Tag Archives: Council of Canadian Academies

Science Advice to Government; a global conference in August 2014

There’s a big science advice conference on the horizon for August 28 – 29, 2014 to be held in New Zealand according to David Bruggeman’s March 19, 2014 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),

… It [the global science advice conference] will take place in Auckland, New Zealand August 28 and 29 [2014].  It will be hosted by the New Zealand Chief Science Adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman.

(If you’re not following Sir Peter’s work and writings on science advice and science policy, you’re missing out.)

The announced panelists and speakers include chief scientists and/or chief science advisers from several countries and the European Union.  It’s a very impressive roster.  The conference is organised around five challenges:

  • The process and systems for procuring evidence and developing/delivering scientific      advice for government
  • Science advice in dealing with crisis
  • Science advice in the context of opposing political/ideological positions
  • Developing an approach to international science advice
  • The modalities of science advice: accumulated wisdom

The 2014 Science Advice to Governments; a global conference for leading practitioners is being organized by the International Council for Science. Here’s a list of the confirmed speakers and panellists (Note: Links have been removed),

We are delighted that the following distinguished scientists have confirmed their participation in the formal programme:

Prof. Shaukat Abdulrazak, CEO National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation, Kenya

Dr. Ian Boyd, Chief Science Advisor, Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) UK

Dr. Phil Campbell, Editor-in-Chief, Nature

Dr. Raja Chidambaram, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, and Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet, India

Prof. Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist for Australia

Prof. Brian Collins, University College London’s Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (UCL STEaPP)

Dr. Lourdes J Cruz, President of the National Research Council of the Philippines and National Scientist

Prof. Heather Douglas, Chair in Science & Society, Balsillie School of International Affairs, U. of Waterloo Canada

Prof. Mark Ferguson, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, and Director General, Science Foundation Ireland

Prof. Anne Glover, Chief Science Adviser to the President of the European Commission

Sir Peter Gluckman, Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, New Zealand

Dr. Jörg Hacker, President of the German Academy of Sciences – Leopoldina; Member of UN Secretary General’s Scientific Advisory Board

Dr. Yuko Harayama, Executive member of Council for Science and Technology Policy, Cabinet Office of Japan; Member of UN Secretary General’s Scientific Advisory Board; former Deputy Director OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry

Prof. Andreas Hensel, President of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Germany

Prof. Gordon McBean, President-elect, International Council for Science (ICSU)

Prof. Romain Murenzi, Executive Director of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS)

Dr. Mary Okane, Chief Scientist and Engineer, New South Wales Australia

Prof. Remi Quirion, Chief Scientist, Province of Quebec, Canada

Chancellor Emeritus Kari Raivio, Council of Finnish Academies, Finland

Prof. Nils Chr. Stenseth, President of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and President of the International Biological Union (IUBS)

Dr. Chris Tyler, Director of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) in UK

Sir Mark Walport, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government of the UK

Dr. James Wilsdon, Professor of Science and Democracy, University of Sussex, UK

Dr. Steven Wilson, Executive Director, International Council for Science (ICSU)

Dr. Hamid Zakri, Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia; Member of UN Secretary General’s Scientific Advisory Board

I noticed a couple of Canadian representatives (Heather Douglas, Chair in Science & Society at the University of Waterloo, and Remi Quirion, Chief Scientist, province of Québec) on the list. We don’t have any science advisors for the Canadian federal government but it seems they’ve instituted some such position for the province of Québec. In lieu of a science advisor, there is the Council of Canadian Academies, which “is an independent, not-for-profit organization that supports independent, authoritative, and evidence-based expert assessments that inform public policy development in Canada” (from their About page).

One other person should be noted (within the Canadian context), James Wilsdon is a member of the Expert Panel for the Council of Canadian Academies’ still-in-progress assessment, The State of State of Canada’s Science Culture. (My Feb. 22, 2013 posting about the assessments provides a lengthy discourse about the assessment and my concerns about both it and the panel.)

Getting back to this meeting in New Zealand, the organizers have added a pre-conference symposium on science diplomacy (from the Science and Diplomacy webpage), Note: A link has been removed,

We are pleased to announce the addition of a pre-conference symposium to our programme of events. Co-chaired by Dr. Vaughan Turekian, Editor-in-Chief of the AAAS Journal Science and Diplomacy, and the CE of New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, this symposium will explore ‘the place of science in foreign ministries’.

Overview of the symposium

The past decade has seen unprecedented interested in the interface between science and diplomacy from a number of perspectives including:

- Diplomacy for Science – building international relationships to foster robust collaborative scientific networks and shared expertise and infrastructure;
- Science for Diplomacy – the science enterprise as a doorway to relationship building between nations with shared goals and values;
- Science in Diplomacy – the role of science in various diplomatic endeavours (e.g.: verification of agreements on climate change, nuclear treaties etc; in support of aid projects; in promoting economic and trade relationships; and in various international agreements and instruments such as phyto-sanitary regulations, free trade agreements, biodiversity agreements etc.).

Yet, despite the growing interest in this intersection, there has been little discussion of the practical realities of fostering the rapprochement between two very distinct professional cultures and practices, particularly with specific reference to the classical pillars of foreign policy: diplomacy; trade/economic; and aid. Thus, this pre-conference symposium will be focusing on the essential question:

How should scientists have input into the operation of foreign ministries and in particular into three pillars of foreign affairs (diplomacy, trade/economics and foreign aid)?

The discussion will focus on questions such as: What are the mechanisms and methods that can bring scientists and policy makers in science and technology in closer alignment with ministries or departments of foreign affairs and vice versa? What is the role of public scientists in assisting countries’ foreign policy positions and how can this be optimised? What are the challenges and opportunities in enhancing the role of science in international affairs? How does the perception of science in diplomacy vary between large and small countries and between developed and developing countries?

To ensure vibrant discussion the workshop will be limited to 70 participants. Anyone interested is invited to write to [email protected] with a request to be considered for this event.

The conference with this newly added symposium looks to be even more interesting than before. As for anyone wishing to attend the science diplomacy symposium, the notice has been up since March 6, 2014 so you may wish to get your request sent off while there’s still space (I assume they’ll put a notice on the webpage once the spaces are spoken for). One final observation, it’s surprising in a science conference of this size that there’s no representation from a US institution (e.g., the National Academy of Sciences, Harvard University, etc.) other than the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) organizer of the pre-conference symposium.

Does digitizing material mean it’s safe? A tale of Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans scientific libraries

As has been noted elsewhere the federal government of Canada has shut down a number of Fisheries and Oceans Canada libraries in a cost-saving exercise. The government is hoping to save some $440,000 in the 2014-15 fiscal year by digitizing, consolidating, and discarding the libraries and their holdings.

One would imagine that this is being done in a measured, thoughtful fashion but one would be wrong.

Andrew Nikiforuk in a December 23, 2013 article for The Tyee wrote one of the first articles about the closure of the fisheries libraries,

Scientists say the closure of some of the world’s finest fishery, ocean and environmental libraries by the Harper government has been so chaotic that irreplaceable collections of intellectual capital built by Canadian taxpayers for future generations has been lost forever.

Glyn Moody in a Jan. 7, 2014 post on Techdirt noted this,

What’s strange is that even though the rationale for this mass destruction is apparently in order to reduce costs, opportunities to sell off more valuable items have been ignored. A scientist is quoted as follows:

“Hundreds of bound journals, technical reports and texts still on the shelves, presumably meant for the garbage or shredding. I saw one famous monograph on zooplankton, which would probably fetch a pretty penny at a used science bookstore… anybody could go in and help themselves, with no record kept of who got what.”

Gloria Galloway in a Jan. 7, 2014 article for the Globe and Mail adds more details about what has been lost,

Peter Wells, an adjunct professor and senior research fellow at the International Ocean Institute at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said it is not surprising few members of the public used the libraries. But “the public benefits by the researchers and the different research labs being able to access the information,” he said.

Scientists say it is true that most modern research is done online.

