Archive for: February, 2014

Science Online Together 2014: Who are all the librarians? Who are all the Canadians?

Feb 26 2014 Published by under Canada, librarianship, scholarly publishing, scio14

I'll be at Science Online Together for the next few days. I missed last year so I'm really looking forward to getting back into the Science Online swing of things.

As is occasionally my habit, I'll be listing here some attendees that are either Canadian, librarians or, in a few select cases, both. I'm adding websites and Twitter handles in the lists, but only if they're included in the directory listing.




Jenny Ryan has this Twitter list which picks up a few that I missed. Thanks!

Of course, I've probably missed a few librarians and/or Canadians either by mistake or because I can't tell from the information in the directory listing. If I've missed you, please feel free to add your name in the comments.

As a note, Genome Alberta, Canadian Science Publishing, and are organizing a Thursday evening "Meet Some Canadians" dinner as one of the Dine Arounds. It's at the Tir na nOg pub. Canadian and non-Canadians alike are all welcome, although we may not be able to promise that there won't be any Olympic hockey related bragging.

One response so far

Cool linky stuff for science undergrads (10): How to read a paper!

Feb 19 2014 Published by under around the web, ugrad links

I have a son who's in the middle of his second year as a physics undergrad. As you can imagine, I occasionally pass along a link or two to him pointing to stuff on the web I think he might find particularly interesting or useful. Thinking on that fact, I surmised that perhaps other science students might find those links interesting or useful as well. Hence, this series of posts here on the blog.

By necessity and circumstance, the items I've chosen will be influenced by my son's choice of major and my own interest in the usefulness of computational approaches to science and of social media for outreach and professional development.

The previous posts in this series are: 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1.

Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

2 responses so far

Friday Fun: 26 Hilariously Inaccurate Predictions About the Future

Feb 14 2014 Published by under friday fun

I love science, I love science fiction. The common misconception about science fiction in particular is that it is somehow about the future, about predicting and describing it. Same with science, in a slightly different way. Science (and technology...) should be about inventing the best gizmos to make life the easiest and most pleasant.

In both cases, not so much.

But somehow the temptation has always been with us to extrapolate and predict and usually we get it wrong. Things we think are going to be huge don't materialize and the biggest things seem to come out of nowhere.

Cracked has done us all a huge favour in the humbleness departments and compiled 26 Hilariously Inaccurate Predictions About the Future. Here's a small taste. Head on over to Cracked for the rest!

The thing about dealing with predicting the future is that, at some point, the future happens and then we get to look back at everyone who was laughably wrong. We asked our readers to go digging through the annals of time to see what some of the greatest minds from the past saw in the future, and gave $200 to the worst prediction ...

Here's Arthur C. Clarke describing the year 2001 in 1966:

Given a compact power source...the house of the future would have no roots tying it to the ground. Gone would be water pipes, drains, power lines; the autonomous home could therefore move, or be moved, to anywhere on earth at the owner's whim. The time may come, therefore, when whole communities may migrate south in the winter, or move to new lands whenever they feel the need for a change of scenery.

2 responses so far

Canadian Science Policy Advocate Interviews: Sarah Boon, Editorial Manager of Science Borealis

Feb 12 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.

During the first few months of 2014 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.

Today's subject is Sarah Boon, Editorial Manager of Canadian science blogging aggregator Science Borealis. Sarah has straddled the worlds of freelance writing/editing and academic science for the past 15 years. She blogs at Watershed Moments about the environment, science communication & policy, and women in science. She is a member of the Canadian Science Writer's Association, Editor's Association of Canada, and The Explorer’s Club, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society in 2013. Find her on Twitter: @snowhydro.

Sarah's article in the iPolitics series was An ‘abundance’ of bears: Aglukkaq cold-shoulders the science.

Previous subjects include: Paul Dufour, Fellow and Adjunct Professor, Institute for Science, Society and Policy; University of Toronto Ph.D. candidate Dak de Kerckhove and University of Toronto historian of science Jonathan Turner.



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 consider myself a reluctant (and lately – lapsed) academic. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with organized education, from skipping elementary school because I had ‘headaches’, to planning on dropping out of university after my first year. But I stuck with it, got my BSc in Physical Geography at UVic, and went on to do an MSc in Glaciology at UAlberta. I’d worked out that I could manage two (or so) years of graduate education, and I was planning to go into science writing and editing immediately afterwards.

