SSRN is the Social Science Research Network, a for profit online depository and distribution network for academic papers with an all-male Board of Trustees. My law school pays a fee to SSRN so that my colleagues and I can upload our academic papers into the SSRN database. We do this so that interested parties with Internet access can download (and optimally read and cite to) our writings.
In addition to charging educational institutions membership fees, SSRN generates revenue through advertisements. Recent advertisements I saw at the site included ones touting “term papers for sale.” In this post at Credit Slips, Angie Littwin, who recently uploaded a paper arguing for major changes in the credit-card market, noted with some chagrin that:
…my SSRN page is hawking credit cards. If you look down the side of the web page that displays my abstract, there are five Google text ads, all related to credit. One offers a low-rate credit card. A couple offer debt relief or credit counseling. One even offers debt-settlement services, an unsavory offshoot of credit counseling wherein the company advises its clients to stop paying their creditors and instead save up for a future settlement payment.
Blech. Another problematic aspect of SSRN is that the number of downloads per paper is being touted as a valid measure of the worthiness of the paper, the academic who wrote it, and the educational institution employing her. Brian Leiter appropriately offers a lot of important and well-reasoned caveats about this. One choice that he made in his most recent “download tournament” calculations, however, is a little perplexing, and it is responsible for the F word in the title to this post. Leiter excluded Chris Fairman’s heavily downloaded paper, Fuck, which he refers as “one provocatively titled article by Christopher Fairman.” In addition to SSRN, “Fuck” is available at BEPress and at 28 Cardozo L. Rev 1711 (2007).
I just visited the abstract to Fairman’s paper at SSRN, and it was accompanied by Google advertisements for what appear to be diploma mills, which is much more offensive to me as an academic than a mere cuss word, powerful as the word may be in some contexts. Sure Fairman’s article is provocative, but it is genuine scholarship, and not simply some kind of SSRN-gaming gimmick. The piece also has a noticeably feminist bent (see this post), which is why I take particular interest. Fairman has written an essay discussing this situation that can be accessed here.