Playfair and the search for elusive truth

In our current political and social environment, it’s no secret that truth, and the value of truth, is taking a beating. When truth is under attack, fallacious theories get repeated and “alternative facts” promoted, and when a preference for the spurious is favored, the search for truth becomes ever more critical.

Of course, it can be argued, and frequently has been stated, that truth itself is elusive if not unattainable. “There is no such thing as absolute truth and absolute falsehood,” wrote Henry A. Rowland. “The scientific mind should never recognise the perfect truth or the perfect falsehood of any supposed theory or observation. It should carefully weigh the chances of truth and error and grade each in its proper position along the line joining absolute truth and absolute error.” (Rowland, Henry A. “The Highest Aim of the Physicist,” Science, New Series, Vol. 10, No. 258, Dec. 8, 1899, 825-833, as of November 6, 2017: )

Nevertheless, the job of historians, biographers, journalists, and others is to seek out the truth to the best of their ability, relying on facts. Facts can be discovered and brought to light, or manipulated and distorted; the difference is consequential.

This is why university presses exist: to reveal and elucidate facts and bring us ever closer to truth, or at least the threshold of truth.

In our new, forthcoming title, Playfair: The True Story of the British Secret Agent Who Changed How We See the World, author Bruce Berkowitz reveals a journey to uncover a truth that is often hidden, opaque, distorted, refracted by lenses of luck, fate, and personal conflicts of interest.

Line chart by Playfair: Commercial and Political Atlas, 1786
William Playfair, Commercial and Political Atlas, 1786. Source: Wikimedia Commons

William Playfair, when he is known today, is remembered as the inventor of “statistical graphics,” including the line, bar, and pie charts that we still use regularly today (and built into Microsoft Excel). He’s a sometime-hero of the Infogeek community. Edward Tufte cited him extensively in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, and called Playfair one of the great inventors of modern graphical design, who created the “first time series using economic data.” (Tufte, Edward, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Graphics Press, 1983, 9, 32-34, 64-65, 91-92)

William Playfair also pioneered strategic analysis, essential to our understanding of today’s world, and developed theories explaining international trade and investment while making contributions to important concepts like price indexes and measures of national power.

Yet Playfair is generally not well known, some of his contributions remain largely forgotten or ignored, and his reputation has suffered with characterizations by historians that he was a lightweight, flimflam artist, or worse.

As Berkowitz writes: “One might say Playfair is the most famous man you have never heard of. He appears everywhere; he knows everyone. Time and again, he’s at the hinge point of history: the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, the founding of the United States, the birth of modern economics, the Age of Napoleon. Documents and artifacts link him to influential ideas and famous men. He’s the Forrest Gump of his era—except, unlike Gump, he’s brilliant, and, unlike Gump, he’s not just an accidental witness stumbling on the scene—he’s shaping and driving events.” (Playfair: The True Story of the British Secret Agent Who Changed How We See the World, page 334)

Line chart from William Playfair, Commercial and Political Atlas, 1786
William Playfair, Commercial and Political Atlas, 1786. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Berkowitz’s marvelous book is as much detective story as biography, a history of Playfair, his exploits and inventions, as well as a history of how the facts and truth about Playfair have been obscured over time.

The booby trap pinning Playfair as a blunderer provides an illustrative example. Playfair apprenticed to James Watt, inventor of the steam engine, who is frequently quoted in articles about Playfair as claiming: “I must warn you, Playfair is a blunderer.”

The often-repeated quote makes an early appearance in James Watt and the Steam Engine, by Henry William Dickinson and Rhys Jenkins, first published in 1927. Statisticians Patricia Costigan-Eaves and Michael Macdonald-Ross wrote an influential article about Playfair in Statistical Sciences that repeated the quote. But an examination of the original source, Watt’s letters, finds that the quote is a misleading snippet of what is, in fact, Watt’s recommendation that Playfair receive a promotion: “I would recall Playfair who can do part of the business, & I think now you are at home you can contrive to gett him proper assistance—I must warn you that Playfair is a blunderer but I dare say he will be assiduous and obedient and plain direction must be given him.” While the word “blunderer” sounds a bit damning, it was a frequent epithet employed by Watt, even to himself. (Playfair, 344)

Historian Randolph G. Adams said, “Each generation has to rewrite history for itself-and some­times from the same sources used by previous generations.” (Romney, Rebecca and J.P. Romney, Printer’s Error: Irreverent Stories from Book History, Harper Collins, 2017, 284, quoting from Lawrence C. Wroth, Notes for Bibliophiles in the New-York Herald Tribune, 1937-1947, ed. Richard J. Ring, Ascencius Press, 2016, 128) Indeed, in Playfair’s case, the various misquotations, passages taken out of context, and even complete fabrications began to accumulate over time, taking on a life of their own, seeping into scholarship as well as popular media.

