December 2, 2013
Here is an interesting approach to academic freedom. The Chicago Tribune informs us that “Chicago State University Wants Faculty Blog Shut Down.” The blog in question, the Faculty Voice Blog, has dared to be critical of the University administration, so the school and its lawyers have sent an official “cease and desist” notice. Rather than engage the unhappy professors in civil debate, it seems the school has suddenly decided it has a problem with the blog’s use of its trademarks and trade names. (The blog has been active, and using these “trade names and marks,” since 2009.) The notice also characterizes the posts as unprofessional and uncivil, thereby violating University policy. No word on why they feel their policy trumps the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Reporter Juan Perez Jr. cites Phillip Beverly, the associate political science professor who founded the blog. The article relates:
“Roughly eight faculty members contributed to the site, Beverly said, under their own names or pseudonyms. The website used a picture of an on-campus Chicago State University sign and ‘CSU’ hedge sculpture. But Monday evening, after receiving the letter, Beverly changed the site’s name to ‘Crony State University’ and replaced its main image with a building from another campus.”
That’s one way to deal with specious charges (don’t worry, he is also consulting a lawyer). Beverly started the website specifically to provide a forum for discussing problems at the University, like disappointing graduation rates, poor money management, and inadequate leadership. For its part, the school seems to feel it has the right to dictate what information makes it into the public sphere.
“Last year, Chicago State officials instructed faculty and staff that only authorized university representatives could share information with the media—and that everything from opinion pieces to social media communications could require prior approval.”
This is not the first time Chicago State has run afoul of the First Amendment. Just last year, a federal judge decided the school had violated rights granted by that hallowed document when it fired another outspoken professor, Steven Moore. Perhaps University administrators should audit a few classes on constitutional law.
Cynthia Murrell, December 02, 2013
October 18, 2013
Science magazine has published an important article about today’s open-access academic journals— Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?” I highly recommend reading the entire piece, but I’ll share some highlights here. Journalist John Bohannon begins:
“On 4 July, good news arrived in the inbox of Ocorrafoo Cobange, a biologist at the Wassee Institute of Medicine in Asmara. It was the official letter of acceptance for a paper he had submitted 2 months earlier to the Journal of Natural Pharmaceuticals, describing the anticancer properties of a chemical that Cobange had extracted from a lichen.
“In fact, it should have been promptly rejected. Any reviewer with more than a high-school knowledge of chemistry and the ability to understand a basic data plot should have spotted the paper’s short-comings immediately. Its experiments are so hopelessly flawed that the results are meaningless. I know because I wrote the paper.”
You see, Science performed an elaborate sting operation across the rapidly growing field of open-access journal publication. Most of these journals make money by charging authors upon acceptance of their articles; Bohannon began to suspect a number of these publications were motivated to accept papers that would not stand up to rigorous peer review, despite assertions on their websites to the contrary. What he found is truly disheartening.
See the article for the methodology behind the fake paper and Bohannon’s submissions procedure, both of which are informative in themselves. The results are disheartening. When the article went to press, far more journals (157) had accepted the bogus paper than rejected it (98). Even respected publishers like Elsevier and Sage were found to host at least one of these questionable journals. Most of the publishers that performed any review at all focused on mechanical issues like formatting, not substance. What is going on here? Bohannon offers:
“A striking picture emerges from the global distribution of open-access publishers, editors, and bank accounts. Most of the publishing operations cloak their true geographic location. They create journals with names like the American Journal of Medical and Dental Sciences or the European Journal of Chemistry to imitate—and in some cases, literally clone—those of Western academic publishers. But the locations revealed by IP addresses and bank invoices are continents away: Those two journals are published from Pakistan and Turkey, respectively, and both accepted the paper…
“About one-third of the journals targeted in this sting are based in India—overtly or as revealed by the location of editors and bank accounts—making it the world’s largest base for open-access publishing; and among the India-based journals in my sample, 64 accepted the fatally flawed papers and only 15 rejected it.”
