GMU sued for Zotero

by Henry on September 30, 2008

Via David Levine, it appears that George Mason University is being sued for over 10 million dollars by the owner of EndNote (which happens to be Thomson-Reuters).

The complaint states, “Dr. Daniel J. Cohen, Associate Professor, Department of History and Art History, and the director of GMU’s Center for History and New Media, developed Zotero, which is a freely distributable, open-source software based research tool that allows users to gather, organize and analyze sources, including citations, and freely share the results with others.” The Center for History and New Media release “a new beta version of Zotero to the general public” on July 8. Reuters adds, “A significant and highly touted feature of the new beta version of Zotero, however, is its ability to convert – in direct violation of the License Agreement – Thomson’s 3,500 plus proprietary .ens style files within the EndNote Software into free, open source, easily distributable Zotero .csl files.”

Now, I’m obviously not an intellectual property lawyer (fwiw the Wikipedia article on reverse engineering, which may or may not be reliable but is certainly more reliable than me, suggests that suits over interoperability are of dubious legal merit). But I am an academic, and thus part of EndNote’s core end-user market. And I say that, regardless or not of whether it’s legal, this is a bullshit move on Thomson-Reuters’ part. There are a lot of academics out there who have used EndNote in the past and created styles for the journals that they submit to etc. EndNote’s owners are clearly worried that these academics will be tempted to move their styles from EndNote to a software package which in my view (and I’ve used both) is clearly superior. This is a no-brainer. There is no significant innovation or value-added to EndNote’s specific file format. Nor is there reason to believe (given the existence of Zotero) that protecting this file format and EndNote’s purported intellectual property rights over it will encourage innovation in this particular marketplace. On the broad social merits, Reuters’ attempted shakedown is indefensible.

Nor is this as trivial an issue for academics as it might seem. As Scott has suggested in the past Zotero and projects like it are at the heart of an effort to bring something like the semantic web to academia. Zotero combines bibliographical database management with social tagging and other fun stuff – it is gradually becoming a platform through which academics can share metadata and other interesting things with each other. Which means that this battle is likely to have long term consequences in determining whether or not new forms of academic collaboration are likely to be controlled by academics themselves, or take place through some kind of commercially controlled intermediation, with all the forms of stupidity that are likely to go along with that.

For my part, I’m going to refuse to use Reuters’ software in future, strongly discourage graduate students from buying EndNote, and try to get this message out to my colleagues too (at least those of them who aren’t using Zotero or some BibTex client already). If I taught any classes where Thomson printed relevant textbooks, I would be strongly inclined not to use these texts either. I encourage you to do the same (and, if you’re so minded, to suggest other possible ways of making it clear to Reuters that this kind of behaviour is intolerable in the comments). People have argued that the music industry has screwed up badly by suing its customers – whether that’s true or not, makers of academic bibliography software should be told that suing universities for what appear to be entirely legitimate actions is not likely to do their reputations any good.

NB- post corrected shortly after publication for bone-headed error.

{ 134 comments }

1

scritic 09.30.08 at 4:50 pm

Interesting. But I’m not sure if Reuters even has a case. Most open-source and free programs/platforms have an option to convert existing data from a more popular widely used commercial format. E.g. Google Docs allows users to upload their MS Word documents, Google Calendar lets you synch up with your Outlook calendar (Calendar-sharing is pretty common anyway) — there are so many examples out there. So it seems like if Reuters main claim is that Zotero has an option that allows users to import their existing EndNote data into Zotero, I am not sure if it will ever hold water. I wonder why they are even suing in the first place.

2

Sebastian 09.30.08 at 4:51 pm

thank you for this. Couldn’t agree more with every single thing you write. I’ve already started to talk to librarians at my school (which has an EndNote campus license) to try to convince them to put pressure on Reuters/Thomson.

3

Sage Ross 09.30.08 at 4:55 pm

I agree with the impulse to show Thomson-Reuters that this kind of thing is unacceptable and has consequences.

But where do we draw the line? Reuters products and services are pretty deeply rooted in the academic information ecosystem, including the Science Citation Index. Are you advocating cutting all that out?

4

Anonymous Bosch 09.30.08 at 5:14 pm

I’m afraid I must disagree, at least in part. While I agree that Thomson/Reuters should have put more effort into web interoperability, I am troubled by the use of federal dollars to support the development of a competitive product (even free ones).

Imagine yourself as the owner or employee of a company that find itself facing a state-funded competitor.

As a power-user of Endnote, I have also been underwhelmed by Zotero capabilities – it could well be a truly powerful tool in the future, but for now, it remains rather anemic by comparison. The Zotero developers talk a good game, and can even show powerful results within narrow domains, but overall it’s still a weak alternative.

5

Righteous Bubba 09.30.08 at 5:21 pm

I am troubled by the use of federal dollars to support the development of a competitive product

Since this is the only case in which a university has ever developed a product I am interested in how this will play out.

6

Justin 09.30.08 at 5:27 pm

It’s worth stressing the importance of open vs. closed file formats. A lot of people in the free software community (of which I am not a part, btw) care more about open file formats than they care about free software per se.

Once your files are in open formats, it doesn’t matter what software created them. You, or the community surrounding you, can always develop new tools to manipulate the underlying data. That means that you can be confident that your data will be available for decades. With a proprietary file format, your access to your work is subject to the whims or incompetence of the company that created the file format.

In the case of your scholarly work, or the resources you rely on for that work, that is simply unacceptable.

7

Colin Danby 09.30.08 at 5:46 pm

Do you want to spell out the “federal dollars” bit, anon?

And I don’t see how you address the proprietary format issue.

8

HH 09.30.08 at 5:49 pm

There is no practical reason why the contents of all of the university libraries cannot be google-captured and accessed. Geographically chartered academic institutions are dead things waiting to fall over. That is why they are proceeding with “deliberate speed” to share the world’s knowledge. They dread the Phoenix paradigm, because they know that something entirely different will rise from the ashes of their ivy-covered real estate.

9

Keith 09.30.08 at 6:20 pm

This is a great summary. I just bookmarked it on Zotero for future use in my reference instruction class. Something I couldn’t have done in EndNote, even if I had it on my computer.

10

Seth Finkelstein 09.30.08 at 6:34 pm

” … the Wikipedia article on reverse engineering, …”

Stop. Right. There.

“This random webpage, written maybe by some guy who I don’t know if he has any idea of what he’s talking about, says …”

This is why I think Wikipedia can be dangerous – yes, people make disclaimers, but then they go right ahead and do things they should not do. And then it’s displaced PEOPLE WHO DO KNOW WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT!

See, e.g.

http://madisonian.net/2008/09/28/endnote-v-zotero/

[Sorry to be harsh, but this effect is something which bothers me a lot about Wikipedia]

11

Adam 09.30.08 at 6:34 pm

I’d never heard of Zotero until now but I’m dissatisfied with Endnote so I’m going to check it out.
Well publicised Thomson-Reuters!

12

felix culpa 09.30.08 at 6:43 pm

Geographically chartered academic institutions are dead things waiting to fall over.
Oh come on, HH. Not in your lifetime, and probably not your grandchildren’s.

13

Benjamin 09.30.08 at 6:57 pm

’m afraid I must disagree, at least in part. While I agree that Thomson/Reuters should have put more effort into web interoperability, I am troubled by the use of federal dollars to support the development of a competitive product (even free ones).

As far as I know, Zotero was built on privately funded grants from Mellon and Sloan, and partially on an IMLS grant because of its unique capacity to serve another project. If you want to make a book-keeping case that some recently added functionality can’t be disentangled from prior federal dollars… well, more power to you.

Research efforts in digital humanities produce software. Making this software available to the public is just maximizing the return on the grant dollars, and it is increasingly a requirement of grant funding. Anything beyond that is a matter of the details of the case, which are pretty sketchy in the linked description.

14

Benjamin 09.30.08 at 7:16 pm

There is no practical reason why the contents of all of the university libraries cannot be google-captured and accessed. Geographically chartered academic institutions are dead things waiting to fall over. That is why they are proceeding with “deliberate speed” to share the world’s knowledge. They dread the Phoenix paradigm, because they know that something entirely different will rise from the ashes of their ivy-covered real estate.

Setting aside your speculation as to the future of universities, let me make a couple of observations:
1. Most large (or sufficiently funded) universities are moving as quickly as possible towards open information systems. A cursory glance at the OAI, DLF, or eduCause websites should make that pretty clear.

2. There are two principal obstacles to making “the contents of all of the university libraries” available to engines like Google: The high cost in money and time of digitization, and similar costs in tracking down copyright holders for collected texts. This is to say that there are mostly practical reasons that you can’t Google your way through all university collections, and almost no hypothetical reasons. Ask Microsoft about the expense of mass digitization of university collections.

