Lessons from the Demise of PubMed Central Canada

Some interesting things are going on in Canadian publishing these days.

As a publishing market, Canada consists primarily of smaller publishers who are highly collaborative, with budgets that are capped locally in a number of ways by central government grant awards and budgets. As with other markets, science and medical publishers have more commercial options than humanities and social sciences publishers -- that is, the publishers who thrive are able to generate business outside of Canada. Consequently, many of them have commercial arrangements with larger US, UK, and EU publishers which help keep the lights on and their businesses moving ahead.

Given its relatively small size, the Canadian publishing market has been the source of a disproportionate amount of news the past year or two, from legal battles over the scope of "fair dealing" (i.e., fair use) for copyrighted materials to the challenge OMICS has posed by locating a major office in Canada.

Now we have the announcement that PubMed Central (PMC) Canada will be closing in February 2018. The last manuscripts are being accepted today (Friday, January 5, 2018). Two reasons are given for the decision to shutter the service:

  • Approximately only 4% of author manuscripts arising from Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR)-funded research have been deposited in PMC Canada by researchers since the system was created
  • To continue to operate, PMC Canada would require a number of technical upgrades to meet Government of Canada web and security standards. However, the time and resources to upgrade the system are prohibitive.

About 2,900 manuscripts have been deposited on PMC Canada since 2009, when the service launched. These manuscripts will continue to be available through PMC and PMC Europe. This isn't much of a change, it turns out -- the way PMC Canada worked, manuscripts were deposited with PMC (US) and then mirrored to PMC Canada. As infrastructure, PMC Canada was always a bit redundant.

Lack of compliance from researchers has been a long-standing problem for repositories. For PMC, publishers have provided the solution, depositing final manuscripts or finished papers on behalf of their authors. The importance of contributions from publishers to the success of PMC came to light recently in a few venues. The first was when Patti Brennan, the NLM Director, tweeted celebrating the one-billionth article retrieval from PMC. As Brennan notes in her blog post celebrating the landmark:

Current articles follow one of two paths to get into PMC: they are deposited either by the journal publishers or by the authors themselves.
The first path delivers the lion’s share of articles to PMC. Over 2,400 journals have signed agreements to deposit directly to PMC the final published versions of some or all of their articles.

SPARC's Heather Joseph retweeted and amplified Brennan's tweet, ignoring the contribution publishers have made to PMC:

joseph tweet.png

Joseph's "thank you's" go exclusively to the NLM and NIH. She does not add @STMAssoc or @AmericanPublish or @ScholarlyPub or anything similar to indicate the work done by the 2,400 publishers whose staffs reliably deposit, check, flag, and fix PMC deposits on a daily basis. This blindness to the amount of subsidization publishers provide to ensure PMC has papers and functions well is critical to the illusion that PMC is running on government funding, when in reality the government funding supporting PMC is mainly about handling author manuscripts and, more importantly, is just the tip of the iceberg of overall cost PMC demands of the ecosystem.

This blindness to the amount of subsidization publishers provide to ensure PMC has papers and functions well is critical to the illusion that PMC is running on government funding

I saw evidence of the amount of work publishers put into PMC when I had my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests going with the NLM and NIH. One snowy evening, I received two large boxes holding thousand of pages of production manifests between PMC and its publishers. These manifests revealed in excruciating detail the amount of community work it takes for PMC to exist, and that this work is largely done gratis by publishers. These pages represented thousands of email exchanges with publishers large and small about production issues, technical issues, bibliographic issues, and so forth, all drawing on publisher staff time, systems, and processes, at no charge to the US government or PMC. These publishers came from all over the world, with the likes of Elsevier and Taylor & Francis standing out as non-US publishers actively supporting this "national" treasure.

Marie McVeigh, now at Clarivate, responded to Joseph's tweet along these same lines:

mcveigh tweet.png

PMC is largely subsidized and enabled by publishers from around the world. It only works because of these subsidies. PMC Canada failed to some degree because relying on authors to deposit manuscripts was unworkable, leading to a dismal 4% rate of compliance. It seems that only when professional publishers are doing the heavy lifting does the system work. This is something to keep in mind the next time you use PMC and think it's a great free reference tool funded by the US government. It is there through in-kind contributions from publishers large and small.

Acknowledging the contributions of publishers to PMC and similar industry initiatives recognizes the economic aspects to some services we take for granted. PMC is free because publishers pay to support it, with non-monetary but very real work and expenses. Larger publishers could likely eliminate some expenses without the workload involved in supporting PMC. Smaller publishers might find more time to do interesting new things without the constant burden of depositing manuscripts for authors. It's naïve to think that there is no cost to this support. Just because the costs are hidden doesn't mean they don't exist.

Just because the costs are hidden doesn't mean they don't exist.

The second issue cited by PMC Canada for its closure is the pending expense of upgrading its technical infrastructure, just 8 years after launch. This speaks to the hidden costs of technology, something I've written about extensively before. Not only do systems require constant care and feeding, but upgrades are inevitable. The upgrades to PMC Canada may have been made more urgent by events emanating from the 2014 hacking of Canada's National Research Council (NRC). A presentation evaluating the damage of these attacks set the costs in "the hundreds of millions of dollars," and also showed that hacking of NRC continued to occur from that point forward. In 2015, PMC Canada itself was taken down for a period in the wake of the initial cyber-intrusion.

One can only imagine that with Sci-Hub and its hacktivists probing for weaknesses in government computer systems, any exposed flank would draw scrutiny. (Note that Sci-Hub itself has definitely increased the costs of technology provision in our space, and hackers create secondary costs for security and intrusion remediation.) The upgrades may or may not have been related to increasing system security, but given the history here, it wouldn't be surprising. The fact that PMC Canada was a redundant system with a very low participation rate likely made the decision easier.

The demise of PMC Canada is a cautionary tale about introducing redundant services that provide little additional value and create unforeseen risks.

"The Last Jedi" That Should Have Been

"The Last Jedi" is a terrible movie -- it is a big finger in the eye to every Star Wars fan, and to the franchise overall, poking fun at the stories, the characters, and the mythos that have been sustaining the franchise and its fans for 40 years. From literally throwing icons away to sloppy writing to poor pacing and plotting, the film is an illogical, uninspiring mess. Worse, it is a missed opportunity, squandering one of the great cliffhangers in movie history -- Luke receiving his lightsabre from Rey on a desolate, windswept island, his face contorted by emotion.

Here is the movie I would have written from that starting point. It's a first draft.

