17 October 2011

"Cloud" (?) computing

Today's Guardian newspaper carries a supplement on the implications of cloud computing for business and government and it got me thinking about the use of the term 'cloud'.  This follows a question after my keynote at ASIST last week relating to the permanence of material on the Web.

The problem with the term 'cloud' is that it has ethereal connotations, something in space, with very little seeming materiality to it and, therefore, perhaps immune to the problems that affect the material world.  Whereas, in fact, the 'cloud' is simply a server network, very material and prey to the usual problems of material things: flood, fire, earthquake, etc.  The fact that we save things to Google Docs, or Apple's iCloud, or Amazon's cloud, does not protect them from such things, nor from potential file corruption.  I suppose that "shared server space" does not have the same appeal as "cloud", but we need to remember that that is the cloud. 

30 August 2011

Academic publishers the most ruthless capitalists...

...so says George Monbiot in a major article in today's Guardian newspaper tears into the academic publishers with no holds barred, and it will be interesting to see what their response may be.  He kicks off with:
Who are the most ruthless capitalists in the western world? Whose monopolistic practices make Walmart look like a corner shop and Rupert Murdoch a socialist? You won't guess the answer in a month of Sundays. While there are plenty of candidates, my vote goes not to the banks, the oil companies or the health insurers, but – wait for it – to academic publishers. Theirs might sound like a fusty and insignificant sector. It is anything but. Of all corporate scams, the racket they run is most urgently in need of referral to the competition authorities.
and, in passing, notes that a Deutsche Bank (surely no socialist concern) report said, in examining the publishers' claim of adding value:
We believe the publisher adds relatively little value to the publishing process … if the process really were as complex, costly and value-added as the publishers protest that it is, 40% margins wouldn't be available.
Monbiot summarizes the situation by commenting:
What we see here is pure rentier capitalism: monopolising a public resource then charging exorbitant fees to use it. Another term for it is economic parasitism. To obtain the knowledge for which we have already paid, we must surrender our feu to the lairds of learning.
None of this will be new to readers of this blog and to proponents of open access in general, but the fact it is given centre page status in a major newspaper and is simultaneously available (by open access!) to the world outside the UK is a major step in revealing to the world at large the crazy business model of academic publishing and the cost to the community at large of restricting access to the products of research.

Monbiot calls for the situation to be referred to the UK's Competition Commission, but I suspect the likelihood of this is remote: after all, Parliament's Science and Technology Committee did nothing to promote open access when it reviewed the situation some years ago and the Research Councils in the UK have been following the lily-livered politicos in their refusal to demand open access publishing of work they fund.  The publishing lobby is a very powerful one and academics by comparison are lambs to the slaughter.  However, they are lambs to another slaughter in their pandering to the demands of university bosses that they should publish only in certain "top-ranked" journals - the only people who can bring about change are those currently burrowing their heads in the sand and hoping that the next research evaluation exercise will not bury them altogether.

06 August 2011

Redirect links, please!

It really annoys me (and apologies if I haves blogged about this before) when links on sites prove to be dead.  It is so easy to enter the bit of code on the original page to automatically direct the browser to the correct location.  It is even more annoying when the organization knows this is going to happen and still does nothing about it.  This has just happened to me with the Which? consumer information site: one page contains a link to another but, instead of being transferred to the new location, up pops a different page telling me to go to the home page or do a search!  It's their site, dammit, why must the user do the work?  Essentially, it's down to idle Webmasters who don't want the bother and decide that the user (or customer in some cases) should have the bother instead.  I shall be mailing them about this as soon as I've vented my frustration here!

