Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts

Friday, January 6, 2012

Response from ACM's Scott Delman

In the comments to my last post ("Why does the ACM act against the interests of scholars?") ACM's Director of Group Publishing, Scott Delman, left a multiple-comment response. It's a response both to the views I expressed and to the views of others that I summarized. He agreed to have his comments posted as a post here; I'll leave my own thoughts for a separate post or the comments.

Ok, here's the other side of this, which I feel compelled to throw out there after reading Rob's post and a few of the related comments.

Like most things in life, things are not always as black and white as some would lead us to believe. In this case, I think there is a basic misunderstanding of the ACM and the AAP (which is incidentally an organization that does a great deal of good work on behalf of both publishers and the scientific community).

Let's start with the ACM....which is a non-profit organization founded in 1947 by members of the computing community with the primary mission of advancing the field of computing. The Association is organized as a 501(c)3 corporation with daily operations run by a small staff of approximately 75 individuals who ultimately take their direction from a volunteer leadership of hundreds of dedicated scientists, scholars, educators, practitioners, and students who graciously donate a significant amount of their time to direct the Association forward in a way that benefits the computing community as a whole. It is important to point this out, because there is an implication in the original post that the ACM is an entity that is in some way acting against the scholarly community, when in fact the ACM is an organization that is literally run by the scholarly community.

Keeping this in mind, we are either left with a situation in which the scholarly community is either acting against itself by the policies it sets and supports (such as ACM's copyright policy and ACM's subscription model) or something else is going on here. Since it doesn't seem logical or even practical that the top-decision makers at ACM (such as the ACM Publications Board of Volunteers or the ACM Executive Committee of Volunteers, who oversee all major strategic decisions of the Association) would support policies that actively work against the interests of their own community, I think it is more reasonable to suggest that what is going on here is that the issues are not as cut and dry or as simplified as some advocates of "immediate and unrestricted" open access to all scholarly literature would lead us to believe.

Whenever I discuss the topic of open access with colleagues and friends, I think it is useful to try to imagine what the world would look like if the US Federal Government or other Foreign Governments decided to pass legislation that required all scholarly material that is in some way supported by public funding be made instantly open and freely available to the world without any paywalls of any sort. Well, as ACM's publisher and someone who is intimately aware of the tangible costs of publishing and disseminating high quality scholarly literature, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that the end result of this sort of legislation would be catastrophic for the scientific community and scholarly publishers alike. If in a blink of an eye, organizations like ACM were required to simply open up our archive of articles (the ACM DL) without the ability to recoup the costs of publishing and disseminating those articles (or all of the technically sophisticated services built around that content inside the ACM DL), ACM would cease to be the sustainable organization it is today and would eventually shutter its doors at some point in the future, instead of continuing to be the sustainable force for good that it is today. If this sounds like PR-dribble, I apologize, but I really do believe this!

What's more, the senior volunteers who are most familiar with ACM's activities and who sit on ACM's various committees and boards recognize and understand the tradeoffs that are necessary to maintain a sustainable organization. Over the past few years, I have participated in meetings with our Publications Board, which is the governing body for publications related strategy and decisions at ACM, where the issues of open access and alternative business models have been repeatedly discussed, and when all of the facts have been taken into consideration it has been overwhelmingly clear to these members of the community that ACM's approach is in the best longterm interests of the scholarly community. In fact, the ACM Author-Izer service, which is written about in the above post, was conceptualized at one of these meetings as the result of an in-depth discussion about how to balance the legitimate need of our authors to make the "archival versions" of their articles openly available while at the same time preserving the revenue stream that ACM relies heavily on to do its good work. ACM's pre-existing copyright policy already addressed the issue of posting "accepted versions" of an author's work, but ACM's volunteers decided that it was even more beneficial for the community if the "archival versions" could be made available from the author's site using the "Author-Izer" perpetual link. In general, while Author-Izer is still relatively new, the initial responses have been extremely positive and there is widespread recognition (including Rob's above) that this is a step in the right direction....

