Category Archives: stepper reading

Juking the academic stats – the ivory tower game explained.

Is it possible to be cynical enough?  That’s one of those questions I ask myself occasionally (daily/hourly) and usually when I begin to chide myself for corrosiveness, along comes confirmation/warning that I haven’t even got to cynicism basecamp.

The latest timely warning is “Ring a Ring  Roses: Quality Journals and Gamesmanship in Management Studies.”  This is an article by Stuart Macdonald and Jacqueline Kam, that appeared in the Journal of Management Studies (where else?) Journal of Management Studies 44:4 June 2007

Here’s the abstract

A paper in one of the quality journals of Management Studies is much more important as a unit of measurement than as a contribution to knowledge. It measures academic performance and determines much academic funding. There is consequently some pressure to publish in quality journals. But quality journals are defined in terms that are themselves defined in terms of quality journals – a circularity that explains both the paper’s title and the frustration of those who do not mix in these circles. We examine the gamesmanship of publishing in quality journals. Findings from a survey of heads of Management Studies departments in UK universities suggest that such gamesmanship is common. Cunning and calculation now support scholarship in Management Studies. Gamesmanship will remain common until the rewards for publishing attach to the content of papers, to what is published rather than where it is published. We propose a ‘Tinkerbell Solution’: without belief in the value of a paper in a quality journal, the game is no longer worth playing.

Before unleashing a bunch of quotes on you, with comments attached, you should definitely watch this 100 second clip from season 4 of The Wire;

(Soz, embedding disabled)

Poor Prebs. He thinks he’s left the game-playing-at-the-expense-of-the-stated-mission behind him when he left the Baltimore Police Department. But the game is omnipresent, omniscient. It stalks you … “Wherever you go, there you are.”

So, a sample of the quotes I loved

Rejection rate is also an important guide to quality in journals: the higher the rejection rate, the higher the quality….Only spoilsports will observe that the more authors are encouraged to submit their papers to quality journals, the higher will be the rejection rates of these journals, leading to an increase in their quality, yet greater incentive to submit papers, a higher rejection rate still, and yet more quality. Only cynics and statisticians will observe that as rejection rates rise past 90 per cent, the reliability of screening plummets (Miner, 2003).
(Macdonald and Kam, 2007: 642)


University departments play the game. Their managers encourage publication in quality journals because the return is great and because the measure of performance allows those who know nothing about a subject to judge the work of those who do…. In some French institutions, €12,000 is the going rate for a publication in a quality journal. In Australia, just about to introduce its own version of the RAE, there are similar enticements. Melbourne Business School pays $A15,000 cash for every paper published in the Top 40 list compiled by the Financial Times…. As these payments are per author rather than per paper, authors can bestow riches on favoured colleagues, presumably in return for similar favours. External authors get nothing so collaboration beyond the department is unwise. Cutting long papers into two or three, however, is logical. There is little incentive to write anything for practitioners. (emphasis added)
(Macdonald and Kam, 2007: 644)

Conspiracies against the laity, much?? Finally –

The canny editor cultivates a cadre of authors who will boost the measured quality of his journal, authors who cite themselves and each other, who dedicate swathes of their papers to reviewing past work, authors whose work is so anodyne and so generic that it can be cited almost anywhere.
(Macdonald and Kam, 2007: 645)

Recently the wife told me that I wasn’t a cynic, but rather a disappointed romantic (I shot back an unrepeatable joke that would get me sacked)

Next up – “games,” Wittgenstein and family resemblance

On the Stepper: #ImStickingwithTony (not). Tech history, Field -Configuring Events, normative utopia

Was on the stepper on Thursday, reading about the global coal trade (Thank you IEA Coal Information 2014 and World Energy Council survey.) And yesterday, reading about the Australian Coal Export industry (more on that soon).

Today was broader, and perhaps more fun (!?)

I started with a speech by the soon-to-be-former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, [if you haven’t seen the delicious twitter hashtag #ImStickingWithTony yet – who knew Australia had so many top quality snarksters?!]. Abbott made the speech (complete with his verbal tic of repetition, verbal tic of repetition] at the “Annual Minerals Industry Parliamentary Dinner” on 28th May 2014. Here’s my favourite bit –

It’s particularly important that we do not demonise the coal industry and if there was one fundamental problem, above all else, with the carbon tax was that it said to our people, it said to the wider world, that a commodity which in many years is our biggest single export, somehow should be left in the ground and not sold. Well really and truly, I can think of few things more damaging to our future.

