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Knowledge is Worth Paying For

45 Post author: lukeprog 21 September 2011 06:09PM

Have you ever asked a store manager if you can use their bathroom and been told that you must order something first? Even if it's obviously worth $1 to not wet your pants, you feel a bit resentful about having to buy the Arizona iced tea. You're so used to using other stores' bathrooms for free that you actually considered not paying.

Wikipedia, Google Books, and the Pirate Bay have trained many people to expect that knowledge should always be zero-cost. I used to feel that way, too. I would try half a dozen techniques to get some set of highly compressed knowledge (a textbook or review article) for free, and if that failed, my brain felt a bit indignant, and I would move on to something else.

One of the most important lessons I ever learned about the neglected virtue of scholarship is this: Sometimes, knowledge is worth paying for.

How much do you value your time, and how much do you value understanding a certain thing? After reading lots of research and many book excerpts, I learned that Foundations of Neuroeconomic Analysis (2010) was the best overview available on how the brain encodes value and makes decisions. But I couldn't find it for free. I had a hunch that coming to understand the subject without reading the best overview available would take at least a dozen extra hours. The Kindle price for Foundations of Neuroeconomic Analysis was only $55. Easy choice: I bought it.

(As it turns out, Foundations of Neuroeconomic Analysis is one of the best books I've ever purchased, and much better than the next best thing — Handbook of Reward and Decision Making — so purchasing the book probably saved me several dozen hours.)

Anyone who has made it through The Sequences understands the value of knowledge. And the absurdly high value of The Sequences is not so much in their novel content as in their idea selection. You could have figured out most of what's in The Sequences yourself by reading lots of cognitive science and the best of physics and philosophy, but that would have required many years and highly developed rationality skills.

But, having some indication of their value, would you have paid to read The Sequences, if that was the only way? I hope you can see that would have been a good choice.

If you want to be a scholar, learn how to get knowledge for free. But if you can't find a high-value source of knowledge for free, don't give up just because you've been trained to expect that knowledge should be free. Remember that knowledge is worth paying for.

Let me finish with three tips for efficient knowledge purchasing.

 

Get Thee to a Library

There is no efficient way for an individual scholar to pay for access to journal article databases like JSTOR, ScienceDirect, Springer, or Wiley. But, you can go to the library of a major research university, sit down in their computer lab, and download hundreds of papers from behind paywalls onto your flash drive (or upload them to your Dropbox account).

In L.A., I kept a list of the papers I needed to download in Google docs and drove 40 minutes each way to the UCLA library once every two weeks. That costs time and money (for gas), but it was much cheaper than buying individual subscriptions to all those databases.

I also paid $100/yr for a non-student UCLA library card so I could check out books from the university, which had a much better selection of academic books (and a better interlibrary loan system) than the L.A. public library system.

 

$10 Textbook Rentals

Often, I need to read a few chapters from a very expensive textbook or academic book, but I can't find those chapters available anywhere online. Usually, recently released textbooks aren't available at my local libraries, either.

However, I have discovered a way to rent textbooks through the mail for only $15 each. (This is another secret of efficient scholarship: Get in the habit of feeling good about paying for efficiently compressed knowledge when you need to.)

Here's how it works. Textbook rental website Chegg.com has a 21-day 'any reason' return policy. Rent a book, read the sections you need to read (or photograph them for yourself) right away when it arrives, then return it. You end up paying only shipping and sales tax, which on a $120 book ends up costing between $10 and $15.

I've done this several times now, and it has worked every time:

  1. Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics (OUP, 2011)
    Amazon price: $150.77
    Total Chegg cost after refund: $14.99
  2. Oxford Handbook of Causation (OUP, 2010)
    Amazon price: #117.33
    Total Chegg cost after refund: $9.99
  3. Intimate Relationships (W.W. Norton & Company, 2010)
    Amazon price: $66.15
    Total Chegg cost after refund: $9.99
  4. Psychology and the Challenges of Life (Wiley, 2009)
    Amazon price: $114.69
    Total Chegg cost after refund: $9.99
  5. Oxford Handbook of Social Neuroscience (OUP, 2011) 
    Amazon price: $217.39
    Total Chegg cost after refund: $9.99

 

Buy Ebooks

When it comes to expensive academic books, ebooks are usually much cheaper than physical books. I usually find the lowest prices at Amazon Kindle or Google ebookstore, so those are my two default sources. Of course, you don't need a mobile device to read books purchased from either store.

A sampling of my recent ebook purchases:

  1. Rethinking Intuition (Rowman & Littlefield, 1999)
    Google ebookstore: $37.09
    Hardcopy on Amazon: $119
  2. Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence (CUP, 2011)
    Kindle: $48
    Hardcopy on Amazon: $68.49
  3. Enhancing Human Capacities (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011)
    Kindle: $49.49
    Hardcopy on Amazon: $74.73
  4. Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment (CUP, 2002)
    Kindle: $37.12
    Hardcopy on Amazon: $46.52

Of course, sometimes a book is worth buying even if it's not available online, at a local library, via Chegg.com, or as an ebook. I recently bought Rationality and the Reflective Mind (2010) as a good ol' fashioned hunk of paper.

 

Conclusion

Lots of people ask me how my articles can be so scholarly. One reason is that I've learned how to do scholarship efficiently. Another reason is that I've learned that knowledge is worth paying for.

Comments (108)

Comment author: jsalvatier 21 September 2011 08:19:24PM 18 points [-]

I'll just mention that if anyone needs a paper for LW related reasons, I (and others probably) will get it for you.

Comment author: Swimmer963 21 September 2011 10:06:44PM 6 points [-]

Likewise, if I can find it on the university-supported databases.

