Harvard vs Elsevier

I’m insanely glad that Harvard is piling into the general rage at Elsevier &c, money-sucking parasites on the work of academics. I’m really starting to believe we’ll see open-access academic publishing become the norm, even obligatory, in the next 5-10 years. That is, exactly how it should have been all along.

This is SO MUCH more exciting than mining asteroids. The current system is ludicrous even by the usual standards of university-bureaucratic idiocy — we figure out how the world works, then lock away the results.

Commercial academic publishing made some sense in a world where articles needed to be printed and distributed, at considerable expense. Now the entire industry only makes sense as rent-seeking.

There’s a wonderful, gently cutting commentary on this by Dr. Tim Leuning. Dr. Leuning is both an economic historian, and editor of an Elsevier journal. So he knows what he’s talking about when he writes:

What I strongly dislike is the [Elsevier] Chief Executive claiming that the objections of Elsevier’s critics are based on ‘misstatements or misunderstandings of the fact’. He should be honest and state that in many cases his journals have an

element of monopoly power

which as a commercial, capitalist company he is

determined to exploit

as fully as possible. I would respect him were he to say that. For him to claim otherwise is simply false

snippets: Bo Xilai, JG Ballard, Laurie Penny.

I claim no connection between these paragraphs, except that I enjoyed them all:

Laurie Penny at her furious best:

And why is it that women are not permitted to be creative without having to speak for the entire condition of womankind? The most exhaustively discussed new cultural artefacts in recent weeks – ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and Lena Dunham’s new HBO show ‘Girls’ – are being treated as if they were straight memoirs, rather than, in one case, a piece of redrafted fan-fiction based around a story that was originally about vampires? Is it because we don’t believe that a woman can truly create fiction or write meaningfully without drawing entirely on her own experience? Is it because mainstream culture still lacks a language to talk about women’s issues and women’s lives that is not at once confessional and riddled with lazy stereotypes? Is it because most ‘fictional’ women are still created, cast and directed by men? Is it because we don’t believe women can actually be artists?

Current standard gossip on Bo Xilai, via B&T:

Wang did ask for asylum, and was carrying the Neil Heywood file. He claimed he’d been investigating it and was shut down by Bo and now feared for his life, but they got the strong impression this was a cover, and that what had happened was that he’d been investigated for corruption, was worried Bo was deserting him, and grabbed the biggest piece of dirt he had. So Heywood wasn’t the motivator, but there was, at the least, something dirty about his death.

Simon Reynolds on JG Ballard:

Science fiction writers love to think of what they’re doing as one really crucial, contemporary form of literature — a literature of ideas with elements of speculation and an estrangement effect.

Rock critics are just the same: they crave that validation from mainstream art criticism, but they also like being the renegade form. Ballard exemplifies this meta aspect of science fiction, although he goes beyond it as a great cultural critic.

Visualising brand loyalty

Online retailers have deeply explored how to find similarities between their customers.

Users who bought X also bought Y

and its variants are omnipresent and widely developed.

There’s a strange absence, though, when it comes to making visible the ongoing relationship of a consumer to a product. How much brand loyalty do they display?

To take an example: I’m currently planning to buy a new laptop. I’m very interested in build quality. Testing by experts isn’t much good at exposing flaws in build: it’s near-impossible to simulate the effects of daily use over a period of years. Aggregated user reviews are more helpful: lots of complaints about cracked screens probably reflect a common problem. But they’re biased towards defects which are discrete, and big enough to inspire angry reviews.

What I want to know is: do users who buy a Vaio buy another one three years later? Or do they switch to Dell? I really want is a measure of

user loyalty

. And we have one: it’s easy to count how many users will re-order the same product, or another from the same product line. Do customers who bought X tend to re-order X? Or do they switch to X’s competitors?

This information is readily available to any online retailer, or even to an offline seller tracking loyalty cards or credit cards. But I’m not aware of anybody making it visible to users. Why not?

UK govt plans removing the right to hear evidence against you

On Liberal Conspiracy, a member of the legal charity Reprieve flags up a quite astonishing government proposal: to deny criminal suspects the right to hear the evidence against them. Under the proposed expansion to “Closed Material Procedures” (CMPs):

once the minister has made the call that there is ‘sensitive’ material involved, the court goes into lockdown, and the citizen (along with the media) is excluded — as a result, they will simply not know what claims the Government is making about them.

Through this secret process, the only person putting forward the defense case would be a “Special Advocate” —

who would not be allowed to commuicate with their client


Liberty argue, reasonably enough, that:

Being able to present evidence to a judge without the other side having the chance to refute it or even know what it is obviously gives the Government a huge advantage in legal proceedings and the potential to present a very one-sided or misleading version of events.

Even the Northamptonshire police feel that the proposed legislation:

is very widely drafted and could result in its misuse. This could be used to encompass material concerning crime prevention tactics, police informants and intelligence led operations.

The impact of the overuse of CMPs would be to damage the UK reputation of a free and fair democracy.

Finally the Mail, of all places, reports the views of the existing Special Advocates, the lawyers working with the existing system of Closed Material Procedures:

They submitted a very thorough and telling response to the consultation. These are the lawyers who have the greatest experience of the system and they were unanimously opposed to the very broad extension of CMPs.