Archive for the 'culture of science' category

Julie Payette: Engineer, Astronaut, Governor General of Canada, Defender of Reality

Julie Payette is about as ridiculously accomplished as you could ever imagine any person could be.

I like this short passage as a quick summary of awesomeness:

In her career and public life, Julie Payette has proven her mettle, intelligence and integrity time after time. An engineer, computer scientist and astronaut, she has flown commercial and military jets, been certified as a deep sea diver, operated the Canadarm, participated in two missions to the International Space Station, served as the chief astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency, has had international academic posts and has sat on both corporate and non-profit boards. (For what it’s worth: Payette also speaks six languages and is a gifted singer and pianist.)

This article from back in the summer when Payette's appointment was announced gives a fantastic overview of why she was a great choice for governor general.

Which brings us to this most recent tempest in a teapot.

As governor general, Payette represents the Canadian head of state, Queen Elizabeth and effectively functions as the head of state in Canada. For example, it is the GG who formally dissolves parliament before an election and asks the leader of the party with the most seats to form a government after an election. Usually, these are deeds without controversy as the GG is unelected (appointed by the prime minister for five year terms) and follows a fairly well-defined tradition. But not always.

At the Canadian Science Policy Conference in Ottawa in the first week of November, Payette gave a talk where she addressed some scientific "controversies" around such topics as climate change denialism, the validity of horoscopes and, horror of horror, whether or not divine intervention played a role in the story of life on this planet.

Some selected quotes here:

"Can you believe that still today in learned society, in houses of government, unfortunately, we're still debating and still questioning whether humans have a role in the Earth warming up or whether even the Earth is warming up, period," she asked, her voice incredulous.

"And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process."

She generated giggles and even some guffaws from the audience when she said too many people still believe "taking a sugar pill will cure cancer if you will it good enough and that your future and every single one of the people here's personalities can be determined by looking at planets coming in front of invented constellations."

Overall, pretty mild stuff. Science is real; pseudoscience, denialism and religion aren't.

Not a particularly nuanced approach to be sure, and perhaps she could have phrased the bit about evolution a bit more circumspectly, but at the end of the day I can't find fault with what she said. Yes, we have freedom of religion. People can worship as they please and hold the tenets of their faith as literally or as metaphorically as they please. Payette never implied otherwise. But the government's (and the state's) only requirement is that they not interfere with that worship or require any particular set of beliefs to participate in public life. The government and the state don't support any one religion over any other religion. They also don't promote belief over non-belief (at least in practice; separation of church and state in Canada is a bit complicated). They certainly don't have the burden to reassure believers about the literal truth of their beliefs.

As The Beaverton put it, making fun of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer's criticisms,

“There are millions of Canadians who were offended by Julie Payette’s scientific proselytizing,” explained Scheer to reporters about the Vice-Regal’s support of Newton’s law of universal gravitation. “We should be more inclusive to those who believe that gravity does not exist, or who believe in many gravities. We can’t conclusively claim that what goes up must come down; I mean why are mountains still standing?”


“What’s next? Governments advocating for people to get flu shots?” Scheer asked rhetorically, shrugging his shoulders.

Scheer clarified that he wasn’t anti-science, rather trying to accommodate the sacred views that the scientific method is the work of the devil.

In matters of public policy, the government and the state do need to take seriously what the best evidence (demographic, sociological, scientific, historical) and the scientific consensus is on important issues.

Governor General Julie Payette should be congratulated on speaking her mind, on being honest and on putting the emphasis on facts and evidence.

I have to admit, the thing about this whole issue that has surprised me the most is the legs that it's had. If I'd initially thought that it would blow over after a few days, I was certainly wrong about that. Two weeks later and still commentary is trickling in, though at this point it's mostly the disgruntled. I'm always a bit surprised at how defensive people can be, even (or perhaps especially) in the face of how dominant their world view is in society and the media. I will also note that this whole controversy received very little press and commentary in Quebec where official secularism is the norm, perhaps to a fault.


As is my wont in these things, I've collected a fair bit of commentary around this issue both critical and supportive of Payette's remarks. Enjoy!

One response so far

Around the Web: A quick list of readings on "predatory" open access journals

As a kind of quick follow up to my long ago post on Some perspective on “predatory” open access journals (presentation version, more or less, here and very short video version here) and in partial response to the recent What I learned from predatory publishers, I thought I would gather a bunch of worthwhile items here today.