Open on Luke and Rey, his cyborg hand carefully gathering his father's and his old Jedi weapon in its grasp. Emotions resolve slowly into eyes locking with Rey's as he realizes that the Force, the power that unites all living things, has awoken, and is calling to him through this young woman and the gift she has delivered. It is now time for him to rally yet again. He and Rey speak, and he senses her power with the Force. His face as he turns away and inward makes it clear that he will reluctantly train her. He ensconces her in a hut and brings her some rations, as the sunlight fades. He tells her that training begins tomorrow, and that it will not be easy.

Meanwhile, Captain Phasma learns that Finn survived. She seeks (and gains) permission from Hux to pursue him. She takes a small squad out to where her spies said Finn was last seen, a planet where Maz Kanata was visiting to get supplies to rebuild her enterprise, Finn traveling with her as he recovered.

Kylo Ren is summoned by Supreme Leader Snoke, who mocks him for losing to Rey, an untrained girl, and who urges him to abandon his mask so that his scar, his source of shame, is on full display, a reminder of his weakness. Rather than becoming angry and lashing out, Ren leaves Snoke and calmly decides to defiantly don his mask. He now wears it in the presence of Snoke at all times.

Luke trains Rey. He learns to appreciate her natural gifts with the Force. Cool stuff happens.

Phasma and her squad quickly locate Finn, leading to a distress call from Maz Kanata to General Leia, who dispatches Poe and a squadron to help Maz and Finn escape. There is a skirmish, and Finn, Maz, and Poe and his squadron escape, but they have now revealed they are close by. Phasma alerts Hux that the Rebels are in the area, and can be located and destroyed.

Hux consults with Snoke, who wishes to destroy "the Skywalker girl and her Rebel scum" himself, and decides to lead the pursuit and attack. He does not include Kylo Ren in the decision, which proves to be a mistake, as Ren learns of the pursuit of his mother (Leia), angering him as he has his own mixed issues with the Skywalker clan. He stews beneath his mask, his emotions in turmoil. But he bides his time, showing new patience and menace as he matures. Snoke does not suspect, and even notes that Ren's mind is "strangely obscured these many days."

We return to Luke's island, to find Rey making rapid progress in her training, with Chewy and R2 impressed. R2 replays the training scene from Luke's early days when Luke was stung in the butt by a training droid, and there is a lot of warmth and humor in the group, a hope and optimism Luke has not felt in years. 

Rey finally gets Luke to reveal why he is a hermit on the island. It turns out that he retreated from the universe after Kylo Ren's betrayal to see if removing the weight of his light side of the Force would diminish the power of the Dark side -- a sacrifice to if not balance the Force, to at least make it less volatile so it caused less damage. After Ben's deception and attack at the Jedi training facility, Luke rejoined his wife, who was in hiding, and they fled to the island, leaving everything else of value behind. His wife died a few years later, heartbroken. With Rey telling him about Starkiller base, the First Order, and Ren, Luke sees his hopes were an illusion, and perhaps even selfish. When Rey mentions and describes Snoke, Luke's eyes harden, and he rises with renewed vigor, saying, "Then it was not finished."

Phasma and her squad lead Snoke and the First Order fleet to the rebels. Leia and Poe have retreated to their base on the salt planet. Luke communes with Leia, telling her he is coming. She has greater confidence in their chances, and this comes through in vague but unmistakable ways as the Rebels dig in. Finn has recovered fully, and is eager to confront Phasma again if it comes to that. Maz Kanata is given permission to flee before the battle begins in earnest. She barely makes it out, using a secret exit from the large bunker the Rebels are using as a fortress. She agrees to contact the Rebellion to send reinforcements.

On the other side of the galaxy, Rey and Luke and Chewie leave the island in the Falcon, and jump to lightspeed, on their way to engage the First Order and defend Leia. Luke has a faraway, fatalistic look in his eyes.

The Falcon drops out of lightspeed to find the First Order on the other side of the planet. They are undetected. Using a secure channel, Rey is able to talk with Finn, to let him know they are nearby. Finn mentions that there is a secret way into the base. Rey says they are not going to land on the planet, but rather board the First Order ships in orbit. She says Luke Skywalker is with her, and he has a plan.

The Rebels engage with First Order ground troops while Chewie steers the Falcon through the magnetosphere of the planet to surprise the flagship. He is able to come out beneath the ship, delivering Luke and Rey via escape pod into a vent that Luke uses his Force powers to open. Rey and Luke are now aboard the flagship. 

Kylo Ren senses the presence of his old master. Snoke is oddly blind to the presence of the Jedi master. Rey can sense Ren, but only in the vague Jedi way (as if sniffing prey). She and Luke share a knowing glance, but it turns out they were each sensing something different. Luke was sensing Snoke, and it becomes clear through an edit that they each have someone else in mind. Luke is after Snoke, Rey is seeking Kylo Ren.

On the planet, Phasma is leading the ground assault. Small Rebel ships designed to weaponize the planet's salty surface, blind the walkers and troops by dragging and flinging salt into the machinery and eyes of the First Order assault, are allowing the Rebels to take down a large portion of the invaders. Phasma is thrown free of a walker taken down by these small ships, and joins the First Order infantry to form a side assault meant to penetrate the Rebel's bunker from the side.

Rey and Luke wend their way through the flagship, using Jedi tricks to elude Stormtroopers. At one point, Rey motions down one corridor, and whispers, "He's down here." Luke looks at her with deadly earnest, and replies, "No, he's not. The one I seek lies ahead." Rey realizes they are on separate missions, and who he is after, and looks at him with shock, connected with his mind through the training. "He killed your father." Luke pauses. "I thought my father killed him, but I was wrong." Rey's eyes go wide. "Snoke?" Luke hisses, "Snoke. Palpatine. The Emperor. He has had many names. He's the twisted wreckage of a twisted soul. And he must be vanquished." Luke takes off, leaving Rey to consider what she just learned. She stares into the abyss for a moment, pulls herself together, and goes off after Ren. "I have a problem of my own to deal with."

Phasma and her troops make it into the Rebel bunker just as Finn sees the glint of Phasma's armor in the sunlight as he circles his speeder as he completes an attack. He radios to Leia to warn her. The Rebel troops scramble inside the bunker. Finn steers his ship to return to the bunker, as Poe urges him to stay on the attack. Exasperated, Poe gives up and redoubles his efforts to lead the small ship attack as Finn seeks Phasma.

