Archive for: September, 2009

Thomson's Nobel predictions...Let the follies begin!

It's time for the annual Mocking of the Thomson session.

Check out my previous iterations of this amusing pastime: 2002, 2006, 2007a, 2007b, 2008.

Yes, I've been at this for a while, but to no avail. My main point in all this is to make clear that I don't believe that the Nobel prizes are chosen on the basis of citation count. Sure, there's going to be a correlation between the two, but the causation is extremely weak. Thomson's constant hawking of their "Citation Laureates" is, in my opinion, self-serving and wrong-headed.

And yes, they do get them right occasionally, but that's because there is some correlation. They also occasionally pick someone a few years before they actually win -- but that's bound to happen too. Over time they'll name as Citation Laureates a large number of scientists with big citation counts and over time since there is some correlation between citation counts and the Nobel, they're just going guess a few correctly.

So let's see what they've chosen this year for the list of Laureates:


  • Michael Grätzel
  • Jacqueline K. Barton, Bernd Giese and Gary B. Schuster
  • Benjamin List


  • Yakir Aharonov and Sir Michael V. Berry
  • Juan Ignacio Cirac and Peter Zoller
  • Sir John B. Pendry, Sheldon Schultz and David R. Smith

Physiology or Medicine

  • Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak
  • James E. Rothman and Randy Schekman
  • Seiji Ogawa


  • Ernst Fehr and Matthew J. Rabin
  • William D. Nordhaus and Martin L. Weitzman
  • John B. Taylor, Jordi Gali and Mark L. Gertler

Let's see how they do this year. I predict about the same as previous years, in other words, pretty random. Some of the people they pick based on citation counts will be picked in the year Thomson guesses, some won't. Some will get picked in a later year.

Twelve individual or group nominations for a total of 25 different people named. To be better than random, I'd say 25% of this year's citation nominees (either by group or individuals) need to be correct. I'll give half marks if some of this year's Nobelists were citation winners in previous years.

Thomson's Nobel home page is here and the list of their nominees here. Their not entirely convincing explanations and rationalizations on their methodology and results are here and here.

Once again, I would like to emphasize that I have nothing against the scholars whom Thomson has "nominated" and wish them well. I certainly don't mean to cast a negative light on their contributions to their fields at all. My beef is not with them, but with Thomson's misuse of their citation data.

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W. P. Scott Chair in E-Librarianship at York University

Sep 28 2009 Published by under academia, information science, job, librarianship

Here's an amazing and fairly unique opportunity for a research-minded librarian who wants to significantly advance her or his research program. The appointment is for up to three years and the starting date is somewhat flexible.

Here's the terms of reference for the position:

  • Each appointment to the Chair will be a limited term appointment for up to three years.
  • A committee will be established to undertake a search for the Chair.
  • The selection will be based on the quality of the proposed research program along with evidence for the successful completion of the research proposal.
  • The successful candidate must have at least a master's in library science or archival studies from an ALA accredited university.
  • The successful candidate would be an active and valued member of York University Libraries with office space, personal computer equipment, conference/travel funds and access to library and campus support systems.
  • The holder of the Chair (the Chairholder) will be required to provide an annual report of research activities to the University Librarian.
  • The Chairholder is required to provide W.P. Scott lecture or symposium relating to the theme of their research. This would be open to the professional library community.
  • The Chairholder is required to provide a presentation to members of York University Libraries and others on the results of their activities.
  • The Chairholder will have at least one opportunity to meet with members of the Scott family in a setting that is agreeable to both parties.

And here's the ad itself:

Position Rank: Contractually Limited Appointment
Discipline/Field: W. P. Scott Chair in E-Librarianship
Home Faculty: Libraries
Home Department/Area/Division: Scott Library
Affiliation/Union: YUFA
Position Start Date: January 1, 2010
Position End Date: December 31, 2012

York University invites candidates to apply for a limited term appointment of one to three years to engage in groundbreaking, interdisciplinary research and development that will advance libraries. The W. P. Scott Chair in E-Librarianship provides an exciting opportunity to accelerate the development of e-librarianship in support of research, teaching, learning or scholarly communications. The research may be interdisciplinary, with a context that is broader than academic librarianship. The areas of research should be of mutual interest to the candidate and to York University Libraries so that both benefit from a close working relationship.