However, I ended up converting my MSc into a PhD (UAlberta 2005), I did a brief postdoc in paleohydrology (UVic), and then I landed a teaching position through which I started research into snow, forests, and mountain pine beetle and wildfire (UNBC). That pretty much launched the rest of my research career. One day I looked around and I had tenure, a thriving research group, and lots of interesting stuff to work on.

It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops, however. At the same time that I was ascending the academic ladder, the political climate for environmental science was becoming dicey. Funding was getting scarce: It was five years in before I was awarded an NSERC Discovery Grant, even though I ticked all the boxes of being a successful researcher. The criteria had become increasingly stringent as funds became scarcer. Opportunities like the Research Tools and Instruments Grant and the Major Resources Support grant were cancelled. I came within a hair of being awarded a prestigious Alberta Ingenuity award, but at the last minute they reduced the number of grants to meet new budget restrictions, and I was one of the scientists left on the cutting room floor.

I’d also become more aware of the role of women in academia – and in science in particular. I was blissfully ignorant of these issues throughout my university education and first faculty position, as I wasn’t as involved in the broader research community. But as I moved farther along, I realized my voice was considered less relevant and carried less weight simply because it was female.

I reached a point where my world was under siege by external forces, and I needed to do something about it. These political and gender-related issues weren’t going to sort themselves out on their own, and they weren’t just affecting me – they were affecting my community.

I define science advocacy as being a scientist in public: sharing your knowledge with friends, colleagues and acquaintances in a conversational way that builds on interaction rather than pedantic lectures. In tandem with this approach, I advocate for breaking down the barriers between academia and the public. I don’t believe that academic science should be done in a vacuum, and I’ve always been keen to involve industry, government, communities and citizens.

These beliefs, however, require fighting a war on multiple fronts. On the one hand you’re working to save science from the government’s axe – whether it’s funding, resources, people, legislation, programs…the list goes on. For this fight to be successful, however, you have to battle on a second front: helping non-scientists understand why science is worth saving. As a scientist, I want make that clear, but it’s not easy given that you’re not just working with facts – you also have to account for cultural identities and norms. But there’s a third front as well: the academic establishment itself, which often looks down on science communication efforts. As grad students we weren’t trained in communication because it doesn’t count the same way a publication does as a line on your CV – so hiring committees and granting bodies don’t give you credit for these types of activities. In some cases you’re considered a less serious scientist who’s not totally committed to the research if you dabble in science communication.

It’s a bit of a Gordian knot, which I sometimes feel stuck in the middle of, trying to find the loose end of string that will pull it all apart.

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?

It’s difficult to pick one thing. Perhaps the biggest issue is the government’s ideological approach to governance rather than a sound, evidence-based approach. It’s also important to note their scorched earth policy of destroying records or datasets that could be useful to future governments. For example, the long form census, data from the long gun registry, books from a range of government libraries, well-established research groups/programs with long data histories (e.g., PEARL, ELA, Marine Contaminants at DFO, etc.)

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?

Re: the Harper government increasing overall funding for science – Kennedy Stewart gave a great summary in his latest letter to Greg Rickford regarding public input to the Science & Technology Strategy. Stewart outlines that funding for science has decreased when you factor in inflation, that we are falling behind OECD countries (not G7 countries which is the statistic the CPC likes to use), and that funding is now tied largely to industry via applied research, while basic research has been hung out to dry.

As for the muzzling issue…government always wants to control the message. This government seems to take it further than previous governments, though I don’t know enough political history to say that absolutely. I think agreements on what employees can discuss are appropriate – but those agreements also need to be appropriate to the times. Public servants should be allowed to discuss their work unless there are national defense issues at stake – and by discuss, I mean talk to the media, give presentations and answer questions publicly, blog and/or tweet, and publish in peer-reviewed journals without requiring the signature of a manager who has no sense of how science even works.

Scientists don’t make policy – that’s the job of government. But they should be able to talk about the relevance of their research to policy in a way that anyone can understand. If different interest groups can talk about the impacts of policies on their constituents, then scientists should be able to talk about the effect of their science on the policies themselves. By subjecting employees to restrictions on media access, restrictions on collaborators talking about research, and more, the government creates a climate of mistrust and suppression that casts future interactions with them in a negative light.

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 think they’ll have more of a graveyard than a blank slate. The challenge for the next government will be to kickstart Canadian innovation in areas outside of the resource industries. To regain the trust and support of the scientific community. To salvage what they can to try and rebuild the scientific enterprise in Canada AND link it soundly back to policy.

