Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Special Snowflake Seeks Rent

Eli observes that special snowflake syndrome is spreading faster than Zika and interacting with the carriers, well, it shrinks a bunny's brains because it is hard to believe that such needy people have survived to adulthood with all of their teeth.  

The Urban Dictionary provides a diagnostic

A malady affecting a significant portion of the world's population wherein the afflicted will demand special treatment, conduct themselves with a ludicrous, unfounded sense of entitlement and generally make the lives of everyone around them that much more miserable.
and recommends running away on first encounter.

A defining characteristic of such carriers is that they insist you do their work, 24/7.  No better example than a tweet exchange btw  Roger Pielke Sr. and Gavin Schmidt a few days ago

Well Eli could display the entire exchange after that, but suffice it to say that Roger goes rent seeking soon after
Continuing his challenge to Gavin for a challenge round of Pielkes All the Way Down

It appears that rent seeking is a defining symptom of Special Snowflake Syndrome. To continue with Ex 2, a few days ago Nathan Myhrvold is the former chief technology officer at Microsoft posted a manuscript to arXiv which claims that the NASA/JPL group who have been designing a mission to detect near Earth asteroids has got it all wrong and come pretty close to them wanting to go out and hire Mike Mann's lawyer. Phil Platt at Bad Astronomy does an excellent job of summarizing the science as well as linking to other blogs and discussions on the set to.

The science argument can be settled in a second.  The NASA/JPL group calibrates its model of asteroid size against accurate occultation measurements of a fair number of objects in the asteroid belt.  They then use the calibrated model to measure the diameters of a large number of asteroids that were observed by previous space telescopes.  Myhrvold claims to use "basic physics" but his results are off by more than a order of magnitude. Bunnies can read Platt and Eli also recommends this discussion in the Asteroid and Comet mailing list.

However, science be damned for this post, for this post, what is most interesting is the exchange between the NASA/JPL group and Myhrvold as described by Phil Platt
Myhrvold says the team was not cooperative about their work and gave him “cryptic” answers to his questions.

Mainzer told me a very different story. She said she worked with Myhrvold multiple times, trying to show him where some of his ideas were either incorrect or not applicable to the work they were doing, but he remained defiant. She pointed out specific errors, but despite that the errors remain in his work.

The errors she mentioned are various, including his confusing diameter with radius in his calculations and using a model that incorrectly determines diameters. For his part he says their model doesn’t include some basic physics, and that some of their numbers are suspicious.
Indeed, even though his model fails a basic bullshit test Myhrvold like an good special snowflake, digs in and demands that the JPL group bow to his genius.  No bunny should have expected anything else.  It's part of the package. This pattern of behavior is especially available in Twitter.  Eli, against his better judgement has gotten brain squeezed a couple of time there.  He shoudda known better.  Just tell em to go away.

Monday, May 30, 2016

So What Does Publishing a Scientific Paper Cost?

More accurately what is the cost of Open Access to authors.  Eli has come across an interesting effort in Particle Physics called SCOAP3,

SCOAP3 is a one-of-its-kind partnership of over three thousand libraries, key funding agencies and research centers in 44 countries and 3 intergovernmental organisations. Working with leading publishers, SCOAP3 has converted key journals in the field of High-Energy Physics to Open Access at no cost for authors. SCOAP3 centrally pays publishers for costs involved in providing Open Access, publishers in turn reduce subscription fees to all their customers, who can re-direct these funds to contribute to SCOAP3. Each country contributes in a way commensurate to its scientific output in the field. In addition, existing Open Access journals are also centrally supported, removing any existing financial barrier for authors. 
where the average cost per paper is given as 1,100 Euro over 10K papers.  The distribution of costs among the participating countries IEHO would be a model for other fields, but, of course, all depends on continued funding.  Even just HEP/Particle Physics subvention of open access requires $10M per year

arXiv is using a different model which represents the only the costs of operating and maintaining the arXiv,
What are arXiv's operating costs? 