But much of the material in the DFO libraries was not available digitally, Dr. Wells said, adding that some of it had great historical value. And some was data from decades ago that researchers use to determine how lakes and rivers have changed.

“I see this situation as a national tragedy, done under the pretext of cost savings, which, when examined closely, will prove to be a false motive,” Dr. Wells said. “A modern democratic society should value its information resources, not reduce, or worse, trash them.”

Dr. Ayles [Burton Ayles, a former DFO regional director and the former director of science for the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg] said the Freshwater Institute had reports from the 1880s and some that were available nowhere else. “There was a whole core people who used that library on a regular basis,” he said.

Dr. Ayles pointed to a collection of three-ringed binders, occupying seven metres of shelf space, that contained the data collected during a study in the 1960s and 1970s of the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline. For a similar study in the early years of this century, he said, “scientists could go back to that information and say, ‘What was the baseline 30 years ago? What was there then and what is there now?’ ”

When asked how much of the discarded information has been digitized, the government did not provide an answer, but said the process continues.

Today, Margo McDiarmid’s Jan. 30, 2014 article for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) news online further explores digitization of the holdings,

Fisheries and Oceans is closing seven of its 11 libraries by 2015. It’s hoping to save more than $443,000 in 2014-15 by consolidating its collections into four remaining libraries.

Shea [Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea] told CBC News in a statement Jan. 6 that all copyrighted material has been digitized and the rest of the collection will be soon. The government says that putting material online is a more efficient way of handling it.

But documents from her office show there’s no way of really knowing that is happening.

“The Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ systems do not enable us to determine the number of items digitized by location and collection,” says the response by the minister’s office to MacAulay’s inquiry. [emphasis mine]

The documents also that show the department had to figure out what to do with 242,207 books and research documents from the libraries being closed. It kept 158,140 items and offered the remaining 84,067 to libraries outside the federal government.

Shea’s office told CBC that the books were also “offered to the general public and recycled in a ‘green fashion’ if there were no takers.”

The fate of thousands of books appears to be “unknown,” although the documents’ numbers show 160 items from the Maurice Lamontagne Library in Mont Jolie, Que., were “discarded.”  A Radio-Canada story in June about the library showed piles of volumes in dumpsters.

And the numbers prove a lot more material was tossed out. The bill to discard material from four of the seven libraries totals $22,816.76

Leaving aside the issue of whether or not rare books were given away or put in dumpsters, It’s not confidence-building when the government minister can’t offer information about which books have been digitized and where they might located online.

Interestingly,  Fisheries and Oceans is not the only department/ministry shutting down libraries (from McDiarmid’s CBC article),

Fisheries and Oceans is just one of the 14 federal departments, including Health Canada and Environment Canada, that have been shutting physical libraries and digitizing or consolidating the material into closed central book vaults.

I was unaware of the problems with Health Canada’s libraries but Laura Payton’s and Max Paris’ Jan. 20, 2014 article for CBC news online certainly raised my eyebrows,

Health Canada scientists are so concerned about losing access to their research library that they’re finding workarounds, with one squirrelling away journals and books in his basement for colleagues to consult, says a report obtained by CBC News.

The draft report from a consultant hired by the department warned it not to close its library, but the report was rejected as flawed and the advice went unheeded.

Before the main library closed, the inter-library loan functions were outsourced to a private company called Infotrieve, the consultant wrote in a report ordered by the department. The library’s physical collection was moved to the National Science Library on the Ottawa campus of the National Research Council last year.

“Staff requests have dropped 90 per cent over in-house service levels prior to the outsource. This statistic has been heralded as a cost savings by senior HC [Health Canada] management,” the report said.

“However, HC scientists have repeatedly said during the interview process that the decrease is because the information has become inaccessible — either it cannot arrive in due time, or it is unaffordable due to the fee structure in place.”

….

The report noted the workarounds scientists used to overcome their access problems.

Mueller [Dr. Rudi Mueller, who left the department in 2012] used his contacts in industry for scientific literature. He also went to university libraries where he had a faculty connection.

The report said Health Canada scientists sometimes use the library cards of university students in co-operative programs at the department.

Unsanctioned libraries have been created by science staff.

“One group moved its 250 feet of published materials to an employee’s basement. When you need a book, you email ‘Fred,’ and ‘Fred’ brings the book in with him the next day,” the consultant wrote in his report.

“I think it’s part of being a scientist. You find a way around the problems,” Mueller told CBC News.

Unsanctioned, underground libraries aside, the assumption that digitizing documents and books ensures access is false.  Glyn Moody in a Nov. 12, 2013 article for Techdirt gives a chastening example of how vulnerable our digital memories are,

The Internet Archive is the world’s online memory, holding the only copies of many historic (and not-so-historic) Web pages that have long disappeared from the Web itself.

Bad news:

This morning at about 3:30 a.m. a fire started at the Internet Archive’s San Francisco scanning center.

Good news:

no one was hurt and no data was lost. Our main building was not affected except for damage to one electrical run. This power issue caused us to lose power to some servers for a while.

Bad news:

Some physical materials were in the scanning center because they were being digitized, but most were in a separate locked room or in our physical archive and were not lost. Of those materials we did unfortunately lose, about half had already been digitized. We are working with our library partners now to assess.

That loss is unfortunate, but imagine if the fire had been in the main server room holding the Internet Archive’s 2 petabytes of data. Wisely, the project has placed copies at other locations …

That’s good to know, but it seems rather foolish for the world to depend on the Internet Archive always being able to keep all its copies up to date, especially as the quantity of data that it stores continues to rise. This digital library is so important in historical and cultural terms: surely it’s time to start mirroring the Internet Archive around the world in many locations, with direct and sustained support from multiple governments.

In addition to the issue of vulnerability, there’s also the issue of authenticity, from my June 5, 2013 posting about science, archives and memories,

… Luciana Duranti [Professor and Chair, MAS {Master of Archival Studies}Program at the University of British Columbia and Director, InterPARES] and her talk titled, Trust and Authenticity in the Digital Environment: An Increasingly Cloudy Issue, which took place in Vancouver (Canada) last year (mentioned in my May 18, 2012 posting).

Duranti raised many, many issues that most of us don’t consider when we blithely store information in the ‘cloud’ or create blogs that turn out to be repositories of a sort (and then don’t know what to do with them; ça c’est moi). She also previewed a Sept. 26 – 28, 2013 conference to be hosted in Vancouver by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), “Memory of the World in the Digital Age: Digitization and Preservation.” (UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme hosts a number of these themed conferences and workshops.)

The Sept. 2013 UNESCO ‘memory of the world’ conference in Vancouver seems rather timely in retrospect. The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) announced that Dr. Doug Owram would be chairing their Memory Institutions and the Digital Revolution assessment (mentioned in my Feb. 22, 2013 posting; scroll down 80% of the way) and, after checking recently, I noticed that the Expert Panel has been assembled and it includes Duranti. Here’s the assessment description from the CCA’s ‘memory institutions’ webpage,

Library and Archives Canada has asked the Council of Canadian Academies to assess how memory institutions, which include archives, libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions, can embrace the opportunities and challenges of the changing ways in which Canadians are communicating and working in the digital age.
Background

Over the past three decades, Canadians have seen a dramatic transformation in both personal and professional forms of communication due to new technologies. Where the early personal computer and word-processing systems were largely used and understood as extensions of the typewriter, advances in technology since the 1980s have enabled people to adopt different approaches to communicating and documenting their lives, culture, and work. Increased computing power, inexpensive electronic storage, and the widespread adoption of broadband computer networks have thrust methods of communication far ahead of our ability to grasp the implications of these advances.

These trends present both significant challenges and opportunities for traditional memory institutions as they work towards ensuring that valuable information is safeguarded and maintained for the long term and for the benefit of future generations. It requires that they keep track of new types of records that may be of future cultural significance, and of any changes in how decisions are being documented. As part of this assessment, the Council’s expert panel will examine the evidence as it relates to emerging trends, international best practices in archiving, and strengths and weaknesses in how Canada’s memory institutions are responding to these opportunities and challenges. Once complete, this assessment will provide an in-depth and balanced report that will support Library and Archives Canada and other memory institutions as they consider how best to manage and preserve the mass quantity of communications records generated as a result of new and emerging technologies.

