Two Academia Horror Stories out of UC Berkeley

Two stories came out of UC Berkeley over the weekend that will make you question your opinion of academia — or maybe reinforce your opinion.

The first story comes from Michael Eisen’s blog and has a bad news, good news, bad news flavor. The bad news is that a prominent astronomy professor at Berkeley named Geoffrey Marcy has been accused of “repeatedly engaged in inappropriate physical behavior with students, including unwanted massages, kisses, and groping” in a complaint to the university’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination filed by four women.

The good news is that the process worked as intended! An investigation concluded that Marcy was guilty, and the results of the investigation were made public. The matter was not swept under the rug. The university did not attack the women. Hopefully this will mean that other victims of harassment at Berkeley will feel comfortable coming forward in the future.

The bad news is that the process worked as intended! Marcy issued a non-apology apology, and it seems that he will face no further repercussions for his actions. None. This is a real win-win for the university. It presents the veneer of justice, thereby maintaining the university’s ability to present itself as a committed champion of victims. But at the same time, it does not have to deal with the consequences of losing a prominent faculty member — or doing anything really, besides making him feel mildly uncomfortable for a few minutes.

The message to faculty seems fairly clear. You should not sexually harass or assault your subordinates. But if you do, ¯\_(?)_/¯.

Story number two comes from the UC Berkeley math department. Alexander Coward has a long post about why he is leaving his teaching position there. Basically, he is being forced out of the position because his teaching is too successful. Compared with others in the department, he teaches larger numbers of students, receives higher evaluations, and produces better results (in terms of student performance moving forward).

A department that cared about teaching its students might look at this situation and ask, “How can we replicate what he is doing? Maybe adopt his techniques across the department?” But of course, a real department says, “Oh no! He’s making the rest of us look bad. Stop him!”

Now this is, of course, just one side of the story. However, it rings true to me, and it is difficult to imagine what additional perspective the department might offer that would make this look like anything other than gross malfeasance on their part.

One of the interesting parts comes at the end of the post, which points out that this is not just a question of bruised egos:

In the April 18th, 2014 memo to me then Chair Ogus wrote: “We explained to you before you accepted the position that the idea of employing a full-time lecturer is controversial in our department.” This raises the question of why it was controversial. It was controversial because the way the Mathematics Department justifies its size on campus is through the teaching of large service courses for other majors. I have been told by Craig Evans that around 15,000 students take classes with the UC Berkeley Mathematics Department each year. On the other hand, mathematicians typically do not bring in giant grants like experimental scientists, and compared to most other departments that do not bring in super-grants the Mathematics Department is large. The Mathematics Department uses its privileged role in providing service teaching for undergraduates in all the sciences and social sciences to justify its size and all the trappings that go with that like funding and office space. The problem is that their reliance on teaching to justify size and resources is not commensurate with a commitment to doing a good job.


Indeed, it is an open secret on the UC Berkeley campus that the administration and other departments are jolly cross with the Mathematics Department for not preparing students adequately. The argument used by the Mathematics Department in response to this is to say something like “It’s easy for you, you teach these cool subjects that students are interested in and choose to do because it’s their chosen major. Take it from us. Teaching these kids calculus is just impossible. That’s why our student evaluations are terrible and students aren’t prepared for your courses.” The argument then concludes, as articulated by a member of Senate Faculty in his response to my open letter of December 15, 2014, something like: “Give us more money and more resources and we’ll do better.”


Having a Lecturer teach twice the number of students for half the money and do a fabulous job demolishes that argument, and that is why so many people conspired to make it not so, to mischaracterize my teaching, and do everything in their power to remove me.

This is a scam you see everywhere — the expansion of the national security apparatus in the wake of 9/11 comes to mind. If you do your job poorly, you can blame it on not enough resources. If you can keep that cycle going, you can get paid more and more to do less and less. It’s good work if you can get it.

