The process of retracting bogus or flawed journal articles is fast, democratic and efficient, according to a study recently published and accessible below. The Scholarly Kitchen is a blog written by some folks who have connections to and experience in the industry. I check it every morning and often find something really useful around here or at least something interesting to think about. Today the cooks are roasting the process of retraction… not “roasting” in the bad sense of mocking or making fun of…but simply that’s what’ on the menu today: Roast Retraction process. They call it a ‘system’. I don’t know if I would go that far, but at a time when so much crepe is being hung around academic publishing, this study is bit of cheer. The authors claim that about half the retractions occur within 24 months, and a smaller percentage much more quickly. They also note that retraction substantially reduces the number of post-event citations. I agree that this is some good news. But there are some worrying things. How many phony publications are still around, and “unretracted”? What happens to the retracted publications down the line? Does the citation count rise after, what, a year, two years? What are publishers and discovery services doing to note that an article has been retracted? I know MEDLINE has a rather elaborate mechanism for this purpose, but what about CAS or BIOSIS? And do publishers stamp RETRACTED on the digital version or do they yank it entirely, as in 1984, sending it down the Memory Hole, like it never existed. Interesting questions, no
On this date in 1561 a French surgeon published an important medical book. Ambroise Pare released his Treatise on Curative Methods for Wounds of the Head, in which he summarized the clinical anatomy of the human skull and set down some reflections on the topic of head wounds drawn from his own extensive experience as an Army surgeon and in private practice. Pare was instrumental in raising the status of surgeons, from mere “practitioners” who did not have university medical degrees to something considerably higher. Barbers used to do the knife work, probably because they had sharp implements lying around the place, and if you needed something or somebody cut, that was the place to go. It was all pretty rough and ready, but some of the barber-surgeons got to be pretty good, at lancing boils, amputations, sewing up wounds, and all the range of injuries people can encounter. Considering that the barber-surgeons could actually DO something useful, as opposed to the mutterings of the learned Doctors of Physik with their bleedings, purgings, diets and all, it’s sort of odd to use that they were held in low regard socially. That all changed slowly, and by the time of John Hunter a successful surgeon would be ‘acceptable’ almost everywhere, with the exception perhaps of the upper, upper aristocracy. Pare had attended King Henry II of France after His Majesty was injured in a joust. His opponent’s lance shattered and a large fragment went into the King’s eye and brain. There was not much to be done…it’s kind of hard to imagine anybody pulling the splinter out of the Royal skull.. and after a couple of days the King expired. It gives you the shivers even now.
Our readers will know how sceptical I am about the propeller-head community’s vacuum-like appetite for hype. Will Apple? Won’t Apple? Does Microsoft plan this? Or that? Or something else entirely? Only Time will tell. Right. Thanks for wasting valuable portions of my all too short life. But the tech press needs copy to keep all those little fingers typing. It’s almost as bad as the “celeb” press beat, where a “controversy” is generated and then fanned about some person’s dress/suit/shoes/gesture/beard/ or whatever triviality can be found to serve as the basis for the “controversy”, and the slow-witted can be urged to call in and “tell us what you think”. Well, I think grown men and women should spend their working lives doing something useful, maybe picking up debris on the streets or helping out in soup kitchens, instead of making up stories about people who are momentarily famous for being famous. But, I digress.
One example of this is the story running around today about a version of Microsoft Office engineered for the Ipad. Some guys say yeah, we saw a demo. MS its ownself says no, that wasn’t a real demo of a real product. See! Presto! A controversy! I am aware of the apparent paradox in my gassing about this practice, which I say I disparage, at some length and then passing on an example of the very thing. But, I excuse myself from the censure on the grounds that this just might turn out to be more than PR bushwa, and it just might turn out to be valuable and useful for our readers to know about. Turning the Ipad into a ‘real’ computer with a functioning version of what is still the world’s most commonly used productivity software would be an interesting development. So, there you are.
We are in the middle of the Digital Age. That’s what I keep hearing. I also keep seeing people writing and reading books, the plain old kind, and lots of them. Tut, Tut!, Only a matter of time they say. Well, isn’t everything? But, my point here is to demonstrate some of the really juicy goodies people of a scientific turn of mind could find at the recent San Francisco rare book dealers stomp. Yes, it was a riotous crowd. Police on hand to control the unruly throng, water cannons parked around the corner and all the rest. You never know what can happen when the rare book dealers come to town! But, take a look at the link attached to see some of the gorgeous items the dealers had on offer. I’m always struck by the beauty of so much scientific illustration in the pre-camera days. It must have taken hours and hours of meticulous work to make those illustrations. Hatching, shading, reinforcing lines here, blending shades there. And it was all done by hand, with the simplest materials, mainly pen and ink, water color and plain old graphite. There was a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America to be had, as well as some nifty herbals, an anatomy by Eustachius (he of the tube) and the Theatrum Insectorum….a kind of reference book about crawling things with absolutely stunning images.
Springer Verlag is a big publishing company, and they offer a great variety of titles, mostly of academic or technical nature. They also make available a number of e-book collections in various disciplines, such as physics, chemistry, etc. An interesting feature of the Springer user agreements with institutions in the ability of affiliated personnel to order hard copy POD, that’s Print On Demand, reprints of any Spring e-book, as long as the institution subscribes to at least one of the various e-book collections. As usual, “some restrictions apply”. The reprint will be in soft-cover binding, will have black and while illustrations and will take about ten days to reach you. It’s an interesting addition to the e-book delivery platform and seeks to take advantage of the fact that, despite everything, some people still want the physical item. The company charges about 25 USD for service, and that price is independent of the size of the book. Read the information on the Springer site. MyCOPY is the name given to this feature, and the fine print is in a window, at the left.
Switzerland is a nice place, with beautiful scenery and the people seem nice too. Everything is very neat and well-kept. The place makes your typical neighborhood look like a hobo jungle. It’s a small country and I guess people feel they can’t let things go. Here, in the frontier days, you could just move on if you messed a place up too much. There was always more of More. There, you can’t do that. You can’t go far until you start running out of Switzerland. Well, then, it’s not too surprising that some Swiss scientists are working on a satellite that will capture space junk, and tweak it so that it falls out of earth orbit and burns up in the atmosphere. Space junk consists of the debris from old satellites, or even entire old satellites that are no long functioning. There is a lot of that stuff orbiting the earth. It’s just like humans to pollute the Last Frontier, to “go boldy where no one had gone before” and make a mess. At least there are no beer cans or styrofoam cups. But the humans who live in the Confoederatio Helvetica want to do something about it. It’s about bloody time, too.
It’s right around the corner, or so says the guy at The Scholarly Kitchen, and that’s a place where people tend to know what they are talking about, because the writers are all in the scholarly pub business and are pretty sharp customers by anyone’s reckoning. The occasion for this musing about the future, the near future, the very near future, is an exhibit of new technology to be used in e-readers. I have always thought that much of the current fuss about e-books was misplaced, or at least a little premature, on the assumption that the products of 2015 will make the original Kindle and Nook look about as interesting and modern as the high-button shoe. And something like that seems to be coming about. According to the author, more attention is now being paid to problems of text and image generation and display, and some of the problems besetting the current fleet of reading devices are being tackled. So, we can expect some real improvements in the reading ‘experience’. The author notes the increasing power of the technology to jump from one media platform to another, unbound by ‘linearity’. Well, I think speech is linear, and so is like, in that one thing happens after another, and when you connect those instance of ‘happen’ you get a……, yes, like that. You get a line. But I digress. Read the post.