Comment author: Morendil 21 September 2011 07:45:55PM *  12 points [-]

ebooks are usually much cheaper than physical books

Rarely true for secondhand older books, usually true for newer books or relatively rare older works (which unfortunately includes many academic books). I can often pick up secondhand books for literally pennies; I'm a newcomer to e-reading but not convinced yet that it's going to bring savings overall.

ETA: in case that's not clear, I think this post is missing a huge tip for efficient acquisition of words: secondhand physical books. It's worth saying because some people - I used to be in that number - have a hangup about buying used books. I've totally changed my mind on that, largely thanks to Amazon Marketplace. Riffling through stacks in a used book store holds no appeal for me, but looking up some title that looks interesting and seeing a copy on Marketplace for a euro or less, and buying it without even a second thought? Pure bliss.

Comment author: jsalvatier 21 September 2011 08:24:36PM 2 points [-]

Book price search engines help you find the very lowest price among online used book stores. They scrape Amazon, half.com, albiris, etc. and show you what the prices are in one place. There are a bunch of these, but I generally use booksprice.com.

Comment author: Swimmer963 21 September 2011 10:08:46PM 2 points [-]

I have to say, my automatic thought when I read your comment was "riffling through stacks in a used book store? Bo-ring! And time consuming!" Then I saw the addition about online shopping. I have bought a few physics books second-hand online before, although if I'm not mistaken it still cost $50 for a first year textbook, not something I'm willing to pay unless I'm very interested in the subject.

Comment author: Karmakaiser 22 September 2011 12:49:30PM 1 point [-]

From my experience that depends heavily on the textbook's content. You can go quite a few editions down in the humanities without any change.

Most first year books can use last year's edition or even the year before, not for a class of course, but for your own use. Classical mechanics hasn't changed much since Newton.

Now when you start getting into the "Oxford/MIT/Harvard/Fancy U/ handbook handbook range I've seen higher than $150, being used only drove the price up.

Comment author: wnoise 22 September 2011 06:15:29PM *  4 points [-]

Classical mechanics has changed significantly since Newton, with two reformulations not even counting relativity.

Newtonian classical mechanics is late 1600s, with "laws of motion" from 1687. Lagrangian mechanics was formulated in 1788. Hamiltonian mechanics in 1833. And of course, each of these gets relativistic modifications and formulations...

It's true that you don't need "the latest" book, but you probably do want one that's from the last 50 years.

Comment author: lionhearted 22 September 2011 07:43:56AM *  11 points [-]

Great post. Three points -

1) The calculation is even easier for people who have their income directly tied to performance or entrepreneurship... if you can get one good insight out of book, it's a net gain. Most of the highly successful people I know have spent thousands or more on books. I buy them like crazy, I just got 32 audiobooks during a big sale at Audible. Books are an amazing value.

2) You know that old quote "Information wants to be free?" It's actually only half the quote. Here's the whole thing Brand Stewart said -

"On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other."

3) Please consider adding affiliate links to your post, either personally or for SIAI or another reputable charity? I know the conflict of interest thing, but you're just increasing Amazon's margins and leaving money for good causes on the table by not adding affiliate links. It's ridiculously simple to do -

Sign up here: https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/

Click "get a link" when signed on the relevant page.

Use that link instead of the link without the affiliate. Doesn't change functionality for readers/users at all.

Seriously, I might buy that Foundations book you recommend, I'd much rather $1 or $2 to go your way or the way of a charity you respect. Sure, it's a tiny bit of money, but in scale it adds up.

Comment author: Barry_Cotter 23 September 2011 09:47:17AM 4 points [-]

LW use viglink which automatically adds affiliate codes to all amazon links without authors needing to think about it.

Comment author: rocurley 27 September 2011 02:13:32AM 1 point [-]

If you want this to happen whenever you buy off amazon, follow these instructions.

Comment author: JamesAndrix 22 September 2011 02:37:02AM 11 points [-]

Foundations of Neuroeconomic Analysis

Without getting into the legal or moral issues involved, there is a """library""" 'assigned to the island state of Niue', it's pretty damned good, and that's all I have to say about that.

Comment author: lukeprog 22 September 2011 02:54:37AM 1 point [-]

Gah! It wasn't there when I was looking many months ago.

Comment author: tenshiko 24 September 2011 09:40:38PM 8 points [-]

One key cause of piracy left out of this analysis is the significant demographic of people who have internet but can't buy things over it. This usually describes teenagers in developed countries who have internet access, but don't have capital that they can freely spend on digitally purchased objects. The amount of young adults who actually have jobs is really falling in developed countries because of the promotion of internships and volunteering opportunities, which are easier to obtain than jobs and have equal or greater prestige. Even if they do have income, they may not possess credit cards. There's a good portion of this group that can't even drive to purchase things with cash. So every new possession they obtain by spending money, or rather getting an adult to spend/provide/transfer money, is a significant expenditure.

In this situation, knowledge becomes something it seems irrational to pay for, because it seems like it "should" be liberated. They might acknowledge that being able to understand physics better or win arguments has a value of $20 or $50, but they won't spend that when they could get a comparable result with an expenditure of time, even if said time is worth more than the money would be.

Comment author: nshepperd 25 September 2011 03:54:39PM 8 points [-]

"Your time isn't worth minimum wage when you don't have a minimum wage job"...

Comment author: [deleted] 25 September 2011 04:55:39PM 7 points [-]

Right -- knowledge is worth paying for, but not all knowledge is worth the asking price, especially when the asking price is out of your reach in any case.