28 July 2011

Peer review

The UK's Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology has published its report on peer review, with an interesting section on costs.  They quote an estimate from JISC that peer review costs the UK Higher Education sector "between £110 million and £165 million per year for peer review and up to £30 million per year for the work done by editors and editorial boards".  So what happens next, up pops a man from Elsevier to claim that publishers too have invested hugely in improving peer review - by installing journal management systems.  He suggests that,
Overall, one of the biggest investments for everyone in the publishing industry in the last decade or so has been migration to some of the electronic platforms. Across the industry, our estimate is that somewhere in the order of £2 billion of investment has been made. That includes the technologies at the back end to publish the materials as well. The technology has included submission systems, electronic editorial systems, peer review support systems, tracking systems and systems that enable editors to find reviewers.
Precisely how this "improves" actual peer review is not explained, since the quality of review depends entirely upon the reviewers and not on whatever technology might be employed to manage the process. New technology was introduced by publishers to improve efficiency and reduce costs, not to improve peer review and, in any event, from the table provided by Elsevier showing a total of more than £2,130,000,000 in investment, industry-wide, a mere £70,000,000 is attributable to "Author submission & editorial systems" in which the peer review process would be swallowed up by everything else and £1,500,000,000 is spent on electronic publishing systems.

As usual,  the publisher "doth protest too much methinks".  They know they get away with murder in the scholarly publishing business - the only business to acquire its raw materials free of charge and then to have a significant proportion of its labour costs delivered freely.  The newspapers are gradually coming to understand the significance of the Internet and its impact on their business models, but the scholarly publishers, supported by government and university heads, will resist to the end.

Typical of this support, the report concludes,
..we consider that there should be an external regulator overseeing research integrity. We recommend that the Government set out proposals on the scope and powers of such a regulator and consult with the research community and other relevant parties to develop them.
It is also recommended that all academic institutions should have someone responsible for 'research integrity' - in other words, more costs to the Higher Education institutions.  Elsevier must be giggling all the way to the bank.

24 June 2011

Is open access biting?

News that Elsevier is changing its policy on allowing authors to archive papers suggests that the publisher may be feeling the pinch of open access, as users turn to archives for copies rather than to the journal.  I don't know how many individual copies of papers Elsevier sells, in addition to its subscription list, but a copy obtained from an archive is a copy unsold.
The new policy requires institutions to have specific agreements with Elsevier:
...deposit in, or posting to, subject-oriented or centralised repositories (such as PubMed Central), or institutional repositories with systematic posting mandates is permitted only under specific agreements between Elsevier and the repository, agency or institution, and only consistent with the Publisher’s policies concerning such repositories.
 This policy applies to the manuscript version of an accepted paper.  For actual published papers, the policy is even more restrictive:
Elsevier does not permit the posting of PJAs (Elsevier-provided PDF or HTML files) on any open web sites.  This is to ensure that the final published version of an article, which has been edited and peer-reviewed according to the publishing standards of an Elsevier journal, is always recognized as such only via the journal itself, whether in print or electronic format.
Publishers behave this way because they believe that they are the owners of the research output and the answer to their stranglehold on the distribution of research findings lies in the hands of the institutions and the researchers.  It is only by refusing to transfer copyright and by insisting that the publisher only has the right to publish a specific version of a paper, that authors will be able to do what they wish with their research outputs.
The response of the Swedish open access programme to this change in Elsevier's terms is as follows:
•    We strongly object to Elsevier’s new policy which requires separate agreements for author’s rights and we urge Elsevier to withdraw the new clause.
•    We recommend Swedish universities with open access mandates to not conclude separate agreements with Elsevier. Instead, this issue should be transferred to the negotiations of the national license agreements with Elsevier.
It seems likely that institutions will be in conflict with the major publishers to an increasing extent as more and more adopt policies on open access to their research outputs. The SciComInfo newsletter reports, for example, that the Karolinska Institute, one of the world's leading medical research institutions, has adopted an open access policy, and many institutions are now using the deposit of papers in their institutional repository as one way of assessing research performance. Limiting open archiving in any way will run counter to these trends.

08 June 2011

No need for private universities in the UK

The current government's higher education strategy is now in a complete mess - although it must be said that previoius governments have contributed.  Two strategies were evolved by this governement: allow universities to charge up to £9000 a year for an undergraduate programme; and encourage the development of private universities.  Budgeting was done on the assumption that the average cost of a course would be £7,000 but now more than half of the universities will be charging the maximum - problem number one.

