Archive for: September, 2013

Lane Anderson Award Winners: Celebrating the Best Science Writing in Canada

Sep 27 2013 Published by under Canada, science books

Last night I attended the Lane Anderson Award dinner where this year's winners were announced. A huge congratulations to all the winners and nominees and sincere thanks to the organizers for inviting me to such a wonderful event.

Here is the press release from last night:

$10,000 Lane Anderson Award Winners

Celebrating the Best Science Writing in Canada

Toronto. 26th September, 2013: The Fitzhenry Family Foundation announced the winners of the 2012 Lane Anderson Award. Finalists and winners were feted at an intimate dinner in Toronto.

The annual Lane Anderson Award, now in its fourth year, honours excellence in Canadian science writing, by highlighting two jury-selected books – one addressed to adult readers, the other written for children and/or middle grade readers. Authors of the winning books each receive $10,000.

There were a total of 20 submissions for this year’s award.

“We established this award because we believe passionately that science writing, and science reporting is vitally important for every Canadian today. Science writing, research, and knowledge impacts the ways in which we live now, the ways our children will live in future, and the ways in which our children’s children will live their lives. As Canadians, we do not pay enough attention to science. We take it for granted. The Lane Anderson Award is dedicated towards removing that indifference, two books at a time. We thank all of the authors and publishers and judges who are helping us pass along this message. It needs to be heard and heeded.”

- Hollister Doll & Sharon Fitzhenry Directors, Fitzhenry Family Foundation

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.

The 2012 Lane Anderson Prize Winners are:


The Universe Within by Neil Turok (Anansi)

The most anticipated nonfiction book of the season, this year's Massey Lectures is a visionary look at the way the human mind can shape the future. Neil Turok is one of the world’s top physicists and founder of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS). He is currently the Director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.


The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea by Helaine Becker (Kids Can Press)

Based on the idea that knowledge is power, The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea shows how the ocean works and why this immense ecosystem needs our protection. Experiments using everyday materials help explain the scientific concepts. Helaine Becker is a bestselling writer of children’s fiction, nonfiction and verse.


The two juries meet annually to consider all the submissions to the Lane Anderson Award and comprise editors, librarians, and previous Lane Anderson winners.

The Lane Anderson designation honours the maiden names of Robert Fitzhenry’s mother, Margaret Lane, and his wife, Hilda Anderson Fitzhenry. The Fitzhenry Family Foundation is a privately directed Canadian foundation established in 1987 by Canadian publisher Robert I. Fitzhenry (1918-2008). The Lane Anderson Award is administered by Christopher Alam, a partner at the law firm of Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP.

Debby de Groot


The complete list of nominees is at my initial post.

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Reading Diary: The innovative university: Changing the DNA of higher education from the inside out by Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring

Sep 18 2013 Published by under acad lib future, academia, book review, faculty liaison

It took me a long time to get through The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out, something like eighteen months to finally wade through it. And it's not that it was even that bad. It a lot of ways, it was better than I expected. Part of it is the fact that it came out just before the MOOC craze hit and it seemed odd for a "future of higher education" book to sort of miss that boat. Part of it is the fact that Christensen and Eyring's book is very deeply rooted in the US experience so maybe parts of it weren't so relevant to my experience in Canada. But mostly I think it was me. Partly the logical breaks in the book made it easy to put down. Part of it was needing to digest what's been discussed. Part of it is that this book is not exactly a barn burner.

So, Clayton Christensen, he of disruptive innovation fame and fortune. Apply that theory to higher education and what do you get? Well, like I implied above, for something that came just before the more seriously touted disruptive innovation of MOOCs, something that ends up seeming strangely restrained. A nice history of Harvard opens the book, and at several chapters perhaps taking up a bit too much of it. The rest of the book uses the Mormon institution Ricks College as a case study in how higher education would serve students better if every institution didn't all blindly strive to be more like Harvard.

Sure, the "disruptive" innovations Christensen and Eyring promote most strongly like top-down planning, fanatical assessment, online courses and cheap adjunct profs are not necessarily universally lauded, but they definitely aren't as doctrinaire as many recent disruptophiles. And there was lots of balance in terms of the strong role they see for faculty and for physical campuses. They also recognize that all these disruptions involve tough choices, even if they are a little cavalier about some of the consequences. Basically, the message is that it's a bad thing if every single university strives to exactly emulate the Harvard model of research intensity and curricular planning. Different school can serve different student profiles in different ways.

If perhaps in need of an editor to chop 100 pages and nudge it away from an chummy old-boys-club feel, this is overall a decent if unexciting book. It is one that has much to disagree with in execution but much food for thought in terms of ultimate goal. I certainly didn't agree with most of their prescriptions but they definitely weren't as radical or as destructive as one might have assumed and ultimately the book served as a useful intellectual sounding board.

Any library serving a higher education patron base would benefit from this book as would most public library systems. Buy it for the prof in your life and watch the steam come out of her or his ears.

Christensen, Clayton M. and Eyring, Henry J. The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011.

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Friday Fun: Of opera-loving heart-transplanted mice, lost dung beetles, digestible shrews and more

Sep 13 2013 Published by under friday fun

Yes, it's Ig Nobel award time.

For those that haven't discovered them yet, the Ig Nobel's are:

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.

Here are some of the highlights. Enjoy!

MEDICINE PRIZE: Masateru Uchiyama [JAPAN], Xiangyuan Jin [CHINA, JAPAN], Qi Zhang [JAPAN], Toshihito Hirai [JAPAN], Atsushi Amano [JAPAN], Hisashi Bashuda [JAPAN] and Masanori Niimi [JAPAN, UK], for assessing the effect of listening to opera, on heart transplant patients who are mice.

REFERENCE: "Auditory stimulation of opera music induced prolongation of murine cardiac allograft survival and maintained generation of regulatory CD4+CD25+ cells," Masateru Uchiyama, Xiangyuan Jin, Qi Zhang, Toshihito Hirai, Atsushi Amano, Hisashi Bashuda and Masanori Niimi, Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery, vol. 7, no. 26, epub. March 23, 2012.

ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Masateru Uchiyama, Xiangyuan Jin, Masanori Niimi


JOINT PRIZE IN BIOLOGY AND ASTRONOMY: Marie Dacke [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA], Emily Baird [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA, GERMANY], Marcus Byrne [SOUTH AFRICA, UK], Clarke Scholtz [SOUTH AFRICA], and Eric Warrant [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA, GERMANY], for discovering that when dung beetles get lost, they can navigate their way home by looking at the Milky Way.

REFERENCE: "Dung Beetles Use the Milky Way for Orientation," Marie Dacke, Emily Baird, Marcus Byrne, Clarke H. Scholtz, Eric J. Warrant, Current Biology, epub January 24, 2013. The authors, at Lund University, Sweden, the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, and the University of Pretoria

ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Marie Dacke, Emily Baird, Marcus Byrne, Eric Warrant


ARCHAEOLOGY PRIZE: Brian Crandall [USA] and Peter Stahl [CANADA, USA], for parboiling a dead shrew, and then swallowing the shrew without chewing, and then carefully examining everything excreted during subsequent days — all so they could see which bones would dissolve inside the human digestive system, and which bones would not.

REFERENCE: "Human Digestive Effects on a Micromammalian Skeleton," Peter W. Stahl and Brian D. Crandall, Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 22, November 1995, pp. 789–97.


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Reading Diary: The Big Shift: The Seismic Change in Canadian Politics, Business, and Culture and What It Means for Our Future

Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson's book The Big Shift: The Seismic Change in Canadian Politics, Business, and Culture and What It Means for Our Future is pretty obviously not a science book. Rather, it's a book about Canadian politics. But of course here in Canada these days, it's hard to talk about science without talking about politics at least a little. This book is interesting from a science policy perspective since it endeavors to give insight into the deeper rationale behind the current Conservative government's actions. In a sense, it asks, "What kind of Canada do Stephen Harper and the Conservatives see when they look out the window?"

And the answer that Bricker and Ibbitson give is that Conservatives see Canada as a country where the power and influence is moving from east to west, that the focus of Canada's politics has shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific. What they call the Laurentian Consensus of Montreal/Ottawa/Toronto elites that ruled the country for decades is being replaced by a kind of alliance between newly diverse suburbs, rural Conservatives and Western Canada. This new alliance is not so much worried about nation building but is rather laser focused on economic issues. And is a group that is much less likely to assume that governments are the solution rather than part of the problem.

From the point of view of Canadian science, the idea is that anything to do with the environment or science is a non-starter for this new jobs & economy-focused non-Laurentian constituency. Anything to do with the environment in particular is supposedly part of the discredited previous Liberal agenda. I'm not convinced by any means that Ibbitson and Bricker are correct with the way they paint the Canadian electorate nor with how universally effective the strategies that this worldview entails. But in a very real way, it doesn't matter what I think. It's clear that the Conservatives believe it and are basing their policies on it. To great effect, so far at least.

Which is why this book is valuable to a Canadian science audience. It helps explain the Conservative's underlying assumptions which very definitely can help pro-science and pro-environment constituencies plan their own strategies. And the authors do discuss how potentially a broad progressive coalition could itself take advantage of this new reality to unseat the Conservatives.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Canadian politics. Even though it is a very popular treatment of the topic, academic and public library collections would find this to be a popular item.

Bricker, Darrell and John Ibbitson. The Big Shift: The Seismic Change in Canadian Politics, Business, and Culture and What It Means for Our Future. Toronto: Harpercollins, 2013. 199pp. ISBN-13: 978-1443416450 (


Some previous posts of mine that focus on Canadian science policy:


A couple of related books coming out later this fall that are relevant to this topic:


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