Symposium on Academic Bureaucracy

On July 1, a symposium at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts tackled the role of bureaucracy in academia. The event was framed this way:

Does bureaucracy go hand in hand with neoliberalism, or is it neoliberalism’s guilty secret, a riposte to its professed efficiency? How is bureaucracy represented in literature and theory – from Franz Kafka to David Foster Wallace, Max Weber to Michel Foucault; and what do these representations reveal about the relationship between bureaucracy and human nature in post-industrial society? We all recognise form filling and box ticking as the pointless paraphernalia of audit culture, yet we comply with it anyway. Could it be that for all its inhuman, lifeless character, we are somehow attracted to bureaucracy because it is untaxing, relaxing, and procrastinatory, in a world that prizes relentless hard work and high-speed commerce?

Times Higher Education covered the symposium, featuring some nice comments from the participants. Elaine Glaser, one of the event’s organizers,

questioned whether the red tape existed “to make us keep our heads down” and said that it smacked of a “punitive attitude: if you enjoy your work, you should be doing more form-filling”.

A related sentiment was articulated by Mark Fisher:

The real goal of neoliberal managerialism, in Dr Fisher’s view, was “to stop people talking to each other, by breaking up departments and bringing in professional administrators”. Although he was all in favour of administrators and managers whose basic roles were troubleshooting and providing support for academics to do their jobs, “‘professional administrators’ are neither professional nor administrators”.

Pathological bureaucracy is just one of the features of the modern university that have disenchanted so many scholars across the academic landscape. In fact, many of the Ronin Institute’s members have made similar observations in explaining their decisions to leave traditional academia.

The problem is that bureaucracy has an inherent growth dynamic that can be difficult to fight against, or even notice. And yet, fighting against that growth is a necessity. One of the principles we’re committed to here is the Minimum Viable Bureaucracy. The core of the idea is that you should never add any layer of complexity that is not absolutely necessary.

If that seems obvious, it may be that I have not yet explained it clearly enough. There are lots of things that are nice to have — things that seem like they should make life easier, or that will guard against some very specific disaster. But every one of these comes at a cost. Of course there is the cost of paying an additional bureaucrat, but there is also the cost of redirecting the time and energy of the individual scholars away from the activities that, in name at least, are the core purpose of academia: research and teaching.

That means that there may be certain things you don’t do, even if the local cost-benefit analysis seems to say that you should. Because once you add something — a layer of regulation or a formal procedure or a staff position — it almost never goes away. You wind up committing to the costs, but tend not to reevaluate the benefits.

So can we actually build something that can function in the modern world while fighting hard against bureaucratic creep? Let’s find out!

h/t Thanks to Ronin Institute Research Scholar Alex Lancaster

Ronin Institute will Accept Cats Now, Apparently

At least that seems to me to be the inevitable consequence of this image, which I stumbled across this morning (posted by Nick Kapur, via Hiroko Tabuchi, via Stellar)

Embedded image permalink

Sadly, and contrary to early reports, this is actually an image by a contemporary surrealist artist named Tetsuya Noguchi (e.g., here, or here). However, Kapur, a historian, notes that he has actually seen genuine Edo-period cat-ear helmets before. Also, anyone looking for present ideas for the motorcyclist in your life, here you go:

woman biker with cat ear helmet

You’re welcome.

Orzack on the Sex Ratio

There’s a new paper out in PNAS (available here) by Ronin Institute Board member and Research Scholar Steven Orzack. It’s also been covered briefly by NPR (listen here). Steven is the founder of the Fresh Pond Research Institute, which is one of the inspirations/models for Ronin, and he played a critical role in helping to get Ronin up and running. So congratulations to him!

But also, it’s a cool paper, where they (Orzack and colleagues from a few different institutions) assembled a crap-ton of data on the sex ratio at various stages of pregnancy, which has allowed them to chart out how that sex ratio changes over time (due to differential mortality of males and females).

So why is this interesting? Well, if you know one thing about sex ratios, you know that there are equal numbers of boys and girls. In humans, sex is determined by the sex chromosomes (X and Y). If you get two X chromosomes, you’re female, but if you get an X and a Y, you’re male. At reproduction, you inherit an X from your mom, and either an X or a Y from your dad. The 50/50 sex ratio follows naturally from the fact that half of his sperm carry his X, while the other half carry his Y.

But if you know two things about sex ratios, you know that the first thing you knew about sex ratios is wrong. In humans, about 51% of the babies that are born are male. (Naturally, that is. In places where there is a lot of sex-specific abortion, like China, the fraction of boys born is higher.) That fact has been known for over a hundred years. It has also been known for a long time that near the end of pregnancy, male fetuses suffer higher mortality than female fetuses. This combination of facts led many people to conclude that at the time of conception, the sex ratio is highly skewed, as high as 56% male, and that higher rates of male mortality during pregnancy bring that ratio down to 51% by birth. Like, maybe sperm carrying Y chromosomes swim faster than sperm with X chromosomes. This is the story that you’ll find circulating around biology departments and in a lot of textbooks.

What this paper shows, however, is that at the time of conception, the ratio is probably very, very close to 50/50. But during the week of pregnancy, there is a higher male mortality rate, so that the sex ratio actually skews female. This seems to be linked to chromosomal abnormalities (like having too many or too few chromosomes), which cause mortality in males earlier than in females. Then, for the next ten to fifteen weeks, there is a higher rate of female mortality, so that the sex ratio correct itself and then becomes male biased. Here’s a figure from their paper, which shows both the timecourse of the change in sex ratio and gives a sense of the diversity of data that was integrated for the analysis:

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 5.20.37 PMThe dip at the end results from the fact that boys tend to be born earlier than girls, so the individuals that are still fetuses start to skew female.

So what does it mean? Hard to say. There’s a lot of theory out there about the evolution of sex ratios, but much of it is hard to test without a lot of data that is hard to get, like what the timecourse of parental provisioning looks like for boys and girls. In fact, it may be impossible to get that data for the social systems relevant to human evolution (depending on how you feel about the use of contemporary hunter-gatherer populations as proxies for the human Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation).

But what it does mean is that all of that theory was trying to explain the wrong phenomenon. Now that we know what the pattern actually looks like, there are a whole lot of new mechanistic and evolutionary questions that are suddenly relevant and interesting.

News Flash: Postdocs are a Screw Job

To people who have been involved with academic science recently (say, the past forty years), this will not come as a shock, but the National Academy has released a report concluding that, well, being a postdoc sucks. The report, released in December, was summarized by Science Careers:

The penetrating analysis in The Postdoctoral Experience Revisited comes all the way up to, but does not actually state, some inconvenient realities: For all but a small percentage of aspiring researchers, doing a postdoc at a university is a lousy idea because it will neither result in an academic job nor otherwise advance one’s career. If graduate students had accurate information about what lay ahead, many would—and should—choose not to become postdocs.

The traditional postdoc is a weird job. You typically work long hours for not enough pay in a semi-autonomous position where you have all of the responsibility, but for which much of the credit will ultimately go to your boss.

Which is to say, it is a lot like most other crappy jobs.

The thing that is so weird about postdocs, and much of academia, is that these are people who apparently have succeeded at the very highest levels. They studied hard, worked hard, became world-class experts in something. And yet they are getting paid a lot less than they would be had they taken a “regular” job.

