21 June 2010

Open access - again

The Research Information Network (a very worthy organization which, consequently,will probably be axed under the new coalition government regime) has produced An introduction to open access.  As is so often the case, the guide (which is intended for researchers) fails to distinguish effectively between true open access, where there are neither subscription costs nor author charges and partial open access, which involves author charging.  Both of these go under the label of gold access, following a distinction suggested years ago by Steven Harnad.  But these are not identical methods of achieving open access, which is why I describe true open access as Platinum access.  So-called "gold" simply transfers the production costs to the author, from the subscriber; "platinum" calls upon neither of these sources for finance but relies upon either subsidies or voluntary work, or a combination of the two.

Governments, universities and research funding agencies around the world have been slow to see the potential of the platinum route - largely it seems (at least in the case of governments) to protect the publishers. The exceptions are countries in the smaller language groups, where publication of scholarly research has generally been through journals produced by universities, produced with subsidies, and exchanged around the world for other journals to reduce library acquisition costs.  In such cases, the transfer to free, subsidised open access has been quite logical and simple to achieve.

The economics of scholarly publishing undoubtedly support the platinum route since social benefit is maximised in this way.  It is possible, although I hold out little hope, that the current financial crisis in the UK will lead institutions to embrace the platinum method: individual universities, or, better, collaboration between universities would enable the publication of journals in specific disciplines which could be funded at very low costs, and universities could require researchers to publish in these journals, just as they mandate the deposition of papers in institutional archives.

How low are the costs?  Well, taking Information Research as an example of the platinum journal, the only direct costs of production are borne by the University of Lund and those costs amount to whatever proportion of server maiintenance costs can be attributed to the journal: I imagine that these costs are rather low.  All other costs: editing, copy-editing, reviewing, layout, production, are borne by the voluntary workers of the journal.  Is there really any economic case to answer?

19 June 2010

The state of the universities

An article by Anthony Grafton (of Princeton University) in the New York Review of Books (April 8-28), page 32 entitled "Britain: the disgrace of the universities" points to the decline of the humanities in Britain, rightly attributing the decline to the target setting, 'new managerialism' culture that now pervades all but the most ancient of our universities. Grafton points out that once upon a time visiting US academics envied the conditions in British universities - but no longer.  And things will get worse.  Not only do we now have Vice-Chancellors who believe that students are "customers" and that they are running businesses, but they are also anxious to keep on the right side of the prevailing political ideology at the same time as they try to maintain funds by ensuring that not too many overseas students manage to fail their courses.  Indeed, failing courses seems to be very difficult these days - after all, the "customer" might sue the institution. Grafton is not entirely complacent about conditions in the USA:

"In Iowa, in Nevada, and in other places there's talk of closing humanities departments. If you start hearing newspeak about "sustainable excellence clusters", watch out. We'll be following the British down the short road to McDonald's."
I suspect that Grafton has got it right to a greater extent than he knows - certainly the UK government's policy of reducing places in universities (while other countries with bigger problems in Europe are increasing them) leads one to suspect that they would be very grateful if the McDonald's University model could be applied more widely.

09 June 2010

Safari v.5

Safari version 5 is now up and running and the Reader feature works fine for me. If a page is "Readable" the fact is shown by an icon on the right-hand side of the address bar or you can implement it with "Control+Shift+R. I suspect that it makes use of the Mac "Preview" app Take a look here for a review of the new features and a benchmark test, showing that it is (for the moment!) the fastest browser around.   The figure below shows what that review looks like in the reader - you can print the Reader version or e-mail it (as long as you use Apple's Mail application), enlarge or reduce it:

07 June 2010

Murdoch and the British Library, plus Digg in trouble?

Today's Guardian newspaper has a couple of items of interest in its Media supplement. Front page news is that James Murdoch is making a bit of an idiot of himself again - all in the family aim of taking over the world's media. Now he's complaining about the fact that the BL aims to digitise pre-1900 newspapers from its collection - all of them out of copyright, of course, and excluding (sad to say) the Times - part of daddy's empire. In fact, again sadly, the BL is collaborating with a commercial digitisation company which will charge for Internet access to the files. They will only be freely accessible if you use them in the British Library at St. Pancras - shame! This is part of the national cultural heritage and, as taxes already paid for their acquisition, the digital versions should be freely available.

The second bit of news is about the problems the bookmarking site, Digg, is having - digging itself into an early grave, perhaps? Apparently it has lost one third of its users, dropping to 24.7 million a month in April. The writer of the item attributes this to dropping the "Digg bar", which kept users on the site - but who knows, perhaps people are just getting bored with bookmarking?

06 June 2010

Google in trouble again

I see that Google is in trouble again with its Street View activities. The BBC News reports:

The Australian police have been ordered to investigate Google for possible breach of privacy while taking pictures for its Street View service.

Australia's attorney general said he had asked police to probe the internet giant following complaints that Google had gathered personal data from some unencrypted wi-fi services.
Google has admitted doing so, but apologised, saying it was in error.

05 June 2010

Odds and ends

Apple's Safari browser - which I now use most of the time - is rumoured to be due for an update and it's said that the browser will incorporate a "Reader" device. This will strip out the text of an article from a Web page and present it on screen. I can imagine that this idea will be picked up by other browsers quite quickly since there is nothing more frustrating (well, little, anyway) than trying to read an article with all the flashing sidebars, ads and other stupidity going on around. Let's have it quickly, I say.

Then there's a bit of non-news: Internet Explorer 6.0 has now fallen to hold just 4.7% of the market. Sometimes the tech blogs obviously have a difficult time finding news. After all, we've had IE7 and IE8 for some time now, so it's hardly news that version 6.0 is declining in use. The article suggests that the rise of Chrome is the reason for IE's overall decline, but Chrome rose from 7.7% to 8.1% in May, so I'm dubious.

Finally, the "k" word takes a real battering in a recently announced White Paper from Europeana:

"Knowledge, then, is information that has been made part of a specific context and is useful in this context. The contextualisation processes leading to a specific set of information becoming knowledge can be based on social relations (information as part of a group of people's apprehension of the world, information present in the memory of a person) or semantically based (information related to contextual information via shared properties and thus becoming part of a semantic 'class' of information). On this level of knowledge it becomes possible, as well, to derive new knowledge (or at least new information) from combined existing knowledge: a form of interpolative – albeit very mechanical – reasoning such as the one based on formal logic in artificial intelligence applications."

It would be difficult to find any more confusion about the word than this. And yet the distinction is quite simple: knowledge is what we know and information is what we report about what we know. The notion that knowledge is "information that has been made part of a specific context" is quite absurd, since without context we have only data. The datum 29035, for example, is meaningless, until we put it in the context of (for example) Mount Everest, when it then become "information" - if (and it's a big if, these days), I manage to store that information in whatever way the brain allows, it becomes part of my general "knowledge" of the world. Of course, it could also be the brand number of a Ferrari watch, or the number of schools in Sind province without power... context makes the datum information.

And so the "knowledge" hype continues and continues to induce nothing but confusion. Well done, Europeana! (Whatever that is - I have no "knowledge" of the organization.)

04 June 2010

Start again?

It's been pointed out to me that there are various ways of controlling comment spam, which I hope I have now put in place. However, this change means that if you want to comment you have to become a 'member' of the blog. I'll be interested to see how many members decide to join :-)

So - consider this the first entry under the new regime. I'm not likely to post very often because most of my interest is now in my photo-blog, which you can find at:


I hope you enjoy the pictures there.