Arts&Letters Daily is a general interest filter blog for academics and such like. I check it every day and this morning there is a post directing the reader to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Over the years, WP has grown into a sort of general reference encyclopedia to which a person can go and find some basic information about, oh, George Clooney, or Vegetarianism or how the calendar works. The item in the Chronicle details the efforts of a man who actually knows a good deal, in fact he knows a great deal, about an incident in American history, the so-called Haymarket Bombing. He had read the WP treatment and attempted to correct certain parts of it, as a result of his own investigations and research into archives, trial records, personal letters, and original documents such as those. The editors kept slamming him, saying his corrections didn’t accord with the body of accepted sources. It got to the point at which one editor told him that WP was less interested in truth than in reliability…it’s important for sources to say the same thing. I’m still not sure I have this right, but read for yourselves:
Happy Valentine’s Day, one day late I know. I’m not sure if the dour practitioners of historical criticism have eliminated St. Valentine as never having really existed the way St. Christopher got erased, but the story is nice. In it St. V. was a bishop in what is now, oh, Turkey or Syria or someplace like that. He was very concerned at the fate of young women who had no dowry for marriage, because they were orphans or from extreme poverty. Things being what they were, girls in that state had little chance of honorable marriage, which was as much about property as about anything else. If you think I’m kidding, read Jane Austen. Property and money is topic numero uno, in some form or other. St. V., in the story, would go around at night and toss little bundles of money through the windows of as many of these women as he could help. Having some dough gave them a better chance at a decent bloke, or at least escaping a life on the streets. It also gave them some bargaining power at a time when women didn’t have much of it.
Feb. 13 was the anniversary of Gallileo’s condemnation by the Inquisition, oops, sorry, The Holy Office. That’s an interesting story too. He had been told not to teach Heliocentrism but the court found he was doing just that. Galileo had a smart-ass side. He might have escaped if he had simply talked about Copernicanism as a ‘hypothesis’, instead of propounding it as fact (‘teaching’). It was also unwise to have put the argument for the opposing theory, favored by the Pope, into the mouth of the character Simplicio, or “simpleton’. He got off rather easily, by Inquisition standards, at least. The sentence was house arrest at his villa in Florence.Many dudes would have gladly switched a place on the rowing bench of a galley, or in the slam, for house arrest in Tuscany.There is also a story that the Pope was doing him a favor, because Galileo was looking at a much bigger beef: heresy, in the form of Democritian atomism which could have landed him up against a stake. I dont’t know what the authorities had against atomism, but somebody didn’t like it. The trial over Heliocentrisms was just a blind to get Gallileo convicted and safely out of Rome.A guy wrote a whole book about it. OK, maybe, but it sounds a little odd to me.Another conspiracy and cover-up story can now be added to the list. Maybe there are documents in the Vatican’s Archivo Secreto not yet revealed.
Same thing, right? No, just kidding. But you know it’s time to start paying more attention when the lawyers start paying attention, and then start writing about it all. Concurring Opinions is a blog for law profs, and I look at it every now and then. This morning I was rather surprised and then amazed to see a raft of post on what the writers there are calling “autonomous agents”. That’s your basic network bot, your domestic robot, and/or your zombie, if you have one in residence or at work to “do your bidding” as they say. Even if you don’t own or possess your own AA, you are increasingly likely to come into contact with somebody else’s. So maybe trying to get the rights picture sorted out a little early is not a jokey idea at all. Lenin said the basic question in society always is “Who/whom?”. He meant: who can do, extract from, manipulate, maneuver around, what to/from whom? It’s an interesting question which we haven’t really solved regarding the other creatures with which we share the planet. I don ‘t know if we’ll do any better in dealing with robots or other autonomous agents. But we have to be a lot more careful than we are in dealing with animals, because the AAs will have real power, whereas animals are largely at our mercy, or lack of it. AAs may not be inclined to settle for crappy treatment, in which case, watch out. A lot of people say fear is not a good motivator, but, I was never completely sure about that. This is going to sound a little funny, but I have a sense that some of these matters were discussed before, by the Medieval Schoolmen, in their consideration of angels, or ”disembodied intelligences”. That may not stand up to review. The thought justs hit me, as thoughts do. The disembodied intelligence is also a staple of SF writing, TV, movies etc. Easy to cast, for one thing:you just need a voice.