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Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Acquires and Will Free Up Science Search Engine Meta (techcrunch.com) 68

tomhath quotes a report from TechCrunch: Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan's $45 billion philanthropy organization is making its first acquisition in order to make it easier for scientists to search, read and tie together more than 26 million science research papers. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is acquiring Meta, an AI-powered research search engine startup, and will make its tool free to all in a few months after enhancing the product. Meta's AI recognizes authors and citations between papers so it can surface the most important research instead of just what has the best SEO. It also provides free full-text access to 18,000 journals and literature sources. Meta co-founder and CEO Sam Molyneux writes that "Going forward, our intent is not to profit from Meta's data and capabilities; instead we aim to ensure they get to those who need them most, across sectors and as quickly as possible, for the benefit of the world."
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Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Acquires and Will Free Up Science Search Engine Meta

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  • by backslashdot ( 95548 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @06:24AM (#53727145)

    College students are always complaining about the price of textbooks. Why can't Chan Zuckerberg pay some of the best textbook authors to publish their textbooks for free? They should pay authors based on distribution and some other metrics such that the incentive and competition to create really great textbooks remains.

    They've got $45 billion. If they were willing to spend $100 million they could easily offer online textbooks for the top 50 college courses for free (and book versions for the printing cost). I don't think any of the top 50 textbooks were produced over $2 million each.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by RobinH ( 124750 )
      The printing cost isn't what makes textbooks expensive - they're expensive because the person who writes them is typically the one teaching the course, and he can *make* his students purchase them. There are always cheaper textbooks available that they could choose. When you price a book at $9, almost all of that goes to the publisher, but if you price it at $90, more than half goes to the author (source: I looked into publishing a book on a technical topic). Textbooks are an income generator for profess
      • The printing cost isn't what makes textbooks expensive - they're expensive because the person who writes them is typically the one teaching the course, and he can *make* his students purchase them. There are always cheaper textbooks available that they could choose. When you price a book at $9, almost all of that goes to the publisher, but if you price it at $90, more than half goes to the author (source: I looked into publishing a book on a technical topic). Textbooks are an income generator for professors.

        I've taken courses where a professors mandated materials consist of a $15 photocopied wirebound book, and I fully appreciate and respect it when they do that. When I see a professors name on the cover of mandated materials priced at $90, it tends to make me wonder about their ethics, knowing full well a valid struggle related to college costs is paying greedy authors for one-time-use books.

        Yes authors, I get your time is worth something towards the effort of creating the material. In the recurring revenue

      • The printing cost isn't what makes textbooks expensive - they're expensive because the person who writes them is typically the one teaching the course, and he can *make* his students purchase them.

        That's actually fairly rare, despite how many times you hear that old saw bandied about.

        Textbooks are an income generator for professors.

        I actually know ( and tutor the class it is used in ) a professor that co-authored a book. It hasn't changed in 9+ years, and he gets almost nothing from royalties. This is also a book used nationwide for intro level classes for a very large number of students.

        The real reason textbooks are so expensive, beside the fact that they are an absolute requirement for courses? Because especially once you get to upper level / gra

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Utter rubbish, to get 'rich' as an author you have to sell 100,000 copies plus. The royalties from publishers is tiny. It's the publishers who make the money.

        • by HuguesT ( 84078 )

          As an author, I can confirm that the typical royalty is $1 per copy. Try to get rich on that.

    • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @07:00AM (#53727225)

      Remember, Da Zuck's "Charitable Foundation" isn't a charitable foundation. The first reports about it, were, quite poignantly, fake news. What he has created, is in fact an financial investment entity that allows him to play around with his fortune, while avoiding taxes.

      So there is really no incentive to just give money away. He's letting researchers use the technology to drive its development. In a few years Da Zuck hopes to be charging for this service, and make money off this investment.

      • by h33t l4x0r ( 4107715 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @08:43AM (#53727455)
        After the recent story about Zuck suing Hawaiians to force them to give up their ancestral land, it's really hard for me to see him as anything other than a complete dickhead.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          After the recent story about Zuck suing Hawaiians to force them to give up their ancestral land

          That story is essentially fake news. The action he has taken doesn't force anyone to sell, it just finds out who they are. And he has already purchased the land in question from the majority owners, but those owners don't have clear title because of the way the land was handed down without documentation, and without any designation of which heirs owned what. The suit is to find all the minority owners so they can be paid and Zuck can get a clear title... or to get the court to rule that any owners who can't

          • by e r ( 2847683 )
            Stop bringing your facts and rationality into this. You're getting in the way of a good hate-on.
      • He doesn't need to charge. He's simply getting the researchers to train his machine learning program the way other soft AI are improved, through constant human use (ex. Google Search and Translate, Amazon's recommendation system).
    • The whole text book thing seems really archaic these days. Text books should just be wiki-fied, with version control and a print format function. Give editing to only authorised experts, and update annually as required and you're done. Cost would be trivial since content would be donated just like Wikipedia is now. How is this still an issue.
      • Give editing to only authorised experts

        Some technical information is moving that way, but there's still quality that people need to pay for - copy editing, stats checking, pictures and illustrations etc.

        • Give editing to only authorised experts

          Some technical information is moving that way, but there's still quality that people need to pay for - copy editing, stats checking, pictures and illustrations etc.

          Even this could be donated. Many large corps already donate millions in license fees and services to education, donating a few hours each year for these tasks wouldn't be too much of a stretch.

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      There may be an idea here.
      Of course, you access the books with your Facebook account.
      From there, if you want, you can buy a hardcopy really cheap, you just have to register your credit card with Facebook pay and give out your home address for shipping.

  • Chan he or not?
  • How does this steer him toward a 2024 Presidential bid?
    • How does this steer him toward a 2024 Presidential bid?

      It doesn't. He won't be old enough to be President until the 2028 election. You need to be 45 years old to be President of the USA. I personally believe that a lot of folks in their 60's and 70's are still not old enough to be President of the USA . . . not mature enough.

      However, the Meta Science Fiction Search Engine technology together with Russian Hacker technology will be able to swing the election in his favor. Russian leader Poutine will still be in charge of Russia and give his approval, but he

      • Minimum age is 35, not 45.

        It remains to be seen if Russia can influence an election in the US.

        • Minimum age is 35, not 45.

          It remains to be seen if Russia can influence an election in the US.

          Russia is already influencing this election, look at how much airtime is given to the subject. Just as China, Mexico, and the Philippines are. Whether there's enough influence to swing a result is another story, but you'd be naive to think it couldn't be done.

  • Wrong target (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doub ( 784854 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @07:20AM (#53727261)
    They should buy Elsevier, make it a non-profit, and republish their entire present and future portfolio online with free access for everyone.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      This seems more like Web of Science. They could probably get that for cheap, the company is getting passed around like a two dollar whore.

      Besides, this is a potential competitor to Google Scholar under the guise of philanthropy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by netjiro ( 632132 )
      Elsevier (RELX) costs around $30B total, so perhaps not. Better would be to very publicly and repeatedly proclaim that the era of closed scientific publications is over, then over a decade or so push down the value until controlling stake can be had for peanuts (relative). After that they can put it all public unless someone else has taken the step in the mean time.
  • by hughbar ( 579555 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @07:22AM (#53727265) Homepage
    As an old Brit, I admire many of our Victorian philanthropists, some in this list for example: http://londonist.com/2011/10/t... [londonist.com] who did a great deal of good.

    However the modern version always seems to have some catch, supporting stock prices or products, acquiring (more) big data etc. I'm waiting for simple altruism to come back into fashion. I'll certainly be dead before that, though. All these folks could go down about about $50m and live pretty comfortably too.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      > However the modern version always seems to have some catch

      Welcome to the "neoliberalist" groupthink, a cancer which started in the 70ies and is culminating these days in blights like anorectic states, austerity, "free" trade agreements carefully engineered to fuck over the poor, mass migrations, and lastly, a Renaissance of fascism's ugly face.

      (No, liberal not in the sense which is common in the USA, which means "liberty for people", but more in this "neo", which means "liberty for money").

      • by hughbar ( 579555 )
        Agree. I'm from the 60's so I remember the hippies. OK, a lot of that was very naive but also positive, humane and generous. We need (badly) to bring that spirit back.
      • by hawkfish ( 8978 )

        However the modern version always seems to have some catch

        Welcome to the "neoliberalist" groupthink, a cancer which started in the 70ies and is culminating these days in blights like anorectic states, austerity, "free" trade agreements carefully engineered to fuck over the poor, mass migrations, and lastly, a Renaissance of fascism's ugly face.

        (No, liberal not in the sense which is common in the USA, which means "liberty for people", but more in this "neo", which means "liberty for money").

        Oddly enough, this started in part as a reaction to Watergate [theatlantic.com].

    • As an old Brit, I admire many of our Victorian philanthropists

      Hey, America produced some quality philanthropists as well. I'm thinking of the Carnagie mold, robber-barons who thought it was immoral to die with most of their money.

  • By enhancements perhaps they mean engineer it so that it can suck up every detail of every user like Facebook?

    'I Need More Privacy, You Don't' - Mark Zuckerberg

  • by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @09:44AM (#53727781)

    Part of me wants to applaud this initiative, yet another part of me is very uneasy. From a link in TFS:

    ...we built partnerships with dozens of publishers in a copyright aligned model...

    "Copyright aligned"? I sorta get it; on the other hand any scientific data that was funded in whole or in part by the government, (either directly, or indirectly via tax breaks / subsidies), should be copyright-free as far as I'm concerned. Realistically, that means the vast majority of such data.

    ...we also commercialized an AI technology that can read millions of papers to uncover emerging discoveries years ahead of time...

    This sounds potentially useful - so long as the scientists who use it don't fall into the trap of relying solely on this pre-digested data instead of going to the source. It also strikes me as a kind of censorship bottleneck. Whether selectively and on purpose, (for political ends), or accidentally because of faults in the algos or in the paradigm used in their design, a LOT of potentially important info will be caught in this giant data sieve and left behind.

    We worked progressively through the creation of capabilities toward a universal system for analyzing scientific knowledge.

    Except for some very fundamental principles, "universal" and "scientific knowledge" should be held to be mutually exclusive. There is no absolute, nor even objective, definition of "universal" when it comes to science, because science is constantly re-defining what we regard as universal.

    In short, this idea may seem good from afar, but it may also be far from good when it's put into practice. The framing of this project just drips with hubris.

  • Meta's AI recognizes authors and citations between papers so it can surface the most important research instead of just what has the best SEO.

    That's literally the definition of SEO. All they're saying is that their algorithm is slightly different from Google's. Though considering how closely Google guards the details of theirs, it's hard to say how Meta will actually be different. And if this takes off, how long before people start gaming the Meta algorithm?

  • If you are really looking to capture metadata, DOIs, and links to articles, there really is no better place.
  • Make a tax avoiding show of a 'charitable foundation' while forcing people off their ancestral lands in hawaii.
    fuck zuckerberg and his ethnic cleansing ways.

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