Tag: information sharing

Information wants to be free. Congress wants it to be held for ransom.

It’s bad form to criticize other
disciplines’ journals based solely
on titles, but Annals of Tourism Research?
This is the sort of thing libraries
spend their budgets on?

Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) is trying to end taxpayer access to publicly-funded research. The article is worth reading, not least because it is the only time that you’ll ever see the term “powerful publishing cartels” in this age of disruptive new-media innovation.

And yet the academic publishing market really is different, as one UC-Berkeley professor argued last year. When Nature tried to extort a 400% subscription fee increase from the University of California system, there was very little to do except engage the nuclear option–that is, threaten to boycott the journals entirely. Academics, whose lives are shaped by publishing in journals, are at the mercy of those journals’ publishers. In such negotiating positions, it’s unsurprising that publishers have managed to steadily increase their yield from universities that–as you may have heard!–are otherwise struggling to get by.

In the long term, the disjuncture between stagnant or shrinking university resources and increasing fees for access will lead to a rather severe readjustment. The same thing will happen to the plethora of new journals that is happening to the plethora of newly-minted Ph.D.s. That is, they will starve, wither, and — well, only the journals will die. The Ph.D.s will move on to jobs in industry. (I hope.)

What could help, of course, would be a far-sighted policy that would guarantee that the fruits of taxpayer-funded research would be available to taxpayers. This utopian dream is easily oversold. Let’s be frank: the general public doesn’t particularly care or directly benefit from research. The indirect benefits are pretty good, but no single journal article is likely to matter much to the public, which is simply unable to read and evaluate the articles unless they get their union card earn their doctorate. But it’s reprehensible that universities, which even if “private” are tax-supported by their nonprofit status, are given federal money to produce research which is then given to private publishers which, in turn, take quite a bit of money from universities to let them see that research in slightly better-formatted versions.

The good news is that the publishing house Elsevier has managed to rent their very own congressperson for, apparently, only a couple of thousand dollars in campaign contributions. At this point, even academics can scrape together a few shillings and find a senator or two to champion our cause. But please: let’s stick to the small-state legislators. Their campaigns are cheaper and some of us have a pay freeze.


Nuclear transparency

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that the Obama administration has fully disclosed decades worth of data about the size of America’s nuclear arsenal:

America’s official nuclear silence ended Monday when the Obama administration not only disclosed the number of U.S. nuclear weapons available for use in wartime — 5,113 as of Sept. 30 — but surprised many by also publishing weapons totals for each year dating to 1962. (Data from before 1962 were released in 1993.)

Apparently, administration officials believe that this might put pressure on Russia to likewise disclose information about its arsenal. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko told Reuters on May 12 that his country may well follow suit:

“After the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which was signed by the Russian and U.S. presidents in Prague on April 8, comes into force, we will likewise be able to consider disclosing the total number of Russia’s deployed strategic delivery vehicles and the warheads they can carry,” he said.

If these disclosures had happened 25 years ago, they would have been truly remarkable:

“This figure is one of the crown jewels of the Cold War when it comes to state secrets,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists in New York.

In 1967, the U.S. had over 31,000 nuclear weapons. The 85% reduction in the size of the U.S. arsenal reflects the remarkable changes that have occurred in the past twenty years. The latest disclosures likewise reflect ongoing efforts to “reset” U.S.-Russian relations.

That said, however, the stockpile numbers are not at all a surprise as Robert S. (Stan) Norris and various colleagues have been publishing very detailed estimates about nuclear stockpiles since the mid-1980s. In defense policy circles, even the cold war numbers were closer to “known knowns” than “known unknowns.”

Incidentally, I still have an early copy of Norris’s Nuclear Weapons Databook on my shelf. I met Norris as a grad student intern at Center for Defense Information in summer 1985; Norris left CDI for NRDC just the year before and sometimes stopped by the old stomping grounds. In summer 2008, loyal readers may recall, I noted that the Obama and Clinton campaigns included several prominent CDI alums — and hoped that their presence might have a desirable affect on U.S. security policy. Maybe Stan called in some debts!

Apparently, the Obama administration is disclosing this data now in hopes that it will promote its “global zero” efforts. In the interim, the goal is to sell that latest arms control deal in the Senate.


Overcoming Fears of Unicorns and Rainbows

U.S. Southern Command (SOCOM) is using a new transnational information sharing system in the All Partners Access Network (APAN) to coordinate its efforts with hundreds of NGOs and dozens of IOs in Haiti. It is a one-stop coordination platform that allows real-time questions/requests on resources and Information Sharing. SOCOM has been sharing imagery of bridges, transportation networks, and even public disturbances to facilitate responses and coordinating communication among NGOs and other relief agencies.

Likewise, dozens of NGOs and other networking organizations like Crisis Mappers have been crowd sourcing a wide range of information requests on APAN. Last week, they crowd sourced exact locations of hospitals and other medical facilities throughout Haiti and the Dominican Republic to determine available beds for post-op care and recovery of those treated in mobile surgical units. The mapping platform Ushahidi, which was started by a couple of Kenyans in the aftermath to the political violence in Kenya in 2007, began compiling mapping information in Haiti via Twitter tweets and media reports less than 24 hours after the earthquake. SOCOM relied extensively on this mapping to determine areas of need and to prioritize which transportation routes to clear.

It’s hard to measure the effectiveness of this effort, but it seems that Information Sharing is coming of age. Just over a decade ago, when Sarah Sewall assumed the post of first DASD for Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance there were very few mechanisms for coordinating US military and NGO efforts — and even fewer in real time. This was not simply because of limited technology, but because of deeply embedded organizational cultures the promoted distrust and disdain of one another. The military has often referred to the relief agencies and NGOs as the “unicorns and rainbows” community.

I guess the next step will be to watch and see if the Pentagon can take some of this information sharing and overall coordination experience in Haiti and integrate it into the stabilization and reconstruction efforts in the Balkans, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan — the levels of coordination each of these efforts have been severely lagging.


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