Sunday, March 2, 2014

Saving old research from trash vs. publishing new gibberish studies and Amazon payoffs

There are a variety of things happening in the world right now worth further scrutiny, but this juxaposition caught my eye:

FRAUD: 100 articles published in science journals are found to be gibberish
The real question, of course, is how these gobbledegook papers got past the publishers’ editors.

Monika Stickel, director of IEEE’s corporate communications, told Nature News that the publisher “took immediate action to remove the papers” and has “refined our processes to prevent papers not meeting our standards from being published in the future.”

LabbĂ© isn’t sure whether the purported authors even knew their names were attached to the fake papers. He tried to contact them but only one responded, saying he wasn’t aware that he was listed as co-author on a paper, at least not until his university was informed in 2013, HNGN reports.

He also noted that most the conferences that accepted fake research papers as well as most of the authors had Chinese affiliations.
Saving a Remnant
Lost to future students will be the experience of just staring at the library shelves, and seeing questions emerge from the many books present there.

Back in the 1950s, before there were cheap paperback versions of assigned texts, university libraries would purchase ten, twenty, or even thirty copies of a single book, for use in popular courses. It was sometimes easy to see, in perusing the stacks as a graduate student, that certain texts were foundational for a whole generation of students.

Because how does an intellectual historian really know how ideas are transmitted? How books are read and comprehended? Sales figures are weak measures, and are difficult to compare. Trying to discern what books are assigned by faculty, or read by students, are a significant indication of how ideas are disseminated. It’s kind of like how early television executives tried to figure out how many people were actually watching a TV show, before the Nielsen box. A crude measure that was actually used, was measuring municipal water pressure – flushes increased during commercials, and could be measured to the pint. Looking at a university stack and seeing thirty hardcover copies of, say The Meeting of East and West by F.S.C Northrop, meant that this was a key text for thousands of undergraduates.

And that was one of the first volumes I saw on the discard shelf, slated for withdrawal.

How could I ever assign an interested student a research topic on the alternatives to the Cold War in 1945-47, without knowing that Northrop’s book, and others like it, were readily available in our library? A Wikipedia generation does not wait for interlibrary loan.
History and science are seemingly separate disciplines, but these articles raise questions about who should generate and preserve what ideas at the academic level.

Especially as corporate computers algorithms replace the human curator's eye.

Amazon buried my novel: Those search algorithms are for sale
The first time I searched for my novel, nothing came back. A couple weeks later, same thing. But then, after my third or fourth attempt, success.

To a point.

I typed in the title — “SWEETNESS #9″ — thinking I’d only have to put in a few letters before the search engine would autocomplete it. Not so. Next, thinking the computer might need a little help, I added my name: STEPHAN EIRIK CLARK. Then I hit ENTER, and though my novel did come up, it was at the end of a very long list of books, all of them related. Maybe you’ve read one or two?

Sweet Valley High? Sweet Valley High?

I felt ready to channel the words of the great unifier, Jonathan Franzen. “I’m writing in the high-art literary tradition!” I wanted to scream at my computer. “And you’re going to lump me in with “Sweet Valley High” and “Sweet Valley Confidential — The Sweet Life?”

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