So, opportunists in the developing world have seized upon faux-reviewed academic publishing as the way to turn a PC and an Internet connection into profits. Good for them, bad for science. How does one know when Bing or Google links to fake info? Does it matter anymore? I have to think it does. I hope that people in the field, like Bohannon, who care about open access to legitimate research will find a way to counter this flood of bad information. In the meantime, well… don’t believe every link you read.
Cynthia Murrell, October 18, 2013
October 14, 2013
Academic publishing juggernaut Elsevier produces a resource for journal editors called, reasonably enough, Editors’ Update. Retraction Watch calls our attention to the Update’s recent series on ethics in, “Editor: ‘Close to 10% of the Papers We Receive Show Some Sign of Academic Misconduct’.” While the Elsevier ethics series also addresses topics like bias and research misconduct, it is the prevalence of plagiarism that concerns Retraction Watch’s Ivan Oransky. He pulls this quote from a piece in the series by Henrik Rudolph, editor in chief of Applied Surface Science:
“Close to 10% of the papers we receive show some sign of academic misconduct, but since the total number of submissions is increasing, the absolute number is also rising. The most common issue we see is too large an overlap with previously published material, i.e. plagiarism. Cases are evenly divided between self-plagiarism and regular plagiarism. These submissions are most often identified in the editorial phase (by the managing editor or editor) and are rejected before they are sent out for review. iThenticate is an important instrument for detecting academic misconduct, but often common sense is an equally important instrument. . . . If it looks fishy it probably is fishy.”
Examples of fishy-looking content include a sudden shift from U.K. to U.S. English and spelling errors copied straight from the original. Oransky supplies descriptions of the articles to be found in part one of the Elsevier Ethics Special Edition, as well as a brief blurb on what to expect from part two. Check it out for more on this unsettling tendency.
Cynthia Murrell, October 14, 2013
September 27, 2013
For those of us that have been living under a rock (myself included) Khan Academy is the latest and greatest thing to come to mathematics education. According to a recent Learn and Teach Statistics blog post “Khan Academy Statistics Videos Are Not Good.”
After viewing a sampling of the Khan Academy statistics videos, the author concludes:
“My main criticism is that the video is dull. It doesn’t provide anything more than the mathematics. But apart from alienating non-mathematical students it isn’t harmful. In fact if I had a student who wanted to know the mathematics behind the statistics, I would be happy to send them there. People have commented that my videos don’t tell you how the p-value is calculated. This is true. That is not the aim. Maybe I’ll do one about that one day, but I figured it was more important to know what to do with one.”
This is an excellent example of why pouring money into a project doesn’t automatically make it good or useful. While video teaching in itself is not a problem. Videos that are not helpful are.
Jasmine Ashton, September 27, 2013
September 16, 2013
The academic community is supposed to represent integrity, research, and knowledge. When a project goes awry, researchers can understandably get upset, because it could mean several things are on the line: job, funding, tenure, etc. In order to make the findings go the way they want, researchers may be tempted to falsify data. A recent post on Slashdot points to a questionable academic situation: “Request To Falsify Data Published In Chemistry Data.” Is this one situation where data was falsified? Read the original post:
“A note inadvertently left in the ‘supplemental information’ of a journal article appears to instruct a subordinate scientist to fabricate data. Quoting: ‘The first author of the article, “Synthesis, Structure, and Catalytic Studies of Palladium and Platinum Bis-Sulfoxide Complexes,” published online ahead of print in the American Chemical Society (ACS) journal Organometallics, is Emma E. Drinkel of the University of Zurich in Switzerland. The online version of the article includes a link to this supporting information file. The bottom of page 12 of the document contains this instruction: “Emma, please insert NMR data here! where are they? and for this compound, just make up an elemental analysis …” We are making no judgments here. We don’t know who wrote this, and some commenters have noted that “just make up” could be an awkward choice of words by a non-native speaker of English who intended to instruct his student to make up a sample and then conduct the elemental analysis. Other commenters aren’t buying it.’”
