Archive for the 'Canadian war on science' category

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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Reading Diary: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate by Naomi Klein

We live in a k-cup culture. Focused on the near term but willfully blind to the longer term implications of our daily decisions.

Just before the holidays I was watching the CBC TV show Power and Politics and they were discussing a bunch of "Top 5s" in an end-of year story. You know the type, the Top 5 this's and that's from the previous year, 2014, as well as a couple looking ahead to 2015. With a federal election scheduled in 2015, were the top 5 election issues that Canada that Canadians should keep on their radar in the coming year?

  1. Economy/Jobs
  2. Leadership/Ethics
  3. Energy/Climate Change
  4. Security/Defence
  5. Surplus Spending

Wow, I was really glad to see Energy and Climate change on the list, looking forward to a substantive discussion of how the onrushing reality of climate change would shape the issues discussed during the election campaign. Especially how the Canadian government's energy policies shackle us to the big energy companies, selling our economic and environmental heritage to rapacious resource developers? After all, this is the CBC, right? Right? Bastion of honest political discourse and certainly not beholden to government dictate.

Well, what ensued was pretty disappointing. The discussion didn't revolve around how the discussion of real issues should shape the election campaign or how climate change is the most important issue of our day. No, it was mostly about how political partisanship and spin and point-making around pipeline projects would distort the campaign. Never once did the idea that we really need to leave all that oil in the ground come up at all. In other words, the issues are important in the way they allow the parties to attack each other but not as issues in and of themselves.

My only thought? We're doomed. I was disappointed not only in the commentators and the CBC but in the crushing shallowness of the entirety of Canadian political culture.

“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

We're fucked.

And if we want to have any chance of unfucking ourselves in the near future we all need to wake up and realize that everything has to change in our politics and our culture. And no matter how much the science seems to tell us to change, we can't seem to wrap our collective heads around the political and social imperative to change.

Which brings me to Naomi Klein's strident manifesto, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. Which isn't so much a science book as a pay-attention-to-science book.

The core idea of Klein's book is that nothing is going to save us from the climate crisis unless we start to take seriously the idea that the only way we're going to be able to take the climate crisis seriously and leave all that oil in the ground is to essentially change everything about the relationship between our society and the environment, every single aspect of the way we live and the way we govern ourselves. A pretty tall order, and Klein is pretty persuasive in making her case.

This Changes Everything is a wide-ranging book that covers a lot of ground in quite a bit of detail, all the way from education to explication to advocacy and a call to action. It's long and detailed, Klein is not afraid to go into specifics to make her case either that action is needed or what kind of action is needed. It's a political tract as much as an environmental one, which is partly why the book is quite lengthy. She just needs all that space to talk about what she wants to talk about.

Beginning with the realities of globalization, the ground Klein covers includes everything from the shady political and economic elite driving so much energy policy to the very real dangers of fracking, from the failure of well-intentioned, top-down "green" campaigns to the reality of greenwashing, from the insanity of climate engineering to fossil fuel resistance campaigns, from the role of trade deals to the role of indigenous peoples in blockading resource development, from taxing the rich and making polluters pay to divestment campaigns, from the ineffectiveness of government environmental policies all the way to a clarion call for a fundamental shift in our values that will drive an economic and social revolution in the way we relate to the natural world.

This thing, the threat of human-caused global warming, forces us to change everything or face the consequences. In other words, we must pay attention to science. We need more pay-attention-to-science books, documentaries, web sites, podcasts, YouTube channels. Everything.

This is a wonderful book, not without its faults (a bit wordy and repetitive at times, for example, not to mention perhaps a whiff of "ends justify the means" in the final sections on climate advocacy), but one I would recommend without hesitation to anyone interested in the future of our planet. Buy this book, read it, give your copy to your local conservative politician. Buy another copy and make sure all the young people in your social circle read it too. Buy yet another copy and donate it to your local public library.

This Changes Everything belongs in the collection of pretty well every public and academic library. Probably most high school libraries could benefit from it as well. If it was shorter and perhaps less strident, it would be fantastic for one-book-one-campus programs.

(Review copy provided by publisher.)

Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2014. 566pp. ISBN-13: 978-0307401991

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Ontario Library Association conference presentation: Altmetrics in Action: Documenting Cuts to Federal Government Science

As I mentioned last week, I did a presentation at the recent Ontario Library Association Super Conference using my work on Canadian science policy as a case study in altmetrics.

Here's the session description:

802F Altmetrics in Action: Documenting Cuts to Federal Government Science: An Altmetrics Case Study

The gold standard for measuring scholarly impact is journal article citations. In the online environment we can expand both the conception of scholarly output and how we measure their impact. Blog posts, downloads, page views, comments on blogs, Twitter or Reddit or Stumpleupon mentions, Facebook likes, Television, radio or newspaper interviews, online engagement from political leaders, speaking invitations: all are non-traditional measures of scholarly impact. This session will use a case study to explore the pros & cons of the new Altmetrics movement, taking a blog post documenting recent cuts in federal government science and analysing the various kinds of impact it has had beyond academia.

  1. Understand what Altmetrics are
  2. Understand what some pros and cons are of using Altmetrics to measure research impact
  3. Ways that academic librarians can use altmetrics to engage their campus communities.

I have an altmetrics reading list that I've compiled for the presentation here.

Here are my slides:

Thanks to my friend and Queen's University colleague Nasser Saleh for stepping in at the end and convening my session. Overall it was a pretty good crowd and I thought the presentation went very well.

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Reading Diary: Bold Scientists: Dispatches From The Battle For Honest Science by Michael Riordan

The default mode, politically-speaking, for most scientists seems to be professionally neutral. In other words, most scientists would tend to see their personal political beliefs as more or less completely separate from their work as scientists. Even for politically sensitive topics like climate change, the tendency is to focus on the the best available evidence rather than commenting more directly on the potential policy implications of that evidence. Only by maintaining that politcal neutrality with scientists will be able to maintain their surface veneer of objectivity. If you're too political, maybe the public will stop believing that your evidence is disinterested.

Of course, how well is that working for you, scientists of the world? Especially with regard to those politically sensitive topics such as climate change? Maybe not so well as we would all hope.

But maybe there is another way, a way to use that evidence to be bolder and more engaged directly with the social and political implications of evidence? To forge a science in the public interest. Perhaps there's a risk involved, but maybe it's worth it.

Or at least that's the main thrust of the provocative new book by Michael Riordan, Bold Scientists: Dispatches From The Battle For Honest Science.

In his book Riordan takes a look at the lives and political and scientific work of a group of active scientists who are also active politically, or at least active promoting science in the public interest. Through their case studies he tackles very serious questions such as the relationship of science and society, the purpose of scientific research and mostly the very human aspects of the scientific enterprise that skew and bias the how science works, how evidence is constructed, what counts as evidence and importantly, what science gets done and who decides. At the core, Riordan is a science skeptic, leery of the undue influence that government and industry science have on our lives.


And it's a big but.

Where once a healthy skepticism of science was a progressive impulse, more recently a radical, dangerous and insanely unhealthy skepticism of science has become very much a fact on the conservative side of the ledger. Which is the balance that Riordan is striving for in his book: the need to really understand the biases and unspoken politics of science -- the relationship between nature, power and science -- but at the same time we need to respect and understand the process of science. Scientific consensus has a value in helping us understand the world. In particular for many environmental issues such as climate change and resource exploitation, scientific evidence is the best bet we have to help us understand the past, present and future of our fragile planet. Riordan sees a need to be honest with ourselves about what science is good for. We need to have an honest perspective about the place of humankind in nature. We need a science in the public interest.

And over all, I have to say that Riordan does a very good job of finding that balance.

Here's a quick recap of the case studies he describes, 1 per chapter:

  • Henry Lickers on Canadian First Nations environmental issues.
  • Ann Clarke on post-oil farming.
  • Craig Holdredge and Curt Meine on keep humanity's place in nature in perspective.
  • Asociación Pro-Búsqueda and others on using DNA find disappeared children in El Salvador.
  • David Lyon on government surveillance and threats to our privacy in the online world.
  • Bruce Levine questioning the chemical basis for psychiatric treatments.
  • John Smol speaking truth to the power of the Canadian government about the tar sands.
  • Tony Ingraffea on speaking the truth about fracking
  • Diane Orihel rallying to save the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area from Canadian government budget cuts.

