Wedel 2016 OMNH lecture flyer

Just a quick heads up for any SV-POW! readers within convenient striking distance of Norman, Oklahoma, this Wednesday, March 16. Like all of the lectures in the “Dinosaurs Past & Present” series at OMNH, this one is free to the public. I hope to see some of you there!

Yesterday we asked what will happen if Sci-Hub succeeds (by which I meant that it survives whatever legal challenges come its way, and continues to distribute copyrighted scholarly publications to anyone in the world at zero cost, ignoring the claims of that copyright).

Now let’s think about what happens if it fails — that is, if it’s taken down by legal action within Russia, or it’s successfully DDoSed (don’t laugh, I’ve seen it suggested), or something happens to Elbakyan herself before the site is replicated and distributed enough to survive such attacks.

Then what follows?

The only scenario: business as usual

Unlike the “if Sci-Hub succeeds” thought-experiment, I can only think of one possible outcome if it fails: we’ll return to business as usual.

That, of course, will suit the people who were doing well under the pre-Sci-Hub system — barrier-based publishers, and the very very few researchers (we are assured they exist) who have access to all the research they need.

It will not suit all the people who are presently benefitting from Sci-Hub: doctors, teachers, ambitious high-school kids, researchers at less well-endowed universities and indeed those at even the best institutions. It will, simply, take away from those people the access to research that they need to do their jobs.

Is this a trade-off that we are happy with? At face value, obviously not: it would result in a small improvement for a tiny number of well-off parties, and a large loss for a huge number of less privileged people. Looked at in isolation, that’s not acceptable.

What does it all mean?

Although there are legal arguments still to be made in favour of Sci-Hub — Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights may come to its defence — it seems likely that Sci-Hub will be found to be illegally infringing copyrights on a massive scale. Other things being equal, that’s a bad thing: the law should be respected.

I have very real concerns about how Sci-Hub obtains the credentials it uses to access paywalled papers. Elbakyan asserts that Sci-Hub doesn’t run a phishing operation, and I am inclined to believe her; but it still stretches belief that at least some of the credentials in use don’t ultimately derive from sources other than willing donation. (I found out only recently that there is a flourishing black market in scholarly credentials — rich researchers in countries with weak subscription coverage often pay $1000 and more for copies of credentials that can access good collections. I would not be surprised it it turned out that Sci-Hub uses credentials donated not by their authorised holders, but by those who have bought them from those holders.)

But even with these very significant caveats in mind, I don’t think I can avoid the conclusion that Sci-Hub is a net good. By means that I don’t approve of, but can’t improve on, it has cut the Gordian Knot of scholarly communication — and the simple, obvious consequence is that people who need research now have much better access to it. I don’t think even Sci-Hub’s fiercest detractors would deny that.

So putting it all together, I’ve come down on the side of being glad that it’s there, happy that it’s not been shut down, and hopeful that it goes on to have a long and productive life — despite my very real reservations about some aspects of it.

It took me a while to figure this out, but I think it’s been worth the journey (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6), and I’m happy with my reasoning. I’m declaring in favour of Sci-Hub, and I hope you will, too.

Let’s think this through. Ignore for now the questions about Sci-Hub’s legality, and just consider the pragmatics. Imagine that it “succeeds” in that it survives whatever legal challenges come its way, and continues to distribute copyrighted scholarly publications to anyone in the world at zero cost, ignoring the claims of that copyright.

Then what follows?

Extreme scenario #1: no-one cancels their subscriptions

It’s easy to see that this could indeed be the outcome. It’s hard to imagine Harvard deciding “Well, we don’t need to pay Elsevier and Wiley for access to these journals any more, since our researchers can just pirate them from Ukraine.”

In this scenario:

  • Publishers continue to receive subscription fees, so they are not harmed.
  • Researchers gain access to material their institutions have not subscribed to, on top of their existing access to material they do have a subscription for.
  • Other people — patient advocates, unaffiliated scholars and the rest — gain access that they didn’t have before.

Is this a good outcome?

As far as I can see, this is an unambiguous net win for the world: no-one is harmed and many people are helped. So in this scenario, Sci-Hub is a pure good.

Extreme scenario #2: everyone cancels their subscriptions

This is less easy to imagine, but I suppose not completely beyond the bounds of possibility. One can just about imagine a domino effect, perhaps something like the following.

  1. One university, under a tight financial squeeze, cancels all subscriptions claiming that it’s going to get by using only Gold and Green OA.
  2. In reality of course its researchers also use Sci-Hub for access to non-OA papers.
  3. Nothing catastrophic happens to the university (after all it would hard for a publishers to sue a university for declining to be a customer).
  4. A few more smaller universities tentatively follow the lead of the first.
  5. The effect snowballs.
  6. Finally, the Oxfords and Yales, who are the last remaining subscribers, think “Well, this is silly”, and under the changed environment go ahead and cancel their subscriptions, too.

Note again that I don’t think this is at all likely. But let’s just take it as our scenario for now, and think about what would follow.

Subscription revenue would collapse, ultimately to zero. The first thing to notice is that open-access publishers would be completely unaffected. Publishers whose main revenue is subscriptions would possibly try to find some way to prevent the cancellation trend, but are unlikely to be able to force customers to renew contracts they no longer want. Those publishers will need to transform their businesses to being Gold OA-based as quickly as possible if they’re to survive. But they wouldn’t need to panic too much: they would have several years to do this, as ongoing subscription contracts would still run to completion.

So after three to five years, when most or all of the old subscription contracts had expired, we would be left with an all-open-access scholarly publishing infrastructure. The landscape would include existing OA publishers (PLOS, BMC, etc.) and also probably some but not all of the current paywalled publishers in flipped form. It’s hard to tell at the moment which publishers are likely to survive this transition.

Is this a good outcome?

For big publishers that are used to 35% profit-margins, no. For most other people, yes. (I, for example, would be very happy with this outcome; though not all OA advocates would agree. It would be a good transition for scholarly publishing; but perhaps not the best possible.)

In this situation, Sci-Hub would have acted as a catalyst to greatly speed up the subscription-to-OA transition that many of us would like to see happen.

What would happen to institutional repositories in this world?  As sources of open-access manuscripts they would become less important — but they would remain the only legitimate source of the manuscripts of pre-2016 paywalled papers. Institutions use their repositories for other purposes, too, so I imagine they would survive, and maybe even thrive. But other are better positioned to comment.

Intermediate outcomes

What about intermediate outcomes? Could there be a steady state where, say, half of universities cancel their subscription but half keep theirs? Maybe. You could certainly imagine developing-world universities saving money in this way, while those in the developed West keep theirs.

Would that also be a good outcome? I think so. I can’t really feel negative about anything that gives developing-world researchers the access they need. I doubt the loss of subscription revenue for publishers would be very significant in this case — presumably the great bulk of their income is derived from the affluent West.

What does it all mean?

It’s taking me some time to figure out what I think about Sci-Hub (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5). But I do finally seem to be groping my way towards a position now.

I’ve looked at two possible extreme outcomes if Sci-Hub succeeds. One of them is an unambiguous good. The other is more equivocal, but certainly contains more good than bad. I’ve briefly considered intermediate outcomes, and they seem good, too.

So I am gradually coming around to thinking that every possible outcome of Sci-Hub succeeding would be good. That suggests that there’s a strong case for being pro-Sci-Hub. At least, there is an onus on those who want to see Sci-Hub destroyed to explain how the outcome will be better than the ones I describe here.

I think “We want Sci-Hub to succeed” is the null hypothesis.

I was relaxing on the Sunday afternoon before last, when there was a knock on the door. A couple of friends of mine had popped round with a plastic sack containing a fox and a pheasant that they’d found. (They rightly pointed out that it sounded like a pub.)

The fox is a treat for another day. Here’s the pheasant:

2016-03-06 16.00.18

(Don’t judge me on the state of our kitchen floor — that’s not important right now.)

It was 86 cm long from beak to tip of the tail-feathers, and massed 1393 g. The wingspan was hard to measure, because the wings want to pull back in towards the torso, but my best estimate is 73 cm.

