The Social Notwork: Ownership, Copyright and Challenging the Status Quo

It’s no secret that when Facebook hit the net in 2004, it revolutionised the way we share information online. But, cloaked by the fanfare of its arrival, the social network ushered in an ideology viewed by many as infringing upon the rights of its users. These highlight a fundamental flaw not only in Facebook, but in the current zeitgeist online- a boat that’s set to be well and truly rocked….

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The humble beginnings of peer review alternatives: Stevan Hanard and Open Peer Commentary

BBS: An Open Peer Commentary journal

I originally wrote this article for ScienceMediaWatch, a blog that focussed on, among other things, the shortcomings of peer review. I thought it important to take a step back and explore the roots of the peer review model.

Dr. Steven Harnard recently got back to me with some suggested readings that add new depth to the history of peer review. So much depth in fact, that I thought it warranted the article to be posted here on WHSD – along with the suggested material…..

A popular theme here on ScienceMediaWatch has been the problems of peer review and the criticisms which confront it. With these problems in mind, a growing number of researches have tried to develop new systems of peer review that provide a secure quality control, while at the same time deal with some of the problems the system faces

As Anka discussed in a previous post, the web project Philica tries to solve the problems of peer review in academic journals by publishing the papers under an open access licence, to enable all registered academics in the project to review and comment on the papers (Open Peer Commentary). This project started in 2006, but a long time before that, the first pioneers in alternative review systems made their suggestions for a different approach to scientific quality control.

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How to mend a broken heart: nanotechnology offers new hope for heart attack sufferers

As simple as putting on a plaster?

Scientists from Brown University, USA have developed a synthetic nanopatch that could help regenerate heart tissue left damaged after a heart attack. About the size of a penny, the patch consists of intricately interwoven carbon nanofibres glued together with a polymer known as poly lactic-co-glycolic acid.

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Open Access: interview with Professor Peter Suber

When it comes to Open Access (OA), Professor Peter Suber is certainly dedicated to the cause. Having quit his position as Research Professor of Philosophy at Earlham College to work full time on OA, he wrote both the blog Open Access News for eight years and continues to write the SPARC OA Newsletter. Who better to talk to about the some of the perceived challenges OA could face?

As far as definitions go, OA is online research literature- free of charge and of needless copyright and licensing restrictions. As Professor Suber pointed out, the internet is key to OA.

First of all, OA is impossible without the internet, the way I define OA entails the internet. Even if you wrote some literature and gave it away on the street, it’s not strictly OA because it’s only for the people you’re giving it out to.

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Shedding light on black holes

Wikipedia Commons

A simulation of gravitational lensing by a black hole

Few cosmic phenomena capture our imaginations like black holes. The subject  of countless sci-fi misadventures, it’s hard to describe a black hole without using grandiose and somewhat misguided metaphors. ‘Cosmic whirlpool’, or ‘deep space vacuum cleaner’ spring to mind along with notions, undoubtedly inspired by the aforementioned movies, that black holes have something vaguely to do with portals to other universes, alien honey pots, or something to make your space-cruiser go faster.

Black holes have been long shrouded in mystery due in no small part to their physics-bending properties.

For an example of some of the misconceptions that surround black holes, you need only look as far as the activation of the Large Hadron Collider, billed by some tabloids as heralding the end of days. “Are we all going to die next Wednesday?” asked the Daily Mail, followed by a blow-by-blow account of how planet Earth could be sucked into a micro black hole, much like the house at the end of Poltergeist.

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Speaking two languages can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease

A brain scan image with sections picked out in red and yellow and others in turquoise and dark blue

Alzheimer's could be staved off by learning another language

The benefits of being bilingual can extend beyond being able to locate the toilets when holidaying abroad.

A team of researchers have found that a lifelong use of two or more languages can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Their study focussed on patients diagnosed with probable Alzheimer’s.

The age the symptoms of the degenerative brain disease presented, along with patients’ educational and language histories, was recorded by the researchers. Of the 211 patients, 109 were classified as monolingual, and 102 as fluent in two or more languages.

The study found that bilingual patients first reported symptoms of the disease around five years later than monolingual patients.

This work provides additional evidence to past research that suggests bilingualism can help slow symptoms of Alzheimer’s as well as other forms of dementia.

“All the patients in the study had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so clearly bilingualism does not prevent the onset of dementia,” said study co-author Ellen Bialystok, research professor of psychology in York’s Faculty of Health, Canada.

“Instead, our results show that people who have been lifelong bilinguals have built up a cognitive reserve that allows them to cope with the disease for a longer period of time before showing symptoms” she continued.

Characterised by memory loss and confusion, Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, usually affecting people over the age of 65.

The cause of the disease is still not known, but research has linked it with brain protein deposits known as beta-amyloid plaques and twisted protein fibres – neurofibrillary tangles – inside the brain.

A study by the Alzheimer’s Society, published in 2007, predicted that the number of people suffering from the disease in the UK could be over a million by 2025.

“Overall, bilingualism should be seen as an important tool for healthy aging, along with exercise, diet, and other lifestyle choices,” said Professor Bialystok.

“It’s also another reason to encourage people in multicultural societies like ours to keep speaking their native tongue and pass it along to their children” she continued.

Picture courtesy of the US National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center

Craik, F., Bialystok, E., & Freedman, M. (2010). Delaying the onset of Alzheimer disease: Bilingualism as a form of cognitive reserve Neurology, 75 (19), 1726-1729 DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3181fc2a1c

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The power of the intangible

Some guy told me a joke the other day…

Apparently a shy Norwegian fisherman was trying to woo the girl of his dreams. He managed to pluck up the courage and secure a date with her, but worried that conversation will quickly dry up, went to a wise elder to get some tips.  The elder fixed him with a glassy stare. “Talk of three things only and the girl will be all yours,“ he said, sagely. “Start with fish, move on to family and end with philosophy.”

The next night the fisherman picked up the girl and they sat in awkward silence all the way to the restaurant.  They took their seat and as they flicked through the menu, the fisherman asked: “So, do you like fish?

The girl looked at him. “No,” she said and went back to flicking through the menu.

Beads of sweat started to form on the fisherman’s brow. He steadied himself and asked: “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“No,” the girl said.

According to the guy, the fisherman blushed and looks down at his menu. His mind was racing; he’s spent months admiring this girl and now he was ruining any chance he had of making her his girlfriend. Seconds passed that felt like hours. Philosophy was his only hope now. He took a deep breath, looked the girl in the eye and asked: “Well if you had a brother, would he like fish?”

I laughed, but there was something about the neatness of the joke that worried me. Thousands of hours of introspection, volumes of dusty tomes all wrapped up in a mildly amusing sentence. This is what whole areas of philosophy could effectively be boiled down to; the inconsequential pondering of intangible things with no real application.

It makes you think; what does it matter if Descartes’ devil robbed us of any real epistemic knowledge, that Satre’s nausea stole our meaning.  Are we brains floating in a vat? Who cares? And why should they?  If we can never know the answer, why should we bother asking the question in the first place? Whole lives and reputations reduced to fruitless intellectual masturbation.- paradigm shifting ideas that change nothing. It’s like realising a horror movie is just pictures on a screen.

But the lack of consequence results in freedom; a liberty of thought and a license to think as you please. The wastelands of philosophy are certainly fertile, and it may just be the case that the process of thought, the questions and the debate are just as important as the answer (or lack thereof). And so, with all this in mind I ask: if you had a brother, would he like fish?

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