ATG Hot Topics 5/6/16

by Erin Gallagher

Welcome to May, friends and readers.  There’s a lot going on this week in our big old world of readership.  Some is fun and some is…well, it’s just there.

Starting with fun, any comic book fans out there?  If so, I’m sure you’re already camped out in a Batcave-themed tent outside your favorite comic store, ready to storm the doors for Free Comic Book Day on May 7th.  I’ll be visiting my local comic shop for some goodies myself, though it’s times like those that I wish I had powers of invisibility so I could work through the crowds with the greatest of ease.  If you’re involved in the education field, you have probably noticed that comics are no longer on the fringes of what we consider “acceptable” reading material.  Multiple faculty at my own institution use comics in their curricular activities and we have entire classes devoted to comic studies and how they reflect and inspire our cultural identities.

Late last week, John Bohannon, in this piece in Science mag, asked the tantalizing question: “Who’s downloading pirated papers?”  The answer, in short, is “everyone”.  The data was provided by the mastermind behind Sci-Hub, the site on many researchers’ minds over the past few months.  Whether we want to admit it or not, we (the royal “we”) seem to be using Sci-Hub like crazy.  Article downloads are coming from all points of the globe and seem to be increasing in number.  Perhaps most telling (and most interesting for those of us in higher education in the U.S.) is the fact that a lot of Sci-Hub activity occurs in cities with critical masses of colleges and universities where, one would imagine, users have access to scholarly content already.  Why are we flocking to Sci-Hub?  Some users claim it’s easier and more efficient; it’s more “Google-y” than using publisher/aggregator sites.  For some, it’s the only way they can find and download content.  I suspect that for others, it’s a matter of principle.  It’s a silent but impactful protest against what we see as an exceedingly greedy subscription journal system.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t endorse or agree with Sci-Hub’s model, and I don’t see it as the Robin Hood of the open access landscape, but I do empathize with those who benefit from its use.

We’ll end with fun too.  Sunday is Mother’s Day!  I have a terrific mom who I always enjoy celebrating with, and as the mother of a fuzzy seven year-old cat and an ageless rescue hound, I suppose I can celebrate myself as well.  Take some time to thank a mom on Sunday, whether it’s your own or someone else’s.  They deserve it.  And though it’s not exactly a warm and fuzzy take on the day (if you’ve read any George Saunders you’ll know he’s going to tell it like it is), I recommend the short story Mother’s Day.  Saunders is a master of getting to the heart of our deepest feelings, for better or for worse.  Enjoy!

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