Archive for: August, 2014

Open Access Rants: Hanging together on the goddam wagon

Twitter is a great place to rant and rave sometimes. You can feel free to let loose and say what you're thinking without necessarily feeling that you need to have completely well-formed ideas. The enforced brevity can sometimes also be a plus, as it forces you to distill what you want to say to the bare minimum. It it possible to string together longer thoughts across multiple tweets but it becomes a bit awkward to read.

I let loose a couple of Open Access related rants over the last few days and I thought I'd share them here, slightly cleaned up to make them more readable. Both are fairly short but ended up stretching across 15 or so tweets.

The first one was inspired by a recent trend I've seen in anti-OA commentary, largely at the Scholarly Kitchen but pretty pervasive.

OA rant initiated.

Lots of the anti-OA commentary I’m seeing online these days is of the “Gee it would be nice if it could work in some ideal world but it just can’t in our hard, practical, fallen world. You OA advocates just don’t understand” type. Very condescending, very “little pat on the head there there poor dear.” But it’s not OA advocates that have the problem. It’s not us that don’t understand.

The truth is that there is a way to make OA work, for all the warts and two-steps-forward-one-step-back we see here in very early days of science on the web. There’s plenty of money in the system right now to publish quality science to the web for all to read. Look at arxiv, PeerJ, PLOS, SCOAP3. We just need to put the past aside, get all the stakeholders together, and find a way to make it happen, to get the money from where it is to where it should be without all the rent-taking intermediaries.

At the end of the day, publishers, libraries, scholarly societies exist to disseminate science and serve their constituencies: scholars, funders, society as a whole. Not the other way around. The burden on those institutions is to “add value” to the processes the true stakeholders really value.

As Faulkner said, “Them that’s going get in the goddamn wagon. Them that ain’t, get out of the goddamn way.”

Here’s a couple of the commentaries I mention above, very offhand dismissals of OA:

The Faulkner quote is inspired here:


The second rant is related to the first but is more directed to specific "OA skeptic" rhetoric that I see that we can't have OA because it threatens publishing revenue at scholarly societies and small journals and hence their viability.

Initiate Open Access Rant #2

This time inspired by this: & some of the feedback on the Draft Tri-Agency OA policy:

As well, I’m adapting a bit from a comment I made on Friendfeed.

So, societies are worried about OA mandates. Hey, you societies should concentrate on the value you provide to your members not to mention your lofty missions/goals about promoting scholarship & the common good. What you shouldn’t be doing is using publishing revenue (ie. public money via library subscriptions) to subsidize member programs.

Same with how governments use tax revenues to fund research. They don't fund research for the sake of supporting society or commercial publishers' journal programs. They fund research for lots of reasons, but none of them involve making sure that publishers are taken care of. As a result, government OA mandates shouldn't spend a lot of time worrying about how mandating OA is going to affect the publishing ecosystem.

It's up to publishers (and libraries) to figure out how they are going to add value in a changing landscape. Sure, governments can have programs to support publishing ecosystems (added: and contribute to institutional overheads which may end up supporting libraries), especially in a small country like Canada. In particular they should support transitioning to online/OA. But those should be totally separate from the funding of the research itself.

Rant over. Please resume your previously scheduled daily activities.

As kind of postscript: "We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately." - Ben Franklin


Yes, rants. Perhaps not entirely fair. At the same time, I'm willing to stand by what I say here. It's time to start hanging together on the goddam wagon.

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Reading Diary: Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni

Aug 28 2014 Published by under book review, environment, reading diary, science books

"Even if a small fraction of the Arctic carbon were released to the atmosphere, we’re fucked...We’re on a trajectory to an unmanageable heating scenario, and we need to get off it. We’re fucked at a certain point, right? It just becomes unmanageable. The climate dragon is being poked, and eventually the dragon becomes pissed off enough to trash the place."
- James Box

The climate crisis is serious, no doubt about it. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth from nearly a decade ago was a kind of rallying cry for the reality-based community but it appears that we might need another rallying cry as Gore's seems to have gone largely unheeded by major policy-developers the world over (mostly).

What could be that new rallying cry? I'd love to see Philippe Squarzoni's Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science be that book. In other words, Climate Changed just might be important in a way that graphic novels very rarely are, books that can become part of the public conversation about social and economic issues on a large scale. In that sense, perhaps the only graphic novel to compare to Climate Changed is perhaps Art Spiegelman's Maus, though obviously in a completely different way.

