Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Doing away with formal peer review

The New York Times considers some efforts to do away with peer review and marshall the connectedness of the web.
The most pressing intellectual issue in the next decade is this tension between the insular, specialized world of expert scholarship and the open and free-wheeling exchange of information on the Web. “And academia ... is caught in the middle.”
I think making work publicly available online is Very Good (I do some of that myself). But doing away with peer review is a Bad Idea.

Peer review is a barrier to entry -- and that's a good thing. It's a sort of curated, walled garden of approved content. When I am working firmly within my area of expertise, I am comfortable evaluating the quality and representativeness of the papers I read. But sometimes -- more often than I would like -- I find myself well outside my area of expertise, and without a good sense of the lay of the land. Essay reviews and general resources like the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy are helpful, but peer reviewed journals are key. Someone with expertise has okayed that content. Peer review is a proxy for knowing I'm not wasting my time.

If peer review is to be done away with, something else must replace it. If curation can be crowdsourced on the internet, I'm for it -- I'm certainly not fond of waiting for referee reports. But moderated internet comments like these ones simply won't do.

Degrees of art-hood

But whereas it seems to make a very great deal of difference, for example, whether the Gypsy Girl that hangs in the Denon Wing in the Louvre is truly by Frans Hals, it makes no difference at all whether my copy of Hamlet is an authentic First Folio or a cheap paperback edition meant for schoolboys and girls. The words are the same [leaving aside scholarly debates about variants, etc.], and that is all that matters.... This makes music and literature purer art than painting and sculpture.
This seems like a category mistake. Perhaps the easy duplication makes for purer intellectual property, but not purer art.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Launch of Spontaneous Generations 4:1

I am extremely proud to announce the publication of the fourth instalment of Spontaneous Generation: A Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science. Here's the table of contents:

Vol 4, No 1 (2010): Scientific Instruments: Knowledge, Practice, and Culture

Table of Contents

Focused Discussion

Scientific Instruments: Knowledge, Practice, and Culture [Editor’s Introduction]PDF
Isaac Record1-7
The Challenge of Authenticating Scientific Objects in Museum Collections: Exposing the Forgery of a Moroccan Astrolabe Allegedly Dated 1845 CEPDF
Ingrid Hehmeyer8-20
People as Scientific InstrumentsPDF
Maarten Derksen21-29
Equipment for an ExperimentPDF
Rom Harré30-38
An Instrument for What? Digital Computers, Simulation and Scientific PracticePDF
Wendy S. Parker39-44
Great Pyramid Metrology and the Material Politics of BasaltPDF
Michael J. Barany45-60
Let Freeness Ring: The Canadian Standard Freeness Tester as Hegemonic EnginePDF
James Hull61-70
The Machine Speaks FalselyPDF
Allan Franklin71-84
Reading Measuring InstrumentsPDF
Mario Bunge85-93
Engineering RealitiesPDF
Davis Baird94-110
Conceptual Sea ChangesPDF
Paul Humphreys111-115
Extended Thing KnowledgePDF
Mathieu Charbonneau116-128
Otto in the Chinese RoomPDF
Philip Murray McCullough129-137
Humans not InstrumentsPDF
Harry Collins138-147
Apparatus and Experimentation RevisitedPDF
Trevor H. Levere148-154
Material Culture and the Dobsonian TelescopePDF
Jessica Ellen Sewell, Andrew Johnston155-162
Taming the “Publication Machine”: Generating Unity, Engaging the Trading ZonesPDF
François Thoreau, Maria Neicu163-172
Concepts as Tools in the Experimental Generation of Knowledge in Cognitive NeuropsychologyPDF
Uljana Feest173-190


Domesticating the Planets: Instruments and Practices in the Development of Planetary GeologyPDF
Matthew Benjamin Shindell191-230
“Old” Technology in New Hands: Instruments as Mediators of Interdisciplinary Learning in MicrofluidicsPDF
Dorothy Sutherland Olsen231-254