Want to prepare yourself to counter panic around predatory open access journals? Here's some great places to start.

I'm sure I've missed a bunch of important articles. Please let me know in the comments!

2017.06.14 Update: Added Beyond Beall’s List: Better understanding predatory publishers to the list.
2017.06.14 Update #2: Added two more to the list.

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How can publishers help academic librarians? Let's all count the ways!

The STM Publishing News Group is a professional news site for the publishing industry which bring together a range of science, technology and medicine publishing stakeholders with the idea that they'll be able to share news amongst themselves as well as beyond the publishing world to the broader constituency of academics and librarians and others.

You can imagine how thrilled I was to see a post with the words, "How can publishers help librarians?" in the title? I was a little disappointed to find the entire title of the post is "How can publishers help librarians? Cambridge University Press leads the way with a metadata revolution."

Nothing wrong with metadata revolutions, of course, I'm all for them. But the promise of those first few words lead me to believe that perhaps the post had some sort of loftier revolutionary purpose in mind. That somehow publishers were finally considering ways that they could be truly helpful to academic librarians as a whole, and by extension, to our constituents of students, faculty and staff at our institutions.

Sadly, since I'm not a metadata librarian, I was disappointed. (And even if I were a metadata librarian, isn't state-of-the-art metadata part of what we pay publishers for in the first place, not some sort of "revolutionary" extra?)

But that doesn't mean I can't dream big dreams. Nor does it mean that you, my faithful readers, can't dream big dreams.

The original post begins with the line, "It’s no secret that library budgets have been slashed in recent years, and the burdens of trying to do more with less are growing for librarians and information professionals." Which is certainly very true. However, not one single idea in the rest of the post has anything to do with helping librarians with their budgets. Almost as if helping us with metadata issues will distract from those other kinds of problems.

Let's see if we can't come up with some ways that publishers could help librarians with those other kinds of problems, ones to do with budgets and licenses and sustainability and openness and fairness. I have a few ideas, of course, but I'd love it if all of you could pitch in with some more in the comments.

  • So many of libraries' budget problems are due to publishers' unsustainable pricing increases. How about you help librarians by stopping those pricing practices.
  • Stop over-reacting to "predatory publishers" as a way of distracting from your own far more serious predatory pricing behaviour
  • Hey, rational and sustainable ebook licensing models. For public libraries too, please.
  • Non Disclosure Agreements are bad for libraries and librarians. Stop requiring or even suggesting them.
  • Stop playing chicken with Big Deal negotiations as a way to pit librarians and their researcher communities against each other.
  • And a big one here, why not partner and engage completely and wholeheartedly with all the various scholarly communications stakeholder groups to build a fairer and more open scholarly communications ecosystem.
  • Your answer here

What are your ideas and suggestions? Certainly this topic would be a good one for an upcoming Society for Scholarly Publishing meeting.

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Around the Web: Celebrating the Tanenbaum Open Science Institute at The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital

I don't have the time right now to do this justice, so I'll just lay out the story over the last year or so and let you, faithful reader, follow the thread. This is an amazing story.

This is an amazing initiative at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University in Montreal.

From the press release:

McGill University announces a transformative $20 million donation to the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital

Tanenbaum Open Science Institute to open new horizons and accelerate discovery in neuroscience

The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, was present today at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (MNI) for the announcement of an important donation of $20 million by the Larry and Judy Tanenbaum family. This transformative gift will help to establish the Tanenbaum Open Science Institute, a bold initiative that will facilitate the sharing of neuroscience findings worldwide to accelerate the discovery of leading edge therapeutics to treat patients suffering from neurological diseases.

‟Today, we take an important step forward in opening up new horizons in neuroscience research and discovery,” said Mr. Larry Tanenbaum. ‟Our digital world provides for unprecedented opportunities to leverage advances in technology to the benefit of science. That is what we are celebrating here today: the transformation of research, the removal of barriers, the breaking of silos and, most of all, the courage of researchers to put patients and progress ahead of all other considerations.”

Neuroscience has reached a new frontier, and advances in technology now allow scientists to better understand the brain and all its complexities in ways that were previously deemed impossible. The sharing of research findings amongst scientists is critical, not only due to the sheer scale of data involved, but also because diseases of the brain and the nervous system are amongst the most compelling unmet medical needs of our time.

