Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Earlier today I noticed this blog post on a Nature Blog, (cross posted here) specifically on FnL – Euan Adie’s blog, who was overly critical of the science blogosphere’s response to the ‘Fair Use’ kerfuffle (WileyGate?). He opined that it was quite unlikely that there was any big conspiracy going on.

I agree. I think it really was a big misunderstanding, but whether or not it would have been viewed that way by Wiley perhaps has quite a lot to do with the response that the scientific blogosphere returned. Euan Adie is perhaps mistaken in that he assumes that the ‘braying mob’ can never accomplish anything for good. Strangely enough, it was right around the time that this kerfuffle got picked up by SlashDot and BoingBoing that I got any response at all from Wiley. At that point it had been two days since I had emailed the ‘formal request’ venue, and never heard back. But, after the mob began to bray, guess what? I got a nice fat email in my Inbox.

Which isn’t to say its the best way of doing things. I’ve tried to use an unpleasant situation to get people involved in reasoned discussions on fair use, open source, correct citations, and the rest of it because obviously these are things we need to know. Obviously people don’t know them.

The only power I wield in this situation is the small power I have in my blog. I don’t have any money, connections, or clout. Students, and friends of mine, have been successfully sued by big corporations like the RIAA who have lots of lawyers, money, and time. My only resource is my voice, here, on Retrospectacle. So, Euan Adie, please don’t reproach me for attempting to use it to protect myself and rally the forces. It wasn’t to pinpoint anyone with scorn.

It is a testament to the community that we’ve built here that the word was spread so fast and so far, and that people DID email and DID think and DID discuss. And if any over-zealousness on the part of the mob resulted in hurt feelings or distress, I am very sad to hear that. However, corporations take these incidents in stride. Bloggers however, are forever impacted by the outcome of such (seemingly) minor encounters. Forever shall I be that much more diligent, that much more cautious, and that much more aware of this issue. I think a lot of us will be. I will still post figures and pictures and data and the rest of it, but I will cite cite cite and try to give as much due diligence credit as possible.

Whether or not I violated ‘fair use,’ is an important question, and was mostly clarified by Wiley’s own policy. Ian also contributed some valuable information in the comments:

As part of the license that allowed you, as a UM Grad Student, to have access to this journal in the first place, it is clearly stated that you were allowed to use these figures in your academic pursuits, among other fair-use uses. This contract and its permissions were negotiated between UM and Wiley directly (well, in this case through the CIC, but that’s neither here nor there), with the SCI nowhere at all involved. Clearly the SCI got jumpy and overstepped their bounds, and I’m sorry that you had to go through all this, but please notice again that all your communications (at least those posted here) were with SCI directly. This fair-use clause is in every single license Wiley issues for journal access. It may be redundant to most of you but legally it’s there and meant to avoid issues like this one.

Long story short – as far as Wiley is concerned, you already had permission and did not need to ask for it.

This is good to know, and I wouldn’t have known it otherwise.

So, as far as I’m concerned, bray mob, bray. Just do it with respect.

UPDATE: Mr. Adie stopped by and commented that he actually did think I was in the right (see the comments of this post for our exchange), and was making a more general criticism at a few over-zealous posts/comments elsewhere. In that case the former title (Nature Blog Doesn’t Get Why We’re Mad) didn’t make any sense so I changed it.


  1. #1 Science Avenger
    April 26, 2007

    You did the right thing Shelley, and so did all the bloggers that came to your aid. In defending yourself, you protected us all.

  2. #2 Euan
    April 26, 2007

    Hi Shelley,

    I’m male. 🙂 I’m also sorry if I gave the impression that I was reproaching you directly; actually I was just incensed by a minority of comments and blog reactions.

    As far as I’m concerned (a) you were absolutely in the right and (b) I think it’s great that you got the level of support that you did. I can’t imagine it was much fun to suddenly find yourself threatened with legal action over, well, nothing that deserved it.

    What I was complaining about was some bloggers losing track of the fact that at the other end of that journal email address was a person doing their job (doing it wrong, but hey), not an embodiment of corporate evil.

    That doesn’t change the fact that they were in the wrong and that you’ve been caused undue distress. It does mean that us bloggers should be keeping it civilized, as you’ve asked in the last few posts.

    Speaking of corporate embodiments and just to be clear FnL is a personal blog – the views and opinions there (and in this comment) are purely my own and don’t reflect those of Nature.


  3. #3 Gerard Harbison
    April 26, 2007

    Let’s not forget Nature is a major player in academic publishing, and their blog is hardly a disinterested authority.

  4. #4 Shelley
    April 26, 2007

    Hi Euan, thanks much for stopping by to comment. You’re certainly not the only one who brought up this issue, but I felt like yours was the most high-profile and (sorry to say) felt like it was trivializing the issue a bit. Thanks for coming by to clarify. I needed to say these things anyway, and put them out there so everyone could see what I was thinking about the response (grateful, but not perfect). I really do feel bad that a flunkie may be taking the fall, and may be upset about it, but when you sign your name to emails you have to be responsible for what you say. And when you email a blogger and don’t ask that it not be posted, well you better believe it’ll probably be posted (esp. if its on the rude side and trying to bully you around.) Personally, I feel that this was corporate policy that backfired, big time, and the ‘letter of apology’ which I’m sure a lawyer wrote, was in response to a deluge of emails and not any real sense of fair play.

  5. #5 Charlie (Colorado)
    April 26, 2007

    I wouldn’t feel too bad about the flunkie, as I’m wiling to bet money it was essentially her fault to start with; “editorial assistant” is an entry level job, and I suspect she does a hundred of those letters a day, but sort of missed on the difference between actionable infringement and fair use.

    So I’m sure she got a little talk about the desire to be effective versus the desire to not hurt Wiley’s reputation.

    The abusive emails she received are more trouble, but I bet they won’t leave permanent marks.

    And the next time something like this comes along, you’ll have this experience to remind you that you can respond effectively to bureaucratic nonsense.

  6. #6 Clark Goble
    April 26, 2007

    Ditto to Gerald’s comments.

  7. #7 razib
    April 27, 2007

    i saw this about discrimination today:

    Sukdev “Devin” Singh Dhaliwal applied for a sales job with one of Bally’s five Fresno fitness centers in 2004. An interviewer quizzed Dhaliwal, who was born and raised in California, about his religious and ethnic background, and then denied him a job and hired non-Sikh, non-Indian applicants with less experience, according to the commission.

    ”He was basically asked where he was born, where his parents were born, what religion he subscribed to and whether he was a Muslim,” said EEOC program analyst Linda Li. “He’s very American.”

    do you think it is bally’s corporate policy for interviewers to ask about a person’s religion and the provenance of their parents? no way! but this person was using their power, delegated from on high because of their position within a corporation, to grind their own personal ax. this happens all the time, with bureaucrats in the public and private sector. people who are minor players with minor positions have major power over the lives of other people because they are an extension of a corporation.

    i regret that the individual received nasty/hateful email. but i don’t regret posting her email, because corporations aren’t the only ones that need to be held accountable, those who work for corporations and whose powers are extended because of their position also need to be aware of what they are doing. take your job seriously. take your powers seriously. you might not have much responsibility within the corporation, or not make a lot of money, but you are affecting lives.

  8. #8 Tex
    April 27, 2007

    The answer is simple. You, and any other science bloggers who are sympathetic to your cause should just ignore any future press releases from Wiley, and any of their corporate spawn, until such time as every employee is imbued with a respect for scientific discourse and sends a personal apology to you directly for interferring with the progress of Science.

    My own personal contribution to this effort is to no longer consider Wiley’s text book for my cell and molecular biology course (about 75 to 100 students per semester in my section, and close to 800 students per year in the sections I supervise). Lest you think this is not much of a sacrifice, Wiley’s text is the text available at the level we target.

    You may ask whether I am willing to sacrifice the education of the next generation of biologists for the principle of open discussion of current topics. This is a hard, but fair, question.

    The short answer is ‘goddam right.’ Without immediate discussion, none of our work means anything.

  9. #9 M. Randolph Kruger
    April 27, 2007

    Shellba-See what I meant from the earlier email? Tex has brought it to the front and now they know who you are and that you have a following. If what he says comes to pass, then singlehandedly you have cost them about 4 grand in sales. That puts you on the radar and in the world I live in I feel like the Sarge in Halo, always fighting to get to the end, whatever that might be.

    You have also been Imus’d. No, not for racial epithets but a single entity decided to pick up the gauntlet and run with it to further their agenda. It sure as Hell wasn’t wrong what you did. It may not have been totally legal under Fair Use either. On the other hand to pull out the nukes and drop one on you as they did, it brought out the best in people and that was to have them let the seller beware and thats the buying public.

    Remember from now on Shellba, the first copper wire wasnt drawn in Egypt 3500 years ago. Oh, no. It was drawn the day the first lawyer justified his/her existence in front of their employers by putting a penny in someones pocket and then leaving a glint of it shining out where they could see it. They grabbed, you grabbed. Physics took over after that and then we had copper wire. Now we have cellphones that may be whacking ears up and causing cancer…. dont let that penny thing escape you. They might come in to have you do a study that proves inconclusively that like tobacco, cellphones dont kill. But Hell, the study sure looks good now doesnt it?

  10. #10 truth machine
    April 27, 2007

    Adie’s post is ridiculous hypocritical posturing — referring to a “pile-on” on the one hand but disclaiming a “conspiracy” on the other.

  11. #11 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 27, 2007

    Long story short – as far as Wiley is concerned, you already had permission and did not need to ask for it.

    Long story short – we’re not sending you a pony.

  12. #12 Suzanne
    April 27, 2007

    Shelley, I just want to say, I am 100% impressed with how you’ve handled this situation. You were treated disgustingly, and as Science Avenger said, you’ve defended all of us in standing up for yourself. You were absolutely right to give your readers the opportunity to respond – and you are NOT in any way responsible for what they choose to say. And I totally agree with your comment that the flunkie has to be responsible for what she signs her name to – “I was just doing my job” isn’t an excuse for anything. I do not think you should feel bad about anything – you’ve been brave, intelligent, fair and gracious. In short, heroic!

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