“Make up an elemental analysis…,” does that statement sound credible to you? Researchers are supposed to question and analyze every iota of data until there is nothing left to explore. Making something up only leads to false data and will cause future studies to be inaccurate. Is this how all academics are or is it just an isolated incident?
Whitney Grace, September 16, 2013
September 7, 2013
After paying tuition, dorm fees, moving expenses, and for a meal plan, college students can expect to pay an extra six hundred or more on textbooks. Purchasing college textbooks has always had the feel of a racketeering group, where only the book publisher, bookstore, and occasionally the professor who assigns his book to make a couple extra dollars profit. The student is always left out in the cold with barely a few bucks for reselling their books back at a quarter of the price.
Textbooks are also a bother in their physical format, but thankfully there are alternatives in the digital age. Students can buy cheaper digital versions through Amazon and other textbook Web sites, but the savvy student is aware of free resources out there. Lifehacker tells us about, “Download Free, Open Source Textbooks From OpenStax College.” Rice University’s OpenStax College is where many students will be able to find their textbooks:
“This nonprofit initiative is supported by philanthropic foundations and the peer-reviewed textbooks are provided to over 200 universities and colleges, as well as individual students. Currently about a dozen textbooks are available, covering mostly the sciences, but history, economics, and other subjects are coming soon.”
The books are downloadable in EPUB or PDF formats and available to read on mobile devices. The selections are small at the moment, but expect it to grow. The article also points to other free textbook Web resources.
Whitney Grace, September 07, 2013
August 25, 2013
Earlier this year, Elsevier demonstrated their increased willingness to embrace open access to academic information with their purchase of Mendeley. Now, the leading publisher of scholarly journals is helping to boost information access in the Ukraine. Yahoo Finance reports on this move in, “Elsevier Announces its Cooperation with the Ukranian Ministry of Education and Science to Extend Access to Scientific Information.” The press release informs us:
“Elsevier, a world-leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services, today announced its cooperation with the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science in order to provide access to Elsevier’s scientific databases for sixty Ukrainian research institutions.
A Declaration of Intent for Cooperation has been signed by the Ministry of Education and Science and Elsevier. The agreement includes access to Scopus, the largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature. The Ukrainian Ministry also intends to license ScienceDirect, Elsevier’s full-text platform for research literature and Elsevier’s SciVal research management solutions, which provide insights into research performance.”
Ukraine’s First Deputy Minister of Education and Science, Yevhen Sulima, expects the increased access will significantly boost Ukrainian research, in both quality and impact. For their part, the folks at Elsevier say they are pleased to be the first international publisher to work with the Ukrainian research community on this level. Not incidentally, the company’s sales director also hopes the deal will improve his company’s already considerable global ranking.
With over 2,000 journals and nearly 20,000 books under its belt, Elsevier is an undisputed leader in academic publishing. Based in Amsterdam, the company has been around for a very, very long time. Though launched as a modern publishing company as recently as 1880, the company takes its name from a publishing house founded in 1580 by the Dutch family, House of Elzevir.
Cynthia Murrell, August 25, 2013
August 19, 2013
When reading the San Francisco Gate’s article, “San Jose State Suspends Online Courses” our immediate reaction was “ouch!” Many public universities in the US offer online courses as an alternative to traditional face-to-face education. San Jose University offered five online classes and more than half of the enrolled students failed them. In response, the university suspended classes for the time being to reevaluate. This does not mean San Jose University will stop offering online courses; it will just stop classes from Udacity. The failing classes were part of the “Massive Open Online Courses” strategy that incorporated major public universities to increase their online class offerings. These five failures set the plan back, but it is not deemed a waste:
“Despite the high failure rate, Sebastian Thrun, a researcher at Stanford University and Google Inc. who launched Udacity said valuable data and experience were gained from the effort, which will help improve future classes. ‘We are experimenting and learning. That to me is a positive,’ Thrun said. The school and Udacity plan to look into providing more information about the syllabus at the beginning of the class, so students are better informed about the requirements before committing. Officials also want to look at whether the online semester should be longer than traditional school terms to provide students with more flexibility.”