Problem number 2 is that very few organizations appear to be coming forward to create private universities and one that has is now under investigation in the USA for suspected fraud - welcome to the world of big business Mr. Cameron.  A bunch of presumably right-leaning academics, including Richard Dawkins - noted evolutionary biologist - have also proposed a new university college offering courses in the humanities but, hello!, what's this - it turns out that the published syllabuses have been ripped off from existing courses in the University of London - welcome to the world of the self-seeking academic, Mr. Cameron.

Further problems exist with the government seeking to adopt an 'American' approach to higher education - and why that dysfunctional system is of any interest at all to us, I do not know - which are outlined by Howard Hotson in an article in the London Review of Books for the 19th May.  He points out that the "72 US universities in the top 200 [world wide] represent fewer than 5 per cent of those offering four-year degrees" (there are 5,758 recognized HE insitutions in the US). By contrast, the 29 UK universities in the world's top 200 represent almost 20% of the 165 insitutions in the UK.  This means that the chance of a UK student attending a top university is much greater in the UK than it is in the USA - in other words, the UK system of publicly funded higher education works.  Hotson points out that it also works in terms of value for money and he notes that "If value for money is the most important consideration, especially in an age of austerity, the American model might well be the last one that Britain should be emulating".

Will Hotson's analysis make the slightest difference to government policy?  Of course not - the Tories are wedded to the notion of the market, come what may, they are ideologically incapable of rational analysis and, therefore, the decline of the higher education system in England and Wales will continue - the Scots need to be thankful that education is in their hands, not in those of the idiots in Westminster. 

02 June 2011

The problem of conference proceedings

I'm sure I'm not the only journal editor (or copy-editor, proof-reader, etc.) to have noticed that the bibliographic control of conference proceediings is now a complete mess.  This is mainly the result of the digital environment in which we now all operate.

What's the problem?  Well, it is this:  authors present papers at conferences and then cite those papers and other papers presented at the same conferences and very few authors are capable of providing a full reference entry for the paper.  APA, for example requires:

author-date-paper title-'In'-editors names-conference title-pages of the paper-place of publication-publisher

and what authors provide is generally something like:

author-paper title-conference title

Then, when you try to track down the actual paper, to provide a correct bibliographical entry, what do you find?  There are several possibilities:

1. The conference proceedings have indeed been published by one of the large number of recognised publishers, some of whom specialise in publishing conference proceedings. The papers are often accessible at the publisher's Website.
2. The conference proceedings have been published by the local organization, often a university or a scientific society, responsible for the conference organization. The papers may be accessible also at the publisher's Website, but often there is no such provision for electronic access.
3. The proceedings have been made openly available at the conference Website - run by either the organizing body, or by the organization hosting the conference.  There is no print version.
4. The proceedings were made available in print form to those attending the conference. There is no other form of publication, unless 3 applies and, hence, there is no 'publication' in the formal sense.
5.  The papers was presented at the conference, but there were no conference proceedings and the author has subsequently published in a journal.
6.  The paper was presented at the conference and the author(s) have made it available through their home page, an institutional repository, or a disciplinary repository.
7.  The paper was presented at the conference but not made more widely available by either the organizers or a publisher, or by the author(s).

The responsibility for indicating which of these applies to the conference papers cited by an author clearly lies with the author of the citing paper but, very often, all they have is a pdf file or associated paper copy and they have no idea as to the details of its provenance.  Telling the author what is missing from a reference entry is almost as time-consuming as actually doing the search for the item oneself.

I can only imagine the situation becoming worse: we already have audio and video files of conference presentations although, thankfully, I have not yet had to deal with any citations to such objects.  The only actors in this situation who can influence the situation for the better are the conference organizers: it is their responsibility to do something about this mish-mash of alternative modes of publication.  Many conferences do inlcude a note on how and by whom the papers will be published, but many more leave this to one's imagination.

