Saltsjöbaden Train / House Crash

Damn, I must have ridden those very train carriages thousands of times! The crash happened just four stops up the commuter train line from where I live. My wife and I went there this morning with our camera. Details here.

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Update 21 January: On the basis of first reports and information from a former railway employee, I thought this was an ostentatious suicide attempt. Now there are indications that it was a horrific accident caused by the unsanctioned habits of train drivers. Apparently they routinely jury-rig the safety apparatus for convenience, and in cold weather, to keep the brakes from freezing stuck. This works fine as long as only trained drivers come near the controls. But the cleaning ladies don’t receive any driver’s training, and they too have to enter the cramped cockpit.

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Scam OA Journals: Who’s Fooling Whom?

Two years ago I was dismayed to find that a pair of crank authors had managed to slip a pseudo-archaeological paper into a respected geography journal. Last spring they seemed to have pulled off the same trick again, this time with an astronomy journal. Pseudoscience is after all a smelly next-door neighbour of interdisciplinary science.* When I realised that the second paper was in a bogus Open Access journal, I drew the conclusion that the authors had fallen for a scam, paying the OA fee to get published in a journal whose academic standing they had severely misjudged. That’s still my belief. The authors were fooled.

But check out this paper in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health put out by the dodgy OA publishers Hindawi that I wrote about the other day: “Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth’s Surface Electrons“. Here a quintet of purveyors of pseudoscientific health-care gear have paid the OA fee to get an appallingly bad in-house study into the journal. I’m pretty sure they know exactly how little academic credibility the JEPH has. Instead, they are likely banking on the inability of their customers to judge that credibility. The authors are buying a veneer of scientific solidity for their products. And their alt-med customers are fooled.

In the long run, of course, this will return to bite scam OA publishers in the butt. They can make some money selling column space in their journals to cranks and scammers as detailed above, but sooner or later this will impact their reputation. Science and Antiquity have a very good reputation thanks to their long record of publishing good research. When a new OA journal is started, it has a nul reputation or a somewhat positive one if its title is similar to that of a respected journal. But with time, such a journal will acquire a negative reputation because of the crap it publishes, and people will get wise to it. And then, Dear Reader, once the revenue stream has shrunk far enough, you can be pretty sure that the OA back issues of that journal will mysteriously drop off-line.

Harriet Hall the SkepDoc drew my attention to the JEPH paper in her column in Skeptic Magazine 17:4.

* Pseudoscience tends to get into academic publication venues in situations where it’s hard for the editors and peer reviewers to evaluate it. This is particularly common with interdisciplinary science, where as an archaeological editor I may find it hard to tell if e.g. linguistic content is solid or not. Also, it is extremely common outside of academic venues for amateur scholars to range freely and fearlessly across disciplinary boundaries, as seen e.g. in Thor Heyerdahl’s onomastic speculations. (“The Vanir came from Lake Van in Turkey.”) Good interdisciplinary science is when people from different disciplines collaborate, not when specialists in one discipline naïvely try their hands at another.

Nice Try, Science Publishing Group

Science Publishing Group is another scam Open Access journal publisher or academic vanity press. Yesterday they sent me a form-letter invitation to submit papers or become member of an unspecified editorial board or become a peer reviewer. “Join us!” But they don’t even publish an archaeology journal. The closest they get to one is a godforsaken excuse for a journal named Social Sciences. It allegedly caters to everything from law to anthropology.

The best part is that they sent the letter to my Academy address. The one I use when editing Fornvännen, a rock-solid paper and OA archaeology journal with 106 years of back issues. Sorry guys, you picked the wrong dude.

Update same evening: The editorial board of Social Sciences has twelve members and apparently no Editor-in-Chief. Only one of the twelve has filled out his CV page on the site, making him the best candidate if you would like to contact the journal. He is a professor of nanotechnology in Cheboksary. The journal’s web site however gives his specialities as “Knowledge Discovery in Database, Data Mining and its using for scientific and applied research, Social Science and Social Management, Family relations and Educational Management”. Awesome.

Subway Tweaker Woman

Riding the subway back into town today after a morning of looking at sites with an old course mate, I became aware of a loud woman a few seats away who would not sit still. Skinny, early middle age, simple clothes. At first I thought she was talking on her cell phone, but then I realised that she was talking to nobody in particular, keeping up a continuous monologue. What little I could make out was about DJs and clubs and 1990s pop stars. She was wearing a scruffy blonde wig, staring into space, her wide brown eyes quite beautiful in her lean face. At one point I thought she was trying to get my attention because she was leaning into the aisle and facing me, but when I made a little salute and said hello she paid no attention to me, just continued talking, looking quizzical, staring through me. And the constant movement – turning left, turning right, standing up, waving her arms, switching seats, doffing the wig, sitting down, donning the wig – and talking, talking. The people closest to her were fiercely ignoring her, just ducking a little when she flailed her arms. I believe she must have been tweaking on amphetamine. And I believe most Stockholm people my age will know who she was – a certain 1990s pop star. I wasn’t sure until I got home and googled for recent pictures of her.