[V]oluntary sacrifices are particularly difficult to make without an assurance that other people will follow suit or that the sacrifices serve some purpose. It's not possible to break away from the fundamental pillars of our civilization if the rest of society stays put. Changing all by yourself does nothing. (259)

How can a society structured politically and economically to produce more and consume more, whose development is dependent on fanning the desire to possess reconcile itself to a culture of sobriety and collective responsibility. How can a system dedicated to letting individuals freely maximize their personal advantages be compatible with any sort of self-restraint and material moderation. In the end, the freedom touted by a free-market model has become a symbol of rugged individualism. It is the freedom not to be held accountable. The rejection of all constraint. Of any limits. The rejection of a collective responsibility. As British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, "You know, there is no society." Increase taxes to ensure future public services? Increase contributions to help poorer populations? Reduce consumption to preserve the planet? The exact opposite of the cynical message that is repeasted to us daily. Climate change is also a symptom of a breakdown of solidarity, a sign of collective selfishness. Ironic hedonists, trained by the free downloads. Reckless and thoughtless consumerism. The rise in global warming reflects the rise of our desires. And of our indifference to the threat the world is facing. The rise of insignificance. And because we are innocent and heartless...because we think the climate crisis is only out there someplace else...but because it is inside us...we've created a monster. (288-294)

- Philippe Squarzoni, Climate Changed

The format is quite interesting. Basically, it's the story of the author making some travel choices about his work as a writer/illustrator and how he's going to approach the book on climate change that he's struggling. At the beginning he's lamenting that he really doesn't know what he's talking about. And how he solves his problems dealing with the book -- the one we're reading, of course -- is to start talking to experts, a whole bunch of them. And as he educates himself, he educates us too. The book is basically the story of all the various conversations he had researching the book. A bit odd, in that the book itself ends up relying rather a lot on illustrated talking heads coolly and calmly discussing very distressing facts. But it works. The talking heads are talking about very important issues. Step by step, conversation by conversation, we're riveted.

At the same time, the imagery that Squarzoni uses to accompany a lot of the damning explication of just how fucked we are is spare and beautiful line drawings of nature on the one hand. To contrast, he'll also use looming symbols of our overindulgence that will dominate pages, like SUVs or sports cars or fast food. The art is a perfect accompaniment for a book that is very dry and intellectual and yet very emotional and hard.

We live in a world of fictions. A fable, disconnected from reality. The material prosperity we've enjoyed over the last two centuries has been dependent on abundant and cheap energy, the accumulation of consumer goods and the destruction of nature. Whether we like it or not, our way of life and CO2 emmissions are inextricably linked. Whether we like it or not, there are greenhouse gas emmissions in every part of our lives, from our food, our homes, our pastimes. All our activities are part of the climate crisis, all our wants, every product we purchase, the way we eat, get around, keep warm. Eradicating so much CO2 from our way of life won't be easy. What do we cut out first. (215-217)

Devoured in advance by multinational corporations, the renewable energy sector exposes the true nature of "green capitalism," less concerned about climate change than about comfortable financial niches. This little game of "green capitalism" looks on to change the means of energy production, not question the overall issue itself. The thing we need to question is consumption. Why does our society need so much energy? Without profound changes in our way of life, wind turbines will remain an alibi for not changing the underlying issues. And we forge ahead. For how much longer. (334-335)

Whatever alternative energy sources or technologies are being considered, there are no replacements for oil, coal, and natural gas that would allow us to maintain our current level of energy consumption. (363)

- Philippe Squarzoni, Climate Changed

Squarzoni makes sure to go through the science very carefully, sketching out the realities of human-caused climate change. It talks about the numbers, the trends, the cold hard facts. But mostly Squarzoni very clearly and carefully reasons with himself about the consequences of climate change, the challenges of slowing it down and adapting to what is inevitable. Basically, that personal choice, greed and inertia and capitalism and rampant consumption are the problem and that "solutions" like the three Rs and renewables are not the answer. The tone is very quiet, maybe sad even, elegiac and tired, not really frustrated but heart sick and defeated.

And although he can really come to no answer for his own life, like us he's confused about what any one person can accomplish, he does frame the problem for society as a whole very clearly: how do we reconcile the climate crisis with a globalized hype-capitalist consumer economy that runs on carbon?

"If you stand to lose everything, then even a low probability event is high-risk. That's why people fund armies—just in case they get invaded. We need to invest in decarbonizing our energy system. We've got to keep this fucking carbon in the ground." - James Box

Ably translated from the French by Ivanka Hahnenberger, Philippe Squarzoni's Climate Changed is the kind of book that can make a difference, that can help us keep all that fucking carbon in the ground. If you've never bought any of the graphic novels I've recommended, pick this one. Read it, buy it for your library, buy another copy and donate it to your library, give it to all your friends, talk about it, blog about it, do what it takes. If you're a Canadian, give it to your local Conservative MP. Australians, well, you know you're just starting on your road to getting fucked, so maybe send a copy to your local Conservative as well.

