Open Access: A Movement, a Policy, a State of Mind

[editor's note: re-posted as our most popular column in the month of August]

by Lana Brand on August 10, 2012

“An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good. The old tradition is the willingness of scientists and scholars to publish the fruits of their research in scholarly journals without payment, for the sake of inquiry and knowledge. The new technology is the internet.”

Each time I read this my heart swells. The possibility. The hope. The sheer logic. Yes, yes, of course the internet will be the savior of scholarly communication. We shall all find the information we need to learn, to help people, to effect change. With one click, we shall access data, share ideas, find answers, solve problems. Yes, leveraging technology will remove the physical and cost constraints that print brings. We’re wide open!

Tampa Ride-through at Start of RNC

Posted on August 26, 2012
From our old friend Broseph in Tampa, comes this short video of a ride through downtown at the start of the RNC convention. Broseph will be providing exclusive coverage of the RNC as it unfolds in the Sunshine State. You can follow him on Twitter: @brosephlives - and be sure to check back here for more commentary and coverage.

Views from the ANThill: What if Everything was Free?

What if everything was free?
Photo courtesy of the Groundswell Collective
by douglas reeser on August 23, 2012
I've been thinking about the concept of "free" a good deal lately. Our recent posts on for-profit universities, Open Access (the ability to access research reports and articles for free), and internet access reflect that thinking to a certain degree. But I would like to take the idea a bit further than we have so far. If internet access is to be a human right, it needs to be free. I would argue that education - all of it - needs to be free. And the ability for anyone anywhere to access the latest research needs to be free and unhindered. All of these things are related and intertwined in that they exist in the realm of knowledge and human understanding.

What about things that we traditionally think of as goods? Products? Should these things be free? A good friend of mine just shared an article from the Wall Street Journal on the declining success of "freemium" - a strategy employed by a number of online ventures in which they offer a basic service for free, with hopes that customers will pay for premium services. Companies like Dropbox and Skype have demonstrated that the idea can work, however, others have been a bit less successful. Apparently it takes a special formula and specific criteria for such a strategy to work, especially if the end goal is to make money. But what if the end goal was different? What if everything was free?

The Veins Run North: Galeano Revisited

The lion on the cover of Open Veins, taken from a carving
of the Knat, the Lion and the Spiderweb from Aesop's Fables.
All the great lion could do was scratch himself while trying to
get the knat. But that knat got caught in a spiderweb!
Shared by douglas reeser on August 19, 2012
I first read Eduardo Galeano's "the Open Veins of Latin America" during the summer of 2011. After reading, I shared one aspect of my reaction here on Recycled Minds (which you can read here). I touched briefly on the issue of mineral extraction and how little has changed since Galeano first published the book in 1971. I finished the short piece with: "Galeano’s work is an interesting and engaging piece of scholarship that begs for an updated edition. If you are interested in an understanding of Latin American history and international relations, this is a must read." Such remains true, and what follows is not a complete update, but a poignant reflection on why Galeano's writing remains so relevant to us today, and it may be especially interesting for our readers in the US. We would like to thank George Dardess, the author of this update, for freely sharing his work.

An Ironic Updating of Eduardo Galeano's "The Open Veins of Latin America" 
by George Dardess

Uruguyan writer Eduardo Galeano's 1971 classic, The Open Veins of Latin America reentered the spotlight a couple of years ago when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gave a copy to the then newly elected Barak Obama. Whether Obama read the book isn't known, but he should have, and so should we all. Or if we've read it before, we should read it again.

For-profit Colleges and the Lost Soul of America

When will our education stop being all about the money?!
Image by douglas reeser.
by douglas reeser on August 15, 2012
Times are tough out there. The job market is tight and there don't seem to be many options for a lot of us. As a graduate student working on his PhD, I find myself in a bit of a transition. I've been in Belize, working on my research, for almost a year and a half (I'm certainly not complaining about that part), and so have been out of the job market for a while. Before this stage of my training, I was teaching at the university level, and had a paid graduate assistant position. I still relied on some student loans to get by, but at least I had work. Fast forward to the present, and I find myself broke and heading home after a very costly, yet productive research experience. Those positions I had when I left are gone, and I haven't found anything else related to my field to transition into. I briefly considered taking a position at one of the online for-profit universities, but for a number of reasons, quickly decided, "Fuck that."