Here’s the right wing extended:

2016-03-06 16.03.58

Shamefully, I’ve not really played with a dead bird before, so it was a new experience for me to feel how astonishingly unmuscled the wings are. There’s nothing there but skin, bone and feathers. The wings are of course operated by tendons, which are powered by the massive breast muscles — something that shouldn’t be surprising since (A) it makes mechanical sense to concentrate the muscles near the centre of mass, and (B) everyone knows birds do this with their hindlimbs, hence the ridiculously thin legs of flamingoes.

I had planned to do a Brodkorb (1955) on the pheasant: plucking it and weighing the feathers; then skinning it and weighing the skin; then eviscerating it and weighing the viscera; and so on. turns out that this is a lot harder than it sounds. I physically couldn’t pull the feathers out of the wings, for example. After a not-very-long struggle, I gave up and pulled off the skin and feathers together.

Here’s the nude bird, looking like a dinosaur. (Who’d have guessed?)

2016-03-06 16.28.08

Note the very distinctive and knobbly fatty deposits.

At this stage, since my Brodkorb-style teardown was a bust, I thought we might as well eat the parts of the pheasant that I didn’t want for science. So I trimmed off the breasts — you really get a sense of how massive the flight muscles are when you do this for a bird that started out intact — and the legs:

2016-03-06 16.48.05

These fried up nicely — though they were hard to photograph through the steam:

2016-03-06 20.13.19

The breasts were very tasty, more like pork than chicken in both flavour and texture. The legs were much tougher to deal with — it was hard to get the meat off them. Still a good flavour, though.

I’d removed the head-and-neck assembly, and the feet, for science. With that done, I thought I’d simmer the rest of the carcass for stock, but once that process had been under way for quarter of an hour or so, I had to admit that it was smelling of poo. I assume I’d not removed the guts sufficiently. I admitted defeat and tossed the carcass in the trash.

Then I gently simmered the head/neck and feet for an hour or two. Here’s how they looked (and check out how the yellow fat deposits have congealed into nodules):

2016-03-07 13.07.50

What’s that? You want a close-up? Sure!

2016-03-07 13.08.00

And one of the feet?

2016-03-07 13.08.07

Those spurs are nasty!

Anyway, I picked off what flesh I could from the head/neck, and peeled away the scaly skin from the legs and some of the toes:

2016-03-07 13.20.15

I’ve not peeled all the toes, because once that’s done only cartilage keeps the phalanges articulated, and that will come away with more simmering, leaving me with a jigsaw puzzle. The plan now is to keep one of the feet in its relatively intact state and skeletonise the other. Then I can use the whole one as a key to reassemble the bones of the other.

The skull, of course, I will continue to deflesh. More simmering will be needed before I can proceed. After a couple more iterations, I’ll put the skull out under a cage for invertebrates to clean up the remaining shreds of soft-tissue, before rinsing, cleaning, degreasing and drying.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

References

  • Brodkorb, Pierce (1955). Number of feathers and weight of various systems in a Bald Eagle. The Wilson Bulletin 67(2):142.

THE STORY SO FAR: Erin McKiernan can’t get access to the research she needs in Mexico, Mohammad M.M.H can’t get it in Jordan, and Nora Turoman can’t get it in Serbia. Meanwhile, Christy Collins is in America, but can’t get the research she needs to understand her son’s health condition because she’s not a full-time academic. Josephine Hellberg is a full-time academic — at the University of Oxford, even — but also doesn’t have access to the research she needs. Oh, and the richest university in the world can’t afford its scholarly subscriptions.


We now take a detour to the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is the comments section of  The Scholarly Kitchen. That site has always been a mixed pleasure at best, but in the last few days I’ve found myself unable to look away from the car-crash that’s been going on in the comments* on the recent Sci-Hub post. What I’m seeing — over and over and over again — is the utterly specious claim that everyone who needs access to research has that access; and that those who don’t have access don’t need it.

I know, I know — it sounds impossible that anyone could be so cloth-eared, so impervious to reality, as to make that claim. But don’t take my word for it. Read the comments for yourselves:

David Wojick writes:

I personally doubt that there are large numbers of people who (1) have the expert knowledge required to read and benefit from the scholarly literature but who (2) cannot find a way to access what they need. The arguments I have seen to this effect are completely unconvincing.

Harvey Kane follows up:

Mike I don’t know how to break this to you but it is not the millions but rather the dozen or so.

I thought Jason Lowther’s tweet was a good response: “Wow – what a coincidence that I know them all personally. I’ve had three local government practitioners raise this THIS WEEK”. But apparently not:

The list of supposed millions that you link to embodies an absurd model of the diffusion of scientific knowledge. This is one of the fundamental fallacies of OA, namely that non-experts should read journals. […] Only a few people can understand the typical journal article. (Local government officials are certainly not among them.)

(This will come as a surprise to Jason, who is a local government official currently engaged in a Ph.D on how research can influence policy.)

Toby Green pointed out that “40% of OECD population is educated to tertiary level, which means there are millions capable of reading much scholarly literature” and linked to data supporting this. Impressive? Again, no:

Having a tertiary degree does not make one capable of understanding a scientific article, far from it.

At this stage in the discussion, Christy Collins stepped in to explain just one of the many reasons why non-academics might need access. Christy has a child who suffers from a rare genetic condition, M-CM. She  has educated herself to understand this condition and leads a support-and-advocacy group for other parents in the same situation. I urge you to read her comment on the Scholarly Kitchen post, as it’s a model of polite restraint and careful explanation. Surely that would be enough to sway the Kitcheners? Not a bit of it, according to Wojick:

Christy, keep in mind that the issue here is a need so compelling that it justifies the forced restructuring of the science journal industry. I do not think that supporting political advocacy meets that high threshold requirement

Then Harvey Kane steps in to publishersplain why Christy can’t possibly care about whether articles are open or not:

Christy: I looked at your site and you have a list of papers. Whether open or not could or could not be a concern to your audience, their decisions are theirs.

There is plenty more like this — check out for example the sub-thread arising from Mickey Mortimer’s contribution. I could go on all night, but I won’t because this is making my guts tired. I will highlight just one more exchange:

David Wojick says:

That everyone should read journals is simply a fallacy.

I reply:

And yet, people inconveniently keep wanting to read journals. A fact that must surely put some kind of a dent in your hypothesis? Or do you just conclude that they are all mistaken in wanting to read the journals?

Harvey Kane responds:

Mike just who wants to read journals? I know of no one except those involved in the topic of the journal.

Which is just … I can’t … Well — I mean to say — what? How is it possible for anyone to hold this position towards the back-end of a discussion that’s already encompassed Christy Collins’ need for medical research, Mickey Mortimer’s need for palaeontology research, links to the Who Needs Access website and to Harvard’s Your Story Matters collection?

Then I realised how very simple the explanation was: these people are simply impervious to evidence. It just doesn’t matter to them.

And once I’d realised that, I twigged why the whole shape of the discussion felt so strangely familiar to me: I’d seen in before in this Basic Instructions cartoon:

2006-08-16-argue

And this, it seems, is the entire basis for the argument often found at the Scholarly Kitchen that no-one other than career academics needs access to research:

  1. Make claims that are so outrageous that your opponent will be left sputtering in disbelief rather than refuting your claims.
  2. Make them prove their point beyond all possible doubt. When they can’t, take it as proof of your point.
  3. (Not pictured) Simply ignore all evidence.
  4. Later, even if you lost the argument, say that you won.

The only way they deviate from the Basic Instructions script is by choosing a topic of enormous importance, with immense ramifications for millions of people.

The Nobody-In-The-History-Of-The-World-Has-Ever-Liked-Raisins strategy (hereafter, the NITHOTWHELR Strategy) is how these legacy-publishing relics are able to remain living in their dream world, in the face of all the evidence.

From now on, every time I hear someone claiming that everyone who needs access to research has it, I will just think to myself:

Nobody in the history of the world has ever liked raisins. NOBODY!!

Because that’s all they’re saying.

 


*In the interests of fairness, note that these commenters do not speak for the The Scholarly Kitchen — although Wojick, at least, is a 30-post veteran author on that blog.

This one is for journalists and other popularizers of science. I see a lot of people writing that “scientists believe” this or that, when talking about hadrons or hadrosaurs or other phenomena grounded in evidence.

