3 easy ways to honour your professor

Recently, the great Dave Whynes retired from the University of Nottingham after 40 years of service. I will probably be his last PhD student. Over the years, Dave has nurtured many budding health economists who have gone on to achieve great things. It’s natural for those people to venerate Dave and his work and to want to ensure that current and future health economists are also able to learn from Dave’s teachings.

Chances are that your prof doesn’t have much of an online presence. Here I’m going to set out a few easy ways in which you can help ensure that future generations of researchers are able to see a particular academic’s contributions, and understand where they fit within the field. It’s also kind of a to-do list for myself, to which you can all contribute. The focus is on how you might do this for an [health] economics professor, but much of it applies to other fields.

1. Create and maintain Wikipedia coverage

Wikipedia is the go-to reference point for digital natives. It aims to be “the sum of human knowledge”. Despite this lofty purpose, not everyone should have a Wikipedia article about them. Simply having been a good professor is not sufficient. Wikipedia has specific notability criteria for academics to help you figure this out. Being highly cited is usually enough.

At the time of writing there is no Wikipedia page for David K. Whynes, but I will create it. If you’re going to add your prof, an important step is to have a look around Wikipedia to see which other articles might link back to the one you will create. In relation to this it is also important to maintain a Wikidata item and you could even add relevant images to Wikimedia Commons.

In some cases you might also like to create or maintain articles relating to your professor’s research, such as specific theories or named objects.

2. Add to bibliographic databases

The main output of most academics is their writing. There are now a number of publicly editable databases or wiki-style websites for books. See if your prof has an author page on Goodreads. Dave does. The same goes for Open Library. On both sites you can edit author pages to make sure all the information is accurate and up to date.

The sites also allow you to create editions of books that are not yet listed, so dig out that dusty old first edition and add its data to Goodreads and Open Library. You can do the same on the relatively new websites BookBrainz and Bibliogs. In fact, you could even add journal articles to Bibliogs if you wanted to start a major project.

If you want to go a step further and make your prof’s papers more accessible to non-experts, you can write open access summaries for them on AcaWiki.

3. Become an academic genealogist

Professors and their students are like parents and their children; there is an academic genealogy to be explored. You can create family trees to identify lineage and ancestry. There are a growing number of websites to support this. People from all fields can use PhDTree, and most fields can participate in The Academic Family Tree. If you’re an economist then you can also contribute to the RePEc Genealogy.

Photo credit: Judy van der Velden (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Why I’ll wear a #SafetyPin

I really really don’t like public displays of passive activism. I didn’t even do the Ice Bucket Challenge! But #SafetyPin is different.

It’s different because it’s inclusive. Anti-racism and anti-xenophobia movements are needed right now, as hate crimes have increased since the EU referendum. But there are other groups of people who deal with these kinds of attacks. Transgender people regularly experience harassment. The mass shooting at Pulse was a brutal reminder of some people’s views towards gay people. You don’t have to spend much time on Twitter or in a male-dominated environment to witness sexism. The safety pin can stand for all of these. And it needn’t detract from the anti-racist message – that’s the beauty of #SafetyPin, it’s intersectional.

It’s different because it goes beyond a timid form of solidarity and sends a practical message. It makes the statement that “you are safe with me”. That’s a commitment. A commitment to act should action be necessary – ideally with words but if necessary with fists. On a more fundamental level it lets people know that they can talk to you, that they can ask you for help and you won’t think they’re a weirdo.

It’s different because it’s just a safety pin. I don’t need to go on Etsy to buy one. I don’t need to post a selfie for my social kudos to count. This – combined with the literal meaning of the safety pin – makes it more difficult for other groups to hijack it as a symbol.

Well this is what it means to me anyway. I appreciate that other people may not feel the same, and that’s fine. It sort of doesn’t matter. What matters is that I can wear it as a reminder to myself – more than to anyone else – of how I intend to behave. I’m a straight, white, English-born cis male. I don’t know what it’s like to be subjected to abuse, but I know what it’s like to feel safe. And I know it shouldn’t be a privilege. Wearing a safety pin isn’t the solution, but it reminds me to become it.

And now, for your listening pleasure…

Photo credit: Haragayato (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

10 steps to open access success

Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svgIt’s Open Access Week! For a lot of people, ‘open access’ (OA) is a synonym for ‘more work’. Advocates often don’t appreciate that this is a genuine concern. There’s also a lack of appreciation for the perceived risks of sticking your neck out with an OOIDH (open or it didn’t happen) position.

So here is some advice – based on my own experience – on what you as an individual should do to become an open access author and advocate. No grand commitments, boycotts, costly APCs or threats to your career progression – I promise.

Take the following 10 steps in turn and then climb upon your open access advocate high horse. If you do, we’ll be 10 steps closer to a genuinely open access world of scholarly publishing.

