Monday, January 21, 2013

MoAR: the mathematician's workload -- deconstructed, augmented, and shrunk.

forget the middlemen: DIY publishing.

and now for something that a(nother) mathematician has written, which is actually relevant to other working mathematicians:
One possibility being discussed, which I am very much in favour of, is each accepted article having not just a link to the arXiv but also a web page for (non-anonymous) comments and reviews. For example, the editor who accepts an article might wish to write a paragraph or two about why the article is interesting, a reader who spots a minor error might write explaining the error and how it can be fixed (if it can), and an expert in the area might write a review that could be very useful to hiring committees.

This may even go further, with comment pages being set up for other preprints and journal articles — not just the ones that have appeared in epijournals.

~ from "why i've also joined the good guys" @timgowers
this sounds really cool. to me, a well-written article should have an introduction which outlines why the article is important; then again, if the article will appear in a rather specialised journal, then "why" and "important" suddenly become very relative words.

so it will be a fine thing for the possibility of having others give an exposition, thereby giving me my versions of "why" and "important" ..!

however, this is part of a larger story. the earlier elsevιer boycotts seem to have coalesced into some potentially real changes, including mathematicians doing their own publishing:
Many mathematicians — and researchers in other fields — claim that they already do most of the work involved in publishing their research. At no cost, they type up and format their own papers, post them to online servers, join journal editorial boards and review the work of their peers. By creating journals that publish links to peer-reviewed work on servers such as arXiv, Demailly says, the community could run its own publishing system. The extra expense involved would be the cost of maintaining websites and computer equipment, he says.

~ from "Mathematicians aim to take publishers out of publishing" @nature
ideally, this would also be really cool. i worry, though, at the idea of importing more responsibility of journals to mathematicians.

we academicians already have a lot of administrative responsibilities -- see the below for more about this -- and for a concrete example, think of how long it takes for a submitted article to be refereed. it's not clear to me whether the bottleneck comes from the journal staff not being efficient or that referees (which are mathematicians) simply don't read the submission until it's been a year and they suddenly feel guilty about it.

so unless they make significant changes to the academic journal model, i only expect that these new open-access journals will have even longer backlogs and delays.

speaking of journals ..


i suppose that this is good news.
The Register & Read program will now allow individuals to register for the service, but members will only be able to read three items every two weeks. Users won't be able to see JSTOR's whole library either: free accounts will only have access to 1,200 journals from 700 publishers. In exchanges for free access, users will have to enter their personal details at signup that will be shared with JSTOR along with its partners, giving them insight as to who’s reading specific material.
based on how long it takes me to go through a paper, even partially, i'd say that three articles per fortnight is a reasonable quota ..

.. but for the record: JSTΟR may lately be feeling generous, but it won't bring aaron back. as far as i'm concerned, they still have some blood on their hands.

professors as paper-pushers.

in some sense, the same historical changes from labor-saving devices are now manifest on university campuses: when it's no longer cost-effective to have hired help, then we end up shouldering more work than before.
My own knowledge comes from universities, both in the United States and Britain. In both countries, the last thirty years have seen a veritable explosion of the proportion of working hours spent on administrative tasks at the expense of pretty much everything else. In my own university, for instance, we have more administrators than faculty members, and the faculty members, too, are expected to spend at least as much time on administration as on teaching and research combined. The same is true, more or less, at universities worldwide..

~ from "of flying cars and the declining rate of profit" @thebaffler

not everyone shares this viewpoint, though ..

we mathematicians dream for a living.

so i just read this excerpt from the guardian and this paraphrased quote struck me as apt ..
"You need to let mathematicians do what they do," he replied, and quoted the example of Cambridge professor and number theorist G.H. Hardy, who in 1940 famously declared that his subject had no practical applications. Mathematicians have, in fact, been very successful in finding applications for apparently useless theorems - maths, for instance, is now the base for much internet security. "It is unreasonable that mathematicians should be so successful in this," Wright said. "You really, genuinely never know what is going to work." .
~ from "the science of fun" @the_guardian
i would take it a little farther. you see ..

.. if mathematics is the language of science, then it is also the imagination of science; it is what the genres of science fiction and fantasy are to reality (but in a more rigorous manner). we mathematicians have the freedom to create worlds that do not yet exist, to the benefit of those who require worlds that must necessarily be.

for without gauss and riemann, there would have been no einstein.

chemists, physicists, biologists, and economists must bow as subjects to reality. we mathematicians are under no such dominion. what we dream may become the realities of tomorrow .. not all, but some, and to shape the future, some is enough.

so yes, we are dreamers of a kind. we also make sound your computations, and show you how to compute your chances. without us, your measurements would be meaningless.

videos as permanent substitute lecturers?

at any rate, it's begun: universities don't need professors, they need instructors. in fact, they don't need instructors; they only need videos.
Fed up, Gov. Jerry Brown has given his blessing to popular online course platform, Udacity, to partner with San Jose State University for the ultra-low cost online lower-division and remedial classes. The tiny pilot of algebra and statistics courses will be limited to just 300 students, half from SJSU and half from high schools and community colleges.

~ from "How California’s Online Education Pilot Will End College As We Know It" @techcrunch
i suppose it makes sense .. for if faculty are becoming administrators, then someone or something has to teach the students, right? 7-:

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