The Reading Room at the British Museum

Recently read: Tuition fees, academic publishing, and song lyrics

This week’s collection looks into university tuition fees, reports on the new Facebook research guidelines, discusses academic authorship and predatory publishers, and examines the role of song lyrics in research output.

Tuition Fees in Germany and the UK

Last week, Lower Saxony abolished tuition fees for university students, thus aligning with all the other German Länder and making Higher Education free across the country. This policy contrasts sharply with the trend, in the UK, to impose increasingly steeper tuition fees in British universities. It is interesting to speculate about the reasons underlying these different approaches, and this (older) article in Times Higher Education does just that. The article traces the differences in the development of the university system in England and Germany, draws an insightful analogy with Scottish Higher Education (which is shaped by dynamics that, perhaps surprisingly, resemble the German system more than the English one), and relates the different education policies to broader political ideologies that developed in the two countries. Here’s an extract from the conclusions:

The German policy is based on decades of experience. The German people have chosen to maintain the tried and tested system on which, they believe, their current broadbased prosperity depends. The English solution is self-consciously radical and highly speculative: England’s politicians are conducting an unprecedented experiment on one of the world’s most highly regarded university systems without first studying the plentiful empirical evidence that their key ideological assumptions may be unsound. Do the English also need to relearn the virtues of genuine conservatism, prudent empiricism and their traditional aversion to ideologically driven radicalism?

More to read: There were reports in the press last year that British universities might need to charge even higher tuition fees. The press was told that the ‘real cost’ of an undergraduate degree was in the region of £16,000, hinting that the current tuition fee cap should be lifted. 

Facebook, research and ethics

Earlier this year, Facebook researchers published a paper reporting on an experiment in which they manipulated users newsfeeds in order to compare the effect of positive and negative posts on users emotional state. The experiment was widely criticised as being unethical (e.g., 1, 2) and triggered an expression of concern (that’s a rap on the knuckles in scientific publishing). In the wake of such criticism, last Thursday Mike Schroepfer, Chief Technology Officer at Facebook announced an overhaul in the company’s research guidelines and issued an apology, part of which is copied below:

Although this subject matter was important to research, we were unprepared for the reaction the paper received when it was published and have taken to heart the comments and criticism. It is clear now that there are things we should have done differently. For example, we should have considered other non-experimental ways to do this research. The research would also have benefited from more extensive review by a wider and more senior group of people. Last, in releasing the study, we failed to communicate clearly why and how we did it.

More to read: While the new guidelines are definitely a step in the right direction, some commentators are concerned that the changes are merely cosmetic. Obtaining informed consent is a requirement for ethical research, but it has been argued that there are cases where full disclosure would not be in the interest of research: here’s an example of how researchers have tried to create an ethical loophole.

Open Access publisher goes bust

A recent post in Scholarly Open Access reports on a predatory publisher that recently went out of business. While the demise of such operations is hardly bad news, it is regrettable that the research published in their journals is no longer available. Predatory publishers usually operate on a Gold Open Access model, which means that they levy substantial article processing charges, in exchange for which they undertake to make the article freely available on the internet. Jeffrey Beall comments:

If you’re an author who paid article processing charges to this company, reasonably expecting that your content would be available forever, it appears that you are out of luck. I had this publisher on my list early on, and the criteria I use when evaluating publishers includes analyzing the publisher’s plans for digital preservation. This publisher had none, and its demise illustrates the value of digital preservation.

More to read: Jeffrey Beall curates a comprehensive list of predatory publishers, which prospective authors are cautioned to avoid. A list of legitimate journals can be found in the Directory of Open Access Journals. Advice on identifying predatory operations and scams has been published repeatedly in this blog (e.g., 1, 2, 3).

Did I really publish this?

