Facebook and the Email Apocalypse

So in case you haven’t heard the rumors, supposedly Facebook will release “Project Titan” on Monday. As rumor has it, they will be introducing a web-based email system that’s built into Facebook. It will replace traditional “messaging” on Facebook with a full-fledged email system. It will likely include your own @facebook.com email address. Some are calling this a Gmail killer. I tend to agree with the other side, who find that assessment laughable. Of course, by “laughable” I don’t mean that it will be unsuccessful. On the contrary, I’m sure it will be quite popular as far as numbers go. It’s just that I remember email before Gmail and how much they changed the game. I am highly skeptical that Facebook would even be able match Gmail in terms of utility and ease-of-use, and I find it laughable that they would be able to innovate enough to draw me away from Gmail’s clutches.

No doubt there is a market for integrating email into Facebook. As a user of both Gmail and Facebook, I got to thinking about what might happen in the coming months given what I know about the past.

First, Facebook email will almost certainly create a rift among emailers. To me, the division will be between those who use email as a tool and those who use it as a toy. I could easily see some of my friends and family, young and old, who spend the majority of their time behind Facebook’s walled garden anyway, integrate Facebook’s inbox into their life and slowly forget about their prior email addresses. “Email that’s separate from my Facebook account? That’s so 2010.”

In fact, that’s kind of Facebook’s plan, right? The whole goal is to take over the Internet by making their own Internet inside of Facebook. Do you want to play a game? Why go to another site when you can play lots of them on Facebook? Do you want to share photos with your friends? Why go to another site when you can do it on Facebook? Their whole goal is that you never have to leave, and adding a way to communicate with the “outsiders” will take away another major reason to leave their site.

But as I alluded to earlier, those of us who actually use email to communicate with 10, 20, 50, or even 500 people a day, we want a system that is made specifically to make that process more pleasurable. That’s what Gmail is, and I find it nearly impossible that Facebook will be able to rival Gmail’s feature-set. Remember, that’s not even their goal. Their goal is to make it functional enough to keep you from leaving their site. Ever.

It’s one thing when Facebook adds a feature I won’t use, but I’m not sure their integrated email system won’t actually be detrimental to their platform as a whole. I mean, do you remember email in 2001? (or even 2007?) In addition to loads of emails offering me all sorts of adult content and attachments that would infect my computer with viruses, there were links to sites that would steal my banking credentials and hijack my Paypal account. Oh, and that’s not to mention the deluge of weekly email forwards pleading with any and every excuse to have me forward this chain letter to my entire address book. Gmail has largely hidden spam from me.

Does Facebook have a plan in place for when the spamming masses come down on their email system with phishing links and social engineered trojan horses? Because I hear about enough people now whose Facebook account and email accounts get hacked. Wait until their email is their Facebook. It sounds like a recipe for disaster. I shudder thinking about this, but imagine the eventual hacks that start messaging all 600 of your “friends” and writing spam ads on their walls. Won’t that be fun for your girlfriend from 6th grade who you haven’t talked to since junior high and your boss at work, both of whom are your “friends” on Facebook.

My solace lies in my apocalyptic hope that this venture shows Facebook for the house of cards that it is. Facebook has been largely preserved because of their ability to keep spam out, aside from user-selected spam. By opening up their floodgates to the world of spammers, the site will become much less navigable by average folks, which could cause a sizable exodus. I wonder how people will react when they realize that so much of their lives that they have poured into Facebook over the past months and years is lost in that walled garden? And where will these users go when they are left alone in this largely unexplored Internet.

So what do you think? What have I missed? What good or bad will come from Facebook’s integration of an email system?

SkypeKit Hypocrisy

Skype finally announced it’s much-anticipated new project, SkypeKit. It’s a new SDK that basically separates the Skype user interface from their underlying proprietary protocol used to make and receive voice and video calls. I was generally thinking this would be good news since it will allow Skype to be incorporated into other programs like the multi-protocol IM apps Pidgin, Empathy, and Adium. However, I was disappointed and somewhat appalled to read the following in their announcement:

Is SkypeKit ‘open’? What will you restrict?

