Non-Fiction

Opening up scientific publishing for the Flickr generation

22 April 2016

From The Guardian:

For an aspiring scientist, being published in a creditable journal is a major step towards gaining respect in the field. But for Mark Hahnel, founder and CEO of Figshare, this old system was drastically in need of an update. “The internet was built for sharing academic data but the way scientific papers are published had hardly changed since the early days of the printing press,” he says.

In 2011, Hahnel was studying for a PhD in stem cell biology at Imperial College London, but grew frustrated when it came to getting his work published. In particular, there was no way to publish non-written formats.

“All my data was graphs, datasets and video, but when I went to publish this I realised that a lot of publications weren’t set up to handle anything but papers,” he says. “I was spending all weekend creating videos and frustrated that I couldn’t publish them.”

Hahnel saw an opportunity to both help aspiring scientists and improve the quality of debate in science. Using WordPress and “some basic Python” [computer code] he set up Figshare – initially to publish his own work. But he soon found there were others in the scientific community who saw it as advantageous.

“Academia is very cut-throat. People need to get published and receive citations in order to get jobs and funding,” he says. “But also I think a lot of younger students get it, as they’ve grown up with the internet and think things should be open and collaborative.”

. . . .

Hahnel says he was inspired by sites such as Github and Flickr and wanted to create something comparable for research science. However, there have been some technical hurdles to overcome. For instance, academic papers require footnotes that link to other sources, but this can be difficult to do online as URLs are often reorganised and this can lead to broken links. The developers at Figshare created Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) that find the new address of a page if it is moved.

. . . .

But the most important aspect of Figshare is that it has created a model that disrupts the current method, where universities pay publishers to see the work that they have created. According to STM, the trade association for academic and professional publishers, its members’ revenues are worth roughly $10bn (£7bn) annually and the industry employs more than 100,000 people worldwide. And although well known journals such as Nature, Science and Cell are much sought after, there are more than 28,000 English-language science publications to choose from.

“I’ve published three papers but I don’t have access to them because I’m not a university,” Hahnel says. “The top ten publishers were paid over £430m by universities between 2010-14 so that they could access their own content.”

Figshare has two revenue streams: it provides universities with the means to publish online – universities are given mini Figshares which let students self-publish – and it provides cloud solutions for publishers to host and publish data.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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Philodox

19 April 2016

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

philodox, n.

. . . .

A person who loves or vehemently propounds his or her own opinions; a dogmatic or argumentative person.

. . . .

1609 A. Craig Poet. Recreations sig. D2v, No greater fools then Philodoxes fond, And such as loue opinions of their own.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

A Quick Note

15 April 2016

PG was struck by what a compelling beginning this is. It definitely kept him reading.

From Medium:

Today is the most-important day of my life so far. The direction of the rest of my life rests with a single person and is almost completely beyond my control.

I’m not sure what to expect today. I anticipate I’ll have more to say on the outcome shortly afterward. I did want to post a quick note saying thank you to those who have supported me during this incredibly difficult time.

The past three years have been exceptionally challenging — for me personally and for my professional career as a journalist. Nonetheless, I’ve tried my best to commit acts of journalism every day while the legal process plays itself out.

Link to the rest at Medium

In a Perpetual Present

12 April 2016

Not exactly about books, but interesting. Maybe a writing prompt or something an evil wizard could do to others.

From Wired:

Like many American couples of modest but comfort­able means, Susie Mc­Kinnon and her husband, Eric Green, discovered the joys of cruise vacations in middle age. Their home in a quiet suburb of Olympia, Washington, is filled with souvenirs and trinkets from their travels. There’s a plastic lizard in the master bathroom with the words “Cayman Islands” painted on it. From Curaçao there’s a framed patchwork collage made of oilcloth hanging in the entrance hall. On the gray summer day when I visit them, we all sit comfortably in their living room, Green decked out in a bright shirt with “Bermuda Islands” emblazoned on it, from a cruise in 2013. As they regale me with talk of their younger selves and their trips to Jamaica, Aruba, Cozumel, and Mazatlán, they present the very picture of well-adjusted adulthood on the verge of retirement.

Except for one fairly major thing.

As we chat, McKinnon makes clear that she has no memories of all those cruises. No memories of buying the lizard or finding that oilcloth collage. She doesn’t remember any vacation she’s ever taken. In fact, she cannot recall a single moment in her marriage to Green or before it.

