It’s getting to the end of the year, and I’m feeling a little retrospective and I’m (anxiously) looking forward to the future. We have enjoyed a great year with Open Context (see here).

More generally, it’s obviously been a big year for all things “open.” The White House has embraced Open Access and Open Data policies, and even recognized the work of some advocates of reform, and that has been hugely exciting. It seems that the arguments for greater openness have finally led to some meaningful changes. All of these are signs of real progress.

However, I’m increasingly convinced that advocating for openness in research (or government) isn’t nearly enough. There’s been too much of an instrumentalist justification for open data an open access. Many advocates talk about how it will cut costs and speed up research and innovation. They also argue that it will make research more “reproducible” and transparent so interpretations can be better vetted by the wider community. Advocates for openness, particularly in open government, also talk about the wonderful commercial opportunities that will come from freeing research.

This last justification boils down to creating a “research commons” in order to remove impediments for (text, data) mining of that commons in order to foster entrepreneurialism and create wealth. This is pretty explicit here in this announcement from Europeana, the EU’s major open culture system (now threatened with devastating cuts). I don’t have a problem with wealth creation as an outcome of greater openness in research. Who doesn’t want more wealth? However we need to ask about wealth creation for whom and under what conditions? Will the lion’s share of the wealth created on newly freed research only go to a tiny elite class of investors? Will it simply mean a bit more profit for Google and a few other big aggregators? Will this wealth be taxed and redistributed enough to support and sustain the research commons exploited to feed it? The fact that the new OSTP embrace of Open Data in research is an unfunded mandate makes me worry about the prospect of “clear-cutting” the open data commons.

These are all very big policy issues, but they need to be asked if the Open Movement really stands for reform and not just a further expansion and entrenchment of Neoliberalism. I’m using the term “Neoliberalism” because it resonates as a convenient label for describing how and why so many things seem to suck in Academia. Exploding student debt, vanishing job security, increasing compensation for top administrators, expanding bureaucracy and committee work, corporate management methodologies (Taylorism), and intensified competition for ever-shrinking public funding all fall under the general rubric of Neoliberalism. Neoliberal universities primarily serve the needs of commerce. They need to churn out technically skilled human resources (made desperate for any work by high loads of debt) and easily monetized technical advancements.

This recent White House announcement about making universities “partner at the speed of business” could not be a clearer example of the Neoliberal mindset. It was written by Tom Kalil, one of the administration’s leading advocates for open science. The same White House that has embraced “open government,” “open science,” and “open data” has also ruthlessly fought whistle-blowers (Snowden), perpetuated ubiquitous surveillance (in conjunction with telecom and tech giants), hounded Aaron Swartz (my take here), and secretly negotiated the TPP, a far reaching expansion of intellectual property controls and punishments. All of these developments happened in a context of record corporate profits and exploding wealth inequality. And yes, I think these are all related trends.

How can something so wonderful and right as “openness” further promote Neoliberalism? After all, aren’t we the rebels blasting at the exhaust vents of Elsevier’s Death Star? But in selling openness to the heads of foundations, businesses, governments and universities, we often end up adopting the tropes of Neoliberalism. As a tactic, that’s perfectly reasonable. As a long-term strategy, I think it’s doomed.

The problem is not that the Open Movement is wrong. The problem is that the need for reform goes far deeper than simply making papers and data available under CC-By or CC-Zero. Exploitative publishing regimes are symptomatic of larger problems in the distribution of wealth and power. The concentration of wealth that warps so much of our political and economic life will inevitably warp the Open Movement toward unintended and unwanted outcomes.

Let them Eat Cake Open Data

Let’s face it. Most researchers that I know who are lucky enough to be employed are doing the work of 4 or 5 people (see also this paper by Rosalind Gil). Even some of my friends, lucky enough to have tenure or tenure-track positions, seem miserable. Maybe it’s survivor guilt, but they are stressed, distracted, and harried. Time and attention are precious and spent judiciously, usually in a manner where rewards are clear and certain. Data management plans, data sharing or collaboration on GitHub? Who has time for all that?! They don’t count for much in the academic rat-race, and so the normative reward structures in the Academy create perverse incentives for neglecting or outright hoarding of data.

