January 29, 2007

Scientific American On Slamming Open Access [4:38 pm]

Discussing the way the debate is being “framed:” Open Access to Science Under Attack - pdf [via Salon]

The Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers hired Eric Dezenhall, head of Dezenhall Resources, a public relations firm that specializes in “high stakes communications and marketplace defense,” to address some of its members this past summer and potentially craft a media strategy. Dezenhall declined to comment for this article, citing “our longstanding policy due to strict confidentiality agreements neither to identify our clients nor comment on the work we do for them,” in an e-mail response to a request for an interview. But “nobody disagrees on the goals of high-stakes communications—sell a controversial product, win an election, defuse conflict and so forth,” Dezenhall notes in the “manifesto” on the firm’s Web site. “The life-or-death public relations struggles facing businesses today are not about information, they are about power.” In this case, the struggle is over access to scientific information.

Specifically, according to Dezenhall’s suggestions in a memo to the publishers that they should “develop simple messages (e.g., Public access equals government censorship; Scientific journals preserve the quality/pedigree of science; government seeking to nationalize science and be a publisher) for use by Coalition members.” In addition, Dezenhall suggests “bypassing mass ‘consumer’ audiences in favor of reaching a more elite group of decision makers,” including journalists and regulators. This tack is necessary, he writes, because: “it’s hard to fight an adversary that manages to be both elusive and in possession of a better message: Free information.” Finally, Dezenhall suggests joining forces with think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and National Consumers League in an attempt to persuade key players of the potential risks of unfiltered access. “Paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles,” he adds.

Of course, open access does not mean no peer review. While the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is not in the business of peer review, according to Norka Ruiz Bravo, NIH’s deputy director for extramural research, the entirety of PLoS journals are peer-reviewed. “Open-access journals are peer-reviewed to the same standards,” notes Mark Patterson, PLoS’s director of publishing. “We wanted to provide an open-access alternative to the best journals to allow the very best work to be made publicly available.”

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Viral Video and the 2008 Election [4:31 pm]

This article focuses on sticking it to McCain, but it’s just the beginning: Attack ads go online and underground - pdf - [via Salon]

The first whack at McCain, now on the video-sharing site YouTube, joins a rapidly growing collection of Web videos posted by critics of leading contenders in the 2008 presidential race. Targets so far include Barack Obama, Rudolph W. Giuliani, John Edwards, Mitt Romney and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The explosion of video-sharing on the Web poses major risks for presidential candidates: Gaffes and inconsistent statements witnessed by dozens can be e-mailed instantly to millions.

[...] For the candidates, as well as their detractors, the chief attribute of Web video is its broad reach, accomplished at little or no expense.

“You can grab it, send it, link it, and at zero cost,” said Matthew Dowd, a top strategist for President Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign. “Two hundred thousand people could see it in 24 hours.”

Later: In Politics, the Camera Never Blinks (or Nods)

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Hmmm — A Privacy Candidate? [3:33 pm]

And I thought health care was a tough row to hoe: Hillary: The Privacy Candidate? [via Slashdot]

Clinton, the presidential front-runner among Democrats in way-early polling, addressed electronic privacy issues at a constitutional law conference in Washington, D.C. last June. There she unveiled a proposed “Privacy Bill of Rights” that would, among other things, give Americans the right to know what’s being done with their personal information, and offer consumers an unprecedented level of control over how that data is used.

“At all levels, the privacy protections for ordinary citizens are broken, inadequate and out of date,” Clinton said.

[...] “The reality (of her proposals) is that they would almost turn the information economy inside out — it’s like saying, ‘OK, now the water in the stream is going to flow in the other direction,’” said Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the libertarian think tank The Cato Institute. “It’s easy to imagine, but changing the way information moves in the economy is very, very hard to do.”

“I think that over time that these ideas will reemerge (and gain momentum),” said Marc Rotenberg, the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s executive director, who adds that the second half of this congressional session will provide the senator with many opportunities to support privacy-related legislation.