. . . .

She’s never been able to remember those experiences.

For decades, scientists suspected that someone like Susie McKinnon might exist. They figured she was probably out there, living an ordinary life—hard to tell apart from the next person in line at the grocery store, yet fundamentally different from the rest of us. And sure enough, they found her (or rather, she found them) in 2006.

McKinnon is the first person ever identified with a condition called severely deficient autobiographical memory. She knows plenty of facts about her life, but she lacks the ability to mentally relive any of it, the way you or I might meander back in our minds and evoke a particular afternoon. She has no episodic memories—none of those impressionistic recollections that feel a bit like scenes from a movie, always filmed from your perspective. To switch metaphors: Think of memory as a favorite book with pages that you return to again and again. Now imagine having access only to the index. Or the Wikipedia entry.

. . . .

As it happens, McKinnon shares Green’s love of music. She even performs with a choral ensemble. Lyrics, melodies, and harmonies stick with her, thanks to her intact semantic memory. Similarly, she can tell you for a fact that three months ago, she sang a rendition of an old English folk song onstage—a solo. But only Green can supply the scene: how she strolled onto the stage alone and took her place in front of a piano. Green says her performance brought him close to tears. McKinnon thinks she must have felt a mixture of confidence and fear, but really she hasn’t the faintest idea.

. . . .

McKinnon first began to realize that her memory was not the same as everyone else’s back in 1977, when a friend from high school, who was studying to be a physician’s assistant, asked if she would participate in a memory test as part of a school assignment. When her friend asked basic questions about her childhood as part of the test, McKinnon would reply, “Why are you asking stuff like this? No one remembers that!” She knew that other people claimed to have detailed memories, but she always thought they embellished and made stuff up—just like she did.

. . . .

One of Tulving’s arguments struck a particular chord. A profile of the psychologist reported his belief “that some perfectly intelligent and healthy people also lack the ability to remember personal experiences. These people have no episodic memory; they know but do not remember. Such people have not yet been identified, but Tulving predicts they soon will be.”

. . . .

Spend enough time with McKinnon and it’s hard to escape the creeping sense that she’s not just different—she’s lucky. Memories that would be searing to anyone else leave little impression on her. Like the time in 1986 when the couple was living in Arizona and Green was jumped by a group of white men while out fishing. When he came home, his head was covered with welts. “She went to get ice and she started crying,” Green says. He began to cry too. They felt terrorized.

Once again, McKinnon knows the salient facts of the story, but the details and the painful associations all reside with Green. ForMcKinnon, the memory doesn’t trigger the trauma and fear associated with it. “I can imagine being upset and scared, but I don’t remember that at all,” she says. “I can’t put myself back there. I can only imagine what it would have been like.”

McKinnon also quickly forgets arguments, which might be the reason she and Green have stayed together so long, she jokes. She cannot hold a grudge. She is unfamiliar with the feeling of regret and oblivious to the diminishments of aging. A 1972 yearbook photo shows that she was once a petite brunette with a delicate face framed by a pixie cut. (“Dorky little innocent thing,” she says, looking at the picture.) On an intellectual level, McKinnon knows that this is her; but put the picture away and, in her mind, she has always been the 60-year-old woman she is now, broad-­shouldered and fair, her face pinkish and time-lined, her closely cropped hair white and gray. She doesn’t know what it’s like to linger in a memory, to long for the past, to dwell in it.

. . . .

I’m surprised to find out that, even though she doesn’t experience her own life as a narrative, McKinnon loves stories. Especially fantasy and sci-fi: Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games. She’s read all the books, seen all the movies and episodes. She can’t remember what they were about, but that just makes it better. Each time she rereads or rewatches something, it’s like experiencing it for the first time. (Here’s another thing to envy about her: She is impervious to spoilers.)

But she cannot for the life of her make up a story. She does not daydream. Her mind does not wander.

Link to the rest at Wired

The Queens of Nonfiction: 56 Women Journalists Everyone Should Read

12 April 2016

From New York Magazine:

I went hunting for one good piece of nonfiction by a different woman writer published in every year since 1960, the year Esquire first published Talese. It was difficult. Most of this stuff just isn’t well archived digitally. And yes, far fewer women were working as magazine journalists in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

But they were there.