Pet peeve: believing is what people do in the absence of evidence, or despite evidence. Scientists often have to infer, estimate, and even speculate, but all of those activities are grounded in evidence and reason, not belief.1

In addition to doing science, scientists may also believe in the proper, spiritual sense, in which case you are free to explain what certain individual scientists believe. But that’s not how the word “believe” is used most of the time when it comes up in science stories.

So stop it. It’s lazy, and it’s damaging, because it gives (some) people the impression that scientists are clueless buffoons who make stuff up out of the whole cloth in a cynical bid to keep their jobs. Given that we have an entire political party pushing that view and trying to defund science and education at every turn, we don’t need that caricature promoted any further.

Even if you don’t accept that argument, it’s still bad writing. Good writing explains why people think as they do. So do that instead. In addition to the aforementioned “infer”, “estimate”, and “speculate”, you can use “surmise”, “reason”, “predict”, or – if you must – “think”. “Scientists have found” would be better still.

Best of all would be if the “scientists X” clause was preceded by, “Based on this evidence” (which you’ve just explained in the previous sentences), so readers can connect cause (evidence) and effect (scientists think) – which is what science is mostly about in the first place.

 

 

1. I realize that I am grossly oversimplifying – evidence, reason, and belief can interact in complicated ways in both spiritual and scientific spheres. But my purpose here is fixing poor word choice, not exploring that interaction.

Whatever else Sci-Hub may or may not be, it’s becoming apparent that it functions as a litmus test. It focuses people’s thoughts on the problems of scholarly communication, and draws out their ideas in their clearest form.

Who is sympathetic?

For example, on one side, you have Duke librarian Kevin Smith, whose radical thoughts about Sci-Hub are radical in the literal sense of the word: going to the root. He goes back to what the actual purpose of copyright is — To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts — and discusses the consequent moral and legal standing of copyright:

Laws come in different forms and carry different kinds of moral authority. Lawyers distinguish, for example, between illegal acts that are “wrong in themselves” (malum in se) and those that are only “wrong because prohibited,” or malum prohibitum. […] Copyright infringement is, of course, the latter; a violation of the law but not of any moral imperative. Such a law merely enshrines a decision about the distribution of resources, and it can be changed without causing the collapse of human society. Precisely the kind of situation where acts of civil disobedience to provoke discussion and change are most supportable.

Very interesting stuff, and carefully argued. While it would be overstating things to say that Smith is pro-Sci-Hub (at least based on what he’s said in the linked post), he is certainly sympathetic. Maybe more important, he’s interested in what Sci-Hub has to tell us about the present situation in scholarly communications.

At the more radical end, we have Björn Brembs, who writes of Sci-Hub As Necessary, Effective Civil Disobedience. He points out that while twenty years of careful, polite negotiations with publishers have won only slow, incremental progress for the open-access movement, Alexandra Elbakyan has simply blown right past the barriers. He characterises her as a David taking on the Goliath of Elsevier:

Collectively, these two decade-long concerted efforts of the global OA community, to wrestle the knowledge of the world from the hands of the publishers, one article at a time, has resulted in about 27 million (24%) of about 114 million English-language articles becoming publicly accessible by 2014. Since then, one single woman has managed to make a whopping 48 million paywalled articles publicly accessible. In terms of making the knowledge of the world available to the people who are the rightful owners, this woman, Alexandra Elbakyan, has single-handedly been more successful than all OA advocates and activists over the last 20 years combined.

Let that accomplishment sink in for a minute.

There’s no ambiguity about where he stands:

Clearly, two decades of negotiations, talks and diplomacy have led us nowhere. In my opinion, the time to be inclusive has come and passed. Publishers have opted to remain outside of the scholarly community and work against it, rather than with it. Actions of civil disobedience like those of Aaron Swartz and Alexandra Elbakyan are a logical consequence of two decades of stalled negotiations and failed reform efforts.

But is it fair to characterise publishers as enemies? I’ve done it myself, and been criticised in response by publishers (not that I accepted that criticism). But have things changed since 2012? Have scholarly publishers started to come round to the idea that they have been entrusted with a mission rather then merely handed a cash-cow?

Who is hostile?

Sadly, publishers’ responses to Sci-Hub do nothing to suggest any softening of their position. Unsurprisingly, The Scholarly Kitchen is leading the way — not so much with its posts (a mostly pretty thoughtful piece by Angela Cochran, and a more reactionary one from Joe Esposito) but with the comments.

