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Books The Internet

Don't Take Notes In the Bookstore 499

mikesd81 writes "The Harvard Crimson reports that the Harvard Coop asked Jarret A. Zafran to leave the store after writing down the prices of six books required for a junior Social Studies tutorial. The apparent new policy could be a response to, an online database that allows students to find the books they need for each course at discounted prices from several online booksellers. The Coop claims the ISBN identification numbers in books are their intellectual property. Crimson Reading disagrees. 'We don't think the Coop owns copyright on this information that should be available to students,' said Tom D. Hadfield, co-creator of the site. The student paper reports that an unnamed intellectual property lawyer agreed with Crimson Reading's position."
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Don't Take Notes In the Bookstore

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  • at least... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:31AM (#20679695)
    well, at least he wasn't tasered.
  • by i.r.id10t ( 595143 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:33AM (#20679721)
    Strange... we have our instructors post the ISBN numbers of course materials on "information pages" for our online courses, and most (90%+) put it on the syllabus, etc. for on-campus courses. Don't see what the big deal is...
    • ISBNDB (Score:5, Informative)

      by PlatyPaul ( 690601 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:00AM (#20680067) Homepage Journal
      I strongly suggest that you check out ISBNDB [], which is an online database of ISBN numbers. You wouldn't have to go look up numbers in-person, thereby removing any possible blame from yourselves.

      I wouldn't be surprised if the Coop attempted to challenge the ISBNDB, however....
    • the bookstore doesn't have a website ... I look online at the beginning of each semester, but for some reason I know that Amazon will be cheaper...
  • Effort? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Burb ( 620144 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:33AM (#20679723)
    Surely you have to demonstrate that some intellectual effort went into the production of the ISBN for it to come under IP law in the first place (regardless of "ownership"). Presumably the publisher was just allocated a bunch of ISBNs and they just happened to allocat one of them this one book? Shoot me down if you like. I'm not an expert.
    • I agree with RMS on the topic of the term "Intellectual Property".

      It's a FUD term that opportunistic lawyers and unscrupulous corporations (the embarrassingly pathetic SCO) use to justify empty threats and pump-and-dump litigation.

      Patents, copyrights, and trademarks mean something. "Intellectual Property" is the high-ranking corporate imbecile's buzz word of the year.

      The book store has as little "ownership" of the ISBN as they do of the title of the book itself.
    • Re:Effort? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ngworekara ( 1027704 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:48AM (#20679897)
      The intellectual property argument was just an idiotic thing for them to go public with. But, the way I understand it, a store has the right to toss you out for any reason they see fit (presumably barring race or gender.) Thats why they have those "We reserve the right to toss you out on your ass" signs. When I was an annoying little adolescent, some shopkeepers told my friends and I to get out as soon as we came into their store. It was evident that we were just bored and fucking around, not intending to purchase anything. It was evident in this case that the guy was wandering around the store taking notes not only intending not to buy anything but enhancing his ability to shop competitively. If he shared his information he would be broadening that result. The store had no good reason not to toss him out.

      Doesn't make it any less annoying though. used to piss me off then, pisses me off now. Especially since he was just trying to get around the unabashed robbery perpetrated by college bookstores and textbook companies.
      • Many universities don't publish the names of the books before you set foot in their bookstore. You're all but required to go to the store if you want to get the titles, and if you're getting the titles anyway, you might as well write down the ISBN's - it's a hell of a lot easier to find the book this way.

        When I was in college, I did this very same thing every semester, because it was the only way for me to get a list of the textbooks required for my classes far enough ahead of time to order them online.