There are several things I could say at this point, none of them helpful…

Next up was Divall, C. (2010) “Mobilizing the History of Technology”, Technology and Culture, Vol 51, pp. 938- 960.  It was cited approvingly in the research proposal of a PhD colleague. Lots of very interesting things in this, on notions of “usable past”, “techno-tales” and “techno-myths” and so on…

Younger people are becoming habituated to living in spatially complex and extended social networks and are thus heavily dependent upon “cheap transport” (and telecommunications). All of this suggests just how widely held and deeply rooted is the belief that personal mobility is a right, and that we are still locked into the same techno-tales that led Whig historian Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800–59) famously to proclaim that “every improvement of the means of locomotion benefits mankind morally and intellectually as well as materially.”

When techno-tales start to look as though they are underpinning claims to rights, we are clearly entering deep waters. Questioning the history implicit in such ideas is fraught with difficulties, because they are often sincerely held elements of an individual’s or community’s sense of identity— not merely techno-tales, but myths. In David Lowenthal’s formulation, “myth” provides stories of origin and continuance through the decades and centuries, narratives that bind today’s individuals and communities together through a sense of common purpose and prestige.

Next up Lampel, J. and Meyer, A. (2009) “Field-Configuring Events as Structuring Mechanisms: How Conferences, Ceremonies, and Trade Shows Constitute New Technologies, Industries, and Markets ” Journal of Management Studies 45:6

Field-Configuring Events (FCEs) are temporary social organizations such as tradeshows, professional gatherings, technology contests, and business ceremonies that encapsulate and shape the development of professions, technologies, markets, and industries (Meyer et al., 2005). They are settings in which people from diverse organizations and with diverse purposes assemble periodically, or on a one-time basis, to announce new products, develop industry standards, construct social networks, recognize accomplishments, share and interpret information, and transact business.

FCEs are arenas in which networks are constructed, business cards are exchanged, reputations are advanced, deals are struck, news is shared, accomplishments are recognized, standards are set, and dominant designs are selected.

I wish I’d known about this back in 2006 (impossible, since it hadn’t been written) while involved in Climate Camp, which was an attempt at a Field-Configuring Event…. #toolatenow

Finally Berkhout, F. (2006) “Normative Expectations in Systems Innovation” Technology Analysis and Strategic Management. Vol. 18. pp. 299-311. (Also from that research proposal).,

Hmm, I was probably too tired (80 mins in on the stepper) to read this properly, but there was useful stuff about the (de)mobilising power of visions –

We further argue that, to give them force, visions of the future tend to be ‘moralised’, in the sense of being encoded and decoded as either utopias or dystopias. This is because the possible effects of different visions are socially distributed (there will be winners and losers), and because one way of enrolling actors to a particular vision is to attach it to positive moral values, or to visualise the negative consequences of not pursuing it.

And some stuff on whose visions “win” (the actual, non-meritocratic, selection pressures) –

“Second, we may say that, in broad terms, there are two kinds of explanations for the successful articulation and diffusion of a vision: its validity or attractiveness to a wide range of interests; and/or the power of the constitutive interests who dominate a discourse about alternative futures. In these two cases what is different are the terms under which new adherents are enrolled to the vision. In one there is a process of voluntary and empowered enrolment, in the other enrolment is in some sense involuntary or even coercive. This may be because a deliberately constrained set of options have been considered, or because the capacity to realise future options has been disproportionately aligned with one particular future option.”

Which translates as “rich powerful people can be numbskulls and still get approval and the intellectual equivalent of retweets.”

Stepper: Augmented miners, Academic games, reputational repair and rehearsing the apocalypse

Mix of what I read on the train yesterday and what I read on the stepper this morning;

Bassan, J, Srivnivasan, V. and Tang, A. (2013) The Augmented Mine Worker: Applications of Augmented Reality in Mining CSC Australia

Lots of good stuff here. It’s a bit more complicated than sticking googleglasses on folks and hooking it up to a googledocs spreadsheet, but you get the idea.

“The mining industry is faced with imperatives to improve worker safety and productivity, adapt to skills shortages, high worker turnover rates, and provide more effective maintenantce to new and ever more complicated plant and equipment.”…

Next up Nierenberg, N. Tischinkel, W. and Tshinkel, V. (2010) Early Climate Change Concensus at the National Academy: The Origins and Making of Changing Climate Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, Vol. 40, (3) pp. 318-349.

Oreskes and Conway had written a piece saying, more or less, that William Nierenberg (big fish physicist) had soft-pedalled on climate change in the late 70s and early 80s. The authors here (and Nicholas never makes clear what – if any – relation he is) more or less blow that out of the water, though the article isn’t perfect itself (could have mentioned other climate studies at the same time – IASSA, Flohn), or actually quoted Helmut Schmidt, etc etc). Only worth reading if you are a history of climate science geek, but this sort of careful detective work is note-worthy and praise-worthy.

Alvesson, M. (2012) Do we have something to say? From re-search to roi-search and back again, Organization 20 (1), 79-90. is bloody brilliant, and I will blog it separately. The tl;dr is that the academic game is a game like all others (trudat, you feel me?) with its rules and rule-breaking, its gaming of the system and system of the game. And Alvesson asks all the right (imho) questions and gives provocative (in the good sense!) answers. Roi-search is “return on investment” academia – writing “gap-filling” stuff for high-impact journals, self-censoring and pre-cutting your cookie so it fits.

This paper is a a solid-gold classic for anyone who met a social scientist and wondered how they got that way.

Gosling,J. And Case, P. (2013) Social dreaming and ecocentric ethics; sources of non-rational insight in the face of climate change catastrophe. Organisation 20 (5) 705 -721.

Just the sort of suggestive daring and relevant research and thinking that (I think) Alvesson would like to see.

It’s better at the outset (what the Crow did) than the end, (what we do), but super-useful for thinking about how to rehearse the apocalypse without descending into zombie films and Mad Max-ness (though I admit to a mild degree of excitement about Hardy and the Return of the Native Max…

On the Stepper: 13th January: Climate reports, Stockholm syndrome and Green Bans

On an “Australian science/politics in the 70s and onwards” binge at mo’ (trying to be more systematic in my PhD reading).

Garratt, JR, Webb, EK and McCarthy, S. (2011) Charles Henry Brian Priestley. Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 57, 349-278.

Didn’t read all of this, but the bits that relate to his climate work. He led the panel that wrote the first Australian Academy of Science report on climate change;

“During the following two years, extensive publicity was given internationally to suggestions by some European and American scientists that a new ice age was approaching and that droughts in the Sahel and India, and wheat failures in the Ukraine, were among the symptoms of this change. After concern was expressed at the World Food Conference in November 1974 about the possible effects of this predicted climate change on agricultural productivity and the global food supply, the Australian Government requested the Australian Academy of Science to report to it on these assertions. A committee on climate change was established by the Academy in March 1975 with Priestley as its Chairman; its report was handed down in March 1976 (AAS 1976). The main conclusion, that there was no convincing evidence of an imminent climatic change, either on a global scale or in Australia, must be set against the evidence then available in 1975. Another far-sighted conclusion stated, ‘All past climate changes have been due to natural events on an astronomical or global scale. Human activities are now developing in ways that could have an appreciable effect on the climate within decades.’ Two decades later, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was to take up this very issue in its first report on climate change. In 1976 the Committee’s report was well received, both at home and abroad, with little adverse publicity given to it at the time. The report’s main conclusions were in tune with studies elsewhere that global warming through an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide may constitute a more serious cause for concern than the possibility of an ice age.”

(Garratt, et al, 2011: 374)

Then a bit of the Australian Quarternary Newsletter No 8, November 1976, which had a report on a Natural Hazards Symposium held in May 1976 in Canberra.. Need to track down an article by B. Thom Natural Hazards and future climate change. (well, “need” means – Marc about to over-research and under-write.”)

Quarternary, bless it, makes wordpress’s spell-check light up –

The Quaternary Period /kwəˈtɜrnəri/ is the current and most recent of the three periods of the Cenozoic Era in the geologic time scale of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS).[4] It follows the Neogene Period and spans from 2.588 ± 0.005 million years ago to the present.[4] The Quaternary Period is divided into two epochs: the Pleistocene (2.588 million years ago to 11.7 thousand years ago) and the Holocene (11.7 thousand years ago to today). [wikipedia]

Then Elliott, L. (2011) Australia’s engagement with the UN on environmental issues: Benefits and balance in Cotton, J. and Lee, D. (eds) Australia and the United Nations. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia

Lots of useful background info – Australia’s manoeuvres at Stockholm in 1972 take on an ironic tinge later (but that’s for another blog post).

