Friday, December 23, 2011

MIT launches online learning initiative: MITx

For years Massachusetts Institute of Technology has provided its OpenCourseWare program which offers over 2,000 free online courses. MIT has now announced a new online learning program, MITx, that will:
  • organize and present course material to enable students to learn at their own pace
  • feature interactivity, online laboratories and student-to-student communication
  • allow for the individual assessment of any student’s work and allow students who demonstrate their mastery of subjects to earn a certificate of completion awarded by MITx
  • operate on an open-source, scalable software infrastructure in order to make it continuously improving and readily available to other educational institutions.
Read the rest of the 19 Dec, 2011 press release.

Click here for an overview by Steve Kolowich of this MITx program in Inside Higher Education.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Europeana Adds its 20 Millionth Item

Europeana recently added its 20 millionth item, Caravaggio's David with the Head of Goliath. Launched with 2,000,000 items in 2008 Europeana has now increased its content by a factor of ten.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Google Books is at heart a catalogue of errors"

Geoffrey Nunberg, University of California, Berkeley, is highly critical of what he believes are the widespread inaccuracies of Google Books according to an article in Times Higher Education:
Two years ago, Google Books was becoming the world's largest digital library and, with an effective monopoly, seemed "almost certain to be the last one".

The tragedy for scholars was that Google Books' metadata - which allow users to search the catalogue - were "a mishmash wrapped in a muddle wrapped in a mess".

Such was the argument made in 2009 by Geoffrey Nunberg, adjunct full professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley.

He went on to have a good deal of fun with the many strange anomalies: 115 hits for Greta Garbo and 325 for Woody Allen in books said to date from before they were born; editions of Jane Eyre classified under history or antiques and collectibles; Sigmund Freud listed as an author of a guide to an internet interface.

There was even a case of an 1890 guidebook assigned to 1774 because it happened to open with an advertisement for a shirt manufacturer founded in that year.

All this made Google Books' search facility a very dangerous tool for serious researchers looking to track, for example, the way a particular word has changed its meaning over time.

In response to Professor Nunberg's critique, Google offered to correct any errors that were brought to its attention. But while this process has ironed out specific glitches in the intervening years, Professor Nunberg does not believe it has made a fundamental difference.

"The changes are a drop in a greatly enlarged ocean," he said, adding that the flaws in Google's metadata remain "a big systematic structural problem".

In the course of his research alone, he has continued to come across glaring errors similar to those he flagged up two years ago.

While working on a history of swearing, for example, Professor Nunberg did searches for the word "asshole". Google Books' search facility promptly provided much useful material.

But what is obviously a contemporary novel was listed as the complete works of the French composers Jean-Philippe Rameau and Camille Saint-Saƫns. A novel by Arthur Hailey was catalogued as A Survey of American Chemistry, and a book about tattooing as Tudor Historical Thought.

A colleague of Professor Nunberg who was researching the history of alcohol searched for a kind of port known as a "30-year-old tawny" and was presented with a detailed discussion of the subject in a volume Google Books showed as bearing the title How to Play Better Soccer. There were also cases of Google technicians who had managed to scan in images of their fingers rather than the relevant pages of text. Among more general concerns, periodicals were often dated by their first issue.

Professor Nunberg said he could not understand why Google scans in copies of books from major research libraries, where the details tend to be recorded correctly, and then turns for its metadata to far less reliable sources.

To patch up the huge problems would now require substantial time and resources. These were unlikely to be forthcoming, Professor Nunberg said, because, "like most high-tech companies, Google puts a much higher premium on innovation than maintenance. They aren't good at the punctilious, anal-retentive sort of work librarians are used to."

Friday, December 9, 2011

UK takes steps to make publicly funded research open

Results of publicly funded research will be open access – science minister

From The Guardian

New policy announced by David Willetts to make research freely available challenges business models of academic publishers

The government has signalled a revolution in scientific publishing by throwing its weight behind the idea that all publicly funded scientific research must be published in open-access journals.

The policy is in the government document Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth published on Monday, which also includes plans for a series of cash prizes for teams to solve specific scientific challenges and a new £75m fund for small businesses to develop their ideas into commercial products.

The commitment to making publicly funded research free to access is a direct challenge to the business models of the big academic publishing companies, which are the gatekeepers for the majority of high-quality scientific research. Previous attempts by open access publishers to break this stranglehold over the dissemination of scientific results have largely failed.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Positive Self-Archiving Stats

Drawing from policies of 19,000 journals, Sherpa/RoMEO statistics show:

87% of journals allow some form of immediate self-archiving by authors

60% of journals allow immediate self-archiving of peer reviewed articles (the postprint, peer-reviewed version)

94% allow self-archiving after embargo periods have expired and restrictions met

Only 5% allow no self-archiving at all!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Open Access Journals from Society Publishers

The latest issue of Peter Suber's Open Access Newsletter is now available. Particularly interesting is his feature on open access journals from society publishers. His list shows 530 societies publishing 616 full OA journals.
How many scholarly societies publish OA journals, and how many OA journals do they publish? Four years ago (November 2007), Caroline Sutton and I released the first edition of our inventory answering those questions, and today we release the second edition.

Cutting to the chase: Our 2007 list turned up 425 societies publishing 450 full or non-hybrid OA journals. Our 2011 list shows 530 societies publishing 616 full OA journals.

We're sure we overlooked some society OA journals in 2007 and we're sure we're still overlooking some today. If it weren't for that, we could say that the number of societies publishing OA journals grew by 25% in the last four years, and the number of their OA journals by 37%. Nevertheless it's hard to avoid the conclusion that both numbers are growing significantly.

The second edition of the list is a Google spreadsheet under a CC-BY license. (make sure to select "List" at bottom of spreadsheet).

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