    • by Xiaran ( 836924 )
      It was also my understanding that the original ISBN system was thought up decades ago by the British newsagent chain W.H Smiths. And it is now managed by ISO. Do either ISO or W.H Smith have anything to say about this?
    • Re:Effort? (Score:5, Informative)

      by srmalloy ( 263556 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:20AM (#20680351) Homepage
      ISBNs are assigned in blocks to publisher's by a country's ISBN agency; the ISBN itself does not 'belong' to the publisher, it belongs to the International Standard Book Number Agency [], although the publisher chooses which book to designate by each ISBN in the block it has been assigned. Publishers are not required to assign ISBNs to books; however, many retailers will decline to stock books that do not have an ISBN.
  • by biocute ( 936687 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:33AM (#20679727) Homepage
    an online database that allows students to find the books they need for each course at discounted prices from several online booksellers

    So Harvard Coop is excluded from the list, and I doubt students will be rushing there in a hurry.
  • by Foofoobar ( 318279 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:34AM (#20679731)
    Having worked as a publisher and having helped build the buying department for from 1995-1997, I can tell you that ISBN's are purchased by the publisher for association with their book. That number is never truly OWNED as it is recirculated once the book goes out of print; many books have the same ISBN but only one in print book at a time can use it. If a book wants to come back into print, it must be reissued another ISBN.

    So in effect, ISBN's are owned by no one except for the distributing and maintaining body.

    • "So in effect, ISBN's are owned by no one except for the distributing and maintaining body."

      That is what I thought when I read this, so I went searching the net. I found the ISBN U.S. Agency [] which is stewarded by Bowker []. I do not see how any book store can own the copyright to the ISBN number when they have no control over it.

      • You don't see how because they don't have any claim other than their meaningless words. They're being under priced, they know their being under priced, and they simply have no desire to cater to demand that sales be cheaper. Taking it out on the customer is just the cherry on top.
    • by bigdavex ( 155746 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:49AM (#20679915)

      That number is never truly OWNED as it is recirculated once the book goes out of print; many books have the same ISBN but only one in print book at a time can use it.

      This is why we need ISBNv6.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Nahhhh, an ISBN is meant to be a UNIQUE number.
      However mistakes have been made and a few books have duplicates [].

      There might be multiple ISBN for different print runs etc, but I cannot find anything that the same code being reused on purpose for different books.

      Please give some more details because it seems curious.

    • One Minor Correction (Score:5, Informative)

      by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:52AM (#20679967) Journal is recirculated once the book goes out of print; many books have the same ISBN but only one in print book at a time can use it.
      One minor correction, from [], I found:

      ISBN CAN NEVER BE REUSED: Once an ISBN is assigned to a title, it CANNOT BE REASSIGNED even if the title goes out of print. In addition to being an order fulfillment tool, the ISBN is a bibliographic element in cataloging. It is printed on catalog cards, in catalogs and entered in national and international databases.
      So it always has to be the same book, it's never 'recycled.'
  • ISOwned (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:36AM (#20679757) Homepage Journal
    ISBNs are nobody's intellectual property apart from the ISO. [] It's an international standard described by ISO TC 46/SC 9.
  • by gatzke ( 2977 )

    I thought the Harvard and MIT coops were co-ops (cooperatives).

    In the People's Republic of Cambridge, they should be working with the proletariat to fight the evils of capitalism!

    REI is a great co-op, they send members profit sharing each year. Spend more and they make a profit, you get a big fat return at the end of the year (which you spend on more stuff, a never-ending cycle).

    Maybe the Coop got bought out by B&N or Amazon?
    • Re:Coop? (Score:4, Informative)

      by porcupine8 ( 816071 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:43AM (#20679851) Journal
      Coop members also get a profit share at the end of the year. And the bookstore part of the Coop is already associated with Barnes & Noble, as are 80% of college bookstores. (I don't think "owned" is the right phrase, I don't know how the relationship works.) But yeah, there are students on the Coop board who should probably be alerted to this so they can fight it.
  • Silly Coop (Score:2, Insightful)

    by smackenzie ( 912024 )
    Trying to win an argument with a Harvard (sucks) student is like licking your elbow.

