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George Soros Funds Open-Publishing Software 109

Posted by Hemos
from the opening-the-channels-of-communication dept.
blair1q writes "BBC has a story reporting that George Soros and his Open Society Institute are funding "open access" media for scientific publishing. These outlets will compete with the quasi-monopolies held by the journal industry and provide information to researchers whose institutions can't afford to subscribe to large numbers of overpriced periodicals. Part of the funding will go to improve the open-access enabling EPrints software, which is under GPL."
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George Soros Funds Open-Publishing Software

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  • Wonderful (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Toby Truman (555615) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @11:57AM (#3008130) Homepage
    These outlets will compete with the quasi-monopolies held by the journal industry and provide information to researchers whose institutions can't afford to subscribe to large numbers of overpriced periodicals.

    Sort of like how Slashdot competes with the quasi-monopolies held by the magazine industry in order to provide information to geeks who can't afford to buy magazines that check their facts, etc. :-)

    Scientific journals serve a purpose, despite the rants by frustrated pseudoscientists who can't get their work published. Though the system may not work perfectly, at least they make some attempt to review articles and weed out the crap. Words like "free" and "open" and "no censorship" are not necessarily good for science, because it really just means "hey! we'll publish your manifestoes on how the world *really* works, even if those self-proclaimed scientist types keep telling you to talk to a psychologist..."

    • Re:Wonderful (Score:5, Informative)

      by Daemonik (171801) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @12:09PM (#3008225) Homepage
      Just because it's open doesn't mean that it is unedited.

      Consider another open publishing project: Nupedia, the open encyclopedia. All the submissions are reviewed by the author's peers. The biggest advantage however, is that subsequent authors are free to quote from and add too the material without fear of a cadre of copyright attorneys descending upon their home.

      Open sourcing scientific journals will greatly increase the dispersion of scientific information into the greater pool of human knowledge.
    • Re:Wonderful (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lars_stefan_axelsson (236283) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @12:28PM (#3008346) Homepage
      Scientific journals serve a purpose, despite the rants by frustrated pseudoscientists who can't get their work published. Though the system may not work perfectly, at least they make some attempt to review articles and weed out the crap. Words like "free" and "open" and "no censorship" are not necessarily good for science, because it really just means "hey! we'll publish your manifestoes on how the world *really* works, even if those self-proclaimed scientist types keep telling you to talk to a psychologist..."

      You've obviously never published anything in a scientific journal, or you wouldn't equate "costs several thousand dollars for a year's worth (four) issues" with "checks their facts."

      The economy of the situation is that you as the author typically pays the journal to have your work published. This is ostensibly to cover the cost of printing/typesetting at about $20 to $50 per page. The journal charges exhorbitant amounts for a subscription, and the editors and reviewers typically work for free. (Well, in practice that often means that their PhD students work for free.

      The only one making any money out of this (and in some cases it's serious money) is the publisher (Springer Verlag is notorious in this regard.)

      And that's only when it works the way it's supposed to. In the field of biology for example, there's been a recent outcry about the reviewers actually stealing results and publishing them as their own, from papers they were set to review. It's gotten to the point where papers submittet will be intentionally falsified, to be able to track who's trying to steal what research from whom.

      About the only silver lining is that they (at least ACM and IEEE, don't know about Springer) even though they have you sign over the copyright, still let you publish on your own, i.e. via the web. And let me tell you that they'd have a real revolution on their hands if they didn't.

      That's why there is growing pressure to revolutionise the system of academic publishing. No-one's talking about doing away with peer-review. It's not like we haven't noticed that no-one doing the actual work isn't getting paid by the publisher anyway! We might as well just publish electronically and be done with the middle man.

      • You quote a cost of $20 to $50 per page for typesetting. In my experience (physics journals), there is a required electronic format (usually TeX), and the journal provides templates. I can see the article exactly as it will appear in the journal before I send it to the journal. The writer does the typesetting. I have heard the claim of typesetting costs before, but it sounds false to me. Is this the case in other disciplines?

        Look inside the front cover of a journal to see the cost of a subscription. Where does the money go? It's not to the writers, the editors, or the reviewers. I claim that it is not to the typesetters. Furthermore, the page costs (paid by the writer, and often between $50 and $100 per page) are supposed to cover the typesetting costs. Why do they cost so much money?

        Free access to information is long overdue.
        • You quote a cost of $20 to $50 per page for typesetting. In my experience (physics journals), there is a required electronic format (usually TeX), and the journal provides templates. I can see the article exactly as it will appear in the journal before I send it to the journal. The writer does the typesetting. I have heard the claim of typesetting costs before, but it sounds false to me. Is this the case in other disciplines?

          Well, my discipline is computer security, and even though you may have gathered that I'm not exactly thrilled at the situation, there is usually typesetting involved in our field. In my case yes there was indeed the required LaTeX templates, but then the typesetting people hacked up what I sent to them, and as I never got to see the actual galley proofs, managed to intruduce quite a lot of irritating errors and typos.

          But when it comes to the economy of the situation, the money ends up in Herr Springer's pockets (if there is a Herr Springer, but you catch my drift). I've certainly been told that Elsevier (another European publisher) is nothing short of a cash cow.

          So, yes in essence, you cover all the cost, and they keep all the proceeds...

          • by Anonymous Coward
            Calm down, everyone.

            Typically, academic journals need to maintain a staff, space, equipment, travel, conference, and other associated costs. This doesn't mean that all academic journals are priced correctly. And, yes, authors usually do pay per-page costs.

            The problem is neither of these things but the reaction to them. Don't like the costs? Think you can do better? Start your own journal.

            Slashdot is probably not the best forum for this debate because people unfamiliar with what's required for academic publishing think that the Open Source Software model can be equated to the academic review and publishing model.

            Open source software works because it has time on its side. Programs that become popular can gain momentum and steam on an irregular timeline (e.g. according to demand). A publishing schedule doesn't work that way.

            Good luck to George & Company, but I don't think they're going to find it's all that easy to promise a quality scientific research product by the mere fact of throwing away the traditional review process and giving the product away for free. If the good authors were all into giving away their research for free to begin with, they'd have just published it on the Web in the first place!

            The fact that so many people replying to this article confuse "free" and "open source" and "review processes" is a reflection of ignorance about some of the very essentially different consequences of pursuing any combination of those propogation models.

            The main problem with George's idea is that his journals will be overrun by hacks. Anybody who couldn't get published in a traditional scientific journal (which is basically 95% of people who submit articles) will exploit the weaker standards to get junk published. Consequently, the quality of research published in these journals will be lower, and no one who values their time will take them seriously.

            Meanwhile, lead researchers won't dare get involved in that mess, and their co-authors won't dare abandon that gravy train either.

            Just because people "should" have something for free doesn't mean other people "should" be coerced into providing it. Instead of complaining Soros & Company should just start a competing journal... good luck to them, I say, but don't pretend like never charging the end user can ever be sustainable (without a millionaire standing behind the operation who's taking money to fund it from somewhere else).