A strong commitment to research in any relevant area of e-librarianship such as: e-learning, digital collections, collaborative web spaces, social software, interactive and integrative online services, semantic web or cyberinfrastructure is required. The Chair must have demonstrated success in directing and conducting research or a large project. As a member of the YUL complement, the successful candidate will contribute in an area of the libraries suited to the candidate's area of expertise.

For further information about the Research Chair please see:


  • Minimum of an ALA-accredited M.L.S., Master's of Archival Studies, or recognized equivalent.
  • Further post-graduate degrees or related work experience is preferred
  • Record of research achievement or demonstrated experience with project management
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills
  • Ability to work independently and in collaboration with others
  • Excellent organizational, analytical and interpersonal skills

The E-Librarianship Research Chair position is a contractually limited appointment of one to three years at the Adjunct Librarian level. Librarians at York University have academic status and are members of the York University Faculty Association bargaining unit ( Salary is commensurate with qualifications. The position is available as early as January 1, 2010. Preference will be given to candidates available to start by September 30, 2010. All York University positions are subject to budgetary approval.

York University is an Affirmative Action Employer. The Affirmative Action Program can be found on York's website at or a copy can be obtained by calling the affirmative action office at 416-736-5713. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadian citizens and Permanent Residents will be given priority. Temporary entry for citizens of the U.S.A. and Mexico may apply per the provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

York University resources include centres relating to gender equity, race and ethnic relations, sexual harassment, human rights, and wellness. York University encourages attitudes of respect and non-discrimination toward persons of all ethnic and religious groups, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

The deadline for applications is October 15th, 2009. Applicants must send a five-page letter of interest relating their qualifications and outlining their proposed project, a current curriculum vitae and the names of three referees to:

Chair, E-Librarianship Research Chair Appointment Committee
York University Libraries, 310 Scott Library
York University, 4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M3J 1P3
Fax 416-736-5431

Applications should be sent by mail, e-mail, or fax with a hardcopy following by mail.

I can answer fairly general questions about the position.

Update 2009.09.28: Bump to the top with only a couple of weeks left to apply.

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Sunburst Award 2009 Winners: Canadian Literature of the Fantastic!

Sep 28 2009 Published by under personal, science books, science fiction

Those of you with long memories may recall that I was on the jury for the 2009 Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic.

Well, the names of the winners have just been released:

You can check out the shortlists and recommended reading lists here.

The two winning books are both amazing examples of fantastic fiction, both well worth reading. The rest of the shortlists and recommended reading lists are also worth checking out. Congratulations!

I would also like to say at this point that being on the jury was a fantastic experience and I would like to thank my fellow jurors (Barbara Berson, Ed Greenwood, Sandra Kasturi and Simon Rose) for contributing to such an amazing experience. Thanks.

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Friday Fun: Nadir of Western Civilization only hours away!

Sep 25 2009 Published by under friday fun

God, I love The Onion: Nadir Of Western Civilization To Be Reached This Friday At 3:32 P.M.

An international panel of leading anthropologists, cultural critics, biologists, and social theorists announced this week that Western civilization will reach its lowest conceivable point at 3:32 p.m. Friday.

"From the prehistoric Lascaux cave paintings to the stirring symphonies of Mozart to today's hot-dog eating competitions and action films with comical gerbils, culture has descended into a festering pool of mass ignorance," said Yale sociologist Paul Riordan, who has spent his career analyzing western civilization's fall into the depths of depravity. "If our calculations are correct, this complete erosion of all that is enlightened and unique will reach absolute rock bottom on the afternoon of Sept. 25, 2009."