Luke makes his way into Snoke's red chamber, the evil chuckle of Snoke greeting him as the red armored guards snap their weapons to attention. "We meet again, young Skywalker," Snoke wheezes. "It has been so long. Only now, I have Solo's son at my side." Luke stands calmly before Snoke. "Where is he, then?" Snoke frowns. "Perhaps Ben is not the ally you believe him to be," Luke says. "And I am now the elder Skywalker, not the callow youth you once knew. Whatever your plan, this will not go the way you think it will." Snoke cackles. "We shall see, Skywalker. We shall see." The guards begin to attack Luke, who uses Force pushes, his lightsabre, and his skills to begin to handle them with ease. Snoke surveys the scene, looks increasingly uncertain, and begins to retreat.

Rey and Ren are clearly seeking each other. They finally encounter one another in a dark, deserted corridor, their lightsabres springing to life in a way reminiscent of the Darth Vader/Obi-Wan duel in the first film. Ren's mask is off. They do not engage in a duel. "Luke is here," Rey tell Ren. "I know," he replies. "And he is going to help me gain more power again, I believe." "What do you mean?" Rey asks. "The time has come for me to prove my worthiness," Ren says. "Today is not our day, but it is mine. Ours will come. I suggest you rescue your new master while I do what I must." There is a pause of silence as some unspoken knowledge passes between the two. "Now!" Ren yells, and the two run off in separate directions, sabres lit.

Finn makes it back inside the Rebel stronghold, only to find it largely deserted, with only a few groaning survivors on the ground and the sound of a battle coming from deeper in the installation. He runs toward the sound, and rounding a corner, confronts Phasma, who is mopping up while her troops continue to pursue the Rebels. Leia lies concealed, wounded, in the shadows of a nook near Finn. "FN-2187. I was hoping to find you, you traitor. Today, your defection comes to an end," Phasma gloats, snapping her lightblade to activate its cutter beam. Leia steals a glance at Finn, and gives a weak smile and nod. Finn isn't clear what it means, but doesn't care. He picks up an abandoned lightblade, and engages Phasma. Suddenly, Phasma stumbles, grasping her throat in distress. Finn glances back where Leia was. She is standing, arm extended, and clearly causing Phasma's distress. Finn rears back and cuts Phasma down. Leia's arm drops, and she collapses on the ground.

Rey joins Luke in Snoke's chambers. Snoke is nowhere to be seen, and Luke is dealing with the last two guards. Rey takes one out, as Luke finishes off the other. Just then, a squadron of Stormtroopers seals them off from escape. Luke and Rey share a glance, both shrug, and turn to face the squadron, their lightsabres deflecting blaster rounds with ease as they move toward the exit.

Kylo Ren walks down a corridor, confidently. He dons his mask, his sabre still lit. He presses a hidden latch in a wall panel, and emerges into a secret chamber. Snoke is there, in a healing device. "My young apprentice," Snoke says, sensing his vulnerability. "I was hoping you'd come. Skywalker is here. His powers have increased. I will need your help to defeat him. Let us join forces once more and show him the power of the Dark Side." Kylo Ren breathes in the following silence. "The Dark Side's power is great. I feel it. It flows through me. But you cannot know my thoughts. Clearly, the Dark Side has abandoned you. But it has not abandoned me!" Ren says, attacking Snoke with his lightsabre. Snoke's lightning defense is feeble and easily resisted by Kylo Ren, who presses through it to drive his lightsabre through Snoke's chest, his mask pressing against Snoke's dying, twisted face.

Luke and Rey step over the last Stormtroopers, their armor still smoking, and begin to make their way to escape. Luke radios Chewie to come get them. As they round a corner, Ren steps forward, a smear of blood on the chrome of his mask, his lightsabre thrumming. Luke looks at Rey in alarm. "I have seen such unbridled power before. It didn't scare me enough then. I learned from my mistake. It doesn't scare me now." Luke lights his sabre, and turns toward Kylo Ren. "Ben, you killed my friend and your father. That is not acceptable behavior." Luke and Ren engage. Rey yells, "No!"

Finn carries General Leia to the medical bay. The troops who were fleeing have returned, and Poe radios to indicate that they are suffering losses and need help, as the First Order has sent reinforcements. The troops rush into the trenches and return to the land cannons, and the battle resumes.

Luke and Ren continue to fight, in what looks to be a stalemate. Rey joins Luke, and they begin to make progress against Kylo Ren. But he uses a trick move -- turning off his sabre, rushing Luke, tossing the sabre over Luke, sliding beneath Luke's swinging sabre, catching his own, turning it on, and striking a blow to Luke's back -- and gains the advantage. Luke is wounded, but not fatally, and Rey has to take the lead in the duel. She and Ren get into close quarters, and Rey tells him, "You have had your day today. You are now Supreme. I suggest you leave now, or you may not live long enough to enjoy it." Ren feels the power coming off Rey, blinks and flinches, pushes her away, drops his guard, and backs away. "We are more similar than you know," he says. "And we are not finished. This is not over." Kylo Ren backs around a corner and disappears. Luke looks up in distress. "Don't let him leave! He will do more harm than you know." Rey looks at him kindly. "Not if I can help it. But right now, we have to catch our ride out of here." She helps Luke up, and they hobble toward the vent where they came in. Before they leave, Luke uses his Force powers to release a set of mines in a nearby munitions locker, and the explosions begin to decimate the flagship. Alarms sound as Luke and Rey tumble down the ventilation shaft with fire at their backs. The Falcon swoops in just as they emerge, and they dangle from the lip of the port and drop into the Falcon as it departs.

Back on the planet, the First Order reinforcements are making headway. The battle is not going well. Suddenly, the Falcon swoops in, Rey manning the guns, and picking off targets at will. Poe is revitalized, and executes some trademark runs of his own. A Rebel commander shouts that Rebellion reinforcements are  on the way. The tide turns one last time, and the First Order troops are repelled. 

On board the First Order flagship, which is shaking from the explosions below, Hux is summoned before Kylo Ren, who is now in Snoke's seat as the Supreme Leader. "My lord, the invasion of the planet does not go well, and we must abandon ship. The Rebels are sending reinforcements. What should we do?" Kylo Ren removes his mask, and glares at Hux. "We will leave. Prepare the escape ships. We are fighting the war of the past. I have another plan, another way forward. One that will succeed. Prepare to leave. The next time we encounter the Rebels, they won't have a chance." The First Order fleet pulls away from the flagship as escape ships race away from the burning hulk, which explodes in a glorious display of destruction.

On the planet, Luke and Leia are side-by-side in the Rebel base's medical bay. They look at one another, and give brief smiles. "Ben is not coming back," Luke says after their smiles fade. "I know," Leia confirms. "He was lost to us a long time ago. But what he has become, that is what we must deal with. He is not finished. But he does not know your last secret." Luke shifts in his bed and grimaces in pain. "He senses it. And that may be our greatest advantage." The camera pulls back to show Rey leaning against the medical bay door, watching the exchange.