Most of the students in these classes were non-traditional students, working a job and little college experience, which is probably why they failed. It was a learning experience for both students and the university. Both are learning from their mistakes.
Whitney Grace, August 19, 2013
July 24, 2013
I get quite a few laughs when I point out that my degree is in medieval Latin poetry. Hey, what can I say? The computer science departments at my undergraduate university did not want anyone using the precious mainframe to index Latin anything. The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and Dr. William Gillis had a different view. So I know zero about poetry but I could in the early 1960s generate concordances and indexes. The rest, of course, is history. Halliburton Nuclear, Booz, Allen & Hamilton (now Snowdonized), and a couple of big companies into electronic information.
Imagine my thrill when I read the most amazingly wild and crazy article in the San Francisco Chronicle (July 14, 2013) on page E8 with the reassuring, almost baby-blanket comfortable title, “English Majors, Once Disdained, Back in Demand.” You may be able to find a version of this write up at http://www.pressdisplay.com/pressdisplay/viewer.aspx. No promises, however. I am following in the footsteps of universities which are craw fishing away from the notion that someone with a degree in law or art history will be able to find a job after graduating.
In my opinion, the main point of the essay is that English majors can look beyond standing in line for SNAP cards and unemployment benefits. English majors have the ability to “construct stories.” The passage which made me a true believer about the value of an English major was:
When so0meone spends four years reading, writing about and talking about complicated, nuanced texts, a kind of interpretive stacking occurs that enables a student (or an employee) to navigate the noise surrounding a document and pay attention both to what it’s saying and (perhaps more important) to what it’s doing.
If you are an English major, you already know this. I frequently reflect on the Elizabethiad, an epic written in Latin hexameters by William Alabaster, to curry favor with Queen Elizabeth. The fellow needed some Latin oomph since he was flitting back and forth to Spain and putting himself in a position where his “true faith” was easily questioned.
The closing paragraph of the write up is interesting as well. The author, a university professor, noted:
Of course, English isn’t for everyone, and it won’t guarantee you a job upon graduation, like a major in accounting might. But with people switching jobs every few years now, I can think of no degree more versatile or more interesting. I also believe that studying English makes you a smarter reader of the world. And as the world becomes more saturated with information, literacy (in all its forms) is the most employable skill around.
Great point. However, with rising illiteracy in the US, and the emergence of smart software which removes the need to type words to locate videos, I think that the meaning of “English major” may have to be revised. Don’t write it in cursive, however.
Stephen E Arnold, July 24, 2013
Sponsored by Xenky
June 21, 2013
In the Wikipedia UFLDL Tutorial, you can learn the basics of Unsupervised Feature Learning and Deep Learning. Of course the tutorial is meant for those who already have some understanding of machine learning (if you need and even more basic approach, you can visit the Machine Learning Course to catch up on supervised learning, logistics regression and gradient descent). The tutorial covers Sparse Autoencoder, Vectorized implementation, Preprocessing: PCA and Whitening as well as Softmax Regression and Building Deep Networks. One exercise for Self-Taught Learning states,
“In this exercise, we will use the self-taught learning paradigm with the sparse autoencoder and softmax classifier to build a classifier for handwritten digits.You will be building upon your code from the earlier exercises. First, you will train your sparse autoencoder on an “unlabeled” training dataset of handwritten digits. This produces feature that are pen stroke-like…These features will then be used as inputs to the softmax classifier that you wrote in the previous exercise.”
The tutorial walks you through each step with a number of examples and exercises, turning what might be fairly expected to be a complicated process into a veritable textbook- streamlined, straightforward and easy to understand. It turns out search systems can be very simple when automated and partially automated learning are implemented.
Chelsea Kerwin, June 21, 2013