SciHub, Preprint and Peer Review

Kalev Leetaru, in Forbes, writing on SciHub, discusses new models for making research more widely available through preprint — the the version authors make available to be peer reviewed. 

In some of the preprint models being discussed, rather than immediately submitting their studies for blind peer review at a journal, authors would instead upload their draft papers for public access to a major preprint server, potentially along with the datasets and tools used. The community at large would then review and discuss the paper in open forums, with all commentary public and associated with their real names. Scholars from other fields and even members of the general public would also be able to weigh in, offering guidance such as raising ethics issues that may be unfamiliar to the field.

Successful papers might then be submitted to traditional journals with the preprint copy ensuring permanent open access or, under some models, journal publication would be eschewed all together and submitting to a preprint server would count as publication. Of course, minimizing the proliferation of scientifically unsound or fabricated works would require additional diligence under such a model and there would likely be uneven peer review, but it would at least bring the review process into the open and ensure that all papers are open access.



Isolation, the Void and Creativity

I was born in 1971 and grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It’s directly above Montana. It was a smaller town, but, mainly, it was isolated at a time when isolation meant something.

The other thing about where I grew up was that I lived in the suburbs. I grew up in a housing development on the edge of the prairie, which went north to nowhere. There were mountains to the west. It felt like we were on the edge of everything. There are good and bad parts of growing up in a void—and everyone has their own version of the void. There’s nothing wrong with a lack of input, and I somehow ended up liking all of the same stuff that everyone else likes. I found ways to be inspired, and I grew a capacity for looking inward and being self-sufficient. I by far see the positive sides of growing up isolated.

Truth is Factual and Emotional

The truth—not the fiction and not the imagination—matters if you’re going to write memoir. But let’s be clear about the truth. Truth is factual and emotional. The former must never be falsified. Indeed the more we adhere to what’s accurate, the more we get to the other side of the equation, the motional truth. Emotions, unlike facts are well armored against our glibness as storytellers. Not only do we fear the chaos of emotion, but there are protective, ritual-bound, secretive feelings others hold for us, many of which we carry, that may keep us from writing the truth about ourselves.

1606: Shakespeare and the Year of Lear

A short list of events that took place in London, England in 1606:

  • King James, originally from Scotland, attempts to force Parliament into the ‘Union’ of Scotland and England
  • King James requisitions new flag for ships of both countries, which later becomes known as Union Jack
  • The union proved unpopular with the English and the Scots, along with Parliament and Scottish clergy. Union between the two countries would not take place for another 100 years.
  • Ships sailed from London for what became England’s first colony in North America. (Stopping at Jamestown, Virginia.)
  • Most of the surviving members (including Guy Fawkes) of the gunpowder plot were executed. The plot was an assassination attempt of King James and most likely all sitting members of the House of Lords by a group of Catholic noblemen and military. It was to take place November 5, 1605, opening day of Parliament.
  • Work is hastened on an English translation of the Bible, known as King James Version.  
  • The Plague returned to London, slowly at first then spiking in July, forcing quarantines of the sick and the shuttering of all play houses and all public entertainment.   
  • Shakespeare’s company performs King Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra, all written by 42-year-old Shakespeare during this time.

All of these events, and others in great detail, are covered in James Shapiro’s 1606: Shakespeare and the Year of Lear. He argues, successfully, that the Bard may have written plays and used plots we may think as timeless, but he was very much grounded in the realities of his time:

At many points during 1606, English men and women must have felt overwhelmed. In an age in which there were as yet no newspapers (let alone radio, movies, television or an internet), the theatre was the one place where rich and poor could congregate and see enacted, through old or made0up stories, a redacted image of their own desires and anxieties. The stories Shakespeare told this year year enabled his playing company to rise to this challenge.

Violence and Extremism in the Sahel

Krishnadev Calamur, writing in The Atlantic, on the Wednesday, October 4 attack in Niger of three US soliders and one solider from an unnamed country. 

No one has yet claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack. The ambush occurred in the village of Tongo Tongo, about 125 miles north of Niamey, the capital, and about 20 miles from Niger’s border with Mali, where attacks by Islamist groups have surged in recent months, according to the UN. It’s unclear what U.S. training forces were doing in an area so close to a region with known militant activity.