"The sciences, the arts, the humanities--all aspects of society as a whole will reach their respective low-points in just a matter of days," said anthropologist Robert Davidson, gesturing toward a nearby line graph illustrating western society's collapse. "We've been charting this cultural descent for generations now, from the advent of New Wave music, to the rise of scientific creationism, right through to the trampling death of several Wal-Mart greeters on the morning after Thanksgiving. Everything has been leading up to this Friday."

The entire genre of reality television gets my vote (except for the shows that I like, of course, those ones are ok).

What gets your vote for the nadir of western civilization?

7 responses so far

Michael Nielsen & Clay Shirky: Futurologists 'R Us

Predicting the future is tricky business. Trust me, I know.

But there's two ideas I always like to keep in mind when I put my futurologist's hat on:

  • The future will be at least as diverse as the present, probably more so. But not likely less.
  • There's no guarantee that things will change for the better. There's also no guarantee that things will change for the worse. The only thing you can be sure of is that it'll be hard to get any agreement on which is which.

These two ideas are closely connected in my mind, compelling me to (hopefully) think realistically and honestly, if not always happily. So it's a bit of synchronicity that a couple of articles came to my attention yesterday which really draw out those themes.

The first is Michael Nielsen's There is no single future for scientific journals. We all sometimes fall prey to the idea that exactly one thing is going to happen to scholarly publishing in the future, when in fact even the current situation is not as conveniently monolithically uniform across and within disciplines as we would sometimes make out. Somehow, it makes us happy to think that the future is simpler than the past or the present. Bad science fiction has often been about simpler future.

A question I sometimes hear which I find odd is "What's the future of scientific journals?" Often - not always, but often - underlying the question is a presumption that there is a single future for journals. The point of view seems to be that we've had journals in the past, and now we have this interesting new medium - the internet - so the big question is how journals are going to evolve, or (if slightly more ambitious) what we're going to replace them with?

This seems to me a peculiar point of view. The origin of the point of view seems to be the fact that paper is a static, relatively inflexible medium. There's only a limited number of things you can do with paper and a printing press, so scientific publishing to date has ended up concentrated in just a few forms (journals, monographs, textbooks, and a few others). This monolithic character leads to a presumption that scientific communication will continue to evolve in a monolithic way.

At the same time, there's the transcript of Clay Shirky's talk about the future of investigative journalism this past Tuesday at the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. I think his talk is an interesting tonic to the rampant techno-utopianism that we can all sometimes engage in. The future is messy and uncertain, a road potentially paved with gold but also with potholes and dead ends. While it's likely that we will gain things that are valuable, it's also possible that we will lose or damage some valuable things as well.

It's worth noting that I don't see Shirky's analysis as only applying to journalism, but to a much broader media and publishing landscape where business models will have to adjust to the potentially disruptive impacts of the Internet.

Which leaves us with a giant hole, and a very threatening one. And in the nightmare scenario that I've kind of been spinning at for the last couple years has been: Every town in this country of 500,000 or less just sinks into casual, endemic, civic corruption -- that without somebody going down to the city council again today, just in case, that those places will simply revert to self-dealing. Not of epic, catastrophic sorts, but the sort that just takes five percent off the top. Newspapers have been our principal bulwark for that, and as they're shrinking, that I think is where the threat is.


I think a bad thing is going to happen, right? And it's amazing to me how much, in a conversation conducted by adults, the possibility that maybe things are just going to get a lot worse for a while does not seem to be something people are taking seriously. But I think this falling into relative corruption of moderate-sized cities and towns -- I think that's baked into the current environment. I don't think there's any way we can get out of that kind of thing. So I think we are headed into a long trough of decline in accountability journalism, because the old models are breaking faster than the new models can be put into place.

To use the historical analogy from Eisenstein, from The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, there was a long hundred years between the Protestant Reformation and the Treaty of Westphalia. And that was a hundred years in which people almost literally did not know what to think. The old institutions were visibly not functioning any longer, but the nation-state as a new organizing principle was not yet in place. And those were, for many people, not a great hundred years.

So I have no idea how long this transition will take. But I don't think that some degree of failure and decay is avoidable. I think our goal should be to minimize the depth of that trough, to constrain that trough to the areas we can constrain it to, and to hasten its end. But I don't think we can get away with a simple and rapid alternative to what we enjoyed in the 20th century -- in part because the accidents that held that landscape together in the 20th century were so crazily contingent.

Shirky's talk is no where near as bleak and pessimistic as you might think from the quotes above. It's definitely worth reading the whole thing, same with the Nielsen piece.

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ScienceBlogs on Facebook & Twitter

Sep 23 2009 Published by under admin, personal, web 2.0

If you feel the need to socially network with ScienceBlogs and any of us various SciBlings, you can do so on Facebook and Twitter. I suspect that most of us who are on those services are fans/followers of ScienceBlogs.

The main places I hang out are Friendfeed, Twitter and Facebook. Drop by and say hi!

(I don't know if it exists, but it would be interesting to see a list of all of our various handles on those and other services.)

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Time for computer science to grow up?

That's the question asked by Lance Fortnow in a recent Communications of the ACM Viewpoint article (free fulltext).

Fortnow's article continues a discussion about scholarly communication patterns in computer science that's been going on for a while in the "pages" of the CACM. I've blogged about it a couple of times here and here.

Fortnow's main idea is that CS needs to get past the youthful stage of using conferences as the main vehicle for disseminating new ideas and move to a journal-based model, like most of the rest of scientific disciplines. In the end, it's all about peer review:

Unlike every other academic field, computer science uses conferences rather than journals as the main publication venue. While this made sense for a young discipline, our field has matured and the conference model has fractured the discipline and skewered it toward short-term, deadline-driven research. Computer science should refocus the conference system on its primary purpose of bringing researchers together. We should use archive sites as the main method of quick paper dissemination and the journal system as the vehicle for advancing researchers' reputations.


But even worse, the focus on using conferences to rate papers has led to a great growth in the number of meetings. Most researchers don't have the time and/or money to travel to conferences where they do not have a paper. This greatly affects the other roles, as conferences no longer bring the community together and thus we are only disseminating, networking, and discussing with a tiny subset of the community. Other academic fields leave rating papers and researchers to academic journals, where one can have a more lengthy and detailed reviews of submissions. This leaves conferences to act as a broad forum and bring their communities together.


Our conference system forces researchers to focus too heavily on quick, technical, and safe papers instead of considering broader and newer ideas. Meanwhile, we have devoted much of our time and money to conferences where we can present our research that we can rarely attend conferences and workshops to work and socialize with our colleagues.

Computer science has grown to become a mature field where no major university can survive without a strong CS department. It is time for computer science to grow up and publish in a way that represents the major discipline it has become.

Check out the comments on the original post as well as at Fortnow's blog. He's also collected various blog reactions here.

I find it interesting that the CS community, surely among the most "online" of all the scholarly disciplines, is reaffirming the value of strong peer review. More interesting, perhaps, is the way Fortnow distinguishes between speedy initial publications in archives combined with slower, more deliberate peer review before something later appears in a journal. Which is sort of like what's happening in various physics communities with arxiv and later journal publication.

However, I'm not convinced that you need a "journal" to have peer review, that it can't be embedded as another layer in whatever kind of fast-track publication system ends up being used.

If the CS community decides to go in this direction, it would be an amazing opportunity to rebuild their corner scholarly publishing from the ground up, to decide on what they truly value. Some ideas:

  • fast and efficient to dissemination of findings
  • combining data, code, narrative and other pieces into one scholarly object
  • a layering of traditional peer review and open commenting and discussion over the collection of scholarly objects
  • versioning of those objects
  • working with the various stakeholders to figure out how it's all going to be funded and built: departments, societies, libraries, publishers, conference organizers, journal editorial boards.

