[PLUG-TALK] end of libraries, start of academic web?

Keith Lofstrom keithl at gate.kl-ic.com
Fri Nov 14 20:56:32 PST 2014

On Thu, Nov 13, 2014 at 11:42:40PM -0800, Russell Senior wrote:
> My wife is an academic reference librarian, which gives me unearned
> license to rant with (ungranted) proxy-authority on this.

Perhaps your wife is up for a PLUG talk?  An open discussion between
reference librarians and coders might lead to peer-to-peer tools for
disseminating academic papers, tagging them with comments and
updates as the papers spread themselves "hublessly" around the web. 

> ... libraries have increasingly transitioned from functioning as
> communal longterm archives of knowledge (which *ought* no longer
> be needed ... 

PLOS and arxiv.org and Wikipedia are great, but in the broadband age,
with multiple copies stored on multiple nodes, and public/private
keys and digital signing, who needs centralized servers anyway? 
We can use key signing and web-of-trust for reviews.  Papers with
flaws can be fixed over time, or annotated by others.

Good for new papers, maybe, but what about the archival stuff, whose
authors are dead but whose works are p0wned by Wiley and Elsevier?

Possible answer: *Developing world educational paraphrasing*.  I've
seen estimates that peer-reviewed paper production increases 2.5%
a year, and that about 1.6 million papers were produced last year.
Assuming a geometric decrease backwards in time, that is 64 million
papers (Wikipedia is 4.6 million articles and stubs). 

Assume a $35 per paper access fee, that is 2.24 billion dollars to
access all of them one time.  The papers are reordered and rewritten
and paraphrased in new English, damaging the language of some papers,
perhaps improving others, hopefully improving translatability.  This
is done by students at academic institutions worldwide, perhaps as
work study funded by relatively rich westerners.  The students
learn, they get some money for school, their professors supervise.  

Images would be "interesting".  Perhaps graphs and drawings and
diagrams can be reinterpreted transformed into numbers and
gnuplot commands, or SVG.  Most photographs can be retaken -
the tools have gotten better and cheaper.

All the old papers would be "stubs" - the beginning of a rich 
tapestry of future expansions and forks.  Oh, the arguments we
will have, the "originals" versus the "correctors" versus the

If this works the way I hope, the academic paywall shops will
go bankrupt, the community can buy their content for pennies on
the dollar, then plug it into the rich web of evolving versions.  

> </rant>

Russell - love the rant. 

Now, what can we do to transform and democratize 21st century
academic publishing, using the inventiveness of the open source
movement and a planetful of powerful web-connected computers? 
How can we transform the world's population into 7 billion
questing students - who can collaborate and translate and annotate
64 million academic papers in days, then "protect" their knowledge
forever, by spreading thousands of copies throughout the web?

Education as bittorrent?


Keith Lofstrom          keithl at keithl.com

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