Naomi Klein's forthcoming book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, looks to be a book that will take up the challenge and advance the what-do-we-need-to-do-as-a-society debate even further. It will certainly help frame climate advocacy towards a lower-carbon future in a new way, perhaps controversially but I think very usefully. Yoram Bauman and Grady Klein's The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change also looks interesting.

Squarzoni, Philippe. Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2014. 480pp. ISBN-13: 978-1419712555.

Other science graphic novels and illustrated books I have reviewed:

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Around the Apocalyptic Web: 7 Things Librarians Are Tired of Hearing and much, much more

Aug 26 2014 Published by under acad lib future, around the web

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Open letter to AAAS concerning their new journal Science Advances?

To continue the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science theme, I present the text of a recent open letter I signed to the AAAS concerning their new journal Science Advances.

Thanks to Jonathan Tennant for spearheading this effort. You can read more about the rationale behind writing the letter and the process involved at Jon's blog here. As well, he's listing the other places where the letter is being disseminated.

Dear  AAAS,

This is an open letter concerning the recent launch of the new open access journal, Science Advances. In addition to the welcome diversification in journal choices for authors looking for open access venues, there are many positive aspects of Science Advances: its broad STEM scope, its interest in cross-disciplinary research, and the offering of fee waivers. While we welcome the commitment of the Association to open access, we are also deeply concerned with the specific approach. Herein, we outline a number of suggestions that are in line with both the current direction that scholarly publishing is taking and the needs expressed by the open access community, which this journal aims to serve.

The first of these issues concerns the licensing terms of the journal articles. The default choice of a non-commercial licence (CC BY-NC) places unnecessary restrictions on reuse and does not meet the standards set out by the Budapest Open Access Initiative. Many large funders, including Research Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust, do not recognise this as an open license. The adoption of CC BY-NC as the default license means that many researchers will be unable to submit to Science Advances if they are to conform to their funder mandates unless they pay for the upgrade to CC BY. There is little evidence that non-commercial restrictions provide a benefit to the progress of scholarly research, yet they have significant negative impact, limiting the ability to reuse material for educational purposes and advocacy. For example, NC-encumbered materials cannot be used on Wikipedia. The non-commercial clause is known to generate ambiguities and uncertainties (see for example, NC Licenses Considered Harmful) to the detriment of scholarly communication. Additionally, there is little robust evidence to suggest that adopting a CC-BY license will lead to income loss for your Association, and the $1,000 surcharge is difficult to justify or defend. The value of the CC BY license is outlined in detail by the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association.

We raise an additional issue with the $1,500 surcharge for articles more than 10 pages in length. In an online-only format, page length is an arbitrary unit that results from the article being read in PDF format. Can the AAAS explain what the additional costs associated with the increased length are that would warrant a 50% increase in APC for an unspecified number of additional digital pages? Other leading open access journals, such as PeerJ, the BMC series, and PLOS ONE, offer publication of articles with unlimited page lengths. The extra costs create constraints that may adversely incentivize authors to exclude important details of their study, preventing replication and hindering transparency, all of which are contrary to the aims of scholarly publication. Therefore it seems counterproductive to impose this additional charge; it discriminates against researchers’ best effort to communicate their findings with as much detail as necessary.

We feel that the proposed APCs and licencing scheme are detrimental to the AAAS and the global academic community. As such, we recommend that Science Advances:

  • Offers CC BY as standard for no additional cost, in line with leading open access publishers, so authors are able to comply with respective funding mandates;

  • Provides a transparent calculation of its APCs based on the publishing practices of the AAAS and explains how additional value created by the journal will measure against the significantly high prices paid by the authors;

  • Removes the surcharges associated with increased page number;

  • Releases all data files under CC0 (with CC BY optional), which has emerged as the community standard for data and is used by leading databases such as Figshare and DataDryad.

We hope that you will consider the points raised above, keeping in mind how best to serve the scientific community, and use Science Advances to add the AAAS to the group of progressive and innovative open access scholarly publishers. We hope AAAS will collaborate with the academic community to facilitate the dissemination of scientific knowledge through a journal committed to fully embracing the principles of Open Access.

We kindly request that you allow your response(s) to be made public along with this letter, and look forward to hearing your response soon.