The topic of openness is often debated and its definition can mean different things to different people. For starters, we believe in an open Internet and open standards. We are adopting an open approach meaning we are releasing APIs and enabling others to use SkypeKit and apply it in new ways. But, SkypeKit won’t be opened up to every single use case that developers dream up. For example, our license terms prohibit using SkypeKit for gambling or adult-themed applications.

This infuriated me. Where do I start with it? The first sentence is absolutely true. However, it’s completely irrelevant to the proprietary Skype universe. They’re hinting that SkypeKit somehow fits under one of those definitions. It doesn’t. The second sentence may also be true. They just happen to not practice what they believe in because their protocol and codecs, although free, are definitely not “open.” The third sentence is an oxymoron. Since when does “an open approach” mean “letting other people plug into your software?” That’s actually offensive to me. The fourth sentence further highlights the oxymoron of the previous sentence. The fifth sentence is a hyperbole used to make readers think that SkypeKit will only disallow spammers or societal deviants from using their service. Of course, who they actually disallow will be at their discretion.

As a Skype user and a little bit of a fan, I have to say that I’m quite appalled by the SkypeKit announcement. I can overlook the closed-source, proprietary nature of Skype because it works well for me but only if they’re honest about it. If they continue to hawk their service like it’s FOSS (in any way), I probably won’t be interested in continuing my business with them.

So, let me summerize SkypeKit for you. They separate their underlying service/protocol from the outer user interface. This allows Skype to work on more devices easily (including computer applications, televisions, phones, media centers, etc.), where the user interfaces are always different. This will allow Skype to become integrated into, for example, Pidgin/Adium, AIM, Google Chat, Google Chrome OS, and your TV. Skype acts like they’re doing you a favor by allowing their service to run on it. (Maybe they are?). But Skype also charges developers fees if they want to incorporate Skype’s protocol into one of their projects. Gee, so now they’re not free (as in gratis), free (as in libre), or open. Why couldn’t they just answer “no” and be honest with everyone? They could’ve saved face in my book.

Smoke and Mirrors

Apparently Lenovo has put a lot of work in making Windows 7 boot “unbelievably fast.” When you go on to read the article, you see that you’ll get a boot time possibly as “quickly” as 30 seconds, which is a significant improvement for Windows. Of course to explain how they get that, you get a bunch of vague double-speak. They push back loading drivers and various Windows services until after booting “finishes.” They also make some claims about preventing “Windows rot” by doing some work with drivers. Not quite sure what they’re doing there. Sounds like they need to take some tips from the pros: 10 seconds on a mid-level machine to a logged in idle computer without delaying any background services. Your computer is ready to use in 10 seconds. That’s the goal for Ubuntu 10.04, due out in April 2010. Ubuntu 9.10, due out in a few weeks, already has Lenovo’s Windows 7 numbers beat, so 10.04 will just be some sweet icing on the cake. And then of course, there’s reason to believe boot speed will actually be closer to 5 seconds when it’s all said and done… Maybe some day Windows will catch Ubuntu.

Windows 7: Netbook killer

The following is a prediction of things to come in the next year.

I get the feeling that Microsoft is trying to kill the netbook market with Windows 7. In case you haven’t heard, Microsoft announced a new edition of Windows 7: Starter Edition. The Starter Edition is only capable of running 3 applications at once. Their purpose for this “Starter Edition” is two-fold. First, it is meant to be a sufficiently crippled version of Windows 7 so that they can sell it dirt cheap for use in netbooks. Many people will not buy it because it can only run 3 programs at a time. (Update: MS changed their minds on this after significant blacklash from the community, but Starter continues to have other strict limitations) They’ll pay a significant premium to buy a netbook containing a “normal” version of Windows 7 (Basic or Home) because it will be Microsoft’s flagship operating system. That’s different from today’s market. Microsoft can afford to give away Windows XP for dirt cheap on current iterations of netbooks because it’s already really old, and they’re busy trying to sell Vista. Buying a netbook with Windows 7 Basic or Home will increase the total cost so much that the devices will no longer be “worth it” to people unless they really want that small form-factor ultra-ultra-portable.

