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Peer review contributes to creation of unfounded authority?

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falseAuthorityIn this fascinating and quite overwhelming study published in BMJ, Steven A Greenberg, associate professor of neurology, argues that  in the citation network that was the object of his research, backdoor invention affected  negatively the quality  of knowledge produce, since it: “repeated misrepresentation of abstracts as peer reviewed papers to fool readers into believing that claims are based on peer reviewed published methods and data” . Although author clearly states that it is through abstracts, which in his view is a way to avoid peer reviewing,  that backdoor is introduced,  my conclusion is that on the basis of this research, we can say that peer reviewing in medical science is capable of significantly contributing to the creation of  a large unfounded authority. Here’s authors conlusion paragraph in full:

Citation is both an impartial scholarly method and a powerful form of social communication. Through distortions in its social use that include bias, amplification, and invention, citation can be used to generate information cascades resulting in unfounded authority of claims. Construction and analysis of a claim specific citation network may clarify the nature of a published belief system and expose distorted methods of social citation.”

He develops a vocabulary of citation distortions, and backdoor is the method how peer review is bypassed:

“In another form of invention, claims are introduced as fact through a “back door” that bypasses peer review and publication of methods and data. This is accomplished by repeated misrepresentation of abstracts as papers (seven different papers, 17 citations to 12 different misrepresented abstracts; […] Back door invention—repeated misrepresentation of abstracts as peer reviewed papers to fool readers into believing that claims are based on peer reviewed published methods and data”

He lets peer review lightly off the hook here. Isn’t the task of peer reviews to spot any problems with the quality of work reviewed, regardless of what form the distortion of knowledge claims takes? falseAuthority2

In my reading of his text, the author confirms the responsibility of the peer reviewing implicitly when he states that  a medical claim (see his paper for specific claim used here) “is supported in this manner and accepted by peers as fact”. In other words, peers accepted as fact a claim that slipped through peer reviews, multiple times, in multiple papers. The graph on the right shows that “Only one of 32 citations flows to papers70 71 72 73 77 78 that present data that conflict with the validity of these models” – models that were the basis of knowledge claims supported as the fact by all the papers on the right of the graph in the blue. It’s a complex analysis, and it’s possible that i misunderstood. I emailed the author and asked for his view on my understanding that he let peer review too lightly off the hook. Here’s the full paper How citation distortions create unfounded authority: analysis of a citation network.

Written by KontraMraku

12 August 2009 at 21:07

Posted in Analysis

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OA book web publishing increases readership twentyfold

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Government is GoodWriting recently about his Adventures in Web Publishing at the Inside Higher Ed website, professor Douglas J. Amy described his problem as one typical for many academics: although previously an author of three scholarly books, he wrote a manuscript for a wider audience which failed to attract any suitable publisher. So, he turned it into a website in 2007. Here’s what he says about the result:

“I had over 75,000 visitors to the site. Only half of those stayed long enough to read some of the material […]  I can safely say that more people have read this online material than have read my other three books combined. Two of these books were published by university presses and were considered successful. But for these publishers, good sales are often measured in the hundreds – numbers which now seem very modest in comparison to the tens of thousands of readers who have visited my Web site. […] I’ve had readers from over 50 countries.  This kind of broad geographical readership would clearly not have happened with a conventionally published book.”

If the print version would have sold 700 copies, and each of them was partly read by a single reader, while only a quarter of unique web visitor were partial web book readers, it still leaves us with 18750:700, or 26:1 ratio in favour of the web book edition.

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Written by KontraMraku

10 August 2009 at 20:41

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Živković predicts future self-publishing real time peer reviewing science

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From an interview with Bora Živković, the online Community Manager of the Open Access Journal PLoS One, answering the question will Open access change the way science is done, he says:

I think it is inevitable that we get there, the only thing I do not say is how fast, because there will be a lot of resistance, because scientist are reall very conservative and risk-averse in changing the system. But there are pioneers that are going to lead the way. They are going to get us to that point where research is put directly online in real time. There will be no such things as journals any more, only platforms for self-publishing, where massive peer-review is going on in real time. What’s going to happen is the evolution of a system that assigns reputation to individuals depending on their contribution to the process. That is the key, I think. Once you can gain scientific reputation by your online contribution, theoretical work, commenting, or peer-reviewing others, then people will participate

He predicts that scientific papers will evolve into collections consisting of parts from various scientific sources, in which people with talent for synthesis will emerge as those who monitor ongoing open research and write review papers. Read the full interview here.