The Council’s assessment is running concurrently with the Royal Society of Canada’s expert panel assessment on Libraries and Archives in 21st century Canada. Though similar in subject matter, these assessments have a different focus and follow a different process. The Council’s assessment is concerned foremost with opportunities and challenges for memory institutions as they adapt to a rapidly changing digital environment. In navigating these issues, the Council will draw on a highly qualified and multidisciplinary expert panel to undertake a rigorous assessment of the evidence and of significant international trends in policy and technology now underway. The final report will provide Canadians, policy-makers, and decision-makers with the evidence and information needed to consider policy directions. In contrast, the RSC panel focuses on the status and future of libraries and archives, and will draw upon a public engagement process.

So, the government is shutting down libraries in order to save money and they’re praying (?) that the materials have been digitized and adequate care has been taken to ensure that they will not be lost in some disaster or other. Meanwhile the Council of Canadian Academies is conducting an assessment of memory institutions in the digital age. The approach seems to backwards.

On a more amusing note, Rick Mercer parodies at lease one way scientists are finding to circumvent the cost-cutting exercise in an excerpt (approximately 1 min.)  from his Jan. 29, 2014 Rick Mercer Report telecast (thanks Roz),

Mercer’s comment about sports and Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper’s preferences is a reference to Harper’s expressed desire to write a book about hockey and possibly a veiled reference to Harper’s successful move to prorogue parliament during the 2010 Winter Olympic games in Vancouver in what many observers suggested was a strategy allowing Harper to attend the games at his leisure.

Whether or not you agree with the decision to shutdown some libraries, the implementation seems to have been a remarkably sloppy affair.

2013: women, science, gender, and sex

2013 seems to have been quite the year for discussions about women, gender, and sex (scandals) in the world of science. In Canada, we had the Council of Canadian Academies assessment: Strengthening Canada’s Research Capacity: The Gender Dimension; The Expert Panel on Women in University Research, (my commentary was in these February 22, 2013 postings titled: Science, women and gender in Canada (part 1 of 2) and Science, women and gender in Canada (part 2 of 2, respectively). Elsewhere, there was a special issue (March 7, 2013) of Nature magazine which had this to say on the issue’s home page,

Women in Science

Science remains institutionally sexist. Despite some progress, women scientists are still paid less, promoted less frequently, win fewer grants and are more likely to leave research than similarly qualified men. This special issue of Nature takes a hard look at the gender gap — from bench to boardroom — and at what is being done to close it.

Shaunacy Ferro in a March 10, 2013 posting on the Popular Science website added to the discussion (Note: A link has been removed)

… Why, even as the demand for STEM education rises, do only a fifth of the physics Ph.Ds awarded in the U.S. go to women, as a new New York Times magazine story asks?

Written by Eileen Pollack, who was one of the first women to graduate from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1978, this story is a deeply personal one. Though she graduated with honors after having written a thesis that, years later, her advisor would call “exceptional,” no one–not even that same advisor–encouraged her to go on to a post-graduate career in science.

At that point, it seemed like more than the usual number of articles relative to most years but not enough to excite comment, that is, until the sexual harassment scandals of October 2013.  The best timeline I’ve seen for these scandals was written by the folks at ‘talk science to me’ in an Oct. 21, 2013 posting by Amanda. I offered an abbreviated version along with a more extensive commentary in my Oct. 18, 2013 posting and there was this Oct. 22, 2013 posting by Connie St. Louis for the Guardian science blogs which includes an earlier Twitter altercation in the UK science communication community along with the .scandals in North America. Jobs were lost and many people were deeply distressed by the discovery that one of the main proponents of science and social media, Bora Zivkovic  (Scientific American editor responsible for that magazine’s blog network, founder of Science Online, and tireless of promoter of many, many science writers and communicators) had stumbled badly by committing acts  construed as sexual harassment by several women.

In the end, the scandals provoked a lot of discussion about sexism, sexual harassment, and gender bias in the sciences but whether anything will change remains to be seen. While these discussions have taken on a familiar pattern of decrying male sexism; it should be noted that women, too, can be just as sexist as any man. In my Sept. 24, 2012 posting about some research into women, science, and remuneration, I noted this,

Nancy Owano’s Sept. 21, 2012 phy.org article on a study about gender bias (early publication Sept. 17, 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) describes a situation that can be summed up with this saying ‘we women eat our own’.

The Yale University researchers developed applications for a supposed position in a science faculty and had faculty members assess the applicants’ paper submissions.  From Owano’s article,

Applications were all identical except for the male names and female names. Even though the male and female name applications were identical in competencies, the female student was less likely to be hired, being viewed as less competent and desirable as a new-hire.

Results further showed the faculty members chose higher starting salaries and more career mentoring for applicants with male names.

Interestingly, it made no difference on hiring decisions as to whether the faculty member was male or female. Bias was just as likely to occur at the hands of a female as well as male faculty member.

I tracked down the paper (which is open access), Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students by Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, John F. Dovidio, Victoria L. Bescroll, Mark J. Graham, and Jo Handelsman and found some figures in a table which I can’t reproduce here but suggest the saying ‘we women eat their own’ isn’t far off the mark. In it, you’ll see that while women faculty members will offer less to both genders, they offer significantly less to female applicants.

For a male applicant, here’s the salary offer,

Male Faculty               Female Faculty

30,520.82                    29, 333.33

 

For a female applicant, here’s the salary offer,

Male Faculty               Female Faculty

27,111.11                    25,000.00

To sum this up, the men offered approximately $3000 (9.25%) less to female applicants while the women offered approximately $4000 (14.6%) less. It’s uncomfortable to admit that women may be just as much or even more at fault as men where gender bias is concerned. However, it is necessary if the situation is ever going to change.

As for the two women involved in the sex scandals, both as whistle blowers, The Urban Scientist, DN Lee continues to write on her blog on the Scientific American (SA) website (her incident involved a posting she wrote about a sexist and racist incident with an editor from Biology Online [who subsequently lost their job] that was removed by the SA editors and, eventually, reinstated) while Monica Byrne continues to write on her personal blog although I don’t know if she has done any science writing since she blew the whistle on Bora. You may want to read Byrne’s account of events here

I think we (men and women) are obliged to take good look at sexism around us and within us and if you still have any doubts about the prevalence of sexism and gender bias against women, take a look at Sydney Brownstone’s Oct. 22, 2013 article for Fast Company,

These ads for U.N. Women show what happens if you type things like “women need to” into Google. The autocomplete function will suggest ways to fill in the blank based on common search terms such as “know their place” and “shut up.”

A quick, unscientific study of men-based searches comes up with very different Autocomplete suggestions. Type in “men need to,” and you’ll get “feel needed,” “grow up,” or “ejaculate.” Type in “men shouldn’t,” and you might get, “wear flip flops.”

Those searches were made in March 2013.

Shocker! Science data being lost at a disturbing rate

A Dec. 19, 2013 University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada) news release (on EurekAlert) provides a shock for anyone unfamiliar with the problems of accessing ‘old’ data,

Eighty per cent of scientific data are lost within two decades, according to a new study that tracks the accessibility of data over time.

The culprits? Old e-mail addresses and obsolete storage devices.

“Publicly funded science generates an extraordinary amount of data each year,” says Tim Vines, a visiting scholar at the University of British Columbia. “Much of these data are unique to a time and place, and is thus irreplaceable, and many other datasets are expensive to regenerate.

“The current system of leaving data with authors means that almost all of it is lost over time, unavailable for validation of the original results or to use for entirely new purposes.”

For the analysis, published today in Current Biology, Vines and colleagues attempted to collect original research data from a random set of 516 studies published between 1991 and 2011. They found that while all datasets were available two years after publication, the odds of obtaining the underlying data dropped by 17 per cent per year after that.