Signatories (please note that we do not formally represent the institutions listed):

  1. Jonathan P. Tennant, PhD student, Imperial College London (, @protohedgehog)
  2. Timothée Poisot, University of Canterbury (, @tpoi)
  3. Joseph R. Hancock, Montana State University-Bozeman (, @Joe_R_Hancock)
  4. M Fabiana Kubke, University of Auckland, New Zealand (, @kubke)
  5. François Michonneau, University of Florida (, @FrancoisInvert)
  6. Michael P. Taylor, University of Bristol (, @MikeTaylor)
  7. Graham Steel, Open Science, Scotland (, @McDawg)
  8. Jérémy Anquetin, Section d’Archéologie et Paléontologie, Switzerland (, @FossilTurtles)
  9. Emily Coyte, University of Bristol (, @emilycoyte)
  10. Benjamin Schwessinger, UC Davis (, @schwessinger)
  11. Erin C. McKiernan, independent scientist (, @emckiernan13)
  12. Tom Pollard, PhD student, University College London (, @tompollard)
  13. Aimee Eckert, MRes student, Imperial College London (, @aimee_e27)
  14. Liz Allen, ScienceOpen, San Francisco (, @LizAllenSO)
  15. Dalmeet Singh Chawla, Imperial College London (, @DalmeetS)
  16. Elizabeth Silva, San Francisco (, @lizatucsf)
  17. Nicholas Gardner, Marshall University (, @RomerianReptile)
  18. Nathan Cantley, Medical Student, Queens University Belfast (, @NathanWPCantley)
  19. John Dupuis, Librarian, York University, Toronto (, @dupuisj)
  20. Christina Pikas, Doctoral Candidate, University of Maryland (, @cpikas)
  21. Amy Buckland, Librarian, McGill University, Montreal (, @jambina)
  22. Lenny Teytelman,, Berkeley, CA (, @lteytelman)
  23. Peter Murray-Rust, University of Cambridge, UK (, @petermurrayrust)
  24. Zen Faulkes, The University of Texas-Pan American,, @DoctorZen)
  25. Robert J. Gay, The University of Arizona/Mission Heights Preparatory High School, AZ, USA (, @paleorob)
  26. Peter T.B. Brett, University of Surrey, UK (, @PeterTBBrett)
  27. Anders Eklund, Linköping University, Sweden (, @wandedob)
  28. Johannes Björk, Institute of Marine Sciences, Barcelona, Spain (, @AwfulDodger)
  29. William Gunn, Mendeley, London, UK,, @mrgunn)
  30. Nitika Pant Pai, McGill University, Montreal, Canada ( @nikkiannike
  31. Philippe Desjardins-Proulx, Ph.D. student (, @phdpqc).
  32. Joshua M. Nicholson, PhD candidate Virginia Tech, VA and founder The Winnower, VA (, @thewinnower)
  33. Scott Edmunds, GigaScience, BGI Hong Kong (, @SCEdmunds)
  34. Steven Ray Wilson, University of Oslo (, @stevenRayOslo)
  35. Stuart Buck, Vice President of Research Integrity, Laura and John Arnold Foundation (, @stuartbuck1)
  36. B. Arman Aksoy, Ph.D. student, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (, @armish)
  37. Nazeefa Fatima, University of Huddersfield, UK (, @NazeefaFatima)
  38. Ross Mounce, University of Bath, UK (, @rmounce)
  39. Heather Piwowar, Impactstory, (, @researchremix
  40. Avinash Thirumalai, Ph.D student, East Tennessee State University (
  41. Jason Priem, Impactstory (, @jasonpriem
  42. Clayton Aldern, University of Oxford, UK (, @compatibilism)
  43. Marcus D. Hanwell, Technical Leader, Kitware, Inc., (, @mhanwell)
  44. Kristen L. Marhaver, NSF Postdoctoral Fellow, Carmabi Foundation (, @CoralSci)
  45. David Michael Roberts, ARC Research Associate, University of Adelaide (
  46. Brian Hole, Ubiquity Press, UK (, @ubiquitypress)
  47. Alexander Grossmann, University of Applied Sciences Leipzig, Germany and co-founder of ScienceOpen, Berlin/Boston (, @SciPubLab)
  48. David L.Vaux, Assistant Director, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Australia (
  49. John Murtagh, Repository Manager, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine @LSHTMlibrary
  50. Alecia Carter, University of Cambridge, UK (, @alecia_carter)
  51. Alex O. Holcombe, University of Sydney (, @ceptional)
  52. Ignacio Torres Aleman, Cajal Institute, Madrid. Spain. (
  53. Sarah Molloy, Research Support Manager, Queen Mary University of London (, @moragm23)
  54. John Lamp, Deakin University, Australia (, @johnwlamp)
  55. Matthew Todd, The University of Sydney and Open Source Malaria,