Each and every one of these chapters tells an inspiring story. Probably the most inspiring and wrenching one concerns the efforts of El Salvador's Pro-Búsqueda and others to untangle the chaos brought on by so many kidnapped children who were forcibly adopted into families not their own. It's the longest and most involved chapter but it is well worth the time to explore.

From a Canadian perspective, the two of the final chapters were the most relevant and the ones that provoked silent cheers while reading. Both John Smol and Diane Orihel are heroes of Canadian science for standing up to a furiously anti-science government which would prefer that inconvenient scientific facts just not exist. And what better way to make those facts go away than to muzzle scientists and shut down research labs. Both their stories are wonderful to read. Orihel in particular, only a PhD student and still stubbornly rallying the public and taking on the Canadian government is beyond inspirational.

Overall a very fine book. I would have appreciated an index and perhaps a list of additional readings at the end. As well, the chapter titles could be more descriptive and at least from a reviewer's perspective having the profiled individual's name and cause front and centre a little bit more in each chapter heading would have been nice. But these are quibbles.

I would recommend this book to any library that collects about science and society or science policy. This book would also be appropriate for any public library and perhaps even high school libraries where young minds could be inspired to be fearless, speak truth to power and change the world.

(Review copy provided by the publisher.)

Riordan, Michael. Bold Scientists: Dispatches From The Battle For Honest Science. Toronto: Between the Lines, 2014. 256 pp. ISBN 9781771131247.

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The Canadian War on Science: The #Altmetrics impact of a science policy blog post

On May 20th, 2013 I published my most popular post ever. It was The Canadian War on Science: A long, unexaggerated, devastating chronological indictment. In it, I chronicled at some considerable length the various anti-science measures by the current Canadian Conservative government. The chronological aspect was particularly interesting as you could see the ramping up since the 2011 election where the Conservatives won a majority government after two consecutive minority Conservative governments. The post is my most popular by an of magnitude, with around 10 times more page views that the next most popular over a similar time frame. It is two orders of magnitude more popular that an average popular post, which is in the upper 100s.

I've updated the original post three times, with separate posts for new items twice, here and here.

I've done an altmetrics post before where I brought together what I'd discovered about that War on Science post's impact.

This is what I had to say about the rationale for tracking the impact of that original post, which still holds true.

As an exercise in alt-metrics, I thought I would share some of the reactions and impact this post has generated. It’s certainly been a bit of a ride for me. I have to admit to being very pleased with the reaction. So much so, it’s gotten me to think more deeply about this slightly unhinged chronological listing thing that I do and perhaps it’s relationship to higher principles in librarianship. Maybe it’s a thing. More on this in the weeks and months to come as I further process and think about this particular activity and how it manifests in my practice of librarianship.

But perhaps the most compelling reason to do this post is very simple. To demonstrate that a blog post can raise awareness, that it can have some kind of impact in the real world, that it can be a lightning rod for participation and a space to pool the collective intelligence of the wider community to increase everyone’s knowledge.

I've also posted a bit about what the post means in the real world, how it's used and perhaps some information literacy implications of my extended project on Canadian science policy.

This new post you are reading now brings the altmetrics data about that post up to date. The main reason I'm doing so is that I'm giving a presentation about altmetrics on January 29th, 2015 at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference on altmetrics using my War on Science post as a case study.

Here's the session description:

802F Altmetrics in Action: Documenting Cuts to Federal Government Science: An Altmetrics Case Study

The gold standard for measuring scholarly impact is journal article citations. In the online environment we can expand both the conception of scholarly output and how we measure their impact. Blog posts, downloads, page views, comments on blogs, Twitter or Reddit or Stumpleupon mentions, Facebook likes, Television, radio or newspaper interviews, online engagement from political leaders, speaking invitations: all are non-traditional measures of scholarly impact. This session will use a case study to explore the pros & cons of the new Altmetrics movement, taking a blog post documenting recent cuts in federal government science and analysing the various kinds of impact it has had beyond academia.

  1. Understand what Altmetrics are
  2. Understand what some pros and cons are of using Altmetrics to measure research impact
  3. Ways that academic librarians can use altmetrics to engage their campus communities.

I'll post the slides here on the blog after the conference, probably next week.

