Friday, December 12, 2008

Wish list

It's getting close to Christmas, and for many this means time to make a wish list. Now, I'm not expecting anybody to go shopping for me for the kind of things I've been wishing for; they're too ambitious and far-reaching. OTOH, this wouldn't just be for me - it should benefit researchers everywhere, in the future.

Item #1 on my list is for e-Santa, or Google, or the open-source community, or scholars themselves, to pave the way for a better means to identify authors in scholarly publications. Right now, most journals still follow the tradition of showing just one or two initials and surname for each author. Generally this is supplemented with info on institutional affiliation, and lately with an email address as well. However, journal search engines such as Google Scholar only key on the name; while they do what they can with this limited info, it is really not adequate to find all and only works by a specific person. The worst problem is with very common surnames, whether Smith, Scott, Wang, or Ramesh. Authors who don't have or don't go by any middle initial make the odds that much worse.

The easy first step would be for all scholarly journals to change editorial policy and begin listing full first names for authors. Citation style sheets will need to be brought up to date to conform.

But ultimately there will still be duplicate full names. I guess I can't wish for civilization to reform to ensure every child born from now on is given a name unique throughout history (ha!), and then waiting for a generation or two to age out the current cohort of duplicate names - that's not going to help me in this lifetime.

So I'll settle for somebody coming up with a good strong proposal to assign unique identifying strings to each author who gets published, much as we now do for for publishers and books with ISBN and ISSN numbers, and for articles with DOI numbers.

I don't think it would be too difficult to design such a scheme. We'd need a central worldwide registrar to track the unique number strings, just as does now for DOIs. We'd need a way to ensure that an ID continues to point to a person even as they move through their career (and between jobs and cities, as young scholars seem so prone to do). Other confounding variables this could help overcome include uneven use of one vs. two initials, people with non-alpha characters in their surname including spaces, hyphens and apostrophes (van der Waal, O'Brien, Levi-Strauss) and name surname changes after marriage (or divorce).

Obviously I'm not the first to notice this problem, so maybe there's hope for a movement to build around this kind of idea. Here's one existing proposal and here's another.

I hope they get their wish.

Happy holidays to everyone.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

going public

I've posted to a couple of sites with a link to the Faces of Climate Science project. I've already received one helpful suggestion: to clarify that the stats from Google Scholar are (very) approximate, and best viewed (as I try to do) as a relative measure of output and impact.

I also should put a bit more in explaining my choice to include the few, but veeeeery widely touted, academics who say or suggest that CO2 is nothing to worry about. I'm considering a visual tag to show which entries are "skeptics" - such as some kind of grey question mark icon. The point is to show how few and how far down they fall in context of the citation rankings.

I'm only including scholars with some publication record. I've tossed in Canada's own Tim Ball, though he left academia two decades ago; once the stats are all in (if I ever finish them!), he'll probably fall quite near the bottom for cites. I've got number for Sally Baliunas, who has plenty of journal ink on solar physics (though she strays from that when she editorializes on, e.g. water resources... oh well.)

I see there are some working academics of the skeptics camp that I haven't gotten into the list yet - Lindzen Sr., Pat Michaels, Douglass. I want to give these guys credit for putting their contrarian views in print for others to challenge. However much I may disagree with them, they've at at least stayed on the playing field. Their number is still small, unlike the vast padded lists tossed from the peanut gallery onto the field by the likes of Marc Morano.

Yes, that's my new metaphor: the OISM and the Inhofe 400 or 650 lists are like rolls of T.P. tossed onto the playing field of climate science, in hopes of delaying the game. If only we had ushers to eject the goons from the bleachers...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Home stretch

I've been pouring many hours into building and tuning up my Faces of Climate Science pages. I keep tweaking the perl script to fiddle with the page layout. Today I hit on a great tip: the widely publicized "ALT" tag for HTML IMG entities is only intended for display if the picture is unavailable or the visitor cannot view images. Although MSIE will display the ALT text when the user hovers the mouse over the image, this is not what the official spec calls for; thus, Firefox does not follow Microsoft's lead.

I really wanted to be able to display the authors' names in this "tooltip" way in response to mouse-overs, but I was almost resigned to having to use scripting to get this effect in Firefox. Then today I found a tips page that explains a less-known but official "TITLE" tag, which is supported for both IMG and A entities (links).
I found that if I assign a TITLE= tag to each photo, then Firefox does indeed show that text on mouse-overs. It can be a long text; it will word-wrap if the box reaches about 4" wide. (I could not find a way to embed a line-break in this to control where the text will wrap... that would be handy).

So now, my photo montage page is a bit more useful as a 'book of faces' of the AR4 wg1 team, or of my growing but clearly incomplete longer list of climate scientists.

I've been focusing on the AR4 wg1 list, trying to ensure I've got photos and homepage links for all of them first (so far as these exist online). I've also followed my own links to check people's C.V. to pick up the year they got their PhD (or in rare cases where they don't have one, to note this and instead list their highest degree such as MSc. See my last post on Thomas R. Karl on that.

The other good news is a great document I found today from the Union of Concerned Scientists. It is an urgent appeal for action on greenhouse emission reduction, signed by some 1700 U.S. climate scientists. It breaks out the list by state, and gives institutional affiliations. It fills out the effort with some strong statements from individual signatories.

This should be a good counter to show to anyone still clinging to the sorry spectacle known as the Oregon Petition. Beside the UCS statement (or my photo montage and links to real experts' pages) their lint-filter of veterinarians and the deceased can't hold a candle.