Saturday, 27 September 2008

User-generated science

This is the headline on an interesting piece in last week's Economist about the effect of the web on scientific publishing. Excerpt:

Peer-review possesses other merits, the foremost being the ability to filter out dross. But alacrity is not its strong suit. With luck a paper will be published several months after being submitted; many languish for over a year because of bans on multiple submissions. This hampers scientific progress, especially in nascent fields where new discoveries abound. When a paper does get published, the easiest way to debate it is to submit another paper, with all the tedium that entails.

Now change is afoot. Earlier this month Seed Media Group, a firm based in New York, launched the latest version of Research Blogging, a website which acts as a hub for scientists to discuss peer-reviewed science. Such discussions, the internet-era equivalent of the journal club, have hitherto been strewn across the web, making them hard to find, navigate and follow. The new portal provides users with tools to label blog posts about particular pieces of research, which are then aggregated, indexed and made available online.

Although Web 2.0, with its emphasis on user-generated content, has been derided as a commercial cul-de-sac, it may prove to be a path to speedier scientific advancement. According to Adam Bly, Seed’s founder, internet-aided interdisciplinarity and globalisation, coupled with a generational shift, portend a great revolution. His optimism stems in large part from the fact that the new technologies are no mere newfangled gimmicks, but spring from a desire for timely peer review...

The next big thing: free downloadable textbooks

From the New York Times...

SQUINT hard, and textbook publishers can look a lot like drug makers. They both make money from doing obvious good — healing, educating — and they both have customers who may be willing to sacrifice their last pennies to buy what these companies are selling.

It is that fact that can suddenly turn the good guys into bad guys, especially when the prices they charge are compared with generic drugs or ordinary books. A final similarity, in the words of R. Preston McAfee, an economics professor at Cal Tech, is that both textbook publishers and drug makers benefit from the problem of “moral hazards” — that is, the doctor who prescribes medication and the professor who requires a textbook don’t have to bear the cost and thus usually don’t think twice about it.

“The person who pays for the book, the parent or the student, doesn’t choose it,” he said. “There is this sort of creep. It’s always O.K. to add $5.”

In protest of what he says are textbooks’ intolerably high prices — and the dumbing down of their content to appeal to the widest possible market — Professor McAfee has put his introductory economics textbook online free. He says he most likely could have earned a $100,000 advance on the book had he gone the traditional publishing route, and it would have had a list price approaching $200...

Thursday, 25 September 2008

TOC feeds

"Are We Placing Too Little Emphasis On TOC Alerts

They provide an easy and powerful way to stay up-to-date with journal literature but I wonder if, when it comes to our faculty, we are doing too little to promote Table of Contents alerts. Nearly every major aggregator database and e-journal collection has this feature. The problem is that without someone bringing it to your attention you’d hardly know it was there. A recent study into the behaviors of faculty for locating scholarly material suggest that TOC alerts are highly valued. “How Readers Navigate to Scholarly Content” is a new report published by Simon Inger and Tracy Gardner for a consortium of scholarly publishers, including the Nature Publishing Group, that examines how scholars start their search for content and how they navigate different search resources. There is both good and bad news for academic librarians. Depending on what they’re trying to do and how much information they have, scholars may go right to a known library database or their favorite search engine. But figure 5 (pg. 18 of 32) asks “how often do you follow links to a publisher’s e-journal web site from these starting points” and TOC alerts is far and away the top starting point - that got my attention. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that we need to do a better job of making faculty aware of TOC alerts. We may be underestimating their value."


Sacred places? Or not?

