26 December 2023

Cell Bio 2023

How it started:

How it’s going:

Second photo from https://x.com/lenakumba/status/1731423282228867322

26 December 2023: Originally posted on 3 December 2034 on the Better Posters blog by accident.

23 September 2023

A biologist in a physics mag

Physics Today cover for October 2023The change in my job is slowly starting to have an effect. I’m quoted, as DORA Program Director, in a new article in Physics Today.

As a biologist, I have to say that this is not ever something I aspired or expected in my career. So, that’s interesting.


Feder T. 2023. Global movement to reform researcher assessment gains traction. Physics Today 76(10): 22–24. https://doi.org/10.1063/PT.3.5323

25 August 2023

Social media for scientists, circa summer 2023

Twitter is now X and its credibility is shattered. Even though a lot of people keep using it, but it’s the grudging use of people who are mostly only doing it because they have to.

So both personally and professionally, I’ve been looking at other social media platforms. In my view, only two are serious contenders for filling the void left by the gross mismanagement of Twitter.

BlueSky is the new science Twitter. It’s filled with the early adopters of Twitter, the Internet experimenters and science communicators. T-shirt and jeans. And the vibe is very much the freewheeling, ever-so-slightly – okay, maybe more than slightly – anarchic vibe of the early science online days.

Mastodon is  the new Academic Twitter. (The use of capitals is deliberate.) It’s got the feel of a lot of the late adopters of Twitter. The ones who were sort of persuaded that they could use a social media platform social media for promoting their brand and posting critiques of papers and doing, you know, being a serious scholar online. Polo shirts and slacks. The vibe is ever-so-slight slightly – okay, maybe more than slightly – po-faced and straight-laced.

Now, of course, your mileage may vary. These are my own personal impressions, not back up by any data. And to be clear, I am not saying that either is better than the other. There are clearly communities developing on both platforms that are finding worthwhile discussions.

External links

Thousands of scientists are cutting back on Twitter, seeding angst and uncertainty

10 August 2023

Space: 1999 is now further in the past than it was set in the future

Space: 1999 title card

Space: 1999 first aired on October 17, 1975. Unusually for a science fiction show, it gave a quite precise date for when its events started unfolding.




The first episode, “Breakaway,” is set on September 13, 1999. (September 13 is now known as “Breakaway Day” among series fans.)

That means, according to a handy duration calculator, that the first episode of Space: 1999 was set 23 years, 10 months, 27 days in the future. Or 8,732 days, if you prefer.

Today marks 8,732 days since September 13, 1999. 

The show is now officially more retro than it was ever futuristic.

Man, I’m old. But I still love the Eagle transporters, though.

Eagle transporter from Space: 1999

03 August 2023

Malaysia puts pressure on researcher’s publication choices

Previously, I organized a roundtable discussion for the tenth anniversary of DORA about institutions trying to “put a thumb on the scale” of researchers’ decisions about what journal to publish in. 

For brevity, I called these “bans.” But I know that in many cases, these were not true “bans.” Researchers could still publish in journals from particular publishers, but there was no doubt that the intention was to get researchers not to use particular venues.

Little did I know that an entire nation would use the power of the state in this way.

Letter in Malay from Chief Director of Higher Education forbidding spending of government funds on MDPI, Hindawi, and Frontiers journals.

With some optical character recognition and Google Translate, the letter appears to say roughly this:

Department of Higher Education
Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia 

Date 13 July 2023


With all due respect I refer to the matter at the base.

2. For the information of YBhg. Tan Sri/Datuk/DatolProf., Post-Cabinet Meeting of the Ministry of Higher Education No. 9/2023 discussed the issue of the involvement of academics who publish articles in predatory journals and poor quality journals. In this regard, the Ministry is very serious about the aspect of academic integrity and authority in research and publication activities. One (1) special committee has been created by the Ministry as an effort to control the publication of poor quality journals in order to improve the level of academic ethics, and to protect the good name of IPT and the country.

3. Therefore, the Ministry does not allow Public Universities to use the Public Fund allocation for any publication published by three (3) publishers namely Hindawi, Frontier and MDPI with immediate effect. The Ministry also advises that each University can play a role in monitoring issues related to the quality of publications more carefully in the future.

4. The cooperation and attention of YBhg. Tan Sri/Datuk/Dato7Prof. regarding this matter is greatly appreciated and preceded by a word of thanks.


