Archive for: November, 2012

Best Science Books 2012: Boing Boing Gift Guide

Nov 30 2012 Published by under best science books 2012, science books

Another list for your reading, gift-giving and collection development pleasure.

Every year for the last bunch of years I’ve been linking to and posting about all the “year’s best sciencey books” lists that appear in various media outlets and shining a bit of light on the best of the year.

All the previous 2012 lists are here.

This post includes the following: Boing Boing Gift Guide.

  • The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science by Matt Lamothe, Julia Rothman, Jenny Volvovski and David Macaulay
  • Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks
  • Illustrated Guide to Home Forensic Science Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson
  • Drugs Without the Hot Air by David Nutt
  • Geek Mom: Projects, Tips, and Adventures for Moms and Their 21st-Century Families by Natania Barron, Kathy Ceceri, Corrina Lawson and Jenny Williams
  • Bad Pharma: How drug companies mislead doctors and harm patients by Ben Goldacre
  • The Science of Good Cooking by The Editors of America's Test Kitchen and Guy Crosby Ph.D
  • The Annotated and Illustrated Double Helix by James D. Watson, Alexander Gann and Jan Witkowski
  • The Best Science Writing Online 2012 (Open Laboratory) by Jennifer Ouellette and Bora Zivkovic

I'm always looking for recommendations and notifications of book lists as they appear in various media outlets. If you see one that I haven't covered, please let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

I am picking up most of my lists from Largehearted Boy.

For my purposes, I define science books pretty broadly to include science, engineering, computing, history & philosophy of science & technology, environment, social aspects of science and even business books about technology trends or technology innovation. Deciding what is and isn’t a science book is squishy at best, especially at the margins, but in the end I pick books that seem broadly about science and technology rather than something else completely. Lists of business, history or nature books are among the tricky ones.

And if you wish to support my humble list-making efforts, run on over to Amazon, take a look at Steve Jobs or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or maybe even something else from today's list.

One response so far

Building a new scholarly communications ecosystem from first principles

Like the old saying goes, information wants to be free. In particular, the consumers of information would prefer for the most part not to have to directly pay for the information they are consuming. The information itself, if I may anthropomorphize for a moment, also wants to circulate as freely as possible, to be as consumed as widely as possible, to be as highly regarded as possible. That way it gets to be the information that "wins" the best-used-most-used information sweepstakes.

This seems to me to be a first principle for scholarly communications. Both the users of the information and the information itself strongly prefer that there be no toll access barrier between them.

On the other hand, the old saying also tells us that information wants to be expensive. In particular, good information is non-trivial to create so its creators would prefer to be fairly compensated for their effort. Information is also expensive because there are genuine overheads involved in endorsing, validating and disseminating the information.

And this should also be a first principle for scholarly communications. There needs to be a way to properly fund the dissemination of information.

In the traditional scholarly communications ecosystem, the true creators of the information -- the scholars -- aren't directly compensated. Broadly speaking, their salaries are paid by the funders of their research, not the consumers or disseminators of their research outputs. Also, the relative prestige that accrues to them isn't funded directly by anyone really, but is a result of the value that the consumers place on their information relative to other information. As such, it seems to me that how the scholars pay their bills and earn prestige doesn't need to be directly connected to the rest of the ecosystem and as such isn't a first principle.

And speaking of traditional, there's another sticky bit. What about intermediaries like publishers and libraries? It seems both of these would prefer that information be expensive, to preserve their symbiotic roles in the ecosystem. Charging for publishing scholarship as well as validation and the conferring of prestige on the the part of publishers. And on the part of libraries by redirecting funder monies towards those publishers for their services.

Is there a first principle for publishers and libraries? It seems to me that they can certainly play an important role in the facilitation and implementation of the other first principles but that perhaps the intermediary role isn't itself a first principle.

At this point we are left with very few first principles. We're left with the requirement for no toll access barriers to information. And with the burden to create a funding model that does not impose those toll access barriers.

Now comes the hard part. For which my wisdom alone is not sufficient.

