Archive for: January, 2014

Rabble.ca article repost: Question! What is really happening at the DFO libraries?

Jan 29 2014 Published by under Canada, Canadian war on science, environment, Politics

A couple of weeks ago I was approached by Rabble.ca to write a piece for them with some of my thoughts about the current controversy surrounding the government of Canada's closure of several Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries. I have a link compilation here.

I was happy to write up something and it appeared here. Rabble also allows authors to keep all rights to their work so we agreed that after a few days I would be able to repost it here on my blog. Which is what I've done below.

I will reiterate my thanks to Kaitlin McNabb for offering me this opportunity and for her very valuable editorial suggestions which made the article much better.

What I find interesting about this issue is just how much staying power it has had in the public consciousness. Compared to reactions to recent controversies at Library and Archives Canada, what's happening at DFO has had much more media coverage and perhaps more importantly, much more sustained media coverage for what is frankly a fairly niche issue.

Now don't get me wrong, I find this hugely gratifying. Sure, maybe a little more attention could be paid to the librarians and library staff affected rather than just the stuff the libraries contain. But at the end of the day, science libraries and the collections and services we provide for our communities are a huge story and that's a good thing.

Why do I think this story has found such resonance? Two main reasons.

First of all, I think as a country we're just way more ready to be really pissed off at the current government than we were a year or two ago. The devastation to the infrastructure of scientific and environmental research over the last year or so just can't be overstated. And this story plays very much into the narrative that this government doesn't want much to do with science or evidence or any of those other inconvenient pillars of democracy.

Secondly, I think it's important that the libraries are serving the fisheries and oceans communities, two communities that are very active in environmental research and that are hugely affected by the government's zeal around the resource extraction industries. The story seems to be broadening to include cuts and closures at all federal government libraries, but the core is the DFO situation. People see the DFO library cuts as part of a larger effort to shut down environmental research and impede the collection and dissemination of environmental information and thus indirectly favour industry.

The DFO library story has those two main issues: we're seeing the longer term context of the government's actions and very precisely we're seeing that they are targeting environmentally focused research in service to the resource industries such as oil and gas.

The story continues to evolve with more revelations seemingly on a daily basis. I'll be updating my link roundup periodically.

As promised, the Rabble.ca story follows...

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The recent Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) science library consolidation from 11 locations to four is a well publicized story, one that probably doesn't need to be recapped in extensive detail. Basically, the government is taking all the collections from all of the locations and consolidating them into four locations, supposedly making sure all unique items are saved. They are also disposing duplicates as well as materials that aren’t core to their mission and letting go of the equivalent of 9.7 staff members.

This is more or less what we know for sure. But there is a lot we don’t know for sure and there certainly are a lot of questions. I, especially as a librarian, would like to know those answers.

Harper? Well he doesn't seem to like libraries much...

This whole DFO situation comes in the context of a government that has had a very poor record with regard to information and data.

From the cancelling of the long form census, to cuts at Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (Canada’s national science library), to drastic cuts at Library and Archives Canada, to cuts at Environment Canada libraries. The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) has a whole page dedicated to cuts and closures at federal government libraries.

This is also in the context of a whole raft of cuts and closures and restructuring across all of Canadian government science.

So, what is 'normal' for managing library collections and what happened at DFO?

Yes, the disturbing images of dumpsters full of books that are floating around are definitely shocking. However, it's important to understand that weeding is part of every library’s normal collection management strategy.

Keeping in mind the needs of their communities, librarians have to make sure their libraries’ collections are relevant and up-to-date, not to mention that it doesn’t outgrow the physical space that is available. It is fairly standard for weeded books and other materials to be sold to used book vendors or via Friends of the Library book sales or even put out on trolleys for community members to take for themselves. At the end of the process, some materials may end up recycled.

It is fairly rare that a library system will decide to close a branch, but it does happen. The decisions are difficult and wrenching and never taken lightly. The reasoning is often due to decreases in funding or changing usage patterns as more and more researchers are able to find the materials they need online.

Small departmental or institutional libraries are often the hardest hit in these situations. In the academic world, there are cases where small subject-focused branch libraries are closed and their collections are consolidated into the other branches

When closures happen, the librarians and staff work very hard to minimize the impact on their community, especially to make sure valuable collections are not lost and that research support services are maintained.  

This is where the DFO situation takes a downward turn.

Apparently, this careful process to keep irreplaceable material was not, at all, what happened at the DFO libraries that are being closed. Instead, chaos and confusion seemed to reign.

In the government's mad rush to save only about $400,000 -- a drop in the bucket at the scale of the federal government -- they are turning a process that needs to be deliberate and carefully thought through into a careless exercise which threatens a valuable part of Canada’s documentary and scientific heritage.

Was the library staff given sufficient time and resources to properly consult with their research communities? How did DFO library staff ensure that nothing valuable was weeded from the collections? What criteria were applied to decide if something should be weeded? For particularly in-demand items, did they ensure that there were multiple copies at different locations?  

In a more normal process, the library staff would work very closely with a researcher to carry out the weeding and collection consolidation projects. There is no evidence that this is what has happened.  

What does DFO stand to lose (or has already lost?)

For the kinds of collections that the DFO libraries have, it will be incredibly important to make sure all the truly unique documents and data sets are saved somewhere.

Collections of regular books and bound journals are important, but they are increasingly becoming available online and are also usually easily available for purchase or on loan from other sources if something that has been discarded needs to be replaced.

It’s those unique documents that are worrisome. These unique documents will mostly be comprised of original research reports from DFO scientists (and others) and data compilations -- what librarians tend to refer to as grey literature.

In other words, things that were not published in official scholarly journals but are still very important. And because they weren’t published in journals, there might only be a very small number of copies in existence.

While the common assumption for scientific research is that only very recent studies are important to preserve, for the kind of environmental/ecosystem/population study research that happens in DFO, a historical perspective is vital. We need to know how things have changed over time and for that, we need the old data and reports.

Can't we just digitize it!?

Then there’s the digitization and document delivery aspects of the project. DFO states that their clients vastly prefer digital access to materials where possible. In the modern world of libraries, most particularly in science, this is a given.

However, for the kinds of collections that DFO has, with so much of it being older data and reports, there will be an awful lot that isn’t online. What to do with that?

Well, their plan seems to be to digitize it. Which is fine. But digitizing and making available hundreds and thousands of unique and original documents is a far from trivial task.

Who is doing this digitization? Has it been outsourced and if so, to whom? What resources have been allocated to a systematic digitizing of everything unique versus just dealing with requests as they come in?  

The digitized materials have to be properly discoverable by both government scientists and the general public. What metadata standards are being used and who is creating that metadata?  

Since the documents are potentially just as valuable a hundred years from now as they are today, what are the long term preservation plans?

As for data, much of it will be in tabular format in old reports or binders. Is this going to be converted into formats that can be directly processed by computer or just scanned into PDF documents? How will the general public, including scientists from all over the world, be able to request documents to be digitized?

Once again, the government’s record on this sort of thing is not stellar, to say the least

Is public access the real reason for the DFO closures?

One of the key rationales for closing the libraries is that they were seldom used by the public. This is very likely true, but there are two factors to keep in mind.

First of all, you can’t just walk into a DFO library unannounced. You need permission and must have a staff member present.

And more importantly, access to information isn’t something that is easily assigned a uniform value. Going to a library isn’t like going to a bowling alley where every game is more or less worth the same to users and to society. Accessing important scientific information can be transformational. A handful of accesses per year can still be incredibly important.

Researchers having the support of professional library staff in meeting those information needs can also be transformational. How will they ensure that members of the general public -- university researchers included -- will continue to have access to the research materials they need?

Wait! What about the librarians?!

One of the things that has been mostly left out of the media coverage of the DFO library closings is the staff -- both librarians and other staff.  

Librarians have been particularly hard hit by cuts over the past few years. How many librarians have been let go? What are their areas of expertise? Is there enough professional staff to manage the consolidation of the collections, to drive the digitization program, to make sure loan requests are satisfied in a timely way?  

The librarians and other staff will be incredibly important in continuing and building upon the DFO libraries legacy of building world class collections and providing excellent research support to government scientists and the general public. They need sufficient staff and expertise to be able to do that.

The hallmarks of a great library system are excellent collections, supremely qualified professional staff and maximum availability to the community of those collections and the support of the staff. If Canada wants to protect its scientific and environmental heritage, the government needs to make sure that documentary heritage is properly preserved, maintained and developed.  

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries are part of that heritage.

2 responses so far

Reading Diary: An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

Jan 28 2014 Published by under book review, Canada, science books

Looking over all the books I read in 2013, there's one non-fiction book that really stands out as the best. Former astronaut Chris Hadfield's memoir An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. wasn't the deepest or most information-packed book I read last year, but it was the most entertaining and involving. And it's core message was compelling enough and it's narrative drive put it right at the top of my list.

