By Aaron Swartz. July 2008.   Reposted to honor his goals, to remember him, and to motivate change in the justice system that failed him. His suicide is sad and deeply depressing – and it leaves no option for me but to kick and scream. This blog isn’t active anymore. but just before this tragedy hit I’d started a new project: hacktivity.ca. I’ll be channeling my thoughts there. 


An inspirational thinker, and Open Access advocate. Thank you Aaron Swartz, may you rest in peace and may change come to the justice system that failed you.

Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.

There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost.

That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.

“I agree,” many say, “but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it’s perfectly legal — there’s nothing we can do to stop them.” But there is something we can, something that’s already being done: we can fight back.

Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.

Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.

But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.

Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it — their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies.

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.

With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?

Aaron Swartz (1986 – 2013)

July 2008, Eremo, Italy

In memoriam


Thesis Defended. Issue #3: Where to now?

Thesis defended. Issue #1:representing anthropology & being cynical.

How was it?  Brutal [even if it was accepted with minor revisions!] !!! I’ll do my best to summarise the experience, and issues raised, over the next few posts.

The biggest issue that came up: Chapter 2.

Why, I was asked, would I present anthropology in such a negative light? What does such a negative portrait hope to accomplish? Why would I want to participate in such a horrible world? [real question] Why not lead from the strengths the thesis can make to the discipline? Why did I reference Vine Deloria Jr and why did I reference James Hunt?

To paraphrase the question: Haven’t people pooped on anthropology enough? Is it really necessary to select particularly nasty examples of anthropology to describe what anthropology is and how it has changed? Have anthropologists not changed enough already that you could just cite what they do NOW?

My answer: it hasn’t helped to shove anthropology’s dirty laundry under the rug. The history of anthropology shocked me to the core, and I wasn’t about to ignore it. Vine Deloria’s arguments, that I cite in chapter 2, are the best definition and critique of anthropology I’ve ever read. I stand by that reference 100%.

James Hunt? Well sure he isn’t representative of all anthropologists.  And I’ve been told I cannot say that “his work is seen as biggoted and racist” in a thesis, even if his work IS..  But the reason I chose James Hunt was that he founded the Anthropology Society of London with the intention of mixing politics and science, and he promoted public engagement.  Anthropologists aren’t all saints, and when they engage the public, it isn’t necessarily virtuous. That was my point. My bigger point was  that anthropologists get things wrong, and that we need to give people a place to respond and interpret anthropologists interpretations.

Finally, while I probably didn’t express this well enough in the thesis, chapter 2 was NOT a “complete” representation of the discipline. I was looking at the history of the discipline to find breaking points, frictions, that pushed the direction in different directions. The point I wanted to make in chapter 2 was that there are arguments for 1) increased collaboration with non-anthros, 2) increased public engagement, and 3) to “open the social sciences”.

Now say what you want, but I think the examples I give do back that up. I’m not sure I did that well enough in chapter 2 though. The reactionary response I received from one reader has forced me to correct this, to somehow open up chapter 2 with recognition that the points discussed are very selective and not trying to represent the discipline as a whole.

Many more posts to come…


I also learned the proper definition of “reactionary”. I used the word to represent a person “reacting”, which it is not. This has since been corrected, and I did my best to use it correctly in the paragraph above!!! Reactionary is restricted to a conservative backlash, someone defending the status quo, and not to someone getting pissed off by your actions.


When given the option to select your thesis committee, give it a lot of thought. Don’t allow faculty members to turn your thesis into a battleground, even if that’s what social science is all about.

Next post: Issue #2 – Why didn’t you include the following works? [list included]

Open Access – Books & Journals

[This post is a reply to a reader’s question, “What about books?”]

Discussions related to Open Access often focus on journals, but as one thesis reader has asked me, what about books? Open Access is about removing the price barriers to peer reviewed academic research, whether it be book, journal article, or whatever else. The peer review system for book publishing is different than that of a journal, but anthro books are still considered “quality research” that should be disseminated. Charging $20-100 for a book is still a significant barrier for many libraries. As one teacher commented, a really good anthropology book will sell about 1000 copies.

