Non-Fiction

Respected Medical Journal Sold To Scammers Willing To Publish Anything… For A Fee

28 August 2014

From TechDirt:

We’ve talked in the past about the ridiculous nature of the academic publishing world these days, which involve a variety of questionable tactics mostly focused on (1) predatorily preying on those who “need” to be published, (2) enabling researchers (and sometimes large companies) to whitewash shoddy research by “publishing” it for a fee, and (3) making the “publishers” filthy stinking rich despite doing no actual work. The problem is that, while much of this is scammy, the line between fraudulent practices and more “legitimate” practices are pretty damn blurry. After all, when you have “legitimate” names like the American Psychological Association trying to charge $2,500 to “deposit” newly published papers with PubMed (as required to do for NIH funded papers) or publishing giant Elsevier having an entire division devoted to publishing fake journals paid for by giant pharmaceutical companies promoting their drugs, sometimes it’s tough to tell who’s legit and who’s the out and out swindler.

. . . .

The Ottawa Citizen has a story highlighting yet another twist and turn in this ongoing battle of bogosity in academic research, involving sketchy people stepping in to buy a formerly respected journal and turning it into a pure pay-to-play publication willing to publish absolute gibberish (which the Ottawa Citizen tested and easily proved). The Ottawa Citizen was turned onto the story by Jeffrey Beall, author of Scholarly Open Access, a site that chronicles predatory publishing scams, and who was last mentioned on these pages after being threatened with a $1 billion lawsuit and “criminal charges” for outing a predatory publisher based in India.

In this case, the Experimental & Clinical Cardiology journal had been a widely respected publication covering research on (you guessed it) experimental and clinical cardiology. However, last year it got sold to some unknown folks who appear to have turned it into a pure gibberish publishing enterprise — so long as you can pay the $1,200 fee. In other words, the new publishers are trading on the old reputation of the journal, now allowing it to publish junk science or nonsensical rantings.

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

The Allure of Imagined Meals

28 August 2014

From The New Yorker:

Biologists talk of pre-adapted systems: things used for purposes other than the ones they evolved for. The middle-ear bones in mammals, for example, have their origins in the reptilian jaw. A more obvious example is the mouth. Our tongues and teeth evolved as a way to take foods into the body. At some later point, the existing structure was co-opted for a new task, the expulsion of words out into the world.

The old injunction “Don’t talk with your mouth full” is based on the presumption that, however multifunctional a mouth may be, it should only perform one job at a time. Humans have found a way around this limitation in the form of food writing. When we read one of the twenty-four thousand cookbooks published annually, we are indulging in the exquisite pleasure of combining the two functions: food and language mixed together.

“Why,” asks Sandra Gilbert in “The Culinary Imagination,” a new history of “eating words” in a cultural context, “do we so massively—and often so hungrily—meditate on food, its history, its preparation, its stories, its vices and virtues?” An obvious response is: Why wouldn’t we? Along with sex and death, food is one of the three great universals, and it can be discussed in a far wider range of registers than those other two. When breaking the ice with someone you’ve just met, you might hesitate to bring up sex (creepy!) or death (morbid!). Food, on the other hand, provides an instant topic of conversation that anyone can join, inoffensive without being boring.

. . . .

As Gilbert notes, “it’s virtually impossible for language to describe the ‘physiology of taste’ in the pure moment of biting, chewing and swallowing.” The meal itself cannot be recaptured in words. Restaurant critics all struggle with the difficulty of writing about eating without resorting to the word “delicious” and its synonyms. Or, as Anthony Bourdain—quoted in one of Gilbert’s many epigraphs—puts it: “Writing incessantly about food is like writing porn. How many adjectives can there be before you repeat yourself?”

. . . .

This is not such a paradox, however, if we see that imaginary food—whether onscreen or on the page—is feeding separate hungers. Growing up in Soviet Russia, Anya von Bremzen, the author of “Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking,” found that “dreaming about food … was just as rewarding as eating.’ ” Gilbert quotes the well-worn line from “The Song of Songs”: “Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.” Gilbert notes that “it isn’t just flagons and apples that stay and comfort us; it’s the knowledge that there are flagons and apples.” Unlike an apple, which, however satisfying, is gone in minutes, the knowledge that there are apples is something you can return to any number of times, whether in moments of hunger, sadness, or when you are eating potato chips. Maybe people want to watch chefs on TV while eating microwave chow in order to remind themselves that there are still cooks in this godforsaken world.

