Open Review Brings Peer Review to the Scientific Masses

April 7, 2014

This seems like a step in the right direction for the world of academic publishing. ResearchGate News announces, “Peer Review Isn’t Working—Introducing Open Review.” We know that increasingly, papers based on shoddy research have been making it into journals supposedly policed by rigorous peer-review policies. Now, ResearchGate has launched a countermeasure—Open Review brings the review process to the public. The write up happily tells us:

“We’re excited to announce the launch of Open Review today. It’s designed to help you openly voice feedback and evaluate research that you have read and worked with, bringing more transparency to science and speeding up progress.

“With Open Review you can:

*Voice your feedback on the reproducibility of research.

*Request reviews of research you’re interested in.

*Discuss publications with the authors and other experts.

“All too often we’ve seen false findings printed in the pages of noteworthy journals while valuable research doesn’t make the light of day, and rarely is anything done about it. Open Review aims to change this. Recent events have highlighted the need for a new system for peer review, and Professor Kenneth Ka-Ho Lee and his team at the Chinese University of Hong Kong are taking the first steps.”

The piece goes on to discuss Professor Lee’s review, the first to be published under the new system. Lee and company analyzed a study published last January in Nature on a new (and more ethically neutral) method of producing stem cells for researchers. Unfortunately, the study contained egregious errors, and never should have made it into print. Elevated hopes were brought back to earth.

The write-up concludes with a call for input from scientists on how to improve Open Review (ResearchGate membership required to comment). ResearchGate was founded in 2008 to facilitate collaboration by scientists around the world. They emphasize a dedication to transparency; this project certainly embodies that goal.

Cynthia Murrell, April 07, 2014

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Important Book on Networked Youth now Available for Free Download

March 25, 2014

If you wonder how teens are interacting with technology and how it is affecting them, don’t rely on sensationalistic headlines. Boing boing announces that what writer Cory Doctorow calls “the best book about young people and the Internet I’ve read to date” is now available gratis in, “Free Download of danah boyd’s Must-Read Book ‘It’s Complicated.’” While boyd is more interested in spreading her information than in making a profit, she also recognizes that purchasing a book signals to others that its message is important. To that end, she does encourage us to buy the book if we can, even if we enjoy it in free pdf form first.

Over a decade, boyd carefully researched the subject and found that society’s dismay over the Internet’s influence on youth is unwarranted. Doctorow’s review of the book reveals:

“In eight brisk chapters—thoroughly backstopped by a long and fascinating collection of end-notes—boyd tackles the moral panics of networks and kids, and places them in wider social and historical contexts. She systematically, relentlessly punctures easy stories about how kids don’t value privacy; whether the Internet holds special danger of sexual predators; the reality of bullying; the absurdity of ‘Internet addiction’ and the real story of ‘digital natives’ and the important and eminently fixable gaps in kids’ network literacy.

“boyd is not a blind optimist. She is alive to the risks and dangers of networks; but she is also cognizant of the new opportunities and the relief from other social problems (such as hysteria over the presence of kids in public places; sexism, racism, homophobia and slut-shaming; the merciless overscheduling and academic pressure on adolescents) and the immense power of networks to enable advocacy, agency and activism.”

Don’t buy the hype, buy the book. Or at least take boyd up on her offer and read the free version. As we shed reflexive hysteria and delve into complex reality, we should remember that anxiety over the ways of younger generations is perpetual. Roleplaying games, comic books, rock ‘n’ roll, and even paperbacks all took their turns as targets of elder scorn.

Cynthia Murrell, March 25, 2014

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An Egyptian eBooks Search Engine

March 24, 2014

Most people think about the Amazon Kindle, iBooks, and other popular mobile book reading platforms when they hear eBooks. In the Middle East there is fierce competition to dominate eBook sales in the region. Wamda posted the article, “Egyptian eBooks Search Engine Al Kutub Ready To Face The Competition” that gives a rundown about a new player.

Al Kutub is a new book search engine and within twelve days has seen over 10,000 people subscribe. The creator Mohammed Nemat Allah designed Al Kutub to be the largest regional database of digital and audio books. Allah does not host any of the content, instead Al Kutub searches through online sources.

Allah only hosts the books’ bibliographic citation and directs the user toward legitimate book sellers, so he does not have to fear legal action:

“The thirty something Nemat Allah seems to believe in spreading knowledge and is confident of his legal stance, according to statements from his counselor. Whoever objects to the presence of any content, the statements say, should remove it from the source where it was originally posted.”

Al Kutub offers four different subscriptions that offer different services and incentives. There is also an internal social network. The eBook application market is booming! The common belief is that people do not read in this digital age, they just do not read paper.

Whitney Grace, March 24, 2014
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News, Optimism, and Content Marketing

February 26, 2014

I read “How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations.” Public relations may need to do some PR and damage control. The allegedly accurate information provided one more factoid to support our contention that locating and verifying “news” is a tough job.

I will be addressing some of the methods a researcher can use to unwrap the ballistic padding that online services use to keep some information away from the grubby fingers of researchers. Consumers who gobble pay-top-play content are what most online services want. And, if you had not noticed, putting video content front and center is the new trend for those who are looking for facts, data, and high-value analyses.


As Kim Kardashian allegedly said, “I’m an entrepreneur. Ambitious is my middle name.”

The blog post “The Future of the News Business: A Monumental Twitter Stream All in One Place” was more interesting to me. The write up presses some familiar controls on the baloney making machine; for example:

  1. Consolidation is much better than individual services. I wonder if “consolidation” is a euphemism for monopoly, a concept with which some executives are more familiar. An older-school thinker used the word “convergence” but that buzzword makes an appearance in the source article.
  2. The time horizon is not three years (a long time in today’s uncertain world). The time horizon is 20 years in the future. I wonder how far in the future Viktor Yanukovych’s chief of staff planned yesterday. I think the plans are on hold for a while.
  3. The old way of news was monopolistic. The new way is to generate money from many streams; for example, advertising (good), Bitcoin (possibly problematic), and slicing and dicing (a possible copyright quagmire).
  4. The beacons range from Buzzfeed (listicles) to SearchEngineLand (the logic straining search engine optimization service described as “a place for all the search news, all the time.”)

The opportunity, if I follow the argument, is to tackle the job of creating a monumental Twitter Stream all in one place” with vision, scrappiness, experimentation, adaptability, focus, deferred gratification, and an entrepreneurial mindset.

I appreciate the elegant quote from Tommy Lasorda about how difficult creating a news-oriented “monumental Twitter stream” will be. My hunch is that a fusion of PR methods, content marketing, and “bits are bits” thinking will triumph.

Read more

Online Accuracy: Not What It Seems

February 25, 2014

I read “Publishers Withdraw More than 120 Gibberish Papers.” The article reports that Springer and IEEE have begun the process of removing “computer generated nonsense.” The article explains how to create a fake paper in case you are curious. What about the papers in online services and commercial databases that contain bogus data? Do researchers discern false information?

PLOS, an open access scientific publisher, said that it would ask authors to make their data more available. You can read about this long overdue action in “PLOS’ New Data Policy: Public Access to Data.”

I wonder why the much vaunted text analysis software does not flag suspect information. Perhaps marketing is more important than accuracy?

Stephen E Arnold, February 25, 2014

E-Reader Domination Proceeding Slowly

February 13, 2014

Could this be good news for Barnes & Noble? TheNextWeb reveals that our transition from dead-tree tomes is just beginning in, “Pew: 69% of Americans Read a Print Book in 2013, 28% Read an E-Book, But Only 4% Went Exclusively Electronic.” The numbers come from Pew‘s ongoing Internet & American Life survey. Reporter Emil Protalinski writes:

“As you can see, while e-books are becoming more popular, print is still king. Most people who read e-books also read print books, and only 4 percent of readers were ‘e-book only’ in 2013. As e-books become available on more devices (not just e-readers), their use is expected to continue growing. Americans increasingly own their own e-readers, tablets, and smartphones, all of which e-books can be consumed on.”

The same survey also revealed that 14 percent of us listened to an audiobook last year, and, interestingly, that those “readers” consumed a wider range of content than others. The article also tells us:

“Overall, 76 percent of adults read a book in some format over the previous 12 months. The mean number of books read or listened to in the past year was 12 and the median number was five (meaning that half of adults read more than five books and half read fewer). The median is a better measure of what the ‘typical’ American’s reading habits look like since the mean can be skewed by a relatively small number of very avid readers.”

Only five books in a year? How sad. I suppose I must be one of those avid readers to which Protalinski refers. The study was conducted in the first week of this year, and quizzed 1,005 American adults; the margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. The report can be e-consumed here [PDF] in all its twenty-page glory.

Cynthia Murrell, February 13, 2014

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Luxury Journals Pick and Choose What Science Will Sell

February 6, 2014

The article on The Guardian titled How Journals Like Nature, Cell and Science are Damaging Science is written by scientist Randy Shekman explores the difficulties posed by publishers for scientists doing important but less flashy work. The article particularly targets “luxury journals” favoring provocative papers over less fashionable or exciting papers that are occasionally better science.

The article explains:

“In extreme cases, the lure of the luxury journal can encourage the cutting of corners, and contribute to the escalating number of papers that are retracted as flawed or fraudulent. Science alone has recently retracted high-profile papers reporting cloned human embryos, links between littering and violence, and the genetic profiles of centenarians. Perhaps worse, it has not retracted claims that a microbe is able to use arsenic in its DNA instead of phosphorus, despite overwhelming scientific criticism.”

