29 July 2012

"Open Access"?

It seems that the research funders have capitulated to the pressure of the Finch report on scholarly publishing:

JISC and Wellcome Trust: Request for Proposals for a study into how best universities can be supported in dealing with new open access demands.

The Finch report has stated that universities will have to be increasingly efficient in the way they pay for open access publishing in the form of article processing charges (APCs).

In other words, author charging is now the officially accepted way of achieving so-called 'open access' which will be open only to those who can pay the vastly inflated charge to allow their papers to be viewed by all. And, given that commercial publishers are profit-oriented above all other considerations, we can guess that, if you can pay the fee, your paper will be accepted, with a nod to quality by finding referees who are prepared to say, "Well, it's not perfect, but..."

The signs that this is happening is found in the quality standards applied by those newly emerged "open access" publishers whose journals are filled with papers from the developing world, because the authors themselves or their institutions can find the dollars to exercise their feet in the academic rat race. The spam generated by these publishers is such that I have had to have delete filters in my e-mail to get rid of them—the spam filter doesn't catch them for some reason.

And who's to blame: ultimately, it is the timidity of the academic authors themselves. Instead of grasping the opportunity offered by the technology, they wait until someone does it for them; instead of collaborating to bring about change, they sit around and wait to be overwhelmed by it, instead of acting against the silliness of restricted journal lists for submission, imposed by their institutions or departments, they mildly grumble, but go along with it.

I consider myself very fortunate, as the Publisher and Editor of Information Research - a genuinely open access journal, to have gathered together a group of Associate Editors, copy-editors and referees, who contribute their services freely in return only for the personal satisfaction of aiding the open access movement. But ours is not the only field where this is possible: it can be done in any field and it will be to the eternal shame of academe if genuine open publishing does not take root.

Of course, the Finch working party is also to blame: with three members from the commercial publishing industry was the result going to be any different? And I must confess that I had never hear mention of Dame Janet Finch, either as an academic administrator or as a sociologist before this. Her field was family and kinship in modern Britain, and exactly how this fitted her to chair a Working Party on scholarly publishing is a mystery... or perhaps not, she is clearly one of the 'great and the good' who could be relied upon by Tory ministers to deliver the answer they wanted.

25 July 2012


I've had Flight to Arras by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry on my shelves for some time, with excellent illustrations by Laurence Irving, and I finally got round to reading it. On the surface it is about a pointless reconnaissance over the enemy lines to Arras, at the beginning of the Second World War, but it is also an exploration of self-discovery under the most fearful of circumstances.

Such insights are timeless, of course, and so are some of the more trenchant observations of society. He comments:

It is society and not the mood of the individual that should ensure equity in the sharing of the goods of this world. The dignity of the individual demands that he be not reduced to vassalage by the largesse of others. What a paradox—that men who possessed wealth should claim the right, over and above their possessions, to the gratitude of those who were without possessions!
So much for Friedman and trickle-down economics :-)

24 July 2012

How to write - Trollope's advice

Having enjoyed my travels through the complete works of Anthony Trollope, I turned my attention to his Autobiography (which I can thoroughly recommend as an entertaining read - although it does help to have read his works before you turn to it). He devotes a chapter to the art of novel writing, which he allied to the work of the ordinary tradesman, perhaps appropriate, given his approach to the whole business, which involved writing at least a thousand words before breakfast, so that he could then devote his time to his job in the Post Office!

In that chapter, he writes:

Any writer who has read even a little will know what is meant by the word intelligible. It is not sufficient that there be a meaning which may be hammered out of the sentence, but that the language should be so pellucid that the meaning should be rendered without an effort to the reader—and not only some proposition of meaning, but the very sense, no more and no less, which the writer has intended to put into his words.
This is a principle that could serve any author well; whether they be novelists, diarists—or academic authors. Having recently had to read a number of documents prepared for European Union bids, I have to say that the language of all of them is so far from pellucid that it could be described by almost any adjective from misty to downright pea-souper fog!

Contributors to Information Research should print out that paragraph from Trollope and keep it in front of them whenever they get down to writing.

09 July 2012

iGoogle - petitions

If you are an iGoogle user and don't want to see it disappear, sign up to these petitions: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/dont-kill-the-igoogle-webportal.html?utm_medium=RSS http://www.change.org/petitions/google-keep-igoogle-alive#

04 July 2012

High-handed Google

A linked popped up on my iGoogle page this morning telling me that it is to be abandoned with effect from November 2013. The relevant page in the help system tells me that this is because:
With modern apps that run on platforms like Chrome and Android, the need for something like iGoogle has eroded over time
Where on earth do system developers get their crazy ideas from. A raft of different apps, which run on specific browsers, is no satisfactory alternative to iGoogle, which runs on any browser. As far as I can tell, there has been no consultation with the users of iGoogle to determine whether or not they continue to find it useful. In other words, instead of being concerned for the views of users, Google is just another big commercial organization which makes decisions for its own internal reasons and not for those who use its products. As for the need for 'something like iGoogle' being 'eroded over time', I continue to find it useful and hope that someone gets a campaign together to get Google to change its mind.

03 July 2012

Project for a Master's dissertation?

Here's a possible project for a Master's dissertation.

All papers in the journal now have a new link to Google Scholar to determine how many citations it has had. I had previously used a method that worked, but Google seems to have changed things so that they no longer work, so I've changed all of the papers to the new method.  I'd be interested to know how often this link is used by people, since it can be a very useful way of finding out about more recent literature on the same subject.   I have analysed the citations to papers for Volume 12 No. 1, which happened to have some of the ISIC conference papers in it. The fifteen papers had a total of 170 citations, ranging from 0 for a couple of papers to 40 for another. Self-citation accounted for 14% of the total. The most frequently occuring journal was Information Research with 22 citations, followed by ARIST with 6, and JASIST and Journal of Documentation with 5 each. In total, 54 journals were cited, along with  15 conference papers (6 of which were in Proceedings of ASIST). Nine citations were found in books (usually compilations of chapters, rather than monographs) and there were 8 citations from articles in the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. Thirteen citations were found in PhD theses, and there was a sprinking in unpublished papers and PowerPoint presentations. Publications were in nine languages: Chinese, English , Finnish, French, German, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish. A sign of the times, perhaps, was that the most-frequent, non-English language, was Chinese, with a total of six papers.

I don't have the time to do this for all issues of the journal, but I think it would make a nice student project to take a reasonable number of issues and expand my pilot study.  Any takers?