Joho the Blog » darwin

January 27, 2013

Alfred Russel Wallace’s letters go online, with a very buried CC license that maybe doesn’t apply anyway

The letters of Lord Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection, are now online. As the Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project explains, the collection consists of 4,000 letters gathered from about 100 different institutions, with about half in the British Natural History Museum and British Library.

The Correspondence Project has, admirably, been releasing the scans without waiting for transcription; more faster is better! Predictably annoyingly, the letters, written by a man who died ten years before the Perpetual Copyright date of 1923, seem to be (but are they?) carefully obstructed by copyright: The Natural History Museum, which houses the collection, asserts copyright over “data held in the Wallace Letters Online database (including letter summaries)” [pdf oddly unreadable in Mac Preview]. Beyond the summaries, exactly what data is this referring to? Not sure. Don’t know.

But that isn’t the full story anyway, for the NHM sends us to the Wallace Fund for more information about the copyright. That page tells us that the unpublished letters are copyrighted until 2039, with this very helpful footnote:

Unless the work was published with the permission of his Literary Estate before 1 August 1989, in which case the work will be in copyright for 70 years after Wallace’s death, unless he died more than 20 years before the work’s publication, in which case copyright would expire 50 years after publication.

Oh.

Eventually it gets to some good news:

Authors wishing to publish such works would ordinarily need to obtain permission from the copyright holder before doing so. However, on July 31st 2011, in an attempt to facilitate the scholarly study of ARW’s writings, the co-executors of ARW’s Literary Estate agreed to allow third parties to publish ARW’s copyright works non-commercially without first having to ask the Literary Estate for permission, under the terms and conditions of Creative Commons license “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported”

So, are the letters published on the NHM site actually available under a Creative Commons non-commercial license? The Wallace Fund that aggregated them seems to think so. The NHM that published them maybe thinks not.

Because copyright is just so magical.

 


TWO HOURS LATER: Please see the first comment, from George Beccaloni, Director of the Wallace Correspondence Project. Thanks, George.

He explains that the transcribed text is available under a Creative Commons non-commercial license, but the digitized images are not. Plus some further complications, such as the content of the database being under copyright, although it is not clear from the site what data that is.

Since the aim of CC is to make it easier for people to re-use material, may I suggest (in the friendliest of fashions) that this be prominently clarified on the sites themselves?

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February 29, 2012

[2b2k] The next Darwin is a we

Sebastian Benthall has a fervent post about the need for open networks in science, inspired by an awesome talk by the awesome Victoria Stodden.

Along the way, he offers a correction (or extension, perhaps) of a point that I make in 2b2k: the next Darwin is likely to develop her work within an open network that add values to her work. In some real sense the knowledge lives in that network. Sebastian responds:

He’s right, except maybe for one thing, which is that this digital dialectic (or pluralectic) implies that “the next Darwin” isn’t just one dude, Darwin, with his own ‘-ism’ and pernicious Social adherents. Rather, it means that the next great theory of the origin of species is going to be built by a massive collaborative effort in which lots of people will take an active part. The historical record will show their contributions not just with the clumsy granularity of conference publications and citations, but with minute granularity of thousands of traced conversations. The theory itself will probably be too complicated for any one person to understand, but that’s OK, because it will be well architected and there will be plenty of domain experts to go to if anyone has problems with any particular part of it. And it will be growing all the time and maybe competing with a few other theories.

I love the point.

(Nit: I want to clarify, however, that I wasn’t saying that this next Darwin’s web would consist only of “pernicious Social adherents.” Throughout 2b2k I try to make the point that networked knowledge has value mainly because it includes difference and disagreement. When it does not, it fulfills the nightmare of the echo chamber.)

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January 9, 2010

[2b2k] False-starting Chapter 2

Even though I think Chapter 1 may have to undergo total revision = start again, I’ve started Chapter 2 as if I knew where Chapter 1 left off. And so far I can’t say that I have confidence that it’s headed in the right direction.

After several attempts to open the chapter in a way that might actually be interesting, I’ve settled on pointing out the wide variety of fields in which people advertise expertise. It’s a cheap laugh, but it’s quick. Then I say that expertise is part of our evolutionary strategy for knowledge, which leads me to Darwin on the evolution of language, just for context. If you know of scientific work on evolutionary advantages conferred by having persistent, shared stores of knowledge or by being able to write, let me know. I very briefly tell the story of Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham, who invented most of the scientific method at the end of the first millennium, so that I can talk about knowledge as something we piece together through small investigations. The “scientific method” thread lets me then talk about the repeatability of experiments and make the transitional point that the aim of repeatability is not to have to repeat, because our knowledge strategy is: Discover, write it down, and move on.

At the moment, I’m writing a CYA paragraph reminding the reader that we’ve spent the past 50 years or so showing that knowledge doesn’t arise purely out of reason: Kuhn, Latour, Foucault, etc.

At the bottom of the screen I have a reminder that I’m aiming at talking about knowledge as a system of authority that gives stopping points for inquiry.

I would feel better if there were less exposition and more examples.

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September 6, 2009

Evolution of Evolution

Ben Fry posts an amazing visualization of the changes in the six editions of Darwin’s Origin of Species, based on meticulous work done by Dr. John van Wyhe and others. From Ben’s introductory text:

The second edition, for instance, adds a notable “by the Creator” to the closing paragraph, giving greater attribution to a higher power. In another example, the phrase “survival of the fittest” — usually considered central to the theory and often attributed to Darwin — instead came from British philosopher Herbert Spencer, and didn’t appear until the fifth edition of the text.

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