Let me briefly address the "opposing views" raised in Rob's post. First, in an instance where an author graduates, moves, or retires, it is always possible for the initial link to be replaced by a more up-to-date link. The ability to manage the URL that hosts the link is in the hands of the author, so I don't see a significant issue here and at the very least the effort on behalf of the author is no greater (and perhaps significantly less) than it would be to move their vitae or "pre-published" articles to a new website. What's more, ACM has simplified this process for authors and eliminated the confusion that is caused by having "multiple versions" of articles available on multiple websites by creating a centralized place (their ACM Author's Page, which includes all of their ACM and non-ACM publications) from which authors can update their Author-Izer links. By hosting the archival version of the article on a single and "sustainable" site, we strongly believe this is a better solution for the community.

In relation to argument from Russell O'Connor, I reject the plausibility or even the possibility that the ACM might "go evil" for the reasons I've outlined above. Since ACM ultimately carries out the well thought out wishes of the community itself since the decision makers are the very members of the community who are impacted by those decisions, it is just not possible for such a scenario to occur. Bankrupt is another story, since it is always impossible to predict how an organization's finances will be managed in the future, even though for the record it is exactly the kind of decision making I've mentioned above that currently keeps the ACM is a very strong position. Nevertheless, contingencies are in place for this unlikely scenario, as it relates to ACM's publications and all articles in the ACM Digital Library. Several years ago, ACM established partnerships with two very well established organizations (CLOCKSS & Portico) to ensure that ACM's publications would be preserved and made available to the scientific community (at no cost) in the unlikely event that ACM ceased to exist. [Rob's note: here's a press release about that.] Both organizations take different approaches to longterm digital preservation, but both are non-profits that exist for the sole purpose of maintaining a longterm perpetual archive for the scholarly community and nearly all major scientific publishers participate in one or both of these initiatives. ACM participates in both to provide an even higher level of redundancy than most other publishers. So, it is not clear what would happen to Author-Izer in the event of this doom-day scenario, but what is for certain is that ACM's archive would be made available to the scholarly community in any event.

Lastly, it is worth noting that the AAP is one of the publishing industries' primary advocates and they do an enormous amount of good work. Rather than deriding this organization that supports and protects the interests of over 300 well established publishers, including ACM, I would suggest that we focus on the spirit of what the Research Works Act represents, which is to limit the ability of the federal government to mandate decisions that would almost certainly have a longterm catastrophic impact on an industry that partners with and supports (and in our case is one and the same) the scientific community.

Respectfully,

Scott Delman
Director of Group Publishing
Assoc. Computing Machinery

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why does the ACM act against the interests of scholars?

[Updated Jan 6, Jan 7] Some stuff has been happening! I'm delighted by two developments. First, ACM's Director of Group Publishing, Scott Delman, wrote a series of comments that is now one big post: Response from ACM's Scott Delman. Second, I've observed that many other people came to the same conclusion I did - that it's time for our professional organizations to leave the Association of American Publishers. The reason I brought up ACM Author-izer was to argue that Author-izer makes sense only insofar as the CS community trusts their professional organization; I remain of the view that membership in the AAP is incompatible with this trust. Here's Cameron Neylon saying that a bit more forcefully, and here's John Dupuis, who is also compiling a list of all the things related to RWA. (Did I mention the AAP also supports SOPA? Yep, awesome.)


I've got two logic posts queued up in the To Do list. But, dear the internet, we need to talk about the ACM. TL;DR is bold and italics at the bottom.

My friend Glenn Willen tweeted something about the Research Works Act last night. [Update: you can read the very short bill here] Basically, it would (among other things) require that the government can't demand that publishers of federally-funded research make their research available to the public. You should really read the press release; it just a wonderful example of the "dripping in PR" genre of literature.

This is not shocking. Awful legislation gets introduced all the time with names ("Research Works Act") that do the opposite of what their title suggests (preventing research from working and acting, wildly attempting to maintain an ultimately unsustainable status quo). Frankly, I expect publishers to behave this way, and I expect there to be the usual variety of opinions about it. But then I ran through the members of the Association of American Publishers, the group which is cheering this legislation that the (presumably) they wrote, hoping against hope. I was unsurprised but a bit sickened by what I saw: the Association for Computing Machinery is a member of the AAP.

I like the ACM, I am proud of my membership in the ACM and ACM SIGPLAN, the Special Interest Group on Programming Languages. I personally think that the ACM's republication policies have been pretty reasonable during the time I've inhabited this academic world. I'm also proud of my involvement with ACM through their student magazine, XRDS. I write profiles of fascinating people, all of which are available on my personal webpage, for free, through the ACM Author-izer service.

