16 February 2015

The Journal of Funding Agency

An argument in scientific publishing is, “Who pays?” For many journals run by traditional, for-profit publishers, usually the library pays. For many open access online journals, the author pays.

Scientists don’t want to pay out of pocket. This is a legitimate concern, because the article processing charges can be thousands of dollars (though not all are). Many have argued that funding agencies should ultimately be the ones who pay, because they are sponsoring the research, and they have a vested interest in seeing the research published as widely as possible.

Many agencies have taken up this cause, and have polices that require open access publication.

Still... this seems a long and needlessly complicated path for the money to take. Researchers have to write grants, budget for an unknown number of papers, which then have to go to the journal.

Why don’t funding agencies start their own open access journals?

The rule would be simple: If you have research supported by the funding agency, it’s free to publish open access in that agency’s journal.

If your research is supported by other agencies, you’d pay an article fee.

I wonder if funding agencies might actually save money by having their own publishing arms. They wouldn’t have to worry about the budgeting for the publication fees. It would simplify both the writing and review of grant proposals.

Most funding agencies already have the infrastructure to publish stuff. After all, they publish reports and calls for proposal and so on all the time. They have connections to peer reviewers, because they use them to review grant proposals.

Some government agencies have had their own journals for a long time. Canada’s NRC Research Press is one example. I don’t know those journals payment system, although I think most are using the “library pays” subscription model. It might have the potential to be “house publisher” for scientists with Canadian federal funding.

HHMI, The Wellcome Trust, and the Max Planck Institute got into the publishing end of things with eLife. But they are just “supporting” the journal, rather than it being in house. There may be advantages to this, mainly editorial independence.

Update, 23 March 2017: The Gates Foundation is taking up this idea. They are creating something called Gates Open Research. The news article is interesting because it variously called this a publishing “venture” and “platform” rather than a journal.

External links

Gates Foundation announces open-access publishing venture

Photo by Steven Depolo on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

13 February 2015

The academic hierarchy has more snakes than ladders

It’s kind of been a disheartening week for data on faculty career hiring. In less than a week, a paper by Clauset and colleagues showed that in computer science, business, history, school prestige is a very good predictor of faculty hiring.

(O)nly 9 to 14% of faculty are placed at institutions more prestigious than their doctorate(.)

A few days later, similar data came out for the study of English.

Of the graduates who get tenure-track jobs, most end up at universities ranked lower than the ones they attended. Virtually no one moves up.

It’s not quite the Matthew effect, but it’s close.

Of course, when the school prestige carries so much clout, it is not surprising that the perceived “top” schools have a lot of their graduates take the few faculty jobs out there.

25% of institutions producing 71 to 86% of all tenure-track faculty(.)

Of course, I am sure that some will argue that this is fair, and that the most prestigious schools have that prestige way because they are the best. Maybe they are, but I am not convinced that they are that much better. Neither are Clauset and colleagues:

Under a meritocracy, the observed placement rates would imply that faculty with doctorates from the top 10 units are inherently two to six times more productive than faculty with doctorates from the third 10 units. The magnitude of these differences makes a pure meritocracy seem implausible, suggesting the influence of nonmeritocratic factors like social status.

It’s disheartening on so many levels. It means that programs in lower ranked schools, and students in them, are engaged in busy work, and not making meaningful contributions to academia.

It suggests that there are probably similar prestige effects happening at the lower levels of education: so they way you get into a top doctoral program, you might have to get into a top undergraduate program, and so on. So higher education, instead of being a leveler, is reinforcing hierarchies.

Update, 29 May 2018: New preprint on this here. Hat tip to Needhi Bhalla and Gaetan Burgio.

Update, 21 September 2022: Yet more evidence of the dominance of a few universities in producing faculty – at least in the United States. It’s in this new paper in Nature by Wapman and colleagues. The accompanying commentary has a blunt headline summary: “Most US professors are trained at same few elite universities.”

External links

Where Do English Ph.D.’s Get Jobs? It Depends on Where They Studied.

Clauset A, Arbesman S, Larremore DB. 2015. Systematic inequality and hierarchy in faculty hiring networks. Science Advances 1(1): e1400005. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.1400005

Some figures on prestige bias in academia

Photo by Travis on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

09 February 2015

Analyzing the UTRGV Vaqueros logo, or: Who was that tanned man?