            It's laughable sometimes how people confuse "free" as in not having to pay with "free software" (free of onerous licensing restrictions). It's embarrassing to see so many Slashdot posts that obviously don't understand the difference, e.g. assume it means they shouldn't ever have to pay for something.

            It's free as in speech, people, not free as in beer. Stop whining and write a research paper that's worthy of publication.
            • Calm down, everyone. Typically, academic journals need to maintain a staff, space, equipment, travel, conference, and other associated costs. This doesn't mean that all academic journals are priced correctly. And, yes, authors usually do pay per-page costs.

              Oh sure some of the "flasiher" ones, i.e. the ones that don't amount to as much scientifically. The ones I'm talking about don't maintain any staff, i.e. they share staff between several. All the real work is done by unsalaried researchers.

              The problem is neither of these things but the reaction to them. Don't like the costs? Think you can do better? Start your own journal.

              Well, that's just the point. With the web we're currently debating doing just that. There have already been a few attempts.

              If the good authors were all into giving away their research for free to begin with, they'd have just published it on the Web in the first place!

              Well, we do "give our research away for free", there's no-one paying us. Not one single journal ever pays for published work, ever. That's the point. And we do also give it away on the side. I cannot remember when I actually had to go to the library to read an article I was interested in last. Since all the journals I'm talking about do allow publishing on your own website, that's where we actually go to get the papers.

              Meanwhile, lead researchers won't dare get involved in that mess, and their co-authors won't dare abandon that gravy train either.

              Are you on drugs? What gravy train? There's no money to be had in research publication unless you own a publishing house. None, zero, nada, zilch! Re-read my first post, you typically have to pay the journal money to have them print it!They don't pay you to peer review either!

              but don't pretend like never charging the end user can ever be sustainable (without a millionaire standing behind the operation who's taking money to fund it from somewhere else).

              Researchers get their grants elsewhere, their work has already been "paid for" when the publication process begins. The only reason to publish is to have your work submitted to the peer review, and hence measured against the competitors of your field, so that you can get more grants. That you get a dead tree copy of your work, doesn't even enter into the equation. It has no financial bearing on your work what so ever. In my field we don't even publish in journals much, opting instead for conferences.

              Stop whining and write a research paper that's worthy of publication.

              Well, I for one, have. Haven't you read any of the posts your responding to. Sheesh, no-one peer reviewed your submission, that's for sure.

          • I've certainly been told that Elsevier (another European publisher) is nothing short of a cash cow.

            Let me add Science Direct, Wiley, and BioMedNet to the list. It's make you wonder why so many publishers are in this line of business? Just think about it: if they're not making money, they wouldn't be doing this. I agree with you that they're making an exorbitant amount of money. The world of peer-reviewed science does not need this type of competition--in other words, they don't need dozens of systems of online publishing, all of which require separate login and passwords to access the articles and don't forget, they also require separate fees.

        • by Anonymous Coward
          I used to work for AAAS, which publishes Science magazine. Believe me, there was much talk there about efforts to create open source alternatives to expensive journals. The librarians have been spearheading these efforts, because they are tired of libraries being screwed over by the likes of Elsevier.

          Science is supposed to be a multidiscplinary scientific magazine. In reality they've tilted the content towards the biological sciences, because that is where the ad revenue is at.

          Where does the money go? The subscription costs for Science aren't very high compared to other scientific magazines. The money, at least at Science, went to support the association, which has around 300 employees. The money mostly goes to pay salaries.

          But AAAS is a nonprofit, so the question should be why do most scientific journals cost so much? Leaving aside the viscious cycle between specialty publications and libraries that cancel titles, many publications are published by a few provate corporations. The money is going to investors.

          BTW, AAAS Enroned my pension fund.
      • This is a little bit of an overstatement. While the journals often are expensive, there are real costs besides copyediting, to running a paper journal that has to go through a printing press, etc.

        Also, I think that this talk about reviewers stealing results and authors intentionally falsifying papers (pace Alan Sokal) is seriously oversold. I certainly haven't seen this problem in the refereed computer science journals I write and review for.

        And while I like open publications, there are some things I miss about those old, expensive journals. Like the fact that they used to copy edit. Now I get journals filled with grammatical errors, if I'm lucky. If I'm not, they'll even have spelling errors. No one's checking them anymore.

        I liked the intermediate phase of this revolution, when there still were edited peer-reviewed journals, but free publication was ensured by the availability of preprints and short, conference versions of papers.

    • Toby, are modding yourself again? You know you can go blind doing that. As your post here proves, any idiot can be published. With an abusable mod system, it can even look like you have peer approval. I suppose you will make yourself +5, but I modded you -1 flamebait.

      The facts, as has been documented here and elsewhere, are that reputable scientists are trying to move publication of peer review journals into the future. They know their peers, and can organize themselves on line. If it becomes too much for them, some profesional society will step in and organize it for them but the restrictions on publishing elswhere and great cost of dead trees will become a thing of the past. The internet provides a low cost means of ditributing information and it will be expoited.

      One very good example of this is the Journal of the American Medical Association, now online [ama-assn.org] and mostly free [ama-assn.org]. The New England Journal of Medicine is not as available, but is online. The physics people have been doing this for a long time, and everyone is following. Science and peer review will not die with the outmoded dead tree journal publication industry. Abusers like you will be weeded out, as will greedy publishers who abuse their reputations to try to make a few extra bucks.

      Have a nice day.

    • Re:Wonderful (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      A large part of the problem with the established journals is that they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and will not publish anything that may impact that.

      For example, many branches of mathematics are fundamentally the same, but use different terminology. Any attempt to publish a paper that provides a dictionary to convert two branches is met with hostility from all sides, yet there are "researchers" who have their own private versions of such dictionaries and use them to translate other peoples work into different branches and call them their own. Furthermore, what they do is well known at the universities where they work.

      Everyone in academia and at the industry that serves them is after dollars just like everyone else.

      If these publications publish random pseudoscience then they will end up competing with the Weekly World News. If they publish real science, then they may make a difference.
    • Here's a thought. Academic journals cost a fortune because they've got 100 times the content of Newsweek and 1/100th of the subscribership base. The subscriber-to-verifier ratios too damn low to keep them reasonably priced. They're not overpriced because there's some Hearst somewhere riding high on the hog off subscriptions to the Okipenoki Journal of Internal Medicine - its just supply and demand.

      If you introduce a successful, free journal, you'll only further undermine that market. Now I don't know about you, but I'd rather see the error costs manifesting themselves as a few bright folks not getting published rather than a couple dozen fruitcakes pushing theories about how the government is leasing Area 51 to Martians.

      It sounds like Soros would substitute peer review (not much sh*t, but good sh*t) with Peer-2-Peer review (not good sh*t, but alotta sh*t). I'm not sure this is the trade-off we want to make.

