Profits over people: Aaron Swartz and the dominant model of our world

For those who did not know, Aaron Swartz committed suicide on the 11th of January, 2013. He was being prosecuted by the state attorney for having ‘stolen’ thousands of documents from the online academic library JSTOR, and faced up to 35 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines. He did this at MIT, and MIT did not help him at all during the subsequent court-case.

Aaron obviously did not seek (could not in fact, there is no profit in this) any profit from these documents. He was an Internet activist who wanted research information, largely paid for by the general public’s tax money, to be accessible to the same public free of cost.

Now, being a researcher myself, I have often run into the problem of not having access to scientific articles. For example, I did my PhD research at the Delft University of Technology, which is a leading science and technology university that regularly features in the top 20 science and tech unis. And there too, I often did not have access to many journals and resources. (One of those resources incidentally was JSTOR!)

Now if rich universities have problems in access, how can we expect universities in poor third world countries to have access to all these papers? And then “we” (who is “we” by the way?) say that science is for everyone! That science shall set us free. What a load of bullshit!

People in the third world know that the only way most of our students are able to complete their university studies is by using stolen books (buying pirated books). Yes sir, that’s the only way we get some morsels of education and science.

So was what Aaron did illegal? Of course. But was it wrong? Black people sitting in the front rows in buses was illegal. Forget that. Let’s take a more stark example. Nelson Mandela was till as late as 2008 considered a terrorist by US law. Ok? There are of course countless other examples through history

Given the unjust world that we live in, a case could be made that what Aaron did was right. Aaron was mainly concerned with the free dissemination of information. The way the world is going, and the greed and sadism with which the masters of the universe are operating, it would not come as a surprise if the very air that we breath is soon privatized and available at a high cost. And then people would be punished for daring to breathe air for free! (Most likely the only reason air has not been privatized is because of the practical unfeasibility of such a project!)


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I am interested in understanding the links between science models and engineering models, and whether we can design a "science" for fields that require interdisciplinary research. Specifically, my field is the design of techno-social systems. Such systems are not traditional computing systems and require an inter-disciplinary approach for their design. Generally, I am interested in modeling and simulation, and seek to apply my knowledge of the same in various domains including arts, politics, science and engineering You can reach me at Rameez Rahman

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