Posts Tagged ‘media’

I demand DOI’s!

Sep 6th, 2007

DOI stands for Digital Object Identifier, and in short is a permanent ‘address’ (like a URL) which will always point at a particular document. In particular DOI’s are used to make it easy to find academic papers, and saves one having to find the journal’s webpage, navigate to its archives, pick up the volume in question, and finally find the paper. More importantly unlike a URL you know that the DOI won’t change, and will still work when the journal decide to re-organise their system. For example, the DOI of Crick ans Watson’s DNA paper is doi:10.1038/171737a0.

As a scientist I have become used to reading heavily referenced papers and reviews. If someone says something they back it up, either by demonstrating it themselves, or otherwise pointing out where someone else has shown this. This will usually result in a huge list of references which, especially in review articles, can stretch on for an entire page or more. Typically a reference will provide the authors’ names, the year, the title of the paper (occasionally), the journal the paper appeared in (usually abbreviated), the volume, the issue (occasionally) and the page number. The DOI is also appearing in the bibliography with increasing regularity, and it certainly makes tracking down references much easier. But my issue isn’t with the academic journals so much as the newspapers.

Mainstream media coverage of science stories is often shockingly inaccurate and simplified to the point of inaccuracy. While a certain amount of this is understandable, your average science paper being outside the ken of most folks (and in some fields most scientists), it does leave me itching for more details. And here is the biggest problem… newspapers don’t reference. If you’re lucky you may get the journal, and then its a matter of clicking back through the past couple of issues, matching titles and abstracts with the story in the paper. However in many cases even this information is skipped, leaving me in the dark. (Of course, on some occasions the story in the paper reflects an as yet unpublished paper. Shockingly in some cases they haven’t even passed through peer review.)

Now I understand that in your average newspaper space is at a premium, they don’t want to spend column inches devoted to meticulously citing the paper they are reporting (Although frankly there is no excuse on the web). However a DOI is short, and provides all the information needed. It would allow for rapid finding of the paper in question, allowing people who are interested to find out the nitty-gritty. Furthermore, if a person happens across the article in a library archive in fifteen years time the DOI will still work.

Germany to crack down on violent video games

Dec 12th, 2006 / World / Europe – Germany to crack down on violent video games

Virtual hit men in Europe’s largest video games market could soon find themselves behind real bars if German regional politicians have their way.

Under new legislation drawn up in reaction to a shooting at a school last month, developers, retailers and players of videos featuring ‘cruel violence’; could face up to a year in jail.

Germany already has fairly strict censorship laws when it comes to computer games and other entertainment media. For example Nazi regalia has to be removed from games, even in cases where the Nazis are the enemies. Furthermore, many games replace enemies with robots or zombies to avoid otherwise harsh classifications.

However this particular move is an order of magnitude more severe, and is little more than an over-reaction. This degree of censorship should be unacceptable in a European country, and hopefully the bill will be seen as such and rejected. It is interesting to note that the ban doesn’t try and cover film, television or books, presumably because it is not possible to scapegoat such media.

It is interesting to note that Germany is not the first EU country to consider the banning of computer games, or a sub-section thereof. In 2002 the Greek government banned all electronic games in a move to attempt to crack down on illegal gambling. Complaints, and intervention from the EU resulted in the clarification of the law, and its eventual suspension.

Note: I should point out that all online sources appear to point back to this FT article. I’m trying to pull up the text of the bill, although given I don’t speak German I’m not sure how easy that will be.

Edited to add: Whoops. Had comments turned off. Not that it matters. Only get spam anyway.


Apr 6th, 2006

With the BBC reporting a possible case of H5N1 found in a dead swan in Scotland (Only a few miles from me incidently) I thought I’d post a few thoughts I’ve been having.As yet it hasn’t been confirmed that this is a case of H5N1, but just of the same family of viruses.

As well as the undue panic ispired in some sections of the populations, some people appeared to have taken the opposite tack. “Pah!” they say, “A complete waste of time. They spend so much time focusing on brid flu and it will come to nothing, just like SARS. Its all unecessary fearmongering.” Now, I’m not about to deny that certain sections of the media have got carried away, but I will argue that health officials are taking a thoroughly sensible approach.
The treatment of bird flu (H5N1) by the world health organisation and other health officials is exactly as it should be. They have identified a virus that poses a possible threat in causing a global pandemic and are carefully monitoring its progress and studying mutations. This has two benefits, firstly it will allow a rapid response should the virus mutate or recombine with a human flu virus. A rapid response will hopefully contain an outbreak, reducing the need for vaccines and anti-virals, and will also help the deployment and development of drugs as necessary. Secondly, even if H5N1 never mutates, something else eventually will. The study of the spread of H5N1 will allow better prediction with regard to future outbreaks and also in identifying possible endemic viruses early in their life. This is especially relevant when it is realised that the 1918 flu virus began as a avian strain.

Of course, if the virus does mutate and the WHO is successful in containing the virus, then they will be accused of scaremongering and wasting time.

At the moment H5N1 hasn’t mutated, and so now it not the time to run around like headless chickens panicking. (A fault, partly, of the media) Conversely however there is a threat, and it is one worth monitoring. Even if this one doesn’t come to anything, one eventually will, and the more we can learn now the better.

I also wish to add that even without human risk, this virus is of concern to poultry farmers. (Foot and mouth for example harmed the livestock industry and posed no threat whatsoever to humans.)

On Recipies

Dec 26th, 2005

On going home I decided to bring my recipe book, a small hard backed notebook which I use to collect recipes from different sources. On copying down various family favourites I was struck by the similarities between recipe distribution and the attitudes of the ‘copyleft’ movement.

My mums collection of recipes from various sources: friends, relatives, magazines, books and supermarket recipe cards. In some cases the source was recorded in others it had been lost to time. In the corners of pages were written notes, mushrooms may be left out, a bit stodgy if you leave it in too long, use honey if you lack brown sugar. These changes are passed on as the recipe changes.

Yet recipe books still sell, and there haven’t been lawsuits cracking down on recipe sharing, although whether this would still be the case if they were distributed over file share networks I don’t know. As an example of free flow of information recipes have been around for years and demonstrate that the process is workable and can still be profitable.

Yet undoubtedly the situation is different for film and music, both of which are far more static than recipes. You don’t find the same kind of variations a track with the guitar solo removed for instance, but when these changes do occur they annoy the original artist. Unlike a recipe where the method may be simplified in copying it down music sounds almost identical. So where does this difference in attitude actually lie, why don’t we treat music the same as recipes? Does the difference lie in the fact that music is a finish product whereas recipes are not; the finished product is the dish they instruct you to produce. Perhaps its a difference in ease, while you will probably only copy a single recipe from a book at a time, it is fairly easy to download an entire album. If I published the entirety of one of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks here then it is unlikely that the publishers would sit idly by, indeed, I expect I’d get a complaint if I copied a recipe out word for word, easily identifiable. So perhaps it is just an issue of scale.

Either way, the distribution of recipes demonstrate that ‘copyleft’ attitudes are nothing new, but they also suggest that the system can work, and has interesting implications if we are able to shift our attitudes with regard to recipes to other media.