Sunday, October 12, 2008

The real problem with patents and the IT industry?

A blog post at ZDNet contains the following text:

Another register correspondent later reported on his efforts to get the Open University and the IEEE, which had published the offending paper in IEEE Software (a prestigious, peer reviewed, academic journal) to either defend or modify their actions, but essentially got stonewalled on the gibberish and relevancy issues - and could get the IEEE to move no further than a weak acknowledgment that:

… this paper has been found to be in violation of IEEE’s Publication Principles.

This paper contains portions of original text from the sources cited below. Text from Paper 1) was reused without attribution. Text from Paper 2) was reused with attribution but without being clearly delineated from the above authors’ own text.

The problem with "software" patents may not be the patents themselves but the generally confused state of the IT industry. The blogger went on to write:

With that in mind, I’d like to focus on the content quality issue. Here’s the example from Stob’s first article on this:

The following is one of the passages we were instructed to discuss in our homework. It purports to explain how companies choose open source software.

Open source projects that are too platform-specific aren’t good either. For example, many open source content management system developers have based their spawning, multiple (often competing), and derivative projects on a single platform. To develop them into useful applications requires excessive, code-based customization. While extensibility is important, customers expect to see the inclusion of core features, together with the ability to configure key settings. Open source components with low code volatility, high platform heterogeneity, and high configuration and optimization space are the best choices. Robust test cases and user credibility are other dimensions developers must consider to identify the right components.

I assure you that context improves the sense of the above not one pica-jot.

I spoke to a completely credible liberal academic (my wife) on this and was told that the paragraph quoted may not exemplify the clearest use of English but makes perfect sense - in the sense that a reader of goodwill can easily make sense of it.

Then the blogger got down to the basic problems-->

The real issue, in other words, isn’t how the plagiarism got past the IEEE’s peer reviewers, but how they could accept this gibberish as worthy of publication.

My answer to that comes from work I did a few years ago reviewing some introductory IT textbooks (full version here.)

These books account for more than 90% of their markets and are filled with errors of fact, errors of omission, and deeply rooted structural and anachronistic errors that together leave the student unable to form any coherent mental map of the IT industry - and my bet is that IEEE reviewers are both graduates of, and teachers of, courses in which books like these form the instructional basis.

IT teaching, in other words, has been going steadily from bad to worse - with the quality of instructional materials driving down the quality of instruction and that, in turn, driving down the quality of published “research” and the value of the peer review stage going into that process.

In the law review business, the Stanford Law Review accepted Mark Lemley's text that Gary Boone invented the integrated circuit. The University of Chicago Law Review accepted Lemley's text that the inventors of the transistor thought it was only good for hearing aids, based on a citation to an interview with an economist who in turn cited a non-existent article in the New York Times. How could they accept this gibberish?


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