Have at it everyone!

===================================================

I present a few readings below that will perhaps offer some guidance to us all. As always, I welcome suggestions for more.

(And thanks to Constance Wiebrands for getting me thinking about first principles. And there's more to come.

Some of my own recent thoughts are Whither Science Publishing and An Open Access thought experiment. I include them here rather than above because I didn't want to get too explicit in the text.

And for Ontario readers, this post forms the basis for the OA breakout session I'll be doing next week at Scholars Portal Day.)

(Terms I didn't use in this post: book, journal, article, peer review, impact factor, metrics, editor, subscription, open access, author pays, big data, the name of any publisher or discipline.)

One response so far

The Libertarian University

Or, more precisely, a university designed by libertarians.

Over the last number of months, I've featured a fair bit of apocalyptic MOOC Disruptionism in my regular Around the Web posts. Recently, the libertarian think tank, The Cato Institute (Wikipedia) via their Cato Unbound site, has put online a series of essays discussing just how the traditional academic system can be radically reworked and rethought via a highly commercialized online academy. It's interesting because they've also included some responses questioning their assumptions and the overall MOOC triumphalism that's floating around the net these days.

I think it's worth taking a close look at both sets of essays as they very clearly lay out some of the options and possibilities as well as a cautionary, jaundiced eye on the hype.

The second item in the list below, the Tabarrok essay, is the lead essay. The next bunch are response essays, bouncing off the lead. Then, starting with the second Tabarrok essay are items that continue the conversation.

  • Introduction by The Editors

    The Internet has already remade journalism in ways too numerous to count. By comparison, many educational institutions stand relatively unchanged: Students attend in-person lectures from professors at fixed times; they study, do homework, take tests, and receive grades, all more or less as they did before the advent of the digital revolution.

    There is no clear reason why this should be...

  • Why Online Education Works by Alex Tabarrok

    Teaching today is like a stage play. A play can be seen by at most a few hundred people at a single sitting and it takes as much labor to produce the 100th viewing as it does to produce the first. As a result, plays are expensive. Online education makes teaching more like a movie. Movies can be seen by millions and the cost per viewer declines with more viewers. Now consider quality. The average movie actor is a better actor than the average stage actor. If you were making a movie with a potential audience in the millions wouldn’t you hire the best actors? With more viewers it also makes sense to substitute capital for labor, adding special effects, scenery, music and other quality improvements resulting in a movie experience unlike any that can be created on stage. Is there something ineffably great about a live performance? Occasionally, but the greatest stage performances are seen by only a handful of people.

  • Some Skepticism about Online Education by Alan Ryan

    A third is that we shall exacerbate the tendencies of contemporary higher education to turn into a two-tier, or multi-tier, system in which the well-off and well-endowed academically and socially, receive personalized and individual attention, while everyone else gets a mass-produced and uniform product tailored to what the better-off and better-endowed believe are their needs. One recent MOOC involved the broadcasting of a course from the University of Pennsylvania in which you can see the twenty-odd students on the course in the room with their professor, interacting in the usual human fashion, while the unnumbered audience watches. I am not at all immune to the thought that the crumbs from the rich man’s table are better than simple starvation, but it would be nice to think that our technical ingenuity could be devoted to spreading the real intellectual riches of our civilization more equally than we have hitherto contrived to do.

  • A New Era of Unfounded Hyperbole by Siva Vaidhyanathan

    ...Tabarrok conflates being a student with being a consumer. He writes “In the online world, consumers need not each consume at the same time, and suppliers need not produce at the moment of consumption.”

    Higher education is a complex process through which one is merely guided. It’s a series of experiments that test one’s capacities, assess one’s talents, focus one’s interests, and enable the acculturation into the educated middle class. Along the way there are licensing procedures, awards, successes, failures, heartbreaks, and hangovers. There is, of course, a tangle of productions, consumptions, and commercial transactions embedded within higher education. But there is no single act of production or consumption that captures either the purpose or value of higher education.