It turns out that I made the right decision. The very idea of "profit" is beginning to disturb me. The flip side of profit is that it comes at someone or something else's expense. Where the university is concerned, public and non-profit universities have largely moved to a business model of operations, and the profit has not gone to students or teachers. This shift has coincided with a rise in administrators, and huge financial stresses that have rarely been seen in the world of academia. Budget cuts, department closures, and rising tuition have all been common among the newly business-modeled universities around the US. And meanwhile, student debt has sky-rocketed.

If public and non-profit universities have seemingly lost sight of their vision - which I would think would be primarily "education" - where do for-profit universities stand in this picture. Certainly they don't stand with the interests of students and teachers, unless they are also shareholders. Unlikely. These thoughts were confirmed by a new report overseen by US Senator Tom Harkin. This and a couple of other things contributed to my feeling that taking a job with a for-profit institution would be akin to selling my soul.

The Harkin Report. The New York Times (here) and Inside Higher Education (here) both reported on the findings of the study that investigated for two years the for-profit college industry. According to the NY Times, for-profit colleges are part of a $32 billion per year industry that operate based on a number of highly questionable practices. Some of the findings include:
The bulk of the for-profit colleges’ revenue, more than 80 percent in most cases, comes from taxpayers. Enrolling students, and getting their federal financial aid, is the heart of the business, and in 2010, the report found, the colleges studied had a total of 32,496 recruiters, compared with 3,512 career-services staff members. Among the 30 companies, an average of 22.4 percent of revenue went to marketing and recruiting, 19.4 percent to profits and 17.7 percent to instruction.
Their chief executive officers were paid an average of $7.3 million, although Robert S. Silberman, the chief executive of Strayer Education, made $41 million in 2009, including stock options. With the Department of Education seeking new regulations to ensure that for-profit programs provide training for “gainful employment,” the companies examined spent $8 million on lobbying in 2010, and another $8 million in the first nine months of 2011.
The report doesn't end there. Inside Higher Education noted the high drop-out rates at for-profit colleges:
The investigation found that large numbers of students at for-profits fail to earn credentials, citing a 64 percent dropout rate in associate degree programs, for example. It also links those high dropout rates to the relatively small amount of money for-profits spend on instruction. 
For-profits “devote tremendous amounts of resources to non-education related spending,” the report said, with the sector spending more revenue on both marketing and profit-sharing than on instruction.
Pretty damning stuff, and enough to keep me from even thinking about participation - even if it becomes the only teaching job I can get. Quite randomly, just before the Harkin Report was released, Recycled Minds received a series of emails from two different parties offering to write guest posts. The email thread from both parties was titled the same: "Guest Post for - Recycled Minds." Apparently they give recruiters fill-in-the-blank subject lines. The requests were pleasant enough, and we gave the first one consideration, as we knew little about the entire for-profit college industry at the time. On June 14, 2012, we received the following:
I hope this email finds you well. I only recently started reading your blog, I am a freelance writer, regularly write for Online Universities. I was wondering if you would be interested in publishing a guest post on your blog.

I could write on any topic you wish, or I can simply come up with a post that I believe would supplement your blog. I just need a link to my homepage on my anchor text in the author by-line. Thanks so much for taking the time to read this; please let me know if this is something you might be interested in.
The "writer" provided links to a number of articles that covered topics such as how to write an effective short story, the top 5 iphone aps, indie-bookstore survival, and how to sell your ebook. We decided to inquire further by responding that we could be interested, and asking about a potential article topic. Five days later, on June 19th, we received the following email:
First of all, thanks for taking the time to reply to my request.

