Archive for: October, 2014

My talk: Evidence vs. Ideology: The Canadian Conservative Government's War on Science

Oct 31 2014 Published by under Canada, Canadian war on science, Politics, yorku

This past Tuesday I gave a talk as part of the York University Department of Science & Technology Studies' STS Seminar Series. Not surprisingly, my talk was centred on the work I've done as a chronicler of Canadian science policy issues. The title and abstract of my talk are:

Evidence vs. Ideology: The Canadian Conservative Government's War on Science

Canada has entered an era of decision-based evidence-making, where scientific and other evidence takes a back seat to an ideology of political partisanship in the service of economic development and “prosperity.” Where once we could hope that scientific evidence would play an important role in decision making in such areas as public health, resource development and environmental stewardship, this no longer seems to be the case. Using tactics such as the drastic budget cuts to government science departments, the muzzling of government scientists who want to discuss their research in public and turning government scientific infrastructure into a concierge for industry, the Conservative government is waging a War on Science. This presentation will look at some of the major causes, strategies and skirmishes in the war as well as some prospects for a ceasefire and perhaps even a fair and just peace.

The campus online newsletter has a nice preview story about it here, including a picture of me from last year's Death of Evidence mock funeral I helped organize as part of the Libraries' Scholarly Communications Committee.

I thought the talk itself went quite well, with good feedback during the questions and afterwards from attendees. One tweet, from York's Institute for Science & Technology Studies <a href="">twitter feed: "Hilarious, sobering talk on the state of government science by @dupuisj at today's seminar." What more can you ask for that to be both hilarious and sobering?

Doing the talk was a great experience and definitely a great honour to be asked to take part in this kind of seminar series. I'd like to thank Institute members Kean Birch and Denielle Elliott for inviting me to take part as well as all the various member of the Department and the Institute for making the arrangements so smooth.

And last but definitely not least, here are my slides.


If anyone is interested in what's going on in Canadian science these days and would like me to deliver this talk or some approximation, I'd be happy to oblige. You can contact me at jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

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The Canadian War on Science: More updates to the chronology of the Conservative government’s anti-science actions

Oct 24 2014 Published by under Canada, Canadian war on science, Politics

It has been a year since I last updated my chronological listing of the Harper Conservative government's war on science. The newly updated master list is here, where you can also read more about this project in general. The previous update from October 2013 is here. Some preliminary metrics about the impact of that original post in the wider world are here.

This update contains 140 new incidents, mostly from between the last update and now. They have been integrated into the master list.

Some notes.

Many of the incidents I list are programs or locations that have sustained significant budget cuts or closure. It has been noted that some of these programs may have deserved their fate. I acknowledge that not all government programs or institutions are equally effective. From my perspective, the point isn't to judge whether or not a program deserved to be cut or eliminated. I don't have access to the kinds of internal or external assessment documents that would be needed to even attempt this across such a large number of cases. Never mind that it's very likely those assessments would themselves be highly contested among the various stakeholders. I can only list what I can document has happened. And given the sheer numbers, it's unlikely all these programs deserved their fate.

It has also been noted that sometimes the links I use to document incidents are no longer accessible. I plan to address this retrospectively for the master list in a future update. For this update, I have tried to include multiple sources for as many of the new incidents as possible. These additional link may sometime duplicate each other; this is in hopes that some redundancies will help with the link rot problem. The additional links are also an opportunity to include links that followup, explain or elaborate upon the main link.

From the Fifth Estate's excellent episode on the war on science, The Silence of the Labs, here's a very long list of Federal programs and research facilities that have been shut down or had their funding reduced. I haven't gone through the whole list yet and found online sources of documentation but that will be part of the next update.

While this update has mostly focused on the period since the last update in October 2013, I have added some retrospective items to the list. However, the next update will focus much more on that kind of retrospective updating. Among other sources, I intend to use the recent Paul Wells book The Longer I'm Prime Minister: Stephen Harper and Canada, 2006- and especially Chris Turner's wonderful The War on Science: Muzzled Scientists and Wilful Blindness in Stephen Harper's Canada (my review).

For those that are interested, I have started maintaining a tumblr blog of candidate items for these updates, Tracking the Canadian War on Science. I'll be recording various media reports of the government's anti-science actions as well as highlighting more general items about Canadian science policy in the Harper era. I'm hoping that neither this chronology not that tracking project will be needed for more than another year or so.

And now the updates:



As I did with both the initial post and the first update, to facilitate the free and open spread of information, please consider this post CC0. To the extent possible under law, I am waiving all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this post, The Canadian War on Science: Updates to the chronology of Conservative government's anti-science actions. This work is published from Canada.

And lest people despair too much, there is a broadly based movement to draw attention to the cuts and closures such as the Death of Evidence rallies and the more recent Stand Up for Science rallies across the country. My own institution held a Death of Evidence mock funeral in October 2013 to draw attention to the situation.

Some of the relevant organizations and movements standing up for science in Canada are:

Once again, the complete list is here.

And as usual, if there are any errors, omissions, duplications, etc. in either list, please let me know in the comments or at jdupuis at yorku dot ca. My non-work email is dupuisj at gmail dot com for those that prefer that option.

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Around the Apocalyptic Web: The sharing economy and getting paid for your work

I find the whole idea of a "sharing economy" where people barter and exchange and free up excess capacity in their own lives and situations to make others' lives a little easier and cheaper an interesting notion. And worthwhile. After all broadly speaking the open access and open source movements do partake of this same spirit. Libraries too, in that we pool the resources of a community to acquire stuff for the benefit of all the members, so that everyone can share the wealth.

But is there a dark side to sharing?

With the advent of companies like AirBnB and it's ilk not to mention the whole idea of the "reputation economy" sucking up the "gift economy" for it's own devices, well, let's just say I'm a bit more skeptical of the big money players than the little gals and guys.

So this Around the Web explores a long set of readings about more the new, more corporatized side of sharing, some pro, most con. After all, even the open access movement has it's share of big publishers and small startups diving in.

In no particular order:

Add your own favourite example of rich people asking not-so-rich-people to kick in to their profits in the comments.

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Around the Web: Big Deals 'R Us, or, Libraries in the lobster pot

So what do I mean by Big Deals.

In the world of academic libraries, a Big Deal is when we subscribe to the electronic versions of all (or almost all) of a journal publisher's offerings. Usually for it to qualify as a Big Deal, the publisher in question is going to be one of the larger ones out there, like Elsevier or Springer or even a big society publisher like IEEE or the American Chemical Society. The whole idea of the Big Deal is that we should theoretically get a better price for a large volume commitment than for paying on an individual basis for just the ones we think we really want. Typically the negotiation process for these deals ends up with the library paying some hopefully fair and reasonable percentage more for the whole kit and kaboodle than we did for our previous selective holdings.

Which seems like a good idea at first blush -- and it often is a good deal for us and for our patrons who get access to lots of content that they might find useful -- but there are a few problems.

For example, we do often get stuck with the long tail of journals that are only very marginally useful to us and that end up with no or almost no usage. We're also stuck with the package as our users get used to all this wonderful access so it gets harder to negotiate good prices as the publishers begin to sense that it becomes harder and harder to walk away from these deals the longer we have them.

Though not impossible.

Which brings me to our current issue at hand -- pricing fairness and transparency.

You see, one of the issues with the Big Deals, as with many of the agreements between libraries and our vendors, is that we often sign pricing non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs. In other words, we negotiate the best deal we can and then we don't tell anybody what that is. In fact, while we're negotiating those deals, we don't know what anyone else has paid either for the same package so we really don't know how good a deal our Big Deal is. And since so many of the pricing structures of the Big Deals are based on historical spending with those publishers, the more you used to spend, the more you will spend. Effectively, the incremental amount you spend for the rest of the publisher's offerings gets you much more if you didn't used to have a lot. It's hard to tell how much resistance there has been historically by libraries to NDAs because it's all shrouded in secrecy. After all, who wants to talk about how much we've been historically shafted with people who may have been shafted less. The resistance is starting, but only just.

Which further brings us to the recent revelations by mathematician Timothy Gowers about the situation in the UK and Theodore C. Bergstrom, Paul N. Courant, R. Preston McAfee, and Michael A. Williams about the situation in the US. (Some other countries as well, see list below.)

Those faculty members, not librarians mind you, issued Freedom of Information requests to all or most university libraries in their jurisdictions asking for publisher Big Deal pricing information, the information normally protected by NDA, and published their findings.

And they are quite shocking, to say the least. I won't recap it all here because the details are available in links below, but I will say that there is a dramatic and shocking discrepancy in what different institutions pay for the same content. So yes, the NDAs seem to work. The big publishers are able to extract more from us because we have less information about the negotiations than they do.

And thus the problem is one of collective action. We are like the proverbial lobsters in a pot, the water boils, the price rises, but we don't notice the gradual rise until we're dead, and then it's kind of too late. And to extend the culinary metaphor, there's a chicken and egg thing going on here too. How and why and when and where do we jump start collective action?

But those are rants from another day.

I've gone on long enough but before I close I will note Walt Crawford's Big-Deal Serial Purchasing: Tracking the Damage for an overview of the situation. Wayne Bivens-Tatum has some commentary here as well.

Also very relevant is investment adviser Claudio Aspesi's leaked advice to the industry, Reed Elsevier: Goodbye to Berlin - The Fading Threat of Open Access (Upgrade to Market-Perform). The message is basically that the open access/scholarly communications community is currently unable to come to any sort of effective collective action, so the big journal vendors, including Elsevier, will continue to reap both substantial subscription income as well as growing author processing charges. In other, they win and we lose. At least for now. The Loon has some cogent commentary on this as well. And the experience at Oklahoma University is also instructive.


And as is my wont, I'll end with a chronological account of the recent Big Deal revelations. If I've missed anything significant please let me know in the comments or at jdupuis at yorku dot ca. I've bolded the two major sources of data and information to make them easier to find.


I note the October Freedom of Information requests made by Stuart Lawson to various UK universities. As far as I know, no one has done this for Canadian universities, either for Elsevier or for journal publishers more generally. Who's up to it, I wonder.

Let's do this. Any takers?

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Around the Web: 21 recent reports relevant to higher education, libraries and librarianship

I'm always interested in the present and future of libraries and higher education. There's a steady stream of reports from various organizations that are broadly relevant to the (mostly academic) library biz but they can be tough to keep track of. I thought I'd aggregate some of those here.

Of course I've very likely missed a few, so suggestions are welcome in the comments.

I've done a few similar posts recently here and here.

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