Monday, December 9, 2013

Journals, Open Access, and the Cost of Knowledge

An article on slashdot brought to my attention that Elsevier--Academic Publisher and Intellectual Gangster--is going after authors for sharing their own work. According to the terms of their ridiculous agreements they are probably legally entitled to take this course of action. Of course, that doesn't make it right.

I haven't really written here before on the travesty that is academic publishing.  Once upon a time I was incredibly naive about it, thinking that it must function something like the way all other publishing works, just with less/no money involved for the author(s). When I found out what the actual terms of many publishers are like, I was appalled (note, they have improved, slightly, since then).

Don't be fooled by the use of Creative Commons for the Open Access version of Elsevier publications. To publish on the OA model with a big publisher costs a lot of money: as much as $5,000 for prestigious journals.  It's true that PLOS charges up to $2,900 to publish a paper, but they also don't turn around and charge $39 for access to said paper, or engage in shady journal bundling for institutions. The bulk of PLOS's funding comes from those fees, and they have a tiered pricing setup for those who cannot pay.

I recognize that journal publishers used to provide essential, vital services; to some extent, they still do. But the most important component of academic publishing--the review and critique of work by peers of the author in their field--is conducted by unpaid researchers. Yes, a nice layout is useful (though I'd argue the old print layouts are not optimum for the web and non-printed pdfs), and LaTeX is a pain in the ass for authors that aren't mathematicians or physicists. But libraries don't really want print copies anymore, and distribution on the web is relatively inexpensive (hence academic publishers making money hand over fist).

Frankly, I find the way the academic publishers have been stripping publications rights from authors and reaming institutions in pursuit of the bottom-line to be repellent. I'd greatly prefer to have no part of it.
I want to sign on with the boycott, and have nothing to do with them.

The problem is that I am a graduate student. I am expected to publish. And who publishes all the top journals in my field? Urban Ecosystems? Springer. Ecological Indicators? Elsevier. The other options are mostly with ESA, who--while getting better, and making an honest attempt to grapple with these problems--still could improve.  Little journals like Ecology and Society are less costly, and have reasonable copyright policies... and low impact factors.

So what can I do? I am frustrated by the fact that if I want to advance my career, I almost certainly have to deal with these companies, due to the narrow range of journals available.

What do you intended to do?

Friday, November 8, 2013


Hello again, kiddos.  Been a while, hasn't it?

I have been quite busy PhDing, and in particular working on an NSF grant.
Exciting times. I do have several blog posts I want to write, on the illusion of linearity in human systems, and other things.

Today, however, I created my ORCID account.
ORCID--no doubt intended to be read as "orchid", but seen by my brain as ORC ID--is a system for providing researchers with unique identifiers. Thus, if you are like me, and have an unbelievable common name (there are at least five researchers in the US and Canada with a name almost identical to mine, some of whom even work in similar fields), you can make sure that when someone is talking about your work, they mean YOUR work, and not someone who happens to have the same name.

The site also has a profile page for those who have ORCIDs where they will host a list of your works, and eventually things like grants, patents, and institutional affiliations.

My ORCID is below:

Friday, April 12, 2013

Spittballing on Human Habitat

(Note, this post represents me kicking these ideas around, and beginning an initial exploration of them... as such, it will not be heavily cited beyond what I think readers may need to understand a given point)

Recently, some thoughts have arisen in the lab I belong to about a different way to think of cities: as human habitat, modified by humans through all our ecological behavior to suit us.

It's a given that all species alter their habitat.  They may do this through herbivory, nest building, tunneling, alteration of biogeochemical cycles, even by changing the local climate.  The impacts of many species are relatively minor compared on their own.  A handful of species directly produce large changes in their environment through their behavior that other organisms have to reckon with.  Beavers, elephants, and humans spring to mind.  For the bulk of our few million years on the planet hominins have been no more of a force to reckon with than most other species.