Neurological diseases, mental illnesses, addictions, and brain and spinal cord injuries directly impact 1 in 3 Canadians, representing approximately 11 million people across the country.

“As internationally-recognized leaders in the field of brain research, we are uniquely placed to deliver on this ambitious initiative and reinforce our reputation as an institution that drives innovation, discovery and advanced patient care,” said Dr. Guy Rouleau, Director of the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital and Chair of McGill University’s Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery. “Part of the Tanenbaum family’s donation will be used to incentivize other Canadian researchers and institutions to adopt an Open Science model, thus strengthening the network of like-minded institutes working in this field.”

‟We thank the Tanenbaum family for this generous investment, which allows us to further accelerate progress to meet the needs of patients,ˮ said Professor Suzanne Fortier, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University. ‟The Open Science movement is gaining momentum, with global initiatives underway in the European Union, Japan and the United States. The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital will become the first academic institute worldwide to fully embrace Open Science. The Tanenbaum Open Science Institute will set the global standard for this movement and position McGill, Montreal, Quebec and Canada at the forefront of scientific progress.ˮ

The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital

The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital – The Neuro – is a world-leading destination for brain research and advanced patient care. Since its founding in 1934 by renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Wilder Penfield, The Neuro has grown to be the largest specialized neuroscience research and clinical center in Canada, and one of the largest in the world. The seamless integration of research, patient care, and training of the world’s top minds make The Neuro uniquely positioned to have a significant impact on the understanding and treatment of nervous system disorders. The Montreal Neurological Institute is a McGill University research and teaching institute. The Montreal Neurological Hospital is part of the Neuroscience Mission of the McGill University Health Centre. For more information, please visit

About McGill University

McGill University is one of Canada’s top institutions of higher learning and one of the leading universities in the world. With students coming to McGill from some 150 countries, its student body is the most internationally diverse of any research-intensive university in the country. Its 11 faculties and 11 professional schools offer more than 300 programs of study to some 40,000 graduate, undergraduate and continuing studies students. McGill ranks 1st in Canada among medical-doctoral universities (Maclean’s) and 24th in the world (QS World University Rankings).

Source: The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, McGill University

Contact Information
Contact: Shawn Hayward
Organization: Montreal Neurological Institute
Office Phone: 514-398-3376

Secondary Contact Information
Contact: Cynthia Lee
Organization: McGill University
Secondary Email:
Office Phone: 514-398-6754


And their commitment to open science is described here. While it doesn't focus so much on research outputs such as articles (Which I guess will mostly be covered under the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications), I'm very pleased to see code, data sharing and no IP protection emphasized. On the other hand, item number five in the list below is a partial escape clause for researchers (and others) at the Neuro who aren't quite on board. Which is understandable. Let's just hope that over time they are able to shift their culture such that researchers at least won't feel the need to decline participation in open science initiatives.

A Ten-Year Mission
Within the next ten years, we aim to transform many brain disorders from chronic or terminal to treatable, or even curable, conditions. The main objective of the Tanenbaum Open Science Institute is to accelerate the discovery of novel therapeutics to treat patients suffering from neurological disease.

We want to reduce the human and socio-economic burden of psychiatric and neurological illnesses, and improve the mental health, quality of life, and productivity of people around the world.

Our Principles
Open Science at the Montreal Neurological Institute is based on five guiding principles:

1. Share scientific data and resources
MNI researchers will render all positive and negative numerical data, models used, data sources, reagents, algorithms, software and other scientific resources publicly available no later than the publication date of the first article that relies on this data or resource.

2. Open external research partnerships
All data and scientific resources generated through research partnerships – whether with commercial, philanthropic, or public sectors – are to be released on the same basis as set out in Principle 1.

3. Share research participants' contributions and protect their rights

The Neuro Open Science Clinical, Biological, Imaging, and Genetic data (NeurO CBIG) Repository will maximize the long-term value of contributions made by research participants and the scientific resources created by MNI researchers and their collaborators. In the conduct of the NeurO CBIG, the MNI recognizes the primacy of safeguarding the dignity and privacy of patient-participants, and respecting the rights and duties owed them through the informed consent process.