“Where U.S. Special Forces operate in these parts of Africa, they are generally active in training,” Andrew Lebovich, a visiting fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations, told me. “But … this is where this incident in Tongo Tongo seems to sow some potential confusion: It was reportedly a training exercise very close to where jihadist groups are very active, forcing a response to the attack with the Nigerien counterparts.”

He added: “It does show how blurry these lines can be.”

Terrorism and Violent Extremism in Africa
Congressional Research Service, July 14, 2016  
[Thank you, Every CRS Report.] 

Conflict in Libya has spilled over its borders, generating new flows of arms and combatants into Tunisia and West Africa’s Sahel region. Instability in North Africa has also drawn African recruits seeking to join groups based in Libya, or seeking to transit through North Africa en route to other global hotspots. Mutual distrust among North and Sub-Saharan African governments has inhibited counterterrorism cooperation, as have bureaucratic divisions within some donor governments.

Violent Extremism in the Sahel
Center for Strategic & International Studies

In the last three years, both Boko Haram and AQIM have come under increasing pressure, a result of regional and international military interventions and a UN peacekeeping deployment into northern Mali; French forces in particular play a critical role across the region. Both extremist groups have suffered significant losses in men and matériel, and they no longer control or administer territory in their respective areas.

However, there is a very long way to go before the appeal and the threat of violent extremism in the West African Sahel is suppressed. Violent extremist groups, particularly in Mali and the upper Sahel, are just some of the many armed and militant groups competing and collaborating in pursuit of personal, ethnic, social, regional, and economic interests. Extremist groups blend with a broader infrastructure of competition, conflict, and insecurity and cannot be understood—or addressed—in isolation from it.

Governments of the region counter these extremist threats predominantly through military force, without committing to tackling the drivers of militancy or changing how they connect with their citizens in marginalized communities. External partners should avoid reinforcing a singular emphasis on military solutions that only enables national governments to sidestep the difficult path of accountability and reform. At the same time, military services need more training, appropriate equipment, and professionalization for occasions requiring force.

Kazuo Ishiguro on 'The Remains of the Day'

I would, for a four-week period, ruthlessly clear my diary and go on what we somewhat mysteriously called a “Crash”. During the Crash, I would do nothing but write from 9am to 10.30pm, Monday through Saturday. I’d get one hour off for lunch and two for dinner. I’d not see, let alone answer, any mail, and would not go near the phone. No one would come to the house. Lorna, despite her own busy schedule, would for this period do my share of the cooking and housework. In this way, so we hoped, I’d not only complete more work quantitively, but reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one.
This, fundamentally, was how The Remains of the Day was written. Throughout the Crash, I wrote free-hand, not caring about the style or if something I wrote in the afternoon contradicted something I’d established in the story that morning. The priority was simply to get the ideas surfacing and growing. Awful sentences, hideous dialogue, scenes that went nowhere – I let them remain and ploughed on.

I just finished The Remains of the Day, the first time I’ve ever read Ishiguro.  To say this book inhabit its own world is an understatement. 

There are certain members of our professional who would have it that it ultimately makes little difference what sort of employer one serves; who believe that the sort of idealism prevalent amongst our generation — namely the notion that we butlers should aspire to serve those great gentlemen who further the cause of humanity — is just high-flown talk with no grounding in reality. It is of course noticeable that the individuals who express such skepticism invariable turns out to be the most mediocre in our profession — those who know they lack the ability to progress to any position of note and who aspire only to drag as many down to their own level as possible — and one is hardly tempted to take such opinions seriously. But for all that, it is still satisfying to be able to point to instances in one’s career that highlight very clearly how wrong such people are. Of course, one seeks to provide a general, sustained service to one’s employer, the value of which could never be reduced to a number of specific instances — such as that concerning Lord Halifax. But what I am saying is that it is these sorts of instances which over time come to symbolize an irrefutable fact; namely that one has had the privilege of practising one’s profession at the very fulcrum of great affairs. And one has a right, perhaps, to feel a satisfaction those content to serve mediocre employers will never know — the satisfaction of being able to say with some reason that one’s efforts, on however modest a way, comprise a contribution to the course of history. 

