An opportunity to meet Web Science students and hear about their research at Web Science Research Week.
On the eve of his appearance to give evidence at the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee on Open Access in November 2013, OA “Archivangelist”, Professor Stevan Harnad spoke about his concerns following the UK government’s’ apparent u-turn on Green Open Access. Acting on the Finch Report on Open Access to scholarly articles, the government (and Research Councils UK) had accepted what Harnad described as an “astonishing recommendation”, essentially proposing to pay publishers considerably more than necessary for Open Access.
Harnad kick-started the OA debate in 1994 with the publication of his ‘Subversive Proposal’, suggesting that scholarly articles should be made freely available for all via the Web. Physicists and computer scientists had been doing this for years, he argued, and it was about time the rest of the world did the same. The benefits were obvious: academics don’t publish for profit – they do so for impact and usage, to gain uptake and application of their ideas, and the evidence shows that OA articles are used and cited more than non-OA.
Subsequent to the ‘Proposal’, the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton used ePrints to create the world’s first OA repository, and mandated OA for all of its journal articles. In 2003 the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee supported this approach, the research councils also adopted watered down Green OA policies and universities and institutions around the world began to follow suit.
However despite the growth in Open Access in recent years, students and academics still need to access most access scholarly articles via their institutions’ subscriptions to peer-reviewed journals. These annual subscriptions can amount to many hundreds of thousands of pounds, and even the most well-endowed universities (e.g. Harvard) are unable to subscribe to as many journals as they would like. There are sometimes partial workarounds to deal with this – contacting published academics directly, for example - but, Harnad asserts, it is more cost and research effective for institutions to adopt Green OA policies and make articles freely available, once they have completed the peer review process.
Although hailed as a “balanced package”, the adoption of the Finch Report’s recommendation that additional payments be made to publishers to cover the costs of ‘Gold’ OA (where publishers make articles open after an embargo period) is seen by many advocates of Green OA as a retrograde step. However the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s policy proposal which requires immediate-deposit (i.e. Green OA) as a condition for future Research Excellence Framework eligibility appears likely to be adopted. Should this happen as Harnad hopes, Finch’s shortcomings will be remedied.
KOLOLA Ltd is to sponsor the Web Science DTC’s first student impact competition. Founded in 2013 by two PhD students KOLOLA Ltd provides cloud-based impact assessment software and solutions to help organisations keep track of the success and impact of their activities.
Recording impact is often a complex and time consuming task. Richard Gomer, Co-founder and Director of KOLOLA Ltd and Web Science graduate, says that:
Recording impact is difficult for any organisation, but for an organisation like the Web Science DTC where individuals are spread across the University and working on their own research it becomes a massive headache to keep track of who’s doing what
Working with the DTC has allowed KOLOLA to streamline their cloud-based impact assessment software to create a simple but powerful analytic tool that organisations can use to quickly gain an insight on their impact activities. In essence KOLOLA helps answer the question “What have we done?”
More information on KOLOLA Ltd’s impact assessment tools can be found on their website.
KOLOLA and the KOLOLA device are registered trademarks of KOLOLA LIMITED
Following a government decision last year, the UK’s major internet service providers (ISPs) have recently installed systems to censor ‘adult’ websites by default. For those who opposed the policy, the fallout from its implementation has been bitter-sweet. Policy-makers and concerned parents were warned by experts that porn filters would not work – that they would let unsavoury content through whilst blocking child-friendly stuff, and censoring educational, political and artistic content in the process. And they were right. Child protection agencies, women’s charities, LGBT groups and even the British Library’s website became inaccessible due to the filters. As did the personal web page of Claire Perry MP who, in a delicate twist of irony, was a key advocate for the filtering scheme.
While it’s unlikely to be reversed any time soon, it’s important to recognise what’s wrong with this policy and also situate it in the broader context of the development of the web. The first thing to recognise is that this has very little to do with pornography. Speaking as a feminist, I happen to think society might be better off if there were less pornography, especially the misogynistic, violent, and exploitative kind. The easy availability of pornography to children is worrying, as is the commercialisation of sex and the sexualisation of commerce. But as we have seen, government-mandated ‘porn filters’ for ISPs are ineffective at preventing access to such material, and do little to solve any of these much more fundamental societal issues.
One might object that even if this measure is ineffective, it is also harmless, since it simply shifts the burden of action from those who currently have to install their own filter to those who would opt-out of filtering under the new system. Perhaps there’s nothing illiberal about that, because there has to be a default setting one way or the other, and whatever the setting is, people will need to opt in or out. But this thinking fails to recognise that individuals installing porn-filters on their own devices is fundamentally different to filtering by ISPs.
It gives ISPs a new role in managing the content they provide. Until now (with a few minor exceptions), ISPs have just been the providers of traffic, shipping packets of information down ‘dumb’ pipes. They are utility providers, not stewards of content. According to the ‘end-to-end’ principle, a well-regarded rule of computer networking design that gave rise to the internet as we know it, decisions about what software to run, what files to consume and send, and who to communicate with, should take place at the ‘ends’ of the network, i.e. by individual users. Neglecting this principle sets a dangerous precedent, changing key protocols and putting power over our networked communications into different hands.
In some debates it has been implied that the detractors of porn-blocking are primarily motivated by a libertarian, pro-business, anti-state perspective. Writing in the Guardian last July, Deborah Orr dismissed opposition to the filters as ‘a roar of libertarian outrage‘. Unlike us ‘libertarians’, she is happy for the state to step in and regulate the market in cases like this. But to characterise the debate as consumer-protecting state regulation versus free-market ideology is, I think, wrong in this case. It neglects the fact that ISPs porn-blocking solutions are provided by private security firms who have only their commercial interests at stake.
For precisely this reason, no one outside those firms will be allowed to inspect their lists of blocked websites or scrutinise the algorithms used to detect undesirable content. Popular internet-filter providers see their blacklists as commercial assets to be protected from rivals. Likewise, ISP’s are private enterprises who we have to trust to act responsibly with their filtering mandates. Do we really want key pieces of our information infrastructure to be operating beyond the reach of democratic scrutiny, hidden from the very citizens they are supposed to serve? Far from a case of ‘benevolent’ state versus ‘free-market’, this is a case of government handing key functions to commercial actors who operate according to their own logic.
Couching the debate about porn-filtering in terms of child protection or feminism is a smoke-screen. These are important issues, but they are not the issues we should be thinking about here. As we’ve seen from the Snowden revelations, placing key functions of the web in the hands of a few private companies is a recipe for disaster. Putting all our data in a handful of services based out of Silicon valley has given one government easy access to the lot, through the front door via official requests, and the back doors that were secretly hacked open. The porn filter policy is just another example of this worrying trend, this time facilitated by a political points-seeking government.
There is a role for the state to play in our information infrastructure; from crafting intelligent regulation, to fostering open innovation and funding digital public goods. More than that, the state should facilitate democratic scrutiny of the data collection, network filtering and algorithms that increasingly govern our lives. Handing responsibility to unaccountable private police is not the answer.
Author: Reuben Binns
Congratulations to Prof Mary Orr (Modern Languages) who has gained funding from the Ordnance Survey for a one year postdoctoral project, beginning on 13 Jan 2014. The project is entitled: ‘Enriching Ordnance Survey Content: Provenance, IP and Licencing Impacts of Data Usage from Multiple Sources’.
Mary will be directing the post-doc, Laura German, in collaboration with Dr Jenny Harding and her team at the Ordnance Survey. This arises directly from her lead supervision of Laura whilst a Web Science PhD student, and OS notice of Laura’s work.
This is an important research enterprise link with OS as among Southampton’s key local/national employers, and is the first OS knowledge partnership with Humanities which we hope will lead to more.
The University of Southampton has launched the Web Science Institute to look into the global implications of online networks.
The Web Science DTC is proud to announce that Web Science will be the subject of the University of Southampton’s first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). The course offers a taste of what studying Web Science is like, allowing students to get an idea of what a BSc degree in Web Science entails. Run in partnership with FutureLearn (Open University) the ECS’ first MOOC is a great opportunity to get into Web Science, you can sign up for the course here.
Michael Yip, who recently graduated from the Web Science DTC, has had his work featured in the Times in an article about the ‘dark net’.
The Law School is delighted to welcome Professor and Law Commissioner David Ormerod QC to discuss their current proposals and the possible future changes to the Contempt of Court Act 1981 which we could expect in light of the challenges of modern media.
It is trite to say that modern media has already transformed diverse legal fields. But this process is only at its inception in the context of the rules on contempt of court, as the challenges are now gradually creeping from the woodwork. Jurors are communicating with defendants during trial, and even researching their cases on the web beforehand, raising new and novel concerns for the right to fair trial.
This is compounded by the fact that prejudicial publications concerning defendants from many years prior are now only a few clicks away, which simultaneously raises concerns that publishers and distributors will be held strictly liable for contempt of court. The time is therefore ripe for a review of the rules relating to contempt, and the Law Commission is in the final stages of making their recommendations in this regard.
For more information please click here
Start Time: 18:00
Location: Murry Building 58, Room 1067
Consumers are demanding to know more and more about the food they eat and where it comes from. Open data is answering some of these demands by allowing people and companies to track supply chains, make better agricultural decisions and healthier food choices.
Tesco has pledged to open up its supply chain data, the G8 Open Data in Agriculture Conference explored exciting new open data based apps for farmers; so what does the future hold for food and open data?
Dr Christopher Brewster (Aston Business School) and Dr Tony Hirst (Open University) will outline their current research and share their views about what the next ten years may hold in this field. Innovative SMEs will discuss the current market climate and how that might change in the future.
More information can be found here.
Start Time: 14:00
End Time: 17:00