I have an altmetrics reading list that I've compiled for the presentation here.


The metrics that follow are as at January 27, 2015. I've included a few based on the impact of a post I did on the crisis at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans where I thought it was a bit hard to tease apart the impact of that post from the original post.

I will also note that I personally haven't mentioned my post on any media sites or discussion forums nor have I encouraged anyone to do so on my behalf. No self citation is involved.


Various Measures (Twitter, Facebook, etc)

Most of these measures are likely undercounted as not everything shows up in track backs, stats programs or Google searches. For mentions in comments sections or discussion forums this is doubly the case and for those I haven't been explicitly paying attention as long to catch them as they happen.

  • Mentions on about 387 Facebook pages, ie. Occupy Calgary.
  • 71,429 page views (using Google Analytics)
  • 106 links/mentions from blogs, website, etc(see below)
  • 9 Mentions in Books, Reports, Scholarly Articles and Presentations
  • 22 Total or Partial Reposting of List
  • 19 Mentions in Comments of Blog or Media Site
  • 19 Mentions in Discussion Forums, Chats, etc
  • 210 comments or trackbacks on the blog post itself
  • 15,000 (approx) Facebook likes
  • 2913 (approx) Twitter mentions
  • 199 Google+ +1's (likely undercounted. Prev post had higher number (255))


Blog or Website Link


Mentions in Books, Reports, Scholarly Articles and Presentations


Total or Partial Reposting of List (Most neither by permission nor attribution)


Mentions in Comments of Blog or Media Site (Permalinks to individual comments are not always available or particularly reliable)


Mentions in Discussion Forums, Chats, etc. (Very partial) (Various such as Reddit, Metafilter, etc.)

  • May 2013. The Canadian Government's War On Science / Slashdot
  • May 2013. The Canadian War on Science: A long, unexaggerated, devastating chronological indictment / Reddit
  • May 2013. The Canadian War on Science: A long, unexaggerated, devastating chronological indictment / Reddit
  • May 2013. The Canadian War on Science: A long, unexaggerated, devastating chronological indictment / Reddit
  • May 2013. The Canadian War on Science: A long, unexaggerated, devastating chronological indictment / Newsana
  • May 2013.
  • Jun 2013. This is what USA “Free Market” principles look like / Center for Inquiry forum
  • Jul 2013. Canadian Government War on Science / forum
  • Jan 2014. Harper's War on Science Gets Uglier / Metafilter
  • Jan 2014. Neil Young Facebook page
  • Jan 2014. Le Ministre de l'au-delà / Straight Dope forum
  • Jan 2014. William Gibson message board
  • Jan 2014. Is the Harper Government actually waging a war on science / Reddit
  • Feb 2014. Tar Sands Toxins with Keystone XL Link Underestimated... / Reddit
  • Feb 2014. What is the most embarrassing fact about your country ? / Reddit
  • Feb 2014. Is there some who is hated by the general public in your country / your country's no 1 public enemy ? (crime, cabinet) / City-Data forum
  • Apr 2014. Harper removing North Pacific Humpback whales from list of ‘threatened’ species because of pipeline. / Reddit
  • Apr 2014. Newly released federal documents show Tories have been thwarting scientists' efforts to keep Canadians informed on Arctic ice levels / Reddit
  • May 2014. America dumbs down / Reddit
  • Jun 2014. Calgary Puck forum
  • Jun 2014. Why does everyone on Reddit seem to hate the conservative party? / Reddit
  • Aug 2014. Canada and the governments war on Science / Reddit
  • Oct 2014. "Most scientists who work for the Canadian government are not adequately protected from political interference or assured of being able to speak freely and openly about their work" / Reddit
  • Oct 2014. Harper is "flirting with fascism" with "nefarious scheme": CTV Don Martin / Reddit
  • Oct 2014. Government exploits attacks on military to push security agenda, Greenwald says / Reddit
  • Oct 2014. Above Top Secret Forum
  • Nov 2014. The Chill in Canada's Climate Science: A CJFE Live Chat / Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
  • Dec 2014. Canadian government continues valiant fight in the war against science / Metafilter
  • Jan 2015. Stephen Harper continues to make Canada into an international environmental pariah / Reddit
  • Jan 2015. Calgary Puck forum