Line chart from William Playfair, Commercial and Political Atlas, 1786
William Playfair, Commercial and Political Atlas, 1786. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Another example uncovered by Berkowitz regards Playfair’s involvement in the first major political scandal in the newly formed United States. The so-called Scioto Affair was a land speculation gone bad involving Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington. One historian, Ephraim C. Dawes, largely pinned part of the scandal on Playfair. Berkowitz describes the historical puzzle as a bit like Akira Kurosawa’s famous samurai classic, Rashômon, where the witnesses all believe and describe different versions of the same event. Berkowitz shows how Dawes, however, was the great-grandson of Manasseh Cutler, and used his version of the affair to clear his relative’s name. A later historian, Theodore Thomas Belote, made Playfair the heavy, as a confidence man, embezzler, and schemer, without relying on historical evidence. Berkowitz uncovers the real story, however, by carefully analyzing original source documents, digging up existing transcriptions of letters that have disappeared, and discovering an unlikely source, a bilingual French schoolteacher who wrote her thesis and, later, a book published in French, about the tangled Scioto affair.

L.S. Stavrianos wrote, “Each generation must write its own history, not because past histories are untrue but because in a rapidly changing world new questions arise and new answers are needed.” (Stavrianos, L.S., Lifelines from Our Past: A New World History, M.E. Sharp, 2004, 13).

The most remarkable discovery in Playfair is how the author uncovers evidence that William Playfair diligently proposed, planned, and executed the first covert operation in history to collapse a nation’s economy. By printing vast amounts of counterfeit assignats, the paper currency France had adopted to pay for their government and wars, Playfair hoped to dismantle the French economy, in 1793, hindering the French revolution on behalf of the British.

Cover of Playfair by Bruce BerkowitzUncovering the true story was a challenge: Playfair never bragged about it, he never even mentioned it in his unpublished memoirs, and Playfair pioneered and employed elements of espionage “tradecraft” often used today to hide his tracks. Berkowitz uncovered substantial evidence for the op during his journey of writing the book, including various documents and letters. Among them was Playfair’s original plan for the counterfeiting operation, written in his hand and dated March 1793, but lost until now, found among Playfair’s other correspondence to British Secretary of State for War Henry Dundas. Also among the evidence for the operation were physical specimens: three paper molds found at the Haughton Castle mill. Two of the molds were used for counterfeiting assignats, and a third used for making notes for Playfair’s Original Security Bank (a story in and of itself). Berkowitz’s book offers an amazing story of finding the molds, mislabeled and misplaced, in Newcastle’s Discovery Museum, as he describes, “…Like the last scene of Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark: warehouse workers box the Ark of the Covenant, slot it into a vast sea of crates, and the credits roll as the artifact vanishes into the maw of a bureaucracy” (Playfair, 240).

Berkowitz writes about the importance of examining original source documents when uncovering facts and revealing the elusive truth to a story: “Transcripts [and citations] usually don’t include marginal notes, scribbles on the backs of documents, addresses, and postal markings, all of which can sometimes provide clues to piecing together a story. Besides, there’s nothing like handling an actual artifact. It’s a physical connection between you and the man you’re trying to figure out” (Playfair, 239). For this reason, Playfair’s endnotes include references not only to the citation used but also, wherever possible, to the original source document.

Berkowitz writes: “Analysis should also be cumulative. Everyone builds on others’ work, adding information and insight along the way. (And, when necessary, making corrections.) It’s all part of the process of creating knowledge. By making the source material easier to obtain, we hope to encourage others to follow up with their own research” (Playfair, 372).

The book has been an incredible journey, for the author and for our new, fledgling university press. We look forward to your comments and reaction.