Out the Door: A Short History of the University of Toronto Collection of Historical Scientific InstrumentsPDF
Erich Weidenhammer, Michael Da Silva255-261


Ian Hesketh. Of Apes and Ancestors: Evolution, Christianity, and the Oxford DebatePDF
Sebastian Assenza262-265
Marc Lange. Laws and Lawmakers: Science, Metaphysics, and the Laws of NaturePDF
Christopher Belanger266-269
William Sims Bainbridge. The Warcraft Civilization: Social Science in a Virtual WorldPDF
Bruce J. Petrie270-272
Steven Shapin. The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern VocationPDF
Michael Cournoyea273-275
Learning From Artifacts: A Review of the “Reading Artifacts: Summer Institute in the Material Culture of Science,” Presented by The Canada Science and Technology Museum and Situating Science ClusterPDF
Jaipreet Virdi276-279
Aaron A. Cohen-Gadol and Dennis D. Spencer. The Legacy of Harvey Cushing: Profiles of Patient CarePDF
Delia Gavrus280-282
Adrian Parr. Hijacking SustainabilityPDF
R. Moore283-285
Eileen Crist and H. Bruce Rinker, eds. Gaia in Turmoil: Climate Change, Biodepletion and Earth Ethics in an Age of CrisisPDF
Julia Agapitos286-288
David Pantalony. Altered Sensations: Rudolph Koenig’s Acoustical Workshop in Nineteenth-Century ParisPDF
Sarah-Jane Patterson289-291
Michael Strevens. Depth: An Account of Scientific ExplanationPDF
Anthony Kulic292-299

ISSN: 1913-0465

On mosques and the World Trade Center

Irony abounds.

Via Alex Tabarrok (MR): The architect of the World Trade Center designed its plaza as "a mecca, a great relief from the narrow streets and sidewalks of the surrounding Wall Street area."
Yamasaki replicated the plan of Mecca's courtyard by creating a vast delineated square, isolated from the city's bustle by low colonnaded structures and capped by two enormous, perfectly square towers—minarets, really. Yamasaki's courtyard mimicked Mecca's assemblage of holy sites—the Qa'ba (a cube) containing the sacred stone, what some believe is the burial site of Hagar and Ishmael, and the holy spring—by including several sculptural features, including a fountain, and he anchored the composition in a radial circular pattern, similar to Mecca's.
View of a World Trade Center TowerView of the World Trade Center Plaza

There is much more in the original article, all fascinating.


via Marginal Revolution 

Robert Sloss predicted the iPhone in 1910
Well, more or less.  Or is it an iPad?  In 1910 Stoss published an essay called "The Wireless Century," intending to predict the world of 2010.  In this world everyone carries around a "wireless telegraph" which:
1. Serves as a telephone, the whole world over.
2. Either rings or vibrates in your pocket.
3. Can transmit any musical recording or performance with perfect clarity.
4. Can allow people to send each other photographs, across the entire world.
5. Can allow people to see the images of paintings, museums, etc. in distant locales.
6. No one will ever be alone again. 
7. Can serve as a means of payment, connecting people to their bank accounts and enabling payments (Japan is ahead of us here).
8. Can connect people to all newspapers, although Sloss predicted that people would prefer that the device read the paper aloud to them (not so much the case).
9. Can transmit documents to "thin tubes of ink," which will then print those documents in distant locales.
10. People will have a better sense of the poor, and of suffering, because they will have witnessed it through their device (not obviously true, at least not yet).
11. People will vote using their devices and this will empower democracy (nope).
12. Judicial testimonies will be performed over such devices, often from great distances.
13. People will order perfectly-fitting fashions from Paris; this guy should be in the Apps business.
14. Married couples will be much closer, and distance relationships will be closer and better.
15. Military targeting and military orders will become extremely precise.
The essay is reprinted in the Arthur Brehmer book Die Welt in 100 Jahren.  The book is interesting throughout; a bunch of the other writers thought in 2010 we would be fighting wars with large zeppelins.
I'm not even going to try predicting what will be the case for 2110.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

How do you feel?