See also Notice Board Screed and Singer And Jowly Do Drugs On The Commuter Train.

I Got A Uni Job

My professional goal since undergraduate days 20 years ago has been to divide my working hours between indoor research, fieldwork and teaching. And so I applied for my first academic job in June of 2003, shortly before my thesis defence. When I saw the list of applicants (this stuff is public in Sweden) and checked everybody in the bibliographical database, I was optimistic. I had way, way more publications per year after age 25 than anybody else! But the job went to a guy who was twelve years older than me. What counted wasn’t your output rate but your output sum: the thickness of your stack of published work, and your teaching experience. And later I realised that you also have to be between 41 and 45.

But I kept on applying endlessly all around northern Europe, all the while building my research portfolio and teaching a little here and there. After five years uni rules closed all opportunities reserved for junior scholars to me. (Though the people who get those jobs in Swedish archaeology aren’t actually junior. They’re middle-aged yet have recently finished their PhDs.) After seven years I began to get shortlisted for lectureships, though I didn’t get the jobs. And now, nine years and a few weeks after the deadline of that first job I applied for, I have been given my first uni job! Temping, but still!

During the autumn term, I’m going to teach Swedish landscape archaeology / history in English to exchange students at the Linnaeus University’s Växjö campus. To begin with, it’s ~100 paid hours. So my first uni job is less than three weeks long if recalculated into full time. But that’s an important start. Because teaching qualifications snowball: you get teaching jobs in relation to how many hours you’ve already taught. This job will more than double my uni teaching experience. And I suddenly realise something that seems very obvious.

An important reason that I haven’t gotten uni jobs before is probably that I haven’t paid much active attention to my teaching portfolio. I’ve concentrated on research and writing. Teaching certainly doesn’t bother me: students tell me I’m good at it. But I belong to a generation of Stockholm archaeology PhDs who never taught during grad school because the department didn’t have any external funds to let the permanent staff off from teaching duty. So we never picked up the kernel of that teaching snow ball.

Now it seems so clear to me. I should have been pestering academic personnel officers around Scandinavia informally on a monthly basis for brief temp teacher jobs like the one I just got. I should have started in 2003. I never really did that. Because I knew the way to the steady jobs I wanted lay in publications. I’ve pretty much seen temp teaching as a way for scholars to support themselves while treading water academically, one that I don’t need since I have research grants. And sure, a good publication record is a necessary requisite. But I believe, Dear Reader, that I will have reason to write more about how the snow ball of my teaching qualifications is doing in the future.

Swedish Humanities Graduates Face Dim Financial Prospects

I read a recent report from the Swedish Institute of Futures Studies titled Humanisterna och framtidssamhället, “Humanities Scholars and Society in the Future” (freely available as a PDF). I found some but not too much of the usual unrealistic sloganeering about how useful the humanities are to society, and a lot of pretty sobering statistics. In the following note that the typical basic degree in Sweden is the MA. I translate:

“… among those with a basic degree as highest qualification, humanities graduates clearly have the lowest annual incomes in 2008 … Humanities graduates with basic degrees have seen a markedly worse salary development than any other group with basic degrees between 1989 and 2008. … Among PhDs as well the humanities graduates have lower annual incomes than any other specialisation … humanities PhDs have worse annual incomes than business majors, physicians, engineers, dentists and lawyers with basic degrees. … relatively fewer humanities PhDs have very low salaries than other PhDs.” pp. 52-56

“We have compared humanities PhDs with basic-degree humanities graduates … we find that a PhD does lead to a higher annual income as expected, but the difference is less than 4%.” p. 56

“… annual income of PhDs in various subjects … the most notable change is that the annual incomes of social scientists, which were previously [1989] on about the same level as for the humanities, now [2008] have risen visibly. … This is another indication that humanities graduates have lagged behind in their incomes.” p. 57

So the good news is that if you do a PhD in the humanities, then chances are you will not become one of the country’s absolutely worst-paid PhDs. But then, nor will you be able to compete with the income of a generic MBA suit.

Nigerian T-Shirt Scam?