I found them — one for each of the past 56 years. And I was ashamed. Despite the fact that I graduated from journalism school, own several nonfiction anthologies, and am an avid reader of magazines, this was the first time I read much of their work. It was the first time I’d even seen many of their names. The male bylines I scrolled past in decades-old tables of contents were familiar, either because those men are still working their prestigious jobs today, or because they have been anthologized. Most of the women nonfiction writers of previous eras, I discovered after some Googling, had short-lived journalistic careers. And the excellent work they did produce has escaped every curator of the past several decades. We simply haven’t remembered them. And it’s time we start.

. . . .

Jan Morris, The World of Venice, 1960.

Martha Gellhorn, “The Arabs of Palestine,” The Atlantic Monthly, 1961.

Rachel Carson, “Silent Spring,” The New Yorker, 1962.

Gloria Steinem, “A Bunny’s Tale,” Show Magazine, 1963.

Lillian Ross, “Dancers in May,” The New Yorker, 1964.

Elaine Dundy, “Can a Simple Welsh Lass of Thirty-Six Find Happiness?Esquire, 1965.

. . . .

Ellen Willis, “Up From Radicalism,” US Magazine, 1969

Nora Ephron, “Helen Gurley Brown Only Wants to Help,” Esquire, 1970.

Lucy Eisenberg, “The Politics of Cancer,” Harper’s, 1971.

Gail Sheehy, “Inside Grey Gardens,” New York, 1972.

. . . .

Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, “What Do Women Want? Feminism and Its Future,” Harper’s, 1981.

Shana Alexander, “The Patriot Game,” New York, 1982.

Debby Miller, “The Secret Life of Prince,” Rolling Stone, 1983.

. . . .

Jennifer Egan, “Uniforms in the Closet,” The New York Times Magazine, 1998.

Jennifer Gonnerman, “The Supermax Solution,” The Village Voice, 1999.

Pamela Colloff, “The Sins of the Father,” Texas Monthly, 2000.

. . . .

Rebecca Solnit, “Detroit Arcadia,” Harper’s, 2007.

Vanessa Grigoriadis, “The Autumn of the I-Banker,” New York, 2008.

Sheri Fink, “The Deadly Choices at Memorial,” The New York Times Magazine, 2009

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, “The Third Man,” The New Yorker, 2010.

Link to the rest at New York Magazine and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

In an indie-dominant world, what happens to the high-cost non-fiction?

7 April 2016

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

[Hugh] Howey’s observations are not particularly welcomed by publishers, but he has a deep interest in indie authors and, by his lights, is always trying to help them by encouraging them to indie-publish through Amazon rather than seeking a traditional deal through an agent. He has organized the AuthorEarnings website and data repository along with Data Guy, the games-business data analyst who has turned his analytical skills to the book business whom we featured at the most recent Digital Book World this past March.

Howey and I have had numerous private conversations over the years. He’s intelligent and sincere in his beliefs and truly devotes his energy to “industry education” motivated by his desire to help other authors. Yet there are holes in his analysis of the industry and where it is going that he doesn’t fill. Given his substantial following and obvious comfort level doing the marketing (such as it is, and it appears Howey’s success as an author hasn’t required much) for his own books as well as his commercial performance, it is easy to understand why he would never consider publishing any other way but as he has, as an indie author who is “all in” with Amazon. But he seems to think what worked well for him would work best for anybody.

In this interview, Howey says that any author would be better off self-publishing his or her first book than going the route of selling it to a publisher. And he actually dismisses the marketing effort required to do that. Howey says the best marketing is publishing your next book. He thinks the best strategy is for authors to write several books a year to gain success. In fact, he says taking time away from writing to do marketing is a bad choice. Expecting most writers, or even many writers, to do several books a year strikes me as a highly dubious proposition.

. . . .

Howey also has an unrealistically limited view of the output of big publishing. If you read this interview (and I would encourage anybody interested in the book business to do so), you see that he thinks almost exclusively about fiction or, as he puts it, “storytelling”. Books come, like his did, out of an author’s imagination and all the author needs is the time to write. Exposure through Amazon does the rest.

. . . .