Last and most certainly not least;

Ferguson, P. (2009) Patrick White, green bans and the rise of the Australian new left. Melbourne Historical Journal 37, pp. 73-88.

Wow!! I don’t understand why, at the posh school I went to in Adelaide in the 1980s, that they never taught me about the gay writer and the communist trade unionist who got on fine with feminists and aborigines and so on, and stopped developers pillaging Sydney for fun and profit. Don’t understand at all…

It’s a bloody good essay. And now I have to stop myself from reading too much about the “Green Bans” that the NSW Builders’ Labourers Federation used to protect Sydney…

On the stepper 11th January 2015: Wind power romance, past warnings, science hacks, climate histories

Trying to form a new habit – typing up what I read “as I go”. And connected to that, giving an account of what I read while on the stepper for 90ish minutes a day (mostly). The habit is not “fully bedded in” as a habit yet, but I refuse to use that as an excuse to stop bedding it in…

Today (11th January):

The second half of Hendry, C. and Harborne, P. (2011) Changing the view of wind power development: More than “bricolage.” Research Policy 40, pp. 778-789.

This was mentioned in a reading group/symposium yesterday by one of my supervisors. It’s a response/elaboration to a paper by Garud and Karnoe comparing the Danish and US wind energy industries and how they came about. Hendry and Harbone heartlessly puncture the lovely romantic notions that Tinkerers Matter throughout the process (they did, but once you get to a certain point, there’s no substitute for “science” and deep pockets. Reminds me a bit of Manuel de Landa in “War in the Age of Intelligent Machines,” where he makes the point that there are tactics, but strategy will overcome them, and there is strategy, but in the end, logistics – being able to feed, clothe, arm and replace members of your army at a more efficient rate than your enemy – is what matters.

Next I read King, J. (2008) “Looking back in Anger” Sydney Morning Herald April 30th

Presumably the hook to the commissioning editor was around the “2020 Vision” conference that Rudd’s Labor government had organised.   It was a reflection by him and other folks on an October 1998 conference “The Australian Environment: Taking Stock and Looking Ahead” – organised by the Australian Conservation Foundation and with speakers including Petra Kelly, David Bellamy (obviously before he decided climate change wasn’t real) and Milo Dunphy.

Some great quotes – useful for PhD – by Robyn Williams and so on.

Short version: “We knew, we were warned, and we bollocksed it up.” I’ll get that in my PhD, even if I have to do it as an acrostic in the conclusion!

Then Metcalfe, J. and Gascoigne, T. (1995) Science journalism in Australia. Public Understanding of Science 4, pp. 411-28.

Surveys show that media attention to science and technology has increased considerably over the past decade. Yet coverage seems shallow and technology-based, and does not appear to have succeed in making a real impact on people or in changing the ways they think about science and technology and its impact on their lives. The challenges currently facing science journalism in Australia include: the need for more in-depth and critical analysis of science and technology; overcoming the negative or trivial perceptions of editors, chiefs of staff, news directors and other gatekeepers about the importance of science and technology stories; and integrating science and technology with social, economic and political issues.

Useful for PhD in that there was no “Walter Sullivan” (legendary science journo at New York Times who knew EVERYONE) figure to serve as an agenda setter/issue entrepreneur in the 80s.

Finally Clark, W. Jager, J. Cavender-Bares, J. and Dickson, N (2001) Acid Rain, Ozone Depletion, and Climate Change: An Historical Overview, in Social Learning Group (2001) Learning to Manage Global Environmental Risks Vol 1 A Comparative History of Social Responses to Climate Change, Ozone Depletion, and Acid Rain

Incredibly useful (content and reference list), and written by people Who Were There.

This from page 29 leapt out but did not surprise me:

“Research on acid rain dates back at least to the middle of the nineteenth century. Robert Smith’s 1872 treatise Air and Rain: The Beginnings of a Chemical Climatology laid out many of the essential elements of the acid rain problem as they are known today. These included, but were not restricted to, sources in coal combustion, atmospheric transformation and transport, and impacts on plants and materials. Unfortunately, Smith’s integrated approach did not resonate with the science or policy concerns of the day and was ignored.”

