Public Libraries: Who Wants Them? Not Amazon and Possibly Some Publishers

January 21, 2022

Publishers and libraries used to have an amicable relationship when books and other media were limited to print and physical mediums. Since the advent of the digital revolution, ebooks have ticked up in popularity. Ebooks have reached their highest consumption levels of all times with the global pandemic. Libraries love that people are reading more, but publishers are not happy with lower sales and libraries demanding more ebook licenses. MSN republished the The Boston Globe article that explains the dilemma in: “Libraries Demand A New Deal On Ebooks.”

Publishers are limiting the amount of digital copies libraries can purchase or charging them higher rates than individual consumers. Librarians and Massachusetts lawmakers have teamed up and drafted a bill that would require publishers to make digital products available to public libraries on reasonable terms. Currently publishers sell a limited licenses to libraries:

“According to the American Library Association, libraries currently pay three to five times as much as consumers for ebooks and audiobooks. Thus, an ebook selling for $10 at retail could cost a library $50. In addition, the library can only buy the right to lend the book for a limited time — usually just two years — or for a limited number of loans — usually no more than 26. James Lonergan, director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, believes that publishers settled on 26 checkouts after calculating that this is the number of times a printed book can be checked out before it’s worn out and in need of replacement. And that’s what happens to a digital book after 26 checkouts. The library must “replace” it by paying full price for the right to lend it out 26 more times.”

Publishers are somewhat justified, because since books have gone digital, Amazon instituted its own publishing platform, and traditional bookstores have become endangered, their profit margins have tanked lower than approval ratings of millionaires. Publishers do have a right to recoup their losses, but it should not be at the expense of public libraries.

Public libraries allow people to access goods and services otherwise limited or unavailable to them. Publishers should be working with public libraries, who also happen to be their largest consumers.

There is a happy solution, but no one has found it yet. I am a professional librarian and try to be optimistic.

Whitney Grace January 21, 2022

Professional Publishing and Academic Standards: A Low Water Mark?

January 20, 2022

Ah, professional publishing in action. Retraction Watch reports, “‘This is Really Ridiculous’: An Author Admitted Plagiarism. His Supervisor Asked for a Retraction. The Publisher said, ‘nah.’” We wish we were surprised by an academic journal’s disinterest in veracity. The write-up largely consist of excerpts from emails between the submitting author, his supervising professor, the co-authors he admitted to plagiarizing from, and editors at the journal (IEEE Access). In setting up those quotations, the article explains:

“Behrouz Pourghebleh is perplexed. And also exasperated. Pourghebleh, of the Young Researchers and Elite Club at the Urmia branch of Islamic Azad University in Iran, noticed a paper published on December 15, 2020 in an IEEE journal that overlapped 80 percent with an article he’d co-authored the year before. Pourghebleh wrote to Zakirul Alam Bhuiyan, the associate editor who had handled the paper, on December 31, 2020, expressing concern. Bhuiyan responded the same day, saying the paper hadn’t been flagged in a similarity check, and that he would contact the authors for a response. The first author, Karim Alinani, wrote to Pourghebleh less than two weeks later, admitting the plagiarism but citing personal circumstances.”

Those personal circumstances are heartbreaking, to be sure, and the consequences editor Bhuiyan notes can befall those called out for plagiarism are indeed ruinous. Given the potential aftermath, Bhuiyan pleaded with Pourghebleh, can’t we just let this one slide? (That is a succinct paraphrase.) Both authors of the plagiarized paper strongly disagreed, but were willing to pursue a less disastrous route to retraction by appealing to Alinani’s postdoctoral supervisor. Even at the professor’s request, though, retraction was a no-go for the publication. The curious can navigate to the write-up for the details in that trail of email excerpts.

Despite our sympathy for Alinani, we think the time to consider consequences is before submitting a paper for publication. Or at least it should be. We agree with Pourghebleh when he called the journal’s outright refusal to retract the paper “really ridiculous.” Retraction Watch notes that the problematic paper has been cited at least once. We doubt that will be the last time.

Cynthia Murrell, January 20, 2021

Blue Chip McKinsey Stomped, Criticized, and Misunderstood by Silicon Valley Experts

November 29, 2021

I remember the good, old days. Books like “Other People’s Business: A Primer on Management Consultants” and the interesting newsletter “Consultants News.” The big dogs were McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Booz, Allen & Hamilton, and maybe SRI and Kearney. The world was ordered, secretive, elite, and lucrative. What has happened since the 1970s?