Second, most of the people silly enough to purchase the Starter Edition will find it so incredibly annoying to use that they will either have to pay to upgrade to a non-crippled version of Windows (again significantly increasing overall cost of the device) or they will discount their netbook as “a toy” of little value. This attempt by Microsoft to upsell the netbook market is probably going to kill it. Any way you slice it, Microsoft-based consumer interest in the market will wane.

Then, of course, we have Linux-based netbooks. By October, Ubuntu 9.10 will be available. It will likely boot on your netbook in 15 seconds or less if it has an SSD. It will come fully featured with an office suite, IM client, email client, web browser, media player, image editor, and much, much more. Oh, and you’ll be able to run every single application at once if you want to. Graphics will be performing fantastically, and the user interface will be strikingly refreshing. And of course you’ll get all of this for the low, low price of $0. Let’s just hope that Canonical can get it installed on a number of prominent netbooks whose manufacturers won’t hide it behind a curtain so that consumers will realize that they’re no longer subject to Microsoft’s crippleware. They can have an extraordinarily functional, free system on any machine they want. Ubuntu needs to capitalize on Microsoft’s idiotic move here, and I think they will.

Copyright and the Internet: A Personal Example

I don’t normally watch SNL. Occasionally, Sadie and I will flip it on randomly and watch a skit, but I can’t tell you the last time I watched all (or even most) of an episode. I follow @davidsiegel (a software developer) on Twitter, and he tweeted a link to a YouTube video of a recent SNL musical performance by a group I’d never heard of called Fleet Foxes. I liked the song (Mykonos) so much that I had to hear more by them. I checked out Sadie’s cousin Chris’ blog, Flickin’ Spit, for a review, and he listed the newest Fleet Foxes album as one of the Top 50 Albums of 2008. So, I decided to buy the album from Amazon MP3. I went back to the video a few days later to find that it had been removed from YouTube per NBC’s request due to a violation of their copyright.

Without that video, I wouldn’t even know who Fleet Foxes were. I liked their performance so much that I bought one of their albums. You would think this is the point of NBC inviting them onto the show. But now I can’t share the same performance with others so that they might also buy the album. The performance is not available on Hulu or the NBC website. Whose copyright is NBC protecting here? Is it “for the artists’ own good” that the clip has been removed? Obviously not. Who exactly was it hurting to have that clip on YouTube? The answer is exactly no one. This is a perfect example of good advertisement, both for SNL picking a good artist and the artists themselves, squandered by malicious use of copyright power. Gimme a friggin’ break NBC. The online world would be a better place if companies started to see the importance of adopting a pragmatic approach to copyright enforcement.

EDIT: For those wanting to hear the song, you can hear the album version on YouTube.

Ubuntu Review: One Year In

After a somewhat belated New Year’s resolution last year, I did manage to complete my goal much more easily than I previously thought possible. In the last 9 months, I can probably count on my two hands then number of times I’ve booted into Vista or XP. I’ve been using Ubuntu on a regular basis since at least February. Now you may ask why I made the switch to Linux. I intend to answer that by giving a summary, including the ups and downs, of my first year with Linux.

I had heard of Linux in the past, but it always seemed like something that was beyond my ability to comprehend. I had become a huge fan of WordPress and Firefox, and I love the ideals of free software. As I sat there and thought about it, I couldn’t believe that I was still using a proprietary system like Windows when a free operating system like Linux was out there. I did some research on Linux and found Ubuntu to be exactly what I was looking for. It’s self-proclaimed as “Linux for Human Beings.” It’s got the best support for hardware of any Linux distribution and a very welcoming community for newcomers. Since I was a new medical student, the last thing I wanted was something I had to pore over for hours and hours in the command line just to use it.

