There’s a scene, in the filmed version of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, in which Tyler Durden leads our Everyman narrator on an expedition for biomedical waste. They’re raiding the trash bins of a liposuction clinic for lipids that can be rendered into soap. This is expensive soap, boutique soup — value-added soap. It’s the kind of soap probably only bought by people who frequent fancy liposuction clinics.
“It was beautiful,” we hear. “We were selling their own fat asses back to them.”
This week, a powerful letter was distributed to all faculty of the financially-imperiled University of California system — the libraries of which are now faced with a 400% price increase if they would like to continue to provide access to 67 important scientific journals distributed by the Nature Publishing Group. One of these is NPG’s flagship journal, Nature. The price increase would bring the annual cost of a single NPG journal from approximately $4500 to over $17,000. When, in conversation today, I’ve shared this number with my librarian colleagues at home and abroad, I’ve heard a lot of incredulous laughter. But laughter turns to quiet musing (“would that work here?“) when I go on to say that the California letter threatens complete boycott, in clear terms and with the support of a system-wide advisory group on scholarly communication, of all UC faculty involvement in the production machine of the Nature group, if the costs for these journals cannot be brought in line with reality. Continue reading “fight club soap”
[This is an edited version of a talk I gave today at the 2009 convention of the Modern Language Association. I omit here some of the local details and concrete examples I offered at MLA. At this point, I feel more comfortable voicing these specifics than publishing them online – but I do commit to seeking out further opportunities to open the kind of frank and important conversations I advocate below. This text (like everything posted on my personal website) reflects my opinions only – not those of my colleagues or employers. I welcome comment, including correction and instruction.]
I’ve decided to spend my 10 minutes of introduction on the MLA convention’s “Links and Kinks” panel indecorously – in opening conversation about one of the least genteel, least talked-about aspects of collaborative work in the digital humanities. I’ve been active in this community of practice for 14 years – and can count on one hand the number of interchanges I’ve had about these issues that were both unguarded and productive.
The policy issues related to institutional and academic status that I want to put before the panel are so uncomfortable that they tend to make good-hearted, collaborative folks like all of you behave as if they can be wished away – as if they’ll shrivel up and die if they are studiously ignored. But here, as in other areas of the academy, benign neglect is bad behavior. Consciously ignoring disparities in the institutional status of your collaborators is just as bad as being unthinkingly complicit in the problems these disparities create. Continue reading “monopolies of invention”