Traffic Congestion Impacting Employment?

5. With an extra long commute

It’s a red flag if the candidate is late to the interview. Especially if it’s due to a long drive. I also worry if the candidate complains about the commute, parking, or traffic. I’ve had a few good people quit after only a few weeks on the job because the commute was just too much. Some people can handle the extra time or will move for the right opportunity, but many will be repeatedly late for work, or just quit.

These short timers may not be alone. According to the 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard[pdf], the average auto commuter spent 42 hours on their commute per year. IN 1982, that number was 18 hours. 

In 2014, congestion caused urban Americans to travel an extra 6.9 billion hours and purchase an extra 3.1 billion gallons of fuel for a congestion cost of $1 60 billion. Trucks account for $28 billion (17 percent ) of that cost, much more than their 7 percent of traffic .

Short History of Library Marketing in Nigeria

There used to be mobile library services in both primary and secondary, in the 1960s, before the Nigerian-Biafrian Civil war. Library materials, books mainly then was available for borrowing, and even taken to very remote rural schools. Educational films were sometimes shown. As stated earlier, traditional libraries were involved in CAS [Current Awareness Services], SDI [Selective Dissemination of Information] etc. All these were stand-alone or analogue library service delivery.

The piece also has some good ideas on marketing academic libraries today. 

Where is the Unizik Library at Nnamdi Azikiwe University?



Banned Book Reading (and Links)

1. This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Reasons: challenged because it includes LGBT characters, drug use and profanity, and it was considered sexually explicit with mature themes 2. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: challenged because it includes LGBT characters, was deemed sexually explicit, and was considered to have an offensive political viewpoint
3. George written by Alex Gino Reasons: challenged because it includes a transgender child, and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels”
4. I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas Reasons: challenged because it portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints
5. Two Boys Kissing written by David Levithan Reasons: challenged because its cover has an image of two boys kissing, and it was considered to include sexually explicit LGBT content
6. Looking for Alaska written by John Green Reasons: challenged for a sexually explicit scene that may lead a student to “sexual experimentation”
7. Big Hard Sex Criminals written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky Reason: challenged because it was considered sexually explicit
8. Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread written by Chuck Palahniuk Reasons: challenged for profanity, sexual explicitness, and being “disgusting and all around offensive”
9. Little Bill (series) written by Bill Cosby and and illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood Reason: challenged because of criminal sexual allegations against the author
10. Eleanor & Park written by Rainbow Rowell Reason: challenged for offensive language

Did Leonardo da Vinci draw nude Mona Lisa?

A nude sketch that bears a striking resemblance to the Mona Lisa may have been drawn by Leonardo da Vinci, experts have said.

Scientists at the Louvre in Paris, where the painting is held, have been examining a charcoal drawing known as the Monna Vanna, which had been attributed to the Florentine master’s studio.

The large drawing has been held since 1862 in the huge collection of Renaissance art at the Conde Museum, in the palace of Chantilly, north of the French capital.

After a month of tests, curators believe the sketch is at least in part by Leonardo. “The drawing has a quality in the way the face and hands are rendered that is truly remarkable. It is not a pale copy,” said curator Mathieu Deldicque.

You can see the image here

Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran

"What follows is not the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran. That would be presumptuous if not impossible for a foreign reporter to write,” writes Laura Secor in her introduction to Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran. "This is a book about real people, some more famous or more admirable than others, but people whose complex and imperfect lives illuminate the passages through which they’ve traveled. There are no American protagonists and no American policy prescriptions. It is a book about Iranians, and it is a history—a hidden history, for the most part, of a powerful and protean current in the political and intellectual life of a nation."

What follows is nearly 500 pages that intermingle personal and pubic history, starting in the decade before the Iranian Revolution and going through the Green Movement of 2009-2010. She follows people from different walks of life, some women, but many men (at least in the early years), who in their own ways are patriots driven against a system that slowly chokes off not just dissent but almost any free expression. The book’s talent lies not in the big picture explanations, but in Secor's ability to make universal these nuanced biographical sketches. 

