O'Really?

July 1, 2016

Dear Europeans, do you know who your MEP is and what they do?

eu-flagAlong with 16 million other people on the 23rd June 2016 I voted to remain in the European Union (EU). I believe the benefits of EU membership exceed the costs. Free trade and free movement have been beneficial to me personally, many of those around me, as well as the wider UK economy [1]. I even married an EU migrant too, so I love Europe in more ways that one. Life outside the EU is very difficult to imagine, professionally, financially, culturally and personally.

So when I woke up to Brexit EuroDoom last Friday, to find I was in a minority outnumbered by 17 million leavers who disagreed, I felt sick. After a gloomy week of miserable soul searching, I realised I didn’t have the foggiest notion who my Member of European Parliament (MEP) was or how they got elected. Although not a student of (or expert in) politics or economics, I don’t believe I am apathetic or unaware. I follow the news, vote in general elections and write letters to my MP. I try to understand what is going on in politics and bend my head around the dismal science of economics. But until this week, I had little or no idea how the European Parliament (EP), let alone the European Commission (EC) or lots of other acronyms starting with E, actually work in practice.

Now if you are also a participant in the failing (?) European project, do YOU know who your MEP is? Any idea what they actually do? The chances are you don’t because Euroignorance is widespread [2]. Fortunately, Professor Google can help us. In Manchester, the MEPs for the North West Region of the UK comprising Cumbria, Lancashire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Cheshire are:

Unfortunately, I’d only heard of two of those MEPs beforehand, and neither of them because of their activity during the EU referendum. Nuttall I’d heard of because the comedian Stewart Lee performed a brilliant satirical piece mocking Nuttall’s views on immigration [3]. Woolfe I’d heard of because his campaign leaflet came through my letterbox during the 2015 general election. How did they get elected as MEPs because I can’t remember seeing their names on a ballot paper?

MEPs are elected using the D’Hondt method [4], a form of proportional representation (PR) used in the European elections in 2014 and elsewhere. As of 2016, the three largest UK parties in the European Parliament are: UKIP (24 MEPs), Labour (20 MEPs) and The Conservatives (19 MEPs). Isn’t it remarkable that so many of these MEPS were neither seen or heard during the almost entirely fact-free® debate [1] preceding the UK EU referendum?

So what is the nature of an MEPs power? Back in 1998, a politician by the name of Tony Benn proposed five democratic questions to understand the powerful:

“If one meets a powerful person–Rupert Murdoch, perhaps, or Joe Stalin or Hitler–one can ask five questions:

  1. what power do you have?
  2. where did you get it?
  3. in whose interests do you exercise it?
  4. to whom are you accountable?
  5. how can we get rid of you?”

According to Benn, anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system. [5] Personally, I’d like to get rid of UKIP from the European parliament. How can I do this? While I can’t vote for individuals, I can vote for political parties. However, turnout in european elections is often embarrassingly low, in the UK a pathetic 35.6% showed up in 2014. Which means two thirds of UK voters were unaware or didn’t care who their MEP was, including me. My bad. You could call this democratic deficit, not one where people can’t vote but one where people are unaware or don’t bother.

Right now, it is really hard to see how any good can come of what is unfolding in Great Britain and Europe. Brexit leaves the sector I work in, and many others, facing huge uncertainty [6,7,8]. Let’s hope one thing will happen, a reformed EU where those in power are more engaged and accountable to the people they claim to represent. Personally, I am not in a position to judge if the European Union has a democratic deficit or not [9,10]. Neither can I judge if the European Union is as anti-democratic as some eurosceptics have suggested [11, 12,13]. But I do know something has gone badly wrong with the EU if many europeans have no idea of who their parliamentary representatives are and how they can exercise their democratic rights to get rid of them using the ballot box.

If you are staying in the European Union you have a duty to find out who your MEP is and ask them the five democratic questions above. You better do it quickly before risking a Frexit, Czechout, Swexit, Departugal, Grexit, Bygium, Italeave or bidding Austria La Vista.