This problem of publishers printing more interesting papers over well made ones is salvageable, the article posits. Open-access journals that will take any papers so long as they meet industry standards can lessen the importance of citations to researchers. Similarly, universities must make changes in their doling out of grants and professorships. If they base their accolades of papers on content and quality instead of what journal published them, the researchers won’t have to scramble to be published in journals with more prestige.

Chelsea Kerwin, February 06, 2014

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Google Books Ruling Appealed

February 2, 2014

It’s not over until it’s over. The long process of determining whether Google’s giant Books project counts as “fair use” continues, we learn from “Authors Guild Appeals Ruling in Google Books Case” at The Authors Guild would like to see limits on the herculean digitization project, which has scanned more than 20 million books to date.

The brief write-up reveals:

“The Authors Guild is appealing a US judge’s decision in a long-running case that cleared legal obstacles for Google’s massive book-scanning project, court documents showed Monday. The group filed a notice of appeal in the case following a November 14 ruling by Federal Judge Denny Chin. Arguments are to be filed at a later date with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. The guild vowed to appeal the case after Chin ruled that Google’s project is ‘fair use’ under copyright law because it provides vital educational and other public benefits. The case, which dates back to 2005, centers on a Google program started in 2004 to create an electronic database of books that could be searchable by keywords.”

Works in Google’s database that do not hold current copyrights are available online for free (Chaucer, anyone?) The problem, of course, involves copyrighted books. Those are not available for free in their entirety, but Google does maintain a searchable database, complete with snippets of text from each book. Google maintains that this practice, which the company considers akin to a virtual card catalog, complies with copyright law. Judge Chin, for one, seems to agree. Will the Authors Guild’s appeal get any traction?

Cynthia Murrell, February 02, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Free Book Manager For Google Books

January 29, 2014

For most Apple users, iBooks is the singular app they use for reading, while Amazon Kindle users have an entire tablet dedicated to the action. Google falls somewhere in-between with its Google Books Downloader. Softpedia reviewed the application in “Softpedia Editor’s Review For Free Google Books Downloader” and gave it high marks.

Right off the bat, editor Christina Jitaru says it is very easy to use the application to download books and save them to your computer or other device. Jitaru explains that all a user needs to do is paste the URL address of the selected book, choose where to store the file, and save it as either a PDF or images.

After repeating her explanation about downloading again, Jitaru gets to the one negative aspect of Google Book Downloader:

“However, a downside of the program is that it does not allow you to download multiple books at once. All you have to do is to paste the URL address, then wait until the grabbing process is complete. After that, you can download another Google book.”

Google Book Downloader was designed to be a simple retrieval and management program without any bells or whistles. Simplicity is sometimes the way to go as all of the fancy bells and whistles can complicate matters.

Whitney Grace, January 29, 2014

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The Slipping Standards in Academic Publishing

January 7, 2014

There is a troubling article over at Priceonomics titled, “Fraud in the Ivory Tower.” The post begins with the tale of former Tilburg University professor Diederik Stapel, who was found in 2012 to have fabricated or manipulated data in at least 30 papers that had been published in peer-reviewed journals. This case is a dramatic example of a growing problem; Fang Labs reports that instances of fraud or suspected fraud tripled between the 2002-2006 period and 2007-2011. Why the uptick?

We’re reminded that the famed “publish or perish” academic culture grows ever more demanding. At the same time, policies at scientific journals often mean that research integrity takes a back seat to provocative assertions.

We learn:

“According to experimental psychologist Chris Chambers, high-impact journals (particularly in the field of psychology) look for results that are ‘exciting, eye-opening, even implausible.’ Novelty pieces. As psychologist Joseph Simmons told the science journal Nature: ‘When we review papers, we’re often making authors prove that their findings are novel or interesting. We’re not often making them prove that their findings are true.’”

Lovely. The write-up goes on to reveal that retractions are on the rise; the PubMed database contained only three publication retractions in 2000, but 180 in 2009. What’s more, these retractions are occurring most often at journals with high prestige (as measured by how often its papers are cited in other works).

The article states:

“Again, it is possible that this increase is caused by a stronger online watchdog culture. But regardless of whether the fraud is new or newly discovered, the case of Diederik Stapel reveals the ugly underbelly of scientific research. The pressure to publish frequently in prestigious journals has made it more likely for researchers to cut corners and manipulate data.”

The piece naturally concludes with a call for improvement. In doing so, the writer supplies this link to an article advocating open access to academic papers. Interesting.

Cynthia Murrell, January 07, 2014

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