    Back at Princeton, I spent my entire Freshman allowance (yes, sorry, my folks did give me a Freshman bonus or something...) on just books, so it makes me happy to see this sort of thing going on. I wish I had had the internet like these Harvard (sucks) kids.
    • Is it customary procedure to suffix "(sucks)" whenever referring to things you disagree with at Princeton?
      • Actually, it's tradition to follow "Harvard" (sucks) with the word "sucks" at functions, etc. Yale (blows) is followed with a rather blue-color term that I don't feel comfortable saying in a comment section...
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mikkelm ( 1000451 )
          These traditions are perpetuated by what is supposedly the best that mankind has to offer? Doesn't it seem a little.. infantile?
    • by GeckoX ( 259575 )
      Lol, so true ;)

      What I don't get is how it can be called a Coop...any takers on that one?
  • Is that like saying the UPC number is a copyright held by the company? Or the MAC address, at least the first few parts, are copyright protected?
  • by shbazjinkens ( 776313 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:39AM (#20679799)
    God forbid you mess with the media mafiosi. What I found funny was that some Chinese students were smuggling international editions in and selling them for $10-20 after they were done with them. These were books that were supposed to cost me $150. I also used to wait in front of the buyback tables and offer $5 or $10 more than the bookstores low low buyback price for the books (required for my classes) that they would later sell for five times as much. That really pissed them off, even though the employees were just students getting paid a flat hourly rate.

    I used to have a really hard time believing they were worth that much until I got some bad assigned textbooks. Problem was that the bad textbooks had the same damn price.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Hatta ( 162192 )
      Here's another tip, don't buy textbooks until 2 or 3 weeks in when you're sure you're actually going to need it for the class. Many professors test from their lecture notes which they often give out in class. Just because they say it's required doesn't mean you actually need it. I found that if I just paid attention in class, I did well. The only books I bought are actually useful books which I still refer to from time to time.

      Also, you might not need that exact book. Calculus hasn't changed recently, s
      • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
        I used to do the exact same thing, especially with professors who assigned an unusually high number of books. Some of them they never got to at all. Sometimes the book turned out to be optional. And oftentimes you could find the same book at the library or borrow it from a friend or another student.
  • Textbook Scam (Score:5, Insightful)

    by paleo2002 ( 1079697 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:42AM (#20679835)

    So, now book sellers don't want you to do price comparisons? College textbooks are so ridiculously overpriced, its a tragedy. I've been lecturing at a community college for over three years now. One class I do is a non-credit pre-Chemistry class. Because its a prereq for General Chem. 1 and 2, we use the first three chapters of the textbook for that course. The $180 textbook. Many of my students aren't even planning on taking General Chem at my school or at all. But, if they want to be able to keep up with the homework, they have to get the book.

    And its the same for all my classes. Books are $100 to $200 new, the bookstores almost never have used books, and if they do you know they bought them back from the previous owner for pennies on the dollar. I start each of my classes every semester by showing the students the "required text" and then explaining how they can get by with an older edition or with some internet research.

    Lately students have been finding the wholesale-priced "international editions" online which saves them money without sacrificing quality. But, where do schools and publishers think students are getting all this money from?

    • by AxemRed ( 755470 )
      But, where do schools and publishers think students are getting all this money from?

      Student loans.
    • So, now book sellers don't want you to do price comparisons?

      No, college bookstores don't want you to do price comparisons. Mainly because their prices are always higher than you can find at Amazon and others. Amazon likes you to do price comparisons because they usually come out on top.

      • by mikael ( 484 )
        But if you are purchasing from a mail-order retailer like Amazon, you have to factor in the delivery charge. It might be fairly small, not more than a couple of dollars/pounds, but might make the difference between purchasing from the college bookstore.

        The main reason, I prefer to use Amazon, is that my local college bookstore insists that you provide them with a cell-phone number or E-mail address before they put in any order.

    • Any teacher who can teach a class should be able to write the textbook. I had several in High School and College that did. In fact, it's a good learning process for the students to help. I don't know if your CC allows such things, but you could have the class this year work on next year's textbook, (or take two years for the first one) while using the current book. From then, every class works to improve the book for next year's class. Publish in electronic form. You could even use a password protecte
    • by Guppy06 ( 410832 )
      "But, where do schools and publishers think students are getting all this money from?"

