18 February 2015

Left-Wing Shark

One of Jaws's cousins had a, umm, prominent role in the Super Bowl halftime show. That shark on the far left who couldn't keep the beat? That's Bernie. At least they matched the position in the dance line to his politics! Sadly, Bernie is slightly less awkward at those things (keeping the beat and dancing) than Jaws is; Jaws saves all of his gracefulness for feeding frenzies.

  • No link for this one, because it's from local radio. A local Girl Scout has been taking advantage of a... predisposed-to-be-receptive clientele for her cookie sales. With her mother's support, she set up her cookie table for a day right outside a medical marijuana dispensary in San Francisco. Unsurprisingly, she had really good sales (over 100 per hour).
  • Slate finally realizes what some of us did six years ago and points out that commercial e-readers report your reading habits (not just sales) to vendors. Leaving aside that an awful lot of my reading isn't from commercial vendors — court documents, law review articles, etc. — I would find that unacceptable anyway. It's why I load e-texts onto reading devices (like my phone, my laptop, etc.) using a removable storage device... after stripping the DRM and using a third-party reader program that does not (indeed, cannot) report reading statistics to anyone.

    I'm not paranoid about this sort of thing. Really — I'm not.

  • In a long-overdue acknowledgement that something is wrong with the most-heavily-commercialized science journals, Nature and related journals are shifting to double-blind review of submitted articles. Double-blind review prevents both the authors from knowing their reviewers... and the reviewers from knowing the authors. The objective is to focus on the content, not on old-boy networks or reputation of institution or anything else. It (usually) works, although over time both reviewers and authors learn subtle signals that at least give away whether one is in the old-boy network — or not.

    The irony that this is the one truly effective means of brand-building and brand-identification in publishing is left for others to ponder. Any "brand identification" with, say, Basic Books up to the late 1980s, was due to a combination of generalized subject-matter and distinctive editorial vision as perceived by the target audience. (The same goes for Harlequin, although it's a little harder to demonstrate because the "editorial vision" is so top-down imposed.) Nature already has a reputation as a leading outlet for serious, just-behind-the-cutting-edge-of-the-future scientific articles... but also a reputation for being closed to authors affiliated with institutions that are not considered superstars in broad ranges of current research. It's not just a cynical marketing ploy, although there's certainly an element of marketing/publicity/brand identification involved (Nature isn't a nonprofit by any means — it's a bloody vanity press!). This change is primarily about enhancing the credibility of its content. And that's a hint about how one builds a self-sustaining, long-term brand identification: It's not marketing flash, it's substance. Of course, the converse is true, too — I still avoid Nestle products whenever possible, because too many of the same people (and/or their lineal heirs) are in charge.

    The down side is that sometimes reputation does, and perhaps even should, matter in determining the publication-worthiness of an article — even in a scientific journal. The closer that one gets to outside-the-laboratory implications, the more that non-data-based imprimaturs of credibility matter to the substance of the article; there is no content without context. It should matter, for example, whether an article on the relationship between tobacco use and death from lung cancer was coauthored by the general counsel and chief lab scientist at the Tobacco Institute... and that's not a hypothetical, just forty years in the past (and not at Nature).

  • A fluff piece pretends to ponder artists selling out without ever considering either (a) that it's called "patronage," morons, and it's a longer Western tradition than copyright (and seldom a good thing in the long run), or (b) that it's been around so long that The Who satirized it in 1967.