      The journal system may suck - but maybe that means we should be further subsidizing the market, rather than trying to explode it.
    • Hey buddy, I checked out your website. It looks like it could be a wonderful resource. But I have one big, fat, peeve- DON'T BREEAK MY BACK BUTTON! This pisses me off, and a lot of other people too. It only puts you on the same level as a scumbag porn site. If you feel you have to "capture" your readers, you have a content problem. If you can't keep your hands off cheesy Javascript techniques, open a new window.
    • Sort of like how Slashdot competes with the quasi-monopolies held by the magazine industry in order to provide information to geeks who can't afford to buy magazines that check their facts, etc. :-)

      Not a good analogy at all. Open journals will be peer reviewed, just like closed journals. BTW: there is *already* a series of open biological journals that seem quite promising -- Biomed Central -- check them out here [biomedcentral.com]
  • "They say that researchers write and review papers for free, so the journals should not charge to read them."

    I find it interesting that areas other than programming are showing signs of the opensource movement. I have to wonder though, would it not be a cheaper endevour to combat established commercial publications with relevant, fresh, quailty content on a new website??

    How many more readers does /. get than Yahoo! Internet magazine or Wired?? I would imagine a lot more...

    Just my $.02
    • I find it interesting that areas other than programming are showing signs of the opensource movement.

      Open, peer-reviewed acacdemic publishing pre-dates open source/free software by many, many decades.

      How many more readers does /. get than Yahoo! Internet magazine or Wired?? I would imagine a lot more...

      Are you on crack? Slashdot isn't even in the same league as those sites.

      Or were you being sarcastic?

      • Open, peer-reviewed acacdemic publishing pre-dates open source/free software by many, many decades.

        Perhaps as a general open medium in which to share knowledge, but I think the idea of using such publications to undermine/compete with comercial sources of information is somewhat new.

        Are you on crack? Slashdot isn't even in the same league as those sites.

        Or were you being sarcastic? A little of both. ;)

        I dont mean the sites though. I was refering to the number of people who read the tree versions of tech magazines as opposed to the number of hits/or the number or /. readers.

        To be honest, I still could be way off on this assumption, but please, dont blame the crack... ;)

        --rpr
        • but I think the idea of using such publications to undermine/compete with comercial sources of information is somewhat new.

          OK, that makes more sense to me. But, I'd bet it's a result of the advances in telecommunications rather than the success of open-source. I think it prallels the open-source movement not follows it. They both benefit immeasurably from high-speed communication.

          I was refering to the number of people who read the tree versions of tech magazines as opposed to the number of hits/or the number or /. readers.

          I misunderstood then. That makes more sense. But, considering the editorial quality of Slashdot, I hope Soros' project fairs better!

          dont blame the crack

          No offense to crack intended :)

  • by TheMatt (541854) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @11:59AM (#3008150) Homepage Journal
    As a grad student, I would love for this happen...as long as standards don't fall the the wayside. If Soros could get free journals with peer review, I'd support it with every ounce of my body. My university pays up the nose for journals and every year I read about how some journals need to be cut to meet the budget.

    In fact, I've often wondered why universities pay an outrageous institutional price for the journals, when an individual can pay a lower price (albeit still exorbitant).

    This is one of the true monopolies I would love to see end.
  • It's Open-Publishing Software or Open Access that Soros is investing?

    And who in good will would think that Soros giving money is more important than the actual news that an open access system will be developed. I mean, so what is Soros? Could be Bill Gates, *the* important news for the Slashdot community is that there are people against paying for information and people who is making something against it, by providing it for free.
  • by magarity (164372)
    Is George trying to regain karma for having precipitated the collapse of the baht?
  • by d.valued (150022) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @12:03PM (#3008177) Journal
    Dunno about you, but the last few major scientific releases have been first through a journal then to the world. Successful cloning, stem cell research, and most recently the artificial womb.

    Right now, there's increasing pressure for scientists to close themselves off, mainly coming from their employers (companies).

    What's happening to science is what happened to software. At first, the source was available, because the supplier didn't know if you could run the binaries and besides, you probably could help improve the code as well. Then, Ma Bell shut off the flow of source and caused the balkanization of Unices. After that, almost all software was binary for a particular platform.

    Science started with open information sharing, and is perilously progressing towards a proprietarization of knowledge. Trade secrets are becoming more popular than patents because secrets are more protected. (Trade secrets are highly protected as long as no one else figures out how to do what you can do independantly, whereas patents are open to public inspection and expire. )

    • by aardvaark (19793) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @01:42PM (#3008823) Homepage
      I don't think so. What you say has always been true. Companies try to hold on and patent the things they do, then other companies reverse engineer it when it comes out. Anything that has government funding however (read NSF), almost _must_ fascilitate data sharing and publication.

      For instance, I am in seismology. My research group puts out arrays of seismometers in the western U.S. The data we obtain is only proprietary (even though we did _all_ the work) for a couple years. After that it is open to the world. If we haven't published yet, tough luck., and if we don't publish, don't count on another grant in the future. This is because we took NSF money to do it.
  • Ah, if only we mere mortals could get George's ear for a few hours, and explain how he could actually profit by supporting open music distribution.

    To wit:
    - users must open an account at the music distribution site.
    - users must keep a balance of >$50 in their account in order to continue purchasing music.
    - music costs $0.50 per track.
    - artists are paid when they collect $1000 in payments or once a month, whichever is less frequent, no interest paid on the account (rather, the distribution site keeps any interest the money earns).
    - the distribution site skims 5% of the transaction.
    - for an additional percentage, the site will support automatic payment distribution, such that everyone the musician owes money to gets a percentage of the take (rather than the musician having to do that accounting him/herself.)

    I think this would be a moderately profitable business. The key to success is to not be greedy: the only thing keeping micropayments from working is greed.

    And George has the bucks to fund the startup. He wouldn't make a shitload of profit, but it wouldn't be unprofitable. He'd have to do it out of a desire for legacy, not to increase his fortunes.
    • Don't even think about Soros not making profits. He fucked a lot of people in Estern Europe with his schemes. In Romania for ex. he created several non profit ISPs to offer Internet connection to school. After several years he was obliged to transform them in companies because it was proved that in fact they were registered as nonprofit only not to pay taxes.
  • I see this news as a wonderful contrast to the open source movement. Science has always been "open source", with publishers demanding a reasonable payment for their efforts of propogating that knowledge. Free speech not Free beer. Now the movement is for free propogation of that information at little or no cost. Free beer for the scientific community.

    On the other hand open source and FSF has it's roots in free beer and free speech, and is now only going towards changing for that beer. I think both models are legitamate and should function with each other. Who else is going to edit that Nature or Science journal if you dont pay them? But then again there will always be people who do it for the love of the code, or in this case the research
  • Hmmm, according to that Salon article, Bill got here 4 years before he was "born". This could explain a lot...
  • I wish they could somehow share this info between open and free universities and students and somehow block all those universities that don't share info. They should have to obtain/create their own info, if they're going to sell it.
  • Y'know, this guy is a preeminent capitalist. He made his billions (mostly without any moral ambiguities) and has gone on to change the world in positive ways. His generosity and nobility are prime examples of why the "society benefits from selfishness" is such a load of crapola. Soros did it for himself, now he's doing it for others. *That* is a capitalist, my friends.

    Obviously I am not the Ayn Rand fan I once was.

    • I'm going to take a stab that you are American here.

      If you lived in one of the countries shafted by Soros and his fellow currency speculators you may have a left rosy opinion. How many homes in the UK were re-possessed after our currency crashed in the early 90s and interest rates shot up for the next 5 years?

      In fact your comments sicken me. It's rare that has happened on slashdot.

      I'm sure the free software movement would generally be appalled by the support of someone like this .... it's everything that's wrong with capatalism and globalisation!
      • Come off it, George Soros almost singlehandedly pulled the UK out of recession by forcing an end to the policy of overvalued exchange rate + excessively high interest rates. It was only after the government was forced to abandon its exchange rate policy that the economy started to pick up again.

        You might not like the idea of currency speculators making economic decisions, but the fact is that in practice they do a much better job than most governments.
    • Y'know, this guy is a preeminent capitalist. He made his billions (mostly without any moral ambiguities) and has gone on to change the world in positive ways. His generosity and nobility are prime examples of why the "society benefits from selfishness" is such a load of crapola. Soros did it for himself, now he's doing it for others. *That* is a capitalist, my friends.

      Actually he is far from an uncritical fan of capitalism. His latest books include 'the crisis of global capitalism'.

      Soros was a student of Karl Popper. The Open Society institute is kind of a memorial to his tutor whose most important book was 'The Open Society and its Enemies', these were Plato, Hegel and Marx.

      Above all what Soros is opposed to is any group of idealogues who believe they have absolute truth. So having made a fortune from capitalism he goes on to explain the many ways in which it falls short. It is pretty hard not to take notice of his critique of Randian 'free market mania' that infects the GOP. Soros has demonstrated empirically that he understands how markets work and how they fail.

      It is also notable that Soros has scored his biggest market coups betting against right wing governments. In particular betting against John Majors attempt to keep the pound overvalued in the ERM.

    • Yes, Soros does seem to do good things with the wealth that he has generated. IMO the best work he has done involves helping fund some medical marijuana initiatives and opposing the War on (some) Drugs in general.

      Opposing the drug war shows to me that he is at least rational and good willed.

    • by Tackhead (54550) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @01:01PM (#3008536)
      > Y'know, this guy is a preeminent capitalist. He made his billions (mostly without any moral ambiguities) and has gone on to change the world in positive ways. His generosity and nobility are prime examples of why the "society benefits from selfishness" is such a load of crapola. Soros did it for himself, now he's doing it for others. *That* is a capitalist, my friends.
      >
      > Obviously I am not the Ayn Rand fan I once was.

      Not necessarily. I, too, respect Soros, both for his trading skills and for what he's decided to do with his money now that he's earned it.

      But I'd think that even the hardest-core Randroid could appreciate what Soros is doing.

      1) He made his money. It's his. It pleases him to do this with his money, and who is anyone else to say he ought to do otherwise?

      2) The other simple argument: Soros values the recipients (scientists) of his generosity. It is appropriate for him (in the Randroid sense) to help them.

      3) If it's productive virtue that buys self-respect and happiness, and Soros wants to see science done, then this is a way of producing more with his money than he could otherwise produce. He's got enough to satisfy his material needs (and the needs of those for whom he cares) for the rest of his life. Sure, he could probably make a few billion more, but those would be just bits in a database somewhere. Instead, he chooses to use it - to produce something of value (more scientists, by reducing the cost of "becoming a scientist"), and in return, has the satisfaction of knowing that the things (ideas, discoveries, theories, technologies) the scientists go on to build were things he (as a nonscientist) would never have been able to build himself.

      If that isn't fair, mutually-beneficial trade, I don't know what is.

      (Or to put it another way, producing demand is easy, but boring -- he could spend billions on toys like tourist trips to the Space Station, an OC-192 and 50" plasma display to every room in each of his houses, and he'd probably be bored after the orgy of spending was complete. But producing supply - new scientists to develop space hotels, OC-192s for $50 and 3D holographic displays - is hard. He's chosen to do the hard, but rewarding, thing.)

  • Good Thing :) (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Qwerpafw (315600)
    Its nice that someone's trying to move research materials and other content into the free arena. Most of the stuff out there is just too expensive for students like me to get. Of course, colleges pay for subscriptions, but once I'm out there on my own...

    Plus I think the that the point they make, saying:
    "researchers write and review papers for free, so the journals should not charge to read them."
    is quite valid. Didn't the NYTimes have to remove a bunch of content from their (paid subscription) database because the people who submitted the articles still had the copyrights, etc? I know those were editorial pieces, and that when you submit journal articles, you give up the copyright, (pretty sure about that part) but isn't the principle of the thing the same?

    I really like this part :
    The literature that should be freely accessible online is that which scholars give to the world without expectation of payment,"
    Thats music to my ears.
  • by dciman (106457)
    I think that some people are missing the whole point of the way the research journal system is setup today. The journals cost a lot of money to get.... esp the paper versions. But...the journal companies ahve a LOT of overhead to deal with. Mainly coordinating the review process that gives any jounral its credibility. Others in the given scientific field have to read and review the papers before they are deemed ready for publishing.... as well as several copy editors and others employed by the actual jounral. This is all to ensure validity of the science and quality of the paper. ALong with that, people publish in a given journal because of its reputation. Science or Nature being pretty much cream of the crop work.... then moving on to journals like Proc. National Academy of Sciences, Cell, J of Bacteriology, then down to the level of journals and so on. Where you publish becomes a reflection of the quality of work that you do. Some institutions even *require* faculty to publish so many papers in a given set of journals in order to be eligible for full professorship. So, this system seems great... but I think it is going to be very difficult to get people using it in large numbers.
    • But...the journal companies ahve a LOT of overhead to deal with. Mainly coordinating the review process that gives any jounral its credibility.

      Yes. Printing, distributing and coordinating input from (unpaid) peer reviewers has been expensive in the past.

      Fortunately, we have now have this wonderful thing called the World Wide Web, which makes it much easier to do these things and can reduce the afore mentioned costs to a fraction.

      You never know, in the future it might be a prerequisite that a science faculty scores 50 karma points for papers posted on ScienceDot.
      • ITs true that you never know what the future might hold. it just seems like a hard thing to overcome, sicne the publishing houses are so entrenched. It will take a lot of effort to build up the level of respect of a new journal such as this.

        Top it off with the fact that there are still a lot of older faculty members that hardly know how to check their email, let alone review papers on the web. However, they are still contributing greatly to the scientific community. We have two or three such old guys at my departemnt at Indiana University. Until they finally kick the bucket :) these people who were involved in major scientific discoveries within their respective fields, have a lot of influence and pull. (one of the still uses a typewriter!....ack)
        • ITs true that you never know what the future might hold. it just seems like a hard thing to overcome, sicne the publishing houses are so entrenched. It will take a lot of effort to build up the level of respect of a new journal such as this.

