Odd that publicly funded academics still have these privately published papers recognized as part of their funded work. Only available to those of their peers who pay for the 'privilege' is so nineteenth century.
Tons more mouldering bilge scooped from the wreck of RMS Titanic has hit the science news this week: it tells us nothing of note about the liner's sinking, but it does tell us quite a lot about the state of scientific publishing. Just to catch up, we learn that no, the great liner was seemingly not sunk - as one might have …
Odd that publicly funded academics still have these privately published papers recognized as part of their funded work. Only available to those of their peers who pay for the 'privilege' is so nineteenth century.
You are right that publicly funded work should be available publicly. However, note that in all cases any scientist without access to a journal simply contacts the corresponding author (I still have some of those quaint reprint request postcards in a drawer somewhere). The author emails you the PDF, end of problem. IEEE and some other publishers allow you to put your stuff on the web for research and education purposes, provided a suitable copyright statement is included.
The same holds for code we produce: ask and ye shall receive.
Press releases are NOT under embargo in all cases except one (where patent applications are involved, nothing to do with the publisher), in my experience. In those instances where we want to do a press release, the university takes care of it, and the publisher has no say. We do often let this coincide with the (on-line) publication of the paper, so journalists can check out the paper.
What's with the spiteful jibe Lewis? Because he's famous, sinking $millions and risking his life is not proper science anymore?
Just came across this yesterday. Entertainment (not to mention pandering to "class struggle" fetishists) before accuracy? I'm shocked!
Cameron does "proper science" in the same way as Tesla showing off in a faraday cage with strobing lightning around is doing "proper science".
Hmm, IIRC that was the technique used to "prove" that the iron plating used was substandard. Unfortunately, inspection of the wreck itself and the section of hull retrieved proved it wasn't.
That hull section has rivets in it too. I wonder why going and looking at the physical evidence was eschewed in favour of reading between the lines of old documents? Probably something to do with likely being unable to get the film-release-bandwagon-friendly results required from the facts.
Not sure it was simply the quality of the riveting, it could simply be that it WAS riveted. While riveting was state-of-the-art back then, it requires punching holes in all the steel plates, that weakens the steel in ways that could not be detected at the time (no x-ray crystallography etc).
Right up until WW2, ships were built both with rivets and with welds as there was little proper data to establish which was superior. Unfortunately it needed a war and lots of sunken shipping to prove the point, but in the end, welding proved to me much stronger (for example - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Ohio )
Actually, British Steel (civilian and military) was a bit brittle all the way until fixed with the Nelson Class Battleships in 1923. So if you stick it in really cold North Atlantic water with mismatched rivets (expansion rates were different) and strike much of anything with a violent impact, you'll have a ship that sinks instead of staying afloat. Just because the rivets are there, doesn't mean they weren't leaking like a sieve. Titanic's design was sound overall though, with a compartmentalized double bottom and everything. Her construction materials however were not sound, and that's documented with civilian and military ships using the same brittle steel (the last major warship to have it IIRC was the Yamato class Battleships of WWII, and that was because the Japanese no longer had access to British metallurgical process improvements after the 1921 Washington Naval Treaty). Titanic *shouldn't* have sunk. Had she been constructed in the 20's to the same design but with 1920's vintage British Steel with the proper rivets, she *probably* would have stayed afloat, or the same steel with the right rivets even. Hard to know obviously, so its all conjecture. But this "new" report just confirms several other recent and not so recent reports...
Titanic was constructed as an Auxiliary Cruiser/Troop Transport that happened to be a Ocean going Passenger Liner during peacetime, so her protection was actually pretty good. In fact there is no comparison between Titanic's design (ala designed to stay afloat after a hit or two) and a modern Cruise Ship design which are just supposed to slow the sink long enough (couple of hours) so you can either get to the life rafts or so it can get back to port and then sink "safely". For one thing Titanic had waterproof bulkheads under the waterline. Ships like Concordia have splash-tight doors instead. If that had been Titanic hitting the reef instead of Concordia, Titanic would have still been afloat, particularly in warm Mediterranean waters.