Playfair: The True Story of the British Secret Agent Who Changed How We See the World, by Bruce Berkowitz, will be published by the George Mason University Press in November 2017.

Order from Amazon or from your favorite independent bookseller. George Mason University Press titles are distributed by University of Virginia Press and Longleaf Distribution.


This blog post is part of UP Week 2017: A Celebration of University Presses

See also:

Why University Presses Matter by Daniel Heath Justice

Scholarship Making a Difference by Gary Kramer

Tools for Surviving in a Post-Truth World

Scholarship Makes a Difference, by Al Bertrand

The Struggle for Equality, Recognition, and Reward, by Athena Coustenis and Thérèse Encrenaz

Winning Hearts and Minds: Publishing that Matters, by Anne Brakenbury

Knowledge and Facts Matter, by Nicole Mitchell

Mason Author Series with General Michael V. Hayden, May 4th

The University Libraries, Mason Publishing,
and the University Bookstore

General Michael V. Hayden

book cover for Playing to the EdgeDiscussing his book:  Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror

Thursday, May 4th
3:00-4:30 pm
Main Reading Room
Fenwick Library
Fairfax Campus

For General Michael Hayden, playing to the edge means playing so close to the line that you get chalk dust on your cleats. Otherwise, by playing back, you may protect yourself, but you will be less successful in protecting America. “Play to the edge” was Hayden’s guiding principle when he ran the National Security Agency, and it remained so when he ran the CIA.  In his view, many shortsighted and uninformed people are quick to criticize, and this book will give them much to chew on but little easy comfort; it is an unapologetic insider’s look told from the perspective of the people who faced awesome responsibilities head on, in the moment.

How did American intelligence respond to terrorism, a major war and the most sweeping technological revolution in the last 500 years?  What was the NSA before 9/11 and how did it change in its aftermath?  Why did the NSA begin the controversial terrorist surveillance program that included the acquisition of domestic phone records? What else was set in motion during this period that formed the backdrop for the infamous Snowden revelations in 2013?

For 10 years,  then, General Michael Hayden was a participant in some of the most telling events in the annals of American national security. General Hayden’s goals are in writing this book are simple and unwavering: No apologies. No excuses. Just what happened. And why. As he writes, “There is a story here that deserves to be told, without varnish and without spin. My view is my view, and others will certainly have different perspectives, but this view deserves to be told to create as complete a history as possible of these turbulent times. I bear no grudges, or at least not many, but I do want this to be a straightforward and readable history for that slice of the American population who depend on and appreciate intelligence, but who do not have the time to master its many obscure characteristics.”


portrait of Michael V. HaydenGeneral and Distinguished Visiting Professor Michael Hayden is a retired four-star general who served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency — the only person to helm both agencies— during a time of heinous new threats and wrenching change. In addition to leading CIA and NSA, General Hayden was the country’s first principal deputy director of national intelligence and the highest-ranking military intelligence officer in the country.  He also served as commander of the Air Intelligence Agency and Director of the Joint Command and Control Warfare Center and served in senior staff positions at the Pentagon, at U.S. European Command, at the National Security Council, and the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria. He was also the deputy chief of staff for the United Nations Command and U.S. Forces in South Korea. He is currently a principal at the Chertoff Group and a distinguished visiting professor at the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government.

Refreshments will be provided.

The Mason Author Series is sponsored by the University Bookstore.

Jennifer Ritterhouse book launch in Mason Author Series, April 26th

The University Libraries, Mason Publishing,
and the University Bookstore

Jennifer Ritterhouse

In a discussion of her new book:  Discovering the South: One Man’s Travels Through a Changing America in the 1930s

Wednesday, April 26
3:00-4:30 pm
Main Reading Room
Fenwick Library
Fairfax Campus

Discovering the South- CoverDuring the Great Depression, the American South was not merely “the nation’s number one economic problem,” as President Franklin Roosevelt declared. It was also a battlefield on which forces for and against social change were starting to form. For a white southern liberal like Jonathan Daniels, editor of the Raleigh News and Observer, it was a fascinating moment to explore. Attuned to culture as well as politics, Daniels knew the true South lay somewhere between Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. On May 5, 1937, he set out to find it, driving thousands of miles in his trusty Plymouth and ultimately interviewing even Mitchell herself.