Is it possible to publish something without your knowledge? Cecile Janssens wrote an interesting article at the Chronicle of Higher Education, which calls into question the practice (especially common in the sciences) of including tens, or even hundreds of authors in a single paper. She writes:

Of the three articles that I had published without knowing it, I was an author on one and collaborator on two. How could that happen? The articles had, respectively, tens of contributors, hundreds of them, and over a thousand. Not surprisingly, with so many researchers involved, it can be difficult to keep track of who did what to justify authorship. Some contributed months of hands-on laboratory work, while others had a novel insight that changed the interpretation of the results. Some contributed to multiple articles published by the collaboration, while others, like me, contributed a specific analysis to only one or more articles and did nothing for the rest.

More to read: In the social sciences and humanities, multiple authorship is considerably rarer and more limited. The British Educational Research Association ethics guidelines specify when authorship is warranted (par. 48 & 49).

What’s Bob Dylan’s h-index?

Yesterday, I wrote that academic publishing is serious work which is perceived as being “antithetical to humour”. However, it appears that a group of Swedish publishers are holding an informal contest on who can surreptitiously squeeze in more Bob Dylan lyrics in their research output.

The game started seventeen years ago when two Professors from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, John Jundberg and Eddie Weitzberg, wrote a piece about gas passing through intestines, with the title “Nitric Oxide and inflammation: The answer is blowing in the wind”.

According to the article, the scientists avoid too clever titles in their scientific papers (“we could have got in trouble for that”), focusing their creativity on “book introductions, editorials and things like that” instead.

More to read: A while ago, I read that Professor Andy Field had inserted the titles of several Iron Maiden songs into  Discovering Statistics Using SPSS, unbeknownst to his editor and publisher. Embarrassingly, I seem unable to locate that story, but I will update when I have it.

Update:


Featured Image Credit: ceridwen @ geograph, CC BY-SA 

6 thoughts on “Recently read: Tuition fees, academic publishing, and song lyrics”

  1. Re: Open Access publisher goes bust

    I can’t say I feel much sympathy for the authors of such journals. I understand that it’s difficult to publish in top journals, but between top and bottom (predatory) journals there are quite a few levels (e.g. http://www.scimagojr.com/journalrank.php). If someone publishes in predatory journals, particularly those requiring payment, this suggests one or more of the following:
    a) this is how much (i.e. little) they value their research (i.e. they know it’s bad/sloppy/shallow);
    b) their paper got rejected by better journals (i.e. even by less-than-mediocre ones), so perhaps their unavailability is not such a great loss;
    c) they didn’t research appropriate journals before deciding where to submit (which is indicative of their overall research skills);
    d) they published there knowingly, because it was fast and easy (no tedious revisions — see also a and b), and their academic context and/or employer doesn’t care about actual research quality.

    1. I broadly agree, Costas. I am however willing to extend the benefit of doubt, at least in some cases where people are pressured to publish, but are not given the resources to do so, or adequate guidance.

      1. I understand that there’s pressure to publish (we’re all on the same boat). However, in such cases, authors can opt for lower-level (easier), but genuine, journals. Sending papers to predatory journals only encourages them. Unless, of course, they are required to publish in such journals.

        ——-
        PS. Sorry I posted the initial comment twice — I couldn’t see it the first time.

      2. I entirely agree! There are many small bona fide journals which would be better homes for research.

        (Your first comments were held for moderation, but I’ve whitelisted you now, so anything you post should appear immediately)

  2. Re: Open Access publisher goes bust

    I can’t say I feel much sympathy for the authors of such journals. I understand that it’s difficult to publish in top journals, but between top and bottom (predatory) journals there are quite a few levels (e.g. http://www.scimagojr.com/journalrank.php). If someone publishes in predatory journals, particularly those requiring payment, this suggests one or more of the following:
    a) this is how much (i.e. little) they value their research (i.e. they know it’s bad/sloppy/shallow);
    b) their paper got rejected by better journals (i.e. even by less-than-mediocre ones), so perhaps their unavailability is not such a great loss;
    c) they didn’t research appropriate journals before deciding where to submit (which is indicative of their overall research skills);
    d) they published there knowingly, because it was fast and easy (no tedious revisions — see also a and b), and their academic context and/or employer doesn’t care about actual research quality.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s