Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The value of open access to research results

JISC has just published a new study on the economics of open access to research results (thanks, Nick!). For 2007 the authors estimate the costs of publishing to the UK higher education sector as follows:

  • £230 million to publish using the subscription model

  • £150 million to publish under the open access model

  • £110 million to publish with the self-archiving with peer review services plus some £20 million in operating costs if using the different models.

When considering costs per journal article, Houghton et al. believe that the UK higher education sector could have saved around £80 million a year by shifting from toll access to open access publishing. They also claim that £115 million could be saved by moving from toll access to open access self-archiving.

In addition to that, the financial return to UK plc from greater accessibility to research might result in an additional £172 million per annum worth of benefits from government and higher education sector research alone.

Now we have to wait and see how far universities and research funders can get in taking these resources back from the profits of the scientific publishers. The last Research Council open access initiative seems to have stalled.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Three strikes is out

The recording industry has been putting heavy pressure on the UK government to impose a "three-strikes" policy upon ISPs, whereby customers alleged to have infringed copyright three times would be disconnected. However, it seems their latest efforts have not been successful:

David Lammy, the Intellectual Property Minister, said that the Government had ruled out legislating to force ISPs to disconnect such users.

Speaking ahead of the publication of a report on the future of Britain's digital industries, Mr Lammy said that there were very complex legal issues wrapped up in enforced disconnection. He added: “I'm not sure it's actually going to be possible.”

Lilian Edwards and others have pointed out the vastly disproportionate nature of such a sanction. How positive to hear that the government has been listening. New business models, not technological enforcement, are the way to maximise the benefit of the Internet for creators and consumers.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Labour lords change laws for cash

Lord Taylor of BlackburnShocking news this morning from the Sunday Times that Labour peers are selling their services as legislators. Lord Taylor of Blackburn, who quoted an annual fee of £120,000 to an undercover journalist, also boasted that he had changed a law on behalf of Experian. How ironic then to find this gem in Lords Hansard:

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor not agree that if I ask a question in this House relating to something in which I have an interest, I am brought to order and I have to declare that interest? I often find that lawyers can get away with murder in this House in asking questions in which they have pecuniary and other interests? No one ever challenges them about it. [20 Oct 2005: Column 884]

A quick search using TheyWorkForYou shows that Taylor has not spoken in a privacy debate. Clearly he provided the same private lobbying of ministers and officials to Experian that he offered to the Sunday Times. It seems that Parliament's transparency must be extended to Whitehall if we are to reduce opportunities for such lobbying in future.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

MPs abandon attempt to hide expenses

mySociety and Unlock Democracy have this afternoon demonstrated how quickly an online political campaign can get results. In just a few days, they have managed to force MPs to withdraw their draft Order to exempt Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act. This is a great win for public transparency! Unlock Democracy's Director Peter Facey commented:

"Fundamentally, the Government backed down because they knew they would lose even [if] they won the vote. This was a clear victory of people power. We have had reports of MPs receiving dozens of letters. Congratulations to the tens of thousands of people who wrote to their MP, jammed the House of Commons switchboard, emailed, texted and tweeted their friends, blogged and signed up to the various internet protest groups: you made a real difference today."

The Neocon Superstorm

"Bush himself wasn't the problem. Bush was a cipher, the perfect vacuum at the center of a perfect storm — an ideological superstorm which rotated, like some slow, sick, wobbling hurricane of raw sewage over America for 8 years, like some brown, shitty version of Jupiter's Great Red Spot." —Pat Farley (via Boing Boing)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Stop MPs hiding expenses

This Thursday, MPs will be voting on a statutory Order that would exempt details of their expenses from the Freedom of Information Act. This is after they spent around £100,000 fighting a court case over FoI; and then another £1m scanning receipts when they were ordered to do so by the High Court.

If you are a UK citizen and find this as outrageous as I do, make sure to write to your MP before then! MySociety have details and easy tools. Below is my effort:


Frank Dobson MP
Holborn and St Pancras

Tuesday 20 January 2009

Dear Mr Dobson,

I am writing to ask you to vote against the draft Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order 2009 this Thursday, and to sign Jo Swinson MP’s Early Day Motion condemning the Order. I hope you will agree with me that MPs should be taking a lead in building public trust in Parliament, and that this Order if passed would stoke public cynicism over UK politicians. Labour should maintain their commitment to public transparency shown by their passage of the FoI Act.