      Credit cards. College students are inundated with offers, mostly because they have a reputation for not knowing better. Most college bookstores I've seen will include an offer for a credit card right in the bag.
    • I bought a 80.00 paperback of the Physics 1 textbook, and when I went in for Physics II I found a 120.00 hardcover that included both 80.00 paperbacks.

      I bought it, and I made it my mission to give it to a new person every semester. They used that book the entire time I was at college. I still have it; it's almost a paperback itself after being used by 4 people over 7 semesters. Also gave the original paperback to someone else.

      Don't go through the bookstores. Hell, where I was they offered a guaranteed buyba
    • by necro81 ( 917438 )
      I worked for an independent college textbook store once upon a time. The place was a ramshackle old office space - bare girders and all. We never put any money into making the place look nice, because that would force our costs up. And although people bitch about what a ripoff textbooks are, our own profit margins were never very high. When professors gave us booklists, we would do tremendous amounts of sleuthing to track down used books first, then resort to new. The students appreciated our efforts t
    • by ErikZ ( 55491 ) *
      But, where do schools and publishers think students are getting all this money from?

      Student Loans.
    • The laws regarding purchasing the international copy of a book (international copies of the same book which have different ISBN numbers and are technically not to allowed to be sold in US) are a bit murkey. But it appears that you can, indeed, get those books legally.

      A blurb from a rather lengthy reply on Google Answers: []
      "The current state of US law is that international versions of textbooks that are lawfully manufactured under the authorization o

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tink2000 ( 524407 )
      "Because its a prereq for General Chem. 1 and 2, we use the first three chapters of the textbook for that course."

      Every major publisher, including (probably) the publisher of the book you use, offers a "custom printing service". They would gladly print just those three chapters and nothing else, or whatever scheme you can come up with -- chapters 1-3, 6, 10 and 13, etc etc.

      Although I can't speak for every college bookstore in the US, I certainly can speak for the one I work for. We don't pay "pennies on the
  • I don't get it (Score:2, Insightful)

    I don't really understand what this is all about.

    I mean, if you have to get the textbooks, they'll have to tell you which ones to get. This means that they are either going to tell you Author/Title/Edition or the ISBN. If you have either of these you can easily look up the other on the internet. And the *prices* can't possibly be protected by copyright.

    Moreover, I find it completely normal and sensible to write down the prices of what you are going to get. Maybe you want to pay in cash and have to know how
    • Some places don't give that information.
      You goto the school bookstore give them your schedule and they use a list only they have to get the books you need..
      In that case the only recourse you would have is get the books, copy the info, and return the books to the place you got them or just dump them on any shelf and walk out. That or at some places they do have sites where people collect that information and post it so you can get it that way.
    • Re:I don't get it (Score:4, Interesting)

      by langelgjm ( 860756 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:53AM (#20680897) Journal

      Heh, I went one step further than the kid in this story. I looked up the books on Amazon, ordered them, and got free shipping. Then, since I needed to do the reading right away, I went to the bookstore and bought the books, with the intention of returning them as soon as I received them from Amazon.

      So yeah, basically I'm a horrible person, but I saved $30.

  • Copyright would be the lamest excuse. Writing down one number from a whole friggen book s obviously fair use. Even worse, since the ISBN numbers are allocated by the national library. So this is a really, really 'duh' case.
  • Does this mean they owe the coop royalties on if they let other bookstores use the same ISBN numbers?
  • ISBNs are the IP of: (Score:4, Informative)

    by Algorithmnast ( 1105517 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:47AM (#20679885)

    ISBNs on books are the IP of The US ISBN Agency [], and since they have the sole authority in the U.S. to issue ISBNs, it's a bit of a stretch (read: LIE) for any other legal entity to claim that the ISBN printed on the book are their IP.

    If you prefer, you can ask The National Information Standards Organization [], which will tell you the for country X it's organization Y. For instance, Canadians will use their own agency [].