15

richard 09.30.08 at 7:29 pm

it could well be a truly powerful tool in the future, but for now, it remains rather anemic
Perhaps. It’s certainly not as full-featured as I’d like it to be. But then, Endnote takes over my machine for minutes at a time, engages in thousands of formatting operations in Word when I want to do minor updates to the footnotes on a paper, crashes regularly and requires time-consuming hand editing to make references usable that it supposedly imported entire from major library sources. I can’t think of another product I’ve sworn at so much in the last few years, and after enormous pain, I eventually abandoned it outright. Right now Zotero makes rather different claims for its features, which it appears actually to deliver. I think Endnote deserves to fail – not that that’s a legally-based position, mind – and I only hope that they haven’t heard of Refworks, otherwise we really will all be plunged back into the 80s.

I’m worried, though, about anyone advocating a publisher boycott. How does that dovetail with freedom of information?

16

Henry 09.30.08 at 7:46 pm

Seth – I know you are down on Wikipedia – but my precise claim was that it may or may not be reliable, but is probably more reliable than someone (myself) who knows absolutely nothing about the topic. What’s your beef with that?

17

Henry 09.30.08 at 7:48 pm

And also – where does the post that you link to substantively disagree with anything that I say??

18

Watson Aname 09.30.08 at 8:10 pm

This is pretty much exactly the reason I’ve avoided using EndNote and tools like it. Easier for me than many disciplines, as we don’t use Word as a rule. Burying my data in a proprietary format has always seemed at best short-sited, though.

Open data formats are so vastly superior for anything like this that I’ve so far happily forgone any (hopefully short lived) advantages software that relied on locking up the data might have.

19

Slocum 09.30.08 at 8:52 pm

I’ve gotten 3-4 people going on Zotero including a couple moving over from EndNote. It’s easy to see why Thompson-Reuters is scared — they should be, because they’re doomed in this market. There is no reason to be paying extortionary prices for proprietary technology in this domain. Go Zotero.

20

HH 09.30.08 at 8:59 pm

Oh come on, HH. Not in your lifetime, and probably not your grandchildren’s.

Demonstrably false. Energy depletion alone will put an end to the jet-transport-enabled academic conference within 20 years and the cost of running a conventional physical campus will make tuition unaffordable for all but a tiny elite.

Wikipedia and Google have education revolution written all over them, but academics shun anything that endangers their precious campuses. It’s game over for the geographically chartered model of academia. All that remains is the recycling of the campuses into adult theme parks and historic sites.

21

HH 09.30.08 at 9:05 pm

This is to say that there are mostly practical reasons that you can’t Google your way through all university collections

Uh, huh. And there were lots of practical reasons why school desegregation could not be implemented quickly. Isn’t it absurd to maintain that an educational facility built around its store of physical books would remain unaltered once those books are universally accessible and linked to all other university collections?

Remember the cartoon character who remains aloft while seated on a tree limb after he has sawed it off? (The tree trunk falls over instead.) This is the future “Internet scholars” imagine for themselves: sitting in seminars in a bloc obsolete campus, while all the research and group work happens on global networks.

22

Keith 09.30.08 at 9:12 pm

HH: Wikipedia and Google have education revolution written all over them, but academics shun anything that endangers their precious campuses. It’s game over for the geographically chartered model of academia. All that remains is the recycling of the campuses into adult theme parks and historic sites.

I know! I mean, I was discussing this matter with some other academics in the Web 2.0 workshop I was teaching and we were discussing how google apps, zotero and blinklist were enabling us to share resources without geographic limitations. It’s like the University is just disappearing!

Get a grip, man. Just because your hedge fund is in the tank doesn’t mean the sky is falling. And just because the academic world is changing it doesn’t mean civilization is collapsing.

23

Watson Aname 09.30.08 at 9:12 pm

Demonstrably false.

Care to demonstrate then? What you’ve stated is a combination of speculative, naive, and mistargeted. Travel will plausibly become much more expensive, but reducing conference travel doesn’t kill academics … particularly when exactly the same sorts of technologies you tout help them, too. The internet has a number of technologies that look likely to change education and study, but not really in the way you seem to be envisioning. How exactly do you see the various roles the university plays being met without any campuses in the near-medium term? So far, good idea or not, most of the technology shifts have effected putting more students through the campuses, not fewer.

24

Watson Aname 09.30.08 at 9:15 pm

Isn’t it absurd to maintain that an educational facility built around its store of physical books would remain unaltered once those books are universally accessible and linked to all other university collections?

Good thing nobody’s ever said it would remain unaltered then. Funny how many academics work these days hardly ever visiting their campus libraries, yet somehow still find it very useful to be on campus, isn’t it?

In any case, it’s pretty absurd to assume at this point you can see clearly what all the alterations will be — history laughs at predictions like that.

25

Slocum 09.30.08 at 9:19 pm

There are two principal obstacles to making “the contents of all of the university libraries” available to engines like Google: The high cost in money and time of digitization, and similar costs in tracking down copyright holders for collected texts.

‘Good enough’ digitization is really not expensive — you can digitize books with a digital camera and OCR software about as fast as you can turn pages. Which is basically what Google has done. My own digitized texts with camera and OCR are better in quality than Google’s mass conversions, but Google’s are more than good enough — readable to the eye, searchable, copy&pasteable. The number I saw for Google digitization was $5/book (an amount that will surely continue to decline as the cost of the technology decreases). So scanning even millions of volumes is not a large sum for Google.

The copyright problem, on the other hand, is real, which is why I sincerely hope Google’s approach stands up legally — that it will digitize everything, but not publish anything where the legitimate copyright holders object. That way, the thousands of books that are legally under copyright but are long out of print and where the copyright holder is not known or easily findable — will be available.

26

HH 09.30.08 at 9:26 pm

The copyright problem, on the other hand, is real

Yes, and that is why the physical campus defenders will dig in and fight a rear-guard action against digitization and global access. The physical library is the nucleus of the geographically chartered university. Virtualize and aggregate the libraries and these institutions implode. You don’t need a PhD to figure this out.

27

Watson Aname 09.30.08 at 9:31 pm

Virtualize and aggregate the libraries and these institutions implode

Doesn’t follow. As noted, plenty of researchers (this is somewhat discipline dependent) may not have visited their libraries at all this year. And yet they are there a few buildings over — why do you think that is?

28

HH 09.30.08 at 9:32 pm

So far, good idea or not, most of the technology shifts have effected putting more students through the campuses, not fewer.

It is a classic lag phenomenon. Textbook sales are increasing too, but does anyone see a future for the standard university textbook? The campus cult is going to price itself out of existence. Energy depletion alone will be enough to do it, but the competitive power of web-based advanced education will be what puts the campus cult out of business.
Young adults will figure out cheaper ways to fraternize and engage in substance abuse, I assure you.

29

HH 09.30.08 at 9:35 pm

As noted, plenty of researchers (this is somewhat discipline dependent) may not have visited their libraries at all this year. And yet they are there a few buildings over—- why do you think that is?

Institutional and cultural inertia, pure and simple. It is obvious that in an era of cheap, fast global communication, faculties should be organized by discipline and not by geography. Don’t confuse inertia with truth.

30

ogmb 09.30.08 at 9:39 pm

Seth – I know you are down on Wikipedia – but my precise claim was that it may or may not be reliable, but is probably more reliable than someone (myself) who knows absolutely nothing about the topic. What’s your beef with that?

I actually find it more troubling that the thrust of the post is “I have no clue about this but I’m gonna come out with a call to boycott someone anyway.” I also find the idea that stealing someone’s property (if that’s what actually happened) and turning it into a superior product makes the enforcement of the original property right socially indefensible pretty indefensible itself.

31

bianca steele 09.30.08 at 9:45 pm

Dr. Daniel J. Cohen, Associate Professor, Department of History and Art History, and the director of GMU’s Center for History and New Media, developed Zotero

More likely, it was developed by undergraduates earning just over minimum wage at work-study jobs, and by a guy who did a senior thesis on the .ens format.

32

Benjamin 09.30.08 at 9:48 pm

The number I saw for Google digitization was $5/book (an amount that will surely continue to decline as the cost of the technology decreases). So scanning even millions of volumes is not a large sum for Google.

I’d be interested to see the cost breakdown you saw; from what I saw on campus, there’s no way the overall cost is $5 a book- but perhaps including the time spent scanning less delicate volumes when there were fewer possible duplicates, it averages out. I doubt that captures the cost of adding new books now.

Regardless, Google sees an advantage in scanning, and so we have Google in large academic libraries moving at the speed of Google digitizing. The expense of digitization is more than the libraries themselves can pay very quickly, but they’re happy to have someone else do it. The idea that the Ivory Tower is bottlenecking the digitization and propagation of library collections is a strawman. Google is already in the libraries; research is already increasingly collaborative and distributed; and libraries are incentivized (if not by outreach concerns, then by digital preservation) to open digital content up. It’s a university that created Zotero, for Pete’s sake.

33

Watson Aname 09.30.08 at 9:51 pm

Don’t confuse inertia with truth.