They could, in essence, lead the way into the post-journal scholarly communications landscape.

13 responses so far

More Friday Fun: My new science fiction group in Friendfeed

Sep 18 2009 Published by under friday fun, science fiction

As many have not doubt noticed over the months and years of my blog's existence, I am a hardcore science fiction fan. And just as with the science/librarian world, there are countless blogs and other sites about the science fictions/fantasy/horror worlds. And of course, I have trouble keeping up with all the happenings in that particular blogosphere.

To make it a bit easier (and more enjoyable) on myself, I created a Friendfeed group and added a bunch of feeds to it -- a smallish assortment of reviewers, authors, publishers and news sites. I created it a few weeks ago and it's really made a difference for me keeping up with the blogs. It gets a maximum of 20-40 items a day, which is pretty easy to keep track of without being overwhelmed.

So, I thought you might enjoy it too: John's SFFH Feeds.

Feel free to join the room (or not). And if you think I'm missing something, let me know and I'll probably add it too. In particular, I'd like to have one or two really good feeds each on comics and horror fiction.

(Yes, I did start with io9 in the list, but it's just too darn much.)

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Friday Fun: Free Online Classic Rock Concerts!

Sep 18 2009 Published by under friday fun, music

I'm talking about the new-to-me Wolfgang's Vault! Among other things, it includes a Vault Store, where you can buy prints and other swag; the Concert vault with 2859 concerts, the Crawdaddy magazine & archives. The concerts material can be sliced & diced into playlists and radio shows.

The concerts are by, among others: The Allman Brothers, The Band, Black Sabbath, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Linda Ronstadt, Lynyrd Skynyrd, MC5, Miles Davis, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Van Morrison and The Who.

As I type this, I'm listening to an absolutely amazing concert by The Black Crowes from 1990.

So, where does all this amazing material come from? Mostly from the archives of Bill Graham and The King Biscuit Flower Hour. More info at the Catalogs part of the Concerts page. You can also read more background on the whole project on the Concerts and Vault About pages.

The vast majority of material in Wolfgang's Vault comes from the exquisitely preserved, original archives of Bill Graham Presents, which we now own and manage. Beginning with the seminal concerts of the mid 1960s and continuing through today, we've assembled a superb collection that is being cared for in state-of-the-art facilities.

We have only begun to mine the depths of the Vault. We opened in October 2003 with our unparalleled collection of Poster Art and added our extraordinary vintage t-shirts, backstage passes, laminates and books shortly thereafter. In 2004 we released the BG Archive photography collection, and since then we have become the exclusive online source for four of the greatest rock photographers of all time: Baron Wolman, Michael Zagaris, Joe Sia and Gene Anthony.

The Vault is constantly undergoing exciting changes and developments. We've expanded our apparel line to include infant and kids wear. Concert Vault, which includes Vault Radio, has exposed thousands of listeners to the depths of the Bill Graham archive, the King Biscuit Flower Hour and the Silver Eagle Cross Country collections. The introduction of Big Ticket grants collectors access to a pristine and extremely rare collection of poster art that's not available anywhere else. We are regularly introducing fresh new product lines and special features like wrapping paper and poster reprints. The Vault continues to grow and evolve, with updates and additions constantly improving the look and function of our site.

And if you're worried:

The Concert Vault is fully licensed by BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC, and we pay these performance rights organizations every time you listen to a concert. The license fees make their way back to the performers that made the music. Download revenues are also shared with performers and publishers as appropriate. One of our top priorities will always be to make sure that the artists are compensated for their performances.


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More books and reports on the future of academic libraries

I haven't done one of these in a while, so there's quite a backlog to clear.



As usual, if you know of any reports or books that I might have missed, please let me know either at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

BTW, here's a list of all the related posts:

And yes, I have been (slowly) working on a master list of all the books and reports I've mentioned in those posts.

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