There's another conference paper problem and that is the "salami slicing" of research outputs to get three conference papers where one would suffice, and even straightforward duplication - paper 1 at Conference A in 2009 and paper 2 (sometimes identically titled) at Conference B in 2010.  But perhaps I'd better leave that for another day.

31 May 2011

Too many journals, too few papers?

I'm sure that others have noticed a very large increase in the number of messages from journal publishers seeking either members for their editorial boards or calling for papers.  A (very) modest investigation suggests that the majority of the journals involved are so-called 'open access', involving author charges.  A number of publishers are clearly trying to jump on the open access bandwagon in the hope of making a profit; but they are doing so without having journal editors with the kinds of contacts that would enable them to contact people individually to be Board members.  One wonders, therefore, about the authority they can bring to the editorial position.

The Call for Papers message suggests a couple of things: one is that these journals and their editors do not have the kind of relationship to the respective fields of the journals to be able to use other means of attracting papers and, on the other hand, they are aware that there are many academics seeking publication outlets for their work. Even a cursory examination of the journals involved suggests that the quality is low: copy-editing is almost non-existent and the standard of English suggest that no one is doing any actual editing.

In the 'publish or perish' environment in which young researchers exist these days, desperate to publish to attain a tenured appointment, these publishers will claim to fill a need, but publication in newly established journals, based on a business model that has not been tested over time, is a hazardous business.  In addition, the journals are unlikely to be listed in Web of Knowledge and, increasingly, universities (in response to the idiot requirement of 'research assessment') are demanding in highly ranked journals, and even if a young researcher cannot get into a highly ranked journal, a mid-ranked journal will be of more value on his or her CV that publication at all costs in a journal of dubious reputation.

09 May 2011

Nokia's downfall?

I see that both Nokia and Blackberry are suffering from the onslaught of iPhones and Android devices. Nokia is now thinking of transferring more production out of Finland, which could have interesting effects nationally, and is, presumably with some sense of desperation, trying to come up with an answer.  Having appointed an ex-MSoft man to head up the company, I suppose it was inevitable that he would reach a deal with MSoft on phone software.  Probably a big mistake.  Microsoft has never really been a phone company and has been running behind Apple and Google for months now - as a (relatively) late arrival on the phone scene its chances of catching up are remote.  I suspect that we are not only seeing the beginning of the end for Nokia, but perhaps the beginning of the end for Microsoft.  Inconceivable?  Well, all companies have a lifetime and if you pause to think of how many computer companies have disappeared or have been eaten by other companies, you'll realise that there's no such thing in this industry as an improbable event.

29 April 2011

Activity theory

It's been a little while since I updated my page of links to material on Activity Theory, but now it is done and those interested will find it online some time after 22:30 GMT tonight.  Very little has changed - two of the links returned error messages, but the material was still there, with newe URLs, and there is one additional link.  I also checked the page of links to material on Vygotsky - that is still there, but the last two items in the list return 404 errors.  If you come across other pages that you think may be of interest, please send me a link.

03 April 2011

Impact factors and true 'influence'

I've never been a particular fan of bibliometrics, although many years ago (40 to be exact!) I taught a course in the subject. There are uses for the methods, such as determining the journals one might subscribe to when setting up a new library service - although making the rounds of the clients and seeking their advice probably serves as well - but generally, it seems that many bibliometric studies are carried out simply as an exercise in the methods, or to refine them, without much being said about the practical applications of the methods.
I was pleased, therefore, to come across a paper that appears to have something useful to say about 'impact factors' - drawing attention to some of the problems and proposing an alternative method of determining 'impact', or, as I would prefer 'influence'.   'Impact' is one of those macho, aggressive words, chosen, it seems, to impress, whereas what one is talking about is the influence of a journal within a scholarly field.

The paper is Integrated Impact Indicators (I3) compared with Impact Factors (IFs): an alternative research design with policy implications, by Loet Leydesdorff and Lutz Bornmann.  The authors argue that the journal impact factor is flawed as a consequence of being based on the two-year average of citations, whereas a 'true' indicator of 'impact' would be based on the sums of the citations.  This is argued on the analogy that the impact force of two bodies is the sum of their mass times the velocity of impact (if I have understood things aright, not being a statistician!).  On this basis, the total number of citations (the analogy of 'velocity') needs to be taken into account.

The authors use the LIS category of Web of Knowledge, showing that on the basis of 'summed impact', JASIST is ranked ahead of MIS Quarterly, rather than behind it.  However, this gives rise to another problem: how to categorise the journals in the first place.   MIS Quarterly's primary classification in Web of Knowledge is in the information systems category and it is something of a mystery as to why it appears in the LIS classification at all.  Inevitably, then, a core journal like JASIST, must appear ahead of one that is misplaced in the classification scheme.  This is not to dispute the argument of Leydesdorff and Bornmann, I simply raise the issue.  

The LIS category in Web of Knowledge is a complete mess, with journals having a secondary home there and others placed there, seemingly because there was nowhere else to put them, such as The Scientist, which, in any event, is a kind of news magazine, rather than a scholarly journal. Other examples of journals in the LIS list that have their primary location somewhere else include, International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, Information Systems Research,  Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Journal of Information Technology, and too many more to list.  Anyone wishing to compare rankings (arrived at by any means) would need to clean up the list on the basis of which journals LIS scholars are likely to seek publication in - I suspect that, instead of there being 66 journals to consider, one would probably have something like half that number.  Urging LIS researchers to publish in MIS Quarterly or Information Systems Research is a completely pointless exercise, since their papers are likely to be ruled, "out of scope".  This of importance when it comes to journal ranking, since, using the 5-year impact factor, out of the top 20 journals, I would argue that seven are 'out of scope'.

Another point that might be addressed is that of the general versus the specific. We might expect that a specialist journal, catering for a well-developed area of research, will have higher 'impact' than a more general purpose journal.  Thus, in the top 20 journals, ranked by  5-year impact factor, six are what I would call 'niche' journals, such as the International Journal of Geographical Information Science and Scientometrics. If, as is increasingly the case, researchers are not simply urged, but required, to publish in the top-ranked journals, this leaves (excluding the out of scope) not 20, but seven, 'general purpose' journals in which to seek publication - or, since ARIST is now no longer published, six. That is, Information Management; JASIST; Information Processing and Management; Journal of Information Science; Journal of Documentation; Library and Information Science Research. 

If we want to increase that to the "top ten" general purpose LIS journals, we would include: International Journal of Information Management; Information Research; Library Quarterly; Journal of Library and Information Science, which takes us down to number 34 in the WoK rankings.

All of which serves to demonstrate that lists and rankings are treacherous things that are probably best avoided. :-)

28 March 2011

The barbarians at the gates (of academe)

The barbarians in question are the Tory-led government of the UK.  Not content with removing teaching support monies from the arts and humanities - this is from today's Independent interview with the author, David Lodge:

Under the Government's proposals, funding for teaching all university subjects bar maths, science, technology, engineering and some language courses will be gradually phased out over the next three years – with the arts and humanities having to rely on income from students through fees to support them.

the latest move is to require the Arts and Humanities Research Council to support research into the political slogan, "the big society", otherwise its funding would be reduced.  Of course, this is not the first time that a right wing government has brandished its whip over the research councils.  Back in the Thatcher era, the Iron Lady's guru, education minister, Sir Keith Joseph, required the Social Sciences Research Council to change its name, otherwise funding would be withheld, so we now have the Economic and Social Research Council, which, seemingly, has never had a sufficiently courageous leadership to change the name back again.

How much further will these fascist-like attacks on the universities in the UK go?  I doubt if this government has any limits and the fact that they are supported by the Liberal Democrats is particularly sickening.  Once upon a time this was the Liberal Party - the party that introduced the welfare state. Now it appears to be so enamoured of its ministerial red boxes that its principles have gone out of the window.