Ubuntu is everything a person could want being new to Linux. You can download it for free and burn it to CD to install it. It’s a LiveCD, so you can run the entire operating system from the CD to test it out without changing anything on your current system. Just restart your computer with the CD in your CD-ROM drive, and you will boot into Ubuntu. In order to install it, you just run through the installer on the LiveCD, which asks a few fairly easy questions, and after installing for about 45 minutes, you’ll be booting into Ubuntu. If you’re not ready to completely ditch your current system just yet, you can shrink your installation of Windows. If you’d rather not mess with Windows at all (just in case you don’t like Linux), you can install Ubuntu just like a program right inside of Windows using the wubi installer. Using the wubi installer is a great idea for someone who just wants to try Linux, since it is a little bit tougher to uninstall Linux after installing via the LiveCD, which changes the partitions on your computer.

My first few weeks with Ubuntu were great. I couldn’t believe how much this free operating system could do. Nearly any type of application you could think of was either built-in or easily installed right from inside Ubuntu. It came with Firefox, the OpenOffice.org office suite, Evolution Email, Pidgin (for multi-protocol instant messaging), and the GIMP Image editor. Plus the “eye candy” was easily enabled to check out Compiz-Fusion’s desktop effects and the Avant Window Navigator, a dock similar to that found in Mac OS X.

My friend Usama and my dad were both interested enough to try it out for themselves. They played with Ubuntu for a few weeks, but neither of them took to using it full-time. They’re both “power users” on Windows, and getting used to new applications and setting up a completely different type of system might have been too much trouble for them. I don’t think either of them have given up on it completely, but I think they probably needed a little bit of direction in setting things up effectively. I couldn’t see what the problem was since I had very little trouble with my hardware and I didn’t have any pressing software needs. One of the things that helped ease my transition to Ubuntu was that I forced myself to use the system every day and only boot into Windows if I couldn’t do something in Ubuntu that I absolutely needed to. I quickly realized that there was almost nothing that I couldn’t do in Ubuntu. My new webcam worked after an upgrade to Ubuntu 8.04 (the Hardy Heron) and Amazon MP3 released a Linux client so I could buy full DRM-free mp3 albums.

With the release of Ubuntu 8.04 (the Hardy Heron), GNU/Linux seemed better than ever to me. I began to wonder how there could be so few people using it. I mean, sure it’s not for everyone (notably computer gamers, since few computer games were released on Linux). Around this time, I heard about the Linux Hater’s blog, which was causing somewhat of a ruckus in the Linux community. This is mainly because his rants, though crude, were strikingly poignant. He obviously had an in-depth knowledge of the various Linux communities and software, and he loved to point out their flaws. After a few months, he threw in the towel, but not before opening my eyes to some of the shortcomings of GNU/Linux. I think reading this blog was important for me. Although it often depressed me, it helped me see where Linux is strong and where it needs improvement. I knew all the software wasn’t perfect, but I thought it was just a matter of time before this was fixed. The blog helped me see some of the discordance and problems in the communities themselves that are, in some instances, preventing their own success. Yet as I continue to read about the progress that’s being made in all of these areas, I am hopeful that this problems will solve themselves. There are a lot of developers doing great work who understand the problems, and with the rise of netbooks more companies are contributing resources and manpower to solve some of these issues.

With the release of Ubuntu 8.10 (the Intrepid Ibex), some of Ubuntu’s warts began to show. My webcam no longer worked. One of my favorite new productivity applications, Gnome-Do, started showing some significant bugs that make it unusable at times. My wireless card, which was already a little bit buggy, started causing some more issues. My desktop’s CD/DVD-ROM drives no longer functioned correctly. All-in-all the release brought some great new features, but broke some of my confidence in Ubuntu’s stability. Some of these issues have been resolved and some have not. Some of these issues are specific to Ubuntu and some are not. My problem was that these issues were known prior to release time. I know releases can’t be held up for just anything, but when all CD/DVD drives fail to function properly, it seems like a show-stopper. Unfortunately, Canonical seems to value their time-based release schedule a bit too highly over quality, which is really, really going to hurt them in getting people to try and stick with Linux. I would much rather have had them do what Automattic did with WordPress 2.7 and delay the release date for a month so that all the bugs could be ironed out.