    The desire to destroy competition is alive and well. Let's hope this is one attempt which fails miserably.

    • As someone who worked the management end of retail books for a while, I can say that the store's argument contains more crap than a BWCA latrine. If customers wanted to special order books, we always asked if they knew the ISBN, to make sure we ordered the right edition. It's a product tracking number, not intellectual property for a retailer, author, or publisher.

      It's just another case where Einstein's take on genius and stupidity is shown true [paraphrased]: the only difference between stupidity and g
  • by time961 ( 618278 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:48AM (#20679901)

    ISBNs might be the publisher's IP (although they actually aren't), but they certainly aren't the STORE's.

    In any case, the excerpt of the publisher's putative IP that is represented by an ISBN unquestionably comes under the "fair use" defense. First of all, it is a negligibly-sized component of the book, and more importantly, it is clearly being used for purposes of reviewing the book (i.e., expressing an opinion about the relationship of the book's content to its price).

    It's also absurd for a store to eject people doing competitive research. To be sure, some businesses explicitly forbid picture-taking (on the argument that their "trade dress", as represented by the store's design overall, is protected intellectual property)--but preventing people recording prices and descriptions seems like it would fall afoul of various consumer protection laws, even if the restriction were explicitly posted and uniformly enforced (which it apparently is not).

    Harvard "Co-Operative Society", we hardly knew ye. Next time, take a voice recorded and a concealed mic. That's faster than taking notes, anyway.

    • There is no need to conceal anything. Just use a mobile phone that has a voice recording application.
  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:48AM (#20679909) Homepage
    This has come up before [] and I believe a judge ruled that prices are facts, and facts cannot be copyrighted. That applies to the ISBN number as well.

    Although that doesn't mean you cannot be asked to leave the store for doing it. It's their store and they can throw you out for anything they want. And the store is perfectly allowed to suffer for it.
  • ISBNs are public information, and if they belong to anyone, it's whoever registered the book to obtain the number.


  • They are also free to go out of business for being such retarded protectionist asshats. In a free market, it's really their choice.
  • The pharmacy model (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Reality Master 101 ( 179095 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `101retsaMytilaeR'> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:58AM (#20680049) Homepage Journal

    As we all known, college textbooks have been corrupt for a long, long time. It actually makes me think that we ought to move to a "pharmacy" model, where the book stores must be independent from the colleges, just as the dispensing of drugs is separate from the prescribing doctor to prevent this kind of corruption.

    Of course, you couldn't do anything about private universities, but the government could implement this for public universities, and hopefully shame the private ones into going along.

    If Harvard is going to these extremes such as this to prevent people from copying down a few numbers in the bookstore, you know they're corrupt to the core. Clearly they've long abandonded their mission of being a place of higher learning. Of course, the whole Ivy League's been running on reputation for a long time.

    • by Renraku ( 518261 )
      Just like with doctors, schools get paid from various publishers to use their books.

      The schools usually own the bookstore, too.

      Anyone who doesn't see a problem with this is usually on the 'profitable' side of this loop.
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:09AM (#20680161) Homepage
    Of course the Coop was just making up something off the top of their head when they used the "ISBN number" pretext.

    I really would be curious to hear a serious legal analysis by someone who knows, though.

    My completely naive notion would be that you're on the retailer's property, and it's not totally obvious what things you're doing by right and what things you're doing by custom and by permission. Certainly you can't steal a book. Certainly you can't damage a book e.g. by tearing a page out of it.

    Certainly you can open a book and flip through it even though the cumulative effect of dozens of shoppers doing this eventually causes the book to become shopworn. But is this actually by right, or is this just by custom? Quite possibly it merely a courtesy extended to me by the store.

    Price information and easy price comparison help the consumer. Denying this information helps the retailer. How far does the law go in requiring the retailer to make things easy for consumers? There are such things as hired comparison-shoppers who are working for the competition. They are not bona fide customers and are not going to buy the items they are looking at. Is a store required to be nice to them?

    Gas stations have such big conspicuous outdoor price signs that it must be required by law, but is that state or federal law?

