May 11, 2013
As part of the progressive erosion of RCUK’s initially excellent open-access policy, barrier-based publishers somehow got them to accept their “open-access decision tree“, which you can now find on page 7 of the toothless current version of the policy. The purpose of this manoeuvre by the Publishers Association is to lend an air of legitimacy to continuing to deny citizens access to the research they funded for up to 24 months after publication. It’s to the House of Lords’ enduring shame that they swallowed this, when they must know that there is no justification for embargoes of any length.
More recently, as commentary on the Australian Research Council’s open access policy, the Australian Open Access Support Group (AOASG) published its own rather better decision tree.
But it still doesn’t go nearly far enough. So here is the SV-POW! decision tree, which we encourage you to print out and hang on your office door.
… and don’t forget, when depositing your peer-reviewed accepted manuscripts in a repository, to specify that they are made available under the CC BY licence, which most benefits the field as a whole.
Jeffrey Beall’s fatuous pronouncement that The Serials Crisis is Over has been nagging away at me since it was posted yesterday. I admit my first reaction was that it was some kind of parody or satire, but Beall’s subsequent comments seem to rule out that charitable interpretation.
I’m pleased to see that the comments on that post have shared my bafflement: Karen Coyle cited Walt Crawford’s new book, The Big Deal and the Damage Done; and an important comment by Joe Kraus of the University of Denver cites a BMJ editorial, wunkderkind Jack Andraka and the Who Needs Access? site [disclosure: which I helped build]. So far no-one’s mentioned that Harvard can’t afford its subscriptions – or maybe they have but the comment was silently moderated into oblivion, as has happened with three separate comments that I posted there.
(It is of course because my comments have been repeatedly censored that I’ve given up trying to contribute to the original post’s comment thread, and am writing this instead. I can promise anyone who wants to comment here, Beall included, that we allow all comments except spam and direct repeated personal attacks.)
Beall’s response to Joe Kraus’s comment was simply an attack on the university that he works for — an attack that Joe took rather graciously. But what about all the other people that he mentions? It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the lines are as follows: those who say that the serial crisis is over are the hugely profitable incumbents; those who say it is not are scholars, librarians, editor, doctors, students, and in fact every single group that doesn’t stand to gain financially from the continuation of the status quo. Doesn’t that look just a tiny bit suspicious? (I asked Beall this: that was one of the comments that was censored.)
But leave all that aside. The part that I really want to comment on is this, from the original article:
I declare that the serials crisis, the event that gave birth to the open-access movement, is over. I base my declaration on my observations as an academic librarian and on the scholarly literature, selections from which I include here:
“Publishers, through the oft-reviled “Big Deal” packages, are providing much greater and more egalitarian access to the journal literature, an approximation to true Open Access.”
That quote is from Odlyzko (2013), “Open Access, library and publisher competition, and the evolution of general commerce”, which is freely available on arXiv. So let’s look at the whole abstract that Beall quoted from so we can see the context of the quote that he used. (My emphasis added.)
Discussions of the economics of scholarly communication are usually devoted to Open Access, rising journal prices, publisher profits, and boycotts. That ignores what seems a much more important development in this market. Publishers, through the oft-reviled “Big Deal” packages, are providing much greater and more egalitarian access to the journal literature, an approximation to true Open Access. In the process they are also marginalizing libraries, and obtaining a greater share of the resources going into scholarly communication. This is enabling a continuation of publisher profits as well as of what for decades has been called “unsustainable journal price escalation“. It is also inhibiting the spread of Open Access, and potentially leading to an oligopoly of publishers controlling distribution through large-scale licensing.
The “Big Deal” practices are worth studying for several general reasons. The degree to which publishers succeed in diminishing the role of libraries may be an indicator of the degree and speed at which universities transform themselves. More importantly, these “Big Deals” appear to point the way to the future of the whole economy, where progress is characterized by declining privacy, increasing price discrimination, increasing opaqueness in pricing, increasing reliance on low-paid or upaid work of others for profits, and business models that depend on customer inertia.
It could not be clearer that this paper is not evidence for Beall’s assertion that the serials crisis is over — on the contrary, it argues that things are worse than ever and getting worse.
This is a classic example of quote mining.
I’m afraid that at this point in the development of his site, Beall is looking less and less like someone offering a helpful service to researchers looking for open-access venues; and more and more like a troll.