“I don’t think anybody expects to easily obtain data from a 50-year-old paper, but to find that almost all the datasets are gone at 20 years was a bit of a surprise.”

Vines is calling on scientific journals to require authors to upload data onto public archives as a condition for publication, adding that papers with readily accessible data are more valuable for society and thus should get priority for publication.

“Losing data is a waste of research funds and it limits how we can do science,” says Vines. “Concerted action is needed to ensure it is saved for future research.”

Unfortunately, there’s nothing about the research methodology in the news release. It would be nice to know how the researchers approached the topic and whether or not they focused on biological sciences and are generalizing those results to all of the sciences,including the social sciences. It is likely more or less true of all the sciences as there is a major issue with being able to access data over time. Whether or not the researcher can provide access to the data set, which is a problem in itself, there’s also the issue of obsolete hardware, software, and formats, problems that haunt the arts, the sciences, and the humanities, as well as, business and government. One of my more recent postings about the issue of archiving data is this March 8, 2012 posting and there’s this March 9, 2010 posting (I believe it was my first on the topic). I also mentioned the current Council of Canadian Academies assessment Memory Institutions and the Digital Revolution in a June 5, 2013 posting.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the UBC study,

The Availability of Research Data Declines Rapidly with Article Age by Timothy H. Vines, Arianne Y.K. Albert, Rose L. Andrew, Florence Débarre, Dan G. Bock, Michelle T. Franklin, Kimberly J. Gilbert, Jean-Sébastien Moore, Sébastien Renaut, Diana J. Rennison. Current Biology, 19 December 2013 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.11.014
Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Ltd All rights reserved.

This paper is behind a paywall.

Council of Canadian Academies’ Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness and three wise men

October 1, 2013, the Council of Canadian Academies released something they called a ‘new report’ but was effectively a summary of seven of their previous reports. They called the ‘new’ report, Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness. Here’s more about it from the media advisory),

A new report, entitled Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness, was released today by the Council of Canadian Academies at a breakfast event with the Economic Club of Canada.

Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness draws upon the insights reported in seven expert assessments conducted by the Council since 2006. Each assessment examined various aspects of Canada’s performance in science and technology, and innovation. Paradox Lost examines the complex ways in which research leads to innovation, and the factors that motivate Canadian business strategy. It also identifies four megatrends that will pose challenges for Canadian businesses in the years to come.

“The Council was pleased to initiate this review of its work,” said Elizabeth Dowdeswell, President and CEO of the Council of Canadian Academies. “We hope Paradox Lost will provide valuable insight for policy- and decision-makers across Canada.”
The report was led by a three-member expert advisory group composed of Marcel Côté, Founding Partner of SECOR Inc.; Bob Fessenden, Fellow of the Institute for Public Economics; and Peter Nicholson, former President of the Council of Canadian Academies.

First off, that breakfast cost $89/seat (if memory serves and it does because that’s a high price for breakfast and a review/summary of seven previously published reports). Here are the seven reports/assessments the committee of three (Côté, Fessenden, and Nicholson) was summarizing,

The report about women, science, and academe was not included in Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness (link to webpage hosting assessment and other documents). Are women going to be part of this brave, new innovative world? I realize it would have been a stretch but surely the report’s inclusion in the review would have been worthwhile.

As for the report itself, all 34 pp. of the PDF, I was expecting more given the literary allusion.Before I launch into this further, it should be said that I applaud the ambition in the titling. I appreciate literary references as I view them as an attempt to ground them in the culture which extends beyond policy wonks. While this one didn’t work for me, I hope the Council of Canadian Academies will try again with future assessments.

As for how this attempt failed, who thought it would be a good idea to reference Paradise Lost, John Milton’s epic (written in 10 volumes), 17th century, English poem concerning humanity’s fall from grace as signified by banishment from the Garden of Eden? It’s not only a literary reference, it’s a biblical reference and an old testament one at that. To sum it up, this reference alludes to Judeo-Christian religious traditions, comes from an English literary tradition, and concerns banishment from an idyllic place, due to a woman’s failure of character or inherent sinfulness, depending on your reading of that story. The reference/wordplay in the title seems a bit tone deaf.

Leaving the literary/biblical aspects of the title aside, ‘Paradox Lost’ doesn’t make sense since one might be able to ‘resolve’ a paradox but one generally doesn’t ‘lose’ one. Interestingly the authors seems to concur as they use the verb ‘resolve’,in their Executive Summary (from p. 6 of the report PDF)

The Council of Canadian Academies (the Council) has, since 2006, completed seven expert panel assessments analyzing in great depth Canada’s performance in science and technology (S&T) and innovation. This document synthesizes the main findings of that work, from which two main conclusions emerge:
•Canadian academic research, overall, is strong and well regarded internationally.
•Canadian business innovation, by contrast, is weak by international standards, and this is the primary cause of Canada’s poor productivity growth.

The conclusions are linked by a paradox. Why has Canada’s research excellence not translated into more business innovation? The paradox is resolved once it is recognized that (i) most innovation does not work according to a “linear” model in which academic research yields a pipeline filled with ideas that, following some research and development (R&D), are commercialized by business; and (ii) business strategy in Canada is powerfully influenced by many factors besides those that motivate innovation. [emphasis mine] These factors include Canada’s comparative advantage in a remarkably integrated North American economy, the state of domestic competition, the profitability of existing business models, and the particular Canadian attitude to business risk that has been shaped by the foregoing conditions.

There is a second paradox. How has Canada’s economy sustained relative prosperity despite weak innovation and correspondingly feeble productivity growth? The answer is that Canadian firms have been as innovative as they have needed to be. Until the early 2000s, their competitiveness was supported by an ample labour supply and a favourable exchange rate, which made productivity growth less urgent. Since then, the boom in commodity prices has supported Canadian incomes in the aggregate. But a high-wage country like Canada cannot sustain its prosperity indefinitely without healthy productivity growth and its necessary prerequisite — an aggressively innovative business sector.

There’s nothing new in the report but the authors did highlight a few ideas in their conclusions as per the Executive Summary (from p. 8 of the report PDF),

In summary:
• Policy-makers and commentators need to acknowledge that the business innovation problem in Canada has a pedigree as old as the country itself.
• Canadian business has not become more innovative because it has been able to prosper without needing to do so.
• Now, business will have to embrace innovation-focused business strategies to compete and survive.
• This creates the conditions where public policies to support business innovation can be more effective than in the past because innovation policy objectives and business motivation will finally be aligned.

I’m with the authors on the first two conclusions but as the for the third one (the fourth follows on the third), I’m not convinced that Canadian business feels obliged to make any changes. It’s survived quite handily till now and given the evidence from the OECD Science, Technology and Industry 2013 Scorecard (my Oct.30, 2013 posting offers more detail), Canadian businesses have been diminishing investment in R&D over the last decade and it seems unlikely that there will be any changes in the near future regardless of government programmes. Businesses in Canada have some of the best tax incentives for R&D amongst OECD countries; we’re second to France only in terms of lavish taxpayer support. Other than lip service, is there any indication that Canadian business motivation “… will finally be aligned” with government policy objectives?

One might say (and I will) the the last conclusion was foregone given the committee of ‘three wise men’ (let’s stick with the biblical allusions even it is one from the new testament), include a politician/economist who founded a management consulting firm, an academic/bureaucrat, and a career bureaucrat.

I give you

  • Marcel Côté economist and politician as he’s described in this Wikipedia essay where he’s also described as a founding partner of Secor, a strategic management consulting firm;
  • Bob Fessenden, fellow of the Institute for Public Economies (University of Alberta, former Deputy Minister in four different Government of Alberta departments: Economic Development; Sustainable Resource Development; Innovation and Science; and Advanced Education and Technology, plus somewhere along the way, he was staff member at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Foresty; and
  • Peter Nicholson, inaugural president of the Council of Canadian Academies from February 2006 through December 2009, he was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy in the Office of the Prime Minister of Canada from 2003 to 2006, prior to which he was Special Advisor to the Secretary-general of the OECD. The biography also mentions some experience in the fields of banking and telecommunications.