While perhaps a bit predictable in it's "science rah rah we all need to take care of the one planet that we all share" storyline that's common to this sort of popular hero autobiography, Hadfield's story oozes the kind of stereotypical Canadian basic decency and humbleness that we Canucks just eat up. (Even if we are more than a little delusional about it. See Ford, Rob and Beiber, Justin.)

And what a story it is. Hadfield covers a lot of territory, from some basic information about his youth through his time at school and as a test pilot. He quickly gets to his life as an astronaut trainee -- the long, arduous training and training and more training. In fact, if there is any recurrent theme in this book, it's "Be Prepared."

The core message of Chris Hadfield's book is that if you want to achieve something difficult, you have to focus on that task and pursue it with laser-like efficiency and a Herculean work ethic. Focus is the key, even if the sacrifices you have to make and the ones that you impose on those around you seem like they might not be worth it, you have to focus. And work insanely hard, be prepared to train and overtrain and retrain until you can do all your assigned tasks in your sleep with two hands tied behind your back while submerged in a tank of water filled with hungry sharks.

Yes, Hadfield stresses the benefits of focus and dedication. But there's also that Canadian humbleness. If there's a second theme that runs through the book, just as important as the first, it's that it takes a village (and three or four countries) to send an astronaut into space. If the astronaut is at the top of the pyramid of effort, she or he can't forget that ultimately they depend on everyone else to get them to the stage where they can actually complete their mission. And that is the message of humbleness. Treat people like their contribution truly matters, they'll be glad to help you. Be an egotistical jerk, and well, not so much.

Which gets us to the parts of the book about Hadfield's various space missions, all told with warmth and gentleness and more than a little sense of wonder. Hadfield is a fantastic story teller, with a nice self-deprecating sense of humour and the book really shines in these later parts, with lots of great stories and anecdotes.

Hadfield doesn't talk a lot about his personal side and mostly when he does it's to praise his wife and family for putting up with a largely absent husband and father during all the long years of training and preparation.

But all that is done now, as Hadfield enters a new stage in his career as author and CBC personality. I sincerely hope he'll find the time to enjoy his personal life a little more but I also imagine he'll be very busy with book tours, speaking engagements and making music.

I recommend this book without reservation. It would make a great gift to any person in any walk of life. Public libraries would definitely benefit from this book as would many school libraries. Academic libraries that collect any popular science biography would do well to consider this one. Even for those that don't, Chris Hadfield's book would make a fine exception to that rule.

Hadfield, Chris. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2013. 295pp. ISBN-13: 978-0316253017

(Review copy provided by publisher.)

2 responses so far

Question! What is really happening at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries?

Jan 16 2014 Published by under Canada, Canadian war on science, Politics

I have an article up at Rabble.ca today about the library closure situation at Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

When closures happen, the librarians and staff work very hard to minimize the impact on their community, especially to make sure valuable collections are not lost and that research support services are maintained.

This is where the DFO situation takes a downward turn.

Apparently, this careful process to keep irreplaceable material was not, at all, what happened at the DFO libraries that are being closed. Instead, chaos and confusion seemed to reign.

Check it out over here! You can also check out my chronology of the DFO libraries story.

Finally many thanks to Kaitlin McNabb for offering me this opportunity and for her very valuable editorial suggestions which made the article much better. I'll have the full text posted here in a week or so.

2 responses so far

Canadian Science Policy Advocate Interviews: Paul Dufour, Fellow and Adjunct Professor, Institute for Science, Society and Policy

Jan 13 2014 Published by under Canada, Canadian war on science, interview, Politics

Welcome to the rebooted science interview series here at Confessions of a Science Librarian! The previous incarnation mostly concentrated on people in the broadly defined scholarly communications community, like Mark Patterson of eLife, Peter Binfield and Jason Hoyt of PeerJ or author Michael Nielsen.

The series has been extremely irregular for the last few years so I thought my more recent involvement with Canadian science policy advocacy presented an interesting opportunity to start over. In particular, my participation in the recent iPolitics science policy series presented itself as a amazing chance to tap into a wonderful pool of science policy advocates and see what they think about the current situation in Canada.

So what I've done is invite each of the authors from that series to respond to the same set of email interview questions with the idea that I would publish their exact responses here.

Over the next month or two I will be publishing the interviews from those that have agreed to participate. Once a few of those are up, I plan to widen the field and invite a broader range of Canadian science policy advocates to join the fray.

