from the Library of Maura

And in Other News…

May 11th, 2009 by Maura A. Smale · 2 Comments

Last week was a big one for higher ed tech and publishing news. As I’m sure everyone’s heard by now, Blackboard enveloped yet another of its competitors and Amazon released the new Kindle. I’m kind of happy about the first item — I tend to agree with the Twitter comments spotlighted on Inside Higher Ed that this move will only feed the anti-Blackboard fires. And while the new Kindle looks promising for textbooks, I admit to being a bit concerned about its high price, esp. for our students @ CUNY.

But the news that really grabbed my attention was the revelation that Elsevier published a fake journal, the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, financed by pharma giant Merck and devoted to shilling for Merck products. It’s not the first time something like this has happened, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

This news is depressing for many reasons, but the pedagogical implications are uppermost in my mind right now. One of my responsibilities as a library professor is to try and strengthen our students’ information literacy: finding sources for their coursework, evaluating and selecting the most appropriate sources, and using those sources ethically (think plagiarism + copyright). For many of their papers and projects students are required to use scholarly journal articles, and I try to spend as much time as I can in a library session unpacking the differences between scholarly journals and newspapers/magazines and explaining peer review. And in many ways fake journals, like high-profile plagiarism cases, just make it harder to convince students to value the scholarly literature for their coursework.

On the other hand, at least one librarian has pointed out that perhaps we can use this depressing revelation as a teachable moment. So I guess I’ll add it to the list of strange/scary-but-true cases that we can use to emphasize the importance of digging a little deeper, paying attention and critical thinking.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • Matt // May 11th 2009 at 6:54 pm

    “Enveloped” is a nice term to use for Blackboard’s actions! You’re very polite ;)

    I share your dismay at the Merck fiasco, but I love the idea of using it to show students why they need to dig deeper. In this case, though, what would you advise students to do? Perhaps triangulate sources?

  • Maura A. Smale // May 12th 2009 at 9:31 am

    Well, you know, I like to keep it at least PG here. :)

    I think we’ll have to use this in different ways when teaching students in various stages of their college careers. For the intro classes, maybe just mentioning it as a cautionary tale, something to underscore the need for critical evaluation of sources. But for more advanced classes I think that triangulation of sources could work. Apparently several of the articles in the “journal” were reprinted from other journals, which is pretty fishy. Also I think that really scrutinizing the references and checking for authors’ affiliations could be valuable in these cases.

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