Archive for: April, 2015

Reading Diary: Books on Canadian politics: Harris, Wells, Delacourt, Savoie, Bourrie, Gutstein, Doern/Stoney, Pielke

This roundup includes reviews of a bunch of recent and not-so-recent reading about Canadian politics, in particular the Harper government and how it controls information. Some of the books are pretty directly related to science policy and some, not so much. These are all worth reading, some kind of overlap while others present fairly unique approaches. All were useful to me in my long term interest and work around Canadian science policy and in understanding the current Canadian Conservative government's anti-science attitudes. All are solid additions to the growing body of work on the Harper government and its impacts on Canadian society and belong in every public policy collection at academic or public libraries.
 

Bourrie, Mark. Kill the Messengers — Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know. Toronto: Patrick Crean, 2015. 400pp. ISBN-13: 978-1443431040

The books I'm reviewing here all basically have one purpose -- to expose the Harper government's anti-science, anti-democracy, anti-information leanings. They all have their individual strengths and weaknesses, they all cover slightly different aspects of the Harper record. Some are a bit dryer and more academic that others, some deep dive some topics and others are very general.

Mark Bourrie's Kill the Messengers is a very fine addition to the cannon. While ostensibly aimed at the information control aspects of the Harper Tories, it actually covers a fairly broad swath of what's been going on, and I think that's the case because pretty well all aspects of their dysfunction circle around information control, from attacking libraries and archives to muzzling scientists to whipping up terrorism terror, it's all about information.

And Bourrie does a great job of giving an accesible, detailed account of the "kill the information messenger" aspects of the Harper regime, as all-pervasive as they are.

What Bourrie does that's a bit different -- his added value, as it were in oh-so-appropriate corporate speak -- is place what Harper is doing in the context of the collapse of traditional media, how what we have left if hobbled and sycophantic like never before. Where there's less coverage, there's less accountability. He explains how the Conservatives have used their own larger-than-ever-before communications apparatus to fill the void, replacing news with propaganda.

I highly recommend Bourrie's book. If you've read all the ones that came before, like I did, there might be some redundancy but that's probably not the case for most people. The long form census, the history-bending military fetish, the intimidation of charities, the McCarthyistic "enemy lists" are all covered very well. He doesn't cover science or libraries as much as I'd hoped but at least Chris Turner has covered science exhaustively in his book. We're still waiting for the definitive treatment of the Harper assault on libraries and archives, but I guess that will have to wait.

 

Delacourt, Susan. Shopping for Votes: How Politicians Choose Us and We Choose Them. Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 2013. 320pp. ISBN-13: 978-1926812939

Shopping for Votes is easily one of the most fascinating and important books on Canadian politics I've read in a long time. It's not only or even mostly about the Conservatives -- though they serve as the main case study -- as it is about how electoral politics has become about using marketing, polling and micro-targeting as the main tools for fighting and winning elections. It traces the transition of the the political class's conception of the voting public as citizen to the voting public as consumers of politics and how this plays into the hands of both governments and the media/corporate elites. Not to mention how that conception of voters-as-consumers has fed into and paralleled the rise of attack ads and negative politics. It's a tool box largely imported into Canada from the US by the Conservatives but more and more it's being use by all the parties.

This is an illuminating and frightening book. Highly recommended. Read this book.

 

Doern, G. Bruce and Christopher Stoney, editors. How Ottawa Spends, 2014-2015: The Harper Government - Good to Go?. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2014. 216pp. ISBN-13: 978-0773544444

This is the most recent in a annual series of books that discuss Canadian federal politics through the lens of, well, how Ottawa spends. I guess the idea is that you can talk about high-falutin' policies all you want, but reality is where the budget dollars hit the road. Kind of like an Annual Review of Canadian Politics, with thematic contributions by a changing cast of experts every year. In the last little while, I've read a good chunk of the volumes covering the Harper years mostly to get a sense of the longer context on changes to science policy through that budgetary lens. Not all the articles are directly about budgets or spending per se, but often about governmental priorities or programs.

This 2014-2015 volume at hand has four articles with a science or environmental focus that I read with great interest. All provided solid coverage of their topic area and gave me great context and current information that was very handy for my presentation on Canadian science policy and the Harper government last fall.

