Elsevier: An Open Source Flag Carrier?

July 17, 2018

According to this article at the Guardian, the European Union is to be applauded for its goal of open access to all scientific publications by 2020. However, writer and Open Science advocate Jon Tennant condemns one key decision in, “Elsevier Are Corrupting Open Science in Europe.” He tells us:

“However, a cursory glance at the methodological note reveals something rather odd. The subcontractor for the monitor is Elsevier, the publisher and data analytics provider. Within scholarly communications, Elsevier has perhaps the single worst reputation. With profit margins around 37%, larger than Apple and big oil companies, Elsevier dominate the publishing landscape by selling research back to the same institutes that carried out the work. It gets worse too. Throughout the methods, you can see that there is an overwhelming bias towards Elsevier products and services, such as Scopus, Mendeley, and Plum Analytics. These services provide metrics for researchers such as citation counts and social media shares, as well as data-sharing and networking platforms. There are now dozens of comments in the note pointing out the clear bias towards Elsevier and the overlooking of alternatives. It is worth highlighting some of the key issues here that the Commission seems to have ignored in subcontracting to Elsevier.”

One such issue is Elsevier’s alleged track record of working against openness in order to protect its own financial interests. Also, many throughout the EU, including prominent research institutes, have turned against the publisher in distrust. Last but not least, naming an entity that stands to benefit as the Open Science Monitor is an obvious conflict of interest, Tennant declares with understandable incredulity. See the article for details on each of these points. The author is clearly aghast the appointment was allowed in the first place, and recommends the European Commission remove Elsevier from the position posthaste.

Worth watching via open source information, of course.

Cynthia Murrell, July 17, 2018

Journalists: Smart Software Is Learning How to Be a Real Journalist

July 15, 2018

I read “Why Bots Taking Over (Some) Journalism Could Be a Good Thing.” I love optimists who lack a good understanding of how numerical recipes work. The notion of “artificial intelligence” is just cool like something out of science fiction like “Ralph 124C 41+” except for the wrong headed predictions. In my 50 year work career, technologies are not revolutions. Technologies appear, die, reform, and then interact, often in surprising ways. Then one day, a clever person identifies a “paradigm shift” or “a big thing.”

The problem with smart software which seems obvious to me boils down to:

  • The selection of numerical recipes to use
  • The threshold settings or the Bayesian best guesses that inform the system
  • The order in which the processes are implemented within the system.

There are other issues, but these provide a reasonable checklist. What does on under the kimono is quite important.

The write up states:

If robots can take over the grunt work, which in many cases they can, then that has the potential to lower media organizations’ costs and enable them to spend a greater proportion of their advertising income on more serious material. That’s terrible news for anybody whose current job is to trawl Twitter for slightly smutty tweets by reality TV show contestants, but great news for organizations funding the likes of Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who broke the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal. Isn’t it?

Good question. I also learned:

Technology can help with a lot of basic reporting. For example, the UK Press Association’s Radar project (Reporters And Data And Robots) aims to automate a lot of local news reporting by pulling information from government agencies, local authorities and the police. It’ll still be overseen by “skilled human journalists”, at least for the foreseeable future, but the actual writing will be automated: it uses a technology called Natural Language Generation, or NLG for short. Think Siri, Alexa or the recent Google Duplex demos that mimic human speech, but dedicated to writing rather than speaking.

I recall reading this idea to steal:

In fact, human reporters will continue to play a vital role in the process, and Rogers doesn’t see this changing anytime soon. It’s humans that make the decision on which datasets to analyze. Humans also “define” the story templates – for example, by deciding that if a certain variable in one region is above a particular threshold, then that’s a strong indicator that the data will make a good news story.

Now back to the points in the checklist. In the mad rush to reduce costs, provide more and better news, and create opportunities to cover certain stories more effectively, who is questioning the prioritization of content from an available stream, the selection of items from the stream, and the evaluation of the data pulled from the stream for automatic story generation?

My thought is that it will be the developers who are deciding what to do in one of those whiteboard meetings lubricated with latte and fizzy water.

The business models which once sustained “real” journalism focused on media battles, yellow journalism, interesting advertising deals, and the localized monopolies. (I once worked for such an outfit.)

With technology concentration a natural consequence of online information services, I would not get too excited about the NLG and NLP (natural language generation and natural language processing services). These capabilities for smart software will arrive. But I think the functionality will arrive in dribs and drabs. One day an MBA or electrical engineer turned business school professor will explain what happened.

What’s lost? Typing, hanging out in the newspaper lunch room, gossip, and hitting the bar a block from the office. Judgment? Did I leave out judgment. Probably not important. What’s important that I almost forgot? Getting rid of staff, health coverage, pensions, vacations, and sick leave. Software doesn’t get sick even though it may arrive in a questionable condition.

Stephen E Arnold, July 15, 2018

Amazon: A Corporate Monster?

June 25, 2018

I am not sure about companies becoming republics or democracies. When I went to work at Halliburton Nuclear, I knew the business and understood that I would get paid to do what my boss told me to do.