Suppose a small red noise surrounds a concept that is faster than granite and bends like the distance. You want to wear its talents and drink its red. But you can't bend the view that your rushing is a pleasure and your texture sounds like the feel of aroma. Suddenly a noise drips into a clear blur and the wind feels tight. You see a three-pointed scent out of the corner of your head and your spine goes fresh. This must be the smoothness that everyone is so loudly ignoring. The secret rubs its way through your hair and is lost in a thin, green odor. 
From here. Comments indicate three major clusters of reaction:
1. Awesome.
2. Angry.
3. Confused.

Which are you?

How to misuse quantum mechanics

(I should probably not engage in making fun of quackery -- especially quantum mechanical quackery -- but every once in a while I like to indulge. Feel free to keep on walking.)

Look here for a great example.

Step 1. Be an expert in something other than quantum mechanics.
Robert Lanza is considered one of the leading scientists in the world. He is currently Chief Scientific Officer at Advanced Cell Technology, and a professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. He has several hundred publications and inventions, and over two dozen scientific books: among them, Principles of Tissue Engineering, which is recognized as the definitive reference in the field. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-lanza/#blogger_bio

Step 2. Read about one or two experiments in quantum mechanics. (N.B. It is easier if you read only press releases, but see also Step 7 for ways to misuse the words of QM experts.)

Step 3. Re-describe the experiment, preferably without referencing the paper itself. (That would just be confusing!)
In 2002, scientists carried out an amazing experiment, which showed that particles of light "photons" knew -- in advance −- what their distant twins would do in the future. They tested the communication between pairs of photons -- whether to be either a wave or a particle. Researchers stretched the distance one of the photons had to take to reach its detector, so that the other photon would hit its own detector first. The photons taking this path already finished their journeys -− they either collapse into a particle or don't before their twin encounters a scrambling device. Somehow, the particles acted on this information before it happened, and across distances instantaneously as if there was no space or time between them. They decided not to become particles before their twin ever encountered the scrambler.
Step 4. Go off the rails. The easiest way to do this is to take metaphorical language literally.
It doesn't matter how we set up the experiment. Our mind and its knowledge is the only thing that determines how they behave. Experiments consistently confirm these observer-dependent effects.
Step 5. Generalize liberally from your literalized metaphor.
But what about dinosaur fossils? Fossils are really no different than anything else in nature. For instance, the carbon atoms in your body are "fossils" created in the heart of exploding supernova stars. Bottom line: reality begins and ends with the observer. "We are participators," Wheeler said "in bringing about something of the universe in the distant past." Before his death, he stated that when observing light from a quasar, we set up a quantum observation on an enormously large scale. It means, he said, the measurements made on the light now, determines the path it took billions of years ago.
Congratulations! You've succeeded in founding a new pseudoscience!

Step 6. Be sure to give it a catchy name.
Biocentrism (BenBella Books) lays out Lanza's theory of everything.
Step 7. Use the Lie of Juxtaposition. Quote real experts and then restate your position. Pretend the quote has relevance to your claims.
"We must re-think all that we have ever learned about the past, human evolution and the nature of reality, if we are ever to find our true place in the cosmos," says Constance Hilliard, a historian of science at UNT. Choices you haven't made yet might determine which of your childhood friends are still alive, or whether your dog got hit by a car yesterday. In fact, you might even collapse realities that determine whether Noah's Ark sank. "The universe," said John Haldane, "is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."
Extra points for the errant Biblical reference. Nice job.

(Thanks to Greg for the original pointer.)

Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Less Feature

Scott Adams wants The Less Feature:
The other day I planned for a very simple trip from A to B. I started with Orbitz.... Over the next several hours I tried sorting by flight time, shortest route, and price. Then I tried JetBlue's site.... Then I tried United Airlines' site.... At some point in the process I crossed a line: The time to plan and book the trip took longer than it will take to fly across the entire country.
Worse yet, I don't have the slightest confidence that I got the best deal or the most convenient flight. And just to make things interesting, the flight's on-time rating is in the "rarely" range. That means I probably didn't book any flight at all....  
I would pay extra to have fewer travel choices.
(cf. Trader Joe's, which has 4,000 SKUs. Most supermarkets have 50,000.)

the secret to retail success

Straight from Kottke
A ringing bell instead of an intercom signals that more help is needed at the registers. Registers don't have conveyor belts or scales, and perishables are sold by unit instead of weight, speeding up checkout. Crew members aren't told the margins on products, so placement decisions are made based not on profits but on what's best for the shopper. Every employee works all aspects of the store, and if you ask where the roasted chestnuts are he'll walk you over instead of just saying "aisle five." Want to know what they taste like? He can probably tell you, and he might even open the bag on the spot for you to try.
That's Trader Joe's, of course.

Friday, 27 August 2010

net neutrality

On Google on (Wireless Non-) Net Neutrality
First, the wireless market is more competitive than the wireline market, given that consumers typically have more than just two providers to choose from. Second, because wireless networks employ airwaves, rather than wires, and share constrained capacity among many users, these carriers need to manage their networks more actively. Third, network and device openness is now beginning to take off as a significant business model in this space. In our proposal, we agreed that the best first step is for wireless providers to be fully transparent with users about how network traffic is managed to avoid congestion, or prioritized for certain applications and content.
 Step one of "don't be evil": don't put yourself in a situation where evil is an easy choice.

regulating freedom

For risks I can assess myself, I don't want regulations that prevent me from doing as I please. ... For risks I can't assess myself, I do want regulations that give me the confidence to do as I please. ... One kind of regulation makes me less free. The other kind makes me freer.

It isn't easy being green.

Scott Adams recounts some of the difficulties of building a green home.
Heating and cooling are the biggest energy thieves. And roofs and windows matter the most for heat transfer. Focus your research and budget there. Most of the information you find will come from manufacturers who have a financial interest in misleading you, and also of course from cartoonists who write opinion pieces after being misled by those same manufacturers. Good luck with your research.
It isn't just that manufacturers are misleading or that experts disagree. According to the New York Times, it's also that our intuitions aren't very good:

The top five behaviors listed by respondents as having a direct impact on energy savings (turning off the lights, riding a bike or using public transportation, changing the thermostat, “changing my lifestyle/not having children” and unplugging appliances or using them less) yield savings that are far outweighed by actions cited far less often, like driving a more fuel-efficient car.
The study is here.

In digest form: We focus on changing the way we move through the infrastructure of our lives, but we should focus on changing the infrastructure itself. Reducing our reliance on energy is good, replacing inefficient items with more efficient ones is better -- and you only have to do it once! But good luck figuring out the most effective changes to make.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Seeing reasons

Seeing reasons (Amy Kind on Jennifer Church): 
I can see the broken window, but can I also see why the window is broken?  In this ambitious and interesting paper, Church argues for an affirmative answer to this question.  Just as we can have perceptual knowledge of a state of affairs, so too can we have perceptual knowledge of the reason for that state of affairs.
Here is a key move:
Our experience of something as objective depends on our imagining alternative perspectives of it. Via the imagination, we can occupy perspectives and modalities different from the ones we are presently occupying, and it is these imaginings that serve to ground experiential objectivity.
The promise is to show that we can directly perceive reasons. Since the account entails that we automatically perceive alternatives, counterfactual accounts suddenly make all sorts of sense.

The challenge is to flesh out the mechanism in sufficient detail. (e.g., where do the alternatives come from? Plato's world of forms? Previous experience?)

In my view, explanation consists in the selection of one state of affairs from a specified set of possible states of affairs by giving evidence that meets specified acceptance standards. The key to understanding explanation, then, is in understanding how possibility spaces and acceptance standards are specified -- and these require a more detailed answer than Church seems to provide.

tornado made of fire

From, via.

good advice is hard to take

It is hard to be overworked by writing a book, by writing research articles or by playing golf. People are overworked dealing with email, context switching, money, and touchy relationships. This abundance of work makes people sad and boring. And this type of work tends to reproduce. The more you have, the more you will have. 