If I'm working two or three minimum-wage part-time jobs just to break even, the face price of a $100 textbook is effectively inflated against the index of how much I need that money for other things. The consequences of buying it aren't necessarily just being 100 dollars the poorer; that may be an electrical bill going unpaid; it might be two weeks of groceries I won't be able to buy. (Don't scoff at the inefficiency of working so many low-wage jobs; for a lot of real people in the US and Europe there is no other choice!)

If you have your basic survival needs met but little or no capital income (many teenagers and young adults) then almost any asking price is too high to consider. You couldn't pay it in any case. Exhortations to "get a job" or "save up" won't make it more viable to try and get a job, or save up -- you are working from a position of negligible expendable capital.

In my case, I make a paltry income thanks to the welfare system in my country, and am able to set aside a little disposable income (where "disposable" still includes necessities like clothing, medicine, and other obligatory expenses I don't have the money to just toss into my regular budget). In a good month, my medical expenses are low, I don't need new clothes, and there's nothing else I need for something but could, technically, live without. Paying for knowledge is sometimes viable, but the vast majority of the time I'm still better served by getting it for free if possible, or by direct interaction with someone I know who has that knowledge (thus "spending" my time, and any necessary social capital, which is a whole lot easier to come by than money, even for my autistic self...)

An asking price I can't pay might as well be an overinflated one, from my standpoint.

Comment author: lessdazed 25 September 2011 02:21:02AM 2 points [-]

credit cards

Trivial inconvenience, the oxymoron.

Comment author: tenshiko 25 September 2011 04:23:53AM 2 points [-]

The point isn't "a credit card", the point is "any means of making digital purchases", which pretty much translates to "a credit card". A non-trivial problem in the situation I describe.

Comment author: christina 25 September 2011 05:30:03AM *  4 points [-]

Actually, from what I have seen, sellers have been very eager to eliminate this problem. In many of the stores near where I live, you can buy gift cards for various online sellers in addition to brick-and-mortar ones. For example, in my nearby grocery store, we have Amazon gift cards, Kindle gift cards, Ebay gift cards, and just the other day I saw one entire side of a gift card rack decked out in Facebook gift cards. Though Barnes and Noble and Best Buy both have brick and mortar stores, their gift cards allow you to purchase at either the store or the website.

I don't know how many other places have this kind of availability, but if you can buy a $10, $25, $50, or $100 gift card for an online store, that opens up a variety of possibilities for online purchasing. Especially if, like Amazon, the vendor allows you to use more than one of their gift cards. Of course, this approach does seem to limit you to larger companies, but still allows a variety of web purchases.

Also, online purchases from any vendor are possible for young adults who have a debit card with a credit card logo, though some may not prefer to make purchases this way.

Comment author: shokwave 25 September 2011 07:09:49AM 2 points [-]

a debit card with a credit card logo, though some may not prefer to make purchases this way.

Could you elaborate? I'm currently doing this, and I saw no downsides, but that comment makes it look like there might be good reasons not to.

Comment author: Nornagest 25 September 2011 08:04:27AM *  4 points [-]

The easiest debit cards to obtain, especially for younger people who don't have a credit rating, are generally linked to a bank account -- I had one such at eleven, although I understand that's unusually young. Use that card to make purchases and you're essentially giving out a handle to that account, with obvious implications for fraud. My understanding is that recouping fraudulent withdrawals from a bank can be harder than doing the same for a credit line under some circumstances, and account balances are often higher than credit limits -- though probably not for teenagers.

Comment author: shokwave 25 September 2011 08:10:06AM 3 points [-]

Ah! I see. Thankfully it's the norm here in Australia that the card issuer is mostly responsible for card fraud and they are decently vigilant about it (me being in the reference class of "buys things online", I have twice been called by my bank to inform me that my card has been blocked due to suspicious charges which were reversed upon me confirming I did not make those purchases). Judging from my parents' experience with recouping credit fraud, the procedure is exactly the same. Thanks for taking the time to explain.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 April 2012 10:02:54PM 3 points [-]

I have a debit card which notifies me with a text message to my phone every time I make a purchase.

Comment author: DaFranker 16 January 2013 07:56:21PM 2 points [-]

I'm jealous of this. I wish more banks and credit card issuers provided this feature.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 January 2013 07:37:26PM 2 points [-]

Yes. When I discovered that, I was surprised that such a simple solution to the problem of card fraud existed but was not widely implemented.

Comment author: shokwave 12 April 2012 10:50:01AM 0 points [-]

!! This is a really, really good idea.

Comment author: christina 25 September 2011 10:39:28AM 0 points [-]

Yes, that's what I was referring to. I use my debit card for online purchases, but I am selective about doing this, since I like to avoid fraud. I have had an experience with fraud before which was more time consuming than what you described (with a significant amount of paperwork), but did result in the bank returning the money to me. As a result of the unpleasantness of this experience, I tend to be reluctant to buy from sites I don't clearly recognize as legitimate.

This is not a strictly online concern for me, though. I also make much fewer debit card purchases at stores nowadays and don't use it at all at restaurants.

I would probably feel similar even if I had a credit card instead since I found the first experience so unpleasant.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 April 2012 09:58:33PM 0 points [-]

Debit cards can make digital purchases almost everywhere credit cards can, and they are relatively trivial to get.

Comment author: Swimmer963 11 April 2012 10:08:32PM 1 point [-]

But having no money on the debit card, or being unwilling to spend that money because you're saving for college, isn't trivial.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 April 2012 10:18:47PM 0 points [-]

But then that's not an issue specific to digital purchases...

Comment author: jsalvatier 21 September 2011 08:17:11PM *  6 points [-]

What do people think about hiring a tutor? Of course that is only available for relatively old topics that are more experiential learning than symbolic learning.