The UTRGV mascot was unveiled... at 4:00 pm on Friday afternoon. I do not think the timing of this release was accidental. After the uproar that followed the announcement of the “Vaqueros” name, I think someone hoped that late Friday afternoon would provide a “soft launch” for the logo.


I like the look of the logo overall. The horse and rider look dynamic and distinctive. It reads well from a distance.

There is one thing I absolutely love about this logo. It's a little Easter egg that shows a very sharp, professional graphic designer did this. There is a map of Texas hidden in the negative space of the horse’s front and back legs. That is just a detail that delights.


In the full colour version of the logo, the rider looks like he’s had a spray on tanning mishap. Sort of like Ross in the Friends episode, “The One with Ross’s Tan.”

Our female athletes got ignored. We have dozens of alternate logos, and there are no Vaqueras. Not even a team name in any of the zillion logo variants.

Our friends at Brownsville got short changed. Again. Most seriously, several of the logo variants have the outline of the state of Texas, and a single star in the Valley... pretty much right on Edinburg, where UTPA is. Either there should be a star for each campus, or no stars.

On a minor note, the UTRGV colours are supposed to be orange, green (UTPA’s heritage colour) and blue (UTB’s heritage colour). But in the full colour logo, the navy blue it so dark that it doesn’t read as blue.

Some people have said there are some similarities with the Texas Tech Mascot, the Red Raiders. Both have a man on horseback.

I personally don’t see this as a big problem. The colours, poses, letters... There is no way the two would ever be confused.

The lettering looks very similar to the type used for the current UTPA athletics workdmark, and to other institutions. Both have big chunky slab type, with a spikey bit emerging from the top left.

Overall, the logo is sharp, but it’s a shame that it doesn’t show awareness of the criticisms of the Vaqueros name, and the regional tensions that have been brewing because of it.

05 February 2015

The Zen of Presentations, part 67: Lessons from Left Shark

The real winner of the 49th Super Bowl was not a football team.

It was the left shark.

Katy Perry performed at halftime flanked by two dancers in shark outfits. The right shark’s moves were crisp, timed, and coordinated with the music.

The left shark’s moves were... hell, let’s just say it, left shark forgot the routine they all rehearsed. He just kind of waggled around and hoped.

But who did the people remember? Nay, who did the people embrace? The precise, professional right shark? No! The people fell for left shark.

In less than a week, left shark has entered the pop culture hall of fame.

Left shark is commemorated in t-shirts.

Left shark’s dance is made into a flipbook.

And “Dance like nobody’s watching” has been replaced in the vocabulary.

Even I, who did not watch the Super Bowl at all, found myself saying earlier this week, “I’m left shark today.” Meaning, “I just can’t get it together, and I don’t really care.”

People loved left shark because they related to left shark. Left shark wasn’t perfect, but the dance was genuine, and it was endearing. People responded to its humanity fishanity. Left shark was a trooper, and not about to let a little uncertainty with the dance routine stop it. The show must go on.

Pixar artist Emma Coates wrote that one of their first rules storytelling is:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

We admire left shark for trying more we admire right shark for its success.

The lesson from left shark for presenters is that your presentation doesn’t have to be letter perfect. It doesn’t have to be polished. If you are willing to laugh at yourself a little, being the imperfect, authentic you will take you a long way.

Sorry, Garr Reynolds. Sorry, Nancy Duarte. But...

01 February 2015

Comments for second half of January 2015

Small Pond Science has a look at science crowdfunding, which was partly informed by the PLOS ONE paper I contributed to on the subject.

The PLOS ONE paper also makes an appearance in a substantive article on science crowdfunding that appeared in several Australian newspapers, including The Age:

When crowdfunding sites first appeared about 2009, many scientists pooh-poohed the notion of raising research money through them, theorising that only those projects with gimmicky mass-market appeal – which they called “panda science” – would attract attention.

But that idea has been debunked.

In the first major study on crowdfunding in the sciences, which was published in December in PLoS One, the study's authors found that the online audience was willing to fund a wide variety of projects, even those in areas such as statistics or little-known invertebrates - which typically aren’t considered sexy.

What seemed to factor more in the success of a project was whether a researcher was able to develop a sufficient fan base. Being able to connect with a large audience through outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube appeared to correlate with increased levels of funding.