What Ever Happened to Google Books?

It was the most ambitious library project of our time—a plan to scan all of the world’s books and make them available to the public online. “We think that we can do it all inside of ten years,” Marissa Mayer, who was then a vice-president at Google, said to this magazine in 2007, when Google Books was in its beta stage. “It’s mind-boggling to me, how close it is.”

Today, the project sits in a kind of limbo. On one hand, Google has scanned an impressive thirty million volumes, putting it in a league with the world’s larger libraries (the library of Congress has around thirty-seven million books). That is a serious accomplishment. But while the corpus is impressive, most of it remains inaccessible. Searches of out-of-print books often yield mere snippets of the text—there is no way to gain access to the whole book. The thrilling thing about Google Books, it seemed to me, was not just the opportunity to read a line here or there; it was the possibility of exploring the full text of millions of out-of-print books and periodicals that had no real commercial value but nonetheless represented a treasure trove for the public. In other words, it would be the world’s first online library worthy of that name. And yet the attainment of that goal has been stymied, despite Google having at its disposal an unusual combination of technological means, the agreement of many authors and publishers, and enough money to compensate just about everyone who needs it.

The problems began with a classic culture clash when, in 2002, Google began just scanning books, either hoping that the idealism of the project would win everyone over or following the mantra that it is always easier to get forgiveness than permission. That approach didn’t go over well with authors and publishers, who sued for copyright infringement. Two years of insults, ill will, and litigation ensued. Nonetheless, by 2008, representatives of authors, publishers, and Google did manage to reach a settlement to make the full library available to the public, for pay, and to institutions. In the settlement agreement, they also put terminals in libraries, but didn’t ever get around to doing that. But that agreement then came under further attacks from a whole new set of critics, including the author Ursula Le Guin, who called it a “deal with the devil.” Others argued that the settlement could create a monopoly in online, out-of-print books.

Four years ago, a federal judge sided with the critics and threw out the 2008 settlement, adding that aspects of the copyright issue would be more appropriately decided by the legislature. “Sounds like a job for Congress,” James Grimmelmann, a law professor at the University of Maryland and one of the settlement’s more vocal antagonists, said at the time. But, of course, leaving things to Congress has become a synonym for doing nothing, and, predictably, a full seven years after the court decision was first announced, we’re still waiting.

There are plenty of ways to attribute blame in this situation. If Google was, in truth, motivated by the highest ideals of service to the public, then it should have declared the project a non-profit from the beginning, thereby extinguishing any fears that the company wanted to somehow make a profit from other people’s work. Unfortunately, Google made the mistake it often makes, which is to assume that people will trust it just because it’s Google. For their part, authors and publishers, even if they did eventually settle, were difficult and conspiracy-minded, particularly when it came to weighing abstract and mainly worthless rights against the public’s interest in gaining access to obscure works. Finally, the outside critics and the courts were entirely too sanguine about killing, as opposed to improving, a settlement that took so many years to put together, effectively setting the project back a decade if not longer.

In the past few years, the Authors Guild has usefully proposed a solution known as an “extended collective licensing” system. Using a complex mechanism, it would allow the owners of scanned, out-of-print libraries, such as Google or actual non-profits like the Hathitrust library, to make a limited set of them available with payouts to authors. The United States Copyright Office supports this plan. I have a simpler suggestion, nicknamed the Big Bang license. Congress should allow anyone with a scanned library to pay some price—say, a hundred and twenty-five million dollars—to gain a license, subject to any opt-outs, allowing them to make those scanned prints available to institutional or individual subscribers. That money would be divided equally among all the rights holders who came forward to claim it in a three-year window—split fifty-fifty between authors and publishers. It is, admittedly, a crude, one-time solution to the problem, but it would do the job, and it might just mean that the world would gain access to the first real online library within this lifetime.

How Much Does Being a Legacy Help Your College Admissions Odds?

As Harvard, Notre Dame, Georgetown and others pledge to increase diversity, admitting the children of alumni at higher rates complicates their efforts

Top colleges have pledged to become more socioeconomically diverse, but the admissions edge many give to children of alumni may make that goal harder to achieve.

.. At the University of Notre Dame, the University of Virginia and Georgetown University, the admission rate for legacies is about double the rate for the overall applicant pool, according to data from the schools. At Princeton University, legacies are admitted at four times the general rate, or roughly 30% compared with about 7% overall over the past five years, the school says.

Legacy applicants at Harvard University were five times as likely to be admitted as non-legacies, according to an analysis of admissions data from 2010 through 2015. The numbers—33.6% for legacies and 5.9% for those without parental ties—were submitted in a June court filing for a case claiming Asian students are being discriminated against in the name of greater diversity at the school.

..  Diversity initiatives have led to complaints by white students that minority students have a leg up. Meanwhile, highly qualified Asian students say they should get more slots based on academics. Both say long-standing traditions like legacy admissions soak up coveted spots.

Advocates for considering legacy status argue that favoring the children—and, in some cases, grandchildren—of graduates helps maintain an engaged and generous alumni base and lets students serve as ambassadors to new campus arrivals.

Cornell University President Martha E. Pollack has said legacy admissions help perpetuate “a Cornell family that goes on for generations.” In an interview with the student newspaper in May, she said the practice isn’t about giving preference or an advantage to legacies, but such a designation is one of many “balancing factors.”

