Monday, October 29, 2007

University Publishing In A Digital Age

Publish What the world looks like and where we are headed
Formal scholarly publishing is characterized by a process of selection, editing, printing and distribution of an authors content by an intermediary (preferably one with some name recognition). Informal scholarly publication, by comparison, describes the dissemination of content (sometimes called "gray literature") that generally has not passed through these processes, such as working papers, lecture notes, student newsletters, etc. In the past decade, the range and importance of the latter has been dramatically expanded by information technology, as scholars increasingly turn to preprint servers, blogs, listservs, and institutional repositories, to share their work, ideas, data, opinions, and critiques. These forms of informal publication have become pervasive in the university and college environment. As scholars increasingly rely on these channels to share and find information, the boundaries between formal and informal publication will blur. These changes in the behavior of scholars will require changes in the approaches universities take to all kinds of publishing.

The future of scholarly communications
  1. Everything must be electronic
  2. Scholars will rely on deeply integrated electronic research/publishing environments
  3. Multimedia and multi-format delivery will become increasingly important
  4. New forms of content will enable new economic models
One provost opined, "Am I supposed to give someone tenure based on what they've put on a blog?"

Friday, October 26, 2007

String Theory

Discover recently ran a competition asking for videos explaining string theory in two minutes or less. This is the winning video:

The idea was clearly to use a viral video format to explain a complex concept (and promote Discover). And the winner is creditable, but it made me wonder - why two minutes? Why not two seconds? If you're going to simplify science for Joe Public, go for it! I haven't got around to making my String Theory in Two Seconds or Less video yet, but I have written the storyboard. Here it is:
Shot 1: [Vibrating string]: Everything is made of tiny vibrating strings.
The End

Thursday, October 25, 2007

How small is too small?

Wisdom of crowds We know how big a community can be - Dunbar's number tells us that (150). But how small can a community be and still have any functional significance? The Wisdom of Crowds suggests that a community needs a reasonable size to have any analytical power, but how small is too small?

The reason I ask is because the journal Retrovirology just started a blog. I have subscribed, but with all the competing information we struggle with, is a blog about one journal focussed on one family of viruses is just too small to build a powerful user community?

Lazy Consensus

lazy With lazy consensus the idea is that a potential contributor notifies the community of their intentions. For example, they may say "I intend to do XYZ, unless someone objects within 3 days I will go ahead with this." This notification can be made in any form that the community accepts, such as via a mailing list or a shared document space with community notification devices (or in non-technical speak, a village noticeboard ;-) ).
The benefits of this approach include the fact that in the absence of an objection one can assume one has consensus. Community members with no objection and nothing to add to the contribution need take no action. Only those people who believe they can help improve it or those who believe there is a flaw in it need spend any time contributing or objecting to the proposal.
A further advantage of Lazy Consensus is perhaps the most important. Lazy Conensus removes the risk of slipping into despotism since community consensus is still required. No contribution is made without the implicit approval of the community and so nobody can cry "foul" at a later date.

From: Ross Gardler on OSS Watch

OS X Leopard - Faster, Easier Than Vista

Walt Mossberg says:
The Mac is on a roll. By some measures, Mac laptops are now approaching a 20% share of U.S. noncorporate sales. There are several reasons for this, including the security problems in the dominant Windows platform from Microsoft; spillover from Apple’s blistering success with its iPod music players; the fact that Macs can now run Windows programs; and Apple’s highly successful chain of company-owned retail stores. But another key factor has been the Mac operating system, called OS X. On Friday evening, Apple will release yet another new version of OS X, called Leopard, to replace the current version, known as Tiger. In my view, Leopard is better and faster than Vista, with a set of new features that make Macs even easier to use.

BTW Walt, nice video!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

At the forefront of science teaching

logo The HEA Centre for Bioscience held its annual Representatives' Forum in Reading a month ago and they've just made all the presentations available on their spiffy new website.

I was particularly impressed by two of the presentations:
Lots more excellent resources on the Centre for Bioscience website.

Is this a 5 minute argument or the full half hour?

An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a definite proposition.
A: No it isn't!