Roll credits.


History Isn't Very Instructive

With plenty of disruption across economic and political systems thanks to populism and its totalitarian supporters in the former Soviet Union, people who once thought we had democracy in the bag are feeling lost. More often than not, they will retreat into a fog of "well, if you look across history . . ." and then make relatively feeble comparisons from schoolbook historical glosses to today's predicaments.

These aren't very instructive. We know and have a lot more now than we did even 20 years ago, must less 200 years ago. We know germ theory, have vaccination, air travel, high-speed worldwide communications, satellites, radar, sonar, lidar, and microwave ovens (even, reportedly, some that take pictures as part of a deep state surveillance program). Historical lessons as far as motivations and human foibles may be instructive, but the context is completely different. We don't have polio and small pox. We don't have double-digit infant mortality.

Our problems and challenges are new and different, so our solutions have to be new and different. We are actually more tolerant of one another at a human level than we are politically or economically, studies have shown. Over the past 20 years, we've become more tolerant of interracial relationships, gay marriage, gays in the military, and people with mental or physical handicaps. We're much more chill about how we live our lives individually than we were in 1990.

Yet, we are more judgmental about political views or economic ability. The political intolerance seems to emanate from a media space that drives divisiveness and alienation. The economic Darwinism is more puzzling -- it's as if the feeling of social isolation and alienation has made people more miserly and protective, less generous and considerate, because they feel like they're on thin ice within a society that appears more willing to marginalize its own citizens.

These are new times, with few historical precedents. People are still alive who were born before commercial aviation was commonplace, much less taken for granted. There are people who still remember the polio epidemics. We've changed perhaps too quickly to realize that a new game requires a new playbook. Oddly, what the US electorate advanced is a team reading from a playbook that is truly historical, making them ahistorical -- they are living outside of history as we know it and as it has happened. We need to wake up to what today is, and move forward from here.

The Bear and the Fox -- A Modern Parable

Once upon a time, there was a small, old fox who fancied himself young and big. This may have been because his elder fox protected him from the harder lessons of the forest, or because the younger fox was given a big den and easy food at a young age. Nobody knows for certain. But the small, old fox grew up both spoiled and insecure, but also foolish and vain.

There was also a wise old bear in the forest, one who had once roamed the territories fearlessly, but who lately had become a relic of his old self. The wise old bear in the forest knew about the small, old fox and his vanity and insecurity. He kept this knowledge to himself, for the wise old bear knew many things about the forest, the most important of which was that you never knew when knowing something might matter.

The wise old bear was not the relic he seemed. Recently, something had stirred in the old bones, and he was once again marking his territory and venturing out. But, over the years, the forest had changed, and he could not make it his own unless he changed it back to be more like the forest of old.

Then, one year, the small, old fox entered a race to see who was the swiftest animal in the forest. The fox had tried running the race before, but the other animals had always been faster or bigger than the fox. But this year, sensing a weaker field, many small animals wanted to run, and there was only one big animal scheduled to run the race. The fox sensed it might be his year after all.

The big animal was different -- a female, rare in this race -- and another fox, but an arctic fox, which made her all the more different. She was tough, but austere. While younger than the small, old fox, the arctic fox seemed older somehow. The forest creatures were used to the small, old fox, but the arctic fox seemed aloof and remote. They thought she could win for she had run many races and always won, but the prospect didn't fill them with the same enthusiasm as the current champion's two wins had in the past. They looked at the arctic fox with detachment.

The day of the race came. The small, old fox quickly outpaced the small animals, who were easily kicked aside or scared away with a growl from the sharp-toothed and vain old fox.

The arctic fox took an early lead, and it was a big one. She seemed destined to win.

But then, the old bear started to work his tricks. He didn't like the arctic fox. She had embarrassed him in years past, and also she scared him because she was truly smart and wily, while the small, old fox was vain and easily fooled. The old bear knew which fox he wanted to win the race.

Before the race, the bear had enlisted the help of other forest creatures, and even creatures from outside the forest, to thrown sticks and stones at the arctic fox as the finish line approached. Why there were so many sticks and stones littered along the racecourse was never a question that entered their mind. They didn't know the bear had asked his friend, the ermine, to distribute them beforehand. The bear provided them, the ermine set them along the course.

The crowd saw the sticks and stones being thrown, and soon began to think that the only reason sticks and stones would be thrown at the arctic fox was if the arctic fox had done something wrong. They didn't know what, but just having the sticks and stones thrown was evidence enough for some. They, too, began to boo and harass the arctic fox.

The small, old fox was gaining as the arctic fox was pelted with the sticks and stones -- the bruises, the tripping, the distraction all slowed her down.

Bolstered, the small, old fox spoke to the crowd, but his words were so strange and his breathing so labored that they began to worry about his mind and heart. He slowed down, out of breath, and the arctic fox sped ahead.

Then, a very strange thing happened -- one of current champion's coterie, who swore to have no effect on the race, began to jeer the arctic fox, as well. He even found some sticks and stones nearby and threw them at the arctic fox. This caught the attention of the crowd, for this animal was viewed as a friend of the current champion. Again, the mere fact that he threw sticks and stones made the crowd wonder about why so many animals were against the arctic fox.

The arctic fox had slowed by this time to enjoy the final yards to the finish line while avoiding the last sticks and stones, but she stumbled upon hearing the jeers from the champion's compatriot. By this time, the small, old fox, rallied by the betrayal coming from the champion's camp, found one more burst of speed, and appeared to win the race. Yet, in one more oddity, the arctic fox was shown later to be the fastest, but the small, old fox won on points awarded by the judges of the race.

In the heat of battle, everyone had forgotten about the wise old bear, who was now far away from the spectacle and having a hearty laugh. His ploy had worked, and now the champion was a small, old fox who was easily fooled and only concerned with his image. The wise old bear immediately sent a flattering message to the small, old fox, while plotting his next moves. He would have to be careful now. But, being wise, he was prepared.

The wise, old bear did not trust just flattery and foolishness to keep the small, old fox in line. He knew it would take more. So, while everyone had been throwing sticks and stones at the arctic fox, the wise old bear had been saving up some sticks and stones of his own, the kind that would scare the small, old fox the most. They were ones taken from around the big fox den the elder fox had left for his offspring, and they held secrets and special meaning the small, old fox would fear.

And so, when the small, old fox was awarded the champion's medal, the wise old bear knew that the medal being slipped around the neck of the small, old fox was really his medal. He had won the race, and the championship was his victory.

The Irony of Gold

Investing in gold is stated by some as a "safe haven" approach in dire economic times, as gold supposedly retains its value in bad times, and perhaps gains value while other financial instruments decline.