Well, discount consulting has boomed. The sector has many manifestations from the Colemans to the GLG Group, from online dog psychologists to 24×7 psycho-business experts. Because there are no government agencies paying attention to consultants, the sector remains wonderfully unregulated. Anyone can become a consultant. LinkedIn promotions are either free or low cost. Search systems like Google make it possible for anyone to know anything with a single search. Don’t believe me? Just think about how much you know as long as you have a smartphone and an Internet connection.

Enter the new breed of real news. What’s this sort of news like? The easiest way to answer the question is to check out “McKinsey Taught Big Pharma How to Price Gouge.” The “key words” in the article’s url provide some insight into the mindset of this approach to information. Forget the history when the blue chip consultants were untouchable. Forget the overt words in the title. Here’s the lingo of the url:


The agenda is a bit more clear because Big Pharma may be a “pharma bro”, or Big Pharma could be McKinsey consultants.

I think there are four points which the article and the alleged actions of McKinsey illustrate:

  1. The idea that firms and individuals conduct themselves in an ethical and appropriate manner when discussing business methods has evolved. Now it is anything goes. Blue chip, overpaid blue chip consultant? Now we have you? Journalistic methods which are more than links? Hey, this recycled information is gold, and it’s solid information gold, right? Both “sides” are guilty.
  2. Blue chip consultants do work for hire. That means that if a client pays and agrees to a proposal, the bright employees will figure out angles. Clever is not confined to the virtual cubes and imaginary Foosball games of Big Tech employees. Clever is king today. In the 1970s, as I recall my experiences at the Boozer, societal norms, common sense, and decorum were important. Today, maybe not so much.
  3. Certain types of information — like confidential client reports and internal memoranda — were tough to get. Today one can download several hundred hot new open source intelligence links and have a go at finding sensitive information. Finding factual dirt is wonderfully easy today. Ease facilitates clever and greases the skids for what I call Silicon Valley journalism or “real” journalism as I term it.
  4. There is a great deal of glee. Now the glee is public and broadcast, pushed, and discovered quickly and possibly globally if one knows where to look. The glee, however, is not the wry observations of a William Penn Adair Rogers; it’s the jokes of a high school science club member who knows how to get a laugh from the people who count in a comparatively small, hermetically sealed room.

Did McKinsey do a bad thing? I don’t know. Smart people do “smart.” Less smart people, who do not understand the context of work in a blue chip consulting firm, may not understand why projects evolve a certain way. That’s what happens when universities foul up in cultivating ethical and socially appropriate behavior. Who believes a professor at MIT who talks about ethics when the institution itself was Jeffrey Epstein’s best bud for years?

Did the “real” journalist do a bad thing? I am not sure. Recycling links and suggesting via a misleading title and a skewed url that there is an agenda at work lights up my suspicion radar. Can “real” Silicon Valley reporting take down McKinsey? I doubt it. But, who knows, maybe some day.

To sum up, it is a very, very short step from McKinsey to another high paying job. And it is almost stupid easy for a “real” Silicon Valley journalist to proclaim oneself an expert, hang out a shingle, and collect money solving problems.

What’s different is that we have one nickel and it has two sides. Both are on display in this write up about Big Pharma, bros, agendas, and incentives.

Stephen E Arnold, November 29, 2021

Silicon Valley Journalism Turkey Day Delight

November 25, 2021

Okay, grandma has arrived in an ambulance, and she has a fresh oxygen tank. Rudy and Trudy, your brother’s twins, have turned up in sweatshirts with turkey leg prints on the front and back of the shirts, and the crazy neighbor has wandered over to just “be there.” Your sister’s three children aged 12, 16, and 19 have occupied the family room. Each is deep into their iPhones, which respect their privacy, of course. Your mom and dad are in the kitchen doing mom and dad things and exchanging silent eye signals about the disaster the turkey will be. Then…

The 16 year old shows anyone who will look this Wired article “Best Black Friday Deals on Sex Toys, Vibrators, and Harnesses.” Here’s the screen capture of this journalistic gem which captures the essence of the Silicon Valley ethos:


The 19 year old observes, “My roommate uses the turkey leg.”

The 12 year old notes, “My best friend has a whip and a slave chair.”

Grandma rips the iPhone from her beloved grandchild and says, “How do I order with this iPhone?”

Yes, be thankful for Silicon Valley real journalism. Any questions?