May 8, 2013
I was reading an article recently about crowd-funded startups. One of the featured startups aims to make divorce more painless. That started me thinking about divorce lawyers. Their web-sites say they will “guide you as painlessly as possible through the jungle of legal rules and practices” and “have not only your best interests in mind, but also that of any children who may be involved“. And I’m sure that’s true of all the individuals that work at such firms. I’m sure they do genuinely good work and mitigate some of the appalling pain of a divorce.
And yet. For these firms to succeed, they need marriages to fail. From the perspective of the company (not the people in it), a successful marriage is a missed business opportunity. What a terrible, conflicted, position to be in. It must be hard to work for a company like that.
And then I thought about traditional, paywall-based scholarly publishers. Their web-sites say things like “We have a passion for digital distribution“, that they have an “objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide“, and that their purpose is “to further the [...] objective of advancing learning, knowledge and research“. I’m sure that’s true of all the individuals that work at the company. I’m sure they do genuinely good work and want to make research available wherever possible.
And yet. For those firms to succeed, they need universities, libraries, doctors, nurses, teachers and others not to be able to freely access published research. From the perspective of the company (not the people in it), a shared paper is a missed business opportunity. What a terrible, conflicted, position to be in. It must be hard to work for a company like that.
This isn’t hypothetical. The three publishers whose self-descriptions I quoted above are Taylor and Francis (“passion for digital distribution”), Oxford University Press (“education by publishing worldwide”) and Cambridge University Press (“advancing learning, knowledge and research”). The very same three publishers who are currently suing Delhi University for photocopying excerpts of their textbooks.
Now leave aside whether or not the law is on the publishers’ or the educators’ side in this dispute. The issue is this. The publishers’ business model forces them to act in a way directly opposed to their mission. What they are doing in Delhi, if they are successful will prevent T&F’s goal of digital distribution; it will prevent OUP’s mission of education worldwide; and it will prevent CUP’s objective of advancing learning.
When I met Alicia Wise back in September last year, and we chatted over lunch, I think she was a bit surprised at my insistence that all paywalls on research have to come down. I don’t want to put words in her mouth (and I hope she’ll correct me if I misinterpreted) but it seemed to me that she expected to be able to meet me half way — that I would be in favour, for example, of a scheme that allowed much cheaper access to paywalled material.
In that chat over lunch, I don’t think I did a very good of articulating why I am so implacable on this. But this is the reason. As soon as a publisher has a paywall, its mission and its business are in conflict. A paywall-based publisher cannot both advance its mission and preserve its revenue.
There are only two ways for paywall-based publishers get rid of this dissonance. Either they have to give up all pretence of being about education; or they have to give up paywalls and adopt a business model that is in alignment with their stated mission. Until they do one or the other, the baked-in hypocrisy will continue. It’s inevitable. It’s fundamental to what these organisations are.
From The Dinosaur Heresies.
May 2, 2013
Yesterday I asked whether anyone could identify this specimen:
There was an interesting range of suggestions, but I suppose no-one will be surprised to hear that Darren Naish was the first to make real progress, saying “Hey, that’s a loooong pelvis… I smell macropod.” From there it was a short leap to William Miller asking “Could it be that wallaby from way back in Things to Make & Do part 3?”
Yes it could, William — you win ten shiny new SV-POW! dollars.
It is indeed Logan the wallaby from waaay back in late 2009. Here’s how I butchered him, and some detail on his feet, and how his skull turned out. Back then I prepped out a forelimb and a hindlimb, the skull and first few cervicals, and the tail (which I don’t think we’ve ever featured here — I should fix that.) When I ran out of time to work on the rest of the specimen, I just dumped it in a plastic tub, added water, and left it for nature to do the work for me. The plan was to fish out the goodies a few months later, but it seems that while my back was turned, three and a half years have passed. I should get on that — if the bones haven’t softened to the point where they’re useless now.
BTW., AnJaCo wins a bonus prize of five SV-POW! dollar for guessing that the specimen was “Sub-adult or juvenile. From the aforementioned disarticulated innominate, and from the dissociated epiphyses of the centra”. Logan was eighteen months old at death, which makes him a sub-adult as Bennett’s wallabies mature at 20-24 months.
April 29, 2013
But the most recent and troubling predatory-publisher story I’ve read is about a lawsuit. No, not the Edwin Mellen Press libel suit. Three publishers are suing Delhi University for selling course packs to students that use excerpts from their textbooks.
This lawsuit despite the facts that (A) Indian copyright law has an exception for educational exercise; (B) the course packs don’t affect publisher revenue because there is no way Indian students can afford the books; and (C) Thirty-three of the authors specifically named as meriting protection in the publishers’ petition have publicly stated that they want no part in the suit, telling them “it is unfortunate that you would choose to alienate teachers and students who are indeed your main readers”.