With best wishes,

Dr Ian Brown

Monday, January 19, 2009

The strategic move: dump Trident

"What seems so mistaken about Britain's present posture is what is wrong with our entire defence policy: it is a jumble of political expedients rather than a coherent strategy founded in rational analysis of security needs. The Tories have promised a defence review if they win the next election, and this is long overdue. My own instinct is that Trident should go. In the threadbare condition in which Britain will emerge from this economic crisis, it cannot afford such a large willy. Indeed, it will be lucky to have one at all." —Max Hastings

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Flat N All That

"[H]ow about [Thomas] Friedman’s analysis of America’s foreign policy outlook last May:
"The first rule of holes is when you’re in one, stop digging. When you’re in three, bring a lot of shovels.”

"First of all, how can any single person be in three holes at once? Secondly, what the fuck is he talking about? If you’re supposed to stop digging when you’re in one hole, why should you dig more in three? How does that even begin to make sense? It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder if the editors over at the New York Times editorial page spend their afternoons dropping acid or drinking rubbing alcohol. Sending a line like that into print is the journalism equivalent of a security guard at a nuke plant waving a pair of mullahs in explosive vests through the front gate. It should never, ever happen." —Matt Taibbi

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Farewell Dubya

"Mr Bush's failures of doctrine and action and — not to be forgotten — his failures of personality and character, all came together in the shameful response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The federal government's negligent abandonment of New Orleans to its fate, and Mr Bush's manifest inability to understand the seriousness of that abandonment, marked the moment at which Americans tired of their inadequate president. Since then, all the faults for which he had until then escaped political punishment — the Iraq war, the neglect of the Middle East, the abandonment of international agreements, the indifference towards the environment, the reactionary approach to science, the appeal to Christian fundamentalism and, not least among many others, the spiralling federal budget deficit — came back to haunt him. His hapless and inconsistent response to the credit crunch and the financial crisis sealed his own and his party's fate in 2008. In the end, the only good thing to be said for Mr Bush is that he made Barack Obama's election possible. He cannot go too soon. Good riddance." —The Guardian

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Ubicomp challenges for privacy law

Ubiquitous (or pervasive) computing is the world of the "disappearing computer" where sensors and processors move into the fabric of our environment, collecting a whole range of data — with obvious potential issues for privacy. I spoke this morning at a workshop organised by the Ubicomp Grand Challenge community on UbiComp at a Crossroads: Art, Science, Politics and Design. Here are my slides and abstract (Jon Crowcroft has also been blogging the event):

Data protection law in Europe and elsewhere is based around principles first enumerated during the 1970s — that data about individuals should be processed fairly and lawfully; that the amount of data collected should be minimised given the task at hand; that users should be notified of processing, and explicitly consent to the processing of sensitive data (concerning their health, trade union membership, politics, sex life and several other categories).

Are these principles being made obselete by the development of new computing technology, particularly ubiquitous computing? Or are they generalisable enough to protect users' privacy in a world of ambient intelligence?

Friday, January 02, 2009

Socialising PowerPoint

Like many academics, I spend more time than I would like using PowerPoint to create conference presentations. For the last year I have been trying to make this activity more productive by publishing the results on SlideShare. Rather than just plonking a multi-megabyte PPT file up on a Web site, SlideShare lets you embed presentations in blog posts, makes them more discoverable by showing links to similar work, and allows other users to comment on individual slides and collaborate in communities.

Now SlideShare has taken this a step further by creating a PowerPoint toolbar that lets you publish and download slides from within the application itself. I will be fascinated to see how far this increases collaboration between PowerPoint users — but will have to wait for a MacOS version to try it out for myself. I will also be interested to see whether SlideShare supports collaboration by extending their rating system and allowing users to include additional metadata alongside each slide — including content licences such as Creative Commons.

In a sterling example of eating their own dog food, SlideShare have explained the new functionality in this presentation: