Why farmpunk?

A farmpunk could be described as a neo-agrarian who approaches [agri]culture, community development and/or design with an anarchistic hacker ethos. "Cyber-agrarian" could supplant neo-agrarian, indicating a back-to-the-land perspective that stands apart from past movements because it is heavily informed by conceptual integration in a post-industrial information society (thus "forward to the land" perhaps?) The art and science of modern ecological design—and ultimately, adapting to post-collapse contexts—will be best achieved through the combined arts of cybermancy and geomancy; an embrace of myth and ritual as eco-technologies. In other words: the old ways of bushcraft and woodlore can be combined with modern technoscience (merely another form of lore) in open and decentralized ways that go beyond pure anarcho-primitivism. This blog is an example of just that. Throughout, natural ecologies must be seen as the original cybernetic systems.

**What we call for at the farmpunk headquarters**
°Freedom of information
°Ground-up action + top-down perspectives
°Local agricultural systems (adhering to permaculture/biodynamic principles) as the nuclei of economies
°Bioregional autonomy
°Computers are optional but can be used for good—see peer to peer tech, social media for direct popular management of natural or political disasters (e.g. Arab Spring), or the mission of the hacker collective Anonymous

Friday, January 30, 2009

Free Peer-Reviewed Information Databases

So here's the problem: Subscriptions to scholarly journals and journal databases cost thousands of dollars per year. A subscription of this sort is not priced to be a single-consumer product; the only entities that can afford to do this are universities. Unsurprisingly.

Wikipedia (and other wikis) represent a revolution in information technology, and have fundamentally changed the search algorithms employed by your average info-seeking human. They have also illustrated the incredible potential of collaborative and intentionally self-regulating structures.

Peer reviewing is when an academic paper is subject to review by a panel of experts in the same field as the article in question. This process is valued for good reason: Many researchers will rely on research from a peer-reviewed article that made it into a journal; if authors falsified data or used insufficient method, they could spawn trajectories of completely irrelevant and misguided thinking among their peers, and most importantly - poor naive undergrads.

So, the value of peer-reviewing is obvious - it is an information valuation system. And it usually works. The problem, so to speak, is that it's impossible for most people to get their paws on peer-reviewed scholarship because of the restricted-access of journal databases (moreover, you practically need a degree in library science to navigate some of these systems). Even if you run a search on Google Scholar, more often than not you'll get carted to an online database that charges you "a la carte" prices for articles... and they're like $30 dollars a pop. With all due respect, fuck that.

Some of these "l33t" databases aren't just for academic papers; Lexis Nexis claims to be the largest searchable archive of periodical news articles (from newspapers and magazines) as well as legal documents and public records published in the U.S. Essentially, it's the closest thing to an electronic library of everything that's every been printed that more than a few people read. lol. It's really popular with lawyers because it contains "all current United States statutes and laws and nearly all published case opinions from the 1770s to the present, and all publicly available unpublished case opinions from 1980 onward" (quoted from the Wiki article). Yup.

So, let's get to the good stuff! A few people at the Gund Institute here at UVM are helping advise an awesome project: The Encyclopedia of Earth. EoE is an open-access peer-reviewed online encyclopedia built with the beloved MediaWiki software that brings you many of the wikis you know and love. It's devoted to the accumulation of articles about Mama Earth - from forestry to geology to systems ecology - but moreover it's infused with the orientation of the field of Ecological Economics toward synergy, activism and problem-solving.

In their own words:

The scope of the Encyclopedia of Earth is the environment of the Earth broadly defined, with particular emphasis on the interaction between society and the natural spheres of the Earth. The scope of the Encyclopedia thus includes:

* The hydrosphere, lithosphere, atmosphere, magnetosphere, cryosphere, and biosphere, and their interactions, especially in regards to how these systems support life and underpin human existence.
* The living organisms on Earth that constitute its biological diversity.
* The interactions and feedbacks among society, biological diversity and the physical systems of the Earth. This includes the social, economic, political, behavioral, technical, cultural, legal, and ethical driving forces behind environmental change.
* Those parts of traditional disciplines that investigate the environment or its interaction with society. This includes the natural, physical, and social sciences, the arts and humanities, and the professional disciplines (education, journalism, business, law, public health, engineering, medicine, public policy).
* The interdisciplinary fields of environmental science—natural and social—that integrate concepts, methods, and analytical tools from multiple fields in the investigation the environment or its interaction with society...

This is a cause for celebration, don't you think?

For ya cyberpunks, there's another great wiki called Scholarpedia that has a lot of stuff on physics, informatics, neuroscience, and dynamical/complex systems. It's a bit less visionary than EoE - imagine it as a forge in which you can fashion yourself a cold, hard, peer-reviewed sword of scientific knowledge...and then enchant it with multiple runes of more scientific knowledge. Some bitches gon' get cut.

However, I do believe that a vision is implied and assumed by the very promotion of open-access, open-source, open-design, open-sesame, projects.

The most useful "common vision" we can hold involves the emergence of many individual understandings of a problem that by this very envisioning becomes a common problem.

The really annoying preliminary problem is the unneccisary copyrighting and commodifying of information. Thus our first common vision/problem should be the design and stewardship of systems that distribute and connect knowledge in ways that maximize human design and innovation... outside of the sticky spiderweb of the market economy. (Remember: it's not about being anti-market, it's about defining-and-respecting the parameters and abilities of the market to work for our ends: the ablities of every toolbox are limited).

A lot of people (more correctly: groups. Universities deal in the dollar, too, and money is probably the best-known shortcut to groupthink) in the academy don't want to make their work open-access (I shouldn't use the verb "want" -- it would be better to say that they don't see the option). I've heard of some professors who won't even let their lectures get videotaped. I can understand where they're coming from - they're afraid of essentially losing their organic value - being replaced by their own disembodied information - competing with an abstraction of themselves!(Um.. A Scanner Darkly, anyone?) Is this a legitimate fear? Is it just a mundane, everyman fear of losing their jobs? Or is open-access really taboo? (I'd love to hear thoughts about this, btw).
So It's a brave thing, what the professors are doing who are contributing to these open-access projects. They are in a way putting the old paradigm of the "career of professorship" on the line. It is a gamble, but I believe they know the game quite well, and are betting on exactly the right things.

Run along now, get blissed out on metadata, and spread the meta-word.

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