Now, I don’t want you to get the idea that I’m growing weary of Linux. Despite some flaws, I’m confident that things will be resolved in future releases, and I have no intention of giving up on an operating system that I love using. It’s just that flaws like these (along with some usability issues and a lack of centralized documentation) make me understand why adopting Linux might be harder than I first envisioned. I do hope that some of the higher-ups understand these issues, since it’s a major barrier to adoption. Ubuntu tends to do a better job at handling these sorts of issues, but as they continue to push for more users, I hope they continually readdress how to keep their current users happy while still progressing their system.

One of the things I like best about using GNU/Linux is how much I learn while doing using it. I’ve learned a lot about security and operating systems in general, and I’ve done it all using free software. I’ve discovered a number of free software applications that I probably never would’ve even heard of. By using free software, I began paying attention to its development to find out about great ideas and features in upcoming versions. I’ve also been keen on helping to test new software and report bugs. I’ve installed both new versions of Ubuntu while they were still in beta to help with bug reporting.

Since one of the cornerstones of Linux is its variety of distributions, or “distros,” I’ve also started using VirtualBox to test some of them in virtual machines inside Ubuntu. One of the things about Linux that really interests me is its versatility to run on a wide variety of hardware and using a variety of software. It’s used to run super-computers at big companies and to resurrect ancient hardware that’s not capable of running any modern version of Windows. Linux can also be used as a “green” operating system both in its own right and through the LTSP. LTSP can be used to connect many low-power, lightweight computers to a single workhorse machine, so an entire computer lab can be run on minimal power. Linux can be used to power your home media center and your cell phone. The versatility of Linux allows it to underlie many great technologies of today and tomorrow.

So how would I summarize my first year with Ubuntu? I think it’s exactly what I needed. It has helped me plan for the future in medicine and my life and better understand some technology along the way. It’s definitely not for everyone, but I do think Ubuntu and Linux is a viable operating system for a majority of users who have never given it a chance. Besides addressing some of the underlying issues in development (as highlighted by The Linux Hater’s blog) and preventing regressions, the Ubuntu community could use a effort to implement or improve a centralized, up-to-date set of documentation for new users. Far too many problems and issues are only addressed in random blog posts or on online forums, both of which tend to be outdated or doing things in an overly complicated manner. Ubuntu would be greatly improved by including some significant “Getting Started” documentation for new adopters and finding a way to point directly toward an up-to-date official wiki with more complicated tasks. The Linux community is continuing to lower the barriers to adoption, and addressing some key usability issues might be just the thing they need to attract the swarms of users leaving Windows and even catch a fed-up Apple user or two. Great strides have been made already and more are planned for the coming months and years. I’m excited to keep participating and to see what’s in store in my free software world. If you’re interested, try out Ubuntu. It’s simple to burn and try. The risks are pretty minimal, and you’ve got a lot to gain. You’ll never have to pay for any computer software again, you’ll learn a lot, and you’ll be ensuring the future of your digital life. Just don’t forget that Linux is different and for the most part you should try to enjoy it.

(Also, this is my sort-of convoluted thoughts on Jono Bacon’s meme)

The “truth” behind Wikipedia

I’ve heard a lot talk recently about how Wikipedia is bad because “anyone can change anything they want” in an article. A friend of the family has said it, and even one of my teachers said it. I actually become very frustrated by this every time I hear it. It’s mainly because I find Wikipedia to be an incredibly powerful tool and one of the strongest pieces of evidence for the “success” of the Internet. And I’m not alone. I know a number of students and young people who feel the same way. The problem with this mistrust seems to be stemming from some adults who have lived without Wikipedia for much of their lives. I’ve been pondering this over the past few weeks, and then I came across an article today in Technology Review about this very subject.

It was an interesting read for sure, and it brings up some interesting issues about citations. I think the avid nay-sayers generally do not fully understand Wikipedia and the fact-checking that’s involved with the website. I think they generally believe that some 15 year old kid is sitting there filling what he knows about argumentum ad populum (thanks /.) or some crazy person is injecting extreme ideas into a serious article. The fact is simply that this isn’t the case. If an article is found to have something disreputable in it, it’s tagged as such (which is clearly visible to the reader). Since Wikipedia is not willing or able to judge truth from fiction, they rely on the verifiability of questionable statements. As the article notes, this can cause problems because even if a Wikipedia entry is about you, a verifiable reference must be found that can corroborate your claim. They have no way of proving that you are who you say you are, and thus they need evidence. A significant point for the scientific community is that trustworthy evidence is largely based on journal articles, university publications, and university-level textbooks before things like fact-checked sections of newspapers and magazines.

Even with citations, however, things can be wrong or misrepresented, so of course it’s always necessary to take you read on Wikipedia (or anywhere) with a grain of salt. Still, I find that Wikipedia articles tend to be more accurate and less biased than some news agencies’ work. References even act as a way to remove bias by limiting your assertions to something with verifiable proof. Then people can base judgment on the quality of the proof, not on the persuasiveness of the Wikipedia writer.

I guess the underlying point of this post is that you shouldn’t judge something unless you fully understand it. Wikipedia is highly accurate, and the proof that it’s based on is one of its strongest qualities. Question it. Critique it. But, please, don’t just dismiss it because “it can be edited by anybody.” “Anybody” still needs to have verifiable proof of their statements. Wikipedia has made a more profound impact on my life than probably anything else on the Internet. Knowledge should be free, and Wikipedia has aggregated mountains of knowledge that is both easy to access and free for the taking. Gone are the days of lugging out a 20 volume set of Encyclopaedia Britannica only to find out that your version is out-dated. Typing a simple wp Reyes Syndrome into my Firefox address bar brings up most of the latest information instantly. I have gathered immense knowledge over the past half-decade from the giant brain that is Wikipedia. I am (and will be) indebted to it forever, and I hope it never goes away. I have made a promise to myself that once I’ve graduated from school, I will make a significant financial donation to the Wikimedia Foundation and probably another one once I’ve finished residency. The world needs Wikipedia. Go read a few of its articles on something you’d like to know more about. You’re bound to catch a glimpse of how wide its berth of knowledge is. Wikipedia is not just some little tool that can be brushed aside and ignored. It’s a “Google”; it’s a game-changer. And it deserves to be. Please, don’t take it for granted.

Illegal File Sharers Beware

President Bush signed into law a new cabinet-level position whose sole responsibility will be to monitor and enforce IP violations. This mainly includes copyright violations, which is putting the Executive Branch in the pocket of the RIAA, MPAA, and more. What this means for the illegal file-sharing crowd is still up in the air, but it isn’t gonna be good. I’m glad I’m no longer part of that “bridge to nowhere.” Armed with things like the “Patriot Act”, does the government even need an excuse to snoop on each and every person’s Internet connection in the country?

This sucks. So now instead of copyright reform and mending this incredibly broken IP situation, we break it even more by reinforcing the RIAA and MPAA. To some, this may sound like a good idea. “We’re defending the creative minds in the country and their Intellectual Property, and we’re taking the ‘War on Piracy’ seriously.” The problem is that most of the people who make these arguments don’t actually understand the situation. I wish I had more time to write about this now (maybe after midterms). All I can say is that if you think our current copyright policy needs stricter enforcement to protect our artists, you’re wrong! Check out Free Culture.