Our productivity will keep improving. I can write software faster and better than ever. I can research prior work with ease. I can ask fancy mathematical questions on the Web and get answers in minutes. Instead of investing back this productivity into more silly work, we need to get smarter:
  • Focus on the essential: programming great software, writing a fun book, a set of inspiring lecture notes or an insightful article.
  • Automate, reduce or delegate. Reduce is best: doing fewer things is cool!
  • A focus on money or on personal disputes makes you stupid. Yet, that’s where success often takes you. Watch out!
  • Airplanes pollute. Travel takes you away from your family. Cars pollute and make you fat. Do you need all that junk?
(The first three are essential. The last one seems like an injection of other aspects of lifestyle into what should be a narrow topic.)

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Links for 24 August

Greeks were tacky.
Lazy 20-somethings are now "emerging adults."
"Council hires ban bid taxi firm" -- one of the all-time great crash blossoms?
Jazz up your game of hangman.
Need some perspective?
Intelligent parking.  (Plus, a roundup of parking policy from MR)


On Neurath (from Jordi Cat).

Technology in teaching

Education is not an industry that benefits greatly, efficiency-wise, from technology. 
That is, educational efficiency is limited by brains, not computers. Although technology has helped in many areas of education (research, writing, etc.), it has remained flat in terms of actual learning. Why?
If it can’t help the professor teach a class, it’s not going to hold the cost of instruction to the level of inflation.

Who renders judgment?

Brian Leiter  doesn't like the "epistemic egalitarianism" of Wikipedia. Here he quotes Larry Sanger:
There was this attitude that experts should be disqualified [from participating] by the very fact that they had published on the subject—that because they had published, they were therefore biased.
The worry about epistemic egalitarianism is that true expertise is being missed or even suppressed. Leiter points to cases in which Wikipedians have 
overruled experts, and it is easy to equate this kind of egalitarianism with "teach the controversy," science-bashing movements, and other perversions.

Sanger gives a bit of context for where this attitude comes from:
There's a whole worldview that's shared by many programmersalthough not all of them, of courseand by many young intellectuals that I characterize as "epistemic egalitarianism." They're greatly offended by the idea that anyone might be regarded as more reliable on a given topic than everyone else. They feel that for everything to be as fair as possible and equal as possible, the only thing that ought to matter is the content [of a claim] itself, not its source.
Having been a programmer, I can attest to the prevalence of this attitude, and add that it is usually coupled with a naive sense of entitlement to render judgment -- and that both the attitude and the habit are hard to overcome. A contractarian might view the recognition of expertise as a voluntary ceding of autonomy to an authority. Programmers usually have radical views about intellectual property, so it should be no surprise that they have radical views about authority generally. (I suppose that, like programmers, philosophers tend toward epistemic egalitarianism (modulo a general discomfort with Heidegger).)

But nowhere in either the attitude of epistemic egalitarianism or the habit of rendering judgment is any support for the kind of anti-expertise Leiter is worried about. We can dismiss arguments that rely on claims to authority without dismissing arguments made by authorities.

Eric Schleisser defends epistemic egalitarianism (toward science-as-expert) for its public policy implications:
  1. Scientific authority can get willfully abused (Nazi medicine, eugenics, etc). But let's leave this aside.
  2. A. Scientific expertise is fairly narrow and it can easily be misapplied in public policy domains. B. Few scientific experts are trained in neighboring fields as to judge the interactions among their expertise and other experts.
  3. scientific expertise gets selected for by interested parties, including (alas) self-selection.
  4. scientific experts are normal rent-seeking agents. 
  5. When scientific experts get it wrong in matters of policy they do not tend to run the costs of their errors.

