CC licensing and open access


Here’s an example of how lim­it­a­tions through CC licences can change what you do with a paper.

I’m look­ing at an image. At first I thought to use it in a blog post about organic bat­ter­ies. I thought I could do that because the paper is open access, but the licence of the paper is BY-NC-ND. Taking an image from the paper and blog­ging about it is pretty much mak­ing a D of it. The ND for­bids deriv­at­ives, even if the point of the deriv­at­ive is to say “Hey go look at this paper!” The page for the image itself has no CC licence inform­a­tion, so it looks like the copy­right in the footer applies.

I can see why there’s the NC clause. This has its own prob­lems, like mak­ing it unus­able for things like Wikipedia, but I can see sense in it. But ND seems an odd clause for sci­entific papers. Surely (properly-credited) deriv­at­ive works are a good thing for sci­ent­ists? I can see there’s a reason for ND in artistic pro­tec­tion, but sci­ence papers gen­er­ally aren’t works of art. Are there good reas­ons for Nature to have the ND clause?

I’ve trimmed the image thumb­nail and descrip­tion from the link because they would be deriv­at­ive from ori­ginal paper.

#blog   #pub­lish­ing   #aca­demia  

Embedded Link

Lithium stor­age mech­an­isms in pur­purin based organic lith­ium ion bat­tery elec­trodes : Scientific Reports : Nature Publishing Group

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SciAm and Stonehenge


Scientific American has an art­icle on Stonehenge up this month. My first reac­tion would be dis­ap­point­ment if I’d bought a copy just to read the Stonehenge art­icle. It’s not bad, but there’s a lot of ideas being gen­er­ated by archae­olo­gists at the moment. The lack of space means that the three main pro­jects all get skimmed. I can see that it works for someone who hasn’t been fol­low­ing news at the site, but if you’re a henge nut it’ll add noth­ing new.

On the other hand, I did like the sup­ple­ment­ary mater­ial that SciAm has added online. This goes into a bit more detail about the work by Birmingham University. Adding this to the ori­ginal art­icle makes it a lot bet­ter. Instead of being stan­dalone, the ori­ginal art­icle works well as an intro­duc­tion to the addi­tional mater­ial. Without chan­ging a word in the ori­ginal my opin­ion has gone from dis­ap­point­ment to think­ing it’s actu­ally quite clever. It means the magazine’s web­site is more than a bro­chure for the art­icles, or a copy of them.

It’s also a crafty way of get­ting their advert­ising out on other people’s sites, but the wait (if the pre-load advert plays) is worth­while. The actual video is 5m40s.

How I published a book, thanks to The Open Laboratory

GIREP 2009 Proceedings cover
Available at Scribd & Lulu

I’ve been busy in August, and one of the things I’ve been work­ing on has been out for a couple of weeks and I for­got to blog it. I’ve pub­lished a book.

I haven’t writ­ten a book, or edited it or any­thing requir­ing any aca­demic input. I just worked on the pub­lish­ing. The book is the first volume of the Proceedings from the GIREP-EPEC and PHEC 2009 con­fer­ence. In English, it was a Physics Education con­fer­ence. I had noth­ing to do with the con­fer­ence, but my Head of Department men­tioned to a col­league at McMaster University that he was going to pub­lish a pro­ceed­ings volume and she remembered I’d worked on the cover for the first Open Laboratory book, and so must be an expert in publishing.

I’m not, but as Shawn Graham has shown, the actual pro­cess of pub­lish­ing a book via Lulu is easy and pain-free if you’re will­ing to make some com­prom­ises. The draw­backs are things like a lack of pro­fes­sional type­set­ting, but these days pub­lish­ers often insist on camera-ready copy any­way. There’s also no mar­ket­ing. For some con­fer­ence volumes this will be a line in a cata­logue and an email and, pos­sibly a dis­play at the next con­fer­ence meet­ing of the pre­vi­ous pro­ceed­ings. You do lose some help by bypassing a pub­lisher, but you can poten­tially gain a lot more too.

Firstly we set the price. We went quite high. The print ver­sion of the book is £20. That’s about 6p a page so it’s a sim­ilar cost to pho­to­copy­ing the book. It’s not extra­vag­antly high, but it’s higher than it strictly needs to be as we’ll also be mak­ing it avail­able via Amazon. We decided to do that because people are famil­iar with buy­ing a book from Amazon, they’re not so famil­iar with Lulu, even though it’s the same product. To release a book on Amazon we have to double the retail price, to allow their mar­gin. Despite this a 365 page aca­demic book could often be more than £50 so it’s a saving.

But we can do better.

The book is released with a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence and we’ve put the PDF up on Scribd. You can read and down­load it for free as a PDF. Print out the chapters you’re inter­ested in and leave the rest.