Stephen E Arnold, November 25, 2021

Microsoft and Piffle

November 23, 2021

I enjoy deep thinking well expressed. I must admit I do not encounter the word “piffle” as often as I would like. Much about modern life in the high tech metaverse to be could be tattooed with the word “piffle.”

Examples include the knock on effects of the SolarWinds’ misstep, the cavalier approach to confidential and proprietary documents, and the low profile renaming of everyone’s favorite social media company. Yep, piffle.

However, the article “Microsoft Is Embarrassing Itself and Customers Can See It” provides an interesting example of editorial piffle. What’s surprising about a technology giant imposing constraints on its users? Absolutely nothing.

Here’s the piffle: The published article. I marked this passage as notable:

The latest episode began with Redmond making it harder to set anything other than Edge as your Windows 11 browser.

Okay, piffle.

Remarkable because Apple displays messages demanding that I upgrade one of my Apple computers. I ignore the messages and on one machine one of the clever teens assisting me blocked this baked in Apple annoyance. Magix Vegas begs me to upgrade. But I ignore the plea because it is a miracle that the Vegas software version I use renders without crashing. Upgrade? You have to be kidding.

There are some substantive Microsoft issues in my opinion. The “piffle”, at least for me, is the silliness ZDNet presents.

Gentle reader, that’s piffle.

Stephen E Arnold, November 23, 2021

Ommmm, Ommmm: Pundit Zen

November 21, 2021

I read “How Twitter Got Research Right.” Okay, Twitter. Short messages. Loved by a comparatively modest coterie of Left and Right Coasters. Followers. Blue. Management hate from the rock star professor Scott (buy my book and invest in Shopify) Galloway. Okay, Casey Newton. Verge-tastic. Silicon Valley savvy. Independent journalist. Budding superstar with Oprah’s staff checking him out.

The write up explains “got right” as a fine expression of business savvy. The write up offered this observation:

Twitter hosted an open competition to find bias in its photo-cropping algorithms.

I think I failed a college class because I was unable to find a suitable definition for the concept “mea culpa.” I think the instructor was unhappy with my one word research paper which pivoted on the acronym PR. I was supposed to write down something like a person or entity says something that is one’s fault. (See, I am writing in a gender neutral way.” Ommmmm. Ommmmm.

In the shadow of this “real news” Silicon Valley essay, I think the proper term is apologia. As I recall from another course in which I wallowed in academic desperation, an apologia means “speaking in defense.” I wonder if I ever finished reading Plato’s Apology.

Somewhere in my lousy college education I learned about the dialectic or motive force of an action that creates a thought or reaction. The subsequent events go off the rails, and the actors do the explaining away thing.

What’s up in the Twitter mea culpa / apologia event is that social media have been quite significant in several ways: Amplification of certain information and providing a free, unfettered mechanism to whip up frenzy. (Some examples come to mind, but I shall refrain from writing their names because stop word lists….

To sum up: Quite a rhetorical tour de force, and I don’t buy into the Twitter is trying to do good despite the got right assurance. Ommmmm. Ommmmm. That’s the sound of regulators calming themselves before actually regulating.

Stephen E Arnold, November 22, 2021

Quote to Note: A Guarantee to Remember

November 12, 2021

From my vantage point in rural Kentucky, I see what might be called corruption. I have noted corruption everywhere: From road repairs which last a few weeks to reports about Covid charge back fraud. Pretty common and routine I think.

I read “Google’s ‘Be Evil’ Business Transformation Is Complete: Time for the End Game.” You can work through the write up and agree or disagree as you deem appropriate. One statement caught my eye. Here’s a passage I noted. It’s a quote to note in my book:

Without journalism, you get guaranteed corruption…

Death is guaranteed. Taxes — at least for some people — are not guaranteed. My hunch is that journalism overlooks some of its flaws. I don’t want to dredge through beating up news boys so broadsides could not be sold or the excitement of US yellow journalism.

Corruption is part of the moral fabric. When that frays, corruption is like weeds growing in freshly seeded field. Time for 24D or good old Roundup.

Stephen E Arnold, November 11, 2021

Disrupting Commercial Sci-Tech Indexes

November 10, 2021

Pooling knowledge is beneficial for advancing research. Despite the availability of digital databases on the Internet, these individual databases are not connected. Nature shares that an American technologist created a, “Giant, Free Index To World’s Research Papers Released Online.”

Carl Malamud designed an online index that catalogs words and short phrases from over one hundred journal articles, including paywalled papers. Malamud released the index under his California non-profit Public Resource. The index is free and its purpose is to help scientists discover insights from all research, even if stuck behind paywalls. Technically Malamud does not have the legal right to index the paywalled articles. However, the index only contains short sentences less than five letters long from the paywalled articles. It does not violate copyright. Publishers may still argue that the index is a violation.