You can read the whole article at Firstpost India: Not in our name: Academics oppose publishers, support photocopying. Pretty vile behavior there by the publishers, who apparently consider maintaining total control more important than education in a developing country that desperately needs it.
The truly horrifying part of this is that the case was filed by Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis — three publishers who we’ve been used to thinking of as reputable, and who want researchers to think of them as trusted partners.
But they’re not, are they?
This is not an isolated example. It’s just one more example of how academic publishers have made themselves the enemies of science, of education and of progress in general. And yes, I do understand that publishers are unhappy to be characterised in this way, but but but …
Dear publishers: if you don’t want to be called enemies of science, stop being enemies of science.
Seriously. This isn’t complicated. For decades you’ve been able to get away with whatever crapulent manoeuvres you’ve wanted to pull, and we’ve not been connected enough to do anything about it — or even know about it, most of the time. But those days are over. The world is connected. When you act like jerks, we will call you on it.
So just stop acting like jerks. Number one on the agenda: stop suing your customers.
April 26, 2013
Earlier this spring London and I got on a building dinosaurs kick, inspired by this post at Tumblehome Learning. I used a few of these photos as filler in this post, but I haven’t talked much about what we did and what we learned.
Above is my first attempt at a wire skeleton for a papier mache dinosaur. Yes, despite being a dino-geek from the age of three on, I had never made a papier mache dinosaur before this spring. The thicker white wires are from a hanger, and the thin ones are from a reel of wire I found in the hardware section at Wal-Mart. It’s held together with masking tape, and the thick wires running down the legs of the dino are going into holes I drilled in that piece of scrap wood.
Here’s part of the wireframe for my first skull. At this point I was still thinking of Alioramus. Notice the sections of drinking straw, split and popped onto the wires to bulk out the wireframe and give the papier mache more than a 2D plane to bite on.
Here’s that lower jaw with the rest, a skull of some kind of predatory coelurosaur. Fairly early on I abandoned the strict Alioramus plan and followed in the footsteps in Barnas Monteith at Tumblehome Learning (who posted the instructions linked above) in going for a sort of generic critter instead of any particular real-life taxon. Therefore, I was free to freewheel without having to worry too much about accuracy (Robert Frost would have said I was playing tennis with the net down). As you can see here, this is another wire job held together with duck tape, and the lower jaw already has the first layer of papier mache on.
Papier mache is pretty hard to screw up: put some water in a bowl, add flour until it gets thick, stick pieces of torn-up newspaper in the mix and put them on whatever you’re making. Anything more than that, you should learn on your own by experimentation.
Progress on “Rexy” and my skull was going too slow for London, so I knocked out a crude Velociraptor skull in cardboard for him to work on at his own pace. This became “Rapty”.
An early family portrait: “Rapty”, “Rexy”, and my “Uglioramus” skull. You can see the Wedel method for not messing up the dining room table: first, put down a layer of plastic trash bags taped together, then a layer of newspapers taped together. For Rexy, we put down a layer of cling wrap to keep the papier mache drips off the wood base, which was a huge win in the long run. Rapty and Ulgioramus are sitting on foil-covered pizza-baking sheets. Those turned out to be useful for…
…baking skulls. Papier mache dries s l o w l y in cool, wet weather. But if it will fit, you can pop your thing in the oven on low heat for 15-20 minutes and get’er done quickly. This worked for both skulls, but it worked better for Rapty. On Uglioramus, the metal expanded enough to keep poking its way out of the papier mache, so I did a lot of patching. Still probably faster than waiting for the whole thing to air-dry.
Teeth. I went a little nuts with these in terms of size (I know, those teeth won’t fit into that maxilla, but it looks rad if you switch your brain off, kind of like Jurassic Park). They’re made up of flat cardboard from a cheap box (not corrugated) layered together with wood glue to give them some thickness, and coated with more wood glue and papier mache goo to soften the contour lines.
Before painting I sealed the whole thing with a thin layer of Titebond wood glue. That probably wasn’t 100% necessary, given what went on next, but I knew it would get the job done and strengthen the structure.
Back to “Rapty”: he got a set of teeth–one layer of thin cardboard this time–entirely speculative nasal and parietal horns courtesy of London, and a couple of coats of Kilz2 white latex primer left over from a telescope-making project. Then he was off to school for show-and-tell. Since then he’s gotten one thin coat of brown watercolor paint. Some of the holes in the skull just about closed up during papier-macheing, but since the impetus for the project was to have fun, it doesn’t trouble me.