References

  1. Zanny Minton Beddoes (2016) The Brexit Briefs: The 17 things you need to know before Britain’s #EUref—in one handy guide, The Economist
  2. Oana Lungescu (2001) EU Poll reveals huge ignorance, BBC News
  3. Stewart Lee (2014) Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, Series 2: England
  4. Jeremy Vine (2009) D’Hondt Explainer, BBC News
  5. Anon (1998)  House of Commons Debates, Hansard, parliament.uk
  6. Anon (2016) Brexit vote sparks huge uncertainty for UK universities, Times Higher Education
  7. Alison Abbott, Daniel Cressey, Richard Van Noorden (2016) UK scientists in limbo after Brexit shock: Researchers organize to lobby for science as country prepares for life outside the EU Nature, Vol. 534, No. 7609., pp. 597-598, DOI:10.1038/534597a
  8. Anon (2016) Brexit vote highlights lack of leaving plan: Scientists — just like everybody else — have little idea what will happen now that the United Kingdom has voted to exit the European Union. Nature, Vol. 534, No. 7609., pp. 589-589, DOI:10.1038/534589a
  9. Andrew Moravcsik (2008) The Myth of Europe’s “Democratic Deficit” Intereconomics, Volume 43, Issue 6, pp 316–340 DOI:10.1007/s10272-008-0266-7
  10. Michael Dougan (2016) The UK’s position following vote to leave the EU, University of Liverpool, School of Law and Social Justice
  11. Tony Benn (2013) Tony Benn speaks at the Oxford Union on Euroscepticism, The Oxford Union.
  12. Martin Durkin (2016) Brexit: The Movie (warning: contains Nigel Farage and dubious opinions europhiles will find offensive, factual content is highly questionable in places)
  13. Tony Benn (1975) Letter from Tony Benn to his constituents about the UK European referendum of 1975, The Spectator, Coffee House

* Disclaimer, like I’ve already said, my grasp of politics and economics is pretty basic. I have made every reasonable effort to get the facts right but correct any mistakes I might have made below. These are personal views, which do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

June 23, 2009

Impact Factor Boxing 2009

Fight Night Punch Test by djclear904[This post is part of an ongoing series about impact factors]

The latest results from the annual impact factor boxing world championship contest are out. This is a combat sport where scientific journals are scored according to their supposed influence and impact in Science. This years competition rankings include the first-ever update to the newly introduced Five Year Impact Factor and Eigenfactor™ Metrics [1,2] in Journal Citation Reports (JCR) on the Web (see www.isiknowledge.com/JCR warning: clunky website requires subscription*), presumably in response to widespread criticism of impact factors. The Eigenfactor™ seems to correlate quite closely with the impact factor scores, both of which work at the level of the journal, although they use different methods for measuring a given journals impact. However, what many authors are often more interested in is the impact of an individual article, not the journal where it was published. So it would be interesting to see how the figures below tally with Google Scholar, see also comments by Abhishek Tiwari. I’ve included a table below of bioinformatics impact factors, updated for June 2009. Of course, when I say 2009 (today), I mean 2008 (these are the latest figures available based on data from 2007) – so this shiny new information published this week is already out of date [3] and flawed [4,5] but here is a selection of the data anyway: [update: see figures published in June 2010.]

Journal Title 2008 data from isiknowledge.com/JCR Eigenfactor™ Metrics
Total Cites Impact Factor 5-Year Impact Factor Immediacy Index Articles Cited Half-life Eigenfactor™ Score Article Influence™ Score
BMC Bionformatics 8141 3.781 4.246 0.664 607 2.8 0.06649 1.730
OUP Bioinformatics 30344 4.328 6.481 0.566 643 4.8 0.18204 2.593
Briefings in Bioinformatics 2908 4.627 1.273 44 4.5 0.02188
PLoS Computational Biology 2730 5.895 6.144 0.826 253 2.1 0.03063 3.370
Genome Biology 9875 6.153 7.812 0.961 229 4.4 0.07930 3.858
Nucleic Acids Research 86787 6.878 6.968 1.635 1070 6.5 0.37108 2.963
PNAS 416018 9.380 10.228 1.635 3508 7.4 1.69893 4.847
Science 409290 28.103 30.268 6.261 862 8.4 1.58344 16.283
Nature 443967 31.434 31.210 8.194 899 8.5 1.76407 17.278

The internet is radically changing the way we communicate and this includes scientific publishing, as media mogul Rupert Murdoch once pointed out big will not beat small any more – it will be the fast beating the slow.  An interesting question for publishers and scientists is, how can the Web help the faster flyweight and featherweight boxers (smaller journals) compete and punch-above-their-weight with the reigning world champion heavyweights (Nature, Science and PNAS)? Will the heavyweight publishers always have the killer knockout punches? If you’ve got access to the internet, then you already have a ringside seat from which to watch all the action. This fight should be entertaining viewing and there is an awful lot of money riding on the outcome [6-11].