In Discovering the South, historian Jennifer Ritterhouse pieces together Daniels’s unpublished notes from his tour along with his published writings and a wealth of archival evidence to put this one man’s journey through a South in transition into a larger context. Daniels’s well chosen itinerary brought him face to face with the full range of political and cultural possibilities in the South of the 1930s, from New Deal liberalism and social planning in the Tennessee Valley Authority, to Communist agitation in the Scottsboro case, to planters’ and industrialists’ reactionary worldview and repressive violence. The result is a lively narrative of black and white southerners fighting for and against democratic social change at the start of the nation’s long civil rights era.

See also the author’s website for the project.

Jennifer Ritterhouse

Jennifer Ritterhouse is associate professor of history at George Mason University. She is the author of Growing Up Jim Crow: How Black and White Southern Children Learned Race and several articles; editor of a reprint edition of Sarah Patton Boyle’s autobiography, The Desegregated Heart: A Virginian’s Stand in Time of Transition; and co-editor of Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South. She teaches classes on the 20th-century US, the South, cultural history, and research methods.

Refreshments will be provided.

The Mason Author Series is sponsored by the University Bookstore.

Seeking a talented digital publishing professional

Mason Publishing/George Mason University Press is growing, and we have an open position for a talented digital publishing professional. Consider applying, or forward this announcement to your friends and colleagues who may have appropriate experience in digital publishing, web technologies, graphic design, and production.

Apply at:

Digital Publishing Lead (Search Reopened)

George Mason University’s Mason Publishing Group, within the University Libraries, seeks an experienced professional responsible for the management of digital publishing platforms and tools. This position reports to the Head, Mason Publishing Group. George Mason University has a strong institutional commitment to the achievement of excellence and diversity among its faculty and staff, and strongly encourages candidates to apply who will enrich Mason’s academic and culturally inclusive environment.

The Mason Publishing Group ( unites the George Mason University Library’s digital publishing activity with the George Mason University Press to form a set of publishing services for the university.


The successful candidate will:

Focus on use of platforms to publish digital content, including e-journal and e-book hosting platforms such as OJS, PressBooks, and others, by providing project management and user support;
Manage the daily operations of the university’s institutional repository—Mason Archival Repository Service (MARS);
Work closely with our metadata services group to insure consistent metadata across all digital platforms;
Provide support and training for the Library’s new Research Commons, which includes a Digital Scholarship Center;
Provide support for digital publishing projects and platforms;
Consult with students, faculty and researchers who want to publish e-content; and
Maintain and enhance Mason Publishing’s web presence.

Required Qualifications:

Graduate degree in relevant discipline, such as ALA-accredited masters in library or information science, masters in publishing, and/or other advanced or terminal degree;
Demonstrated success managing and/or developing digital publications and collections within a library, publisher, or knowledge institution;
Outstanding analytical, organizational, project, and time management skills and ability to simultaneously lead multiple projects;
Ability to set priorities, meet deadlines, and complete tasks and projects on time and within budget by leveraging demonstrated creative and innovative problem-solving skills;
Ability to document relevant policies, procedures, and local standards;
Ability to build collaborative and mutually beneficial working relationships with people of varying backgrounds; and
Should be familiar with a range of web-based technologies and possess demonstrable expertise in at least one of the following: XML, XSLT, a scripting language (e.g., Python, PERL, Ruby) or CSS3.

Preferred Qualifications:

Two to four years of professional experience in digital publishing initiatives, digital collections, or digital repositories;
Experience working with digital publishing or institutional repository platform/software (e.g., Fedora, DSpace, Eprints, Digital Commons. OJS, PressBooks);
Knowledge of current metadata standards and understanding of metadata principles and practices;
Facility with the Adobe Creative Suite, particularly In-Design (CS5 or later) a plus; and
Knowledge of new scholarly publishing models.

Apply at:

George Mason University has a strong institutional commitment to the achievement of excellence and diversity among its faculty and staff, and strongly encourages candidates to apply who will enrich Mason’s academic and culturally inclusive environment.

Mason Author Series: Digital Destiny with Dr. Shawn DuBravac

The George Mason University Libraries and the University Bookstore, present the Mason Author Series, in association with Mason Alumni Week
Digital Destiny with Dr. Shawn DuBravac

Thursday, October 13, 2016
7:00-8:15 pm
Main Reading Room (2nd floor), Fenwick Library, Fairfax Campus


George Mason University alumni aDigital Destiny book, ISBN 9781621573739uthor Dr. Shawn DuBravac (MA ’04, PhD ’14), chief economist for the Consumer Technology Association, will speak about his book Digital Destiny: How the New Age of Data Will Transform the Way We Work, Live, and Communicate. This New York Times bestseller explores how the world’s mass adoption of digital technologies portends the beginning of a new era for humanity in the realms of economics, health, travel and culture. In Digital Destiny, DuBravac provides examples of how the next decade will be defined by an all-digital lifestyle and the “Internet of Everything” – where everything, from the dishwasher to the wristwatch, is not only online, but acquiring, analyzing, and utilizing the data that surrounds us. And even as digital mechanisms take up more and more of our lives, individuals will have more freedom in action, work, health, and pursuits than ever before.

In his role as CTA’s chief economist, DuBravac provides crucial economic analysis to association and industry leaders regarding future economic activity and the relative health of the technology industry. He has been widely published on the topics of finance, economics and technology, and his keen insights have made him a highly sought-after speaker and commentator. In 2012, DuBravac was named to Dealerscope’s “40 under 40” list of people to watch in the consumer technology industry. His analysis has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Los Angeles Times, Barron’s and on CNN, MSNBC and other media outlets.

George Mason University alumni author Shawn DuBravac
George Mason University alumni author Shawn DuBravac

DuBravac has taught as an adjunct professor for George Washington University’s MBA program and at University of Mary Washington and for George Mason University’s MBA program. Prior to joining CTA, DuBravac was head research analyst in the Economic Analysis Group of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division He holds economic degrees from Brigham Young University and George Mason University.

DuBravac shares many of his insights and ideas on Twitter at @shawndubravac.

Please RSVP at

Refreshments will be provided.

The Mason Author Series is sponsored by the University Bookstore.


Mason Author Series: Tropical Conservation with Dr. A. Alonso Aguirre

The University Libraries, Mason Publishing, and the University Bookstore, present
The Mason Author Series
in association with Fall for the Book

Tropical Conversation: Perspectives on Local and Global Priorities

Tropical Conservation with Dr. A. Alonso Aguirre

Monday September 26, 2016

3:00-4:15 pm

Main Reading Room (2nd floor), Fenwick Library, Fairfax Campus

In Tropical Conservation: Perspectives on Local and Global Priorities, editor A. Alonso Aguirre (Department Chair of Mason’s Environmental Science and Policy program) brings together experts who primarily work in Africa, Latin America and Asia to introduce important conservation concepts and real world applications to issues that affect the tropics and subtropics; a region with 75% of the world’s human population as well as 90% of its biodiversity.

Tropical Conservation argues that issues such as climate change, environmental sustainability, and emerging diseases must be studied and addressed on a global scale. Today, no part of the world can be viewed in isolation, and we further codify and integrate a range of approaches for addressing global threats to nature and environmental sustainability, including climate change and emerging diseases.

Aguirre will be joined by his contributors: Thomas Lovejoy who coined the term “biological diversity”; Larry Gorenflo, who focuses on how people adapt to their natural and cultural surroundings; Ingrid Visseren-Hamakers, whose research centers on international biodiversity governance; Harald Beck, who studies mammal-plant interaction and ecosystem engineering in temperate and tropical ecosystems; Andrew Taber, an environmental pioneer and authority on Neotropical wildlife; Elizabeth Loh, who studies anthropogenic land-use change; and wildlife biologist and veterinarian, Iga Stasiak.

Aguirre 5

Please join us for this event. The event is free and refreshments will be provided. The book will be available for purchase.

Open Scholarship Initiative (OSI) 2016 Conference Papers

This Word Cloud is comprised of the compiled text of all OSI2016 conference papers
Facts and figures associated with OSI2016
Poster of OSI “By the Numbers”

Mason Publishing has published the papers from the inaugural Open Scholarship Initiative (OSI) Conference, held in April 2016 at George Mason University, in collaboration with the National Science Communication Institute and UNESCO. OSI is a multi-year effort to establish a new, global framework in which a wide variety of stakeholders will be able to work together over the long term to shape and manage the future of scholarly publishing. The final papers and workgroup presentations can be found and downloaded at —all have been published under a Creative Commons license. Links to individual papers are below.

Of all the many conferences I have attended over the years—certainly more than a few hundred—OSI was the most diverse in terms of stakeholder representation from a variety of different fields and perspectives in scholarly publishing. OSI2016 convened high-level (CEO/Dean/Director) delegates from across the research and academic publishing sphere to chart the future of scholarly publishing and open access. In all, 196 delegates attended OSI2016, representing 12 countries and 15 stakeholder groups across 184 institutions, including 50 major research universities (25 percent of delegates), 37 scholarly publishers (19 percent of delegates), 24 government policy organizations (12 percent), 23 scholarly libraries and groups, 23 non-university research institutions, 17 open knowledge groups (9 percent), eight faculty and education groups, and more. Countries represented include the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Singapore, and South Africa.

OSI workgroup sessions and subsequent conference papers seek to answer broad, foundational questions: What do we mean by publishing? Who should decide what is and isn’t open? What are the moral implications for open and what are the usage dimensions? Other topics included the tensions between impact overload and underload; the status of preservation mandates and repositories; peer review systems and options for reform; and tracking the impact of research through impact factors and alternative metrics. The different ideas and perspectives the participants led to a wide range of ideas on how to improving the way that research is published, shared and accessed.

The What is Publishing (1) Workgroup (DOI: looked at the evolving scholarly publishing ecosystem and determined that the needs of researchers are not being met by the current system. Instead, they recommend a change to disaggregated services—unbundling the products and services that publishers currently provide and letting market forces drive the development of, and demand for, a new and improved à la carte world of knowledge artifacts and knowledge management tools.

OSI2016's "What is Publishing 1" workgroup—at work
The “What is Publishing 1” workgroup—at work

Meanwhile, the What is Publishing (2) Workgroup (DOI: envisions a future publishing paradigm that is net­worked, open, and significantly more dynamic than the traditional model; their recommendations include identifying gaps in evidence and knowledge and working to define unmet publishing and dissemina­tion needs of scholars.

The What is Open? Workgroup (DOI: found that the scholarly community’s current definition of “open” captures only some of the attributes of openness, which instead exist along a broad spectrum of attributes. Their framework proposes an alternative way of describing and evaluating openness based on four attributes—discoverable, accessible, reusable, and transparent—the “DART Framework for Open Access.”

Who decides the future of open access and who has the power to make decisions that can affect the future of open access? The Who Decides? Workgroup (DOI: examined stakeholders and their power as actors of change. Their report offers three possible change scenarios: in the way scholars are evaluated, the way some innovations in scholarly publishing can be nurtured, and the way cooperation can empower a “global flip” of existing research journals to open access.

The Moral Dimensions of Open Workgroup (DOI: considered the moral foundations of knowledge production and access that underlie models of scholarly publishing. Their report identifies seven moral dimensions and principles to open-access scholarship and data, recognizing the moral responsibility to maximize the benefits of scholarly publishing for the larger society.

The Usage Dimensions of Open Workgroup (DOI: identified definitions, priorities, and themes, including the character of research outputs and the actual research workflow process, as well as economic considerations.

Delegates from the OSI2016 Usage Dimensions Workgroup
OSI2016 Usage Dimensions Workgroup

Two groups examined how scholarly publishing tools and products are evolving. The Evolving Open Solutions (1) Workgroup (DOI: considered barriers to openness, such as flawed incentives, and how these barriers can be overcome. Their recommendations included defining an ideal future and an alter­native system for funding, tenure, and promotion.

The Evolving Open Solutions (2) Workgroup (DOI: assessed the most significant challenges confronting academic publishing over the next 3-5 years and proposed recommendations centered on themes of culture change, funding/sustainability, and the unique infrastructural requirements for different disciplines and diverse forms of research output.

The Open Impacts Workgroup (DOI: identified three areas for a new framework for understanding the impact of open: measuring openness, utilization measures, and understanding economic impacts of open.

The Participation in the Current System Workgroup (DOI: focused on authors, who play a critical role in the scholarly communications system as the original content creators, are in many or most cases the original rightsholders, and are generally the ultimate decisionmakers when it comes to how, when, and where to publish their work. Envisioning a “perfect world” for authors, the group made recommendations for reforms, messaging, and research that could address many common author concerns and create a more hospitable framework for authors to participate in the open publishing system.

The Information Overload & Underload Workgroup (DOI: discussed access as a core aspect of the issue of overload and underload—both access to research materials and access to venues where one can contribute to the scholarly corpus. The group explored factors and causes of information overload and underload, and developed ideas for social and technology solutions addressing these issues.

The Repositories & Preservation Workgroup (DOI: found that while repositories are a vital tool in modern information management and a key component of preser­vation and long-term availability, they are not well-suited to the multitude of stakeholders in the modern scholarly publishing system. Among their recommendations for strengthening repositories and standardizing preserva­tion processes are building new workflows and an ecosystem that will better ensure long-term access and preservation.

The Peer Review Workgroup (DOI: focused on peer review in the context of open scholar­ship and found that while greater openness and transparency would improve accounta­bility, minimize bias, and encourage collaboration, there are significant challenges as well as a great variation in readiness across disciplines and publishing mod­els. The group recommended facilitation of peer review outside the traditional publication process—for example, in the context of preprint servers and after publication—with incen­tives for broad participation.

The Embargoes Workgroup (DOI: categorized publication embargoes into four main types and focused on two: post-publication and subscription embargoes. Their recommendations include creating an evidence base for embargoes by funding a global survey of key stakeholders. They propose questions for the survey that would provide meaningful data about the is­sues surrounding embargoes.

The Impact Factors Workgroup (DOI: focused on the uses and misuses of the Journal Impact Factor (JIF), with a partic­ular focus on research assessment. The group’s recommendations include active support for the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) by research funders, higher education institutions, national academies, publishers and learned societies as well as the creation of an international “metrics lab” to ex­plore the potential of new indicators and the wide sharing of information on this topic among stakeholders.

Finally, the At-Large Workgroup (DOI:, of which I was a member, was the largest and most diverse in terms of stakeholder representa­tion, observing workgroup conversations during the meeting and used their wide-angle lens on the evolution of these questions and proceedings in order to develop some high-level takeaways on the OSI conference. These included observations on the format and process of the conference, the widespread theme of changing scholarly needs and outputs, the primacy of promotion and tenure in discussions on change in scholarly publishing, stakeholders and missing voices at OSI, the influence of impact, and recommendations going forward toward OSI 2017 and beyond.

This Word Cloud is comprised of the compiled text of all OSI2016 conference papers
Word Cloud of compiled text of OSI2016 conference paper

The At-Large paper discusses some of the common themes found throughout the workgroup sessions and papers. This word cloud—created from the compiled texts of all sixteen conference papers—also highlights the most frequent terms and themes discussed at OSI2016.

If you are interested in attending OSI2017, to be held in April 2017 at George Washington University, email or visit our contact page at: 

Seeking a digital content designer

Mason Publishing/George Mason University Press is hiring! We’re looking for an experienced and talented digital content designer with experience in graphic design and digital publishing tools.

Mason Publishing, a department of the University Libraries, invites applicants for a Digital Content Designer responsible for the development of digital and print publications and support for digital publishing tools and platforms. Mason Publishing is an initiative that unites the George Mason University Library’s existing digital publishing activity with the George Mason University Press to form a set of publishing services for the university. George Mason University has a strong institutional commitment to the achievement of excellence and diversity among its faculty and staff. Women, minorities, individuals with disabilities and veterans are encouraged to apply.

Reporting to the Digital Publishing Production Lead, the Digital Content Designer develops compelling textual and visual solutions across a variety of formats and digital platforms (e.g., print, e-books, mobile and Web).

Required Qualifications:

  • Outstanding typographical and design skills;
  • Experience in graphic design, publishing production or digital publishing (two to four years is preferred);
  • Proficiency with one or more of the following: Adobe Creative Suite (CS6) and/or Adobe Creative Cloud, including Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop;
  • Proficiency in one or more of the following: HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript;
  • Experience managing events and organizing meetings;
  • Ability to work collaboratively with outside vendors and the in-house production team;
  • Ability to work within tight deadlines without sacrificing quality;
  • Experience preparing digital assets for production and printing;
  • Be a self-starter, detail-oriented, and willing to conform to in-house design standards; and
  • Complete design tasks and implement visual identity across Mason Publishing products.

