Bemis and the bull

Bemis said:

“I fell at the foot of the only solitary tree there was in nine counties adjacent (as any creature could see with the naked eye), and the next second I had hold of the bark with four sets of nails and my teeth, and the next second after that I was astraddle of the main limb and blaspheming my luck in a way that made my breath smell of brimstone. I had the bull, now, if he did not think of one thing. But that one thing I dreaded. I dreaded it very seriously. There was a possibility that the bull might not think of it, but there were greater chances that he would. I made up my mind what I would do in case he did. It was a little over forty feet to the ground from where I sat. I cautiously unwound the lariat from the pommel of my saddle——”

“Your saddle? Did you take your saddle up in the tree with you?”

“Take it up in the tree with me? Why, how you talk. Of course I didn’t. No man could do that. It fell in the tree when it came down.”


“Certainly. I unwound the lariat, and fastened one end of it to the limb. It was the very best green raw-hide, and capable of sustaining tons. I made a slip-noose in the other end, and then hung it down to see the length. It reached down twenty-two feet—half way to the ground. I then loaded every barrel of the Allen with a double charge. I felt satisfied. I said to myself, if he never thinks of that one thing that I dread, all right—but if he does, all right anyhow—I am fixed for him. But don’t you know that the very thing a man dreads is the thing that always happens? Indeed it is so. I watched the bull, now, with anxiety—anxiety which no one can conceive of who has not been in such a situation and felt that at any moment death might come. Presently a thought came into the bull’s eye. I knew it! said I—if my nerve fails now, I am lost. Sure enough, it was just as I had dreaded, he started in to climb the tree——”

“What, the bull?”

“Of course—who else?””

[ Mark Twain, Roughing It, chapter VII]

Like Bemis, legacy publishers hope you’ll not think the unthinkable.

That we can pass to a new form of research sharing.

In publicity they say that the public is like a bull.

When you read an article you are like a passive couch potato in front of the TV. They (the publishers, hand in hand with academic managers) cast the shows, you have the dubious freedom to tap onto the remote control.

Now, it is possible, hard but possible and doable on a case by case basis. It is possible to do more. Comparable to the experience you have in a computer game vs the one you have in front of the TV.

You can experience research actively, via research works which run in the browser. I’ll call them “articles” for the lack of the right name, but articles they are not.

An article which runs in the browser should have the following features:

  • you, the reader-gamer, can verify the findings by running (playing) the article
  • so there has to be some part, if not all of the content, into a form which is executed during gameplay, not only as an attached library of programs which can be downloaded and run by the interested reader (although such an attachment is already a huge advance over the legacy publisher pity offer)
  • verification (aka validation) is up to you, and not limited to a yes/no answer. By playing the game (as well as other related articles) you can, and you’ll be interested into discovering more, or different, or opposing results than the one present in the passive version of the article and why not in the mind of the author
  • as validation is an effect of playing the article, peer review becomes an obsolete, much weaker form of validation
  • peer review is anyways a very weird form of validation: the publisher, by the fact it publishes an article, implies that some anonymous members of the research guild have read the article. So when you read the article in the legacy journal you are not even told, only hinted that somebody from the editorial staff exchanged messages with somebody who’s a specialist, who perhaps read the article and thought it is worthy of publication. This is so ridiculous, but that is why you’ll find in many reviews, which you see as an author, so many irrelevant remarks from the reviewer, like my pet example of the reviewer who’s offput by my use of quotation signs. That’s why, because what the reviewer can do is very limited, so in order to give the impression he/she did something, to give some proof that he/she read the article, then it comes with this sort of circumstantial proof. Actually, for the most honest reviewer, the ideally patient and clever fellow who validates the work of the author, there is not much else to do. The reviewer has to decide if he believes it or not, from the passive form of the article he received from the editor, and in the presence of the conflict of interests which comes from extreme specialisation and low number of experts on a tiny subject. Peer review is not even a bad joke.
  • the licence should be something comparable to CC-BY-4.0, and surely not CC-BY-NC-ND. Something which leave free both the author and the reader/gamer/author of derivative works, and in the same time allows the propagation of the authorship of the work
  • finally, the article which runs in the browser does not need a publisher, nor a DRM manager. What for?

So, bulls, let’s start to climb the tree!




4 thoughts on “Bemis and the bull”

  1. What’s not clear in “there has to be some part, if not all of the content, into a form which is executed during gameplay, not only as an attached library of programs which can be downloaded and run”?

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