Statement on the death of CC friend and colleague Bassel Khartabil

Photo of Bassel Khartabil by Mohamed Nanabhay (CC BY)

We are deeply saddened and completely outraged to learn today that our friend and colleague Bassel Khartabil has been executed by the Syrian regime.

Bassel was Creative Commons’ Syrian project lead, an open source software programmer, teacher, Wikipedia contributor, and free culture advocate. He was also a devoted son and husband, and a great friend to many people in the open knowledge community around the world. The projects and communities he helped to build live on across the globe, and will remain a tribute to his leadership.

In March of 2012, Bassel was taken from the street in Damascus amid a wave of military arrests. He was jailed for several years, during which time he was allowed to infrequently communicate with family members. Then, in October 2015, he was abruptly transferred to an undisclosed location. At that time, all communications between Bassel and the outside world ceased. The Creative Commons board publicly called for Bassel’s immediate release, and the MIT Media Lab offered Bassel a research position in its Center for Civic Media. His family and friends prayed for his safe return, and are heartbroken today to learn the awful and terrifying news of his execution.

Over the past several years, a variety of human rights groups called for Bassel’s release. Amnesty International launched a campaign through its Urgent Action network that encouraged the public to write letters to Syrian authorities and urge them to grant Bassel access to his family, a lawyer, and medical attention. The US State Department singled him out on International Human Rights Day in 2015 as a “prisoner of conscience.”

Additionally, since his detention, an international community of Bassel’s friends and colleagues have worked to raise awareness about Bassel, his projects, and his story through the #FreeBassel campaign. As an extension of this project, a massive 3D-printed rendering of one of the Palmyra Tetrapylons was created for and exhibited at this year’s Creative Commons Global Summit. The rendering was a tribute to Bassel and was made directly possible by Bassel’s work in the founding of #NEWPALMYRA, an effort to digitally capture and remodel the endangered ruins of Palmyra.

Around the world, activists and advocates seek the sharing of culture, and open knowledge. Creative Commons, and the global commons of art, history, and knowledge, are stronger because of Bassel’s contributions, and our community is better because of his work and his friendship. His death is a terrible reminder of what many individuals and families risk in order to make a better society.

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 375,000 windows on art history, and that’s just the beginning – Wikimedia Blog

“Richard Knipel, the Wikimedian in residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, looks back at the efforts made and future plans to further support collaboration between the museum and the Wikimedia movement.”

The battle for free knowledge | Fin24

“The consensus seems to be that a lawsuit isn’t going to stop Sci-Hub, it’s more than likely here to stay. 

Some in the publishing industry have even suggested that the sector needs to be introspective and acknowledge that it has failed to provide fair access to researchers.

What is clear is how much power the publishing industry that services the academic world appears to have.

Two activists who have challenged that power have met with the full force of the law. One forced into suicide and the other into hiding, fearing being kidnapped for extradition.

In a time of #FeesMustFall perhaps we as South Africans should be paying more attention to this global battle.”

Impact of Social Sciences – Formalised data citation practices would encourage more authors to make their data available for reuse

“It is increasingly common for researchers to make their data freely available. This is often a requirement of funding agencies but also consistent with the principles of open science, according to which all research data should be shared and made available for reuse. Once data is reused, the researchers who have provided access to it should be acknowledged for their contributions, much as authors are recognised for their publications through citation. Hyoungjoo Park and Dietmar Wolfram have studied characteristics of data sharing, reuse, and citation and found that current data citation practices do not yet benefit data sharers, with little or no consistency in their format. More formalised citation practices might encourage more authors to make their data available for reuse.”

What can fact-checkers learn from Wikipedia? We asked the boss of its nonprofit owner – Poynter

“Several studies have shown that Wikipedia is as reliable if not more reliable than more traditional encyclopedias. A 2012 study commissioned by Oxford University and the Wikimedia Foundation, for example, showed that when compared with other encyclopedic entries, Wikipedia articles scored higher overall with respect to accuracy, references and overall judgment when compared with articles from more traditional encyclopedias. Wikipedia articles were also generally seen as being more up-to-date, better-referenced and at least as comprehensive and neutral. This study followed a similar 2005 study from Nature that found Wikipedia articles on science as reliable as their counterparts from Encyclopedia Britannica.”

Sharing by Law: Open Science Takes a Legal Approach

“‘A partnership between the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC) at the University of Toronto and U of T’s Faculty of Law has yielded a new concept that could change the way scientists share research tools. Aled Edwards, who leads the SGC, is lead author of a recent paper that applies the concept of a legal trust to open research reagents ­— substances that scientists use to test biological hypotheses and give insight into potential new therapies. Under this model, the researchers who receive reagents would become ‘trustees’ obligated to treat the materials as public goods. The article is published in Science Translational Medicine….Academic researchers use public funds to create reagents to use the lab. Currently any reagent created at any University is legally the property of the institution and is shared only under contract. Although this is the status quo, many of us believe science shouldn’t belong to an institution or an individual, but to society and that our work should be viewed as a public good,’ says Edwards, who is also a professor in the Departments of Medical Biophysics and Molecular Genetics and an expert in open science drug discovery.”