Tag Archives: Pasco Phronesis

Update on proposal for a science watchdog in Canada and a change for the Chief Public Health Officer

“Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows.” I always think of roulette wheels when I hear that one but now I’m going to be thinking about the mysterious ways of the internet.

David Bruggeman in a Nov. 26, 2014 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog writes about a bill before the Canadian Parliament to create a position for a Parliamentary Science Officer. Interestingly, he got the information from FrogHeart Daily. It’s a paper I created a few years ago and had forgotten until now. So, I guess thanks  to David and to me (?). In any event I had written about this proposed position (months after the fact) in July 30, 2014 post regarding science policy and advice in Canada and in New Zealand.

Getting back to David’s Nov. 26, 2014 posting (Note: A link has been removed),

The bill, introduced in December of last year [2013], would establish a Parliamentary Science Officer.  As outlined in the bill, the position would be an independent officer of Parliament, meaning the person would be appointed with the approval of Parliament, and serve a term of seven years.  The position would appear to be on par with the Information Commissioner of Canada and other appointed positions.  (MP [Kennedy] Stewart [NDP] has referred to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, likely because that position is more advisory than the Information Commissioner.)

Here’s Kennedy Stewart’s Nov. 21, 2013 news release regarding his proposed Parliamentary Science Officer bill,

Bill C-558: Parliamentary Science Officer

“This bill represents the strongest effort yet to protect the pursuit and use of scientific research in the federal government. It goes beyond what we had in the past and charts a bold vision for where we need to go,” said MP Kennedy Stewart (Burnaby-Douglas), an Associate Professor on leave from Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy. “After years of muzzling, mismanagement, and misuse of science by the Conservative government, this new office will promote real transparency and ensure decisions made in Ottawa are based on the best available scientific evidence.”

Modeled on the current Parliamentary Budget Officer, the UK’s Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology, and the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, the Parliamentary Science Officer would be established as an independent agent of Parliament. It would have a legislated mandate to:

Assess the state of scientific evidence relevant to any proposal or bill before Parliament;
Answer requests from Committees and individual Members for unbiased scientific information;

Conduct independent analysis of federal science and technology policy;
Raise awareness of scientific issues across government and among Canadians;
Encourage coordination between departments and agencies conducting scientific research.

“Beginning with the closure of the National Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, the Conservatives have used every tool at their disposal to prevent, limit, and restrict Canadian scientists from sharing their research with policy-makers and the public,” said MP Laurin Liu (Rivière-des-Mille-Îles), Deputy Critic for Science and Technology. “Being independent from the government and responsible for serving the needs of the legislature, a Parliamentary Science Officer would revitalize scientific integrity in Ottawa.”

I’m not sure chiding the Conservative government is necessarily the best way to go about establishing this new position and, as noted in the 2013 news release and elsewhere, this government axed the National Science Advisor position when they first came to power with a minority in the House of Commons. At this juncture, it seems unlikely that the government which has a healthy majority in the House of Commons will vote to create a Parliamentary Science Officer position.

Nonetheless, Kennedy Stewart has issued a Nov. 26, 2014 news release about Bill C-558,

Important members of the scientific community are endorsing the NDP’s proposal to create an independent science watchdog with responsibility to curb the muzzling of public scientists and provide Parliament with sound information and expert advice on scientific issues.

“Science in Canada is at a crossroads. After years of government scientists being muzzled by the Conservatives, this new office will promote real transparency and ensure decisions made in Ottawa are based on the best available scientific evidence,” said NDP Science & Technology Critic Kennedy Stewart (Burnaby-Douglas).

The Parliamentary Science Officer Act, Bill C-558, introduced by Dr. Stewart will be a first practical step to mend the relationship between scientists and politicians, and will give public science a more robust voice in the federal government.

“For too long we have heard that scientific evidence is ignored by policy-makers and that federal scientists are being unduly prevented from sharing their research with Canadians. I’m proud that the scientific community is rallying behind the NDP’s proposal for a Parliamentary Science Officer,” said Dr. Stewart, an Associate Professor on-leave from Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy.

Endorsement Quotes

“Public interest science and smart government decision-making are essential for keeping Canadians safe, healthy and prosperous. Yet there is growing concerns that the role of science and evidence in informing smart policy decisions is being eroded. Creating a Parliamentary Science Officer to be a dedicated office that provides non-partisan, independent, objective, and readily available analysis of the science relevant for public policy issues would be a huge step in the right direction. It’s time for Canada to create a Parliamentary Science Officer to give science a stronger voice in the federal government.”

– Katie Gibbs, Executive Director, Evidence for Democracy

“Canadians and their elected representatives need unbiased and non-partisan advice on science policy. The Office of the National Science Advisor had been designed to fill this role, however imperfectly, until it was eliminated in 2008 by the Conservative government. One potential new approach would be to create a Parliamentary Science Officer that provides independent advice and analysis to Parliament about the adequacy and effectiveness of the nation’s scientific policies, priorities, and funding. Bill C-558 would bring evidence back to Parliament.”

– Sylvain Schetagne, Associate Executive Director, Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT)

“Federal scientists and researchers who inspect the food we eat, monitor our environment, approve our medications, and contribute to Canada’s innovative capacity have repeatedly and increasingly expressed concern with the direction of science in Canada in recent years. Restrictive communication policies, cuts to science programs and personnel, political interference in research, and the misuse of evidence are systematically dismantling Canada’s scientific capacity and placing the health and safety of Canadians at risk. The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), which represents over 15,000 federal scientists and researchers, endorses Bill C-558 to establish a Parliamentary Science Officer. The need for unbiased and independent advice on science policy is essential in order to protect the health and safety of Canadians and the environment.”

–  Debi Daviau, President, Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC)

“Parliament routinely makes decisions with mighty consequences for millions of Canadians.  For MPs to cast informed votes, and make smart spending and legislative judgements they need to have a dependable, independent sounding board.  The breadth of scientific research methodologies and sheer volume of accumulated knowledge about social, health, and physical sciences alone would be daunting even if food, drug, alcohol, and other vested interests weren’t also trying to bend the ears and steer the actions of MPs.  I urge all MPs to support the speedy passage of Bill C-558 – The Parliamentary Science Officer Act – in the short time remaining in the current session of Parliament.”

– Bill Jeffery, National Coordinator, Centre for Science in the Public Interest

“The state of Canada’s finances is important — but so is the state of Canada’s public interest science. Perhaps the time has come to create a well-resourced Parliamentary Science Officer (PSO), charged with providing independent analysis to Parliament on the state of Canada’s public interest science. Such an office would also provide an objective analysis of the current state of scientific understanding on a range of policy and legislative issues and, perhaps most importantly, synthesize and evaluate the scientific evidence relevant to policy or management alternatives. This oversight function would serve to expose instances where scientific evidence has been misrepresented or ignored, and highlight where there is simply little scientific evidence on which to draw. Does Canada need such an institution? Yes, desperately.”

– Paul Dufour, former Executive Director of the Office of the National Science Advisor; Fellow and Adjunct Professor with the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa.

While many sectors of the Canadian scientific community are distressed at the government’s approach to science, in particular, environmental science, there are some sectors that are content. I’d suggest the Canadian physics community, for one,  is quite happy.

Finally getting to the the second item noted in the headline, David Bruggeman’s Nov. 28, 2014 post concerns a change for a parliamentary officer position already in place, the Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO), Note: Links have been removed,

This commentary in The Toronto Star notes a plan by the Canadian government to change the status of the country’s Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO).  Part of the current omnibus budget legislation before the Canadian Parliament, the Officer would no longer be the chief executive of the Public Health Agency (PHA), but simply an officer.  A President would be appointed to run the PHA.  Presumably this would mean that the President would become the public health face of the agency and the government, with the CPHO holding a strictly advisory role.

A Nov. 12, 2014 article by Kelly Grant in the Globe and Mail describes the proposed new roles for the CPHO and the PHA president,

The proposed changes, which are tucked into Ottawa’s most recent omnibus budget bill, would make the top doctor an “officer” who would keep providing scientific advice to the health minister but who would no longer be deputy head of the agency.

That role would now be carried out by a president, a new post that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already recommended be filled by Krista Outhwaite, the civil servant who led the agency while the government left the chief public health officer job vacant for 16 months.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose says the idea for the new structure came from the agency itself and that it “makes a lot of common sense” to permanently relieve the busy top doctor, Gregory Taylor, of the burden of overseeing 2,500 employees and a $615-million budget.

The change would leave him to concentrate on the rest of the job’s original mandate, namely providing public-health advice to the government, delivering health messages to Canadians and co-ordinating with provinces and international health bodies, as he has done recently in preparing the country for potential cases of Ebola.

“He will focus primarily on communicating and engaging in public-health issues,” Ms. Ambrose said.

Interestingly, Dr. Taylor, the current CPHO incumbent, did not offer any quotes for this article and was not able to be interviewed on the matter although he does seem amenable to this new structure. It would appear the change has already occurred in practice; the proposed legislation will merely legitimize it (from Grant’s article),

He [Taylor] became the acting chief public health officer after David Butler-Jones, the first person to hold the job, suffered a stroke in May, 2012 and formally stepped down in June of 2013. Ms. Outhwaite, who is not a medical doctor, was temporarily made deputy head of the agency in May 2012, a post she has held since.

Dr. Taylor, meanwhile, was officially elevated to the role of chief public health officer on Sept. 24 [2014]. Under the existing legislation, that job is still designated as the agency deputy head. In an interview with The Globe and Mail that day [Sept. 24, 2014], he said the stopgap approach of running the agency in co-operation with Ms. Outhwaite had been working very well.

According to Grant’s article, Taylor has acquitted himself well as a national spokesperson on public health issues concerning Canadians. However, this is a rather disturbing omission with regard to Ebola and the processing of visa applications from three countries hard hit by the disease in West Africa,

… Since his [Dr. Gregory Taylor’s] appointment, he has appeared alongside Ms. Ambrose [Health Minister Rona Ambrose] at several news conferences on Ebola, taking questions and offering calm and common-sense advice about the virus.

The exception to that has been the government’s controversial decision to stop processing visa applications from the three West African countries hardest hit by Ebola, a move that the World Health Organization says is not supported by the science and runs afoul of International Health Regulations.

Dr. Taylor has not spoken publicly on the matter and the Public Health Agency of Canada has referred all questions about the policy to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, which oversees visa rules.

Questions as to whether Dr. Taylor had privately provided advice to the government on this matter were left unanswered.

It seems odd that Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer has no comment about visa applications from three West African countries not being processed due to the Ebola outbreak when this decision is contrary to scientific evidence and international regulations. What is a CPHO for if not to offer advice and commentary based on scientific evidence?

Older, Tom McFadden, and a chance to crowdsource a science rap video

My source for almost all things science and music (and, often, pop culture), David Bruggeman announced this in a May 29, 2014 post on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: A link has been removed),

Tom [McFadden] would like your help, because he wants to remake the video with contributions from the ‘crowd.’  Between now and June 30 [2014], you can submit a visual for a minimum of one line of the song.

I’ll describe more about McFadden’s work in a moment but first, here’s the video of his ‘Older’ science rap,

Here’s a little more information about this latest McFadden project, from a May 27, 2014 post on his Science with Tom [McFadden] blog,

Introducing “Older”, a parody of Drake’s “Over”, about science as a process rather than as a body of facts.

If you are a science student of any age, a teacher, a scientist, or a science lover, I want you to submit your visuals for some part of this video. (And if you’re a science teacher, this is a fun end of the year activity for your students).

Please share the song/competition with anyone who may be interested, and tweet about it using #ScienceFolder.

The contest deadline is June 30, 2014. The Grand Prize is a performance of a full science rap show by Tom McFadden. I’m unclear as to whether or not he will travel outside the US, regardless, it looks like a fun project. From McFadden’s May 27, 2014 post,

VISUALS: You have lots of creative freedom here. Your visuals can be drawings, animations, stop-motion, shots of you rapping with props, or anything you can dream up. If you’re short on time, you can even just submit a photo of you with your science folder or lab notebook.

LENGTH OF SUBMISSION: If you want to be considered for the grand prize, you need to submit at least one line of the song (for example, you could choose “Teacher talking. Tympanic membrane swayin’” and come up with a visual for that line). You are welcome to submit visuals for multiple lines, for a full verse, a chorus, or for the whole song. If you are working as a class, you can have different students in charge of different lines.

There’ are additional details in the post.

I have more information about McFadden in a March 28, 2013 posting in the context of his Brahe’s Battles Kickstarter project,

I can’t resist the science rap stories David Bruggeman has been highlighting on his Pascro Phronesis blog. In his Mar. 26, 2013 posting, David provides some scoop about Tom McFadden’s Kickstarter project, Battle Rap Histories of Epic Science (Brahe’s Battles),

After Fulbright work in New Zealand and similar efforts in other countries, McFadden is back in the San Francisco area helping middle school students develop raps for science debates.  The project is called “Battle Rap Histories of Epic Science” (BRAHE’S Battles) and if fully funded, it would support video production for battle raps on various scientific debates in five schools.

This was a successful Kickstarter project as noted in my Aug. 19, 2013 post,

Now on to Tom McFadden and his successful crowdfunding campaign Battle Rap Histories of Epic Science (Brahe’s Battles); which was featured  in my Mar. 28, 2013 posting. Now, David Bruggeman provides an update in his Aug. 16, 2013 posting on the Pasco Phronesis blog,

Tom McFadden’s Brahe’s B.A.T.T.L.E.S. project has dropped two nuggets of video goodness of late, one of which is racing through the interwebs.  A conceptual cousin of the New York City-based Science Genius project, McFadden’s project centers around scientific matters of debate, if not controversy. First one out of the chute involves the matter of Rosalind Franklin and her under-credited role in developing the model of DNA.

I really meant it when I said David Bruggeman is my source.

Good luck to all the contest entrants!

 

Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society issued May 2014 by US Presidential Bioethics Commission (part three of five)

The Brain research, ethics, and nanotechnology (part one of five) May 19, 2014 post kicked off a series titled ‘Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement’ which brings together a number of developments in the worlds of neuroscience, prosthetics, and, incidentally, nanotechnology in the field of interest called human enhancement. Parts one through four are an attempt to draw together a number of new developments, mostly in the US and in Europe. Due to my language skills which extend to English and, more tenuously, French, I can’t provide a more ‘global perspective’. Part five features a summary.

A May 14, 2014 news release on EurekAlert announced the release of volume 1 (in a projected 2-volume series) from the US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues in response to a request from President Barack Obama regarding the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative,

Bioethics commission plays early role in BRAIN Initiative
Calls for integrating ethics explicitly throughout neuroscience research ‘Everyone benefits when the emphasis is on integration, not intervention’

Washington, DC— Calling for the integration of ethics across the life of neuroscientific research endeavors, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) released volume one of its two-part response to President Obama’s request related to the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. The report, Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society, includes four recommendations for institutions and individuals engaged in neuroscience research including government agencies and other funders.

You can find volume one: Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society here. For those who prefer the short story, here’s more from the news release,

“Neurological conditions—which include addiction, chronic pain, dementia, depression, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, stroke, and traumatic brain injury, among other conditions—affect more than one billion people globally. Neuroscience has begun to make important breakthroughs, but given the complexity of the brain, we must better understand it in order to make desired progress,” said Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., Bioethics Commission Chair. “But because research on our brains strikes at the very core of who we are, the ethical stakes of neuroscience research could not be higher. Ethicists and scientists should be together at the table in the earliest stages of research planning fostering a fluent two-way conversation. Too often in our nation’s past, ethical lapses in research have had tragic consequences and derailed scientific progress.”

President Obama asked the Bioethics Commission to play a critical role in ensuring that neuroscientific investigational methods and protocols are consistent with sound ethical principles and practices. Specifically the President asked the Bioethics Commission to “identify proactively a set of core ethical standards – both to guide neuroscience research and to address some of the ethical dilemmas that may be raised by the application of neuroscience research findings.”

“Our rapidly advancing knowledge of the nervous system – and ability to detect disease sometimes even before symptoms begin – has not yet led to much needed breakthroughs in treatment, repair, and prevention; the BRAIN initiative will hopefully accelerate the trajectory of discoveries against terrible neurologic maladies,” Commission Member and neuroimmunologist Stephen Hauser, M.D., said.

In its report the Bioethics Commission noted that when facing the promise of neuroscience, we are compelled to consider carefully scientific advances that have the potential to alter our conception of the very private and autonomous nature of self. Our understanding of the mind, our private thoughts, and our volition necessitates careful reflection about the scientific, societal, and ethical aspects of neuroscience endeavors. Integrating ethics explicitly and systematically into the relatively new field of contemporary neuroscience allows us to incorporate ethical insights into the scientific process and to consider societal implications of neuroscience research from the start. Early ethics integration can prevent the need for corrective interventions resulting from ethical mishaps that erode public trust in science.

“In short, everyone benefits when the emphasis is on integration, not intervention,” Gutmann said. “Ethics in science must not come to the fore for the first time after something has gone wrong. An essential step is to include expert ethicists in the BRAIN Initiative advisory and review bodies.”

Recommendations

In its report the Bioethics Commission noted that although ethics is already integrated into science in various ways, more explicit and systematic integration serves to elucidate implicit ethical judgments and allows their merits to be assessed more thoughtfully. The Commission offered four recommendations.

  1. Integrate ethics early and explicitly throughout research: Institutions and individuals engaged in neuroscience research should integrate ethics across the life of a research endeavor, identifying the key ethical questions associated with their research and taking immediate steps to make explicit their systems for addressing those questions. Sufficient resources should be dedicated to support ethics integration. Approaches to ethics integration discussed by the Bioethics Commission include:a. Implementing ethics education at all levels
    b. Developing institutional infrastructure to facilitate integration
    c. Researching the ethical, legal, and social implications of scientific research
    d. Providing research ethics consultation services
    e. Engaging with stakeholders
    f. Including an ethics perspective on the research team
  2. Evaluate existing and innovative approaches to ethics integration: Government agencies and other research funders should initiate and support research that evaluates existing as well as innovative approaches to ethics integration. Institutions and individuals engaged in neuroscience research should take into account the best available evidence for what works when implementing, modifying, or improving systems for ethics integration.
  3. Integrate ethics and science through education at all levels: Government agencies and other research funders should initiate and support research that develops innovative models and evaluates existing and new models for integrating ethics and science through education at all levels.
  4. Explicitly include ethical perspectives on advisory and review bodies: BRAIN Initiative-related scientific advisory and funding review bodies should include substantive participation by persons with relevant expertise in the ethical and societal implications of the neuroscience research under consideration.

Next the Bioethics Commission will consider the ethical and societal implications of neuroscience research and its applications more broadly – ethical implications that a strongly integrated research and ethics infrastructure will be well equipped to address, and that myriad stakeholders, including scientists, ethicists, educators, public and private funders, advocacy organizations, and the public should be prepared to handle.

Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society is the Bioethics Commission’s seventh report. The Commission seeks to identify and promote policies and practices that ensure that scientific research, health care delivery, and technological innovation are conducted by the United States in a socially and ethically responsible manner. The Commission is an independent, deliberative panel of thoughtful experts that advises the President and the Administration, and, in so doing, educates the nation on bioethical issues. To date the Commission has:

  • Advised the White House on the benefits and risks of synthetic biology;
  • Completed an independent historical overview and ethical analysis of the U.S. Public Health Service STD experiments in Guatemala in the 1940s;
  • Assessed the rules that currently protect human participants in research;
  • Examined the pressing privacy concerns raised by the emergence and increasing use of whole genome sequencing;
  • Conducted a thorough review of the ethical considerations of conducting clinical trials of medical countermeasures with children, including the ethical considerations involved in conducting a pre-and post-event study of anthrax vaccine adsorbed for post-exposure prophylaxis with children; and
  • Offered ethical analysis and recommendations for clinicians, researchers, and direct-to-consumer testing companies on how to manage the increasingly common issue of incidental and secondary findings.

David Bruggeman offers a few thoughts on this volume of the series in a May 14, 2014 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog,

Of specific application to the BRAIN Initiative is the need to include professionals with expertise in ethics in advisory boards and similar entities conducting research in this area.

Volume Two will focus more on the social and ethical implications of neuroscience research,  …

While it’s not mentioned in the news release, human enhancement is part of the discussion as per the hearing in February 2014. Perhaps it will be mentioned in volume two? Here’s an early post (July 27, 2009) I wrote in 2009 on human enhancement which provides some information about a then recent European Parliament report on the subject. The post was part of a series.

Links to other posts in the Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement five-part series

Part one: Brain research, ethics, and nanotechnology (May 19, 2014 post)

Part two: BRAIN and ethics in the US with some Canucks (not the hockey team) participating (May 19, 2014)

Part four: Brazil, the 2014 World Cup kickoff, and a mind-controlled exoskeleton (May 20, 2014)

Part five: Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement: summary (May 20, 2014)

2013: review and plans for 2014 vis à vis FrogHeart

There’ve been some ups and downs in terms of the FrogHeart”s statistics but nothing like 2012 when I thought, for several months, this blog might be dying. Before getting to the numbers, I’ll focus on some of the topics that caught my readers’ interest as per the information I get from the AW stats package.