I've had a lot of trouble understanding and getting good at mathematical proofs, so in the next couple of weeks, I intend to hire a tutor to teach proof skill to me.

Comment author: Mass_Driver 22 September 2011 04:09:17AM 6 points [-]

I think that's wise. Be sure to find a tutor who is moderately busy, and therefore reasonably indifferent to how much of his/her time you purchase. That way the tutor will not have a perverse incentive to either rush you or try to drag things out.

Comment author: jsalvatier 22 September 2011 02:41:17PM 0 points [-]

Good point.

Comment author: fdzf 24 September 2011 03:21:42AM 5 points [-]

After reading lots of research and many book excerpts, I learned that Foundations of Neuroeconomic Analysis (2010) was the best overview available on how the brain encodes value and makes decisions. But I couldn't find it for free.

Here's another place to look: I downloaded "Foundations of Neuroeconomic Analysis" from library.nu for free just now, as a 488 page PDF file. If you don't create an account, you can search for books and find pictures of the covers, but if you create an account they'll show you links that let you have files for the books. The format varies: usually PDF, sometimes mobi or djvu.

Comment author: Guest1111 20 February 2012 02:53:26PM 2 points [-]

Too bad they closed this site down! In my opinion, library.nu was the third most important site on the web after google and wikipedia! For a nice article on why it should continue its operation and how it can be done read this: http://e-library-free.blogspot.com/2012/02/free-illegal-knowledge-and-how-not-to.html

Comment author: atucker 22 September 2011 03:03:32AM 12 points [-]

If you're willing to spend time reading a book, and value your time at a certain rate, its normally true that the cost of the book isn't that much compared to the value of the time spend reading it.

Comment author: JenniferRM 23 September 2011 11:26:04PM *  4 points [-]

After reading lots of research and many book excerpts, I learned that Foundations of Neuroeconomic Analysis (2010) was the best overview available on how the brain encodes value and makes decisions. But I couldn't find it for free. I had a hunch that coming to understand the subject without reading the best overview available would take at least a dozen extra hours. The Kindle price for Foundations of Neuroeconomic Analysis was only $55. Easy choice: I bought it.

I'd love to hear more about this particular aspect of the process. That "hunch" bit seems really tricky to me, because I'm never entirely clear what's going to be useful or not. My impression is that marginal differences in information value are usually small with occasional jackpots, and a person generally can't tell if something is a jackpot without the kind of access that they'll have had to pay for. Sometimes its to the point where I can read an entire work and only notice that it was good or bad six months later, based on usage and update patterns in the aftermath of having read it.

This makes me very curious how you estimated the dozen "saved hours" to compare against the $55. Also, I'm curious how you estimated the value of the understanding to determine that it would be worth more than a dozen hours in the first place, if that was the best you could do, especially relative to all the other things you could be working on that functioned as opportunity costs?

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 22 September 2011 06:50:36PM 4 points [-]

Allegedly, anyone can purchase a library card to the Austin Public Library which comes with the ability to remotely access many databases. Has anyone tried this? Are any of the databases of value, other than JSTOR?

Comment author: JenniferRM 24 September 2011 02:40:14AM 2 points [-]

I found the database list but the application process requires you to be there in person. Cards are free to Texans and cost $60/year for everyone else.

Comment author: demented 24 September 2011 12:34:47PM *  2 points [-]

Yes Austin Library has a quite extensive research center. And unfortunately some sites are exploiting their openness and, can you believe it, posting their logins on blogs like http://ezproxy.free-webmaster-resources.org/2010/12/page/2/ . Oh, the audacity!

Of course I don't support such sites in the least.

Comment author: shokwave 22 September 2011 06:33:13AM 4 points [-]

Wikipedia, Google Books, and the Pirate Bay have trained many people to expect that knowledge should always be zero-cost. I used to feel that way, too.

I feel like this is an important point - knowledge is worth paying for, and anything worth paying for is worth getting for free (given that the costs associated with getting it for free don't outweigh the cost of paying for it in the first place). As you rightfully point out in the quoted text, when the free sources are more comprehensive and higher quality than the paid sources, it is easy to get confused.

Comment author: [deleted] 22 September 2011 06:23:05PM 12 points [-]

Any knowledge worth paying for is worth liberating.

Comment author: Morendil 21 September 2011 07:52:50PM 3 points [-]

Of course, you don't need a device to read books purchased from either store.

I'm not sure what you meant here. You certainly do need a device - worst case, your PC. Was it your intention to say that you didn't need a mobile device - Kindle or other?

(For me reading on a PC is not an optimal use of that time - I'd rather be writing or otherwise producing when at my desk, whereas reading in places where I can't write - on the tube, in the loo, on vacation, and so on - has always felt like a win. So far, I haven't found anything that beat physical books for that purpose, though I've recently decided to give e-reading a try.)

Comment author: lukeprog 21 September 2011 08:52:51PM 2 points [-]

Fixed, thanks.

Comment author: Yvain 21 September 2011 06:52:58PM *  19 points [-]

I appreciate and agree with the principle behind this post, but when a store wants to charge me for using the bathroom I either find a friendlier store or else I hand them the money with a smile and never buy anything from that store ever again.

There are certainly sources of knowledge that are not cheap to produce and which deserve our funding and our appreciation. But I am not going to give eg gated journals one cent more than I am absolutely forced to, and I consider it morally important to make attempting to profiteer off of other people's scientific research as unprofitable and unpleasant as possible.

Comment author: lukeprog 21 September 2011 07:31:48PM 22 points [-]

Use fungibility. You want access to research, and you want knowledge to be more free.

