STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Swartz is Dead, White House Adjusts Rules
By Staff News & Analysis - February 25, 2013

Scientists have long published the results of their work in scholarly journals, and many such publications have warned that open access would destroy them and the function they provide the scientific community. The White House has moved to make the results of federally funded research available to the public for free within a year, bowing to public pressure for unfettered access to scholarly articles and other materials produced at taxpayers' expense. "Americans should have easy access to the results of research they help support," John Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, wrote on the White House website. An online petition on the White House website demanding free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research drew 65,704 signatures. – Reuters

Dominant Social Theme: We have discovered that more access is better when it comes to information. We found this out purely on our own.

Free-Market Analysis: In what has to be one of the more cynical moves in recent US political history, the White House has announced (see above) that more information freely distributed is better than less information available on via subscription.

This turn of events come about six weeks after the death information activist Aaron Swartz, who supposedly killed himself when faced with severe prosecution over the intent to distribute "non-legal" publicly-funded information to the public. Here's how the article puts it:

Swartz ran into trouble in 2011 when he was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges related to allegedly stealing millions of academic articles and journals from a digital archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The activist, who pleaded not guilty to all counts, faced a lengthy prison sentence and a hefty fine if convicted in a trial that was set for later this year.

Swartz's family and supporters blamed prosecutors for overreaching in his case, and his suicide drew attention to questions about the 1984 U.S. computer fraud law, much of which was written before the Internet.

Swartz faced over 30 years of jail time for his "crime," and apparently committed suicide over his prosecution, we learn, after all, that such "laws" are fungible and can be changed.

Most in the mainstream media may treat the change in information availability as a "victory" for Swartz. Of course, as Swartz is dead, he cannot celebrate it, or not as the living would celebrate.

The larger issue unfortunately is one of the US legal system's unaccountable arrogance. Holdren is quoted as saying the following regarding the decision: "We wanted to strike the balance between the extraordinary public benefit of increasing public access to the results of federally-funded scientific research and the need to ensure that the valuable contributions that the scientific publishing industry provides are not lost," he said.

But this was NOT the message Swartz received. He was given to understand that he might end up in jail for several decades for drawing attention to an irrational public policy. This bolsters the points we have been making about the current system of US justice and its departure from natural law.

In the modern era, law has transitioned from the setting of rules that respected human nature to one in which the state can merely insist on rules no matter their logic or feasibility. This is a most dangerous state of affairs as such rule-making eventually erodes civil society and the respect that people have for cultural institutions and the continuation of social comity.

The White House's decision to make certain public information more accessible seems on its surface to be a rational decision to a tragic occurrence. In fact, it took the death of a brilliant young man to generate this minor policy change. And if Swartz were still alive it probably wouldn't have happened.

In this day and age, bureaucrats can change rules almost at will but a citizen who wishes to create change via civil disobedience is threatened with decades of imprisonment and a criminal record.

This is a reversal of the original intent of the US Constitution that put citizens in charge of the government rather than vice versa. It is a measure of the profundity of this change that very few if any articles shall be written like this one – certainly not in the mainstream press.

After Thoughts

Authoritarianism expands a little bit at a time and each encroachment on freedoms soon seems natural and even sensible. But they are not.

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