APS News


Copyright Decision A Matter of Principle

William Unruh has raised an important issue, and APS has responded. Clearly, all physicists have interests on both sides of this argument, and the eventual policy will be controlled by a majority of the membership. Some changes in APS copyright language are certainly appropriate, but which ones?

Science benefits from protection of the archival nature of journals. Revenue from all sources–page charges, subscription fee to both physical and digital copies, and subsidies from the parent organization–must cover all publication costs. Copyright plays a clear role in protecting that revenue stream.

But science requires a more immediate and free dissemination of the content than archival journals provide.

The key question for scientists must then be: on what principle should we divide the interest in the journal article between the individual authors and the community of interested scientists? Once a consistent principle is adopted by the membership, then APS, through its committees and officers, can see that the copyright implements that.

It seems to me that the best principle would be one based on the contributions of the two: the ideas and data clearly should belong to the authors, and the reviewed, edited, laid out, and delivered copy should belong to the community through the journal.

Michael H. Frese         
Albuquerque, NM

Copyright Causes Conflict of Interest

Congratulations to Professor Unruh for challenging the APS copyright policy in the June 2008 APS News. The APS policy of requiring authors to copyright their work in the name of APS is at best unnecessary: there is no legal requirement for the APS to take copyright in order to publish an author's material. In the commercial publishing industry it is unheard-of for authors to sign away copyright. It is odd that in the part of the publishing industry that actually PAYS authors for their work, they do not take copyright; but in the physics field, where authors give away their work with no payment, they are expected to give away their copyright as well.

The issue points out a curious conflict of interest. Normally, one would expect that the APS, the organization that usually would be defending the rights of physicists, ought to be outspoken in organizing physicists to keep their rights. But in this case, the organization that in other situations defends the rights of physicists is the very organization that is taking the copyright! 

Geoffrey A. Landis
Cleveland, OH

Fair Use Protects Authors’ Rights

W. G. Unruh in his Back Page article “Physicists and Copyright” [June 2008, APS News] has found a non-existent monster–and the APS response could have been rather more to the point in slaying it.

The US copyright law (Section 107) explicitly defines the fair use limitations on the exclusive rights conferred by the law. In particular, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. [emphasis added].

The formulation in the APS response was at best a clearly strained attempt to specify the rights retained by an author (or any other scholar, for that matter). Avoiding simply stating the unambiguous lawful exception to the APS copyright assignment agreement might have been an attempt (inadvertent, I hope) to retain for APS publications certain rights to which they are not entitled.

Of course, “fair use” itself has exceptions, but for the purpose of rebutting Unruh’s creed, I believe it would have been quite sufficient.

Robert A. Myers
New York, NY

Unruh responds:

Unfortunately Myers did not quote all of the “fair use” section. “Fair use” is limited in its application. Condition 3 from the Copyright law lists, as one of the tests a court is to apply regarding “fair use”, “the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.”

Courts have found, for example, that use of even a few pages from a book can be sufficient to negate “fair use,” which is primarily intended to allow very limited quoting from another’s article, not for substantial use. Thus, if you photocopy a textbook in its entirety, or even a chapter, for use in your class, “fair use” for teaching purposes will not protect you. If you copy an entire article, fair use will not protect you. If you rewrite your article for a conference proceeding, reusing substantial portions in the process, I do not believe that “fair use” will protect you.

Note also that “use for research” does not mean the same thing as “publish in a commercial journal.” If you copy parts of someone’s article from a journal in order to study it, it may be considered “fair use.” If you then use large parts of that article in your own article which you publish, it would almost certainly not be.

“Fair use” is a defense available to anyone. Surely the author of a work should have the right to make more use of his or her own work than some person off the street has. “Fair use” treats everyone the same. I believe all the examples quoted in my article go far beyond “fair use.”

Pat on Back is Premature

While I am pleased that APS News (June 2008) chose to publish Bill Unruh’s critique of current copyright practice, I am dismayed by the editors’ lengthy published response on the same page. The editors extensively rebut criticisms which do not appear to have been leveled at the APS, while completely ignoring the single paragraph which was. Perhaps it is indeed time to publicly discuss the reasonableness of the conditions the APS still imposes, rather than patting ourselves on the back for those which have been removed.

Tevian Dray
Corvallis, OR

Outreach, Outreach and Outreach

Michael Lubell’s column “Science! Who Needs It?” in the June APS News provides a coherent and relevant picture illustrating the problems inherent with a scientifically illiterate public, and in general is absolutely correct that policy decisions made by the government of the United States are suffering as a result. However, I must disagree that responsibility for remedying the problem lies with “state and local governments, and teacher's organizations”-in short, everyone except us scientists. We must take it upon ourselves to educate the general populace any way we can. Personally, I perform a “science day”activity at my children’s elementary school. The specifics of my demonstrations are less relevant than simply showing that science and scientific reasoning apply to a lot of things the kids encounter in their lives-cooking is a great example. What is more important than demanding the public know (for example) Newton’s laws is that we demonstrate to the public that (1) performing scientific reasoning does not require a PhD, and (2) using a scientific approach to problem solving is the only way to generate reliable and repeatable knowledge.

The only ways the American public will become more scientifically literate are outreach, outreach, and outreach.

Andy Resnick
Cleveland, OH

Plug-ins are a Panacea

If Michael Lubell had done his homework for his Inside the Beltway piece “Science! Who Needs It?” (APS News June 2008), he wouldn’t have criticized Senator Obama for advocating plug-in hybrid vehicles to solve our energy problems. Plug-ins are indeed a panacea. Despite extensive propaganda to the contrary, batteries are not an obstacle; General Motors produced the EV-1 in the 90’s with a battery that went 50-75 miles on a charge, and the people who drove EV-1’s were so in love with them that some considered going to jail to prevent GM from recalling and shredding them. See the video “Who Killed the Electric Car?” by Chris Paine. If an all-electric “family use” car could get 50-75 miles on a charge, a similar battery could be dropped into a Prius for the same purpose. As a matter of fact, several small companies are today converting  hybrids to plug-in capability.  

Lubell’s comments sound like those of the cynical observer who thinks there’s no use throwing the rascals out because the new rascals will be just as bad. And just exactly who are the rascals he doesn’t want to throw out? Nor is this the first time Lubell has been an advocate for the current administration-after the 2004 election, he encouraged “building bridges” to them, Inside the Beltway, APS News, January 2005 (Time for Building Bridges).
Robert A. Levy
El Paso, TX
Michael Lubell replies: The APS has undertaken a major study on energy efficiency, chaired by Nobel Laureate Burton Richter of Stanford University. Robert Levy would have done well to hold his fire until he had read the report, which will be available this summer. As for the current administration, had he quoted from many of my other columns, he would not be able to justify his assertion that I am an apologist for the Bush Administration.

Newton Estimated Earth’s Density

The article “This month in physics history” in the June APS News says that Newton “hadn’t made any attempt to determine the constant G or the mass of Earth.”

He did make an estimate (in the Principia, Book III, Proposition X, Andrew Motte’s translation), based on observed densities, of “five or six times” the density of water.  Compared with the modern number of 5.52, this is a good estimate.  Although an accomplished experimentalist, Newton did not try to measure G directly.

Knowing the value of G is necessary when comparing forces of different kinds–Newton’s work on planetary motions was mainly concerned with gravitational forces–and indeed that is the context in which Newton made his estimate. He wanted to calculate the effect of air resistance on the motions of the planets, so he needed the masses. He also estimated the density of air at 200 miles altitude to be 1.3 x 10-14 atmospheres, and calculated that air of that density would slow Jupiter’s speed by less than one part in a million over a million years.

Kenneth W. McFarlane
Yorktown, VA

Diversity in Higher Ed–What happens at the end of the pipeline?

I have been a physics faculty member of a large urban public university system for nearly 25 years. Physics is among the most under-represented fields by black and Hispanic students in academia. An often-stated goal of federal agencies and university administrators is to increase the number of minority faculty at our universities in order to better reflect the student population and provide role models for these students. In fact, some federally funded initiatives such as the National Science Foundation’s AGEP (Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate) program attempt to provide a framework for a smooth transition between graduate school and employment in academia. However limited our experiences in these relatively young programs are, it is clear that the trends so far are not all that encouraging. Although my personal experience is anecdotal, my university setting is not much different from other public institutions, and given the urban backdrop of my institution, one could argue that the difficulties with minority faculty hiring are probably considerably worse elsewhere.

The main problem? The faculty. Yes, this intellectually elite fraternity that often claims to espouse the most liberal views is in fact rather conservative when confronted with the real prospect of diversity hiring into its own ranks. The “excuses” for not considering particular candidates have remained remarkably constant over the last 20 or so years, for example, “he/she’s not in the specific field (fill in your choice of narrow topics) that we’re interested in building up in our department.” Let’s do a simple statistical exercise. Take the total number of African American or Hispanic physics PhD recipients in the US in a given recent year (about 10–20). Now restrict your search to, say, experimental nanoscience, with emphasis on femtosecond optical spectroscopy and spintronics. How many years will it then take you to find an African American with this particular training if you have only about ten per year spread among the 100 or so narrow subfields in physics?

If the status quo is acceptable, then no special measures are required, i.e. business as usual. However, if diversity in the science/engineering professoriate is really desired, then we have to change the way we do business. The statistics of minority PhD production and minority faculty hires in the physical sciences suggest that all but very few department faculties are sufficiently enlightened to conduct searches with honest and aggressive affirmative action goals.

For the rest, what can the university administrators and the federal government do to provide incentives to hire minority faculty? Despite various recent successful legal challenges to affirmative action which have introduced significant tortuousness into the path between recruitment, vetting, and hiring minorities, the fact is that if the campus wishes to hire a person of color, they can. Such “slots” can be created (often under the title “target of opportunity”) and even partially financed by federal funding agencies. Nevertheless, no faculty would ever accept a recommendation from the administration for hiring anyone (of any color!), as this would be interpreted as a violation of one of the basic tenets of academic freedom. So the process must begin with the individual department’s admission that if diversity in the professoriate is a good thing, then the old methods simply don’t work. Next the university administration needs to express willingness to provide extra lines to those departments that wish to diversify, otherwise the departments will always come up with the same tired excuses (she’s not in the right field, etc).

Now the hard part. The departments must be willing to be a little flexible about the field of expertise of the candidate. I’m not suggesting that if they seek a laser spectroscopist they should hire a string theorist instead–but there should be some leeway within fields. It is also vitally important that candidates who may lack the wherewithal to flourish in an academic setting, for example as evidenced by their previous record of publications, are not pushed into one just to satisfy diversity goals. Nothing feeds the anti-affirmative action frenzy more deliciously than a candidate who fails. If the department then believes that the candidate has the capacity to succeed and eventually gain tenure, they should be willing to take certain steps to ensure that success, for example by providing one or more senior faculty mentors to work closely with the new hire on all aspects of professional development. By the way, senior mentoring is also not a bad thing to do for new faculty members who happen to be white males. Finally, many opponents of affirmative action in higher education voice the fear that “special treatment” for minorities will take jobs and positions away from white male students. If you look at the actual number of minority physics PhDs as the tiny percentage (about 1%– 2%) that it is, however, this argument is absolutely ludicrous.

Steve Greenbaum
New York, NY

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Editor: Alan Chodos
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