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Archive for the ‘academic’ Category

There’s a great discussion going on over at the Empirical Legal Studies blog, where legal scholars are thinking about the merits, problems and functions of law reviews. This forum was prompted by research by Jason Nance and Dylan Steinberg, “The Law Review Article Selection Process: Results from a National Study.” Many of the points apply equally well to scholarshp in Canada.

My thoughts parallel those of Benjamin Barton, who had this to say (in post #5, with emphasis added) on the incongruity of faculty complaints about student editors:

First, there are so many student-edited law reviews that it is not an exaggeration to say that virtually anything a law professor writes that is in English and makes some vague sense can and will be published. This is an enormous comparative advantage for a law faculty member over other disciplines, since a law professor can remain “productive” regardless of whether their work is relevant or even particularly good.

Second, having students edit most of the work means that law professors do not have to. Being a reviewer for a peer-edited journal (let alone being an editor) takes a great deal of time, and is in many ways a relatively thankless pain. The fact that student editors do the bulk of this work is a major benefit for law faculties.

Peer review in the law is an embarrassment to the discipline, and authors are coddled by overworked student editors who are intimidated by faculty. It needs to be fixed, and a look to how things are done in the humanities and social sciences would be a start – just make sure to take the open access path, so everyone can see the results of reform…

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Congratulations are due Professor Timothy Caulfield, who has been elected to the Royal Society of Canada. It is the highest honour to be given Canadian scientists and scholars, and is well deserved by this preeminent scholar of health law and policy.

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I’d like to direct you to a post by Benoit Hardy-Vallée, a U of Toronto philosopher of science interested in neuroethics and neuroeconomics. It is a nice discussion of the Knobe Effect, supported by a good list of references.

Take a look at some of the other posts as well, and subscribe to his RSS feed. Any blog that has a quote by Imre Lakatos as its motto has to be good, and this blog is of very high caliber indeed…

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The editor of Economic Inquiry hits a nerve with his decision to change the process of peer review at his journal. A combination of sloppy authorship and hyper-editorial referees means…

The system is broken. Consequently, Economic Inquiry is starting an experiment. In this experiment, an author can submit under a ‘no revisions’ policy.

Hat tip goes to Frank Cross at Empirical Legal Studies, where you can read the details. See also the discussion at Marginal Revolution, which directs us to take a look at a proposal for ‘as-is journal review’, something I’ve advocated in the past.

[T]he as-is review process re-establishes the basic roles of authors, referees and editors. For authors, the act of submitting a manuscript to a journal is to explore the possibility of getting their ideas published. This act does not imply an obligation to change any ideas against their will. For referees, their role is to advise editors regarding the publishability [sic] of manuscripts. This role does not come with the right to impose their own ideas on authors. For editors, their role is to decide whether to accept or reject a submitted manuscript, based on the recommendations of referees and their own reading. This role entails neither the right nor the obligation to help authors develop the manuscript to their satisfaction and to the satisfaction of referees.

  • Eric W. K. Tsang and Bruno S. Frey. The As-Is Journal Review Process: Let Authors Own Their Idea. Academy of Management Learning and Education (2007) 6:1 128. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=897708.

Simply put, an author’s work should stand on its merits. Advice on how to re-write and improve scholarly papers may be valuable, but re-drafting should be part of the writing process, not part of the publishing process.

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Michael Geist points to a Globe and Mail article about the open access movement. I would have liked more from the interview with University of Toronto’s head librarian – the two words about subscription costs (“It’s alarming”) probably distill a 20 minute conversation –  but it is good to see this in the popular press. It is also nice to see the humanities get a mention in a conversation about open access.

Yes, academe is in my blood…

That’s why I will take issue with two statements that appear in the piece. They come from both sides of the open access debate: the academics and the publishers. Let’s start with the academic perspective:

Prof. Guédon [professor of comparative literature at the University of Montreal ] predicts that attitude will change over the next five years as academics see the benefits of getting their work to a wider audience. “We don’t want to be in an ivory tower. We want to be relevant,” he says.

True. But open access is not a solution to the old problem of academic elitism and disengagement. Open access could improve academics’ work visibility beyond the ivory tower, but it probably won’t. People outside universities just aren’t interested in scholarship, and won’t be perusing SSRN, PLoS or PubMed Central on their lunch break.

The lesson: Access has nothing to do with relevance. Unless you write something The Public want to read, you stay in the ivory tower.

Even so, I can see some ways open access will encourage non-academics to use journals.

  1. Scholarship will transmute into culture. Journalists and authors will have increased access to subjects of interest to them and their audiences. Whether or not academic work will receive shoddy interpretation in the popular press is another question entirely.
  2. Education will drive interest. As more and more people attend universities where professors introduce students to open access resources, the ease of research will encourage graduates to consult topics of interest to them.
  3. Open access gives authors incentive to write on topics of wider interest. Public access to journals is an open door. Invite people inside. Do this by framing research within controversies, because conflict is inherently interesting. Do it by writing approachable prose. Do it by connecting your esoteric subject to a genuinely important question. Communicating why you love your subject can’t hurt.

Now it’s the publisher’s turn:

Mr. Velterop [director of open access for Springer] insists that open access will never have the clout of traditional houses. It’s like the difference between a Marks & Spencer suit and an Armani, he argues – journals cost a lot because the peer-review process is expensive, time-consuming and complicated.

The dinosaur publishers are right to be worried. They have a losing business model relying on the clout and prestige of brand names – a losing strategy when an academic can get their stamp of approval from a recognized alternative of similar quality. Reputations change as traditions wither and are replaced. How appropriate, then, that the publisher would turn to the fashion world for an analogy.

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RPM at Evolgen faces a dilemma. He wants to publish in an open access journal with PLoS but doesn’t have the resources to pay for the costs of publication, which are roughly equivalent to the price of a spiffy new iMac. A fee waiver is an option, but he thinks failing to pay the cost of his paper’s publication harms the open access movement.

I think he should go for the waiver – the participation of authors is as important to the open access movement as hard currency. Furthermore, hard data on the number of people who need to apply for a fee waiver gives the open access movement ammunition when it campaigns for funding.

This dilemma is an excellent reason for universities to provide open access grants and become institutional members whose faculty receive discounts. I’m proud the University of Alberta is one of four vanguard universities in Canada participating in the PLoS initiative, and I hope they are joined by many more soon.

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Today at ScienceBlogs there are a few posts of interest to science writers:

The Daily Transcript’s post, History and analysis of scientific publishing, comments on a interesting book with an overly long title, In Oldenburg’s Long Shadow: Librarians, Research Scientists, Publishers, and the Control of Scientific Publishing.

Recent posts to Adventures in Ethics and Science discuss science writing.

That first post refers to an old paper with an inflammatory title:

  • P. B. Medawar, Is the scientific paper fraudulent? Yes; it misrepresents scientific thought, Saturday Review, 1 August 1964, pp. 42-43.

The analysis of Medawar’s paper involves some fun philosophy of science – mostly Hemple and Popper on induction and inductivism. Medawar makes a great deal of the way scientific papers represent orthodox norms about scientific thinking, but I doubt researchers think scientific papers are supposed to convey norms of scientific deliberation. Still, I can’t help but think that papers representing scientific thinking would be a lot more fun to read, if only because they would break away from the structure involving:

  1. Introduction
  2. Background
  3. Methods
  4. Results
  5. Discussion

My suspicion is that scientists use this as a crutch, like high school (and university) students who cling to the dreaded 5 paragraph essay because it gives direction without requiring too much thought.

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