However, there is an irony to this idea of "the value of gold" which often escapes proponents of this investment strategy.

To understand this irony, you first have to understand that gold itself only has value because we believe it does. It is a commodity, within a commodity marketplace. Therefore, it has value because I believe you believe it does, which is what makes value-based trading possible. If you didn't believe gold had value, you wouldn't want it. Only because we agree does gold have value.

We often express this value in terms of a local currency. In the US, this means expressing the price of gold in US dollars. The thinking is that gold will be worth more US dollars in bad times. This makes gold a counter-currency -- if the US dollar loses value, gold gains value relative to the dollar. You can get more dollars for each ounce of gold in bad times.

Because the value of gold is expressed in dollars, which themselves have value for the same reason -- because you and I agree they do. If one of us stops believing this, the dollar becomes valueless to our exchange. 

Therefore, your faith in gold is based on your faith in the US dollar. If the US dollar loses its value entirely, gold is worth very little, if anything. Or its value will be stated in entirely alien terms. It's only in a very limited set of circumstances that gold is a good investment -- as a way of hedgingagainst the US dollar or whatever local currency you have. 

Aluminum used to be the most prized metal on the planet. Napoleon's most cherished eating utensils were made of aluminum, and preserved for us at state dinners of the highest order. But when our abilities to mine and refine aluminum made this metal commonplace, its value dropped precipitously. It is now so cheap that we wrap leftovers in it. Like gold, its value is based on scarcity, and measured by a fiat currency.

The valuations of both gold and dollars are based on a shared belief. They interact, but neither is any more "real" than the other. As a metal, gold has some nice properties, but it's of limited utility. This is why separating currencies from a gold standard and into fiat currencies has worked so well. There was no inherent dependency. The relationship was imaginary, and the separation only shows how fanciful our belief in the value of gold was. 

The irony of gold is that its value is imaginary value is measured relative to another thing of imaginary value. But as long as we agree, we're all set.

Government Is Not a Business

We're seeing some strange things these days, some of which seem to emanate from confusion about the role of government compared to the role of a business. 

Among other things, government is supposed to enact laws to ensure a safe, fair, and free society; collect tax revenues to get things done collectively that we can't do individually; deal with international affairs and diplomacy; and adjudicate national and international disputes and treaties. Governments are political entities..

A business is supposed to take a seed of capital and attempt to grow it into a mighty oak capable of spawning new trees, while providing shelter and shade to its workers and partners.

Businesses are economic entities governed by political entities. There is interaction, but that's the general relationship.

The stunning Brexit vote was based to some extent on arguments that portrayed the government as a business -- for example, the now-famous-worldwide "£350 million per week" argument, as if the UK government were a business flushing capital down the drain recklessly. Not only is the figure inflated, but the value is not included. It may turn out that for the benefits derived, the UK may need to spend far more. But the spending is beside the point. The political importance of the contributions to the EU are clearly far more important than the money, as the aftermath has shown. 

In the US, the student loan scandal -- in which the government earns a profit off student loan interest -- shows this conceptual mistake in all its glory. Running the government as a business has led our politicians to make a decision to exploit its citizens, not through a tax (the government's proper way of raising money) but through the banking system. State lotteries are another business-like way of levying regressive taxes under the guise of business, turning storefronts into de facto tax collectors.

Candidate Trump also reflects this confusion. A businessman with no experience in civil service, very little experience in politics (and most of it apparently not having left a mark), and no military experience is doing well in the run up to the election. His demagoguery aside, he is running as a businessman. This shows that the confusion between government and business has been sufficiently smudged as to be meaningless to a wide swath of voters. 

It's odd particularly because businesses have historically been much more volatile than governments. They take more risks, and often lose. But perhaps they've also been much better at escaping accountability. When the US automakers needed to be bailed out after the banks needed to be bailed out, the US government was the steady hand on the rudder of the economy -- the politicians provided the firebreak that kept the whole house from burning to the ground. Yet, sane, steady political leadership is vulnerable to an insurgency from a businessman candidate of such questionable acumen and judgement that he is regularly regarded as a con man.

Governments are not businesses. Running them as businesses leaves a political gap, and certain important political work undone. Let businesses be businesses, and please, governments, get back to governing.

Brexit, Risk, and the Governance Problem

Again and again when you talk with non-profit leaders and employees, the problem of governance arises. While there are certainly incompetent, malicious, and corrupt boards, the main problem seems to center more around boards who are risk-averse and unwilling to take chances -- not realizing that there is no risk-free move available, as taking no obvious risk is still a risk.

"If the rate of change outside an organization exceeds the rate of change inside an organization, the end is near."

This famous Jack Welch quote misses the mark in one way -- there can be differential rates of change within the same organization. For non-profits, which are famous for having silos and many moving parts that move at different rates, governance often moves either the slowest or the most unpredictably. This creates friction, jerkiness, or breakdowns.

Brexit exhibits some of these traits, with the metropolitan centers of the UK moving more rapidly than the rural areas, changing faster, becoming more European -- with the breakdown occurring when the playing field was leveled through referendum. However, even calling for a referendum shows how out-of-touch and arrogant the PM and others had become.

The unpredictability of governance is often an underlying problem in nations and organizations.

In our world, some non-profits have presidents who rotate in on an annual basis, bringing with them initiatives that divert staff and resources, slowing and warping the organization. Others have board terms that are too short or too long. Some see activist boards micromanaging, which only causes strain and often bad decisions.

One innovative solution worth trying would be to have the board indicate to management where they would like the organization to be in three years, in general terms, and then step back, attending only to the most basic duties possible -- signing off on the audit, for instance. Three years hence, I would bet most organizations and boards would have a happy meeting to toast the success -- while the board would have to ask itself hard questions about what value it truly adds.

As the UK grapples with the Brexit outcome, perhaps this approach could work with both Parliament and the UK population in general -- simply state that in 5-10 years, it would be best for the UK to be more inclusive, more prosperous, and more influential. Then it will become clear that Brexit is not the path toward these future traits.

Money and Unity

Money is known technically as "fungible" -- that is, it can be exchanged for nearly anything. For instance, a few hundred years ago, prostitutes could exchange money for indulgences, essentially using sex to buy salvation. A criminal can use money gained by theft to pay for food for his or her child.

Not all transfers are this extreme, but as human inventions go, money is one of the most remarkable. As Yuval Noah Harari writes in his excellent book, "Sapiens":

For thousands of years, philosophers, thinkers, and prophets have besmirched money and called it the root of all evil. Be that as it may, money is also the apogee of human tolerance. Money is more open-minded than language, state laws, cultural codes, religious beliefs, and social habits. Money is the only trust system created by humans that can bridge almost any cultural gap, and that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, race, age, or sexual orientation. Thanks to money, even people who don't know each other and don't trust each other can nevertheless cooperate effectively.

