Non-Fiction

So you want to write a nonfiction book

26 February 2017

From The Washington Post:

One of the interesting things about specialization is how we often take for granted the things we do well. I am insanely impressed by the Europeans I encounter who can speak at least five languages and are likely adding a sixth, but they usually just shrug their shoulders and think it’s no big deal. Truck drivers who can back up a 16-wheeler into a loading dock with little margin for error? That looks more complicated than brain surgery, but to them it’s no big whoop.

I’m just a small-town political scientist, so I don’t think of myself as possessing any special skills. But from recent conversations, I’ve learned that there is one thing that seems impressive to other folks but is nothing extraordinary to me: I write nonfiction books. My sixth book will be out in less than two months, and I’m spending a lot of this month pondering how to write my seventh book. People keep publishing them, so I guess my books aren’t awful.

. . . .

2) Know your audience. Another thing that you need to put in your book prospectus is your targeted audience. Who do you want to read your book? Why, everyone, of course, and they should each buy 10 copies just to be safe. The better question to ask is: Who do you think needs to read your book? Business leaders? College students? Stay-at-home parents? Retirees? Make sure you have the answer to this question in your head — and then, when you’re crafting the prose, imagine that reader.

. . . .

5) When you get on a good writing jag, tune everything else out. There are days of writing a book when you can concentrate all you want and you will only produce a few hundred words. But then there are the days when you are in the zone, when all you are really doing is transcribing the elegant turns of phrase from your brain to the computer. It’s like a baseball pitcher who finally tweaks his throwing mechanics and goes on a streak.

. . . .

If you’re writing thousands of words a day, then don’t check your phone, don’t clean up your office, don’t spend inordinate amounts of time on food, and sleep only when you must.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Bill for the tip.

Outler

23 February 2017

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

 outler, n. 

. . . .

An animal that is not housed during the night or winter. Also fig.: a person out of work

. . . .

1791 J. Learmont Poems Pastoral 160 At length the Outlers grew sae mad Against ilk Inler purse-proud blade.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

Ultimate Kitchen released an e-book “How to Fillet Fish” that will go with their 7” fillet knife with gut spoon and sheath.

21 February 2017

From Newswire:

Ultimate Kitchen gained popularity on the online market as a producer of elegant and functional kitchen accessories.

. . . .

Ultimate Kitchen offers the range of additional services that clients receive with their purchases. The company recently released the e-book “How to Fillet Fish”. Customers will receive this e-book with their purchase of 7” fillet knife with gut spoon and sheath.

Link to the rest at Newswire

PG checked Amazon’s bookstore and discovered that several books on the topic of filleting fish may be found under the Fishing heading.

Top Hat Raises $22.5 Million to Go After Pearson, McGraw-Hill

19 February 2017

From Bloomberg Technology:

Top Hat, the Canadian education technology startup, completed a new round of funding to give it more firepower to go after textbook publishers like Pearson Plc.

The $22.5 million round is Top Hat’s biggest yet and brings its total funding to about $40 million, the Toronto-based company said in a statement Wednesday.

. . . .

Top Hat is one of a handful of startups trying to find ways to disrupt the traditional textbook publishing industry, dominated by companies like Pearson, Cengage Learning Inc. and McGraw-Hill Education Inc., which is owned by Apollo Global Management LLC. All of these firms have added digital educational materials to their range of products, but the transition has been rocky.

. . . .

Even as the big publishers work to increase the proportion of sales that come from digital products, they’re still largely dependent on physical books.

That’s a weakness Top Hat Chief Executive Officer Mike Silagadze said he’s trying to exploit. He started by selling software tools to professors that help them engage their students, such as smartphone apps that let them tell lecturers if they understand new concepts in real-time. The company, which launched in 2009, has 2 million students using its products.

The next step is to go directly after the textbooks and digital course content made by Pearson and McGraw, Silagadze said in an interview. In November, they launched an online content marketplace, where professors can create course materials and sell it around the world. The idea is to cut out the publisher and let professors sell directly to students and each other, Silagadze said.

“It fundamentally breaks the publisher’s traditional model of producing content,” he said. “Our aim is to disrupt the paradigm the publishers have created over the last 100 years.”

. . . .

The industry “has been dominated by really traditional publishers that come exclusively from the content side and not the technology side,” Wenger said in an interview. His son’s Intro to German textbook cost $230.

“That era is coming to an end,” he said.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg Technology and thanks to T.K. for the tip.