4. Do not file patents
Subject to patient confidentiality and informed consent given, neither the MNI nor its researchers in their capacity as employees or consultants of the McGill- MNI unit will obtain patent protection or assert data protection rights in respect of any of their research.

5. Respect academic autonomy
The MNI supports the autonomy of its stakeholders, including but not limited to researchers, staff, trainees and patients, through recognizing their right to decline to participate in research and associated activities under an OS framework. However, the MNI will not support activities that compromise the previously outlined OS principles.


Andre Picard puts it nicely in context in today's Globe and Mail, In Montreal, a wee opening in the closed world of science research.

Is the accepted way of doing science bad for science?

That question is the driving force behind the bold new “Open Science” initiative at the Montreal Neurological Institute.

Currently, governments invest a lot of money in health research, almost all of it at universities and labs associated with teaching hospitals.

We expect scientists to discover stuff such as drugs and technology and then commercialize those findings so there is a return on investment on the public funds invested. In recent years, there has been tremendous pressure on scientists to demonstrate immediate and lucrative results, and enormous scorn when they don’t.


The Open Science philosophy holds that it is the latter. Open Science has four fundamental goals: 1) Transparency in experimental methodology and collection of data, 2) Public availability of scientific data, 3) Public accessibility and transparency and scientific communication, and 4) Using Web-based tools to facilitate collaboration.


At The Neuro, all findings will be patent-free and freely accessible to other scientists worldwide – making it the first academic institute in the world to fully embrace open science. The Neuro can afford this experiment thanks to a $20-million (Canadian) donation from the family of Larry Tanenbaum, the philanthropist and chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. As a savvy businessman, he is convinced that openness will accelerate research and discovery. “What we are celebrating here today is the transformation of research, the removal of barriers, the breaking of silos and, most of all, the courage of researchers to put patients and progress ahead of all other considerations,” Mr. Tanenbaum said at Friday’s announcement.


Bravo. Let's hope this isn't the last Canadian research institute to make such a public commitment to open science. In fact, I'd like to challenge all of us to help our own institutions travel along this path. Different disciplines and different institutions (and even different units with different institutions) will have their own path, but it's important to start the journey and make the commitment to find that path.

And, as promised, here's a bit of background reading on the Neuro's journey to open science over the last year or so.


As usual, if I've missed anything significant, let me know in the comments.

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Interview with Guerilla Science on Revolutionising how audiences experience science

Sep 12 2016 Published by under culture of science, friday fun, interview

I wish I knew how many times per week I get pitched opportunities to "interview" brave, unconventional, innovative "scientists" on my blog. Too many to count, most weeks. The pseudoscience PR whirlpool is vast and slippery. But there's also the legitimate "Hey, somebody at my university just published this thing, maybe you want to talk to them" pitch. While often interesting, that's not really what I do on this blog. I don't really do science explainers.

But once in a while, a pitch resonates. And such is the case with the pitch I got from Guerilla Science a few weeks ago. I'd heard of them but didn't really have a clear idea of who or what they were. So I poked around their website. And was seriously impressed.

Who and what are they, you ask? I'll let them explain for themselves.

Guerilla Science create events and installations for festivals, museums, galleries, and other cultural partners. We are committed to connecting people with science in new ways, and producing live experiences that entertain, inspire, challenge and amaze.

Based in London and New York, we work with a diverse set of clients, from Glastonbury Festival and the Barbican to Kensington Palace and the Wellcome Collection. All of our projects involve collaborations with practising scientists, who we work with to develop everything from games and workshops to dining events and theatre.

So, I thought to myself, why not. Resurrect my long-dormant interview series and send off a bunch of questions and see what the Gueurills Scientists have to say for themselves.

The interview questions below were actually answered by KyleMarian Viterbo of Guerilla Science. Enjoy!



1. Tell us a little about the Guerilla Science team and how you all got started on this adventure.

The Guerilla Science team is a diverse group of people with a passion for creating unconventional science-inspired events for adults. Our team members have experience working across a wide range of science disciplines and creative fields -- from researching, to teaching, to producing events and even performing shows. Our team is split between the US and the UK, and we produce events at music festivals and in cities throughout the year.