On a side note, one thing I don’t like, which others have pointed out, is that Joe Biden loves this sort of thing (stricter enforcement of copyright), and he’s got pals at the RIAA and MPAA that tell him the “truth about copyright.” This is in contrast to Obama’s position. Joe needs to wake up and smell the coffee on this.

Taking Back The Power of Science

I read an article on Ars Technica [via /.]the other day that made me very worried about the future of scientific discovery in the US. With our currently failing economy, I don’t understand how we can still be making such idiotic decisions about the future of some of our most innovative industries.

The scientific research industry is fueled by governmentally funded programs like the NIH and NSF. As a taxpayer and citizen, I cannot believe the idiocy of some of statments against open access in Congress. There is a particularly poignant response on the /. article demonstrating how the greed of publishing companies in a dying industry are attempting to use their financial power and influence over government to squelch dissenters that oppose their bottom line. Let’s face it. With electronic distribution of written material available, the publishing industry as we know it is dying. There’s no way to stop it aside from them increasing their hold of copyrights and copyright law. There is no reason that publishing companies should be taking any sort of “ownership” of research that they publish. With the minuscule cost of publishing something online today, the publishers truly have almost no overhead to publish a scientific article. This was not the case 20 years ago when they had to print and ship their journals across the globe, but today they simply have to put it online. Their work is practically done for them by PubMed, the Google of biomedical science research. Sure, they need to find peer reviewers (one of the cornerstones of research), but do you think that publishing companies actually pay these reviewers? (No.) If that’s the case, why are they still charging thousands of dollars to researchers in order to publish an article? I think it’s because they used to have a reason to, and now that they don’t, it just means bigger profit margins. People don’t like it? They’ll pay the government to make them like it.

This article and the /. post made me start to wonder if an open access journal had already been started. A quick Google search showed me that it had: the Public Library of Science (PLoS). The PLoS is an open access journal published in the United States that guarantees that all of it’s material is available free of charge online. Not only that, but everything is released under a liberal Creative Commons Attribution license, the researchers retain their own copyright, and most importantly, the article is fully available on the day of publication. People don’t have to wait until tomorrow to learn about the discoveries of today. They can just dive right in. This is in stark contrast to the practices of current publishing conglomerates, who take over copyright and make non-subscribers wait a year or more (if at all) to access the material. Now, surely this is good for the publisher’s bottom-line, but you have to stop an ask yourself: Is this good for science?

Since most government-funded scientific research is done at large institutions with many faculty researchers, the scientists might not fully understand the problem. Their institutional affiliation gives them the ability to join together and pay the large fees for a subscription to the most popular journals. But some smaller institutions do not enjoy the luxury of being able to subscribe to anything. And even the largest institutions can’t subscribe to everything. There are simply too many journals. There are also many individuals, like students, and private researchers who wish to learn about what innovations our tax dollars are leading to and where these innovations might lead. Open access would likely generate a renewed interest in basic science and discovery, helping to fuel growth of the field. So should this even be an issue in today’s society? I mean scientists are generally trying to help us better understand the world we live in, the diseases we fight, and the things that affect us. The fact that a project has received a sliver of the ever dwindling government funding demonstrates that it’s a worthwhile project that will very likely yield extraordinary results for the world. Shouldn’t those results be available to anyone?

The PLoS has grown stronger since its inception, but it’s still generally small potatoes compared to the likes of Nature Publishing Group and even JACS. The PLoS now has separate journals in many of the biomedical sciences like biology, genetics, and medicine, and they even have a fast-track publication called PLoS ONE for those high priority articles.