Let's talk about that Author-izer

When I publish anything through the ACM, they own the copyright. This is totally fine-by-me for things I write for XRDS (when I worked for the Daily Princetonian in college they owned copyright on my work for them as well). In my mind, it's a little more complicated when I publish stuff I wrote in an ACM conference proceedings. I want to make sure people have access to that research-ey material - my reputation and career opportunities depend on people finding, reading, and liking my work, but in ACM's Digital Library it's behind a "paywall," accessible only to ACM members and people on university networks. The ACM (unlike IEEE) provides a couple of different-sized hoops that you can jump through to provide free access to your work from your personal home page; Author-izer is the newest of these.

On a technical level, ACM Author-izer lets you, the author of a work that the ACM now has copyright to, bless a particular URL on the internet (presumably your personal home page). The ACM then gives you a special link to their Digital Library - if you're coming from the blessed URL to the special link, you get access to the research. It sounds a little goofy but it works for me in practice and I'm cautiously pleased with it. (Here's Andrew Appel talking about Author-izer if you'd like a concurring opinion.)

But there's another view that Author-izer is a step backwards - because moving a web page (upon graduation or retirement) breaks the functionality of Author-izer links, ACM gets, in the long run, more exclusive content than if people were posting semi-definitive versions of papers on their web page. This is not a crazy concern, but I feel like lots of universities archive alumni's pages in-place, so I also don't feel too worried about it.

There's another argument I've read (UPDATE: from Russell O’Connor, I'd forgotten the link but Joshua Dunfeld reminded me in the comments). It's plausible, more insidious, and more long-term. The ACM might "go evil" in some way, sure, but even positing that the ACM is and will remain reasonably virtuous, what if the ACM goes bankrupt? In the bankruptcy proceedings, some copyright trolls get the rights to everything in the digital library, immediately shut down Author-izer, and start wreaking havoc on academia (threatening lawsuits and demanding money who posted ACM-published works to their webpage) because they're copyright trolls and that's how they roll. A lot of people are violating the letter of their agreements when they post work to their web pages - you're not allowed to post the ACM's PDF, and in fact my reading of the agreement is that you have to change the ACM copyright notice in your version of the paper to a specific other thing; most people don't do this. Of course the ACM-provided LaTeX class doesn't support this, so you have to go diddling around with .cls flies to produce a PDF that looks like this - see the lower-left-hand corner of the first page. Because people are less likely to jump (correctly) through the "author's version" hoop, instead relying on Author-izer, in this hypothetical narrative the ACM's policies have, indeed, worked against the interests of ACM's members.

What does this have to do with the "Research Works Act" breaking research?

My view of Author-izer is that it requires a high level of trust: trust that the ACM will continue supporting authors, and that we'll be able to continue supporting the ACM (since if we don't or can't support the ACM, it will go bankrupt and be taken over by copyright trolls). I can overlook little things where the ACM is not acting in the interest of its members (why doesn't the standard .cls make it easy to make an authors version?) because the world isn't perfect.

Furthermore, with experiments like Author-izer, I believe that ACM has demonstrated that it's trying to do the right thing, as opposed to IEEE, which doesn't give authors hoops to jump through to legally post their work to their webpages. (You should read IEEE's hilariously awful responses to Matt Blaze on this issue. Blaze, I should add, sees much less difference between ACM and IEEE than I do.)

However, the "Research Works Act" makes it clear that ACM's membership in the Association of American Publishers is an egregious and unacceptable instance of working against the interest of scholars and ACM members. We should be thinking about how to demand that our professional organization, the Association for Computing Machinery, do two things: 1) withdraw from the Association of American Publishers 2) take the clear position that the so-called "Research Works Act" is an unacceptable piece of legislation that is not supported by the computer science community.

We should do this even though (I suspect) the primary target of this ridiculous act is medical science. (At the present time, the NIH admirably puts a higher priority on open dissemination of research than the NSF.)


P.S. added January 7: The title of this post is intentionally re-asking the question Blaze asks in his aforementioned post, "Why do IEEE and ACM act against the interests of scholars?" I am focusing on the ACM simply because I care more about the ACM. The IEEE is also a member organization of the AAP.