Guerilla Science originated in a UK music festival called Secret Garden Party (SGP) way back in 2008. It started out, in its beta-format, as a TED-like science tent that offered talks, workshops, and activities at SGP. It happened because 5 science graduates -- who had a deep love for the playfulness and culture-focus of music festivals -- decided to pitch it as an "Action Camp" idea (areas of fun activities for SGP festival goers). If the organizers liked the idea, they gave you a platform to explore and deliver it further. Lucky for us, they did, and it turned out to be wildly successful. It seemed that people at a music festival were not expecting to stumble across a tent discussing things like String Theory and Black Holes, or smelting metals or handling small animals. Eight years ago, what we brought to the music festival scene was totally unexpected and we’ve continued to grow ever since.


2. Why "guerilla?" An interesting choice of metaphor, to be sure, but it also conjures a bit of spy novel and a bit of Rambo.

The "Guerilla" in our name was both a product of necessity (we wanted to make "Science Tent" a bit sexier), but also an integral aspect of our team’s approach to how we create events and who we bring them to. Why infiltrate a music festival scene when you can get science at science festivals and science museums? Spaces for fun, informal science events already existed with audience members who seek it out and know exactly what they’re going to get, so why bother? -- but it’s not quite the same as creating spaces for science and play specifically for adults.

When we were starting out, there weren’t really the same kinds of informal science and play spaces specifically for adults. They often targeted families and children and the ethos was that what works for them should work fine for adults, too. We hooked on to the "guerilla" ideology of subversiveness, disguise, and revolution because we’re infiltrating cultural spaces and challenging people’s expectations of where science events are found and who they’re for. "Guerilla" was just a great fit for us.


3. When reading all the science-themed graphic novels around, the thing that always pops up in my mind is that so many of them are trying to use a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. Sometimes it works brilliantly, sometimes in just the same old dry and boring text but with a few funny pictures. What’s been the most successful campaign you’ve done so far? What’s fallen a bit short.

We don’t really do campaigns, but our most successful projects are ones where the science is an integral part of the story and the audience experience -- where we don’t feel like we’re "Sci-Splaining" nature and the universe. Just like any outstanding science-themed work and storytelling, the best ones are when you feel there’s a purpose to all of its components and they’ve been used properly, not just dressing it up. Part of our mission is to facilitate moments where the audience enjoys themselves while also connecting with the science embedded in the experience because we don’t just want to dress up a lecture.

For us, the audience and their perspective is at the heart of our events and we’ve figured out exactly how the science narrative matches up with the creative component. In the UK, for example, we created a "Decontamination Chamber" in the middle of a very wet Glastonbury Festival where festival goers walked into a beaming, white tent in a sea of mud, then proceeded through a physical and psychological decontamination. It pushed our limits in terms of what we could pull off creatively and experientially, but also in terms of bringing lab-based scientists to spaces they rarely find themselves in with their work. We felt it was a huge success because the science we highlighted fit so well with the environment, the event’s narrative, and the mentality of our audience participants. (Check out the video here.)

Where we feel we have fallen short are in managing participant’s expectations. In pushing boundaries and doing undermining the norm, there’s bound to be disappointment. For example, Sensory Speed Date (where audience members get sensual with strangers while blindfolded in order to explore the science behind attraction) works incredibly well within the playful spaces of music festivals, but we’re still working on the best way to both market and reformat SSD as a stand-alone city-event where the words "Speed-Dating" carry a specific meaning. Some people coming to the event have been disappointed it wasn’t a more traditional speed dating event they’re used to attending. People still walk away enjoying the night, but we’re continuing to explore how best to merge the science with the creative experience.


4. Music, theatre, comedy, party planning, installations, and more. Definitely not your mother/father’s journal article. What are the challenges is conceptualizing scientific ideas in these non-scientific article formats.

We work closely with scientists, artists, freelancers, designers of all sorts. To make any creative collaboration successful, participants need to understand each other and each others’ goals very well. The challenge for us isn’t necessarily the conceptualizing part. Sometimes it’s facilitating idea exchange so it’s fruitful and efficient.

Managing collaborator expectations can also be a challenge. There’s the normal hurdles of collaborating with a bunch of people who have very different expertise, but sometimes it’s also helping researchers understand the difference between "dumbing down" information and providing access to it. It’s essential when you’re working within the time limits of a given event or show. Like I said before, at the core of the Guerilla Science event is our audience experience, so that can be a bigger conceptual challenge for collaborators than translating scientific ideas from article to stage.


