[EAS]Public Spaces & Science

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Mon May 7 21:13:25 EDT 2001

Mail*Link® SMTP               Public Spaces & Science

Dear Colleagues -

Herewith Gary Chapman's last L.A. Times column, with introductory
comments by my friend Pat Lynch [with his permission] of the Yale
Medical School, who read it sooner than I did.

Even Gary's column itself, which used to be weekly, has now been cut
back by the L.A. Times to much lower frequency. Thoughtful writing
about science and technology is getting ever rarer.

All best,  --PJK


I was thinking recently myself about how little public impact science
has these days. If you ask anyone outside the academic world, they
might mention computers, or the genome project. That's about it, and
even those subjects are only skimmed over in the media. Ironically,
the conjunction of bioinformatics and biotech is poised to cause huge
changes in our lives, but in the public mind "scientists" have become
cartoon "nerd" figures in commercials, or anonymous "mad scientists"
foisting weirdly modified foods on us.

I remember science and engineering being a large presence in my life
as a child. The space program, IGY, ocean exploration, the huge
expansion of science in the universities after Sputnik, etc. was part
of public consciousness, even in grade schools. Science was an
exciting, optimistic, forward-looking enterprise. Now, if my daughter
thinks about science at all, it seems like a dull gray business,
aloof, rarely bothering to explain itself, vaguely threatening,
constantly involved in things that might harm us.

Of course, it's not that I think science *is* the dull gray threat
that it seems in the popular conciousness, I just wish we were more
vocal in defending an optimistic, humanistic, and rational vision of
science's possiblities.

Patrick J. Lynch, M.S.
Director of
Web Design and Development, and
  Yale Center for Advanced Instructional Media
Information Technology Services-Medicine
Yale University School of Medicine
100 Church Street South, Suite 124, New Haven, CT 06519
(203) 737-5033
(203) 737-5034, fax
patrick.lynch at yale.edu

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: L.A. Times column, 5/3/01 -- Public Space
Date: Mon, 07 May 2001 11:09:22 -0500
From: Gary Chapman <gary.chapman at mail.utexas.edu>
Reply-To: gary.chapman at mail.utexas.edu
To: chapman at lists.cc.utexas.edu


Below is my Los Angeles Times column for last week, last Thursday, 
May 3, 2001. As always, feel free to pass this on but please retain 
the copyright information.

I've just returned from Los Angeles, where I spent a quick three 
days, two of them as part of the group assembled by Peter Neumann and 
Lauren Weinstein for their weekend discussion on the "future of the 
Internet." It was an amazing group of people; quite a few Internet 
veterans and a rather imposing concentration of intellectual 
candlepower. I hope to be writing about some parts of our discussion 

One thing that's painfully clear: the "voice" of the scientific and 
technical community as an independent source of information and 
vision about the future of society is increasingly faint, nearly to 
the point of muteness. The recent announcement of the Bush White 
House committing the country to ballistic missile defense -- without 
any details about cost, means, scope, timetable, etc. -- was followed 
by an almost deafening silence from scientific and technical experts. 
We still don't have a White House Science Advisor, and whoever is 
chosen now will be saddled with a rather striking array of decisions 
already made without scientific advice. That cannot be a position 
people are clamoring to fill. The current situation is worse than 
I've seen in a long time -- as I suggested at the meeting this 
weekend, in a phrase stolen from my friend Howard Rheingold, we're 
turning off the headlights and stepping on the gas at the same time.

Anyway, turning off rant mode now. We've still got nice spring 
weather here in Austin, with real rainstorms this season, and last 
week was my last week of class, so, modulo the situation lamented 
above, life is good. Hope everyone is doing well too.


-- Gary

gary.chapman at mail.utexas.edu


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Thursday, May 3, 2001

Paying for Net Foils "Public Space" Idea

By Gary Chapman

Copyright 2001, The Los Angeles Times, All Rights Reserved

There has been talk about preserving "public space" on the Internet 
since consumers began to discover the Web and e-mail six to seven 
years ago. But new developments in online business are creating a 
heightened sense of urgency because many Web-based companies are 
starting to explore "pay-per-view" or subscription-based fees to 
maximize the value of their intellectual property.

Plus, the deployment of more high-speed broadband networks is 
accompanied by trends in online content that would replace the 
diverse, expansive and largely free Web with fee-based services and 
programming that will look more like commercial TV.

So there is a campaign underway to keep some online information free 
and accessible, to ensure what Jeff Chester calls "a digital commons."

Next week he will launch an organization called the Center for 
Digital Democracy in Washington, D.C., that will fight for open 
access on telecommunications networks, especially digital cable and 
digital television broadcast.

A number of national leaders are increasingly concerned that public 
interest, educational, cultural and civic content on the Internet 
might be shoved aside, or overwhelmed, by the digital and interactive 
equivalent of "Survivor II" or the Home Shopping Network.

The challenge is not only how to keep networks open to diverse and 
free information but also how to fund interactive digital information 
that serves noncommercial purposes.

One of the most ambitious and novel ideas has come from two 
television and public policy veterans, Lawrence K. Grossman and 
Newton H. Minow. Grossman was the president of both NBC and the 
Public Broadcasting Service, and Minow is a former chairman of PBS, 
the Federal Communications Commission and the Rand Corp. On April 5, 
they announced a proposal for a new Digital Opportunity Investment 
Trust, a public agency modeled on the National Science Foundation and 
funded with $10 billion from the anticipated public auctions of 
telecommunications frequency spectrum to digital wireless companies. 
(More information is available at http://www.digitalpromise.org.) 
This fund would support the development of digital information and 
services for educational, cultural, artistic and civic activities, 
Grossman said. Online material is increasingly expensive to create 
and will get even more expensive as we move to broadband networks 
that can support video and high-quality audio as well as 

"The federal government has invested billions in wiring schools 
through its E-rate program," Grossman said. "We think it's time to 
turn our attention to content, which is equally important."

A similar rationale was behind a dramatic decision by officials at 
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who announced last month 
that the university will offer nearly all its Web-based courses for 
free. This decision threw other universities--many of which were 
looking to distance education as a new source of revenue--into an 
entirely different position.

Scientists concerned about the availability of scientific research, 
especially to researchers in poor countries such as Russia and India, 
recently announced a campaign to boycott any online scientific 
journals that charge a fee for accessing published research more than 
6 months old. The campaign launched by the Public Library of Science 
(http://www.publiclibraryofscience.org) has started a heated debate 
in the scientific community over who should pay for research 

There's a question, however, about whether the Bush administration 
will hear these ideas and act. The chairman of the Federal 
Communications Commission, Michael K. Powell, has publicly admitted 
that he doesn't understand the concept of the "public interest" when 
it's applied to telecommunications. That's a bad sign. Bush's 
advisors seem likely to let the market dictate how the Internet will 
evolve, and too many people in the high-tech industry have tunnel 
vision focused on future fortunes in digital services. We'll need 
more public activism and understanding about the importance of a 
"digital commons." The quality of our cultural legacy is at stake.

Gary Chapman is director of the 21st Century Project at the 
University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at 
gary.chapman at mail.utexas.edu.


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