Data sharing advocates talk about how data should get rewarded just like other forms of publication. Data should “count” with measurable impacts. As a data sharing advocate, much of this really does appeal to me. Making data sharing and collaboration part of the mainstream would be fantastic. If we convince universities to monitor data citation metrics, they can “incentivize” more data sharing. We can also monitor participation in social media (Twitter), version control (GitHub), etc. All of these statistics can be compiled and collated to provide an even more totalizing picture of a researcher’s contributions.

But are more metrics (even Alt-metrics) really the solution to the perverse incentives embodied by our existing metrics? The much derided “Impact Factor” started out as a way for librarians to make more informed choices about journal subscriptions (at least according to this account). In that context, the Impact Factor was relatively benign (see this history), but it then became a tool for Taylorism and the (coercive) monitoring of research outputs by university bureaucracies. That metric helps shape who gets hired and fired. And while metrics can be useful tools, the Impact Factor case shows hows metrics can be used by bureaucracies to reward and punish.

What does all of this have to do with the Open Movement?

One’s position as a subordinate in today’s power structures is partially defined by living under the microscope of workplace monitoring. Does such monitoring promote conformity? The freedom, innovation, and creativity we hope to unlock through openness requires greater toleration for risk. Real and meaningful openness means encouraging out-of-the-ordinary projects that step out of the mainstream. Here is where I’m skeptical about relying upon metrics-based incentives to share data or collaborate on GitHub.

By the time metrics get incorporated into administrative structures, the behaviors they measure aren’t really innovative any more!

Worse, as certain metrics grow in significance (meaning – they’re used in the allocation of money), entrenched constituencies build around them. Such constituencies become interested parties in promoting and perpetuating a given metric, again leading to conformity.

Metrics, even better Alt-metrics, won’t make researchers or research more creative and innovative. The crux of the problem centers A Hunger Games-style “winner take all” dynamic that pervades commerce and in the Academy. A rapidly shrinking minority has any hope of gaining job security or the time and resources needed for autonomous research. In an employment environment where one slip means complete ejection from the academy, risk-taking becomes quasi-suicidal. With employment increasingly precarious, professional pressures balloon in ways that make risk taking and going outside of established norms unthinkable. Adding more or better metrics without addressing the underlying job security issues just adds to the ways people will be ejected from the research community.

Metrics, while valuable, need to carry fewer professional consequences. In other words, researchers need freedom to experiment and fail and not make every last article, grant proposal, or tweet “count.”

Equity and Openness

“Big Data,” “Data Science,” and “Open Data” are now hot topics at universities. Investments are flowing into dedicated centers and programs to establish institutional leadership in all things related to data. I welcome the new Data Science effort at UC Berkeley to explore how to make research data professionalism fit into the academic reward systems. That sounds great! But will these new data professionals have any real autonomy in shaping how they conduct their research and build their careers? Or will they simply be part of an expanding class of harried and contingent employees- hired and fired through the whims of creative destruction fueled by the latest corporate-academic hype-cycle?

Researchers, including #AltAcs and “data professionals”, need  a large measure of freedom. Miriam Posner’s discussion about the career and autonomy limits of Alt-academic-hood help highlight these issues. Unfortunately, there’s only one area where innovation and failure seem survivable, and that’s the world of the start-up. I’ve noticed how the “Entrepreneurial Spirit” gets celebrated lots in this space. I’m guilty of basking in it myself (10 years as a quasi-independent #altAc in a nonprofit I co-founded!).

