-own-paper-town dept.
Glyn Moody writes Peter Murray Rust, a chemist at Cambridge University, was lost for words when he found Oxford University Press’s website demanded $48 from him to access his own scientific paper, in which he holds copyright and which he released under a Creative Commons license. As he writes, the journal in question was “selling my intellectual property, without my permission, against the terms of the license (no commercial use).” In the light of this kind of copyright abuse and of the PRISM Coalition, a new FUD group set up by scientific publishers to discredit open access, isn’t it time to say enough is enough, and demand free access to the research we pay for through our taxes?”

What I didn’t know about was the Slashdot effect. Slashdot has 5 million+ readers and when they see a story zillions rush off to read it. So the server effectively suffers denial-of-service, although quite benign in intention. Our server fell over (probably due to the thread limit being exceeded). So apologies to those who couldn’t read the site for a few hours and thanks to my colleagues for restarting it.
There were hundreds if not thousands of comments. (My blog gets about 1 per post). Many of these were hidden below a moderated threshhold – presumably wibblers, trolls etc.
Remember that the readers on slashdot will simply have seen Glyn’s (meta)post and the title. Strictly, of course, I could read the paper – it was there, Open, on the OUP site. And, since the slashdotters had come in halfway through the movie they didn’t realise it was an ongoing concern on this blog. “Science is not clear whether he can reproduce his own paper for teaching purposes” would be more accurate. So leaving aside those who asked why I hadn’t backed it up, who thought I wanted the publicity, and who thought this was an Oxford-Cambridge battle, the discussion was roughly:

  • Why are you making a fuss – it has a CC licence – just go ahead. (Remember I have been cut off by commercial publishers machinery for doing “legal” things).
  • Sue the hell out of OUP.

One valuable, if sad, outcome was that the additional publicity generated the comment leading to the Ingenta mis-appropropriation, corruption, closure and resale of the article. Had that been clear I think the discussion would have been more one-sided.
And – in case you think I don’t do any real science, yesterday I:

  • reviewed 4 papers for an eScience meeting
  • oversaw the creation of our next generation of polymer informatics software
  • helped graduate students write/debug some of the code to do it
  • planned the science to come out of our CrystalEye project
  • negotiated a grant

[NOTE ADDED: It wasn’t slashdot that crashed the server – it was overflow in CrystalEye. But perhaps that simply came first…]

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