Is it any wonder that these three might conclude that public policies could now be more effective? After all, it would confirm their life’s work.

Free Global STEMx (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) Education Conference online in September 2013

A notice for this conference slipped into my mailbox on Aug. 19, 2013,

We hope you will consider joining us for the Global 2013 STEMx Education Conference, the world’s first massively open online conference for educators focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and more. The conference will be held over the course of three days, September 19-21, 2013, and will be free to attend! STEMxCon will be a highly inclusive event that will engage students and educators around the globe and will encourage primary, secondary, and tertiary (K-16) educators around the world to share and learn about innovative approaches to STEMx learning and teaching. …

Please register at http://www.stemxcon.com to attend and to be kept informed.

Usually, I’d jump to a description of the keynote speakers but I think this explanation for why they’ve added an x to STEM bears some attention (from the notice),

The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics acronym is no longer adequate, as it is missing well over 20 letters that represent key skills & disciplines. As such, x = Computer Science (CS), Computational Thinking (CT), Inquiry (I), Creativity & Innovation (CI), Global Fluency (GF), Collaboration ( C ), …and other emerging disciplines & 21st century skills.

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) assessment Strengthening Canada’s Research Capacity: The Gender Dimension; The Expert Panel on Women in University Research also noted that the STEM designation leaves something to be desired (my Feb. 22, 2013 posting).

Now onto the keynote speakers (from the notice),

We have a terrific set of keynote speakers for STEMxCon, including

  • Tim Bell on computer science in New Zealand,
  • Al Byers on STEM teacher learning communities at the NSTA [National Science Teachers Association],
  • Jeanne Century on STEM schools,
  • Cristin Frodella on the Google Science Fair,
  • Paloma Garcia-Lopez on the Maker Education Initiative,
  • Iris Lapinski on Apps for Good,
  • Ramsey Musallar on an inquiry-based learning cycle,
  • Ramji Raghavan on sparking curiosity and nurturing creativity, and
  • Avis Yates Rivers on inspiring the next generation in IT.

More information at http://stemxcon.com/page/2013-keynotes.

It’s still possible to respond to the call for presentation proposals, from the  ‘Call’ page,

Proposals can be submitted from May 30th – September 1st, 2013, and we will begin accepting proposals starting June 30th, 2013. We encourage you to submit your proposal as early as possible because as soon as a proposal is accepted, you are given the ability to select from the available presentation times (the time choices become increasingly limited closer to the event). You may submit more than one proposal, but we will give priority to providing as many presenters the chance to present as possible.

Your presentation proposal, once submitted, will be listed on the STEMx Conference website, with the opportunity for members of this network to view, comment on, and/or “like” your presentation proposal. This will give you and the other members of this site the chance to share ideas and to make connections before, during, and after the conference. …

Presentations should be at least 20 minutes in length, and all sessions must be completed (including Q&A) within one hour. All sessions will be held in the Blackboard Collaborate online platform (previously Elluminate/Wimba). You will be responsible for familiarizing yourself with the web conferencing platform. We will send you recorded training material, as well as provide live training sessions where you can ask questions. To practice, you can also sign up for the Collaborate trial room at http://www.WeCollaborate.com.

All presentations will be recorded and released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License. For more information, please visit: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/). By submitting to present, you are agreeing to these terms.

Presentations must be non-commercial. Interest in commercial sponsorship or presentations should be directed to Steve Hargadon at [email protected].

The guidelines for submissions and other pertinent details are on the Call for proposals page.

I did find some information about the organization and the entities supporting its conference efforts on the 2013 STEMx Conference Welcome! webpage (Note: Links have been removed),

STEMxCon’s founding sponsor is HP [Hewlett Packard]. As one of the world’s largest technology companies with operations in more than 170 countries, HP is helping to solve environmental and social challenges by uniting the power of people and technology. The HP Sustainability & Social Innovation team focuses on improving lives and businesses every day by focusing on the environment, health, education, and community. By bringing together the expertise of their more than 300,000 HP employees in collaboration with our partners, HP makes technology work for people in powerful ways that create a positive impact on the world.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE®) is also a core conference supporter, and is the premier membership association for educators and education leaders engaged in improving learning and teaching by advancing the effective use of technology in PK–12 and teacher education. ISTE represents more than 100,000 education leaders and emerging leaders throughout the world and informs its members regarding educational issues of national and global scope.

I like the openness of their approach and the note somewhere in the submission guidelines that the language in which the presentation is being offered be mentioned suggests they’re making a big effort to attract an international audience. I wish them the best of luck.

Cyborgian dance at McGill University (Canada)

As noted in the Canadian Council of Academies report ((State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012), which was mentioned in my Dec. 28, 2012 posting, the field of visual and performing arts is an area of strength and that is due to one province, Québec. Mark Wilson’s Aug. 13, 2013 article for Fast Company and Paul Ridden’s Aug. 7, 2013 article for gizmag.com about McGill University’s Instrumented Bodies: Digital Prostheses for Music and Dance Performance seem to confirm Québec’s leadership.

From Wilson’s Aug. 13, 2013 article (Note: A link has been removed),

One is a glowing exoskeleton spine, while another looks like a pair of cyborg butterfly wings. But these aren’t just costumes; they’re wearable, functional art.

In fact, the team of researchers from the IDML (Input Devices and Music Interaction Laboratory [at McGill University]) who are responsible for the designs go so far as to call their creations “prosthetic instruments.”

Ridden’s Aug. 7, 2013 article offers more about the project’s history and technology,

For the last three years, a small research team at McGill University has been working with a choreographer, a composer, dancers and musicians on a project named Instrumented Bodies. Three groups of sensor-packed, internally-lit digital music controllers that attach to a dancer’s costume have been developed, each capable of wirelessly triggering synthesized music as the performer moves around the stage. Sounds are produced by tapping or stroking transparent Ribs or Visors, or by twisting, turning or moving Spines. Though work on the project continues, the instruments have already been used in a performance piece called Les Gestes which toured Canada and Europe during March and April.

Both articles are interesting but Wilson’s is the fast read and Ridden’s gives you information you can’t find by looking up the Instrumented Bodies: Digital Prostheses for Music and Dance Performance project webpage,

These instruments are the culmination of a three-year long project in which the designers worked closely with dancers, musicians, composers and a choreographer. The goal of the project was to develop instruments that are visually striking, utilize advanced sensing technologies, and are rugged enough for extensive use in performance.

The complex, transparent shapes are lit from within, and include articulated spines, curved visors and ribcages. Unlike most computer music control interfaces, they function both as hand-held, manipulable controllers and as wearable, movement-tracking extensions to the body. Further, since the performers can smoothly attach and detach the objects, these new instruments deliberately blur the line between the performers’ bodies and the instrument being played.

The prosthetic instruments were designed and developed by Ph.D. researchers Joseph Malloch and Ian Hattwick [and Marlon Schumacher] under the supervision of IDMIL director Marcelo Wanderley. Starting with sketches and rough foam prototypes for exploring shape and movement, they progressed through many iterations of the design before arriving at the current versions. The researchers made heavy use of digital fabrication technologies such as laser-cutters and 3D printers, which they accessed through the McGill University School of Architecture and the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology, also hosted by McGill.

Each of the nearly thirty working instruments produced for the project has embedded sensors, power supplies and wireless data transceivers, allowing a performer to control the parameters of music synthesis and processing in real time through touch, movement, and orientation. The signals produced by the instruments are routed through an open-source peer-to-peer software system the IDMIL team has developed for designing the connections between sensor signals and sound synthesis parameters.

For those who prefer to listen and watch, the researchers have created a video documentary,

I usually don’t include videos that run past 5 mins. but I’ve made an exception for this almost 15 mins. documentary.

I was trying to find mention of a dancer and/or choreographer associated with this project and found a name along with another early stage participant, choreographer, Isabelle Van Grimde, and composer, Sean Ferguson, in Ridden’s article.