So if the books were cheaper, would they be disseminated and read more? Would more copies end up being distributed? Maybe! Should academics be concerned about the dissemination of their work? Is it okay for people to try and make money off your research at the expense of researchers having easy access to it? So to be clear, the same OA arguments apply to books and journals.

But there are some interesting particularities to look at. For example Google Books makes it simple to read and scan through millions of expensive published academic books. It lets you read a portion of the text, which is plenty for scholars to decide if they would benefit from purchasing or borrowing the book. In this way Google Books improves the visibility of academic work published in book form, while still demanding that people and libraries pay to read it. To answer a readers question, since people still need to pay to get full access, Google Books is not a form of Open Access publishing.

And while e-books and e-book readers are taking off, many people still hate to read large documents on the computer. It’s just nicer and easier to read away from the computer. The confusion creeping in here is that Open Access is associated with online dissemination journals, rather than with removing price barriers to research where-ever they may be.

So yes, as Lorenz Khazaleh recently posts, OA is also about books! He writes,

More and more journals have gone open access, now it’s time for open access books!

OAPEN – Open Access Publishing in European Networks is an initiative in Open Access publishing for humanities and social sciences monographs. Several European university presses have joined the initiative that aims to improve the accessibility and dissemination of academic books.”

Further, books can be Open Access, in that they are free to access online, and they cost money in print, at the very same time. A book can be published OA, and at the same time printed and sold. Take a look at what Max has done with his edited volume of student authored essays, titled “The New Imperialism”. He describes the process involved,

“Having seen, from early on, that I would be receiving a batch of excellent papers, I asked the seminar participants if they would not want to put their output on the record, to publish their work. One option was to have all the papers online, on the seminar website. The other was to publish it like my Department also publishes an annual volume of student research, Stories from Montreal. They opted for the latter and I got busy creating something I had never planned to establish: a publishing entity, Alert Press (amazingly, the name was not taken). That was just the start–then came getting an ISBN, arranging for the National Library of Canada to do Cataloguing-in-Publication, getting a copyright certificate, and formally registering the Press. The printing would be done on demand, which is where the services of Lulu come in. Then there was the index–no proper book can go without one. That is, as some know, a particularly large expense which had to be out of pocket. Each of the papers had to be revised, edited, proof read, and re-corrected, references checked, formatting done for the book, providing images that are free under a Creative Commons License (up to the front and back covers of the book), and then indexed. Only the very best papers were included, which in this case means that only 14 of the initial 25 papers made the final cut. One or two opted out of the publication idea from the start–it is entirely voluntary, and not a course requirement. But it will be an annual feature.”

Now published, the book is available in a number of forms. The paperback costs about $10. A hardcover sells for $19. And an e-book version can be downloaded anytime for free. This shows how Open Access can work alongside other publishing models.

Christopher Kelty, a blogger at Savage Minds, published his book “Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software” on the books website, and through Duke University Press. The entire book can be read and commented on online, exploring ways readers can help contribute content to the book after it has been published. Kelty also talks about “modulating” his work, as part of an experiment that looks at how Open Access to research, and new more flexible licensing models,  allow people to use the work in new ways.

The Prickly Paradigm Press, and the earlier Prickly Pear Press,  also provide a number of OA books licensed under the Creative Commons. An interview with Marshal Sahlins discusses the history of the publishing organization, and why free access to research, and the creative commons license is important. Sahlins writes,

“I just want to say that I truly support the idea of the free dissemination of intellectual information, and that I truly lament the various forms of copyrights and patents that are being put on so-called intellectual property. I also lament the collusion of universities in licensing the results of scientific research, and thus violating the project of the free dissemination of knowledge that is their reason for existence. So I consider it an important act to release these books under a Creative Commons type of license. I’m happy, and also a little proud, to do so.”

This is all to say that OA book publishing is working alongside other dissemination strategies, and that yes, you can provide both.

Update: check out 40,000 free e-books that have been made available through Project Gutenberg.

Related posts:

Kelty on the Culture of Publishing

Doing a little digging: Golub and Sahlins Interview.

Making anthropology accessible online (some conclusions)

Another thesis version has been submitted and this project is finally coming to a long drawn out close. In the end I’ve created a rather ugly beast. It’s too long to read quickly, and it takes too long to get its points across. It feels more like a proof of work then anything else unfortunately, but that is hopefully close to what a thesis is meant to be.