Were human rights workers in other countries better prepared, better trained? Asieh didn’t know. But she couldn’t imagine circumstances more chaotic than those that prevailed in Iran. She had become deeply enmeshed with the subjects of her research, she reflected in her letter. Delara, Atefah, and others peopled her dreams. She had sat alongside mothers and the scaffolds of their sons. She had no models, no mentors, no handbook to follow that might have cautioned her to keep her distance or flagged the signs of her coming collapse. 

“The truth is that we work on a remote island,” she wrote. “We are alone. I realized this while I was staring at the ceiling for two months with painful eyes.” 

But this does not mean Secor relies on the quotidian. The book—especially when viewing the days of the Revolution and the decade that followed—covers the unbelievably abstract, philosophical squabbles amongst factions. 

Like many Iranian thinkers, [Abdolkarim] Soroush ruminated on the classic dilemma of his country—so classic that it had ossified into cliche: Iran, the country forever torn between tradition and modernity. Soroush reflected that it was not meaningful to speak of modernity as a state to be engineered or rejected: modernity, too, was multifarious and, perhaps more important, it was not planned or chosen so much as it was the unintended consequence of human endeavor. 

“We are neither modern nor traditional,” Soroush remarked. “We are neither here nor there. We are just feeling our way as if in darkness. Sometimes we see better, sometimes not.” 

What the Islamic Republic feared was already inside it. Iran’s reform movement had indeed borrowed from Weber, Habermas, and Rorty, but its ideology was self-taught, as authentic an outgrowth of the revolution as Ansar-e Hezbollah. Far from being guided by foreign masterminds, the reformist grappled publicly and contentiously with the strategic conundrums Iran’s unique political system had placed in their path. The West had neither the philosophers nor spymasters so capable of navigating that labyrinth, or so invested in the count come, as man like Mostafa Tajzadeh and Said Hajjarian. 

I can't recommend this book enough. 

'It's Really Hard to Cool Things': Air Conditioning in the Modern World

Tim Hartford talks to Derek Thompson of The Atlantic about his new book Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy. Their conversation begins with the air conditioner, where in New York City print shop workers tired of watching the building’s heat and humidity ruining their prints until a young engineer named Willis Carrier created a method to cool air moving over metal coils filled with compressed ammonia.  

Derek Thompson: Humans wanted to keep cool long before Carrier’s invention. But it’s sort of pathetic how we tried to do it. You describe the early 19th-century business of New England companies shipping large carved ice cubes insulated with sawdust around the country. New England literally exported ice the way Georgia exports peaches. There were even shortages during mild winters—“ice famines.”

Tim Harford: It was really hard to cool things! Before the invention of air-conditioning, you had to take something that was very cold and move it to places that were hot. And there were fascinating problems. For example, when the bodies of water that supplied the ice, like lakes, started getting polluted, the pollutants would be trapped in the pieces of ice. When they melted at their destination, it filled the air with unpleasant smells.

Thompson: Truly, thank God for Willis Carrier. The global effects of air-conditioning that you describe are mind-blowing. Air-conditioning transformed cities’ skylines, allowing for tall glassy skyscrapers that didn’t broil people in the top floors. It transformed demographics, allowing for migration in the U.S. to the Sun Belt, to Atlanta and Phoenix. By allowing politically conservative retirees to move south and west, you quote the author Steven Johnson saying that air-conditioning elected Ronald Reagan.

Harford: Yes, and it’s key to have a global perspective, too. This didn’t just reshape America. Air-conditioning reshaped the world. Places like Singapore and Shanghai are miserable when they’re hot and humid, but today they are global metropolises. There are studies saying that human productivity peaks around 70 degrees. That means that air-conditioning made us more productive, but also, by creating density in Singapore, it allows people to work longer and keep making the world a rich place. There is also the dark side of air-conditioning. You cool the temperature inside, but these units are energy-hungry, and they contribute to global warming.

Since that time, the air conditioning industry has become big business in the United States. And big energy users.  From the Buildings Energy Data Book by the US Department of Energy

  • Air conditioning makes up 10 percent of all housing energy use in the US, falling behind heating (37 percent) and water heating (12 percent) and right ahead of lighting (9 percent). 
  • In the three decades before 2009, energy consumption in all buildings (homes and commercial) increased by nearly half.
  • Buildings now make up 41 percent of all US energy consumption. That’s compared to 30 percent of the industrial sector and 29 percent of the transportation sector. 

