Robert Massie on OA and PMR

From Peter Suber’s Open Access Blog:

Robert Massie on OA

15:39 26/02/2008, Peter Suber, 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.

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2 Responses to Robert Massie on OA and PMR

  1. Tobias Kind says:

    Hi Peter,
    I don’t believe this hacking CAS story,
    this must have been before 2004, since
    then CAS SciFinder is in China via CALIS.
    Isn’t China taking over in 10 years anyway?
    The question is how could they develop so
    fast *without* using SciFinder or Beilstein?
    It is possible, but you waste a lot of information.
    This is what chemist like to do – waste their
    information, structures, spectra etc. Now
    somebody clever came up and is hoovering behind
    their tail, collecting that dust. Well done.
    And chemists are happy to pay for their
    collected aehm… information. And they will
    do that in the future, because that is what
    they learned from mommy (their Professor).
    Nobody is using Altavista anymore and nobody
    is buying CDs anymore, because somebody else
    came up with a more innovative product. If
    we can show the benefits of using large
    and open structure collections (PubChem)
    or open spectral collections (CrystalEye,
    NMRShiftDB) together with the power of
    web technologies there will be a change.
    SciFinder and the CAS DB are good and valuable
    products and I encourage people to use it more
    often with all the possible refinements and
    tricks. Our concern should not be that SciFinder
    in terms of innovation misses a lot of
    opportunities and CAS wastes a lot of information
    in their collection of our own ideas.
    People go to PubMed or Google Scholar now
    and one has to convince them that they
    can do much better by using SciFinder.
    The CAS DB and Beilstein are still
    superior in content, we should
    teach the new chemists not to waste
    information by printing their expensive
    results on paper or PDF – but making
    chemical information truly machine readable
    and open.
    Open for software robots to crawl
    that information and built databases
    of structures and spectra and properties
    and semantics for free and basic use
    (paid by the taxpayer) and also open for
    commercial use by enhancing the information
    and selling it back to those who
    need an even more sophisticated product.
    Well, no news for you 🙂
    Kind regards
    Tobias Kind

  2. Pingback: Unilever Centre for Molecular Informatics, Cambridge - petermr’s blog » Blog Archive » Why and how we should move away from CAS numbers

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