What News-Writing Bots Mean for the Future of Journalism

17 February 2017

From Wired:

When Republican Steve King beat back Democratic challenger Kim Weaver in the race for Iowa’s 4th congressional district seat in November, The Washington Post snapped into action, covering both the win and the wider electoral trend. “Republicans retained control of the House and lost only a handful of seats from their commanding majority,” the article read, “a stunning reversal of fortune after many GOP leaders feared double-digit losses.” The dispatch came with the clarity and verve for which Post reporters are known, with one key difference: It was generated by Heliograf, a bot that made its debut on the Post’s website last year and marked the most sophisticated use of artificial intelligence in journalism to date.

When Jeff Bezos bought the Post back in 2013, AI-powered journalism was in its infancy. A handful of companies with automated content-generating systems, like Narrative Science and Automated Insights, were capable of producing the bare-bones, data-heavy news items familiar to sports fans and stock analysts. But strategists at the Post saw the potential for an AI system that could generate explanatory, insightful articles. What’s more, they wanted a system that could foster “a seamless interaction” between human and machine, says Jeremy Gilbert, who joined the Post as director of strategic initiatives in 2014. “What we were interested in doing is looking at whether we can evolve stories over time,” he says.

. . . .

It works like this: Editors create narrative templates for the stories, including key phrases that account for a variety of potential outcomes (from “Republicans retained control of the House” to “Democrats regained control of the House”), and then they hook Heliograf up to any source of structured data—in the case of the election, the data clearinghouse VoteSmart.org. The Heliograf software identifies the relevant data, matches it with the corresponding phrases in the template, merges them, and then publishes different versions across different platforms. The system can also alert reporters via Slack of any anomalies it finds in the data—for instance, wider margins than predicted—so they can investigate. “It’s just one more way to get a tip” on a potential scoop, Gilbert says.

The Post’s main goal with the project at this point is twofold. First: Grow its audience. Instead of targeting a big audience with a small number of labor-intensive human-written stories, Heliograf can target many small audiences with a huge number of automated stories about niche or local topics. There may not be a wide audience for stories about the race for the Iowa 4th, but there is some audience, and, with local news outlets floundering, the Post can tap it. “It’s the Bezos concept of the Everything Store,” says Shailesh Prakash, CIO and VP of digital product development at the Post. “But growing is where you need a machine to help you, because we can’t have that many humans. We’d go bankrupt.”

Link to the rest at Wired

Little bit of poison for everyone

11 February 2017

From The Times Literary Supplement:

The publication of Ernest Hemingway’s complete correspondence is shaping up to be an astonishing scholarly achievement. We are already on the third of a projected seventeen volumes, minimum, which will include in their entirety every surviving letter, postcard and telegram sent by Hemingway. Meticulously edited, with shrewd introductory summaries and footnotes tracking down every reference, the series brings into sharp focus this contradictory, alternately smart and stupid, blustering, fragile man who was also a giant of modern literature.

The third volume, ably edited by Rena Sanderson, Sandra Spanier and Robert W. Trogdon, takes us through a particularly eventful and productive patch of Hemingway’s life, from 1926 to 1929. At the beginning he is just tackling the rewrites of The Sun Also Rises (1926) and seeing through publication his satiric novel The Torrents of Spring (1926) – his first, chronologically speaking, though it is seldom credited as such. He will switch publishers to land with the prestigious editor Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s, will write some of his greatest short stories for the collection Men Without Women (1927), and go on to compose his second proper novel, the hugely successful A Farewell to Arms (1929). Having entered the four-year period aged twenty-seven as a promising if uncommercial newcomer backed by obscure experimental presses, he will exit it at thirty transformed into a literary lion and international celebrity.

. . . .

Considering what a conscientious stylist Hemingway was in his serious prose, he brought little precision or care to his correspondence. Nor did he use letters as an opportunity for introspection or self-examination. Indeed, he confessed to having a hard time putting his private life into them. He apologized for being an irregular, undependable correspondent, begging off with the excuse that he needed to save the verbal energy for his books. He loved to receive mail and be connected to the literary world’s gossip, but one senses his own responses were the reluctant obligatory dues paid to stay in that sphere. An irony of this monumental project is that Hemingway was not one of literature’s great letter writers; his efforts are nevertheless steadfastly interesting to read, partly because he could never write poorly, and partly because they offer many insights into his character and milieu.