The index is a major innovation:

“Malamud’s General Index, as he calls it, aims to address the problems faced by researchers such as Yadav. Computer scientists already text mine papers to build databases of genes, drugs and chemicals found in the literature, and to explore papers’ content faster than a human could read. But they often note that publishers ultimately control the speed and scope of their work, and that scientists are restricted to mining only open-access papers, or those articles they (or their institutions) have subscriptions to. Some publishers have said that researchers looking to mine the text of paywalled papers need their authorization.”

Some publishers, like Springer Nature, support open source development projects like the Malamud General Index. Springer Nature said open source projects do encounter problems when they do not secure proper rights.

Publishers do not have a case against Malamud. The index does not violate copyright and full text articles are not published in it. Instead the index pools a wealth of information and exposes paywalled articles to a larger audience, who will purchase content if it is helpful to research.

Publishers, however, may need convincing of this perspective.

Whitney Grace, November 10, 2021

Silicon Valley Taco Style News: Reportage, Opinion, and Political Commentary

November 1, 2021

I noted a phrase in a Silicon Valley type online information service’s story about Elizabeth Holmes. Ms. Holmes was a college drop out who founded Theranos. She has been saddled with the catchphrase fake it until you make it.

The story I am referencing is “Theranos FOMO Kept the DeVos Family from Doing Its Investment Homework.” I think FOMO means “fear of missing out” in case you are not hip to real news reporting with a squirt of Instagram salsa.

Here’s the phrase I spotted in what I thought was a summary of testimony in the Holmes’ legal matter:

Treating the lack of FDA approval as a reason to bet on Theranos was a small aside in Peterson’s testimony; it was just one reason she thought Theranos seemed like a good investment. (A skepticism of the regulatory process is also one of the reasons Theranos board member General James Mattis wasn’t concerned with some of the company’s actions — something the powerful conservatives seem to have in common). But it set the tone for a day of testimony about the DeVos family’s approach to its $100 million investment in Theranos — which seemed to be more about shiny things and FOMO than about the science behind the blood testing devices Holmes promised would change the world.

Did you notice the taco garnish. It appears in parentheses, which means it is an explanatory factoid. Here it is:

something the powerful conservatives seem to have in common

Really? Powerful people have something in common: Power. But this is a spicy generalization.

In my opinion this is a good example of Silicon Valley taco style news. Dump stuff into a news shell and advance the agenda of the real journalists covering a trial. You know. On the record, a jury, lawyers, and a judge.

Stephen E Arnold, November 1, 2021

Enlightened Newspaper Deletes Info

September 21, 2021

News media outlets usually post a retraction or correction if they delete something. The Daily Dot tattles on a popular British nets outlet when it deleted content: “ ‘This Is Astonishing’: The Guardian Removed A TERF-Critical Passage From An Article.” What is even more upsetting is that the Guardian removed the passage a few hours after it was posted.

The article in question was an interview with gender theorist Judith Butler, who also wrote the book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity that includes information about a partnership between fascists and trans exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) or anti-trans feminists. The Guardian did post an editorial note saying the piece was changed on September 7, 2021. The deleted portion was mistakenly associated with an incident at Wi Spa in Los Angeles, where a purported trans-woman was in the women’s only nude section. The exposed trans-women was charged with indecent exposure in front of women and children the past.

Jules Gleeson, the article’s author, asked a question that referenced the Wi Spa incident, but Butler’s response was a general answer and did not mention the spa. Gleeson offered to rewrite the article, but The Guardian declined. The entire interview has fallen victim to the Streisand effect, it has become popular because the Guardian tried to cover it up:

“In an email to the Daily Dot, Gleeson confirmed that she offered to revise the question. ‘Unfortunately, the Guardian editors decided to go ahead with their decision to censor Judith Butler,’ she said. ‘I can only hope that the overall point Judith Butler was making can receive some wider circulation, in light of this controversy,’ she continued. ‘The Heritage Foundation and Proud Boys (and those who collaborate with them) are threats to us that deserve more than online intrigue and editorial backpedalling.’”

The British media leans towards an anti-trans opinion, so the deleted passage upset readers. Gleeson’s note is correct, it does draw more attention to trans-people’s struggles and approaching the trans-rights discussion with intellectual curiosity.

Whitney Grace, September 21, 2021

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