So pay $50 for a book that will save you two dozen hours of research, and then spend a dozen of those hours writing blog posts and tweets telling other people exactly which easy steps they can take to promote open journals and so on. That accomplishes your goals a lot better than not paying for the book.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 September 2011 02:30:17AM 23 points [-]

Or buy the journal article and upload it... you'd think there'd be better centralized pirated repositories of science by now.

Comment author: lukeprog 22 September 2011 02:53:21AM 18 points [-]

My site is slowly becoming one. :)

Comment author: JoshuaZ 22 September 2011 02:34:49AM 10 points [-]

The set of people who want journal access is very small compared to the set of people who want free movies, music or tv shows. Moreover, most of the people who will benefit from journal access are people who have university access. (Although there is an issue there that this is much more difficult for small schools.) So there's not that much market for it.

Comment author: SilasBarta 22 September 2011 02:42:38AM 3 points [-]

You could say the same thing about textbooks, thereby proving that avaxhome.ws doesn't exist.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 22 September 2011 02:50:17AM 11 points [-]

There are a lot more undergrads that want basic textbooks than there are people who want to read research papers.

Comment author: SilasBarta 22 September 2011 02:52:52AM *  2 points [-]

Undergrads typically need the physical textbook, not just an electronic one, for example to use in an open book test. (Though I was mainly trying to smuggle in a mention of a pirate site that does cater to autodidacts ...)

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 22 September 2011 07:33:59AM *  9 points [-]

I have a Bachelor's degree and I've never either had an open-book test in college, nor heard of anyone having one. (Though we did have a couple of "you may bring one A4 worth of your own notes" tests.)

Comment author: [deleted] 11 April 2012 10:10:29PM *  1 point [-]

It depends on where you are, among other things. In Italy, about 90% of the tests I've taken in university were open-book, but I spent one year as an exchange student in Ireland and none of the tests I took there were open-book.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 September 2011 01:26:25AM 1 point [-]

While I've never finished a Bachelor's, I did spend about two years at a university and open-book exams weren't unheard of at all.

Comment author: MBlume 22 September 2011 11:44:11PM 0 points [-]

Nearly every upper division physics final at UCI.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 23 September 2011 12:22:52AM 3 points [-]

Sorry, nearly every one of them fell into which category? I can parse your sentence as being open to textbooks, being not at all open or allowing you to bring your small bit of notes.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 23 September 2011 01:52:53AM 0 points [-]

Did any of them restrict the edition of the textbook?

Comment author: ZankerH 23 September 2011 12:20:59AM 2 points [-]

Instructors on my university had no problem with people bringing copied books to open-book exams.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 April 2012 10:14:32PM 1 point [-]

In most tests in my university, people are allowed to bring pretty much everything they want except other people and devices to communicate with the outside world.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 22 September 2011 03:01:14AM *  2 points [-]

Many classes don't have open book tests. This is especially true outside the sciences. The market is still much much larger than that for research papers.

Comment author: CharlesR 22 September 2011 03:31:00PM 1 point [-]

There is arXiv, but it's mainly physics.

Comment author: rhollerith_dot_com 22 September 2011 04:05:44PM *  5 points [-]

I doubt ArXiv considers the hosting of pirated content part of their mission or that they'd continue to host an article after receiving a valid DMCA takedown notice. In other words, I believe ArXiv depends on authors' restraining themselves from signing away their right to publish on ArXiv: physicists mostly engage in such restraint, but, e.g., chemists and medical researchers mostly do not.

ADDED. And over the course of ArXiv's existence, a significant fraction of authors have signed away the rights to the final post-peer-review version of their paper, which is why ArXiv has often been referred to as a preprint server.

Comment author: wedrifid 21 September 2011 08:58:20PM 9 points [-]

So pay $50 for a book that will save you two dozen hours of research, and then spend a dozen of those hours writing blog posts and tweets telling other people exactly which easy steps they can take to promote open journals and so on. That accomplishes your goals a lot better than not paying for the book.

Or, if you don't happen to predict that evangelism is the optimal strategy in the context then you can use the dozen hours writing up blog posts or papers that directly convey knowledge freely.

Comment author: steven0461 25 September 2011 10:09:32PM 7 points [-]

I consider it morally important to make attempting to profiteer off of other people's scientific research as unprofitable and unpleasant as possible

Are you the same Yvain who wrote that consequentialism FAQ and that optimal philanthropy article? Surely the lesson from those topics is that it's not morally important to make your own life more difficult in service of "good causes" that are actually relatively unimportant.

Comment author: Yvain 26 September 2011 05:33:46AM *  5 points [-]

By "morally important", I didn't mean "this is the most important moral issue", only "something that moral considerations should bear upon". "Morally charged" might be more accurate.

It's always going to be "irrational" to punish people, but "super-rational" considerations say that going to disproportionate lengths to punish people makes people less likely to cause trouble. So I admit some of my beliefs here are disproportionate, but I'm okay with that.

But I do think that if gated journals retard the advance of science by, say, 2% (and there's some reason to think they affect real researchers and not just amateurs), that's not trivially unimportant.

Of course, if a gated journal article is the only thing between your research and a cure for cancer, you pay them the money.

Comment author: lukeprog 23 September 2011 11:09:52PM 4 points [-]
Comment author: Jordan 21 September 2011 07:18:03PM 2 points [-]

Hear, hear. I encourage everyone to buddy up with an academic and use that academic's library's access to journals.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 21 September 2011 07:06:22PM 0 points [-]

But I am not going to give eg gated journals one cent more than I am absolutely forced to, and I consider it a moral imperative to make attempting to profiteer off of other people's scientific research as unprofitable and unpleasant as possible.