I am oriented the same way today in 2018 as I was in 1973. Call me old fashioned.

I read “Amazon Staffers Protest Giant’s ‘Support of the Surveillance State‘”. Okay, employees do not want Amazon to work on certain government projects. Why not quit?

I assume that’s not an option.

I did notice some interesting word choices in the write up; for example:

  • “cops and spies”
  • “moral objections”
  • “separating children”
  • “asylum seeking parents”
  • “chain link cages”
  • “shudder Amazonians”
  • “refuse to build the platform”
  • “ethically concerned Amazonians”
  • “demand a choice”
  • “data slurping outfit Palantir”
  • “linked to the Cambridge Aanlytica data harvesting saga?
  • “immoral US policy”
  • “inhumane treatment:
  • “enable ICE and DHS”
  • “Privacy International”
  • “disgraced US agency”
  • “condemn the policy”

Quite a series of phrases.

Yep, real “news”. Perfect for a Facebook, Google Plus, or Twitter post or two. Wait, wait. That’s how exploiting algorithmic functions gain their momentum. Words work wonders.

Stephen E Arnold, June 25, 2018

The Guardian Reveals That Big Tech Yields Useless Products

May 21, 2018

I don’t want to be a Luddite, but it seems to me that autonomous drones carrying interesting payloads are often darned helpful. The value of the big tech which gets these puppies aloft and in theater can be questioned when the person asking the questions is sitting at a laptop in an urban center thinking big thoughts. I would suggest that if that urban beastie were under fire in a slightly less refined environment and needed a bit of air cover to make an escape from a free fire zone, the big tech in the form of a MQ-1L Predator attack drone with AGM 114 K2 Hellfire Missiles would be somewhat useful. Mostly.

My hunch is that the British newspaper disseminating real news in “Ignore the Hype Over Big Tech. Its Products Are Mostly Useless” has a keen desire to poke sticks in the eye of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix, and probably other outfits. Why not toss in Palantir Technologies too? Oh, don’t forget Darktrace.

The main point of the write up struck me as:

In fact, might Duplex be a grim portal into a future in which high-flyers get digital “assistants” to do their chores, while poorly paid people have to meekly talk to computers, in constant fear that they are about to be automated into joblessness?

I like this notion of reworking a two tier society so those in the lower tier could perform jobs like booking a haircut.

The target here is Google and its demo of its artificial intelligence wizardry. Some of this magic is performed in the UK by DeepMind.

Google is now a couple of decades into its search based businesses.

Several questions occur to me:

  • Where was the Guardian and other “real” news outfits in the pre IPO phase of Google when Yahoo took Google to task for finding inspiration in GoTo.com, Overture.com, and Yahoo’s “pay to play” models?
  • Where have newspapers been for the last two decades as companies finding revenue streams different from print and classified display advertising on paper?
  • With the insight of a skilled editorial staff and the ability to generate information, why haven’t those professionals been able to communicate the risk of taking “free lunches” every day for two decades?

Net net: The train has left the station. The “woke” folks are already at the airport with their digital assistants in their pocket and the beach on their mind.

Stephen E Arnold, May 21, 2018


Professional Publishing Under Pressure: WWED?

May 18, 2018

Professional publishers have been chugging along as other types of publishing companies have struggled. Sure, pumping up the revenue line has been hard work. Just ask a former senior manager at Reed Elsevier, Thomson Reuters, or Wolters Kluwer, among others.

But the job is now getting increasingly difficult.

Let’s assume that the information in “Sweden Ends Contract with Science Publisher Elsevier, Moving for Open Access for Scientific Articles” is accurate. I learned:

Sweden, like many other European countries, is aiming for full scientific “open access” (free article reading) by 2026. In 2017, Swedish universities paid Elsevier €1.3M ($1.5M) for article publications and €12M ($14.1M) for access to articles. Now Sweden is demanding that Elsevier make Swedish research content fully available to the public and make its 1,900 journals fully available to Swedish researchers, all at a reasonable price to Swedish universities.

What will Elsevier do? What will other professional publishing companies do? Reduce prices? Cut Ebsco type deals?

I suppose one fund raising option could be a Lance Armstrong type plastic bracelet that says, “WWED”, shorthand for “What Would Elsevier Do?” Maybe a Patreon play is warranted?

The reality is that if one is expecting law firms, accountants, and universities to pay like it was 1999, that seems unlikely to me. What can be dropped for lower cost or “good enough” free online services? Here’s a short list:

  • Peer reviewed journals
  • Publications which charge authors to include their “scientific studies”
  • Exploiters of the tenure chasing PhDs
  • Recycled public documents related to law and tax regulations
  • Collections of essays submitted to an organization no one knows much about which offers expensive journals and odd duck conferences featuring the published experts
  • Compilations of US and Canadian government information.

Of course, this Swedish resistance could be a mere blip, a negotiating ploy.

On the other hand, maybe the world of professional publishing has already changed?

