Blog Archives

London Experience, Day 9: Oxford University Press

For July 2, the entire day was occupied by a visit to Oxford University, home to the famed “Oxford University Press.”

Much of the information presented was not particularly interesting to me; my parents and sister are the English majors.  We went over much about scholarly editions of literature such as Shakespeare, and the great work that goes into interpreting ancient texts, even those from more recent ancient history.

An example that sticks out in my mind is “Oh my too too solid flesh.” Wait, was that sullied? Or sordid? Hard to tell.  But through digital scholarship, you can leverage your current question against the works of others.  The digital version can provide rich footnotes.

This also brings up the point about providing context – because the digital version is always detatched from the real world, context is incredibly important.

Because Shakespeare had written about the solid flesh of a human being in an earlier play, either Macbeth or Hamlet, I forget which, the modern scholar can infer that it it’s most likely this sonnet was referencing the corporeal nature of a man.

There are certainly some technical challenges in providing context – it’s a lot more than making content “machine readable.” As pointed out early, “electronic” doesn’t really mean the same thing as “digital” when it comes to e-publishing.

Finally there were some more “science centric” points made at Oxford: namely, a discussion of the White House OSTP Consultation on Public Access to Federally Supported Research Output.

A link provided for further reading:

Some key pieces of legislature:

-Research Works Act (RWA)
Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA)
FASTR bill (access to federally funded research after 5 mo.)

Library Response: SHARE: Shared Access Research Ecosystem – network of cross institutional repositories.

Publisher Response: CHORUS: Clearing House for the Open Research of the U.S. (links to publisher’s websites)

London Experience, Day 8: Network Science in E-Publishing

On July 1 for the afternoon session, the UTK Science Data group visited Elsevier.  Elsevier is publisher of Lancet, a medical journal that has been around for a very long time.

We saw a picture of the journal’s founder, some fancy looking dude from the days of aristocratic scholarship. Given some of the pre-med students I studied biology with in undergrad, I think the aristocratic nature of medicine may still prevail.

He had a quote: “A lancet can be an arched window to let in the light or it can be a sharp surgical instrument to cut ot the dross and I intend to use it in both senses.”

Cutting out the dross: well doesn’t that just make you want to vomit. I guess this was before the time of snake oil.  An interesting point about publishing and medicine is that the stakes are a little higher.

True, medicine used to be practiced without anesthetics, and in galleries where one might watch someone be vivisected. But now, it’s a serious business.  And big business for Elsevier, if the chocolate cake and fruit kabobs were any indication of their success.  (More likely, British people are nice, and British publishers are especially nice to American library & information science students). But even if it is profitable to peddle the latest advances in medical information, there’s a certain responsibility to it.  Confidence intervals have to be a bit more… confident. Sample sizes need to be statistically significant.  P values are less circumspect. It is human beings we’re dealing with here, after all.

The role of the publisher in expanding medical knowledge is interesting.  I’d just recently learned of the concept of systematic reviews.  The publisher, plus the database, can actually make a contribution to medical knowledge by providing a mechanism for not only knowledge discovery, but knowledge synthesis.

This is perhaps reflected in Elsevier’s mission statement:

To help customers advance science and improve healthcare, by providing world class information and innovative solutions that enable customers to make critical decisions, enhance productivity, and improve outcomes.

What I find interesting is Elsevier almost seems detached here when they say “to help customers advance…” Or maybe they are just being modest.

However as an information professional and information scientist-in-training, I would not be so quick to step back from the contribution that the information system itself and the publishing mechanism that Elsevier supplies does not actually contribute to knowledge creation.

This may be a fundamental shift in thinking as the role of the librarian is redefined.  I often point out that my computer, which Apple says has the “most advanced operating system in the world” has a “system library.” Captain Kirk and Captain Picard both routinely accessed the library computer and library computer access and retrieval system in the 23 and 24 centuries, respectively.  Information systems are, at their core, digital libraries. And digital publishers are perhaps the first curators in the long line of information professionals that handle and do science with that content.

Next: some perspective that interested me – and to back up my claim that this publishing itself is a creative act and dataset unto its own:

30 million scientists
2,200 e-journals
365,000 articles

Elsevier products:
science direct
scival (terabytes of data)

Also notable is that Elsevier recently acquired mendeley and is behind some serious innovation of new libraries (e.g., n.c. index of state expertise).

Noted trend: SciVal spotlight; research is interdisciplinary (note I am specifically interested in the categories and how they assign them, e.g, “math & physics, chemistry, engineering, earth sciences, biology, biotechnology, infectious diseases… etc etc.
Image to use is “SciVal Spotlight, UK map”

Trend 4: research is increasingly data intensive across disciplines, driving demand to host, curate, and link to datasets.

Fascinating that “Research Articles” are high importance and high satisfaction, but “datasets, data models, algorithms and programs” are high importance but low satisfaction on a scale of importance of access on the x access and ease of access on the y axis.

Again, Elsevier has a pie chart showing “Our Scientific Disciplines” that I’d like to follow up on for the purposes of gauging collaboration networks.

Venn diagram for showing scopus has a total of 19,809, Web of science has 11,377 of those plus 934 outside Scopus.

Altmetric for scopus, “app powered by altmetric” shows mentions – perhaps an alternative for impact – with Facebook, blogs, interest, reedit, and tweets, among other platforms/metrics., based on the permis that “no one can resad everything” and “citation counting measures are useful, but not sufficient.”

