Story telling and new ideas to listen to, for information professionals

When I’m just warming up of a morning, I like to listen to BBC Radio 4 podcasts. I’ve been picking my way through the series called Four Thought, where speakers share stories and ideas. There are three episodes in particular that I’d like to highlight for information professionals:

Maria Popova: The Architecture of Knowledge – a fascinating look at the way we handle information and create wisdom, incorporating views on knowledge from history but considering the modern, digital era of information overload. A great story!

Rupert Goodwins – tracks human behaviour on the Internet and considers: How can the Internet bring us together to discuss and share with each other in a respectful, reasoned way? How can we avoid arguments and incivility? The speaker has lots of experience and ideas.

This last talk is of interest because of the course I’ve been teaching at the Humboldt Uni IBI, on Information ethics. In the course, we explore all sorts of issues, including policies for websites that the students as information professionals of the future might play a part in hosting, and the ethical matters behind them, such as authenticity vs anonymity, moderating comments, handling whistleblowers, etc.

Another Four Thought that I found a little bit uncomfortable to listen to was:

Cindy Gallop: Embracing Zero Privacy – recommends taking control of your digital presence, and I agree with that. The speaker has some good ideas, chiefly that “we are what we do” in a very positive and empowering way, but what I find difficult is the notion that we can all live in such an open way. What about people who live in a society that is unaccepting of who they are?What about mistakes from the past, for which a debt has been paid: should they be laid forever bare? What about keeping a personal life personal, even whilst sharing matters of professional interest? On balance, I’m not a fan of zero privacy but this talk is a great opener for discussion.

There are plenty of other talks that provide food for thought in the Radio 4 podcast archives, on all sorts of topics and not only in the Four Thought series. I also like the Reith Lectures, the “Life Scientific”, and “In Our Time”… so much more to listen to!

Peer review motivations and measurement

Yesterday’s blogpost by David Crotty on Scholarly Kitchen, outlines the problems with the notion of giving credit for peer review. It is very thought provoking, although I’m personally still keen to see peer review done in the open, and to explore the notion of credit for peer review some more. For me the real question is not whether to measure it, but how best to measure it and what value to set on that measure.

Both the blogpost and its comments discuss researchers’ current motivation for carrying out peer review:

  • To serve the community & advance the field (altruism?)
  • To learn what’s new in the field (& learn before it is published, i.e. before others!)
  • To impress editors/publishers (& thereby increase own chances of publication)
  • To contribute to a system in which their own papers will also benefit (self interest?)

Crotty writes that problems in peer review would arise from behavioural change amongst researchers if we change their motivation such that they will chase credit points. He poses some very interesting questions, including:

How much career credit should a researcher really expect to get for performing peer review?

I think that’s a great question! However, I do think that we should investigate potential ways to give credit for peer review. I’ve previously blogged about the problems with peer review and followed up on those thoughts and I’ve no doubt that I’ll continue to give this space more thought: peer review is about quality, and as a librarian at heart, I’m keen that we have good quality information available as widely as possible.

In David Crotty’s post I am particularly concerned by the notion that researchers, as currently intrinsically motivated, will be prepared to take on higher workloads. I don’t want that for researchers: they are already under enormous amounts of pressure. Not all academics can work all waking hours. Some actually do (at least some of the time), I know, but presumably someone else cleans and cooks for them (wives? paid staff?), and even if all researchers had someone to do that for them, it’s not fair to the researchers or even good for academia, to comprise such isolated individuals.

One commenter makes the point that all peer reviews are not alike and that some might take a day, some 20 minutes, so if credit is to be given along the lines of how many reviews someone has carried out, well this won’t be quite fair. And yet, as Crotty argued in his blogpost, if you complicate your measurement then it’s really overkill because no-one really cares to know more than a simple count. Perhaps that’s a part of what needs fixing with peer review: a little more uniformity of practice. Is it fair to the younger journals (probably with papers from early career researchers who don’t trust themselves to submit to the journal giants) that they get comparatively cursory time from peer reviewers?

Another comment mentions that the current system favours free riding: not everyone carries out peer review, even though everyone benefits from the system. The counterpoint to this is in another comment which points out that there is already a de facto system of credit, in that journal editors are aware of who is carrying out peer review, and they wield real power, reviewing papers and sitting on funding panels. I’m not sure that I’d want to rely on a busy editor’s memory to get the credit I deserved, but the idea reminded me of how the peer review system has worked up until now, and the issue seems to be that the expanding, increasingly international research and publishing community is no longer as close-knit as it once was.

There is a broader issue here. Crotty suggested that university administrators would not want researchers to take the time to do peer review, but to do original research all the time since that’s what brings in the money and the glory. But in order to be a good researcher (and pull in the grant funding), one has to read others’ papers, and be aware of the direction of research in the field. Plus, review papers are often more highly cited than original research papers, so surely those administrators will want researchers who produce review papers and pull in the citations? Uni rankings often use bibliometric data, and administrators do care about those!

What we’re really talking about, is ‘how to measure researchers’ performance’, and perhaps peer review (if openly measured) is a part of that but perhaps also not. I like the notion of some academics becoming expert peer reviewers, whilst others are expert department/lab leaders or grant writers, or authors or even teachers. We all have different strengths and perhaps it’s not realistic to expect all of our researchers to do everything, but if you want a mixture in your team then you need to know who is doing what.

I’d like to finish with Kent Anderson’s thoughtful comment about retaining excellent reviewers:

Offering credit and incentives aimed at retaining strong reviewers is different from creating an incentives system to make everyone a reviewer (or to make everyone want to be a reviewer).

Let’s think on it some more…

Clear out your e-mail inbox with Boomerang!

This is the story of why I like to use Boomerang. It works with Google mail so if you don’t use Gmail or don’t want Google to have your e-mails then it’s probably not for you. (Although you might find this post by Benjamin Mako Hill an interesting read, if you are keen to block Google from accessing your emails. I digress…).

If you’re like me and use your e-mail inbox as a bit of a “to do” list, well you probably know that it isn’t the most efficient of such lists. You probably have another, real to do list somewhere else (my pieces of paper floating round my desk) and have to balance your inbox with that list/those lists. Maybe, like me, you also leave messages for yourself on your calendar for any important deadlines, and every now and then you try to block out time on your calendar and plan in advance so that your colleagues can also see how busy you are when you’re available.

I once read somewhere that every time you have to read an e-mail twice, you’re wasting time! And yet you sometimes do have to read them twice: once to know that it’s nothing urgent (perhaps on your smart phone, of an evening), and then a second time when you’re ready to deal with its contents (eg the next working day). OK, so checking e-mails on your smartphone like this is definitely a waste of time, but sometimes you read stuff at work and know that you can come back to it in a couple of days, or even later.

Then, you leave it in your inbox and later you have to wade through your inbox to get to the e-mail that you know is now urgent/important, and there’s a risk that you might not remember it in time. Who hasn’t had to apologise to someone for leaving their e-mail buried for too long? I know it’s not just me…

With Boomerang though, I can send emails out of my inbox, and set them to come back at a time when I will need to/be able to deal with them. You get 10 such “boomerangs” per month for free: it definitely helps to keep the clutter out of my inbox.

Now all you have to do is to get rid of the uneasy feeling that just because your inbox is not packed full, that does not mean that you have no work to do!

A super-quick way to create a blog post!

There are 2 super-quick ways to create blogposts in WordPress that I’ve tried out, although if you read my investigations below, you’ll see why I only recommend the first one!

1) the “Re-blog” option.
Found something interesting on another WordPress blog? You could tweet about it, or you could actually re-blog it to your own blog. Here is an example of my use of the re-blogging feature, which I like but use sparingly. After all, this is my blog: it’s for my work! For me personally, re-blogging also feels a bit like cheating but I’m growing used to it. There is actually something very social about re-blogging and I wouldn’t mind at all if others re-blogged my posts. So on reflection, its OK from time to time and for particularly well written stuff!

2) the WordPress bookmarklet
This post actually began when I pressed on the “blogpost” bookmarklet, to generate a blog post from a webpage. It generated a title for me:

Researchers argue for standard format to cite lab resources : Nature News & Comment

And then in the content it simply had:

via Researchers argue for standard format to cite lab resources : Nature News & Comment.

Hmm, not so pretty or so useful to readers. This is not really super-quick because it requires me to add more content. I suppose it’s useful as a way for me to create a quick draft post that I can come back to, if I want to blog about a particular webpage.

Thanking for re-tweets: efficient, friendly & worth a try

Twitter is really social media and not just a broadcast & info consumption channel. Sometimes though, it’s hard to find time to invest in being more social. Saying thanks for a re-tweet is something I’ve already blogged about, but I’ve never felt that I’ve got entirely the right approach. What happens when I’m on holiday, or ill, or just too occupied with other things?

Recently I saw a thank you to me, and I noticed that it was from a service that auto-tweets, but I still thought it sounded nice so I investigated. In general, I don’t value auto-tweets, and I don’t want to automatically, meaninglessly thank folks for everything, but I really like what Sumall do. Here is an example of a tweet that they sent out on my behalf:

My best RTs this week came from: @aleebrahim @SciPubLab @ilk21 #thankSAll Who were yours? 

This was favourited and re-tweeted by one of the recipients, so I’m not alone in liking the way these tweets are written!

Be sure to investigate the settings if you use Sumall. You might want to unsubscribe from the daily email reports if you’re not a social media pro. You can also edit your Twitter preferences and tell it not to bother bragging about your Twitter performance every week/month. And you can perhaps use it to investigate some stats so that you know which are your high-hitting tweets, so that you can strategically brag to your own managers!