22 March 2011

Over-elaboration, the software revision disease

I've just got rid of the latest version of Skype and re-installed version 2.8 (fortunately still available for download) because the latest version has been revised completely out of sight of the previous version. Frankly, the revision is a mess: I couldn't find out how to access Chat while online, and then discovered it's been re-named Conversation - how silly is this!?  The conversation is what goes on in the speech part of the interaction, Chat is what you write down - universally accepted as such except, apparently, by Skype.  Then I found that my directory had been completely messed up and I couldn't find land-line telephone numbers any longer, without a great deal of effort.  Now, thanks to the earlier version, I'm back to the simple box with names in - ALL the names I need.

It's very odd how software developers insist on making things more complicated in the name of making them 'better' - think of Word, for example: I still hate the newer versions of that program because it completely destroyed my long-established way of working with it.  Perhaps software developers need a banner to hang over their workstations: "Less is best!"

15 March 2011

Google, copyright and the UK government

Yesterday's Guardian had a long article in its Media section on the planned rewriting of the UK copyright law.  The author, Adam Sherwin, draws attention to connections between the government and Google - the company most likely to benefit from a change in the law to provide a "fair use" clause.  The connections are interesting "Rachel Whetstone, Google's European head of communications, is married to Steve Hilton, the prime minister's director of strategy" and "Sarah Hunter, Google's head of UK public policy [was] a former Downing Street adviser to Tony Blair on the creative industries"

Coincidentally, yesterday's Guardian carried an article entitled "Guardian ICM poll shows Europeans united in distrust of governments"

Follow up to yesterday's entry

Those bewildered by British government policy on higher education (including, perhaps, some of the Ministers!) might 'enjoy' the article in today's Guardian.

The whole business become farcical with Ministers at loggerheads with one another over the issue of visas for overseas students and at war with the universities in seeking to limit student fees having taken the decision to increase them!  If this was a novel about academic life, it wouldn't be believed.

The interesting thing is that in the UK we have different policies for the different constituent parts: e.g., Scotland does not charge fees except to students from England!  And students are voting with their feet: recent articles have commented on English students going to Maastricht University, where the fees are lower, and to Trinity College, Dublin, where they pay no fees at all.  In both places they still have living costs, of course, but they'd have those costs in England in any case.

The only answer to this problem (apart from a policy change from government, which is highly unlikely) is for the universities to exert their independence.  They are, after all, legally autonomous bodies: their dependency on government has resulted from their dependence on government funding to support their teaching and research.  Making the break and depending solely on student fees and research income from whatever sources, would be horrendously difficult but, as far as I can see, it is the only viable alternative.  Otherwise, they will be increasingly subject to even greater control.  The Guardian article notes:
The coalition is considering a Soviet-style central intervention policy to effectively fine individual universities if they impose unreasonable tuition fees next year.
It would be interesting to know what legal basis exists for government to fine independent legal entities.