The least I can do, having tried my hand at blogging research as it goes,  is to filter out what’s interesting:

Research into the history of the discipline revealed a number of reasons anthropologists would want to disseminate their work to non-anthropologists. Anthropologists pushing for a kind of public anthropology, want researchers to involve themselves in contemporary public debates – alongside journalists and anonymous internet trolls. Anthropologists pushing for a kind of collaborative anthropology, seek to recognize and incorporate the expertise of people outside the discipline. Finally, anthropology is often defined as being interdisciplinary to begin with.

Many OA advocates claim scholarship is meant to be shared as widely as possible. But the success of subscription based journals shows that scholarship doesn’t need to be shared widely to succeed/sustain itself.

Even when journal publishers allow researchers to archive their work, many researchers question reasons for doing so.  The Concordia Spectrum repository for example,  lists 146 articles under Sociology and Anthropology. 2 of those are from faculty members, and the rest are masters theses. Yet many of the faculty support OA to some degree, sharing their work online on personal websites. So somehow the institutional self archiving repository at Concordia is challenged by professional politics. Are researchers at universities paid to publish? Should they have to provide their research output to the universities library? What if the faculty is on shaky terms with a shaky administration? Researchers probably want to maintain autonomy over their work, to limit as much as possible the control of university administrators (objection! speculation!).

Other faculty have unanimously approved OA mandates however, and I am pretty sure OA resistance is no longer about ignorance. Researchers understand that they can make their research more accessible through OA, but they question its professional impact.

Another big issue that came up in my anthropology readings is that anthropologists have expressed the need to better incorporate feedback into the research process. So this thesis explored getting feedback “out in the open”. Open Access publishing isn’t (necessarily) about getting feedback from different audiences. Repositories remain for the most part rather static dumping grounds for quality peer reviewed content. Review and comments are controlled through editors and journal presses. Aside the fact that the discipline is interdisciplinary, and aside ethical and moral obligations to make research relevant to non-anthropologists, and aside the desire to engage in contemporary public debates alongside journalists, why, anthropologists ask, should they share their work online, and why would they have their work uglied with obnoxious anonymous online diatribe?

So even though blogging and other social media are great tools to incorporate collaborators as writers and content producers, sharing ideas, links, articles, comments, etc.,   the issue of collaborating with, and to incorporating feedback from, non-experts remains an issue within the discipline. Some of this relates to debates in anthropology between science and advocacy. Science and its system of expert peer review limit the participation of non-experts. Does this make sense for anthropological research?

Anthropologists are concerned then that increased dissemination online won’t necessarily help disseminate the work properly. Who else will benefit or make use of it? Who else will contribute to or comment on it? Academics are encouraged to focus on peer reviewed prestige publications, and not on public engagement and other work that raises too much publicity. Researchers in other institutions can surely make use of interlibrary loans, why should I have to post it online where it dominates my Google profile?

So I conclude the beast by discussing two kinds of anthropology that are openly accessible online. One is anthropology in public, the other public anthropology. Anthro in public is about reaching anthros with the Internet. Anthropology is done for academics, who then do great things with that knowledge (objection heresay!). Public anthropology is about changing the style of anthropology to appeal to different audiences outside academia.

Yes that is all.  Of course it’s filled with references, research, and a few random stray ideas that I couldn’t let go of. I already disagree with points I’ve made in it, but I’m going to hold off changing anything until I get feedback from the authorities.

Concentration and the Internet

A few tips to quickly share.

I am easily distracted, and easily inspired. As a result I’ll be in the middle of a thesis paragraph when I’ll jump over to a web browser [note how its constantly running] where I’ll end up reading random news websites (well, not random at all… actually I read terrible annoying right wing news sites that get my blood boiling. Sites like canada.com and msnbc. I read other sites too, but these two I consider a waste of time when compared to a beautiful anthropology thesis.)

It turns out I’m not alone. Websites, social media, the internet, iphones, etc, have all been merging into annoyingly busy interfaces.  From this page where I write a blog post, I can twitter. I can see my inbox (all 3 of them). My battery has 39 minutes remaining. I should turn on some battery saving feature no? Oh wait I was writing. That’s right!

