linking back to

My lab:
Mike Taylor kept complaining about this wonderful e107 content management system that I have used for over ten years on various sites. Now, I've finally done it: I've moved to a new host, copied the entire domain and all it's subdomains to the new provider and will soon start to transfer the domain itself (so expect some hiccups over the coming week or so as I straighten things out).

One of the changes this will entail is that the 911 (now 912) posts on this e107-run blog will be moved to and all links to this place redirected to the new URL. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this will actually work without any major downtime. Yes, I'm an optimist

The new will then run on WordPress with all the neat little bells and whistles that come with it, so feel free to suggest must-have plug-ins.

This is thus the last post here and this site will remain static for as much and as long as I can keep it that way.
Posted on Thursday 16 May 2013 - 17:25:46 comment: 0

I spent the past two days in Cologne on a site visit for a a large collaborative research center. I sat on a panel of 10 reviewers who reviewed a total of 18 grant proposals. The DFG asked us to not only judge the merit of the proposals themselves, but also the track records of all the applicants/PIs.

Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the reviewers, when making a case for a particular track record, regularly referenced "articles in high impact journals" as a criterion for the quality of the applicant, in some cases exclusively. Conversely, when questioning the quality of an applicant, even distinguished scholars, arguments popped up such as: "published a paper in Nature in 2005 and then nothing even close ot Nature since". Consequently, the minutes of the site visit, are chock-full of references to papers in hi-IF journals. It became very clear to me, that applicants without GlamMag publications would have a very tough time in site visits like this one.

Although I have to mention that there is a silver lining on the horizon: two of us heavily opposed the use of journal rank where it was used against the applicants, also by circulating the available data on journal rank. This lead to interested questions and discussions with the other reviewers and I think we managed to at least get a few people in positions with a lot of power thinking. It's probably wishful thinking on my part, but I'll go to bed now with the fuzzy feeling of having put perhaps one tiny nail in the coffin of journal rank.

My experiences these past two days are in stark contrast to recent statements by Michael Eisen who claims that journal rank is not the important criterion for promotion and funding as everybody thinks. Given that so far we only have anecdotes to argue with, it would really be important to have some data on this question. For which decisions in which fields and in which countries is journal rank an important criterion?
Posted on Wednesday 24 April 2013 - 22:16:35 comment: 0

The successful candidate will conduct research on the neurobiology of spontaneous behavior and operant learning using Drosophila as a neurogenetic model organism. Methods will include computer-controlled behavioral experiments with wildtype, mutant and transgenic flies, neuroanatomy using standard and confocal microscopy as well as some molecular biology such as qPCR to determine the effectiveness of RNAi-mediated gene knock-down.

The successful candidate will have a PhD in any relevant field, experience in Drosophila biology, at least some coding experience, preferably in R, MatLab, Python or similar languages and be enthusiastic about working in an open science lab.

The position is a university-paid, fixed-term position along the funding scale outlined by the TVöD EG13, approx. 2000€ after tax (more for senior postdocs) and including all medical and social benefits, including a retirement plan.

Starting date for the position is October 1, 2013 and applications before July 1, 2013 will receive preferred treatment, but applications will be considered until the position is filled.
Posted on Friday 19 April 2013 - 17:39:45 comment: 0

There is a flood of commentary covering the sale of Mendeley to Elsevieer. However, only a few posts have bemoaned the sale of Mendeley's usage data to Elsevier. So perhaps now is a good time to speculate a little, what Elsevier might be up to with this new asset. In particular, a speculation with their past track record in mind.

Obviously, given that Mendeley can be used to share copyrighted content, Elsevier could go and sue Mendeley users for breach of copyright. Elsevier and other corporate publishers have a long track record of suing their customers, so this would not be unexpected at all, on the contrary - we should be positively surprised if Elsevier would not use this data to enforce their copyrights, one way or another.

Another commonly observed behavior would be to use the data to develop a very useful tool and initially offering it for free. So far, so good, this would actually be a positive and welcomed consequence. However, more likely is probably the scenario where Elsevier will use the market power it has to hike the prices as they and other publishers have done with their paywalled content. So instead of overcharging just libraries for subscriptions, they will then overcharge both libraries and researchers for services no competitor can offer because Elsevier is the only player with access to the crucial data.

Going by their previous publication of advertisements hidden in fake journals, they might also use the data to specifically target users with very cleverly crafted advertisements that superficially look like science. Maybe Elsevier will use the data to go into the business of spamferences?

Once they have such detailed knowledge over which user is reading what and in which way, there is no limit to the number of possibilities for parasitizing individuals the same way the company has so far parasitized libraries and other institutional customers. What do you think? What else could they use the data for?
Posted on Thursday 11 April 2013 - 12:59:48 comment: 4

The recent acquisition of popular reference manager Mendeley (I'm a Mendeley user myself) apparently only was a consequential step for publishing giant Elsevier, according to Mendeley insider Jason Hoyt.  Anyway, the price-tag of 100m US$ (or less) pocket change for a firm that rakes in a billion in profits every year. Jason tells us that from the very beginning, Mendeley's open API as well as some other open discovery functionality was a thorn in the side of toll-access corporation Elsevier. Apparently, the giant made sure their 36% profit margin wasn't threatened by bullying Mendeley into rolling back some of their functionality. In the wake of the Elsevier boycott movement, the corporation apparently changed course and decided to buy the start-up instead.

What we see now appears to be a company (Elsevier) that is largely and rightfully villified in the scholarly community trying to use (inter alii) a popular community tool to turn the tide of of bad PR. Given the track record of Elsevier, it remains to be seen how well this equivalent of Japanese whalers buying the Sea Shepard or Exxon buying Greenpeace will work out for the firm.

