Monday, August 29, 2016

Something that just might exist:alien signal from HD164595

...there is considerable excitement about a new signal observed by a facility in Russia.

According to Paul Glister, author of the Centauri Dreams website, the Italian astronomer Claudio Maccone and other astronomers affiliated with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence have detected "a strong signal in the direction of HD164595." HD 164595 is a star of 0.99 solar masses about 95 light years from Earth, with an estimated age of 6.3 billion years. The system is known to have at least one planet, HD 164595 b, which is similar in size to Neptune and orbits its star in 40 days. Other planets may exist in the system as well.
The observation was made with the RATAN-600 radio telescope in Zelenchukskaya, in southern Russia, Glister reports. He cautioned that the evidence is very preliminary:
Ars contacted Nick Suntzeff, a Texas A&M University astronomer, for insight into what this signal at 11Ghz might be if it were not of alien origin. "If this were a real astronomical source, it would be rather strange," Suntzeff told Ars. Although there are mysterious, high-energy astrophysical phenomenon called “fast radio bursts” that are seen at a few gigahertz, they last only 10 milliseconds or so (this event lasted longer). Unfortunately, he said, there is no information given about the strength of the signal as a function of frequency.
Suntzeff added that he would not be surprised if the signal was due to a terrestrial origin, because at 11Ghz it occurred in a part of the radio spectrum used by the military. "God knows who or what broadcasts at 11Ghz, and it would not be out of the question that some sort of bursting communication is done between ground stations and satellites," he said. "I would follow it if I were the astronomers, but I would also not hype the fact that it may be at SETI signal given the significant chance it could be something military."
So it is likely terrestrial military. But it is fun to imagine that it is not.

Fake Academic Publishing: FTC vs.OMICS edition

Here's a welcome development on the fake academic publishing front:
The Federal Trade Commission on Friday filed a complaint against the academic journal publisher OMICS Group and two of its subsidiaries, saying the publisher deceives scholars and misrepresents the editorial rigor of its journals.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, marks the first time the FTC has gone after what are often known as “predatory” publishers. Such publishers exploit open-access publishing as a way to charge steep fees to researchers who believe their work will be printed in legitimate journals, when in fact the journals may publish anyone who pays and lack even a basic peer-review process.
OMICS’ business practices have been scrutinized for years. The company, based in Hyderabad, India, publishers more than 700 open-access journals, and has created a number of imprints -- including iMedPub, also named in the complaint -- to expand its presence in the scholarly publishing market. Several of OMICS’ journals have names similar to other, legitimate journals, which critics say is an attempt to confuse scholars.
“If anything is predatory, it’s that publisher,” said Jeffrey Beall, scholarly communications librarian at the University of Colorado at Denver. “It’s the worst of the worst.”
Beall is known for his lists of thousands of “predatory” journals and publishers, and he has for several years written about OMICS and other publishers on his blog. Last month, for example, he published a handful of emails sent to him by researchers caught by surprise by four-digit publication fees or struggling to withdraw their papers from OMICS journals.
There are fake conferences too:
The complaint extends to OMICS’ event business, managed through the subsidiary Conference Series. According to the complaint, OMICS regularly advertises conferences featuring academic experts who were never scheduled to appear in order to attract registrants.
What would the end result be?
The FTC is seeking both monetary relief for researchers that have published with OMICS and to prevent the publisher from further violations of the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914.
Given that OMICS is centered in India, and many of the scammed authors are not based in the US, I don't know how the monetary relief, if granted, would be enforced. But it is a start, (if only that):
Even if the FTC is successful in its case against OMICS, the commission will only make a dent in the world of “predatory” publishing. One study by researchers at Finland’s Hanken School of Economics found that such publishers flooded the scholarly communications landscape with more than 420,000 articles in 2014, about eight times as many as in 2010.
The FTC does not intend to file thousands of complaints -- nor does it have the resources to do so -- but Rusu said taking action against OMICS represents the commission announcing its interest in a new field. Typically, the FTC will do so by strategically targeting “some of the most recognized and also some of the worst actors” in that space, she said.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Third finger, left hand

