Elsevier as a Symbol of the Greater Whole

May 27, 2014

Elsevier has recently been reviled in the academic library world for its high profit margins, political wrangling, and skyrocketing invoices. But Elsevier is really just a part of a greater issue, the crisis in academic publishing. Gowers’s Weblog dives in to the nitty gritty of the issue with his post, “Elsevier Journals – Some Facts.”

He lays out the whole controversy around Elsevier and takes a mathematical approach to whether or not the burgeoning open access movement will ever supersede the current model.

The author brings about this conclusion:

“I have come to the conclusion that if it is not possible to bring about a rapid change to the current system, then the next best thing to do, which has the advantage of being a lot easier, is to obtain as much information as possible about it. Part of the problem with trying to explain what is wrong with the system is that there are many highly relevant factual questions to which we do not yet have reliable answers.”

So what is to be done? Well, from the perspective of a librarian, the profession has to roll with the punches. Embrace open access when possible (and of high quality) but hang on to the scholarly journals that professors and students demand. There is no easy solution. We can only hope that the system moves in the direction of greater and fairer access.

Emily Rae Aldridge, May 27, 2014

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Failure of Academic Publishing

May 26, 2014

The current academic publishing model has been failing for some time, but it seems things are worse than previously thought. The model is broken: professors have to publish to be tenured, but they have to pay to be published. But the main market for academic publishing is academia, the very employers of these same professors. So the world of education is paying for academic publishing both coming and going. Furthermore, the pressure to publish and achieve tenure can be so overwhelming that everyone starts looking for some relief, or even a shortcut. The National Post has exposed a deeper problem in their article, “It’s the ‘Worst’ Science Paper Ever — Filled with Plagiarism and Garble — and Journals are Clamouring to Publish It.”

The article begins:

“I have just written the world’s worst science research paper: More than incompetent, it’s a mess of plagiarism and meaningless garble. Now science publishers around the world are clamouring to publish it. They will distribute it globally and pretend it is real research, for a fee. Welcome to the world of science scams, a fast-growing business that sucks money out of research, undermines genuine scientific knowledge, and provides fake credentials for the desperate.”

For a long time, academic publishing was protected through the stopgap of the peer review process. But information flows faster now, due to the Internet, and publishers have gotten greedy. In the opinion of this librarian, the importance of evaluating information is now greater than ever. It is no longer enough to trust a certain database, or even a certain journal title, each reader much be a careful critic of the information before them.

Emily Rae Aldridge, May 26, 2014

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Amazon Books: The Parable of the Trans Amazon Highway

May 24, 2014

Most people don’t know that I lived in Brazil in the period before the sheep’s foot rollers crunched through the Brazilian rain forest. The environmental adjustment was due to the need to prepare for the massive Trans Amazon Highway. When the project began to take shape, preparations had to be made. Once Rodovia Transamazonia became “official”, decades of political and economic preparation had been underway. By the mid 1950s, the need for BR 153 was evident to anyone who tried to go west from any major Brazilian city. It was an airplane or weeks, maybe months, of multi-modal transportation. Need to get across a stream. Chop down trees and put up a “bridge.”

Pretty darned effective I learned first hand. Source: http://bit.ly/1r3uFMY

I recall riding in a Caterpillar bulldozer equipped with  two sets of sheep foot rollers. Push though the jungle and then drag the rollers over the trees, slow moving animals, and the occasional native’s house, and you are ready to get down to road building. My father, never the environmentally sensitive type, explained that heavy equipment and bulldozing were beautiful: fast, cheap, effective, and potent. And even I, as a child, understood that the natives had to find their future elsewhere. Once the heavy equipment rolled through, the old ways were toast.

I fondly recalled these early lessons from my father, the giant US company for whom he labored as Managing Director, and stunned look on the faces of the people who lived in the forest and scrubland as we rolled through. In my mind’s eye, I imagine the Hachette professionals have that same look: A mixture of surprise, anger, and confusion. The heavy equipment drivers just shifted gears and crushed forward.