After two weeks we have 900 views and a few sales. It’s likely that it’s not 900 unique views, but it’s still not a bad res­ult for two weeks. In the Humanities print runs of 250 volumes are com­mon. I don’t know about the Sciences, where the pub­lic­a­tion cul­ture is dif­fer­ent any­way, but we have some­thing that I think will com­pete well in terms of read­er­ship in com­par­ison to a sim­ilar volume released via a tra­di­tional pub­lisher. It won’t be any­thing like as prof­it­able as a book pro­duced by a tra­di­tional pub­lisher, but none of the aca­dem­ics would see that profit any­way so for us that’s not an issue.

It’s also a lot faster to get to pub­lic­a­tion. Cheryl Hurkett did all the LaTeX work on the file and when she was ready she called me in. I registered her with Lulu and we set up a new pro­ject. We tried upload­ing a PDF out­put Lulu, but that didn’t work. So we sent the out­put to a .ps file instead. That con­ver­ted pain­lessly. The cover took a bit more muck­ing about as we went with a vari­ation on the stand­ard tem­plates, but the whole thing went from LaTeX to book on one Thursday. The only gripe we had was that you have to choose to get the free ISBN num­ber right at the start of the pro­ject, and once you have that num­ber your title is set. The book on the Lulu page is lis­ted with the work­ing title, which is pass­able for a first attempt but not good enough for volume 2.

There will be a volume 2, as we could show how simple the pub­lic­a­tion pro­cess was.

It’s not a pan­acea for all aca­demic pub­lish­ing. There are plenty of pub­lish­ers who do add value to a book. However, for con­fer­ence pro­ceed­ings the only reas­ons for choos­ing to pub­lish via a spe­cial­ist pub­lisher rather than Lulu are social. The aca­demic out­put is the same, it’s just that one is slower and more expens­ive and that’s the sys­tem we’re used to. The out­put can be traced dir­ectly back to Bora Zivkovic’s innov­a­tion with The Open Laboratory so his blog­ging is con­trib­ut­ing to an observ­able dif­fer­ence in the sci­entific process.

Debunking Academics


Duty Calls by xkcd

I have some sym­pathy with altern­at­ive archae­olo­gists when it comes to debunk­ing. It’s com­mon to see blog­gers debunk­ing their work, but not so much other aca­dem­ics. One reason for that could be that aca­dem­ics, doing their work as a pro­fes­sional job in spe­cial­ist domains aren’t likely to make as many mis­takes as an ama­teur with a the­ory that cov­ers a couple of thou­sand years and the entire globe. But that can only be half the story. Some blog­gers don’t cri­ti­cise other aca­dem­ics at all. Wouldn’t it be a bit odd that aca­dem­ics never make any mis­takes? What should you do when they do?

A couple of months ago, I read an odd paper, we’ll call it Paper A, for reas­ons that might become clear below. Author A made a very simple and basic math­em­at­ical error. Something a bit like mix­ing up a plus and a minus sign and con­clud­ing that the Great Pyramid was a hole around 150 metres deep. It wasn’t that bad, but the author thought the con­clu­sions flew in the face of everything known about a site. Still, the math­em­at­ics were con­clus­ive, so he had to go with it. There were more errors, but basic­ally the paper was given one big shove in the wrong dir­ec­tion, and the very intel­li­gent and cre­at­ive author tried to inter­pret the evid­ence to fit the math­em­at­ical cer­tainty. It was pub­lished in Journal A. How do you debunk that?

What I’ve done is sub­mit­ted a paper of my own point­ing out the error. Rather than shred the paper to bits, I’ve shown how any­one can make the mis­take of assum­ing a math­em­at­ical cer­tainty. The example I give is an idea I had that, after sev­eral months, I worked out was a Bad Idea — even if it looked con­vin­cing. I ima­gine I’ll annoy Author A, but I’ve tried to take the sting out of the rebut­tal. It’ll get a brief men­tion here if it gets pub­lished, and I’ll be able to host it on an insti­tu­tional repos­it­ory, or pos­sibly the uned­ited ver­sion on arXiv. I decided to sub­mit the rebut­tal as a paper and not a blog post here because the claim appeared in Journal A, so that’s the appro­pri­ate venue to dis­pute it in. Because the rebut­tal is under peer-review I’m hid­ing the name and so on to keep it anonym­ous. Sadly it’s easy to keep anonym­ous because it’s not made any pub­lic splash. This is a shame. It was a clever piece of think­ing and had a sexy con­clu­sion. If it had been sound then it would have deserved a lot more pub­lic attention.