Don’t confuse libraries with universities. I probably should have been more explicit originally rather than trying to tease something substansive out of you.

There is a certain amount of inertia, sure. But so far it seems that the pedagogical function of a university does not work as well without physical classrooms (this may get better, I expects so, but the mechanism isn’t there now), and the research functions benefit from not organizing too strongly by discipline. So my problem with your analysis is that you so far have avoided any commentary on the effect of (or on) the primary functions of university campuses … rather offering rather airy proclamations about virtualization of information.

It may seem very clear to you. This is usually the case when a person has thought about something either an awful lot or not nearly enough. I wondered if it was the former but now it seems more likely that it’s actually the latter (but I’d be interested if that’s not the case).

34

HH 09.30.08 at 9:52 pm

How exactly do you see the various roles the university plays being met without any campuses in the near-medium term?

1. Global faculties organized by discipline.
2. Open enrollment by automated screening.
3. Study programs organized by student capabilities and goal set.
4. Matriculation determined by testable mastery, not duration of study.
5. Globally recognized mastery credentials and certifications.
6. Teaching and research appointments determined by testable mastery, not institutional credentials.

Modern industry would have been laughable if explained to a craft guild in the Middle Ages. Global networked higher education looks funny to the campus cult for similar reasons: it is an extinction threat.

35

Watson Aname 09.30.08 at 9:54 pm

but the competitive power of web-based advanced education will be what puts the campus cult out of business.

Unless I was unclear about this previously: As far as I can see, typically web and remote education performs poorly at the moment. It’s hard to pin down why, exactly, but so far it seems to me that it isn’t the technology at root fault.

36

HH 09.30.08 at 9:58 pm

But so far it seems that the pedagogical function of a university does not work as well without physical classrooms

A major problem in modern university classrooms is that students are communicating on the Internet while attending lectures (OMG! Can you believe what he just said?) Maybe these campus assembly areas can be converted into charm schools or religious retreats, but their role as learning facilities is over. $25,000 a semester to read fundamental texts and write 12 term papers? WTF? Is this how we will educate the children of 8 billion people?

37

HH 09.30.08 at 10:03 pm

As far as I can see, typically web and remote education performs poorly at the moment.

Give me the next entering class at Harvard, and I will show you how “poorly” web education performs. Current web-based programs have low social status and thus are relegated to ancillary functions and low-ability students. The coming energy depletion will make Internet education functionally necessary, then it will be “discovered” to be highly effective.

38

Watson Aname 09.30.08 at 10:08 pm

Ah, ok, now I see you’re just confused about how complicated systems actually work. You’re holding up a cartoon future education system against the real world and finding the latter lacking. How surprising.


1. Global faculties organized by discipline.
2. Open enrollment by automated screening.
3. Study programs organized by student capabilities and goal set.
4. Matriculation determined by testable mastery, not duration of study.
5. Globally recognized mastery credentials and certifications.
6. Teaching and research appointments determined by testable mastery, not institutional credentials.

There is a place for (1), and they already exist. In some areas much more could be done — but if you overdo it, you get worse results. Cross disciplinary research and collaboration is very fruitful, but difficult to maintain. It gets worse if everyone turns inward. There is no sensible mechanism for (2) now or in near future. (3) is interesting — an old idea with mixed results in education. Mixed enough that it’s not an obvious improvement (4) is roughly speaking the current system, most places. Testing being imperfect, there is some amount of time served, sure. No technology exists to help this now or near future. Much more stringent test can be administered, but that has other problems (5) Is called `a degree’. There is room for quibbling about the details. Global recognition is hard, but somewhat negotiated this way. (6) again is (very) roughly the current system. Some things are not effectively testable, and some may be emphasized differently. But imaging there is a simple replacement that will somehow clean it up by `testing mastery’ is laughable.

None of what you say implies the dissolution of campuses. I actually agree with you that education and research are in the process of a big shape up facilitated by information technology. I just find your conclusions bizarre and wondered if there were anything interesting behind them. Seems not.

39

Watson Aname 09.30.08 at 10:10 pm

Give me the next entering class at Harvard, and I will show you how “poorly” web education performs. Current web-based programs have low social status and thus are relegated to ancillary functions and low-ability students.

No, this isn’t actually the problem with web-based or other virtual approaches. There is a truism that it doesn’t really matter how you teach the best students, they’ll learn. That doesn’t help you with the majority of them.

40

djr 09.30.08 at 10:17 pm

The physical library is the nucleus of the geographically chartered university. Virtualize and aggregate the libraries and these institutions implode.

I think you’ve forgotten science! Labs (for both teaching and research) aren’t going anywhere fast!

41

Franklin Sayre 09.30.08 at 10:45 pm

As a student who cannot afford Sndnote, at least not right now, but who regularly uses Zotero, I can tell you that this will definitely stop me from even considering buying Endnote when it comes out.

Talk about attacking your core future audience.

42

HH 09.30.08 at 10:47 pm

I think you’ve forgotten science! Labs (for both teaching and research) aren’t going anywhere fast!

I think you have forgotten that computers can run simulated experiments that are impossible in a physical lab, and can provide a degree of experimental control in simulated experiments that is far greater than what the lab provides. The experimental output of the new CERN accelerator will be processed by a “cloud” of over 100,000 Internet-linked computers. So just where is their “lab?”

43

HH 09.30.08 at 10:50 pm

There is a truism that it doesn’t really matter how you teach the best students, they’ll learn. That doesn’t help you with the majority of them.

Then why are the most elaborate campus facilities provided for the best students? The elite schools are using grossly inefficient methods to educate students who, by your own admission, do not require them.

44

Seth Finkelstein 09.30.08 at 10:55 pm

Henry – my beef is not with the precise claim – which could always be made logically trivially true. But rather, pointing out this little example of the overall negative displacement effect Wikipedia has on real expertise. I mean, part of blog-evangelism is that there’s now a universe of experts available at your fingertips, eager to share their insights on a topic. I happen to know how intensely debated is the topic of reverse-engineering, having been somewhat personally affected. And where do you turn? Where do you POINT THE READERS? (a possibly significant effect, given CT’s prominence). To the notorious cult that has a real tendency to drive away scholars in favor of fanatical players of bureaucratic politics.

Again, I don’t mean to make too much of it in context. But the post is an example of a point I’ve been thinking about, in terms of a problem of the question “[When] should people use Wikipedia?”. There’s a standard answer, “Use it as one source among many”. But I’ve been thinking there’s a subtle but critically important problem with that answer, in that Wikipedia has a very dangerous tendency to draw attention from experts and funnel it into itself (Jaron Lanier touched on this in his critique). So the standard answer is too facile, and I’ve been trying to come up with a good way of explaining why that’s so.

45

HH 09.30.08 at 10:55 pm

I just find your conclusions bizarre and wondered if there were anything interesting behind them. Seems not.

If I were to lay out an entire architecture for the next generation of virtual Internet-enabled higher education, you would blow it off as “unproven speculation.” You see, there is always another defensive line for the campus cult – until its final economic collapse. Corporations have already validated, piecemeal, “distance learning” for fairly sophisticated training programs. It takes very little imagination to connect the dots and draw an extrapolative line right through the university model.

46

HH 09.30.08 at 11:01 pm

Regarding Wikipedia, the transition from derision to fear didn’t take long, did it? What really outrages the Wikicritics is the astonishing span of knowledge assembled by the Wikirabble. It just doesn’t seem proper. There has never been anything remotely like Wikipedia, and it frightens conventional scholars – not because it is so big, but because it is so young.

47

Walt 09.30.08 at 11:06 pm

Wow, who would have guessed that the nuttiest statement on this thread would not be by HH?

This is the craziest description of Wikipedia that I’ve ever heard: “To the notorious cult that has a real tendency to drive away scholars in favor of fanatical players of bureaucratic politics.” Congratulations, Seth.

48

Seth Finkelstein 09.30.08 at 11:11 pm

I don’t want to hijack the thread, but e.g. read about the
Wikipedia “Essjay” scandal

(note who wrote that _Guardian_ column :-) )

49

Matt L 09.30.08 at 11:12 pm

HH… you are hilarious! I am busting a gut over your comments… “Give me the entering class of Harvard…” Thats a stitch!!! It sounds like you’ve never set foot in a classroom. Watson Aname is right, the good students teach themselves and the bad students self destruct. The real measure of the teacher is how well the middling sort of student does.

Besides, Harvard students will be going to class in Cambridge MA two hundred years from now. The reason is social prestige and the inertia of capital. Harvard has the largest endowment of any educational institution on the planet. Its degree does not provide an education, but it does guarantee social mobility.

50

lemuel pitkin 09.30.08 at 11:15 pm

note who wrote that Guardian column :-)

Wow, nice beard!

51

HH 09.30.08 at 11:22 pm

HH… you are hilarious!

Unlike some of the distinguished CT authors, I am not paid to make amusing statements, so I claim a modest efficiency advantage.