I read “As Publishers Fight Amazon, Books Vanish.” Interesting because the company appears to be bulldozing its way through traditional book publishing. My thought is that when the bulldozers finish, the old way is either gone or too expensive to continue. Savvy natives packed up and moved to favelas and reinvented themselves. Some were entrepreneurs and others tried to recapture a life in a transformed environment.

Digital bulldozers transform business process landscapes with speed and brutal efficiency. My father would have been proud of this approach to business. His one regret would be that Amazon’s corporate colors were not the flashy yellow and black that he so loved.

There were a couple of points in the “real” journalism article I noted. Let me highlight each and make a short comment.

First, “The literary community is fearful and outraged, and practically begging for government intervention.” My thought, “Once the forest has been bulldozed, it is tough to regrow.”

Second, “But the real prize is control of e-books, the future of publishing.” My thought, isn’t the future clear. Hasn’t Amazon won? If it had not won, why then the surprise that the bulldozer crushed traditional business processes the way the bulldozer took out the natives’ houses?

Third, the statement “If this is the new American way [attributed to writer and former advertising professional James Patterson], then maybe it has to be changed—by law, if necessary—immediately, if not sooner.” Catchy statement, but I thought, isn’t it too late? Regrowing that jungle and moving the natives back is a somewhat tough task.

Fourth,  Amazon allegedly has been making it tough to buy a biography critical of former Wall Street quant Jeff Bezos. My father did not give interviews either. Guess what? The highway was built through the gut of the Amazon.

And the parable?

Once the landscape is changed, going back gets tough. Modern life is not congruent to Rousseau’s fantasy.

Parts of the Transamazonian experience looks like Paramus, New Jersey. Image source: http://bit.ly/1kdwdPz

Amazon, like Google, has been operating for many years, pursuing the same goals, using the mechanisms of online, and building support from people who spend money.

Maybe governments are more powerful than Amazon, Google, and Facebook? The reality, however, is that the bulldozers have already rolled through. The dispossessed, annoyed, and confused can talk. It is going to be very difficult to restore the jungle and the previous way of life.

By the way, search doesn’t work too well on Amazon to begin with. Not being able to find a book is par for Amazon’s course. Bad search helps sales and Amazon’s imperative. I have learned to live with it. Perhaps the publishers, authors, and real journalists should follow my example. Adapt and move on. Yelling at a bulldozer driver and throwing rocks doesn’t change reality.

Stephen E Arnold, May 23, 2014

Real News, Real Journalism: Decades Late

May 17, 2014

Not much to say. New York Times. Going nowhere. Internal hassles. Here’s the scoop, which I assume is sort of accurate. Enjoy this internal report. Innovation.

Stephen E Arnold, May 17, 2014

The Government Printing Office Plays the Name Game

May 8, 2014

According to The Washington Post Article, “Does The 153-Year-Old Government Printing Office Need A Digital-Era Name?” there is a bipartisan bill in the Senate to change the office’s work to better explain its digital age work. Senators Saxby Chambliss and Amy Klobuchar sponsor the bill. It would change the name “printing” to “publishing” and the two titles for the Government Printing Office’s (GPO) head officials would no longer be “public printer” and “deputy public printer,” but “director” and “deputy director.”

“Supporters of the measure say the current GPO name ignores the agency’s past and present efforts to reinvent itself for modern times with digital offerings such as e-books, apps and the Federal Digital System, which allows the public to search for, browse and download official publications from all branches of the government.”

The bill moved to the full Senate on April 10. The federal government funds only 16 percent of the GPO’s budget. The rest of its income is generated by digital and print sales of its products. The name change would better explain how the GPO has advanced availability of its records as well as endeavors to expand itself further. Go for the name change, GPO! The good thing is that the GPO wouldn’t need to change its initials.

Whitney Grace, May 08, 2014
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

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

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

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

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

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
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

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

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