KNIT R&D is a student research group dedicated to advising on the development of the academic digital commons KNIT based on research in political, educational, intellectual, and aesthetic issues in digital technology.
December 10, 2018 in uncategorized by Michael
“…has each one of us signed with the blood of his human nature a compact with some such spiritual power, with the demonic element within him, with that spirit of negation, of cynicism, of cold unideal utilitarian worldly-wisdom which mocks at faith and love and every high and tender impulse…?” – H.B. Cotterill
In our consideration as to whether the floodgates of informational resources owned by universities should be made available to the public, we would do well to take a moment to reflect on a few things we know to be certain regarding the policies, practices and precedence held by these corporate entities/institutions of higher learning, and in so doing, we may speculate as to the natures and purposes for which the troubling legalese found in standard scholarship application sites were intended to achieve.
Here is an example of the Faustian bargain one must enter should they desire access to certain resources to assist in their research, assuming they are willing to accept the following conditions:
“With respect to any information that you enter in the [
unnamed service tool owned by fictional university], you hereby grant [ unnamed university] a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual, unlimited, assignable, fully paid up and royalty-free license to use, copy, prepare derivative works of, improve, distribute, publish, remove, retain, add, process, analyze, use and commercialize (in any way now known or in the future discovered) any information that you provide, directly or indirectly to [ unnamed university]– via the [ unnamed service tool owned by fictional university] – without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to you.
Please remember, that you are agreeing to the release of any and all information about you that is entered into the [
unnamed service tool owned by fictional university]. Therefore, any information that you do not want the [ unnamed service tool owned by fictional university] administrators to view, or that you do not want released to third parties, should not be entered into the [ unnamed service tool owned by fictional university]. To the extent that some or all of the records and/or information in the [ unnamed service tool owned by fictional university] are considered education records pursuant to [ acronym for particular policy of unnamed fictional government agency], your agreement to these terms and conditions also constitutes your consent to disclose such records to any and all third parties who purport to be offering research and/or internship opportunities through the [ unnamed service tool owned by fictional university], including program administrators, potential research advisors, and program assistants.
You hereby agree that you shall defend, indemnify and hold [
unnamed university], its officers, employees, and agents harmless from and against any and all liability, loss, expense (including attorneys’ fees), and claims for injury or damages arising out of your use of the [ unnamed service tool owned by university].
YOU AGREE THAT [
unnamed university] WILL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY INDIRECT, SPECIAL, INCIDENTAL, EXEMPLARY OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES, OR COSTS, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, ANY LOST PROFITS OR REVENUES, EVEN IF [ unnamed university]HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES AND REGARDLESS OF THE LEGAL THEORY UNDER WHICH SUCH DAMAGES ARE SOUGHT. [ unnamed university]DISCLAIMS ALL WARRANTIES, EXPRESS AND IMPLIED, INCLUDING WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. TO THE FULLEST EXTENT ALLOWED BY LAW, YOU AGREE THAT IN NO EVENT SHALL [ unnamed university]’S TOTAL LIABILITY UNDER THIS AGREEMENT EXCEED $100.”
Everything in [
brackets] was my own devising, everything else comes straight from the terms and agreements for utilizing a [ fictional research/scholarship] website. It’s easy to forget that we are just as much on the menu as the people we have been reading about, perhaps more so, given that we are, for lack of a better word, owned by a particular institution or two, as far as we know. What makes this all the more disheartening, is the sheer indifference many of us seem to possess regarding these matters which could, in fact, end up costing us dearly.
November 17, 2018 in uncategorized by MICHELLE LE
As these readings go on, I find myself learning more and more about what open access really means and how the digital world copes with a controversial idea. The full text of “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto” and “Science’s Pirate Queen” are two different pieces of writing but each of them tackle the issue of offering scholarly material on the web for free. A couple of weeks before I would have cheered wholeheartedly about Aaron Swartz’s manifesto that practically screamed its call to rally people in the cause of Open Access. But now as I read “Science’s Pirate Queen,” I can see how the concept can be a complex issue that people can be decisive about. Alexandra Elbakyan was sued by Elsevier for hosting a server that compiled millions of academic papers and her site was taken down. There’s criticism that papers are already funded by public research and that it’s an economic barrier to have them charged. The publisher argues that they protect copyright and they prevent the illegal sales of journals that can make it harder for people to access.