It sounds to me like the educational mission and the “social prestige” allocation mission have gotten seriously cross-wired in American universities. Thus, it would appear that as soon as we could hook up social prestige servers on our putative global Internet university web, we would have a respectable operation.

52

Righteous Bubba 09.30.08 at 11:39 pm

I don’t want to hijack the thread

There are other commenters with a modest efficiency advantage for that.

53

Seth Finkelstein 09.30.08 at 11:42 pm

lemuel pitkin: Thanks!

54

SamChevre 09.30.08 at 11:51 pm

Contributing my two cents to the rather thorough derailment of this thread:

I think the main point of universities is the networks they build, not the education they provide. As such, “we can provide the same education more cheaply” is rather entirely beside the point.

55

theo 09.30.08 at 11:54 pm

Some of these “future of the university” scenarios are even less plausible than an android getting appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge in the 24th century.

Even if universities were a complete con and only served the ends of prestige aggregation and credentialing, they would still be around three centuries from now.

56

HH 09.30.08 at 11:58 pm

I think the main point of universities is the networks they build, not the education they provide. As such, “we can provide the same education more cheaply” is rather entirely beside the point.

We can provide a better network more cheaply.

57

HH 10.01.08 at 12:04 am

Even if universities were a complete con and only served the ends of prestige aggregation and credentialing, they would still be around three centuries from now.

This assumes there is no likelihood of superior methods of prestige aggregation and credentialing emerging over the next three centuries. Considering the grossly inefficient character of current university education and its utter unsuitability for lifting billions of the world’s disadvantaged people out of poverty, I would say that there are very powerful arguments in favor of replacing the physical campus model with something better and cheaper. Energy depletion will administer the decisive blow and Internet economic advantage will do the rest.

The change will probably be noticeable within 20-30 years.

58

Marc 10.01.08 at 12:08 am

HH appears to believe that personal interaction contributes absolutely nothing to education. They are entitled to their opinions, of course, but not to have them taken as fact. Universities are quite interested in dispensing with expensive labor; students are less interested in having no one to talk to when they have a problem.

Scientific research is already international in scope, and you still benefit from personal interaction. You gain things from knocking on someone’s door. We have regular discussions about papers posted to the net. And we still write papers with folks all over the planet – in many cases with people we have never met.

If you go someplace like Harvard you get a shot at being taught by someone who is actually doing the research instead of someone who last encountered it in graduate school two decades ago. You get a chance to actually do research. And, of course, you make personal contacts that can serve you quite well later in life. (You can also get taught in some places by TAs and have professors who are talented researchers but incompetent teachers, or who checked out intellectually a decade ago. But that’s not a requirement.) That’s not going anyplace either.

59

lou smorals 10.01.08 at 12:31 am

Blackboard tried the same crapola. Educause “suggested” this may not be smart, and they backed down. It has cost them a lot, and many universities are moving over to other platforms.

Academics, especially tenured academics, are beholden to very few corporations, and this kind of thing gets up a lot of noses very fast. There is a strong chance this is a big mistake.

Go Zotero!!

60

Righteous Bubba 10.01.08 at 12:52 am

its ability to convert – in direct violation of the License Agreement – Thomson’s 3,500 plus proprietary .ens style files within the EndNote Software into free, open source, easily distributable Zotero .csl files.”

A PDF of the complaint can be found here:
http://government.zdnet.com/?p=4051

61

LFC 10.01.08 at 1:31 am

Matt L @48: “Its [Harvard's] degree does not provide an education, but it does guarantee social mobility.”
I’ve encountered before — on the web and elsewhere — this notion that colleges and universities, especially ‘elite’ ones, do not educate, but exist for reasons having to do with prestige, power, concentrated wealth and privilege, historical inertia (path dependence, if you prefer), and the need to replenish the ruling classes with new blood and talent by funneling some lucky few lower-class students into their ranks.
One needn’t be a sociologist of higher education (I’m not) to recognize that this picture is a caricature. It contains a kernel of truth blown out of proportion. First of all, no degree, regardless of its provenance, *guarantees* social mobility or even success, however defined. Second, while elite institutions do often reinforce existing patterns of privilege, I think they also manage to educate some of their students, providing the students have the maturity and willingness to take some initiative and be more than passive consumers. Universities with big catalogs and tons of resources (and which therefore offer lots of options) are probably wasted on many 18 and 19-year-olds, even in the pools of often very talented ones they admit. (That’s one reason why taking a ‘gap year’ between secondary school and college/university can be a good idea.)

62

Rich Puchalsky 10.01.08 at 1:32 am

With regard to wikipedia, I don’t think that it’s proper use is “one source among many”. Its proper use is to fulfill casual curiosity about items that you wouldn’t otherwise take the trouble to research. I use it that way all the time, and it’s tremendously convenient.

On the other hand, I’ve also watched climate scientists try to maintain wikipedia’s pages on global warming and the like, and yes, it’s a constant struggle against the right-wing know-nothings who have to be swatted down again and again. I don’t know if I’d call it “bureaucratic”; it’s like having to write a popular science article that’s continually interrupted by flamers who insist that their BS is just as valid as your science, and having to be civil while you gradually ease them out.

63

HH 10.01.08 at 1:36 am

HH appears to believe that personal interaction contributes absolutely nothing to education.

Damned if I didn’t think that personal interaction is occurring here on CT, but it just shows how easily fooled I am. If I were paying $1,000 per credit, I could read the body language of the worthy professors at an accredited institution of higher learning. I could even have far-ranging, off-topic informal discussions with them after class. Ain’t nothing like the real thing!

How strange it is that the most explosive area of commercial Internet growth is the “social networking” sites, where people seem to believe that they are having some form of “personal interaction.” Is it possible that this radical novelty could be adapted to education? Certainly, the elite Internet Scholars at leading universities will waste no time in ascertaining the theoretical feasibility of accomplishing “human interaction” over the Internet. There could be a MacArthur prize waiting for the bold scholar who pulls this off.

64

Kaveh Hemmat 10.01.08 at 1:44 am

If social networking were going to make universities obsolete, wouldn’t company offices be going obsolete just as fast or faster? I mean, aside from the Stonecutters’ conspiracy to hold back the Segway, we would already be living in a world where people don’t go to the office, they just do all their work out of the house and interact using the internet, and maybe have meetings in the park on nice days. If you can learn organic chemistry or lit crit from teh Google, why not conduct corporate meetings that way? Or are you of the opinion that time spent in corporate meetings is mainly productive, unlike time spent in classrooms or professors’ offices?

Besides which, doesn’t HH have it backwards here? If universities were really the ones afraid of losing their monopoly on licensing expert knowledge to the corporate sector, wouldn’t they be resisting something like Zotero, instead of inventing it?

65

HH 10.01.08 at 1:54 am

If social networking were going to make universities obsolete, wouldn’t company offices be going obsolete just as fast or faster?

The corporate sector is way ahead of academia in terms of exploiting videoconferencing, groupware-assisted meetings, distance learning, and other network-enabled alternatives to face-to-face interaction. A modern multinational corporation is already a virtual global entity with no primary physical facility. There may be a headquarters, but it operates 7 x 24 all over the world, and it is tied together by digital networks. Telecommuting will soon move from exception to norm as fuel shortages and price increases become more widespread. There are widespread gas shortages in Atlanta and Charlotte this week.

Universities get away with inefficiency because they are selling intangibles, in addition to their measurable knowledge transfer. They are selling prestige and “contacts” that are supposed to enhance the social and career prospects of their students. As long as the campus culture claims that the secret sauce is person-to-person interaction, the old model will persist, at least until it becomes economically unsustainable. I believe that energy depletion will knock the economic sustainability out from under 50-building campuses, and price competition with Internet-based advanced education will finish off the campus model as the dominant form of higher education.

66

Watson Aname 10.01.08 at 2:05 am

Besides which, doesn’t HH have it backwards here?

Yes. But it seems HH doesn’t know much about the history of this stuff. Universities have always been pushing it forward, formally and informally. The example of zotero as noted, but many others; facebook started off as social network for Harvard students. The web was invented by and for academic physicists, much of the internet infrastructure was created for similar reasons. While identifying that there exist people within academia distrusting of technology and it’s effects, HH simultaneously forgets to note that more than anywhere else, academic institutions and universities have housed not only the people who really “get it”, but the ones who invent it.

HH imagines a conspiracy of education `cultists’ vainly trying to stem the tide of educational progress about to wash over them. The truth is less romantic and more complicated. The top students (and HH misread me earlier on that, I didn’t mean this to stand in as students at elite schools, rather the top of any class) will learn regardless … most of the others only with a lot of hand holding. It’s true that there has been some success in commercial arenas mostly at distributing information, less so at teaching new skills, online. But web content and videos might handle the corporate briefings, but it doesn’t do well for anything very complicated. There the primary successes come from putting good instructors in small rooms of students (sound familiar?). Indeed, there is an industry built around this sort of teaching. And unsurprisingly this isn’t news, armed forces figured that out ages ago too.

