Dynamist Blog

Help Bring Dynamist Up-to-Date

I'm looking for someone who can help me move this blog from an ancient version of MovableType to the current edition with minimal trauma. If this sounds like a job for you, please send me an email at vp-at-dynamist.com, giving some background and info on what you'd charge. Thanks.

UPDATE: Rand Simberg advises me that upgrading MT is a nightmare. He recommends Word Press. We use Typepad for Deep Glamour. I'd be happy to go with either, but I need someone who can make the transition without losing the look and feel of the page.

Spam Mysteries

Why am I suddenly getting lots of spam in Russian? Usually my foreign-language spam is in indecipherable Asian characters.

The Future of Academic Journals

As our host Tim Kane and MR's Alex Tabbarok (both far more diligent bloggers than I) reported two weeks ago, the Kauffman Foundation hosted a lunch at the American Economic Association's meetings to discuss economic scholarship and popularization, the evolution (or demise?) of traditional media, and the current and future role of online media, including econ blogs.

One of the most interesting questions is what will happen to scholarly journals. Economics, the focus of our discussions, has long been a field in which working papers could circulate for years, with great influence, before they were finally published. (Here's a famous example, by Nobel laureate Eric Maskin.) Now, however, the web make those drafts quickly and easily available not only to economists working in a particular area but to journalists and the general public. As Brad DeLong pointed out when I saw him recently in Palo Alto, journalists, particularly online publications, will now quote a working paper without interviewing the author, something that wouldn't have happen in the past. (I still prefer to interview scholars before writing about their work, but then--as you may have noticed--I also resist the publish-now imperative of web writing.)

Given this situation, Tim Kane wondered whether the traditional process of peer review is the best way of vetting scholarly work. Could some sort of web-based community do better than two anonymous referees and a journal editor? Could you mix Slashdot-style review weights, earned over time, with weights assigned by the Powers that Be to people who've earned offline reputations as scholars and referees?

One reason working papers take on greater importance in a web-oriented world is that, shockingly, scholars usually do not own the copyrights to their published articles. Journals demand the copyright as a condition of publication. And, of course, scholars exist in a publish-or-perish world. It is usually illegal for a professor to put the final version of a published article on his or her website. Hence the importance of working papers--and the travesty of gated scholarship.

One sign of resistance: On March 5, the UCLA library will hold a seminar for UCLA faculty members titled, "Don't I Own My Own Work?": Negotiating to Keep Your Copyright. Here's the description:

As a UCLA faculty member, you must be productive in a "publish or perish" environment. But in your rush to publish, are you signing an agreement with your publisher without reading it fully or understanding its implications? You might unknowingly surrender your copyright and, along with it, the rights to use and reuse your work as you wish. Find out how to read author agreements and how to negotiate to keep your rights. Learn from colleagues who have efficiently negotiated agreements without risk to their academic advancement.

Freeman Dyson: Birds vs. Frogs, or Descartes vs. Bacon

In this lecture, Freeman Dyson surveys the history of progress in mathematics (and related fields of physics) and concludes that there is no One Best Way. Here's the opening:

Some mathematicians are birds, others are frogs. Birds fly high in the air and survey broad vistas of mathematics out to the far horizon. They delight in concepts that unify our thinking and bring together diverse problems from different parts of the landscape. Frogs live in the mud below and see only the flowers that grow nearby. They delight in the details of particular objects, and they solve problems one at a time. I happen to be a frog, but many of my best friends are birds. The main theme of my talk tonight is this. Mathematics needs both birds and frogs. Mathematics is rich and beautiful because birds give it broad visions and frogs give it intricate details. Mathematics is both great art and important science, because it combines generality of concepts with depth of structures. It is stupid to claim that birds are better than frogs because they see farther, or that frogs are better than birds because they see deeper. The world of mathematics is both broad and deep, and we need birds and frogs working together to explore it.

Dyson is always worth reading, and this is a particularly rich piece, full of personal reminiscences as well as insights into the way mathematics and science work. And it demonstrates a characteristic that is far too rare in both great minds and ordinary ones: the ability to appreciate the importance of genuine difference, rather than to argue that one's own approach to problems (of whatever type) is the only correct--or the better--one.

Bad News for Medical Progress

It's the worst regulatory news I've heard in a long time--and it predates the new administration by a half year. Sidney Wolfe, who seemingly never met a new drug or device he thought should be legal, has been named to four-year term on the FDA's Drug Safety and Risk Management Committee. He's got the "consumer" slot. Well, I'm a big-time pharmaceutical consumer, and this man does not speak for me.

His philosophy: "If there were any question, they would take the drug off the market." As he explains in the WSJ video above, the committee he'll serve on goes into action when questions have been raised about a drug. So I guess we know what he'll be thinking about each and every one the panel is supposed to evaluate. (He will maintain his position at Public Citizen while serving on the panel.)

What I really want to know is, Who maneuvered him into this position, and how?

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