While Hemingway frequently expressed dissatisfaction with his writing, his comments about the actual problems involved in composing were sparse, in keeping with his conviction that “It’s a terrible mistake to talk about a book”. He would state the number of pages he’d written but little about their substance. As someone who never attended college, he was always playing catch-up, reading omnivorously, with an eye towards finding models for the rhetorically chaste style he tried to perfect. He had little patience for Whitman or Stendhal or Henry James. About James, his opposite, he wrote: “My impression is that he knew NOTHING about people . . . . He seems to need to bring in a drawing room whenever he is scared he will have to think what the characters do the rest of the time and the men all without exception talk and think like fairies except a couple of caricatures of brutal ‘outsiders’”. In the original draft of The Sun Also Rises he ridiculed James as impotent from a rumoured bicycling accident, but Maxwell Perkins made him change it.

Link to the rest at The Times Literary Supplement

blood and iron

10 February 2017

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

 blood and iron, n.

. . . .

[A]fter German Blut und Eisen (1862 with allusion to the style of foreign policy advocated by Otto von Bismark, reflecting the phrase Eisen und Blut used by Bismarck in a speech made to the Budget Committee of the Prussian Chamber of Deputies on 20 September of that year; 1785 or earlier in more general use in the sense ‘domination through warfare’).

. . . .

In foreign policy (originally and chiefly that of Otto von Bismarck (1815-98)): the use of military force rather than diplomacy; the advocacy of such an approach.

. . . .

1864 tr. Der Wanderer (Vienna) in Times 22 June 14/4 The man of blood and iron (the Prussian Minister for Foreign Affairs) will not listen to reason.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

The hi-tech war on science fraud

4 February 2017

From The Guardian:

One morning last summer, a German psychologist named Mathias Kauff woke up to find that he had been reprimanded by a robot. In an email, a computer program named Statcheck informed him that a 2013 paper he had published on multiculturalism and prejudice appeared to contain a number of incorrect calculations – which the program had catalogued and then posted on the internet for anyone to see. The problems turned out to be minor – just a few rounding errors – but the experience left Kauff feeling rattled. “At first I was a bit frightened,” he said. “I felt a bit exposed.”

Kauff wasn’t alone. Statcheck had read some 50,000 published psychology papers and checked the maths behind every statistical result it encountered. In the space of 24 hours, virtually every academic active in the field in the past two decades had received an email from the program, informing them that their work had been reviewed. Nothing like this had ever been seen before: a massive, open, retroactive evaluation of scientific literature, conducted entirely by computer.

Statcheck’s method was relatively simple, more like the mathematical equivalent of a spellchecker than a thoughtful review, but some scientists saw it as a new form of scrutiny and suspicion, portending a future in which the objective authority of peer review would be undermined by unaccountable and uncredentialed critics.

Susan Fiske, the former head of the Association for Psychological Science, wrote an op-ed accusing “self-appointed data police” of pioneering a new “form of harassment”. The German Psychological Society issued a statement condemning the unauthorised use of Statcheck. The intensity of the reaction suggested that many were afraid that the program was not just attributing mere statistical errors, but some impropriety, to the scientists.

The man behind all this controversy was a 25-year-old Dutch scientist named Chris Hartgerink, based at Tilburg University’s Meta-Research Center, which studies bias and error in science. Statcheck was the brainchild of Hartgerink’s colleague Michèle Nuijten, who had used the program to conduct a 2015 study that demonstrated that about half of all papers in psychology journals contained a statistical error. Nuijten’s study was written up in Nature as a valuable contribution to the growing literature acknowledging bias and error in science – but she had not published an inventory of the specific errors it had detected, or the authors who had committed them. The real flashpoint came months later,when Hartgerink modified Statcheck with some code of his own devising, which catalogued the individual errors and posted them online – sparking uproar across the scientific community.

Hartgerink is one of only a handful of researchers in the world who work full-time on the problem of scientific fraud – and he is perfectly happy to upset his peers. “The scientific system as we know it is pretty screwed up,” he told me last autumn. Sitting in the offices of the Meta-Research Center, which look out on to Tilburg’s grey, mid-century campus, he added: “I’ve known for years that I want to help improve it.”

. . . .

“Statcheck is a good example of what is now possible,” he said. The top priority,for Hartgerink, is something much more grave than correcting simple statistical miscalculations. He is now proposing to deploy a similar program that will uncover fake or manipulated results – which he believes are far more prevalent than most scientists would like to admit.

When it comes to fraud – or in the more neutral terms he prefers, “scientific misconduct” – Hartgerink is aware that he is venturing into sensitive territory. “It is not something people enjoy talking about,” he told me, with a weary grin. Despite its professed commitment to self-correction, science is a discipline that relies mainly on a culture of mutual trust and good faith to stay clean.

. . . .

If Fanelli’s estimate is correct, it seems likely that thousands of scientists are getting away with misconduct each year. Fraud – including outright fabrication, plagiarism and self-plagiarism – accounts for the majority of retracted scientific articles. But, according to RetractionWatch, which catalogues papers that have been withdrawn from the scientific literature, only 684 were retracted in 2015, while more than 800,000 new papers were published. If even just a few of the suggested 2% of scientific fraudsters – which, relying on self-reporting, is itself probably a conservative estimate – are active in any given year, the vast majority are going totally undetected. “Reviewers and editors, other gatekeepers – they’re not looking for potential problems,” Hartgerink said.

. . . .

Even in the more mundane business of day-to-day research, scientists are constantly building on past work, relying on its solidity to underpin their own theories. If misconduct really is as widespread as Hartgerink and Van Assen think, then false results are strewn across scientific literature, like unexploded mines that threaten any new structure built over them. At the very least, if science is truly invested in its ideal of self-correction, it seems essential to know the extent of the problem.

But there is little motivation within the scientific community to ramp up efforts to detect fraud. Part of this has to do with the way the field is organised. Science isn’t a traditional hierarchy, but a loose confederation of research groups, institutions, and professional organisations. Universities are clearly central to the scientific enterprise, but they are not in the business of evaluating scientific results, and as long as fraud doesn’t become public they have little incentive to go after it. There is also the questionable perception, although widespread in the scientific community, that there are already measures in place that preclude fraud. When Gore and his fellow congressmen held their hearings 35 years ago, witnesses routinely insisted that science had a variety of self-correcting mechanisms, such as peer-review and replication. But, as the science journalists William Broad and Nicholas Wade pointed out at the time, the vast majority of cases of fraud are actually exposed by whistleblowers, and that holds true to this day.

And so the enormous task of keeping science honest is left to individual scientists in the hope that they will police themselves, and each other. “Not only is it not sustainable,” said Simonsohn, “it doesn’t even work. You only catch the most obvious fakers, and only a small share of them.” There is also the problem of relying on whistleblowers, who face the thankless and emotionally draining prospect of accusing their own colleagues of fraud. (“It’s like saying someone is a paedophile,” one of the students at Tilburg told me.) Neither Simonsohn nor any of the Tilburg whistleblowers I interviewed said they would come forward again. “There is no way we as a field can deal with fraud like this,” the student said. “There has to be a better way.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

World’s main list of science ‘predators’ vanishes with no warning

27 January 2017

From The Ottawa Citizen:

In 2012, a librarian from the University of Colorado presented research in a field so new he had to name it himself: predatory publishing.

Jeffrey Beall discovered thousands of online science journals that were either willing to publish fake research for cash, or just so inept that they couldn’t tell the good from the bad and published it all.

Beall, who became an assistant professor, drew up a list of the known and suspected bad apples, known simply as Beall’s List. Since 2012, this list has been world’s main source of information on journals that publish conspiracy theories and incompetent research, making them appear real.

But on Sunday, his website went blank. Only the headline, Scholarly Open Access, remains.

Beall is a regular on Twitter, but he hasn’t posted anything there in days. He isn’t answering email (including a message from the Citizen) or telling anyone what happened. Beall’s List had just been updated for 2017.

A Texas firm called Cabell’s, which also works with academic publishers, hinted that Beall was threatened somehow.

Its Twitter account said on Tuesday: “@CabellsPublish stands behind close personal friend @Jeffrey_Beall who was forced to shut down blog due to threats & politics #academicmafia.”

. . . .

In his 2017 update, Beall had identified 1,155 suspicious or fake publishers, most of them putting out dozens or even hundreds of online journals.

Link to the rest at The Ottawa Citizen and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

pratique

22 January 2017

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

pratique, n.

. . . .

Permission granted to a ship to use a port after quarantine, or on showing a clean bill of health; a licence, letter, etc., granting this. Now also applied to aircraft.

. . . .

1609 W. Biddulph Trauels Certaine Englishmen 5 Zante. We staied ten dayes in the rode of this city before we could get Pratticke, that is: leaue to come amongst them, or to vse traffique with them.

. . . .

1663 S. Pepys Diary 14 Dec. (1971) IV. 418 To remove the inconveniences his ships are put to [at Leghorn] by denial of pratique—which is a thing that is nowadays made use of only as a cheat.

. . . .

1927 F. B. Young Portrait of Clare 224 She knew it was her duty to obtain a kind of moral pratique before she entered this uninfected port.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

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