But in the current Neoliberal setting, being an entrepreneur requires a singular focus on monetizing innovation. PeerJ and Figshare are nice, since they have business models that less “evil” than Elsevier’s. But we need to stop fooling ourselves that the only institutions and programs that we can and should sustain are the ones that can turn a profit. For every PeerJ or Figshare (and these are ultimately just as dependent on continued public financing of research as any grant-driven project), we also need more innovative organizations like the Internet Archive, wholly dedicated to the public good and not the relentless pressure to commoditize everything (especially their patrons’ privacy). We need to be much more critical about the kinds of programs, organizations, and financing strategies we (as a society) can support. I raised the political economy of sustainability issue at a recent ThatCamp and hope to see more discussion.

In reality so much of the Academy’s dysfunctions are driven by our new Gilded Age’s artificial scarcity of money. With wealth concentrated in so few hands, it is very hard to finance risk taking and entreprenurialism in the scholarly community, especially to finance any form of entrepreneurialism that does not turn a profit in a year or two.

Open Access and Open Data will make so much more of a difference if we had the same kind of dynamism in the academic and nonprofit sector as we have in the for-profit start-up sector. After all, Open Access and Open Data can be key enablers to allow much broader participation in research and education. However, broader participation still needs to be financed: you cannot eat an open access publication. We cannot gloss over this key issue.

We need more diverse institutional forms so that researchers can find (or found) the kinds of organizations that best channel their passions into contributions that enrich us all. We need more diverse sources of financing (new foundations, better financed Kickstarters) to connect innovative ideas with the capital needed to see them implemented. Such institutional reforms will make life in the research community much more livable, creative, and dynamic. It would give researchers more options for diverse and varied career trajectories (for-profit or not-for-profit) suited to their interests and contributions.

Making the case to reinvest in the public good will require a long, hard slog. It will be much harder than the campaign for Open Access and Open Data because it will mean contesting Neoliberal ideologies and constituencies that are deeply entrenched in our institutions. However, the constituencies harmed by Neoliberalism, particularly the student community now burdened by over $1 trillion in debt and the middle class more generally, are much larger and very much aware that something is badly amiss. As we celebrate the impressive strides made by the Open Movement in the past year, it’s time we broaden our goals to tackle the needs for wider reform in the financing and organization of research and education.

Editing Note: fixed a few typos on Friday, Dec. 13, 2013.

Yesterday was Archaeology Day organized by the AIA. (BTW. In case you didn’t notice, despite some prophetic warnings, the world apparently did not end to ruin Archaeology Day).

It’s also Archaeology Month here in California. “Archaeology Months” are sponsored by various state historical societies and various state and federal government agencies. They help spotlight local archaeology and archaeologists, and offer a focus for organizing, reaching out to a larger community and highlighting accomplishments and challenges. The Society for California Archaeology runs an annual great poster competition that helps encapsulate some of the activities of an Archaeology Month.

Which brings us to the last alignment of the calendar that I’ll note. Next week is Open Access Week! Which brings us to a fortuitous alignment in the calendar, especially with respect to the themes long explored by this blog, namely, archaeology and open access.

I see open access (and open data) as an important aspect of making archaeology broadly relevant and a more integral part of scientific, policy, and cultural debates. Open access is a necessary precondition to making archaeology part of larger conversations. It’s also an important issue when so many of our colleagues work outside of university settings and have to live, work, and make their research contributions without access to JSTOR or subscriptions to other publishers. While there’s been lots of discussion about how “grey literature” (that is, research content that’s hard to discover and sees very limited circulation) is bad for the discipline, few in archaeology have noted that many mainstream archaeological journals are “grey literature” to people outside the academy.

Of course, most people, including most archaeologists, are outside of the academy. If we want our publicly supported (through direct funding and grants, or through regulatory mandates) research to have any positive impact to our peers inside and outside of our discipline, we need to consider access issues. At the same time, we need to consider access issues when thinking about how archaeology relates to many different communities in the larger public. From the outset, it’s clear open access is not sufficient in itself to make archaeology intelligible to the public.  It often takes lots of work to help guide non-archaeologists through often very technical archaeological findings.  But at the very least, open access to archaeological literature can make it easier for outside communities to learn, even through simple Google searches, that archaeology has something (though probably very technical) to say on many different issues and many different places.