Suggestions of interview participants are more than welcome. Please feel free to email suggestions to jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

Paul Dufour, principal of science and technology consulting firm PaulicyWorks and Fellow and Adjunct Professor with the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa is today's subject. His articles in the the iPolicy series are Let Canadian science off the leash and, with Scott Findlay, Why Canada needs a science watchdog.

Previous subjects include: University of Toronto Ph.D. candidate Dak de Kerckhove and University of Toronto historian of science Jonathan Turner.

Enjoy!

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Q1. Could you tell us a little bit about your scientific/technical/journalistic/political background and how you ended up involved in science advocacy? How do you define advocacy and what’s been the focus of your advocacy activities?

I am a self-professed science policy junkie. I got hooked early on with my studies at McGill, Concordia (science and human affairs), and Université de Montréal (Institut d'histoire et de sociopolitique des sciences). The latter was great fun since I was exposed to all of the leading thinkers in science and tech policy of the late 70s when science policy was emerging as a field (de Solla Price -- who probably gave the best course I have ever taken, King, Rose and Rose, Brooks, Freeman, Landes, Kuhn, Gibbons, Salomon, Ben-David, Schroeder, Rosenberg, Sabato, Niosi, etc..).

I was lucky -- out of UdeM, I got a job offer to work at the Science Council of Canada and never really looked back doing stints at virtually every organization that did science policy including working for and with several ministers of science (and we have had some good ones in the past) while also developing an expertise in international science relations with DFAIT and IDRC (science counselors, IIASA, APEC, NAFTA, Commonwealth science, OECD, etc.) .

As a result, I am an unusual hybrid that has both an academic and actual policy-making background in this area (e.g.; I helped with the development of the Canada's first and only National S&T Policy in 1986-87 under Mulroney, the Chretien S-T-I policies of 1996 and 2002; shaped science advice with the ACST and CSTA; worked to ensure a sound platform for the IPY, and kept the the creation of the CCA alive through its various iterations, and of course, articled with the National Science Adviser -- Dr. Carty -- from 2005-2008). I also have an unusual ability to close down places wherever I go -- so a word to the wise!

That said, I am quite familiar with advocacy in its many forms -- from lobby groups looking for more money (AUCC was especially good at this as were several university presidents, and someone by the name of Howard Burton who almost single-handedly got the federal funding for the Mike Lazaridis Perimeter Institute in Waterloo- see his great book First Principles) to international pressure for Canada to join science-research clubs (the many Carnegie Group meetings of the G8 science ministers and advisers I had the privilege of attending were particularly useful on this front). I have also been quite keen to support efforts on research capacity building in Africa and other developing regions, hence my continued role on the evaluation committees of Grand Challenges Canada and ISTPCanada for example.
 

Q2. The Conservative Government’s science policies since 2006 have been pretty controversial and hotly contested. What do you think has been the most damaging thing that they’ve done?

This is a tough question...all governments screw up at some point or other, but this one seems to take the cake (and I have tasted a lot of cakes!). In several respects, the Harper regime is a bit of a retro one harkening back to the US Bush Jr. days when elites/scholars were not to be trusted and ideology was the ruling paradigm. Clearly, the inability of the Harper apparatchik to recognize the value of evidence in decision-making has been problematic, if not willfully blind. The StatsCan cuts, the elimination of the NSA and NRTEE, the crime bills and gun registry policies will prove to be detrimental in the long run and will no doubt hamper effective decision-making in future governments on behalf of Canadians. But I have learned that governments come and go and pendulums do swing back.
 

Q3. The conservative response to a lot of the activism that’s happened over the last few years has basically been to affirm that the Harper government has increased overall funding for science and that what some have called muzzling is really just management asserting its right to control what their employees communicate to the media. How do you respond to this?

Governments are in the business of controlling information --it is bred in their bones as Frye would say. But what this government has yet to learn is that in a social media world, it is no longer possible to manage and massage all messaging (see Snowden and Assange on this). The reaction to the muzzling issue has been poorly handled to say the least with the result that Canada's once respected science image globally has suffered. A simple remedy (at little cost) would have been for the Harperites to issue a public statement with guidelines for the scientist-media interface respecting the usual government protocols all the while understanding that stuff has to get out in a timely fashion and that government scientists can speak to their area of expertise. The CSTA had a Cabinet-approved set of guidelines on this during the Chretien years -- it would be a simple matter to revive and adapt these and a lot of the angst around the "big chill" could be addressed -- at least within the government. Whether this would adequately address the damage done elsewhere is another matter.