arXiv's operating costs for 2013-2017 are projected to average of $826,000 per year, including indirect expenses. The operating budget projections for 2012-2017 include the four key sources of revenues mentioned above: Cornell's annual funding of $75,000 per year, plus indirect expenses,; the $50,000 per year gift from the Simons Foundation; annual fee income from the member institutions; and the $300,000 per year challenge grant from the Simons Foundation, based on the revenues generated through membership payments.
To and extent SCOAP3 and arXiv overlap because arXiv originated in the HEP/Particle Physics community which is still a heavy user.
arXiv would potentially be a beneficiary of redirected funding administered by the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics (SCOAP3) consortium. It's not clear, however, when this initiative will meet its annual funding goal of €10,000,000 ($14,120,000). It should also be noted that the SCOAP3 initiative is restricted to HEP and particle physics content only, which represents between 18% and 40% of submissions to arXiv (depending how broadly the subject area is construed). If SCOAP3 is successful it could potentially subvent a similar fraction of arXiv's operating costs. We will continue to monitor the development of SCOAP3 and its impact on our long-term plans.
It is well to remember that arXiv almost died in 1999 when the US DOE and LANL lost interest.  How long Cornell will remain willing to house the arXiv is a concerning issue.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

OA EU the OB and who pays

Eli, as he has mentioned before, is a very old bunny.  Back when he was not a very old bunny he took a class from another very old bunny who shall remain nameless, but was very well connected to the scientific/government nomenklatura even further back and who liked to reminisce.

The old Bunny (OB below) one day started for no particular reason to discuss scientific publishing.  He said that after the war (for bunnies of OBs age that would be WWII) there were discussions about how to support scientific research and publishing.  As far as publishing went, the OB said there were two choices, send money directly to the scientific societies such as ACS/APS, etc. or provide money within grants (which were increasing by leaps and bounds) to subsidize publication.

The latter was chosen for the political reason that it would be hard to NOT subsidize commercial publishers if the former were taken, and if commercial publishers were subsidized there would be a mighty hue and cry across the land.

Twitter is abuzz with the EU announcing that from then on (2020) all publications will have to be Open Access (OA). The UK is already there so Brexet will make no difference one way or another.  Victor V is really excited about this. 

Which brings Eli to a couple of points.  In the last few years granting agencies have been writing open access rules into their guidelines.  For example the NSF Public Access Plan reads
NSF will require that either the version of record or the final accepted peer-reviewed manuscript in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and papers in juried conference proceedings or transactions described in the scope above (Section 2.0) and resulting from new awards resulting from proposals submitted, or due, on or after the January 2016 effective date must:  
• Be deposited in a public access compliant repository designated by NSF;
• Be available for download, reading, and analysis free of charge no later than 12 months after initial publication;
• Possess a minimum set of machine-readable metadata elements in a metadata record to be made available free of charge upon initial publication (Section 7.3.1);
• Be managed to ensure long-term preservation (Section 7.7); and
• Be reported in annual and final reports during the period of the award with a unique persistent identifier that provides links to the full text of the publication as well as other metadata elements. 
The NIH Public Access Plan differs in one significant way imposed by the law
The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall require that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication: Provided, That the NIH shall implement the Public Access Policy in a manner consistent with copyright law
Which means that NIH assumes the burden of maintaining the PubMed Central database in perpetuity.

The UK Research Councils have a similar policy, but have explicitly grabbed the bunny by the ears
It is planned that the funding provided by Research Councils to support open access will be increased over the next five years until all published peer‐reviewed papers which derive from Research Council funding are open access (whether published via the ‘gold’ or ‘green’ routes).  This increase in funding during transition reflects an estimate of the time that will be needed for researchers, institutions and publishers to make the transition to a fully Open Access model.  It will also allow publication funding already provided through direct and indirect costs on current grants to be fully utilized.
and they provide a table of block granted payments to the various UK universities.  Just for local interest, Edinburgh gets 1.1 M£, Bristol 0.78 M£, Sussex 0.22.  The total is about 22.6 M£ per year.