One main thing (besides basically misunderstanding the role of universities and elite universities in particular) HH is wrong about here is that while there is going to be some built in conservatism (especially from older faculty) to these things, many of the biggest gains in introducing technology to education have come from the universities, and will continue to be in the forseeable future. It’s also the testing ground in which some pretty spectacular failures for technology can be found. Because after all, like the corporations and the military, universities figured out a long time ago that on average people learn best in smallish groups with personal interaction and some handholding.

67

HH 10.01.08 at 2:21 am

universities figured out a long time ago that on average people learn best in smallish groups with personal interaction and some handholding.

Times have changed. There is nothing magical about a lecturer speaking to a class of 100 introductory psychology students. Those students might as well be watching the lecturer on YouTube. In smaller groups, the advantages of the personal presence of the instructor are offset by the unavailability of software aids in the rival Internet-based instruction scenario.

Even if I were to grant your dubious and unproven assertion of superior knowledge transfer via physical proximity of teachers and students, the economics of providing campus education are simply unsustainable given current energy and world poverty trends.

Some universities get it, notably MIT, which has made the epochal decision to open source its entire curriculum. But most universities believe simultaneously that higher education will be radically transformed while the campus model will persist. This makes as much sense as advocating mass production of automobiles while proclaiming the viability of the coach building trade.

The university community should actively accept the Phoenix paradigm, in which they gradually prepare for an orderly shutdown of their Balkanized, geographically-based facilities and integrate their educational assets into a global advanced education establishment.

68

Gar Lipow 10.01.08 at 2:32 am

>also find the idea that stealing someone’s property (if that’s what actually happened) and turning it into a superior product makes the enforcement of the original property right socially indefensible pretty indefensible itself.

Umm OK “stealing someone else’s property” is not what Zoltera is accused of. Not even copyright violation. They are accused of violating a contract (unmeritoriously as far as I can see – but I’m no lawyer.) Basically, by making their software able to read Endnote software, they are accuse of violating a contract as Endnote users of taking part of Endnote software. But file formats normally are not considered part of software in that sense. Everybody and his brother reads Microsoft formats. Microsoft imports hundreds of non-Micro-soft formats. Now the way Endnote tries to get around this is to claim reverse engineering of software (which thanks to really absurd copyright laws is now illegal). But we don’t really know that. The reverse engineering may be only of the data files, compare printouts or plain text of the data to the proprietary format. Again not a lawyer, but is sounds to me like this would only fall under that law if file formats are considered copyrighable. Most software on the market can import from at least one other file format. So that would be a hell of a precedent if so.

At any rate, even if it turns out that Endnote has a legal point, it appears largely to rest on a non-obvious interperation of an obsure clause in their contract. Calling that “theft” seems very over the top.

69

Watson Aname 10.01.08 at 2:37 am

This is getting pointless, HH, because you really don’t understand what you’re talking about. There are lots of things that can be improved about education and many (unsurprisingly) things the universities can learn from industry, etc. But your position is nearly a caricature. Times change, certainly, but instead of just blathering about it as we are, people have actually tried things equivalent to your “they might as well be watching it on YouTube” and it doesn’t work very well. They’re past that. Now the question is why? and what can be improved (so do please try and catch up. You’re in about the mid to late 90s now, by the by). Most of these efforts have been motivated by the expense of provided the gold standard of education: a good instructor in a small room. Lots of effort goes into attack the fact that there aren’t enough good instructors, or enough small rooms, and their expensive. People are often willing to accept less quality for less cost though, of course — the problem is that while they’d like to have a slight decrease in quality for a large decrease in cost often what you actually get is the latter. At any rate, regardless of the rhetoric surrounding them, very few of these technological approaches were ever viewed at actually improving on the small class/good teacher model — they’re almost universally trying to approximate it because they can’t actually afford it. Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise.

One last comment and I’m out of this:

Some universities get it, notably MIT, which has made the epochal decision to open source its entire curriculum.

You really should understand why MIT did this. Much more so than providing a resource (very decent of them), it was in order to underline their extreme confidence that exactly they type of argument you are making was false. That is, that even if they give you all of the material for free, the expense and difficulty of actually attending MIT was worth every penny to their students.

Do yourself a favor and think about that for a while before pontificating on the future of education next time.

70

HH 10.01.08 at 2:48 am

You really should understand why MIT did this. Much more so than providing a resource (very decent of them), it was in order to underline their extreme confidence that exactly they type of argument you are making was false. That is, that even if they give you all of the material for free, the expense and difficulty of actually attending MIT was worth every penny to their students.

You are making the absurd claim that MIT undertook the enormous task of making all of its courses freely accessible online to PROVE that an MIT education is worth every penny? By this illogic, the more powerful and extensive MIT’ s free offerings become, the more overwhelming is the case for attending MIT. Maybe you need to spend some more time with your uniquely effective university instructors.

You are bluntly denying the possibility of any effective alternative to conventional face-to-face university instruction. Since this is about to become uneconomic, you are effectively pronouncing a death sentence on higher education. Enjoy the glorious sunset.

71

Henry 10.01.08 at 2:48 am

HH – this isn’t Speaker’s Corner and your idiosyncratic theories about the academy have gotten quite enough of an airing. Future comments on this topic will be deleted summarily.

Seth – the claim about Wikipedia being a ‘notorious cult that has a real tendency to drive away scholars in favor of fanatical players of bureaucratic politics’ seems a little … un-nuanced,. There are real and interesting issues about the relationship between Wikipedia and expertise, but putting it in these terms seems an unhelpful way to think about this. I’m quite happy to acknowledge that the Wikipedia process can be petty minded, riven by power relations and factional disputes etc – in fact, I’ve just co-authored a paper on this topic. But if bureaucratic pettymindedness, bitter and stupid arguments over trivialities etc invalidated knowledge production, the academy would be in a _lot_ of trouble.

I suppose I just don’t sign onto the expertise good, Wikipedia bad dichotomy that you seem to be pushing here – from a pragmatic point of view I find that Wikipedia is quite useful and good on a lot of topics that I do know something about, and when it is mediocre, it usually still has good links to other sources. I simply don’t see this as a zero sum game, which seems to be the underlying logic of your critique.

72

Righteous Bubba 10.01.08 at 3:47 am

The Essjay scandal just isn’t one, as far as I can see, except for Essjay and the New Yorker. People who use Wikipedia find out quickly that any yokel can edit it, so yeah, you take what you can get from it knowing that other sources might be better.

What Essjay contributions were wrong?

73

djr 10.01.08 at 6:38 am

I think you have forgotten that computers can run simulated experiments that are impossible in a physical lab, and can provide a degree of experimental control in simulated experiments that is far greater than what the lab provides.

Yes, and can give us a great deal of information about our computer models, and zero information about unknown physical effects.

The experimental output of the new CERN accelerator will be processed by a “cloud” of over 100,000 Internet-linked computers. So just where is their “lab?”

It’s in a big tunnel on the Swiss-French border. There’s quite a lot of stuff aboveground there too – almost like a university campus! But this is exactly my point – all these 100,000 computers are pointless without the big machine which actually smashes particles together in the real world.

(Henry – sorry to contribute further to the topic hijack. Within the hijack, I’m amazed that the view of universities as places where people just read books and talk to each other has gone almost unremarked – I thought CT moved in the post-“Two Cultures” world!)

74

Seth Finkelstein 10.01.08 at 11:27 am

I’m surprised that my description of Wikipedia as a “notorious cult that has a real tendency to drive away scholars in favor of fanatical players of bureaucratic politics” is drawing such dispute – I thought, colorful phrasing aside, at heart that’s quite a prosaic observation, almost conventional wisdom among many nowadays. See for example:

http://crookedtimber.org/2007/02/04/wikipedia/ , quoting

“For some reason people who spend 40 years learning everything they can about, say, the Peloponnesian War – and indeed, advancing the body of human knowledge – get all pissy when their contributions are edited away by Randy in Boise who heard somewhere that sword-wielding skeletons were involved. And they get downright irate when asked politely to engage in discourse with Randy until the sword-skeleton theory can be incorporated into the article without passing judgment.”

Regarding “But if bureaucratic pettymindedness, bitter and stupid arguments over trivialities etc invalidated knowledge production, …”

I didn’t say that. I do contend that large amounts of such politics HAVE A TENDENCY (note, not an absolute and categorical statement applying to every item, but a statistical aggregate assertion applying overall) to lower the quality by favoring game-players over expertise.

“I simply don’t see this as a zero sum game, which seems to be the underlying logic of your critique.”

But it is a zero-sum game. In your post, Wikipedia got the link, the Google-juice, the readership. An expert blogger (or better source) did not. Because of your action, Wikipedia got a little stronger versus identifiable experts. It’s a small matter individually, but in the aggregate, I think there’s very negative effect here. One which is under-examined in the standard punditry about using Wikipedia.

