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April 29, 2012

[2b2k] Pyramid-shaped publishing model results in cheating on science?

Carl Zimmer has a fascinating article in the NYTimes, which is worth 1/10th of your NYT allotment. (Thank you for ironically illustrating the problem with trying to maintain knowledge as a scarce resource, NYT!)

Carl reports on what may be a growing phenomenon (or perhaps, as the article suggests, the bugs of the old system may just now be more apparent) of scientists fudging results in order to get published in the top journals. From my perspective the article provides yet another illustration how the old paper-based strictures on scientific knowledge caused by the scarcity of publishing outlets results not only in a reduction in the flow of knowledge, but a degradation of the quality of knowledge.

Unfortunately, the availability of online journals (many of which are peer-reviewed) may not reduce the problem much even though they open up the ol’ knowledge nozzle to 11 on the firehosedial. As we saw when the blogosphere first emerged, there is something like a natural tendency for networked ecosystems to create hubs with a lot of traffic, along with a very long tail. So, even with higher capacity hubs, there may still be some pressure to fudge results in order to get noticed by these hubs, especially since tenure decisions continue to place such high value on a narrow understanding of “impact.”

But: 1. With a larger aperture, there may be less pressure. 2. When readers are also commentators and raters, bad science may be uncovered faster and more often. Or so we can hope.

(There is the very beginnings of a Reddit discussion of Carl’s article here.)

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You score this movie

An indie movie launching in September is holding a contest to find four songs for four scenes that need musical backing.

The movie is We Made This Movie from Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman (creators of the TV show Ed; Rob is the Late Night with David Letterman producer). Because of the theme of the movie, they had the trailer produced by a high school student.

(Disclosure: I am an informal (= unpaid) marketing advisor to the project. I am also a Rob Burnett fanboy.)

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April 27, 2012

[2b2k] Libraries are platforms?

I’m at the DPLA Plenary meeting, heading toward the first public presentation — a status report — on the prototype DPLA platform we’ve been building at Berkman and the Library Innovation Lab. So, tons of intellectual stimulation, as well as a fair bit of stress.

The platform we’ve been building is a software platform, i.e., a set of data and services offered through an API so that developers can use it to build end-user applications, and so other sites can integrate DPLA data into their sites. But I’ve been thinking for the past few weeks about ways in which libraries can (and perhaps should) view themselves as platforms in a broader sense. I want to write about this more, but here’s an initial set of draft-y thoughts about platforms as a way of framing the library issue.

Libraries are attached to communities, whether local towns, universities, or other institutions. Traditionally, much of their value has been in providing access to knowledge and cultural objects of particular sorts (you know, like books and stuff). Libraries thus have been platforms for knowledge and culture: they provide a reliable, open resource that enable knowledge and culture to be developed and pursued.

As the content of knowledge and culture change from physical to digital (over time and never completely), perhaps it’s helpful to think about libraries in their abstract sense as platforms. What might a library platform look like in the age of digital networks?(An hour later: Note that this type of platform would be very different from what we’re working on for the DPLA.)

It would give its community open access to the objects of knowledge and culture. It would include physical spaces as a particularly valuable sort of node. But the platform would do much more. If the mission is to help the community develop and pursue knowledge and culture, it would certainly provide tools and services that enable communities to form around these objects. The platform would make public the work of local creators, and would provide contexts within which these works can be found, discussed, elaborated, and appropriated. It would provide an ecosystem in which ideas and conversations flow out and in, weaving objects into local meanings and lives. Of course it would allow the local culture to flourish while simultaneously connecting it with the rest of the world — ideally by beginning with linking it into other local library platforms.

This is obviously not a well-worked out idea. It also contains nothing that hasn’t been discussed for decades now. What I like about it (at least for now) is that a platform provides a positive metaphor for thinking about the value of libraries that both helps explain their traditional value, and their opportunity facing the future.

DPLA session beginning. Will post without rereading… (Hat tip to Tim O’Reilly who has been talking about government as a platform for a few years now.) (Later: Also, my friend and DPLA colleague Nate Hill blogged a couple of months ago about libraries as local publishing platforms.)

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April 25, 2012

A pleasant experience with the TSA

They say the way to succeed as a blogger is to use shocking headlines. Now you have mine.

