On the rapaciousness of scientific publishers, and my refusal to be their slave

1 December 2016

From Why Evolution is True:

I’ve long complained about the bloated profits of commercial scientific publishers, which can be as high as 40%. That’s obscene if you realize that other companies which actually make a product make far less money, that the scientific publishers get that money by not only charging authors to publish there, but having their scientific papers refereed and improved by reviewers who are paid nothing. Those reviewers—and I’ve done plenty of gratis reviewing for journals like Nature and Current Biology, as well as for journals issued by less greedy publishers—are done out of a sense of “public service”. Profit-hungry journals like to play on our sense of duty and public service, all the while raking in huge profits by using scientists to do the journal’s job for free. And remember that these journals charge people for access to papers that are, by and large, funded by government grants—by the taxpayer. It’s reprehensible that the public who funds such research is denied access to the results of that research.  (Some funding organizations, however, allow journals to charge for access for only one year. But even that is too much.) Commercial publishing of taxpayer-funded research is a travesty unless the profits, beyond those needed to pay salaries and run the company, are plowed back into more science.

But young scientists, who need to make their reputations by publishing in well-known journals like Cell and Nature, have no choice, for their hiring, tenure, and promotion often depend on what journals accept their papers. Sadly, many of the “high quality” journals are put out by greedy publishers. And it’s not just young scientists, either: organizations that hand out grants often look at where you’ve published your papers before deciding whether to give you further funds.

. . . .

Their solution is to abandon these greedy publishers and publish under the model of those university and society presses that plow back profits into scientific initiatives. They also say that scientists and granting agencies need to abandon the use of journal titles as measures of scientific worth, a move I heartily approve.

. . . .

Finally, they argue that scientists should stop allowing themselves to be exploited by rapacious publishers:

What can we as individuals do to promote change? One obvious action that would help weaken the grip of the for-profit publishing industry on our community would be, whenever reasonably possible, to decline to provide our free labor. One of us (PW) for example, with very few exceptions that can be counted with the fingers on one hand, has not published in and not reviewed for any Elsevier journal for the last 13 years. What is most puzzling is a lack of more widespread anger in our communities regarding the degree of exploitation and abuse by for-profit publishing enterprises that we not only tolerate, but accept and support.  Rather, as Scott Aaronson points out later in his article, “[w]e support the enterprise by reviewing and by serving on editorial boards without compensation, regarding these duties as a moral obligation.

. . . .

Coincidentally, I was asked yesterday by one of the Nature journals to review a submission. I agreed, read the paper, and then noticed that the paper was tracked through the “Springer Nature Tracking System.” Springer? I wrote to the editor and asked if Nature was now affiliated with the rapacious Springer. I was told that “Springer Nature. . . formed last year through the merger of Macmillan’s Nature Publishing Group and Springer, both commercial publishers.”

With that, I decided enough was enough. I wasn’t going to work for free to enrich either Nature or especially Springer, which is a gouger. I wrote this response:

Given that Springer makes at least 30% profits, and it is using, through the journals, reviewers and authors as free (and exploited) labor to swell its coffers, I’m afraid I must refuse to do my review, even though I’ve read the paper twice. Nature should, in these circumstances, remunerate its authors and reviewers instead of greedily sucking up profits for Springer. Given that you’re asking all of us to do this for free, I must decline to work further for Naturewithout remuneration.  I have no doubt that you, [editor’s name redacted], and the other editors are doing your job because you care about science, and are trying your best to maintain the quality of our field; my decision is simply a refusal to work for a system that exploits scientists to make profits for a company.

I’d urge other scientists to avoid reviewing for Nature given its new affiliation, or at least to demand $400 per hour for reviewing, something that no journal will pay, of course.

Link to the rest at Why Evolution is True and thanks to G.P. for the tip.

The Tech-Savvy To-Do List: A Bullet Journal

6 November 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

The solution for Post-it Notes lost under the desk and phone alerts silenced in meetings may be at hand.

People who have tried and given up countless online calendars and list-making apps are making the Bullet Journal—a way of organizing and writing lists in a plain old notebook—a hit. The journal helps organize everything from big work projects to the children’s activities in a notebook and appeals to people who use their cellphones for everything else in their lives.