Written by KontraMraku

9 August 2009 at 15:48

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OA books – detailed familiarity leads to multiple on-going sales

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Previous post on five new OA monograph series is phenomenal news for the Free Our Books campaign, and an example of, i believe, future to come soon. We, the authors, will be battling with publishers to give our books away electronically, hoping that we will capture readers attention enough to buy a print copy. Early this year, in May, i went through a short discussion with my, then potential (contract signed since), publisher, in which i suggested, and was without any problems granted, an Open Access book contract for which i drafted an Addendum – more details on that in another post soon.

I buy books weekly, and my biggest problem is where to store them and when to find the time to read them. However, most books that i buy these days are books whose content i already know reasonably well. Either through finding a copy somewhere online, or often by reading parts of full length essays which make up the book, frequently posted by authors on their personal website, sometimes presentations from conferences, or published in journals.

A clear example of this is Graham Harman’s work. I first heard of him through a one day workshop on Speculative Realism, held in April 2007 at Goldsmiths in London. Although i missed the workshop, I saw some of the authors on multiple occasions presenting papers in other conferences too.  Full transcripts from the conference were published in Collapse III, which was the reason why i  bought it (familiarity leading to a sale). I liked Collapse III so much, that i bought 4 out of 5 of issues published so far (familiarity leading to multiple sales). The only one i missed, strangely enough, is the sold out one, Collapse IV, which was provided for free on-line after it sold out, as reported on this blog. I then saw slides and part of the video from  Harman’s talk at LSE in November 2007. Earlier this year, in April, i was at the second Speculative Materialism / Speculative Realism workshop in Bristol at UWE, where i saw Harman for the first time live, presenting. Because i liked the conference, and was intrigued by his presentation, i downloaded and read part of his book Prince of Networks, published by Open Access book publisher I started writing on object-oriented philosophy and if it develops in a full text, i will most likely buy Harman’s books (familiarity leading to sales).

If i end up liking his work a lot and using it extensively in my own work, his book will become automatic-buys for me, in the same ways books by Antonio Negri, Slavoj Žižek, and Alain Badiou are – i have vast majority of their books published in English, because i’m familiar with their work and because i always get the taste of what’s in the coming books from their conference papers, texts they continuously publish, often with free access (like, on blogs, websites and in journals. Again, it’s my familiarity that leads to multiple, on-going, sales.

Authors that only publish in closed access journals, that do not self-archive on their websites — especially if institutions in which i work are not subscribed to the journals in which they publish, and if i don’t follow conferences at which they present — have hardly any chances of me buying their books. Some clever publishers and authors expose their books almost entirely through Google Books preview option, i bought several books like that (familiarity leading to multiple sales).

Publishers and authors which do not allow me to get familiar with their work in detail through some form of Open Access before i buy it, if it is to judge by my book buying patters,  are loosing sales. And we’re not talking small sales here either. While a student, my books budget is modest (£600 this year,  estimate annual average over last 5 years is £500) in comparison with a busy researcher with a budget that comes with the job . If, and when, i finish my PhD and get a job in a department doing well financially, i might end up with a annual research fund between £1300-1700 to spend on books, every year, for many years to come. My colleagues who are already in this position told me that once you work in academia, you end up getting lots  of books for free. But you don’t necessarily get exactly the books you want. Nor do you get them when you want them. And these are two key criteria for a fast developing research. I’m used to immediate access to texts in my research so much, that if and when i think i really need a book, i buy it immediately on-line. Sometimes i make mistakes, and long distance selling regulations helped on several occasion to return the book bought by mistake in a rush – i don’t use book sellers which do not easily, with no postage to pay, allow books to be returned within a week, or often two weeks.  In short, i don’t think that i will buy less books because i will be geting some of them for free. The only reason i might be buying less books is storage space, and i’m working on a solution to that too (it’s the hardest part).

Over 15 years, roughly £23.000 is likely to be the budget that i’ll be  spending on books. I’m far from the only person with this buying pattern. It is more likely that my pattern represents a significantly large category of academic book buyers. How large and how significant, statistically speaking, i can’t tell. A rough judgment would be that it’s large enough to be taken seriously, researched in more detail, and taken in consideration when decisions on Open Access are made by authors and publishers. For us,  book addicts with this pattern, the more an author and publisher embrace Open Access, the more likely is a part of our budget going to be spent on their books.

With Open Access Books, familiarity leads to sales.

Detailed familiarity leads to multiple on-going sales.

Written by KontraMraku

8 August 2009 at 20:07

Posted in Analysis, Opinion

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