The reason I bring it up today is that I’ve read a much worse paper today. Paper A had one big mis­take and the smal­ler ones ten­ded to fol­low from that. Paper B has at least two and I sus­pect three or more BIG errors. One is that the author has renamed a site. It makes it dif­fi­cult to track back the prior work on the site, and the bib­li­o­graphy doesn’t men­tion it. I wouldn’t blame the peer-reviewer if he thought no ser­i­ous work had been done on the site before this paper. Another prob­lem is the sci­entific method used in the invest­ig­a­tion. Have you ever laid on your back and made animal shapes from the clouds? If have you have, does that make you a zoolo­gist? If you think that’s a bit of a leap, you might have trouble with this paper.

Paper B gives me a prob­lem. I wrote the rebut­tal of Paper A, because it was close to the sort of thing I do. It is fairly well sugar-coated and hope­fully any­one read­ing it won’t simply assume author A is an idiot. Paper B is fur­ther from what I do, but still around one of my fields. It’s a lot worse.

So now I’m won­der­ing if I should be writ­ing a rebut­tal of Paper B, given that my rebut­tal of author A’s work wasn’t per­sonal and Paper A was not as bad. I think I can write some­thing ori­ginal rebut­ting Paper B, but I can also forsee drag­ging myself into a series of boil­er­plate neg­at­ive papers. It’s not my idea of fun. I think I can pull a mit­ig­at­ing factor out of it, with some effort. An altern­at­ive is to stick it up as a research blog­ging post. It that won’t be read by many people who read the ori­ginal paper and it’s giv­ing away some­thing that with a little more effort could be a paper on the CV.

Perhaps I think about it a dif­fer­ent way. Author A was worth my tal­ent, because Author A had some­thing intel­li­gent to say, even if it was fun­da­ment­ally flawed. Author B in con­trast could be a waste of time. You should insert a five-minute gap here, because while I’m writ­ing this some­thing else has occurred to me. Author B might be a waste of time, but Audience B isn’t. Audience B could have some inter­est­ing people in it. Perhaps a rebut­tal, if I can get the tone right, could be a way of net­work­ing with audi­ence B.

I haven’t decided where I’m going with Paper B yet. If I do write a paper, then I’ll still put up a sum­mary of the prob­lem if there’s no OA option.

Why PLoS?


I’ve pub­lished a paper with PLoS One which should be out today. The most com­mon ques­tion I’ve been asked so far is: Why there? I’m apply­ing for jobs in Archaeology and Ancient History, so why would I want to pub­lish in an online journal that hardly any­one in those fields has heard of? Surely pub­lish­ing in one of the big journ­als would be bet­ter? Here’s a few reasons.

  1. It’s fast.
    The paper was sub­mit­ted on the 8th of September and I got the accept­ance, sub­ject to revi­sions on the 30th of September. I wouldn’t be quite so happy if it had been rejec­ted, but you have to be pre­pared for that. The faster there’s a decision the quicker you can work on the revi­sions or else re-write for another journal. The rapid response means that I can cite the data in this paper in other papers imme­di­ately rather than delay­ing writ­ing about fur­ther work.
  2. It’s access­ible.
    Research might be inter­dis­cip­lin­ary, but not so many journ­als are. For this paper the altern­at­ives would be pub­lic­a­tion in spe­cial­ist archae­oastro­nomy, clas­sics, archae­ology or astro­nomy journ­als. I can do that and will do that in the future, but writ­ing for those journ­als means writ­ing for those spe­cific audi­ences. If they’re subscription-based they also lock out a large pro­por­tion of the poten­tial audi­ence. If an astro­nomer is in a uni­ver­sity without a clas­sics depart­ment then it’s going to be hard for him to get a copy of the paper. Likewise many uni­ver­sit­ies don’t carry archae­oastro­nomy journ­als. PLoS One gives me a plat­form to intro­duce the work and then I can pub­lish tailored art­icles devel­op­ing ideas in the spe­cial­ist journals.
  3. It opens con­ver­sa­tion.
    You can com­ment on the paper. So too can any­one else. This is par­tic­u­larly handy for inter­dis­cip­lin­ary work. I’m hop­ing the con­ver­sa­tion doesn’t end with this one paper. The article-based met­rics will included some of cita­tion search. Hopefully in a couple of years people read­ing this paper will be able to see where they can find cri­ti­cisms and devel­op­ments in other papers. That’s amaz­ingly use­ful for inter­dis­cip­lin­ary work where sub­sequent papers could be in journ­als in a vari­ety of disciplines.