If you like a good argument, you'll love Debatepedia, the place where you can go to argue debate issues such as:
and lots more. Have fun!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Plagiarism Policy as An Object Lesson in Customer Service

Plagiarism From Rate Your Students:
My university's policy on plagiarism is nothing short of ridiculous ...
I brought with me the student’s paper and the online article from which vast paragraphs were copied verbatim. It was a slam-dunk case. I expected to be told something like, “Well, when it’s this obvious, you don’t even have to come see us. Just nail the sucker.” Instead, I was met with questions about my integrity as a teacher: “How thoroughly have you covered the rules about plagiarism?” “How much of your class is devoted to in-depth discussion of citation?” “Did you offer the student the appropriate help with these difficult, taxing citations?” “Have you asked the student if he perhaps simply forgot to cite properly?” In short, “How are you to blame for this?”
I now enact my own plagiarism (yes, I use the word) code. But I know that if a student ever complains, no one upstairs is going to back me.

The internet is fascinating


Why microblog?

microblogging I'm sometimes a bit slow on the uptake, so the first time I tried blogging (because I felt I "should"), it didn't work. Like the majority of first time bloggers, I dutifully blogged for a few months, and then stopped, because I had no reason so continue.
When I returned to blogging two years later, it was because I had a purpose. Second time around and armed with a purpose, blogging not only worked out for me, it tried to take over my life! Like all converts, I need to testify about my new beliefs (Why Blog?).
This morning, my feed reader is jammed with posts about Google's acquisition of Jaiku, a microblogging competitor to Twitter. Part of the interest is commercial, coming so soon after Google bought (and apparently mothballed) Dodgeball, another mobile microblogging service, and in speculation about the "Facebook killer" Google is supposed to announce on November 5th. So there's still money sloshing around the web 2.0 bubble. But my question about microblogging goes deeper than financial speculation.

Why would I want to microblog?

I've never felt the urge to document the minutiae of my life on Twitter. I am sometimes amused, sometimes irritated by the microblog Twitter/Facebook status RSS feeds of a few acquaintances which I subscribe to. But I went through my Facebook phase and I'm over it now. Facebook is, like, so last month, yah?
I am aware of the potential power of microblogging. The intermittent variable reward provided by "friends" status updates is the reason that Facebook is sticky. But that doesn't want to make me do it. So I ask you,

why would I want to microblog?

23.10.07: Interestingly, no-one answered my question. Is that because everyone thinks microblogging is a waste of time, or because all the true believers are too busy tweeting to get anything else done? There's an interesting post titled Why Twitter Isn’t a Waste of Time on Problogger which says:
The value is in your own micro-community of followers and who you choose to follow.
You don’t want the wisdom of any crowd; you want the wisdom of a carefully-selected crowd.
It's right about the first part, but wrong about the second part. The community element is important, but selecting a small crowd of like minded people is against the crowdsourcing principles explored by James Surowiecki in The Wisdom of Crowds, and is ultimately self-defeating because of inward-looking stagnation.

Monday, October 22, 2007

How to write a research paper

strobeThe STROBE statement (STrengthening the Reporting of OBservational studies in Epidemiology) is an attempt to improve the quality of biomedical research papers:
Much biomedical research is observational. The reporting of such research is often inadequate, which hampers the assessment of its strengths and weaknesses and of a study's generalisability.
But wait, that also sounds like a lot of educational research! Maybe application of the STROBE statement by authors and referees might improve the quality of papers in this field too. Here's the STROBE checklist:

  • Title & Abstract
  • Introduction: Background/rationale, objectives
  • Methods: Study design, setting, participants, variable, data sources/measurement, bias, study size, quantitative variables, statistical methods
  • Results: Participants, descriptive data, outcome data, main results, other analyses
  • Discussion: Key results, limitations, interpretation, generalisability
  • Other Information: Funding

Friday, October 19, 2007


From the press release: Twine = "knowledge networking"
Twine is designed to enrich information and find patterns that individuals cannot easily see on their own by connecting contacts, email, bookmarks, RSS feeds, documents, photos, videos, news, products, discussions, notes, and anything else including blog and wiki functions overlaid with a social network graph.

Want to try Twine? Register for the Invite Beta.

More from Tim O'Reilly.

This post is brought to you by Gutsy Gibbon

Ubuntu I'd be worried if I ever thought I was becoming enough of a geek to forget about pedagogy, but having spent the morning playing with Gutsy Gibbon, I feel happy. I'm a complete Linux newbie, but the switch from Windoze has been pretty painless. The reason for that has nothing to do with the OS, it's because of online applications. Gmail, Blogger, etc. Who needs XP?

I can't argue that Linux is ready for primetime, because it's not, but on a few hours experience, it beats Windows, although neither are remotely tempting if you're an OS X user (the Wired review is slightly off there: Ubuntu's New 'Gutsy Gibbon' Brings Linux Out of the Jungle).

I still haven't been able to get QuickTime to play - any help? Working now - what a geek ;-)

Information R/evolution

Mike Wesch's latest video gives his take on Everything is Miscellaneous:

There is no shelf. The links are enough.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

How not to be a videoblogger

Seems like I'm drowning in video. These days, everyone want to be a videoblogger. Jaiku, a sort of video Twitter, just launched into this crowded market. Justin.TV may have started the craze, now everyone is on kyte (or TokBox or FlashVlog) but it's ALL TALKING HEADS.

There are some great examples of video podcasts out there. Rocketboom, BoingBoingTV, WebbAlert - they all have interest because they have variety, not just some dope sitting in front of a webcam. In these examples, the video format adds value to the information.

Even people who I respect have fallen into the trap. I've learned a lot about blogging from Darren Rowse, but his recent foray in videoblogging is a let down. Darren, what do your recent videos add to ProBlogger that I couldn't get from reading the text, or if you must, you reading the text in audio format while I check my email?

The reason of course is that there is too much overhead in making an INTERESTING video blog where the format adds to the value of the text. At the same time, the tools to produce and distribute video get easier and easier so that any idiot can do it, and it seems, most can't resist the temptation. So just in case you're tempted, here's the Science of the Invisible video guide to how not to be a videoblogger:

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mac OS X Leopard's killer videoblogging feature

iChat screenshot There are over 300 new features in Macintosh OS X Leopard (10.5) released on October 26th, but the one which got my attention are the enhancehments to iChat, the IM/VoIP/video conferencing tool which comes free with all Macs. The new iChat has:
  • Background images: You can now appear to be sitting in front of one of your photos or a logo.
  • Quick Look support: Leopard's extensive new document-previewing feature.
  • Recording: You can now save audio and video conferences.
This is the video podcasting tool I've been looking for. (I've been thinking about video podcasting a lot this week - more on that later).

Journalism? Don't make me laugh

Inconvenient Truth Old media like to say that new media (such as bloggers and Wikipedia) are unreliable sources. In some cases, that is true. But are they any more unreliable than old media?

A UK High Court judge has rejected a lawsuit by political activist Stuart Dimmock to ban the showing of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth in English schools. Justice Burton said that:
Al Gore's presentation of the causes and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly accurate.
There were nine points where Burton decided that AIT differed from the IPCC and that this should be addressed in the Guidance Notes for teachers to be sent out with the movie. Old media journalists misreported this decision by stating that AIT contained nine scientific errors (Daily Telegraph, The Times, New York Times, The Independent, Melbourne Herald Sun, The Guardian, Nature, The BBC, The Washington Post, ABC News, and a few more. Plus all the syndicated suckers which spread this misinformation. Reliable? I don't think so.

Veteran BBC TV composer and arranger Ronnie Hazlehurst died recently. But when his obituaries appeared in the old media (BBC News, The Guardian, The Independent, The Times, The Stage, Reuters), they all reported that he had emerged from retirement a few years ago to co-write the song 'Reach', a hit for pop group S Club 7 (hats off to The Telegraph which didn't). An anonymous edit on Wikipedia introduced the hoax into the entries for both Hazlehurst and the S Club 7 song. Reliable? I don't think so.

Old media are in desperate trouble. I'd be sympathetic if:
a) They didn't spend so much time telling me how unreliable new media are as information sources.
b) They weren't digging their own grave.
It's an inconvenent truth.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Blog logo

I was thinking, it's about time this blog had a logo, so how about these:

Blog logo Blog logo Blog logo

And here are two which didn't make the cut:

Blog logo Blog logo

The future of collective intelligence

Wisdom of crowds
... when a group of seemingly independent actors are making decisions based on the same limited pool of information, they become more highly correlated, and thus "stupider."
In thinking about the future of collective intelligence, we need to make sure that we not only think about systems that lead to convergence of opinion, but also ones that ensure divergence, and fresh inputs.