Recipes, according to Gilbert, are always, in some sense, instructions for “recuperation, transformation, preservation.” All food writing is a way to pin down “a few of the fleeting things of this world.”

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Going to the Beach with a Public Intellectual

26 August 2014

From The Scholarly Kitchen:

With the last days of summer upon us, I am packing up the sunscreen and the dog for our annual family vacation at the beach. Traveling with us, of course, will be my familiar companions, the many public intellectuals who have, presumably as a matter of civic duty, graced us with their presence in the form of books.

. . . .

This year’s entourage is as rich as ever, richer perhaps, as we live in a platinum age for the intellectually curious. I am well into Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August,  wondering how it is that I never read this before. Loaded on my Kindle and ready to fire is Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, one of several books about the mind that have caught my attention. I just completed the mind-blowing The Future of the Mind by Dr. Michio Kaku,  which lives on the border of science fiction, but which nonetheless has colored my experience for the last two months.

. . . .

What’s curious about these books and the tiny subgenre they belong to (nonfiction books written by people who actually know something) is that they lie outside the reputation and career structure of the modern academic. No one gets promoted for publishing a book with HarperCollins or Penguin Random House. (A moment of silence, please, to contemplate how wonderful quality trade publishing is.) Lisa Randall took time off from her work at Harvard to write Knocking on Heaven’s Door–to my benefit–and Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, both professors at MIT reshaped my thinking about the economy and social policy with their urgent The Second Machine Age. I imagine that their colleagues rib them about this. Why are you wasting your time? Does your ego require you to beg for the praise of idiots?

Link to the rest at The Scholarly Kitchen and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

PG noted the mention of a Kindle and wondered if it was inadvertent. Certainly no one from HarperCollins or Penguin Random House would have mentioned Kindle in a similar manner.

Photographers Share Details of Their Recent Book Deals

15 August 2014

From Photo District News:

We asked photographers who have published books within the last three years to share some details of the deals they made with book publishers. Arrangements vary not only from publisher to publisher, but also within book publishing houses, depending upon variables such as the photographer’s reputation, the book design and specifications, the target market, and other factors.

. . . .

Many of the photographers chose to manage tasks traditionally handled by book publishing houses, including design and publicity. Publishers are also shifting the risk of publishing a book to photographers, asking them to help raise funds to cover production and other costs.

A photographer who has published 12 books said he felt “lucky” that he had never had to pay his publishers’ production costs.

. . . .

Noting that photographers now see publishing a book as a necessary step before landing a gallery show, he says, “It used to be the opposite.” He fears that publishers extend offers to unknown artists while also telling them, “But you have to front all the expenses… removing the risk for us.”

We asked photographers who contributed money to cover their publishers’ cost why they chose not to self-publish their books. One said self-publishing demanded too much in time and resources.

. . . .

PHOTOGRAPHER B:

Fees/contributions to costs: $35,000, or “about 50 percent of the cost for production, PR, distribution.”

Editing/design/publicity: Photographer hired an outside editor. “The publisher agreed to pay $1,000 toward editorial cost.”

Special design stipulations: None.

Copies photographer or gallery was asked to purchase: Photographer bought 400.

Other expenses: “The expenses for scanning of all the film were tremendous, and I had not factored those in at all.”

Photographer’s notes: “I had two book offers … and they were both fairly similar as far as cost was concerned. In the end I went with the publisher that has a stronger name and very good distribution attached.”

Link to the rest at Photo District News and thanks to Tony for the tip.

Purdue, Amazon to offer students savings on textbooks, provide first-ever on-campus pickup services

15 August 2014

From Purdue University News:

Purdue University students have the opportunity to save up to 30 percent – or $6 million – a year on textbooks thanks to a new and unique collaboration with Amazon.

Purdue and Amazon have launched the Purdue Student Store on Amazon, a new, co-branded experience where students can purchase lower-cost textbooks and other college essentials.

And for the first time ever, Amazon also will bring staffed customer order pickup and drop-off locations to Purdue’s campus, as well as expedited shipping benefits phased in over the course of the 2014-2015 academic year.

The Purdue Student Store on Amazon, found at purdue.amazon.com, launched Tuesday (Aug. 12). The first campus pickup location is expected to be open in early 2015.