Who Ate Our Culture?

Tyler Cowen argues Facebook’s problem is that it makes it too easy for us to be ‘superficially social’ by stripping it away from the deeper social cultural context: 

Consider how social networks have taken a lot of the power away from popular music. Formerly, young people used music to signal who they were and to which social circles they wanted to belong. If you were a feminist in the late 1990s, you might listen to Indigo Girls and trade Sarah McLachlan CDs and go to Lilith Fair concerts. But today you can just make a few clicks to show your views with a Planned Parenthood support banner over your Facebook profile photo.
People have hardly stopped listening to music, but music is less moored to our social attachments, and it doesn’t seem to have the cultural force or social influence or political meaning of earlier times. Pop music has been in the ascendancy, and, outside of rap, protest music is less important. From the charts you hardly would know we are living in the time of Trump.
When social context was front and center, as in the older world of mainstream media, fake news was harder to pull off. For all their flaws, major, well-funded newspapers and somewhat boring television networks helped knit Americans together, and most people had a sense of the borders of what kind of reporting lapses might be possible or not. When Facebook brings you directly to “the news,” without much cultural intermediation, the risk of outright lies rises, and it is less clear which pieces of reporting have been through credible external scrutiny. In essence, Facebook makes it too easy for us to communicate without the background social production of context.

Perhaps these are two different arguments, but I wonder, though, if in questioning Facebook's power we're still fighting the last war. Maybe music -- and print media -- is no longer as culturally (and economically) relevant because people have moved on, and Facebook isn't the culprit, but it has certainly capitalized on their demise. 

Here's Bob Leftsetz on the sale of Rolling Stone

Now let’s credit Jann [Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone]. He started “Rolling Stone.” There were competitors, but they all failed. The power of the individual can never be underestimated.
But Steve Jobs eliminated the floppy and legacy ports.
And “Rolling Stone” refused to go online and looked no different than it ever was, as it turned into “Mojo,” albeit with crappier writing.
You can live on your heritage in the arts. Copyrights have value.
But not in tech. And not in news. You have to look forward, you have to destroy your past to have a future.
And Jann Wenner was living in the past.
Now don’t lament the sale and the eventual irrelevance. Because the magazine is already irrelevant. Music does not drive the culture, the oldster players don’t do anything new of value and although Matt Taibbi is a star, he’s in a ghetto of blah, like having Einstein preaching to six year olds.

Information Needs of Pregnant Women in Nigeria

A recent study in the  African Journal of Library, Archives & Information Science investigated the use of ICTs by 1001 mothers in Nigeria to access maternal and child health information from health workers. 

While the largest percentage of the mothers (45%) utilized ICTs for appointment reminders and 39% searched for information on mental health/emotional changes during pregnancy, 34% of respondents accessed family planning information. This beat out such timely subjects as medication in pregnancy, breast feeding and nutrition during pregnancy. 

The study, which piggybacked on existing eHealth projects throughout Nigeria, then tried to assess what actions the mothers took after using the ICTs for information gathering.  Researchers found 83% of mothers visited their registered clinic for health care. 

Bottom line: it seems that these patients are hunting for information on their own. 

A mother in Gombe State is reported as saying: 

I still use the television and radio a lot because I get more information and pictures. The information the matron gives during the clinic is not sufficient. When I call the nurse at the centre, we only talk for a short time because of airtime and sometimes nobody picks the call.

A mother in Imo state:

I get all the information I look for on the internet. I use the internet every day and I enjoy keeping up with tips concerning pregnancy and child care. I use this source for information that suits my immediate condition such as, why I see droplets of blood, how I can remain healthy, and how I should care for my unborn child. Sometimes, I try to find out how to determine the sex of my baby.

Here’s the citation for that study: Obasola, Oluwaseun I., and Iyabo M. Mabawonku. "Women's Use of Information and Communication Technology in Accessing Maternal and Child Health Information in Nigeria." African Journal of Library, Archives & Information Science 27.1 (2017).