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Since the beginning of 2017, over 60 large German universities and other research institutions lack access to journals published by scientific publishing giant Elsevier. Paradoxically, this escalation in the conflict between research institutions and Elsevier is actually a good thing. To a certain degree, the battle puts to test a great thought experiment provided by James Heathers last year. In his post he applied The Garbage Strike Test to the contemporary scientific publishing system:

What happens [when garbagemen just stop doing their job]? Almost immediately, massive stinking middens of rancid trash build up. Streets became partially inaccessible. Rats run rampant. Cities marinate in their own furious stink. Rocks are thrown at strike-breakers and scabs. Mayors call meetings.

In the end, garbagemen win in such struggles because they are (a) truly necessary, (b) on the right side of public opinion, and (c) something whose absence horrifies people utterly. If you apply this scenario to large academic publishers, assuming that they “suddenly refused anyone any access to any of their copyrighted materials at 9am tomorrow morning ”, the outcome would differ substantially: Read the rest of this entry »

About a week ago I blogged about misleading information on Creative Commons licenses provided by one of the leading scientific publishing houses in the course of a textbook project I am involved in. In the closing paragraph, I wrote that “we plan to insist on including the respective figures in the volume”. After doing so, we have now received another table with “permission queries” from the publisher with even more disappointing misinformation. The query with regard to the photo of the Rana Plaza Collapse in full:

Although creative commons states that you can reproduce work commercially, it states that you can only do so by retaining the creative commons rights (aka no copyright) on the reproduction which would prohibit us from placing a copyright on the book. We also have no proof of who took the photograph which makes it too risky to include. We need to remove this photograph

Again, this is misleading on many different levels. First of all, “creative commons rights (aka no copyright)” is not just misleading but simply wrong. Creative Commons does not mean “no copyright”, it means “some rights reserved”. Actually, Creative Commons is entirely based and dependent on copyright; only someone who has the copyright of a work is able to (re-)license it under a Creative Commons license.

Read the rest of this entry »

Alex Counts is the President and CEO of Grameen Foundation and a biographer of Muhammad Yunus, the Grameen Bank founder. Given his position in the large network of Grameen, he holds sway in the microfinance world and beyond. So when he publishes an attack on independent research on his blog, I take to represent a reasonably broad antiscience sentiment in the microfinance industry.

In his article, the head of Grameen Foundation laments the emergence of “a new generation of researchers” rising to “debunk the myth of microfinance being an effective tool to fight poverty” (I consider myself part of this generation, but I’m sure Counts doesn’t mean me). He writes about a “conflict” between researchers and practitioners, questions whether practitioners are to blame for not having brought researchers into the fold, says researchers have supported sensationalist reporting against microfinance, and claims they have not tried to contribute (enough) to poverty alleviation. Then he delves into an elogy for Tim Ogden, head of the Financial Access Initiative at NYU. The overall message – research results which don’t support microfinance should be disregarded; the title-giving Haiti cue is a bit of a red herring – is akin to a call to sticking one’s head in the sand when threatened.

The ostrich, unlike the microfinance CEO, is falsely believed to stick its head in the sand when it feels threatened.

Image: Bob Jagendorf/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0.

I’m writing this to respond to Counts’ piece and his core request “that we get beyond debates about “whether microfinance works” to more fruitful and action-oriented dialogues about “how it can work better”.” The following is my small defense of academia. Read the rest of this entry »

In the realm of transnational copyright regulation several struggles are fought in parallel: Stylized and simplified, these are Free/Open Source Software movement vs. the proprietary software industry, the free culture movement around Creative Commons vs. the established music and film industry, and, of course, there is the industry-spanning battle against “pirates”, sometimes even literally and in court (see Wikipedia on “The Pirate Bay trial”). For a long time the publishing industry in general and the field of scientific publishing in particular  seemed to be the only copyright field without open and severe conflict. While the former prevents both piracy and growth of the e-book market with strict digital rights management (see “The Kindle Controversy: No Right to be a Reader?”), in the latter Open Access initiatives for free and open availability of scientific publications – for example by the European Research Council (PDF-statement) or by the “Alliance of German Science Organisations” (English Version of its founding document), which includes the Max Planck Society and the German Research Foundation (DFG) – did not raise substantial public opposition.

At least for Germany, this description is yesterday’s news. A series of articles in German newspapers during the last weeks criticizing “expropriation” of authors by a sinister coalition of “Open Access” zealots and Google culminated in a petition called “Heidelberger Appell” (English Version). This petition was not only signed by numerous renowned researchers, publishers and authors but also inspired an immediate thunderstorm of reactions including a joint statement by the “Alliance of German Science Organisations” (for an extensive list of reactions in German see; a concise overview of the genesis of the whole uproar is provided by Matthias Spielkamp at perlentaucher, quite readable in Google Englisch – now available in English at

Without reproducing these extensive discussions here, I would like to mention just three reasons why I think the “Heidelberger Appell” misses the point: Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
February 2017
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All texts on governance across borders are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany License.