          The march of progress is cruel. Even Microsoft, the wealthiest corporation in the world, may not be able to stop the onslaught of the open source movement.

          Top it off with the fact that there are still a lot of older faculty members that hardly know how to check their email, let alone review papers on the web. However, they are still contributing greatly to the scientific community.

          To be blunt, the will retire. And as you point out, they will die.

          Major changes often come with new generations.
  • It's interesting news, but I can't help feeling that the more interesting question is still out there waiting for an answer...
    What about copyleft(ish) licenses for the non-software world?

    From the article: "The literature that should be freely accessible online is that which scholars give to the world without expectation of payment," reads the declaration.

    It calls for "free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose".


    Nothing in there about modification and redistribution.

    Could modification rights work for non-software copyrightable content? I don't know.
    But the idea that it could be useful doesn't seem that crazy.

    - Maybe you made a wonderful map of a region, but you want to leave open the chance that others will improve on specific areas and pass the whole thing along. (and you're willing to take the risk that they botch the whole thing up)
    - Maybe you don't mind if people take your song, add an extra verse, (or change a person's name), and pass it on. (and you're willing to take the risk that some bozo will fill that verse with beowulf clusters and profanity)
    - Maybe you've made a simple customized textbook and you'd be pleased as punch if people drop out the half where you didn't really know what you were talking about and replace it with something really informative. (and you're willing to take the chance that they drop out the half where you did really know what you were talking about and leave the junk half).

    To me, it seems as though copyleft makes as much sense in the non-software world as it does the software world.

    Maybe the problem is just that in the non-software world giving away these freedoms is harder to take. (A comment I _know_ is going to come back to haunt me, since as a non-programmer I have no personal idea at all how hard it is to relinquish control... I'm just talking. er, typing.)

    (Or, alternatively, I suppose it could just be that in software the functional aspect of code is a built-in bozo filter for ill-conceived changes? You think?)
  • by jspey (183976) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @12:11PM (#3008247)
    First, reviewing or editting an article for a journal should get you a free copy of a similiarly priced journal. Often scientists review articles that are not in their field of expertise in order to maintain impartiality, so getting a copy of the journal that the article you reviewed is in isn't always worthwhile.

    Second, the "Open Access" movement should organize it's own journals. These journals could be formed at any tiem for free by anyone. The journal would mainly consist of a review board that reviews articles. If the review board considers an article to be of a high enough quality and within a certain subject area then the review board can mark the article as being "included" in said journal. This way, while anyone can still publish a paper by uploading it or whatever, people can filter searches by particular journals, giving them a quick way to weed out lots of crap.

    For those of you who are wondering about who pays the review board for their time have stumbled onto the problem that faces the open access movement. You need a lot of very smart people to review enough papers to make up good journals, and those very smart people quite often have better things to do with their time.

    Mr. Spey
  • I worked for a company that was "attacked by" George. The company I worked for decided to take a "poison pill" rather than let Soros take over. In the end the BoD did exactly what Soros threatened to do, i.e. sell off most of the company that was unprofitable, but they took all the profits instead of George. I suspect that the stock holders of the company I worked for would have been much better off with Soros at the helm than our weasel CEO/BoD. BTW the CEO we had was also on the BoD of Enron. Surprise, surprise. Guess the company and CEO and win!!!
  • by TheMatt (541854) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @12:13PM (#3008249) Homepage Journal
    To let people know the costs of some of these journals, here are a couple of sites to look at.

    First, a general overview of costs in the mid-90s (done in 2000, so just imagine how expensive they are now!) can be found here [ucsd.edu].

    A more recent review of chemistry journals can be found here [wisc.edu]. It is amazing to think that some of these journals cost ~$4.50 a page (neuroscience journals are even more expensive!).
  • The credit problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zeinfeld (263942) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @12:14PM (#3008254) Homepage
    The problem is that the scientific litterature has become more of a performance index for academics than a useful information resource. To get tenure you have to achieve a certain number of publication units in prestigeous journals. To get grants you need the same, publication rates are used by most government bodies to measure research output.

    Problem is that number of publications says nothing about quality.

    I have not read a journal publication in the journal for at least five years. I generally read articles as pre-publication preprints or from the author's web site. If the only publication is in dead tree form it might as well not exist in my field.

    The problem that online journals have faced is that it takes some time for an online journal to establish prestige and hence attract the type of publication that generates prestige.

    Another problem has been that the HTML browser folk were never interested in implementing the HTML math markup which has left scientific publication to pdf form which is pretty useless as a dialogue medium. I can't cut and paste and equation from pdf to mathematica as MathML would allow.

    What I would like to see is the rise of different modes of academic publishing that take advantage of the electronic mode. I would like to see enterprises that are structured in the manner of a dictionary or encyclopeadia, providing a systematic and structured description of the state of the art in a particular field as a whole.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @12:18PM (#3008289)
    One professional society I belong to had a break-away journal promising "all the efficiencies of modern technology"- cheap, quick, etc. However, they never got a critical mass of scientists to submit articles. There's a catch-22 problem: if you dont have a quality body of people submitting articles you dont have a quality journal; if you dont have a quality journal you dont have people submitting articles. The journal failed after a couple years due to lack of quaity submissions.

    Its not like people haven't thought of cheap web publishing before. Many thought they could start their own maverick journals for "almost nothing" on the web. But the human intertia of buy-in can be tremendous.
    • The other problem with online scientific journals is you have to convince *indexing* services to buy into it as well.

      When I go to publish, I look at potential journals partially in terms of where they're indexed. "Drug & Alcohol Review", for example, is one of the more consistently relevant journals in my field - but it isn't indexed by PubMed. So as an author, I'm better off submitting to "Addiction" (also good, but for different reasons) because if accepted, my article will turn up as a result in more people's literature searches, which means I'll get cited more often, which helps a lot in the early stages of a research career.

      So if a well established, reputable print journal like D&A Review can't get itself indexed by some of the more important indexing services, what chance has some brand new web-based journal got, no matter how big the names on its editorial board? And if it isn't indexed, there's no point in submitting to it unless absolutely no-one else will publish your work. Nasty chicken and egg situation setting itself up immediately there..

      Having said all that, Soros has cracked a few interesting nuts in the last few years, & I wish him luck with this one.
  • Could /. help? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FleshMuppet (544521) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @12:39PM (#3008419)

    The biggest problem I see with this proposal is that the creators of this effort have neglected to give the journals enough credit for the services they do provide: quality controll and topic selection.

    A person who reads Journal of Academic Subject X does so partially because that journal has cultivated a reputation for quality in their field. Researchers are busy people, and they don't want to read every article by every crackpot out there. They want to keep current on the groundbreaking research and be aware of the new work that might apply to their own.

    In other words, it's probably not enough to just 'get a critical mass' of work, especially if the critical mass is composed entirely of articles rejected for publication by journals. It's also not enough to just have a lot of information available - there must be some way of determining the quality of the work as well.