Its devotees call it something between a diary, a wish list and a to-do list. It isn’t fancy; it isn’t technological, but that is the point. The act of writing something down, as opposed to interacting with a screen, helps people stay and feel organized.

“I was bouncing between apps,” says Kim Alvarez, a bullet journalist from San Diego. “Moving the things I had to do around. There was no accountability.”

. . . .

Bullet journalists, as they call themselves, say the journal helps them improve productivity, reduce stress and sleep better. It frees up mental space and simplifies life, they say. It was created by Brooklyn, N.Y.-based digital designer Ryder Carroll, 36. Four million people have watched his how-to videos on YouTube and on the Bullet Journal site. The Leuchtturm1917, the hardcover official notebook, is sold out until November.

“The Bullet journal requires effort. But the effort is critical because it is investment in itself,” says Mr. Carroll “It is a practice.”

. . . .

Tim Pychyl an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, says studies have shown that students who take notes remember more of the lecture than students who type notes. The same principle applies to analog versus digital to-do lists. Writing things down requires the listener process the information.

. . . .

Moleskine, a Milan-based company that revived the traditional leather bound notebook in 1997, has seen a doubling in revenues over the last five years.

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

What If the Newspaper Industry Made a Colossal Mistake?

19 October 2016

From Politico:

What if almost the entire newspaper industry got it wrong?

What if, in the mad dash two decades ago to repurpose and extend editorial content onto the Web, editors and publishers made a colossal business blunder that wasted hundreds of millions of dollars? What if the industry should have stuck with its strengths—the print editions where the vast majority of their readers still reside and where the overwhelming majority of advertising and subscription revenue come from—instead of chasing the online chimera?

That’s the contrarian conclusion I drew from a new paper written by H. Iris Chyi and Ori Tenenboim of the University of Texas and published this summer in Journalism Practice. Buttressed by copious mounds of data and a rigorous, sustained argument, the paper cracks open the watchworks of the newspaper industry to make a convincing case that the tech-heavy Web strategy pursued by most papers has been a bust. The key to the newspaper future might reside in its past and not in smartphones, iPads and VR. “Digital first,” the authors claim, has been a losing proposition for most newspapers.

These findings matter because conventional newspapers, for all their shortcomings, remain the best source of information about the workings of our government, of industry, and of the major institutions that dominate our lives. They still publish a disproportionate amount of the accountability journalism available, a function that’s not being fully replaced by online newcomers or the nonprofit entities that have popped up. If we give up the print newspaper for dead, accepting its demise without a fight, we stand to lose one of the vital bulwarks that protect and sustain our culture.

. . . .

For years, the standard view in the newspaper industry has been that print newspapers will eventually evolve into online editions and reconvene the mass audience newspapers enjoy there. But that’s not what’s happening. Readers continue to leave print newspapers, but they’re not migrating to the online editions.

From the paper: “[W]hile print readership is declining, newspaper readers did not drop print in favor of the same newspaper’s online edition. The identified performance gap between newspapers’ print and online products challenges the ‘digital first’ view about the future of newspapers.”

Chyi and Tenenboim don’t deny the obvious mass migration of news consumers to the Web, but they note that most readers go to news aggregators, like Yahoo News, Google News,, MSN and other non-newspaper sites. In a 2012 Pew study, 26 percent of respondents cited Yahoo as a news source they used most often; 17 percent named Google, with 11 percent naming Only 5 percent of poll respondents named the New York Times as a top news destination; 3 percent the Wall Street Journal; 2 percent USA Today; and 2 percent the Washington Post.

Link to the rest at Politico and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Monumental Scholarly Dictionary of Slang Is Now Online

17 October 2016

From Mental Floss:

If you simply want to find slang, there are plenty of places to look online, but if you want a thoroughly researched, meticulously documented view of 600 years of English slang expressions, Jonathon Green’s Green’s Dictionary of Slang is what you need. Until now, getting a look at Green’s three volume masterpiece involved a trip to the library, or shelling out hundreds of dollars. This week, with the launching of Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online, it’s become a whole lot easier to dig into the fascinating, long history of English slang.

