Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bioethics ranked top philosophy journal

Interesting, the European Science Foundation in the most recent incarnation of its European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH) has given Bioethics top billing in the Philosophy category. It is now INT1. INT1 stands for 'INT1 Sub-Category: international publications with high visibility and influence among researchers in the various research domains in different countries, regularly cited all over the world.'

Now we know. It's tempting to say that the hard work Ruth Chadwick and I have put into developing the journal over the last decade or so is paying off, but truth be told, these ranking remain pretty arbitrary at best. Either way, a great deal of thanks to our authors, Editorial Board members, peer reviewers and certainly our colleagues at Wiley-Blackwell are due!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

News Corporation is at it again - this time attacking our libraries

Ebooks are a great idea. They permit you to conveniently download books from the comfort of your home, read them on trains and planes without having to slog much more than a kindle or its equivalent around. Importantly, they permit libraries to stock more content because they're not physically limited by shelf space.

Enter HarperCollins owner News Corporation (the owner of Faux News, as well as the Simpsons, the Times in Britain, the Australian on Down Under and any number of other mass media outlets from India to the USA).

Harper Collins decided to limit the number of users who can borrow its ebooks from libraries to 26 per book. After 26 check-outs the ebooks self-destruct. The argument is that books that are read by a lot of people will also eventually be destroyed and replaced by new copies. The trouble is, of course, that any book that falls apart after 26 people read it, is likely of pretty low production quality (ie News Corporation type quality). The magic number also assumes that all 26 readers read the book really thoroughly, turn every page and so on and so forth, when in the real world someone might just xerox a chapter for personal use, or read bits and pieces in different chapters. There are bound to be very many books that exist happily ever after even if 26 people borrowed them at one point or other.

As with so much of the digital-only stuff, the books the libraries purchase cease to be theirs. This publisher can delete them by remote at any point in time (here the magic number being 26 check-outs).

Here is a letter you'd write to the big-shots at HarperCollins, protesting their policy and threatening to boycott their products.


Mr. Brian Murray
HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street
New York, NY 10022

Dear Mr. Murray:

I am writing to express my concern about a recent announcement by HarperCollins. I understand that you intend to place a limit on how many times libraries can lend HarperCollins ebooks. If you go through with this policy, library ebooks will self-destruct after they have been loaned out 26 times.

I urge you to reconsider this policy. Like many people, I respect and rely on libraries. The increasing popularity of ebooks is giving libraries a chance to reach people in new ways, continuing to spread literacy and engender a love of reading. Your proposed policy will hurt libraries and, more importantly, it will limit the options available for millions of current and potential readers across the nation. For that reason, I cannot see myself purchasing books or ebooks from HarperCollins or any of its imprints until you stop your policy of causing library materials to self-destruct.

Libraries do not abuse their relationship with publishers. I hope HarperCollins will soon return to treating libraries and library users with the respect we deserve.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Oh well, democracy first-past-the-post style

Canada's progressive parties (ie the Greens, Liberals and the NDP) owe the progressive majority in Canada a very big apology. They (together with the country's electoral system) are primarily to blame for the fact that a 39% share of the vote translated into a majority conservative government. It's a silly system where such a minority of the vote (a significant minority of the vote against a 58% share on the progressive side of things) can attain majority power. I for one hope that the NDP and Liberals will stop slaughtering each other, get their heads together and create a social-liberal party along European lines to stand against the conservative minority in the country that otherwise will keep on running this place in perpetuity.

Part of the Liberal Party of Canada's problem is that it is not so clear any longer what it is that it stands for, ideologically. The liberal matters (privacy, abortion, gay rights, name it) have by and large been decided in Canada in support of liberal core values. It's not clear what else the party would have to offer to its electorate unless the conservatives decide to undermine those rights. Incidentally, how little the party has left in terms of ideological conviction is best displayed by the election of its Kingston and the Islands candidate, Ted Hsu. Hsu, a self-proclaimed pro-lifer, ran on a platform that was decidedly incoherent. He droned on about liking the Cuban health care system yet wanted to contract out government services. His campaign within the Liberal Party's for selection for the local candidacy for parliament was - in my judgment - decidedly homophobic in its implicit attacks on the only openly gay candidate who was also competing in that race. All of this - these days - is fair game in the so-called Liberal Party of Canada. You might want to study Hsu's supporters attacks on me on this blog. They truly speak volumes. It is no big surprise then, to my mind, that the Liberal Party of Canada has been reduced to what it is today. Political liberalism would show itself to be decidedly intolerant toward such behaviours and views. Hsu, by the way, won the local race. His main competitor on the conservative side of things was a candidate whose main claim to fame was that she doesn't like paying taxes. The choices the local ridings were given by the two mainstream parties (well, as far as the Liberals are concerned, formerly mainstream) were painful to watch in action.

One of the few bright sights in this election was that of the Green Party leader Elisabeth May getting elected to a seat - incidentally unseating a conservative government minister. Having been a Green politician in another life I am naturally thrilled that she made it, alas even the Green contribution to the vote splitting will undoubtedly have helped the conservatives attaining majority power.

Well, there we go, alea iacta est...