  56. Anusha Seneviratne, Imperial College London (, @anushans)
  57. Guido Guidotti, Harvard University (
  58. Joseph McArthur, Assistant Director, Right to Research Coalition(, @mcarthur_joe)
  59. Carlos H. Grohmann, University of São Paulo, Brazil (
  60. Jan de Leeuw, University of California Los Angeles, (
  61. Jung H. Choi, Associate Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology (
  62. Ernesto Priego, Centre for Information Science, City University London, UK (
  63. Brian Pasley, University of California, Berkeley (
  64. Stacy Konkiel, (, @skonkiel)
  65. Elizabeth HB Hellen, Rutgers University (
  66. Raphael Levy, University of Liverpool (
  67. Paul Coxon, University of Cambridge (
  68. Nitika Pant Pai, McGill University, Montreal, Canada (
  69. David Carroll, Queen’s University Belfast  (, @davidecarroll)
  70. Jacinto Dávila, Universidad de Los Andes (, @jacintodavila)
  71. Marco Arieli Herrera-Valdez, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (, @brujonildo)
  72. Juan Pablo Alperin, Simon Fraser University, Canada (
  73. Jan P. de Ruiter, Bielefeld University (, @JPdeRuiter)
  74. Xianwen Chen, Norwegian University of Life Sciences (, @xianwen_chen)
  75. Jeanette Hatherill, Librarian, University of Ottawa, Canada (, @jeanetteanneh)
  76. Katharine Mullen, University of California Los Angeles (
  77. Pedro Bekinschtein, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina (; @pedrobek)
  78. Quentin Groom, Botanic Garden Meise, Belgium (, @cabbageleek)
  79. Karen Meijer-Kline, Librarian, Simon Fraser University, Canada (, @kmeijerkline)
  80. Pietro Gatti-Lafranconi, Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, UK (, @p_gl)
  81. Jeffrey Hollister, USEPA, Narragansett, RI (, @jhollist)
  82. Lachlan Coin, University of Queensland and founder of Academic Karma ( @AcademicKarma )
  83. MooYoung Choi, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Seoul National University, Korea (
  84. Oscar Patterson-Lomba, Harvard School of Public Health (
  85. Rowena Ball, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia (
  86. Daniel Swan, Oxford Gene Technology, UK ( @DrDanielSwan)
  87. Stephen Curry, Imperial College London, UK (, @Stephen_Curry)
  88. Abigail Noyce, Boston University (, @abbynoyce)
  89. Jordan Ward, UCSF, San Francisco, CA, USA (, @Jordan_D_Ward)
  90. Ben Meghreblian,, London, UK (, @benmeg)
  91. Ethan P. White, Utah State University, Logan, UT, USA (, @ethanwhite)
  92. Sean R. Mulcahy, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA (, @srmulcahy)
  93. Sibele Fausto, University of São Paulo, Brazil ( @sibelefausto)
  94. Lorena A. Barba, George Washington University ( @LorenaABarba)
  95. Ed Trollope, Director, Things We Don’t Know CIC (, @TWeDK)
  96. Stephen Beckett, Ph.D. student, University of Exeter (, @BeckettStephen)
  97. Andrew D. Steen, Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, University of Tennessee, Knoxville (, @drdrewsteen)
  98. Mari Sarv, Estonian Literary Museum (, @kaskekanke)
  99. Noam Ross, Ph.D. Candidate, Ecology, University of California-Davis (, @noamross)
  100. Erika Amir, Geologist, Massachusetts, USA (, @geoflier)
  101. Martin Paul Eve, University of Lincoln (, @martin_eve)
  102. Franco Cecchi, University of Florence (
  103. Jason B. Colditz, University of Pittsburgh (, @colditzjb)
  104. Philip Spear, postdoc, Northwestern University (
  105. Mythili Menon, University of Southern California (, @mythmenon)
  106. Matthew Clapham, University of California Santa Cruz (,@meclapham)
  107. Karl W. Broman, University of Wisconsin–Madison (, @kwbroman)
  108. Graham Triggs, Symplectic (, @grahamtriggs)
  109. Tom Crick, Cardiff Metropolitan University (, @DrTomCrick)
  110. Diano F. Marrone, Wilfrid Laurier University (
  111. Joseph Kraus, Librarian, University of Denver (, @OAJoe)
  112. Steven Buyske, Rutgers University (
  113. Gavin Simpson, University of Regina (
  114. Colleen Morgan, University of York ( @clmorgan)
  115. Kara Woo, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, UC Santa Barbara (, @kara_woo)

