It has happened again. Every election season California's legislators -- who are ostensibly working in Sacramento to adjudicate important and difficult issues and reach the best conclusions -- shirk their duties. They shift this task back to the people, in the form of voter propositions.
Rather than standing as a testament to the glories of direct democracy, California's excessive reliance on voter propositions point to the failure of political representation as a viable form of governance. And so we have 17 propositions on ballots all across the state.
Follow those links, research the issues, and draw your own conclusions. After all, this is what our elected leaders have forced you to do.
And if you find it helpful, feel free to peruse the notes below for my own recommended vote on each proposition. The guide includes direct links to the Project for an Informed Electorate's video explaining each issue. These videos feature experts in the Legislative Analyst's Office offering objective analysis on each initiative.
Proposition 51: Yes (Would authorize new bonds for school construction, which has not occurred to a significant degree since 2006).
Proposition 52: Yes (Would stablilize Medi-Cal funding for low-income Californians)
Proposition 53: No (Would cripple the state's ability to undertake large-scale public works projects)
Proposition 54: No (Legislative transparency is a good goal, but this approach would actually increase the power of lobbyists)
Proposition 55: Yes (This is a fair-share tax, and the quarter cent sales tax also expires)
Proposition 56: Yes (A rise in cigarette taxes will reduce smoking, which is always a worthy goal)
We are in the middle of Open Access Week, now in its ninth year. The goal remains the same as ever: to increase support of the idea that the publications which record scholarly research should be completely open to all interested readers, immediately at the time of publication. Although open access publishing has made great strides over the last 10-15 years, the subscription/license model remains the dominant mode of providing academic research. (That link covers STM literature in particular, but the point about subscriptions and licenses holds across all academic disciplines.)
This year's particular Open Access Week theme is "putting open in action," or taking concrete steps to make scholarly research more open. The idea is to encourage small, tangible and achievable steps that will cumulatively lead to a greater share of scholarship being open immediately. Some of these ideas: that researchers commit to sending one of their manuscripts to an open access journal next year, or that researchers commit to discussing open access at one of their lab or department meeting. The idea here is for peer-to-peer encouragement of researchers to consider open access publication can be a wise career move.
At first blush it seems obvious that open publication would be a wise career move. If everyone can read an article or monograph, that work is likely to have more readers than if it is stuck behind a "pay wall." Assuming that writers write to be read, that can only be a good thing.
Alas, academic writers only really need to be read by the people in their fields. And the people in their fields do not need to worry about the pay wall because their librarians are paying the bills. The bottom line is that academic authors are writing for prestige rather than wide reach, and most of the prestigious journals still require a subscription or license. As long as this is so, open access will remain a partially realized dream.
So the call to discuss open access at lab/department meetings is a grassroots effort to make openness prestigious. If that happens, and only then, will complete and immediate open access be a reality.
Just in time for this year's major league baseball playoffs, Wharton professor Etan Green offers a fascinating interview about the subjective determinations baseball umpires make when calling balls and strikes.
The strike zone, ostensibly, is an objectively determined region "defined by the width of home plate on the ground and the batter’s stance." In a fully empirical world that is only guided by directly visible evidence, an umpire should always call a pitch that ends up in the same place the same thing. Once a ball, always a ball; once a strike, always a strike.
That's not what happens, as Green clearly shows. If a hitter is behind 0-2, a pitch that is actually a strike (as determined by the stereoscopic cameras behind home plate) may well be called a ball. If a hitter is up 3-0, the next pitch -- even if it is yet another ball --is more likely to be called a strike than the same exact pitch thrown earlier in the count. Umpires are human.
Learning about Green's work reminded me of a 2008 paper I wrote, "Friendly Skepticism About Evidence Based Library and Information Practice." While there are obvious merits to using valid data to inform library decision-making (such as downloads or check-out statistics), librarianship is just as much a human enterprise as is baseball umpiring. And as such librarianship is just as subject to capricious factors, such as the will of a powerful faculty member to influence collection decisions regardless of the data that clearly shows a new acquisition would be a poor use of funds.
So I maintain my"friendly skepticism" about the evidence-based imperative. Let's extol the virtues of carefully gathering evidence without pretending that this will ever be the only driver of our decisions. And let's keep the umpires behind home plate, even if they are unduly affected by the roar of the crowd and the rhythms of the game.
Baseball is such an intricate and rewarding game that it can be enjoyed in any format. And there is particular joy in listening on the radio. The slower pace of baseball, compared to other sports, allows for more scene-setting and conversational meandering.
Too much meandering can become dull in the wrong hands. But if you know what you're doing meander away.
These were my thoughts when listening to Vin Scully's final broadcast, which was of the LA Dodgers-SF Giants game yesterday. The SF crowd was extremely warm to the Dodgers long-time announcer, even singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in his honor. After 67 years of doing something, which is how long Scully has called Dodgers games, most people would have long since retired. Scully finally made that decision yesterday, but to the end he was as sharp as ever.
Scully talked about when he became a baseball fan (80 years ago to the day of yesterday's broadcast). He described great Giants-Dodgers games of yore. He felt bad about Hunter Pence's inexplicable slump. He openly cheered for the Giants to make the wildcard play-in game (they did), because his beloved Dodgers were already safely in the playoffs. I loved that, not just because I was cheering for the Giants but because it shows that Scully knows this is only a game.
That's the kind of thing that might get a person 60 years younger fired, but Scully can do whatever he wants. He's earned it.