Preferred Qualifications:

  • Bachelor’s degree in graphic design, communication arts, fine arts, a closely related field, or an equivalent combination of education and experience;
  • Develop print or digital publications such as monographs, short content, textbooks and other material using outside vendors or internal expertise;
  • Ability to work with in-house staff to style a variety of Web-based content systems;
  • Ability to work with clients to style Web-based e-journals and advise journal producers on design and production issues;
  • Knowledge of ePUB3 specifications, XML, and derivative or related formats; and
  • In-depth knowledge and expertise in the following: Adobe Creative Suite (CS6) and/or Adobe Creative Cloud, including Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop; HTML; HTML5; CSS3; and JavaScript.

For full consideration, applicants must apply for position number 00494z at by May 2, 2016; complete and submit the online application; and upload a cover letter, resume, and a list of three professional references with contact information.

George is ready to celebrate launch of “The Five George Masons”

FiveGeorges_01On Wednesday, April 6th, at 3:00 p.m., we’ll be celebrating the book launch of The Five George Masons: Patriots and Planters of Virginia and Maryland. In preparation, George (the statue) has decked himself in Mason Pride colors—and you can also see that he’s proud of the new book.

University Professor Rosemarie Zagarri will be guest speaker at the book launch. The book, by Pamela C. Copeland and Richard K. MacMaster, was recently published in a new, second edition by the George Mason University Press. The book launch will be held in the Fenwick Library Main Reading Room.

May 6, 2016 will mark the 240th anniversary of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, written by George Mason, a document that has left an indelible mark on democracy as we know it today. In the Virginia Declaration of Rights and his efforts revising the laws of Virginia, George Mason made lasting contributions to the American tradition of individual liberty and limited government. His draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights began “That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights…namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the FiveGeorges_02means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” These words inspired Thomas Jefferson when he wrote the United States Declaration of Independence, and likewise inspired the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of the French Revolution, one of the founding documents in the human rights tradition.

Dr. Zagarri will speak about “George Mason in History and Memory” as part of the Mason Author Series, sponsored by the University Libraries and the University Bookstore. The Mason Author Series highlights significant publications of George Mason University faculty and alumni.

First published in 1975, the second edition of The Five George Masons has been published in collaboration with the Board of Regents of Gunston Hall, and features an introductory note by George Mason University President Ángel Cabrera; a foreword by Scott Stroh, Executive Director of Gunston Hall; and new images and maps.

The event is free and open to the public. No registration is required. We hope you can join us!


Rosemarie Zagarri to speak at launch of “The Five George Masons”

Cover of The Five George Masons, featuring a portrait of George Mason IV.University Professor Rosemarie Zagarri will be guest speaker at the book launch of The Five George Masons: Patriots and Planters of Virginia and Maryland, by Pamela C. Copeland and Richard K. MacMaster, recently published in a new, second edition by the George Mason University Press. The event will be held on Wednesday, April 6th, at 3:00 p.m. in the Fenwick Library Main Reading Room.

Dr. Zagarri will speak about “George Mason in History and Memory” as part of the Mason Author Series, sponsored by the University Libraries and the University Bookstore. The Mason Author Series highlights significant publications of George Mason University faculty and alumni.

Dr. Rosemarie Zagarri
The alt text for this image is the same as the title. In most cases, that means that the alt attribute has been automatically provided from the image file name. Dr. Rosemarie Zagarri

Rosemarie Zagarri received her Ph.D. from Yale University and is currently University Professor and Professor of History at George Mason University. She is the author of several books, has published numerous articles in scholarly journals, and received a number of national fellowships and awards. In 2009, she was elected President of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR), the national organization for early Americanists.

First published in 1975, the second edition of The Five George Masons has been published in collaboration with the Board of Regents of Gunston Hall, and features an introductory note by George Mason University President Ángel Cabrera; a foreword by Scott Stroh, Executive Director of Gunston Hall; and new images and maps.

The event is free and open to the public. No registration is required.

For more information, contact: John Warren, Head, Mason Publishing/George Mason University Press, University Libraries, George Mason University
Office: 703-993-3636 • Email: