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Monday, August 24, 2015

Four papers to amuse you

I just returned from an excellent two weeks eating too much, drinking excessively, getting tanned and sweaty, reading novels and listening to weird opera. In the little time I had not so productively dedicated, I ran across four papers that readers might find interesting as they related to themes that have been discussed more than glancingly in FoL. Here they are.

The first deals with publishing costs and what can be done about it. Here’s a quote that will give you an excellent taste of the content: 

“The whole academic publishing industry is a gigantic web of avarice and selfishness, and the academic community has not engaged to the extent it perhaps should have to stop it,” Leeder said.
“Scholarly publishing is a bit like the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. It’s not totally clear what the hell is going on, but you can be sure someone is making a hell of a lot of money from it.”

The second and third discuss the reliability of how successful pre-registration has been in regulating phising for significant results. It seems that the results have been striking. Here’s a taste again:

The launch of the clinicaltrials.gov registry in 2000 seems to have had a striking impact on reported trial results, according to a PLoS ONE study1 that many researchers have been talking about online in the past week.
A 1997 US law mandated the registry’s creation, requiring researchers from 2000 to record their trial methods and outcome measures before collecting data. The study found that in a sample of 55 large trials testing heart-disease treatments, 57% of those published before 2000 reported positive effects from the treatments. But that figure plunged to just 8% in studies that were conducted after 2000.

The third is a piece on one problem with peer review. It seems that some like to review themselves and are often very impressed with their own work. I completely understand this. Most interesting to me about this, is that this problem arose in Springer journals. Springer is one of the larger and more expensive publishers. It seems that the gate-keeping function of the prestige journals is not all that it is advertised to be.

The self-review issue, I suspect, though dramatic and fun (Hume provided an anonymous favorable review of the Treatise, if memory serves) is probably the tip of a bigger iceberg. In a small field like linguistics like-minded people often review one another’s papers (like the old joke concerning the New York Review of Each Other’s Books) and this can make it more difficult for unconventional views (those that fall outside the consensus) to get an airing. I believe that this partially explains the dearth of purely theoretical papers in our major journals. There is, as I’ve noted many times, an antipathy for theoretical speculation, an attitude reflected in the standard review process


The last article is about where “novel” genes come from.  Interestingly they seem to be able to just “spring into existence.” Moreover, it is claimed that this process might well be very common and “very important.” So, the idea that change might just pop up and make important contributions seems to be gaining biological respectability. I assume that I don’t need to mention why this possibility might be of interest to linguists.

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