It seems like a fundamentally untenable system, or at least one that is destined to drive the best and the brightest out of science careers. In fact, the only reason the system has not yet collapsed under the weight of its own iniquity is because of the immense capacity of people to delude themselves. The thing is, what makes it all worth it (in the mind of the delusional and underpaid postdoc) is that this is the honorable path, which will eventually lead to a coveted faculty position. But the fact is, this is the outcome for only a small minority of postdocs:

workforce infographic ASCB COMPASSimage via Talebearing

In a way, graduate students and postdocs are just like student athletes. They provide cheap labor that generates value for Universities. They are paid well below their actual worth, with two justifications: 1) they are receiving “training”, and 2) they will be rewarded later (with tenure / a professional career). The problem, of course, is that this training is of highly variable quality, and is often nonexistent for postdocs. And, as with athletes, most will not actually get that long-term payoff.

There is more and more recognition of the fact that not everyone goes on to get (or even wants) a tenure-track position. But this alone does not seem to be altering the structure of the system. Fundamentally, as long as there are enough people who are willing to put up with the current arrangement to fill the seats, there will be no real incentive to change. But there are definitely people who choose to opt out, and I worry about that.

Here’s the thing. Who is it who chooses to leave before or during a postdoc? Well, compared to the person who stays put, they are probably more self aware, better able to step back and see the big picture, better able to “think outside the box”, as they say in 1990s-era management seminars. In short, the person who looks at how postdocs work and says “screw this” is exactly the sort of person who is most likely to make a genuine contribution to science. Those who keep their heads down, don’t question the system, and carry on will certainly make great worker bees, and will competently design and perform the obvious next experiment. But will they really be the ones who give us genuine innovation and insight?

So, even if the current system is able to sustain itself for a while longer, it is already failing to do what we claim we want it to do: train and empower the brightest and most creative minds to make the next set of big discoveries.

(h/t Viviane Callier)

Introducing the Ronin Institute Newsletter: Kitsune

Happy New Year to everyone out there.

In December, the Ronin Institute published the first issue of Kitsune, a newsletter that will come out six times a year and will keep you up to date on the happenings at the Institute and in the world of alternative scholarship more generally.

That first issue is now available on the website here. If you would like to receive it in your very own inbox, send an e-mail to us at, and we’ll add you to the list. You might also add to your address book, so that your newsletter does not wind up in your spam folder.

We’ve got a lot of exciting people on the rolls now, and some cool programs in the works. Keep an eye on Kitsune, and you can stay up to date on both.

Rich Dean, Poor Student

Last week, the Institute for Policy Studies released a report on executive pay at Universities. They focused specifically on the 25 Universities with the highest compensation for the top executive at the main campus, ranging from $10.2 M at Ohio State to $3.7 M at Florida State.

First, they found that student debt has increased faster at the high-executive-pay schools than the national average, although the trend there is pretty horrific even if you’re talking about a school where the President makes a measly one million a year.

Second, they found that at these universities, administrative expenses increased twice as fast as scholarship expenses. The University of Minnesota received special attention for coupling a 44% increase in administrative costs with a 55% reduction in scholarship expenditures over the five years from 2007 to 2012.

When the report first came out, it was reported that these schools also had a faster-than-average increase in the use of low-wage, adjunct faculty. The report was quickly pulled, supposedly due to concerns about the quality of the data collected from the American Federation of Teachers site. The report and the data were quickly removed from the web, and an updated version of the report was published a few days later.

Well, obviously, what actually happened was that Big Adjunct got to them. (Wake up sheeple!) I assume that Liam Neeson’s daughter was kidnapped and forced to live on an adjunct salary until the report was modified to toe the party line.

But I guess some truths are just too big to hide. Even the whitewashed corrected report shows that the highest-executive-pay Universities are increasing their use of adjunct faculty at a rate 22% faster than the national average.

Their top five “most unequal” Universities are: Ohio State, Penn State, U. Michigan, U. Minnesota, and U. Delaware. So, if you live in one of these states, move before your kids go to college.

Kickstart a Two-Volume Collection of Chinese Poems

Ronin Institute Research Scholar Evelyn Ch’ien is running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of 600 Chinese poems by diplomat Liao Entao. The annotated collection stands to be a real contribution to a really interesting period in Chinese history — the end of the Qing dynasty, through the Republican period, and the Chinese Civil War. Click here to check out the project, watch the video, and, of course, contribute!

Or, for the click-averse, here’s the description:

This book is a collection of 600 poems written by a diplomat (1864-1954) who lived in China, America, Cuba, Japan and Korea.

For the past 5 years I have been researching the lives of ancestors who participated in the transformation from Qing dynastic rule to the Republican period, and bore witness to the rise of Communist China. After a year in Guangzhou on a Fulbright fellowship, I returned home to find that I had a literary treasure on my hands. With co-editor Professor Puk Wing Kin at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, we created a team of literary classicists that annotated 600 poems by the professional diplomat Liao Entao (1864-1954). Notably, Entao’s brother was a major player in the 1911 Revolution and the anticipated successor to the Republic’s first president Sun Yat Sen, but sadly Liao Zhongkai was assassinated in 1925.

This collection of poems illuminates the historical events of the period and is a valuable contribution to the history of modern China, helping also to reveal the foundations of diplomacy between China and America.

These poems were originally written in Song Dynasty style and for that reason required annotations to expose its meanings in modern day language. Your participation in our artistic and diplomatic mission is greatly appreciated and will enable the successful completion of our project.

We will also be creating a website and report the progress of the translations to all our contributors, to whom we will give special access. Historical notes, sample translations of poems, and other information will be available. Gifts of $100+ include a translation of 20-30 poems, but every contributor will have access to the site and when the project is completed, the site with the translations and notes will be made public.

As of right now, the project is closing in on $7,000 of the $20,000 goal, with 22 days left. What’s the $20,000 for, you ask? Well, the Kickstarter money is going entirely to publication costs. All of the hard work of assembling, curating, and annotating the poems has already been done — paid for out of a Fulbright Scholarship and out of pocket.

Pledge gifts include copies of poems, etc. At the $200 level, you’ll get your very own copy of the two-volume set. ($50 and up for Volume I)

To be clear, the published books will be in Chinese. So, keep that in mind if you don’t read Chinese. I don’t, but I look forward to having an incomprehensible trophy on my bookshelf.

Also very cool is the translation project, which may be of more interest to the non-Chinese-speakers. The site probably won’t be up until January, but it will allow backers to follow along with the project as it progresses.

The Kickstarter is proceeding at a good pace. Maybe we can convince Evelyn to add a full set of translations as a stretch goal. :) Evelyn?

So go check it out. The poems that you see in the video are some of the actual poems that will be published. This is an excellent example of the value and power of independent scholarship. Let’s get out there and support it!

Science, Nature, and Cell Aren’t the Problem, Exactly

Randy Schekman made news this week when he published a column in the Guardian, where he proclaimed that his lab would be boycotting Science, Nature, and Cell, probably the three most prominent scientific journals.

There is a lot to be happy about in Schekman’s column. Most of all for its existence: Schekman just won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, and he is using his fifteen minutes at the Bully Pulpit to draw attention to our deeply flawed system of valuing science, including how we fund and publish it. At a minimum, his column has reignited interest in an extremely important topic, and has already spawned a number of responses, including interesting thoughts from Michael Eisen, Retraction Watch, Luboš Motl, PZ Myers, Junk Science, Scholarly Kitchen, and mathbionerd.[1]

But is he right about the problem? The solution? I’m not sure.

Schekman argues that a key problem is the influence of these “luxury” journals. Yes they publish some good and interesting science, but not everything they publish is good, and not everything good gets published there. In fact, there is an argument to be made that a paper published in a quality field-specific journal is more likely to contain good, solid science than a typical luxury journal paper, at least on average.

DarwinEatsCake0085Yet, in many fields, publication in one of these fancy journals is a, if not the, primary determinant of who gets that tenure-track slot at the big research university. This, then, distorts the incentives on scientists. Rather than trying to do good science, young scientists feel that they need to do something flashy. This can lead to asking the questions that sound deep in a cocktail-party setting, rather than the questions that actually are deep, and that move the field forward in a meaningful way.