75

Righteous Bubba 10.01.08 at 11:54 am

I’m surprised that my description of Wikipedia as a “notorious cult that has a real tendency to drive away scholars in favor of fanatical players of bureaucratic politics” is drawing such dispute

Have you demonstrated that?

76

Seth Finkelstein 10.01.08 at 12:25 pm

Which part? I’ve given links to arguments for both “notorious cult” and “drive away” (I’ve written a lot on the “cult” part, but again, I’m trying to avoid pulling it all into this thread). The point is not that those ideas are beyond dispute in any sense (everything is contestable, I know, I know), but rather the underlying concepts are in fact rather standard fare in certain circles.

77

Righteous Bubba 10.01.08 at 12:38 pm

Which part?

Any of it. Notorious cult? The tendency to drive away scholars? The fanatical players? I see some anecdotes about some things that are obviously stupid and that’s fine, but it seems like one of those “all fans of X sports team are degenerate morons because I got beer spilled on me at the game” complaints.

78

richard 10.01.08 at 12:55 pm

On Zotero’s development:
More likely, it was developed by undergraduates earning just over minimum wage at work-study jobs, and by a guy who did a senior thesis on the .ens format.
I find this extremely unlikely. Not so much because zotero actually works, on multiple platforms, but because it’s usable, intuitive and easy to pick up. That stuff doesn’t happen by accident.

Damned if I didn’t think that personal interaction is occurring here on CT, but it just shows how easily fooled I am.
I apologise for continuing a dead topic, but I’d like to draw a line between personal interaction and flamewars. This is a civil one, but it still doesn’t approach anything like a serious conversation with a considered exchange of views. I’m not saying thoughtful conversations are impossible online, but they seem largely incompatible with the kind of aggressively open structure HH appears to favour.

79

Seth Finkelstein 10.01.08 at 12:59 pm

I’ve given you two references. If I do more, I think we’re going to get bogged down into a cycle of “Not enough, not sufficient, I’m still unconvinced, I WILL NOT YIELD!” .

I’m not going to turn this thread into linking and quoting all the articles critical of Wikipedia that I’ve written. That is, either I get people mad at me for hobbyhorsing, or you claim I haven’t proved my point. You win, if you call that winning.

80

HH 10.01.08 at 1:19 pm

Future comments on this topic will be deleted summarily.

But why stop there, Henry? Why not declare that nothing of substance can be discussed on CT because it is a mere blog, necessarily subservient to the hallowed precincts in which serious matters can be properly considered.

81

HH 10.01.08 at 1:25 pm

all the articles critical of Wikipedia

Why is it so hard to imagine a refereed content modality within Wikipedia? The schism between credentialed and non-credentialed contributors is just another problem awaiting an evolutionary solution, and Wikipedia is evolving very rapidly.

82

Righteous Bubba 10.01.08 at 1:45 pm

That is, either I get people mad at me for hobbyhorsing, or you claim I haven’t proved my point.

Can I ask you then for your knockout blow of anti-Wikipedia linkage? Doesn’t have to be in this thread. I am honestly interested.

83

Seth Finkelstein 10.01.08 at 2:12 pm

If I put links to individual articles, the spam-trap will send my post into moderation purgatory (hence in a discussion on the topic, I’d have to do lots of small posts, another hobbyhorse problem).

In general, you can find many columns I’ve written about Wikipedia and the conceptually related company Wikia off my Guardian profile page:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/sethfinkelstein

Rawer material on my blog:

http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/archives/cat_wikipedia.html

84

Henry 10.01.08 at 2:56 pm

HH – if you really must know, it is being stopped because you are a crank and a bore, who repetitively tries to yank any even vaguely related conversation away from its course so that it centers on his own hobby-horse. If you want to keep pushing this stuff, I invite you to set up your own blog.

Seth – unless Wikipedia is positively malign for knowledge production – a case that I don’t think you’ve made, at least not to my satisfaction, it isn’t a zero sum game in terms of its consequences for the production and dissemination of decent knowledge. Doubtless experts like to be cited – but your claim, if justified, would suggest that academia itself is a zero sum game, with its emphasis on citations etc – and this isn’t true. It captures a little bit of the truth, but only a little. More generally, this kind of rhetorical ‘us versus them’ trope isn’t very useful when it’s being pushed by an obvious loon like HH, and its mirror-image a-la Andrew Keen is not very satisfactory in my view either.

85

HH 10.01.08 at 3:14 pm

it is being stopped because you are a crank and a bore

Please forgive me. I had no idea that the future of the university is such a boring subject. I shall now creep away to my stool in the corner.

86

Seth Finkelstein 10.01.08 at 4:05 pm

Henry, your reply is deeply flawed on two counts:
1) It’s shifting the point – it’s like saying unless a factory actually lose money, it doesn’t matter how inefficient it is.
2) Wikipedia may or may not be malign overall, that’s a different topic, but it’s entirely possible that your specific action can do more harm than good to knowledge production (i.e. if it does a relatively large harm in discouraging topic experts, that can far outweigh the relatively small benefit of promoting a barely passable article) – disclaimer, again, this specific post is simply a minor example of an overall trend.

Regarding “would suggest that academia itself is a zero sum game, with its emphasis on citations etc”

Umm, how many times have you heard complaints that superstars within a field get citations that are very generic, at the expense of better work done by less prominent researchers? My overall point is not that the problems have never been seen before, but rather are made worse in some fairly subtle ways.

Now, I’m aware that evangelism has spawned counter-evangelism, i.e. Andrew Keen, where each side makes hay by knocking down the other’s strawmen. I’m not doing reflexive denial. But I do think that there are substantial negatives that should be better examined.

[FYI, I'm planning a future column on examining some of complexities in the "Internet" knowledge production argument, based on Tim Berner-Lee's recent remarks, going into some counter-intuitive aspects]

87

Katherine 10.01.08 at 4:10 pm

No no HH – the subject is not boring. You are a bore.

On the other hand – Wikipedia is brilliant. I can look up all sorts of things that I know nothing about and get a general idea in moments. Hey, I know (cos I am not stupid) that I may not always get the definitive article produced by the top expert, but if that’s what I’m looking for then I’ll move on to something else. Simple really.

88

Righteous Bubba 10.01.08 at 4:25 pm

1) It’s shifting the point – it’s like saying unless a factory actually lose money, it doesn’t matter how inefficient it is.

It’s not like that for me as a user, because it’s free. If a factory produces 25% worthwhile frisbees and 75% worthwhile ones and they give them to me for nothing, I’m okay with their inefficiency. Unless the frisbees are explosive (which may analogize to various biographical hijinks on Wikipedia or maybe vaccine/autism linkages).

Thanks for the links though. I guess what I have a problem with in your arguments is that the process and the backing is taken issue with, which is fine as they should be criticized, whereas the overall product hasn’t really been scratched, as it’s pretty common knowledge that you should take the Wikipedia with a grain of salt.

89

HH 10.01.08 at 4:31 pm

[tedious sarcasm of the lumbering class].

90

Mike C 10.01.08 at 4:42 pm

Why has this important discussion been hijacked by a stale and repetitive discussion about Wikipedia.

The important discussion is about the domination the Thomson Reuters has over academic life without any mandate apart from corporate power. The decisions about what journals get listed in ISI are critical: they control what counts for tenure and promotion (or are just visible to the rest of the community).

The academic community seems content to allow Thomson Reuters hegemony over this. This has always worried me but this bullying of Zotero raises my concern greatly (and I say this as someone who finds EndNote works reliably and efficiently and has not deefected to Zotero (admittedly if I had to buy it myself I might have a different view).

T-R hold a dangerous and, until Zotero, uncontested monopoly on bibliographic software (having bought up all the competing products) and a treatening postion as gatekeepers to knowledge.

91

Righteous Bubba 10.01.08 at 4:50 pm

Just for fun here’s a search on Sourceforge that reveals a few projects that import from and export to the proprietary format.

92

noksagt 10.01.08 at 6:02 pm

@Righteous Bubba

No–not really. The complaint regards the undocumented file format used for formatting citations specifically, not for data exchange between literature databases and desktop reference managers.

Most of the programs in your search can do the latter, but not the former.

93

Roy Belmont 10.01.08 at 6:35 pm

HH:
The “bore” part is closer to the hardware nuance of the word, a drilling into, grinding persistently with a small tool at something you wish to make a hole in.
In this case that would be the brains of your readers.
“Boring”, in American english, meaning not so much making small holes in things as being non-entertaining, not rewarding attention paid with either amusement or enlightenment
Your command of the language is sufficient to make the second definition less applicable than the first, though both fit well enough to justify their use.

94

Matt Lee 10.01.08 at 6:53 pm

It seems to me that EndNote, like any other proprietary software, is a social problem, and this demonstrates it very well. This kind of abuse is exactly what government money should be working to create free replacements for.

95

HH 10.01.08 at 7:02 pm

[laborious attempted sarcasm]

96

Watson Aname 10.01.08 at 9:15 pm

Why has this important discussion been hijacked by a stale and repetitive discussion about Wikipedia.