14 March 2011

The death of the university in the UK

The current issue of the London Review of Books has a very interesting and very depressing short article, by Iain Pears, on the problems afflicting universities in the UK as a result of the idiocies perpetrated by, first the Blair/Brown regime and now the millionaire barbarians of the Coalition.
Unfortunately, you'd need to be a subscriber to access the text online (LRB would be doing a favour to academe by opening up this article), so I shall try to summarise what Pears is saying, although bear in mind that the commentary is in my words, no his!
     Pears attacks the government on several fronts: first, he points out that a government preaching the hazards of debt has introduced a policy of student fees that will result in more people getting into greater debt.  Personally I find it a) sickening, that the sixth richest economy on the planet is "unable" to afford to educate its young people, while spending billions in supporting the banks, erecting self-glorification edifices such as the Millenium Dome, financing the 2012 Olympics and fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and, it seems, anywhere else (while simultaneously getting rid of soldiers and materiel, and b) hypocritical, that these rich people were all educated when fees were either low or non-existent and now think it appropriate to charge £9,000 a year for a degree programme.
     Secondly, he draws attention to the takeover of the research councils to do the bidding of government in supporting what it imagines to be 'the national interest'.  Consequently, all research will be required to show 'relevance' to that interest and the result will be millions spent on pointless research that has little or no real scientific impact in order to ensure that the pea-packers have a better can, or something equally trivial. And where are the Chair-persons of the research councils in all this - well, they are government appointees of course, rolling over to have their tummies tickled on the way to the House of Lords or chairmanship of one of the new quangos being set up to monitor all of the changes.  As Pears points out:
On 20 December, in response to disquiet from the research agencies, the government issued a Written Ministerial Statement asserting that ‘prioritisation of an individual research council’s spending within its allocation is not a decision for ministers.’ But this was followed by so many get-outs that it offered no real safeguards at all. These allow the government to divert money to ‘key national priorities’ – which it can set – and provide for no appeal against its directives. 
     The final point is that in the next research evaluation exercise, all disciplines will be required to show the 'impact' of their work on the world at large.  Again, the Higher Education Funding Council reveals that it is nothing more than a tool of government by going along with this proposition and most Vice-Chancellors have done either very little or nothing at all, in trying to bring some semblance of rationality into the process.  For some disciplines, such as engineering, it may be quite easy to show what the impact is, especially if research has been done for and with industry.  But how easy will a humanities scholar, producing, say a critical edition of the plays of Christopher Marlowe, to demonstrate 'impact' on the world at large?  And yet the 'quality' of an academic's work will have a weighting of 20% assigned to 'impact'.  As Pears notes:
If no one really knows what impact is, it is at least clear what it isn’t: scholarship is seen as of no significance. What the government and Hefce are interested in is work that is useful, in a crudely defined way, for business or policy-making. The effects on the sciences will be unfortunate. Last month Thomson-Reuters published a list of the top 100 chemists in the world. Only four are British, and at least one of these gained his place on the list for work that would not be found to have sufficient impact to warrant a grant under the new system.
     So, on top of being faced with a drastic reduction in funding for teaching purposes, plus the loss of students who will be unable to pay the increased fees; or, rather, unwilling to take on the increased debt, plus the loss of overseas students through the government's misguided attempts to reduce 'immigration', there is the nonsense of the research evaluation, which will cost, collectively, millions to perform, when the process could have ceased now, given that the research profile of the universities is now sufficiently well established.
     The implications of this are clear: the British university will no longer be a desirable place in which to work, conduct research and teach students and those who can will vote with their feet and get out to a country that still values higher education for its intrinsic scholarly returns, rather than its 'impact' on the priorities of government.  As for those thinking to coming to work here, my advice would be to think again, and the same advice would be offered to those thinking of returning from abroad. However, the latter might find it easier to find a post when the exodus gets going!

Badly produced e-books

This blog entry struck a chord with me - free books are all very well, but the quality control can be absolutely awful.  Fine, if you are stuck on a plane for several hours, but certainly destructive of reading pleasure when the typos mean that you have to keep guessing what the author was saying.

The fact that Google Books can produce such rubbish is particularly depressing - isn't their motto something like, "Never do harm"?  I suppose that harming a text doesn't really count in their book.  [Sorry about the pun!]

09 March 2011

Most hopeful recruitment notice of the year... so far!

Working Mums aged 40-50 wanted for grape juice research

We are recruiting mums aged 40-50 with children aged younger than 13 for exciting research investigating the health and cognitive benefits of grape juice.  If you take part, you would need to drink 12oz (335ml) of grape juice every day for two separate periods of 12 weeks.

