Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Shady publishing

I was recently asked, by an anonymous individual, for my opinion on an unsolicited email that contained an offer to publish their thesis. To a young academic this might sound like an attractive proposition (more so in the arts and humanities than in the sciences, where journal articles still rule) - log a quick publication, get on Amazon and maybe even make some money.

However, if we dig a little beneath the surface we quickly uncover some pretty cynical practices. Others have documented in detail the shady nature of these companies (see here, here and here); suffice to say, the overwhelming advice is Don't Do It.

I thought I'd do my own research on the specific company that approached my colleague; LAP Publishing. Although several people have already commented at length on the various problems with their approach, and how these should all serve as significant red flags (see the last link above), perhaps the most damning evidence I found came from their own website.

I visited their main website, and soon saw a page of author comments. I'm absolutely sure that these are all completely genuine, and not at all fabricated; after all, who could make up a book with a title such as "RETURNS TO EDUCATIONAL INVESTMENTS IN A TRANSITIONAL ECONOMY: AN INVESTIGATION OF KAZAKHSTAN’S LABOR MARKET IN 2005"? It's even available on Amazon, although I'd advise you to turn off 1-Click Ordering before taking a look - you might not be able to stop yourself.

The best bit about this page, though, is the testimonials from the authors themselves:

"My experience with Lap Lambert Academic Publishing has been an experience I will never forget."

Well, that one could go one of two ways.

"Their superb customer service and support of me was the first point I noticed in my first communication with company."

Hmm, not sure about the grammar there, but we'll persevere.

"Within three short months, with their assistance I have now published six books..."

A book every two weeks!

Ok, so this getting a little suspect. No serious publisher would ever use such mangled English in their testimonials (or, indeed, actually need such things from their authors), or imply that, through them, you can knock out books at a rate that would make even Barbara Cartland question her commitment.

This isn't a post to say "let's laugh at the foreigners and their bad use of English". It's simply a comment on an absence of editorial standards that is so complete as to let these unedited "testimonials" go live on the company's own website.

These last two really are the final nails in the coffin:

"I must tell you that your contribution of publishing this book is very helpfulness and valuable for globalization of Ergonomics/Human Factors. […] I am appreciated of your contributions and also your kindly support and assist."

"This was very convenient process, because personal and printed advise were so excellent!"

Case closed.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Public Service Announcement

Note to dimwit colleagues: "Reply" != "Reply all", which is especially important when the original email was stupidly sent, individually, to every single member of staff in the University.

I just got a message that said, in its entirety,


and which was sent to 1,591 people. It's like we've travelled back in time to 1995, when people were "still getting the hang of email".

Unfortunately, the original error seems to be propagating, as more and more people weigh in (the first message was from University management, warning us of the implications of taking strike action).

Monday, June 20, 2011

Weeknote #39

Two weeks since the last weeknote, not too bad...

Angel and I have had the journal version of our population-based oscillator paper accepted by BioSystems; you can find a preprint version here.

Two new members have joined the Novel Computation Group; Jon Parkinson is an undergraduate who'll be working over the summer on ant colony optimisation, and Paul Robson is an M.Sc. student working on predation/avoidance strategies, using Matthew's SimZombie package.

This week we have an open day, followed by a day of Moodle training (...), followed by another day of professional development review training.

Naomi, Lindsey and myself popped over to Sheffield Hallam last week to talk at their Research Cafe. SHU and MMU were both successful in the same round of Bridging the Gaps funding from the EPSRC, and their Engineering for Life network shares similar features with our own NanoInfoBio project.

We managed to get over to Derbyshire at the weekend, for a fourth birthday party (and sneaky fathers' day celebration). Alice had a good go at the dino-pinata.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Weeknote #38

Saturday saw us fly back from a week in Madrid, where I'd been on BACTOCOM business. I was there to talk to Alfonso, our computational collaborator, and to give a series of lectures on molecular computing and synthetic biology to the M.Sc. and Ph.D. students. I've made the slides available here (3.8Mb download).

I had a day off on Friday, so we took Alice to the Museo Reina Sofia, which I always try to visit when in Madrid. I discovered the artist Lygia Pape, and was absolutely transfixed by her Tteia installation (although I think I might have ruined the moment by making a joke about tripping up and being sliced like a boiled egg...) Her early (1950s) "Draws" geometric work also greatly appealed to me, but I can find little of it online.

Last week saw the publication of an interesting paper by Erik Winfree and Lulu Qian, on evaluating Boolean circuits using DNA. I was asked for comment by both Nature and New Scientist, and my post covering this is below (or here).

We (ie. the COBRA project board) managed to submit our paper for the FET11 proceedings, just ahead of the deadline (not helped by some last-minute wobbles caused by dodgy version control - mainly my fault).

This week is dominated by prelim. exam boards, although we do have a meeting of the DIYbio team tomorrow, and I'm seeing a new M.Sc. student (agent-based modelling) and summer intern to chat about their projects. Next week I'll be over at Sheffield Hallam to talk to their Bridging the Gaps project, doing my bit as an external examiner, and attending final exam boards.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Chemical computation

Lulu Qian and Erik Winfree's recent paper on simulating Boolean circuits using DNA has attracted quite a lot of attention. I was asked by both Nature and New Scientist to offer comments on their work, which I happily did (here and here).

While the New Scientist quote is clearly taken directly from an early-morning Skype conversation, the Nature story (understandably) used only a small snippet of my "take". In the context of the article, it could appear that I was being overly-negative about what is actually a remarkable piece of work. For the record, here's the entire text that I sent the author of the piece, with the bit that was actually used highlighted in bold:

"This is an important development in the search for truly 'hands free' molecular computing. The paper describes a real fusion of computing and the life sciences, which moves us one step closer towards programmable information chemistry. As the authors themselves acknowledge, scaling up their approach might be difficult, but they've described one possible path for its future development, through physical localization of elements. As John Reif points out in the commentary, the biggest challenge will be to get this type of construction to work inside living cells, where it might find a number of applications in sensing and control."