Archive for April, 2012

[2b2k] Pyramid-shaped publishing model results in cheating on science?

Carl Zimmer has a fascinating article in the NYTimes, which is worth 1/10th of your NYT allotment. (Thank you for ironically illustrating the problem with trying to maintain knowledge as a scarce resource, NYT!)

Carl reports on what may be a growing phenomenon (or perhaps, as the article suggests, the bugs of the old system may just now be more apparent) of scientists fudging results in order to get published in the top journals. From my perspective the article provides yet another illustration how the old paper-based strictures on scientific knowledge caused by the scarcity of publishing outlets results not only in a reduction in the flow of knowledge, but a degradation of the quality of knowledge.

Unfortunately, the availability of online journals (many of which are peer-reviewed) may not reduce the problem much even though they open up the ol’ knowledge nozzle to 11 on the firehosedial. As we saw when the blogosphere first emerged, there is something like a natural tendency for networked ecosystems to create hubs with a lot of traffic, along with a very long tail. So, even with higher capacity hubs, there may still be some pressure to fudge results in order to get noticed by these hubs, especially since tenure decisions continue to place such high value on a narrow understanding of “impact.”

But: 1. With a larger aperture, there may be less pressure. 2. When readers are also commentators and raters, bad science may be uncovered faster and more often. Or so we can hope.

(There is the very beginnings of a Reddit discussion of Carl’s article here.)


[2b2k] Libraries are platforms?

I’m at the DPLA Plenary meeting, heading toward the first public presentation — a status report — on the prototype DPLA platform we’ve been building at Berkman and the Library Innovation Lab. So, tons of intellectual stimulation, as well as a fair bit of stress.

The platform we’ve been building is a software platform, i.e., a set of data and services offered through an API so that developers can use it to build end-user applications, and so other sites can integrate DPLA data into their sites. But I’ve been thinking for the past few weeks about ways in which libraries can (and perhaps should) view themselves as platforms in a broader sense. I want to write about this more, but here’s an initial set of draft-y thoughts about platforms as a way of framing the library issue.

Libraries are attached to communities, whether local towns, universities, or other institutions. Traditionally, much of their value has been in providing access to knowledge and cultural objects of particular sorts (you know, like books and stuff). Libraries thus have been platforms for knowledge and culture: they provide a reliable, open resource that enable knowledge and culture to be developed and pursued.

As the content of knowledge and culture change from physical to digital (over time and never completely), perhaps it’s helpful to think about libraries in their abstract sense as platforms. What might a library platform look like in the age of digital networks?(An hour later: Note that this type of platform would be very different from what we’re working on for the DPLA.)

It would give its community open access to the objects of knowledge and culture. It would include physical spaces as a particularly valuable sort of node. But the platform would do much more. If the mission is to help the community develop and pursue knowledge and culture, it would certainly provide tools and services that enable communities to form around these objects. The platform would make public the work of local creators, and would provide contexts within which these works can be found, discussed, elaborated, and appropriated. It would provide an ecosystem in which ideas and conversations flow out and in, weaving objects into local meanings and lives. Of course it would allow the local culture to flourish while simultaneously connecting it with the rest of the world — ideally by beginning with linking it into other local library platforms.

This is obviously not a well-worked out idea. It also contains nothing that hasn’t been discussed for decades now. What I like about it (at least for now) is that a platform provides a positive metaphor for thinking about the value of libraries that both helps explain their traditional value, and their opportunity facing the future.

DPLA session beginning. Will post without rereading… (Hat tip to Tim O’Reilly who has been talking about government as a platform for a few years now.) (Later: Also, my friend and DPLA colleague Nate Hill blogged a couple of months ago about libraries as local publishing platforms.)


[2b2] Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 50 years later

The Chronicle of Higher Ed asked me to write a perspective on Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions since this is the 50th year since it was published. It’s now posted.


Errors chemical and spellicioius

From an email from Stephen Herman:

I noticed a glaring spelling mistake “Lou Gherig’s disease”
when it should be Gehrig, and at 824 “boiling water breaks the bond between hydrogen and oxygen”- I’m guessing you’re not a chemist, no reason to suspect you are. The hydrogen bonding weakens, but surely not breaking the bonds between H and O.

Anyway, this is NOT a critique but a question- since it is a digital download, why cannot readers submit corrections so the future downloads are improved? Its like crowd sourcing the editorial function, and makes the book text more fluid.

I suppose I could adapt a bug-tracking system. Instead I’m doing the lazy thing: posting errors on this blog, categorized as errata.

Thanks, Steve.


[2b2k] Astounding two-minute video edit from NASA’s Cassini and Voyager missions – Only if you love Saturn, Jupiter, and, you know, the Universe

Outer Space from Sander van den Berg on Vimeo.


[2b2k] Too Big to Know’s network

Valdis Krebs has posted a map of books that Amazon says people who bought 2b2k also bought, and then the web of books that are one degree away from those books.

It’s interesting to parse as you try to discern what the shared interests are. And I’m surprised that Amazon hasn’t picked up on it as a way to sell more books, and that publishers haven’t picked up on it to understand their market better.

In any case, thanks, Valdis!


[2b2k] The power of extreme diversity

Brian Millar has a brief article in FastCompany about his company’s strategy of consulting “extreme customers” to get insight into existing products and ideas for new ones. He writes, “You can learn a lot about mobile phones by talking to a power user. You can learn even more by talking to somebody who’s deliberately never bought one.” And

We recently worked with some Brazilian transsexuals on hair-removal products, looking at ways of making the process less painful. I can assure you, we had their full attention. Some are still sending us ideas.

It’s a great illustration of the fact that innovation tends to come from the intersection of orthogonal streets.


[2b2k] Editorials and echo chambers

From a New Yorker article (April 9, 2012) by Adam Gopnick on Camus:

Good editorial writing has less to do with winning an argument, since the other side is mostely not listening, than with telling the guys on your side how they ought to sound when they’re arguing…Not “Say this!” but “Sound this way!” is what the great editorialists teach.


[review] Center for Information-Development Management

Mark Baker has posted a review that applies Too Big to Know to his field of technical communications. He notes that the book “isn’t about technical communication either, but what it has to say about the changes the web has brought to scientific publishing should make us all fundamentally rethink how technical communication will work in the future.”

He ranks it as one of a handful of books technical communicators really should read. But I have to say that the following passage especially made me smile: “What sets Weinberger apart from the common or garden web pundit is that he doesn’t speculate about what may happen in the future; he shows you what has already happened and makes you wonder why you didn’t see it yourself.” Thanks, Mark!