Friday, April 28, 2006

End of Week Five

It's the end of week five of our ten-week term. Work has overwhelmed me -- I'm feeling swamped and more behind than I like to be at this time of the term. I haven't had time to post much. So, in lieu of an actual entry, below is the abstract from a talk I gave last Tuesday. The presentation was part of COA's ongoing Human Ecology forum.

The Political Economy of Peer-Reviewed Academic Journals

I will begin this talk with an overview of the process of publishing
in academic peer-reviewed journals, highlighting the extent to which
journals rely on uncompensated labor; neither authors nor peer
reviewers are paid. Many academic journals are owned and operated by
non-profit professional societies, such as the Society for Human
Ecology or the American Physics Society, and hence pro-bono or donated
labor on their behalf seems is seen by many as a professional
obligation. However, there are also many journals that are owned by
for-profit companies such as Elsevier or Springer.

I will summarize a number of studies that show that journals owned by
for-profit companies charge between three and six times more per
article than non-profit journals, and that there is little difference
in quality between for- and non-profit journals. The extra cost of
for-profit journals is borne almost exclusively by non-profit
educational institutions and the tax-payer dollars and donations that
support them. The largest academic publishing group reported a profit
of 1.7 billion euros in 2004. The net result is that for-profit
journals limit access to information that rightly belongs in the
public domain while extracting huge profits from the academic

I will argue that the issues around for-profit academic publishing
provide a useful case study that may help shed light on broader
questions concerning how costs and benefits are distributed between
the public and the private sector. In addition, I will suggest that
the persistence of for-profit journals can serve as an interesting and
somewhat subtle example of a market failure.

To conclude, I will put forth some ideas for individual and collective
actions that researchers can take to improve the situation, and will
briefly present several successful examples of such action.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

End of Week Three

It's the end of the third week in our ten-week term. Grading is piling up and spring is unfolding in slow motion. The end of last week was spent at a mini-retreat for the team that is preparing our report for re-accreditation. The retreat was an interesting mix of some good ideas, fun colleagues, and soul-crushing administrative despair. The re-accreditation team is great, and I think we'll explore some interesting ideas. But some aspects of the work are about as exciting as watching paint dry while someone tries to push a blunt object -- perhaps a dull pencil or a tongue depressor-- through your temple into your brain.

Some end-of-week-three numbers:
  • At the start of the term my inbox was completely empty. It currently has 99.

  • In the first three weeks of the term I have sent 364 email messages.

  • Yesterday was the first day all term that I didn't spend some time on campus. In fact, I only left my house twice: once to move my car so that Doreen could go somewhere, and once to empty the compost.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Reasons to Live

There are lots of reasons to live: good friends, a sense of purpose in life, good house music, nice sunsets, etc, etc. But here are two more:

  • Jay Zeezer's mash-up of Jay-Z's "99 Problems" and Nena's "99 Luftballons (Red Balloons)". You can get it here: 99 Luft Problems. (Warning: Explicit and possibly offensive lyrics.)

  • Creature Comforts. This is a British TV show that is difficult to describe. It's a claymation thing by the Wallace and Grommit folks. The show creators interviewed ordinary folks about a bunch of different topics. The interviews were unscripted. The interviews are then set to claymation. Hard to describe, but it might just be one of the most amusing things ever. It's on Fridays at 10:20 on BBC America.
  • Sunday, April 02, 2006

    First week of the term

    Week one of our ten-week term is over. Being back from sabbatical and back teaching has been mostly quite good. Monday was an odd day of culture shock. I had forgotten how busy and intense things can get. And all the students look so much older than I remember -- especially the first-year students.

    This term will be busy, but I feel like it's off to a great start. The weather was beautiful this week: nice and spring like. When spring term starts with sleet and snow and rain, it's always a little tough. But this week was sunny and relatively warm.

    I'm teaching two classes this term: Introduction to Chaos and Fractals and Calculus IV. I've taught both before. However, I'm doing a bunch of new things with the Chaos class. For one, I've decided to write a textbook based on the notes and materials I've developed for the class. There isn't really a book on Chaos appropriate for the class, so I figure it's time I write one. It seems to me that there might be a market for such a text. I'll look for a publisher perhaps as early as this summer, although I'm sure it will be a few years before it's completed. Even if I don't get it published, I'm convinced it will be a worthwhile project, as it will be really nice to have a book for future versions of the course.

    As of this evening I have six chapters done out of what I expect to be between 25 and 30. The writing process has been surprisingly enjoyable thus far. It's actually a nice distraction. I find that when I'm working on it it's easy to "get lost" in it. In contrast, when I'm doing other work, like grading or administrative memo writing, I find it almost impossible to avoid get ting distracted. What's going to be a bit of a chore, however, is making the figures. Thus far it's gone fine, but I can see that it's starting to get tedious. The chapter I wrote tonight, on graphical iteration, had fourteen figures. Anyway, I hope that I can maintain throughout the term the pace I've set the last two weeks throughout the term. If I can, I'll have a pretty decent draft by early June.

    I'm also adding some labs to the course. This will also take a bunch of work. I'm not sure that I'll be able to add as many as I had originally hoped, but I think I'll be able to do most of what I had planned. I think they'll add a lot to the course; even some simple demonstrations should help make some abstract ideas more concrete for students.

    There's not too much new coming down the road in Calculus IV: no textbook writing and no labs. We start with multidimensional integration, which is something I've always enjoyed. The class is small -- technically it's a tutorial -- and it's a fun group.

    This upcoming week will be especially busy. In addition to all my usual work, our board of trustees meeting is Friday and Saturday. Earlier in the week our president-elect will be on campus, and I'm a part of several meetings with him in addition to all the usual trustee and administrative meetings. So blogging may be light for the next week.