5. Stephon Alexander’s new book The Jazz of Physics draws a parallel between the kind of improvisation that jazz musicians do with the kind of mathematical and physical creative imagination that theoretical physicists need in their research. Is that something you’re aiming at?

There’s a lot to be said about the art of improvisation as both performance and communication. I’m guessing though that what you’re actually pertaining to is an aspect of Alexander’s writing where he discusses how both musician and theoretical physicist know the end note/hypothesis, but can have a million ways to get there?

On a philosophical end, I guess you can say it’s somewhat similar. Much like any other informal science organization out there, we want to show everyone a different way of appreciating science and research -- far beyond what you normally get in textbooks, classrooms, lecture halls, or even science shows. But our mission and vision for creating the kinds of events we make and bringing it to the kinds of audiences we seek out go beyond that.

We don’t just want to be another "science-is-cool-so-go-home-and-spread-the-good-word" organization. Our focus is less on the performer interpreting what’s in their minds -- for the jazz musician, it’s music; for scientists, it’s their body of knowledge. Our purpose is to create environments where our audience can experience those moments and realizations for themselves. Then they can walk away thinking, "Man, that was fun!" and that’s that. Or maybe they walk away having connected with the scientific content on a deeper level. It’s what some of the best pieces of art do, and we take a lot of inspiration from that.


6. Where to from here? What are the next steps in your campaign of world science promotion supremacy?

We don’t see ourselves as a science PR organization at all, but we do want people to experience science as a cultural phenomenon. In an ideal world we want get to a point where the Sciences are fully integrated in our culture, just as much as the Arts are -- so in fulfilling our vision, we’re going to continue creating events that empower other people to mix science with their favorite creative discipline, be it art, music, or performance. To do that, we’re looking forward to bringing our experiences to the Symbiosis Gathering at the end of September, but also to more and more spaces and communities elsewhere. And later this year we’re hoping to launch an open residency to get more of the community involved in the act.

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Elsevier buys SSRN: Another sideshow or the main event?

Main event. Definitely.

Elsevier's acquisition of the open access journal article and working papers repository and online community Social Science Research Network (SSRN) is definitely a case of Elsevier tipping their hand and giving us all a peek at their real long term strategy.

Much more so than their whack-a-mole antics with Sci-Hub and other "pirate" services.

One of the big hints is how they've tied it's acquisition so closes with their last important, strategic acquisition -- Mendeley. Another hint is that they also tie it in to one of their cornerstone products, Scopus.

From the announcement:

When Elsevier acquired Mendeley three years ago, many people wondered how well it would work out — including our team at the Social Science Research Network. SSRN has similarities to Mendeley, and many differences, but we share a common vision of improving researchers’ lives, and doing that together within Elsevier makes complete sense.


Together, SSRN and Mendeley can provide greater access to the growing base of user-generated content, build new informational and analytical tools and increase engagement with a broader set of researchers.


SSRN will benefit from access to Scopus citation data and an ability to link working papers to their published versions with direct forwarding links. We’ll also have access to Elsevier’s broader collection of metrics and data analytics, which we can share with SSRN authors, readers and users.

The research services division that products like Mendeley, Scopus and now SSRN belong to are a completely different beast than the much-maligned journals division. By contrast, this research services division seems much more nimble and user focused, with a laser-like aim towards the future rather than the past. I think that they reflect more where Elsevier wants to be in ten or twenty years, focused on providing high-value services to researchers and institutions rather than still weighed down by the legacy subscription business. They see that the old fashioned soak-libraries-for-all-they're-worth business model is (very) slowly becoming an albatross, a dodo bird. They're not the rapacious bullies and "Evil Empire" types, but more coolly rational and calculating. (Tywin Lannister vs. Ramsay Bolton, if you'll forgive the Game of Thrones analogy.)

So yes, maximize the soaking, drain every last dollar (Euro, Pound...) from libraries, wage a rear-guard battle against pirates as a massive feint maneuver to distract from the real front.

Services, services, services.

Elsevier has been the dominant player in the scholarly communications space for a very long time. They've masterfully figured out how to keep the money flowing down hill in their direction. They have no intention of surrendering their dominance. In a new, more open environment, they want to maintain that hegemony. And keep the money flowing.

As my favourite rock band put it so succinctly, "Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss."


As is my habit, I'm including below some links from the last couple of days with various commentary about the SSRN acquistion. If I've missed anything significant, please feel free to mention it in the comments.

