Monday, 23 June 2014

Bourses doctorales de l'ED PIF: quelques précisions

L'École Doctorale Physique en Île-de-France (ED PIF) vient de procéder à son premier concours de recrutement des doctorants. Ayant présenté un candidat (malheureux) à ce concours, et ayant eu des échanges avec certains membres du jury, je peux donner quelques éléments sur le fonctionnement du concours, dans le but d'informer les candidats potentiels aux prochaines éditions.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Positive feedback loops in research funding

Funding research should mean sending money where it is most useful, considering the strength of the researchers to be funded, the interest of their projects, and how much these projects need money. However, in practice, already being well-funded or belonging to a well-funded institution is helpful, and sometimes even necessary, for a researcher to obtain funding. So there are positive feedback loops in research funding, which should be distinguished from other mechanisms that tend to concentrate research funding -- such as some people being better than others at getting money. (That these people are not necessarily the best researchers is not our subject here.)

Let's discuss some positive feedback loops:

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Le boeuf qui voulait se faire aussi petit qu'une grenouille

Je propose ici quelques commentaires sur la stratégie du CNRS pour l'information scientifique et technique, telle qu'exposée dans un document de 133 pages. Le titre de mon texte exprime le constat qu'avec cette stratégie, le CNRS ne semble pas vouloir se comporter en gros acteur institutionnel capable d'influencer le comportement des nombreux chercheurs et laboratoires qui dépendent de lui, mais plutôt en prestataire de services qui se contente de les informer et de leur proposer des outils.

La stratégie en matière de libre accès (Open Access) illustre bien ce constat.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Rating scientific articles: why and how?

Assuming we need to assess the quality of individual scientific articles, there are two broad approaches:
  • the quantitative approach of counting citations and/or computing alternative metrics,
  • the qualitative approach of conducting peer review, and giving quality tokens to articles. A quality token can be publication in a journal, or a grade.
The quantitative approach has the fundamental flaw of being an indirect way of assessing quality. And it has undesirable side effects, such as the misuse of citations for assigning credit, rather than for helping readers. In this post I will deal with the qualitative approach.

Giving grades, implicit or explicit.

Assuming some form of peer review is conducted, how can the results be concisely summarized?

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Bureaucratie contre recherche: quelques nouvelles du front [Bureaucracy vs research: news from the frontline]

[Ajout le 3 avril 2014:] L'ED PIF a maintenant un site web!

[Ajout le 25 mars 2014:] L'ED PIF distribue maintenant par email son guide du doctorant.

Comme de nombreux collègues, j'ai récemment eu connaissance de la nouvelle procédure de recrutement des doctorants de l'ED PIF (École doctorale Physique en Île-de-France), décrite dans ce document PDF. Cette ED PIF vient de naître de la fusion de plusieurs Écoles doctorales. Tout étudiant souhaitant faire une thèse en physique devra en obtenir l'approbation préalable. Le but affiché de la procédure est d'aider étudiants et chercheurs à faire les bons choix quand ils élaborent ensemble des projets de thèses, afin de réduire autant que possible les erreurs et les échecs.

Cherche thèse d'urgence.

Or, par rapport à ce but, la procédure proposée pourrait bien être contre-productive. En effet, les étudiants qui demanderont une bourse de l'École doctorale devront choisir leur sujet de thèse avant le 28 avril, et défendre leur candidature dans un concours avec dossier et audition.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The case for emancipating articles from their authors

In August 1795, the composer Joseph Haydn, on his way back from England, stopped at Passau, where he listened to a performance of one of his most famous works, the Seven Last Words of Christ. He had written this work in 1786, at the request of a Spanish canon, who wanted orchestral music for accompanying meditation during church services. At Passau however, the local Kapellmeister, Joseph Friebert, had added a choir, and made the work into a cantata. Haydn himself had already done a transcription for string quartet, and approved another transcription for piano -- but he had never thought about a cantata.

So, how did Haydn react, after his work was modified without his authorization?

Monday, 30 December 2013

The world according to Elsevier

Elsevier is considered by some academics as the worst predatory publisher, and is a favourite target for boycotts. In particular, the negotiations for subscriptions to bundles of journals, which were the subject of my previous post, are particularly difficult in the case of Elsevier, leading to much frustration for academic institutions. But what sets Elsevier apart from other academic publishers? Let me give some tentative answers, based on observations on Elsevier's behaviour. I will first give the data, and then try to explain them in terms of a coherent strategy.
  1. Elsevier considers open access to scientific publications as a threat, and fights against it. This is explicitly said (in milder terms) in their 2011 financial review.