Note that none of these (2-4) points mean we should not seek expert advice or base policy on scientific knowledge. (The fifth one may incline us to be very cautious about scientific experts.) But points 2-4 do encourage transparency of the sort that EE insist on in order to let (skeptical) non-experts weigh in on and scrutinize expert authority in decision-making processes.
Scientists aren't (and shouldn't be) disinterested in the social or political implications of their studies. My own interests -- in the way things work, in money, in electronics -- led me to become an engineer. Changing interests -- in how we come to know things, in dialog, in scientific practice -- led me to switch tracks and become a philosopher. To pretend otherwise would be foolish. But the fact that I have held these and other interests does nothing to diminish (or inflate) whatever small contribution I have made (or will make) to those respective fields.

A key challenge for social epistemology (of science) is in determining what sort of group (of scientists) is entitled to make knowledge claims. Some typical criteria are publication, peer-review, consensus, and diversity. The first three recognize some basic institutions of science, while "diversity" defends against accusations of bias: the more diverse the group of individuals who assent to some claim, the more likely it will be that any possible objection will have been considered. I gather that this is supposed to follow from the diversity of interests that connect to their decision to join the group in question.

This diversity effect has always left me a bit uneasy. While I concede that a person's stance likely blinds them to alternatives, it need not do so. Biases can be overcome. One way to help overcome a particular bias in a group is to add people without said bias to the group. Another way is simply to point out the bias. That won't always work, but I wouldn't want to rule out the possibility.


Oh, McSweeney's! (via Uncertain Principles, I think)
When little Aiden toddled up our daughter Johanna and asked to play with her Elmo ball, he was, admittedly, very sweet and polite. I think his exact words were, "Have a ball, peas [sic]?" 
And I'm sure you were very proud of him for using his manners. 
To be sure, I was equally proud when Johanna yelled, "No! Looter!" right in his looter face, and then only marginally less proud when she sort of shoved him. 
The thing is, in this family we take the philosophies of Ayn Rand seriously.
It is probably best that philosophers are so often ignored by society at large.

8 signs a P≠NP proof is wrong


(N.B. I scheduled the next few posts to self-publish over the weekend while I was traveling. They didn't. Sorry for the then-dearth and present-glut.)

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Going Galt

Why have libertarians never built a utopia? Here.
... Libertopia would yield its residents a greatly reduced standard of living, compared to what they could get from a government. Of course, the ideal would be a nearby government jurisdiction that would provide the large-scale industry needed for a ready source of consumer goods, a home for contracted-in service providers, support for losers and so on, but would not be able to tax the Libertopians.
But once you think that you realise that a partial approach to this outcome already exists, and has millions of inhabitants across the US. They’re called suburban Republicans. The suburbs benefit from urban centers, but resist paying for them, mostly successfully. It’s not exactly Libertopia, but it’s obviously close enough to be more appealing than going Galt.

Monday, 16 August 2010

a nice couple of sentences

Fuelled by grass, the Mongol empire could be described as solar-powered; it was an empire of the land. Later empires, such as the British, moved by ship and were wind-powered, empires of the sea. The American empire, if it is an empire, runs on oil and is an empire of the air. On the world's largest landmass, Iraq is a main crossroads; most aspirants to empire eventually pass through there.
From Ian Frazier (The New Yorker) via Kottke.

Sunday, 15 August 2010


Charles Stross asks:
What is the minimum number of people you need in order to maintain (not necessarily to extend) our current level of technological civilization?
Stross expects the answer to fall between 100 million and 1 billion. A few commenters question his upper limit, which is based on the population of industrialized nations, because those nations exploit the rest of the world for its labor and natural resources. But most commenters question his lower limit, some expecting that even 1 million individuals (with the first generation properly selected) might be enough to be technologically self-sustaining.

I think a more interesting question is: what is the minimum number of people you need in order to maintain our current way of life?

I don't think a technological civilization can exist without, you know, civilization. And civilization means much more than technology. It also means janitors, politicians, beat cops, caretakers, librarians, athletes, judges, rock stars, journalists, and maybe even bloggers.



extinction of the labour class

Philip Greenspun wonders:

The U.S. has 15 million officially unemployed workers and additional tens of millions who aren’t working and aren’t looking for a job. Could these folks be the draft horses of the 21st century?

