Wednesday, 12 October 2005

Aegri Somnia? I Wish; or, Cacoethes Scribendi, Indeed! [If you would like to read some inaugural remarks on Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, skip the first two paragraphs in which I explain why they're only inaugural. You may also wish to read John Leonard's review of it in The New York Review of Books.] My followup to this post on Foucault's still in the works. In it I'll tie up a few of the criticisms commenters at Long Sunday level, but it proceeds slowly—more slowly even than this damn chapter—and I am a very tired boy. Also in the works: a sustained account of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. So far I've bleated and pointed in the opposite direction. Now I'll talk it head on. Not now now, mind you, because sustained analysis isn't possible when you're as tired as I am. How tired am I? Polite of you to ask: Of the past seventy-two hours a grand total of four of them have been spent asleep. Why? That's the funny thing about it: I thought I didn't know why, and it only occurs to me now that I do know why, only I've been so tired I couldn't remember. Since the Big Scary Monster of last year I've been on thyroid hormone replacement therapy, i.e. small doses of levothyroxine every morning. Whenever they change my dosage, I have insomnia. Last Friday they upped my dosage but somehow this slipped my mind. So instead calmly understanding that I wouldn't be able to fall asleep as easily as I typically do, I had one of those insomnia-induced panic attacks, complete with tossing, turning, the choking-back-tears-of-frustration, &c. So tired was I on Saturday that I even though I took my levothyroxine that morning, it still didn't occur to me as I stared sleeplessly at the ceiling Saturday night that my insomnia had a specific and familiar somatic origin. It didn't occur to me until this afternoon. As in Tuesday "after two more sleepless nights" afternoon. So today a couple of scattered thoughts—call it "lucid dreaming" posting—which I'll collect with some presently even more scattered later in the week. The first concerns Didion's implicit contention that John Dunne's "sudden" death could have been prepared for had she seen the signs. Two nights before his death, for example, Didion recalls John asked me if I was aware how many characters died in the novel he had just sent to press, Nothing Lost. He had been sitting in his office making a list of them .... Some months after he died I picked up a legal pad on his desk to make a note. On the legal pad, in very faint pencil, his handwriting, was the list. Why was the pencil so faint, I wondered. Why would he use a pencil that barely left a mark. When did he begin seeing himself as dead? She catalogs all the behaviors which would have had symbolic meaning had she the perspicacity to notice them at the time. As the book progresses,...
The Fine Art of Self-Citation; or, "Impact Factors" and the Mathematical Proof of One's Importance This article on "impact factors" compels me to pull this cheap stunt. If the most prestigious journals in the hard sciences—those pure-minded publications whose interests do not include the coddling of insecure scholars and the inflation of their own importance as is the case in the soft sciences and humanities—are encouraged to practice the fine art of self-citation in order to drive up their "impact factor," what prevents a humble blogger like me from doing the same? In other words, this isn't considered unethical in the scientific community: But the policy has done just that, and quite successfully, according to the The Chronicle's analysis of self-citations to one-year-old articles — which are important in the impact calculation. In 1997 the Journal of Applied Ecology cited its own one-year-old articles 30 times. By 2004 that number had grown to 91 citations, a 200-percent increase. Therefore, it shouldn't be unethical for a blogger to puff his (now ostentatiously) humble chest. Surely nothing I say ranks in importance anywhere near anything published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the Annual Review of Immunology or the Cancer Journal for Clinicians. And yet all of those publications feel the need to inflate their patent importance by citing recently published articles again and again and again and again. With importance being predicated on the appearance of importance, why worry about the ethical dilemma of choking off the availability of vital—literally "vital," as in the Latin vita, meaning "life"—research in a library which subscribes to journals based on their "impact factor." An important journal of cardiology, one keyed to specialists, may not be available in a research library because its impact factor ranks far below that of the specialist journals. [Update: Stephen Karlson pushes this logic a little further here.] From whence does my righteous indignation against the high impact factor generalist journal spring? I'm not sure. But my life would be easier if UCI subscribed to the Jack London Journal.

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