    It seems to me what these guys really need, more than anything, is some sort of peer review process, similar to the moderation process here, that could help to filter out the bad stuff, make the truly groundbreaking work visible, and make sure that articles are categorized correctly. This would be an affordable way of providing the services that the editors of these journals normally provide while keeping the advantages that come with having a large electronic archive.

  • He has been one of the major backers of the initiatives that support medical marijuana in several western states. Anyone who does anything real against the war on drugs is fine by me.
  • I read more than the article and discovered this page: EPrints 2.0 Documentation - Introduction [eprints.org]

    At the bottom it read:

    eprints.org Webmaster - Last Modified 1st January 1970, 1:00 am

    A 2.0 and than this ? I dont know ...

  • by elseware (56005) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @01:04PM (#3008564) Homepage
    In a surprising "coincidence" version 2.0 of the eprints archive software has just been released by us monkeys at the University of Southampton working for Stevan Harnad (who proposed self archiving).

    The software is pretty generic, it does research papers by default but can be configured *lots*. And it's designed to add your own scripts and stuff (perl).

    At one end of the spectrum (what it's funded to do) it generates archives of research papers, although you could practically implement mp3.com with it (and a huge server or two).

    Links of interest:

    EPrints Home: http://www.eprints.org/

    Demo Archive: http://demoprints.eprints.org/
  • At first I thought 'another win for open source' and this is a very important issue. When I followed some links I found that the analysis of a questionaire that had been conducted mentioned Microsoft Excel functions, mean and std. dev. being used. Sigh, I guess they aren't all that 'open source' users as one would think.
  • These outlets will compete with the quasi-monopolies held by the journal industry and provide information to researchers whose institutions can't afford to subscribe to large numbers of overpriced periodicals

    translates to

    These outlets will compete with the quasi-monopolies held by the journal industry and provide publication credits to researchers whose articles aren't good enough to be published in normal periodicals

  • Soros' Legacy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by raduga (216742) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @01:33PM (#3008777)
    Quite a pretty puzzle here. There's wealth, and there's mega-wealth, and then you have shadowy god-money folk- suchlike Gates, Carnegie and Soros. Most people who reach the super-mega level get there by similar processes; they discover some unexploited con, and exploit it for all its worth, and get lucky repeatedly (early on) and then proceed to exploit, strangle and swarm over their competitors. Soros arguably used some of the classic techniques of power to get there, but where he got is another matter entirely. In their old, febrile age, moguls like Carnegie and Rockefeller unleashed gobs of money on establishing charities and endowments to assure that their name is remembered for something other than ugly, ugly thuggery. Bill is starting to do some of the same, though at this stage hardly anyone is paying attention.

    What makes Soros different, how he stands aside from the other giants is in his thoughtful, abstract approach to the mechanisms of profit, and the rise and fall of economies.

    His "public works" have taken place throughout his career, not merely as an afterthought. He appears to be quite intelligent, and seems to surround himself with intelligent, critical advisors. Most of his oddball adventures and forays in Europe have been profitable, or at least, had the intention of bringing back some compensation, but there seems to be a broader plan at work.

    A naive western observer might see the Hand of Soros offering charity and kindness to a world that desperately needs his help. The natives who've endured his schemes probably see him as a standard-model Ugly American, his interference in their culture and economies don't seem to be quite as welcome as advertised. He appears to regret (sincerely?) the harm he's caused, but his answer seems to be... try new schemes. He quite baldly treats Economics as an Experimental and not a Theoretical science. He seems to take the broad perspective, in his field, that a Machievelli took in the realm of Renaissance politics, though he's had far more success.

    I suspect history will look on him with more interest than his contemporaries do; he's one of the most influential single humans on Earth today, but tries to work stealthily and quietly. Whether they will approve or disapprove... ultimately depends on who gets to write those histories.

    • Re:Soros' Legacy (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DodgyGeezer (83311)
      Isn't he the guy whose predictions and currency speculations forced the Pound Sterling and the Italian Lira out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, at great expense to those and several other countries?
    • Bill Gates' philanthropy is targeted to maximize his "legacy" value.

      In a 60 Minutes puff piece he bought last year, he was shown deciding with his wife and his hired fund managers which projects would get how much.

      In what is certainly a mistake of PR, he is seen to tell the group that he wants to fund only those projects that will work.

      Rather than funding projects that need money to find out if they can work, he wants to be the one to cure whatever disease is already proven to be curable but merely lacking in easily raised resources to get the cure to the masses. He won't survey the nation and lay the track, but he insists on driving the golden spike. He plucks the low-hanging fruit, even though his cherry picker is the tallest.

      That attitude from someone with almost unlimited resources makes me sick.

      --Blair
  • I've worked on journals for ACM, Kluwer/Academic and more. Where I work is where the prepress stuff is done, the actual building of the journal. Much more goes into these journals than picking submissions and throwing them all together. We have on staff editors who oversee the journals work and status, proofreaders (some of you submitters have worse spelling than Taco...), art scanners, art editors and coders/typesetters. I can see why you are angry at the cost of having your work printed, but even with typesetting done in India (New Delhi facility) we still make little over cost. Its just a fact of life that getting this all together, XML or Quark set, art edited and set, PDFs made and printed, and finally shipped and distributed, has a cost.
    • I can see why you are angry at the cost of having your work printed, but even with typesetting done in India (New Delhi facility) we still make little over cost. Its just a fact of life that getting this all together, XML or Quark set, art edited and set, PDFs made and printed, and finally shipped and distributed, has a cost.


      Printing on dead trees is expensive. Electronic publishing is *cheaper*, and to be honest it's the quality of the research I care about, not the spelling. Especially if the spell checking makes it so expensive poorer universities can't afford it.
      • Yes, it is cheaper, but how would you gain marketshare and readers to pay for your bandwidth, servers and employees? Especially to get such a thing started. Besides, would those poorer areas have enough bandwidth to pull an art heavy journal? Journals with lots of artwork are becoming more frequent, and I can assure you that these files are becoming larger and larger...
  • by phitar (457288) on Thursday February 14, 2002 @01:57PM (#3008911) Homepage
    In connection to this article, Soros also funds media oriented projects.

    Trying to follow the links can be tedious, but the structure is interesting (snippets cut and pasted from the various websites).

    George Soros funds a network [soros.org] of foundations. Among them, Media Development Loan Fund [mdlf.org] (MDLF) assists independent news organizations working in difficult economic and political climates. Of which Center for Advanced Media-Prague [mdlf-camp.net] (C@MP) has been bringing new-media concepts and solutions to independent news organizations worldwide since 1998

    Camp is developing and diffusing cost-effective, open-source solutions to independent media through its CAMPWARE [campware.org] initiative. Which brings us to another open source ongoing development project: CAMPSITE [campware.org], an automated web-publishing environment for news media.

    /philippe [phitar.com]

  • The only way the Internet can really have an impact on the direction of science is not by making publishing cheaper or by freely distributing papers, but by loosening the controls of the peer review system.