Those articles are:

  • Harper’s Partisan Wedge Politics: Bad Environmental Policy and Bad Energy Policy by Glen Toner and Jennifer McKee
  • One of These Things Is Not Like the Other? Bottom-Up Reform, Open Information, Collaboration, and the Harper Government by Amanda Clarke
  • Managing Canada’s Water: The Harper Era by Davide P. Cargnello, Mark Brunet, Matthew Retallack, and Robert Slater
  • How Accurate Is the Harper Government’s Misinformation? Scientific Evidence and Scientists in Federal Policy Making Kathryn O’Hara and Paul Dufour

Perhaps not surprisingly, the article that was the most useful for me was the O'Hara/Dufour one on muzzling of Canadian scientists. They provided a great overview of the controversy, the facts and how it was covered in the media. The Toner/McKee article was also very useful in covering environment and energy, a topic that's covered fairly regularly in the various volumes of the series.

This series is required reading for anyone interested in a detailed view of Canadian politics from the inside.

 

Gutstein, Donald. Harperism: How Stephen Harper and his think tank colleagues have transformed Canada. Toronto: Lorimer, 2014. 288pp. ISBN-13: 978-1459406636

Conservative think tanks FTW! I bet they never get audited by the Canada Revenue Agency!

But they definitely have a long term and lasting impact on Canadian government policy. Or at least that’s the thesis of Donald Gutstein’s recentish book Harperism: How Stephen Harper and his think tank colleagues have transformed Canada. And a pretty convincing case he makes of it too, in a fairly short and focused book that still covers a lot of ground.

Basically, the Conservatives have used think tanks as a way of framing key issues that they want to deal with during their mandate. Gutstein does a good of what those core conservative ideas are in his chapter titles: Reject unions and prosper; Liberate dead capital on First Nations reserves; Counter the environmental threat to the market; Undermine scientific knowledge; Deny income inequality; Fashion Canada as a great nation.

Those pretty well encompass the Harperism movement, don’t they?

Gutstein kicks off the book with one of the best extended definitions of neoliberalism that I’ve seen, including going into some depth about the influence of Friedrich Hayek on both Harperism in particular and neoliberalism in general. The meat of the book is a subject by subject exploration of how various think tanks and “thought leaders,” such as the Fraser Institute are used to both generate ideas as well as to normalize and communicate them to the public. The use of bogus ideas such as “ethical oil” or the misleading buzzword “sound science” is also explored.

This is a well-researched, precisely-argued book that adds to the growing body of analysis of the roots and impacts of the current Harper government. Recommended.

 

Harris, Michael. Party of One: Stephen Harper And Canada's Radical Makeover. Toronto: Viking, 2014. 544pp. ISBN-13: 978-0670067015

The most recent of the general book to deal with the Harper years, this is probably also the one I got the least out of, probably mostly because I’ve read so many other books (and articles and blog posts and...) about Harper and merry gang of wreckers. But also at least in part because Harris gives the most extensive coverage to the Harper controversies that I find the least compelling and the least damning/important. I’m talking about the robocalls scandal, which in the absence of a smoking gun seems to be important but not the most important in the list of Harper’s sins. Yes, we all “know” that the election shenanigans originated at the highest levels, but “knowing” isn’t the same as knowing. I’m also talking about Mike Duffy and the senate scandals. To me the situation is too analogous to the previous Liberal government’s sponsorship scandals to regard it as anything other than politics as usual as opposed to something that marks the Harper government as uniquely disastrous compared to any other recent government. There are certainly plenty of those disastrous circumstances to go around.

And Harris, to his credit, covers most of those pretty well too, from the appalling treatment of veterans, to the situation at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries to the muzzling of scientists to the various “bad boys” like Bruce Carson, Arthur Porter and Nathan Jacobson.

Harris does a pretty good job of covering the later years of the Harper government, covering some stories that the other very general books didn’t. This book is recommended.