And it’s true. This morning at the Seattle airport, I had a very pleasant experience going through Securty, and no, I am not referring to an especially loving pat-down. Because I am a Special Person, I got to go through the new TSA Pre screening…”pre” as in “pre-check.” (BTW, does the “pre-” really add anything in the word “pre-approved”?) They put you onto an extra-specially short line — you get pulled out of the First Class line to go on a yet-shorter line. There they tell you to keep your belt and shoes on, keep your laptop in your bag, leave the change in your pocket, and please feel free to keep your spring jacket on. They do want the cellphone to come out of your pocket. And then they put you through a plain old scanner that doesn’t take nude pictures of you and post them on the Internet on a Tranny Grannies page (a long story).

I was able to register for the TSA Pre program because I’d already gone through a pretty extensive screening to become part of the Global Entry program. The Global Entry program lets me go through Customs at some airports by sticking my head into a vending machine. I signed up for that program after getting a security clearance from the feds. If you are part of Global Entry, registering for the TSA Pre program just takes a quick trip to the Web. If you’re not, there’s some other process.

So, for Special People like me, the TSA Pre program is great. But it’s hardly a scalable solution. And, yes, I do feel like a traitor to species when I go on that specially short line. Still: It’s a specially short line! I’m only human!

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April 24, 2012

[2b2k][everythingismisc]“Big data for books”: Harvard puts metadata for 12M library items into the public domain

(Here’s a version of the text of a submission I just made to BoingBong through their “Submitterator”)

Harvard University has today put into the public domain (CC0) full bibliographic information about virtually all the 12M works in its 73 libraries. This is (I believe) the largest and most comprehensive such contribution. The metadata, in the standard MARC21 format, is available for bulk download from Harvard. The University also provided the data to the Digital Public Library of America’s prototype platform for programmatic access via an API. The aim is to make rich data about this cultural heritage openly available to the Web ecosystem so that developers can innovate, and so that other sites can draw upon it.

This is part of Harvard’s new Open Metadata policy which is VERY COOL.

Speaking for myself (see disclosure), I think this is a big deal. Library metadata has been jammed up by licenses and fear. Not only does this make accessible a very high percentage of the most consulted library items, I hope it will help break the floodgates.

(Disclosures: 1. I work in the Harvard Library and have been a very minor player in this process. The credit goes to the Harvard Library’s leaders and the Office of Scholarly Communication, who made this happen. Also: Robin Wendler. (next day:) Also, John Palfrey who initiated this entire thing. 2. I am the interim head of the DPLA prototype platform development team. So, yeah, I’m conflicted out the wazoo on this. But my wazoo and all the rest of me is very very happy today.)

Finally, note that Harvard asks that you respect community norms, including attributing the source of the metadata as appropriate. This holds as well for the data that comes from the OCLC, which is a valuable part of this collection.

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April 23, 2012

[2b2] Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 50 years later

The Chronicle of Higher Ed asked me to write a perspective on Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions since this is the 50th year since it was published. It’s now posted.

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April 22, 2012

April 21, 2012

The semi-transparent Prisoner’s Dilemma

A British game show that I never heard offers a version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. As the host explains at the beginning, if both contestants agree to split the pot, they split it. If one chooses to split and the other to steal, the stealer gets the whole thing. If they both choose to steal, they get nothing. So, here’s the clip in which one of the players injects a new variable. [SPOILERS IN THE REST OF THIS POST]

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Why does the guy on the right (Mr. Right) finally choose the way he does?

If Mr. Left believes that Mr. Right will Steal, then Mr. Left will Split, so Mr Right might as well Split. If Mr. Left thinks that Mr. Right will Split, then Mr. Left will Steal, so Mr. Right can either Split (so Mr. Left gets the pot) or Steal (so neither gets anything); might as well Split. If Mr. Left believes that Mr. Right will steal and will break his promise to split the pot afterwards, then Mr. Left might Steal just to screw Mr. Right, in which case Mr. Left might as well let Mr. Left get the money rather than foregoing it for both of them, so Mr. Right should Split. No matter how you slice it, Mr. Left should Split.

If that’s right, and if Mr. Left were given time to work it through, then Mr. Left should have Stolen (assuming his aim is to maximize his share). But I’m pretty sure that I’m wrong about that.

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April 20, 2012

Neelie Kroes: European Commission’s voice for the open Internet

Neelie Kroes is becoming one of the open Internet’s most influential supporters.