So, I’m glad these chance calendar alignments help put some focus on these issues.

BTW: In keeping with these themes, the e-journal Internet Archaeology (an essential resource for some of the best in digital archaeology) is going fully open access this week! So fire up Zotero and go get some great papers while you can!

DDIG member Ethan Watrall (Asst. Professor of Anthropology @ MSU) sends us the following information about his upcoming Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) field school, which is part of the CHI Initiative at Michigan State University.

Excerpts quoted. For full details, please see this PDF LINK.

Site Link:<http://chi.matrix.msu.edu/fieldschool> Email:watrall@msu.edu

We are extremely happy to officially announce the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool (ANP491: Methods in Cultural Heritage Informatics). Taking place from May 31st to July 1st (2011) on the campus of Michigan State University, the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool will introduce students to the tools and techniques required to creatively apply information and computing technologies to cultural heritage materials and questions.

The Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool is a unique experience that uses the model of an archaeological fieldschool (in which students come together for a period of 5 or 6 weeks to work on an archaeological site in order to learn how to do archaeology). Instead of working on an archaeological site, however, students in the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool will come together to collaboratively work on several cultural heritage informatics projects. In the process they will learn a great deal about what it takes to build applications and digital user experiences that serve the domain of cultural heritage – skills such as programming, user experience design, media design, project management, user centered design, digital storytelling, etc. …

The Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool is open to both graduate students and undergraduates. There are no prerequisites (beyond an interest in the topic). Students from a wide variety of departments, programs, and disciplines are welcome. students are required to enroll for both sections 301 (3 credits) and 631 (3 credits) of ANP 491 (Methods in Cultural Heritage Informatics).

Admission to the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool is by application only.

To apply, please fill out the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool Application Form <http://chi.matrix.msu.edu/fieldschool/chi-fieldschool-application>. Applications are due no later than 5pm on March 14th. Students will be notified as to whether they have been accepted by March 25th.

There are many items of interest to DDIG members at the upcoming meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. The following is a list of sessions from the preliminary program, and is not meant to be comprehensive. If you would like me to add another item to the list, please comment on the blog so everybody may see it immediately.







Sebastian Heath has an interesting discussion about museum identifiers. This is part of his ongoing project to document museum and online archaeological-collections identification schemes. Sebastian referenced a discussion circulated by Martin Doerr of the Center for Cultural Informatics on Crete (and of CIDOC fame) about aligning Web identifiers in museums toward some common design standards.

For instance, the Rosetta Stone has the PRN number: YCA62958, hence the “official” URI of the Rosetta stone is: http://collection.britishmuseum.org/object/YCA62958 . This URI should never become direct address of a document.

I absolutely agree with Sebastian on his points about getting human readable pages and avoiding divisions between the semantic and the “plain web” (contra the second sentence in the quote above).

Beyond those architecture issues however, I think the politics of naming and identifying cultural heritage will be a very interesting problem for semantic web approaches. Custody over the Rosetta Stone is in some dispute. The Elgin marbles are even more contested. I’m sure that some people in Greece would have a problem with “britishmuseum.org” in the internationally recognized / official / canonical  URI(s) for the Elgin marbles. In other words, naming and identifying things can be somewhat political and that will work against attempts to harmonize. I’m sure there will always be a need for third-parties to cross-reference identifiers.

I suspect issues like this will pose big problems to attempts to rationalize identifiers. That’s part of the reason why some digital library folks favor opaque identifiers. Of course, this digital library perspective is not universally shared.

It will be interesting to see how this discussion unfolds in cultural heritage applications.

Updated (Nov. 2):

  1. Also I should note that the “Museums and the machine-processable web wiki” (a fantastic resource and community hub!!) has some excellent discussion of these issues.
  2. Sebastian continued the discussion in this post.