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Reading Diary: Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey by Nick Bertozzi

Aug 15 2014 Published by under book review, reading diary, science books

First Second Books has done it again!

They've published another wonderful science-themed graphic novel that belongs on every bookshelf.

(Of course, they publish tons of other non-science themed graphic novels too. One of my particular favourite recent ones in the biography of Andre the Giant. The Zita the Spacegirl series is also wonderful beyond words.)

This time Nick Bertozzi's Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey brings us the history of Ernest Shackleton's crazy epic Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–17. And epic is about the understatement of the century in describing this multi-year voyage to Antarctica and attempted trek across the continent and the pole itself. All the while the crew maintains a serene kind of old-fashioned stiff upper lip that seems almost comical if it wasn't so heroic.

I have to admit that it was a voyage I didn't really know that much about before reading this book -- the shear length of the voyage coupled with the combination of being essentially stranded in the south seas & polar area for literally years, trapped in an ice-locked vessel, floating at sea on ice floes and life rafts, in remote camps. Insane stuff, really. To say the least, this graphic novel has really piqued my interest to pursue the topic more. And handily, Bertozzi provides additional resources at the end! Nothing like a book with a good bibliography at the end.

Bertozzi does a great job of telling the story of Shackleton's voyage, mostly concentrating on Shackleton himself but allowing some of the other crew members some time in the spotlight. His story telling is crisp and to the point, picking various high lights of the ordeal ("Endurance crushed by ice" or "Escaping an ice run" are examples) and letting those incidents move along the narrative. His art is also clear and clean, a straightforward vehicle for pure storytelling.

While aimed at a kids market, I would recommend this book to all audiences. It would make a great gift to any history, science or graphic novel lover. Any school or public library of any size would find an eager audience for this exciting story. Academic libraries that collect graphic novels would also do well to get this one.

Bertozzi, Nick. Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey. New York: First Second, 2014. 128pp. ISBN-13: 978-1596434516.

Other science graphic novels and illustrated books I have reviewed:

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Friday Fun: Chinese cyber spies disappointed by Canada’s complete lack of scientific research

Aug 15 2014 Published by under Canadian war on science, friday fun, Politics

From the "So Funny it Hurts" file...

This one combines the recent spying cases between Canada and China with the equally "humourous" ongoing Canadian War on Science.

Chinese cyber spies disappointed by Canada’s complete lack of scientific research

BEIJING - Chinese state-sponsored hackers were disappointed after hacking into Canadian government and business research archives and discovering they contained little to no valuable information.

“Wow, how on Earth is this country more developed than we are?” said Chinese Ministry of State Security intelligence analyst Lao Xi Ming from the smoke filled computer lab where he harvests technological secrets.


“This one folder,” he said, “contained only a crude drawing of an F-35 that was clearly made in MSpaint.”

It's very funny, read the whole thing!

(h/t Evidence for Democracy)

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Climate change fiction is the hottest thing in the book world!

Aug 13 2014 Published by under environment, science books, science fiction

Sorry about that, but posts and articles about climate change fiction seem especially prone to bad puns...

In any case, climate change fiction (or "cli-fi" to use the rather ugly short form) is fiction -- either speculative or realistic -- that takes as it's basis the fact that the earth's climate is changing and jumps off from there.

It's actually been around for quite a long time in various guises, even before it became obvious that anthropogenic global warming was an issue, with JG Ballard's The Wind from Nowhere and The Drowned World being perhaps the earliest modern examples. Not surprisingly, the last 20 or 30 years has seen a bunch of climate change novels being published with a number of particularly notable ones in the last 5 years or so.

Mostly, I think, with the hope that by dramatizing the effects of climate change that it will seem more real and that the general public will therefore be more likely to for one, believe that it's real and for another, actually want to do something about it, individually and collectively. Similarly by making scientists seem more human somehow the ideas that they are trying to communicate will seem more real and more urgent. On the other hand, the whole movement may mostly be preaching to the converted.

Recently there's been a number of articles, websites and blog posts analyzing climate change fiction. See so many of them is what's inspired me to gather those articles as well as many of the books they mention

Below I'll list a bunch of the most interesting looking ones chronologically and leave it up to my readers to figure out which ones to pursue in more depth. After the list I'm also going to list the posts, articles and sites that I used in my research. Danny Bloom has done a lot of work in this area and his material has been invaluable.

I've read a few of the books on the list but not many. So in a sense, this is very much a list for my own use over the next year or so.


The Books


The Resources


These list obviously only scratch the surface. If anyone has any particular recommendations that I don't mention here, please feel free to include them in comments.

21 responses so far

Friday Fun: McAfee unveils first homeopathic antivirus software

Aug 08 2014 Published by under friday fun

Ah, News Biscuit. You've nailed this one. What's next? Homeopathic dishwasher detergent?

In any case, enjoy a taste but make sure you read the whole thing. It's very funny!

McAfee unveils first homeopathic antivirus software

“Our customers are increasingly demanding Anti-Virus software that has no discernible effect on the performance of their laptops and other devices” commented McAfee spokesman Mike Townes. “By providing downloads or media containing only the “memory” of the most aggressive malware, we are able to satisfy that need at a cost marginally below that of traditional methods”.

McAfee are tight-lipped on the details of exactly how their new products are generated but it is believed to rely on the “like cures like” principle that underlies much of human homeopathy......

2 responses so far

Reading Diary: Wizards, Aliens, and Starships: Physics and Math in Fantasy and Science Fiction by Charles L. Adler

Aug 08 2014 Published by under book review, physics, science books, Uncategorized

Only rarely in my life as a reviewer do I get books that seem to be absolutely perfectly suited for me. This is certainly the case with Charles L. Adler's Wizards, Aliens, and Starships: Physics and Math in Fantasy and Science Fiction, a book that combines my love for science and my love for science fiction.

The premise is an ingenious one, one that's probably not anywhere near exploited enough in the popular science literature: use science fiction and fantasy stories as a way of elucidating science. Sure, it's been done to death in all those "The Science of X" books where X is some movie or TV franchise, but much more rarely though non-series science fiction and fantasy, and in particular using the literary forms of those genres as opposed to the visual.

So when my contact at Princeton University Press (Hi Jessica!) offered me this book, I jumped at the chance.

The real challenge of combining science and science fiction is to do it well. And overall, with a few caveats, I have to say that Adler does a very good job of using sf & f stories to explain scientific concepts to the lay audience. The two caveats revolve around what stories he uses and the detail in which he explores the science. But those are relatively minor and we'll come back to them in a moment.

But first, the many strengths of this book. In general, I really appreciate how Adler mixes up sf and fantasy and uses specific stories as a jumping off point for detailed explanations of physical phenomena. He does it in a way that would surely be very helpful for physics instructors looking for examples for their classrooms. The way he often integrates "back of the envelope" style calculations brings a lot of vitality to the examples. There are great explanations of conservation of mass works, as well as good stuff explaining equations, orders of magnitude, time dilation and many other aspects of physics.

The focus, of course, is on what we can learn of real physics from the realish physics in fiction. So there are chapters looking at aspects of space travel such as space vacations, colonies, space elevators, the practicality of interstellar travel, advance propulsion systems. The potential existence of extraterrestrials is also explored as is world-building and communication with aliens. Some of the most interesting chapters are at the end where Adler talks about the prospects for the survival of human civilization.

Overall, very good stuff. Interesting and engaging.

But the flaws. There are really two flaws here. The first is diversity of science fictional sources. The vast majority of science fiction texts that Adler chose were a bit on the old side. The book really would have benefited from more examples from the last 20ish years. Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy was one series I thought was missing. In general, non-old-white-males authors were sorely lacking. Both those problems could easily have been solved with a little more attention to the science fiction scene of the last few decades. There are numerous best-of-year and thematic anthologies by the likes of David G. Hartwell and others that would have served well.

The other flaw is Adler's tendency to dive into perhaps overly detailed and overly technical physics a little too quickly in some areas. The book is a best fit for someone who already has a decent amount of math and physics but with a little more care the potential audience could have been greatly expanded.

As I say, I did quite like this book and would recommend it for any academic library that collects popular science or science fiction. Large public libraries would also find this book to be useful as would many high school libraries. It would also make a great gift to any young person (or not so young!) who loves science fiction and has a bit of scientific background.

Adler, Charles L. Wizards, Aliens, and Starships: Physics and Math in Fantasy and Science Fiction. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. 377pp. ISBN-13: 978-0691147154

(Review copy provided by publisher.)

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The bad news is "AAAS Names New Science Publisher", the good news is Walt Crawford's Open Access Trilogy

It seems that the American Association for the Advancement of Science has just announced the new publisher of it's flagship family of Science journals:

AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner today announced the appointment of Kent Anderson, a past president of the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SPP), to serve as Publisher of the Science family of journals.

Anderson, who in 2011 received the SPP's highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award, will assume the role of Science Publisher as of 3 November.

Currently, he is the CEO and Publisher of STRIATUS/The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery in Needham, Massachusetts, where he oversees a staff of directors in advertising, marketing, business development, administration, product development, and product line management.

"AAAS and Science have held to high standards while pursuing the vanguard of scientific communication worldwide," Anderson said regarding his appointment. "I am extremely proud to join such a talented, thoughtful, and ambitious organization. I look forward to helping to move the Science family of journals further into the vanguard of scientific communication, with an immediate goal of supporting the launch of the association's new, open-access, online-only journal, Science Advances."


Among Anderson's initial challenges as Science Publisher will be the launch of the nonprofit association's first open-access title, Science Advances — a strategy for increasing the volume of peer-reviewed research published by AAAS. As a member of the AAAS leadership team, Anderson also will play a key role in the association's Transformation Initiative, a far-reaching effort to enhance engagement with members and to ensure that the Science journals continue to provide leadership in science communication.

I also note that little bit at the end of what I quote, that one of Anderson's initial challenges will be the launching of open access journal Science Advances.

My post title frames this announcement as bad news, which on the surface is a bit odd as the launch of on OA journal from the AAAS should be good news. However, what would otherwise be happiness is tempered by worry. New publisher Kent Anderson is most well known in the open access world for his role at the Scholarly Kitchen group blog where he has flown the anti-OA flag pretty consistently over the last several years. Zen Faulkes has a bit more on that here.

Needless to say, the reaction on Twitter has been pretty negative.

I guess there are two ways this could go, of course. One being a "fox in the chicken coop" scenario where any open access initiatives at the AAAS will be delayed, discounted or sabotaged. As well, my fear is that the tenor of OA commentary at an important outlet like the Science journals could be even more poisoned than it already is (more on that in a moment). Science is hugely important and for many very busy researchers it might be one of the only places they get commentary of scholarly communications issues.

Of course, the other option is a mythical "Only Nixon could have gone to China"-type revolution at Science where OA will blossom as never before. Like all mythology, I'm not holding my breath waiting for it to come true.

The good news is that there is a lot of very good commentary about open access out there, an awful lot of it by Walt Crawford in his online publication Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large.

So by way of antidote, I thought I'd highlight Crawford's very fine research and commentary on OA -- including his recent demolishing of the Bohannon OA sting published in Science a while back. Which brings us back to the first part of this post. Science and it's role in spreading OA fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Personally, I think a good first step for Anderson might be some honest reflection and commentary about the sting in light of the reaction it has provoked.

And here's Walt Crawford's Open Access Trilogy: Two taking a critical look at the idea of predatory open access journals and one exposing the "sting":

Ethics and Access 1: The Sad Case of Jeffrey Beall (direct link)

The saga of Jeffrey Beall going from self-appointed investigator into “predatory” open access publishers and journals (and, notably, only OA journals) to ludicrous analyst of serials pricing and the reasons for OA–and beyond that to denouncing OA and its advocates? It’s an odd story, and my version includes some really good ideas on avoiding sketchy journals (mostly from a notoriously worthwhile pseudonymous feathered library type) without buying into vigilantism.


Ethics and Access 2: The So-Called Sting (direct link)

John Bohannon wrote a news article in Science that either shows that many open access journals with APC charges have sloppy (or no) peer review…or shows almost nothing at all. This story discusses the article itself, offers a number of responses to it–and then adds something I don’t believe you’ll find anywhere else: A journal-by-journal test of whether the journals involved would pass a naive three-minute sniff test as to whether they were plausible targets for article submissions without lots of additional checking. Is this really a problem involving a majority of hundreds of journals–or maybe one involving 27% (that is, 17) of 62 journals? Read the story; make up your own mind.


Journals, “Journals” and Wannabes: Investigating the List (direct link)

Jeffrey Beall’s 4P (potential, probable, possible predatory) publisher and journal lists total 9,219 journals in early April 2014.

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) totals 9.822 journals as of early June 2014.

9,219 is 93.9% of 9,822.

But: 90.8% of the journals in DOAJ are not represented in Beall’s lists.

A paradox? Not really.

This special issue does something I don’t believe has ever been done before (and is unlikely ever to be done again): looks at every journal from every publisher on Beall’s lists to see whether they’re plausible predators–whether they could reasonably attract any sensible author.

Yes, I even used a control group: members of the OASPA. And two subject groups from DOAJ as secondary control groups.

What’s here? A discussion of my methodology (of course); the results; the control-group results; the subject-group results; some notes on “the name game” (anyone want to help start up International Journal of International Journals?); a few notes from some “publisher” sites; some comments on fee vs. free; discussing real and possible predators–and a list of potentially predatory characteristics of subscription journal publishers; a couple of other issues; and some conclusions, including a new and faster “Is this a reasonable journal?” methodology.

There are also related materials from Crawford available through Cites & Insights Books.

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