Servers take resources to keep up. Printed physical copies take paper and take employees to work on the publishing and typesetting end. Open access journals are nice but sometimes there are actual costs involved in running journals and that needs to come from somewhere.

Comment author: gwern 21 September 2011 07:37:39PM 12 points [-]

The overhead is minimal. One of the 'charities' I've looked at was JSTOR, which hosts many journals. Their hosting and ongoing costs are trivial - employee compensation eats the entire budget; and they make next to nothing on gatewayed articles:

Comment author: cousin_it 21 September 2011 07:14:58PM *  33 points [-]

Servers take resources to keep up.

No they don't!!

If you gave me a million scientific articles in PDF form that were previously unavailable on the open web, which could be redistributed without legal problems, then I would host them somewhere and pay for it until the day I die. The benefit to humanity is way bigger than the trivial cost to me, and I also gain some much needed geek karma :-) Are there any LWers who wouldn't do the same?

Comment author: Clippy 22 September 2011 01:04:23PM 9 points [-]

You're a good human.

Comment author: pedanterrific 22 September 2011 01:34:07PM 1 point [-]

Wait, what do scientific articles have to do with paperclips?

Not that I disagree.

Comment author: Clippy 22 September 2011 01:40:03PM 12 points [-]

You don't know what scientific knowledge has to do with making more paperclips from the same inputs? Are you a dumb human?

Comment author: SilasBarta 21 September 2011 07:12:06PM *  9 points [-]

Those are pretty trivial compared to the costs the researchers bear to run the journals, and they're not the reason that the pay journals charge so much for an electronic version. We're basically just dealing with vestiges from a time when publishers really were necessary; now, all that a journal exists for is to certify quality, which you don't need to pay a third-party publisher for.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 21 September 2011 07:25:13PM 3 points [-]

Yeah, your point along with cousin_it's point seem to be valid. The cost being charged by many journals is much larger than the actual cost of running them. I don't know if that is completely relevant since Yvain's statement doesn't seem to be ok with even a journal that was charging at or near cost.

Comment author: fiddlemath 24 September 2011 01:46:51AM 2 points [-]

Moreover, the journal doesn't even certify quality itself. Journals ask academics to peer-review articles. I'll admit that this requires a certain amount of organization, but it's nothing that a slightly-motivated volunteer organization couldn't handle. It's certainly not worth the prices that journals demand.

(grrr, argh.)

Comment author: wedrifid 21 September 2011 09:12:10PM 2 points [-]

Servers take resources to keep up. Printed physical copies take paper and take employees to work on the publishing and typesetting end. Open access journals are nice but sometimes there are actual costs involved in running journals and that needs to come from somewhere.

Technically true but a red herring nonetheless.

Comment author: anonym 21 September 2011 08:15:55PM 5 points [-]

A good way of getting cheap textbooks is to use a price alert service that notifies you when the price of a new or used book drops below a certain price. When you don't need the text in a hurry, and would rather save money and buy used, that works well, because students often want to get rid of a textbook in a hurry and offer it for sale at far below the typical used price for that book. Those deals tend to go pretty quickly though.

Another good idea is to buy the previous edition, especially for texts that have many editions. When the 8th edition of a textbook is going for $80 used, you can often get the 7th edition used for ridiculously cheap (like $10 or $15), and the previous edition was often released just a few years ago (some texts have a new edition every few years) and has only minor differences.

Comment author: kilobug 21 September 2011 06:38:52PM 9 points [-]

I agree with the main theme (that knowledge is often worth paying for), but you should be much more careful before advising technologies like Kindle which are heavily loaded with DRM and kill-switch. We all know how Amazon disabled all copies of 1984 from the Kindles once. The fact it was 1984 is a "funny" coincidence, but the point remain. Granting to a company (by itself, or because asked by a government to do so) the power to destroy all the copies of a book in the world in one click is not something we should do.

http://www.defectivebydesign.org/amazon-kindle-swindle explains it better than I do.

Until ebooks are respecting the rights and freedom we have with paperbooks (like a plain PDF do, but not a Kindle ebook), I would recommend to people to buy good-old paper books, even if they are a bit more expensive. Freedom is also worth paying for.

(Sorry if this is a bit out-of-topic, but it seems an important point to me; and yes I know that political arguments should be two-sided, there are positive aspects in Kindle and most ebooks, but I wanted to bring attention over a very negative aspect which is, IMHO, sufficient to overcome the positive ones).

Comment author: JoshuaZ 21 September 2011 06:48:28PM 15 points [-]

Amazon removed one edition of 1984 due to it being sold by a company that did not have the copyright. Given how much backlash there was just over that, it is extremely unlikely that Amazon or any other major e-book provider will engage in any form of substantial censorship or removal of material. The risk does exist but it is so small as to not really need much attention paid to it.

A more substantial problem seems to be the great difficulty which one has in lending e-books. There have been some steps taken to handle this but they are still very suboptimal.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 22 September 2011 04:35:44AM 3 points [-]

Given how much backlash there was just over that, it is extremely unlikely that Amazon or any other major e-book provider will engage in any form of substantial censorship or removal of material.

"Extremely unlikely" sounds pretty steep! What odds are you giving on that bet? Twenty to one? A hundred to one?

Of course, it depends on what you count as "substantial censorship or removal".

What exactly are you predicting? What evidence, should it come to light, would prove you wrong?

Comment author: JoshuaZ 22 September 2011 04:50:04AM 10 points [-]

So I'd venture the following:

1) In the next three years Amazon will not remove any already sold products on the Kindle due to copyright concerns. 87%

2) In the next five years Amazon will not remove any already sold products due to political pressure. (95%). (This is one of the vaguer ones but I think it should be clear.