1: Learn the basic principles

Get to grips with some of the basic terminology such as green, gold, pre-print, post-print and Creative Commons. If you know it all, jump to the next step. If you’re still unsure then do a little reading. Wikipedia is always a good place to start. If you work at a university, you will likely find people in your institution who are eager to help you to get started. Go to your institution’s website and search “open access”. For the University of Nottingham (my own institution) I can find an introductory pamphlet, FAQs and a training course.

2: Get to know key services

There’s a big infrastructure out there to support the open access agenda. Familiarise yourself with SHERPA/RoMEO for details on journals’ copyright and open access policies. Similarly, visit JULIET for funders’ policies. Have a look at the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Try out some novel apps such as the Open Access Button. If you have the time, explore the Open Access Directory.

3: Make yourself personally accountable

This is the most important step if you’re going to succeed. Create a spreadsheet. In the first column list all (and make sure it really is all) of your published articles, book chapters, monographs – whatever. One row per publication. In the second column (which might be headed ‘Gold’) enter “YES” if the article is published in an open access journal or “NO” if it isn’t. Once you’ve done this you’ll be able to see what proportion of your publications are open access in the ‘gold’ sense. Seeing this is really important. That list of NOs is the start of your OA to-do list – your goal is to turn all of those NOs into YESes. On your journey to OA nirvana you’ll be adding some more columns to this spreadsheet.

It’s also important to make sure you’re personally accountable in terms of the time you dedicate to making your publications open access. You need to check your spreadsheet regularly. As you proceed through the steps below you’ll see a growing (but entirely manageable) list of actions. Decide how much time you want to dedicate to OA. In the first instance, why not set aside a weekly recurring 30 minute slot in your calendar? Or alternatively you could set a target for the number of NOs you wish to turn into YESes per month.

4: Make yourself publicly accountable

This could be the real clincher. Once you’ve made sure you’re personally accountable, you should make yourself publicly accountable. Open up your spreadsheet to scrutiny. In the first instance you could just share your OA percentage. Tweet it! (#myOAlevel?) There are also other services you can use, such as ImpactStory, which will share this information.

Have a look at my own example where I list all of my publications along with accessibility for 6 different locations, shown by either a  if it’s open access, a £ if it’s paywalled or a  if it’s just not there. I’m 69% .

5: Upload to your institutional repository

This will probably be the most time consuming step, but it’s also the most fundamental: actually making your articles OA. Most universities have an institutional repository – find yours via your institution’s website or via OpenDOAR. This is a place where you can share your articles via the ‘green’ route. Check SHERPA/RoMEO to see what you’re allowed to upload. There will usually be staff behind the service checking what you submit, so you needn’t worry so much about getting things wrong.

Add another column to your spreadsheet headed ‘Institutional Repository’. Again, you want to add a “YES” or a “NO” for whether your article is available via the repository. You might find that some of your co-authors or university staff have already added your paper to the repository, in which case you can add a “YES” and move on. But there will probably be a lot more NOs. You might also find that there are entries for your papers but without actual PDFs that can be downloaded – these count as NOs.

6: Upload to other services

Open access isn’t just about having a PDF available in one place. It’s about making your article easily accessible to as many people as possible. This means adding more columns to your spreadsheet. Add as many different services as you can, prioritising those which you believe contribute most greatly to the accessibility of your article. Services to consider are ResearchGate, Academia.edu, Mendeley, PeerLibrary, Zenodo and ImpactStory. Add a column for each to your spreadsheet.

7: Start sharing working papers

A great way to make your research open access is to do so before publishers can get their hands on the copyright. Publish working papers or ‘preprints’ for free at a subject-specific repository, such as arXiv, PhilPapers, RePEc or SSRN. If you don’t have a good repository in your discipline use a generic repository like Zenodo, or just use your institutional repository. If you think sharing your article before peer-review is a bad idea, you’re probably overstating the value of pre-publication peer review.

8: Share other types of output

If you’re becoming a bit of a green OA pro, move on to other types of output. Your data and conference posters – in fact, any of your output – can be published online. Familiarise yourself with services like DRYAD and figshare.

9: Explore gold OA funding options

For your future publications, consider gold OA. Unfortunately you’ll probably need some funds available to do this. Ask your institution if they’ll pay. Ask your funder. If all else fails, there are now some low cost gold OA publishing options. PeerJ currently charge just $300 for unlimited lifetime gold OA publishing.

10: Be an advocate

Now that you are an exemplary open access advocate you can use your moral high ground to persuade your colleagues to do the same. Lobby your institution, your government, your professor. Maintain pressure and let them know that open access is important to you. Attend an open access event. And be sure to take part in Open Access Week!

