Archive for: February, 2016

Reading Diary: Graphic novel catch-up: Manga Guide to Physiology, Human Body Theatre, Secret Coders, Snowden

Feb 29 2016 Published by under book review, science books, Uncategorized

Rall, Ted. Snowden. New York: Random House, 2015. 224pp. ISBN-13: 978-1609806354

For those that have watched Citizenfour or read Glenn Greenwald's No place to hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. surveillance state, there's not much new or shocking in Ted Rall's excellent graphic novel, Snowden.

But for someone who hasn't had a chance to check out either or those works, this is a fantastic place to start a deeper exploration into the amazing story around Edward Snowden, one of the major figures in the current debate about the way governments try to control and monitor the Internet. It affects our privacy, our security not to mention our sense of whether or not our governments work for our benefit or whether they see our interests as subservient to their own desire for control and secrecy. And we're not just talking about the secret US government programs that Snowden blew the whistle on, but a whole bunch of other countries too.

Ted Rall's very fine graphic novel uses a stark and subtle style of illustration as well as a keen sense of narrative to hit the high points. This book is highly recommended for all library collections that deal with the interface between technology and politics -- academic, public and even middle school or high school libraries.


Tanaka, Etsuro; Keiko Koyama; and Becom Co. Ltd. The Manga Guide to Physiology. San Francisco: No Starch Press, 2016.256pp. ISBN-13: 978-1593274405

Similar to the Survive! Inside the Human Body graphic novel series I reviewed a little while back, The Manga Guide to Physiology is a spoonful-of-sugar-makes-the-medicine-go-down treatment of physiology in a graphic novel format, a specialty of the the publisher, No Starch Press. In fact, the Manga Guide series and the Survive! series are both No Starch publications.

An No Starch really knows how to do this type of book well. Just as the Survive! books combined a fun story with serious information about the various systems that make the human body run in quite a bit of detail, so too does the Manga Guide to Physiology. The framing story for the Manga Guide is a nursing student, Kumiko, who needs to, uh, bone up on physiology for a make up exam. Under the tutelage of a cool young prof, Kumiko combines studying for the exam with preparing to run a marathon. The framing here works extremely well as there's plenty of opportunity for light-hearted banter and well as serious discussion about physiology. The race-training provides a great opportunity for putting the book-learning into practice! As with many other books of this type, the story line covers only fairly basic information while each chapter has several pages of more in-depth information.

This is a very fine book which would work well for a quick study of the basics in any physiology course, sort of to provide some scaffolding to help get a student over the hump. Any academic, public or school library would benefit by having this fun and instructive book in their collection.


Wicks, Maris. Human Body Theater. New York: First Second Press, 2015. 240pp. ISBN-13: 978-1626722774

Maris Wicks' wonderful Human Body Theatre is quite similar to The Manga Guide to Physiology in that it is a fun and lighthearted digest of anatomy and physiology. However, while the Manga Guide could quite easily be used to provide some support/scaffolding for an actual course in physiology, HBT doesn't go into anywhere near the same detail. As such, it's more appropriate for younger students who show an interest in biology or physiology, probably at the elementary or middle school level. The art is simple and elegant yet detailed enough to illustrate the science while the story is fun and breezy. Basically, a skeleton telling it's story through the various systems of the body while it sort of re-assembles itself into a fully-fleshed body.

A fun book that I would recommend for any school or public library as well as any academic library that collects graphic novels. It would also make a perfect gift for any child that has shown some interest in science or biology.


Yang, Gene Luen and Mike Holmes. Secret Coders, Book 1. New York: First Second Press, 2015. 96pp. ISBN-13: 978-1626720756

Want to get a youngster in your life acquainted with the logical principles that underpin computer programming? Well, Volume 1 of Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes' Secret Coders series is just the book to get the tech ball rolling. Hopper has just started at a new school and is feeling a bit discombobulated. But she does make a few friends among the nerdier denizens of her new school. But there are mysteries at this new school -- some sort of cleaning robot that behaves by some strange rules or instructions. Hopper and her buddies' process of figuring out what that all means is the first step in the books stealthy introduction to what programming is all about -- teaching a machine to follow instructions. Of course, we have a cliff hanger so Volume 2 is anxiously awaited.

Of course, the name of our hero is a nice nod to computing history.

This is a very fine book that I would recommend for any school or public library as well as any academic library that collections science- or technology-themed graphic novels. It would also make a great gift for any young person who might be interested in science or technology.

(Manga Guide to Physiology, Human Body Theatre and Secret Coders review copies all provided by the publishers.)


Other science graphic novels and illustrated books I have reviewed:

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Friday Fun: Why Professor Indiana Jones Was Hated By His Colleagues

Feb 26 2016 Published by under friday fun, scholarly publishing

Yeah, you have to figure good old Indy wasn't much of an academic colleague. Too flashy, never around to sit on a search committee, never willing to take his turn as chair, always blowing up the wrong building or disrupting the wrong classroom. And then there's the ghosts and arcs and demons and what not. And not even a book chapter or high-impact-factor publication to show for it! What, Science or Nature should have been beating down his door!

Well, let's see what his colleagues had to say about all this!

Why Professor Indiana Jones Was Hated By His Colleagues

Aug. 27, 1936

Dr. Henry Walton "Indiana" Jones
Marshall College School of Archaeology
1271 Slocombe Rd., Bedford, CT 10508

Dear Dr. Jones,

We are proud to say that the editorial board of the Marshall College Archaeological Review has accepted your submission for publication in our fall issue. However, we do have a few notes for your draft before we move forward.

The Title

Though your findings are certainly incredible and we understand your enthusiasm, we must say that the title "God Melted Some Nazi Faces In Front Of Me" simply doesn't fit our journal's aesthetic. I am only more distressed by the title when I read the first sentence of your abstract, which states "At least I think that's what happened. Really, I just closed my eyes for a while, and when I opened them, all the Nazis had melted." As men of science, it is our academic duty to at least entertain the notion that there was a corrosive substance inside the Ark of the Covenant that killed them. Or perhaps there was some sort of violent squabble that erupted while you and Miss Ravenwood had your eyes shut. Or anything, really. Any explanation beyond "God did it" should, at the very least, be mentioned. This segues nicely into my next concern.


Dr. Henry Walton "Indiana" Jones
Marshall College School of Archaeology
1271 Slocombe Rd., Bedford, CT 10508

Dr. Indiana Jones,

We regret to inform you that your article, titled "Magic Exists And Also I Saved A Bunch Of Child Slaves" has not been accepted for publication in the summer issue of the Marshall College Archaeological Review. We do, however, have some notes regarding the use of your travel stipend, your continued irreverence for the methodology of our profession, and your previous as yet unpublished article still titled "God Melted Some Nazi Faces In Front Of Me."


July 19, 1939

Dr. Henry Walton "Indiana" Jones
Marshall College School of Archaeology
1271 Slocombe Rd., Bedford, CT 10508

Dr. Jones,

Are you taunting me with these submission? I can't help but feel that every single piece of feedback I've given you is being thrown in my face in your latest submission, titled "I Met A Thousand-Year-Old Knight And Drank From Jesus' Wine Glass And Fucked A Hot Nazi Spy."

You get the idea. To get the full flavour of his journal correspondence, read the full exposé with the full text of the shocking letters!

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The Sci-Hub story so far: Main event or sideshow?

The controversy about Sci-Hub is raging in the halls of scholarship and academic publishing.

What's the story, in a nutshell?

Sci-Hub is a Russian website that has used donated institutional login credentials to harvest tens of millions of academic articles and has posted them on their site, free to access and read for everyone. This has not pleased the academic publishing community, to say the least. Elsevier is leading the charge to shut them down, succeeding with one iteration of the site last year until, mushroom-like, Sci-Hub has popped up again this year.