There are solutions. Improve your concentration with this Google Chrome App. “Writespace” turns your browser (online or off) into a beautiful black screen. Hit f11 to maximize it into full screen and there it is. A blank black screen. A clear white font. I love it. It reminds me of my days playing diku muds. Why a black screen? No distractions. Just a page to write on.

Another great one – “Stayfocusd”. This app let’s you create a list of websites you waste too much time on, and then it blocks the sites after you spend more than 10 minutes (or whatever you configure) on them. Perfect for stupid news sites, facebook, etc.  Try giving yourself more time and the program opens up a page on procrastination! Love it.

You may now return to work.

Anthropology and Science

A recent Inside Higher Ed article, “Anthropology Without Science”, discusses the American Anthropological Associations recent changes to its’ “vision” (not definition for some reason) of Anthropology. I tried work a definition or two of anthropology into Chapter 2, and where I thought I’d really messed it up, it turns out others are having just as tough a time,

“More fundamentally, the dispute has brought to light how little common ground is shared by anthropologists who span a wide array of sub-specialties, said Elizabeth Cashdan, chair of anthropology at the University of Utah. For example, some anthropologists might mine the language and analytical tools favored by such humanities as literary criticism, while others may be more likely to deploy statistical methodology as befits social science. Still others might rely on the biological metrics, hard data and scientific method used by natural scientists. “This is reflective of tensions in the whole discipline,” said Cashdan, a bio-cultural anthropologist who described herself as “very dismayed” by recent developments.

Hugh Gusterson leaves a great rebuttal, pointing out that the new definition does not dismiss science and that the entire debate has been blown out of proportion,

“… The old wording said “The purposes of the Association shall be to advance anthropology as the science that studies humankind in all its aspects, through archeological, biological, ethnological, and linguistic research; and to further the professional interests of American anthropologists; including the dissemination of anthropological knowledge and its use to solve human problems.” The new wording says, “The purposes of the Association shall be to advance public understanding of humankind in all its aspects. This includes, but is not limited to, archaeological, biological, social, cultural, economic, political, historical, medical, visual, and linguistic anthropological research.” The document goes on to make numerous references to “anthropological knowledge, expertise, and interpretation.” Fair-minded people will recognize this as a modest change and will see that science is still there in the mission statement (after all, what are biology and archeology if not sciences?) even if the wording has been slightly changed. You would think from some of the hysterical statements here that the AAA had issued a statement condemning science. “

The new emphasis on “public understanding” is interesting given the critiques I’ve read arguing that anthropology needs to engage itself in public debates, and that the “science” of anthropology has played a role in limiting its’ ability to engage itself beyond a select, expert, audience (who happen to depend on its’ success for their livelihood).

In other news, the thesis has moved to Google Docs, (wooops, apologies to readers, here I mean, MY thesis draft), and it is open to edits and comments from anyone online. Printed draft by Monday? It is going to end!! incredible really.

See also,
“The Joy of Pseudoscience”

Chapter 3 v2 now online!

Just a quick note to let a few interested parties know that Chapter 3 v2 has been posted. The thesis is coming around second base now and well on its way home. The next chapter, “Making Research Accessible”, needs to pull together quite a few issues. Looking at the Open Access debate, chapter 4 will build on the publishing challenges created by the changing audiences of anthropological research that were discussed in chapter 2 (need for collaboration with people involved in research, need for interdisciplinary access, and the need for “public engagement”).  It will also explore the different forms of OA publishing – OA journals, self-archiving (websites and repositories), and the copyright issues that come with them.

Speaking of anthropology repositories, the Mana’o anthropology archive, which I will be discussing in this next chapter, has reopened its doors! Hopefully it’s website will soon rank higher than the “Shuttering Mana’o” post that currently ranks #1 on Google (if you search for Mana’o and anthropology).

Once the need for open access to research has been established, the thesis will turn against itself, looking at the ethics of conducting research and sharing the knowledge gained openly. Having argued for an “open” anthropology, and for “open” access to research, the thesis will explore how “openness” is a problem, and it will try to do justice to the thoughts and opinions of anthropologists who are not publishing Open Access, and/or who have no desire to maintain a presence online.

Chapter 3 wordle included to make the giant runonsentence a little more 2.0
Wordle: Ethnography and the Internet