Debt is one expression of money. In recent times, debt has been demonized as unhealthy and worrisome. And, like all things, at a certain intensity or level, this is so. But at a modest or manageable level, it can be beneficial. Because it's money, debt aligns the interests of people who might otherwise not cooperate. With the musical "Hamilton" bringing the founder of the US banking system to the fore, it's worth remembering that one of the major steps in unifying the states was to make every state and every citizen responsible for a common federal debt. Not only did this allow the US to borrow at a much higher level than any state or individual could have alone, leading to the rapid emergence of a viable nation, but it aligned the interests of the states in a way no pledge or oath could have.

Trust is the fundamental reason that slip of printed paper in your pocket has value. We believe it to be so, and it is. There is no other reason. Currently, ninety percent of money is intangible, existing only in computers. But more importantly, even in its tangible form, its value is created in the same way as computerized money -- by agreement. If we all agree that a currency of a former Eurozone country has no value, it has no value.

This trust system is remarkable on many levels, but it also has a special two-step aspect to it -- it's not that you trust money, but you trust that the other person trusts money, which the other person also assumes, closing the trust loop.

Even events like the hacking of the SWIFT system supporting international banking do little to break this trust system. We distrust the computers and people using them -- everything points to a social engineering exploit here -- but not money. In fact, the millions stolen from the hack only reinforces the trust in money.

But Sci-Hub and its ilk break our trust in money. Suddenly, rather than a fluid economic system that pays for the work done in the past and for work upcoming, publishers, editors, and professionals supporting book and journal sales can no longer trust that other people will assume their work will be worth anything. While not a breach of trust in money per se, it is a breach of trust in value and a clear disdain for money. The Sci-Hub sympathizers don't believe that an economic transaction -- any economic transaction, even one that provides content for a few cents to users -- is defensible when it comes to whatever content or websites they hack.

The damage to the trust system of basic economic value in academic and scholarly publishing may be the most pernicious aspect of the Sci-Hub flap. Again and again, the expenses publishers incur -- billions of dollars per year -- to manage peer-review, pay editors, pay staff, pay vendors, pay for digital platforms, pay to support archives, and so forth, are pointed at as somehow illegitimate or unworthy of support.

At the same time, Sci-Hub itself has had to raise money to support its stolen cache of content, because of course it has computer, systems, bandwidth, and staff costs.

As I've written before, Sci-Hub is a dead end. It makes no economic contribution, and has no economic future. But it represents a fundamental threat to a major human achievement -- the ability through money to transform one thing into another. Sci-Hub represents the end of human alchemy. It represents economic death.

In our imaginings of the future, we often envision a world without money. Maybe that will come to pass somehow. But as long as we need to efficiently transform one thing into another through the exchange of common tokens of agreed upon but abstract value, and as long as we seek unity of economic purpose in a way that allows for personal diversity and choice, money in some form will be part of our culture. Those who try to undercut this reality are working against "the apogee of human tolerance."

Pragmatism in an Age of Ideology

We no longer live in a time in which ideologies are inherently distrusted. From identity politics to economic ideologies, it seems almost ignorant today to not have a badge of ideology of some sort. We also live in a media landscape in which labels travel well and are a strange source of unity amidst fragmentation. This same media landscape -- virtual, removed, asynchronous -- insulates purveyors of labels from the downsides of stereotyping and pigeonholing. This is a change worth contemplating.

A recent article in the New Yorker does an excellent job portraying some messiness around this trend at Oberlin College in Ohio. By encouraging diversity via labels so heavily, Oberlin has many "n of 1" situations, where a particular student feels she or he must represent all the gender, racial, cultural, or socioeconomic labels they possess, even to the point of undermining the university's role of resolving differences and moving them toward a level of common educational achievement. Instead of diversity being resolved, differences have become something to embellish and emphasize. From custom degrees to protests and outrage, it's a can of worms that's not easily closed.

Peace and prosperity may have something to do with this. Nathan Heller, the author of the piece, quotes Alexis de Tocqueville in an especially compelling section of the article:

Tocqueville thought [the French Revolution occurring in a time of prosperity] wasn’t a coincidence. “Evils which are patiently endured when they seem inevitable, become intolerable when once the idea of escape from them is suggested,” he wrote. His claim helped give rise to the idea of the revolution of rising expectations: an observation that radical movements appear not when expectations are low but when they’re high, and vulnerable to disappointment.

This is an interesting tangent to our own world of ideologically-driven discontents, especially as these relate to public access, open access, free article sharing, and piracy. 

Expectations around the Internet were very high initially when it came to information businesses, with this best represented in the rallying cry, "Information wants to be free." The expectation which formed was one of unfettered access, and this soon came to mean unpaid access. Over the past 15 years, there has been a protracted campaign to find a way to make this come to pass. When the most viable solution (Gold OA) combined with embargoed Green OA for papers from particular government or philanthropic funders proved unsatisfactory to some, a more dramatic and illegal approach was created in Sci-Hub and implicit or explicit support of illegal piracy.

Ideologies can lead to an inability to cede ground in order to reach pragmatic solutions. In the case of Oberlin's identity politics, adding diversity has driven a lack of tolerance among the diverse -- they feel that unless their worldview is completely honored and respected, they have been done a disservice by the college and society in general. Some loud voices are unwilling or unable to accept that diversity and compromise can co-exist. They also find themselves trapped by their own identity politics. As one student activist says:

As a person who plans on returning to my community, I don't want to assimilate into middle-class values. I'm going home, back to the 'hood of Chicago, to be exactly who I was before I came to Oberlin.

The fragmentation of experience and identification is clear -- there is nothing larger defining this person's world than her own differences, which she clings to in a cycle of self-absorption. And within self-absorption, pragmatism -- which requires balancing a number of competing and addressable factors -- is out of reach.

Building a better scientific and academic publishing world includes many possible pragmatic improvements and changes -- semantic engines, better editorial practices, more peer-review discipline, greater use of statisticians, tighter controls on study design, more insights into conflicts of interest, more refined interactions with the media, and more use of mixed media to explain findings. 

Yet, ideologies about access, now taken by some to an extreme with Sci-Hub, are drawing us away from pragmatic advances. Just as ideologies in American politics have distracted us from building better infrastructure, dealing with childhood poverty, and dealing with wage stagnation, ideologies in publishing are now causing some of the largest and best-funded to move from being content businesses to being technology businesses. while others depart certain markets too inflamed by ideology to be commercially viable.