Tim O'Reilly

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Vision of Students Today

I'm currently marking the email assessment I set out first year students last week. It's an intentionally low-threshold competence-based exercise designed to support students with weaker IT skills. As part of the submission, I ask students to comment on what they like and don't like about the assessment. The biggest negative is having to read through documents to find the answers to a quiz. The second biggest gripe is having to learn about the University's email system instead of using their personal email accounts, (Hotmail, etc). It's a classic web 2.0 in higher education dilemma, as portrayed in Mike Wesch's latest video:

Hat tip: Tony

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Primary children suffer stress

mushroom cloud Primary school children and their parents are suffering from "deep anxiety" about modern life.

No shit, Sherlock. Primary school children have always suffered from stress. I had a happy childhood, but school was stressful. Maths was stressful. Kids called me fatty foureyes. Oh, and yes, the Cuban missile crisis scarred me for decades - I though the Ruskies and the Merkins were going to fry me. No stress there then.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Health Risk Behaviors on MySpace

MySpace It's not very often I can write a post which is suitable for both Microbiologybytes and Science of the Invisible, but this topic is.
MySpace is a popular social networking site where users create individual profiles. A group from the University of Washington examined publicly available MySpace profiles of 16- and 17-year-olds and determined the prevalence of personal risk behavior descriptions and identifiable information. They looked at 142 publicly available MySpace profiles (so not a particularly big study) from the class of 2008 MySpace group. 47% contained indications of risk behavior information: 21% described sexual activity; 25% alcohol use; 9% cigarette use; and 6% drug use.

So are these results surprising?

Not to me. Considering this is a small sample of a self-selecting group who have public MySpace profiles, I'm slightly surprised that the percentages of risk behavior are not higher. Of course this study is flawed in lots of ways, but perhaps the most interesting sentence in the paper is:
Social networking sites may provide a new venue for identification, assessment, and interventions to prevent or reduce health risks.
Watch out teenagers, the health police are after you!

What Are Adolescents Showing the World About Their Health Risk Behaviors on MySpace?
Medscape General Medicine 2007 9: 9 (requires free registration)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

BBC LinkLove

RSS feeds This may have been going on for a while, but I just noticed that the BBC has started to open up it's rather closed BBC News website by showing other online news organizations some linklove via the Newstracker system from Moreover Technologies.

It seems like the Beeb is paying though the nose for RSS feeds it could easily generate via lots of free online sources, but hey, it's progress for Auntie I suppose.

Update: Associated Press is suing Moreover claiming they are illegally accessing and distributing Associated Press content without permission.

Assessment at the speed of light

speed of light This is a new one for me. While I'm giving this week's I.T. lecture students are sitting in front of me logged onto the Bennett building wireless network completing the assessment as I'm talking :-)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Dunbars number Dunbar's number (150) represents a theoretical maximum number of individuals with whom a set of people can maintain a social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who each person is and how each person relates socially to every other person. Group sizes larger than this generally require more restricted rules, laws, and enforced policies and regulations to maintain a stable cohesion.

Proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, it indicates the "cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships". Dunbar theorizes that "this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size ... the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained."

London Olympics 2012

finger Fascinating post by Alun at
From the Guardian comes news that could seriously impact classical studies in the year after AD 2011. The committee which cannot legally be named, has copyrighted a word which rhymes with Molympic and the number you get if you subtract 6,519 from 8,531.
Sue me.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Everything Is Miscellaneous - or is it?

David Weinberger, author of Everything Is Miscellaneous debates digital information with Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur. Video:

Friday, October 05, 2007


At a recent scientific meeting, a speaker at a small workshop session caused me to stare in surprise. I did so not because of anything he had said, but simply because he was dressed in an impeccable three-piece suit and tie. It later became clear that he was a medic who had rushed to the meeting from work to give his presentation on time. Nevertheless, with his sartorial elegance he was obviously 'out of place' - all the other scientists attending the meeting were wearing a different 'uniform': a limited wardrobe in which jeans, colourful shirts and t-shirts were dominant, with the occasional jacket for those who were giving a talk. This casual style of clothes might suggest that scientists are 'cooler' and more relaxed than other professionals, but this seemingly carefree choice of clothes conforms to group pressure in just the same way as the obligatory suit and tie among medics or bankers - scientists are less free than their tie-free image suggests.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Beauty of Leicester

Aylesone Meadows

M69 at dusk

Bored at Berkeley

UC Berkeley has begun posting entire lecture courses on YouTube. Sounds interesting, right?
Wrong, totally wrong. A lecture is a lecture. A YouTube video is something else. So spend the next hour+ watching this, then tell me:
does this experience inspire learning?

Rememble - digital timeline creator

Yesterday we were discussing the need for simple digital tools to recreate reusable learning objects. Rememble is a free online digital repository which threads together digital objects such as texts, photos, videos, sounds, etc. As soon as I saw it, I though "timeline creator". Take it away, Ross:

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Engage in Research

logo Engage in Research is a new website produced by the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Applied Undergraduate Research Skills (CETL-AURS) at Reading. The site contains information of interest to students studying science-related degree programmes. The website covers many aspects of research and the scientific method that students will come across and includes topics such as statistics, how to write scientifically and how to present research, as well as interactive elements (podcasts, exercises, quizzes, etc) which can be downloaded and used as teaching material.

The Theological Objection

Alan Turing Thinking is a function of man's immortal soul. God has given an immortal soul to every man and woman, but not to any other animal or to machines. Hence no animal or machine can think.
I am unable to accept any part of this, but will attempt to reply in theological terms. I should find the argument more convincing if animals were classed with men, for there is a greater difference, to my mind, between the typical animate and the inanimate than there is between man and the other animals. The arbitrary character of the orthodox view becomes clearer if we consider how it might appear to a member of some other religious community. How do Christians regard the Moslem view that women have no souls? But let us leave this point aside and return to the main argument. It appears to me that the argument quoted above implies a serious restriction of the omnipotence of the Almighty. It is admitted that there are certain things that He cannot do such as making one equal to two, but should we not believe that He has freedom to confer a soul on an elephant if He sees fit? We might expect that He would only exercise this power in conjunction with a mutation which provided the elephant with an appropriately improved brain to minister to the needs of this sort[. An argument of exactly similar form may be made for the case of machines. It may seem different because it is more difficult to "swallow." But this really only means that we think it would be less likely that He would consider the circumstances suitable for conferring a soul. The circumstances in question are discussed in the rest of this paper. In attempting to construct such machines we should not be irreverently usurping His power of creating souls, any more than we are in the procreation of children: rather we are, in either case, instruments of His will providing mansions for the souls that He creates.

Finally, a CAPTCHA I like

CAPTCHA I like commenting on blogs, and I like it when people comment on my blog. The problem is that if comments are completely open, then spammers take over. WordPress has achieved an automated 99% solution to this problem with the brilliant Askimet software, but for other bloggers, each time we want to comment on what someone has written, we have to struggle though a CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart).
CAPTCHAs are evil because they discourage commenting (yes, even me), and that's a bad thing. But spammers are worse, so if we have to have CAPTCHAs, at least let them do something useful, like the new CAPTCHA from Carnegie Mellon University which allows bloggers to help digitize old books and manuscripts supplied by a non-profit organisation called the Internet Archive. Nice.

Update: In this interesting post, Tony discusses reCAPTCHAs and points at Google Image Labeler.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Radiohead in fairyland

Radiohead Remember when I bought a copy of the Mail on Sunday so I could get Prince's new CD? Well the music industry is still struggling to come to terms with the digital age, but at least the smarter end end is now trying some new models.

Alan McGee, the brains behind Oasis, has come up with, err, the same model as Prince. "I know, why don't we give the new Charlatans CD away for free?"

Radiohead, being slightly smarter, have come up with a more interesting model: let fans can decide how much to pay, or whether to pay anything at all for their new album.

I wish I could be enthusiastic about these developments, but I'm sorry, beyond some free publicity, it ain't gonna work. Artists have to eat, and the majority of the great unwashed will not pay for something they can steal download for free. Let's apply the same nutty scheme to, oh, let's say, groceries. You can wander into Tesco and decide how much, if anything, you're going to pay for your weekly shop. Won't work, the store would go bust within a year.

So here's what the music industry should do. Get rid of the fat cats and freeloaders. Stop gouging the fans and charge fair prices for music and concerts which reflect the true costs of production and distribution, plus a sensible profit margin. Embrace digital distribution channels to reduce costs further. Make digital content theft as socially unacceptable as mugging someone for their mobile phone. Stop pretending that the interweb is some sort of fairyland where the normal rules of human behavior don't apply.

Hat tip: Alun

Monday, October 01, 2007