Nano, agriculture, and water

Surprisingly, the Council of Canadian Academies’ (CCA) Water and Agriculture in Canada: Towards Sustainable Management of Water Resources assessment (published Feb. 2013) had very little to with regard to how emerging technologies such as synthetic biology and nanotechnology are having and will have an impact on water and agriculture. Here’s the bit on synthetic biology,

Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology is defined as the design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems and the re-design of existing natural biological systems for useful purposes (RAE, 2009). It is an emerging technology that is expected to have wide-ranging implications for agriculture in the future (RAE, 2009). The agricultural technology sector anticipates that synthetic biology will lead to greater productivity, profitability, and sustainability by increasing, for example: crop water productivity; nitrogen use efficiency; yields; pest, disease, and drought resistance; and the quality, quantity, and processing characteristics of agricultural products Dunbar, 2011). However, as with current methods of transgenic manipulation, concerns relating to the safety and health impacts of synthetic biology will need to be responsibly and carefully addressed (RAE, 2009). (print version pp. 134-5)

Surely they could have found a more recent reference than 2009. I don’t disagree with the overall assessment of synthetic biology but I think they were a bit miserly to confine themselves to a single paragraph.

As for nanotechnologies,

5.11 Nanotechnologies

Nanotechnology applications are being developed for different agricultural uses including: the detection of pathogenic and parasitic organisms; sensing of environmental conditions and properties (such as humidity, soil moisture, and soil and groundwater contaminants); the controlled release of fertilizers and pesticides; improved water retention in soils and uptake by plants; drug delivery and improved nutrient utilization in livestock; degradation of organic contaminants; and water treatment (Kabiri et al., 2011; Knauer & Bucheli, 2009; Manimegalai et al., 2011; Thornton, 2010). Wireless nanosensors, for example, can be used in combination
with remote sensing and precision irrigation systems to greatly enhance WUE.

Nanoscale technologies for fertilizer and pesticide application can greatly reduce runoff and water contamination. Most nanotechnologies are still in their infancy, and associated risks and benefits must be carefully evaluated. Nonetheless, they represent a promising approach towards greater improvements in WUE (OECD, 2010). However, the potential for negative impacts of nanotechnologies on the environment and health needs to be researched (Knauer & Bucheli, 2009) and their application supported by risk assessment. (pp. 144-5; print version)

Not much attention paid to nanotechnology either, although they did manage to find some more recent references. I wonder why they didn’t organize the information about synthetic biology and nanotechnology  in a section on emerging technologies and discuss some of the implications and research  at more length. Certainly there’s a lot of interest and concern regarding nanotechnology impacts on agriculture and water.

I have two more items for this posting (to prove my point at least in part), one is about nanomaterials and fertilizer and the other one is about two UN organizations and their nanotechnology and water purification initiative.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has released a report about nanomaterials in soil fertilizers according to an April 26, 2013 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Nanomaterials added to soil via fertilizers and treated sewage waste used to fertilize fields could threaten soil health necessary to keep land productive, says a new report released today by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). Peer-reviewed scientific research also indicates possible negative impacts of nano-fertilizers on public health and the food supply.

IATP’s report, Nanomaterials in Soil: Our Future Food Chain? (pdf), draws attention to the delicate soil food chain, including microbes and microfauna, that enable plant growth and produce new soil. Laboratory experiments have indicated that sub-molecular nanoparticles could damage beneficial soil microbes and the digestive systems of earthworms, essential engineers in maintaining soil health.

The IATP April 24, 2013 news release, which originated the news item,

Nanomaterials are advertised as a component of market-available fertilizers—designed to increase the effectiveness of fertilizers by making them the same size as plant and root pores—but because nanotechnology is an unregulated global industry, there is no pre-market safety assessment. Several researchers assume that nanomaterials are increasingly present in biosolids (also known as sewage sludge) used as fertilizer on about 60 percent of U.S. agricultural land. [emphasis mine]

“In light of published research, the Obama administration should institute an immediate moratorium on fertilizing with biosolids from sewage treatment plants near nanomaterial fabrication facilities. A moratorium would give researchers time to determine whether nanomaterials in soil can be made safe and to research alternatives to building soil heath, rather than depending on fertilization with biosolids.” says IATP’s Dr. Steve Suppan.

Over time, the report explains, nanomaterials in these agricultural inputs can accumulate and harm soil health. More research is urgently needed to adequately understand possible long-term impacts of nanotechnology.

“As agri-nanotechnology rapidly enters the market, can soil health and everything that depends on it can be sustained without regulation?” asks Suppan. “That’s the question regulators, researchers and anyone involved in our food system should be asking themselves.”

The report also details risks specific to farmers and farmworkers applying dried biosolids that incorporate nanomaterials, including inflammation of the lungs, fibrosis and other toxicological impacts.

With no regulatory system in place—in the U.S. or elsewhere—for producing, and selling nano-fertilizers, IATP’s report concludes by asking for governments to require robust technology assessments involving biological engineers, soil scientists, public health professionals, farmers and concerned citizens before allowing indiscriminate application by industry.

It seems to me IATP could have cited some facts, rather than assumptions,  in the news release, and perhaps even referenced a study or two relative to their claim of risks “specific to farmers and farmworkers applying dried biosolids that incorporate nanomaterials, including inflammation of the lungs, fibrosis and other toxicological impacts.” I have looked at the report briefly and there is some interesting and valuable research in there although I haven’t looked closely enough to see if any of it supports the claims in their news release.  I suspect not since they usually trumpet those findings and numbers loudly.

As for the two UN agencies and their water purification and nanotechnology initiative, this May 31, 2013 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Culture Organization) news release explains,

Providing access to clean water is one of the most pressing challenges in developing countries. Lack of access to safe drinking water impacts the lives and well-being of millions of people, whereas non-existent, or inadequate, wastewater treatment is threatening the quality of water resources, as well as ecosystems that we depend on.  Conventional water purification and wastewater treatment technologies often require large infrastructure, high initial capital investment, and considerable operating costs associated with the use of energy and chemicals.

What is the potential that nanotechnology holds to address these water problems?   What nanotechnologies offer the most immediate promise in water purification and wastewater treatment? Which areas of water use are in the largest need of a technological upgrade and innovation?

These were the main questions raised by a joint UNESCO-UNIDO  session on “Nanotechnology Applications in Water Purification and Wastewater Treatment”, which was the kick-off event of cooperation between UNESCO and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), which the two organizations have recently embarked on in the area of nanotechnology for clean water in developing countries.

Under this cooperation, the two organizations will work together on a number of joint activities to explore the potential of nanotechnology in water purification and wastewater treatment, as an emerging technology that may provide sustainable and innovative solutions to reach the Millennium Development Goals on safe drinking water and basic sanitation, as well as to contribute towards the post-2015 development agenda and future Sustainable Development Goals.  Complementing ongoing activities of UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme aimed at promoting water sciences, the cooperation with the Investment and Technology Unit of UNIDO brings a perspective on how advances in emerging technological developments, such as those in nanotechnology, can be utilized to enhance existing solutions to water problems and make a paradigm shift in water treatment systems, as industrial applications of nanotechnology are expanding rapidly.

Experts participating in the session presented research findings on promising nanotechnology applications in water such as improved membrane technologies, removal of bacteria and other pollutants, including pharmaceuticals and trace contaminants, water quality monitoring, remediation of polluted water systems, greater wastewater reuse, desalinization, as well as less-water intensive agriculture.  The session did not focus on the optimistic technological aspect alone.   Discussions touched upon also on how to draw the line between opportunities and challenges that limit nanotechnology applications in water.

The session emphasized the need for a balanced approach to nanotechnology applications in water and underlined the risks associated with toxicology and wider impacts on human health and the environment as of importance for further deliberations given that water is a basic human need and integral to health and well-being.  Another issue of consideration was ethical issues of nanotechnology applications in water that arise from uncertainties related to environmental and health risks. Participants of the session also shared experiences on community engagement in making nanotechnologies relevant to local needs by presenting an example of using nanotechnology to provide clean water in a school in a developing country village.