20 February 2011

Call for papers for special issue of Information Research

Special issue on “Information by Chance: Opportunistic Discovery of Information”
To be published in September 2011
Submission deadline: May 31, 2011

Guest Editors:

Dr. Sanda Erdelez, School of Information Science and Learning Technologies, University of Missouri, USA - sanda@missouri.edu

Dr. Stephann Makri, UCL Interaction Centre, University College London, UK -

Much existing information research has focused on information-seeking (i.e., actively looking for information, usually facilitated by searching or browsing activities). However, there are many situations where we discover information that we were not actively seeking at the time; for example, we might stumble upon an article that is useful to our research that has been left on the photocopier by one of our colleagues, or come across a webpage that is relevant to one of our interests whilst searching the web for a different topic entirely. These are examples of the Opportunistic Discovery of Information where information is discovered accidentally, fortuitously, unintentionally and/or unexpectedly – often resulting in a beneficial outcome. Related concepts include information encountering, accidental acquisition of information, incidental finding of information, and serendipitous information discovery.
In recent years researchers in library and information science, human-computer interaction, sociology, psychology, business, and many other fields have started to systematically study opportunistic discovery and related concepts. By developing an increased understanding of these phenomena we hope to find out how they can be facilitated by interactive information retrieval systems with the vision of contributing to the economic and social benefit of all. The purpose of the special issue of Information Research is to provide a central venue for researchers to present various conceptual and research perspectives on opportunistic discovery and related concepts and to inform the research audience about the current state of research in this emerging field.
Authors are invited to submit original, unpublished work that is not under consideration by other journals. The work should focus on theoretical, empirical or applied aspects of opportunistic discovery of information (defined broadly and inclusively). Specific topics of interest include, but are not limited to, work in the following areas:
·      Understanding cognitive, process-based or behavioral aspects of opportunistic discovery and related concepts (including models, theories or frameworks);
·      Understanding the position of opportunistic discovery and related concepts within the broader framework of human information behavior;
·      The opportunistic discovery of information in various academic or practical domains (e.g., education, medicine, architecture, art, media, retail, entrepreneurship, etc.);
·      Understanding factors that enable and/or inhibit opportunistic discovery;
·      Methodologies for research;
·      Opportunistic discovery and individual differences;
·      Measurement of individuals’ propensity for experiencing and engaging in opportunistic discovery.
·      Opportunistic discovery and social networking;
·      Design and evaluation of interactive information retrieval systems (or other tools/artifacts) aimed at encouraging, supporting or facilitating opportunistic discovery.
Your paper should be prepared in accordance with the Author Instructions at http://informationr.net/ir/author2.html and the Style Manual at http://informationr.net/ir/StyleManual.html. Note that Information Research does not use ad hoc initialisms and acronyms, so please do not refer to the ‘opportunistic discovery of information’ as ODI. Similarly, please always spell out abbreviations such as LIS, IR etc.
Submit your paper as a Microsoft Word ‘.DOC’ file through the journal management system at http://nile.lub.lu.se/ojs/index.php/infores with the top line annotation “Submission for Special Issue on Opportunistic Discovery of Information” by May 7, 2011.
All papers will be initially screened by the special issue editors and then sent out for peer review. This will be a ‘double blind’ review process, so please mark any self-citations and references simply as ‘author,’ with no further details in the reference list (see the journal management system for detailed instructions). Please also include a separate cover sheet with the names and contact information of all authors and contact information (including email) for twopotential reviewers.

22 January 2011

Search engine bias?

I notice that "Measuring bias in 'organic' Web search" by Edelman and Lockwood, is simply "posted" on a Website (http://www.benedelman.org/searchbias/), rather than being a peer-reviewed paper, so I'm not sure why anyone is paying it any attention. The authors suggest that Google is biased on the basis of what is probably the most trivial bit of data collection one could imagine.  It's easy to replicate.  One search term they used was "mail" and, sure enough, when I use this in Google, the first item retrieved is a link to Gmail.  However, when I use email - presumably equally likely to be used by searchers, the first item is a link to Hotmail and the second is to Gmail; when I use "e-mail", the first link is to Yahoo's mail service, the second is to Wikipedia, the third is to Hotmail, the  fourth is to news on e-mail and only the fifth is to Gmail.

In other words, to base a proposition of bias on one possible form of a concept is to write absolute rubbish.  Still, these are Harvard Business School people and no doubt self-advertisement is the primary motivation here.