Here's the gist: worries about disappearing labor markets can probably be ignored; such worries are typical in times of technological change, but the reality is that in many cases demand for labor increases. But the nature of labor changes, and there are losers. Internal combustion engines eventually replaced draft horses in the early 20th century because the cost to operate engines dropped below the cost of feeding horses. Perhaps labor has now changed so that certain individuals simply haven't the capabilities to make it in the present market.

I have a fondness for outlandish comparisons, but even so, the comparison seems particularly crass. People aren't horses. There's an implication that these people don't deserve jobs because they don't have salable skills.

Let's take a closer look at the basic claim: there is a gap in the labor market large enough to swallow 5% of the population of the US. That is, these individuals are not qualified for the jobs that provide the level of compensation they desire. Furthermore, they are unwilling to take jobs that don't provide that level of compensation.

Now things seem more reasonable. If I lost my (hypothetical) $30,000/year job, I would be leery of replacing it with a (hypothetical) $15,000/year minimum wage job -- I wouldn't be able to pay my (hypothetical) bills. I'd keep looking.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Unlimited paid leave


Just like grad school!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Short stuff for 11 August

It appears Marc Hauser has been making things up. This sort of news just makes me sad.

What happens when you get rid of traffic lights? Order ensues. (M/R)

A graphical illustration of a PhD (via Uncertain Principles). If you're in grad school, spend a minute on the site -- it contains a number of good tips for writing PhD proposals, hunting jobs, and being productive.

A nice history of ecology. (via Evolving Thoughts)

I hate periodic tables of anything but elements. It is ironic, then, that a faux periodic table is so effective in organizing conceptual links between different kinds of visualizations (h/t Kottke).

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Should Journals Get Rid of "Revise and Resubmit"?

Leiter posts a reader question: Should Journals Get Rid of "Revise and Resubmit"?
"A philosopher writes: I think that journals should no longer give revise-and-resubmits. All decisions should be either accept or reject. A journal can certainly send an acceptance that reads 'we are pleased to accept your paper, and ask that you..."

Some reactions, from the obscure to the general:

  1. Revise & Resubmit is sometimes the grade editors give when they aren't happy with their referees. Despite appearances to the contrary, editors generally want to get a decision to authors in a timely manner. But sometimes, referees do not cooperate. Useless or capricious referees are a fact of life, but editors (who are known to referees) cannot always overrule their recommendation. An R&R can be a way out for editor and author, especially if the editor directs the author to make reasonable changes (but to ignore requests to write a different paper).
  2. There are occasions where an author (typically but not always new, or perhaps from an allied field) has jumped the gun and needs to spend more time with the paper before it can be published. Perhaps she has missed crucial literature or needs to add or remove sections before the paper is in the right form. In such cases, R&R is a signal that the journal wants the paper, and that the work IS worth undertaking.
    1. When referee reports make it clear that a paper is of high quality but not right for the journal, it should be rejected, with an explanation from the editor and (if possible) a pointer to the right journal. Referees and editors should never ask authors to write a different paper and submit that instead.
  3. An editor is typically looking for papers that are well-reasoned, interesting, original, and are responsive to existing literature. At top journals, they are also looking for papers that will stand the test of time. Papers can be rejected for offences to any or all of these sensibilities, and if possible, editors should say which.
    1. "Accept" (typically with minor revisions) means the paper is fundamentally sound, but would be improved with slight changes.
    2. "Reject" means the paper is fundamentally unsound, uninteresting, unoriginal, or unresponsive to the literature.
    3. "Revise and Resubmit" should be reserved for those papers whose research is there, but which have serious flaws. Usually, the editor has major concerns about the structure of the paper or its responsiveness to literature. (Papers that are unoriginal or uninteresting should be rejected so that the author can try elsewhere. These problems will not be solved with revisions.)