 

Pielke, Jr., Roger A. The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 188pp. ISBN-13: 978-0521694810

Roger Pielke is a bit of a controversial figure in the science policy field, which I didn't quite realize when I picked up this book as a general introduction to science policy. Last fall I needed something to give me a theoretical introduction as a way to ground the presentation I was going to be giving as part of York University's Science and Technology Studies Seminar Series. So I searched around Amazon and a few other places to see what I could find and this one seemed a decent choice.

And it was, for a first book. I found that the way he framed the relationship between scientists and society in terms of four idealized roles -- pure scientist, science arbiter, issue advocate or honest broker -- was useful for the way I wanted to frame my own presentation. As I got further in to the book, some of the parts did make me a bit queasy were ultimately reflected in what I learned about him over time. That being said, I did find his book to be a lively and useful introduction to the relationship between science and society: short enough to be easily digested while still having enough depth intellectually to be useful and challenging.

I probably need to read a few more general introductory books before the shape of the field really starts to take shape in my mind, for the issues and controversies to start to make coherent sense to me. Pielke's book was probably as good a place as any to start on that journey.

(Yeah, yeah, this one's not actually about Canadian politics but I see this as being all part of one large science policy project.)

 

Savoie, Donald J. Whatever Happened to the Music Teacher?: How Government Decides and Why. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2013. 336pp. ISBN-13: 978-0773541108

"How Government Decides and Why." Think of this subtitle as slightly re-worded as "How does government decide and why?" That's the question that Donald J. Savioe's book Whatever Happened to the Music Teacher? tries to answer. And what would that answer be? Mostly, "It's complicated" for both how and why.

So in a similar way that the Pielke book helped me frame the scientist/society relationship, the Savioe book certainly helped me think more carefully about the three fold interface between government and the bureaucracy and citizens, with the emphasis on how elected officials interact with the civil service.

While not specifically focused on the Harper years, Savoie does use them as a case study as he examines how the civil service and the elected officials have evolved in their relationship over the years. Particularly interesting is how he goes into great detail on how over time as the government has become bigger and more complex, it has become much more difficult for politicians to make sense of detailed budgets and spending reports -- to the point where they no longer even seem to try any more.

Which dovetails nicely into some of Savoie's other themes. The spenders versus the guardians. The relationships between the various deputy and associate deputy and associate deputy assistant ministers and all the rest of the ever-proliferating levels of administration. The goal of government as blame-avoidance and butt-covering of those above you in the hierarchy to keep them out of trouble, to create a regime of "no surprises." Savoie again and again debunks the idea that private sector managerialism has any place in government or that it ever has been or ever really could be successful. That spending decisions get shifted and morphed by stealth rather than purposeful planning, all towards more complex administration. Planning relies less on evidence and more on opinion. The rise and rise of endless spin. The cocooning of the PM among a small circle of elite advisors.

And more.

Which gets us back to the original question. How and why do governments decide? Basically, the answer is that its complicated and messy, not a linear process, not a process that's easy to predict or easily quantify.

Making governing a very human endeavor.

Which gets me to a weird place when I think about the book. While it can be a bit dry, I certainly learned a lot of rather intricate detail about how government works, stuff I never knew or even really wanted to know. Which makes the book definitely worthwhile. I certainly ended the book with a much greater appreciation of the messiness of government than when I started. So I guess that makes the read worthwhile.

 

Wells, Paul. The Longer I'm Prime Minister: Stephen Harper and Canada, 2006-. Toronto: Random House, 2013. 448pp. ISBN-13: 978-0307361325

One of the oldest books in this roundup, Paul Wells's book is probably also the first book to really look at the Harper government's overall legacy in a serious way. And of the books on this list, it's also the liveliest and most entertaining. Wells has a great way with a juicy story. And he certainly doesn't pull any punches -- he's pretty blunt about the good, bad and downright ugly about the early years of the Harper majority, about Harper's baldly stated desire to remake Canada as a conservative (and Conservative) country. "The longer I'm prime minister" as he's fond of saying, we won't even recognize this place.

Perhaps a bit dated now, with so much water under the bridge these last few years, I would still recommend this book for a solid insight into the first half of the Harper government's reign of error.

 

So what have I learned from all this reading? Aside from feeling, "holy crap have I ever read a lot of books about Canadian politics in the last few years?"