    In Massachusetts, shelf labels in supermarkets and drugstores are required to show a computed unit price (which is oddly useless because of creative variation in the unit used, but never mind). Until very recently Massachusetts required individual price labels on every item (but caved to years of open defiance Wal*Mart and other national chains). So Massachusetts has a certain amount of law that sorta-kinda says the consumer has some legal rights to easy price-shopping.

    The Coop and the college bookstores of the world have a pretty tight lock on textbook shopping. It's not absolute, but it's certainly not a frictionless free market and every college town I've ever been in has had one very clearly dominant bookstore, and, usually, one also-ran which has some of the books you need, just coincidentally at the exact same prices as the dominant store.

    Completely tangential footnote: one of my proud moments as a dad occurred in the nineties, in the days when I was still using dialup and most people didn't know what "dot-com" meant, and my kid was in college, and called me, distraught because the college bookstore was out of a textbook she needed for a course, and was estimating six weeks for restocking. I logged into Amazon--quite possibly using lynx as my browser--saw they had it, smiled my big Daddy grin and (mentally) pulled out my big Daddy wallet and had them overnight it to her. In this case, of course, I was paying more than the bookstore price (but the overnight shipping was, of course, only a fraction of the book's cost).
  • No surprise college textbook stores want to do this--especially independent/coop stores which often have tighter margins (as opposed to B&N/Amazon/etc chain stores). Many of these stores that don't have millions / hundreds of thousands in the bank virtually go broke before classes start, and then make all their money within a several week period (ie, before semesters or quarters start). What they don't sell, they return to the publisher. Despite the margins they DO manage to get, because of the nature
  • the Coop claims the ISBN identification numbers in books are their intellectual property.

    It's a numbre assigned by this group [] - to assign what is known as the International Standard Book Number - that identifies a particular edition of a book (hardbound, paperback, audio-book, etc.) from a particular publisher.

    They can no more claim copyright over that than Home Depot can claim copyright over the SKU of a chain saw or a box of nails.

  • by Experiment 626 ( 698257 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:15AM (#20680275)

    Intellectual property isn't a concept in the law in and of itself, the term is really more a way to spread nebulous FUD and also a convenience term to collectively speak about legal concepts that are separate but all deal with the notion that people can own ideas.

    So what form of intellectual property exactly does the bookstore think the numbers fall under?/P>

    They're not copyrighted. Even under modern, highly stretched definitions of creative works you can't copyright a number like that. What original expression of an idea does it represent? Not that someone wouldn't try it, people have even tried making claims as stupid as that the price of their merchandise is copyrighted.

    They're not a trade secret. The numbers are printed right there on the book.

    They're not a trademark. When someone sees "978-0-7356-1879-4" they don't think of this particular bookstore, which is good because that would make it really hard for other stores to sell the same book. Intel did try to trademark the number "486" and failed, which is why they started naming all their chips "Pentium" instead.

    And, they're not patented. Even given the level of rubber-stamping the Patent Office does, I don't think "A system for designating a book with the number 978-0-7356-1879-4" would cut it. Maybe if you added "on the Internet" in there somewhere...

  • Not my experience (Score:3, Informative)

    by Zackbass ( 457384 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:15AM (#20681281)
    I, along with just about everyone I know at MIT, go to the Coop (Harvard/MIT Cooperative) at the start of every term, head over to the textbooks and copy down all the information and prices we need right in front of whoever is working there. I just did so two weeks ago, carrying a bag from Quantum Books (a bookstore next door with sometimes cheaper textbooks) too. It doesn't make any sense for them to care about getting the books somewhere else since it's a cooperative anyway. Something doesn't seem right here.
  • by PhxBlue ( 562201 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @01:48PM (#20684211) Homepage Journal

    The Coop claims the ISBN identification numbers in books are their intellectual property.
    Bullshit. You can't copyright facts or directory listings, and it seems to me an ISBN would be both. Hell, you can't even copyright a title, and an ISBN is less than that.

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell