Monday, 30 January 2012

The Elsevier Backlash

For some time there has been disquiet in the academic community about the publishing model of many scholarly journals.  The issue is basically that academic research work, often funded ultimately by the taxpayer, is given, for free, with a transfer of copyright, to a publisher who will send it out for unpaid peer review, and then publish it, charging libraries enormous sums for the privilege.

The argument goes, or at least went, that it is actually rather expensive to prepare, typeset, proof-read and print scientific articles in relatively small volumes.  This is surely becoming year-on-year less and less the case.  For some time, those writing the articles provide effectively camera-ready copy, and articles can be most conveniently distributed electronically.

The low-level antipathy towards some publishers seems to have become stronger recently particularly due to their support of some legislation in the US that will negatively impact researchers' ability to disseminate open-access versions of articles they write, as increasingly required by funding agencies.   There is an informative blog post about it here, with many comments, and a pledge campaign not to publish in, or referee for Elsevier publications has started.

I am pro-open access.  In some areas of physics, the ArXiv has become the standard means of producing final publications and academic debate.  That hasn't happened in nuclear physics, but I'm more than happy to send my papers to e.g. APS or IoP journals.  The most recent paper I sent off was to EPL in part because all nuclear and particle physics papers published there were open access, though I think that deal has ended.

There has been much discussion on the web about this issue, but I'd be interested to know what, in particular, the nuclear physics community thinks.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Overreaction over evacuation

According to a story in today's Independent it was the spine-chilling fear of an abandoned Tokyo that persuaded the Prime Minister to scrap nuclear power in Japan.  This came about because of a contingency plan to evacuate the city after the tsunami last year caused damage to the nuclear power plant in Fukushima.

It seems a bit of an over-reaction to base policy on worst-case scenario planning that never happened.  Still, probably not the first time a policy-maker has done something I find difficult to understand.

Monday, 16 January 2012

I Melt the Glass with my Forehead

I've spent some time this evening watching a documentary with the estimable title "I melt the glass with my forehead".  It's about the (mostly) recent history of the route to moving to £9000 tuition fees for University education in England.  I don't agree with all the commentators necessarily, but it seems pretty reasonable, and is quite damning of the process.  It's slightly more equivocal about the outcome, but not a great deal.

I'm no fan of the new system.  I found myself chiming with the quoted words of Lord Robbins, chair of an old review of higher education, who said that he thought education should be available to all who need it.  I don't see higher education as a commodity, as if it were only a matter of getting training to get a higher salary, and that no other benefit to society as a whole were gained.  Or as if there were a dividing line between A-level and a degree, after which education is selfish. This is the most insidious point in all the arguments that are ever made, I think.  One commentator in the documentary said that Oxford could charge £25k fees, so students there were effectively being subsidised.  I doubt that I would have gone there from my comprehensive school if the fees were like that.  The market is not the only way to see the world.   If you really believe that the point of education is to make the people that have it richer, then support progressive taxation.  If you don't, stop using all that money from the poor hardworking families to support schools.

Stuff and Things

Part of doing research involves telling other scientists about your research.  A standard way of doing this is to write journal articles.  There are many things to say about the process and practice of writing in journals, from which journals you publish in, and why, to open access models, to the efficacy of peer review.  I'll try to get to those another time.

There are many journals out there, of varying quality and held in various levels of esteem by the science community, for reasons which are mostly reasonable, but probably sometimes spurious.  Journals would, in general, like to get good scientists to send their papers to them, and most journals will do a bit of advertising to encourage submission of articles.  I had a recent email from a journal which is quite young (on its second volume) and looking for people to submit articles.  The journal is called "Advances in Internet of Things." They've emailed me a few times, and I've mostly ignored the email, except to think "what a strange name for a journal," to myself.

It turns out that the phrase "internet of things" is a phrase with a particular meaning, which at least makes the journal title sound less ungrammatical.  What it actually means seems to be a little hard to find out.  There is a .eu website carrying the name.  It has a menu item entitled "what is the internet of things" but it doesn't give a straightforward answer.  It seems to be a way of thinking of turning the relation between anything into either a real or virtual network.  Maybe.  I wouldn't be so surprised if the whole thing were just a piece of hoaxy performance art.

At the very least, I don't think I'll be submitting a paper to the journal.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Imposter Syndrome

Ever felt like you're not really competent to do hard physics things?  Like someone is soon going to find you out?  It turns out to be a pretty common thing.  I wonder if it's more common amongst physicists.  Anyway, Peter Coles, who blogs under an anagrammatic version of his name as, umm, erect poles, I think, has a nice post about it here.

I have certainly felt this way.  The fact that I don't so much these days is probably less a change in how I think of my own abilities, which probably never go up in time, but more a realisation that I am not so different to others.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012


A tweet this morning reminded me about a new rail scheme which would have made travel to and from Heathrow much easier for lots of people - including me.  Heathrow is pretty close to Guildford, and I and many of my colleagues fly from there for our research trips.  The sad thing is, we all go there by road.  Even the public transport route involves getting the rail-air coach link at Woking.

Heathrow is very poorly linked to the train network, and things only seem to get better slowly.  The new station at Terminal 5 has helped a little, but it is still an airport that encourages road travel to get there.  It looks like the new high speed line proposal from London to the Midlands and beyond has already considered and ruled out a stop at Heathrow.  Too bad.

The Airtrack proposal would have linked Heathrow to nearby population centres (Reading, Woking, Guildford) with only a small amount of new track, but seems to have fallen foul of some people because it would involve more cars waiting at level crossings in posh parts of south-west London, and a reduction in car-parking spaces in Staines-on-Thames.  The main part of new track would have been in a meadow, though the track would have hugged the M25, which already goes through it.

I think it's a shame the project is not going ahead.  To a large extent for selfish reasons, but it seemed like such a good project.   Oh well.   Then there is also the matter of the fact that a train line runs right past the University here, then the major hospital, then the large research park, with nary a station in sight.  Time someone took my light rail scheme seriously :-)

Still, it could be worse.  At least there is a station within walking distance here.  I can never understand, when I go to Edinburgh airport on my way to St Andrews, why I have to get a bus into the city, to get a train to Leuchars that passes along the perimeter of the airport...