Tuesday, August 14, 2018

An excellent new book on doubt in 19th century Victorian England

by Salman Hameed


This year is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I am again reading it right now and I am again reminded of how good it is. There is also plenty of science and religion in there, especially as we are dealing with the creation of (intelligent) life by a human. Most of the movies have not really done justice to the true philosophical themes addresses in the book. Danny Boyle's (of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionare fame) stage production of Frankenstein is outstanding. But the point is that there are many themes in the book that pertain to science and religion.

There is a new book out Genres of Doubt: Science Fiction, Fantasy and the Crisis of Victorian Faith that directly addresses science and religion of the era. Apart from Frankenstein, it focuses on The Island of Dr. Moroe, Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Alice in Wonderland, etc.  It even even has a place for Edwin Abbott's Flatland: A romance of many dimensions - a book that we love to talk about in astronomy when talking of dimensions of the universe. As an aside, here is a clip from Carl Sagan's Cosmos on Flatland:


I really digress. My point is that the Genres of Doubt looks fascinating. You can listen to the interview with the author, Elizabeth Sanders on the New Books Network (it is a long interview but really interesting). Here is the description:
The Victorians left an indelible stamp on culture that continues to be in evidence today, not least of which is their refinement of the realist fiction medium known as the novel and their innovations, which led to the birth of fantasy and science fiction – two of today’s most popular genres. This period also gave rise to a Victorian “crisis of faith,” as the traditional Christian beliefs that had underpinned British society for centuries faced new challenges from scientific discoveries, the writings of Charles Darwin, and exposure to other cultures. In her book Genres of Doubt: Science Fiction, Fantasy and the Crisis of Victorian Faith (McFarland & Co. Publishers, 2017), Elizabeth M. Sanders argues that these two shifts—one literary and one cultural—were deeply intertwined. She writes that the novel, a literary form that was developed as a vehicle for realism, when infused with unreal elements, offers a space to ponder questions about the supernatural, the difference between belief and knowledge, and humanity’s place in the world. She revisits familiar, representative works from the period, organizing her analysis around how they exemplify particular responses to or strategies for dealing with the problems raised by the new questioning of the supernatural. 
Elizabeth M. Sanders holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Iowa. She works in corporate and foundation relations at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and speaks at conferences about career transitions for Ph.D. graduates. She was recently a speaker at the Beyond the Professoriate online conference and her book was recently nominated for the Mythopoeic Society’s Scholarship Award in Myth and Fantasy Studies.
Listen to the interview here.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Anti plagiarism efforts in Nigeria

by Salman Hameed

Plagiarism in scientific publication is not a Nigerian issue alone. There have been high profile cases from all around the world. Plagiarism is also not the only issue worth worrying about in science publications: There are key retractions on fabrication of data and then there is the problem of low-quality for-profit journals that would publish anything (for your amusement, here is a paper defending an Earth-centered universe published in the International Journal of Science and Technoledge).


However, it is good to see young researchers in Nigeria taking an initiative to combat some of these issue. From Science:
The experience led Unuabonah to become a leader in a growing movement to combat academic plagiarism in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and home to more than 150 public and private universities and colleges. Since 2012, the Nigerian Young Academy (NYA)—an off-shoot of the Nigerian Academy of Sciences (NAS) for
scientists younger than 45 that Unuabonah helped found—has made educating academics about the pitfalls of plagiarism a major focus of its work. The group will hold a session on preventing plagiarism in August at its annual meeting in Ondo City, Nigeria. This past February, a record 350 participants showed up for a daylong, NYA-run plagiarism workshop, and the group soon hopes to arrange at least six more, one in each of Nigeria's six geopolitical regions. 
The fledgling group, which has just 36 members, is also encouraging universities to make greater efforts to detect plagiarism—such as by installing software that can detect plagiarized material—and to penalize those who copy. Last year, NYA itself ejected a member for plagiarism, and it has formally made improper copying a dismissible offense.
One of the problems is that students are often not trained to know what is and isn't plagiarism. We see this issue quite frequently in undergraduate classes. Because of the internet it has also become easy to copy material,  but search tools also make it easy to catch such cases. Nevertheless, this is a real problem and Nigeria's efforts are commendable:
Many Nigerian researchers believe few plagiarists get caught, Okonta's survey suggested. But that may change. In 2013, a group of Nigerian vice-chancellors negotiated discounted subscriptions to the antiplagiarism software Turnitin, which screens documents for borrowed material. And Okonta's university and others have made plagiarism checks a part of faculty promotion reviews. 
Campaigners also want to institute stiffer consequences for copying. “We need to do a lot more sensitization, telling people about the awful side of being caught,” Unuabonah says. “That will send some fear into their hearts.” Recent dismissals of Nigerian academics for plagiarism are helping that cause, says Charles Ayo, former vice-chancellor of Covenant University in Ota, Nigeria. 
Nigeria's two-pronged effort to raise awareness about plagiarism and penalize wrongdoers is a good model for change, says malaria researcher Virander Singh Chauhan, who chairs India's National Assessment and Accreditation Council in Bengaluru and helped write that country's new antiplagiarism rules. “This is not an Indian or Nigerian problem,” he says. “It is a global issue, and technology has made it so very easy and tempting.”
Fellow scientists: lets not cheat!