Worth Reading #1: David Schaengold: Torture Fatigue (March 25, 2010)
Worth Reading #3: James Fallows: Why This Moment Matters (March 25, 2010)

Worth Reading #2: Kaphtor: Information Is The New Coal (Without The CO2)


Kaphtor: Information Is The New Coal (Without The CO2): The era immediately following the rise of the printing press was an Information Age. The spread of information via the press gave rise to the liberal triad: capitalism (and economic information networked system), representative government (a political information networked system), and a skeptical society (a social information networked system--primarily manifesting as tolerance and science). The "Industrial Age" which followed it is perhaps what is misnamed, not the "Information Age". In the first Information Age, information was the input, not the salable output. What made the Information Age from 1500-1700 hum was the cheapness of information. So what about the Industrial Age? What was its analogous input? Fossil Fuel.

Information was the coal (or oil, or gas) of the Gutenberg Revolution, and it will be the same in this era. What would have happened in the Industrial Era had industrialists, instead of making things from fossil fuel energy, tried to simply hoard the energy instead? No Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution took fossil fuel and turned it into something you could sell which people could then use as they saw fit. The biggest problems with the current approach to intellectual property are: 1) Trying to restrict the flow of input, instead of driving its cost to zero 2) Trying to restrict use of output in the new milieu. Sining along to your copy of a Britney Spears album in front of your friends used to be good clean fun--but do it on YouTube, and it's a DMCA violation. 3) Focusing on the sale of copies of something since that is now free. I don't know how to resolve this. I don't know what the new model is. But I think we need to stop thinking about these intellectual outputs as the equivalent of "cars, houses, and refrigerators" and start thinking about them as fuel. It doesn't mean it can't be commercial, but it means we have to figure out how to make it cheap, abundant, and free (in the sense of "free speech", not "free beer") to use.

Let me give a concrete example.

The rise of the Web looked like a godsend for academic publishers. Suddenly, they could reach an even wider audience, massively cut their costs, since they no longer needed to make and deliver physical print versions, and in the process, even slash their online subscription fees to the bone, boosting their volume like crazy. This helped relieve the normal market pressures on both for profit and non-profit journals for years. Everybody wins. Except, they didn't. What the publishers should have realized was that they weren't being paid for content. They were being paid because the only way to distribute content was to own a very expensive printing press, and because the only way to sort good from bad content was to concentrate the good content in prestigious journals. The journal publishers could not get it through their heads that scientists weren't paying them for the articles. Why not?

The journals never made the articles. The scientists did. The journals just organized peer review, typeset them, and distributed them. The journals forgot that the content wasn't their content. A scientific journal is like a major record label that thinks it's responsible for the production of the great music, instead of being responsible for scouting (peer review), studio production (typesetting), and distribution (distribution). The Open Source Community long ago discovered that post-publication peer review, (what ESR calls "massively parallel peer review) is far superior to pre-publication peer-review. Typesetting is now relatively trivial, and there's certainly no reason it needs to be done by someone who does the other two jobs. And distribution?Come on. That's. Now. Free.

So why do we still have journals?

We haven't figured out how to filter the good from the bad, and do massively parallel peer review as scientists yet. But we will. And the heads of the journals had better figure it out, and figure out how to put scientists together to make it happen instead of trying to take a cut as if we still needed their hierarchical organization. Or we'll be inviting them to "Eat our Diet of Worms" soon enough.