.. “I really don’t see how our best universities can continue to justify this practice,” said William Dudley, Federal Reserve Bank of New York president, in an October speech. “Such an approach only preserves the status quo and constrains economic mobility.”

A handful of elite schools, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology, don’t consider legacy status in admissions.

.. calling for a dozen schools, including Brown University, Duke University, Swarthmore College and Emory University, to review their legacy admission policies.
.. Legacy preferences, which historians say were originally developed to keep Jewish students from prestigious colleges in the early 1900s, generally benefit applicants who are wealthy and white
.. Calling legacy admissions a “classist, racist institution,” Brookings Institution senior fellow Richard Reeves said, “There is an inescapable hypocrisy of an institution saying, ‘We are going to be open and meritocratic,’ and maintaining a hereditary privilege.”
.. Legacies made up roughly 5% of the applicant pool and 15% of this fall’s entering class at the University of Virginia.
.. “ ‘Special consideration’ refers to the longstanding practice of the dean of admissions and his staff carefully reviewing applicants whose parents or grandparents are alumni before final decisions are made
.. say much of the differential in admission rates can be explained by legacy applicants’ higher academic credentials and cultural fit. They say legacies also enroll at higher rates than other accepted students.

Right-wing Celebrities Play Fast and Loose With History

In the “notorious Tuskegee syphilis experiment,” fascist Democrats committed a true atrocity when “poor black men were allegedly infected with syphilis without their knowledge.” No such experiment ever occurred, as David explains: “Rather men, who already had syphilis were deceived into thinking they were being treated for their illness.” If President Trump sometimes blurts out questionable facts, one comes away from Gordon’s review believing that next to Goldberg, the Donald is a practitioner of scientific method.

Let me note that such inexcusably sloppy editorializing posing as scholarship has becoming increasingly characteristic of the conservative movement as a media phenomenon.

.. Sometimes the errors can be easily corrected, for example, when Weekly Standard and National Review ascribe almost exclusive responsibility for World War I to a premeditated German plan to conquer Europe. The Craft of International History by the distinguished diplomatic historian Marc Trachtenberg shreds this utterly unfounded view. Not insignificantly, Trachtenberg’s learned tome was published by Princeton University.

.. an exchange of equally uninformed views by talk show host Dennis Prager and Dinesh D’Souza, on the subject of the fascist worldview. The question was whether one could prove that fascism was a leftist ideology by examining the thought of Mussolini’s court philosopher Giovanni Gentile (1875-1944). Gentile defined the “fascist idea” in his political writings while serving as minister of education in fascist Italy.

.. Hey, but that’s no big deal for such priests of the GOP church as Prager and D’Souza. They zoom to the heart of Gentile’s neo-Hegelian worldview in thirty seconds and state with absolute certainty that he was a “leftist.” We have to assume that Prager, D’Souza and the rest of their crowd know this intuitively, inasmuch they give no indication of having ever read a word of Gentile’s thought, perhaps outside of a few phrases that they extracted from his Doctrine of Fascism.

.. Gentile proves that “fascism bears a deep kinship to today’s Left.” After all, “Democrat progressives, in full agreement with Gentile, love and push for a centralized state, which manifests itself in stuff like recent state expansion into the private sector.” Among the questions that are left begging are these: “Do the modern Left and Gentile agree on the purpose and functions of the state?” “Would Gentile and Mussolini, who glorified Roman manliness, have rallied to the present Left in its support of feminism and gay marriage?” Did Gentile back in the 1920s favor the kind of “the stuff’ the administrative state is pushing right now?” The answer to all these questions, which of course wouldn’t be acceptable at Prager University, is an emphatic “no.” Control of the national economy by the Italian fascist state, down until its German-puppet version was established as the Italian Social Republic in September 1943, was about the equivalent of that of New Deal America.

..  He then went on to compare the Catholic counterrevolutionary Joseph de Maistre to a black feminist advocate of affirmative action, because both associated human beings with the national identities into which they were born. Apparently anyone who views others in terms of their ethnic origin, no matter at what point in history, is a certified leftist.

.. Goldberg had no idea that political camps in 1800 were different from what they are now.

 

Is the Ivy League’s Admission Bias a ‘Trade Secret’?

In 2006 Jian Li filed a complaint with the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights after he was denied admission to Princeton University. Mr. Li, who emigrated from China at age 4, had a perfect score on the SAT and graduated in the top 1% of his high school class. He alleged that Princeton violated civil-rights laws banning discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin.

.. The judge in that case has ordered Harvard to turn over six years of admissions records, and Mr. Blum suspects that the data will show that Harvard is unlawfully capping Asian enrollment.

.. America’s Asian population has exploded in recent decades, and Asian attendance at highly selective schools with colorblind admissions, such the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley, reflects this demographic trend. At Harvard, however, the percentage of Asian undergrads has remained remarkably consistent for an institution that claims race is not a determining factor in who is admitted. Mr. Blum suspects that Princeton engages in similar shenanigans

.. The school also maintains that releasing the data would compromise student privacy, and it likened its admissions process to “trade secrets” that, if exposed, would put Princeton at a competitive disadvantage in attracting students.

.. Asians have long been the forgotten victims of liberal affirmative-action schemes, subject to unwritten “just for Asian” admissions standards that recall the treatment of Jews in the first half of the 20th century.