Somehow I think I should feel a bit more certain about what's going on or have a better sense of how we could fix it if we really wanted to. But in fact just the opposite. Like initial explorations of any field of study, those first excursions really just illuminate both how much you don't know and just how slippery solutions are.

And by solutions, I don't just mean electing another government, that's the easy part. I hope. What I mean is fixing the larger political climate in Canada so that evidence matters more. So that compassion matters more. So that micro-targeting narrow self-interested voter segments with tax cut goodies mattered less.

Understanding that context and framing those solutions is, if anything, even more illusive than it was when I embarked on this reading project a few years ago. And what it means is that even when the "Canadian War on Science" launched by the Conservatives is over, it does't mean that all the Canadian science policy battles have been won. Perhaps it means that rebuilding Canadian science will be just as important and finding that path will be just as fraught.

A new process and a positive project that will have just as much place for an old science librarian as the old battles.

As a bonus, here are some of the other Canadian political books I've read and reviewed recently.

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Friday Fun: Local artist paid with, dies from, exposure

Apr 24 2015 Published by under friday fun, Uncategorized

This one's pretty funny, if only in the so-funny-it-hurts category. I'm one of those dinosaurs that tends to actually want to own a good part of the culture I consume, books and music mainly more than TV or movies.

Enjoy the squirmy discomfort of this one.

Local artist paid with, dies from, exposure

TORONTO - In the early hours of yesterday morning, local artist Sue Jolley was found dead of exposure mere days after being paid with the same.

“We’re all shocked by this, but contrary to popular belief we were paying her quite well,” said H&M Canada representative Lawrence Pike, who had hired Jolley to create a mural at their downtown location. “In her contract, she was set to receive fair compensation in the form of exposure, promotion, opportunity, free publicity, “a foot in the door”, and at least 5 real-world experiences.”

“It’s a shame that her generation is so lazy that sometimes they’d rather breathe their last under an overpass while curled in a ball for warmth instead of, you know, working hard and sticking it out.”

And a couple along the same line, but in a more serious vein: Selling Out: How much do music artists earn online and Spotify Is Now Worth More Than the Entire US Recording Industry….

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Reading Diary: Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It by Marc Goodman

There's kind of two theories of the web. The first theory is that it's the best thing ever, the culmination of human civilization, incapable of being anything negative in anyone's lives. Proponents of this theory can't stand it when anyone says anything mean about the web (or usually any technology) in public or especially online.

The other theory is the chicken little theory. According to this theory, the web (and usually any technology) is the reason the world is going to hell in a hand basket. All the bad things in the world are because the web is disrupting science and art and culture.

Needless to say, neither of these caricatures is wholly true or false. Each have their famous online proponents. You probably know who I'm talking about. Personally I'm in neither camp. Both seem kind of like a technology religion. Personally, I'm kind of a technology agnostic. I take no particular absolute position on the goodness or badness of the web (or any technology, really, from 3d printers all the way to lead pencils). Technologies are good or bad mostly in how they get used by human cultures, with obviously some technologies easier to misuse that others.

And so it is with Marc Goodman's new book, Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It. For such a sobering book about such an alarmist topic, I kind of think that Goodman might actually identify himself more as a technology agnostic rather than any particular fundamentalist sect. Since he's a former cop, it might be expected that he would come down on the more alarmist/law and order side of things but thankfully that was not the case.

To be honest, I was expecting Future Crimes to be quite alarmist, even scaremongering, about the threats of computer crime and perhaps much harder on "hackers," phishers and other bad actors in the tech world and perhaps a little too soft on just as serious threats from government, tech companies and big business. I was pleasantly surprised. At the end of the day, he's fairly even-handed in his treatment of all the various threats out there in the technological wild west. Sure, maybe he's a bit gentler with Big Tech and Silicon Valley and their government lapdogs (or is that the other way around?) than he could have been but in his rather exhaustive cataogue of all the bad things that bad people can do to you with all the various emerging technologies out there, he definitely doesn't give them a pass. Which is great, given that his focus is obviously on explicitly criminal activity he probably could have easily passed over those other threats and most probably wouldn't have noticed.

And Goodman also has a fairly broad definition of "crime." His general treatment of threats to our safety and privacy also includes the kinds of spying, data gathering, side-effect, unintended consequences and manipulation -- again, by bad guy hackers as well as government and corporations or even caused by accidents or bugs -- that are deeply invasive but not really against any laws. Let's just say Google, Facebook, the NSA and all the rest do not escape unscathed from Goodman's chronicle.

Goodman also does the world a huge service by going through all those shiny new technologies that the disruptophiles want you to embrace in your blind rush to an online and totally exposed and commercialized identity -- 3D printers, mobile phones, home automation, driverless cars, big data, social networks, mobile payment, GPS, airport security, gamification, drones & robots, wearable computing, biometrics, facial recognition, autonomous killing machines, brain computer interfaces, nanotech, and all the rest. And one by one, he shows how all these technologies have been hacked and compromised by someone. And he gives examples. It's sobering stuff.

Does he have solutions? Not really, but he does devote the whole final section of the book advocating for a more human-centred design, with an emphasis on both recognizing that the human factor is the weakest link in any security system and without victim-blaming that there is a part we can all play in learning to take reasonable precautions. Playing our part in surviving progress and the way forward, to combine the last two chapter titles. There's nothing revolutionary in that section at all, but while completely recognizing that the genie is out of the bottle and none of these technologies are going away, he does make a very clear call for all the stakeholders to get together and formulate a kind of Manhattan project of cyber security and human-centered design.

A few quibbles. This is a long book, so I did tend to suffer a bit of threat exhaustion after a while, so perhaps a narrower but less comprehensive coverage would have been better. Related to that, some parts of the book did seem a bit too skimmable for comfort, the sections tended to be quite predictably structured so there was a bit of sameness after a while.

Overall, I recommend this book as a good introduction to online security and crime issues. While perhaps not academic enough for many university library collections, it is a good enough popular introduction for institutions that collect those sorts of treatments of technology topics. This book would probably fit better in public library collections.

If this book is a cyber threats 101 course with a very broad coverage, I definitely look forward to reading Bruce Schneier's Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World for an more in-depth treatment of data security.

Goodman, Marc. Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It. New York: Doubleday, 464pp. ISBN-13: 978-0385539005

(Review copy picked up at Ontario Library Association publisher booth.)

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Reading Diary: Zombies & Calculus by Colin Adams

Colin Adams's Zombies & Calculus is one of the coolest, funniest, most creative science books I've read in a very long time.

What's interesting about that statement is that we're not talking a non-fiction book here. We're talking a novel. Yes, a novel. Zombies & Calculus is pure fiction. Fortunately. Now I'm a big fan of the Walking Dead tv show and the comics too (though I'm a bit behind on the trade paperback collections) so I"m quite glad it's fiction. Basically, the premise of this novel is, "What if Rick Grimes had been a university math prof instead of a police officer."

The opening scene is a college math lecture hall where a couple of zombies wander in and start chowing down on the students. Chaos ensues but our hero Professor Williams, rallies the students and escapes. The rest of the novel is Williams using his math abilities to figure out what is happening to them all -- growth rates, zombie wandering trajectories, how hard you have to smack a zombie to kill it, predator-prey oscillation curves -- and hopefully increase their odds of survival because of that knowledge.

The story itself is pretty amusing, with quite a few of the bizarre and grotesque touches you would expect of any zombie novel. The body count is pretty high. The author isn't a brilliant novelist but easily has enough facility with both prose and narrative storytelling to make the book very entertaining. The characterization is a bit basic and one-dimensional but serviceable. The novel part is only about 150 pages and the relative brevity of the story definitely contributes to the success. Adams also manages to put in a few humourous jabs at academic life and campus politics, from the checked-out senior prof to the incompetent administrator, to give the story some satirical sting. There's even a touch of romance, if you can believe it. Not to mention, extended calculus lectures delivered in deadpan style while holed-up and hiding during the zombie apocalypse is in-and-of-itself flat out hilarious. (Some of the conversations with fellow survivors can be a bit laboured, especially in the appendices.)

As for the hard-core math part, there is quite a bit of very real calculus both embedded in the novel itself and in some rather more detailed appendices. If you're not comfortable with at least some level of equations and graphs, then this probably isn't a book for you. However, Adams does do a decent job of keeping the story flowing without too much digression into long info-dumps. One of the most interesting math parts was about the growth rates of the zombie population and how potential equilibrium of zombies and humans might be reached. Colin Adams definitely needs to be a math consultant on The Walking Dead, especially as the show gets further into the time scale of their apocalypse.

Overall, I can't recommend this book enough; it was one of my favourite science books of 2014. The more math you know, the more you will enjoy this book. The main audience is probably university math students and professors, so if you know one of those, this would make a great gift. As for library collections, this would be a great addition to any undergraduate math collection and could even be used as a teaching tool in first year calculus. Large public library systems would probably also find an audience for this book.

Adams, Colin. Zombies & Calculus. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. 240pp. ISBN-13: 978-0691161907

(Review copy provided by publisher.)

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Lane Anderson Award for Canadian science books: Call for submissions

As long-time readers of this blog with know, I'm a huge supporter of science books. One of my definite soft spots is the annual Lane Anderson Award for the best Canadian science book in both adult and young adult categories. As such I'll point out that the submission deadline for the 2014 award is fast approaching. If you or anyone you know published a Canadian science book in 2014, please consider submitting it for consideration for the award.

The award website is here. Some of my previous posts about the award are here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS
 
Please help us support science writers in Canada.
We hope you agree with us that science exploration is one of the
fundamental areas of our world today—
 
The Lane Anderson Award recognizes that research and applauds the
people who help make young readers and adults alike aware of the
continuing importance of science in our world today.

 

Selection Process

The annual Lane Anderson Award will honour two jury-selected books, adult and young reader, published in the field of science by Canadian-owned publishers, and authored by Canadians. The winner in each reader category will receive $10,000.

Two three-person jury panels drawn from the Canadian academic, publishing, creative and institutional fields will review submissions in the two reader categories.

Entries may deal with various aspects of science and technology, including health care, nature, and environmental issues.

  1. All entries must be published in English between January 1, 2014, and December 31, 2014.
  2. All entries must have an ISBN and be available for sale in bookstores in Canada.
  3. The deadline for submissions is April 30, 2015.
  4. A collection of essays by one author is eligible if the essays are on a single theme, and if the work in its entirety has not been published elsewhere. A collection of essays by more than one author is not eligible.
  5. A work by two co-authors is acceptable, provided the whole work is integrated and coherent. In the case of winning co-authors, the prize money will be divided between them.
  6. Electronic books are eligible, contingent on the author being a permanent resident of Canada during the 2014 calendar year and the entry having been made generally available for public sale on a commercial basis during 2014.
  7. Non-eligible works include pamphlets, monographs, brochures, reference books, conference papers and subsequent or revised editions of books. Posthumously published works are also not eligible, nor are works of fiction.
  8. Short-listed authors are required to attend the awards ceremony in Toronto and, if declared the winner, to address the audience at that time.
  9. The rules for eligibility will be administered, applied, interpreted and may be revised from time to time at the discretion of the administrator of the Lane Anderson Award. The administrator's judgment on the application of the rules and the eligibility criteria is final.

The Lane Anderson Award
11 Redcastle Crescent,
Scarborough, ON, M1T 1V2

The submission form is here, email is laneandersonaward@gmail.com and website http://laneandersonaward.ca/submissions

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Reading Diary: AsapSCIENCE: Answers to the World’s Weirdest Questions, Most Persistent Rumors, and Unexplained Phenomena by Mitchell Moffit and Greg Brown

Imagine a world where two guys, graduates of the University of Guelph, a mid-sized university in southern Ontario, are able to parlay a series of funny and cool whiteboard-style science explanation YouTube videos into a global science communication empire. Without even "forgetting" to give credit to science illustrators in the process.

Don't imagine too hard, because I think we're almost there.

And what is it about Ontario and humourous science communications anyways? Is it something in the water? At least the most recent incarnation seems to be a little clearer on how things should be done.

And what in tarnation am I even talking about, you ask? I would freaking love to tell you.

No, not that one.

I'm talking AsapSCIENCE!!!!!

AsapSCIENCE is the YouTube channel brainchild of Mitchell Moffit and Greg Brown which has branched out into the worlds of Facebook, tumblr, Twitter and now, a real paper, ink, electrons and pixels book. And I'm no doubt missing a few services and channels...

So what is AsapSCIENCE? Basically the idea is presenting useful scientific ideas in a lighthearted, interesting mostly very accessible way via brief whiteboard illustrated and narrated YouTube videos. Sounds easy, but not really. And to be honest, the AsapSCINCE team do a very credible job of producing a video every week. A good recent example is their video on that damn dress.

Which brings is to the latest stage in Asap world domination -- the book.

Get ready, take a deep breath, the title is a bit long...AsapSCIENCE Answers to the World’s Weirdest Questions, Most Persistent Rumors, and Unexplained Phenomena by Mitchell Moffit and Greg Brown (Illustrations by Mitchell Moffit, Jessica Carroll and Greg Brown).

The book definitely channels the same spirit as the videos with a series of very short, punchy, illustrated chapters divided into sections such as Resolving Persistent Questions, Rumors, and Weird Phenomena; Body Talk; Hypotheticals; Sensory Perceptions; Hot Sex and other Amorous Pursuits; Getting to the Bottom of Bad Behavior; Dreaming, Waking, Napping, Sleeping.

Some of the chapters include: Does being cold make you sick? Are silent farts more deadly? Brain farts, Could a zombie apocalypse happen, Why do we get pins and needles, The science of sexy, The science of swearing and The scientific power of naps. In particular, I've always wanted to know why spicy food makes you hiccup. (It happens to me sometimes if I get a real spicy jolt while eating.) The chapters are a mix of adaptations of videos and totally new content.

Overall the quality of the chapters is very high, with great explanations of genuinely interesting -- if whimsical and naughty -- topics (Some of the evolutionary psych stuff I could do without, but that's a quibble.). The illustrations are great, the text snappy. It's a quick read, to be sure, you could get through the whole thing in one sitting. Although I would suggest dipping in for shorter hits as you can maintain the funny better that way.

I recommend this book without hesitation. It's a fun combination of sugar and medicine to make the scientific information go down. It would also make a great gift for just about anybody. While probably not appropriate for most academic collections, this would be a great addition to the humourous science collection of any public library. While the content itself is definitely appropriate for a middle or high school audience, some of the fairly risque chapter titles might make selectors in those types of libraries pause. For example, Which is worse, childbirth of getting kicked in the balls; The science of orgasms, Will dancing get you laid; The science of morning wood, The scientific hangover cure...

You get the idea.

While this is certainly a good book for young people in terms of content, but sadly misplaced sensitivity on the salty nature of some of those chapter titles may, as I mentioned, make collections people hesitate. Don't. This is a very fine book. It's slightly scatological nature isn't that must different from the Captain Underpants books, but for an older audience. And we know how popular those books are.

Moffit, Mitchell and Greg Brown. AsapSCIENCE Answers to the World’s Weirdest Questions, Most Persistent Rumors, and Unexplained Phenomena. New York: Scribner, 2015. 256pp. ISBN-13: 978-1476756219

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Other science graphic novels and illustrated books I have reviewed:

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Around the Apocalyptic Web: Why thinkpieces on STEM education are dangerous and more

Apr 02 2015 Published by under acad lib future, around the web

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My new job: Owner and publisher of the International Journal of Usability, Systems and Technology

I really appreciate how all my Internet friends have followed me from major career announcement to major career announcement over the last few years. From my job at Elsevier all the way to last year's temporary detour as Chief Advisor on Science Libraries for the Government of Canada! The last few years sure have been exciting but it's time for a new challenge.

And yes, I'm taking a leap back into the scholarly publishing world. This time I'm starting up my own open access scholarly publishing company to publish in all the STEMM fields with a special focus on computer science, which is, of course, my own original scholarly field.

I would like to announce the launch of a brand new open access scholarly publishing company: Dupuis Science & Computing and Medicine!.

It's been a long and strange journey to this point, but I think it's the right time. The production of scholarship is exploding, with more and more articles published every year in an ever increasing number of scholarly journals. But so much of what is being published is locked behind the rapacious paywalls of predatory commercial and society publishers. Time to liberate the articles!

The growth of new business models has allowed pretty well anyone with an entrepreneurial bent to enter the market and advance the cause of science and scholarship. So, I thought, time to stop being a librarian, sitting around thinking deep thoughts about how the scholarly communications ecosystem should work and take the plunge! Time to become a Man of Action! Time to make some money!

The name of my new journal is representative of where scholarship in computer science is headed -- open access, international in scope and focused on how real people interact with systems and technology.

Which is why my extensive focus groups have decided on calling the name International Journal of Usability Systems & Technology as the umbrella journal title. As the DSCaM publishing empire grows, we'll be adding new sections as new opportunities arise to move into new fields. The inaugural title will be on Concurrent Algorithms and Network Topology.

But enough of all the words. Time for deeds. Here are the specs for the new publisher, starting with the first journal to be launched and them with a brief word on plans for the future.

Consider this announcement a Call For Papers for IJUST-CANT.

 

JOURNAL INFORMATION

OWNER AND PUBLISHER: John Dupuis

MANAGING DIRECTOR: tba

ISSN: XXXX-XXXX

LICENCE: CC-BY-NC-ND

OPEN ACCESS AUTHOR PROCESSING CHARGE: US$500 per article, with bulk discounts available. Payment is by cash, credit cards, Amazon gift cards and Canadian Tire money.

INITIAL ROUND OF FUNDING: We are planning a GoFundMe campaign.

SPAM EMAIL POLICY: Please leave your email in the comments to subscribe to our hourly update email.

PEER REVIEW: We promise sound, complete and authoritative peer review. Authors are free to nominate their own colleagues or family members to serve as reviewers for their submissions. A valid gmail account is all that is needed.

TIME TO PUBLICATION: We promise publication immediately upon acceptance of payment.

FORMATTING: Please use the following stylesheet.

DIGITAL PRESERVATION & ARCHIVING: We are part of the LICKSYS and CLICKSIS systems.

 

FIRST JOURNAL LAUNCHED APRIL 1 2015

FOUNDING JOURNAL SCOPE: Concurrent Algorithms and Network Topology (IJUST-CANT)

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Pending. Are you interested? Apply in the comments!

SAMPLE ARTICLES: I have specifically recruited top researchers to launch the journal with two articles. These amazing first articles are definitively Nobel-worthy.

IJUST-CANT FOUNDING EDITORIAL BOARD

Vannevar Brush
Charles Cabbage
Rachelle Carson
Walt Crawford
Marie Curry
Edgar Dijkstra
Albert Eisenstein
Rosamund Franklin
Curt Gödel
Jane Goodell
Grace M. Hooper
Steve Jobes
Aida Lovelace
Claude Shanahan
Allen Turning
Niklaus Worth

 

SECOND ROUND OF JOURNALS TO BE LAUNCHED DAILY STARTING MAY 2015

Over the next 12 months or so, we will be launching a stable of over 1000 journals across all of the areas of computing and information technology. All will be IJUST titles. Each will need an editor-chief and editorial board. Please apply in the comments. Please nominate your friends, colleagues, relatives and pets for these roles. Each nomination should be accompanied by US$100 deposited in my BitCoin account.

Some forthcoming examples of journals include:

IJUST-WONT: Website Ontology Network Technology
IJUST-PAY: Packet Algorithm Y2K
IJUST-SCAM: Security Certificate Algorithm Maintenance
IJUST-BULL: Best Usability Liability Liaison
IJUST-CRAP: Canadian Re-usability Accessibility Planning

Since we need so many more journals over the next year or so, anyone who wishes to start a journal under the conditions explained above, please apply in the comments. By applying and subsequently submitting the New Journal fee of US$5000, you will be automatically named as editor-in-chief of your new journal and will be able to appoint it's Editorial Board. I will automatically be a member of that board with an honorarium of US$1000 per year, payable immediately upon acceptance.

We are very open-minded and are willing to consider publishing your conference

Final note: As noted from above, I'm looking for a candidate for Editor-in-Chief. I'm hoping the new editor will pay me in the range of US$10,000 per year for this incredible honour. Please feel free to submit your application by way of a comment on this post.

I'm looking forward to our first editorial board meeting this coming May in Paris!

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