3) In the next five years Amazon will not remove any already sold products from the Kindle because the product has been determined to be libelous or blasphemous in some jurisdiction. 95%.

4) In the next five years Amazon will not remove any already sold products from the Kindle that date from before 1920. 99%

5) In the next five years Amazon will not remove any already sold products from the Kindle. 80%.

6) In the next five years Amazon will not remove any already sold products from my Kindle. 98%.

7) (Most relevant to this discussion). In the next five years Amazon will not remove any already sold textbook or copy of a scientific journal. 92%.

I'm willing to make 5-10$ bets on any of these claims at these odds.

In all these cases, the relevant way of testing will be media reports of the removal of the texts, or in the case of 6 by self-reporting. Obviously there's some overlap between some of these predictions. But they seem to be pretty decent estimates. I've focused on media reports because that seems given how much the last issue came up that seems like a safe way of separating the substantial and insubstantial accusations. I've focused on the Kindle primarily because I know more about it than the other e-readers but similar estimates would apply for the others.

Comment author: DanielLC 22 September 2011 06:47:31AM 5 points [-]

So, given that they remove something, there's a 10% chance that one of those things is on your Kindle? If they remove something, they'll probably remove more than one thing, but still. Do you just have a lot of high-risk stuff on your Kindle?

Comment author: JoshuaZ 22 September 2011 12:19:03PM *  2 points [-]

That's a good point. Hmm, 6 looks underconfident. Should probably be closer to .999 confidence. But that starts getting me worried that the most likely failure is a failure in my reasoning not in my model. So say .995.

Comment author: kilobug 22 September 2011 06:39:50PM 0 points [-]

I agree with most of your estimates. The only one with which I disagree is the 2, I would put it near the level of the 1, maybe at 90%, but doesn't matter much. You're reasoning on 5 years, which is a relatively short time frame, but that's not the main problem either.

There are two problems which are not really accounted in your estimates, IMHO :

  1. Black Swans : the probability is very low, but we can't rule out some catastrophic outcome, like fanatics (from Tea Party or whatever) seizing power and wanting to ban evolution-related books. The odds are very low, but who would have predicted Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler or the Rwanda genocide ? I just don't want anyone to hold the power to massively terminate copies of books easily, even if I'm pretty sure they won't use that power. Because I'm just "pretty sure" of it. So I want to steer the future in a direction in which they just can't hold the power. A dystopia like The Right to Read is not impossible either. And yes I know about the fallacy of using fictional evidence, but let me use it as a lossy compression to convey a concept in a few words.

  2. The actual consequences of DRM, even without any intent to abuse from them : you can't (easily) lend or give the ebooks for example. And what about the future ? When your Kindle dies in 10 years, what's the chance that you can't transfer the ebooks on the new device you bought ? Those problems are real and serious too.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 23 September 2011 09:09:30AM 2 points [-]

When your Kindle dies in 10 years, what's the chance that you can't transfer the ebooks on the new device you bought ?

Personally, I tend to agree with Vornaskotti on this:

Of course, I don’t really control the books I buy from Amazon, who still has the power to close my account and at least in theory render all my books unreadable. In my case the same applies in here as with comics: I don’t really care. I’ve been getting rid of useless crap in our apartment in a steady pace for a couple of years, but for a long time the bookshelves stacked three novels deep have been The Great Untouchable. This year I conquered it too, and I’ve been taking my books to an antiquarian by the bagful.

It seems that I very rarely re-read books, even those I really like. If I do, it’s ten years later or so, and with that kind of frequency I can bloody well buy the book again, unless I want to borrow it from someone.

Comment author: fiddlemath 24 September 2011 01:52:08AM 0 points [-]

There's a difference, though. The space an ebook occupies is far cheaper than the space a physical book occupies. I can see selling or giving physical books to reclaim their space, but, so long as you have any index whatsoever, getting rid of ebooks seems silly.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 24 September 2011 08:26:27AM 0 points [-]

The quote didn't say anything about getting rid of ebooks? (It only said that if those ebooks happened to get lost, it wouldn't really matter.)

Comment author: JoshuaZ 23 September 2011 12:11:19AM 1 point [-]

The main reason I didn't put the predictions more than five years is because the ebook technology is changing very rapidly so I don't feel comfortable making any predictions that far in the future. It also isn't that relevant to the discussion in question since it isn't that incredibly likely that one will have the same ebook reader now as one has in five years.

Regarding 1- right, most of the probability goes into extreme unanticipated events, although to be blunt, it seems like your politics are showing a bit in a mindkilling fashion. To only briefly touch on the mindkilling issues- the Tea Partiers have shown little interest in censorship or the like. Moreover, in the cases of both Stalin and Hitler, the censorship wasn't at all a gradual thing. If one does have advanced warning about any censorship regime the e-readers have a really simple solution- turn off the external connection and don't let any of their servers talk to it.

2 falls under what I discussed earlier in terms of borrowing and related issues. Those are all issues I agree are much more serious. There's no question that ereaders do raise serious problems. I just don't think that removal of material is one that is a high concern.

Comment author: lessdazed 22 September 2011 12:38:27PM 0 points [-]

One option is to make the bets about media reports directly.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 22 September 2011 04:19:51PM -1 points [-]

Okay, I think our estimates aren't as different as I thought.

One of the stronger aspects of your earlier comment was "or any other major e-book provider", which you've dropped here. After all, if there are four major providers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google, Apple) today, and if we believe each has an 80% chance of not-censoring, and that they are independent, then that works out to only a 41% chance for all of them not-censoring.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 22 September 2011 05:02:27PM 1 point [-]

Right. But the key issue is how likely is it for any given user of a system to experience such a problem? That is I suspect very low.