Given these recent doings with IATP and UNIDO/UNESCO, I was truly surprised at how little attention the CCA paid to nanotechnologies and, by extension, the other emerging technologies.

Memories, science, archiving, and authenticity

This is going to be one of my more freewheeling excursions into archiving and memory. I’ll be starting with  a movement afoot in the US government to give citizens open access to science research moving onto a network dedicated to archiving nanoscience- and nanotechnology-oriented information, examining the notion of authenticity in regard to the Tiananmen Square incident on June 4, 1989, and finishing with the Council of Canadian Academies’ Expert Panel on Memory Institutions and the Digital Revolution.

In his June 4, 2013 posting on the Pasco Phronesis blog, David Bruggeman features information and an overview of  the US Office of Science and Technology Policy’s efforts to introduce open access to science research for citizens (Note: Links have been removed),

Back in February, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a memorandum to federal science agencies on public access for research results.  Federal agencies with over $100 million in research funding have until August 22 to submit their access plans to OSTP.  This access includes research publications, metadata on those publications, and underlying research data (in a digital format).

A collection of academic publishers, including the Association of American Publishers and the organization formerly known as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (publisher of Science), has offered a proposal for a publishing industry repository for pubic access to federally funded research that they publish.

David provides a somewhat caustic perspective on the publishers’ proposal while Jocelyn Kaiser’s June 4, 2013 article for ScienceInsider details the proposal in more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

Organized in part by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), which represents many commercial and nonprofit journals, the group calls its project the Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States (CHORUS). In a fact sheet that AAP gave to reporters, the publishers describe CHORUS as a “framework” that would “provide a full solution for agencies to comply with the OSTP memo.”

As a starting point, the publishers have begun to index papers by the federal grant numbers that supported the work. That index, called FundRef, debuted in beta form last week. You can search by agency and get a list of papers linked to the journal’s own websites through digital object identifiers (DOIs), widely used ID codes for individual papers. The pilot project involved just a few agencies and publishers, but many more will soon join FundRef, says Fred Dylla, executive director of the American Institute of Physics. (AAAS, which publishes ScienceInsider, is among them and has also signed on to CHORUS.)

The next step is to make the full-text papers freely available after agencies decide on embargo dates, Dylla says. (The OSTP memo suggests 12 months but says that this may need to be adjusted for some fields and journals.) Eventually, the full CHORUS project will also allow searches of the full-text articles. “We will make the corpus available for anybody’s search tool,” says Dylla, who adds that search agreements will be similar to those that publishers already have with Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic Search.

I couldn’t find any mention in Kaiser’s article as to how long the materials would be available. Is this supposed to be an archive, as well as, a repository? Regardless, I found the beta project, FundRef, a little confusing. The link from the ScienceInsider article takes you to this May 28, 2013 news release,

FundRef, the funder identification service from CrossRef [crossref.org], is now available for publishers to contribute funding data and for retrieval of that information. FundRef is the result of collaboration between funding agencies and publishers that correlates grants and other funding with the scholarly output of that support.

Publishers participating in FundRef add funding data to the bibliographic metadata they already provide to CrossRef for reference linking. FundRef data includes the name of the funder and a grant or award number. Manuscript tracking systems can incorporate a taxonomy of 4000 global funder names, which includes alternate names, aliases, and abbreviations enabling authors to choose from a standard list of funding names. Then the tagged funding data will travel through publishers’ production systems to be stored at CrossRef.

I was hoping that clicking on the FundRef button would take me to a database that I could test or tour. At this point, I wouldn’t have described the project as being at the beta stage (from a user’s perspective) as they are still building it and gathering data. However, there is lots of information on the FundRef webpage including an Additional Resources section featuring a webinar,

Attend an Introduction to FundRef Webinar – Thursday, June 6, 2013 at 11:00 am EDT

You do need to sign up for the webinar. Happily, it is open to international participants, as well as, US participants.

Getting back to my question on whether or not this effort is also an archive of sorts, there is a project closer to home (nanotechnologywise, anyway) that touches on these issues from an unexpected perspective, from the Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies in Society (NETS); sharing research and learning tools About webpage,

The Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies in Society: Sharing Research and Learning Tools (NETS) is an IMLS-funded [Institute of Museum and Library Services] project to investigate the development of a disciplinary repository for the Ethical, Legal and Social Implications (ELSI) of nanoscience and emerging technologies research. NETS partners will explore future integration of digital services for researchers studying ethical, legal, and social implications associated with the development of nanotechnology and other emerging technologies.

NETS will investigate digital resources to advance the collection, dissemination, and preservation of this body of research,  addressing the challenge of marshaling resources, academic collaborators, appropriately skilled data managers, and digital repository services for large-scale, multi-institutional and disciplinary research projects. The central activity of this project involves a spring 2013 workshop that will gather key researchers in the field and digital librarians together to plan the development of a disciplinary repository of data, curricula, and methodological tools.

Societal dimensions research investigating the impacts of new and emerging technologies in nanoscience is among the largest research programs of its kind in the United States, with an explicit mission to communicate outcomes and insights to the public. By 2015, scholars across the country affiliated with this program will have spent ten years collecting qualitative and quantitative data and developing analytic and methodological tools for examining the human dimensions of nanotechnology. The sharing of data and research tools in this field will foster a new kind of social science inquiry and ensure that the outcomes of research reach public audiences through multiple pathways.

NETS will be holding a stakeholders workshop June 27 – 28, 2013 (invite only), from the workshop description webpage,

What is the value of creating a dedicated Nano ELSI repository?
The benefits of having these data in a shared infrastructure are: the centralization of research and ease of discovery; uniformity of access; standardization of metadata and the description of projects; and facilitation of compliance with funder requirements for data management going forward. Additional benefits of this project will be the expansion of data curation capabilities for data repositories into the nanotechnology domain, and research into the development of disciplinary repositories, for which very little literature exists.

What would a dedicated Nano ELSI repository contain?
Potential materials that need to be curated are both qualitative and quantitative in nature, including:

  • survey instruments, data, and analyses
  • interview transcriptions and analyses
  • images or multimedia
  • reports
  • research papers, books, and their supplemental data
  • curricular materials

What will the Stakeholder Workshop accomplish?
The Stakeholder Workshop aims to bring together the key researchers and digital librarians to draft a detailed project plan for the implementation of a dedicated Nano ELSI repository. The Workshop will be used as a venue to discuss questions such as:

  • How can a repository extend research in this area?
  • What is the best way to collect all the research in this area?
  • What tools would users envision using with this resource?
  • Who should maintain and staff a repository like this?
  • How much would a repository like this cost?
  • How long will it take to implement?

What is expected of Workshop participants?
The workshop will bring together key researchers and digital librarians to discuss the requirements for a dedicated Nano ELSI repository. To inform that discussion, some participants will be requested to present on their current or past research projects and collaborations. In addition, workshop participants will be enlisted to contribute to the draft of the final project report and make recommendations for the implementation plan.

While my proposal did not get accepted (full disclosure), I do look forward to hearing more about the repository although I notice there’s no mention made of archiving the materials.

The importance of repositories and archives was brought home to me when I came across a June 4, 2013 article by Glyn Moody for Techdirt about the Tiananmen Square incident and subtle and unsubtle ways of censoring access to information,

Today is June 4th, a day pretty much like any other day in most parts of the world. But in China, June 4th has a unique significance because of the events that took place in Tiananmen Square on that day in 1989.

Moody recounts some of the ways in which people have attempted to commemorate the day online while evading the authorities’ censorship efforts. Do check out the article for the inside scoop on why ‘Big Yellow Duck’ is a censored term. One of the more subtle censorship efforts provides some chills (from the Moody article),

… according to this article in the Wall Street Journal, it looks like the Chinese authorities are trying out a new tactic for handling this dangerous topic:

On Friday, a China Real Time search for “Tiananmen Incident” did not return the customary message from Sina informing the user that search results could not be displayed due to “relevant laws, regulations and policies.” Instead the search returned results about a separate Tiananmen incident that occurred on Tomb Sweeping Day in 1976, when Beijing residents flooded the area to protest after they were prevented from mourning the recently deceased Premiere [sic] Zhou Enlai.