As for the the increased funding argument, it is a specious one...stats are always selective and usually out of date...for example, Canada is now below Ireland, Australia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic in its GERD/GDP ratio...and ranks 21st overall globally -- you won't see this on any Harper Government communiques.
 

Q4. When the next government comes in, they will effectively have a kind of science blank slate to work with. What do you think are some policies the next government should focus on to rebuild their science and technology activities and infrastructure?

No incoming government has a blank slate -- they are all saddled with stuff from previous regimes. Clearly, the fear factor that has impacted our government science apparatus and its scientists will take some time to overcome with a more meaningful recognition of public good science in the national innovation eco-system; and the "prudential acquiesence" of our science and business leadership who have stood by without speaking out for fear of more cuts will have to be addressed with a more propitious environment and less politically-driven appointments. An actual longer-term vision of why science and innovation matter to economy and society will need to be articulated and Canada's standing abroad as a real player must be aggressively developed to overcome the dubious Fossils of the Year distinctions.

Yet another vapid federal STI strategy now being trundled out with limited consultations and no sense of urgency will not cut it...close collaboration with provinces, territories and municipalities where the action is will be required if Canada is to move forward and "seize the moment" of our 150th anniversary.
 

Q5. In the meantime, there’s lots of work to be done. But many in the science community shy away from overt political activity as it relates to their work. How would you convince skeptical but interested scientists to get involved with advocacy? And what do you think would be the most effective way for them to channel their energies?

I have laid out some suggestions on advocacy in various opinion pieces for Research Money, The Hill Times and iPolitics. I am heartened by new science advocacy movements we have never seen before in Canada. Evidence for Democracy, PIPS, Association science et bien commun, the ELA advocacy and other groups that have mobilized to make the case for public science and evidence in public policy...they are to be commended.

I believe the scientific, health and engineering communities in this country are awakening to their political advocacy potential -- they just need a bit more guidance to make more meaningful policy impact (which is why I teach science policy 101 to our next generation science students). The recent NDP motion to create a Parliamentary Science Officer is a helpful step to get a debate going with our elected representatives. There are other exciting ventures out there like Startup Canada, Science Media Centre, the McGill Science & Policy Exchange, and the College of New Artists, Scholars and Scientists that show the willingness and ability of our youth to take up new challenges for Canada's knowledge frontiers...These should all be encouraged.

It should also be kept in mind that science policy is ultimately social science and our scientific community with these other knowledge sectors need to work together more -- see the ISSP Decalogue for more on this.

Above all and despite recent press coverage, I am convinced public service remains a worthwhile vocation in this country -- and science is a critical handmaiden to our democracy, nation-building and culture. Our scientists should try to engage more actively as citizens in this process; there are some great role models out there!! And please celebrate our science contributions past, present and future!

No responses yet

The Canadian War on Science: A chronological account of chaos & consolidation at the Department of Fisheries & Oceans libraries

As is occasionally my habit when a big story breaks, I have gathered together all the relevant documents I could find concerning the recent controversy about the Canadian Conservative government's recent consolidation of the libraries at their Department of Fisheries & Oceans. The consolidation has resulted in severely weeded collections, library closures and staff layoffs.

I have more to say on the situation, probably next week, but I thought I'd compile this list first both for the common good and to help me frame my own thoughts.

As usual, if you note any errors or omissions in my, please let me know in the comments or by email. You can reach me at my work email, jdupuis at yorku dot ca, or my personal email, dupuisj at gmail dot com.

We haven't heard much from librarians at the DFO, so I'd very much welcome such feedback, either in the comments or via email. Please let us all know the details of what is going on, particularly with regards to how carefully and thoroughly the weeding was done as well as details on planning and resourcing for document delivery and digitization. Your anonymity will be respected.

General Resources

 

Links about other recent federal government library cuts & closures

 

The main list of articles, etc. for Department of Fisheries and Oceans library closures

 

Items with asterisks represent Government of Canada sites.

Update 2014.01.17. Updated list with several new items, mostly from January 10 but with a few older ones too.
Update 2014.01.27. Updated list with many items since last update as well as a bit of catch up on older ones. Added a section on other recent federal government library closures and cuts.
Update 2014.09.11. Huge update with slightly more than 100 items added to the three sections. Significantly I've added quite a bit on the closure of the library at l’Institut Maurice Lamontagne in Quebec, the only French-language library affected. I've also added quite a bit on federal government library cuts and closures in general. I may end up separating that material out into a separate chronological post at some point. As usual, please let me know about errors, omissions, accidental duplications, etc.