The first few especially provide a more detailed overview of the facts, issues and immediate implications than I attempt to above.

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Cool linky stuff for science undergrads (14): What is Open Science? and more

May 03 2016 Published by under around the web, culture of science, ugrad links

I have a son who's currently a fourth year physics undergrad who is headed more the direction of math rather than physics for the possibility of grad school. As you can imagine, I may occasionally pass along a link or two to him pointing to stuff on the web I think they might find particularly interesting or useful. Thinking on that fact, I surmised that perhaps a) this kind of post might be more efficient and b) other undergrad students might find those links interesting or useful as well. Hence, this series of posts here on the blog.

The items I've chosen are mostly geared towards science undergrads (hence, the title of the series), but I hope many of them will be of broader interest.

The previous posts in this series are: 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1.

Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

And yes, it's been quite a long time since I last did one of these posts so I'll probably need a few over the coming weeks to catch up.

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My new project launching today: The Quisling Qourner: A group blog on the library/publisher relationship

Reader Beware: Please note the date of publication of this post.

It's been really gratifying over the last year to see how my DSCaM scholarly communications empire has grown. From it's small beginnings, Dupuis Science Computing & Medicine has craved out a small but important niche in the discount APC publishing community.

And I really appreciate how the scholarly communications community has encouraged my career progression from publisher of a journal at Elsevier to Chief Advisor on Science Libraries for the Government of Canada to last year's huge launch of DSCaM.

And the DSCaM empire grows.

This year I would like to announce the launch of a major new initiative: The Quisling Qorner: A Group Blog on the Library/Publisher Relationsship.

I like to think of this new blogging community as being a fellow traveller with the longstanding Scholarly Kitchen blog. As well, we'd like to welcome the brand new In the Open: Libraries, Scholarship, and Publishing blog to the scholarly communications group blog family. While the Scholarly Kitchen tends to take the publisher's side of things and IO seems headed more towards a bias in the library direction, I think the QQ has it's own important niche.

And that niche would be the firm belief that the library side and the publisher side of the story are really the same tale, that libraries and publishers should be friends and colleagues of the highest order, that we are essentially on the same side of all the important issues in scholarly communication, that our interests are so intrinsically and explicitly tied together that they are essentially the same.

Publishers are librarians' best friends, they know what's good for us and we should just follow their lead in important matters.

Heaven knows, as librarians we've enjoyed so much publisher hospitality at conferences -- the wine! the cheese! the free pens! -- that it's really time for us to give back. There have been too many years of tragic misunderstanding and animosity between the two communities.

And repairing that damaged relationship will be the role of The Quisling Qorner. I've invited a plethora of the brightest lights in librarianship, some well known, some up-and-comers, to contribute their thoughts about how we can bring librarians and publishers closer together. I've also invited friends and colleagues in the scientific and publishing communities to weight in on some of those same issues as well a provide of broader perspective of how libraries and librarians can serve their interests exclusively.


Finally, I'd like to announce the first set up amazing posts that I'm publishing today. I'm a firm believer that any new blogging project needs to launch with enough initial content to draw people in and keep them reading.

So here goes -- the first set of posts, all by shining lights in the library/publisher interface universe!

And here's a few titles for forthcoming posts, all either written and in the pipeline or under development by the authors!

  • Paywalled Journals Are the Best, Only the Best, They Are HUUUUUUGE, I'll Build a Wall Around Them So Only the Good Scientists Can Read My Articles and Make Science Great Again by Donald Trump
  • PLoS Should Buy a Majority Stock in Elsevier: Here's Why by Roberta Eksevierian
  • Why APCs Are the One True Way Forward for Publisher Business Models by Cameron Neylon
  • Fire all Older Librarians and Give Their Salaries to Elsevier by Phillipa Springster
  • Thomson Reuter's ISI Makes all Citation Data Open Access in Bid to Thwart Allegations of Impact Factor Manipulations by Sharma Singh
  • Non-Disclosure Agreements as a Preferred Library Bargaining Tactic by Frances Taylor


And please consider this an open call. Everyone should go right ahead and pitch post ideas in the comments!

And the first authors' meeting will be in Stockholm in 2017! Paid for by all those fantastic publishers!

Update 2016.04.04. Laura Crossett's just published post was added to the list.

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The Sci-Hub story so far: Main event or sideshow?