Reading on the Stepper: Coal, mentors, denial etc

Meditation and the Art of Writing. Yep. Should do that. I need my jedi mind tricks

The Great Climate Change Denial Industry by Robert M Thorson

Those Koch boys getting their money’s worth;

Leiserowitz proved this with an interesting turnaround regarding the public’s first thoughts about climate change after being prompted. In 2007, only 7 percent of respondents reported thinking about the “naysayer” position, which either denies or minimizes climate change, or dubs it a left-wing conspiracy. By 2010, this first thought had risen to 26 percent to become the nation’s most potent image of the subject, more important than melting ice, broiling soil or stranded polar bears.

Why the sharp turnaround between 2007 and 2010? Many causes. Economic collapse caused by greed. A decline in media coverage on climate change, down to about 0.1 percent of total news. Unusual weather. Political polarization. And most important, the strengthening of a climate denial industry.

How to find a Mentor

Typical youthful insanity is sending 3000-word emails at 2 a.m. It’s getting embarrassingly drunk at an event because you’re nervous. It’s hiding a mistake you made because you’re scared. It’s quitting because you’ve fallen behind or don’t feel encouraged. It’s arguing with feedback and thinking you know better, thinking that you’re special. Those weak emotions are luxurious. If you want to indulge them, then you’ve got no right to a busy person’s time.

Cultural politics of climate change: constructing and contesting low -carbon subjects Academic study, ongoing. Interesting.

How the “War on Coal” went global by Erica Martinson


As the projects lag, the blue-chip investment firms that used to provide financial backing for the proposed West Coast terminals have largely given way to smaller firms with a “penchant for high-risk” investments, said Clark Williams-Derry, a research and communications director for the Sightline Institute, which opposes boosting coal exports. “It’s really a shift from investment to speculation,” he said.

The Wikipedia article about the Wegman Report. Intimidation and flakking. I may have to read Michael Mann’s book about the Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars…

The decision that came outa Lima.

Gonna have to turn this into Frank and Ern toons (with my cartoonist buddy)

Stepping up 14 December 2014: innovation, coal, the AGGG

Gonna see if insta-commenting helps me retain factoids post-reading-on-the-stepper…

Finished off “Emerging challenges for science, technology and innovation policy research: a reflexive overview” (Research Policy 38,: 571-582. Brain stretching stuff – this, among others, was gold –

“For example, Weick (1995) recounts a story told by the Hungarian Nobel Laureate, Albert Szent-Gyorti, about a small Hungarian detachment that, after becoming lost in the snow in the Swiss Alps, managed to survive and to return to the main camp using and putting their faith (and lives), without realising it, in the wrong map (in this case, a map of the Pyrenees). The story suggests that when we are lost, any old map will do and good outcomes can come even from bad or wrong maps because they do at least allow us to begin to act, generating outcomes in a particular social context and making sense of those outcomes.”

Weick, 1995 isn’t in the references. Might be a typo for Weick, K. (1999) Theory construction as disciplined reflexivity: tradeoffs in the 90s Academy of Management Reviewe, 24, 797-806

Nope, it’s not, and after a quick google the whole story (!) thickens considerably. See here and here.

So I am clearly going to have to read: Andrew Gelman and Thomas Basbøll (2014) “When Do Stories Work? Evidence and Illustration in the Social Sciences” Sociological Methods and Research Vol 43 (5) p 547-570.

There is some great advice about academic writing on Basboll’s site.

Then there was “The UNFCCC and Beyond: Transnational Climate Change Governance” – Matthew Paterson (author of many many things, including “Global Warming and Global Politics” from 1996.  There are lots of other climate governance “experiments” at different scales and in different sectors. But is our children learning?

Then Tim Loh, journo for Bloomberg, doing a very interesting piece on coal magnate Robert Murray – “A Provocateur Sees Profits in Coal’s Long, Slow, Death.” Good stuff on how he’s spotted regulation coming, and knows how to profit from it.

Finally, an excellent paper called “Early science policy interaction in climate change: lessons from the Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases” [paywalled] by Shardul Agrawala, whose work I have blogged about before. The AGGG was a short-lived group of scientists that came out of the crucial Villach conference in October 1985. Agrawala interviewed the scientists in the de jure (official) group and some in the shadow/“de facto” group of scientists. The AGGG seems to have been crucial in getting the June 1988 Toronto conference going. Agrawala’s account of the science developments in the 70s and 80s is crystal clear, and his “lessons learned” is also exemplary.