The site allows lookups of word definitions and etymologies for free, and, for a well-worth-it subscription fee, offers citations and more extensive search options.

Link to the rest at Mental Floss and thanks to Joshua for the tip.


2 October 2016

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

mumbudget, n., int., and adj.

. . . .

1. to play (at) mumbudget: to keep silent.

. . . .

1639 Deloney’s Gentile Craft: 2nd Pt. (rev. ed.) ii. sig. D, Harken hither three dayes hence, and you shall heare more, but in the meane space looke you play mum-budget, and speake not a word of this matter to any creature.

. . . .

C. adj.

Silent, mute; = mum adj. Obs.

. . . .

1622 J. Mabbe tr. M. Alemán Rogue i. 146, I was Mum-budget, and durst not open my lips to that businesse.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

Finding a Forgotten Book on Surviving the Holocaust

30 September 2016

From Literary Hub:

In the attic of a suburban house outside London in the 2000s, my brother made a remarkable discovery: a folder containing 200 fragile pages, typed in German, dated 1945, and apparently placed in a suitcase and never touched since. Its first page bore the name Moriz Scheyer and the title Ein Überlebender (A Survivor).

We were clearing out the old family home: our father, Konrad Singer, needed to downsize. The attic—in the way of attics of family homes lived in for 40-plus years—had accumulated detritus gradually throughout that period (garden furniture, books, toys, bedlinen, kitchenware), without apparently ever jettisoning any.

In the midst of all that was this incredibly valuable, irreplaceable document. The written account of a family legend: my grandparents’ wartime flight through France, involving incarceration, hairsbreadth escape from deportation, and a final heroic rescue by a French family and improbable concealment in a rural convent. A story which had always been recounted to us as extraordinary, even miraculous—but in fragments, the details unclear or forgotten, the original protagonists silent.

As I turned the first page, and was transported back to the beginning of that story—to Vienna in February 1938, immediately before the Anschluss—I was also meeting a family member for the first time. Moriz Scheyer, my father’s stepfather, a well-respected literary figure of 1930s Vienna, and a friend of Stefan Zweig, who died long before I was born.

. . . .

But there was another issue—one connected with the reason that the find had been so unexpected. And that was that I knew the book to have been destroyed. And the reason I knew that was that my father had told me so: he had himself destroyed it (or thought he had).

At the time of that revelation—when, some 25 years before the discovery, as a teenager, I had begun to be intensely curious about this lost side of the family and the family history—I was incredulous, even angry. How could my father have been so uninterested in preserving this historical document, his own stepfather’s account of this extraordinary story?

He gave (at different times) two reasons: the “self-pity” he discerned in his stepfather’s account, and its uncompromising “anti-German” sentiment. Either judgment, in the context of what Moriz and his companions went through, may seem to us unbelievably harsh and unsympathetic. But that reaction does, I think, draw attention to something important—about the role of a generational dynamic in relation to family memory, and the conflicts of memory. First, there is the specific postwar context. My father was a young man in 1945, desperate to look forward, to create a new world—socialist, rationalist, free of racial and nationalist thinking—above all not to dwell on the catastrophes and terrible irrationalities of the immediate past. Moriz Scheyer, over 50 at the time of his enforced emigration, unable to build a new life, shattered in health and spirit, could do little but “dwell,” could only bear witness to that trauma.

. . . .

Because this is the uniqueness of the book. It is a time capsule. Unlike so many survivors’ accounts, written or produced through interviews decades later, this is a book where you cannot doubt that what you read is what someone experienced and thought at the time. That perspective, that reaction to the events, has been preserved unaltered for 70 years. It suffers no risk of false memory or suggestion, of distortion.

Sometimes the perspective is surprising, arresting, bringing the reader face to face with a different world view. How remarkable, from our 21st century, to read Scheyer’s view—leading him, doubtless, to despair of the book’s publication—that “no one will ever be interested in what happened to Jews.” Antisemitism, from his 1940s perspective, was so ingrained in European culture that an account of something that “only” affected Jews could never attract serious attention.