Note that, for any number of reasons, Russ Feingold is a far more credible “privacy” candidate.

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Geist Looks at Vista’s Fine Print [3:00 pm]

Vista’s Fine Print Raises Red Flags [via Slashdot]

While those reviews have focused chiefly on Vista’s new functionality, for the past few months the legal and technical communities have dug into Vista’s “fine print.” Those communities have raised red flags about Vista’s legal terms and conditions as well as the technical limitations that have been incorporated into the software at the insistence of the motion picture industry.

The net effect of these concerns may constitute the real Vista revolution as they point to an unprecedented loss of consumer control over their own personal computers. In the name of shielding consumers from computer viruses and protecting copyright owners from potential infringement, Vista seemingly wrestles control of the “user experience” from the user.

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Frankness at Davos’ World Economic Forum [2:12 pm]

Siva points out what can happen at Davos: China censorship damaged us, Google founders admit - pdf

Google, launched in 1998 by two Stanford University dropouts, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, was accused of selling out and reneging on its “Don’t be evil” motto when it launched in China in 2005. The company modified the version of its search engine in China to exclude controversial topics such as the Tiananmen Square massacre or the Falun Gong movement, provoking a backlash in its core western markets.

Asked whether he regretted the decision, Mr Brin admitted yesterday: “On a business level, that decision to censor… was a net negative.”

The company has only once expressed any regret and never in as strong terms as yesterday. Mr Brin said the company had suffered because of the damage to its reputation in the US and Europe.

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Toobin on Google BookSearch in The New Yorker [1:50 pm]

Google’s Moon Shot - pdf

In part because of that ambition, Google’s endeavor is encountering opposition. A federal court in New York is considering two challenges to the project, one brought by several writers and the Authors Guild, the other by a group of publishers, who are also, curiously, partners in Google Book Search. Both sets of plaintiffs claim that the library component of the project violates copyright law. Like most federal lawsuits, these cases appear likely to be settled before they go to trial, and the terms of any such deal will shape the future of digital books. Google, in an effort to put the lawsuits behind it, may agree to pay the plaintiffs more than a court would require; but, by doing so, the company would discourage potential competitors. To put it another way, being taken to court and charged with copyright infringement on a large scale might be the best thing that ever happens to Google’s foray into the printed word.

In case you don’t get the sense the Toobin’s drunk the Kool-aid from the above quote, there’s this:

But a settlement that serves the parties’ interests does not necessarily benefit the public. “It’s clearly in both sides’ interest to settle,” Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School, said. “Businesses in Internet time can’t wait around for years for lawsuits to be resolved. Google wants to be able to get this done, and get permission to resume scanning copyrighted material at all the libraries. For the publishers, if Google gives them anything at all, it creates a practical precedent, if not a legal precedent, that no one has the right to scan this material without their consent. That’s a win for them. The problem is that even though a settlement would be good for Google and good for the publishers, it would be bad for everyone else.”

[...] In other words, a settlement could insulate Google from competitors, which would be especially troubling, because the company has already proved that when it comes to searches it is not infallible. “Google didn’t get video search right—YouTube did,” Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, said. (Google solved that problem by buying YouTube last year for $1.6 billion.) “Google didn’t get blog search right—technorati.com did,” Wu went on. “So maybe Google won’t get book search right. But if they settle the case with the publishers and create huge barriers to newcomers in the market there won’t be any competition. That’s the greatest danger here.”

[...] The law is supposed to resolve issues like these—between self-interested parties with reasonable claims and legitimate arguments. But the rules of copyright are so ambiguous, and the courts so slow, that the judicial system serves largely to implement the law of the jungle. “There is a real opportunity to move books into the digital arena,” [Google VP in charge of BookSearch] Marissa Mayer told publishers during the conference at the New York Public Library. “And we are going to do it together.”

Siva’s pre-release hints

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