    Miscellaneous Links



    Real World Impacts (Contacts with politicians, published media interviews, media backgrounder interviews, invitations to speak, invitations to participate)


    Government of Canada Domains that Read Post (Estimates based on Google Analytics sample)



    Top referrer websites (Estimates based on Google Analytics sample)

    • Facebook: 36.07%
    • Direct: 22.17%
    • Slashdot: 17.23%
    • Twitter: 7.30%
    • Boing Boing: 5.80%
    • StumbleUpon: 4.72%
    • Google: 1.88%
    • Reddit: 1.40%
    • Slate: 1.05%
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    The Canadian War on Science: So because John Dupuis from York University says so I'm just supposed to believe it?

    Jan 07 2015 Published by under Canada, Canadian war on science, open access, Politics

    Think of this as a combination 2014 recap and 2015 resolutions post. Neither of which I really planned to do after doing recaps for the last couple of years. Two years ago, 2013, was very clearly a year I was more obsessed than usual with advocacy around the current Canadian government's treatment of science and information. The year before that, 2012, was a year I was very clearly more obsessed than usual with open access advocacy.

    This past year, 2014, was both a relatively light blogging year and a year when my twin obsessions from 2012 and 2013 seemed about tied. So I more or less decided to not bother with a "best of" post and just head into 2015 most likely continuing that twin obsession, probably at similar intensities. After all, we are expecting the Tri-Agency open access policy this year as well as a federal election.

    But then I saw this. And I knew I had to post something. But what? Rather than something backwards looking, how about a promise to myself for 2015?

    That's the ticket!

    So what's the promise, you ask?

    But first, let's deal with the bizarre little bit I found. Since my big War on Science Chronology post from May 2013 I've been tracking, alt-metrics-style, the impact that post has had. Hits, quotes, repostings, and the like as well as writing or presenting opportunities that have come my way due to the work I did there. As well, there have been media interviews and a whole bunch of other very cool things that have happened. I took a first stab shortly after the post was published when the impact spiked. I'll be updating that post and talking about what I find at the upcoming Ontario Library Association Super Conference.

    And part of those preparations is tracking more recent mentions of the 2013 post, usually by spotting hits in my hit tracking software.

    One of the most recent mentions is in the comments on a post on the CBC News site, Conservatives quietly nominate 60 per cent of their 2015 slate of candidates. It's actually quite common for people to mention my post in the comments sections of news sites or discussion forums. Believe it or not.

    Anyways, this particular example starts fairly normally, part of a comment thread where people are discussing the various anti-whatever policies of the conservatives.

    caring canuck

    @inuk of the north wrote - "Fascism is a term fashionably tossed around in some circles. Talk to someone who lived under a fascist government and you'll be embarassed at your terrible lack of knowledge and sensitivity."
    Talk about "terrible lack of knowledge and sensitivity." The vast majority of Canadians are becoming all to familiar with the - "Early Warning Signs of Fascism" - as exemplified by the Harper government. Canadian Veterans didn't fight and die to oppose fascism only to have it rear it's ugly head in this country

    - Powerful and continuing nationalism
    - Disdain for human rights
    - Identification of enemies/scapegoats
    - Supremacy of the military
    - Controlled mass media
    - Obsession with national security
    - Religion and government are intertwined
    - Corporate power is protected
    - Labor power is suppressed
    - Disdain for intellectuals and the arts
    - Obsession with crime and punishment
    - Rampant cronyism and corruption
    - Fraudulent elections
    - Rampant sexism

    You know that when even veterans groups are calling for ABC - it's time to get rid of this government. In 2015, support the candidate in your riding that has the best chance of defeating the Conservative.

    Which, as you can imagine, garnered quite a response.


    @caring canuck

    LOL,what a joke. Just because you post a list it doesn't mean any of it is happening at any extreme levels in Canada. Powerful Nationalism? So what? Disdain for Human Rights? Prove it. There is nothing on your list that applies to Canada's government and you wonder why people refer to these types of posts as insensitive rhetoric to those who have actually suffered under fascism.

    Your very ability to post hate filled, ignorant and outright false information freely on a publicly funded message board should show you just how far fetched and foolish your notions are. Try posting something like your list and other comments in a real fascist state and see what happens to you. The fact that you fail to see how free you are to post idiotic babblings while calling the government, and in fact every CPC member, fascists should provide you with enough irony to choke a horse.