Here’s Uglioramus, also dressed in Kilz, awaiting his first coat of paint in my expensive, professional paint box. Leaving a freshly-painted object without overhead protection in this neighborhood is just asking for it to be hit by falling vegetation.
And here we are after the first coat. I use Krylon because it’s cheap, tough, and dries fast, but with the Kilz on I could probably use just about anything.
And that brings us up to the present. I have some ideas on how to finish Uglioramus to make it look more like a fossil skull and less like some cast-off from a flea market, but those will have to wait for another post.
The upshot of all of this is that I am not an expert on either theropod skulls or papier mache, and if a doofus like me can do this well the first time out, you can probably do as well or better yourself. And it’s cheap, messy fun. Highly recommended.
April 24, 2013
A while back, I posted about a squirrel mandible that I’d acquired, and how ridiculously huge its incisor was.
In that post, I rather naively said “the tooth literally could not be any bigger”.
What a fool I was.
As you can see, the incisor goes back almost to the posterior margin of the jaw, and in total is significantly longer than the jaw that contains it. Gotta admit, I am impressed.
Get across to Ian’s blog for the details!
April 19, 2013
Up top there is a commercially obtained
cast sculpture of a thumb claw of Megaraptor. Down below is an unpainted urethane cast of one of my favorite inanimate objects in the universe: OMNH 780, a thumb claw of Saurophaganax. I dunno how much of the Megaraptor claw is real [none, it turns out, but it's based on a true story]; certainly the cast is faithful enough to record some tool-marks in the rugose part near the base. But I know how much of OMNH 780 is legit, and that is all of it. I would have put in a photo of the actual specimen but irritatingly I forgot to take any during my recent visit, and I didn’t have the Megaraptor claw back then anyway. Hopefully I’ll get back to the OMNH this summer, and then it is ON.
The kaiju-loving fanboys of CarnivoraForum undoubtedly want to know how these two compare. Well, much to my disappointment, the Megaraptor claw is a shade longer (28.7 cm max straight-line distance) than the Saurophaganax claw (26.3 cm). But the Saurophaganax claw is about twice as thick and way more robust, and the flexor tubercle which anchored the tendon that powered the claw’s movement is friggin’ immense. It’s like pitting an NBA forward against an NFL linebacker: one is a little taller, but the other one will pound you like a tent stake.
If anyone’s wondering, these claws are both waaay shorter than those of Therizinosaurus (half a meter and up), which still holds the longest-claws-of-anything-ever title. The problem for fans of excessive violence is that Therizinosaurus probably wasn’t doing terribly exciting things with its claws–grooming its feathers, making veggie kabobs, and scratching its ample behind, most likely.
The same was not true for Saurophaganax, which the unbelievers call Allosaurus maximus, a red-blooded all American murder machine with a triple PhD in kicking your ass. When it wasn’t drinking camptosaur blood straight from the jugular, it was eating mud-mired diplodocids butt first while they were still alive. And what about those rumors that Saurophaganax was completely feathered in $100 bills, or that it was the direct linear ancestor of Charles Bronson and Steven McQueen? It’s probably too soon to say, since I just made them up, but I’ll bet your mind is blown nonetheless.
How dangerous was Saurophaganax? Let me put it this way: it’s still dangerous. Thanks to the high concentration of heavy elements in Morrison dinosaur bones, you’re supposed to air out the specimen cabinets before you start working so the radon can escape. Otherwise you might breathe in freakin’ radioactive gas and get cancer (in contrast to some “facts” in the previous paragraph, this is actually true). That’s right, Saurophaganax can kill you, just by lying around in a drawer. After 145 million years, it’s still reaping souls for Hades. By god, that’s giving them what for!
In short, the thumb claw of Saurophaganax is the most impressive instrument of dinosaurian destruction I’ve yet laid eyes on. If you want to see it in context, check out the mounted skeleton at the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman.
While we were there, I took a lot of photos in the excellent Cambridge University Museum of Zoology, which was just across the courtyard from the lecture theatre where the scientific sessions were held.
In light of the recent discussion here on how many cervical vertebrae giraffes have (spoiler: seven), I thought it would be good to air the sloth photos, since the two genera of sloths constitute 66% of all the mammals have that a cervical count other than seven. (The third is the manatee Trichechus, with six cervicals.)