Here's what I'm thinking. In light of all the news surrounding NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's choice to regulation the size of sodas and other sugary drinks, I'd like to write a post discussing the difference between health education and imposing regulations that dictate dietary changes. The NYC soda case brings up a lot of questions about how involved the government and other public entities should be in general health topics such as obesity, smoking, proper dieting habits, etc. My post would also explain how difficult it is to disseminate offical information about health to the general public.

How does that sound? I think the topic would fit fairly well in your blog's niche, but feel free to change and/or reject it for something else.
Hm. That sounded interesting, even if it was a topic completely unrelated to her other article examples. We like to support creativity and often explore new topics here on Recycled Minds, however the offer at the end - that we could change the topic or reject if for something else - sounded pretty desperate. In light of the source, she was likely arguing for less government regulation (although in the health arena), something close to the vest of the for-profit college industry. Apparently the "writer" would write anything as long as we published it and linked to her website. We had yet to respond when we got our second request from a different writer three days later on June 22nd:
I was wondering whether you accept guest posts for your blog or not. I am an experienced freelancer writer, and I enjoy expanding my writing abilities to cover ideas that I find interesting. 
If you are in publishing a guest post, I would like to offer you some solid content in exchange for a link to my website, Best Colleges, on my anchor text in the author by-line. I can write and research any topic you'd like covered, or else I'm confident that I can come up with something that would appeal to your readership. If published, the article would be your sole property, so you can edit it any way that wish.
This "writer" should think about cleaning up her email before sending it as an offer to write. Maybe she went to one of these online universities. Either way, her offer came with sample articles as well, and included topics like finding a green college, how to maintain your blog while away from your computer, producing popular content, and even one that questioned the need for the Department of Education (who needs educational standards when the free market has control?!). We knew we would never post an article from one of these "writers", but decided to see if they would give us any further information on their connections to the industry. On June 28th, we sent them both the following email:
Apologies for the delayed response - we've actually been talking about your interest in contributing. Interestingly, yours is the second request from an online-university website that we have received in the last couple of weeks. Before moving forward, we would be interested to know more about your relationship with the online-university website. In particular, we are curious to know if you are hired by the company to write articles and link to them?
Thank you for any information you can provide.
We probably shouldn't be surprised, but neither of the "writers" ever got back in touch with us. They didn't respond to our email or even ask again about their guest column. The lack of response however, makes it seem like we discovered a little secret of the industry - one that can not be talked about. We assume that the "writers" are being paid based on how many click-throughs they get from their columns, but really, we don't know how the scheme works. Whatever the story, it feels dishonest, and is just another sign of how far we have fallen as a nation and as a species. Today, profit comes before people, and it's a sad world for all of us.

Internet Access as Human Right

Internet access in Belize is among the slowest and most
expensive in the region. But access to the internet has been
declared a human right in a Guatemalan town not far away.
Image courtesy of Animal Ethics.
by douglas reeser on August 6, 2012
We're communicating with a craft on Mars, but I've been having internet problems here on Earth. I live in a rural part of Belize, so am probably lucky to have the service in the first place. But it costs me. I paid a $500US connection fee, and pay $65US per month (which includes rental of a wireless router). This is for 256K speed, which is really really slow - think dial-up speeds. It makes watching video almost unbearable, downloading painful, and uploading anything nearly impossible. Add to this the intermittent power outages that also take down service, and the extreme weather that keeps people at risk of surges. I'm on my 5th router in about a year, and I religiously unplug my power strip every night. Each time I've lost my router due to a storm (or something), it has taken a minimum of 2 days to get service back up and running. I have to just keep telling myself that I'm lucky to have internet service at all.