About six years ago, there was a period of months during which many noticed a shift -- the excitement about the possibilities for online content dissipated, replaced with the notion that content was no longer viable except as a commodity. That trend has cemented itself, driven mainly by an ideology, not by pragmatism. 

In this ideology, content becomes a commodity -- undifferentiated, with volume-based pricing. This leaves little to no room for content pragmatists to flourish and grow. So they start looking for greener pastures with less ideological pollution.

What Sci-Hub represents is an ideology gone too far. It is so anti-pragmatic that it serves as an existential threat, and requires legal intervention. Even then, some ideologues argue that our laws themselves are invalid or wrong.

Pragmatism acknowledges constraints and boundaries. The problem with ideologies is that they know no bounds.

Questioning the Sci-Hub Data

Recently, more Sci-Hub IP data were shared (in a highly processed form) and discussed, and like the results in an article in Science, the results are cloudy at best.

Bastian Greshake received results of Sci-Hub matching its IPs associated with downloads with a public (and somewhat outdated) database of institutional IPs. The results suggest less than 8% of the downloads come from academic institutions.

The IP set used as a check against Sci-Hub's data is itself problematic. IP ranges change quite frequently, so a five-year-old set of publicly available IPs is likely a weak data set to use. It's akin to checking a lineup of NFL players against rosters from five years ago -- with the average NFL career running 3.3 years, you'd expect a low rate of matches. The career of an institutional IP address may be much shorter.

But there remains a more compelling explanation about why these data are flawed. When you combine this latest set of analyses with the Science maps of data nodes, the two findings start to suggest that Sci-Hub does not have actual IPs of downloads in their system, but rather "last user packet" IPs, which would obscure the location of users and substitute exchange nodes, or Internet exchange points. Publishers I've spoken with, who have done their own local analyses and spoken with their own IT experts, also believe this to be true.

So, once again, we are left with little idea of who is actually using Sci-Hub. The new data and new analysis only suggest weaknesses in Sci-Hub's usage data and in its ability to track originating requests, while pointing out a willingness to over-interpret these data. Greshake claims that these data demonstrate that:

". . . we can answer John Bohannon’s question on Who’s downloading pirated papers? with a resounding Academics do for sure!."

I disagree. We might have to accept that the data generated by Sci-Hub are too imprecise to use for interpretation at that level. The data seem to be imprecise or inaccurate (or both). But one set of facts remains clear -- Sci-Hub is a pirate that exploits taxpayers and everyday citizens by stifling growth and leaching away taxpayer-funded research's direct paybacks; Sci-Hub deceived academic institutions to divulge usernames and passwords that could make them vulnerable to hackers; and Sci-Hub leads nowhere.

The data about who is using it are of questionable quality and importance. What Sci-Hub represents changes not one whit either way.

Reflexive Responses and NatGeo

When the news broke last year about Rupert Murdoch's Fox Corp. gobbling up most of the assets of the National Geographic Society, including its vaunted publishing operations, the repulsion was reflexive by many in the academic and publishing community. This was not unreasonable, as the NatGeo cable network had dabbled in reality television that certainly deviated from the brand promise of the "gold box." How wicked could tuna be? How many hoarders or diggers could they profile?

A recent article in BusinessWeek sheds a brighter light on the story leading up to NatGeo's sale of its core assets to Fox, as well as what has transpired since. While much of the concern revolved around Rupert Murdoch's well-deserved reputation as a hard-nosed businessman and global warming skeptic, it turns out the NatGeo sale and subsequent management is falling to his son, James, who is both an ardent environmental and science champion. He and his wife run Quadrivium, which is devoted to science education and causes like preserving European fisheries and other natural resources.

He is quoted by a co-worker as saying:

I wish we could do more stories about why people don't believe science.

To reverse NatGeo's declining fortunes, James Murdoch has brought in a ton of media talent and begun to implement an HBO-like programming vision. As the leader of this effort, Courteney Monroe, who worked at HBO for years, described it:

Our strategy before was a volume play. It was a lot of low-cost hours. Quantity over quality. We're inverting that.

An example of this is an upcoming miniseries, Mars, which is being produced by Ron Howard, Michael Rosenberg, and Brian Grazer. 

In addition, management has taken a notoriously dysfunctional and siloed organization and put them on the same page. This means that for their upcoming miniseries on the Red Planet, the magazine will coordinate a package on Mars, the Web team will develop content to match, and the book division will publish a Mars book. In years prior, pulling off this kind of coordinated splash was not feasible.

This is not what people reflexively expected last year -- a Murdoch-led overhaul emphasizing quality and led by a family member devoted to science and environmental issues. 

Let's hope it works.

Sharing or Stagnating?

Sci-Hub continues to make waves, but it really represents a trend that's hidden in the modern economy -- some call it the "sharing economy." Sci-Hub merely represents an extreme -- sharing for no payment.

A recent article in BusinessWeek about Larry Summers' economic alarms shined a spotlight on a deeper problem within the sharing economy, even that part generating revenues for its participants. In this case, we're talking about familiar entities such as Airbnb, Uber, and Spotify. These and other of their ilk are weak economic participants for two reasons -- they use existing infrastructure (homes and apartments, cars, and wi-fi/music/devices), and they mainly work through software. As Peter Coy writes in BusinessWeek:

. . . the new economy is asset-lite: Companies such as Uber and Airbnb prosper by exploiting assets (cars and houses) that already exist. Software, which is pure information and doesn't require the construction of factories, accounts for a bigger share of the economy.

The snowball effect is that executives see little upside for big capital-spending projects (new factories, for instance), and keep their money in financial instruments and out of the working economy, further slowing growth. 

In music, the slowdown is made clear with studies showing that artists make more from vinyl sales than from digital sales. Software also allows for a lot of content leakage, and companies like Google/YouTube aren't motivated to stop this, as another story illustrates

In scholarly publishing, the value contribution in the UK alone is worth £4.4 billion. This includes jobs for parents, careers for professionals, and payments to academic institutions. Sci-Hub puts these contributions at risk, but on a scale which goes far beyond the UK alone. 

Making new things is vital to economic growth. By siphoning off revenues from artists, from publishers, from industries, from hotels, and so forth, we are taking the "low price" economy another notch down on our 40-year-long race to the bottom, a race that has left wages flat for 30 years in the US and led to the painful (and continuing) saga of 2007/08. As Summers argues compellingly, the only way out of this trap is to make major investments in new infrastructure -- roads, bridges, buildings, transportation systems -- while changing laws to counteract the consolidation of wealth among relatively few firms and individuals.