“This relationship is another step in Purdue’s efforts to make a college education more affordable for our students,” said President Mitch Daniels. “With the pressure on college campuses to reduce costs, this new way of doing business has the potential to change the book-buying landscape for students and their families.”

Daniels noted that books are the third biggest expense for college students. The university has addressed tuition with a three-year freeze and has reduced room-and-board costs by 5 percent two years in a row.

Link to the rest at Purdue University News

Although it has been a long time since PG has purchased any textbooks, he still remembers feeling ripped off whenever he walked out of a student bookstore with a bag full of books.

Inside the Bowe Bergdahl book proposal: Soldier’s platoon mates speak out

14 August 2014

From Yahoo News:

While the U.S. Army weighs whether to bring charges against Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was freed earlier this year after spending nearly five years as a Taliban captive in Afghanistan, six of his former platoon mates are shopping proposals for a book and movie that would render their own harsh verdicts.

A draft of their book proposal, a copy of which was obtained by Yahoo News, depicts Bergdahl as a “premeditated” deserter who “put all of our lives in danger” — and possibly aided the Taliban — when he disappeared from his observation post in eastern Afghanistan in the early morning hours of June 30, 2009.

. . . .

“I’m not sure we can publish this book without the Right using it to their ends,” Sarah Durand, a senior editor at Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, wrote in an email to one of the soldiers’ agents.

“[T]he Conservatives are all over Bergdahl and using it against Obama,” Durand wrote, “and my concern is that this book will have to become a kind of ‘Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’” — a reference to the group behind a controversial book that raised questions about John Kerry’s Vietnam War record in the midst of his 2004 presidential campaign.

Link to the rest at Yahoo News and thanks to Bill for the tip.

Hillary Clinton’s new book isn’t poetry. But the Amazon reviews of it sure are.

21 July 2014

From The Washington Post:

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s account of her time at the State Department, “Hard Choices,” and Ed Klein’s more tabloid-y account of her relationship with President Obama have been duking it out on the New York Times bestseller list. We have yet to learn which one will win.

. . . .

One place where nobody wins? In the customer reviews section of Amazon, where opinions of the two books are twice as polarized as the American electorate because, well, a certain type of person apparently writes these reviews. To wit: Ninety percent of the reviews of Clinton’s book give it either one or five stars. And more than twice as many are one-star reviews.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

Peer review, self-publishing, and blowhards

19 July 2014

From Morgan on Science:

Should I self-publish my work? This is a question many academics and authors ask themselves these days. I had a discussion the other day on Facebook that started with this question, related to my upcoming book, Create or Die.

Let me first explain my own rationale, then get back to the topic of blowhards and peer review.

In 2010, I self-published 4 Steps to Funding as a little book to share a framework for grant writing that I’d developed from my experiences with my own grants and in teaching others how to do it successfully.

I chose to self-publish simply because I had no interest in waiting around for months or years to first find a willing publisher, then for them to get it out into print. Self-publishing, for me, was the most expedient way to get the book in the hands of a wider audience. It has served that role well – having achieved for a short while #1 status in its category in 2012, and having remained in the rankings ever since then. We send out copies of the book on a weekly basis, and we’ve had a consistent stream of great feedback (and the occasional cranky person, which is to be expected with anything).

. . . .

There’s this godawful, ego-centric, and self-limiting notion that many academics cling to that somehow peer review provides a “safety valve” or some kind of assurance of “quality” of a work.

Ha.

If you want peer review, go look at the reviews for my grant writing book on Amazon. There are people who love it, and people who hate it. That’s true for any book on Amazon that’s had any measurable readership.

The marketplace has voted with its reviews and its dollars, and seems to overall like the book.

Now, imagine if we randomly selected just two of those people and let them determine the fate of the book. The people we select, of course, will be other authors of competing grant writing books, who clearly think that their system of grant writing is superior to anyone else’s. Which means they are going to be some of the worst reviews. So, we send it out to these two people, anonymously, and based on their reviews, written while hiding behind that veil of anonymity, determine the fate of the book.

Gag. Argh. Stupidity! Why would anyone accept that?!?

. . . .

