Thursday, September 20, 2018
  Modest GenRad proposal

Lately there's a lot of discussion about transparency and cost in academic journals. Atypically it's a real debate with two or three sides actively contending and responding to each other. Most of our "discussions" are one-sided auctions, bidding up the number of innocent victims we need to murder to accomplish a delusional non-purpose.

This article focuses on alleged secondhand smoke effects of SciHub and similar free archives. The author correctly points out that any hacking can lead to deeper hacking. He tries to extend 'can lead' into a broad accusation that the main purpose of the archives is hacking identities.

Dubious. Some of the commenters go beyond dubious, following the Official Deepstate Line. Because the hacking is ACTUALLY coming from China and Thailand and USA, it must be RUSSIAN_MEDDLING. All problems are caused by Russia.

The real problem, of course, is simpler and deeper. The whole tenure system produces a pointless self-feeding economy of status and money, with very little real output of knowledge. As I tiresomely repeat, most real knowledge is generated outside of academia.

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Since tenure is not going away, here's a modest proposal based on my own EXPERIENCE on both sides of the divide. I was involved in research for 20 years and listed as co-author of a few papers. Now I'm consuming articles, partly for my own pleasure and partly to increase my understanding of subjects I need to illustrate in courseware.

Those two PURPOSES are different types of consumption. For my own pleasure I'm not willing to pay $30 or $40 to get through a paywall, and I've found that the paid article usually doesn't go much beyond the free abstract. For courseware I need to know accurate details, so I'm willing to pay even though there's no way I can charge off the expense.

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PROPOSAL:

Separate the two purposes, following the model already established for instrumentation. You can buy a usable sound level meter for about $100. You can buy an OFFICIALLY REGISTERED sound level meter for about $3000. What do you get for 30 times the price? You don't get a meter that's 30 times better. You get OFFICIAL TRACEABLE REGISTERED calibration by GenRad, which you can include in court testimony as part of a chain of evidence.

Let's make the same distinction in published articles. If you're just learning or satisfying your curiosity, you pay a nominal fee of a few dollars. If you need to CITE this article in your OWN OFFICIAL PUBLICATION, you pay $100 or more, which buys a REGISTRATION in an official database. Citing an unregistered article causes instant rejection of your paper.

This will certainly make life easier for non-citing students, and thus ease the pressure for free hacked copies. This could lead to secondary advantages. (1) Citing will become more selective, making it easier to follow the real precedents of an article. (2) If citeable articles cost a lot more, the quality of citeable articles will tend to improve. Citers will be less willing to pay for material that doesn't advance knowledge.

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Later thought: If my instrumentation metaphor is unfamiliar, you could think of open source software. Single user gets it free, while the cost is chiefly handled by expensive commercial licenses.

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