My take? Mostly that it's a sideshow.

Overall, my thoughts are fairly similer to The Library Loon's in a lot of ways, so heading over there to read that very fine post is well worth your time.

One aspect that I have ranted about on Twitter which I think is worth mentioning explicitly is that I think Elsevier and all the other big publishers are actually quite happy to feed the social media rage machine with these whack-a-mole controversies. The controversies act as a sideshow, distracting from the real issues and solutions that they would prefer all of us not to think about.

By whack-a-mole controversies I mean this recurring story of some person or company or group that wants to "free" scholarly articles and then gets sued or harassed by the big publishers or their proxies to force them to shut down. This provokes wide outrage and condemnation aimed at the publishers, especially Elsevier who is reserved a special place in hell according to most advocates of openness (myself included).

The big publishers deserve the bile and disgust aimed at them, no doubt about that. Their rear-guard operations are overly heavy-handed and probably counter productive in a lot of ways. But they are a distraction from the real front line in the battle for a fairer and more open scholarly communications ecosystem. The predatory toll access publishers are symptoms of a deeper disease, just like "predatory" open access publishers are a sideshow to that same malaise.

And while we must continue to address those symptoms and work hard to alleviate the suffering they cause, the disease itself is more than happy for us to spend our time complaining about the symptoms.

In other words: Elsevier and its ilk are thrilled to be the target of all the outrage. Focusing on the whack-a-mole game distracts us from fixing the real problem: the entrenched systems of prestige, incentive and funding in academia. As long as researchers are channelled into "high impact" journals, as long as tenure committees reward publishing in closed rather than open venues, nothing will really change. Until funders get serious about mandating true open access publishing and are willing to put their money where their intentions are, nothing will change. Or at least, progress will be mostly limited to surface victories rather than systemic change.

What about libraries and librarians, you say? Library journal budgets have been the canary in the coal mine for this issue longer than I've been in the profession and will continue to be that canary. But the fundamental issue is a difficult one for us to solve. While we are the main source of funding for the big publishers -- to the tune of something like us$10 billion per year -- we are not actually the main users of their products. Those users are the researchers themselves. Who are isolated from directly bearing the cost of that scholarly publishing in their research.

We have a situation where the main consumers consume but don't pay. And the main payers don't actually do the vast majority of the consuming. Libraries are caught in the middle, not much paid attention to or cared about seriously by either side, as long as we continue to find a way to continue paying. Wallets with a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome.

Hence the complexity of all the pain and anguish around the Sci-Hub issue.

But I've ranted enough.

This has been one of those white-hot-rage rants. Deeper thought and reflections will be much more evident in the many recent articles and posts I've linked to below. I'm also mostly concentrating on the most recent Sci-Hub flare up rather than older posts.




As usual, while the list above is not meant to be exhaustive, if I've forgotten anything important please feel free to link to it in the comments.


Update 2016.03.07. Updated up to March 6. A couple of stragglers added as well as a bunch of new ones since the original posting. The Sci-Hub issue seems to have legs!
Update 2016.04.08. Another update, bringing the list up to date. Mostly new items but a few stragglers from February and early March.

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Friday Fun: The Onion on How To File A Patent (and a few more serious readings)

Feb 05 2016 Published by under culture of science, engineering, friday fun

Oh, The Onion. You are so wonderful and your take on the world of patents is so spot on that it hurts.

What are patents for, anyways?

Here's a bit of an excerpt from their 11 Step Program. Drop by the site to see the rest. Brilliant.

Step 1: First, come up with something really cool, like a cheese grater that works in both directions. Oh shit, don’t steal that one! That’s mine!

Step 2: Research the marketplace to find out if your idea is original or if some asshole has already stolen it from you
Step 11:
Spend remainder of bitter, unnaturally truncated life filing lawsuits to protect patent

For your edification, here are a couple of readings on the state of the patent world.

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