I am the one who trusts,

PROF. DR. Azlinda Binto Azman

Needless to say, this made me think the roundtable was a good idea. And that these policies are problematic. The basis for this decision is completely opaque – at least in this letter. Maybe there are some more background on the Higher Education ministry website, but I haven’t had a chance to search and apply Google Translate to find out if it exists or not.

Hat tip to Mohammed Al-Amr for posting this.

Related posts

09 July 2023

Social media update

There has been a proliferation of sites trying to take advantage of disaffected users leaving Twitter.

I have been creating  accounts, of course, mostly to keep anyone from grabbing my preferred handle. Here’s the update of where you can find me.

Will any of these survive? Or will they go the way of Google Plus?

"Time will tell. It always does."


05 July 2023

Professional news: I’m now at DORA!

So, uh, I’ve got a new job. And it6s is the first time an organization has sent out an announcement of my hire.

It’s going to be a big new challenge. Lucky for me I love big new challenges!

External links

A warm welcome to DORA’s new Program Director Zen Faulkes

01 July 2023

Twitter owner cures millions of social media addiction

The title of this post is the joke I would normally make on Twitter. 

Except now the number of tweets people can read is being limited and I don’t want to use anyone’s reading limit up unnecessarily,



The reason given for imposing a reading limit sounds weird. But that subscribers get to read 100 times more tweets than everyone else feels like a dumb ploy to get more people to pay for Twitter verification.

I keep waiting to get invitations to Bluesky, which seems to be the best candidate to take over as the major social media platform. And I am glad that I never stopped blogging.

Edit, 2 July 2022: Apparently the reading limits are a direct result of the owner of Twitter not paying the bills. That they were going to stop payments to Google Cloud was reported weeks ago.

10 June 2023

The Zen of Presentations, Part 74: Design your slides for your audience, not social media

 Recently I spotted this conference slide shared on Twitter.

Widescreen slide with four paragraphs of text

A slide with no visuals, just a wide screen of four paragraphs of text.

I thought we had all agreed not to do these any more?

At first I thought this was just crazy, but then I realized there might (and I stress might) be a something else at play here: social media. Typically, a good slide for a presentation is visual and had minimal text. The speaker provides the words, not the slide.

But a disadvantage of slides that are well designed for the audience is that they don’t make much sense without the speaker. They lack context. They aren’t portable.

This slide is the conference equivalent of someone taking screenshots of newspaper articles to get around Twitter’s character limits. Sure, the slide sucks for the audience in the room, but it’s great if you share it on Twitter, since the slide leaves no doubt exactly what the person’s point is.

I’m now very nervous that we’re going to start seeing conference slides backsliding into the old bad habits of “death by PowerPoint¨ with huge blocks of text that people will read, word for word, with the excuse being that “more people will share it on socials.”

Please make your slides for the audience in the room with you. It’s respectful. You want to share something on social media? Design something specifically for Twitter or INstagram or Bluesky or whatever.

06 June 2023

DORA roundtable round-up and new crayfish preprint

I have two new things to read (if you’re so inclined).

First, I have a summary of my last month’s “Publisher bans & DORA” roundtable on the DORA website.

Second, I have a new preprint on regulating crayfish as pets. Saskatchewan banned a couple of crayfish species. Did passing a law do what it was supposed to - change the availability of the crayfish and make them less likely to be introduced? Maybe yes? 

This is currently in review, so I hope that there will be an official version of record later. I’ll maybe talk more about the backstory if I can get this into a journal.

External links

Publisher bans & DORA guest blog post

Online advertisements for crayfish decrease after a provincial ban

17 May 2023

First women’s footy game!

I became a card-carrying member of an AFLW team in season 1. I was finally pleased to see a women’s footy game in person – and a championship game, no less!

Over the weekend, Hamilton hosted the AFL Canada Cup, a tournament for North American women’s teams. I didn’t get to see the whole tournament, but I did make it for the final game between the Calgary Kookaburras (actually joint with Burnaby Eagles) and the Etobicoke Kangaroos.

Picture of Calgary Kookaburras in red playing against the Etobicoke Kangaroos in blue.

Unfortunately, things did not go well for the Kangaroos. And this wasn’t the final score, which I think was 50 to zero? Weirdly, I can’t find any definitive report of game results in the tournament.

