The menace of ‘predatory journals’ and the future of journals and peer-review

Traditional science journals get their money from ads and/or individual and library subscriptions. You cannot pay to have your paper published and thus this system avoids obvious conflicts of interest for authors and journals. The catch is that this prevents wider dissemination of the articles since the subscriptions are expensive. The costs have risen so dramatically that even libraries cannot afford to maintain the range of journals they once had. Why these costs have risen so much and the role of for-profit publishing houses in pushing up those costs is a hot topic but not the issue I want to discuss in this post. What this is about is how an effort to find a solution to the cost and low accessibility problems has had unintended consequences.
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Russia cuts military budget

It became clear after the end of the Cold War that the then USSR was finding that the cost of maintaining parity with the US military was crippling them economically. There have been suggestions that the US deliberately ramped up their defense spending in order to achieve the goal of straining the USSR’s finances. While Russia now seems to have ceded dominance to the US, they have clearly shifted to a mode where they accept second-tier status while still maintaining enough strength to serve their own needs.
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Kurt Gödel and how the US could become a dictatorship

Kurt Gödel is widely recognized as being one of the premier mathematical logicians of all time whose incompleteness theorems revealed a stunning limitation on the limits of the axiomatic approach. “His findings put an end to logicist efforts such as those of Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead and demonstrated the severe limitations of David Hilbert’s formalist program for arithmetic.” He was also notoriously eccentric. After suffering from severe digestive disorders due to an ulcer, later in life he became convinced that he was being poisoned and his wife acted as his food taster. But his digestive problems and his refusal to eat led to him finally dying of starvation in 1978 at the age of 71.
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Film review: The Brand New Testament (2015)

As we all know, the big theological problem that theologians try to explain away but never succeed is that of theodicy, why a loving god would allow so much evil in the world. Well, this French film, one of the most wildly imaginative comedies I have seen in a good while, answers that question. God turns out to be a real bastard who enjoys deliberately creating wars and setting people against each other. But he is even more wicked than some of us imagined. He actually creates all the laws that really annoy people, such as the phone ringing just when you start to enjoy a bath, the line next to you moving faster in the supermarket, and the bread with the jam side falling on the floor.
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The tax preparation racket

The deadline for filing one’s taxes in the US is April 15th of each year though this year it is April 18 due to holidays. I always do our own tax returns without using any commercial software and just finished preparing our tax returns. Over the years I have developed my own spreadsheet that automates much of the process, so each year requires just a few tweaks to update it. But it still took many hours of work over many days. Most people cannot be bothered to learn how to do their taxes on their own and either turn to paid preparers or buy commercial software, little realizing that they are being coerced into doing this by the collusion of tax preparation companies and the government that deliberately keeps the process complicated.
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John Oliver on the Trump budget

It is a pretty good description of the fact the budget hits the poor and those who voted for Trump the hardest. But I think Oliver is wrong in thinking that Trump’s fans will get fed up soon. While there is a little support for this view, usually once people have visibly given their support for someone or something, they tend to have suffer from a version of the ‘sunk cost’ mentality and will double down on their support just to convince themselves that they did not make the wrong decision. We have a long way to go until the reality hits them so hard upside the head that they will be willing to concede their error.
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Replacing Mercator with the Gall-Peters projection of the Earth

That the Earth is a globe has been known for millennia. But how does one represent a sphere on a two-dimensional surface? For a long time the projection method called the Mercator system, created by Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569, has been used so widely that it has seemed as if it were the only way. But it is not and there are many ways of doing so. The popularity of Mercator has a lot to do with the fact that, in addition to making the shapes of countries similar to what they look like on the globe (with the extent of distortions increasing as one approaches the poles), it gives Europe and North America a larger size and puts them at central positions on the map, thus endowing them with a prominence that they do not merit.
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We are just one incident away from further loss of civil liberties

As we are all repeatedly told, the loss of even one American life as a result of an attack that can be blamed on ‘terrorists’ (i.e., Muslims) that entered the US somehow or an undocumented immigrant is an awful tragedy, unlike the losses of hundreds, thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of worthless foreigners at the hands of the US military. Of course, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans due to gun violence and lack of adequate health care and social services are considered acts of god that we can do nothing about.
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Frank Oz talks about his work with the Muppets

Long time readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of the Muppets when they appeared on Sesame Street and in the TV shows and films. I was particularly fond of Grover, Cookie Monster, Fozzie Bear, Bert, Ernie and Kermit, and the first four of them were the creations of master puppeteer Frank Oz who later went on to be director of feature films while still keeping his hand (literally and metaphorically) within the Muppet world. He was also Yoda in the Star Wars films.
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