The t-shirt deal is starting to look like a Nigerian scam. The original offer was that I would get some free printed t-shirts from Ooshirts.com if I advertised about their site. Now have a load of this:

Do you have an American credit card? … I know that you’re getting the sponsorship amount off your order, but our site automatically charges every customer one cent as a security measure no matter what their total. Even my boss has to do this when ordering with the company card. I should have mentioned this earlier but did not think of it at the time. It’s a feature that some people find extremely off putting but others don’t mind. Do you mind?

A Nigerian scam (or advance-fee fraud) of course typically takes the form of an offer out of the blue for something valuable, like a million dollars (or a bunch of free tee shirts), with the condition that you need to give up something less valuable first, like $10 000 (or your credit card number). And Ooshirts aren’t willing to go through with the sponsorship deal unless they get my credit card number and one cent. The company has received decidedly mixed on-line reviews, and the positive ones tend to be pasted boilerplate text. So I ain’t going there unless Ooshirts clean up their act and take a straightforward approach to sponsorship.

Anyway, we have an excellent design for Aard merch now. I know about CafePress.com. Dear Reader, are there other on-line merch shops I should consider? Most of you guys are in the the continental US, so that would be a good place to ship the shirts from.

Ship Spotting

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Last Wednesday this brig came past my mom’s summer house off Bullandö in the Stockholm archipelago. It’s the Eye of the Wind, built in 1911 at Brake in Lower Saxony and originally christened Friedrich. It’s featured in the 1980 movie The Blue Lagoon.

Did you know that there’s actually a ship spotting web site?

Littering

Littering really annoys me, indoors, in the streets, in parks – and particularly in woods and wilderness. My whole family often collects bagfuls of garbage on walks or visits to the lake. I can’t understand the mind of a person who drops an ice cream wrapper on a forest trail, particularly one that they walk themselves all the time. To me, its like crapping on your own couch.

But thinking dispassionately about it, I realise that most litter is an aesthetic problem and not an ecological one. It isn’t toxic. Few pieces of litter hurt wildlife in any mechanical way. Most of it quickly degrades or gets grown over or ends up in lake-bottom sediment. I think the reason I hate littering is that it produces clutter and it mars natural vistas. Both of these aesthetic ideals are typical for the Swedish middle class to which I belong. Also, there’s the fact that the litter is largely eye-catching printed packaging that I feel is particularly “wrong” in a natural setting. I wouldn’t mind as much if the litter consisted of apple cores, potsherds, bones and knapped quartz.

Aesthetics are a matter of taste. I rarely see people do the littering. But judging from the folks that I meet around my housing area, the woods and the lake, my guess is that the litterers around here are mainly working-class and/or recent immigrants. The reason that they litter with such abandon is in all likelihood that they don’t share the aesthetic ideals of the Swedish middle class. Litter doesn’t bother them. They don’t share my taste in interior decoration either. And it’s their woods too.

Swedish Parliament recently passed a new anti-littering law that allows the police to hand out fines on the spot to litterers. Excellent for me and my peeps who are more likely to pick up others’ litter than ever to drop any. But I feel a little uneasy about the law. If the working-class recent-immigrant youth who drop beer cans around my area really had a voice in Parliament, that legislation would never have been passed. Littering laws encourage everybody to become more like the middle class, to which almost every single member of parliament belongs.

So I try not to think about those litterers in terms of ignorant moronic trash.

One Stupid Geocacher

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Geocaching is a GPS-aided combination of hide the Easter egg and orienteering for internet nerds. I have logged >700 caches since 2005 and had lots of fun.

Borås Tidning now reports about a not terribly thoughtful geocacher. He had placed a cache in a space locked with a combination lock. Part of the puzzle was to figure out the combination. So far so good.

But.

The locked space was a sealed 650-meter utility tunnel excavated through bedrock for a sewage line at a depth of up to 10 meters below ground surface. And the sewage tends to leak hydrogen sulfide, which makes the tunnel a potentially lethal place to be unless you’re carrying a scuba-diving tank. And before locking the hatch to the tunnel with his combination lock, this geocacher removed a conventional padlock whose key was held by Mark municipality.

Don’t try this at home, kids.

Update same evening: The kids who placed the cache have spoken to the newspaper, claiming that a) they found the hatch rusty and unlocked, and b) there was no sign suggesting that the tunnel was dangerous. Municipality staff do not challenge these statements, but contend that the kids should have understood that they were not allowed to enter the tunnel. As far as I can tell, there is no solid evidence for how dangerous the atmosphere in the tunnel really is.

Thanks to Niklas Krantz for the tip-off.