Scoreboard showing Calgary 44, Etobicoke 0

External links

The AFL Canada Cup

Aussie-rules football Canadian-style

AFL Canada Instagram

16 May 2023

The “blog and secretaries” model of scholarly publishing

Steve Harnad has done much for open access. So I was surprised by a new article, in which he wrote:

In the old pre-digital days of S&S (“scientists and scholars” - ZF) publishing, the true costs of providing print-on-paper to would-be users required the services of another profession for the production and delivery. But (let’s cut to the quick) those days are over, forever. Online publication is not altogether cost-free, but the costs are so ridiculously low that all an S&S author needs pay for is a blog service-provider, rather like a phone or email service provider. ...

All other goods and services are now obsolete – or almost obsolete: scaled down to only the tiny, trivial cost per article of managing the peer review, by paying secretaries to run the software for soliciting and monitoring it.

This is such misleading characterization of what is required to run an online publication that I kind of can’t believe he wrote it. I think he knows better – I hope e knows better – but is oversimplifying to try to make a point.

Before I go on, I want to be clear. I am not about to argue here is not that journal prices are fair, or they could not be lower. When I commented on this article on Twitter, Björn Brembs came in and provided what the article lacked: some real values associated with costs. 

What I want to comment on is Harnad’s characterization of the infrastructure of an online publishing platform. A blog service and a secretary is pretty much all you need, according to him.

In the last decade, there have been no shortage of people providing online scholarly platforms. Many of those are trying hard to move away from legacy academic publishing and the costs associated with those traditional journals.

Very few have been able to make the “blog and secretary” model work. There are possible exceptions, judging from this description of the Journal of Machine Learning Research. Keep in mind, though, that this description is now over ten years old. I am sure there are other niches for the “blog and secretaries” model, but I don’t think this is the way forward for all scholarly communication.

Preprint servers provide open access for readers without fee to authors. They are no legacy publishers, and would seem to be prime candidates for Harnad’s proposed ultra-lightweight publishing model.

This article describes how several preprint servers were struggling to get enough money to run. Since the article appeared in 2020, a of them – INA-Rxiv, ArabiXiv – are no longer taking new submissions.

Brembs mentioned Humanities Common as a model. It has expenses of about US$750,000 and is run by three major committees. This still seems a far cry from the picture Harnad paints of using off the shelf software and a skeleton staff.

Likewise, larger preprint servers have higher costs and a bureaucracy to sustain them. The big one, arXiv has a budget of US$4.8 million.

I would love to survey of researchers on their estimates of the costs of a preprint server and how many people it takes to keep them running. Prediction: I bet a lot of them would underestimate the cost and time it takes to do so, perhaps influenced by descriptions like Harnad’s.

External links

Publishers can’t be blamed for clinging to the golden goose

Popular preprint servers face closure because of money troubles

15 May 2023

“Publisher bans & DORA” roundtable recording and notes

Publisher bans & DORA

 Today, I was the moderator for the “Publisher bans & DORA” roundtable! Everything worked as it was supposed to, and we kept the discussion to a tight hour.

Thanks to my panelists Payal Joshi, Katherine Stephan, and Jennifer Coston-Guarini for joining me and keeping the discussion lively and interesting!

A video of the roundtable is on YouTube. I edited the video, but edits may not be processed by YouTube yet. If you see "dead air" at the start of the video, jump to 7:29.

I have saved some material on Figshare. Currently, it’s just the introductory material about events that inspired the roundtable. It may expand in the coming days.

External links

Recording of “Publisher bans & DORA” on YouTube

Notes and other material from “Publisher bans & DORA”

11 May 2023

I told you the Lemon test was important

I’ve been expecting new bills in the US that re-introduce “intelligent design” into schools. Reason? The Kennedy v. Bremeton School District ruling in 2022. 

Surprisingly, a lot of people do not seem to think this is likely.

But state legislators sure noticed the court case.

You may have heard that there was a bill introduced into the Texas legislature to require schools to display the Ten Commandments of the Bible (88R SB1515). It’s passed the Senate.

The analysis of the bill includes a section on the intent of the bill. And it’s super clear: the bill is being pushed because the Kennedy ruling said the Supreme Court was abandoning the Lemon test.

This legislation only became legally feasible with the United States Supreme Court's opinion last year in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, 142 S. Ct. 2407 (2022), which overturned the Lemon test under the Establishment Clause (found in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971)) and instead provided a test of whether a governmental display of religious content comports with America's history and tradition.

If the loss of the Lemon test was an open invitation for lawmakers to display religion in schools, why on earth would they stop with displays? Why would you not start to push for religious instructions in public schools?

09 May 2023

How article paywalls made (some) science more accessible

Everyone grumbles about paying for a single scientific article.

But you used to not be able to do that. Articles were bundled in journals, and if you wanted to read an article, you typically needed to find the entire journal issue. Your options to do that were limited.