Kroes is Vice President of the European Commission and is responsible for its “digital agenda.” At the Forum d’Avignon I was at (see here and here) she was just about the only person in a positon of power — economic or regulatory — to suggest that the Internet is actually a good thing for culture, and that we need new ways to think about copyright and distribution. Yesterday she gave a speech at the World Wide Web Conference in Lyon in which she called for new thinking to support an open Internet. Most importantly, she explicitly recognized that openness is indeed the property from which the rest of the Net’s value springs.

That a leader of the EC responsible for the “digital agenda” understands this shouldn’t be news. But it is. She even cites Yochai Benkler. Go Neelie!

Her talk begins by nailing its main point:

The best thing about the Internet is that it is open. Indeed it’s built on the idea that every device can talk to every other, using a common, open language. That’s what explains its seemingly endless growth.

Exactly right! Thank you, I’ll be here all week, drive safe, and God bless.

She goes on to explain the many benefits openness brings: “…choice and competition; innovation and opportunity; freedom and democratic accountability.” “Look at what we could do if we opened up our public sectors and put their data online.” She touts open standards. She points to political benefits: “And just look at what openness can do for freedom of speech. The Internet gives a voice to the powerless, and holds the powerful to account.”

Then she turns to the factors that impede openness:

Sometimes the problem is ancient, pre-digital rules that we need to cut back or make more flexible. Other times, openness actually flows from strengthening regulation.

She goes on to say that sometimes it’s about changing a “mindset,” not changing the rules. She says that we need an environment were different models are available and can compete. For example, some people want open discussions and some want moderated forums. We should have all types so people can choose. Likewise, we should have many different business models. People who want to be compensated monetarily for their deserve to be, although many are happy to give away what they’ve created. She says:

Look at the complicating licensing systems for copyrighted material here in Europe. These guarantee that Europeans miss out on great content, they discourage business innovation, and they fail to serve the creative people in whose name they were established.

Woohoo!

After nodding to the need for security and privacy, she gets down to the infrastructure level:

…open competition, brought by the EU, has delivered for Europe. It offers consumers better deals and new, tailored services; market players new opportunities; and potential investors legal certainty.

She states her firm commitment to net neutrality. She is fine with having many market choices, including for cheaper plans that provide limited bandwidth, or access designed for specialized preferences. But, she says, there must always be truly open, neutral access, and she points to the BEREC study due in May that should tell us whether in Europe truly open access is being offered to everyone as an option.

Great speech, especially from a person in her position.

So, let me tell you my one concern. Kroes’ idea of openness means that the Net ecosystem should support the option for closed systems for those who want them: It needs to support copyright and it needs to support offerings from access providers that limit access. In theory there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when you try to engineer an open system to support closed options. So, even the most crazed copyright supporter (let’s just call him, oh I don’t know, “Sarkozy”) is happy to let people give away their own content if they should be nutty enough to want to do so. But to support the “equal and opposite” option of being able to sell content, Sarkozy wants to rejigger the entire system to prevent “piracy.” If you want to offer the closed option with sufficient rigor to prevent all violations, the system would need to become closed. Kroes is certainly not advocating that closure, but the piece I feel is missing from her talk is the recognition that the value of openness surpasses the value that would come from a system engineered to so scrupulously protect IP. We have to accept some degree of risk for IP in order to have the openness that brings us the values Kroes is so eloquent about.

Likewise, I have no problem with access providers offering plans with data caps or that throttle bandwidth (assuming they’re transparent about it); that does not violate my idea of net neutrality. But there are conceivable plans for “specialist user needs” (as Kroes calls them) that would be discriminatory: A plan that gives priority to the delivery of movies (for example) would give those movie bits priority over the non-movie bits that other users of the Net care about. Personally, I think the best protection for the open Internet is structural separation: access providers sell you access — including tiered services — but are not allowed to sell either content or services that discriminate among bits. I don’t know where Kroes stands on this, but again I would have preferred a clear statement about it.

But now I’m just being greedy. Neelie Kroes is an Internet champion at time when we desperately need one.

2 Comments »

April 16, 2012

Media reports its reaction as news…again

Secret Service scandal eclipses Obama trip

That’s the headline in USAToday. It’s typical of the news coverage of the Secret Service scandal before the President arrived in Colombia.

Let me fix that for you:

Media’s decision to focus on the Secret Service scandal eclipses Obama trip

The eclipse has only to do with how the media have chosen to cover the trip. And with headlines like the one in USAToday, the circle is complete: the media reporting on the media’s coverage as if they were actually reporting an event.

Sheesh.

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