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Scholars Test Web Alternative to Peer Review

Patricia Cohen, New York Times
For professors, publishing in elite journals is an unavoidable part of university life. The grueling process of subjecting work to the up-or-down judgment of credentialed scholarly peers has been a cornerstone of academic culture since at least the mid-20th century.

Now some humanities scholars have begun to challenge the monopoly that peer review has on admission to career-making journals and, as a consequence, to the charmed circle of tenured academe. They argue that in an era of digital media there is a better way to assess the quality of work. Instead of relying on a few experts selected by leading publications, they advocate using the Internet to expose scholarly thinking to the swift collective judgment of a much broader interested audience.

… Mixing traditional and new methods, [the prestigious 60-year-old Shakespeare Quarterly] posted online four essays not yet accepted for publication, and a core group of experts — what Ms. Rowe called “our crowd sourcing” — were invited to post their signed comments on the Web site MediaCommons, a scholarly digital network.

… Today a small vanguard of digitally adept scholars is rethinking how knowledge is understood and judged by inviting online readers to comment on books in progress, compiling journals from blog posts and sometimes successfully petitioning their universities to grant promotions and tenure on the basis of non-peer-reviewed projects.
(23 August 2010)

Facebook faces campaign to switch to renewable energy

John Vidal, Guardian
Social networking site under fire over intention to run giant new data centre mainly on coal-powered electricity

Social networking website Facebook is coming under unprecedented pressure from its users to switch to renewable energy. In one of the web’s fastest-growing environmental campaigns, Greenpeace international says at least 500,000 people have now protested at the organisation’s intention to run its giant new data centre mainly on electricity produced by burning coal power.

Facebook will not say how much electricity it uses to stream video, store information and connect its 500m users but industry estimates suggest that at their present rate of growth all the data centres and telecommunication networks in the world will consume about 1,963bn kilowatt hours of electricity by 2020. That is more than triple their current consumption and more electricity than is used by France, Germany, Canada and Brazil combined.
(1 September 2010)

Why my kids are pop-culture illiterate

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
As parents who home-school, my wife and I shield our twins from mainstream kids’ fare: No Dora, no Barney

… We started from two simple principles, neither of them radical or unique. We decided to follow the universal, if widely ignored, pediatric recommendation that kids under age 2 watch no TV at all, and to introduce electronic media slowly and gradually after that. The only remarkable thing about that is how much pressure you have to fend off well-meaning friends and family, who seem convinced that 2-year-olds unfamiliar with Bugs Bunny are missing out on the central joys of childhood.

Secondly, we wanted to affirm the idea that media is something you can choose and control, not a collective demonic unconscious that fills up your imagination and swallows all your spare time. Specifically, we wanted to resist the stepped-up invasion and colonization of early childhood by corporate media, both in its most obvious Happy Meal and merchandising tie-in form and also in its friendlier, allegedly educational “Dora”/”Blue’s Clues” guise. It’s not like we think toddlers who watch TV will all become mindless consumer zombies, but the correlations between childhood media consumption, the obesity epidemic, literacy problems and the disappearance of outdoor play are too strong to ignore.

… Our household policy — introducing media slowly and rather late, and making it neither forbidden nor obligatory and “educational” — definitely made managing our kids as toddlers more challenging, and most of that fell on Leslie. But it didn’t kill us or anything, and it has pretty well accomplished what we hoped it would. Our kids would almost always rather read comics or go on an outing or play a game than watch TV, and they never beg for it. Maybe they watch an hour or two a week, on average, but that’s deceptive. More typically, we’ll have a week when I’m away at a film festival or Leslie’s really busy or the weather’s crappy and they’ll watch six or seven hours of videos, and then several more weeks go by when they see almost nothing.

As I realized when we watched two or three innings of somebody clobbering the Mets earlier this year, Nini and Desmond had never previously seen a TV commercial, and did not understand why the game was periodically interrupted with pictures of somebody driving a Toyota along the California coast. My daughter has had virtually no contact with the pinky, gauzy, Disney-fueled princess culture that is ubiquitous among girls her age, and doesn’t seem much interested.

We do not think we are exemplary parents; we both lose our tempers too easily and you should see the state of our apartment and when, exactly, did they last have a bath? We also have no idea whether Desmond and Nini will turn out better or worse because they spend relatively little time in front of the box.
(29 August 2010)

‘Google Knows More about Us than the KGB, Stasi or Gestapo’

Siobhán Dowling, Spiegel Online
With just weeks to go before Google launches its Street View service in Germany, the government in Berlin has finally begun to take notice. But Chancellor Merkel’s cabinet is wary of specifically targeting the company. German commentators wonder if the private sphere is being redefined.

In a country where privacy concerns are paramount, many Germans are particularly uneasy about Google’s Street View service. The US Internet giant’s plans to launch a mapping feature for 20 German cities before the end of the year has raised the ire of many who would prefer that their homes did not feature on the service.

… The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

“What makes Google, with its funny name and friendly logo, a monstrous player in the online world, is its desire for omnipotence. It is no longer about a helpful orientation through the Internet. The search machine has become a virtual and omnipresent world player. That is what has caused the unease.”

… The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

“The Street View debate isn’t just a result of the silly season, one that will soon be forgotten. It is dangerous because it redefines our understanding of the private sphere. And it could damage the constitutional state if laws are drawn up not to deal with general problems but to damage unpopular companies.”
(19 August 2010)

Google chief warns on social networking dangers

Jason Deans, Guardian
Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of search Google, has predicted that web users will one day be able to change their identity in order to escape the traces of their misspent youth available on social networking sites such as Facebook.

Schmidt told the Wall Street Journal that he expects that young people will one day be able to change their name on reaching adulthood to distance themselves from online records of youthful indiscretions.
(18 August 2010)