    The peer review process as it has operated throughout the last few hundred years is on record as being the biggest stumbling block to scientific advancement. Note how many breakthroughs were vociferously opposed by those scientists with recognition, i.e. those that guided and made it through the peer review process of the Sciences and Natures of their time.

    Well, what is the alternative you ask. Anarchy? Race to the LCD? No. Formatting standards, global namespaces, meta-data (including meta-data for reviews and comments on papers), and collaborative filtering working together can act to allow for a decentralized method of filtering and promoting various theories.

    If the viewpoints of scientists were made public knowledge through a system of ratings and reviews of papers, it is even feasible that an objective measure of rating accuracy could be assessed over time -- this IS science after all, and theories are eventually proven right or wrong. Then, given tight enough feedback loops, the old guard might not even have to die off before being written off. :0

    Just some thoughts...
  • I'd laugh if it didn't hurt so much. :(

    Originally, the Internet was the medium that made science available to anyone in the world. That's what bulliten boards and web 'docs' were all about. Then Billy Gates came along and said:" you're all fools! You should be making money! That's what software is for. "

    Thanks Bill.
  • I always wondered where that £4 billion profit from the ERM crisis was being spent :)
  • This guy show exactly what type of people should have money.

    Helping money hungry idiots like Bill Gates make more money is exaclty what YOU do wrong every day.

    • Ignorant morons like yourself are why people like Soros and Gates have money.

      Soros's speculations have crushed entire economies and destroyed thousands of lives. Bill Gates is a drop in the bucket.
      • You might want to try controlling your level of stupidity and ignorance. Soros at least gives back to people in need whitout expecting anything in return.

        Bill Gates is currently working on fucking up the US economy, oh no, wait he he's already very close to completing that project.

        Get a CLUE dumb ass!
        • Tell that to the thousands who lost their homes in the aftermath of his speculative schemes.

          Bill Gates may be responsible for many things, but fucking up the US economy is not one of them.

          Learn to read.
          • I respect Soros and I had only to gain many times from whatever he did, this article shows we will all have to gain from him.

            The economy downturn started with the MS lawsuit and vulnerabilities in the MS code when the "Loveletter" virus spreaded. Are they related? Well looking at the way things went ever since, clues are there that they are.

            Sorry for being offensive.
  • I'm going to take a moment to explain how publishing will work in the future.

    There will be no publishing houses such as O'Reilly, Addison Wesley, Houghton Mifflin, etc.
    All around the country, in malls, airports, bookstores, kinkos, schools, libraries, etc there will be print on demand machines. Next to the print on demand machines will be kiosks (running Linux of course) that allow you to browse books, submit payment, and print them.

    There will be two costs. The cost of the content, and the cost to have it printed. Thus, a kinkos, with it's power to buy lots of paper, might charge 4.00 to have a book printed. The content charge might by 2.00. Therefore the book costs 6.00.

    An airport, not being a large paper purchaser, might have to charge more for the print costs so its fees might be 4.50. They might also charge a premium because of the captive audience. Likewise, the authors might charge 2.50 because they know that people in airports are desperate and willing to pay more. Total cost is 7.00.

    Of course, some of these places could offer extra services, such as special covers, cover art, different paper options, delivery to a home address, etc.

    The reason why there will be no publishers is because authors will work with freelance editors and copy-writers. Job boards on the Internet will allow these groups to hook up in ad-hoc ways to find work and get books written. Then they subscribe these books to a distribution system.

    This same thing will happen with music, in whatever format you want, but I'll stick to CDs.

    Music artists will work with freelance sound engineers and production people who have studio space and equipment, or who can rent such space. They will sell the content on the web, and in kiosks. There cash outlay will be minimal, and they will be able to reach any size audience. These kiosks will burn CDs for the consumer, or the web based consumers will recieve files (and freesoftware) to burn the CD's themselves, or keep them in digital form.

    This change in music, and book publishing will occur for many reasons. Two of which are:

    1) Reduce costs, increase profits. With no brick and mortars, or large company overhead, sales people, marketing (you could freelance this too), costs are lower.

    2) Reach even the smallest audience. I might be a musician of really uncommon music. My world-wde audience might be 20,000. A record company/label woudln't sign me because my economies of scale don't scale. But, in the freelance system I might sell my content for 5.00 each. That is 100,000 per year if I produce each year. Take out the fees for the sound engineers time and whomever else helped me, I might make between 40-70k. Hardly starving artist.

  • I don't mind these journals making a profit. But after an article is ~10 years old the content should go to the public domain, especially since this is where the money for the research usually comes from.
  • Just let me know and I'll give him a call (great uncle of mine.) Thats all I've got to say, have a nice day :)
    • How about supporting some things I'd love to work more on:

      Low cost long range wireless devices handling distributed peer-to-peer content to ensure democracy:
      http://www.bootstrap.org/dkr/discussion/0754.html [bootstrap.org]

      Or how about supporting an open source community on manufacturing knowledge:
      http://www.kurtz-fernhout.com/oscomak/index.htm [kurtz-fernhout.com]

      which relates to surviving Vernor Vinge's Singularity (Teilhard's Noosphere)
      http://www.bootstrap.org/dkr/discussion/0126.html [bootstrap.org]

      Or just supporting more open source / free software educational simulations: http://www.gardenwithinsight.com/nsfprop.htm [gardenwithinsight.com]

      Or support some other people's efforts:

      Humanity Libraries Project
      http://www.humaninfo.org/ [humaninfo.org]

      Center for the Public Domain
      http://www.centerpd.org/ [centerpd.org]

    • From a letter I sent the Soros Institute about a year ago (probably lost in the deluge of email they must get):

      I don't know if you have such a position (or if one would call it exactly a "Fellow"), but I'd like to be a sort-of Soros Fellow based around New York City who is also an Information Technology staff member. Essentially, I'd like to wander around the Open Society Institute (as well as the larger Soros Foundations Network) and create and deploy "open source" technology for knowledge management and digital libraries (including open content) to help other Soros Foundations Network staff do their jobs better, while at the same time make available that technology outside the Soros Foundations Network under open source licenses (and integrate back in community generated improvements as well). I'd naturally be happy to instead be a more conventional Soros Fellow who just works on some Digital Library projects of my own design (I have a couple in mind) but I think helping with Soros Foundations Network's immediate knowledge management needs (or at least the subset shared by others) would serve as inspiration to create all sorts of wonderful things over the long term, which other foundations and other individuals might find of great usefulness -- and the hope is perhaps they might even improve on them a little in the process and share those improvements back to us.

      While I know any foundation would not match private sector pay, what would interest me most in working with the Soros Foundations Network and get my full-time (plus some) devotion to it is if my employment agreement ensured all software I developed for the foundation could be released under an open source license of my choice or into the public domain. Also, I'd want to talk about open content licensing issues in regards to any large work undertaken in the digital library space. That would help me weave together various threads of my life into a whole cloth. Currently I work for six to eighteen months at a time doing proprietary work for clients, and then take some time to work on my own projects. In both cases I end up a little too isolated for being the most productive I could be.