The theory of bad steel or bad rivets doesn't really hold water (ahem) when you think her sister ship, the Olympic, performed sterling service in those very same waters until 1935. Olympic not only had a nasty habit of hitting other ships in the cold Atlantic, but once ran down a U-boat - all without any major hull defects. Olympic was only taken out of service at that point because the merger of White Star and Cunard which left the company with too much tonnage for the TransAtlantic routes.
Liberty Ships failed mostly because stress concentration at sharp corners was not understood. They tore apart when repeatedly flexed. When they towed in half a liberty ship which had broken apart mid-ocean, they got the half where the cook had been painting dates on the crack as it progressed.
One of the reasons Liberty ships were more prone to cracking was that the welded construction did not allow the structure to shift around and bed in, as riveted structures did when new, but they didn't sink because of cracked welds: they sank because of Griffith crack propagation
As I recall, the Olympic was also the FIRST of the three, so it probably had more attention paid to it than did the Titanic. Incidentally, they pulled some pieces that were supposed to go to Titanic to repair Olympic after her first collision. Perhaps that put more pressure on Titanic's construction as well. Just saying that just because they were sister ships doesn't mean they were built to the same standards and/or under the same circumstances and scrutiny.
Riveted construction is actually pretty good at stopping cracks*, but hopelessly expensive unless you have a lot of cheap labour. Welding really took off with the "Liberty ships" which had to be made as quickly and cheaply as possible.
You see a lot of riveted aeroplanes.
*what did for Titanic wasn't a crack (although it did break in half just before it sank).
I watched a TV documentary over a year ago about the rivets being of a cheaper, poorer quality. This wasn't exactly cutting edge or scienfically topical TV so no doubt the 'finding' was at least a few years old. It is just being regurgitated now for a bit of bandwagon effect and probably to pretend that the said publication/researcher are important.
At least El Reg does not pretend its scientific analysis is important, just irreverent!
@Desk Jockey - Yeah. I also saw some references to Titanic's steel in a report about the Armour testing done postwar by the USN on the IJN Shinano's unused turret armour plate that was from years before that. Pretty common knowledge about the British steel process of that era having issues with struck by an iceberg, or a 16" superheavy AP round. :) The Brits found out about the steel being brittle in the middle of WWI and had it fixed right after, so it is at best a 100 year old open secret...
Like others - I also can't help but wonder if someone just got a good performance review for rewording previous reports.
.........based on the "pony rivets" hypothesis several years ago (a decade perhaps?). This news is not merely "managed", it is well past its shelf-life as far as being new is concerned.
I thought the Titanic sank because it hit an Iceberg.
Yes, the moral of the story of Titanic is:
"Don't hit an iceberg!"
Of course if it had happened today then there would definitely be a committee formed to address the question of adding icebergs to the scheduled list of items to avoid in a statement of principles in navigational best practice.
In addition there would probably have been a new safety branding throughout the White Star line and, if the number of deaths was high enough, probably id card lanyards with a new "safety first" motto. If it was really considered serious then there might have been mouse mats.
... might hit back.
Well.. what actually happened was White Star sacked the entire crew as the boat was sinking so they wouldn't have to pay out compensation.
So it might be bad now, but it was worse then.
Captain to first mate on the Titanic "Let's see how close you can get to that iceberg..."
I know - coat - gone!
...nice berg, why did it sink the ship?
...now I know why most of the crew chose to go down with the ship. Afraid of hours and hours of powerpoint presentations and safety meetings.
...loading 'Nearer My God to Thee" on smartphone for future needs. Drowning in icy water sounds like a good way to avoid meetings.
The berg would be protected habitat and the White Star line would have to pay a ginormous fine for damage to the berg.
Actually, high technology is very rarely a game changer. Or if it does, you only start to notice ten years hence at the earliest. We have so much tech these days, we know so much (but the relevant people inexplicably fail to, all the same) that you regularly see things we could do before done in a slightly fancier way "enabled by $new_development". Sometimes this is a genuine improvement, more often it's a transparent-display-fridge door. Something to be put in a press release to get people excited, then promptly forgotten again. Or not, if there's an industry lobby behind the tech set on making a pretty penny that forcing everyone else to "upgrade" to their new tech complete with teething problems is exactly what they end up being best at.
You see genuine change mostly under dire pressure, or in the absence of that, perceived dire pressure. It's no surprise that in our actually quite safe world we're making our own instability (preferrably in some other country) then scare the plebs into complying with all the new crap because of the dire threat you just created. It's quite rare for people, especially politicians, to get their heads out of their arses of their own accord. They need a bit of stimulus.
For science, the stimumus is "publish or perish". Fundamental science is important, but we've forgotten and thus the funding insists on the science being "relevant", whatever that may mean. So they publish and hope other people will quote them, so that they make their publications and quote counts. To do that, well, you have to hype it all up a bit. In that sense, it's the overpriced and underperforming publishers one thing they actually do for science. But it does mean science is slowly publishing itself to death, perishing into irrelevance.
There's also that we have too many PhDs, too many people with degrees that're worth less and less, are too specialised, and so the notionally educated people no longer have full overview of their field, nevermind other fields, to properly integrate all that knowledge. So they do their own little thing, which despite long titles embellished with even more famous names, doesn't imply they're all that special. If anything, they know too little, lacking the breadth to go deep in a meaningful way. That all means they're stuck on a silly treadmill, which doesn't seem very enlightening to me.
Ahhh, where to begin? It's such a large and controversial subject that a whole website could be devoted to how science news is presented to the world and to the way scientific publishing is undertaken (and why both often contribute negatively to the public debate).
This is an excellent post in response to an article about scientific news that well illustrates something I've believed for many years, specifically, as the article says, "that science "news" for laypersons is one of the most debased forms of reporting there is, with spoon-fed hacks mostly processing what they're given by a mixture of university, funding-agency and publishing PRs with very little question".
Oh, how very true this is, yet it's so rare to see this view so strongly expressed in print.
As I alluded, pulling this diverse topic together is difficult, so I'll change tack by illustrating some of the issues with a couple of examples:
1. When I was a little kid of about five in the early 1950s before I started school, I recall my mother taking me to a midday matinee at the local cinema. I can't recall the main feature except it contained violence so my mother dragged me protesting loudly into the lobby whilst those scenes were running. I do, however, vividly recall two aspects of the earlier newsreel presentation: one was about new rockets being developed for use in war, and the other was about fighting cancer and finding a cure for this dreaded disease. There were photos of cancer cells in Petri dishes and vivid microscope images of cancer cells dividing.
Afterwards, I remember asking my mother about cancer and she answered in a way so as not to alarm me by saying that it was a rare disease that I'd never have to worry about. At this age such authoritative statements from one's parents are both pivotal and formative, so it was disturbing when a few years later a woman neighbour next door to my grandmother's place who I knew well was diagnosed with lung cancer. It only took me moments to figure out that this was all too coincidental for cancer to be a rare disease, moreover, it took me just moments longer to realise that I'd been lied to--even if my mother's motives were noble.
With these incidents etched into my mind, and although not obsessed with it, I became acutely aware of every press, news and magazine report about treatments and cures for cancer. Over the past half century or more I've heard or read about many thousands of reports about new developments and improvements in treating this disease, and hundreds of them hyped with much promise. Never a week goes by without some significant pronouncement about cancer treatment. In the last two days alone I've encountered two separate articles on cancer--one in New Scientist and the other on a radio news report.
Anyone with even basic maths skills can figure out that if only 10% of the many thousands of reports had come good with a 0.1% improvement in treatment, then the compounded effect would be that we'd have just about licked the disease by now. Instead, at best, we've seen only modest improvements in the disease over this time. And recently, we've had the glaring and spectacular example of how medical science has failed with the death of Steve Jobs at a tragically young age. Money would have been no object to his treatment and he'd have had the very best treatment worldwide, but alas it was to no avail.
The hype and bullshit in the popular press that's accompanied scientific news reports of cancer developments over the last 50 or more years amounts to little more than 'criminal' action. These reports falsely gets peoples' hopes up and they play on their fears and emotions, furthermore, they also con money out of funding agencies etc. They're little more than blatant fraud and deception, elsewhere you'd be jailed such statements and yet we continue to accept such pronouncements as acceptable without ever having some kind of scientific measure put on their efficacy--even in the hindsight of older, obviously defunct, reports.
Any scientist who has researched cancer knows that it's an intractable and extremely difficult disease to treat, yet scientists all too often irresponsibly go along with this dishonest charade. When it comes to reporting cancer, it seems both the news media and science combine in a kind of symbiotic relationship to give the populous feel-good reports that all too often have little or no value. In fact, in the long run, they're destructive, as science is perceived by the lay public as a bit of a con job.
2. A second, long-standing and very well known example of scientific reporting is that of the spectacular collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, 'Galloping Gertie' in 1940. The film footage of Professor Farquharson walking across the ferociously oscillating bridge together with its final collapse into Tacoma Narrows is so well known that it requires no further comment. What is much less well known in the popular press are the details of the collapse, and that all may not be as it seems.
What's significant is how both the scientific establishment and the popular press have selectively reported this event over the past 70 or so years. 'Galloping Gertie' is regularly cited as one of the greatest engineering disasters of all time but its failure and collapse is almost never put into true engineering/scientific perceptive, and it's almost never compared with other comparable engineering failures such as the Tay Bridge disaster.
There's no doubt that Leon Moisseiff, the influential and very experienced bridge designer who designed the Manhattan bridge which still stands, took unnecessary and reckless liberties in his quest to design the world's most slender suspension bridge--the Narrows bridge being some 70 times longer than its width--a record for that time, and for that he deserves just criticism and most of the blame (although cost-cutting contributed).
However, Moisseiff's bridge didn't kill anyone except a recalcitrant and terrified dog and it gave hours of notice before failing. Yet it continues to be portrayed as an unmitigated disaster whereas the failure of the Tay Bridge in 1879, which collapsed without warning and killed about 74, is now little more than a footnote of history. Its designer, Sir Thomas Bouch, was greedy, incompetent and irresponsible, and even back in the 1870s the brittleness of cast steel was well known and that about 10mph margin on lateral wind velocity was totally inadequate.
What both scientists and engineers never say or correct in popular press accounts of the failure of the Tacoma Narrows bridge involves two key points. Despite Moisseiff's failure to thoroughly check his design (and also for others for not having double checked or authoritatively questioned the design), the Narrows Bridge was partially the victim of force majeure [act of god], as it was ultimately destroyed by an interactive aeroelastic phenomenon that was not understood at the time when it was designed; and second, the bridge was, in fact, incredibly strong, and in many aspects of its engineering design it was conservatively overrated, except of course for the unknown wind parameters.
The facts are undeniable, 'Gertie' oscillated in a most spectacular manner, its roadway tarmac boiled with the heat, the roadway had torsional twisting of up to +/-35 degrees, the 8 feet high steel 'I' beams along the sides of the bridge glowed with red heat at stress points, yet the bridge withstood these torturous stresses for several hours! Here we've nature doing its dastardly best for hours to destroy this remarkably strong structure; yet still 'Gertie' is portrayed as an engineering disaster, and wrongly so. 'Gertie's intrinsic strength is a testament to modern engineering although no one is prepared to say so. By not putting the facts into true perspective, knowledge of such things are distorted and the feel for what's possible is lost or downgraded.
Both science and engineering don't deserve such crude, sensational and irresponsible reporting. Despite its collapse the Narrows Bridge was a vastly superior bridge in both design and implementation than the Tay Bridge but these facts are lost in in the reporting. Unfortunately, both the reporting hacks and the engineers/scientists are responsible. The big question is why scientists and engineers aren't more proactive and demand better and more accurate reporting of science, it's almost as if they're deliberately complicit in a conspiracy to report inaccurately. Their behaviour is almost akin to the masons in that they don't want their secrets simply explained to the great unwashed--anyway, at least that's the net effect.
With much woolly thinking abounding in the public arena as it does today, and with the public's expectation that every technical argument that's presented to them will be dumbed-down to the almost-trivial, then it's little wonder that public discourses such as the Climate Debate are in an almighty shambles.
The lay public mightn't know the intricacies of a scientific problem but they can certainly smell the rat. Tragically, over the last 50 or so years, there's little doubt that it's the irresponsible reporting of science and being loose with or stretching its facts that's considerably lowered the status of science in the eyes of the public.
That general science education has also hit rock-bottom doesn't help either.
A career depends on acceptance, so orthodoxy is rewarded and opposition is punished. Paying lip service to orthodoxy sooner or converts the person into a true orthodox. The rewards are money, titles, fame.
Real innovation, real thinking and naked truth may be perceived as a threat and suppressed. This is done more effectively in centralised systems.
So regurgitating old truths is by far the safest option.
"woolly thinking abounding"
So much woolly think in your post.
For a start there is no single 'cancer' that can be cured in one hit; cancer is a catch all term for a number of related diseases all with different treatments and different survival rates. Yes, there are many press releases on some 'cure for cancer' but that is the press (or occasionally quacks with some new age woo) and not so much the peer-reviewed papers.
When you look at the research, they normally have an abstract that says something like 'treatment X' in our prelimary sample of 30 had an annual survival rate 50% greater than the control group. Might make a headline, but for a specific cancer than affects 1% of the general population and takes a median of 10 years to kill, the difference to the total population is far less noticable. In particular if people treated die of other related causes (i.e. old age), unexpected side effects occur in larger clinical trials or there are already alternative treatments that extend the life expectancy by 45% anyway.
In actual fact, as can be seen by average age of death, medical science is slowly and incrementally winning the war against cancer in general, but long/slow population trends don't make headlines.
It is also important to note that if people prefer to continue to smoke (or in Steve Jobs case) prefer not to seek real medical attention as soon as possible, then medial science can only do so much.
While your concerns about boffins "being under pressure to pump out papers which will justify his meagre funding" are legitimate, the recent "news" article in Physics World does nothing to argue for or against that concern.
Physics World is the free membership magazine of the IOP, not one of their academic journals. Its content is written by its own flacks, not boffins. In my experience, it serves only two purposes -- laxative reading on the bog, and dumbing down science into pretty pictures and quotable headlines for consumption by managers and the non-technical popular media. Don't read too much significance into it.
You description of PW is accurate, but your opinion (IMO) is unduly negative - I read it on the train instead :-)
"Its content is written by its own flacks" - true of news content, not of their feature articles, usually/often written by the scientists concerned (I co-wrote one on spacetime cloaks last year).
As regards embargoes, they work in that (as far as I can tell) you get a much better hit and a wider spread of publicity than if the story leaks out slowly from various sources. And it is only science news, does it really matter if you hear about that new superconductor/whatever a week later? If it does, then you shouldn't be relying on the news media!
You could, for example, follow journal RSS feeds and the arxiv, and pick up newsworthy science off your own bat without being slaved to press releases and news magazines. You might cultivate a set of scientists and ask them to pass along any interesting stories for you to take a reporter's look at. If so, you might find more diverse set of science stories appearing, not just the latest angle from some boffins who've managed to reference not only Harry Potter, but also Star Trek and safe-cracking bank robbers in their Press Release.
And if that's giving you faux choque at the state of academic publishing, have for example a look at the series containing "The philosophy of Harry Potter". Written by actual academics, not flack...
The thing is, "impact" is the metric-du-jour for academics, and an interview on local radio gets you further than most serious journal papers. So popsci dumbed-down and misrepresented beats quality any day.
▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮ rivet ▮▮ bottom
Actually, there is nothing wrong with rivetting. Aircraft are still largely held together by rivets. Welding turned out to be so much cheaper. As to the lack of xray cystallography, drilling holes in sheet steel imparts no inherent weakening, unlike welding. As the number of Liberty ships that broke up on their first (and last ) voyage testified
The point about rivets not being inherently bad is true. It is easily repairable for one thing. Just got to get the materials right.
The Kaiser produced Liberty ships had substandard welds though, which caused them to snap in heavy waves. Substandard Rivets in the same situation would also result in the loss of the ship, albeit by the death of 1,000 leaks, and slow enough to abandon ship.
the holes were not drilled but punched into the hot steel plates
Welding is not just cheaper, it also saves weight.
The authors made a pretty good argument that the rivets played an important role, and the press release does a very poor job of summarizing the book.