When I first read about this, I thought it was stupid, and Schuman nails just how stupid this is:
Last week, executive recruiter Bruce Hurwitz dropped in from 1973 to offer some real talk to the networkers of LinkedIn: If you’re a woman interviewing for a job, “Lose the rock!” You heard the man, gals: If you’re engaged to be married, and have chosen to symbolize that agreement via a chunk of compressed carbon, for the love of all that is holy, pry that Taylor-Burton off your finger before you walk in the door! Why? Well, “When a man sees that ring he immediately assumes you are high maintenance,” Hurwitz explains. Because obviously all men in important hiring positions are heterosexuals with shrew wives at home whose $19,000-a-month Oxy-and-Botox habit hoovers away their bonuses, amirite?
(btw, when I was on the market, I was worried about being 'dressed for success' and in particular obsessed over the bone-crunchingly painful shoes Molloy recommended. I should have been more concerned about explaining Kant's schematism. Note to this year's job applicants: dress comfortably.I hope to see some of you on Skype in January.)
 Schuman continues:
The reasons female academics are routinely advised to remove engagement and wedding rings for interviews are, of course, totally sexist. If committee members see a ring on a woman’s finger, they will surely fret—as they finalize the pages from Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble on their syllabus—that she’s going to try to finagle an expensive spousal hire for her husband. Wives of male academics, on the other hand, are never assumed to need a career as a condition of relocation, or they’re assumed to be content with courtesy title and a few shitty adjunct courses per year. (A man, on the other hand, would of course be far too emasculated, if everyone in the department knew him as “the spousal hire” adjunct. Not even worth considering!)
Ach, worse, the committee members will worry—as they donate another $25 to the historic Clinton presidential campaign—does this young lady think she’s going to pop out a litter and take fifty maternity leaves as soon as she gets a steady job, and throw her tenure case down the drain? Of course, with (cisgendered, hetero) male applicants this isn’t an issue. For, lo, there is no marriage or baby “penalty” for them—indeed, a family is a career booster for them—so search committees rarely worry that a man’s family will impede his productivity.
And no, I’m not talking about some high-pressure STEM field where people are in a race against time to invent a sentient robot that has more empathy than the current, prevailing sentient robot. I understand that the pressure on scientists of all genders to “be in the lab Sunday or don’t show up Monday” is real. What makes me so pissed is that this utterly irrelevant sexism happens in the humanities and lab-free social sciences, a.k.a. literally the family-friendliest workplaces the world has ever known.
Be prepared, job questers. I have no advice about the rings, but I do advise: wear comfortable clothing, and then stress over something more interesting. And for those academic bloggers who have in the past dissed Schuman for no discernible reason (I'm looking at you, Brian)---try wearing comfortable shoes. You'll think better.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Grad students are employees, NLRB rules

This is big, and I think, good news.
The National Labor Relations Board ruled Tuesday that graduate students who work as teaching and research assistants at private universities are school employees, clearing the way for them to join or form unions that administrators must recognize.
The 3-to-1 decision overturns a 2004 Brown University ruling in which the board said grad students engaging in collective bargaining would undermine the nature and purpose of graduate education. Many doctoral programs require students to teach or conduct research before earning their degrees, and as a result, universities argue that they have an educational, not economic, relationship with those students.
Teaching and research assistants at Columbia University and the New School in New York reignited the fight two years ago by filing separate petitions with the board to join the United Auto Workers. Though a regional labor board director rejected their bids last fall, the full board picked up the case, inviting students, unions and universities to submit briefs.
Stanford University, the Massachusetts of Institute of Technology and the entire Ivy League submitted a brief arguing that involving students in the bargaining process would disrupt operations if negotiations included the length of a class, amount of grading or what’s included in curriculum. Bringing more people to the table, they said, could lead to lengthy and expensive bargaining, potentially to the detriment of all students.
“If a union is allowed to bargain about what teaching and research assistants do, that would in effect be interfering with the educational requirement of many of these schools,” said Joseph Ambash, a Boston attorney who filed the brief on behalf of the schools and represented Brown in 2004. “That would have a dramatic impact on higher education.”
Yes, and a good one. The universities will be forced to confront the fact that they under-pay graduate students to teach high paying undergraduates, and to keep their business model functioning, they have to admit more graduate students than there are positions available for PhD's, swamping the market with anxious job seekers willing, indeed desperate, for adjunct teaching jobs paying pennies on the dollar compared to the earnings of the permanent professoriate.
Graduate students contend that they essentially are employees and should be afforded the same rights. Though they receive scholarships, stipends and health insurance, many say the coverage is limited and the pay is not enough for them to support themselves or their families. The median pay for a graduate teaching assistant is about $30,800 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but wages vary widely by university and field of study.
Also remember that these are students, who are also taking courses, writing papers, doing research, studying for comprehensive exams, writing their dissertations, while they are teaching 2, 3 or more courses a semester.

