No peer review without open access

I was recently asked to do peer review of a paper in the Elsevier journal Icarus.  Here’s what I said.  I encourage you to say something in the same vein:

Thank you for your invitation to participate in the peer review process which is so vital to the progress of scientific knowledge.  However, I unwilling to contribute any review or editorial work to publications which do not satisfy very liberal Open Access criteria as set out by, for example, the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing from 2003, or the Creative Commons Attribution license used by the Public Library of Science Journals.  I look forward to a day hopefully not too far off when Elsevier decides to support free access to scientific knowledge (PDF) for all, and especially for scientific knowledge which was gained in part through publicly funded research.

Peer review is only one necessary ingredient for science to work.  Open access and systemic transparency are others.  All of them need work.


Doctoral Leaflet

It seems a bit of Vaudeville is still lingering around the Academe…



Zane A. Selvans


Date/Time: 2:30pm, Friday, 20th November, 2009
Bldg./Rm: Benson Earth Sciences (BESC) 380

Examining Committee Members:

  • Karl Mueller
  • John Wahr
  • Robert Pappalardo
  • Bruce Jakosky
  • John Spencer


Major Field: Geological Sciences


A descendant of Dust Bowl migrants, Zane grew up near Fresno in California’s San Joaquin Valley. He left as soon as humanly possible, and got his BS in Computer Science at the Caltech in Pasadena. After a brief stint working in Silicon Valley (which unfortunately did not result in any kind of dot-com stock option fortune), he returned to Caltech via sea kayak to work with Mars Global Surveyor data, mapping Mars’ south polar layered deposits. While he has been a student at CU Boulder since the fall of 2002 you may not have seen much of him lately, because in early 2006 his wife and advisor both moved to Caltech/JPL, and like a long period comet, he slid back down into that place’s deep potential well to be with them. Next year, Zane intends to spend a lot of time on his bicycle.


Time, Tides and Tectonics on Icy Satellites
Faculty Advisor: Karl Mueller


In the outer solar system, we cannot directly use the radiometric dating techniques widely applied in terrestrial geology. We also lack the detailed understanding of the correspondence between crater size-frequency distributions and absolute ages that the radiometric dating of lunar samples has given us in the inner solar system. Additionally, many geologically interesting surfaces on the icy satellites are insufficiently cratered to allow us to infer precise relative ages. Thus it is desirable to find other ways to construct geological chronologies that function well in the outer solar system. In this work I develop two techniques.

The first compares the linear tectonic features covering Jupiter’s moon Europa to modeled tensile fractures resulting from tidal stresses due to the non-synchronous rotation (NSR) of the satellite’s decoupled, icy, lithospheric shell. The amount of shell rotation required to align a feature with the stress field resulting from NSR is used as a proxy for time. This translation is potentially convolved with a phase lag between the tidal potential and the stresses it induces, resulting from the shell’s partially viscous response to the NSR forcing. The geography of individual lineaments is found to be no more consistent with NSR stresses than chance would predict, however, the ensemble of global lineaments displays a non-uniform apparent rate of lineament formation throughout the time period recorded by the surface. This non-uniformity may be explained either by steady state fracture formation, activity, quiescence and erasure, or by a transient episode of tectonics.

The second technique encodes the myriad superposition relationships evident between Europa’s tectonic features as a directed graph enabling algorithmic analysis. The observed superposition relationships are generally insufficient to construct complete stratigraphic stacks, but we can calculate the degree to which they corroborate or contradict another hypothesized order of formation. We find that they tend to corroborate the hypothesis that the lineaments are tensile fractures due to NSR stresses.

Together these results offer cautious support for the idea that Europa’s shell rotates independently of its silicate interior, and demonstrate techniques useful in comparing tectonic features on other icy satellites to hypothesized mechanisms of formation.


Amateur Earthling on Hiatus

I have lots of draft posts in progress here on the back end, calling to me whenever I log in like internet sirens:

  • The Scale and Form of Cities, about how one might design a city from the ground up today, with efficient resource utilization and conviviality in mind.  A follow up to What Are Cities For?
  • Corporate Paternalism, about the ways in which we (especially conservatives) seem to have more faith in corporations than our elected representatives when it comes to making decisions for us.
  • Our Newtonian Hangover, about the non-linear, non-deterministic nature of history and technology, and James Burke’s excellent BBC series The Day the Universe Changed and Connections.  Miraculously, they are almost as relevant today as they were 30 years ago, and we are in the process of implementing one of the strange futures he foretold.
  • The dunes told me to work on passive buildings, which is a more personal and spiritual response to the NREL interview questions than seemed appropriate for a job interview.
  • and a magnum opus entitled What’s Wrong With Graduate School, that examines both how my own graduate career has been uniquely flawed, why I believe the graduate education system as a whole is in general broken, and a vision of what I think higher education might look like by the time any offspring I could conceivably have would be there.

However, at the moment the thing most wrong with graduate school is that I’m still in it.  My PhD defense has been tentatively scheduled for November 20th, and I’m going to the AGU fall meeting in San Francisco in mid-December to present my work, so I’m going to be completely occupied until the beginning of 2010.  There will be no further blog updates between now and then.  Or at least, there shouldn’t be.  If you see me making posts, don’t read them.  Instead ridicule me in person, or offer up some kind of digital castigation.

Of course, you can still read my mind keep in touch with me via my linkstream, my tweets, and my photos.  Oh, and of course there’s always e-mail and the telephone.


Spinning Europa 1: Introduction

Aaron suggested that my paper would would be much better if it read more like one of my blog posts, and less like a litany of torture lab notebook.  So here it is in parts, written as if I intended for you, dear reader, to read it.  (But don’t worry Bob, I’m actually working on the real paper).  It’ll probably be cathartic, as one of the things I hate about writing papers is the formalistic language.  It makes the content less readable, less enjoyable, less human.  I just don’t see the point.  If the content is up here, then anyone who feels the same way can get an idea of what’s going on without wading through all the passive voice crap.  It’ll also help me enjoy writing it, and let me feel like I got it out of my system.  Plus, on the internet, color figures are free (not $350 for the first page, $175 for each additional page… I mean jeez, that’s like a year’s worth of hosting fees just for one paper), you can insert links, and nobody has to pay $3975 per year for a subscription.  Oh, and sweet, I also get to retain the copyright.  Honestly, paper journals are so sad.  Of course there’s that pesky peer review, but you’ll find a comment form at the bottom of the page, and if you actually make it that far, by all means let me know what you think.  In a production environment, the publication would be hosted on a neutral third party site, precluding me from editing or deleting comments, verifying everybody’s identities, and ensuring that the content was archived effectively.  Alas, we’re not there yet.  Maybe this will seem ridiculous at this point in the grad school experience, but I actually maybe for the first time understand why someone would want to give a talk.  I have results, they’re interesting (if you’re into this kind of thing), but I don’t really know what they mean.


NREL Interview Questions and Answers

Career Goals.  Why work at NREL?

Why do you want to work at NREL?  Why do you want to work in Commercial Buildings in particular?  How does this job fit into your longer term career goals? Please take a look at this website for more information about the work done here at NREL in the commercial buildings area.

I believe that in the coming decades providing the plentiful energy which is currently synonymous with a high standard of living is likely to be a serious problem for humanity, and more generally for the terrestrial biosphere.  Today our energy is derived overwhelmingly from fossil fuels which are polluting, finite, unevenly distributed, and whose combustion is substantially altering the composition and optical properties of the Earth’s atmosphere.  Any one of those characteristics would be enough to cause grave concern.  Together they make significant change in our global energy systems imperative.  I want to be a part of that change.


The Beatings Will Continue

Associate Dean Stevenson,

I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Geological Sciences, researching two methods for inferring the temporal variability of tidally induced tectonic activity on the icy satellites of the outer solar system. I am petitioning for permission to register for an additional semester beyond the elapsed time limit of 6 years between matriculation and graduation which is imposed by the CU graduate school on PhD students. There are several reasons for my tardiness. Some were within my control, and others outside of it.


The Rotation Problem

Given the latitude and longitude of a prior planetary rotation axis (or pole), and given a set of latitude and longitude points defining a number of features on the surface of the planet, determine the latitude and longitude points describing the location of the features in the prior rotational regime.

I know.  Someone’s already solved this problem.  His name was Euler, and he did it in a more general case. So much more general, that all of the descriptions I can find of his solutions are a little opaque.


Short lineaments aren’t just noise

I’m now able to successfully discriminate plausible NSR fits by:

  • calculating several “good” fits, that is, any local minimum in the fit curve that is within 10% of the overall curve’s amplitude, of the minimum fit.
  • screening these good fits based on whether or not endpoint doppelgangers generated at those amounts of backrotation are with in an MHD of less than 0.1*lin.length() of lin.

This screening process:

  • almost always results in a unique best fit
  • screens out many bad fits (because even at their minima, they can’t create synthetic lineaments)
  • very occasionally permits more than one fit to be included as good enough

I think it’s good enough to be able to avoid doing the monte carlo thing for now.

I looked at several bands of lineament length, especially the short ones, to see if there were perhaps a trend toward noise in the shorter lineaments, which is what I would expect, given how easy it is for them to fit somewhere in backrotational space. But it turned out that they still display approximately the same aggregate fit curve and activity histogram:

Only the shortest lineaments tend toward noise.
Only the shortest lineaments tend toward noise.

It would be good to create a map of the lineaments, color coded by where their good fits occur, and compare that to the map of resolution and illumination angle that I got from Trent, just to see if there’s any kind of correlation.

Now I need to transform the lineaments into the paleo-orientation suggested by Schenk and Nimmo, and re-run the analysis, to see if magically, that shell orientation gives a more convincing story.


Visitor Without Stipend

As of Monday, I will be living up to my official title at Caltech. I tried to quit grad school a couple of weeks ago. In response to Bob’s email: “Please let me know that you’re not dead.”, I replied: “I’m not dead, but apparently, I don’t want a Ph.D. either”. Today was to be my last day, with figures cleaned up for the Wahr et al. 2008 stress paper, and helpful outlines of future research projects written for my academic successors.


Whither Ideotrope

Since I started doing what would one day be called “blogging” in the mid-90s, and since Ideotrope came into existence in 2001, a lot has changed on the web. There are powerful and extensible open source content management systems available today that do most, but not all, of what I always wanted to do on the web. The software underlying Ideotrope has fallen into disrepute and disrepair, and other software has charged ahead, and garnered many thousands of users and developers. I believe it’s time for a change.