Seconds away, round two…

References

  1. Fersht, A. (2009). The most influential journals: Impact Factor and Eigenfactor Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (17), 6883-6884 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0903307106
  2. Bergstrom, C., & West, J. (2008). Assessing citations with the Eigenfactor Metrics Neurology, 71 (23), 1850-1851 DOI: 10.1212/01.wnl.0000338904.37585.66
  3. Cockerill, M. (2004). Delayed impact: ISI’s citation tracking choices are keeping scientists in the dark. BMC Bioinformatics, 5 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1471-2105-5-93
  4. Allen, L., Jones, C., Dolby, K., Lynn, D., & Walport, M. (2009). Looking for Landmarks: The Role of Expert Review and Bibliometric Analysis in Evaluating Scientific Publication Outputs PLoS ONE, 4 (6) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005910
  5. Grant, R.P. (2009) On article-level metrics and other animals Nature Network
  6. Corbyn, Z. (2009) Do academic journals pose a threat to the advancement of Science? Times Higher Education
  7. Fenner, M. (2009) PLoS ONE: Interview with Peter Binfield Gobbledygook blog at Nature Network
  8. Hoyt, J. (2009) Who is killing science on the Web? Publishers or Scientists? Mendeley Blog
  9. Hull, D. (2009) Escape from the Impact Factor: The Great Escape? O’Really? blog
  10. Murray-Rust, P. (2009) THE article: Do academic journals pose a threat to the advancement of science? Peter Murray-Rust’s blog: A Scientist and the Web
  11. Wu, S. (2009) The evolution of Scientific Impact shirleywho.wordpress.com

* This important data should be freely available (e.g. no subscription), since crucial decisions about the allocation of public money depend on it, but that’s another story.

[More commentary on this post over at friendfeed. CC-licensed Fight Night Punch Test by djclear904]

February 11, 2009

Janet Street-Porter on the Internet Revolution

Janet Street-PortableI’m not much of a fan of Janet Street-Porter, neither am I a regular viewer of the BBC Money programme but right now they are screening an interesting series of three half-hour programmes on the impact of the internet on newspapers, books and television. It’s a familiar tale of the power-and-money struggle between old media and new media that, if the first programme is anything to go by, is worth watching. Here is the blurb from the first episode in the series, billed as Media Revolution: Stop Press?

Former national newspaper editor Janet Street-Porter investigates how papers are coping with falling circulation, advertising revenues and the growth of the internet, and asks if newspapers can survive in their current form. In her quest to discover what the future holds for her beloved newspapers, Janet visits newsrooms, printing plants and even spends a morning as a papergirl. With contributions from national editors, advertising gurus and a rare interview with media mogul Rupert Murdoch, Janet examines if papers can survive as new multimedia information giants.

There are some interesting parallels between the changes described in this programme, and scientific media, especially the scientific journal publishing racket.

Scientific Media Revolution?

The story of the current revolution in scientific and technical publishing is perhaps just as interesting (and more important) than the one being told on the money programme. Just think of it, why scientists publish, the emergence of peer review, how Robert Maxwell made his fortune from the Pergamon Press, the impact factor game, the birth of the Web (in a scientific laboratory), the growth of Google, the copyright wars, open-access publishing, social software, the rise and fall of publishing empires (and technology companies), the vanity journals, scientific blogs and wikis, software showdowns, how all this change affects producers and consumers of science and technology, both now and in the future. A juicy subject, worthy of broadcasting on any media (old or new). You would need a lot more than three half-hour programmes to cover this particular ongoing epic, so who is going to tell that story?

Anyway, the series is worth a look (if you haven’t already seen it) at least according to me  (others disagree see also no paper is the future). It is also available on iPlayer for up to a week after first broadcast – Thursday 5th, 12th and 19th February 2008 – for each episode in the UK only, unless you go through some kind of proxy.

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