Archive for the 'Fresh Ideas' Category

Aug 17 2009

The insidious world of scientific publishing

Imagine a group of thugs blocking entrance to a public park, forcing you to pay an admission fee to use it.  You’d be outraged: “How can this group block me, a taxpayer, from accessing a park also funded by taxpayers?”

Now, substitute “scientific knowledge” for “public park” and “scientific publishers” for “thugs” in the above example.  Want to read the latest research on positive psychology done at a public university under public funds? Chances are, that unless you belong to a university or have some other academic affiliation, you’ll have to pay a hefty fee.

What right do these publishers have to force me, a taxpayer, from freely accessing scientific knowledge that was performed at taxpayer expense at a public university? Is their behavior that much different than those gentlemen at the park collecting their admission fees?

This has happened to me.  One of the most influential papers I’ve ever read was Jonathan Haidt’s 2000 paper on The Positive Emotion of Elevation, and his suggestion that positive emotions could create an “uplift spiral” – of good things creating more good things in an ever-widening cascade of uplift.  I blogged about this in 2003 in About Schmidt, Elevation, and Poverty Porn and in 2002 in Positive Emotions.

At the time I posted these papers, the link was freely available to all.  Here is the version that was captured on the Internet Archives at the time.  However, after it was published freely, the American Psychology Association decided to move it behind their academic firewall.  If you want to read it, you will have to register with them, provide a credit card to pay $11.95, and agree to the conditions “I UNDERSTAND that further reproduction or distribution of downloaded content other than for personal use is not permitted without written permission from the American Psychological Association….  I UNDERSTAND that I am purchasing viewing rights to a single article for $11.95 and that those viewing rights will be in effect for 12 months from the date I download the article for the first time.”

This is a little like a book publisher printing in disappearing ink to maximize future sales.

Rather than acting as a promoter of scientific knowledge, APA is engaging in what economists call Rent Seeking, wallowing in the same economic gutters as illegal drug dealers, taxi medallion, bribery, and government corruption:

“In economics, rent seeking occurs when an individual, organization or firm seeks to earn income by capturing economic rent through manipulation or exploitation of the economic environment, rather than by earning profits through economic transactions and the production of added wealth.

Rent …  is obtained when a third party deprives one party to a transaction of access to otherwise accessible transaction opportunities, making nominally “consensual” transactions a rent-collection opportunity for the third party. The abnormal profits of the illegal drug trade are considered rents by this definition, as they are neither legal profits nor the proceeds of common-law crimes. Taxi medallions are another commonly referenced example of rent seeking….

Rent seeking is held to occur often in the form of lobbying for economic regulations such as tariffs. Regulatory capture is a related concept which refers to collusion between firms and the government agencies assigned to regulate them, which is seen as enabling extensive rent-seeking behavior, especially when the government agency must rely on the firms for knowledge about the market.

The concept of rent seeking has been applied to corruption by bureaucrats who solicit and extract ‘bribe’ or ‘rent’ for applying their legal but discretionary authority for awarding legitimate or illegitimate benefits to clients.[6] For example, many tax officials take bribes for lessening the tax burden of the tax payers. Faizul Latif Chowdhury suggested that ‘bribery’ is a kind of rent-seeking by the government officials.

Yes, the paper is available through a separate “request this paper” transaction at Haidt’s web site.  But this does not allow me to link directly to the information, nor does it provide access in the future if he’s no longer around to personally send copies.  It does not allow a permanent name or identifier (the DOI, for example).  If we are to support a “web of knowledge” we can’t have each node in the web setting up toll booths to rent access to information.  Paper-based authors, bloggers, email writers, twitterers or whatever should be able to freely link to scientific information or portions thereof (e.g. the Methods section)

Locking up scientific papers into obscure, restricted access web sites not only restricts access to those specific papers, but it also damages the connectors between those dots.  People all over the world are used to seeing a web page with a hyperlink to another page, which is instantly available. Why should scientific knowledge be locked up in this maze of proprietary, outrageously expensive links?

I once wrote a chapter for a Springer Verlag book, Person-Centered Health Records : Toward HealthePeople, edited by Demetriades, Kolodner, and Christopherson. I didn’t receive any royalty, nor did the other authors.  We had an editor who chased the authors into submitting their material, and did light copy editing, whom I presume was paid.  The book hit the shelves for $88.  Where did the money go?  How can Springer-Verlag impose these fees on people?