How poignant, too, not least now, to encounter in Scheyer’s writing the concept of the “good European.” A well-known phrase of the time, now long forgotten, it was bound up with the pan-European ideal (associated with another forgotten figure, Romain Rolland) of a culturally bonded brotherhood of nations. It was, arguably, despair at the fate of this ideal that drove Moriz’s friend Stefan Zweig to suicide in 1942.

Link to the rest at Literary Hub

Here’s a link to Moriz Scheyer’s book.

The FTC Is Cracking Down on Predatory Science Journals

19 September 2016

From Wired:

When Paul Vaucher received an invitation to submit an article in a special issue of the Journal of Forensic Research, he gladly accepted. A University of Geneva neuroscience PhD student at the time, he was eager for the publishing credit and excited for the exposure. Vaucher studies how the aging brain affects people’s ability to drive, and ways to screen for performance behind the wheel in the elderly. He wasn’t super sure what his work had to do with forensics, but he assumed the special issue provided the tie-in.

He sent in the manuscript, and was surprised when a few days later he received an email, not from the editor of the journal, or a reviewer, but a title-less employee, sending him an author’s proof with instructions to fix any typographical errors and this message: “If you fail to send the corrections within 48 hours, we may assume that you agreed to publish without corrections.” It also said that he owed a $900 fee to the journal’s publisher, OMICS Group.

Within 24 hours Vaucher had sent in a long list of major mistakes that needed fixing. He received no reply, and the article showed up online a few days later without any corrections. Now Vaucher knew something was seriously wrong. Usually, peer-reviewed papers take months and many rounds of back-and-forth comments and corrections before publication. Vaucher had had no such contact with anyone at the Journal of Forensic Research. And his emails continued to go unanswered in the following weeks. This was not just a young, blundering journal struggling to work out its editorial kinks, Vaucher realized. This was malicious.

Vaucher’s story is not unique. In the last five years, open-access journals have cropped up all over the Internet, their websites looking like those of any typical scholarly publisher: editorial boards filled with bios of well-respected scientists, claims of rigorous peer review, indexing in the most influential databases. The looks of these publishers have deceived thousands of young and inexperienced researchers all over the world, costing them millions of dollars—and for many, their reputations.

So it is with good reason that the US Federal Trade Commission has taken an interest in these “predatory” publishers. Specifically, they’ve honed in on OMICS Group, a global conglomerate based in India and incorporated in Nevada that boasts more than 700 “leading-edge, peer reviewed” open access journals on its website. In a historic first for the FTC, the agency is suing the company, alleging that it misrepresented the legitimacy of its publications, deceived researchers, and obfuscated sizeable publication fees. The lawsuit, filed last month, will set a precedent for how the academic publishing industry is regulated, and how the body of scientific work that constitutes our collective understanding of the world is created and shared in the age of open access information.

. . . .

When Vaucher tried to find out who exactly had reviewed his article, he was contacted by an anonymous editorial assistant who wrote to him saying that his article had been “strongly recommended for the publication in the peer review process by one of the reviewer [sic] who is expert in this field. So, the manuscript got acceptance to publish with the initial submitted file.”

Now Vaucher knew something was up. One anonymous reviewer does not a peer-review make. He wrote to the journal’s editor in chief, Jaiprakash Shewale, asking him to investigate his case further. When nothing happened, he wrote again, and again, threatening to take legal action to have his paper withdrawn if evidence of a thorough peer-review could not be provided. Finally, he wrote a third time, this time to OMICS director and founder Srinubabu Gedela, informing him OMICS had 30 days to remove his paper before he would initiate legal action. Later that night he got an email from Shewale. He had submitted his resignation to the journal.

. . . .

Jeff Beall coined the term “predatory publisher” back in 2010, and in the years since, he’s watched his inbox balloon with pleas from thousands of scientists around the globe asking for his help. Beall, a longtime academic librarian at the University of Colorado’s Auraria Library in Denver, keeps a blacklist of open access publishers with sketchy track records. It’s made him the go-to guy for researchers who realize they’ve been had. “Sometimes I get 200 emails a day,” he said. “I get up at 4 o’clock in the morning to answer all the emails to Asia before I go to work.”