The critic might say: but reviews on Amazon can be manipulated

Yes, that is possible. However: is peer review never manipulated? Have there not been scores of retractions lately of papers that got through peer review with falsified or cooked data? Yes, there have. Are two anonymous reviewers anything but “anecdotal” evidence of the quality of a book or paper? No.

The statistics are clear: blowhards are wrong

When you have a book on a venue like Amazon, there’s this little thing called statistics that proves the case – if there are hundreds or thousands of readers, and a significant fraction of those give feedback, you can actually make a statistically sound argument that there’s some merit in the work. With two reviewers (or three, or four) in peer review, there’s no validity to statistics operating at that level. You are getting what are, essentially, the random effects of reviewer choice (plus some built-in bias against you because if they support your paper, they see it as more competition for funding).

This notion that somehow peer review, or tomes published with a “reputable” publisher of scholarly accord, will lead to “higher quality” is complete and utter nonsense. It is all a bunch of egotistical babble driven by ivory-tower ideals that make no sense in a world where academia is slipping slowly into irrelevancy

Link to the rest at Morgan on Science

Niobe

18 July 2014

From The Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day:

Niobe, n.

. . . .

Etymology: < ancient Greek Νιόβη (classical Latin Nioba, Niobē), the name of the daughter of Tantalus in Greek legend, supposed to have been changed into stone while weeping for her children.

. . . .

An inconsolably bereaved woman, a weeping woman.

. . . .

1876 Trollope Prime Minister IV. xvii. 296 ‘Such a Niobe you never saw.’ ‘Was she weeping?’ ‘Not actual tears. But her gown, and her cap, and her strings were weeping.’

Link to the rest at Oxford English Dictionary

A Publisher of One’s Own

18 July 2014

From Inside Higher Ed:

Self-published books are on the rise, to the dismay of onlookers who wonder what to expect from a sector where E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey – originally published as online fan fiction by a tiny Australian e-book company – appears to be the best of the lot. More than 391,000 self-published titles appeared in 2012, according to Bowker, the official ISBN-issuing agency for the U.S. The self-published titles appear to be selling. In 2012, a quarter of Amazon’s top 100 bestselling Kindle books had been self-published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service. And in 2013, readers in Britain bought 18 million self-published books, a 79 percent increase in market share compared to the year before.

Academics, meanwhile, inhabit a parallel publishing ecosystem: a constellation of university presses and journals that publish slowly, offer few economic returns, and subject all work to painstaking peer review. Scholars and publishing experts in the U.S. and Britain say self-publishing by academics remains a rarity. A handful of scholars, however, have turned to self-publishing to produce pet projects, such as blistering critiques of academic life. And others have struck away from the publishing mainstream in other ways: by founding journals, establishing independent presses and writing on blogs.

. . . .

Almost no active scholars have eschewed conventional publishing entirely. Educational technologist Martin Weller, a professor at the Open University in the UK, argued in a blog post that “external prestige is probably the greatest factor” spurring academics to chase book contracts rather than publish their own work.

“Self-publishing is seen as rather sordid,” Weller wrote, “the last recourse for the demented author who couldn’t get published anywhere else.”

. . . .

Academic books are almost never bestsellers, but a book that becomes a required text for a university course can be quite profitable.

“You do all the work, and the returns are very low,” Weller said. “You sign away a ridiculous amount of rights – the form includes future TV rights, merchandising, etc., but you take all the risks … if someone sues because of the book’s content it is your liability.”

. . . .

In 2011, Rojas self-published a book called Grad Skool Rulz: Everything You Need to Know about Academia from Admissions to Tenure. The book emerged from an online advice column he had written for graduate students.

“People for years kept saying, ‘You should write this as a book,’ ” he said. “And I thought, no press would ever publish it, because I’m blunt about academia.” (The title’s fast-and-loose spelling might not have passed muster at a scholarly press either.)
The book now sells for $3 online. Rojas said the ability to charge a low price was another advantage self-publishing offered.

. . . .

Roger Whitson, an assistant professor of English at Washington State University, said he thought self-publishing books was, on the whole, an activity that only already-tenured professors could afford to undertake.
“Part of the reason why academics publish pre-tenure is that they want to receive credit for becoming a specialist in the field, and one of the main ways they see that happening is through peer review,” Whitson said. “For pre-tenure people who haven’t established a name in the field, academic publishing is really important.”

Link to the rest at Inside Higher Ed

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