I’m sure that this is a hot topic in many places, but I think its time for the public to confront the bullies who are keeping the public from publicly supported research.  Enough is enough!  The results of scientific publishing should be open, freely, and permanently available to all.  Period.

Here are some things that I’ve seen relating to open publishing:

UC Riverside (my alma mater)  physicist John Baez’ response to this situation:

  1. Don’t do free work for overpriced journals (like refereeing and editing).
  2. Put your articles on the arXiv before publishing them.
  3. Only publish in journals that let you keep your articles on the arXiv.
  4. Support free journals by publishing in them, refereeing for them, editing them… even starting your own!
  5. Help make sure free journals and the arXiv stay free.

The Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association

And here is an interesting slide show to Free the Facts by Dave Gray:


No responses yet

Apr 14 2009

A sneak preview of Nora Bateson’s Documentary

Nora Bateson

Nora Bateson

I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon talking with Gregory Bateson’s daughter Nora Bateson yesterday.  I got to see a sneak preview of the documentary she is working on called An Ecology of Mind.  One of Gregory’s quotes:

“What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all the four of them to me? And me to you?”

I guess if we think of connections and dots, Bateson focused on the connectors – the relationships between things – rather than the dots.  I think that this is an extremely critical message to get across nowadays.  It’s too early to talk about the film, other than to say that she has a unique story to tell. So good luck on your film, Nora. Here’s how folks can support the film.


Comments Off on A sneak preview of Nora Bateson’s Documentary

Apr 02 2009

A Universal Health Dashboard to Drive Health Care Reform

Published by under AHLTA,Fresh Ideas,Heath IT,VistA

(Tip of the Hat: This post came out of a conversation with Heather Wood Ion about health care reform)

One of the most critical issues facing our health care reform efforts today is how information technology will relate to it.  Since I’ve been running around the Health IT briar patch for three decades now, I’ve seen wonderful examples of successful (VA’s VistA), featured in Philip Longman’s Best Care Anywhere as well as an endless stream of failures (Kaiser Permanente threw out a $1.5 billion effort to automate its hospitals; DoD has spent $4 billion on its AHLTA system that is so bad that it is cited as the third most frequent reason causing docs to leave military service.)

Lesson Learned:  Throwing money at a hospital information system does not guarantee it will work.  It is the conceptual foundations of the approach and the organizational readiness to change that are the most critical factors.

I am concerned about much of what I read about the Health IT spending – and the assumption that $20 billion or $100 billion stimulus will result in a viable national health information network.  There is very little empirical evidence that these assumptions are reasonable.  Even more so, the system that we might end up with risks severe negative consequences to the our health care system (see AHLTA is Intolerable)  We run the very real risk of a system that falls behind in practice, yet is propped up by bureaucratic inertia and the assumption that “$100 billion can’t be wrong.”  France faced a problem like this as they supported a “MiniTel” system as a kind of dedicated telephone-keyboard-yellowpages service to all customers just as the World Wide Web was taking off.  The French ended up with a closed, expensive, slow system even while the web offered an open, inexpensive, high speed solution which set them back billions of Francs and years of technology advance.

I believe that we should drive our health care reform from an information technology perspective.  This was my goal in working with the original VistA system for the VA – overcoming all the bureaucratic “stovepipe” divisions by introducing decentralized information systems.  We are seeing today only the tip of a huge iceberg in terms of the amazing advances in computing, communications, telemedicine, lab-on-a-chip, genomics, etc.

The status quo is not going to be happy about all these changes.  Clinical laboratories are not going to be happy about inexpensive home use of lab-on-a-chip diagnositic tools.  Audiologists who sell $3600 hearing aids (using today’s $20 chips) with complicated fitting procedures are not going to be happy with the $100 self-fitting aids.  Optometrists are not going to be happy with over the counter eyeglasses that would allow Wal Mart customers to insert blank lens into a machine, tweak the dials until they see best, press a button, and walk off with a new set of glasses that work exactly how they want for $20.

Disruptive innovation is by definition not welcome to the status quo, but it is a necessary task of innovation and growth.  The automotive industry was not invented by the buggy-whip manufacturers.  And if they held sway in controlling the transportation industry, we would never have evolved past the horse-and-buggy.

A key issue in the coming heath IT/health care reform is the role of the Personal Health Record (PHR).  I’ve been advocating a PHR-based approach for 10 years now   The question to be resolved is how this is to be structured: is the personal health information tethered to a specific enterprise, or is it the other way around.  Why not make the patient the center of the health care universe, and tether the providers to them?

This is disruptive innovation at its best.  Imagine having a Universal Health Dashboard for every American.  They would be able to see all of their health information, and see who has been accessing it.  Patients could see if their doc looked at the lab tests from last visit; docs would know that their patients would see if they’ve ignored their tests).  Enterprise health records would appear as folders on the individual’s dashboards, just part of a much larger Health Communication System.

Here are some papers I’ve written in the past:

See Concepts of the Data Vault


Health and the Devil’s Staircase

Ensembles and Transformations

and Many More


Comments Off on A Universal Health Dashboard to Drive Health Care Reform

Mar 29 2009

Tom’s Report Card: Google gets a C- on its Philanthropic Promises

Updated: Mar 30 to use stockholders equity instead of Market Cap as the baseline for their 1% equity contribution, improving their grade from D- to C-.  my mistake.

I’ve researched Google Foundation’s history, as near as I can gather from public documents.   This is not a simple task, and I might well be wrong (and am very happy to be corrected.)  However, it seems to me that Google is significantly in arrears in the follow through to their promises of 2004.

Google has made a single contribution of $90 million in 2005 to its foundation.  Shareholder equity in 2005 was $9,418,957, so this met their 1% promise. Since then, their stockholder equity has increased to $28,238,862, 1% of which would indicate a total of a $282 million contribution. states that it has committed $100 million to grants and investments.  However, 1% of their earnings amounts to $141 million, and required disbursements from their foundation amount to $15 million, bringing their promised amount to $156 million. If we deduct non-charitable use investments from their $100 million commitments to date, we end up with only 40% of their total promised contributions.

I respect the many philanthropic and better world investments that Google has made, but it has also made a promise to the public and its investors that I think needs to be carefully documented and reviewed.

I stand ready to be corrected in summaries, but until then, I have to issue a C- in their performance to date in meeting their original promises.  Below are my detailed calculations. Continue Reading »


Comments Off on Tom’s Report Card: Google gets a C- on its Philanthropic Promises

Mar 17 2009

Congratulations, Megan Smith, on your new role at

Dear Megan,

It’s great to hear of your new role as general manager of  I have fond memories of our chats as fellow Fellows at Stanford’s Digital Visions Program and the Uplift Academy workshops.  (I took your advice about solar cookers and moderated my enthusism for them).

I’ve been tracking Google’s philanthropic goal to devote 1% of Google’s equity and profits to philanthropy for some time now, and even blogged a bit in 2005 about it when it seemed to be lagging: What Ever Happened to Google’s 1% Better World Funding? See my current report card from my analysis of things to date)

Recall that Google’s SEC IPO filing said:

“We intend to contribute significant resources to the foundation, including employee time and approximately 1% of Google’s equity and profits in some form. We hope someday this institution may eclipse Google itself in terms of overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world’s problems.”

Continue Reading »


Comments Off on Congratulations, Megan Smith, on your new role at

Jan 22 2009

Jamais Cascio at the Good Ancestors 2007 workshop

Jamais Cascio at the 2007 Good Ancestors Principle Workshop in Encinitas, CA is co-founder of  Produced by Tom Munnecke, music by Jim MacKay.

No responses yet

Oct 30 2008

From Tax Payer to Tax/Debt Payer: Adding transparency to public spending

Published by under Fresh Ideas

It seems to me that one of the major causes for the debt crisis today is a lack of transparency.  Politicians can tell their constituencies that they aren’t raising taxes, but instead plunge us (and our children and grandchildren) into debt.

My solution starts with some wordsmithing: change the word “Tax” to “Tax/Debt.”  April 15 is Tax/Debt day, at which time folks see both their taxes and their share of the national debt.  As of today, our total public debt allocated by all US citizens is $34,537.05 per person, or $138,148 for a family of 4.  Taxes would be recalculated according to current operating expenses of the agency doing the taxing; debts would be tallied separately so that tax/debt payers could see just what level of debt has been run by their city/county/state/federal government.  The interest paid by each taxing authority would appear as a separate line item on the bill.  In this way, tax/debt payers would see exactly how much interest they are paying to support past debts.

This debt would become due in full at the estate time of the tax/debt payer, helping to eliminate the debt burden to future generations.  Maybe would could scale this tax progressively against the industry in which the assets were earned.  Someone in the investment banking industry, for example, might pay a larger debt payment than a teacher, for example.

I’m sure that folks seeing their debt expressed so vividly would cause quite an outrage.  Might as well get it over with early, and give them time to talk back to politicians who have been pushing this debt on us in lieu of paying our bills when they come due.


No responses yet

Oct 20 2008

Green Economy meeting at UCSD

Published by under Fresh Ideas,Green Economy

Dr. Heather  Honea, SDSUI spoke on a panel October 18, 2008 at The Green Economy: Sustainable Economic Solutions for San Diego conference sponsored by United Green at UCSD.  I was particularly impressed with a presentation by Ecological Designer Jim Bell and SDSU professor Heather Honea.

Heather Honea completed her doctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley. Currently, Dr. Honea is an Associate Professor at the San Diego State University College of Business Administration and a Research Fellow at the Centre for Integrated Marketing Communications.  Heather models the impact of green and decentralized technologies on business, society, and consumer behavior.Jim Bell

Jim Bell is an Ecological Designer Jim Bell is an internationally recognized expert on ecologically sustainable development.  As an ecological designer, Jim works with developers, business, and various public and private agencies. and author of ACHIEVING ECO-NOMIC SECURITY ON SPACESHIP EARTH.

They presented a paper on  Electricity Supply and Price Security in San Diego County. It’s not an easy read, but I definitely want to dig deeper into it.  Stay tuned.

Continue Reading »


No responses yet

Oct 14 2008

Building Ties: Heather Ion’s Ideas for Resilient Communities

Published by under Fresh Ideas,Uplift

David Brin and Harold KoenigHeather Wood IonMick PattinsonHarold KoenigMick Pattinson and Charles Smith"Mug" shot of Tom Munnecke

In the midst of our financial turmoil, I invited some folks over for a Saturday morning coffee to talk about potential positive responses to the various crises we faced. David Brin, Heather Wood Ion, Charles S. Smith, Mick Pattinson, and retired Admiral and Navy Surgeon General Harold M. Koenig, MD attended.

Heather is co-author of Against Terrible Odds: Lessons in Resilience from Our Children and a long-time researcher on how cultures respond to catastrophes. Continue Reading »


No responses yet

Sep 13 2008

Positive Genomics

One of the more dramatic revolutions in academia over the past decade has been the advent of Positive Psychology.  Below is an interview I did at Stanford University with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at Civic Ventures’ 2006 Purpose Prize Summit (where I am a Sr. Fellow):

What interests me particularly, however, is the notion of what I’ll call positive genomics.  Is it possible to understand the genome in terms of the positive, life-affirming qualities that make us whole, resilient, and adaptive?  Can we find genetic contributors to Seligman and Peterson’ Character Strengths and Virtues? Rather than compiling endless taxonomies, can we find and understand what’s working?  Given the information explosion that we are undergoing, how do we even begin to discover this positive informationOne interesting study of the wellderly seems to be a step in the right direction:

The ‘Wellderly Study’ is a joint initiative between the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland. It hopes to investigate the genomes of 2,000 people aged 80 or more who take no significant medication and have never suffered from any serious disease.

“We are looking at a cohort that we think is harbouring major secrets. They have disease susceptibility genes, but they don’t get the diseases you would have expected. Something has protected them. We hope to find out what that is,” says study leader Eric Topol, who is director of genomic medicine at Scripps.”

And one of my favorite superstars of academia, Jon Haidt, has written on the emotions of elevation and awe, as well as some tantalizing pieces on the role of moral psychology and religion.

So, how do we bridge the information gap between the petabytes of genomic information inundating us to the notion of beauty, awe, and a a life well-lived?  I’m not quite sure at the moment, but it’s a wonderful question to be asking.  I am sure that we aren’t going to answer this question by breaking things and then looking for what fails.

I’m very open to hearing about other positive genomic research and efforts… mail me at if you have any suggestions, putting “Postive Genomics” in the subject line of your message.


No responses yet

Next »

Creative Commons License
Images by Tom Munnecke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at