OMICS victims are mostly young researchers, new to the scholarly publishing world. They’re also concentrated in developing countries in the global south where the pressure to publish is high and career training lacking. For these scientists, surprise publishing fees can be a huge burden.

Link to the rest at Wired and thanks to Joshua for the tip.


11 August 2016

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

Nachlass, n.

. . . .

Writings remaining unpublished at an author’s death.

. . . .

1842 J. S. Mill Let. Apr. in Wks. (1963) XIII. 515 She bids ask what you think of Otfried Müller’s Nachlass as a subject for translation.

Link to the rest at Oxford English Dictionary

Booksellers Await Megyn Kelly Memoir ‘Settle for More’

6 August 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

Booksellers have high hopes for Fox News star Megyn Kelly’s coming memoir, “Settle for More,” which promises the behind-the-scenes scoop on her public feud with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

While the memoir was expected to be of interest because of the Trump material, booksellers say any revelations related to her former Fox News boss Roger Ailes would make it a more sought-after read. Mr. Ailes resigned last month in the wake of sexual harassment allegations after 20 years with the network.

“If this book is her memoir, it will be hard not to have Roger Ailes in the book,” said Cindy Dach, co-owner and general manager of Changing Hands Bookstore, which has ordered the book for both of its stores in Tempe, Ariz., and Phoenix.

A person familiar with the matter said Ms. Kelly was paid an advance for the book in the ballpark of $6 million.

. . . .

Barnes & Noble predicts it will be “one of the biggest books of the year,” said Daisy Kline, the retailer’s vice president of books. Terry Finley, chief executive of Books-A-Million Inc., which has a heavy concentration of stores in Republican-leaning states where readers devour conservative titles, calls it a sure national best-seller.

A summary on the HarperCollins website promises “never-before-heard details” of the Republican debate Ms. Kelly moderated that set off a monthslong conflict with Mr. Trump, as well as a discussion of “how she approaches gender in the workplace.”

. . . .

“Reviewers tend to ask if there is a revelation here or not when it comes to a celebrity memoir,” said Mark LaFramboise, buyer for the Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C. “The hope is that there will be.”

. . . .

Ms. Kelly’s “Settle for More” has announced a first printing of two million copies, a large number by today’s standards and 500,000 more copies than HarperCollins initially printed of Sarah Palin’s 2009 best-seller “Going Rogue.

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

Can Mel Gibson Pull Off a Portrayal of OED Editor James Murray?

4 August 2016

From Slate:

The news came as something of a shock to the dictionary world: As announced in the Hollywood Reporter, Mel Gibson is set to star as James Augustus Henry Murray, the first principal editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, in an adaptation of Simon Winchester’s entertaining book, The Professor and the Madman, based on a true (but unbelievable) story.

Sean Penn is expected to play the titular madman, William Chester Minor, an American army surgeon who supplied Murray with countless citations for the OED from his cell in the Broadmoor insane asylum, where he was incarcerated after killing a man on the streets of London in 1872.

Penn as Minor is a reasonable bit of casting. But can Gibson pull off a portrayal of Murray, one of the patron saints of lexicography? Given his off-screen history of hateful comments, run-ins with the law, and alcohol abuse, he might strike moviegoers as more of a madman than a professor.

It turns out Gibson cast himself in the role, as he was the one to option Winchester’s book after it was first published in 1998.

. . . .

Gibson, an Americanized Australian, is difficult to picture as Murray, a mild-mannered Scottish philologist. In old photos, Murray grins wryly, framed by his academic cap and long white beard, typically surrounded by rows and rows of OED quotation slips in his Scriptorium.

Of course, when Gibson got the rights to The Professor and the Madman back in 1998, he was coming off a portrayal of another Scotsman, William Wallace in Braveheart. But Murray is no Wallace. You can’t imagine him bellowing, Braveheart style, “I am James Murray, and I see a whole army of my countrymen here in the service of lexicography. They make take our lives, but they’ll never take our headwords!”

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

The OP has a lovely photo of Professor Murray. Here’s another:


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