Harnessing anger: my thoughts on the election

I’d have written this sooner, but instead spent my weekend having fun; witnessing and celebrating the wedding of two friends. It was difficult to avoid talking politics, and although my reading at the ceremony was taken from Les Misérables I was not trying to start a revolution. I’m probably not going to do that here either, but let’s see…

Few people wanted a Tory majority. Lots of people are angry. But having caught my breath after Friday’s blow, I started to see the outcome of the election in a more positive light.

How did we get here?

We only have ourselves to blame. By ‘we’ I mean those of us striving for social justice, and in particular those of us with (at least) a basic understanding of economics.

The Conservatives won because they were able to convince the electorate that the economy is in a mess thanks to a high deficit, that the only remedy is cuts, and that we have the Labour Party to thank for this. It’s a lie. Perhaps Conservatives have convinced themselves that it is true, but it is not. At a stretch, we could claim that Labour should have done more to prepare the country in the run up to the financial crisis, but this is hardly fair. Almost nobody saw it coming and opposition politicians at the time were not making any according demands. The Labour government made a relatively good start at pulling us out of the recession. It was coalition austerity that pulled us back under – until the bubbles almost stopped. We failed to communicate this message.

There is no doubt that the Tories and the press succeeded in making this lie become common knowledge. Certainly, it was mediamacro wot won it. We could be paying the price for the next five years.

So why the optimism?

There were three possible outcomes for this election: a Labour majority, a Tory majority or a progressive coalition of left-leaning parties.

If we had gotten a Labour majority it would be business as usual, politically speaking. It’s what we’ve come to expect – periodic switches between Labour and Tory. There would likely be no reform to our electoral system, which is so badly in need of overhaul.

Had a coalition or otherwise pluralistic government been established, our faulty system would have to some extent seemed justified. After all, the majority would be represented. But this would be a fortunate quirk.

Only a Tory majority, in a country where the majority of voters are probably left-leaning, highlights the ridiculousness of it all. This election has been a shambles, and it will – I am certain – lead to electoral reform. People are angry, and because many of these people support UKIP the media will pay attention. Hateful though the party is, I will happily stand side by side with the ‘kippers to demand a more representative voting system.

What now?

Well, I don’t much care for party politics. I would not lose any sleep over the Labour Party taking a shift to the centre – as they probably will – in trying to be all things to all people. They are fast becoming a lost cause. What we need to do is mobilise on the issues that we care about. We need to communicate effectively why certain changes need to be made. You need to decide what they will be for you. Personally I will be focusing on the following:

  • the need for electoral reform
  • the need for increased public investment
  • the value of immigration

I will not be doing this by trying to convince political parties (except for communication with my own MP), but by trying to steer public opinion. It won’t be easy – unless people switch off their TVs and put down their newspapers – because there is a powerhouse of vested interest pushing in the opposite direction and stoking the politics of fear.

This may reflect my own echo chamber, but I thought the run up to the election saw far more fact checking of politicians’ claims and better communication of evidence from the likes of Full Fact, The Conversation and More Or Less. These efforts are important, but it seems to have made little difference. People don’t vote based on evidence, or even on what is true. Feelings dominate, and the dominant feeling has been fear; of immigrants, of people on benefits, of Labour, of the SNP, of change.

I recently listened to an episode of This American Life. It told the story of success enjoyed by a group of campaigners in California trying to convince people to support gay marriage. Essentially, campaigners visited people who opposed gay marriage and had a conversation in which the opponent would gradually convince themselves that equal marriage is right. A key finding was that the most successful campaigners – by some margin – were those who themselves were gay.

Ukippers! You are best placed to campaign for electoral reform as your votes are the least represented in parliament. There are various ways we can all contribute, starting by signing a petition.

Public sector workers! You are best placed to explain the value that your labour brings to society.

Immigrants! You are best placed to highlight the benefits of free movement of people in Europe and beyond.

The rest of us can call in to question that which is untrue or unworthy, and elevate that which is factual and laudable.

There are of course other issues. On the question of Scottish independence I am nihilistic; the people of Scotland should be able to do whatever they want. Though I expect the Scots will be placated with devo-max. Another issue is the ‘renegotiation’ of our EU membership. Leaving the EU would be foolish. Thankfully most people would probably support EU membership right now.

If anything is able to defeat a politics of fear it is a politics of anger. Our challenge is to steer people’s anger in a pro-social direction; towards the members and mechanisms of government and away from society’s usual scapegoats.