  • The Radical Implications of Online Education by Kevin Carey

    Tabarrok may be too sanguine about the fate of traditional universities. He predicts that “many institutions will be able to raise the quality and breadth of the classes that they offer.” Perhaps—if they can afford to stay in business. The rise of Udacity, Coursera, edX, Saylor.org and others mean that, from this point forward, high-quality, impeccably branded online courses will be available to anyone in the world, anytime, anywhere, for free, forever. We will take this for granted in the same way that we simply assume free search and social networking as birthrights of the modern age.

    The introduction of “$0” into a market characterized by rapidly increasing prices is sure to matter in important ways. How and when, exactly, is not yet clear. But it seems unlikely that traditional universities will be able to keep charging students thousands of dollars for ill-designed commodity courses in basic subjects when much better courses can be found online for free. And it is these high profit-margin courses that subsidize the cost of smaller, professor-dependent specialty courses in the upper divisions. Take away those revenues and university budgets—already stressed by shrinking public subsidies and the declining possibilities of revenue enhancing price discrimination—will struggle to remain solvent. Ryan calls this “sinister.” I think it’s just an honest appraisal of what is sure to come.

  • A Response to Participants by Alex Tabarrok

    I’d also like to see more comparisons and more empirical evidence. Here’s a question. How large does the typical classroom have to be before an online classroom is superior? Five students? Thirty? One hundred? My answers are that a philosophy seminar with five students is going to be better face-to-face. In a class of thirty, I’d take a good online class over a typical offline class. In a class of one hundred I’d take online every time. What do others say? Where is the dividing line and why?

  • The Accent Is on the "Massive." Should It Be? by Siva Vaidhyanathan

    That most courses in America are taught by struggling adjuncts for absurdly low remuneration is a problem to be solved by increasing their status, pay, and benefits. It’s not a reason to double down on the star system and dream that MOOCs can render those hard-working adjuncts redundant. As someone who has hired, fired, and assessed dozens of adjunct and full-time instructors, I can attest that there is no correlation between one’s status and one’s teaching skills.

The core of the libertarian side of the argument is all very triumphalist and inevitable. Not surprisingly, I'm not so sure myself. On the other hand, the traditionalist side is a bit too long on the nostalgia and short on the data. Is the debate settled? Far from it. And more interestingly, if this discussion would guide us on how we would build a new university today, from the ground up, from first principles, how would we build a new academic library today, from the ground up, from first principles. I don't know, but I'm definitely thinking about it. And will be posting about it too, over the next week or so.

I'm interested to hear what my readers think about the possibilities and perils of the Libertarian University and especially where research, student experience and the library collide.

Have at it!

(The conversation continues at the Cato Unbound site so I probably don't have all the articles yet. When the next issue is published, the conversation will be archived here. I may update this post as new items are added over there.)

2 responses so far

Best Science Books 2012: New York Times 100 Notable Books

Nov 27 2012 Published by under best science books 2012, science books

Another list for your reading, gift-giving and collection development pleasure.

Every year for the last bunch of years I’ve been linking to and posting about all the “year’s best sciencey books” lists that appear in various media outlets and shining a bit of light on the best of the year.

All the previous 2012 lists are here.

This post includes the following: New York Times 100 Notable Books.

  • Belzoni: The Giant Archaeologists Love to Hate by Ivor Noël Hume
  • Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams
  • Darwin's Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution by Rebecca Stot
  • The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life by Robert Trivers
  • Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer by Susan Gubar
  • On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson by William Souder
  • The Social Conquest of Earth by Edward O. Wilson
  • Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen
  • Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt

I'm always looking for recommendations and notifications of book lists as they appear in various media outlets. If you see one that I haven't covered, please let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

I am picking up most of my lists from Largehearted Boy.

For my purposes, I define science books pretty broadly to include science, engineering, computing, history & philosophy of science & technology, environment, social aspects of science and even business books about technology trends or technology innovation. Deciding what is and isn’t a science book is squishy at best, especially at the margins, but in the end I pick books that seem broadly about science and technology rather than something else completely. Lists of business, history or nature books are among the tricky ones.