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?

This is a tough one. In his interview with you, Paul Dufour identified some phenomenal science advocacy movements that have sprung up in response to what Chris Turner calls the war on Canadian science. Many of these are spearheaded by scientists who never imagined they’d be in the public spotlight, vocally advocating for science. I think these groups represent one end of the spectrum, however, and many scientists – no matter how far they’re pushed – are very uncomfortable in the type of advocacy role that scientists like Katie Gibbs and Diane Orihel have taken on so ably.

Some of my colleagues are figuring out how to work within the new system: get funding for applied research, put some of the people hours or equipment on double duty to support what we call Saturday afternoon science. Projects done on the side with the least resources, but that further the basic research goals of your scientific field. This is admirable and resourceful, and - speaking from personal experience of cobbling together applied research funding for years while doing basic research on the side - can yield good results. But it doesn’t solve the underlying problem.

That’s what I hope scientists will think about. Step outside of your individual research program or your group research projects. Look at what you used to do for research and what you do now – or, if you’re a newer researcher, look at what your older colleagues used to work on and what they work on now. Look at the workload (more grant applications for smaller amounts of money, each of which requires more and more reporting), with fewer graduate students because: (a) there’s less funding for them; and, (b) we’re not doing a great job of exposing graduates to careers outside of the academy. Consider how things might be in the future, with continually shrinking budgets for research in general, for basic research in particular, and for the university and public systems within which many scientists operate. Can you picture what Canadian science will look like in 5, 10, even 15 years?

Then consider what you can do, even in a small way, to support science. Write to or call your MP. Support an existing science advocacy movement through donations of time or funds. Talk to your students and colleagues about the issues. Talk to your non-scientist friends about what you do and why it’s interesting and potentially useful. Write a letter to the editor, or a guest column in the local paper about what you’re working on and why non-scientists might be interested in it. Hold an open house for your lab, give a talk at the local museum or science centre.

Make science an issue in the 2015 election.

One response so far

Responses to the Canadian Tri-Agency Draft Open Access Policy (Mine included)

Feb 11 2014 Published by under around the web, open access, scholarly publishing

Many of my readers may recall that back in October I published a post announcing the Draft Open Access Policy consultation process launched by the Canadian Tri-Councils -- Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council, Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council and Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The deadline for submissions was December 13th. Since the deadline was just before the holidays I thought it best to wait awhile before compiling all the publicly posted responses. And that was probably a good idea, as many of the responses were published in the new year. I imagine that a few more may trickle in, but I'll add those to the list.

As you can see from the list below, there are a wide range of responses, from people, from societies, from institutions and even from a publisher.

My institution also gave a response which is included below. I was on the working group that consulted the campus community and composed the response. I also sent the Tri-Agencies my own personal response, which is immediately below.

What do I think of the responses themselves? Mostly they are all very positive and supportive. There are some misconceptions, there is a bit of perhaps misplaced caution and a tiny hint of fear, uncertainty and doubt but overall I am quite pleased by the responses. I think the Tri-Agencies have a lot of digest and I definitely look forward to seeing what they have to offer. The challenge will be to move the conversation beyond a certain deference for the cadre of entrenched incumbents that are leery of any change.

The best way for the Tri-Agencies to do that is to make sure that legitimate concerns are addressed and to make available the resources that are needed to ease the transition of all those entrenched interests to a more open world. In other words, have a plan, lay it out clearly with precise expectations for all involved and put the systems and resources in place to make it happen without anyone feeling they've been voted off the island.

Here is my response:

To the Tri-Agency (Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council),

I am glad to see the Tri-Agency views research as a conversation among scholars, one that the Canadian public supports and advances through the Tri-Agency’s funding programs. It is clear to me that the Tri-Agency has decided that if the Canadian people are going to fund scholarly conversations, then those conversions should happen where the Canadian people can see and participate, as openly and as publicly as possible. This is accomplished by requiring that Tri-Agency funded scholars ensure that their relevant research outputs are made open access.

I would recommend two recent blog posts by Barbara Fister which deal with research as a conversation.

From Things to Conversations

From Conversations to Things

Some suggestions for the final version of your Draft Policy:

  • You mention that the publication-related research data responsibilities that CIHR has in its policy will not be extended to SSHRC and NSERC. I would hope that you would change your mind and extend similar responsibilities to all the agencies. The rationale for making appropriate data available is the same, so the responsibilities for all researchers should be the same.

  • Your requirement for research outputs to be open access within 12 months is fairly standard in among similar policies. Notwithstanding that, I would like to see the time frame be 6 months which is much better for time-sensitive scientific and health-related research.

  • You mention that the policy will only apply to peer-reviewed journal articles. Given that the importance of journal articles can vary by discipline, I would hope that you will extend the requirement to all peer-reviewed research outputs. I understand that monographs are an issue here for many scholars, so at very least conference papers and book chapters should be included in your policy.

  • Your requirement for authors to self-archive non-open access articles is very important. However, the requirement to post the final peer-reviewed full text version of the article may unnecessarily restrict the non-open access publishers that researchers will be able to publish in. I hope that you will consider clarifying this requirement.

  • One new thing I would like to see included is explicit grant support for open access author processing charges. These should be awarded completely separate from the rest of the grant so that in cases where a researcher includes the fees in their initial grant but the actual amount awarded is lower than requested, the researcher will not feel squeezed to both pay the charges and continue to properly fund their core research activities. Perhaps this is an opportunity to collaborate with the library community to manage these funds.

  • The Tri-Agencies should be sensitive to disciplinary differences around scholarly communications while still firmly and unwaveringly requiring open access to as broad a range of the research outputs they fund as possible.

Thank you very much for this Draft Policy; it is a major step forward for scholarship in Canada. I very much look forward to the final version. I hope that the implementation of the final policy will encourage collaboration among all the relevant stakeholders, including government, libraries, colleges and universities, publishers, scholarly societies and others.

Thank you for your time and attention,
John Dupuis


Personally gratifying was that the Tri-Agencies chose to include my own Resources on Open Access in Canada in their FAQ. York's Open Access Publishing Toolkit was also included. Both are nice nods to the commitment to open access and scholarly publishing reform from librarians and administrators here at York.


In no particular order, here are all the publicly posted responses I have been able to find. If you know of others I've missed, please let me know either at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments. Thanks to my colleague Barbara McDonald for suggesting I collect these in the comments to my initial post.

As usual, I welcome any feedback or suggestions for items I have have missed. And please feel free to add your own thoughts about the Draft OA policy in the comments.

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Reading Diary: Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration by Chris Impey and Holly Henry

Feb 10 2014 Published by under astronomy, book review, engineering, science books

Sometimes a book isn't quite what you expected. And you're disappointed.

Sometimes a book isn't quite what you expected and you're pleasantly surprised.

Chris Impey and Holly Henry's Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration definitely falls into the latter category. What was I expecting? From the subtitle I was hoping the book would be a fairly straightforward account of the history of unmanned space exploration -- all the missions, how they were planned, the engineering challenges involved in getting them off the ground, the logistical challenges of keeping the various vehicles and missions alive and productive in a variety of extreme circumstances. And most of all, some fairly specific details about what the missions were designed to discover and what they actually did discover.

And Impey and Henry's book is some of that, or more precisely those sorts of details are where it starts. And I have to admit I was initially a bit disappointed that they skimped a bit on those gory scientific and engineering details. After all, it is a science and engineering book. Right?

Yes, of course. But the surprising thing is that this book is just as much a kind of scientific (and sort of cultural) history of why these various missions were important -- the broader scientific context in which the decision was made to launch this particular mission and especially how the discoveries branched out beyond space science and into other realms.

Missions like Viking and MER and Voyager and Cassini and Stardust and SOHO and Hipparcos and Spitzer and Chandra and Hubble and WMAP. Some quite familiar and some quite new to me. Each chapter takes a mission and puts it in a context beyond astronomy, like how the Stardust mission on comets relates to DNA research or how Spitzer relates to fish migrations and so much more.

The great strength of this book is how it goes so much beyond what you would find just by looking the missions up in Wikipedia and takes the reader into new territory. Yes, it could have had a bit more "core" information and I probably did miss having some of that. On the other hand, it does a great job of putting all those missions into the context of how we see our lives on this planet too.

I recommend this book for any academic library that collects popular books on space science or engineering. It will find an audience beyond just the scientists and engineers who would normally be the target for a book like this. Larger public libraries would also find an eager audience for this book.

Impey, Chris and Holly Henry. Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013. 472pp. ISBN-13: 978-0691147536

(Review copy supplied by publisher.)

One response so far

Around the Web: Taking a longer view of librarianship

Feb 05 2014 Published by under acad lib future, around the web

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Around the Web: Disruption, disruption, disruption and more disruption

Feb 04 2014 Published by under acad lib future, around the web

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