Even after the emergence of Homo sapiens sapiens--possibly the most versatile and hardy animal to grace the face of the Earth--we didn't tend to have too outsize an impact.  We may have cleared some land, burned grasslands in a purposeful way, and eaten a number of species into extinction, but we have otherwise lived within our niche as omnivorous apex predators without massively disturbing the Earth at large.

This would largely seem to be because humans historically lived in a relatively integrated manner within other ecosystems, making both intensive and extensive use of resources as necessary, and often being highly mobile (whether residentially or logistically).  The high mobility and relatively small numbers of humans kept us from doing too much damage to the ecosystems we inhabited.  Our versatility and cleverness occasionally enabled us to abuse our surroundings in ways other species cannot.  After all, wolves can't switch to shellfish and tubers after all the giant flightless birds have been eaten.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Future Sound of Puget

As I mentioned the other day on my plus account, last Thursday we held a small conference on the Future of Puget Sound. The guest panelists were Amy Snover and Howard Frumkin from the University of Washington, the chief analyst technical fellow at Boeing, Bob Peterson, and Diana Gale of the Puget Sound Leadership Council (though she is also a lecturer at the Evans School of Public Affairs at UW).  Larry Susskind closed out the day with a keynote on collaborative decision-making methods.

Marina opened up the day by presenting a short talk on how deeply uncertainty is intertwined with our decision making processes, and how we may be going about the question of how to deal with it the wrong way.  Her argument is pretty simple, at its core:  We cannot pretend that we can dismiss uncertainty and reach an 'optimum' solution; rather we need to explore and embrace the uncertainty that is a part of our knowledge processes and try to find solutions that are robust and adaptive.

One of the tools for tackling this problem is scenario analysis, and Michal gave a brief (but very informative) presentation on the Snohomish Basin 2060 Scenarios as an introduction to this way of analyzing uncertainty.  The thing that makes scenario development interesting is how it combines quantitative technical knowledge derived from research, qualitative and quantitative local knowledge, a fistful of models, and synthesizes them into a series of digestible, diverging narratives.  The importance of narrative in presenting information to the public cannot be underestimated, as I have said before.

This was followed by a discussion from the panelists, who each gave a short statement about dealing with uncertainty in decision making, and then took questions.  Each of the panelists had a very distinct view of the world, but all tended to mention a point that I've heard before:  genuine dialog between participants in decision-making processes is key.  All of them tended to emphasize this for different reasons.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A long absence

So I haven't posted in rather a long while.

Mostly because I graduated from my Master's program, got married, was busy working on research, crammed everything I owned into a remarkably small steel box, and then moved across the country with two cats.  Did I mention I don't drive?

I do have an amazing wife, and some really stupendous friends, though.  And so after driving 3600 kilometers and hauling all the possessions up three flights of stairs and into a remarkably small apartment, I am now in Seattle.

The first two quarters of my PhD have been strange, as I haven't really been working on anything other than classes.  Before I left, I was a Teacher's Assistant and working on two or three research projects.  It's been strange to not have so many responsibilities.  However, had I had so many responsibilities to juggle after arriving here, my head would likely have caught on fire.  Which is generally viewed as a bad thing to have happen.

It's strange being here, still.  I can't identify most of the plants, and the winter was basically a long, mild autumn.  Except it didn't rain nearly as hard as it does in Indiana in November. Now things here are exploding with flowers.  It will take time to get used to the climate here.  I have taken a few pictures here and there, and might post some up soon.

I have gotten myself involved here and there with the war on Ivy, which I may also post about in more detail.  There's some (remarkably successful) groups in Seattle with very long term ecological vision.  Restoring the temperate rainforest isn't a short term task, it turns out.

I'll try to follow this up soon with some posts about the city, some pictures, and my plans for the PhD.
I might also try to follow up a bit on the Fukushima issue, as a lot of data is surfacing, and it's always fun to attract angry comments.