He’s right about this, of course. In fact, there are a couple of additional problems that arise from the Science/Nature/Cell-publication-equals-job system. One is stochasticity. There is always going to be a random element that goes into getting a paper accepted by these journals. There is also a degree of randomness in the nature of science itself. Sometimes you ask the right question, and the answer turns out to be a little dry, or a lot complicated. That means that, no matter how skilled a scientist you are, you’re not going to be publishing your work in one of the glossy magazines.

The other issue is a sort of nepotism. Academia, like our current economic system, is riddled with features that create rich-get-richer dynamics. The best predictor for publishing in one of the luxury magazines is having published in them before. Because, well, then you’re the sort of scientist who publishes in those magazines, so obviously your work belongs in those magazines, and so on. So, if you wind up going to the right grad school, and land in the right lab, you can co-author with one of those Science/Nature/Cell scientists, and next thing you know, you are one of those Science/Nature/Cell scientists.

For my money, this starts to get closer to the actual core of the problem: the lazy use of proxies to evaluate quality and assert expertise.

The “Hire the person with the Nature publication” phenomenon is just one facet of the systemic rot throughout academia — the thing that triggers the “Emperor has no clothes” reaction from people who are not immersed in the system. The fact is, it is extremely rare for one academic to put in the actual time and effort required to understand another academic’s research. Yet, we are always more than happy to lay out our value judgments.

You know that thing, where you read an article on the internet, and then you look at the comments, and the first comment is something super judgmental, or scolding, or something defensive and fawning? Yet it is blindingly obvious from the comment that the commenter did not actually finish reading the article?

That dynamic pretty well describes the faculty discussion of candidates in every job search in academia.

Except, on the internet, there is usually some other commenter who points out that the first one did not read the whole article. Now imagine an internet comment thread where no one finished reading the article, but where everyone felt compelled to express an opinion.

That, kids, is how tenure-track positions are filled.

Academics are deeply habituated to making quick value judgments — partly out of necessity. The pace and scope of scientific publishing is absolutely insane, and keeping up with the literature is daunting, even in a narrow field. A typical tenure-track position will receive hundreds of applications, which have to be evaluated and ranked by people who are already working crazy long hours.

This habituation is also driven partly by the social dynamics of academia. When you articulate a judgment of a paper or a candidate, you assert your own authority. You are a person with expertise and intelligence and taste, as demonstrated by your informed opinion. The broader the set of subjects on which you can express an opinion, the broader the domain of your expertise. The stronger your opinion is, the keener your intelligence. The more critical you are, the more refined your tastes must be.

Of course, these inferences only make sense if your judgments are actually correct. The problem is that, in many academic settings, asserted judgments don’t get fact checked. Maybe no one else in the room has the requisite expertise to know if you’re full of shit or not. Maybe no one in the world can evaluate your judgment until years in the future, when some experiment validates or invalidates your judgment.

The resulting situation is that there are many short-term benefits to quick and firm value judgments. The costs associated with making bad value judgements — of being wrong — are typically deferred and diffuse. If you hire the “wrong” job candidate, it might not be obvious for years, and the cost is borne by the entire department. Plus, you never really know for sure, because you don’t have the appropriate controls (such as access to parallel universes in which you hired each of the other candidates).

So, you start to rely on proxies:

Where did the person go to college? Where did they go to grad school? Who was their advisor? How many publications do they have? In which journals? How many citations?

But how bad are those proxies? After all, each of these pieces of information probably does individually correlate with the thing you’re actually interested in — the quality of their work. And, of course, they let you make your evaluation quickly, which is critical if you have to work your way through a pile of, say, three hundred applications, and the new season of American Idol is coming up.

But the correlations are noisy. And, perhaps more to the point, they are correlated among themselves in a way that reflects that rich-get-richer dynamic.

So, candidate A went to Harvard, and they worked with a National Academy member, and they’ve got a paper in Cell. Awesome!

Except that maybe their paper got into Cell — at least partly — because it was co-authored with their National-Academy-member advisor. And they got to work with that advisor because they got in to Harvard. And maybe the advisor was elected to the National Academy — at least partly — because he/she landed a job at Harvard, where he/she got to know some other National Academy members, who then nominated him/her to the Academy.

By my reckoning, the number of independent data points you have about candidate A is somewhere in the vicinity of one.

When you’re in the triage phase, with your pile of hundreds of CVs, you might rely on these proxies out of necessity. But when you’re down to the a manageable pile, you really have to do better. You have to read the papers, understand them, understand the research program. [2] If everyone in the room does this, your discussion will naturally focus on the quality of the work, which is what we all care about, right? Right?

Too much to hope for? Well, consider this. If even one person in the room carefully reads the work, they can at least call out when someone else is making their judgments based on superficial (or even incorrect) aspects of a candidate and their work.

If you don’t have the time or the background knowledge to understand the research, well, you need not to be functioning in a position where you decide who gets hired and promoted and funded and published. Even though, the way academia is structured, you can probably remain in that position and get away with it for years.

In summary:

Goofus says, “George Price published a paper in Nature. He must be really smart. And I am smart because I have smartly recognized his smartness.”, because Goofus did not actually read the paper or maybe did not understand it, and is lazily relying on the journal name to signal quality and establish authority.

Gallant says, “George Price published a paper where he integrates ideas about group and kin selection through the hierarchical use of covariances. In the future, some people will view this work as true, but with limited utility in the real world — sort of like Fisher’s Fundamental Theorem. Some will even say that it is tautological and meaningless. Others will view it with an almost religious reverence, a sort of Rosetta Stone of population genetics.”, because Gallant read and understood the paper and its implications, and is attempting to provide an intellectually honest evaluation.


[1] The responses include a lot of “Hear! Hear!”, especially from people who have been fighting this battle for years. Folks are also (rightly) calling out Schekman for a degree of hypocrisy — he’s built his career through the luxury journals, publishing in Science as recently as this year.

Also, the journals that are included and excluded are a bit — not suspicious, exactly, but something like that. If you were to list extend the list of “luxury” journals to four, the fourth would probably be PNAS. Coincidentally, Schekman was the editor of PNAS for about five years.

On the other side, Schekman proposes Open Access publication as the key to solving this problem. Open Access is awesome for many reasons, but those reasons are really orthogonal to arguments about “sexy” science versus “solid” science — but that’s a subject for a different post. In particular, he calls out three Open Access publishers: PLoS, BMC, and eLife. Here, if you were to cut your list down to two, there is no question that the two would be PLoS and BMC. Coincidentally, Schekman is an editor at eLife.

There’s nothing unusual — or even necessarily wrong — with promoting entities with which you have an association. It’s just that, to me, it smacks a bit of the type of “branding” that he accuses the luxury journals of in the same column.

[2] To be fair, Schekman does make the argument that we also need not to evaluate papers based on where they are published, but this point is limited to a few sentences that are tangential to his central argument:

Funders and universities, too, have a role to play. They must tell the committees that decide on grants and positions not to judge papers by where they are published. It is the quality of the science, not the journal’s brand, that matters.

New Ronin Book on Ralph Waldo Emerson

Congratulations to Ronin Institute Research Scholar Joseph Kramp, who is publishing a new book, Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Psychological Biography, through Mellen Press. The official publication date is 2014, but if you’ve not yet finished up your holiday shopping, you can already preoder it.

Here’s the official description:

A new psychological, social and political examination of Emerson’s life and experience of symbolic loss that demonstrates the importance and purpose of individual and social transformation and revitalizes Emerson’s literary importance for contemporary American society.

So buy, Buy, BUY!!