Science and Technology links (March 2nd, 2019)

  1. Shapiro in his book The New Childhood argues that we should stop worrying so much about how much time our kids spend on video games and on their phone. He calls for a pivot in how we view childhood:

    The procedural rhetoric of the classroom helped kids become accustomed to the organizational conventions of the Industrial Age meritocracy. They were primed for a world of corporate CEOs, rabbis, ministers, mayors, foremen, and bosses. They watched how classroom aides turned to teachers for validation, how teachers were required to treat condescending principals as experts, how principals acquiesced to administrators. The power dynamics of authority were obvious. And underneath, an implicitly hierarchical understanding of intelligence was simultaneously taking hold. Kids learned to imagine that information and knowledge are transmitted through pyramid schemes—disseminated downward and outward from a single point of authority. They learned to see socioeconomic status and professional achievement as indicators of superior character and wisdom. Intelligence became something you hoard, like wealth. Ideas were owned like property. And perhaps, at one time, this model was appropriate. But in a world of Google searches, Reddit forums, blog posts, and social news streams, the old steadfast devotion to an intellectual pecking order becomes a liability. Today’s learning routines need to be structured in horizontal ways that mimic the skill sets required to live a fulfilled and productive adult life in a connected world. Classrooms should be redesigned to resemble co-working spaces. A cohort of peers should be assessed collectively, their capacity to openly exchange knowledge and skills prioritized above individual achievement. Teachers should imagine themselves as Sherpas, who are available to guide students through self-directed project-based learning activities. The new educators are not experts, but rather curators of driplike and participatory intellectual engagements.

    He has a very “constructivist” take for those of us who are into educational theory.

  2. With a new release of Microsoft Excel, you can take a picture of a table (e.g., from a research article) and have it appear as spreadsheet.
  3. Professors typically do not get paid when they publish. In fact, the opposite is true. Publishers often ask the authors to pay publication fees while they ask the authors to relinguish all rights to the publisher. Furthermore, the publisher almost always sell access to the scientific publications to academic libraries. To be clear, this money almost always come from either the government (through research grants), but governments have done little to “regulate” publishers. Being a publisher can be a nice business. The University of California has decided to pull out of a subscription deal with one of the largest publisher (Elsevier). A few points are worth keeping in mind:
    • Just like we don’t want journalists to go away, we also want to maintain paid editors and support staff around academic publications. It reasonable that some of our research dollars end up in the pocket of people curating the research articles. Sadly, funding agencies are often not keen on openly funding scientific publications. That’s a mistake in my opinion.
    • The bulk of the power of publishers comes through copyright law. Copyright is granted by the state to authors. At any time governments could revise copyright law: I have long advocated that academic work should be free of copyright. What is the moral case for granting someone a nearly perpetual monopoly on a research paper funded entirely by the government? In any case, these authors, often either professors or students, turn around and grant this copyright, for free, to the publisher, knowing that the publisher will turn around and charge their own school (and government) for the right of access to this work. Even as government funding agencies ask professors to make their work accessible to the public, the compliance rate is often almost nil. Evidently, professors and students are complicit.
    • The system we have today evolved in large part thanks to librarians who supported the strict copyright policies benefiting publishers, above and beyond what the law prescribed. For example, many librarians are reticent to index academic work that does not come from “copyright holding” publisher.
    • A big deal is made of the fact that Elsevier is “for profit”. However, other organizations charge as much or more that Elsevier, such as IEEE or one of several university presses (e.g., Oxford). They use the same business model. In some cases, they can be worse. My own university once consulted me as to whether we should subscribe to IEEE journals, and I urged them not to: they charged us much more than Elsevier would. Discriminating between publishers based on whether or not they are “for profit” seems wrong: a better metric is whether they provide good value.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

3 thoughts on “Science and Technology links (March 2nd, 2019)”

  1. Just a quick note about IEEE and similar professional organizations. When I was in academia, although they asserted copyright, their policies were more permissive than Elsevier’s was. As an example, if I posted my paper to arxiv prior to it getting published in IEEE, they did not require me to remove the arxiv paper. They insisted only that the final published IEEE version (with their formatting, etc) not appear on arxiv.

    So yes, while they still charge high for journals, they are quite OK with authors posting their work elsewhere in tandem with publishing with them.

    (I assume things have not changed much since then).

    1. Elsevier explicitly allows you to post the submitted version (not the final, journal-edited version) on your website. They very explicitly allows arXiv submissions.

      The problem with authors posting on arXiv is not that journals and publishers go out of their way to prevent it. They do not. The real problem is that much of the literature would be locked up even if 99.9% of all papers going forward were on arXiv.

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