I leave you with this:

#100wordreview – The Cost Disease (William J Baumol) [Book]

The rising cost of healthcare is a global phenomenon. Why? Because the relative productivity of labour intensive industries inevitably – and inexorably – declines. Computers get cheaper; healthcare doesn’t. It’s a simple idea, now proven by historic data and in need of appreciation. The cost disease allows – encourages, even – affordable increases in spending on health. Though incisive, Baumol’s book inevitably labours this central argument. But to understand trade-offs in public spending you need a firm grasp of the cost disease. This book provides a means to that end, and delivers important context for any discussion about healthcare, education, economics and politics.

Amazon / Wikipedia / Yale University Press

The Cost Disease: Why Computers Get Cheaper and Health Care Doesn’t

Paperback, 288 pages, ISBN 9780300198157, published 18 October 2013

Paperpile: a reference manager that works

If you’re anything like me, you spend a fair chunk of your time finding and organising journal articles. And perhaps even reading a few. It’s often seen as a way to feel like you’re being productive when you’re not. Actually, I think it helps maintain a good awareness of the literature and developments in your field. But anyway, whether or not you think it’s a good way to spend time you probably can’t avoid doing it. So you’ll want a good reference manager.

I used to use Mendeley, but their app was so clunky and always falling over that I probably spent as much time complaining on their forum as I did actually using it. I tried Zotero and ReadCube, but wasn’t satisfied. Then I discovered Paperpile.

Why is it so good?

For me, a good reference manager is one that doesn’t encourage too much maintenance effort. I want a simple interface. I want to be able to add items really quickly, and for these to be automatically organised and easy to retrieve. I want the reference manager to behave as if the Internet actually exists. Paperpile satisfies all of my needs.

I won’t be able to do it justice in this blog post, but it totally takes the pain out of reference management for me. Papers can be added in 2 clicks using their Chrome extension. The automatic updating of citation information is the best I’ve seen, and isn’t totally dependent on DOI or PubMed identifiers. The web app is fast and stable. Items link out to the DOI and PubMed and even show you articles that have cited it in Google Scholar. Your PDFs are stored in Google Drive, so you can access them anywhere and there’s no need to pay for extra storage. There are plenty more features that you can read about on the Paperpile website. And there’s more to come. Soon they’ll be rolling out a native PDF annotator that does everything you might hope (I have been beta testing).

Who is Paperpile for?

If your online universe is Google, Paperpile is the best reference manager for you. If it isn’t, then perhaps not. You need to sign in with a Google account and you need to use Chrome.

Paperpile’s citation manager doesn’t work in Microsoft Word. That’s good – Word is a problem. If you use LaTeX, it’s very easy to export citations or entire folders in BibTeX. If you do still enjoy WYSIWYG word processing then Paperpile can format your citations in Google Docs very effectively.

My favourite thing about Paperpile is the Forum, and the presence of the Paperpile staff. They are very quick to react, and even some of my own feature requests have been followed-up. This is possible because you actually have to pay for Paperpile! This is what really sets it apart from its competitors, and is a key strength. There’s a 30 day free trial and if you use the coupon code CHRIS_25 you can get 25% off – forever!

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Peer-reviewing peer-review: Publons edition

On this blog and elsewhere I have discussed some of the problems with academic publishing; whether it be determining what actually counts as an academic publication or thinking about an alternative model. I will be continuing to prod at our decaying system of scholarly publishing in my new role as a Publons Advisor. As my first act I would like to advise all of you academic types to join Publons!

What is it?

Publons is a website where you can record and share your peer-review activity. Each time you review a paper – whether it be pre-publication or post-publication – you should tell Publons about it. Publons also provides a place for you, as an expert, to discuss published literature. If you want more detail about Publons and the ideas behind it, you can read a paper published by the founders.

Why do we need it?

Peer-review is in crisis. There is no evidence that – in its current form – it actually does any good. As such we need better approaches to the assessment of the quality of scholarly output. Peer-review still has an important role to play; it’s vital that experts in any given field assess the quality of reports on research findings. Furthermore, the quality of these assessments should also be assessed. Yet in the vast majority of cases, peer-review continues to be a secretive affair. Rarely do we know how good the peer-review process actually was. Publons can solve this problem by linking a paper with its reviews, and ideally these reviews will be free for anybody to evaluate.

Why should I sign up?

Academics spend a lot of their time contributing to the public good; doing things for which they receive little or no personal benefit. Peer-review is the prime example of such unrecognised labour. Publons makes it possible to get credit for your peer-review activity. Your Publons profile provides proof of your activity as a reviewer and even the quality of the reviews you share. In the age of metrics, Publons gives you a score indicative of the quantity and quality of your review work. You can take a look at my stats page to get an idea of the kind of supporting information that Publons can provide.

I hope you’re convinced. Adding a review to Publons takes less time than it took you to read this blog post. You can get the credit you deserve and improve scientific discourse at the same time. Visit the Publons website to sign-up, and if you have any questions please leave me a comment below.