You could subscribe to a journal in your field. Maybe. Journals superficially look like magazines, but they were rarely priced like magazines. Journals had small print runs, so the economics of printing journals were very different than printing magazines. So a year’s subscription for a journal would not run tens of dollars, but could be thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars for a year. (The Journal of Comparative Neurology was famously expensive. And continues to be, last I looked.)

If an article wasn’t in a journal you subscribed to (because nobody could subscribe to all the journals they would need), you had to hope a library subscribed to the journal if you needed a single article from that journal. But libraries didn’t subscribe to everything, either.

That left either interlibrary loans or sending postcards to authors asking for reprints. Both were time consuming. It could take weeks to get a reply, if you got one at all. It didn’t always yield results.

Yes, I know everyone wants knowledge to be free and we haven’t gone far enough and all that.

When you compare what getting a single article used to involve,being able to just spend some money to get a single article that you need on demand?

That improved people’s ability to get to the scientific literature.

Related posts

Got $30,000 to spare?

26 April 2023

Publication Star

I have been blogging about conference posters for fourteen years. Many people have told me that my blog helped them win a poster award.

Today, I finally shared a poster award!

Certificate for "ISMPP Poster Abstract Award for Publication Star"

This certificate is for an encore presentation of our poster, “Are conference presentations accessible? Insights from an online survey to improve equity.” This is a project I was invited to work on last year. It’s been shown at a couple of meetings of the International Society of Medical Publication Professionals.

The “Publication Star” award is for the poster that the judges most want to see written up in  a manuscript and published in a journal. That award category is the most academic thing ever. “You win an award! Your prize is... to get back to writing, you layabout!” 😶

You can read the poster at the conference website. This version has a seven and a half minute video by lead author Emily Messina explaining the works.

The poster is also part of our FigShare collection of material related to this project. You can compare and contrast versions 1 and 2 of the poster, presented at European meeting in January and the American meeting this month.

External links

International Society of Medical Publication Professionals

Poster awards for 19th ISMPP meeting

22 April 2023

Texas in lead to be first state to eliminate tenure

The Texas senate passed Senate Bill 18 a couple of days ago. If approved, the law would eliminate tenure in Texas public universities starting fall of 2024.

This is deeply disappointing. Both the bill itself and the weirdly limited reaction from higher ed. Higher ed leaders should be on every news channel, every talk show, writing op eds about why tenure is valuable. The response is nowhere near what it needs to be.

Is the loss of tenure on par with states that are allowing kids to work in factories again? No. But it’s part of the same small minded and regressive mentality.

Anyway, you can check the progress of the Texas bill on the Texas Legislature website.

Related posts

Tenure in US higher education is under threat, and I’m not sure it can be saved

14 April 2023

Tenure in US higher education is under threat, and I’m not sure it can be saved

Texas, where I used to work, is considering legislation that would end tenure in its universities.

Needless to say, I think this is a horrible idea. Texas already had post-tenure review (every five years). I know, I went through it.

As much as I am concerned about the legislation, I am even more concerned about the apparent lack of reaction to it. This should be the five alarm fire for American higher education, all hands on deck emergency type of reaction. And I’m not seeing that.

How did we get here? I’ve long has a suspicion that tenure was becoming increasingly vulnerable to attack because the job market for academics has been so tight for so long. When I’ve seen moves to curtail tenure, universities usual response is, “We won’t be able to attract talent, people won’t come to a place without tenure.”

Well, when the educational system has been churning out far more qualified candidates than jobs for decades, that threat rings hollow. A lot of people will take their chances at a job without tenure, because people have to eat and people want to work in the fields they trained to work in.

I hope these bills will die in committee, as many do. But I’m not feeling optimistic.

External links

A Texas trilogy of anti-DEI, tenure bills

New Texas bill would end tenure for college faculty

How Republicans’ threats to tenure and diversity might undercut their own efforts to advance Texas’ universities

Tenure was already in decline. Now some Republicans want it gone from colleges for good.

12 April 2023

I think that “intelligent design” bill died

I’d been occasionally checking the West Virginia bill tracker for the progress of the “intelligent design” bill (Senate Bill 619) that made it out of the Senate’s education committee. Every time, I saw the bill still in the House Education Committee, so I thought it was still possible that it might move forward.

But the legislative session ended last month. The bill tracker makes no note the end of the session, which is why I missed it. The bill never make it out of committee for a vote.

I think that means the bill in its present form is done?

