26 April 2012

Old Guy Blues

unknownLet's start today with a Westeros-v-US-politics guide... that's disturbingly accurate.

  • Thomas Kuhn is most famous for yet another famous book people discuss endlessly without having read it. Here's an interesting, if insufficiently general, discussion of Kuhn's development of the "paradigm shift" explanation of scientific advances that — like virtually all discussions of the matter — utterly fails to grasp that it's not about science. Or, rather, that it's not only about science... Exhibit A: Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803), which marks a paradigm shift for judges in simultaneously announcing two broad-sweeping principles of governance and simultaneously denying that, on the facts before it, the court could enforce them.
  • Or, I suppose, you could shift your paradigms just by defying the American norm and really learning another language. To loop back a little bit into philosophy that parallel's Kuhn's insight, this reflects the weak form of the Whorf Hypothesis ("language influences perceptions of reality") by providing alternate perceptual pathways. I wish that the study in question had also distinguished between merely "another language" and "another language in a different language group", but that's probably good fodder for the next research grant...
  • Let's turn now to something about as far from philosophy as one can get: The recorded music industry. On the one hand, it is slowly learning the lesson that its preferred packaging method doesn't work in the electronic-commerce world. Of course, if it had ever paid attention to the phenomenon of "mix tapes" back in the 70s, it would have know that; it's very, very rare for consumers to actually like everything on an album equally (ironically, that's partially driven by the payola-driven radio airplay system...), particularly when the individual elements of an album are intended as stand-alone pieces. On the other hand, the recorded-music industry is far from averse to hostage negotiations over music rights for films... and the artists almost never see a dime of whatever the industry manages to extract.
  • Speaking of "packaging," consider the problem of academic journals. With very, very rare exception, no researcher in any field really relies upon all of the content found in a given academic journal issue. This selective reliance resembles the difference between albums and singles a great deal more than the academic-periodical publishing industry would like to admit... and leads directly in to Harvard's library pleading poverty in protest at academic journal subscription prices. I'm afraid that Professor Madison doesn't go far enough, though, because he fails to note that many (and perhaps most, although that varies by field) of these journals are vanity-press publications in the first place. That's what "page fees" are, unsophisticated academics!

  • But I suppose that beats being just another dude in tights. And no, I don't mean professional "wrestling," either, although the connection is there for the endless snarking... right, Dwayne?
  • Happy World Intellectual Property Day. It's not information that is at issue; it is expression and exploitation. In short, the definition of "information" is outcome-determinative of the argument — like that's a surprise. After all, right now part of the argument over healthcare reform in the US concerns whether something that walks, quacks, and acts like a tax is a tax!
  • Charlie Stross comments intelligently on DRM, e-books, and Tor's decision to drop DRM. I'd like to point out one factor, though, that is outside of his purview and contributes immensley to the whole mess: It has never been the trade divisions of conglomerates who demanded DRM-or-no-e-edition, but the textbooks and academic divisions. The particular conglomerate at issue here has its upper management (not to mention its balance sheet!) dominated by the textbook and academic/scientific/technical/professional divisions. Those areas want to destroy the market for used books in any format — especially the textbook divisions! — and have long engaged in games to constantly "update" their editions. Consider, for example, the textbook for a first course in single-variable calculus — a subject that has not changed in forty years or so. One must ask why there have been nine editions of the market-leading textbook in that time, with almost no change in actual content or presentation!

    In this particular instance, some divisions of a conglomerate have successfully fought back against a demand from other divisions of that conglomerate. We'll see how long the peace lasts...