Camden’s new libraries chief Mike Clarke has a vision of what a Camden library should look and sound like, and believes that unless the “silence please” notices are torn down and mobile phones welcomed in, future generations will desert them.
“People expect to be able to carry on their normal conversations and life, and we don’t want to stop them from doing that in libraries,” he told the New Journal in an exclusive interview this week. Mr Clarke outlined his priority as getting rid of “that whole silence in the library ethos and the idea you weren’t supposed to do anything except come in and be very, very quiet”.
Younger users are to be welcomed in and made to feel relaxed, libraries will be open for a further 45 hours each week, and book borrowers – a shrinking group – will check-out their tomes from self-service machines similar to supermarket tills.
Mr Clarke said: “Whenever people say libraries don’t have enough books or the right type of books, I ask them what they think is missing and I’ve never had a clear answer to that.
“Books are very important, but so are other formats.”
And Mr Clarke, who joined Camden four months ago from his prestigious role as director of the London Libraries Development Agency, warned that, without changes, libraries would become out of date and increasingly fewer people would use them. He said some groups, particularly migrants and teenagers, already find them forbidding places.
Also on Mr Clarke’s list of aims are “getting rid of the shouty notices telling people not to do things and putting up notices telling people what you can do”.
He will need courage to push his vision to completion, not least because his opponents have a very different view.

Thanks to Lorcan Dempsey for the Link.

Tag clouds -- the silver lining

I love tag cloud generators. Wordle, created by Jonathan Feinberg, is the nicest I've come across. This is a cloud from some transcripts I've been doing for the project website.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

A new publishing venture

Frances Pinter has launched her new publishing venture -- Bloomsbury Academic -- in conjunction with Bloomsbury, publisher of the Harry Potter books (among other things).

Bloomsbury Academic is a radically new scholarly imprint launched in September 2008.

Bloomsbury Academic will begin publishing monographs in the areas of Humanities and Social Sciences. While respecting the traditional disciplines we will seek to build innovative lists on a thematic basis, on issues of particular relevance to the world today.

Publications will be available on the Web free of charge and will carry Creative Commons licences. Simultaneously physical books will be produced and sold around the world.

For the first time a major publishing company is opening up an entirely new imprint to be accessed easily and freely on the Internet. Supporting scholarly communications in this way our authors will be better served in the digital age...

I'm on the Advisory Board, along with Hal Abelson, Lynne Brindley, Robin Mansell, Reto Hilty, Winston Tabb and Shira Perimutter.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

In a nutshell...

"Changing technologies have been accompanied by changes in research habits, scholarly communications patterns, campus roles, and more. These changes offer exciting new opportunities, but also pose significant challenges for those who serve the higher education community. In order to be effective, librarians, information technologists, academic administrators, and others concerned with facilitating research, teaching, and scholarly communication in a changing world must keep up with the complex and evolving needs and attitudes of scholars. For libraries in particular, a deep understanding of the information needs of a scholarly community and how existing services mesh with these needs is essential in order to effectively serve and remain relevant on the modern campus. To succeed in the internet age, libraries must be aware of which traditional roles are no longer needed and which potential roles would be valued, and strategically shift their service offerings to maximize their value to local users."

From ITHAKA’S 2006 Studies of Key Stakeholders in the Digital Transformation in Higher Education.

Thoughtful comment on it here which asks
why are we only considering the role of the academic library as gateway, archive and buyer? I would argue this report needs to add a new dimension for faculty to consider - the academic library’s role as learning center and instruction partner. Where this study seems dated to me is that it focuses on the academic library’s traditional role as collector, organizer and gateway provider.

Thanks to Lorcan for the link.

Interesting lecture?

Alan Liu: Digital Humanities and academic change

18 September 2008 at CRASSH in Mill lane


Taking as his starting point a series of digital projects created with colleagues at his department in California, Professor Liu shows how the digital humanities facilitate the reshaping of humanities departments, research and teaching in conjunction with other disciplines (all in the service of 'global humanism'). The talk scales between the micro-concrete to the global-theoretical. Some of the projects and courses that Professor Liu will discuss include:
* The Voice of the Shuttle
* Transliteracies Project on Online Reading
* Transcriptions Project
* Early Modern Center and EBBA (English Broadside Ballads Archive)
* The Agrippa Files
* Second Life Instructional Project
* Literature+ courses
* Toy Chest (Online or Downloadable Tools for Building Projects)

This event is free and open to all. To register, please email

Friday, 5 September 2008

We have an Administrator!

Good news. Glenna Awbrey (who has worked with Sue Mehrer) has started work. She will be based in Wolfson. Her email address is

Apologies to anyone who tried to email her -- and to Glenna. I got her address wrong first time :-(