The key point is that the rivets on the first and last fifth of the ship had to be set by hand, which required that the rivets be made from wrought iron as opposed to steel. The rivets on the other three fifths of the ship were set with hydraulic clamps, which allowed the use of steel rivets. It is extremely difficult to make wrought iron with the same consistency as steel.
The authors pointed out that icebergs have a slushy surface, so an impact would cause the hull plates to bend rather than tear as would be the case of striking a coral reef. The failure of the rivets to hold the hull plates together allowed a much larger volume of water to enter the hull. Had the rivets held, the Titanic may have had enough pumping capacity to allow it to reach port or take a much longer time to sink.
The poor quality of rivets was by no means the only stupid mistake that lead to the sinking of the Titanic.
I just went to Physics World and saw the article (which is free, not paid) and I don't see any particular indication that Physics World is a peer-reviewed journal; certainly, the article in question is clearly marked as a "Feature", so the only real facts I can surmise is that Physics World runs Features which are timely.
No shit, Sherlock.
Titanic was NOT "constructed as an Auxiliary Cruiser/Troop Transport that happened to be a Ocean going Passenger Liner during peacetime". You're thinking about Cunard's Mauretania and Lusitania, which were partially built from Admiralty funds. The Titanic and her sister, the Olympic, were built to counter the threat that these two new Cunard ships would have on the White Star Line's (the owner of the Titanic's) hold on the North Atlantic passenger trade.
I stand corrected. You are correct that I'd remembered the subsidized construction of Mauretania and Lusitania, and my fogged memory pulled the Olympic Class into that.
Another excuse for a journalist to bang on about very old news with a lame link to technology.
I don't know why this is coming out now - it was accepted for long time that the Titanic steel was subject to cold brittleness. Very small fluctuations in P content can significantly increase cold brittleness of steel alloys (especially high-carbon steel).
Cold brittleness of steel was not a well understood phenomenon at that time Titanic was built (it's not fully understood even today). Neither was steel itself a well understood construction material. Yes, the human factors cause the collision but quality of the steel plate and rivets was a major contributing factor in the actual sinking.
There is a real issue in academic science these days in that the peer-review system is never fully blinded (there are always editors that know the names of the authors, and make the final judgements on the submitted reviews), and the larger more collaberative projects are now far more details end complicated for a single person to assess - expecially as they draw on expertiese that is never fully understood by those that do the hiring. I've suffered at these hands for a while now...
Science isn't the pure unalloyed (ahem) pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. It actually serves other purposes.
I heard that regardless of the brittleness of the steel, rivets, that kind of mass collision was always going to rip the ship apart, but this is bit boring.
Quick summary: Lewis Page declares that some science doesn't say a lot.
This long and wandering article didn't say a lot either.
I think I'll do a doctorate on the topic of whether a better arrangement of deckchairs could have saved the Titanic, and if the deck chair arrangement used was actually to blame for the sinking.
Mae West thanks. No, not the life vest, the buxom blonde please.
The real reason the Titanic became a rather richly appointed artificial reef has nothing to with icebergs, solar or lunar astro(logical|nomical) alignments, fictional deities, dubious rivets or badly ground binocular glass. It was the bit of Murphy's law that specifically deals with the meting out of justice to PR hacks who get too excitable when bigging up their clients latest product. "Unsinkable" was about as wise a claim as "thousand year Reich" or "football's coming home".
Thanks a lot. I was going to watch the film this weekend having never seen it and you lot tell me the ending.
He committed suicide and never came to terms with why he survived and so many died. I am convinced If he had not done his job and alerted the bridge, the head on collision would have split the ship in two (and that's before reading about the brittleness of the steel).
My suspicion is the binoculars were hidden out of spite (based on a comment to him during the inquiry that's in the official report "you seem not to have trusted any of us" - he knew what complete bastards they were), and according to his evidence (and common sense) he would have seen the iceberg sooner. There were no waves that night so without the binoculars he couldn't determine whether he was looking at a small iceberg close up or a large one far away.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again that under our current Employment Law they could have sacked him for distressing the crew and he would not have been able to do anything about it. The shame of the Titanic sinking isn't just that it sunk, but that it could happen again.