Comment author: anon895 23 September 2011 05:20:58AM 2 points [-]

People know Kindle DRM can currently be broken, right?

Comment author: lukeprog 23 September 2011 10:29:41PM 1 point [-]

Tried it, didn't work for me. :(

Comment author: anon895 24 September 2011 06:05:36PM 0 points [-]

Huh. Worked fine for me using files from a previously existing setup of Kindle for PC under Windows XP.

Comment author: lukeprog 21 September 2011 06:52:46PM *  5 points [-]

That's a fine point, though this post is about paying for knowledge, not paying for freedom. Also, Amazon never had the power to kill all copies of 1984.

Comment author: Swimmer963 21 September 2011 10:06:07PM *  0 points [-]

Very good post. I have the benefit currently of being a university student and having access to an enormous library, plus a password that allows me to access free PDFs of articles from a dozen different databases. Once that's no longer true, I'll keep your suggestions in mind.

Comment author: michaelcurzi 25 December 2011 11:18:26PM 1 point [-]

But, having some indication of their value, would you have paid to read The Sequences, if that was the only way? I hope you can see that would have been a good choice.

That is a GREAT question. I probably wouldn't have paid more than $40 if a few friends gave it a strong recommendation. For me to pay more than $100, I would have needed an overwhelming number of people I highly respected to have recommended it.

In retrospect, it's difficult to know how much money I think I should have been willing to pay - that is to say, the amount of money I would pay to prevent the information from the Sequences from being deleted from my mind (with no hope of recovery or finding the Sequences again), or from being switched to a timeline in which everything was as similar as possible but I'd never read the Sequences (and would never be able to). My guess is that I would pay something on the order of $50,000-$100,000. I wonder if this is abnormally high.

What would you pay? And adjust for anchoring, if possible.

Comment author: Bill_McGrath 22 September 2011 10:37:13AM 1 point [-]

My college librarian set me up with an account on a platform called Athens so I can access journals at home. This may not be possible everywhere, but it's certainly worth exploring. Athens seems to link together several resources, but JSTOR and Oxford Music Online are all I've used. I only have access to certain fields on JSTOR (music and Irish studies, mainly), but I would assume this is because that's what my college teaches; other institutions may provide different accesses.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 29 September 2011 01:55:39AM 0 points [-]

It'll be tough, but I'd like to go all electronic sometime soon. The ability to search, tag, and cut is invaluable.

Comment author: dlthomas 29 September 2011 02:09:09AM 1 point [-]

FWIW, on Amazon you can often search inside books you've purchased through them.

Limited, but occasionally invaluable.

Comment author: Clarica 28 September 2011 02:18:24AM 0 points [-]

I find this article bewildering, but intriguing.

Education is valuable, money is (among other things) a token of exchange for value... Getting a good value for your time and tokens of value is a great plan.

Getting a good value for producing educational materials is hopefully not a primary incentive. But it is not an insignificant incentive.

I do acknowledge that it is a corrupting influence. One of my professors admitted in class that he revised his textbook every two years because the value of used copies of textbooks stayed too high for him feel like the investment effort of writing it paid off, compared to the costs of revising it, and pushing the new version as the text in similar classes in other universities. (He apparently is prudently ethically prohibited from making a profit by requiring it in his own classes.)

Comment author: jjoseph 26 September 2011 08:44:57AM 0 points [-]

On the other hand, often, even in renaissance times, knowledge was guarded by guilds, families etc. Recently reading Alex Bellos' "Adventures in Numberland" he writes that Niccolò Tartaglia was the first person to solve cubic equations in europe, but refused to share the secret. Girolamo Cardano, begged Tartaglia, who eventually relented and in a roundabout way shared his secret but swore Cardano to secrecy. Cardano shared it with his secretary, Lodovico Ferrari, who improved on it to find the solution to Quartic Equations. Cardano had a dilemna which he eventually solved, though Cardano felt betrayed.

The problem seems to be akin to the one faced by the pharmaceutical industry, inventors need sufficient renumeration, and protection from intellectual theft, but society needs transparent, acessable information.

Comment author: juped 25 September 2011 12:25:35AM 0 points [-]

About that first paragraph, I usually was going to buy something anyway, but I want to buy it after I've used the bathroom, because who would want to carry their drink or whatever into a public bathroom?

Comment author: [deleted] 24 September 2011 08:54:06AM *  0 points [-]

The opportunity cost of spending hours on the Internet just searching for the best titles on my desired subject are quite high to me. Is there any process you use to minimize this time? I'm hoping for an autodidact forum that gives book recommendations for beginners, though maybe you simply search Amazon "Listmania"s for introductory books.

Comment author: mstevens 22 September 2011 04:57:38PM 0 points [-]

Academic library access seems to be much more restricted in the UK.

I can either:

  • Visit the university where I have alumni privileges, but spend most of the day travelling
  • Pay significant sums of money (eg £225.09 http://www.ull.ac.uk/library/privres.shtml) for access to a more local library. In cases like this you often don't get access to online resources such as journals.
  • Some local academic libraries seem to have "do we like the look of you" policies where you can get an external membership by being convincingly in need of knowledge. I've not tested this option.
Comment author: [deleted] 24 August 2015 02:02:18AM -1 points [-]

May as well just start a business around selling junior job positions. You could employ them to sell the jobs to other junior job-seekers. Law firms do it already, and I don't see any legal barriers to making it a core business activity. They get 'knowledge', you get cash. Wallah.