      Here is my perspective on the issues of our day and what I think I can help with at the foundation. You may find this of interest even if we do not work together in the future.

      Due to continuing exponential growth of computer chip manufacturing capability (predicted by Moore's law), computers are predicted to be a million times bigger in capacity, faster in speed, or smaller in size (pick one at a time for a constant price) within the next couple of decades. However, exponential growth in technological capacity is also occurring in a variety of fields besides computing. Technologies for power generation, CAD/CAM, materials, nanotechnology, communications, positioning, robotics, artificial intelligence, transportation, biotechnology, and collaboration are all increasing on their own exponential curves. That growth is also interacting with the exponential changes in computing and the other fields in a synergetic way. Cars that drive themselves are just one example of a technology around the corner that will change the face of society -- something only made possible by several of these trends coming together. We are heading for an age of abundance (although the future is still far from assured given continuing risks from arms races in part driven also by technological imperatives). Raymond Kurzweil's latest web site makes the issues clear: http://www.kurzweilai.net/ [kurzweilai.net] And it also makes clear how there are both opportunities and dangers: http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?m=2 [kurzweilai.net]

      When I audited a course in Soviet Politics [snipped] around 1984, one idea bounced around was that because the Soviet Union was highly centralized, if they did decide to switch to a democratic capitalist model, they could do it overnight. Yet, nothing was further from the truth when Gorbachev actually started Perestroika a few years later -- because old ways of doing things, old habits, old customs, old relationships, and old world views were slow to change. Now, fifteen years after the initiation of Perestroika, that area and its economy is still in disarray, and the people living there as well as their environment have suffered greatly as a result.

      The same may well be true of Western society as we transition into this age of abundance made possible by all this technological advancement. In the age of the internet, many of the old competitive ways of doing things such as obtaining local benefits while passing on external costs no longer make much sense (if they ever did), yet the new ways are still forming, like the chaordic vision of organization advocated by Dee Hock. http://www.chaordic.org/ [chaordic.org] As we move into this age, "gift" economies may take center stage, such as the gift economy behind Linux and much of the interesting content on the internet. http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue3_12/barbroo k/ [firstmonday.dk] The realization is still slow to dawn that we as a society now know enough and have enough potential wealth to have plenty of each of nature, technology and society for everyone. Perhaps that was always true and we had just forgotten it.

      Buckminster Fuller http://www.bfi.org/ [bfi.org] brought this issue up decades ago as "Design Science", but such ideas are at odds with a lifetime of conditioning to believe in an economy of scarcity, and so they move very slowly. People are still caught in thinking we must choose between countryside, gadgetry, or humanity. We can have all of these things -- if we use the knowledge we already possess in a collaborative way to reconcile issues of self interest with the greater good through innovative practices. Perhaps not all conflicts can be resolved, but many of the basic life-support ones about adequate water, minimal food, clean air, decent shelter, livable communities, conserved biodiversity, and innovative education can. To do so requires that we include this upcoming transition to an age of abundance in our thinking about economic policy, foreign affairs, and domestic political issues. It also requires preserving the digital commons in terms of free access to basic information about the essentials of life (and how to make them). The OSCOMAK project http://www.kurtz-fernhout.com/oscomak [kurtz-fernhout.com] was a step in that direction, but I have not had enough time to develop it. I would hope I could continue to pursue it in some way in conjunction with the Soros Foundations Network, since for example such information might help developing nations bootstrap their economies.

      What excites me about working with the Soros Foundations Network is that I would be involved with people who care about such things, and we could all be working to make similar things happen together, all made possible by far-sighted gifts from George Soros.

      As the Soros Foundations Network moves forward, I would like to play a role helping articulate a vision and strategy that balances these three aspects (nature, technology, society) amidst the upcoming potential of prosperity made possible by advanced information systems and other products of the exponential growth of technology. I would also like to help create the information systems that the foundations network itself uses for internal communications, internal education, and external communications. These systems could be built using an open source collaborative model allowing the Soros Foundations Network's own needs for knowledge management to create another gift for humanity in terms of freely available tools for collaboration and knowledge management, leveraging the work of existing collaborative communities where possible, and adding to them where there are special needs.

      For example, why shouldn't each on-the-go Soros Foundations Network staffer have (if they desire) a belt-worn wearable computer and tri-band cell phone to keep them in touch with the network's digital library from anywhere in the world? The hardware exists pretty much off-the-shelf for this http://www.xybernaut.com/ [xybernaut.com] and will only continue to get better. The software is still something to be wrestled with though, and that is a challenge I would relish. Similarly, why shouldn't the Soros Foundations Network have a situation room with hundreds of display screens monitoring world issues, the progress of grants, and the initiatives of other foundations? Again, the relatively affordable hardware for such a room exists now off-the-shelf -- the software is the main issue. http://www.unigraf.fi/PAGES/multiscr/videowall.htm [unigraf.fi] These are the sorts of things I would like to create for the Soros Foundations Network and, if done primarily as open source, for the world.

      The internet also makes possible a fine grained sort of collaboration which was never practical before (such as through using threaded email lists or discussion sites like http://www.slashdot.org/ [slashdot.org] ). Such collaborations might help in advancing the Open Society Institute's mission. Yet such collaborations produce new legal issues (or, more correctly, put new twists on old ones). There is a related paper my wife and I wrote that talks about clear licensing as a way to promote collaboration which I will be presenting for the SSI Conference on Space Manufacturing in Princeton the beginning of next week. I'd be happy to send a copy after the conference is over if it is of any interest. It touches on some of the broader non-technical issues that directly effect how IT can be used for the common good.

      Unfortunately, it seems many non-profits (including schools) see the internet as a potential profit center for selling information (whether that is realistic is a different issue). To that end they prevent others from making derived works from their materials (as a byproduct of restricting copying to create artificial scarcity), which in turn limits fine-grained collaboration to improve technical artifacts. So, there is much to be worked through here in terms of the bigger picture.

      While large corporations can play a role in developing such technology (just wave money in front of them), they aren't exactly going to be out front cheer leading and inventing the open source information tools an open society needs (since there are many other short-term profitable things they can focus on, typically involving financing by people with proprietary interests in information management). Yet, as individuals, many of the people in such organizations would love to work on such projects and could make convincing pitches to management if given half a chance and a shred of economic justification. And many other individuals outside such organizations will give freely of their spare time to help make such efforts happen.

      Leading by example is almost always a good idea. As Alan Kay said, "the best way to predict the future is to invent it". If we are to have an open society, we need to invent open technology to go with it. Somebody has to make that technology. This is an area the Soros Foundations Network can play a leadership role while at the same time helping achieve its other goals through open source efforts.

  • Full text of the initiative can be found at http://www.soros.org/openaccess/read.shtml [soros.org]. If you agree with it, there is a place for you to sign on as well.

    Soros [soros.org] is quite an interesting character/organization... we need more of these people.

  • Will it be Open Soros?

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