Sunday, 27 May 2012

What happened on 20 June 2004?

Apparently, time somehow stopped.

I just found the calendar, above, in one of my moving boxes and the last day shown is this day. How come?

Well, at that time I was still in Florence, Italy, but already planning my research visit to the US for autumn 2004. I remember my father visiting me in Florence in late June 2004, and my mother being very ill. My father also took some of my belongings, which I did not expect to need in the US, to my parents’ house in Munich – apparently including the calendar. Then, it must have remained in the moving box for a number of years, before everything was sent to a self-storage place Hamburg in 2008, then to my office Durham in 2011, and earlier this week I took it to my flat in London.

I had used these types of calendars for many years. I had always got them from my mother a day after Christmas for my ‘half-year birthday’ (admittedly, an unusual tradition). But this was not to happen again in 2004.

Perhaps it’s time to move on.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

My best blog posts!

A couple of weeks ago I posted a list of my blog posts that have been viewed most often (here). But actually, I don’t think a couple of them are really good (eg, the journal ranking ones) – yet, I realise that, inadvertently, the previous post may have promoted them.

Thus, now really what I would regard as a possible top 10, ordered thematically (and, of course, very subjective but, hey, this is my blog ...):

Friday, 11 May 2012

Collaborative Book Projects: A Prisoner’s Dilemma?

I take part in a book project with a number of co-authors (I won’t disclose details here). Publication has been repeatedly delayed since a number of authors have not delivered on time – with the annoying consequence that the authors who did deliver have frequently been asked to update their chapters.

Now, another deadline has been set, and one of the reliable authors (not me, though I’m reliable!) raised the point that we have the situation of a prisoner’s dilemma: for all of us together it would be good to finish the book on time; but for the individual author it’s rational to wait since writing your chapter immediately may mean that in the case of delay he/she would have to update it again.

Indeed this may be illustrated as follows. I assume just two authors. The total benefit of the book per author (financial, also reputational etc) is 10, the costs for producing one chapter are 5 and the costs for updating it is 1. Then:

B on time
B late
A on time
both profit 5 (ie 10-5)
A profits 4 (ie 10-5-1) and B profits 5 (ie 10-5)
A late
B profits 4 (ie 10-5-1) and A profits 5 (ie 10-5)
both profit 5 (ie 10-5)

Here, indeed, both would rationally deliver late, thus always having a profit of 5.

But, is this the entire picture? Part of the benefit is reputational but your reputation suffers if you seriously annoy all other contributors and the publisher. Thus, let’s say, if only you miss the deadline, the benefit drops to 8, and if both authors miss it, it drops to 9 (since you only annoy the publisher). Thus, we have:

B on time
B late
A on time
both profit 5 (ie 10-5)
A profits 4 (ie 10-5-1) and B profits 3 (ie 8-5)
A late
B profits 4 (ie 10-5-1) and A profits 3 (ie 8-5)
both profit 4 (ie 9-5)

Thus, here now, both would deliver on time!

In addition, one may want to consider that – as all publishers know – even single-authored books are sometimes not delivered on time. Perhaps one could rationalise it with saying that some authors work more efficiently (quicker etc) under pressure, thus, the costs of producing, say, a chapter may drop from 5 to 4. However, delivering late also takes away some flexibility: once you’re late, you really have to do it – thus (and that’s what I always think) it’s good to get things finished early because it often happens that you’re asked to do something else which you value highly, and since you don’t have to bother with the previous commitment any more, you can also accept this second offer. Thus, I would say, doing things early may in average raise the benefit by 2.

Assuming, these figures are somehow realistic (well, they may be realistic for me – but I can’t talk for others), we have the following picture:

B on time
B late
A on time
both profit 7 (ie 12-5)
A profits 6 (ie 12-5-1) and B profits 4 (ie 8-4)
A late
B profits 6 (ie 12-5-1) and A profits 4 (ie 8-4)
both profit 5 (ie 9-4)
Thus, again, it’s worth delivering on time (to my collaborators: can you hear me…?)

Thursday, 3 May 2012

How much do UK universities disclose about their REF planning?

I have not blogged a lot in recent weeks; the reason being that I was busy with the REF preparation of our law school. This made me wonder what’s going on in other UK universities.
Many of them, however, have their REF planning not publicly available, ie only on the intranet with just some general description of the REF on their public websites (eg, Cambridge, Oxford, LSE, UCL, Edinburgh, Durham, Warwick, Cardiff, Strathclyde). A bit more information is made available by others, giving some ideas about the internal process (eg, Keele, Aberdeen, Exeter). Yet, some universities even make available their (draft) Code of Practice, eg, the criteria for selecting which members of staff are submitted, the format of a mock publications review etc (eg, SOAS, Northampton, Newport, Glasgow, Manchester). This made me look at HEFCE’s guidance which states:

"(para 204) We would expect there to be a programme of communication activity to disseminate the code of practice and explain the processes related to selection of staff for submission. (…). We encourage institutions to publish their codes of practice on their external web-site (…) (para 230). All submitted codes of practice will be published as part of institutions’ submissions, after the conclusion of the REF."
... .  
The majority of universities seem to chose the ‘intranet & wait after the REF option’; indeed, it may seem a bit naive to hope that universities will voluntarily ‘play’ with open cards; still, it is interesting to see that some universities do it.