From a user perspective, Ross Mounce sums it up quite accurately:
The decades-long and ongoing consolidation of the scholarly communication market onto a few major players limits the choices of scholarls and forces them into a stranglehold so far only known from libraries and subscriptions. If the current developments can be extrapolated into the future, taking also into account the move towards gold open access, it appears as if publishers are slowly realizing that they have sucked all the life-blood out of libraries and are now turning their parasitic practices to the individual researchers instead.
Posted on Tuesday 09 April 2013 - 11:38:57 comment: 2

Posted on Friday 15 March 2013 - 08:29:06 comment: 0

Well, at least this is what I'd like to read into this latest development, the formation of the Library Publishing Coalition (LPC). Given my frequent arguments on how libraries should take over scholarly publishing from corporate publishers to the benefit of scientist and non-scientist tax-payers and given that they actually quote yours truly, I might be forgiven for being slightly too enthusiastic about some of the statements in this news report:
In the next 2 years, representatives of more than 50 academic libraries will consider their roles in the future of access to scholarly literature. Called the Library Publishing Coalition (LPC), the group is being led by Educopia Institute, an Atlanta-based consultancy that has experience working on other library digital efforts.


“I think libraries already are an effective agent—and perhaps THE most effective agent we see thus far—in reinventing scholarly publishing,” explains Educopia’s executive director Katherine Skinner.


“the question is no longer whether libraries should offer publishing services, but what kinds of services libraries will offer. Consequently, leaders need to ask to what extent can the university benefit from investments in library publishing services, particularly in the context of related transformations in library services. While new investments are needed, there are both great demands for publishing services and significant benefits to be obtained from strategic investments.”


“Many research and academic libraries are growing a portfolio of publishing-related services today,” says Virginia Tech’s Walters. “This includes help with the technical production of e-journals, e-conference proceedings, ebooks, websites, databases, and new forms of scholarly digital resources.


“The LPC arose from the perception—rightly, I believe—that the existing organizations were limited venues for discussion and collaboration among those of us within academic libraries who provide services in support of scholarly communication endeavors on our campuses."


“I think what is driving the LPC is the sense that it is now becoming an explicit, even an expected role for academic libraries to be doing their own publishing and supporting faculty publishing with various levels of technology and expertise,” says Sarah Pritchard, Northwestern University dean of libraries. “The question is, exactly what and how? Each library and each project is different, and there is little consistency in how our organizations are funding and staffing this work. What I hope will emerge is a structure for testing new models and sharing the results and the best practices; for promoting further collaboration and training; perhaps even eventually a way to achieve efficiencies in the logistical side of things, but that is really not the immediate goal.”


“I think the biggest challenge facing not only library-based publishing operations but anyone in publishing is the rise of what we at CDRS like to call ‘DIY publishing,’” says Kennison. “The same easy-to-use technologies, widespread technological expertise, and the plethora of emerging publishing platforms that have lowered the barrier to entry for library-based publishing operations have also meant that increasingly anyone can publish on their own—and they do. This reality can, will, and should inflect the services we offer now and the ones we will offer in the future, but that requires a flexibility of approach that has not traditionally been a value in either library or publishing operations.


“There are some aspects of publishing that benefit from scale, and libraries naturally look to cooperate with the same partners we have long had for other kinds of resource sharing,” Pritchard concludes. “But an institution might want to do local support for their own faculty; the one does not preclude the other. The whole goal of the LPC is to explore the multiplicity of models.”
It is quite reassuring to read that one is not alone in their perspective on the current state of affairs. Go and read the whole thing, do it now!
Posted on Thursday 07 March 2013 - 18:39:47 comment: 0

Scholarly publishers feel the heat, frantically struggling to preserve their threatened business model. More and more it seems they may be going the way of the music industry into irrelevance, when it would be so easy to embrace new technology and survive. Here are two technically easy things which would save academic publishing:

  • Agree on industry-wide, open standards for interoperability and re-use. With such standards, we would be able to have single-click submissions without reformatting. Write paper, pick journal and hit 'submit', that's it. With such standards, the technical obstacles for an actually usable scholarly search technology would be removed. Such technology would allow the development of IT-assisted, smart alert tools which aid researchers in stayng on top of their literature by suggesting only relevant publications. With such standards, the pernicious ranking of journals would stop, as article-level metrics would be easily available (either from publishers or via open APIs).
  • Get rid of subscriptions by offering institutions (i.e., libraries) gold OA deals for their subscription funds (not that I personally would like that, but given the stranglehold publishers currently have on libraries, it would work). PLoS and BMC show that it can work financially.

Those two changes alone would eliminate many of the most egregious shortcomings of the scholarly literature today and thus placate the vast majority of people currently pushing for publishing reform, in effect deflating the entire movement. And yet, I'd bet neither will happen.
Posted on Wednesday 06 March 2013 - 10:00:35 comment: 2

The first one is a TED talk by Michael Dickinson on how flies fly:

and the second one is on recording from fly visual neurons during flight and non-flight. This one was done in CalTech where Michael Dickinson used to work:

Posted on Sunday 24 February 2013 - 16:14:19 comment: 0

Today, the UK House of Lords Science and Technology Committee released their report on the new RCUK open access policy. Commenting on the report, the chairman of the committee, Lord Krebs, said:
The Government must ensure that in further developing our capabilities to share research they do not inadvertently damage the ‘complex ecosystem’ of research communication in the UK.
That to me sounds an aweful lot like "The Government must ensure that in further developing our capabilities for creating a sustainable energy supply they do not inadvertently damage the 'complex ecosystem' of fossil fuel delivery in the UK".

Does that reek of publisher lobbying or am I paranoid? Isn't this like making sure smoking bans don't impact the tobacco industry?
Posted on Friday 22 February 2013 - 14:57:35 comment: 0

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