The best article since a long time: “We have met the enemy and it is us” by Mark Johnston

The article is here. It is so good, in my opinion, that I can’t just give a quote from it.

Indeed, fact is: with all due respect for the publishers, librarians, even for the ISI bean-counters, science is primarily made by researchers, who are the most competent for taking decisions for their good. Only that we have forgot this and instead we rely on others, less competent, for reasons we are also to blame for.

This is good to recognize, not for us to feel guilty about, but  to take steps for taking back our power of decision.

Science is not a commercial activity, it does not feel good on the long term by being managed for attaining short-sighted goals. We are not the milk-providing cow of others, who take our raw product and packages it in fancy looking  clothes, for the sake of selling it.

On the other side, we have to find the courage of taking decisions for ourselves.  To  rely on “objective measures”, which are nothing else than means to avoid accountability, is to be afraid to take decisions.

This kind of change has to happen starting from the researchers involved in management of research. Because, in fact, the enemy is not quite “us”, but if this kind of change, which is for the benefit of science, is opposed by their inertia, then it is starting to look as being “them”.



and even

Bizarre wiki page on ISI (and comments about DORA and The Cost of Knowledge)

More and more people are supporting the  San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) .  Timothy Gowers, the initiator of The Cost of Knowledge movement, asks “Elsevier journals: has anything changed?” and writes

Greg Martin, a number theorist at UBC (the University of British Columbia in Vancouver) doesn’t think so, so he has decided to resign from the editorial board of Elsevier’s Journal of Number Theory.

Igor Pak rationalizes the apparent small effects in the real world of  the open access movement and asks   rhetorical questions:

 Should all existing editorial boards revolt and all journals be electronic?  Or perhaps should we move to “pay-for-publishing” model?  Or even “crowd source refereeing”?  Well, now that the issue a bit cooled down, I think I figured out exactly what should happen to math journals.  Be patient – a long explanation is coming below.

DORA, in my opinion, can be considered a positive outcome of this movement (and of course, the Cost of Knowledge is only a drop in the sea of initiatives towards updating the research communication system from the medieval age to the present one). Let’s not be more pessimistic  than we should.

Or, maybe, should we?

Is the stumbling block  the publisher, or is it in the academic realm? Where is the weak link of this Research Banana Republic? Could it be in the entrenched opinions of a majority of researchers, based on a self-referential definition of academic impact which is built around “objective” measures?

I took a look at the wikipedia page on Thompson  ISI, to see what an open, non-partisan source is writing about it.

Here is an excerpt from this source:

This database allows a researcher to identify which articles have been cited most frequently, and who has cited them. The database not only provides an objective measure of the academic impact of the papers indexed in it, but also increases their impact by making them more visible and providing them with a quality label. There is some evidence suggesting that appearing in this database can double the number of citations received by a given paper.

An “objective measure of the academic impact”?  What is the evidence which backs this PR on wikipedia? The ISI was founded in the 1960 and “there is some evidence suggesting that appearing in this database can double the number of citations received by a given paper” in ONE article from 2013?

I clicked then on the Thomson Scientific & Healthcare  link and suggest you to do the same. Wikipedia has the following comments on the top of that page:

This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page.

This article includes a list of references, related reading or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations. (February 2008)
This article relies on references to primary sources. (February 2008)

This article reads like a news release, or is otherwise written in an overly promotional tone. (January 2008)

What do you think about this?

Call for analysis of the new UD video

Thanks to preda  and to appc23 for showing us the new UD video:

The previous post on this subject,  New discussion on UD (updated) , has lots of interesting comments. It has become difficult to make sense of the various proposals concerning the UD algorithm, therefore I made this new post which shall serve first as a place for new discussions, then it will be updated.

It is maybe the time to make sense a bit of the material existent (or linked to) on this blog. That is why I invite everybody who is willing to do this to make it’s own proposal, preferably with (either) programs or proofs or evidence (links). Especially, in a random order, this invitation is addressed to:

  • Dave H
  • preda
  • 17genr
  • JX
  • appc23
  • bcmpinc
  • Shea
  • Tony

but anybody which has something coherent to communicate is welcome to make a proposal which will blow our minds.

Make your respective proposals as detailed as you wish, take your time to make them convincing and then, if you agree, of course, we shall make feature posts here with each of them, in order to become easier to follow the different threads.

Let me finish, for the moment, by stating which points are the most important in my opinion, until now (I stress, in my opinion, feel free to contradict me):

  • UD works like a sorting algorithm,
  • cubemaps are used, but their main utility is to eliminate rotations wrt the POV from the problem,
  • UD is not a rendering algorithm (or, at least, the most interesting part of UD is not one), it is an algorithm for fast searching the data needed to put a colour on each pixel,
  • UD needs  to turn a cloud of points into a database, only once, operation which takes considerable more time than the searching algorithm part,
  • does not need antialiasing
  • does not raycasting for each pixel
  • it is a mathematical breakthrough, though not a CS  or math technical one (i.e. does not need the latest edge CS or math research in order to make sense  of it, but it’s a beautiful idea).

Almost finished, but I have to explain a bit my attitude about UD.  I am thorn between my curiosity about this, explained in other posts (for example by it’s partial overlap with the goals of Digital Materialization), and the fact that I don’t want this blog to be absorbed into this subject only. I have my ideas concerning a possible UD algorithm, especially from a math viewpoint, but unless I produce a program, I can’t know if I’m right or wrong (and I am not willing to try yet, because I am sympathetic with the underdog Dell and also because it would take me at least several months to get off the rust from my programming brain and I am not yet willing to spent real research time on this). Suppose I’m wrong, therefore, and let’s try to find it in a collaborative, open way. If we succeed then I would be very happy, in particular because it would get out of my mind.

New article on graphic lambda calculus

Up to date, this is the most comprehensive introduction to graphic lambda calculus. Is available as arxiv:1305.5786. It does not contain all the material on the subject, but it is, I hope, a fair exposition of what you can do with it. See also the tutorial page on graphic lambda calculus on this blog.

Two points:

  • it shows that it can be used for much more than just visually representing lambda calculus for pedagogical reasons, you can turn it into a programming language which mixes differential calculus, manipulation of spatial quantities, with lambda calculus,
  • it is the visual language appropriated for giving a rigorous formulation of the constructions done in Computing with space.

If you have comments or corrections to make, or peer-reviews, let me know! For the moment I can’t stand to look at it, I have to detach a bit, but it would surely benefit from a fresh eye.


UPDATE: The article has been accepted for publication in Wolfram’s  Complex Systems. This is  good news for the emergent algebras – computing with space subject. (Btw, thumbs up for the reviewing process, which made me update the previous version  arXiv:1207.0332  to a much more comprehensive presentation, which also benefited from several postings on this blog and from one question on mathoverflow.)

What is an author buying from a Gold OA publisher?

Questions/answers  about Gold OA: (please add your answers and other questions)

1. Is the author a customer of a Gold OA publisher?

I think it is.

2. What is the author paying for, as a customer?

I think the author pays for the peer-review service.

3. What offers the Gold OA publisher  for the money?

I think it offers only the peer-review service, because
– dissemination can be done by the author by submitting to arxiv, for example,
– +Mike Taylor  says that the Gold OA publisher offer the service of assembling an editorial board, but who wants to buy an editorial board? No, the authors pays for the peer-review process, which is managed by the editorial board, true, which is assembled by the publisher. So the end-product is the peer-review and the author pays for that.
– almost 100% automated services, like formatting, citation-web services, hosting the article are very low value services today.

However, it might be argued that the Gold OA publisher offers also the service of satisfying the author’s vanity, as the legacy publishers do.

4. Why no Gold OA publisher present itself as a seller of the peer-review service?

Have no idea.

5. Why is the peer-review service valuable?

– it spares time for the reader, who will select more likely a peer-reviewed  paper to read,
– it is a filter for the technical quality of the articles,
– it helps authors to write better articles, as an effect of the referees comments,
– it is also a tool for influencing the opinions of the community, by spinning up some research subjects and downplaying others.

Also on G+ here.

Democratic changes in OA can be only reactive. We need daring private initiatives

Democratic changes in OA can be only reactive. That means one step back with respect to active opposition to change, methodically pursued by interests of a small but powerful minority of big players in the publishing game (i.e. publishers themselves and their academic management friends, sometimes overlapping). And even more, one might say that democratic changes are even two steps back with respect to strategic decisions taken by the said big players. It’s only speculation, but for example the admirable DORA could throw us in the future into the arms of the newly acquired Mendeley.

By democratic changes I mean those which are agreed by a significant part of the research community.

So, what else? Privately supported changes. By this I mean support of any potentially viral solution for getting us out from this tarpit war. It’s clear that Gold OA is the immediate future change agreed by the big players, although it’s just as useless  as the actual research communication system based on traditional publication. Why waste another 10 years on this bad idea, only to repeat afterwards that it is already technically possible to disseminate knowledge without making the authors (or public funding agencies which support those) pay for nothing?

The advantage of a new dissemination system is already acknowledged, namely it is far more convenient, economically speaking, to profit from the outcomes of low Coase cost research collaborations, than to keep paying a hand of people who offer an obsolete service and don’t want to adapt to the new world of the net.

This point of view is stressed already in my Seven years forecast (i.e. until 2020), part 5:

In seven years all  successful changes of the process of dissemination of knowledge will turn out to be among those born from private initiatives,

Wish I have a crystal ball,  though I only have some hope.

UPDATE: Oh, yeah, maybe the uber-library idea is not the right thing. Yes, everybody wishes for a world library at a click distance, but that’s not all. That’s like “what can we do with cars? Well, let’s make them like coaches, only without the horse. The rich guys will love them.” And boum! the car concept became a success from the moment they were mass-produced.

UPDATE 2: Maybe relevant for the idea from  the first update, Cameron Neylon’s post “The bravery of librarians” ends with the question:

What can we do to create a world where we need to rely less on the bravery of librarians and therefore benefit so much more from it?


Read also:

Freedom sector of graphic lambda calculus

Yes, graphic lambda calculus has a freedom sector. Which means in that sector you can do anything you like (modulo some garbage, though). It’s yet not clear to me if this means a kind of universality property of graphic lambda calculus.

The starting point is the procedure of packing arrows explained in this post.  This procedure can be seen in the following way:


Here, the left and right void circles with the respective arrows represent: the one from the left is a generic out arrow which exits from a gate and the one from the right is a generic in arrow which enters in a gate.

This gives the following idea: replace the inputs and the outputs of the gates from graphic lambda calculus by the following graphs (the green wiggly arrow means “replace”):


For example, look how it’s done for the \curlywedge graph. Technically we define new macros, one for each elementary gate. Let’s call these macros “the free gates”.


These free gates define the free sector of the graphic lambda calculus, which consists all graphs made by free gates, along with the move of cutting or gluing arrows.

The free sector has inside a copy of the whole graphic lambda calculus, with the condition of adding a local move of elimination of garbage, which is the local move of elimination (goes only one way, not both) of any graph which is not made by free gates with at most, say, 100 arrows + gates. This move is needed, for example, for the case of emulating the graphic beta move with free gates, where we are left with some garbage consisting of one \lambda gate and one \curlywedge gate, seen as disconnected graphs.