Now librarians are caught between the devil (Springer) and the deep blue sea (faculty).  The devil has squeezed the libraries declining budgets dry, while ACS, APS, etc. are not so avaricious their journal packages still cost a bit in an era of declining resources, but librarians are librarians and the point of a library is not to have today's journal available today, but in 100 years or more.  There is always the 100 year old article/book that is still relevant today so they have to ask what guarantee there is that a repository will not have expired, that the 8" floppy, or cd that the information is on will still be readable, etc.  A librarian sees great virtue in paper, even papers not published on acid free paper.

In particular were Eli a librarian, he would be greatly troubled by the suggestion that colleges and universities establish and maintain the repositories for their own faculty's writings.  Who knows what will happen to that college?  Who knows if a publisher who has a repository will go out of business, or even worse, sell out to some dudebro like Martin Shkreli.

So OA has to confront not only right now, but way out when and that is not so easy.

So, what is the answer?

Eli suggests Global Access, a set of linked repositories maintained by all of the funding agencies and learned societies of the world with a uniform Article Processing Fee structure.  If a publisher wants more, let the authors take it out of their own pockets, or rebated overhead, or grandma's cookie jar. Whatever

Authors shall be responsible not only for depositing electronic versions of their articles, but also for ensuring that print versions are available either through commercial or learned society publications/journals or through a library accessible through the World Cat.

If the later is chosen the depositing library shall be responsible for obtaining a unique DOI for the document with appropriate metadata so that it can be searched and identified. 

Of course, it could all be left to Sci Hub.  Maybe not.

Donations to Trump Campaign could go to Trump instead, especially now

I've had a long vendetta about candidates at any political level loaning money to their campaigns and the ethical morass it creates. As with most tough issues, there's a kernel of justification - a campaign needs money early and throughout the campaign, but the money often arrives too late to spend efficiently, sometimes even after the election. My own campaign in 2014 received a $1000 refund for mailing expenses after the election that we ended up donating to charities. If candidates are clear about what they're doing - that they're fronting the money they expect to raise during the campaign, and that they'll convert any unpaid post-election debt to a contribution rather than fundraise from wealthy interest, that's probably okay.

And then there's Trump.

The man who talks so proudly about his wealth and says he's not beholden to special interests because he's "self-funding" his campaign has almost exclusively loaned the money, $43 million as of the end of April, while donating only $317,000.* My opponent for a seat on a local water district board spent $500,000 of his own money in the campaign.

There's a huge difference between fronting the necessary funding for a campaign and self-funding it. Trump and his representatives say he intends to convert the loans into contributions. Then why not make them as donations to begin with? His promise not to pocket campaign contributions could be taken about as seriously as his promise in February 2015 to release his tax returns.

We're at a particularly interesting period because the law views this campaign as two elections:  one to choose the party nominees and the other to select the president. A part of campaign finance reform that has so far survived the Republican nominations to the Supreme Court says that in presidential elections, candidate loans automatically convert into contributions 20 days after the election, which would be the nominating conventions this summer and again after the November election.

As this NBC article points out, Trump is expressly fundraising for the primary campaign where there are very few expenses remaining now that he's won, but millions owed to him personally. Nineteen days after the Republican convention he can use these people's money to pay himself back. Obviously that wouldn't go over well, but a man who jokes that he can shoot people in public while remaining popular might think this issue from the summer would blow over by November.

The other interesting time will be the runup to the November election. Let's assume Trump loans more millions to his campaign but by mid-October realizes he has little chance of winning. If Trump is more interested in his own fortune than in losing slightly less badly, then his campaign will deliberately not spend everything, fundraise like hell through the election and maybe even a day or two afterwards for the die-hards, and then pay off Trump as much as possible. All this is 100% legal.

With an immediate stroke of the pen, Trump could prove all this wrong today by converting his existing loans to contributions, and only making contributions in the future. His failure to do that tells smart Republicans everything they need to know - the only ones who should be donating to the campaign now are the ones who are paying for access.

*The link above says $36 million, while the FEC website is updated to $43m but annoyingly doesn't provide a live link to that result. You can look up the latest here.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Forgot about that thing I use every day

That thing being hot water.