I’ve decided some form of open-access is essen­tial for inter­dis­cip­lin­ary work. The paper stands or falls on whether or not the bino­mial dis­tri­bu­tion is the right tool for the task. That means for aca­demic hon­esty I have to sub­mit it to a journal where the I can be reas­on­ably sure it will be scru­tin­ised by people famil­iar with basic stat­ist­ics. Scientists might laugh at that as the math­em­at­ics in the paper is very simple. I think any clas­si­cist could fol­low it, but some could quite reas­on­ably be wary of it. Is it stat­ist­ical sleight-of-hand? They can read any com­ments left by stat­ist­i­cians or astro­nomers and judge how con­fid­ent they should be in the find­ings. Likewise people unfa­mil­iar with the Greek mater­ial can read the clas­si­cists’ and archae­olo­gists’ com­ments and see if the human aspect of the research is sound.

It’s also import­ant for me because I might learn some­thing, and indeed I did. This is a bet­ter paper post-review than it was when I sub­mit­ted it. I’ve re-thought how I pro­cess some of the data and that will have a pos­it­ive on the next pro­ject I do.

After going through the pro­cess I’m impressed with PLoS. I think I hit every bump in the sub­mis­sion pro­cess, most of it due to the order­ing of the paper being dif­fer­ent to how I would nor­mally write it. Still, the every­one was very help­ful along the way. If you’re a recent PhD or grad stu­dent with a need to put out some pub­lic­a­tions, I’d recom­mend pub­lish­ing with PLoS One. Of course I’m writ­ing this before I’ve seen how the paper has been received, so you can check on my art­icle met­rics your­self to see if it’s being read or else sunk into obscurity.

Bookmarks for 16th of November through to 18th of November


These are my links for 16th of November through 18th of November:

  • The Academic Journal Racket « In the Dark
    Telescoper explains how aca­demic pub­lish­ing works. The only thing that would improbe the post would be the theme from ‘The Naked Gun’ in the background.
  • A Case in Antiquities for ‘Finders Keepers’ — NYTimes​.com
    You can make argu­ments in favour of repat­ri­ation of antiquit­ies. You can make argue­ments against. Being on either side doesn’t make you inher­ently fool­ish. But when you write that the British Army took the Rosetta Stone from the French and “returned it to the British Museum” then some­thing has gone wrong. It’s prob­ably a case of moment­ary brain­fade rather than idiocy, but it mat­ters because the whole ques­tion of own­er­ship of the Rosetta Stone is about where it right­fully belongs. Using the word ‘returned’ builds in the assump­tion that all antiquit­ies are inher­ently British.
  • Notes & Queries; Sledges — Theoretical Structural Archaeology
    Geoff Carter con­cluded he didn’t have evid­ence for a stag­ger­ingly early cart shed in Poland. Could it have been a used to house a sledge? I’ve just real­ised I know abso­lutely noth­ing at all about the his­tory of sleds and sledges. Not only that, but I can’t recall much atten­tion being called to them in early pre­his­toric archae­ology other than when people want to talk about mov­ing mega­liths to Stonehenge. Yet Martha Murphy (guest blog­ging) shows there’s plenty of ques­tions to ask about neo­lithic transport.
  • British bank turns to treas­ure hunt­ing via @johnabartram
    Avast me hearties! Robert Fraser & Partners be scourin’ the high seas in search of booty. They be fundin’ Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. ter search the Caribbean fer Spanish gold. Arrr!
  • CRM Problem in Cadboro Bay « Northwest Coast Archaeology
    More on the prob­lems of pre­serving her­it­age in BC. Ancient buri­als have been scooped out of the ground, <em>after</em> an archae­olo­gical assessment.

Time and Mind launches — first issue free


I liked 3rd Stone, which was a magazine about all things mega­lithic in a middle ground between aca­dem­ics and the fringe. Unfortunately it had to close. The people behind it are back with the help of Berg and a new journal Time and Mind. I was going to say it’s a lot more expens­ive, but I’m not sure it is — £45 for six issues over two years in print, or £25 for a year. If you want the online ver­sion then you should be pre­pared to sac­ri­fice an internal organ (it’s £125 for a year) but the print fees seem more reas­on­able than a few other journ­als I could think of.

I haven’t had time to read it, so I can’t tell you if the magic has been lost or not. I am look­ing for­ward to read­ing Jeremy Harte’s The Devil on Dartmoor, which argues that the myths of the moors are the products of the Victorian tour­ist industry.

I sus­pect the paper which will grab the atten­tion of most people will be Benny Shanon’s on bib­lical drug use. A quick skim raises some pretty basic ques­tions about how you tackle how his­tor­ical record was cre­ated. If the text was writ­ten some dec­ades, cen­tur­ies or a mil­len­nium after the events described by people who weren’t liv­ing the same alleged eco­sys­tems then how reli­able is the text if you want to make a dia­gnosis? It’s pos­sible he tackles this and I missed it.

Fortunately you can check for your­self. You can read the first issue free.