The system is broken, and it is injuring graduate students and underpaid PhD's in the adjunct market. It is time to change it. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

WIPP woes

The kitty litter caused explosion at the federal nuclear disposal facility in New Mexico (WIPP) may turn out to be the most expensive nuclear accident in US history:
When a drum containing radioactive waste blew up in an underground nuclear dump in New Mexico two years ago, the Energy Department rushed to quell concerns in the Carlsbad desert community and quickly reported progress on resuming operations.
The early federal statements gave no hint that the blast had caused massive long-term damage to the dump, a facility crucial to the nuclear weapons cleanup program that spans the nation, or that it would jeopardize the Energy Department’s credibility in dealing with the tricky problem of radioactive waste.
But the explosion ranks among the costliest nuclear accidents in U.S. history, according to a Times analysis. The long-term  cost of the mishap could top $2 billion, an amount roughly in the range of the cleanup after the 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania.
The Feb. 14, 2014, accident is also complicating cleanup programs at about a dozen current and former nuclear weapons sites across the U.S. Thousands of tons of radioactive waste that were headed for the dump are backed up in Idaho, Washington, New Mexico and elsewhere, state officials said in interviews.
Washington state officials were recently forced to accept delays in moving the equivalent of 24,000 drums of nuclear waste from Hanford site to the New Mexico dump. The deal has further antagonized the relationship between the state and federal regulators.
The dump, officially known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, was designed to place waste from nuclear weapons production since World War II into ancient salt beds, which engineers say will collapse around the waste and permanently seal it. The equivalent of 277,000 drums of radioactive waste is headed to the dump, according to federal documents.
The dump was dug much like a conventional mine, with vertical shafts and a maze of horizontal drifts. It had operated problem-free for 15 years and was touted by the Energy Department as a major success until the explosion, which involved a drum of of plutonium and americium waste that had been packaged at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The problem was traced to material — actual kitty litter — used to blot up liquids in sealed drums. Lab officials had decided to substitute an organic material for a mineral one. But the new material caused a complex chemical reaction that blew the lid off a drum, sending mounds of white, radioactive foam into the air and contaminating 35% of the underground area.
Clean-up and off site storage of incoming waste has proven expensive, and the site will now have residual radiation. But it looks like it will reopen, after clean-up and repairs.
Giving up on the New Mexico dump would have huge environmental, legal and political ramifications. This year the Energy Department decided to dilute 6 metric tons of surplus plutonium in South Carolina and send it to the dump, potentially setting a precedent for disposing of bomb-grade materials. The U.S. has agreements with Russia on mutual reductions of plutonium.
The decision means operations at the dump must resume, said Edwin Lyman, a physicist and nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“They have no choice,” he said. “No matter what it costs.”

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Trump fundraising totals: bullshit edition

Knew it (ok, technically I didn't 'know' this, unless you hold that true belief is sufficient for knowledge, so 'guessed' it or 'called it' may be more accurate, but whatever) : Trump's gloating over raising 80 million in July is bullshit. The Trump campaign was forced by law to submit a more accurate report yesterday, and Politico reports:
Though the campaign touted an $80 million figure for its July fundraising, just $36.7 million of that total went directly to the campaign. The rest came in through joint fundraising vehicles with the Republican National Committee and state parties. But at least $9.5 million of that money is off limits for spending on the election because it's designated for the RNC's convention, headquarters and legal accounts. Plus, the RNC is considering spending its money down-ballot instead of supporting Trump as tensions boil over between the party's apparatus and its defiant nominee.
The money that the Trump campaign raised also didn't come cheap. The campaign more than doubled its spending from the previous month to $18.5 million in July, far more than in any other period of the campaign. But most of that money went toward expanding the campaign's online fundraising operation.
A full 45 percent, or $8.4 million, went to Giles-Parscale, the San Antonio-based digital marketing firm that has done Trump's online advertising. (The company had never worked for a campaign before 2016.) The campaign also paid $100,000 to the Prosper Group for fundraising consulting.

Friday, August 19, 2016

External reality: nooscope edition

Vlad Putin's Rasputin bff (other than Trump) and new chief of staff, Anton Vaino, is someone who has come up with a new way of coming to grips with the complexity of contemporary phenomena:
Mr Vaino argues that the economy and society in general have become too complex to manage by traditional means. Governments need to seek new ways of regulating and controlling them.
The article describes a new device called a "nooscope" which, it says, can tap into global consciousness and "detect and register changes in the biosphere and in human activity".
The "nooscope" bewildered many in Russia this week. Does the device really exist, they asked. What does it actually do? Is Mr Vaino really serious?
BBC Russian tracked down Viktor Sarayev, an award-winning economist and businessman who has co-authored a number of articles with Mr Vaino.
He described the nooscope as "a device that scans transactions between people, things and money", and claimed it was an invention of parallel significance to the telescope and the microscope.
But he was less forthcoming about whether it actually existed, or was still under development.
Uh, no, and nope.
In expounding his theories about the "nooscope" Anton Vaino seems to be echoing these more high-profile Kremlin colleagues.
There is no way to prove that the world "exists in reality and not in our imagination", he writes in the Economics and Law article, explaining why the nooscope is needed to interpret and manage world events.
Actually, here's at least one proof.

As for the nooscope, it should be consigned to the noosphere.

More spam from fake academic publisher: IOSR edition

IOSR, the fake academic publisher, spammed me again.
This is a pretty underhanded operation. Four years after Beall pointed out that it used the logos of other operations on its website to (falsely) imply sponsorship, it continues to do so.