Letters – 24 January 2019

January 24, 2019

Journals’ digital life assured as print phased out

Journals’ digital life assured as print phased out PNAS is to be congratulated for its recent decision to cease printing its journal (“Out of paper: 
as PNAS ends its print run, will others follow suit?”, News, 10 January). Not only is it the right decision now to focus fully on the benefits of digital publishing, PNAS made a crucial decision decades ago to make this transition possible: it committed to ensuring that the complete archive of PNAS was online and that all past and future issues would be preserved for future generations.

PNAS was among the first scientific publishers to join the non-profit JSTOR in the late 1990s, allowing for the digitisation and preservation of its 720,000-page archive, and later Portico and CLOCKSS, to ensure preservation of the digital version.

Given that research builds on the past, investments in our digital access and preservation of infrastructure continue to be essential.

Will more journals put an end to paper? Absolutely, and thankfully this can be done knowing that the knowledge they publish will be preserved, accessible and useful to researchers a century from now.

Laura Brown
Managing director, JSTOR

Inflationary race

In the early years of the century, when I was a pro vice-chancellor, most universities gave a first to less than 10 per cent of their graduates and we muddled through with three PVCs. I now read of universities awarding more than 40 per cent of firsts, and I recently advised a large university on an appointment to one of its 27 posts with “PVC” in the title. Which will come first: every graduate getting a first, or every member of staff being a PVC?

Peter Goodhew
Emeritus professor
University of Liverpool

Women and power

Barbara Graziosi’s review of my book Domina: The Women who Made Imperial Rome (Books, 20 December) bewildered me. A third is spent on her version of the period. Domina’s range and purpose, including my discussion of source interpretation, are unmentioned.

She calls me “inconsistent”, overlooking that historians form judgements by evaluating sources in different ways depending on the topic and other available evidence. I was confused by the suggestion that ancient sources are invariably unreliable and being criticised for dullness by trying to avoid “ancient malicious rumour”.

Graziosi misquoted me about the reliability of Tacitus’ account of Agrippina, and overlooked the rest of the sentence, which clearly explained that Agrippina was mainly a victim of the society she had challenged. The misquotation was used to imply that I was concerned only with sexual scandal. In fact, that section has a full discussion of Agrippina’s whole career and the associated sources.

Graziosi says I claim that imperial women “were like Augustus – actually in power while pretending not to be”, calling that “worrying”. Not once do I say that, nor that they held “true power”. To bolster her misleading point, Graziosi describes the dynasty’s prominent women suffering humiliation and degrading deaths as uniquely the victims. Virtually all the dynasty’s men suffered the same or worse fates, all discussed in the book.

Domina’s central thesis is that imperial women’s power could be exerted only through husbands or sons. I constantly compared and contrasted this with how the emperors ruled. This was largely responsible for entrapping women and the revenge they suffered. Graziosi ignores all this.

Guy de la Bédoyère
Grantham, Lincolnshire

Timely completion

You report that a “Third of PhD students in Europe ‘fail to complete in six years’” (News, 17 January). Under the Australian Qualifications Framework, the duration of a PhD in the country’s universities is 36 to 48 months. Scholarships provided are a maximum of four years. After 48 months of PhD study as per the AQF, students become unfunded. If they linger on, they may not have funding and their supervision will not be counted as part of academics’ workload.

Universities must provide supervisory training as well as training for PhD students on how to work effectively and manage themselves and their supervisors. We cannot expect students to complete their PhDs on time unless we provide the necessary support for students and their supervisors.

It is also common in Australian universities for doctoral students to have more than one supervisor. Supervisory teams consist of the principal supervisor, a co-supervisor and, in many cases, an industry supervisor – all of whom should be supporting the students for a timely completion of their PhDs.

Professor Acram Taji
Via timeshighereducation.com

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