The other is that Howey’s analysis totally leaves out one of the biggest categories of publishing: big non-fiction like history or biographies or industry analyses that take years of research and dedication to complete. Unlike a lot of fiction, those books not only take time, they require serious help and expense to research. In a imagined future world where all books are self-published, aspiring fiction writers give up very little (small advances) and successful fiction authors have the money to eat while they write the next book they can make even more money on doing it the Howey way (even though none have). But big non-fiction books like Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money” (or anything by David McCullough) took years of research to put together. “Dark Money” was undoubtedly financed at a very high level by the Doubleday imprint at Penguin Random House. How books like that will be funded in the future is not covered by Howey’s analysis.

Now, that’s not to say they must be. Economic realities do rule. Howey’s thesis that things are shifting in Amazon’s direction and away from the ecosystem that has sustained big book publishers is correct.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files and thanks to Jan for the tip.

PG says that, because a successful fiction author like Hugh says fiction publishing is best done by indie authors and doesn’t say anything about non-fiction, Big Publishing must be the only way for big non-fiction to be published.

The fundamental economics of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing include an inherent financial bias for the author towards self-publishing. Amazon is just as willing to pay 70% royalties to an indie non-fiction author as it is to an indie fiction author.

Mike cites nonfiction unicorns (the nonfic equivalent of James Patterson and Lee Child) and says they need big publishing to finance their research expenses. Ergo, nonfiction authors need big publishing.

PG is happy to be corrected, but he bets that midlist nonfiction authors don’t get treated any better than midlist fiction authors. PG doubts that any publisher plans to fund years of research for anyone but a nonfiction superstar.

As far as attractive alternatives to tradpub funding, what about Kickstarter and GoFundMe? A far greater portion of the financial benefits of indiefunded and indiepublished nonfiction will go to the author than will the benefits of publisher-funded nonfiction.

PG bets that David McCullough could get millions for research through Kickstarter. PG would certainly contribute. Come to think of it, James Patterson could as well.

Nullibiquitous

2 April 2016

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

nullibiquitous, adj.

. . . .

Existing nowhere.

. . . .

1820   Examiner 632/2   Mr. Dadikey’s nullibiquitous hat and waistcoat.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

The Science of the Tax-Dollar Double Dip

1 April 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

Anyone upset about wasted government spending should take a look at for-profit scientific publishing, a $25 billion industry that double-dips into taxpayers’ pockets. In 2014 one of the largest firms, the Anglo-Dutch Elsevier, which publishes Cell and the Lancet, made a profit of £762 million (about $1.2 billion) on gross revenue of £2 billion (about $3.1 billion)—a margin of 37%. The problem is that much of the research in these journals is supported by federal money from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Then the journals charge taxpayers for the right to see the research their money paid for.

For instance, the for-profit journal Nature published some of the seminal research that developed MRI scans, funded by the taxpayer. Yet my school, the University of Rochester, pays an annual subscription price for Nature of more than $10,000. Scientists and librarians are frustrated—and taxpayers should be outraged.

There are thousands of these journals across dozens of scientific disciplines. Because many are published only in digital form, meaning no printed volumes are produced, there is little cost to start a new title. Thus, academic publishing has been divided into increasingly narrow slices. Figures from Library Journal show that there are about 550 titles in biology alone, with an average price in 2015 of $3,000. A school that subscribed to three-quarters of these would pay annual fees over $1 million—for a single subject.

Librarians are under pressure to keep up. The University of Rochester, a medium-size research school, subscribes to more than 5,000 journals. So publishers cut “deals” whereby 100 journals, say, cost only 70% of their total list prices. A similar scheme is intimately familiar to anyone who subscribes to cable TV. I don’t want the Cooking Channel, but it’s part of the package, and I need my ESPN.

. . . .

One option is the Open-Access model, under which researchers pay “page fees”—around $1,800 to $3,000 per article in for-profit journals—to publish their work, which is then free for anyone to read. But this is still double-dipping: Research is supported by a grant from taxpayers, whose money then goes to pay a publisher to bring those findings to light. An intermediate solution is to go with Open Access, but rely on nonprofit university presses, which charge much smaller page fees.

. . . .

Scholars are banding together to try to upend academic publishing. My colleagues and I recently launched Open Mind: Discoveries in Cognitive Science, a new Open-Access journal through MIT Press. Last October six editors and 31 board members of Lingua, a top for-profit linguistics journal published by Elsevier, resigned, citing “unsustainable” prices. They have since started a nonprofit Open-Access journal, Glossa. But these are piecemeal efforts.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Sourcebooks Strikes Gold with Personalized Adult Coloring Books

31 March 2016

From Publishing Perspectives:

In recent years, Put Me in the Story, the line of personalized books for children, has been a huge hit for its publisher, Sourcebooks. What’s more, this trend has coincided with the surge in popularity of adult coloring books.

