‘Publishers can’t be blamed for clinging to the golden goose’

I missed this Steven Harnad piece from last May. It is trademark Harnad:

So, you should ask, with online publishing costs near zero, and quality control provided gratis by peer reviewers, what could possibly explain, let alone justify, levying a fee on S&S [scientists and scholars] authors trying to publish their give-away articles to report their give-away findings? The answer is not as complicated as you may be imagining, but the answer is shocking: the culprits are not the publishers but the S&S authors, their institutions and their funders! The publishers are just businessmen trying to make a buck. […] Under mounting ‘open access’ pressure from S&S authors, institutional libraries, research funders and activists, the publishers made the obvious business decision: ‘You want open access for all users? Let the authors, their institutions or their research funders pay us for publication in advance, and you’ve got it!’

Harnad, the original (and wittiest) advocate for the “green” repository route, is basically right. It’s not just scholars, of course—we’re not free agents when it comes, say, to productivity metrics imposed by university managers. But the academic system as a whole (funders included) is responsible for letting the oligopolist publishers laugh, as Harnad has it, all the way to the bank.

‘He Wanted Privacy. His College Gave Him None’

I missed this great Markup piece when it was published last November. It tells the story of dorm-to-classroom surveillance through the lens of a California college student:

By the time Natividad went to bed that night, Google and Facebook had data about which Mt. SAC webpages he’d visited, and a company called Instructure had gathered information for his professors about how much time he’d spent looking at readings for his classes and whether he had read messages about his courses. Campus police and a company called T2 Systems potentially had information about what kind of car he was driving and where he parked. And as he drifted off to sleep, Natividad had to contend with the worry that, later this semester, his professors could subject him to the facial detection software incorporated into the remote proctoring tools used at Mt. SAC.

The Markup story touches on textbook surveillance:

This semester, one of Natividad’s professors assigned a digital textbook through Cengage, a publishing company turned ed tech behemoth. […] According to Cengage’s online privacy policy, the company collects information about a student’s internet network and the device they use to access online textbooks as well as webpages viewed, links clicked, keystrokes typed, and movement of their mouse on the screen, among other things. The company then shares some of that data with third parties for targeted advertising. For students who sign into Cengage websites with their social media accounts, the company collects additional information about them and their entire social networks.

The Markup story might have added: When a student turns to research a term paper, they’re also being tracked there. Surveillance publishers like Elsevier harvest a shocking amount of data through their article-delivery platforms. Your journals, to paraphrase Sarah Lamdan, are spying on you.

‘Thomson Reuters announces expanded vision to provide GenAI assistant for every professional it serves’

The information conglomerate Thomson Reuters, in a press release announcing an “expanded vision” for its “professional-grade GenAI assistant”:

CoCounsel is an AI assistant that acts like a team member – handling complex tasks with natural language understanding. Completing tasks at superhuman speeds, CoCounsel provides high-quality information at the right time, maintains multiple threads of work, as well as keeping context and memory across the different tasks and products customers use each day. By augmenting professional work with GenAI skills, CoCounsel delivers accelerated and streamlined workflows, enables professionals to produce higher-quality work more quickly, all while keeping customer data secure.1

The CoCounsel name is, it seems, a nod to Thomson Reuters’ Westview and other legal businesses—and a lazy riff on Microsoft’s Copilot. Either way, another publishing-adjacent colossus picking up its pace in the race to re-monetize “content” through AI.

  1. Probably written by CoCounsel.  ↩︎

‘Academic Life Is About Humiliation and Envy. This Novel Gets It.’

My short piece in the Chronicle Review (paywalled, alas, but here’s a PDF), on C.P. Snow’s The Masters (1951):

What Snow captures is the outsize role pride plays in faculty life. We are, nearly all of us, vulnerable like this — a single snub is enough. We live in a hothouse of peer esteem, poised for humiliation, our dignity always in question. Snow shows this — or, rather, he tells it, through paragraphs of psychological portraiture. It’s this tell-not-show realism that struck Leavis as ponderous and cringeworthy. But Leavis is wrong: What’s best about The Masters is its sharply observed phenomenology. This is how the book transcends the cloistered male world of an unnamed Cambridge college in the late 1930s — why it feels fresh, even contemporary.

The piece—whose headline should be “Academic Life is About Injured Pride”—is really a footnote off of Vivian Gornick’s brilliant 2021 Harper’s essay “‘Put on the Diamonds’:Notes on Humiliation.”

‘STM welcomes landmark EU AI Act vote’

STM—the Dutch-based trade group and self-proclaimed “standard bearer for the academic publishing industry”—joined over a dozen media-related associations to applaud passage of the EU’s Artificial Intelligence Act. The reason, of course, is the promise of AI training revenue from big U.S. tech firms:

[The Act] provides first tools for rightsholders to enforce their rights, including the obligations on providers of General Purpose AI (GPAI) to make available a sufficiently detailed summary of the works used for training their models, to retain detailed technical documentation and to demonstrate they have put in place policies to comply with EU copyright law, regardless of where they acquired data or trained and developed their AI models.

The scope of enforcement—together with the outcome of the US Copyright Office’s review and various court rulings—will determine how and whether the big five academic publisher-oligopolists squeezes still-more profit from our unpaid scholarship.

‘Another article titled “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” or, the mass production of academic research titles’

Jaap Nieuwenhuis, in a fun piece in The Information Society on paper titles:

The question “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” has been asked repeatedly in academic work since 1992, suggesting that it is still unclear whether people (or animals, or cells) should stay or go. If we consider science to be a cumulative process, in which researchers base their work on the findings from work done by others before them, we can conclude that in this specific field of inquiry, we have yet to reach a scientific consensus. Moreover, considering the incremental rate at which “Stay or Go” contributions are being published, it is likely that this consensus is still far in the future.

The 1982 Clash song has graced 408 paper titles, according to Nieuwenhuis.

A suggestion for future research is no longer use “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” in the titles of research articles. Building upon this suggestion, another may be to first do a literature search to check if the title you came up with has already been used. Like in music, a cover song can be refreshing now and then, and sometimes even be better than the original; however, after 408 times, this may not happen anymore.

Jeff Pooley is affiliated professor of media & communication at Muhlenberg College, lecturer at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, director of mediastudies.press, and fellow at Knowledge Futures.

pooley@muhlenberg.edu | jeff.pooley@asc.upenn.edu
press@mediastudies.press | jeff@knowledgefutures.org

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