Internet choice: June 2012

Here’s my somewhat belated monthly round-up of articles on the internet that I’ve found interesting, stimulating, annoying and, occasionally, funny. The full spectrum is available at that very quiet place, Google + .

There are more articles on the future of publishing out there than the number of raindrops we are endlessly subject to, the central question being whether content providers of words will go the way of the content providers of music, etc. Unusually, there is a readable perspective on this perennial topic at the excellent Scholarly Kitchen, a blog written by various specialist academic publishers and editors. Their advice to publishers: “If your priority is the dissemination of knowledge, then partnering within your own community to further that goal makes a lot more sense than turning over the future of scholarship to those who see it as a means of selling Kindles or iPads……So many of the current movements in the scholarly publishing space revolve around control — who holds the copyright, who gets to re-use the published material in new ways. If the research community wants to reclaim the ownership of its output, then it would be wise to truly do that, and to not merely trade one set of commercial owners for another.”

Turning to book publishing, in similarly dire straits, not enough of us appreciate – “digital is not free and easy” – as Brett Sandusky explains well in an article with the title The Biggest Lie in Publishing. Another article making the same point is at the HuffPo – “making e-books is harder than it looks” – it is not correct to assume that they should be vanishingly cheap. Random House is beginning to produce videos about what is involved in producing written and audio books.

In a vaguely related vein, Paul Bradshaw at the Online Journalism blog is writing a series of posts on how journalism education needs to keep up with the seismic changes in the industry. His first series post is about the skills gap – that is, the vast number of new (usually tech-based) skills that journalists are expected to have now compared with the old days of “rehash press release, where’s the cheque, ed?” (a style that I have actually witnessed!).

The Guardian reported the sad news that the Queen’s English society is closing due to lack of interest. Nobody cares about the correct way to write prose in an era of text messaging and Twitter. So we will no longer be told interesting snippets, such as the fact that in one of its surveys, it found that 80 per cent of English university undergraduates cannot spell.

If you like reading and book groups, you have until August to apply to join a panel for Pan Macmillan. (Via The Bookseller.)

“Bookstores are going down and taking discoverability with them” (Paid Content). Can “social reading” (interactive features and the like) perform this function? I can tell you that one solution proposed in the report, that of renaming titles so that, for example, Hamlet becomes Ghost Dad, is not going to work. Another attempt, involving “layered content”, is described in a tecchy post by Joe Wickert.

But the internet is good for discoverability of some things, so long as filtering is applied. I somehow found this article in The Smithsonian about Fritz Haber: “In 1918, Haber would be awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work in developing a method of synthesizing ammonia from nitrogen in the air—the process that enabled the production of fertilizer in quantities that revolutionized agriculture worldwide. But in the winter of 1915, Haber’s thoughts turned to annihilating the Allies. For his efforts directing a team of scientists on the front lines in World War I, he would become known as the father of chemical warfare.” Another element, bromine, is the topic of a neat little post about lethal lipstick at Sceptical Chymist, Nature Chemistry‘s blog.

The “outraged at bankers & fat cats” post for June has to be Robert Peston’s for the BBC, in which he reveals that “FTSE100 chief executives were last year awarded average total remuneration of £4.8m, a rise of 12%….at a time when earnings for the vast majority of people are stagnating and represents a record of just over 200 times average total pay in the private sector.” (Good point, but clearly the BBC does not share the values of the Queen’s English society.)

If you want more on that topic, you can read this piece in Eurozine: “From Scandinavian democracy to target of British anti-terror laws: the whole world knows about the Icelandic crash, but how did the country get itself into such a mess? Andri Snær Magnason tells a saga of privatizations, overreaching and astronomical pay checks.” (Just tipping over into July, the BBC is running a video in which uber-handsome and ubiquitous Professor Brian Cox “claimed the UK has spent more on saving banks in a year than it had on science “since Jesus”.”)

Spare a thought for those poor climate scientists. Pop Sci: “Not so much a battle as asymmetric warfare, between scientists and deniers. The scientists have science on their side. The deniers have billionaires, Republicans and talk-show hosts. The stakes are high, the tactics are nasty.”

If you’ve read this far, you might like some light relief from Gav Reads – reasons why we reviewers won’t read your self-published book (not that this will stop anyone from trying, as is evident in the comments to the post). One reason is, as described in The Guardian, the importance of good editing (not the same thing as self-editing!).

My Internet Choice columns, collected.