Esposito likens Elbakyan to Mafia accountant Meyer Lansky — a completely inappropriate comparison which I hope he is ashamed of. And he makes this bizarre assertion:

A PDF is a weapons-grade tool for piracy: a fixed document that can be passed around the conversational channels of the Internet without alteration (it is the Portable Document Format, after all).

But it’s in the comments that things get really weird. Even the usually reliable David Crotty writes Elbakyan off as:

… a criminal [who] visits a professional forum and tries to spread misinformation in an attempt to justify her criminal actions to the very people she is stealing from.

A grotesque misrepresentation that is not worthy of him.

Meanwhile, Sandy Thatcher suggests retaliating with unambiguously criminal acts:

How about mounting a “denial of service” attack on her website? What would she do–go to court to challenge such action?
[…]
Seems ironic that DoS attacks would be illegal against sites that are themselves illegal. If those harmed cannot fight back, what are they to do? Gee, maybe drone attacks? Hire Blackwater operatives?

(To be fair, in a later comment he claimed that the latter part of this was a joke; but it should give pause that it’s not easy to tell. As far as I can tell, the suggestion of a DoS attack was deadly serious.)

In response to Boris’s description of the problems of getting copies of older papers — especially those whose authors have died, so can’t be asked for copies — David Wojick offers perhaps the most bizarre suggestion of the thread:

Boris, I suggest you try to get a grant to dig up these old papers.

The comments on the second piece are, in places, simply inexplicable. Harvey Kane asks, apparently with a straight face:

In what manner are publishers and holders of copyright denying anyone access to their materials?

He argues that access is not denied because:

I can go to my local university library with my drivers license in hand and access all their holdings and all the holdings they have access to.
[…]
For a person in a third world country lack of access was and is a matter of economic decisions on behalf of the government in power.

Got that? Because magic building syndrome provides a “solution” in Kane’s case, the lack of even that stopgap for third-world researchers can be ignored because it’s the fault of their own country.

It’s worth taking a moment to think about that. From this perspective, it’s more important to obey a copyright law which is achieving the exact opposite of what it was intended for, than to help a third-world researcher struggling under an oppressive government.

But as before, it’s David Wojick who takes the biscuit:

I personally doubt that there are large numbers of people who (1) have the expert knowledge required to read and benefit from the scholarly literature but who (2) cannot find a way to access what they need. The arguments I have seen to this effect are completely unconvincing.
[…]
This is one of the fundamental fallacies of OA, namely that non-experts should read journals. […] Only a few people can understand the typical journal article. (Local government officials are certainly not among them.)

This is the kind of arrogance and elitism that makes so many people want to throw up their hands and walk away completely from the encumbents in scholarly publishing. That leaves people wanting to say “Well, screw you then” and go straight to Sci-Hub. I find it literally incredible that the Everyone Who Needs Access Has It myth still lives on in some minds. If all the people on Who Needs Access? and the millions like them truly mean nothing to publishers, then I guess the publishers mean nothing to them, either.

But the last word undoubtedly belongs to Joe Esposito:

I do not agree that unaffordable access is a problem for many. Access is a privilege of membership (e.g., being a student at a university), not a right. Can we stop this debate now and simply agree that we have no common ground upon which to base a conversation?

No common ground? That’s certainly how it looks. (Björn Brembs’ response to this comment simply takes Esposito at his word: Academic Publishers: Stop Access Negotiations.)

So what should we think about Sci-Hub now?

As previously noted, my position on Sci-Hub has been “Heck if I know”. It’s complicated. Sci-Hub offers real value, and also poses a real danger. There is no reliable way to estimate how great either the value or the danger is, so it’s hard to land on a firm position.

But I’m getting there. Reading recent pieces, both for and against, is helping me start to condense the cloud of ideas into some more solid and defined thoughts.

I found it very helpful when David Crotty pointed out that parents of sick children can gain some free access through PatientInform and PatientAccess. It crystalised my thoughts. It made me realise that, as with HINARI and its kin, we’re seeing a very fundamental problem here. All these programs, laudable though they are, amount to special boons handed down from on high by the grace of publishers who still maintain ultimate control. Researchers, teachers, doctors, parents and all the rest are reduced to the status of peons, going cap in hand to the almighty publishers in the hope of picking up some of the scraps from under the table. That is simply not acceptable.

Sandy Thatcher rightly says “It is not the purpose of private enterprises to serve the public interest; it is to serve the interests of their stockholders”. That is precisely why private enterprises must not be handed control over scholarship.

What we see at the Scholarly Kitchen is that Esposito’s post is the work of someone who believes the whole purpose of scholarly publishing is to make money for publishers. At least you have to credit him for not hiding his position: as he’s argued before, “Scientific and technical publishing is a business.” But we simply cannot entrust the critical process of scholarly communication to people who don’t, or won’t, see that it’s a mission — and that the publishers are servants of that mission, not its masters.

So all in all, I am finding myself increasingly lacking in sympathy for publishers whose arrogance and sense of entitlement doesn’t generate a lot of warmth; and increasingly inclined to be positive about Sci-Hub, which ultimately is about providing something that people need.

A while back, I mentioned that I’d written and released VertFigure, a program for drawing schematic comparative diagrams of vertebral columns. Matt and I used it in our vertebral bifurcation paper to illustrate patterns of bifurcation in various Morrison-Formation sauropod specimens:

Figure 9. Degree of neural spine bifurcation of presacral vertebrae in well-preserved Morrison Formation sauropod specimens representing several taxonomic groups. In all taxa with deep bifurcations, these are concentrated around the cervico-dorsal transition. ‘No data’ markers may mean that the vertebrae are not preserved (e.g., posterior dorsals of Suuwassea emilieae ANS 21122), that the degree of bifurcation cannot be assessed (e.g., anterior cervicals of Barosaurus lentus AMNH 6341), or that the serial positions of the vertebrae are uncertain so they contribute no information on serial changes in bifurcation (e.g., the four cervical vertebrae known for Barosaurus lentus YPM 429). The Camarasaurus specimens are roughly in ontogenetic order: C. lentus CM 11338 is a juvenile, C. grandis YPM 1905 and GMNH-PV 101/WPL 1995, and C. supremus AMNH 5761 are adults, and C. lewisi BYU 9047 is geriatric. See text for sources of data.

Wedel and Taylor (2013a: figure 9). Degree of neural spine bifurcation of presacral vertebrae in well-preserved Morrison Formation sauropod specimens representing several taxonomic groups. In all taxa with deep bifurcations, these are concentrated around the cervico-dorsal transition. ‘No data’ markers may mean that the vertebrae are not preserved (e.g., posterior dorsals of Suuwassea emilieae ANS 21122), that the degree of bifurcation cannot be assessed (e.g., anterior cervicals of Barosaurus lentus AMNH 6341), or that the serial positions of the vertebrae are uncertain so they contribute no information on serial changes in bifurcation (e.g., the four cervical vertebrae known for Barosaurus lentus YPM 429). The Camarasaurus specimens are roughly in ontogenetic order: C. lentus CM 11338 is a juvenile, C. grandis YPM 1905 and GMNH-PV 101/WPL 1995, and C. supremus AMNH 5761 are adults, and C. lewisi BYU 9047 is geriatric. See text for sources of data.

But downloading, compiling and running Perl programs is not everyone’s cup of tea. So when Emanuel “Brontosaurus” Tschopp wanted to use it to illustrate the presence and absence of various laminae along the vertebral columns of lizards, I put a running copy online so that he — and anyone else — could play with it.

Now Emanuel’s paper is out (Tschopp 2016), and you can see the lamina diagrams in the nine supplementary tables. Here’s an example:

Tschopp2016-supplementary-table-9

S9 Table. Postspinal lamina (POSL), serial variation in presacral vertebrae of Lacertini. Boxes represent the vertebrae in the column, including the atlas. Filled boxes indicate presence of the lamina in the respective vertebrae, whereas a dash stands for absence. Only the seven specimens with articulated vertebral column could be assessed.

I’m delighted that this program has been put to good use, and once again commend it to anyone who needs to produce similar diagrams. Free to download, free to use online. Have at it!

References