Elsevier can preview bounding box for area of interest in paper, e.g., “Ontogenetic shift in schooling behavior of sardines, Sardina pilchardus).

Also, Elsevier uses Database linking. – offering access to relevant primary data.

London Experience, Day 2: Cultural Impact on E-Publishing?

Since settling in and prior to arrival, a key question on my mind is this: why is London, England such a center of publishing activity for scholarly journals?  Why might it be more advanced than in the United States?

Are there cultural differences, or has Europe simply been at the forefront of publishing for the longest?

Certainly there is a long tradition of academic scholarship in Europe – and Europe is the birthplace of publishing in the modern sense, of mass production and dissemination of printed material.

There are certainly an abundance of scholarly institutions – libraries, museums, universities – in and around London.  Great scholars from Newton to Darwin hail from England – Darwin is even on the 5 pound bank note here, and is buried in Westminster Abbey.  Egyptology, “natural philsophy” and medical arts were all in vogue in Europe – particularly London.

The Dutch Scientist Anton Von Leeuwenhauk in 1683 published a series of letters and pamphlets on his observations of small “animacules” via primitive lenses, precursor’s to today’s microscopes.  Who received his correspondence?  The Royal Society.

Not of Denmark. That’d be the Royal Society of London. So why was a Dutch scientist corresponding with the Royal Society?  Was it the only venue for scientific communication in Europe? Perhaps.  Founded in 1660, it was certainly the oldest, and in 1665 began publishing “Philosophical Transactions,” arguably the first scientific journal in the world.

So London clearly had an early start in the scientific publishing game. Two protestant states, Germany and England, seem to have a key role in the science communication story.  Perhaps because anywhere else, scientists risked excommunication?  Or, was English as the language of commerce the central focus of early science communication efforts?

This might be the first sign of the cultural impact upon scholarly publication in Europe.

I also have considered the attitude of the people of England themselves.  Citizens of the U.K., especially following the Victorian age of empire and epic struggle against fascism and totalitarian rule in the latter half of the 20th century, are perhaps among the most ardent supporters of a free and open democracy.  England indeed was among the first countries to reject foreign rule by the Vatican, and first to set the course for modern representative democracy with the Magna Carta.

What might this cultural love affair with open access and democratic control and self determination mean for scholarly publishing?  In spite of being the center of commerce and a world financial center, clearly embracing the capitalist model, might the cultural love of community spirit lead to a greater emphasis on open access?  These are interesting questions to consider in contemplating access to scholarly materials as a product of England.

A few cultural differences I noticed right away: on my trip from Heathrow to Central London via the Tube, I noticed that the concept of “personal space” was non-existent.  In the U.S., the social norm is to give each other a wide berth of at least 3 feet.  Even on the elevator to our dorms, and among friends who’ve known each other for nearly a year, American students would forgoe a packed elevator to wait for the next “lift.”

Not so in the U.K. Complete strangers shared not only personal space but physical contact – completely without hesitation. No accident, I sat elbow-to-elbow on the tube, with no effort made to keep at least an airspace.

I wondered if this was something inherrent to a large city – I’ve visited New York and Washington underground transit systems and don’t remember such familiarity – or if it’s just part of British culture. They fought tooth and nail through a war – many families cramming into the underground system.  Propoganda posters like “All together now” may have galvanized society to see itself as one cohesive unit – casting aside the “cowboy” or “desperado” mythos of the U.S.

Further prompting my thinking along these lines was a message in both the common kitchen and bathroom – concerning “fairness” of cleaning up.  While in the U.S. such snarky, slightly passive aggressive notes are more concerned with “we are not your mother or father” and encouraging personal responsibility, the bathroom/kitchen messages in my University College dorm (Astor College on Charlotte Street) extolled the virtues of being “fair.” It is “not appropriate or fair to others” to leave dirty dishes in the sink; “it is not fair to the cleaning staff or others” to leave a mess in the bathroom.

The U.K. does seem concerned with fairness as evidence by public transit, universal healthcare, and this anecdotal evidence provided by my signs.

Might this cultural reverence for “fairness” also permeate into the publishing realm, specifically regarding open access to scholarly and scientific information?

Finally, London was the birthplace of the term “scientist.” There was some discussion today in class regarding the start of the first true “scientific journals.” An interesting way of looking at it could be via the Google nGram project.  Already described by a variety of bloggers, the popularity of the word “scientist” can be traced against that of “natural philospher” based on both words’ appearances in digitized literature. A chart of the two from 1800 to 1900 shows “scientist” is the clear victor.

From Cambridge University, William Whewell coined the term “scientist” around 1830 as a play on “artist.”  It was not until the later half of the 19th century that the term flourished in the popular literature – from the Google nGram for the word, we can see that it passes “natural philosopher” only in the 1870s.

The scitext website from Cambridge puts the earliest French semi-scientific publication, Journal des Sçavans at 1665, the same year that “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London” started up.

Finally I see something of an arc from the “natural philosopher” – the tinkerer, ponderer, renaissance man – to the true specialist – and finally to the “generalist,” as one blogger suggests prominent, interdisciplinary scholars like Jared Diamond can be described.

Even Charles Darwin himself was a generalist – with wide ranging interests.

Yet to stay current, scientists seem to increasingly be forced into specialization.  Perhaps a rise in collaboration is the only way to retain the “natural philosopher,” holistic perspective.

Some additional reading: