Archive for: September, 2012

Winners of the 2011 Lane Anderson Award Celebrating the Best Science Writing in Canada

Sep 29 2012 Published by under best science books 2011, Canada, science books

This past Thursday evening I was honoured to attend the awards ceremony for the 2011 Lane Anderson Award which celebrates the best science writing in Canada.

The winners were announced at the end of the evening. This is from the press release, which doesn't seem to be online yet:

Toronto. 2thth September, 2012: The two winners of the 2011 Lane Anderson Award were announced today by Hollister Doll and Sharon Fitzhenry, Directors of the Fitzhenry Family Foundation, at an intimate dinner in Toronto. The annual Lane Anderson Award honours two jury-selected books, in the categories of adult and young reader, published in the field of science and written by a Canadian. The winner in each category receives $10,000.

Adult Readers

The Atlantic Coast: A Natural History by Harry Thurston (Greystone Books)

The distinguishing elements of this book are its superb design and visual features. With stunning photography and well executed maps and illustrations, The Atlantic Coast is brilliantly published. Moreover, the text is not overshadowed by the visuals and is pleasantly integrated into a very accessible and informative volume. Valuable both for its scientific fact and its readability, The Atlantic Coast is a delightful book for study or simply to delve into. -- The Jury

Harry Thurston is the author of several collections of poetry and more than a dozen non-fiction books. He has also written for Audubon, Canadian Geographic and National Geographic.

Young Readers

Nowhere Else on Earth: Standing Tall for the Great Bear Rainforest by Caitlyn Vernon (Orca Book Publishers)

Weaving together biology, ecology, history, and the social sciences, Caitlyn Vernon demonstrates the interconnection of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, Canada. Not only does this comprehensive book have substantial science content and current information about northern regions of this impressive province, it also offers engaging side-bars with personal stories, facts and trivia, and most importantly, call to action, demonstrating the ways that even young children can make positive differences for a more sustainable future. A very important book, well designed with engaging and interesting information told in a conversational style. -- The Jury

Environmental activist Caitlyn Vernon guides readers through a forest of information, sharing her personal stories, her knowledge and her concerns. Caitlyn has a background in biology and environmental studies, and is currently a campaigner with Sierra Club BC.

A reminder of what the award is about from their website:

The Lane Anderson Award honours the very best science writing in Canada today, both in the adult and young-reader categories. Each award will be determined on the relevance of its content to the importance of science in today’s world, and the author’s ability to connect the topic to the interests of the general trade reader.”

The annual Lane Anderson Award honours two jury-selected books, in the categories of adult and young-reader, published in the field of science, and written by a Canadian.

The winner in each category will receive $10,000. Two three-person jury panels drawn from the Canadian academic, publishing, creative and institutional fields will review submissions in the two categories. The jury will be announced with the winners at an event in Toronto in mid September.

And this year's complete shortlists:

Adult Readers

Young Readers

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The American Chemical Society: Paving paradise to put up a parking lot

Why do people go into science? Why do people go to work at scholarly societies? Why do people choose scholarly publishing as a career? Why do people choose a career at the intersection of those three vocations?

There are cynical answers to those questions, for sure, and even the non-cynical need to put food on the table. But I truly don't believe people start out their path in life based on cynicism. Rather I believe most people start their careers based on hope.

I can only hope that for a person to pursue a career in scholarly publishing at a scientific society, their goal in life is to try and make the world a better place, to advance science, to serve society, to help the researchers of today stand on the shoulders of giants.

And the ACS Vision and Mission statements seem to support this (bolding is mine):

Our Mission and Vision

We are dynamic and visionary, committed to “Improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry.”

This vision ─ developed and adopted by the ACS Board of Directors after broad consultation with the membership ─ fully complements the ACS Mission statement, which is “to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people.” Together, these two statements represent our ultimate reason for being and provide a strategic framework for our efforts.

Alas, the theory here doesn't seem to be translating into practice.

Our story of woe begins with Jenica Rogers, Library Director at SUNY Potsdam, declaring that her library will be cancelling their American Chemical Society subscriptions:

tl;dr: SUNY Potsdam will not be subscribing to an American Chemical Society online journal package for 2013. We will instead be using a combination of the Royal Society of Chemistry content, ACS single title subscriptions, the ACS backfile, and ScienceDirect from Elsevier** to meet our chemical information needs. We’re doing this because the ACS pricing model is unsustainable for our institution and we were unable to find common ground with the sales team from the ACS. Instead, we explored other options and exercised them. You could do the same if you find yourself in a position similar to ours as ACS standardizes their pricing, and maybe together we can make enough choices to make our voices heard in meaningful ways.