This business of eliminating and substituting a traumatic and disturbing historical event with something less contentious reminded me both of the saying ‘history is written by the victors’ and of Luciana Duranti and her talk titled, Trust and Authenticity in the Digital Environment: An Increasingly Cloudy Issue, which took place in Vancouver (Canada) last year (mentioned in my May 18, 2012 posting).

Duranti raised many, many issues that most of us don’t consider when we blithely store information in the ‘cloud’ or create blogs that turn out to be repositories of a sort (and then don’t know what to do with them; ça c’est moi). She also previewed a Sept. 26 – 28, 2013 conference to be hosted in Vancouver by UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), “Memory of the World in the Digital Age: Digitization and Preservation.” (UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme hosts a number of these themed conferences and workshops.)

The Sept. 2013 UNESCO ‘memory of the world’ conference in Vancouver seems rather timely in retrospect. The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) announced that Dr. Doug Owram would be chairing their Memory Institutions and the Digital Revolution assessment (mentioned in my Feb. 22, 2013 posting; scroll down 80% of the way) and, after checking recently, I noticed that the Expert Panel has been assembled and it includes Duranti. Here’s the assessment description from the CCA’s ‘memory institutions’ webpage,

Library and Archives Canada has asked the Council of Canadian Academies to assess how memory institutions, which include archives, libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions, can embrace the opportunities and challenges of the changing ways in which Canadians are communicating and working in the digital age.
Background

Over the past three decades, Canadians have seen a dramatic transformation in both personal and professional forms of communication due to new technologies. Where the early personal computer and word-processing systems were largely used and understood as extensions of the typewriter, advances in technology since the 1980s have enabled people to adopt different approaches to communicating and documenting their lives, culture, and work. Increased computing power, inexpensive electronic storage, and the widespread adoption of broadband computer networks have thrust methods of communication far ahead of our ability to grasp the implications of these advances.

These trends present both significant challenges and opportunities for traditional memory institutions as they work towards ensuring that valuable information is safeguarded and maintained for the long term and for the benefit of future generations. It requires that they keep track of new types of records that may be of future cultural significance, and of any changes in how decisions are being documented. As part of this assessment, the Council’s expert panel will examine the evidence as it relates to emerging trends, international best practices in archiving, and strengths and weaknesses in how Canada’s memory institutions are responding to these opportunities and challenges. Once complete, this assessment will provide an in-depth and balanced report that will support Library and Archives Canada and other memory institutions as they consider how best to manage and preserve the mass quantity of communications records generated as a result of new and emerging technologies.

The Council’s assessment is running concurrently with the Royal Society of Canada’s expert panel assessment on Libraries and Archives in 21st century Canada. Though similar in subject matter, these assessments have a different focus and follow a different process. The Council’s assessment is concerned foremost with opportunities and challenges for memory institutions as they adapt to a rapidly changing digital environment. In navigating these issues, the Council will draw on a highly qualified and multidisciplinary expert panel to undertake a rigorous assessment of the evidence and of significant international trends in policy and technology now underway. The final report will provide Canadians, policy-makers, and decision-makers with the evidence and information needed to consider policy directions. In contrast, the RSC panel focuses on the status and future of libraries and archives, and will draw upon a public engagement process.

Question

How might memory institutions embrace the opportunities and challenges posed by the changing ways in which Canadians are communicating and working in the digital age?

Sub-questions

With the use of new communication technologies, what types of records are being created and how are decisions being documented?
How is information being safeguarded for usefulness in the immediate to mid-term across technologies considering the major changes that are occurring?
How are memory institutions addressing issues posed by new technologies regarding their traditional roles in assigning value, respecting rights, and assuring authenticity and reliability?
How can memory institutions remain relevant as a trusted source of continuing information by taking advantage of the collaborative opportunities presented by new social media?

From the Expert Panel webpage (go there for all the links), here’s a complete listing of the experts,

Expert Panel on Memory Institutions and the Digital Revolution

Dr. Doug Owram, FRSC, Chair
Professor and Former Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus (Kelowna, BC)

Sebastian Chan     Director of Digital and Emerging Media, Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum (New York, NY)

C. Colleen Cook     Trenholme Dean of Libraries, McGill University (Montréal, QC)

Luciana Duranti   Chair and Professor of Archival Studies, the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, BC)

Lesley Ellen Harris     Copyright Lawyer; Consultant, Author, and Educator; Owner, Copyrightlaws.com (Washington, D.C.)

Kate Hennessy     Assistant Professor, Simon Fraser University, School of Interactive Arts and Technology (Surrey, BC)

Kevin Kee     Associate Vice-President Research (Social Sciences and Humanities) and Canada Research Chair in Digital Humanities, Brock University (St. Catharines, ON)

Slavko Manojlovich     Associate University Librarian (Information Technology), Memorial University of Newfoundland (St. John’s, NL)

David Nostbakken     President/CEO of Nostbakken and Nostbakken, Inc. (N + N); Instructor of Strategic Communication and Social Entrepreneurship at the School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University (Ottawa, ON)

George Oates     Art Director, Stamen Design (San Francisco, CA)

Seamus Ross     Dean and Professor, iSchool, University of Toronto (Toronto, ON)

Bill Waiser, SOM, FRSC     Professor of History and A.S. Morton Distinguished Research Chair, University of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon, SK)

Barry Wellman, FRSC     S.D. Clark Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto (Toronto, ON)

I notice they have a lawyer whose specialty is copyright, Lesley Ellen Harris. I did check out her website, copyrightlaws.com and could not find anything that hinted at any strong opinions on the topic. She seems to feel that copyright is a good thing but how far she’d like to take this is a mystery to me based on the blog postings I viewed.

I’ve also noticed that this panel has 13 people, four of whom are women which equals a little more (June 5, 2013, 1:35 pm PDT, I substituted the word ‘less’ for the word ‘more’; my apologies for the arithmetic error) than 25% representation. That’s a surprising percentage given how heavily weighted the fields of library and archival studies are weighted towards women.

I have meandered somewhat but my key points are this:

  • How we are going to keep information available? It’s all very well to have repository but how long will the data be kept in the repository and where does it go afterwards?
  • There’s a bias certainly with the NETS workshop and, likely, the CCA Expert Panel on Memory Institutions and the Digital Revolution toward institutions as the source for information that’s worth keeping for however long or short a time that should be. What about individual efforts? e.g. Don’t Leave Canada Behind ; FrogHeart; Techdirt; The Last Word on Nothing, and many other blogs?
  • The online redirection of Tiananmen Square incident queries is chilling but I’ve often wondered what happen if someone wanted to remove ‘objectionable material’ from an e-book, e.g. To Kill a Mockingbird. A new reader wouldn’t notice the loss if the material has been excised in a subtle or professional  fashion.

As for how this has an impact on science, it’s been claimed that Isaac Newton attempted to excise Robert Hooke from history (my Jan. 19, 2012 posting). Whether it’s true or not, there is remarkably little about Robert Hooke despite his accomplishments and his languishment is a reminder that we must always take care that we retain our memories.

ETA June 6, 2013: David Bruggeman added some more information links about CHORUS in his June 5, 2013 post (On The Novelty Of Corporate-Government Partnership In STEM Education),

Before I dive into today’s post, a brief word about CHORUS. Thanks to commenter Joe Kraus for pointing me to this Inside Higher Ed post, which includes a link to the fact sheet CHORUS organizers distributed to reporters. While there are additional details, there are still not many details to sink one’s teeth in. And I remain surprised at the relative lack of attention the announcement has received. On a related note, nobody who’s been following open access should be surprised by Michael Eisen’s reaction to CHORUS.

I encourage you to check out David’s post as he provides some information about a new STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) collaboration between the US National Science Foundation and companies such as GE and Intel.