To that end, since the beginning of 2016, personalized adult coloring books have been responsible for a whopping 40 percent of Sourcebooks’s Put Me in the Story sales.

The two books the publisher currently has out, Keep Calm and Color On: For Stress Relief and Keep Calm and Color On: For Your Inner Creative, were released in the fall of 2015 and quickly gained attention from television shows, including “The View,” “Good Morning America” and “The Today Show.” Customers also responded positively, gifting the books to friends and family interested in creative ways to relax and de-stress.

For the team behind the 29-year-old Sourcebooks, this success has been a bit of a surprise. After all, it was one of Sourcebooks’s many experiments which, according to CEO Dominique Raccah, have an 80-percent overall failure rate. But several members of the Sourcebooks team had a genuine interest in adult coloring books and, for them, the project seemed like a fun one to take on.

“We thought people would really like them [adult coloring books] because they were something we wanted ourselves,” says Becca Smith, a publicity and marketing specialist at Sourcebooks. “We had a group of people in house who loved to color and bought coloring books.”

. . . .

The idea behind Sourcebooks’s adult coloring books is to let people be part of the creative process. As soon as customers go on the books’ product pages, they’re invited to “build” their book, which involves entering a personal dedication and name that will appear near inspirational quotes throughout the book.

“I think people are looking for an activity that’s creative but where they don’t have to be artistically gifted,” says Sourcebooks Editor Anna Michels.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

As Predicted, Elsevier’s Attempt To Silence Sci-Hub Has Increased Public Awareness Massively

22 March 2016

From TechDirt:

Last month, Techdirt wrote about the growing interest in Sci-Hub, which provides free access to research papers — more than 47,000,000 of them at the time of writing. As Mike noted then, Elsevier’s attempt to make the site go away by suing it has inevitably produced a classic Streisand Effect, whereby many more people know about it as a direct result.

. . . .

[College librarian Barbara] Fister notes that alongside people who don’t have access to the articles they need because they are not affiliated with a well-funded Western library with the right subscriptions, many researchers turn to Sci-Hub because accessing articles has become a complicated and inconvenient process. As she says:

For many folks, Sci-Hub is simply a more convenient library that doesn’t make you mess around with logins and interlibrary loans. Hey, we’re busy. Paywalls are a pain.

Techdirt has written before about this aspect before, and the growing evidence that piracy greatly diminishes once good, easy-to-use legal services become available. However, as Fister rightly says, the current situation is awkward for the people who are supposed to be overseeing those unsatisfactory legal services:

Librarians are in a nasty spot. Sometimes I wonder if we can even call ourselves librarians anymore. We feel we are virtually required to provide access to whatever researchers in our local community ask for while restricting access from anyone outside that narrowly-defined community of users. Instead of curators, we’re personal shoppers who moonlight as border guards. This isn’t working out well for anyone. Unaffiliated researchers have to find illegal work-arounds, and faculty who actually have access through libraries are turning to the black market for articles because it seems more efficient than contacting their personal shopper, particularly when the library itself doesn’t figure in their work flow. In the meantime, all that money we spend on big bundles of articles (or on purchasing access to articles one at a time when we can’t afford the bundle anymore) is just a really high annual rent. We can’t preserve what we don’t own, and we don’t curate because our function is to get what is asked for.

Not only is lack of open access soul-destroying for librarians longing to take a more active and creative role in the provision of information to the academics they support, it comes with a hidden financial cost that has been overlooked:

It is labor — lots of labor — to maintain link resolvers, keep [academic journal] license agreements in order, and deal with constant changes in subscription contents. We [librarians] have to work a lot harder to be publishers’ border guards than people realize.

That’s a hugely important point that I have not seen made elsewhere. Alongside all the other tasks that traditional publishers push onto the academic community — notably, writing articles and refereeing them for free — there is another major burden, imposed specifically on librarians, who are forced to spend much of their time acting as the publishers’ hated “border guards.” That’s a tragic waste of their highly-specialized skills, and not what they were employed to do.

Link to the rest at TechDirt and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

PG says Preston and the Authors Union should fedex the Department of Justice about this and potentially do some real good.

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