The recent news that one-third of cash in the US is held by five tech companies (Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Oracle, and Cisco) underscores the stagnation of technology -- there is not enough to make for these companies to reinvest at high levels, so they sit on their cash. This is confirmed by their desire to stash nearly $1.2 trillion in earnings overseas, to avoid paying taxes -- if there were investments in research and development that would generate profits sufficient to justify repatriating the money, they'd do it.

That's the ultimate irony of the sharing economy -- we're sharing what our forebears put in place (homes, infrastructure, the auto industry, the music industry) using software from companies who take our money, then hide it away. No wonder we're stagnating -- the sharing stops there.

You Get What You Pay For

Schoolchildren in Canada are missing out on new, up-to-date textbooks because of changes in its copyright laws. These changes, designed to help school budgets in the short-term, are driving some venerable textbook publishers out of the business. In one case, Oxford University Press -- which has had a Canadian office and produced core textbooks for the Canadian market since 1904 -- has decided it no longer makes financial sense for it to continue.

The changes in copyright law created a loophole that has allowed organizations in Canada to stop paying into Access Copyright, the clearinghouse for copying fees. In one province, the court required the payments to continue, but at a fraction of their previous amounts. As covered in the Globe & Mail:

OUP Canada general manager Geoff Forguson says that, as a non-profit, the press is not permitted to take losses on the books it publishes and that Canadian school publishing has simply become too risky. Emond Publishing, an independent Canadian academic publisher that specializes in law texts for students and professionals, has also abandoned the secondary-school market. Paul Emond says that, as a businessman, he sees much better opportunities publishing material for lawyers than for high-school students.

It's rare to have examples of what is not produced when commercial incentives and copyright protections change, but the topic is of critical importance, especially as Sci-Hub is now not only stealing journal article PDFs but scholarly books and entire online sites, which they are mirroring. These actions could drive entire products from the market, or publishers from particular markets.

It's always been confusing to think that access barriers are portrayed as absolute when the request is merely for payment. As these examples show -- and others not seen are also out there -- when there is no financial incentive to support the publication of books, journals, and other materials, that publication will likely stop.

In a slightly related matter, the story of the Guardian's financial woes and the departure of their transformative but debt-inducing editorial and business leader is worth a mention. Here you have a similar ideology -- that readers need not pay for access to content -- leading to the newspaper losing US$65 million last year, continuing a string of annual revenue losses. As the New York Times wrote:

A central point of disagreement within The Guardian has been its refusal -- for Mr. Rusbridger, virtually an ideology -- to charge online subscribers, as news organizations like The Financial Times, The Times of London, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have come around to doing.

The common thread here is "ideology" -- the ideology creating loopholes in Canada's copyright laws, the ideology leading to the Sci-Hub thefts, and the ideology that will force the Guardian to lay off hundreds of employees. 

In Canada, teachers are turning to free resources to teach their students. These are often non-Canadian resources, and there are concerns about quality controls and accuracy of the information. Academic publishers are making moves to shift away from their content businesses and into measurements, data, and metrics. Newspapers have already suffered incredible losses, leading to poor local and national coverage of vital issues and events.

In the commercial world, free is a price with consequences. Some of those consequences are clearly coming home to roost. You get what you pay for. You don't get what you don't pay for -- including updated textbooks, flourishing scientific and scholarly journals, and well-paid journalists investigating societal problems and events. 

The Allure of Monopolies

If you observe discussions about scholarly and academic publishing long enough, you'll undoubtedly see the term "monopoly" or "monopolist" thrown around recklessly to describe publishers. Why reckless? It flies in the face where the definition meets reality -- there are hundreds of scholarly and academic publishers, and seemingly more every day. 

However, judging from behaviors and the embrace of some alternatives, you might find a deeper conflict at work -- the fact the users seem to find monopolies satisfying, even useful.

Solutions to the supposed "monopoly power" of publishers -- which seems in some cases to stem from the unique content they product -- tend to be monopolistic in nature. Some argue that everything should be published on a single site, such as PubMed Central. Other examples of monopolistic models with surprising support include Sci-Hub (which seeks to monopolize the market with pirated articles), and ResearchGate and Academia (which are VC-funded in hopes they can monopolize the market).

Technology tends to drive consolidation to the point of de facto monopolies. Google dominates search. Facebook dominates social. Amazon dominates e-retail and e-books. Microsoft dominates desktop software. And so forth. 

But if technology were the only force at work, this wouldn't add up. After all, it takes users and customers to make markets, and markets around technology do seem to drift toward monopoly. Part of this is convenience, part of it is limited time for variety (which is mentally and physically taxing), and part of it is cost-consciousness. After all, consolidation usually brings short-term pricing advantages. However, once the consolidation has pushed aside competitors, prices rise swiftly, as we've recently seen in the US healthcare market. Monopolists know the game they're playing -- short-term sacrifices for long-term market dominance.

Despite these well-known downsides, monopolies continue to offer attractions -- uniform experience, one-stop shopping, and convenience. And so the pendulum swings.

The allure of monopolies -- which might be stated as a desire for uniformity, price advantages, and predictability -- can also be seen in standards, which deliver many of the same benefits but without commercial objections.

QWERTY is a good non-commercial example of users voting for a single standard for convenience. Even as we've moved from typewriters to keyboards to touchscreens, the QWERTY standard has monopolized our input market. Password hackers are able to leverage this to their advantage, as letters that are more naturally reached are more likely to be used in passwords. The inference depends on an assumption of QWERTY monopolizing our typing practices.

Standards help with myriad chores -- standard doors lead to standard furniture sizes; standard floor drains lead to standard toilet designs; and standard wireless protocols lead to standard routers. Interfaces need standards to work, whether for plumbing or wi-fi. 

Drive a Toyota, and you are likely going to use the same control cluster no matter the model, a fact that makes the automaker a favorite for predictability as well as more reliable -- after all, they have to support fewer standards and parts, and refine those they use so they're more durable. 

Ultimately, our desire for efficiency -- and our rational rejection of endless cognitive burdens -- comes with a tendency to embrace standards and tolerate monopolies. The allure of true monopolies in scholarly and academic publishing springs from a desire for one-stop shopping, a desire for convenience, and a desire for simplicity.

The problems with both standards and monopolies is that they eliminate options and alternatives. The breakup of AT&T unleashed a world of alternatives in communications technologies we're still exploring. New standards had to be developed, many standards were abandoned, and new businesses emerged. In fact, what we now call "AT&T" is a licensed usage of the name by a different company (SBC).

While monopolies may be alluring, they are also dangerous. Navigating a world of options may be more difficult, but ultimately a diverse commercial landscape leads to more innovation and more competition.