Think I'm exaggerating? Channel 7 News Belize recently published a story on a report that surveyed internet services throughout the Caribbean. Belize is among the slowest and most expensive in the region. The story reported:
First, Belize was one of only three countries still offering speeds of less than one meg; in Belize the lowest speed that you can purchase is 128k - only Dominica is lower with 64k. 
Second, the price for 256k in Belize - 51 US dollars monthly would buy you 1 Megs in Anguilla. 1 Meg is about 300% faster than 256K. 
Third, the maximum speed available in Belize is four megs - when in many other territories it is eight or nine megs. And the survey shows that in Belize, you'll pay the second most in the region, 436 US dollars for those four megs - when you can get twice that, 8 megs in the Bahamas for just 70 US dollars.
Perhaps internet speeds are something that could be argued aren't that important, and we should all be thankful just to have internet access in the first place. Well that would be great, except, I'm one of the lucky few here in southern Belize with that access. According to the 2010 Belize Census, in a district of nearly 40,000 people, less than 4000 are reported internet users, or just under 10% of the population. When 40% of the population lives in poverty, and over 17,000 people are unemployed (that's over 40%), paying over $50US for internet service is just out of the realm of possibility.

What made me write about this in the first place was another story that I read in Global Voices. Renata Avila reports that in neighboring Guatemala, the Maya village of Santiago Atitlan has declared access to the internet a human right. Village authorities are working to install town-wide wireless that will be available free of charge to everyone, locals and visitors alike. Avila reports:
The concepts of community and sharing are entrenched in the daily life of indigenous people in Guatemala. Common spaces, open doors, collaboration and sharing are the main characteristics of these communities, especially among small linguistic communities such as the Mayan Tzutuhil indigenous group in the Highlands of Guatemala. As cultures evolve and adapt to new discoveries in science and technology, indigenous cultures are embracing new technologies and adapting their use to accord with traditional principles. Such is the case with Internet access.
It's unclear how free internet access will ultimately affect the community, but it will readily facilitate people from this remote town on the shores of Lake Atitlan to more easily communicate with the rest of the world. Local youth have already begun a TV & web program that allows for discussion of local concerns like recycling and ecological issues. In such a historically poor and repressed region, having immediate access to global allies and friends may come in handy in times when others of their rights need protecting. 

Should internet access be a universal
human right?
Photo courtesy of Article-27.
A move towards such equalizing measures like the one made in Santiago Atitlan also allows us to see the situation here in Belize in a slightly different light. With prices out of the reach of so many people here, the widespread lack of internet access can be seen as a form of structural oppression. Whether deliberate or not, the inability to connect can be a liability in a world where global connections have become ubiquitous. The reporter for Channel 7 Belize asked an executive at the country's internet provider the following: 
"Has it occurred to you all that perhaps the fact that the internet being cheap or whether it is expensive and the existence of large corporations are inter-related that when you have inexpensive internet it drives economic and corporate growth and when you have expensive internet its retards that growth."
The executive replied by blaming the global recession and an ill-prepared workforce for Belize's economic problems, and basically sidestepping the question. As in most of the rest of the world, money rules the day here in Belize, and if you're poor, that's your problem. At least when it comes to luxuries like the internet. But should access to the internet be universal? Should access be a human right?

First Friday Picture Show: Mr Macaque Visits Guam

Mr. Macaque, a distant cousin to the infamous Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay, has long enjoyed frolicking about enjoying his freedom.  Born in captivity somewhere in Florida, he currently resides with his wife, Sassy, on the beautiful island of Guam.  Sassy is a doctoral candidate in anthropology, in Guam working on health-related research.  When he's not monkeying around, Mr. Macaque works for an on-island medical clinic doing medical information systems work.  In their spare time the lovely couple enjoys hiking, snorkeling, and fishing.  This is the first time Mr. Macaque has shown his photos to the public, and while he was in charge of choosing these scenic photos, Sassy, naturally, put her two cents in as well. Enjoy!

~ Sea View, Guam ~ 
Looking north on the coast, from atop a cliff that was once a Spanish fort.
Photo by Mr Macaque.
~ Bread Fruit ~
 These trees and their wonderful fruit are found all over the Pacific Islands.  Their preparation 
depends on each specific island.  Pohnpeins like to bbq them whole, while the Chuukese like to 
let them ferment in the ground until the flesh becomes the consistency of a runny cheese. 
Photo by Mr Macaque.