Related posts

That “intelligent design” bill hasn’t died yet

12 March 2023

Register for “Publication bans & DORA” roundtable

The anniversary week for DORA is still some weeks away, but I just realized that people who learn about it now might want to get updates as the event gets organized.

I have created a registration form for the “Publisher bans & DORA” roundtable event. Just enter your email and you will get an update when I have panelists and links to the online discussion ready to go. 

External links

Dora Tenth Anniversary events

11 March 2023

A star chamber for predatory journals

Look, I am not one for conspiracy theories. 

But if I was a major academic publisher, and I saw a lot of business going to new, upstart publishers that had even slightly questionable editorial practices, I’m not sure I would back a way from a little aggressive corporate public relations. I might set up a website that claimed to be providing a service by listing dodgy journals and publishers, and then – Bam! 💥 – I label a bunch of stuff coming from the competition as “predatory.”

Meanwhile, today I learned about a website called Predatory Reports in Scientific Publishing. I noticed today because they recently stuck a bunch of MDPI journals on their blacklist.

Their Twitter account has been around for a little over a year. It’s interesting that I never heard of them before they target MDPI, which fits the narrative of people who are already grumpy (legitimately so) with MDPI.

Looking around their website, I clicked the “About” page, I thought this was an overly honest image:

Empty conference room

An empty conference room.

The written description is no more informative. This group is “association of scientists and researchers.” No names, emails, how many people are involved, nothing.

Now, there may be a reason for this. The debates about anonymity in science are long, but usually come down to, “There are some cases where it’s appropriate.”

For instance, the creator of the original blacklist of predatory journals, Jeffrey Beall, tended to have people threaten to sue him with alarming regularity. You may recall he took down his list and never explained why.

But a far more important question is how this “association” decides what journals to include on their list. There is zero description of criteria or process here.

Compare this to another organization that tries to identify predatory publishers, Cabell’s. Their list is a commercial product, but their “About predatory reports” page at least promises that the full report includes, “A complete record of when, what and why a journal is put in Predatory Reports.”

I looked at one of their blog posts about SCRIP to try to glean how they are assessing publishers. They quote Beall’s work, they quote Cabell’s report, and have a list of references at the end. It looks like just a haphazard compilation of other people’s writings.

This is a step up from how I thought the list might be generated (just by using vibes), but there doesn’t seem to be anything new here. I don’t see a lot of value.

Poster for the movie “The Star Chamber” (1983).

For an association that wants to “build trust in scientific research and publications,” they don’t seem to have given much thought to how a blacklist made by a completely opaque process by a group of utterly unknown people looks more like a star chamber than a trustworthy organization.

External links

Predatory journals in scientific publishing

About Predatory reports (Cabell’s)

07 March 2023

Are grad students employees or students?

Many people have noted that grad students are in a weird dual state. Sometimes that are treated as employees. Sometimes they are treated as students. Which they get treated as often seems to depend on which is advantageous to the university at that particular moment.

Over the last couple of years, a combination of events has meant that many professors – particularly in the US – are finding it harder to get graduate students and post docs. So the number of people broadcasting on Twitter that they are recruiting students has gone up.

And what has struck more more and more is that those tweets look like job ads.

They’re not, “Come join our master’s program in my department,” they’re “I have a master’s position to study desert fishes using ecological modelling and environmental DNA” or what have you. 

Opportunities for graduate students are consistently described as “positions,” not programs.

I would have expected this for postdoc positions. I think postdocs have always been more or less this way, because there6s no degree associated with being a postdoc. But I wouldn’t have expected this as much for a doctoral programs, and lately I’m seeing a lot of tweets that are advertising for master’s students like this.

This is probably an inevitable outcome of graduate students being supported by professors’ research grants.

So I think we have to really stop thinking of graduate degrees as degree programs, because we aren’t treating them that was. They are entry level contract positions for scientists, in which you are partly compensated with a credential rather than money.

06 March 2023

I miss the fail whale

At least when Twitter tanked when it was a new service, you got an amusing, cute marine mammal to look at.

Black screen reading "Your current API plan does not include access to this endpoint, please see https://developer.twitter.com/en/docs/twitter-api for more information"

Now you just get a cryptic error message.

Several sites are reporting that every link on Twitter is doing this.

External links

Every link on Twitter is broken right now

Twitter Displaying Error Messages for Web Links Posted in Tweets 

Twitter’s busted again

05 March 2023

My social media style

 Okay,I blame Doc Becca for linking to abbrevia.me. It generates descriptions of how people use Twitter.

Doctorzen’s tweets cover a wide range of topics, including science, education, politics, and social issues. They often share articles and express their opinions on current events. They also engage with other users and respond to their comments and questions. Doctorzen’s writing style is straightforward and concise, with occasional humor and sarcasm. They use hashtags and retweets to amplify important messages and promote causes they support. Overall, Doctorzen appears to be an active and engaged Twitter user who uses the platform to share information and connect with others.

Ooh, concise! I worked hard for that one!

External links


02 March 2023

That “intelligent design” bill hasn’t died yet

Well, hell.

The pro “intelligent design” bill in West Virginia passed the Senate Education Committee.

The bill has now gone to the House Education Committee. The bill’s progress can be tracked on the West Virginia bill tracker

This Metro News article has more background on the bill, including the slightly strange fact that the bill was prompted by an idea from a high school student.

Committee chair Amy Grady, R-Mason, is leader sponsor and told the committee that the idea was brought to her by Hayden Hodge from Hurricane High.

Hodge appeared before the committee and said a teacher gave him the idea. The teacher wanted the option to teach ID alongside evolution.

“I am not in favor of getting rid of evolution,” Hodge said. And ID is not ultimately religious. (I hope this is Hodge’s opinion, not the reporter trying to state a fact. - ZF)

“I’m not asking for religion to be taught in classrooms, period,” Hodge said.

This is, of course, untrue. “Intelligent design” is a religious argument. This has been documented many times. We have the receipts. 

Reading the comments from the committee members is depressing. A retired science teacher was arguing in favour of this bill. In favour.

I’m glad the American Civil Liberties Union spoke out against the bill.

The bill made it out of committee with only one vote against it. The report doesn’t say who it was, but my hat is off to you, anonymous West Virginia senator.

External links

Senate education committee approves 4 bills including ‘intelligent design’ measure

‘Intelligent Design’ bill threatens science education in West Virginia

16 February 2023

A zombie idea rises again: New attempt to get “intelligent design” into classes

Policy analyst Bryan Kelley is reporting on a bill in West Virginia – Senate Bill 619 – that would legalize the teaching of intelligent design.

There is zero ambiguity in the text of this short bill.

(A)llowing teachers in public schools that include any one or more of grades kindergarten through 12 to teach intelligent design as a theory of how the universe and/or humanity came to exist.

Last year, I predicted that we would see a renewed push to get religious ideas into public schools in the United States. The legal landscape has completely changed for teaching religious ideas in public schools after the US Supreme Court said, “We don’t use the Lemon test any more.”

Honestly, I’m only surprised it took this long.

At this point, the bill has been referred to committee. And many state bills die in committee, never get voted on, never become law. But here’s the thing. There is a pattern of political parties acting in many states more or less simultaneously to push bills towards legislation. I would not be surprised to see a whole bunch of similar bills in state governments before the end of the year.

Hat tip to Tara Smith.

P.S.—Hey, support the National Center for Science Education!

Related posts

Prediction: American creationists will try again to get evolution out of schools 

Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) decision clears way for new science education battles

External links

Senate Bill 619, West Virginia

13 February 2023

Context matters as much as data

In the novel Passion Play, author Sean Stewart has a rant about Sherlock Holmes. 

It’s one of Doyle’s famous scenes where Holmes says, without prompting, what Watson was thinking about the war he was in. I think it might have been this, the opening to “The Dancing Men”:

 “So, Watson,” said he, suddenly, “you do not propose to invest in South African securities?”
I gave a start of astonishment. Accustomed as I was to Holmes’s curious faculties, this sudden intrusion into my most intimate thoughts was utterly inexplicable.
“How on earth do you know that?” I asked.

 Holmes goes on to explain how he arrived at the conclusion. But while Holmes is famous for his “deduction,” what Holmes did was not deduction.

“Very likely not; but I can quickly show you a close connection. Here are the missing links of the very simple chain: 1. You had chalk between your left finger and thumb when you returned from the club last night. 2. You put chalk there when you play billiards, to steady the cue. 3. You never play billiards except with Thurston. 4. You told me, four weeks ago, that Thurston had an option on some South African property which would expire in a month, and which he desired you to share with him. 5. Your check book is locked in my drawer, and you have not asked for the key. 6. You do not propose to invest your money in this manner.”
“How absurdly simple!” I cried.

You couldn’t have come to the same conclusion as Holmes if you didn’t have the same detailed knowledge that Holmes had about Watson. You had to know practically everything about Watson. You had to know the context for all of these little details that Holmes observed.

It’s been reported that human brain size is shrinking. I think I’ve even said this in a Quora answer or two.

The Guardian mentions this claim (as well as the “sea squirt eats its own brain” myth) in a new article about language using artificial intelligence like ChatGPT.

Alain Gorely tracked the origin of this claim back to one particular paper. He found reasons to be skeptical of the “brains have shrunk in the last few thousand years.

Suzanna Herculano-Houzel looked at this sleuthing and wrote:

ALWAYS look at the data. Always. The data are one thing; the interpretation of the data quite another. Robust findings are the ones that already appear with basic statistics, not that require the complex analyses.

The funny thing is... the data are not at issue here. That is, the values that are used in the analysis are not in any way wrong or under dispute. It’s not, “Someone moved a decimal place, and that screws up the average.” 

What Gorely does is put the data in context. In particular, he asks, “How were the data collected? How consistent was the collection methods? Are the numbers in line with other numbers?”

“Show me the data” isn’t a definitive mic drop. And when people “look at the data,” they are usually doing something much more complicated.

08 February 2023

Killing Twitter

Today may be the day that signals the end of Twitter for me.

I initially had a good day on Twitter. I live-tweeted a great presentation. I was pretty pleased with that.

But late afternoon, I tried to follow-up and got a message saying:

You are over the daily limit for sending Tweets.

Then Tweetdeck wouldn’t let me log in. I’d been worried about Tweetdeck for a while, given that Twitter was killing its open API so there couldn’t be third-party Twitter apps. But Twitter owns Tweedeck, so I thought it might be safe. But apparently not.

This seems to be another restriction to force more people to subscribe to Twitter Blue. I just can’t see myself doing it. Yes, Twitter has provided great value to me, but. I just can’t stomach the thought of sending money to a billionaire who is poisoning the town well so he can sell more bottled water. 

Update: News services are saying that a change to number of tweets was not announced, so could be a bug. But it sure doesn’t feel like one. It feels like a preview.

30 January 2023

DORA at ten: Publisher ban roundtable

On a bit of a whim, I proposed an event for the 10th anniversary events around the Declaration of Research Assessment (DORA).

And they said yes?

And now I have to do this. Mark your calendars and if you’re interested in being part of the roundtable, email me!

Publisher bans and DORA

Publisher bans and DORA

Publishers like MDPI, Frontiers, and Hindawi have experienced enormous growth in the number of submissions from researchers, which would suggest they they are meeting needs of the research community and providing good value to researchers. But multiple institutions have told scientists that research in journals from these publishers will no longer “count” for assessment. Such policies suggest that these are “predatory” publishers that do not perform the basic functions of academic journals. The publishers dispute this, as do many authors whose work appears in their journals. Many authors believe that choosing where to publishing their findings is part of their academic freedom. Blacklisting publishers with hundreds of journals may be too blunt an instrument for research assessment and inconsistent with DORA. Are there cases where such bans are valid and useful to the community?

This event will be held as an online round-table discussion followed by a moderated Q & A session.

Update, 12 March 2023: I have created a registration form for the publisher bans and blacklists event so that you can be notified of updates.

I’ve been ripped off! OMICS journal messes up my work

Matt Hodgkinson drew my attention of that fact that one of my articles on authorship has been ripped off and turned into mush by someone in OMICS. (Lightly edited)

Allied Business Academies, a.k.a. Allied Academies, are another publisher to avoid. Quelle surprise, as they’re a brand of the notorious publisher OMICS.

Compare: Zen Faulkes’s 2018 article, “Resolving authorship disputes by mediation and arbitration” with Laura Sandra’s 2021 article, “Alternative Dispute Resolution in Academic Publishing”, in Journal of Organizational Culture Communications and Conflict.

Ms. Sandra, of course, does not exist.

I am always glad when someone finds my work worthy enough to re-use, but I have to say: This is not what I had in mind.

It is weird to see my work in this garbled form. I can recognize some of the elements of my paper, but it’s like they’ve been put through a blender, no doubt to avoid setting off plagiarism detectors. My original paper was 7 typeset pages with 95 references. “Sandra’s” version is a page and a half with three references. 

I have not included a link to the OMICS article because they don’t need the clicks. Go read my paper instead. I think it has something useful to say.


Faulkes Z. 2018. Resolving authorship disputes by mediation and arbitration. Research Integrity and Peer Review 3(1): 12. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41073-018-0057-z

External links

Matt Hodgkinson on LinkedIn

Why my new paper on award-winning conference posters is short

You know, sometimes you have plans for a project. Big plans. And sometimes those pan out. And sometimes, you are pleased that at least something came out.

