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Posts uit juli, 2013 tonen

The Gains and Pains of Joint Authorship

There are many differences between the scholarly cultures of the humanities and the natural sciences. One seemingly superficial but striking difference is in the number of authors per paper. A significant number of papers in the humanities are single-authored whereas in the natural sciences multi-authored papers are the norm; for some articles, the author list is longer than the article itself. For example, this paper on an experiment performed at the CERN Large Hadron Collider sports an army 2,926 authors, enough to fill two concert halls. In contrast to the natural sciences, publications in the humanities are typically single-authored; examples are essays in philosophy, linguistics, and literary criticism. Such scholarly endeavors are by nature individualistic. The author’s style of writing and argumentation play an important role. References to these essays are therefore often accompanied by quotes rather than by a dry summary of findings. It is apparently not only importan

The Fanciful Number 2.9013, Plus or Minus Nothing

Can we capture any aspect of human psychology in a single number? In 1956 a paper entitled The Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus Two saw the light. It was destined to become a classic in cognitive psychology. In it, George A. Miller argued that human short-term memory is limited to seven units of information. The 7 was just an approximation, which is why Miller added the cautious plus-or-minus-two. In 1993 my former colleague Anders Ericsson wrote a much-cited  paper in which he argued that minimally 10 years of deliberate practice are required to achieve expertise in a domain, an idea that was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell. It is rare to tie psychological performance to a number, but Miller’s proposal is modest, as is Ericsson’s. The numbers are not claimed to be exact and are derived in a straightforward way from the data. There is another number in psychology that makes a lot less sense: the number 2.9013. It represents the ratio between positive emotions and

Let the Sabers Rattle: A Cross-cultural Comparison of Doctoral Defenses

Along with getting tenure, the most important rite of passage in an academic career is the defense of the doctoral dissertation.  Across the globe, defenses range from academic inquisitions to folkloristic public events. Dissertation defenses in the Netherlands fall on the folkloristic end of the spectrum. This is because the defense and conferral of the degree are rolled into one event. The candidate’s family, friends, and department colleagues are in attendance and the eight or so committee members, including the candidate’s major professor, are wearing full academic regalia. Defenses in the United Kingdom are a decidedly more austere affair involving only the candidate and two external examiners; not even the major professor is allowed present. The examination I participated in took place in a small room in the bowels of a building. After the, successful, defense the candidate’s major professor and two lab mates suddenly appeared in the hallway with champagne gla