There is a piece in the newest issue of Nature about the question of authorship. In it, the writer suggests that online databases could provide more information about the actual level of effort various persons listed in the author line contributed to the research and the publication. As matters stand, there are vague quasi-conventions about the roles of the persons listed as authors. The first author is generally considered the principal one, but what did the other guys do? Does a position closer to the first author imply more work on the project than one further away? In some fields, yes, apparently. I don’t know how they sort it all out but that’s what the guy said. Honorary authorship is supposed to be a no-no. You must really have made a substantial contribution to the work in question in order to get authorship credit. But that principle is, shall we say, hard to respect when the chief tells you to put the his/her name in, as ‘the author of research’. even though the chief did zip on this one. The author refers to several new services that might serve as homes for more detailed information on who did what. He does not mention the ORCID initiative, which seems to have been set up exactly for the purpose of crediting researchers and contributors with acknowledgements of their individual contributions to the project or to the preparation of the paper. He also draws analogies to the practice in movie credits, which I think by contract have to be displayed to the audience at the end of the film. But that laudable idea has taken on absurd dimensions. Credit lines can take up to ten minutes to unroll, and, really, is it all that important to know that lunches were provided by the Hot Stuff Cafe or that the Transportation Coordinator was Ziggy Marc. On TV, film credit lines run by so fast that even with a speed reading course behind you, you couldn’t possibly say who the Key Grip, or the Best Boy, or Ms. Bullock’s Make-up Consultant was. We just gotta roll it, nobody said nuthin’ about being able to read it. A number of shows on NPR have rather extensive credit statements at the end, now that I think about it:Car Talk, Prairie Home Companion, Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me . I hadn’t been thinking about an analogy to authorship/acknowledgement.
See for yourself:
Well, hand me my prophet’s badge and staff. Yesterday I blogged about the new policy at PLoSOne and the other PLoS journal of correcting the scientific record by retraction of those articles containing ‘wrong conclusions’. I also said that this little skirmish was far from over. I was right, although it wasn’t much of a call, really. Retraction Watch covered this story quite extensively I thought and right away there was a burst of unfavorable reaction from various points in the ‘science-publishing’ complex. The comments were submitted by RW readers and the blog kept them and let the thread grow, so by now there is a small ‘knowledge base’ on the pros and cons of this aspect of retracting deficient articles, in particular and on the basis of retraction in general.
The Scholarly Kitchen re-capped the story today and added a kind of ‘retraction’ of the original post by its author, who claimed that a rather mild statement had been over-interpreted to mean more than what was intended…. hmm. maybe, but the cooks in the Kitchen aren’t so sure. The policy statement was pretty emphatic.
Here’s the story at RW, again, but with all the added comments:
Today in 1822 Jean-Francois Champollion cried out: “I’ve got it”. The “it” was the secret to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics, and the process of so doing was one of the great achievements of human intellect. The ability to read and understand this memorial script led to great advances in understanding not only ancient Egypt’s history, society, religion and culture, but how those elements influenced all of the ancient world, and by consequence, the course of events throughout Europe. Why was this so important? It was because of the outsize position of Egypt in European thought throughout most of the Renaissance and the early modern period. Even the simplest person knew about Egypt. It was in the bible; Joseph and his brothers, Moses, the plagues, the wandering. Almost everyone in Christendom, the Jewish world and Islam were intimately familiar with these relations. Curiosity about the ancient empire increased and all sorts of silly tales about hidden wisdom and great skills, once possesed but now lost, proliferated. Interest in ancient Egypt is still strong, and weird, even presposterous, stories about the culture are common coin today, thanks to TV and the internet. Everyone realized that the key to the matter was plain: read the script on the buildings and monuments. A number of obelisks had been transplanted to Europe in Roman times, and were there to see. But the script did not resemble any writing system then known, and the numerous attempts at translation produce ludicrous results that were almost immediately rejected.The name hieroplyphics denotes “holy writing”, because it was thought that the script contained secrets best known only to initiates. Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1795 as part of an effort to defeat England but also not a little lured by the idea of Empire for himseld. It didn’t turn out that way. The British destroyed his fleet and defeated the army. But Nappy had brought with him a small army of professors and savants and experts and, when turned lose, they began to map, describe, draw, measure, estimate, evaluate and in general provide what had largely been missing before. That is, they brought back data and facts. The story of how young Champollion turned the trick is fascinating. We like the idea of the lone genious bringing off a feat that baffled battalions of experts had been unable to produce. But JF had help. All scholarship, all science, all research is in some sense collaborative. It’s a good story and you can check it at the link below.
PS: the early 19th century was the heydey of archaeological decipherment. As hieroglyphics yielded, so gradually did other scripts: the cunieform of the Babylonians for one would be pretty much decyphered before the middle of the century. That’s a good story too.
Retractions are on the rise and the question of what to do about them or even to understand what’s behind them, is becoming a little tangled. To some, a retracted publication implies dishonesty or some kind of sub-optimal practice or performance on the part of the authors: plagiarism, data faking, Photoshopping images, that kind of thing. But what about the cases which authors did everything they should have, and turned out to be wrong? They just made a mistake. Well, the editorial director of PLoS has decided, with help from others in the organization I’m sure, that the policy of that publisher will be to retract papers containing false, erroneous or mistaken information.It’s the editors’ job to correct the literature, especially since the shift from printed to digital publication makes this task a great deal easier. So, when conclusions arrived at in a paper are shown by later research to have erroneous, that paper should be retracted. Not everyone agrees, and the reasons for disagreeing are varied. But PLoS has put its cards on the table, quite emphatically. We’ll see what the other guys do. It may be time for one of the associations of scientific publishers to address this at a meeting, and to issue guidance about what a retraction means. Should there be different kinds of retraction: A for Fraud or Jiggery-Pokery, B for simple error, overhauled by later work, C for….