And if you wish to support my humble list-making efforts, run on over to Amazon, take a look at Steve Jobs or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or maybe even something else from today's list.

3 responses so far

Reading Diary: Ignorance: How it drives science by Stuart Firestein

Ignorance: How It Drives Science by Stuart Firestein is a short book. I wish I could say it was also a sharp shock of a book, but not quite. This is a classic case of a book that cries out to be shorter -- in this case from a decent slim hardcover reduced down to probably what could have been a terrific Kindle Single-sized book, something we're finally able to produce, consume and reward appropriately in the Internet age.

So what's the book about? It's basically a philosophy of science book designed for a mass audience, making the core and very valid point that science doesn't advance from knowledge and certainty, but from ignorance and doubt. Firestein makes that point very well in the opening chapters, the problem is that those opening chapters are a bit repetitive making those points. I found that he tended to just make the same points over and over, just slightly rephrased or in a slightly different context. Sort of like those last two sentences.

Some of the best parts of the book were Chapter 5's fairly detailed explanation of the question-asking process in science and what model systems are. Chapter 6 also had a nice section on how to read a scientific paper and in particular pages 86 and 87 had some great sample questions to ask scientists about their work, such as "Do you think things are unknowable in your field?" and "Are you often surprised?"

And the absolute best parts of the book were the case studies which took up most of the second half. This is where Firestein's informal story-telling style really excelled: he took a few examples of fields and particular researchers and went through, step by step almost, what is known and what isn't in that field and gave a nice sense of how the field is tackling their own ignorance. He talked about cognitive psychology/neuroscience, cosmology and most importantly and most interestingly, his own life story. It was really fascinating how he took a fairly winding path from the world of the theatre to neuroscience research. These final sections really came alive in a way the first half mostly didn't. I'm glad I stuck in through because there were a few times I was tempted to put the book aside.

Given my mediocre review, would I recommend this book? Yes, definitely. While it might not be the best "intro to philosophy of science" out there (I recommend James Robert Brown's Who Rules in Science?: An Opinionated Guide to the Wars, which I liked an awful lot. His recent Philosophy of Science: The Key Thinkers seems like it might be a terrific follow-up.), it does take a slightly different angle than perhaps the standard text so it might find a appropriately slightly different audience. It might find better use among science students/practitioners than a more overtly philosophical book while still making many of the same points. So any general academic or science library that collects philosophy of science would do well to get this book. It's also accessible enough that I can definitely see an audience amongst keen high school students.

Firestein, Stuart. Ignorance: How It Drives Science. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. 195pp.

(Print copy provided by the publisher.)

No responses yet

Best Science Books 2012: The Globe 100

Nov 26 2012 Published by under best science books 2012, science books

Another list for your reading, gift-giving and collection development pleasure.

Every year for the last bunch of years I’ve been linking to and posting about all the “year’s best sciencey books” lists that appear in various media outlets and shining a bit of light on the best of the year.

All the previous 2012 lists are here.

This post includes the following: The Globe and Mail 100.

  • The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen by Stephen R. Bown
  • Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science and Evolution by David Rothenberg
  • Turing’s Cathedral: The Origin of the Digital Universe by George Dyson
  • Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile by Taras Grescoe
  • A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos by Dava Sobel
  • Among the Islands: Adventures in the Pacific by Tim Flannery
  • Who’s in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain by Michael S. Gazzaniga

I'm always looking for recommendations and notifications of book lists as they appear in various media outlets. If you see one that I haven't covered, please let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

I am picking up most of my lists from Largehearted Boy.

For my purposes, I define science books pretty broadly to include science, engineering, computing, history & philosophy of science & technology, environment, social aspects of science and even business books about technology trends or technology innovation. Deciding what is and isn’t a science book is squishy at best, especially at the margins, but in the end I pick books that seem broadly about science and technology rather than something else completely. Lists of business, history or nature books are among the tricky ones.

And if you wish to support my humble list-making efforts, run on over to Amazon, take a look at Steve Jobs or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or maybe even something else from the today's list.

