That comment that was censored from the Scholarly Kitchen

May 27, 2016

I mentioned on Twitter that I’d left a comment on the Scholarly Kitchen that had been blocked in moderation, and several people asked what the comment was.


It was a response to this comment from David Crotty (who as well as being a commenter is also the editor of the Scholarly Kitchen.) We were once more discussing David’s lamentable tendency to beg the question of Sci-Hub’s morality by abusing the term “theft” to mean copyright violation. My comment was as follows:

> Sorry no–a term everyone, at least the court system, agrees upon, is “theft”.

This is simply not true. It’s a crusade that you, for reasons which remain opaque to me, have taken on. Outside of a few lawyers (who, as we all know, routinely use language in completely different ways from civilians), the use of “theft” is widely recognised as an inflammatory misrepresentation.

It’s bad enough that the wildly inappropriate term “piracy” has been so widely adopted. Obfuscating the issue yet further helps literally no-one. Once more: why are you doing this? It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it’s because you don’t believe you can win an actual argument about copyright infringement, and have to poison the rhetorical well instead.

> If I told you not to use the terms “paywall” or “toll access” because I don’t like them, would you?

What term to do you prefer over “paywall”?

In any case, “paywall” is a purely descriptive term, not an attempt to pre-decide an argument by applying an inapplicable analogy. If instead I referred to paywalls as “fraudwalls” or “embezzlewalls”, then you would certainly have a point in asking me to change my language.

> I think the easiest way to avoid this distracting nonsense is to simply moderate our comments a bit more strictly, and delete any “it’s not theft” response. Those who wish to debate semantics can do so elswhere.

Ah yes — the final solution for those who realise they can’t win an argument.

I suppose this would be as good a conclusion to this thread as any: following up the repeated and deliberate abuse of language with actual censorship has a pleasing narrative consistency; and would of course demonstrate how wrong you are far more effectively than any words you might say.

… or of course you could stop deliberately creating a pointless side-conflict.

I really don’t expect this from you, David.

I honestly can’t see what was so objectionable about this that David decided to censor it; but as I’ve noted elsewhere, it’s his blog, and his prerogative to moderate it how he sees fit. But I really don’t want to see the Scholarly Kitchen being presented as a meeting of minds, or some kind of melting pot, when it’s increasingly clear that it’s actually an advocacy site for legacy publishing — and, more to the point, for legacy publishers.

Again: there’s nothing wrong with advocacy sites. SV-POW! is one itself (among other things), and I am pretty happy about it. But no-one coming to SV-POW! is under any illusions that it’s meant to be meeting-place for all stakeholders in scholarly communication. It’s not that. It’s a place where we express one point of view: our own. (Despite this, no-one coming to SV-POW! has to worry about their comments being censored. The only comments that ever get blocked in moderation are spam and outright personal attacks.)

Of course, wiser heads than mine have realised some time ago what the Scholarly Kitchen is. People like PLOS’s Mike Eisen and the Royal Society’s Stuart Taylor stopped trying to participate some time ago; RLUK’s David Prosser says “I gave up on them quite a while ago. Occasionally read the odd article people point me to, but see no merit in engaging.” Copyright guru Charles Oppenheim writes “It could have been a good place for proper debates, but is now of no use for that”.

It’s a real shame. I think we do need a place where people on all sides of the debate can argue it out on an equal footing. But that simply isn’t possible in a venue where one of the debaters has the power to instantly gag anyone who says something he doesn’t like.

This is of course very far from my first run-in with the Scholarly Kitchen. In fact, nearly four years ago I drafted an SV-POW! post entitled “Why I am really, really, really done with The Scholarly Kitchen”, but concluded it wasn’t constructive and never posted it.

My problem is, like a dog returning to its own vomit, I keep going back in the hope of a constructive dialogue, because I am, as Philip Lord put it, “an incorrigable enthusiast”. It’s true that I retain a completely unrealistic level of optimism. But The Wretched Hive of Scholarly Villainy is slowly fixing that bug.

And now here I am again, like an addict saying “This time it’ll be different, this time I can give it up, for sure.” And this time, I will. Anyone finds me commenting on the Scholarly Kitchen again, do me a favour, come round here and kick my butt. Because it’s stupid of me to keep wasting my time there.

10 Responses to “That comment that was censored from the Scholarly Kitchen”

  1. Samuel Says:

    A blog stopping you from posting a comment that repeats at length arguments that you already made in numerous comments on the same article is a very weak example of censorship.

  2. Mickey Mortimer Says:

    Unfortunately unsurprising. That’s why when I engaged them before, I noted the importance of consequences vs. rules. Even if the courts have deemed SciHub to be theft, the more important question is to ask why is this example of theft bad? Instead, some people there have decided SciHub is theft and theft is bad, thus SciHub is bad. Btw, I noticed when trying to access SciHub while writing this that it’s down. Have corporations succeeded in silencing it?

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    Sci-Hub isn’t down, it’s just had its .io domain withdrawn. You can find it at and many other domains.

  4. Stuart Says:

    I unsubscribed from SK on the same day Mike, as you know. It wasn’t good for my blood pressure (and I’m not as young as I was).

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    I should have just not read that new post.

    Instead, I commented on it.

    What have I become?

  6. Apparently my comment was a little too subtle to raise a response (I take your comment above as, in part, responding to direct questions posed by Crotty).

  7. stuart taylor Says:

    Mike! Don’t! *reaches down into the abyss and offers an arm to pull him to safety*

  8. Nima Says:

    Glad I avoided this “kitchen” full of knives. Interestingly Crotty seems to let slip that he is a Taylor Swift fan in his comments further down. When finds out that even Taylor Swift supports open access, that may break his heart.

    Curiously, he lists among his jobs a position at not just STM but also CHOR, inc., supposedly a charitable nonprofit, but just look at its mission statement:

    “CHOR, Inc. does not take positions — formal or informal — with respect to various public access models, embargo periods for published literature, or publishing business models in general. CHOR, Inc.’s mission is to provide a technical infrastructure to assist the various stakeholders to facilitate search, discovery, access, archiving, and preservation of articles reporting on funded research on behalf of publishers, for the benefit of funding agencies, the research community, and the general public.”

    Yes. Not even taking any informal positions on public access models… except when its board member publicly accuses SciHub of THEFT. I know, I know… freedom of speech. Except for speech that argues freedom of information on his blog turf. Wonderful.

    The “general public”… Not surprisingly they are last on that list, after all the “stakeholders” (i.e. shareholders) and publishers. How much access has this added layer of bureaucracy really “facilitated”? Any more than just STM, or any more than just its member multinationals by themselves? This “nonprofit” needs to be audited, there’s no reason to have yet another industry acronym to cover up yet more acronyms apart from STM not being opaque and suppressive enough. I am still waiting for “facilitated access” to the Jiutaisaurus paper for the “general public” for 10 years now.

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