Archive for March 16, 2012

Guest Post – Copyright, Text Mining and Research

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 16, 2012 by telescoper

As a second bit of community service for the day, here is a guest contribution, written by Kaya Cantekin of the Open Rights Group about possible changes in UK copyright law and the implications for scientific research, particularly in the area of data mining. I’m grateful to Peter Bradwell of the same organisation for initially drawing my attention to this issue.


A Government consultation that may lead to badly needed reforms to copyright law opened for business in December. The consultation paper is available to download as a PDF file at the Intellectual Property Office website. The consultation would benefit significantly from input and evidence from the academic community. If you’d like to contribute, the call closes next Wednesday March 21st.

The consultation contains lots of important proposals for reforms that would help copyright adapt to the digital age, bringing greater access to and exploitation of information. Of particular interest to academics may be the proposal for a new copyright ‘exception’ that would allow researchers to text and data mine material that they have lawful access to (e.g. the web / subscribed-to journal databases etc) – on page 79 of the consultation document.

The consultation says (paras. 7.87, 7.96):

there is a strong case for ensuring that copyright does not obstruct the use of new technologies for scientific research, in particular where the use of those technologies does not unduly prejudice the aims of copyright.

The Government proposes to make it possible for whole works to be copied for the purpose of data mining for non-commercial research.

And asks:

Would an exception for text and data mining that is limited to non-commercial research be capable of delivering the intended benefits? Can you provide evidence of the costs and benefits of this measure? Are there any alternative solutions that could support the growth of text and data mining technologies and access to them?

Text mining is a technique used to harvest vast amounts of data from copyrighted research articles papers, by copying entire databases en masse and sifting through them using specialised algorithms. This allows researchers to use a much greater pool of information than that can be collected otherwise. It allows researchers to take advantage of the phenomenal opportunities for new kinds of analysis that new technology affords.

Evidence submitted previously to the ‘Hargreaves Review’ (where these proposals came from) by the British Library, Joint Information Systems Committee, and the National Centre for Text Mining  supports this. And just last week, JISC published a new study on the benefits and value of text mining that added further weight behind the idea.
They found, for example, that

UK copyright restrictions mean that most text mining
in UKFHE is based on Open Access documents or bespoke arrangements. This means that the availability of material for text mining is limited.

The proposal has been the subject of some intense criticism from publishers, who propose market-based solutions instead.

The Government says in the consultation paper that it looked for collective solutions set forward by the publishers to address the problem of licensing text and data mining, but that it couldn’t find any good examples of best practice. We at the Open Rights Group agree that the issue should not be left for self-regulation. We disagree that it is the publishers who should be allowed to decide when and how researchers can undertake this valuable work, with material they have legal access to.

It’s really important that the government hears from people who may benefit from these changes and that they receive evidence of the possible benefits.

In other words, the Government is looking for evidence to make non-commercial research exempt from copyright laws that govern published research, and wants you to provide it.

There’s not much time left. So we’ve made available a guide to the issues and a full list  of the consultation questions.

If you have evidence to submit, or just want to have your say on some of the issues raised here, you have until Wednesday 21st March to do so. You can find the consultation response form here.

We can’t stress enough how important it is that those of you who have answers to those questions submit them. Without evidence, reform may not happen.


Research Opportunities in the Philosophy of Cosmology

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on March 16, 2012 by telescoper

I got an email this morning telling me about the following interesting opportunities for research fellowships. They are in quite an unusual area – the philosophy of cosmology – and one I’m quite interested in myself so I thought it might ahieve wider circulation if I posted the advertisement on here.


Applications are invited for two postdoctoral fellowships in the area of philosophy of cosmology, one to be held at Cambridge University and one to be held at Oxford University, starting 1 Jan 2013 to run until 31 Aug 2014. The two positions have similar job-descriptions and the deadline for applications is the same: 18 April 2012.

For more details, see here, for the Cambridge fellowship and  here for the Oxford fellowship.

Applicants are encouraged to apply for both positions. The Oxford group is led by Joe Silk, Simon Saunders and David Wallace, and that at Cambridge by John Barrow and Jeremy Butterfield.

These appointments are part of the initiative ‘establishing the philosophy of cosmology’, involving a consortium of universities in the UK and USA, funded by the John Templeton Foundation. Its aim is to identify, define and explore new foundational questions in cosmology. Key questions already identified concern:

  • The issue of measure, including potential uses of anthropic reasoning
  • Space-time structure, both at very large and very small scales
  • The cosmological constant problem
  • Entropy, time and complexity, in understanding the various arrows of time
  • Symmetries and invariants, and the nature of the description of the universe as a whole

Applicants with philosophical interests in cosmology outside these areas will also be considered.

For more background on the initiative, see here and the project website (still under construction).