The controversy about Sci-Hub is raging in the halls of scholarship and academic publishing.

What's the story, in a nutshell?

Sci-Hub is a Russian website that has used donated institutional login credentials to harvest tens of millions of academic articles and has posted them on their site, free to access and read for everyone. This has not pleased the academic publishing community, to say the least. Elsevier is leading the charge to shut them down, succeeding with one iteration of the site last year until, mushroom-like, Sci-Hub has popped up again this year.

My take? Mostly that it's a sideshow.

Overall, my thoughts are fairly similer to The Library Loon's in a lot of ways, so heading over there to read that very fine post is well worth your time.

One aspect that I have ranted about on Twitter which I think is worth mentioning explicitly is that I think Elsevier and all the other big publishers are actually quite happy to feed the social media rage machine with these whack-a-mole controversies. The controversies act as a sideshow, distracting from the real issues and solutions that they would prefer all of us not to think about.

By whack-a-mole controversies I mean this recurring story of some person or company or group that wants to "free" scholarly articles and then gets sued or harassed by the big publishers or their proxies to force them to shut down. This provokes wide outrage and condemnation aimed at the publishers, especially Elsevier who is reserved a special place in hell according to most advocates of openness (myself included).

The big publishers deserve the bile and disgust aimed at them, no doubt about that. Their rear-guard operations are overly heavy-handed and probably counter productive in a lot of ways. But they are a distraction from the real front line in the battle for a fairer and more open scholarly communications ecosystem. The predatory toll access publishers are symptoms of a deeper disease, just like "predatory" open access publishers are a sideshow to that same malaise.

And while we must continue to address those symptoms and work hard to alleviate the suffering they cause, the disease itself is more than happy for us to spend our time complaining about the symptoms.

In other words: Elsevier and its ilk are thrilled to be the target of all the outrage. Focusing on the whack-a-mole game distracts us from fixing the real problem: the entrenched systems of prestige, incentive and funding in academia. As long as researchers are channelled into "high impact" journals, as long as tenure committees reward publishing in closed rather than open venues, nothing will really change. Until funders get serious about mandating true open access publishing and are willing to put their money where their intentions are, nothing will change. Or at least, progress will be mostly limited to surface victories rather than systemic change.

What about libraries and librarians, you say? Library journal budgets have been the canary in the coal mine for this issue longer than I've been in the profession and will continue to be that canary. But the fundamental issue is a difficult one for us to solve. While we are the main source of funding for the big publishers -- to the tune of something like us$10 billion per year -- we are not actually the main users of their products. Those users are the researchers themselves. Who are isolated from directly bearing the cost of that scholarly publishing in their research.

We have a situation where the main consumers consume but don't pay. And the main payers don't actually do the vast majority of the consuming. Libraries are caught in the middle, not much paid attention to or cared about seriously by either side, as long as we continue to find a way to continue paying. Wallets with a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome.

Hence the complexity of all the pain and anguish around the Sci-Hub issue.

But I've ranted enough.

This has been one of those white-hot-rage rants. Deeper thought and reflections will be much more evident in the many recent articles and posts I've linked to below. I'm also mostly concentrating on the most recent Sci-Hub flare up rather than older posts.




As usual, while the list above is not meant to be exhaustive, if I've forgotten anything important please feel free to link to it in the comments.


Update 2016.03.07. Updated up to March 6. A couple of stragglers added as well as a bunch of new ones since the original posting. The Sci-Hub issue seems to have legs!
Update 2016.04.08. Another update, bringing the list up to date. Mostly new items but a few stragglers from February and early March.

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Friday Fun: The Onion on How To File A Patent (and a few more serious readings)

Feb 05 2016 Published by under culture of science, engineering, friday fun

Oh, The Onion. You are so wonderful and your take on the world of patents is so spot on that it hurts.

What are patents for, anyways?

Here's a bit of an excerpt from their 11 Step Program. Drop by the site to see the rest. Brilliant.

Step 1: First, come up with something really cool, like a cheese grater that works in both directions. Oh shit, don’t steal that one! That’s mine!

Step 2: Research the marketplace to find out if your idea is original or if some asshole has already stolen it from you
Step 11:
Spend remainder of bitter, unnaturally truncated life filing lawsuits to protect patent

For your edification, here are a couple of readings on the state of the patent world.

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