SAA 2010 Update!

Please note: In order to allow for participants to attend all digital-related sessions, the DDIG meeting start time has been changed to 5pm on April 15.

A nice overview of the many digital preservation project that are going on can be found in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. It focuses on often-crumbling manuscripts and texts but is still interesting for archaeologists too (thanks to Jack Sasson for the tip).

The Next Age of Discovery by A. Alter, in WSJ, May 8, 2009

A quick note to draw attention to an article in the latest issue of The Art Newspaper: “Facebook is more than a fad—and museums need to learn from it.”

A few quotes: “Social networks and blogs are the fastest growing online activities, according to a report published in March by research firm Nielsen Online. Almost 10% of all time spent on the internet …” “… a major factor in the success of social networks is that they allow people to select and share content. This has become a hobby, even considered by some to be a serious creative outlet, with web users spending time ‘curating’ their online space. Museums are well placed to appeal to this new generation of ‘curators’because they offer rich and interesting content that can be virtually ‘cut-up’ and stuck back together online in numerous different ways to reflect the individual tastes of each user. If remixing, reinterpreting and sharing interesting content is, as Nielsen suggests, the kind of engaging interaction that draws people to social networks, then museums should embrace the idea that ‘everyone is a curator’, both online and offline.” “For example, the Art Museum of Estonia has gone against convention by actively encouraging visitors to photograph its collection; the MoMA website helps users to co-create content and share these creations with friends.”

Cory Doctorow, an author and vocal advocate for digital civil liberties, recently reported on Boing-Boing that Reuters is suing George Mason University and Dan Cohen in relation to the popular Zotero citation management system. For those of you don’t know, Zotero is a free and open source pluggin for the Firefox browser. Zotero is a fantastic tool for scholars, since you can use it to automatically copy citation information from many important academic, library, and commercial collections (including JSTOR, Elsevier publications, Amazon, and many more) and build your own bibliographic database. You can also use Zotero to copy webpages and articles to maintain your own personal archive for later reference.

Obviously Zotero meets many of the same needs as the commercial Endnote system. Endnote is owned by Reuters (click here for the complaint specifics), the news wire service. According to the DLTJ blog, Reuters is suing the Zotero project for enabling users to convert from Endnote’s proprietary data style (see update) format to the non-proprietary data format preferred by Zotero. Essentially, Reuters would prefer to keep academics locked in their Endnote walled garden and are attempting to scuttle efforts at enhanced interoperability. 

If this lawsuit succeeds, this is really bad news for scholars, since it will limit their choice of tools and services. In effect, Reuters is claiming that you don’t really own the data you manage in Endnote, since they control everything that you can do with that data. I haven’t used Endnote in years (having shifted over to Zotero long ago), and I’m very glad I made that choice. Even Microsoft doesn’t make such strong claims about data in MS-Word, Excel, or Access file formats.

There may be improtant data preservation implications all of this as well. A researcher’s bibliographic database, which is often richly annotated, is an important resource. The Zotero project aims to help scholars share these databases in nonproprietary formats and this will make preservation of these important products of scholarship more likely. If such scholarship remains locked up, we run the risk of losing potentially valuable scholarly contributions.

At any rate, I want to point out that there is a silver-lining here. Obviously, nobody wants to get sued, but to my mind, the fact that Reuters is acting like this suggest that they see a threat here. To me, this means Dan Cohen and the whole Zotero team are doing an excellent job at giving the world of scholarly communication a much needed shake up. To have earned a lawsuit means that they are taken seriously, and that is a great sign of success!


Thanks to Bruce for the clarification!

I’m putting up a brief note to see if “pingback” features in the Open Context website are working, and if so, if they are useful. Here’s an example:

An arrowhead from Petra.

Would blog links to “raw” archaeological data be useful? How many excavations maintain blogs, and if they do, would back and forth linking between a weblog and a archaeological data resource like Open Context help researchers interpret their observations?

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