Stephen E Arnold, May 18, 2018

Short Honk: Publishers Are Financially Aware, Well, Sort Of

March 11, 2018

I assume that “Hedge Fund Alden Siphoned 100s of Millions from Newspapers in Scheme to Gamble on Other Investments, Suit Says” is accurate.  If not, the write up underscores the state of “real” journalism. If the article is accurate, it underscores the state of “real” news business expertise. Interesting.

Stephen E Arnold, March 11, 2018

News Corp. and Google: Glass Houses and Stone Throwing

February 12, 2018

I read “News Corp Executives Say Google and Facebook Created Dysfunctional, Debased Online Environment.” Let’s assume that the information is “real” news and actual factual.

The write up states:

News Corp. chief executive officer Robert Thomson slammed Google and Facebook for what he calls a “dysfunctional” and “debased” online environment that harms traditional media, according to a variety of published reports. The criticism came Thursday, as News Corp. announced its quarterly earnings, France 24 reported. Efforts by the two online giants to reduce misinformation and improve online news were only “modest steps toward changing a digital environment that is dysfunctional at its core,” Thomson said.

I like the phrase “dysfunctional at its core.”

I would point out these pieces of information which did not make it into the “real” news story:

  • Phone and email hacking in the UK
  • Fox news personnel in interesting situations
  • News Corp. management succession activity

“Dysfunctional” means, according to the Wiktionary, not performing its proper or intended function or functioning incorrectly or abnormally; especially, designating of a business, family or social group with harmful, aberrant, strange or abnormal behavior.

As I noted in the headline, “glass houses” and “stones.” I don’t have the energy for “debased.”

Stephen E Arnold, February 12, 2018

And the Greatest Tech Headline of 2018 Is…

February 8, 2018

Short honk: In my morning news flow, I spotted what may be the greatest headline of 2018 (at least in the first five weeks of the year). Here it is:

Google Gave the World Powerful AI Tools, and the World Made Porn with Them

You can read the naked truth in a revealing story in Quartz. Try this link.

Strip away the veneer about AI. Breathless prose ignites one’s passion for tech thrills. With Reddit doing the censorship thing, this is “real” news, maybe just organic (I almost typed another word with and s and m.)

Stephen E Arnold, February 8, 2018

German Scientists Find Freedom Of Search

February 6, 2018

A storm had been brewing in Germany over the ability for scientists to gain access to expensive academic journals. The deal had more to do with search and rights than it did science, so the publisher stood up and did something shocking. They did…the right thing. We learned more in a recent Nature story, “Germany vs Elsevier: universities win temporary journal access after refusing to pay fees.”

According to the story:

The Dutch publishing giant Elsevier has granted uninterrupted access to its paywalled journals for researchers at around 200 German universities and research institutes that had refused to renew their individual subscriptions at the end of 2017.


The institutions had formed a consortium to negotiate a nationwide licence with the publisher. They sought a collective deal that would give most scientists in Germany full online access to about 2,500 journals at about half the price that individual libraries have paid in the past. But talks broke down and, by the end of 2017, no deal had been agreed. Elsevier now says that it will allow the country’s scientists to access its paywalled journals without a contract until a national agreement is hammered out.

This is a victory for, not just the scientists, but for freedom of information. We applaud Elsevier for putting aside profit (temporarily) in favor of human. We wish more companies and governments would take their example to heart.

Patrick Roland, February 6, 2018

Thomson Reuters: The Unwinding Begins

January 31, 2018

Years, no, decades ago, I did some work for Thomson. Today the company is Thomson Reuters, a large company with diverse businesses. When I last counted the units, I think the number was somewhere around 150. The exact number matters less than the statement, “Thomson Reuters has a lot of brands, products, business units, and companies under one corporate roof.”

Some of the businesses are related; for example, the legal information services. Others seem different from professional publishing. One example would be news and the entities set up to compete with Bloomberg for financial services or the companies jousts in financial data analysis.

Every year or so I take a look at the company’s annual financial report. My impression of the company is that it has struggled to grow. That’s not news because far bigger companies find that what worked in the past does not apply in today’s business climate; for example, IBM’s struggles are both interesting and to some amusing.

I read “Exclusive: Blackstone in Talks to Buy Majority Stake in Key Thomson Reuters Unit.” The exclusive makes sense. Thomson Reuters is, after all, reporting about Thomson Reuters. The main point is that Thomson Reuters is selling “a key business unit.” Another telling fact in the report is that Thomson Reuters is selling a “majority stake.”

For a company that exercised management control, the abrogation of control of some of its Financial and Risk business is interesting. With financial data and risk a business sector which is attracting interest from start ups and established companies, Thomson Reuters seems to be saying, “Hey, this has real value. Let’s sell. Maybe a buyer can juice up the revenues.”

Lord Thomson of Fleet is a distant memory to some at the company I assume. What’s clear is that change of a significant nature is now taking place within the company.

Have stakeholders grown weary of the reorganizations and efforts to generate Facebook and Google like growth? Have the senior managers realized that generating money from what are information businesses may be increasingly difficult going forward and now is the time to act?

I don’t know. This development is worth watching.

Stephen E Arnold, January 31, 2018

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