Friday, 24 October 2008

Publish and Be Wrong

For those of us interested in the scholarly journal literature, the recent piece in The Economist headed Publish and be Wrong, was particularly intriguing. The argument reported in the article is that of Neal Young, John Ioannidis and Omar Al-Ubaydli, writing in the Public Library of Science Medicine. "In economic theory the winner's curse refers to the idea that someone who places the winning bid in an auction may have paid too much." In the same way, with competition for space in the highest ranking journals, the winners could be those most likely to oversell themselves, it is argued. Or, are the editors of the world's most prestigious journals aware of the winner's curse and alert enough to its dangers to counteract them?

Dr Ioannidis is an epidemiologist who attracted attention three years ago for his suggestion that most published scientific research is wrong. Already, the issues have been taken up thoughtfully in Peter Suber's Open Access News, and a little more robustly by Stevan Harnad and others on the liblicense-l list, as well as by a cacophony of bloggers.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Word of the day

Today's word is lifewide, as used in recommendation 2 of the final report of the Australian ePortfolio Project. Lifewide is a term which parallels lifelong (as in "lifelong learning") using another adjective indicating dimension, and forming a runtogether. Browsing the Web, it's use is becoming quite common, most often in the eportfolio context. And there are only three uses recorded for an Australian search, one of them in a Swinburne thesis. Plenty of scope yet. And it was about time lifelong learning broke out of its straitjacket.

The scope for new coinages is as extensive as the number of relevant adjectives. Why not register www.lifedeep.com.au - now? It is still available, and Google is only able to locate a few hundred instances of its use to date. Or www.lifehigh.com.au - the international domain is gone, but the Australian domain is still available, and the term is almost brand new, hardly ever used.

The eportfolio report makes quite an interesting read, too. The next stage will be an eportfolio toolkit.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Venturous Australia

Last night Dr Terry Cutler gave a particularly engaging lecture for the Faculty of Business and Enterprise at Swinburne. He headed the Review of the National Innovation System, and the report of the review, entitled Venturousaustralia: building strength in innovation, was released by the Minister, Senator Kim Carr, on September 9. On the night, Terry was backed up by a panel consisting of Dr Richard Hames, Professor Murray Gillin and Professor Andrew Flitman, as well as lots of questions from the very interested audience.

Terry Cutler's consulting business, Cutler & Company, has been a Melbourne fixture for over a decade, as has Terry. I came across him as a member, briefly, of the Library Board of Victoria, and later when he did some work for the State Library of Victoria - a project on developing a new way of looking at the business of libraries.

Starting with a few basic if sometimes eclectic facts - did you know that out of 16,000 Australian centenary medals, four were for innovation? or that Australia has a massive trade deficit in intellectual property, and the deficit is widening? - the presentation took a high level approach to the issues in Australian innovation, without summarising or repeating the report.

Equally eclectic, but definitely heartwarming for libraries, was his reference to Australia's failure to enact legal deposit legislation for digital publications as a potential point of failure in our innovation system, and his comments on the neglect of national collections and their digitsation.

The presentation concluded with a cartoon, which took a minute or two to read and was headed "Innovation is all about incumbency and challenge" - itself a challenging statement for a room full of incumbent academics, as well as an incumbent university librarian.

I am not going to review what is becoming known as the Cutler Report, but please do download a copy. Ignore the copyright statement, which the principal author is constantly apologetic about. The report is meant to be read and then acted upon.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Word of the Day

Today's word is apologology, and thank you to The Economist, which claims to have coined the word. It describes the study of apologies, and an apologologist is one specialising in this study - specifically, Melissa Nobles of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

This is certainly relevant to Australia, which made a notable apology for an undoubted wrong which took place against Australia's indigenous people. But the article also notes the proliferation of apologies, which reduces their impact - the recent apology by the Danish minister for culture for the depredations of the Vikings in Ireland a millennium ago, for example. And some events are particularly rich fields for possible apologies - the example of Hank Paulson, the US treasury secretary and former head of Goldman Sachs was given.

Did the Economist coin the word? Alas, not quite. A Google search shows one previous use in the online universe, in a blog called Little Green Footballs.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Open Access and Research

Although this is not a word of the day entry, it does use two related expressions to bookend a very interesting conference, the Open Access and Research Conference, held in Brisbane on 24-25 September, and organised extremely effectively by Queensland University of Technology.

In one session, Professor Bernard Pailthorne of the University of Queensland asked a question about repositories of research data, along the lines of "do you really realise just how much storage space will be needed?" - an issue which he described as "deeply non-trivial." A very fair question, and quite an appropriate word of the day. A major focus of the conference was the management of research data.

Its antonym, from a a post by Professor Stevan Harnad on 1 October to the American Scientist Open Access Forum is "monumentally trivial", uttered in one of Stevan's regular sparring eposodes with Jean-Claude Gu├ędon. The discussion was about the meaning of the term postprint, and that was indeed a term which had come up at the conference. "Postprint" is a term in the harnadian vocabulary - although not in extensive use - to refer to a journal article which is identical to the published and refereed version, but not in the published format. Another major focus of the conference was open access repositories of research outputs, such as journal articles.

A good conference - the big picture from several angles, the Cutler Report (and Terry Cutler for good measure), repositories, research data, open access, eresearch infrastructure, legal issues, government policy, the ARC and NHMRC - even the large hadron collider made several appearances.

I will put out a post on harnadian as a word of the day, too, since I raised the topic.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Word of the day

Today's word is DiReCt, which I understand is a relatively new service developed by the University of Southern Queensland, a kind of digital reserve or course readings service. Thank you to the Australian Library News for the reference. It is an acronymn for Digital Resource Collection using a mixture of capital letters and lower case letters, as many such acronyms do nowadays.


The word is provided here as an object lesson in the principle that, in spelling words, the big letters go at the front, and the little letters follow them. This is a pretty simple principle, one would think. It can be modified sometimes to use just big letters, especially in acronyms. Mingling upper and lower case letters to demonstrate the origin of an acronym - rathering than going for nice clean typography - is a practice which has proliferated in recent times. If it had existed in the past, then we would have had such things as MaRC and GeStaPo.


There is a nice article on acronyms and initialisms in Wikipedia. It has one defect - in the section on use of upper and lower case, there is no discussion of mixed case acronyms such as this word of the day. So here are four reasons not to use mixed case acronyms: (1) they look ugly, (2) they take slightly longer to type, (3) they look laboured and pretentious, and (4) case still often matters in searching.

Please feel free to send me your favourite examples of mixed case acronyms, and I will develop the argument further.
And please enjoy October. Its a very nice month, especially down here in Victoria.