Aaron Swartz (User:AaronSw), an open-access activist, open-source developer, and 2006 candidate for the Wikimedia Foundation Board, is being criminally prosecuted for a variety of charges after he attempted to download a dump of all the PDFs on JSTOR, an academic paper repository containing archives from more than a thousand journals, mostly in the humanities. Swartz placed a laptop running a script, written specifically for downloading, inside a computer cabinet at MIT. After being caught attempting to take the computer out of the building at MIT, he was arrested and then charged in US Federal Court, although JSTOR have said they intend not to pursue civil litigation and have asked the US Attorney's Office to not pursue criminal charges against Swartz. He has pleaded not guilty and has been bailed on a $100,000 unsecured bond.
Swartz's indictment was widely reported in the international news media and the technology press, including the The New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, PC World, and Wired News Threatlevel. Software engineer Kevin Webb gave a sympathetic take in a post on Reuters' MediaFile, describing how many academics frequently bend copyright law with regard to scholarly publishing, and suggesting that Swartz may have been intending to do data analysis on the JSTOR collection rather than distributing the files on the Internet—a theory supported by Swartz's past work trying to determine "Who Writes Wikipedia?"
The incident occurred in a week when the Wikimedia Foundation affirmed its commitment to joining forces with open science. Jay Walsh, the Head of Communications at the Foundation, told The Signpost:
I can say that we're aware of Greg Maxwell's efforts in terms of the upload of out-of-copyright papers from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society to a peer-to-peer network.
Of course it is legal to possess and distribute free works, including works that are out of copyright, within the public domain, or available under a creative commons license. Works in the public domain should be freely available to all, and we believe that academic researchers should distribute their works under open access policies.
The Wikimedia Foundation’s mission is to spread free knowledge globally. We support Gregory Maxwell’s lawful efforts to freely distribute and share valuable scientific journal articles that are in the public domain. Our projects are built on volunteer efforts to collaboratively build the world's body of free knowledge, work that can and should be shared freely with everyone.
Drama imitates life in geopolitical stability stakes
In a new paper published in the open-access journalPLoS ONE, researchers at Heidelberg University have proposed that the level of geopolitical instability of a nation-state is positively correlated with the frequency of disputes on Wikipedia about content related to the country. Drawing from methodologies used in biological network research, the researchers compiled a Wikipedia Dispute Index, which showed the parts of the world involved most intensively in on-wiki conflicts. The index was conceived as a less complex but more immediate and comprehensive supplement to existing widely used socio-economic indices, which have been criticized for producing results that are difficult to reproduce and to compare across different time-periods. According to the researchers, the Wikipedia Dispute Index "correlates with metrics of governance, political or economic stability about as well as they correlate with each other, and though faster and simpler, it is remarkably stable over time despite constant changes in the underlying disputes."
Compiling the index was hampered by insufficient data to reliably assess the majority of countries and regions, and by their uneven coverage in Wikipedia, but the researchers expect the Index to improve as the encyclopedia expands. The greatest frequencies of disputes were found in the Middle East, the countries making up the former state of Yugoslavia, and North Korea, while articles concerning Western European and North American countries attracted the least conflict. Disputes over events and individuals of historical or current interest that are sensitive to differences of interpretation among those of varying political persuasions were found to be the main contributors to the Index.
Will the article feedback tool ruin Wikipedia?: Mat Honan at Gizmodo thinks the Article Feedback Tool "won't work" and is "ripe for abuse", echoing a frequent complaint—that users "are going to give subjects they don't agree with shitty ratings just to express disapproval, even when the stories are accurate".
The climate wiki anyone can't edit: The Guardian's Environment Blog has an article by Leo Hickman on the launch of a new wiki focused on climate change by the Heartland Institute, a US free-market think tank. ClimateWiki promises to "help everyone from high school students to scientists working in the field to quickly find the latest and most reliable information on this important topic". Hickman invited two critics of the global warming skeptics to submit material by email. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their contributions have not made it onto the site.
Wikipedia article takes centre stage: The New York Postreports that Brownsville Bred, an off-Broadway autobiographical one-woman show about growing up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, opens with a projection, on a sheet hung from a clothesline, of the text of the Wikipedia article about that New York City neighborhood, shown over video footage of the neighborhood's housing projects.
Oral Citations Project in India: The Bangalore Mirror has an article discussing the Oral Citations Project, a pilot program to look into countering systemic bias by documenting Indian society with audio and video and to test whether the current situation where printed texts are "privileged" in the citation system can be reversed. See this week's News and Notes for more information.