On the issue of electrifying and renewablizing uses that now come from fossil fuels, I've always focused on transportation. Until someone at my Community Choice Energy group mentioned it last week, I completely forgot home heating and water heating. Yes, we'll have to get those off of natural gas. The specific idea is that removing natural gas heating should be subsidized by electrical utilities, seeing as we don't have a carbon tax to make it happen naturally.

This won't be easy or cheap, although it is easier and cheaper for high density construction (and safer).

One significant advantage over electrifying transport is that residences stay around for a long time. Electric vehicles over their decade-or-so lifetime will benefit somewhat from a grid that's getting increasingly cleaner. Electrifying home heating is a 30-year-plus investment, and the grid even in places like West Virginia should be a lot cleaner in time, so the carbon savings will add up.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


About time they hit the New York Times:

...floating solar arrays are becoming more popular, with installations already operating in Australia and the United States, and more planned or under construction.

The growing interest is driven in part by huge growth in the solar market in recent years as the cost of the technology has dropped quickly.

Floating solar arrays — they are often referred to as “floatovoltaics,” a term trademarked by one company — also have advantages over solar plants on land, their proponents say. Renting or buying land is more expensive, and there are fewer regulations for structures built on reservoirs, water treatment ponds and other bodies of water not used for recreation....The floating arrays have other assets. They help keep water from evaporating, making the technology attractive in drought-plagued areas, and restrict algae blooms. And they are more efficient than land-based panels, because water cools the panels.
The company attempting to trademark floatovoltaics can jump into one of those lakes, btw.

I tried to push this idea at my old water district five years ago and got nowhere, unfortunately. Now it's an idea whose time has come - in certain places, anyway. Maintenance is trickier, so any place with cheap land and lots of water will have no use for them. OTOH, the hot, water-short areas with expensive land, or problems from algae blooms, or problems from toxics like mercury that become much worse in warm, low-oxygen water are good candidates. All of which describe my water district. Now the local competitor for most-environmental water district has gone ahead with floatovoltaics, so maybe it'll spread.

I still think Lake Nasser behind Aswan Dam is a natural for floatovoltaics, although admittedly it's far from places with power demand. Dryer parts of India could also be great places, and they're experimenting with small systems already.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Consensus Messaging

Eli is a bunny of few words (exactly how many Rabetts do you know that have any), but he is quite mystified by the consensus messaging wars.

It's simple.  Most people when confronted by a controversy don't know enough about the situation to pick a side.  The safe choice is to wait and do nothing.

If a group wants to do nothing it is to their advantage to pretend there is a controversy even if there is not a controversy.

Somehow this escapes the Dan Kahans of the world.

Sunday, May 22, 2016


Today's random blog post features my empathy for the woman describing her misophonia - an abormally strong aversion to certain sounds such as eating noises - in this New York Magazine interview. I have a mild version of what she's talking about, although I've read of others in even worse situations who can't go to restaurants or parties.

The woman interviewed seems to have acute hearing and a wide range of noises that drive her to distraction. For me it's mainly lip-smacking and chewing with the mouth open. Of course those things bother lots of people, but maybe twice a month they bother me to the point where I have to do something, put on earbuds or move to a different seat in a coffee shop/bus/theater.

There's definitely a psychological component to it - the saving grace for me is that loud chewing noises don't bother me if I'm also eating, and those two overlap the vast majority of the time. Like the woman interviewed, children eating noisily doesn't bother me. I've also spent a lot of time in Asia where the norm in some places is to slurp noodles, which doesn't bother me, mostly. My hearing is average, not acute. All that makes me think it has to be partially psychological.

Reading her interview gave me an interesting gender perspective - I've been self-critical about not getting over it, but being male means I've never wondered if I'm just a bitch.

And then there's the issue of who deserves criticism - the public lip-smackers and open-mouth eaters, or me for reacting so much to it. My guess is that I'm close enough to normal range that I can manage my response to close-to-normal levels, but people who have a more severe problem really can't help it. Maybe I'll do some special pleading for them, and I'll be the lucky beneficiary on the side.