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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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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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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How a car’s differential works

In the old days, cars could be called ‘one wheel drive’ vehicles since a car’s engine powered just one of its four wheels. The problem was that in such cars, if the powered wheel ended up in a place with low or no traction, say because of snow or ice or mud or dangling over a ditch, you were literally stuck. The development of two-wheel drive vehicles that sent power to the two rear wheels improved this situation since if one wheel lost traction, the other could pull you out of it. But this created a new problem in that when you turn a corner, the outer wheel on the axle has to rotate faster than the inner wheel since it traverses a circle of larger radius.
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Why losing a dog is so painful

Frank T. McAndrew wrote about why losing your dog can be so much more painful than losing a relative or a friend.

When people who have never had a dog see their dog-owning friends mourn the loss of a pet, they probably think it’s all a bit of an overreaction; after all, it’s “just a dog.”

However, those who have loved a dog know the truth: Your own pet is never “just a dog.”

Many times, I’ve had friends guiltily confide to me that they grieved more over the loss of a dog than over the loss of friends or relatives. Research has confirmed that for most people, the loss of a dog is, in almost every way, comparable to the loss of a human loved one. Unfortunately, there’s little in our cultural playbook – no grief rituals, no obituary in the local newspaper, no religious service – to help us get through the loss of a pet, which can make us feel more than a bit embarrassed to show too much public grief over our dead dogs.

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The search for dark matter continues

I wrote last month about recent reports on the failure of two major experiments named LUX and PandaX-II to directly detect dark matter and what that might mean for the prospects of alternate theories to explain anomalous gravitational effects. Of course, concluding that dark matter is non-existent is a tricky call since we don’t really know what it is made of and the negative results so far may well be due to the lack of sufficient sensitivity of the detectors or that dark matter is made of something quite different from what the detectors are designed to register.
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What happens if you leave the stove on?

I suspect that many of us worry, at least occasionally, that we might fall asleep or leave the house with the stove left on and have visions of the burner overheating and catching fire and destroying everything. I have on numerous occasions gone back into the house after leaving it, just to check the stove. But how bad could it really be? According to this article by Steve Rousseau, John Drengenberg, the Consumer Safety Director at Underwriters Laboratories, says that the manufacturers of stoves have taken this possibility into account.
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Extreme coincidences don’t mean anything

I have been reading the book Astrobiology: A Very Short Introduction by David C. Catling where he discusses the possible conditions under which life might be able to originate and replicate, and the likelihood of those conditions existing on other planets in the universe. It turns out that life can exist under conditions that to us humans seem extremely hostile. Organisms have been found on Earth under conditions of extreme heat (thermophiles) or cold (psychrophiles) or high acidity (acidophiles) or basicity (alkaliphiles) and other parameters and such organisms are collectively referred to as extremophiles.
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Deep-rooted causes of opiod addiction

Within the last few years, the full scale of the addition to prescription pain killers has burst into public consciousness and it is being referred to as an epidemic. Anna Lembke, a psychiatrist focused on addiction care and author of the book Drug Dealer, MD, agrees that “the commonly cited causes of the epidemic — doctors hoping to treat previously untreated pain conditions, pain patients demanding better treatments, and big pharma pushing opioids on the market — contributed to the vast overprescription of opioids. That let the pills flow not just to patients’ hands but to their family, their friends, and the black market.”
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Why flights actually take longer now than 50 years ago

We like to think that long distance travel times are getting shorter as modern technology enables planes to travel faster. But via Andrea James I came cross this fascinating video explanation put together by someone who looked at old flight schedules from fifty years ago and found that travel times are actually longer now than they were back then. Why is this? Part of the reason is that the increased congestion in the air and at airports means that there is longer time spent waiting for clearance and taxiing on the runways than was the case before.
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