Monthly Archives: November 2013

Loyalty cards for scholarly publishing

Two things I’ve come across recently which I don’t think I’ve seen before:

“Each article published in ACS journals during 2014 will qualify the corresponding author for ACS Author Rewards article credit. Credits issued under this program, at a total value of $1,500 per publication, may be used to offset article publishing charges and any ACS open access publishing services of the author’s choosing, and will be redeemable over the next three years (2015-2017).”
American Chemical Society extends new open access program designed to assist authors

“Under [IOP’s] new programme, referees will be offered a 10% credit towards the cost of publishing on a gold open access basis when they review an article.”
Changing the way referees are rewarded

(I’m presuming, though it’s not explicit, that these credits are additive, so if you published 2 toll-access articles with ACS you’d get $3,000 credit, and if you refereed 10 IOP articles you’d get to publish 1 article on a gold open access basis for free.)

I find this fascinating. The obvious catch for scientists is the same as any loyalty card: in order to use it you’ve got to keep shopping at the same company. It’s great psychology, because humans are notoriously reluctant to ignore the opportunity for a discount, so:

  • Someone who’s got credit owing will be less likely to publish in some other journal even if the final cost-to-author is equal and even if that other journal is a better fit for the particular article. (How much less likely I don’t know, but I do think it’d be a factor.)
  • Someone who’s got credit owing for OA publication would probably be more likely to pay the extra to publish OA rather than to publish toll-access for free but not get to use that tempting credit. (This might at least have a small side-effect of getting more people experience with the benefits of publishing open access.)

Both of these are obviously what the companies in question are banking on. I’m a bit concerned about what this pressure to publish with the same old big companies will mean for science – partly about competition, as in the world of supermarkets, but also partly the journals where articles should be finding their best fit. (Perhaps the whole ‘impact factor’ issue has meant that no-one’s ever considered only subject scope in that regard, but this definitely adds another confounding factor.) But given the clear financial benefits to the companies, I expect to be seeing more scholarly publishing reward cards popping up in future.

Reporting a crime to the police (aka my #roastbusters post)

This post is not about my normal subjects, to which I’ll return another day.

Trigger Warning: Roast Busters, and reporting sexual assault  
Certain people love comparing rape and burglary. “I’m not blaming the victims,” they’ll say. “I’m just saying, you can’t expect your insurance company to pay out if you haven’t installed a deadbolt and burglar alarm on your vagina.” Or something remarkably similar to that.

And in the news certain other people have been talking about victims being or not being “brave enough” to report – mostly people who seem to have never experienced let alone tried to report a sexual assault. So. Okay, I’m going to do this: here are my stories about reporting a burglary and reporting a sexual assault.

A couple of years ago someone tried to rob my house and was scared off by the alarm. When I came home I called the police who were nice and professional and unmemorable, as were the afterhours alarm repair company (the would-be burglar had tried to stop the alarm by ripping it off the wall), the carpenter who fixed my back door (no dead-bolt, they just kicked it in and splintered the frame), and my insurance company (who didn’t even ask if I had a dead-bolt). The police dusted for fingerprints but the burglar had worn gloves so that was that and life went on. It’s an easy story to tell, no-one ever questions it, everything’s cool.

On the 6th of September 1997, someone stopped across the street from my busstop, exposed himself and masturbated in a way designed to get my attention. (What do you even call this? All the terms I can think of carry a connotation of victimless crimes. He didn’t touch me, approach me, or speak to me, but I was nevertheless very much his target. So for the purposes of this post I’m going with ‘telepathic sexual assault’.)

I followed all society’s rules for how a woman should behave in order to not be a victim, and how a victim should behave in order to be taken seriously. To start with I was white, cis, and middle-class. I’d been working, not drinking. I was wearing ‘modest’ clothes. My assailant fit the conventional narrative of a stranger lurking in the bushes, not the uncomfortable truth that over 90% of rapes are committed by victims’ acquaintances, friends and family. I watched him leave so I could try and get a description. As soon as possible I went to the police kiosk in town and reported it. I was visibly and audibly shaken but forthright and articulate. I knew I wasn’t giving them much to go on, but I wanted it on the record in case he did it to someone else.

The police were nice and professional and told me that guys like this were cowards, so if anything like it ever happened again I should shout at or walk towards him.

When was the last time you heard the police say that if you come home to a burglary in progress you should confront the cowardly burglar?

The first time I told this story was three years later, on a mailing list, and doing it gave me an adrenaline reaction as if it’d just happened. Fortunately I was among friends (one of whom told me with authority that the police’s advice was balderdash) and it was cathartic and ever since then it’s just been a thing that happened one time.

So I thought. At lunch yesterday, thinking about Roast Busters and the perennial burglary comparison, I suddenly thought: after the burglary, the police dusted for fingerprints. Did they look for evidence after the telepathic sexual assault? I remember the mood at the time was very matter-of-factly that nothing could be done. Maybe I’m now forgetting a perfectly good reason for this. But. But. Suddenly there’s this question in my mind – Did they even think about looking? – and boom, adrenaline reaction. What had been a fantastic day was suddenly crap because of psychic residue from something that happened sixteen years ago.

I ended up writing to the police to ask what information I’d be able to access relating to that report. I expected there’d be some bureaucratic hoops to jump through. Instead, within a few hours I got an email saying:

I have checked and the only file I can see is a Burglary report you made on [date redacted].

So. I guess that answers my question. And honestly, having heard the far worse stories I’ve heard sixteen years on, I wasn’t surprised. It’s just one on the long, long list of reasons different people have for not reporting sexual assault: sometimes we do report it, but the police simply don’t keep any records of that report.


  • I’m happy for this post to be linked to or, per my CC-BY license, to be quoted or reposted with attribution back to this url.
  • I welcome comments. That said, I won’t tolerate any kind of victim-blaming or rape apologia. Wishes for, or jokes about, rapists being raped in prison count as both of these things.
  • If you want to do something.

My first foray into coding with open data

My first foray into coding with someone else’s data would probably have been when I created some php and a cron job to automatically block-and-report-for-spam any Twitter account that tweeted one of three specific texts that spammers were flooding on the #eqnz channel. I really don’t want to work with Twitter’s API, or more specifically with their OAuth stuff, ever again.

So my first foray that I enjoyed was with the Christchurch Metroinfo (bus) data – specifically the real-time bus arrival data (link requires filling out a short terms and conditions thing but then the data’s free under CC-BY license). For a long time I’ve used this real-time information to keep an eye out on when I need to leave the house to reach my stop in time for my bus. But if I’m working in another window and get distracted, or traffic suddenly speeds up, I can still miss it. I wanted a web app that’d give me an audio alert when the bus came in range.

Working with the data turned out to be wonderfully easy. A bit of googling yielded me information about SimpleXML and I knew enough PHP to use it. There was an odd glitch when I tried to upload my code, which worked perfectly fine on my computer, to my webserver with a slightly older version of PHP which for some reason required an extra step in parsing the attributes ECan use in their XML. But once I worked out what was going on, that was an easy fix too.

Then I did a whole bunch of fiddling with the CSS and HTML5, and the SQL is a whole nother story; and then I uploaded the source code to GitHub; and eventually even remembered to cite the data, whoops.

So now I have:

online, and I’m already starting to think about what other open data projects might be out there waiting for me.

(And now that the development phase is over and I’m using the thing live, I think my cat is starting to recognise that when this particular bird song plays, I’m about to leave the house.)