Read the story and the editorial linked to. Read the commnets too. This isn’t over.
Well, well. Things are heating up on the Eastern Front. B&N released product information about two tablet-type devices that it will start selling in late October. Before I type another stroke, let me repeat that this post is not a review and certainly not a recommendation. It will be a while yet before some propeller-head gets hold of a machine and actually lets it do what it is supposed to do, and then compares the results with what happens on similar or competing machines. But, the two challengers, monickerd the HD and HD+, seem to be very interesting little gadgets. The + is not so little. It’s closer to the reigning monarch, the Ipad in size, with about a 9 inch screen. The other product is closer to what seems to be emerging as the de facto standard for at least some segments of the tablet market: a 7 inch screen. I don’t find the choice of names to be very imaginative, but maybe there’s a virtue in simplicity here. The two machines are priced from about $200 to about $300, depending on memory capacity, etc. etc. No camera on board. That was not an oversight. B&N seems to have done consumer research and determined that a camera was less useful to target demographic, revealed as women and families. B&N may shrewdly be conceding the field to competitors in areas in which it can’t compete anyway, in order to concentrate on the people who do buy and use their stuff. We can’t say anything about the Microsoft product because real information is pretty scarce. Once that’s unveiled, we should see a very nice market for this type machine. May the best gadget win!
There is nothing quite like a sagging stock price to make Homo digitalis break from cover and reveal himself in all his ugly nekkedness. Facebook has been getting the business on the Street, as I’m sure you’ve heard. Anxious to score revenue gains, which might persuade some of those folks who bought the stock at, what, 38 bucks a share to hang on a little longer because soon, real soon now, all that sweet moola is gonna be rollin’ in. FB has signed some contracts with established firms that work in the online ad business. The deal, roughly, is for FB to log every interaction in every session, and then pass this data on to the new partners for massage and a report on who’s buying what from the FB pages. You have an ‘opt out’ escape, but as the story linked to below relates, it’s pretty hard to find information on the FB site about the process you must go through in order that your sessions won’t be logged and mined. Interesting too are the comments appended to the item below: most of them say;don’t ever, ever open an online ad to see what the pitch is. Ever. Don’t do it. There are some other tricks you can pull, but it takes more than a little doing. Jeff Z and the boys are really trying to get the money moving their way. Some big ticket outfits have signed on for the data analysis, but FB is coy about who they are. Something about ‘client confidentiality’ or something. Regular users, well, their confidentiality doesn’t count for much. They’re not paying. So?
FB also has some nifty face recognition software that it wants to field. Courts in Germany have told them to take that down.
The New York Times reports in a series starting yesterday that data centers or data warehouse or ‘cloud’ storage facilities could be very, very demanding and wasteful consumers of electric power. Beyond that, much of what they draw could be simply wasted. Finally, big data centers may be environmentally dangerous to surrounding residents because, get this, their diesel back up system run all the time, even when not needed. The “always on” philosophy of big data companies such as Facebook, Amazon, Google etc, etc, requires that even the most minor record from the most remote time in a customer’s account be accessible instantly. So there cannot be a staggered or tiered access system, which would save a lot of power but blow the image of all your data at your finger tips all the tip, which the industry has been at pains to develop. And the big companies of the Internet era may simply be just that: Big Companies, behaving the way such organizations typically have. GM, USSTEEL, BP, may not be any different from sanctimony-peddling ‘don’t be evil’ digital upstarts of more recent vintage. Locals have not always found the big guys fun to work with when dealing with complaints about pollution for example.
The current issue of Nature contains an op/ed about the case of Dr. Fujii, the Japanese gas-passer who found it a whole lot easier to make up research than to actually do it. The journal is incensed, in its quiet British way, that Dr. F. was able to get away with this, at several Japanese universities, for a period of two decades, without anybody twigging to what was going on, or at least, without anybody doing anything to stop it. How could this happen? Well, there is no incentive for junior researchers to go shoot Santa Claus. And if co-authors find their names on more, and then more still, seemingly OK papers, well, my collaboration with him must have slipped my mind, being a busy dude and all. The article sort of gently broaches the idea of paying whistle-blowers. It’s kind of like bounty hunting in a way, but maybe that’s the only way to get something rolling. It’s all a bit familiar sadly. Indignation will burn itself out, till next time.
Starting on Sept. 20, the Medical Library will expand its offerings of daily newspapers to include a print subscription to the New York Times. Both daily editions and the Sunday edition will be available. Readers will be able to enjoy the Times, The Houston Chronicle, the Galveston County Daily News, and The Wall Street Journal in the comfort of out leisure reading area on the second floor. No reason now not to be well-informed.
Well, Apple revealed its Iphone 5 in the presentation style established, and apparently made de rigeur for all such announcements by Steve Jobs, because CEOs or other big dudes of competing companies follow the same script: jeans or casual slacks, open neck, no tie (reserved for empty Suits, dontcha know, not sleeves-up techdavy guys like us) and the rest of it. Someday, one of these shows will feature a CEO in a three-piece suit or a tux and the spell will be broken. Anyway, the Phone 5, in addition to Changing Everything of course, seems to be a pretty good product. There is some concern about the charger. The Times tech guy reviews: