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Comment Martin Gardner books (Score 2) 238

There are a bunch of good Martin Gardner books to consider. A couple of possibilities are:

  • "Entertaining Mathematical Puzzles" has a great range of puzzles across a range of topics
  • "Codes, Ciphers and Secret Writing" though not explicitly about math, has lots of good engaging content. Kids of that age often love codes.
  • Various "Aha" /"Gotcha" series ones
  • various logic puzzle ones

These are generally good in that they encourage mathematical thinking and analysis and don't rely much on prerequisite material. And they are well done, with a good playful attitude about things. And they are often Dover books and reasonably priced, as well!

Comment Alon Levy's analysis: barf ride (Score 1) 172

Alon Levy, transit expert (particularly about costs of construction,) has this recent update about the proposal. His earlier analysis brought up a number of concerns about cost and how it would actually work. Basically, at the speeds that are claimed, the required gentleness of the curves means expensive construction. Or just going fast and cheap and thus having barfing passengers.

Comment Re:Science journals have done this as well (Score 1) 135

I wouldn't call that "getting around journal issues." A better name for it is "cashing in on Springer's undeserved reputation as an arbiter of quality" to sell weak books to people who think "Springer = quality" because they do publish some selective quality journals. In fact, Springer/Elsevier/etc. have shown time and time again that they are far more interested in profits than in genuine scholarship. And indeed, it is a problem that librarian book selections are often not well-informed, but to be fair, faculty do not generally get involved in those decisions, despite the fact that they are often much better qualified to make such decisions.

Comment Re:Science journals have done this as well (Score 1) 135

Open search is a plus but I don't think the central issue. Since in my research fields, it's common to post the preprint of the work (either on the arXiv or on their own webpages) generally search engines find stuff and just searching for the article title gets a decent version of the work. Not all authors are good about this but even if people do put all their stuff where it can be found, it is still unhealthy for the research community to have overpriced journals by for-profit publishers as there are a number of bad outcomes that arise from publishers' economic incentives.

Comment Re:Academics get credit for editing too (Score 2) 135

In my research fields, reviews and editorial boards do not carry the weight of research publications-- not remotely. It may vary by discipline, etc. A research article in a weak journal or without much content carries less weight than a good result, and being on some editorial board can carry some weight but it's unlikely a weak candidate for tenure or promotion would be on a the board of a good journal. Reviews should be done but people get very little credit for that. Generally, people don't even quantify how much reviewing they do; they just mention the journals that they've been asked to review for.

Comment Science journals have done this as well (Score 5, Informative) 135

This is great- Elsevier and Springer (and other for-profit publishers) have been charging exorbitant prices for journals and there have been some other mass resignations where people started a free or at least affordable alternative with pretty much the same board. One of the first big ones was the journal Topology, which reconstituted itself with the exact same editorial board in a non-profit setting, described here. That was in 2006 and though I'd hoped this would spread like wildfire, it has only happened about a dozen times since then.

There are good quality affordable journals, run by professional societies or universities, which are an excellent alternative to Elsevier and other expensive for-profit journals. For the health of science, it is important that people choose to submit there. For untenured people who are under a great deal of pressure to submit to "top journals" it poses a difficult quandary, but for those of us for whom that isn't a concern, I don't see a reason to continue to support journals and publishers which have repeatedly done poorly.

The Cost of Knowledge has lots of information about efforts to improve the scientific publishing culture.

There have been other cases of prominent people are resigning from Elsevier boards; here's a senior researcher in malaria who resigned from an editorial board on the life-sciences side. His motivation was particularly strong- he is working in malaria research, and the idea that people who could benefit from the research may well be not able to pay for the paywall is abhorrent. But I think the same rationale applies to all of science- why keep research from people who cannot pay for it?

In other Elsevier news, more journal shenanigans are described here which include both rigging the reviews to be sock-puppet reviews and getting into their editorial board systems, resulting in yet more retractions. It's not clear what the high prices of journals are paying for when there are intermittent episodes like this.

Comment Re:RTFA for once (Score 1) 363

The author was at the institution since at least 1986. So he wrote the text while teaching there before becoming department chair, and the department adopted it. There wasn't the idea of "getting" (hiring) someone who has had written a book they happened to like. More likely, he'd been teaching the course, got his notes published as a book, they weren't more terrible than any of the other dozens of weak linear algebra texts, and they fit that particular course well, so his colleagues said it was OK to require the book. He got a junior member of the department involved in co-authorship later, probably the "you do all the revising work and we'll share the proceeds" process, and the department continued to require the book. He did recuse himself from the discussions about the textbook adoption, which shows some self-awareness, but still it is a clear conflict-of-interest to profit financially from a textbook adoption decision.

Comment Re:conflict of interest ignored here (Score 1) 363

ps. The author Goode has been at CSU-Fullerton since at least 1986 according to his profile at mathscinet. His most recent research publication was 1995. The author Annin has been there since 2005 and perhaps he became a co-author in one of the updated versions. It is not uncommon for a senior faculty member to get a junior one to help update an older text, and publishers like it when there are new editions as it kills the used book market for a while.

Comment Re:conflict of interest ignored here (Score 1) 363

Even if the author was not the chair at the time of the adoption, a tenured faculty member will vote on an untenured faculty member's tenure decision and this power imbalance is routinely exploited every day on campuses across the country. My guess is that the faculty member in question had objections to the text but did not say anything until after he (and his wife) had tenure and was less vulnerable. He is still vulnerable (may eventually want promotion from Associate Professor to Professor, may not want a junky teaching schedule, etc.) but less so than before.

Comment what could possibly go wrong? (Score 2) 136

According to the article, the proposal would pay the ISPs costs to retain the information. Given the value of the data (blackmail, harassment, etc.) there is strong incentive for many independent agents to try to get it and the track record on security for far less valuable information is not so great. I'm sure the ISPs costs are overstated and their incentive to do a great job securing the data properly is not so clear.

Comment Re:conflict of interest ignored here (Score 1) 363

That sounds easier to do that it probably is; I'm not sure about Pearson but almost every publisher has exclusivity requirements and it would stun me if Pearson didn't have something like that as they have been doing this for a long time.. Once the publisher typesets and prettifies your course notes, they have the exclusive right to distribute them, etc. Unless that was negotiated at the outset (and it would take someone with some integrity to do that) it is unlikely to be feasible now. The easiest things to do would be donate the proceeds or use another book.

Comment conflict of interest ignored here (Score 3, Informative) 363

A professor assigning a textbook that he or she wrote happens fairly often as people tend to write texts for courses that they teach often, and tend to write texts when they are not happy with what options are already out there, and they generally think that they cover things in the best way possible, since they wrote it. Often a text evolves from course notes and is shopped around to various publishers, one of which is happy to accept it and polish it up and charge extortionate prices for it. If it gets adopted on its own merits at other institutions, great for the publisher and author.

But there is an obvious conflict of interest when a faculty member requires a text that he or she wrote for a course at the home institution, as the author/instructor gets some of the money (not much, though, even for a $180 text, I'm afraid.) At a normal university with standards and ethics, there generally is a mechanism for making textbook adoption decisions revenue-neutral for the instructor. I know of places where the part of the proceeds from the sale at the home institution of the author is sent directly from the publisher to something like the department colloquium fund, or sometimes if the publisher can't cope with the complexity, the author just donates the apportioned proceeds from sales at the home institution to a student support fund or tutoring lab or something like that.

Apparently, in this department, there is no such mechanism for the revenue (or the authors are not worried about the conflict of interest) and the authors apparently do get money from the text being required at their own institution. It is easy to see how another faculty member, now tenured, can feel that it is unfair for the text to be required, if the text isn't that great (most aren't) and if the money is going to his or her department members despite the fact that it is not the best value book. When the people profiting in question are part of the department administration (chair, assistant chair) that makes resistance more difficult, as department staff can retaliate in various obvious and subtle ways and there can be pressure to comply with unethical practices.

At a normal university, there would be conflict-of-interest policies that apply and would probably prevent a department from forming a policy to require a course purchase which benefits a faculty member financially. At Cal State Fullerton, either there aren't any strong policies, or they are being ignored, apparently. The instructor who is not following this unethical policy does have tenure (his wife is also tenured in the same department) so though he can't be readily dismissed or denied tenure, but still because the people who are financially impacted by this make decisions which can affect him and his wife, this is big headache.

  There has been support from faculty in other departments which is a good sign but the fact that it got this far is one sign of an unhappy dysfunctional math department. There are hundreds of commodity linear algebra and differential equations textbooks out there, with lots of different approaches. Most of them are terrible, but there are enough good ones that this kerfluffle seems pretty ridiculous.

Comment Re:graphical Harvard museum effort not available (Score 1) 72

When the American Museum of Natural History in New York redid the fourth floor exhibits about dinosaurs, they chose to arrange the specimens in a tree-like structure representing their phylogeny (well, subject to the constraint that it's basically a big loop with a few bumps and nooks and crannies.) At the time (this was the late 1990s,) it was controversial because most museums grouped specimens by function (carnivores, herbivores, etc.) instead of by their evolutionary path. In fact, the AMNH welcoming film to the dinosaur floor (the Meryl Streep-narrated one) really does quite a nice job explaining the tree and the museum visitor's path through the tree as they walk the halls.

Comment Re:graphical Harvard museum effort not available (Score 1) 72

It's really too bad that the fabulous museum exhibit display Deep Tree isn't more broadly available. .

Aha, happy to be mistaken and outdated on this one- I looked and found that now there is a web page via NOVA with a good interesting subset of the data. It's nicely done and at the DeepTree link at this link.

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