No responses yet

Around the Web: College Reinvented, Shirky on MOOCs, Newspapers & citizenship and more apocalypse

Nov 23 2012 Published by under acad lib future, academia, around the web

No responses yet

Friday Fun: Bookish Conversations We Never Want to Have Again

Nov 23 2012 Published by under friday fun

Anybody who's followed this blog for any length of time knows that I love books, I love reading them, I love reading and writing about them too. However, sometime it's possible to get a little too enamored of our own little petty obsessions. Of course, my obsessions are fine but yours are a bit suspect.

And for those of us with bookish obsessions, some of the not-so-fine parts of our mania is how we keep coming back to the same stupid conversations over and goddamn over again.

As this post so aptly demonstrated, there are definitely some bookish conversations, arguments and debates I don't feel the need to keep revisiting over and over again.

It's a list of 10 and if they aren't quite what I would list as my top 10, the commentary by Rebecca Joines Schinsky and Jeff O’Neal is worth reading. And perhaps continuing to argue about...

Over It: Bookish Conversations We Never Want to Have Again

#6 ARE BLOGGERS KILLING LITERARY CRITICISM?

RJS: This argument might have been interesting a decade ago, but I sincerely doubt it. The tension between the old-guard lit critics who are–let’s be honest–afraid of being made irrelevant, and bloggers who have changed the public conversation about literature (and, I would argue, breathed new life into it) is real, sure. But it’s a total snoozefest, and new posts about it are rarely more than pageview whoring. Having a slow week at the Official Website for Dying Print Publication? Make some bloggers mad!

And bloggers’ responses are almost as bad. Nothing smacks of pandering quite like a blogger writing a post about how bloggers will save us all. A little (or a whole hell of a lot) less conversation, and a little more action, please.

JSO: Totally agree. We’re probably a little biased here, but this also feels like a settled question. I think a more interesting question would be something like: has blogging increased the total attention paid to books? It feels true, but again, this is the business I’ve chosen. There’s probably no way to measure this, but I don’t think that discussing books is a zero-sum game, with X number of minutes people will spend reading, and reading about books.

No responses yet

Around the Web: Defending universities, Battle of the Bodelian, Sexy in STEM? and more

Nov 22 2012 Published by under around the web

No responses yet

Best Science Books 2012: Brain Pickings

Nov 21 2012 Published by under best science books 2012, science books

Another list for your reading, gift-giving and collection development pleasure.

Every year for the last bunch of years I’ve been linking to and posting about all the “year’s best sciencey books” lists that appear in various media outlets and shining a bit of light on the best of the year.

All the previous 2012 lists are here.

This post includes the following: Brain Pickings.

  • Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired by Till Roenneberg
  • The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science by Matt Lamothe, Julia Rothman, Jenny Volvovski and David Macaulay
  • In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World by Ian Stewart
  • Ignorance: How It Drives Science by Stuart Firestein
  • Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep by David K. Randall
  • Trees of Life: A Visual History of Evolution by Theodore W. Pietsch
  • Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil deGrasse Tyson and Avis Lang
  • Hidden Treasure: The National Library of Medicine by Michael Sappol, Arne Svenson and Laura Lindgren
  • The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does Happen by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw
  • Big Questions from Little People: and Simple Answers from Great Minds by Gemma Elwin Harris

I'm always looking for recommendations and notifications of book lists as they appear in various media outlets. If you see one that I haven't covered, please let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

I am picking up most of my lists from Largehearted Boy.

For my purposes, I define science books pretty broadly to include science, engineering, computing, history & philosophy of science & technology, environment, social aspects of science and even business books about technology trends or technology innovation. Deciding what is and isn’t a science book is squishy at best, especially at the margins, but in the end I pick books that seem broadly about science and technology rather than something else completely. Lists of business, history or nature books are among the tricky ones.

And if you wish to support my humble list-making efforts, run on over to Amazon, take a look at Steve Jobs or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or maybe even something else from the today's list.

No responses yet

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