For all of the usual, tedious, reasons I expect.

I’ve wondered before why BibTeX never found much of a home outside the LaTeX world. It’s a reasonable text based format for this sort of information. Chicken-and-egg problem? (by which I mean the lack of tools outside of La/BibTex to manage them). But being textually based, such tools are reasonably easy to produce (at least, rudimentary ones) but I haven’t seen much evidence of it.

97

Bruce D'Arcus 10.01.08 at 9:31 pm

@Watson: aside from a number of limitations in BibTeX’s data model and international support, the styling part of BibTeX is a programming language unto itself (yes, text-based, but really complicated), and is really specific to LaTeX.

The CSL language that Zotero uses (and, full-disclosure, that I designed) borrows what I think BibTeX did right, but brings it into the 21st century. So styling is done in XML, so that it’s also program and language independent. It exists and is developed independently of Zotero, and has already seen other implementations.

98

Crispin Bennett 10.01.08 at 9:40 pm

Mike C: My thoughts exactly. I came across this post with some hope of seeing a bit of agitation on an issue that sorely that needs it. The diversion of public money, intended for education, towards tax-farmers like Thomson is a scandal, but I guess it’s of less interest to contributors here than the burning question of whether or not they approve of Wikipedia. So it goes.

99

piminnowcheez 10.01.08 at 9:42 pm

I’ve loathed EndNote through 2 advisors now who couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t just get with the program and use it like everybody else in the lab. I’ve played with Zotero a little and like it, but dislike being dependent on a browser-based application. I’m currently using Sente, which I like a lot, and I fooled around with BibNote, which I think I would love if I were willing to spend the time learning BibTeX.
In other words, yay for another reason to hate EndNote, and for new EndNote-haters, there are alternatives which I think should satisfy even EndNote “power-users.”

100

Mrs Tilton 10.01.08 at 11:05 pm

HH @95,

would you ever catch a clue and feck off? I mean, if you want to help the University of Phoenix (or whatever that enterprise calls itself) drive the final stake through the heart of the undead dinosaur that is traditional academe, surely you have more important things to do with your time than bore us hopeless myopics to tears.

101

Nick Caldwell 10.01.08 at 11:23 pm

BibTeX is dreadful for humanities research (hello, sometimes we want to cite things other than books or conference proceedings), is arcane, difficult to extend, and doesn’t map well to incredibly obscure citation styles like the MLA’s.

The citeproc technology that I believe Zotero uses is several orders of magnitude more sophisticated and subtle than the coarse crudity of BibTeX.

102

HH 10.01.08 at 11:45 pm

[something that is almost, but not quite, completely unlike wit]

103

Kaveh Hemmat 10.02.08 at 12:34 am

I tried using BibTeX for a while and had a lot of trouble with special characters, which occur in maybe half the citations in the average article in my field. Then I had trouble getting output from the entries I created in BibTeX; I just wanted to put together a bibliography for my dissertation proposal and that was a lot of trouble. BibTeX had a fairly steep learning curve. I’m not somebody with a lot of computer skills, but I likely have a bit more proficiency than most people in my field. Zotero is way easier to just pick up and use than BibTeX.

104

HH 10.02.08 at 12:59 am

[They LAUGHED at me, the fools, with their 'science' and their 'book learning.' Now they shall LEARN what it is like to feel the FULL AND RIGHTEOUS WRATH OF MAGNETO]

105

HH 10.02.08 at 1:34 am

Ha! You think you have defeated me but MAGNET0 CANNOT BE DEFEATED! ! I have retreated to my impregnable fastness, constructed of pure nonsense through the POWER OF MY MIND ALONE, from whence I will lob spitballs at my detractors.

106

HH 10.02.08 at 2:17 am

You dare SNEER at and DISPARAGE my messages, do you?? You will SOON LEARN, to your great and lasting regret, the infinite power of the WRATH OF MAGNETO!!

107

The Raven 10.02.08 at 5:54 am

By the way, the older (pre-XML) EndNote file format is based on the decades-old Unix refer program (which still works!) So far as I am concerned Thomson-Reuters has not a leg to stand on.

Caw!

108

noksagt 10.02.08 at 8:13 am

@The Raven,

As above, the fight isn’t against the machine-readable data exchange file formats, but against the files that describe citation styles that end up in human-readable documents.

109

Lex 10.02.08 at 8:58 am

I like HH’s style in the last few posts. Could we get them to abbreviate discussions to pithy descriptions on other threads, do you think? It would save so much reading.

110

HH 10.02.08 at 12:24 pm

I am become GALACTUS, DESTROYER OF BLOGS!!!

111

BrendanH 10.02.08 at 12:47 pm

The biggest problem with BibTeX is extensibility, but biblatex has emerged recently and provides a much more flexible and user-friendly interface. It still uses the bibtex *.bib files, and does initial processing with bibtex, but changing and writing styles has become far easier.

112

Andrew Cullison 10.02.08 at 2:41 pm

I’ve been following this law suit. It’s ironic that just today, I recevied an email from Thomson Reuters requesting that I participate in market research.

I wrote up a post about it urging academic who receive this email to NOT PARTICIPATE.

http://www.andrewcullison.com/2008/10/thomson-reuters-market-research/

If you receive the same email I did, maybe you could voice your concerns about the law suit.

113

Watson Aname 10.02.08 at 7:05 pm

I should have made it more clear when I mentioned BibTeX above, I meant the file format only. It’s fairly easy to use with a TeX/LaTeX workflow, but that’s a smallish niche. What surprises me a little bit is that more interactive tools and extensions weren’t built on top of it. The difficulty of just picking it up and using it is real enough, it just seems to solveable pretty easily.

However, I hadn’t thought about this:

and had a lot of trouble with special characters

I have no trouble with this but only because I’m used to handling it. But while Tex/LaTeX approach to internationalization and typesetting many languages is very powerful but predates the UTF sorts of approaches and is very different. So mapping in between the two might be painful.

114

HH 10.02.08 at 7:12 pm

You will all be ASHES, ASHES in the conflagration from which my glorious NEW PHOENIX will arise.

115

lemuel pitkin 10.02.08 at 7:21 pm

I realize it defeats the purpose to comment on HH’s expunged comments but 104 is perfect, really, in its way.

116

BrendanH 10.02.08 at 8:36 pm

Watson Aname is right about bibtex and internationalisation, except to suggest that LaTeX is stuck in a pre-utf8 world. LaTeX is doing really quite well (as are the etex/pdfetex engines behind it) at dealing with non-ascii nowadays (and there are experimental backends that are even better). The difficulty is the bibtex engine (version 1.0 is expected in 1989) which hasn’t kept up and needs {\’e} for é and so on, and is insofar inconsistent with LaTeX. That’ll change too — there is at least one project to re-write it from scratch.

117

Watson Aname 10.02.08 at 8:55 pm

Brendan: Agreed, I should have been more specific about the bibtex engine being constrained wrt to i8n. It’s nothing inherent, but it’s a practical pain — especially if you aren’t coming from latex!

Thanks for the pointer to biblatex too — this looks like the sort of thing I had in mind, which could have been done 10 years ago but for whatever reasons wasn’t. Nice to see progress on various fronts. I’ve not needed to be current with that for a while, as a pretty bog standard latex setup does what I need.

118

Bruce Baugh 10.03.08 at 5:14 am

Just to footnote the Wikipedia digression: Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden write well about some of its problems, with specifics and good exposition: Teresa on the loss of clarity that comes from trying too encyclopedia-ish, Teresa on utterly missing the point about the proper tone for some subjects, and Patrick on a determined homophobe’s gaming of the administrative system, among others. The comment threads are also loaded with worthwhile stuff (and cruft, but hey, welcome to conversation).

As for the actual topic, geez, that’s some vile stuff. And I very much approve of the idea of just plain steering away from Thomson-Reuters products. Some years back I realized that whole categories of ethical questions that seemed very tangled and difficult were so because they’d been put in terms like “What can we get with?” and “How disgusting can this get before we really ought to do something about it?” Shifting attention to questions like “What can we do right now to make this better?” and “What should we be shooting for to make this as good as it can be?” is very often more rewarding in both short and long terms. It certainly seems like, even though Zotero doesn’t yet do everything a user might wish for, it’s heading in a good direction with much better means. So it’s a good choice.

119

HH 10.03.08 at 2:26 pm

Never! Never! I shall NEVER surrender!!! My Phoenix, my precious Phoenix shall rise from the ashes and smite the unbelievers! Woe to those who sneer at MAGNETO, for yea, they shall be cast into the outer darkness, where there will be much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

120

Ginger Yellow 10.03.08 at 7:41 pm

Sorry to sidetrack from the singularity, but surely there’s precedent for this. I find it impossible to believe that nobody has sued over converting a proprietary format before, and I find it fairly hard to believe there are no IP lawyers on CT. So surely someone knows whether Thomson-Reuters has a case or not.

Disclosure: Thomson-Reuters are the primary competitors of my employer.

121

HH 10.04.08 at 3:33 pm

The PHOENIX ! The PHOENIX !! Volunteers for self-immolation can email me at phoenixproject@crankster.org for a detailed mimeographed brochure handset with seven different styles of typography, detailing how the PHOENIX WILL ARISE TRIUMPHANT FROM THE ASHES OF THE POST-ARMAGEDDON ACADEMY. A collector’s item, to be sure.

122

Roy Belmont 10.04.08 at 8:19 pm

Out in layman-land everybody thinks you have to have Adobe© to read or write pdf’s, though this is in fact not the case, though it is very much in Adobe©’s interest to allow that tacit fiction to persist.
Also JSTOR, a wannabe evil empire of academic and just plain useful information held inaccessible, bottlenecked under licensed-and-paid-for controlled access.
JSTOR passing unnoticed in its perfidy by many if not most academics, because their institutions provide them with free access.
It is the rest of us who suffer under these venal restrictions, as so often we do.

123

anonynonymouse 10.04.08 at 8:44 pm

the lack

Yet to be prominently heard on this website is the voice of anyone who has ever produced and then sold anything for a living–except that the voices of everyone on this blog come from exactly that. I’m all for the Marxist revolution that FL/OSS advocates seem to have in mind, where everything is free and open and nobody pays for anything, because nobody does any work, because companies can’t patent or copyright their materials, etc. Down with Metallica and screw them for wanting money for their songs. They have a responsibility to produce those songs for me, for free, so that I can bittorrent them to my computer which I bought with the… uh, the FL/OSS my dad worked on and … uh…

Thomson’s claim may or may not be well-formed. I really wish that if people wanted to be anti-capitalists they would come up with a legitimate story about how we run society without money, rather than (as it is now) inherent claims that people should work hard on stuff and then give it away for free. Thomson built their format (actually, Niles & Associates did, way back when); if they have it copyrighted, they have a right to have that copyright honored. Most of you will continue to complain until somebody FL/OSSes out your product from under you, or insists that you are obligated to create a movie or music for them for free.

It’s balderdash. Even if the revolution is coming (which I hope for much more than you might think), something besides “free for everybody” has to have value for all of us to pass around. The story FL/OSS advocates tell reminds me of South Park: Step 1, steal underpants–Step 3, profits!

124

sg 10.04.08 at 11:07 pm

I have no time for any mocking of the “down with metallica” theory.

Metallica made a lot of money and fame in the 80s producing a video (cliff ‘em all – look it up) using bootlegged material they obtained from their fans. Now they are famous and making lots of money they want to stop their fans bootlegging music.

Metallica made their fame and their reputation from fans copying music – recording them in small backyard concerts, taping them in the larger gigs, sharing tapes around their friends and playing them in their homes and offices and cars. Metallica completely depended on open sharing of their copyrighted stuff. They never complained when they were on the up and up thanks to their fans’ glib approach to copyright issues. Now they are rich as buggery they want to stand on their rights? This is bullshit. They openly admitted in their early days that this was the model by which they gained fame.

There may be some validity to the use of copyright to protect artists’ income, but I notice that a lot of bands are pretty happy about having their music shared around when they first start and I think that there’s two sides to the story, and only one side being heard… so yeah, down with metallica, they’ ve sold out, it’s a knife in the back of the fans, etc. etc. gee aren’t I a cliche! Also, the money I paid to watch that great scene in Cliff ‘em all where they play Master of Puppets against a wall of wind and sound? Can I have my money back? Didn’t think so…

125

Righteous Bubba 10.04.08 at 11:13 pm

Thomson built their format (actually, Niles & Associates did, way back when); if they have it copyrighted, they have a right to have that copyright honored.

That is not the issue in the complaint. GMU is being sued for violating a license agreement.

126

Walt 10.04.08 at 11:33 pm

anonynonymouse: “Yet to be prominently heard on this website is the voice of anyone who has ever produced and then sold anything for a living.” Like you? Sure you have.

127

Seth Finkelstein 10.05.08 at 12:23 am

Regarding: “Thomson built their format (actually, Niles & Associates did, way back when); if they have it copyrighted, they have a right to have that copyright honored”

Umm, formats can’t be copyrighted.

Sigh … the inverse of the “freetard” rant is the “property!” rant.

By the way, Ginger Yellow / #120, I linked to discussion of whether or not they have a case, above – giving my example of what’s potentially crowded-out of mindshare by Wikipedia.
Here’s another good lawyer blog post on the matter:

http://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2008/09/licensing_a_wor.htm

128

anonynonymouse 10.05.08 at 12:40 pm

Metallica completely depended on open sharing of their copyrighted stuff. They never complained when they were on the up and up thanks to their fans’ glib approach to copyright issues. Now they are rich as buggery they want to stand on their rights? This is bullshit. They openly admitted in their early days that this was the model by which they gained fame.

Interesting. Apparently their “fans’ glib approach to copyright issues” made them “rich as buggery”?

GMU is being sued for violating a license agreement.

Like I said, I am not all that interested in the merits of this particular claim. It may or may not be legitimate; few above here have been concerned about the details either. They have suggested that Thomson has no right to enforce its copyright/contract terms because doing so is inherently wrong. I just can’t agree with the general point of view. Look at the stories of actors, writers, etc. whose careers were basically made through one television show for which the rights were poorly contracted. I *do* think that the actors on Gilligan’s Island, e.g., deserve payment when that program is broadcast. Yep, they deserve to be “rich,” or something close to it. Certainly not bankrupt, which is pretty much how things work out these days. Stripping away creators’ rights isn’t going to help that at all.

129

engel 10.05.08 at 12:54 pm

Like I said, I am not all that interested in the merits of this particular claim. It may or may not be legitimate; few above here have been concerned about the details either.

Iow let’s not discuss the issues raised, let’s just sort ourselves into opposing tribes broadly based on ideology and have a flame war!

130

Righteous Bubba 10.05.08 at 2:14 pm

They have suggested that Thomson has no right to enforce its copyright/contract terms because doing so is inherently wrong.

It’s fun to slide copyright in there but it really didn’t have anything to do with the thread until you showed up and misunderstood everything.

131

Righteous Bubba 10.05.08 at 2:52 pm

While I’m thinking of it, the license agreement prohibits reverse engineering (supposedly). Given that there are X open-source projects out there that read EndNotes files it’s hard to see how reverse engineering was a necessity.

132

sg 10.05.08 at 3:10 pm

That’s what I said, anonynonymouse. Metallica made – and sold – a whole video produced entirely from bootlegged material which was volunteered to them by their fans. Between the album Kill ‘em all in 1982(?) and the release of And justice for all in 1989 this was the only video they ever made or released. They never received radio airplay or support in the popular press, they were completely untouched by payola or any of the major marketing tools. Their fame and success arose from steadily building up a strong fan base, through live performances and word of mouth. When me and my friends were listening to Metallica in my dusty smelting town back in the late ’80s, we had maybe 4 original albums between us. It was share and share alike. This loyal fan base no doubt paid off big time for Metallica when we got our first full-time jobs, and they know it.

This isn’t the only band that built up its success on this model. Midnight Oil spring to mind as another excellent example. It’s really rank to see these bands getting all hoity toity about their copyright now that they’re rolling in money.

We spent our childhoods ripping off their albums, but they’re richer by far than any of us. Doesn’t seem to me they have been very badly harmed by our activities. They should be thanking us for our loyalty, not pursuing a new generation of fans who’re just doing the same thing.

133

engels 10.05.08 at 3:19 pm

Yet to be prominently heard on this website is the voice of anyone who has ever produced and then sold anything for a living

What fraction of those who produce and then sell things for a living do you think benefit from the status quo in international IP law?

134

Henry 10.05.08 at 6:32 pm

Seth – long overdue – but I have a small infant which means that my time on blog comments is limited – your argument about zero sum games is quite misguided in ways that your broader argument is misguided too. If someone writing an academic piece on a topic that I have written about fails to cite me, then clearly I do less well in the internal academic pecking order games than I would have if that person had cited me. But I still benefit from any new knowledge that the piece generates, or existing knowledge that the piece collates in a useful manner. Hence, it isn’t a zero sum game – because the status game is not the only game in town. I benefit from having people write stuff on Wikipedia that is useful, and that is on topics that interest me. I also benefit from having Wikipedians write on stuff that is the topic of my academic research – given that I have pretty broad interests they sometimes find material that hsas slipped through my own nets. This isn’t a zero sum game _unless_ Wikipedia is positively malign for knowledge production, which is a case that neither you aor anyone else I know about has really made in a convincing way(and which, in my opinion, would be a case that would be grossly at variance with reality). Instead we get mutterings about cults, disrespect for experts etc, all of which may be _problems_ but none of which are _dealbreakers_ in the way that you seem to be suggesting.

Comments on this entry are closed.