14 responses so far

Reading Diary: Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian by A. Douglas Stone

Jan 07 2014 Published by under book review, science books

The story on Albert Einstein is pretty well known. Great scientist, had probably the best year anybody ever had in anything, made a lot of important discoveries revolutionized the way we understand the physical world.

But.

But somehow he never seemed to get on board with quantum theory. Relativity was his thing and somehow he could never get his mind around the whole god playing dice statistical nature of reality in the quantum world. To me at least, this flaw, this blind spot seemed endearingly human. Hey, if Einstein can have a such a weakness, they're hope for the rest of us in an imperfect world!

But along comes A. Douglas Stone with his book Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian. In it, Stone attempts to set the record straight: far from shying away from quantum theory during his later years, he was in fact obsessed with it and most of his important output after he was done with relativity was concerned with defining and advancing quantum theory. From the point of view of a non-physicist, I have to say that Stone makes a pretty compelling case.

The book chronicles the nitty gritty of the development of quantum theory chapter by chapter, with each paper or important development getting explained. Stone starts with foundational work by Max Planck and others and ends his narrative after the first rush of important works at the end of the 1920s. Of course, the focus is always on the work that Einstein did, especially the significance of various of his papers such as the 1905 paper on the photoelectric effect. Important figures like Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Satyendra Nath Bose and Erwin Schrödinger get their own chapters to spotlight the part they played in quantum theory mostly from the point of view of Einstein discovering and encouraging important work. And Stone does definitely show that Einstein was there every step of the way in the early development of quantum theory, that it was his major focus and that he was making important contributions

This is an excellent book that I recommend without reservation. While it does tend to dive into the deep end of scientific detail at times, it is well worth persevering and slogging through any tough parts. Most chapters start general and get more detailed as they progress. You don't need that much math and physics to enjoy the book, but it goes without saying that the deeper your knowledge the more you will get out of the book. Any academic library should acquire this book as should any medium-to-large public library system. It would also make a wonderful gift for the physics or science fan in your life.

Stone, A. Douglas. Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013. 332pp. ISBN-13: 978-0691139685

(Review copy provided by publisher.)

One response so far

Best Science Books 2013: Foreign Affairs, Newsday, St Louis Post-Dispatch and more

Every year for the last bunch of years I’ve been linking to and posting all the “year’s best sciencey books” lists that I can find around the web in various media outlets.

From the beginning it’s been a pretty popular service so I’m happy to continue it. The previous posts for all the 2013 lists are here.

Here's a bunch of lists:

Foreign Affairs: The Best Books of 2013 on Economic, Social, and Environmental Subjects

  • Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines by Richard A. Muller
  • Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients by Ben Goldacre

 

Newsday: Top 10 books of 2013

  • Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser

 

St Louis Post-Dispatch: Best books: 2013 offered a great ride for readers

  • Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, the Evolution Debates, and the African Adventure that Took the Victorian World by Storm by Monte Reel
  • On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks by Simon Garfield

 

America: The National Catholic Review: The Best Books of 2013

  • Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

 

The Georgia Straight: Critics Favourites

  • Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind by Ajit Varki and Danny Brower

 

Maclean's Top 20 Books Of 2013

  • The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Autism by Kristine Barnett
  • Behind the Shock Machine: the untold story of the notorious Milgram psychology experiments by Gina Perry

 

The Kansas City Star Best Books of 2013

  • Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein — Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe by Mario Livio
  • The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks by Amy Stewart
  • Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

 

I'm always looking for recommendations and notifications of book lists as they appear in various media outlets. If you see one that I haven't covered, please let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

I am picking up most of my lists from Largehearted Boy. The summary post for 2012 books is here and all the posts for 2012 can be found here.

And if you wish to support my humble list-making efforts, run on over to Amazon, take a look at Quiet or Steve Jobs or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or maybe even something else from the today's list.

No responses yet

Canadian Science Policy Advocate Interviews: Jonathan Turner, Historian of Science, University of Toronto

Jan 06 2014 Published by under Canada, interview, Politics

Welcome to the rebooted science interview series here at Confessions of a Science Librarian! The previous incarnation mostly concentrated on people in the broadly defined scholarly communications community, like Mark Patterson of eLife, Peter Binfield and Jason Hoyt of PeerJ or author Michael Nielsen.

The series has been extremely irregular for the last few years so I thought my more recent involvement with Canadian science policy advocacy presented an interesting opportunity to start over. In particular, my participation in the recent iPolitics science policy series presented itself as a amazing chance to tap into a wonderful pool of science policy advocates and see what they think about the current situation in Canada.

So what I've done is invite each of the authors from that series to respond to the same set of email interview questions with the idea that I would publish their exact responses here.

Over the next month or two I will be publishing the interviews from those that have agreed to participate. Once a few of those are up, I plan to widen the field and invite a broader range of Canadian science policy advocates to join the fray.

Suggestions of interview participants are more than welcome. Please feel free to email suggestions to jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

University of Toronto historian of science Jonathan Turner is today's subject.

Previous subjects include: University of Toronto Ph.D. candidate Dak de Kerckhove.

Enjoy!

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Q1. Could you tell us a little bit about your scientific/technical/journalistic/political background and how you ended up involved in science advocacy? How do you define advocacy and what’s been the focus of your advocacy activities?

I'm trained as a historian of science, specifically science in government including science advocacy. Even for that unorthodox field my background is unusual. My first degree was in history and philosophy at York University - I was particularly interested in the interaction between scientists and politicians on nuclear and nuclear defence issues in the United States. Immediately after that I started a second undergraduate degree in physics, which I completed in 3 years thanks to a couple of transfer credits and Waterloo's 3-term setup. After that I started graduate studies at the University of Toronto in the history and philosophy of science and technology, and I continued to be fascinated by defence sciences – I defended a thesis on the history of the Defence Research Board in 2012.

I think there are probably three messages I have to share in the science advocacy community. The first two are gleaned from years of studying science advocacy and the current situation, the final message is a cautionary prediction.

First, in spite of what C.P. Snow says about the differences between the two cultures (which is, of course, a problematic construct), it’s important to remember the most important similarity – scientists are people and people have foibles. Sometimes people make sound decisions, sometimes we don't; sometimes our decisions have a positive impact, sometimes they don't. More scientific, technical, and academic voices in the democratic process would be a good thing, but technocracy (the extreme position) is as undesirable as any other form of oligarchy.

Second, what we're seeing from the current version of populist conservatism is an emphasis on the importance of people's experiences and instincts, which is generally accompanied by a denigration of expertise. This means that it's not just scientists whose knowledge is coming into question, but every 'elite' who has spent years refining their knowledge of a specific topic. For experts, this means it's not enough to rely on credentials, we have to be persuasive (or, if you look at C.P. Snow’s other study of science in government, well connected like Frederick Lindemann – later Lord Cherwell).

Third, and finally, traditional academic silos are a constant barrier to the kinds of results the science advocacy community would like to achieve. Historians, political scientists, geographers, anthropologists, philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, economists, etc. all have interesting expertise to share about the nuances of decision-making and policy-formation. But in a world where funding for studies is so competitive, we've trained ourselves to talk about our own project as if it is the single most important study, which leads many of us to believe that our expertise and experience are uniquely and exclusively important. An optimist might believe that we're so focused on our own work that we forget that there are other interesting things being studied, a cynic would argue that we're driven by selfish goals of survival and self-promotion; either way, those personal and academic silos prevent us from the kind of collegiality that could lead to truly fascinating interdisciplinary understandings of the world and people around us. Without a concentrated collegiality of all experts, funds and influence will continue to go to those who are most persuasive and best connected.
 

Q2. The Conservative Government’s science policies since 2006 have been pretty controversial and hotly contested. What do you think has been the most damaging thing that they’ve done?

As a citizen, the things that trouble me most are the actions of this government (and several others) that reduce and/or delay accountability and transparency. A functioning democracy has to have access to government documents in a timely and reasonable fashion, and no one hired by a political party should be allowed to interfere in that process. I don't expect to agree with every decision of every government, but I would like elected representatives to justify and explain their decisions, and allow all of us to look at the evidence they used to come to a decision.

As a historian, the inconsistent response to ATIP requests is difficult professionally. The revamped 'census' is going to be problematic for my academic descendants, and is no doubt frustrating for a large number of current social scientists. Decisions regarding cultural institutions (museums, archives, etc.) are oddly fascinating insofar as I look forward to reading histories of the decision-making processes and the ways that administrators, curators, and archivists implement policies, but those decisions are also a challenge when they prevent access to information that would provide a more accurate and nuanced interpretation of the past.
 

Q3. The conservative response to a lot of the activism that’s happened over the last few years has basically been to affirm that the Harper government has increased overall funding for science and that what some have called muzzling is really just management asserting its right to control what their employees communicate to the media. How do you respond to this?

It's hard to get overly excited about this. I mean the article defending the government's position is terrible and confused, and the muzzling of scientists is frustrating for (nearly) everyone involved. However, the government came in with a mandate, and it felt it had to respond to the economic situation; message control is a time-honoured political survival tradition. Is this government doing more message control? Probably. Are we on a slippery slope to an anti-knowledge state and a propaganda machine of Big Brother proportions? Probably not. Histrionics have very limited persuasive power.
 

Q4. When the next government comes in, they will effectively have a kind of science blank slate to work with. What do you think are some policies the next government should focus on to rebuild their science and technology activities and infrastructure?

I don't think 'science blank slate' is anymore true with this government than any previous one. This government has a science and technology policy that favours, or that it intends to favour, business, entrepreneurship, and resource exploitation. The next government will be free to chart its own course, provided that it starts where this one leaves off – there is no sense, nor would it even be possible, to start from scratch.

That said, I'd love to see a government take an evidence-based, long-term approach to all policy creation, but elections cycles make this difficult. Further, I'd like that evidence to be broadly, democratically, and collegially construed to include everything from anecdotes to the z-test.
 

Q5. In the meantime, there’s lots of work to be done. But many in the science community shy away from overt political activity as it relates to their work. How would you convince skeptical but interested scientists to get involved with advocacy? And what do you think would be the most effective way for them to channel their energies?

Advocacy, in the sense you're talking about, means fighting to establish yourself as a privileged voice in the democratic process. So, the normal avenues of establishing a privileged voice in the democratic process apply: talk to your elected representatives, talk to your neighbours, write, contribute to election campaigns, join a political party, run for election, vote, have lots of money and influential friends, etc.

Having a more diverse group of privileged voices than we currently have would be fantastic. Having an altruistic and diverse group of privileged voices would be even better.

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Best Science Books 2013: Publisher's Weekly, Seattle Times, Quill & Quire, Bill Gates and more

Jan 05 2014 Published by under best science books 2013, science books

Every year for the last bunch of years I’ve been linking to and posting all the “year’s best sciencey books” lists that I can find around the web in various media outlets.

From the beginning it’s been a pretty popular service so I’m happy to continue it. The previous posts for all the 2013 lists are here.

Here's a bunch for today:

Publisher's Weekly Best Nonfiction

  • The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performances by David Epstein
  • Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss
  • Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

 

Publishers Weekly Staff: Our Favorite Books We Read in 2013

  • The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone

 

Seattle Times: 31 of the best titles of 2013

  • Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
  • Telling Our Way to the Sea — A Voyage of Discovery in the Sea of Cortez by Aaron Hirsh
  • Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

 

David Shaywitz/Forbes

  • Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal by Nick Bilton

 

Quill & Quire: Booksellers pick top non-fiction books of 2013

  • An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

 

Biographile: From Muppets to Mansions: The Best Biographies and Memoirs of 2013

  • The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan

 

Bill Gates

  • The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth’s Future by Paul Sabin

 

The New Republic: The Best Books of 2013

  • The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone
  • Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air by Richard Holmes

 

I'm always looking for recommendations and notifications of book lists as they appear in various media outlets. If you see one that I haven't covered, please let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

I am picking up most of my lists from Largehearted Boy. The summary post for 2012 books is here and all the posts for 2012 can be found here.

And if you wish to support my humble list-making efforts, run on over to Amazon, take a look at Quiet or Steve Jobs or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or maybe even something else from the today's list.

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Best Science Books 2013: The Guardian

Jan 04 2014 Published by under best science books 2013, science books

Every year for the last bunch of years I’ve been linking to and posting all the “year’s best sciencey books” lists that I can find around the web in various media outlets.

From the beginning it’s been a pretty popular service so I’m happy to continue it. The previous posts for all the 2013 lists are here.

This time it's The Guardian Psychology books of the year – review, Science books of the year – review.

  • Strictly Bipolar by Darian Leader
  • The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz
  • How We Feel by Giovanni Frazzetto
  • What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?: How Money Really Does Grow On Trees by Tony Juniper
  • Churchill’s Bomb: A Hidden History of Science, War and Politics by Graham Farmelo
  • Serving the Reich: The Struggle for the Soul of Physics under Hitler by Philip Ball
  • Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape Our Man-made World by Mark Miodownik

I'm always looking for recommendations and notifications of book lists as they appear in various media outlets. If you see one that I haven't covered, please let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

I am picking up most of my lists from Largehearted Boy. The summary post for 2012 books is here and all the posts for 2012 can be found here.

And if you wish to support my humble list-making efforts, run on over to Amazon, take a look at Quiet or Steve Jobs or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or maybe even something else from the today's list.

No responses yet

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