Archive for: November, 2015

Best Science Books 2015: The New York Times

Nov 30 2015 Published by under best science books 2015, science books

As you all have no doubt noticed over the years, I love highlighting the best science books every year via the various end of year lists that newspapers, web sites, etc. publish. I've done it so far in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

And here we are in 2015!

As in previous years, my definition of "science books" is pretty inclusive, including books on technology, engineering, nature, the environment, science policy, history & philosophy of science, geek culture and whatever else seems to be relevant in my opinion.

Today's list is The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2015.

  • Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery By Henry Marsh
  • The Fly Trap by Fredrik Sjoberg
  • The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf
  • Jonas Salk: A Life by Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs
  • Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve ­Silberman
  • On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks
  • The Shape of the New: Four Big Ideas and How They Made the Modern World by Scott L. Montgomery and Daniel Chirot
  • The Weather Experiment: The Pioneers Who Sought to See the Future by Peter Moore

And check out my previous 2015 lists here!

Many of the lists I use are sourced via the Largehearted Boy master list.

(Astute readers will notice that I kind of petered out on this project a couple of years ago and never got around to the end of year summary since then. Before loosing steam, I ended up featuring dozens and dozens of lists, virtually every list I could find that had science books on it. While it was kind of cool to be so comprehensive, not to mention that it gave the summary posts a certain statistical weight, it was also way more work than I had really envisioned way back in 2008 or so when I started doing this. As a result, I'm only going to highlight particularly large or noteworthy lists this year and forgo any kind of end of year summary. Basically, all the fun but not so much of the drudgery.)

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Around the Web: Some readings on Climate Change, Canada and COP21

Nov 29 2015 Published by under around the web, Canada, climate change, environment

I think this post might signal the birth of a new all-consuming blogging obsession -- climate change in general and specifically how the realities of climate change play out in the Canadian context, especially as it relates to public policy.

With the COP21 climate talks coming up in Paris, this seems like as good a time as any to focus more carefully and closely on what is probably the most defining issue of our times.

Not that this is the first time I've blogged about climate change. I've kept track of the issues fairly closely over the years and that has spilled into the blog, mostly in the form of the occasional book review such as:

And even a post on Climate Change Fiction, which has turned out to be one of my most popular ever. Not to mention that items on climate change have turned up in my Around the Web posts a number of times such as here and here.

And of course, one of the driving forces for my Canadian War on Science mega-obsession series of posts was the Harper government's shameful record on climate change.

Needless to say, my purpose here isn't to cheer on the Trudeau government in whatever it decides to do, though obviously they will very likely do better than the previous government. Holding them to account to failures and bad decisions and perhaps pointing the way to better policies is just as much my mission here.

So here goes. A fairly selective series of readings about climate change, Canada and COP21. With more to come.

As usual, if I've made any errors of if I'm missing anything significant, please let me know in the comments.

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Best Science Books 2015: Amazon.com

Nov 26 2015 Published by under best science books 2015, science books

As you all have no doubt noticed over the years, I love highlighting the best science books every year via the various end of year lists that newspapers, web sites, etc. publish. I've done it so far in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

And here we are in 2015!

As in previous years, my definition of "science books" is pretty inclusive, including books on technology, engineering, nature, the environment, science policy, history & philosophy of science, geek culture and whatever else seems to be relevant in my opinion.

Today's list is from Amazon.com. The actual sub-lists I'm using are: Science, Biographies & Memoirs, Business & Investing, History, Nonfiction, Sports & Outdoors.

  • Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple by Randall Munroe
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
  • The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World by Andrea Wulf
  • The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery
  • The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World by Pedro Domingos
  • SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient by Jane McGonigal
  • Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins by Susan Casey
  • The Secret Lives of Bats: My Adventures with the World's Most Misunderstood Mammals by Merlin Tuttle
  • Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh
  • The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands by Eric Topol
  • Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology by Johnjoe Mcfadden and Jim Al-Khalili
  • Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime by Val McDermid
  • How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature by Scott D. Sampson
  • Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish by John Hargrove and Howard Chua-Eoan
  • Fastest Things on Wings: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood by Terry Masear
  • Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-Extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things by M. R. O'Connor
  • Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience by Michael S. Gazzaniga
  • What Stands in a Storm: A True Story of Love and Resilience in the Worst Superstorm in History by Kim Cross and Rick Bragg
  • The Interstellar Age: Inside the Forty-Year Voyager Mission by Jim Bell
  • The Fly Trap by Fredrik Sjöberg and Thomas Teal
  • On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks
  • Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
  • Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner
  • Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future by Martin Ford
  • Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It by Marc Goodman
  • Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World by Bruce Schneier
  • Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli
  • Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo! by Nicholas Carlson
  • The Pentagon's Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America's Top-Secret Military Research Agency by Annie Jacobsen
  • Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money by Nathaniel Popper
  • The Butterflies of North America: Titian Peale's Lost Manuscript by Kenneth Haltman and Titian Peale
  • Fastest Things on Wings: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood by Terry Masear

And check out my previous 2015 lists here!

Many of the lists I use are sourced via the Largehearted Boy master list.

(Astute readers will notice that I kind of petered out on this project a couple of years ago and never got around to the end of year summary since then. Before loosing steam, I ended up featuring dozens and dozens of lists, virtually every list I could find that had science books on it. While it was kind of cool to be so comprehensive, not to mention that it gave the summary posts a certain statistical weight, it was also way more work than I had really envisioned way back in 2008 or so when I started doing this. As a result, I'm only going to highlight particularly large or noteworthy lists this year and forgo any kind of end of year summary. Basically, all the fun but not so much of the drudgery.)

One response so far

Friday Fun: "Seek Funding" Step Added To Scientific Method

Nov 20 2015 Published by under friday fun

From the "so funny it hurts" file....

‘Seek Funding’ Step Added To Scientific Method

PARIS—In an effort to modernize the principles and empirical procedures of examining phenomena and advancing humanity’s collective knowledge, the International Council for Science announced Thursday the addition of a “Seek Funding” step to the scientific method. .... “Next, scientists simply modify their study’s goals to align with the vision of potential funders and wait for several months to hear back. At this point—should this step be successful, of course—they can move on to the experimental stage, and then to analysis.”

It's very funny...read the whole thing over at the Onion site.

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Presentation: Predatory Open Access Journals: Myths and Realities

A couple of weeks ago I gave a presentation as part of Open Access Week at the Ontario College of Art and Design University (ie. OCADU) on "predatory" open access journals. It seemed to be well-received at the time and since then I've gotten some positive feedback as well.

So I thought I'd share the slides here in case others find what I did at OCADU useful in their own work. What I talked about is along the same lines as a post I published a while back on Some perspective on “predatory” open access journals.

First of all, I'd like to thank Chris Landry of the OCADU Library for inviting me to present. It was an honour and a huge pleasure to be invited. Chris has a nice recap of their OA Week celebrations here.

And here are my slides. Enjoy!

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Science in Canada: Some advice for a new Chief Science Officer

As I've extensively chronicled, Canadian government science had some pretty rough years under the government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

But Canada has a new government, a new prime minister in Justin Trudeau and a new cabinet. Kirsty Duncan, an actual scientist who worked on the IPPC, has been appointed Science Minister. Come to think of it, we have a Science Minister.

The roster of ministers in other science and technology-related portfolios is also very strong. Navdeep Singh Bains at Innovation, Science and Economic Development. Lawrence MacAulay at Agriculture and Agri-Food. Jane Philpott at Health. Marc Garneau at Transport. Jim Carr at Natural Resources. Hunter Tootoo at Fisheries and Oceans, and Canadian Coast Guard. Catherine McKenna at Environment and Climate Change. And yes, we have a Minister of Climate Change. And Mélanie Joly at Heritage, in charge of Libraries and Archives Canada.

If there was ever a time to stake a claim to the time and effort and political capital of this new government, it has to be now. Strike while the iron is hot, before the inertia sets in. Wait too long to ask for what you want, and it'll be too late. All the resources will already be committed.

Public interest science was one of the areas hardest hit during the Harper years and it's pretty obvious the kinds of things that the new government should tackle in the few year or two of its mandate.

Some things are obvious.

  • Stop the egregious and unnecessary muzzling of government scientists in cases where they want to speak publicly about the results of their scientific work.
  • Where possible, restore environmental regulations that have been gutted such as the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Species at Risk Act.
  • Where possible, restore research programs that have been shuttered or have seen their budgets radically cut.
  • Remove at least some of the mania for tying anything to do with public science to industry partnerships, in particular where it relates to the misguided transformation of the National Research Council into a concierge service for business.

And there has been no shortage of people in the media and various stakeholder groups making recommendations to Prime Minister Trudeau concerning what he should do about Canadian science as he takes office. And most of those included the items I mention above.

What hasn't really appeared on any of the lists I've seen is fixing the damage that the previous Conservative government did to the science library infrastructure in Canada, most prominently to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans library system but also to the systems at Environment Canada and others.

While those libraries were being closed and consolidated, we were assured that the collections were properly merged and weeded, that new scanning and document delivery procedures were being implemented that would effectively replace the local staff and collections and that researchers would see no difference in the level of service. The Federal government did announce an extensive re-visioning of it's science library infrastructure. Which looks good on paper.

But it's safe to say that basically no one believed the Conservatives were up to the challenge of doing a good job of this. All the evidence that we were able to see indicated that the merging and consolidation of collections was rushed, haphazard and devoid of planning at best and willfully destructive at worst. As far as I can tell, we have nothing but the previous government's word that the scanning and document delivery services that were rushed into the breach are anywhere near sufficient. Nor did we see real evidence that they were truly committed to the revisioning.

One of the things that the Liberals promised in their platform was to appoint a Chief Science Officer.

We will value science and treat scientists with respect.

We will appoint a Chief Science Officer who will ensure that government science
is fully available to the public, that scientists are able to speak freely about their
work, and that scientific analyses are considered when the government makes
decisions

The CSO hasn't been appointed yet, but I see no reason why we should all start thinking about what that new person should set their sights on when they start.

I propose that the new Chief Science Officer, in collaboration with the Minister of Science, the Minister of Heritage and all the rest of the science-related Ministers convene a special advisory panel to take a look at what's left of Canada's science library infrastructure and make any recommendations that are necessary to restore the collections and service levels to what Canada's Federal government scientists (and all Canadians) need and deserve while the proposed revisioning takes place. At least fifty percent of the membership of this panel should probably consist of librarians and other stakeholders that currently employed by the Federal Government in any capacity. I also believe that this advisory panel should remain in place as a steering committee for the revisioning of the new Federal Science Library.

At the end of the day, the collections have been dispersed, the staff laid off and the physical spaces repurposed. So much of the damage that was done cannot be repaired.

I should be clear that I don't think the function of this group should be to point fingers or assign blame or rehash past mistakes. It should be forward-looking and patron-focused, with a mission to make sure patrons have the services and collections they need in the short, medium and long term.

6 responses so far