I have a new little paper about conference posters out today.

It started when Paige Jarreau wrote somewhere (can’t remember if I saw it first on her Twitter or a Slack channel) that she was going to be organizing a special collection on visual narratives in science communication. And I thought, “Hey, I could use this to make the point that even though posters are a form of visual communication, they are usually very heavy on text.”

I submitted an abstract for a proposal to see if it fit the project. I had an idea for checking out a few posters every week over the summer to build up a little database. 

I didn’t want just a hodge-podge of random posters. I wanted distinct sets that were publicly archived. I had already bookmarked a few conferences that archived their posters.

Then reality set in. Some of my bookmarks had already succumbed to link rot, and the posters were no longer available. The semester started, and it was a hard semester in terms of preparation. So instead of posters from multiple conferences, I ended up with just one conference. But I think it was an interesting set of posters, because they were award winners from one of the biggest conferences in the world. Surely these would be awesome!

I hadn’t gotten as far or as detailed as I originally planned. But this project had a deadline, and 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing. I wrote the paper and submitted it. 

Things got worse, time wise, when reviews came back. It wasn’t rejected! But then, not only was class preparation had gotten more time-consuming, not less. I just couldn’t get to the revisions. Then there was a family emergency, so I got an extension.

Unfortunately, I was already so far behind that I missed one opportunity to make the paper better. 

One reviewer suggested a work I hadn’t heard about. But it wasn’t online or in the library. And it wasn’t a short article. It would take time to read. I decided not to wait until I could get the interlibrary loan. I submitted the revision without it. I have since gotten the work and... argh, it was so on point. It would have been a completely logical thing to include and discuss in my paper.

It’s going to be one of those losses that will haunt me until I put it right somehow.

I hope the paper has something to offer. It gave me more ideas for how I could push forward with bigger, better analyses in the future.


Faulkes Z. 2023. The “wall of text” visual structure of academic conference posters. Frontiers in Communication 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fcomm.2023.1063345

14 January 2023

Publisher bans: A repeating pattern of attack on academic freedom

Last week, a couple of websites reported that a couple of departments at Zhejiang Gongshang University were not going to count publications appearing in three large open access publishers: MDPI, Frontiers, and Hindawi.

The policy appears to be leaked from internal memos. I searched the university site for the memo, and Google reports a result, but it is hidden behind an institutional login, so I can’t see the rationale behind this move.

This is the third attempt I know of to stop researchers from using certain publishers. I say again, publishers. And this doesn’t include the Chinese Academy of Sciences flagging dozens of journals as “risky.” 

You know, back when European funding agencies were announcing so-called “Plan S” to promote open access publication, some folks got all huffy 😤 about how vital it was to academic freedom that researchers be able to exercise choice in where they chose to publish their results. How dare a funding agency tell a researcher that they can’t publish in journals like Nature or Science, just because they are not open access! 

If that principle of researchers being able to choose their journal is important, then we are seeing a lot of attacks on academic freedom. But not many people seem to care. Far from being concerned, a lot of researchers seem to think banning researchers from using particular publishers is a great idea. That’s kind of blowing my mind. 🤯

Have these people not heard of the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA)? It says, we “need to assess research on its own merits rather than on the basis of the journal in which the research is published.” The same principle should extend to publishers. If we shouldn’t judge research based on the journal it is in, we shouldn’t judge research based on the publisher of the journal, either.

For what it’s worth, I’ve tracked a lot of the criticism of MDPI in particular here on the blog. There are valid reasons to be concerned about editorial practices. But on the other hand, I’ve read a lot of useful papers in journals from all three of the publishers that Zhejiang Gongshang University are trying to blacklist.

Hat tip to Mario Barbatti and Richard Sever.

P.S.—Weirdly, when I searched the university for references to this new policy, one of the hits was to an open access library that said, “Most of these papers come from internationally renowned publishing institutions, including Hindawi, PlosOne, MDPI, Scientific Research Publishing and some high-quality articles from Biomed.” (Emphasis added.) So the library knows not what administrators are doing?

Update, 18 January 2023: I ran a couple of polls asking if people considered being able to choose their publication venue to be important to their academic freedom.

People on Twitter voted “Yes” more than twice as much as “No.” The vote on Mastadon was smaller but even more lopsided.

External links

Related posts

University tells scholars what journals to publish in