The Reading Room at the British Museum

Reading Digest (23-29 December)

Predictably, this has been a relatively quiet week in terms of academic news. Still, here the weekly round up of notable articles, posts and stories that I came across:

Cracking down on knowledge sharing

The first story that caught my attention this week was about everybody’s favourite publisher: it appears that Elsevier is on a campaign to pull down from across the web any unauthorised versions of articles that first appeared in their journals. According to an article in the Washington Post:

Elsevier’s new hard-line posture is likely to intensify a debate over the future of academic publishing. Thanks to the Internet, academics no longer need traditional academic publishers to distribute their research to the world in paper form.

Those of us who have been around the web long enough to remember the war against peer-to-peer sharing of music (e.g., Metallica vs. universities & Napster) may be in a good position to speculate how this affair is likely to be resolved on the long run.

Finding a home for your paper

The next reading is still on the broad topic of publishing, but as seen from the producer’s perspective: I am inclined to think that I am not the only person who finds it hard to choose the most appropriate journals to submit a paper. Here’s a paper with some advice for PhD students and early career researchers who are in search of a suitable publication venue, which I wish had been around when I started writing for publication:

According to Oscar Wilde, the only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on: it is never any use to oneself. Whilst this author is conscious of not always having followed the processes of the advice provided in this article, following Wilde’s dictum however and writing from the perspectives of having written (and had rejected) a wide array of papers over the years, and having acted variously as editor, critic, advisor, hander-out of tissues, editorial board member, Dean of Research, and referee, I hope this paper can provide some basic insights into the process.

Language Death and the Internet

This reading is somewhat older, but for some reason it seems to have surfaced in the social media again in the past week. In a paper published in PLOSOne, the claim is put forward that language death is precipitated by the unequal distribution of languages on the World Wide Web. As stated in the paper’s abstract:

Of the approximately 7,000 languages spoken today, some 2,500 are generally considered endangered. Here we argue that this consensus figure vastly underestimates the danger of digital language death, in that less than 5% of all languages can still ascend to the digital realm. We present evidence of a massive die-off caused by the digital divide.

For the Love of Money is the Root of All Evil

I make no claim of extensive academic experience, but this is arguably the most bizarre academic publishing story I have ever come across. According to this article, after initially agreeing to peer-review an article, an editor decided he could only make time to read it provided he was compensated for his efforts. Needless to say, this did not generate much Christmas cheer; it also led to some unexpected, and awkward, discoveries. The editor’s attempt at blackmail (?) is a gem worth reproducing in its entirety:

Dear Dr. Mark,
I am too busy to spare time for PEER REVIEW of Mss, however, I can Review if i am paid for this service. If you agree to pay, please tell me amount to be paid per Review?

“Why a pardon, and why not everyone?”

Most readers will probably have heard that Alan Turing was recently pardoned, and you may share my own ambivalence about the implications of this decision. I had planned to write a short comment about the entire affair, but this article by Alice Bell summarises many of my concerns with more elegance than that to which I might have aspired:

I’ve heard it suggested this pardon is a response to Uganda (really?), or an attempt at a heart-warming Christmas Eve story of recognition of the underdog to distract us all from the embarrassment of food banks (cynical). But even if it really is just about Turing and the timing is accidental, it stinks. Why a pardon, and why not everyone?

To the extent that this last entry deals with an attempt to reconcile ourselves with our collective past, it is symbolic of this time of year: I suspect that for most of us, the last days of December invite us to reflect on our actions, accomplishments and mistakes, to learn what we can and to make amends where we must. But the end of the year provides us with more than that, in that it carries with it the excitement, hope and promises implicit in new beginnings. Morewards!


Featured Image: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/433966, CC BY-SA

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