So how is it that this journal, with its inherent ability to accelerate scientific discovery, has managed to stay beneath so many radars? The answer to that is two-fold. The scientific community does not currently seem to recognize both the underlying problem with current publishing companies and the innate ability of a publisher like PLoS to solve this problem once and for all. At the heart of this issue is the notoriety of publication. In order to be successful as a researcher, scientists want to be published in big name journals. Every one of them would love to have a publication in Nature or the NEJM. It’s extraordinarily competitive, and thus only the best of the best research makes it there. But scientists have lost sight of the fact that this notoriety is man-made. Nature is only as famous as it is because everyone wants to publish there. They get the best articles because of it. So if they want to break free of the hold that publishers have over their research, they need to set their own standards. If they want PLoS or any open access journal to be able to defeat the giants, or even get them to start listening, they have to remind the publishers that without their research, the publishers have no industry. Scientists do the work, and they should get to say what happens to it. In all likelihood, any attempt to dictate terms to a publisher is going to fail (at least at this point). But the scientific community needs to remember that they hold the power. They are the ones doing the research, and they are the ones volunteering to peer review. If the publishers won’t meet their demands, they need to meet their own demands. So listen up scientists: In this age of the Internet, you do not need them anymore. Take your research and your peer reviewers and make your own, new notoriety. Once they see you doing that, they’ll either follow suit or not. At that point, it won’t really matter.

But the reason that this has not happened and probably will not happen in near future is that scientists don’t see the dire need for open access because most of them are given most of the access they need. The sooner they realize that they need to demand open access to their work so that other scientists and the public can benefit from it, the better. Once they get past the encumbrance of permissions and red tape laid out by the publishers, they can get on with their life’s work in a much more open, collaborative environment. Otherwise, the publishing industry is going to keep tying researchers’ hands behind their backs, making it harder for them to exchange ideas, just so that they can continue to squeeze every possible dollar out of this industry. This is not good for the scientists, and it’s especially not good for science.

Fallacies in Conservative Logic

I have to say that I find this article rather appalling [Sorry, Peter]. Let’s be real here for a moment. How can anyone even consider that argument poignant? Personally, I don’t care what the reasoning was for Palin or her daughter’s decision to keep their babies. The point is that both of them were free to make their choices. The problem is (and the reason things like this repeatedly get brought up is) that Palin stands firmly that all abortions should be illegal (even in the case of rape).

“Pro-life” conservatives need to get off their high horses in thinking that all “pro-choice” people want an abortion. They don’t. They just want the ability to make the decision that’s best for them and their families and not be told what to do with their own body. The real argument of the article basically states that the “pro-choice” folks are appalled that she didn’t have an abortion, despite the fact that her child would likely have Down Syndrome. My response: Who cares whether she had him or not? My issue is with the argument being made. Despite the snarky article, I find it highly suspect that it’s the “pro-choice” crowd actually making that argument. The “pro-life” crowd, on the other hand, putting words in the “pro-choice” folks’ mouths? Now that I can believe. Plus, they can use this to shove in the faces of anyone considering an abortion. I could easily see some conservatives making this argument: “Look, she had her baby even though it is going to have Down Syndrome. Now suck it up, have your baby, and be glad yours was lucky enough to be relatively healthy”. Gimme a break, folks. You’re obviously qualified to make that decision for me because your side is “more moral.” And do you really think that outlawing abortions is going to make everything all better? Many of our patients are still going to try to get them, just by other means. Wire coat hanger anyone? Does that sound safe?

And then in the end, DrRich tries to further tweak the argument by making some sort of appalling, hyperbolic statement like “Down Syndrome babies will be a burden on the health care economy.” Please. Do you really think that people will start making decisions on whether or not to terminate a pregnancy depending on how much it will cost for health care (which most people are not even cognizant enough to think about it for themselves) or whether they “want to have” a sick baby? Don’t minimize the decision of having an abortion. It’s not one to be taken lightly, and I don’t think it is by almost anyone who makes it.

If moral conservatives want to reduce the number of abortions in this country, why not encourage better sex education instead of hiding behind their shroud of preaching abstinence and then wondering why there are so many “unwanted” pregnancies. But that’s not their bag. They’d rather just tell you not to have sex, and when you do and get pregnant, they’ll tell you how to handle it from there, too.