An interesting point Elsevier also brings up is that people do have the option of publishing freely. It does shift the argument to the choice of the researchers themselves and why they don’t simply publish themselves? Perhaps they fear their work won’t get enough attention, they don’t know how to reach a broader audience, they don’t want to be published by a poorly managed server, or that they are bound by the rules of capitalism they can’t escape. But it doesn’t mean Open Access is hopeless, it just means the conversation evolves. How can we fix this issue if we can’t explore all the avenues?
November 15, 2018 in uncategorized by HANNAH GRIFFITH
What happens when we corporatize knowledge? I picture a dystopia where all the fat cats at the top hold all of the wealth of knowledge discovered by scientists and researchers, while all of the folks at the bottom scramble and claw to find information about the world they live in. Oh wait, we’re already living this! Capitalism has created an environment where it is okay to harbor ideas in order to gain a profit, and eventually the gap between the informed and misinformed is going to grow so exponentially wide that it will be impossible to fill. The information being sold by publishing companies (of which most of the researchers themselves could not even afford) is crucial to understanding many important aspects of our world (like climate change for instance) that have major effects on the way we approach social and political issues. I feel like the only way to abolish this prejudiced distribution of knowledge is to round up every researcher and author and have them sue the “Big 5” publishing companies for the rights to their own works. At least government funded research is made public now, but we still have a long way to go before equal access can be achieved- so for now it can only be through hacking, illegal downloading and unlawful distributing to create a dark web of info that people can rightfully obtain knowledge.
November 12, 2018 in uncategorized by Zach Young
In Men in Black, Tommy Lee Jones’ character makes a comment that is dishearteningly, universally true: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.” This is at the core of mob mentality and why idealistic social structures like socialism and anarchy—the lack of government kind—are impractical. With that in mind, the conversation around free and open access (OA) to academic literature via the internet smacks of the same kind of starry-eyed arguments that happen to leave out the more pragmatic and logistical concerns that come with OA implementation. This isn’t to say that I’m opposed to making academic and scientific articles freely accessible to the public. However, I am pointing out—and advocating for—two necessary difficulties in doing so.
Firstly, there is an issue of language heterogeneity: a majority of the articles published by academics and scientists are replete with erudite words, phrases, and concepts that a layperson doesn’t know or understand. Allow a metaphor to do the heavy lifting here: making something palatable for a wide audience requires a reduction of specific “flavors” so as to ensure the dish is unoffensive to most tastes. Unfortunately this results in bland, unmemorable meals. The same can be said about altering the language of academics so that their articles can be digestible by the public. If only there was a way to give everyone access to a resource that explains the meaning or ‘definition’ of words and phrases one is unfamiliar with…Sarcasm aside, this raises a tangential point: a great many readers don’t want to put in the effort required to understand something they are reading. the question this seems to raise is, ‘how do we raise the level of engagement of non-specialists, non-professionals, and non-academics?’ This is a red herring. The question should be, ‘why do the authors of “challenging” reads need to engage the intellectually lazy?’ Consider for a moment that OA is a digital pursuit, and that by its very nature, it is connected to resources that can clear up any misunderstood words, phrases, or concepts as needed. After all, the goal of OA is to “accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge” (Chan et al). If this goal is to be achieve, it requires the elevation of the public lexicon, not the simplification of the subject matter experts’.
Secondly, not all of the results of making academic and scientific articles OA will be positive. As Gary Hall wrote in his article for academia.edu, OA opens the door for those who own and operate the platforms, “angel-investor and venture-capital-funded professional entrepreneurs…to exploit the data flows generated by the academics who use the platform as an intermediary for sharing their research” (Hall). Such a practice, demonized by the supporters of OA, is a logical condition, nay cost, of free things in the “data-driven” age of surveillance capitalism. Luckily, the sale of user data from OA platforms—like viewing habits, and trend metrics—to R&D companies is less pernicious than the individual user data sold to advertising companies. This is because—unlike social media platforms—the content found on academia.edu and the like is arguably of higher merit and therefore more beneficial to be shared with—and or data-mined for—the world. The biggest detriment would be topic bias in R&D funding based on the popular papers from the sites being data-mined, to which I would argue is less problematic than it is irritating (especially for those publishing unpopular content). And so this leaves a few options: fight the funders which would drastically reduce the number of OA platforms, hope that human nature is changeable on a global scale and every begins to act as they should, or as I argue, we just accept the good with the bad. In my estimate, the amount of good that can be accomplished in the long run is inestimably greater than the negative features OA faces today.