Not surprisingly, this is big news. And Jennifer Howard's article in The Chronicle has this ACS reaction:

A spokesman for the American Chemical Society said that the group would not offer a response to Ms. Rogers's blog post or the conversation that's sprung up around it. "We find little constructive dialogue can be had on blogs and other listservs where logic, balance, and common courtesy are not practiced and observed," Glenn S. Ruskin, the group's director of public affairs, said in an e-mail message. "As a matter of practice, ACS finds that direct engagement via telephone or face-to-face with individuals expressing concern over pricing or other related matters is the most productive means to finding common ground and resolution."

Which is rude, condescending and dismissive of both librarians and bloggers.

And, of course, no one on the Internet can leave well enough alone. There's more PR disaster on the cheminfo-l mailing list:

I respect and appreciate responsible bloggers, those that thoughtfully engage on those blogs as well as those that utilize listservs. No insult was intended, and apologies to those that interpreted the comment that way. These outlets provide important avenues to further dialogue and collaboration and are valuable assets in the ever evolving digital age.

The individual responsible for the above cited blog certainly has the right to her opinion, but that does not excuse rude behavior or her use of profanity and vulgarity in addressing ACS or its employees. While not evident in the most recent postings, I won’t repeat what she has posted in the past. But I think you would agree that vulgarity and profanity postings do not lend themselves to meaningful, productive and civil discourse, thus our decision not to engage any further with her on this topic.

Which is even worse, of course. Shutting down, haranguing, insulting and attempting to intimidate critics is a time-worn tactic.

Thankfully, Rogers will have none of that.

For all of you who won't take the time to search (nor do I think you should have to), let me share all of my public posts about the ACS. There are several over several years. I really don't think that I was guilty of "rude behavior or her use of profanity and vulgarity in addressing ACS or its employees." I don't appreciate the accusations, Mr. Ruskin, and none of what you've accused me of changes the fact that you DID insult bloggers and listserv participants. Apologizing by insulting me does you no credit.

And again.

Librarians and faculty did not price the ACS content out of our ability to pay for it.

Librarians and faculty did not insist, repeatedly, for seven hours of face-to-face ‘negotiations’, that any compromise was outside the established pricing model.

Librarians and faculty did not insist that there should be only private discussion of the matter, and no public debate.

And, to take it bigger picture, librarians and faculty did not reduce State funding for New York’s institutions of higher education.

So I repeat: We are not the ones who should feel guilty. We are not the ones failing to prioritize teaching and learning. And speaking out about that conflict, that injustice, and that frustration does not mean we don’t value those things. It means we do.

Which brings us to today.

American Chemical Society, you need to rethink what you're all about, how you treat your customers and your members and the true constituency of your society -- society as a whole.

Given your status as a scholarly society, you should price your products fairly so you need to work with librarians and others to build a sustainable business model that works for a broad range of institutions.


And of course, this issue is spreading like wildfire and the full range of commentary is kind of hard to compress into a reasonably short post.

Here's a list of all the relevant posts I've been able to find up until now. It's heartening to note a nice mix between posts from both the librarian and chemist side. Please feel free to chime in with ones I've missed.

Update 2012.10.01: A more complete and chronologically ordered list of relevant posts is here: Around the Web: SUNY Potsdam vs. American Chemical Society in chronological order – Confessions of a Science Librarian

(If this thing ends up having legs, I'll probably get around to putting the posts in chronological order. See Above.)

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Around the Web: The Canadian War on Library and Archives Canada

Sep 27 2012 Published by under Canada, culture of science, librarianship, Politics

The current Conservative government of Canada isn't too fond of Canadians having access to information. It's inconvenient for them because I guess a well-informed citizenry would be more likely to call them on the various shenanigans they've been indulging in.

A good general take on the situation is Allan Gregg's recent speech, 1984 in 2012 – The Assault on Reason:

I have spent my entire professional life as a researcher, dedicated to understanding the relationship between cause and effect. And I have to tell you, I’ve begun to see some troubling trends. It seems as though our government’s use of evidence and facts as the bases of policy is declining, and in their place, dogma, whim and political expediency are on the rise...

It was common knowledge that this government had little stomach for the deficit spending that followed the finance crisis of the previous years. And knowing that the public supported a return to balance budgets, it was a foregone conclusion that we were going to be presented with a fairly austere budget document. That the government intended to cut 19,000 civil servant jobs – roughly 6% of the total federal workforce – might have seemed a little draconian, but knowing what we knew, not that shocking...

Ok, so now the facts were beginning to tell a different story. This was no random act of downsizing, but a deliberate attempt to obliterate certain activities that were previously viewed as a legitimate part of government decision-making – namely, using research, science and evidence as the basis to make policy decisions. It also amounted to an attempt to eliminate anyone who might use science, facts and evidence to challenge government policies.

Part of this process has been the systematic stripping of the Canadian government's information infrastructure, starting with the downsizing of CISTI in 2009 (see the end for posts on CISTI) and now the downsizing of Library and Archives Canada.

So I don't have to rehash everything in this post, the Librarians' chapter of my union, The York University Faculty Associaiton, recently released a couple of letters which detail the changes. I reprinted and blogged about them here.

This letter by York colleague Janet Friskney representing the Bibliographical Society of Canada is also a good summary of the issues.

With this post I hope to make a contribution to the debate and discussion by documenting as many reactions to the situation at LAC as I could find.


Blogs Posts, Media Articles, etc.

As usual, if I've made any errors or if I've missed anything significant please let me know either in the comments or at jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

Previous related posts:

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Reading Diary: Open Access by Peter Suber

Scholars who grew up with the internet are steadily replacing those that grew up without it. Scholars who expect to put everything they write online, who expect to find everything they need online, and who expect unlocked content that they may read, search, link, copy, cut/paste, crawl, print, and redistribute, are replacing those who never expected these boons and got used to them, if at all, looking over their shoulder for the copyright police. Scholars who expect to find the very best literature online, harmlessly cohabitating with crap are, inexorably replacing scholars who, despite themselves perhaps, still associate everything online with crap.

Some lazy scholars believed that if something is not free online, them it's not worth reading. This has never been true. However, it's gradually becoming true, and those who want it to become true can accelerate the process. (p. 164)

First, lets get the important stuff out of the way. Peter Suber's book Open Access is an important book. You should read it, you should buy (or recommend) a copy for your library. You should buy a hundred boxes and give a copy to every faculty member at your institution.

And not just because it's a blazingly wonderful book -- although it mostly is -- but because it's a book that sets the stage for an intelligent, rational, fact-based discussion on the future of scholarly publishing. It does so in language familiar and accessible to faculty and administrators, particularly those beyond the sciences who might be unfamiliar with and skeptical the idea of open access. It makes OA seem reasonable and progressive, it makes it's advocates seem calm and forward-thinking. It makes the wholesale transformation of scholarly publishing into something more open seem almost inevitable.

Based in part of various of his other writings about OA, Suber very systematically covers all the main aspects of the topic, from a definition all the way through motivations, varieties of OA, policies, scope, how OA and copyright interact, economics, casualties and what the future may hold for OA.

Some of the topics that Suber covers that I found particularly important include how OA affects scholarly books, the importance of OA beyond just for human uses into areas such as text mining. I also really like how he clearly explains what OA is not -- basically dispelling a lot of the myths around the movement. He ends the book with some words on how scholars can make their own work more accessible.

Which brings me to...yes, as I implied above, this book is definitely aimed at scholars rather than the general public. While of great interest to higher education administrators or librarians, the goal of this book is to spread the word to faculty and researchers.

For librarians reading this book, it is definitely a plus that Suber doesn't take the condescending route and proclaim libraries and librarians to be casualties of increased OA. On the other hand, libraries as institutions that passively pay exorbitant subscription bills tend to figure more in the text than librarians as active participants, leaders and allies in reforming scholarly communications. Although I'm sure it's not intended to read this way (and there are a couple of good plugs for libraries & librarians in the last chapter), it's not hard to imagine faculty members reading this book imagining that their libraries need rescuing rather than coming away with the idea that their libraries are full of librarians who would be happy joining them storming the barricades. Change will happen faster and better if we hang together.

The librarian's perspective on learning about and advocating for OA, Walt Crawford's book is a better bet. In fact, the books are complementary more than competing so both books are useful to have.

It's also worth noting that although this is more of a professional trade book rather than an academic monograph and thus not really the focus of the OA movement, Suber and MIT Press will make this book open access six months after publication. Which was somewhat controversial to the Scholarly Kitchen crowd. Which, to say the least, I disagreed with. On the other hand, the process of me reading this book and preparing the review certainly inspired a few of my recent posts about scholarly communications, either directly or indirectly.

Finally, who would I recommend this book to? First of all, this book is a must-have for any academic library. No question about that. And even many public libraries would find it of interest to their patrons. And it would certainly make a great gift or prize at any library/faculty event. And I'm only half joking when I suggest giving a copy to every faculty member on campus.

Suber, Peter. Open Access. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. 242pp. ISBN-13: 978-0262517638

(Review copy supplied by publisher.)

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Around the Web: Competing with free education, Redefining the library and more

Sep 25 2012 Published by under around the web

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Friday Fun: Green hair, diamond ammunition, dead salmon -- YES! It's Ig Nobel Time Again!

Sep 21 2012 Published by under friday fun

One of my favourite events in the science calendar is always the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, which was held last night in Cambridge, MA. For those that don't know, the Ig Nobels celebrate the odd and unusual in scientific research, both genuine and not-quite.

The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology

And last night's awards (archived video!) were no different than previous years' in their ability to make us laugh and then think.

Here's a taste:

PEACE PRIZE: The SKN Company [RUSSIA], for converting old Russian ammunition into new diamonds.

NEUROSCIENCE PRIZE: Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford [USA], for demonstrating that brain researchers, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere — even in a dead salmon.
REFERENCE: "Neural correlates of interspecies perspective taking in the post-mortem Atlantic Salmon: An argument for multiple comparisons correction," Craig M. Bennett, Abigail A. Baird, Michael B. Miller, and George L. Wolford, 2009.
REFERENCE: "Neural Correlates of Interspecies Perspective Taking in the Post-Mortem Atlantic Salmon: An Argument For Multiple Comparisons Correction," Craig M. Bennett, Abigail A. Baird, Michael B. Miller, and George L. Wolford, Journal of Serendipitous and Unexpected Results, vol. 1, no. 1, 2010, pp. 1-5.
ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford

CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Johan Pettersson [SWEDEN and RWANDA]. for solving the puzzle of why, in certain houses in the town of Anderslöv, Sweden, people's hair turned green.

And, since one of my sons has a long ponytail:

PHYSICS PRIZE: Joseph Keller [USA], and Raymond Goldstein [USA and UK], Patrick Warren, and Robin Ball [UK], for calculating the balance of forces that shape and move the hair in a human ponytail.
REFERENCE: "Shape of a Ponytail and the Statistical Physics of Hair Fiber Bundles." Raymond E. Goldstein, Patrick B. Warren, and Robin C. Ball, Physical Review Letters, vol. 198, no. 7, 2012.
REFERENCE: "Ponytail Motion," Joseph B. Keller, SIAM [Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics] Journal of Applied Mathematics, vol. 70, no. 7, 2010, pp. 2667–72.
ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Joseph Keller, Raymond Goldstein, Patrick Warren, Robin Ball

Anyways, there's more. Great stuff.

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Around the Web: Herding undergrads, The Great Geek Sexism Debate, NYPL reno and more

Sep 20 2012 Published by under around the web

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Thought experiment or reality: Walking away from the American Chemical Society?

Jenica Rogers is Director of Libraries at the State University of New York at Potsdam. Like so many institutions SUNY Potsdam subscribes to the suite of journals published by the American Chemical Society. Now, that's always a challenge since the ACS prices their products very aggressively as well as pushing the envelope with annual price increases.

Well, push finally came to show and SUNY Potsdam is Walking away from the American Chemical Society.

The problem:
In May 2012, after much internal discussion and debate, three SUNY library directors from the comprehensive colleges (myself included) and the university centers, along with two SUNY Office of LIbrary and Information Services staff met with three representatives from the ACS at SUNY Plaza in Albany, NY, and discussed their pricing model. The ACS folks were very clear: they are dedicated to moving all customers to a consistent pricing model, the pricing steps in that model are based on a tiered system, and there is a base price underneath all of that. In principle, I absolutely support this kind of move: too many libraryland vendors obscure their pricing models, negotiate great deals with one institution while charging double to someone else, or “have to ask the manager” to approve any offer. In our discussions, the librarian stakeholders noted our support for this approach, but argued that while their tiers are reasonable and based on arguably sound criteria, the base price underlying those steps is unsustainable and inappropriate. (In the case of SUNY Potsdam, the ACS package would have consumed more than 10% of my total acquisitions budget, just for journals for this one department.)


What we did:
Given that there was no apparent ACS-based solution to our budget crunch in the face of what we feel is unsustainable pricing, we went to our Chemistry faculty and discussed all of this with them. This was not our first meeting; we’ve been discussing this since fall 2011 when we clearly understood that ACS pricing would continue to increase, and was pushing at the ceiling of what we could sustain...after two meetings and much discussion of how to reconfigure our ACS subscriptions to meet our budgetary constraints, I believe that we all agreed that this goes beyond having a tight campus or library budget: this is simply not appropriate pricing for an institution like ours. The result of our first meeting was that the chemistry faculty agreed to take their concerns to the ACS based on their individual professional involvements with the organization, talking with sales and the Chemical Information Division about their concerns, and we agreed that we’d look into other library solutions to their chemical information needs.


The dramatic conclusion:
And so that’s where we are. On January 1, 2013 our ACS content will dramatically decline, and our RSC package is already active to pick up the slack. The libraries have agreed to do a robust analysis of how well or poorly this works out in this year, but the chemistry faculty were willing to join the librarians in taking a stand against unsustainable pricing structures...

Librarians are often disinclined to be first to try something – we’d often rather be second, after someone else has found the hidden pitfalls. So here I am, saying that we were willing to be the first to be loud, and to provide you with a public example of what is possible. Our chemistry faculty were willing to follow that lead, and I’m grateful to them for it. I’ll report back on what we learn.

And much more. Go read the entire text of this incredibly important post.

I see a strong tie between my Open Access thought experiment post a while back. In it I imagined a world where librarians would suddenly would wake up one day and suddenly the whole scholarly publishing ecosystem would magically have transformed itself into 100% open access. And what, I asked the world, would you do with all the money we saved by not having to pay for journal subscriptions?

For the sake of my thought experiment I imagined this transformation as something that happened to libraries. But what if libraries fired the first shot in the battle? What if we were proactive instead of reactive? What if we took back our own money instead of having it handed to us?

Indeed, as the Loon has stated, the gauntlet has been thrown.

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Around the Web: Bandwagons, Skills, Crises, Lectures and more

Sep 12 2012 Published by under around the web

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Reading Diary: Cooler smarter: Practical steps for low carbon living by The Union of Concerned Scientists

Sep 10 2012 Published by under book review, environment, science books

You know the old saying about the weather -- everybody complains but nobody does anything about it! Well, the same can be said about climate change -- everybody complains but nobody does anything about it. And that's partly because of political gridlock, denial and inaction at the highest levels across numerous jurisdictions around the world. But it's also because most of us really don't have a clear idea what we can do about it.

In other words, what actions can we as individuals take to fight climate change?

I think we all have a sense that if we could aggregate millions and billions of individual actions across a wide spectrum, the sum of all those individual parts could be far more effective than our laggard governments.

If only we had a clear-headed, practical and sensible guide to what individual actions would make a difference!

And guess what, we do.

It's the Union of Concerned Scientists new book, Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living. This is a clear-headed list of what people can do to reduce their carbon footprint. First of all, the authors (and it's a consortium of authors under the banner of TUoCS) get the big picture right -- do what you have to do to reduce your carbon footprint but don't get obsessed and neurotic about it.

And they are excellent on the little picture, with most of the chapters tackling particular aspects of our lives and how we could each change our lifestyle to reduce our emissions: transportation most importantly, particularly our obsession with automobiles and low-density living. Then our home heating and electricity use, diet and consumer consumption habits all come under scrutiny. Finally, focusing on a US audience, they go into some practical ways that people can advocate for strategies for reducing emissions both within their social networks and across broader communities. Advocating with the government is also touched upon.

Lest we think the authors are not committed to the cause, one of the appendices lists each of their individual efforts to reduce their carbon footprints.

Who would I recommend this book to? Just about everyone. Rarely does any individual popular science book rank as a genuinely significant and compelling addition to a library's collection, but this is one of them. Pretty well every academic or public library should get this book for their collection. Even middle school and high school libraries should have it. In fact, since it's the youth of today that will suffer the most from the effects of climate change, they might find the case for individual action in this book pretty compelling -- and maybe convince their parents to try some of the strategies.

For each of us individually, we owe it to ourselves and our planet to read this book and think deeply about what we can do. So if you buy and read the paper book, please consider passing it along to someone else so it can be reused -- in the best sense but a profound multiplier effect.

This book would also make an interesting choice for a one book, one campus/library/city program.

Union of Concerned Scientists, Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living. Washington: Island Press, 2012. 321pp. ISBN-13: 978-1610911924

(Print copy supplied by publisher. And about to be passed along.)

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