    And the big guns come out! And that would be my post!

    caring canuck


    Give us a break. Under your government Canadians like me are on an "enemies list." Your government has gone out of it's way to silence critics - muzzling scientists, attacking environmental groups and charities with punitive audits - even yanking the grants of artists and blackballing them. That is a direct attack on free speech - which is a fundamental "human right" in a democracy.

    Yay for me! Someone makes an assertion, someone else disagrees and offers the fruits of my research labour as, wait for it, evidence to back up their point of view. Normally, when presented with evidence that you disagree with you wouldn't make some sort of ad hominem disparagement of the author of the evidence. You could refute the evidence or produce your own evidence that would lead or a different conclusion or even offer up an alternate explanation or analysis of the data at hand. You could also challenge the validity of the data itself, how it was collected, whether or not what was collected is relevant to the question at hand or even if the kinds of things that were collected should count as any kind of evidence for anything at all.

    Yes, that's the way to respond to an evidence-based assertion that we disagree with! Reason! Argument! More evidence! Music to this librarian's ears, surely, to have his hard work engaged with!

    Ah, but our man @KevinHamilton sadly doesn't go there. And boy, this is just beautiful if you ask me.

    @caring canuck

    So because John Dupuis from York University says so I'm just supposed to believe it? You'll have to do better than that.

    Yep, that's it. "So because John Dupuis from York University says so I'm just supposed to believe it? You'll have to do better than that."

    Of course, I didn't "just say so." I saw something that was going on that interested me and I had a few ideas about what might be happening. So I did some research, gathered some evidence, presented my findings and drew some conclusions.

    Frankly, I'm not sure what's "doing better" than presenting some evidence. It's not about me or where I work or what I do for a living, it's about the evidence. (My York STS talk from last fall goes into this in a bit more detail.)

    And so, what about my little promise to myself.

    Easy. To keep doing the work I'm doing, to continue pissing off he @kevinhamilton's of the world with the evidence, to keep advocating to science and openness. And to use this little exchange in every single presentation I make from now on. Because evidence.

    Happy new year.

    2 responses so far

    Reading Diary: Who We Are: Reflections on My Life and Canada by Elizabeth May

    For those that don't know, Elizabeth May is the leader of the Green Party of Canada and one of only two Greens in the Canadian Parliament -- and the only one elected as a Green. As such, you would expect that she would be a strong advocate for democracy and the environment, willing to stand up to the current Conservative government of Stephen Harper and tell it like it is.

    In her latest book, Who We Are: Reflections on My Life and Canada, she does just that in an entertaining and inspiring amalgamation of memoir and manifesto.

    This is an amazing book, sarcastic and hopeful but still witty and smart and sharp and inspiring. This is a book that instantly sprints to the top of my list of best books of 2014. While not quite a science book, I like to think of it as a "let's pay attention to science" public policy book, kind of like the recent This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein (a book I'm in the middle of and will review soon).

    The book really has three main narrative strains. First of all, a rather brief recounting of May's life and career, from growing up in the States to moving to the Maritimes as a teen all the way through her work in various NGOs and to the present as leader of the Greens. The second thread is a clear-eyed, honest and rather bleak presentation of the facts about the climate crisis that we face, how dire it is and how urgent it is for us all to start acting rather than talking. And yes, she does have some ideas for how to act.

    The third and perhaps most important narrative brings those two together and in great detail explicates exactly how the Harper government is failing us all. The the attacks on science and the environment to the census and the various proroguings and other assaults on democracy, May lays it all out in plain, accessible language. But not pulling any punches by any means. This is a rather short book, only 200 or so pages, so she really hits the high points and tells the stories that need to be told quickly and efficiently.

    One of the areas she highlights most effectively is how parliament has become increasingly nasty, dysfunctional and hyper-partisan under Harper, even compared to the Mulroney government where she worked as a time as an aide to the Minister of the Environment. So she knows whereof she speaks. The lack of collaboration among the parties, the petty slights and major ad hominem attacks that are part of the perpetual election campaign all figure into it. And quite a depressing story it is.

    But Elizabeth May is nothing if not hopeful and optimistic, if cautiously. And that comes out in every page. She brings a lot of wit and sarcastic humour to the tales she tells, but never in a mean or unkind way. She obviously knows where a lot of bodies are buried and has taken part in a lot of personal conversations with members of all parties where they have bared their souls.

    But exposing those confidences isn't the point. Telling the larger story is.

    And she does that wonderfully. I recommend this book without hesitation for all Canadians. Buy it for everyone you know on our holiday lists. This is a must for virtually any Canadian library, public or academic, that collects in politics or any branch of public policy, especially around science or the environment. Beyond Canada's borders, any library that is interested in collecting on the environment or public policy should probably also consider this book for it's general coverage of climate issues and it's inspiring story of the life of an activist.

    Elizabeth May is a wonderful writer. And since her book is so sharp, witty and biting, with so many zingers, I thought I'd share a few.

    In some ways, Stephen Harper may have done us a favour. We have been knocked out of complacency as he held up a mirror to our collective face, and taunted us "This is what you really look like." (p. 6)

    This is a book about how to fix what is wrong, rescue democracy from hyper-partisan politics and put Canada, and the world, on the path to a secure, post-carbon economy. (p. 7)

    Public relations spin developed by Big Carbon started trumping science in the United States under George W. The same thing did not begin to happen in Canada until a public relations spin master manipulator arrived at 24 Sussex Drive (p. 55)

    At every COP since Stephen Harper became Canada's Prime Minister, Canada has received the Colossal Fossil. That's quite the statement when one considers that, until 2008, his competition for Colossal Fossil was George W. Bush. (p. 56)

    If the debate of the twentieth century was the relationship between the economy and humanity, the debate of the twenty-first century is the relationship between the economy and the planet. (p. 76)

    Somehow I convinced myself that a political leader who told the truth all the time, even if it meant defending people in other political parties, might just be the wild card that restored public faith in Canadian politics. (p. 88)

    Protecting the environment through the steady and time-worn methods of building a case, launching a campaign, getting public support, and persuading people in power to change gad plans into good ones had become a Monty Python sketch. It was a Dead Parrot. (p. 92)

    As part of my activities in the school environment club, I bought every paperback I could [of Limits to Growth] and maintained a lending library for activists in one corner of the science lab where we tested the pH levels of various detergents. (p. 130-131)

    Global supplies of coal are so enormous that counting on coal scarcity to reduce greenhouse gases is a bet we can make on a dead planet. (p. 132)

    The new public relations industry makeover has mysteriously decided that anyone who calls bitumen-rich soils "tar sands" is being disrespectful to Alberta. The politically correct term is "oil sands." I don't want to be disrespectful to anyone, so I call them oil sands. Given that bitumen is neither tar nor oil, I decided to use whatever term offends the fewest Albertans. (p. 134)

    No one in the environmental movement would ever have predicted that Chretien's environmental record would make us nostalgic for Brian Mulroney. (p. 142)

    Our job is to move government from the problem side of the ledger to the solution side. (p. 160)

    To watch Question Period on television is enough to make most people want to change the channel. I see school groups come into the house only to have teachers shepherd their young charges out of the chamber as MPs descend into behavior no teacher would allow in the classroom. (p. 168-169)

    The outward appearance of a functional cabinet government supported by a non-partisan civil service is being maintained, but the reality is that nothing is normal. It reminds me of the movie I ever saw: Invasion of the Body Snatchers...Ottawa is experiencing metaphorical alien invasion. Environment Canada may look like Environment Canada, but it's not. It's a pod department. (p. 174)

    We need to encourage all MPs to speak up, to speak their minds, and to stop accepting the tyranny of whiz kids and spin doctors who ply their craft in all the other parties...[the whiz kids] have their place: during elections. Once a political campaign is over, they should be working in ad agencies or consulting firms, or even as baristas to improve their people skills. (p. 201)

    Ok, more than a few.

    And before I forget. Elizabeth May for Prime Minister. This is what compassionate, visionary leadership looks like.

    May, Elizabeth. Who We Are: Reflections on My Life and Canada. Vancouver: Greystone, 2014. 214pp. ISBN-13: 978-1771640312

    One response so far

    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 Web: Science Policy!

    One response so far

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