Top keyterm searches

The Clipperton Island art/science story continued to dominate interest through the year. It popped up in my top ten keyterm searches for January- August to disappear September  – November and reappear in December. (original Clipperton posting, March 2, 2012)

Nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC; it is also known as CNC or cellulose nanocrystals and I believe this will sooon be considered the correct name for this material)), which was for many years a top draw here, faltered and appeared only in January, June – August, and November in my top 10 keyterm searches. (I have many posting on this topic with the most recent being this Dec. 17, 2013 posting on the CNC’s fundamental mechanical behaviour.)

The Urbee was attractive enough to have made the list for January – August, and, again, in November. (I have this August 28, 2012 posting as the most recent about the Urbee car being developed in Winnipeg, Manitoba.)

The Lycurgus Cup appeared on the list for February, June – August, and November. (I do write about this extraordinary piece of glass and gold work from Ancient Rome from time to time. The most recent piece was this Nov. 22, 2013 posting about how Australian researchers were inspired by the cup.)

The memristor (one of my favourite topics) was one of the two 25 keyterm search terms for April, June, and July. (Here’s the most recent memristor story which I featured in a June 14, 2013 posting, which highlights some research being done in India.)

Pousse Café (I’m starting to suspect this might be due to porn searches) was on the list from June – November. (In context of an April 26, 2013 posting about nanowires and some unusual layering properties I mentioned a cocktail, a pousse-café, which has attracted more attention that I would have expected had I considered the possibility.)

Two people made their way into the list of top 35 keyterm searches for more than one month:

Bertolt Meyer for February – April (This Jan. 30, 2013 posting about robots, androids, etc. also mentioned Bertolt Meyer, a Swiss scientist and an individual who has integrated some sophisticated prosthetics into his body.)

Nils Petersen for June, August,, and September (At one point, Petersen led Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology and, unfortunately, I never did receive a reply to any of my requests for an interview. I’m not sure what has occasioned the interest now that he has left his position in 2012, I believe. The most recent posting here, which features Petersen’s name is this March 11, 2013 posting about a nanotechnology public engagement project in Edmonton, Alberta.)

Countries new to my list of top 25 sources of traffic

Quatar (March)

Seychelles ((October)

Guatemala (April)

Venezuela (June)

Moldova (November)

Macedonia (November)

There is one omission that puzzles and that’s South Africa. I know they have a nanotechnology community and they are the S in the BRICS with Brazil, Russia, India, and China all being represented on my list of top 25 countries for traffic.

Interviews

Sue Thomas (The UK’s Futurefest and an interview with Sue Thomas (The UK’s Futurefest and an interview with Sue Thomas in a September 20, 2013 posting,.)

Kate Pullinger ([The Picture of] Dorian Gray opera premiered as part of World New Music Days festival held in Slovakia & Austria: *Kate Pullinger interview in a December 18, 2013 posting.)

Baba Brinkman (Interview with Baba Brinkman on the occasion of his Rap Guide to Evolution performance in Vancouver, November 2013 edition in a November 1, 2013 posting.)

Carla Alvial Palavicino (Graphene hype; the emerging story in an interview with Carla Alvial Palavicino (University of Twente, Netherlands) in a December 24, 2012 posting)

Top five sources for traffic (countries)

US

China

Great Britain

Canada

France/Ukraine

Statistics (AW stats)

Month with the top number for for visits: December 2013 with 131,422

Month with the lowest number for visits: July 2013 with 79,168

Month with the highest number of unique visitors: December 2013 with 32,739

Month with the lowest number of unique visitors: July 2013 with 21, 977

Annual totals:

Unique visitors: 310,390 Visits: 1,149,456 Pages: 5,653,192 Hits: 7,553,481

*Completed and updated on Jan. 2, 2014.

Statistics (Webalizer)

Month with the top number for visits: December 2013 with 235,137

Month with the lowest number for visits: February 2013 with 119.973

Annual totals:

Visits: 1,784,637 Pages: 10,140,239 Files: 1,193,817 Hits: 18,805,248

*Completed and updated on Jan. 2, 2014.

Big thank yous

First and foremost thank you to the folks who read this blog. It’s what keep my going.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to contact me about the blog either by leaving a comment here or sending me an email.

I also want to acknowledge both David Bruggeman (Pasco Phronesis blog) and Dexter Johnson (Nanoclast blog on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ website). You have both inspired my efforts.

2014 plans for FrogHeart

I want to keep blogging and writing about the things that matter to me. I also want to look at ways to monetize the blog as I need some support to keep this going. The consequence of all this is that you will be seeing some changes here. e.g. I’ve either already posted a Donate button or will be shortly and I anticipate there will be more changes ahead.

Does the new Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Rickford really need research experience?

Gary Goodyear,  Canada’s Minister of State for Science and Technology since 2008, was shuffled away and Gary Rickford, fell into his place as of July 15, 2013 in the Harper government’s latest cabinet shuffle (largely viewed as a diversionary tactic in the wake of a Senate expense scandal).

Sadly, the Goodyear/Rickford change didn’t make many waves here in Canada.The mainstream media has barely mentioned it and the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC), where one would expect something, has no mention of it (as of 10:30 am PDT July 17, 2013) on their website homepage. As the CSPC is volunteer-run, I imagine this is an issue of not having enough time during the summer while being in the preparatory stages of the fall 2013 conference. Still, that particular omission does seem a bit odd.

There was, however, a mainstream media plea before the shuffle was announced. Jordan Himelfarb made his plea  in a July 12, 2013 opinion piece for the Toronto Star,

A wise next step: get rid of Gary Goodyear.

For fans of science, this will be an uncontroversial suggestion. Goodyear, the minister of state for science and technology, has presided over the most retrograde federal S&T policy in memory.

During his tenure, the government shuttered the office of the National Science Adviser, blocked asbestos from a UN hazardous chemicals list on which it clearly belongs, gutted the Fisheries Act, gutted the Navigable Waters Protection Act, set out to weaken the Species at Risk Act, killed the long-form census, eroded Environment Canada’s ability to monitor climate change, earned an international reputation for muzzling scientists and, at a great potential cost, defunded the world’s leading freshwater research centre [Experimental Lakes Ares]. (I stop there arbitrarily. The list really does go on and on.)

A change has been made but whether there will be any change is a bit of a mystery. I’ve found some coverage  and commentary about the change in the US and by Canadian science blogger, Eight Crayon Science. As the US coverage is more neutral (relatively) and general in tone, I’ll start there. Wayne Kondro in a July 15, 2013 article for Science Insider notes,

Former lawyer and nurse Greg Rickford has become Canada’s science minister as Prime Minister Stephen Harper shuffled his Cabinet on Monday. The move is an attempt to deflect attention from an expenses scandal that has rocked Harper’s Conservative government and left pundits calling for a reboot prior to the expected national elections in 2015. It has left science associations scrambling to learn a bit about the new junior minister.

…  The position reports to Industry Minister James Moore, who was promoted from the Canadian Heritage Ministry and whose new portfolio oversees all of Canada’s science agencies with the exception of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research …

David Bruggeman in his July 16, 2013 posting on the Pasco Phronesis blog put this news into an international context (Note: Links have been removed),

While the possibility of a new U.K. science minister is only rumor at the moment, the Canadian government has just reshuffled its Cabinet.  Minister for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear is out, and replacing him is Greg Rickford. Minister Rickford has previously served in ministerial positions responsible for development in northern Canada.  While he does have experience as a nurse, like his predecessor Minister Rickford does not have much research experience.

Mention of Rickford’s lack of research experience is made in Kondro’s article and by Canadian science blogger Eight Crayon Science in a July 16, 2013 posting which also details changes in other science portfolios,

We here in Canada had quite a major cabinet shuffle yesterday, precipitated in part due to the departure of a few major cabinet ministers. So, the five positions with the most sciency-ness are now held by:

  • Minister of State for Science and Technology: Greg Rickford (Kenora) replaces Gary Goodyear (Cambridge)
  • Minister of the Environment: Leona Aglukkaq (Nunavut) replaces Peter Kent (Thornhill)
  • Minister of Fisheries and Oceans: Gail Shea (Egmont) replaces Keith Ashfield (Fredericton)
  • Minister of Natural Resources: Joe Oliver (Eglington-Lawrence) remains in the position
  • Minister of Health: Rona Ambrose (Edmonton-Spruce Grove) replaces Leona Aglukkaq (Nunavut)

Let’s go one by one. I’m pleased that Goodyear is gone, because having a science minister who dances around the question of whether or not he believes in evolution is frankly embarrassing. Rickford has worked previously as a nurse (though his law degrees are more emphasized in the bios I’ve seen), which is a step in the right direction. But he’s the MP for Kenora, the riding of the Experimental Lakes Area, and he was previously a vocal proponent for closing the site. So, we’re not exactly off to a flying start.

A sort of secondary (or at least a more chronic issue than a Thing That Needs Attending To Immediately) is the continual lack of MPs with strong science backgrounds. *Lawyers and bankers and business folk of all stripes are a dime a dozen in Parliament, but doctors are rare, and scientists and engineers are even rarer. This isn’t to say that a *lawyer cannot be an excellent Minister of State for Science and Technology, but an MP with a more direct background in science — whether that’s industrial science, academic science, theoretical or applied science — will bring a more relevant perspective to the portfolio. Having worked as a scientist will likely give a Minister of Science a more tangible view of how policy set forth by their portfolio affects Canadian science, scientists, and citizens than a working as an attorney would, and I think that perspective is important.

I’m not entirely in agreement with this notion that a Science and Technology Minister needs direct experience of research as something will have to be sacrificed.  Which skill set do you want to sacrifice: research, administrative, political maneuvering, and/or social? It’s rare to get someone who’s equally good at all of these. Also, someone from outside the research community is less likely to have enemies within that community.

Personally, I’d like to see more science awareness in Parliament as per Preston Manning’s suggestion about the science community reaching out to politicians (Part 1 of an interview with Manning in a Sept. 10, 2009 posting and Part 2 of the Manning interview in a Sept. 11, 2009 posting). There are, for example, UK programmes that address this issue including one where young scientists shadow politicians (my Nov. 26, 2010 posting).

The appointment I find a bit more disturbing, at this point,  is James Moore’s to Industry Canada [ETA July 17, 2013 at 3:55 pm PDT: Science and Technology is a junior ministry included with the senior and important Industry ministry]. Moore once characterized Cory Doctorow, a science fiction writer, and others as ‘extremist radicals’ for 0pposing his (Moore’s) maximalist approach to a then upcoming piece of  copyright legislation (my June 25, 2010 posting) at a public event and later lied about the comment. Unfortunately for Moore, there was video evidence. Given the emphasis on patents in the innovation discussion, Moore’s previous comments on maximizing copyright are not comforting if one feels that even current patent regimes are hindering innovation and by extension the pursuit of science.

During Moore’s tenure as Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages he expressed his displeasure with an exhibition about sex at  the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa (from my June 13, 2012 posting),

It’s time now to add sex to the mix. Canada’s Science and Technology Museum is currently hosting SEX: A Tell-all Exhibition, which has caused some consternation in our country’s capital (Ottawa), from the May 16, 2012 article by Althia Raj for the **Huffington Post (Canada),

Canada’s Science and Technology Museum has abruptly raised the age limit for a controversial sex exhibit after Heritage Minister James Moore’s office raised concerns and more than 50 individuals complained.

Moore’s office called museum president Denise Amyot to complain that Sex: A Tell-All Exhibition [sic] is completely inappropriate.

“The purpose of the Museum of Science and Technology is to foster scientific and technological literacy throughout Canada,” said Moore’s spokesperson James Maunder.

“It is clear this exhibit does not fit within that mandate. This content cannot be defended, and is insulting to taxpayers,” he said.

This show had already been run in Montréal (where it was developed by the Montréal Science Centre for children 12 years and older) and in Regina (Saskatachewan), without significant distress or insult.

Rickford is going be dealing with a boss who has some very definite ideas, is not afraid to intervene whether it’s appropriate or not, and lies under pressure.

Getting back to Goodyear, while there are many criticisms  Canadian science blogger and well known mathematician,  Nassif Ghoussoub, had good things to say about Goodyear’s ministership in a Nov. 16, 2011 posting and about Goodyear’s attitude to science in a May 17, 2012 posting on his Piece of Mind blog.

For a more extensive view and explanation of some of the concerns regarding Goodyear’s and the Harper government’s science activities, there’s this May 3, 2011 posting by David Ng (science literacy academic at the Michael Smith Laboratories of the University of British Columbia) on the Discover magazine website. H/T to Phil Plait at Slate.com for the Ng article.

* A minor typo was corrected, laywer to lawyer.

** An amusing type  was corrected, Huggington to Huffington.

ETA July 18, 2013: Earlier today, I found this July 15, 2013 article analyzing the situation with the news that the cabinet shuffle involved the ministers for Industry Canada and its junior portfolio Science and Technology written by Ivan Semeniuk for the Globe and Mail.

Science rap: a Kickstarter project and a PBS (US Public Broadcasting Service) News Hour contest

I can’t resist the science rap stories David Bruggeman has been highlighting on his Pascro Phronesis blog. In his Mar. 26, 2013 posting, David provides some scoop about Tom McFadden’s Kickstarter project, Battle Rap Histories of Epic Science (Brahe’s Battles),

After Fulbright work in New Zealand and similar efforts in other countries, McFadden is back in the San Francisco area helping middle school students develop raps for science debates.  The project is called “Battle Rap Histories of Epic Science” (BRAHE’S Battles) and if fully funded, it would support video production for battle raps on various scientific debates in five schools.

McFadden was mentioned here previously in my Nov. 30, 2012 posting which in the context of a digital storytelling webcast (scroll down 1/2 way),

… a Fulbrighter and former Stanford University biology course instructor who became a Science Rapper.  Tom emerged from the California BioPop scene with hit singles such as, “Regulatin’ Genes” and “Oxidate it or Love it,” …

Here’s McFadden’s Kickstarter promotional video (I almost embedded another video here but the Rosalind Franklin reference in first rap won me over unequivocally),

McFadden needs approximately $11,900 total to reach his goal. There are 19 days left for the campaign and $4,783 has been raised. This looks like a great project especially given McFadden’s track record. For the curious, here are some of the incentives being offered,

Pledge $10 or more

MP3 DIGITAL DOWNLOAD. Get an audio download of the “Brahe’s Battle” song of your choice when audio production is completed.

Estimated delivery: May 2013

Pledge $35 or more

THE RYMEBOSOME MIXTAPE: Get a digital download of the “Rhymebosome mixtape”. This includes all 5 mp3s from the Brahe’s Battles project, and almost every science song Tom McFadden has ever created (including hits like “Fossil Rock Anthem”, “Regulatin’ Genes”).

Estimated delivery: May 2013

Pledge $150 or more

YOUR NAME “BEASTIE RAPPED”: Have your name (or the name of your choice) “beastie rapped” by the stars of ‘Brahe’s Battles. (This is rhyming game I play with all the kids where we finish each others rhymes. It was shown briefly in the intro video rhyming with the name “Crick”). We will email you the video as a keepsake! (Includes $50 reward)

Estimated delivery: June 2013

There are lots of choices left including an option for a 20 min. Google hang out with Tom McFadden, an option to commission a song on a topic of your choosing (audio only), or you can choose a Platinum package for $1500 which provides most of these options. If you want to check out McFadden further, there’s his own website, The Rhymebosome.

As for the second project (science rap contest), David sets the stage by noting some history, from his Mar. 27, 2013 posting,

While East Coast and West Coast rappers (in)famously had beef back in the 90s, East Coast and West Coast science rappers have nothing but love.

He then proceeds to detail a science rap project which has its roots on the US East Coast (Note: Links have been removed),

 Chris Emdin, you may recall, is the education professor at Teacher’s College at Columbia working with GZA on Science Genius, a rap education project formatted roughly similar to what Tom McFadden is working on in the Bay Area.

Science Genius, Emdin and GZA were featured in tonight’s edition of PBS Newshour.  GZA even drops a little taste of his upcoming science-influenced album.

David features a video of the PBS segment and more information about the project in his posting. You can also visit the PBS News Hour website here for details about the contest,

Create Your Own Science Rap

Enter your own science rap or hip-hop verse for a chance to win a PBS NewsHour mug signed by GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan along with a personal video shout-out from the rap legend himself. Our contest is modeled after the Science Genius competition, a partnership between GZA, Christopher Emdin and Rap Genius. Entries will be judged by Emdin and two of his Columbia University Teachers College graduate students.

Here are the competition guidelines,

Competition guidelines:

  • Entries must incorporate at least one scientific topic/concept into 16 bars of verse. (16 bars is the length of a traditional verse, and a bar is made up of beats of four.)
  • The main topic/concept of the rap must be referenced in different ways at least three times in the verse.
  • Be creative in your expression of the science (E.g.: envision yourself either as somebody involved in the scientific process or an object undergoing the scientific process. Draw connections between your real world experiences and the concepts themselves.)
  • Information must be scientifically accurate and verifiable.
  • Lyrics must rhyme, and incorporate metaphor/analogy
  • Entries are due by Friday, May 3. [emphasis mine]

There’s more information either in David’s posting or on the PBS News Hour website.

Good luck to McFadden and to the science rap competitors in the PBS News Hour contest.

FrogHeart’s 2012, a selective roundup of my international online colleagues, and other bits

This blog will be five years old in April 2013 and, sometime in January or February, the 2000th post will be published.

Statisticswise it’s been a tumultuous year for FrogHeart with ups and downs,  thankfully ending on an up note. According to my AW stats, I started with 54,920 visits in January (which was a bit of an increase over December 2011. The numbers rose right through to March 2012 when the blog registered 68,360 visits and then the numbers fell and continued to fall. At the low point, this blog registered 45, 972 visits in June 2012 and managed to rise and fall through to Oct. 2012 when the visits rose to 54,520 visits. November 2012 was better with 66,854 visits and in December 2012 the blog will have received over 75,000 visits. (ETA Ja.2.13: This blog registered 81,0036 in December 2012 and an annual total of 681,055 visits.) Since I have no idea why the numbers fell or why they rose again, I have absolutely no idea what 2013 will bring in terms of statistics (the webalizer numbers reflect similar trends).

Interestingly and for the first time since I’ve activated the AW statistics package in Feb. 2009, the US ceased to be the primary source for visitors. As of April 2012, the British surged ahead for several months until November 2012 when the US regained the top spot only to lose it to China in December 2012.

Favourite topics according to the top 10 key terms included: nanocrystalline cellulose for Jan. – Oct. 2012 when for the first time in almost three years the topic fell out of the top 10; Jackson Pollock and physics also popped up in the top 10 in various months throughout the year; Clipperton Island (a sci/art project) has made intermittent appearances; SPAUN (Semantic Pointer Arichitecture Unified Network; a project at the University of Waterloo) has made the top 10 in the two months since it was announced); weirdly, frogheart.ca has appeared in the top 10 these last few months; the Lycurgus Cup, nanosilver, and literary tattoos also made appearances in the top 10 in various months throughout the year, while the memristor and Québec nanotechnology made appearances in the fall.

Webalizer tells a similar but not identical story. The numbers started with 83, 133 visits in January 2012 rising to a dizzying height of 119, 217 in March.  These statistics fell too but July 2012 was another six figure month with 101,087 visits and then down again to five figures until Oct. 2012 with 108, 266 and 136,161 visits in November 2012. The December 2012 visits number appear to be dipping down slightly with 130,198 visits counted to 5:10 am PST, Dec. 31, 2012. (ETA Ja.2.13: In December 2012, 133,351 were tallied with an annual total of 1,660,771 visits.)

Thanks to my international colleagues who inspire and keep me apprised of the latest information on nanotechnology and other emerging technologies:

  • Pasco Phronesis, owned by David Bruggeman, focuses more on science policy and science communicati0n (via popular media) than on emerging technology per se but David provides excellent analysis and a keen eye for the international scene. He kindly dropped by frogheart.ca  some months ago to challenge my take on science and censorship in Canada and I have not finished my response. I’ve posted part 1 in the comments but have yet to get to part 2. His latest posting on Dec. 30, 2012 features this title, For Better Science And Technology Policing, Don’t Forget The Archiving.
  • Nanoclast is on the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) website and features Dexter Johnson’s writing on nanotechnology government initiatives, technical breakthroughs, and, occasionally, important personalities within the field. I notice Dexter, who’s always thoughtful and thought-provoking, has cut back to a weekly posting. I encourage you to read his work as he fills in an important gap in a lot of nanotechnology reporting with his intimate understanding of the technology itself.  Dexter’s Dec. 20, 2012 posting (the latest) is titled, Nanoparticle Coated Lens Converts Light into Sound for Precise Non-invasive Surgery.
  • Insight (formerly TNTlog) is Tim Harper’s (CEO of Cientifica) blog features an international perspective (with a strong focus on the UK scene) on emerging technologies and the business of science. His writing style is quite lively (at times, trenchant) and it reflects his long experience with nanotechnology and other emerging technologies. I don’t know how he finds the time and here’s his latest, a Dec. 4, 2012 posting titled, Is Printable Graphene The Key To Widespread Applications?
  • 2020 Science is Dr. Andrew Maynard’s (director of University of Michigan’s Risk Science Center) more or less personal blog. An expert on nanotechnology (he was the Chief Science Adviser for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, located in Washington, DC), Andrew writes extensively about risk, uncertainty, nanotechnology, and the joys of science. Over time his blog has evolved to include the occasional homemade but science-oriented video, courtesy of one of his children. I usually check Andrew’s blog when there’s a online nanotechnology kerfuffle as he usually has the inside scoop. His latest posting on Dec. 23, 2012 features this title, On the benefits of wearing a hat while dancing naked, and other insights into the science of risk.
  • Andrew also produces and manages the Mind the Science Gap blog, which is a project encouraging MA students in the University of Michigan’s Public Health Program to write. Andrew has posted a summary of the last semester’s triumphs titled, Looking back at another semester of Mind The Science Gap.
  • NanoWiki is, strictly speaking, not a blog but the authors provide the best compilation of stories on nanotechnology issues and controversies that I have found yet. Here’s how they describe their work, “NanoWiki tracks the evolution of paradigms and discoveries in nanoscience and nanotechnology field, annotates and disseminates them, giving an overall view and feeds the essential public debate on nanotechnology and its practical applications.” There are also Spanish, Catalan, and mobile versions of NanoWiki. Their latest posting, dated  Dec. 29, 2012, Nanotechnology shows we can innovate without economic growth, features some nanotechnology books.
  • In April 2012, I was contacted by Dorothée Browaeys about a French blog, Le Meilleur Des Nanomondes. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to have been much action there since Feb. 2010 but I’m delighted to hear from my European colleagues and hope to hear more from them.

Sadly, there was only one interview here this year but I think they call these things ‘a big get’ as the interview was with Vanessa Clive who manages the nanotechnology portfolio at Industry Canada. I did try to get an interview with Dr. Marie D’Iorio, the new Executive Director of Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT; BTW, the National Research Council has a brand new site consequently [since the NINT is a National Research Council agency, so does the NINT]), and experienced the same success I had with her predecessor, Dr. Nils Petersen.

I attended two conferences this year, S.NET (Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies) 2012 meeting in Enschede, Holland where I presented on my work on memristors, artificial brains, and pop culture. The second conference I attended was in Calgary where I  moderated a panel I’d organized on the topic of Canada’s science culture and policy for the 2012 Canadian Science Policy Conference.

There are a few items of note which appeared on the Canadian science scene. ScienceOnlineVancouver emerged in April 2012. From the About page,

ScienceOnlineVancouver is a monthly discussion series exploring how online communication and social media impact current scientific research and how the general public learns about it. ScienceOnlineVancouver is an ongoing discussion about online science, including science communication and available research tools, not a lecture series where scientists talk about their work. Follow the conversation on Twitter at @ScioVan, hashtag is #SoVan.

The concept of these monthly meetings originated in New York with SoNYC @S_O_NYC, brought to life by Lou Woodley (@LouWoodley, Communities Specialist at Nature.com) and John Timmer (@j_timmer, Science Editor at Ars Technica). With the success of that discussion series, participation in Scio2012, and the 2012 annual meeting of the AAAS in Vancouver, Catherine Anderson, Sarah Chow, and Peter Newbury were inspired to bring it closer to home, leading to the beginning of ScienceOnlineVancouver.

ScienceOnlineVancouver is part of the ScienceOnlineNOW community that includes ScienceOnlineBayArea, @sciobayarea and ScienceOnlineSeattle, @scioSEA. Thanks to Brian Glanz of the Open Science Federation and SciFund Challenge and thanks to Science World for a great venue.

I have mentioned the arts/engineering festival coming up in Calgary, Beakerhead, a few times but haven’t had occasion to mention Science Rendezvous before. This festival started in Toronto in 2008 and became a national festival in 2012 (?). Their About page doesn’t describe the genesis of the ‘national’ aspect to this festival as clearly as I would like. They seem to be behind with their planning as there’s no mention of the 2013 festival,which should be coming up in May.

The twitter (@frogheart) feed continues to grow in both (followed and following) albeit slowly. I have to give special props to @carlacap, @cientifica, & @timharper for their mentions, retweets, and more.

As for 2013, there are likely to be some changes here; I haven’t yet decided what changes but I will keep you posted. Have a lovely new year and I wish you all the best in 2013.

Opening up Open Access: European Union, UK, Argentina, US, and Vancouver (Canada)

There is a furor growing internationally and it’s all about open access. It ranges from a petition in the US to a comprehensive ‘open access’ project from the European Union to a decision in the Argentinian Legislature to a speech from David Willetts, UK Minister of State for Universities and Science to an upcoming meeting in June 2012 being held in Vancouver (Canada).

As this goes forward, I’ll try to be clear as to which kind of open access I’m discussing,  open access publication (access to published research papers), open access data (access to research data), and/or both.

The European Commission has adopted a comprehensive approach to giving easy, open access to research funded through the European Union under the auspices of the current 7th Framework Programme and the upcoming Horizon 2020 (or what would have been called the 8th Framework Pr0gramme under the old system), according to the May 9, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

To make it easier for EU-funded projects to make their findings public and more readily accessible, the Commission is funding, through FP7, the project ‘Open access infrastructure for research in Europe’ ( OpenAIRE). This ambitious project will provide a single access point to all the open access publications produced by FP7 projects during the course of the Seventh Framework Programme.

OpenAIRE is a repository network and is based on a technology developed in an earlier project called Driver. The Driver engine trawled through existing open access repositories of universities, research institutions and a growing number of open access publishers. It would index all these publications and provide a single point of entry for individuals, businesses or other scientists to search a comprehensive collection of open access resources. Today Driver boasts an impressive catalogue of almost six million taken from 327 open access repositories from across Europe and beyond.

OpenAIRE uses the same underlying technology to index FP7 publications and results. FP7 project participants are encouraged to publish their papers, reports and conference presentations to their institutional open access repositories. The OpenAIRE engine constantly trawls these repositories to identify and index any publications related to FP7-funded projects. Working closely with the European Commission’s own databases, OpenAIRE matches publications to their respective FP7 grants and projects providing a seamless link between these previously separate data sets.

OpenAIRE is also linked to CERN’s open access repository for ‘orphan’ publications. Any FP7 participants that do not have access to an own institutional repository can still submit open access publications by placing them in the CERN repository.

Here’s why I described this project as comprehensive, from the May 9, 2012 news item,

‘OpenAIRE is not just about developing new technologies,’ notes Ms Manola [Natalia Manola, the project’s manager], ‘because a significant part of the project focuses on promoting open access in the FP7 community. We are committed to promotional and policy-related activities, advocating open access publishing so projects can fully contribute to Europe’s knowledge infrastructure.’

The project is collecting usage statistics of the portal and the volume of open access publications. It will provide this information to the Commission and use this data to inform European policy in this domain.

OpenAIRE is working closely to integrate its information with the CORDA database, the master database of all EU-funded research projects. Soon it should be possible to click on a project in CORDIS (the EU’s portal for research funding), for example, and access all the open access papers published by that project. Project websites will also be able to provide links to the project’s peer reviewed publications and make dissemination of papers virtually effortless.

The project participants are also working with EU Members to develop a European-wide ‘open access helpdesk’ which will answer researchers’ questions about open access publishing and coordinate the open access initiatives currently taking place in different countries. The helpdesk will build up relationships and identify additional open access repositories to add to the OpenAIRE network.

Meanwhile, there’s been a discussion on the UK’s Guardian newspaper website about an ‘open access’ issue, money,  in a May 9, 2012 posting by John Bynner,

The present academic publishing system obstructs the free communication of research findings. By erecting paywalls, commercial publishers prevent scientists from downloading research papers unless they pay substantial fees. Libraries similarly pay huge amounts (up to £1m or more per annum) to give their readers access to online journals.

There is general agreement that free and open access to scientific knowledge is desirable. The way this might be achieved has come to the fore in recent debates about the future of scientific and scholarly journals.

Our concern lies with the major proposed alternative to the current system. Under this arrangement, authors are expected to pay when they submit papers for publication in online journals: the so called “article processing cost” (APC). The fee can amount to anything between £1,000 and £2,000 per article, depending on the reputation of the journal. Although the fees may sometimes be waived, eligibility for exemption is decided by the publisher and such concessions have no permanent status and can always be withdrawn or modified.

A major problem with the APC model is that it effectively shifts the costs of academic publishing from the reader to the author and therefore discriminates against those without access to the funds needed to meet these costs. [emphasis mine] Among those excluded are academics in, for example, the humanities and the social sciences whose research funding typically does not include publication charges, and independent researchers whose only means of paying the APC is from their own pockets. Academics in developing countries in particular face discrimination under APC because of their often very limited access to research funds.

There is another approach that could be implemented for a fraction of the cost of commercial publishers’ current journal subscriptions. “Access for all” (AFA) journals, which charge neither author nor reader, are committed to meeting publishing costs in other ways.

Bynner offers a practical solution, get the libraries to pay their subscription fees to an AFA journal, thereby funding ‘access for all’.

The open access discussion in the UK hasn’t stopped with a few posts in the Guardian, there’s also support from the government. David Willetts, in a May 2, 2012 speech to the UK Publishers Association Annual General Meeting had this to say, from the UK’s Dept. for Business Innovation and Skills website,

I realise this move to open access presents a challenge and opportunity for your industry, as you have historically received funding by charging for access to a publication. Nevertheless that funding model is surely going to have to change even beyond the positive transition to open access and hybrid journals that’s already underway. To try to preserve the old model is the wrong battle to fight. Look at how the music industry lost out by trying to criminalise a generation of young people for file sharing. [emphasis mine] It was companies outside the music business such as Spotify and Apple, with iTunes, that worked out a viable business model for access to music over the web. None of us want to see that fate overtake the publishing industry.

Wider access is the way forward. I understand the publishing industry is currently considering offering free public access to scholarly journals at all UK public libraries. This is a very useful way of extending access: it would be good for our libraries too, and I welcome it.

It would be deeply irresponsible to get rid of one business model and not put anything in its place. That is why I hosted a roundtable at BIS in March last year when all the key players discussed these issues. There was a genuine willingness to work together. As a result I commissioned Dame Janet Finch to chair an independent group of experts to investigate the issues and report back. We are grateful to the Publishers Association for playing a constructive role in her exercise, and we look forward to receiving her report in the next few weeks. No decisions will be taken until we have had the opportunity to consider it. But perhaps today I can share with you some provisional thoughts about where we are heading.

The crucial options are, as you know, called green and gold. Green means publishers are required to make research openly accessible within an agreed embargo period. This prompts a simple question: if an author’s manuscript is publicly available immediately, why should any library pay for a subscription to the version of record of any publisher’s journal? If you do not believe there is any added value in academic publishing you may view this with equanimity. But I believe that academic publishing does add value. So, in determining the embargo period, it’s necessary to strike a suitable balance between enabling revenue generation for publishers via subscriptions and providing public access to publicly funded information. In contrast, gold means that research funding includes the costs of immediate open publication, thereby allowing for full and immediate open access while still providing revenue to publishers.

In a May 22, 2012 posting at the Guardian website, Mike Taylor offers some astonishing figures (I had no idea academic publishing has been quite so lucrative) and notes that the funders have been a driving force in this ‘open access’ movement (Note: I have removed links from the excerpt),

The situation again, in short: governments and charities fund research; academics do the work, write and illustrate the papers, peer-review and edit each others’ manuscripts; then they sign copyright over to profiteering corporations who put it behind paywalls and sell research back to the public who funded it and the researchers who created it. In doing so, these corporations make grotesque profits of 32%-42% of revenue – far more than, say, Apple’s 24% or Penguin Books’ 10%. [emphasis mine]

… But what makes this story different from hundreds of other cases of commercial exploitation is that it seems to be headed for a happy ending. That’s taken some of us by surprise, because we thought the publishers held all the cards. Academics tend to be conservative, and often favour publishing their work in established paywalled journals rather than newer open access venues.

The missing factor in this equation is the funders. Governments and charitable trusts that pay academics to carry out research naturally want the results to have the greatest possible effect. That means publishing those results openly, free for anyone to use.

Taylor also goes on to mention the ongoing ‘open access’ petition in the US,

There is a feeling that the [US] administration fully understands the value of open access, and that a strong demonstration of public concern could be all it takes now to goad it into action before the November election. To that end a Whitehouse.gov petition has been set up urging Obama to “act now to implement open access policies for all federal agencies that fund scientific research”. Such policies would bring the US in line with the UK and Europe.

The people behind the US campaign have produced a video,

Anyone wondering about the reference to Elsevier may want to check out Thomas Lin’s Feb. 13, 2012 article for the New York Times,

More than 5,700 researchers have joined a boycott of Elsevier, a leading publisher of science journals, in a growing furor over open access to the fruits of scientific research.

You can find out more about the boycott and the White House petition at the Cost of Knowledge website.

Meanwhile, Canadians are being encouraged to sign the petition (by June 19, 2012), according to the folks over at ScienceOnline Vancouver in a description o f their June 12, 2012 event, Naked Science; Excuse: me your science is showing (a cheap, cheesy, and attention-getting  title—why didn’t I think of it first?),

Exposed. Transparent. Nude. All adjectives that should describe access to scientific journal articles, but currently, that’s not the case. The research paid by our Canadian taxpayer dollars is locked behind doors. The only way to access these articles is money, and lots of it!

Right now research articles costs more than a book! About $30. Only people with university affiliations have access and only journals their libraries subscribe to. Moms, dads, sisters, brothers, journalists, students, scientists, all pay for research, yet they can’t read the articles about their research without paying for it again. Now that doesn’t make sense.

….

There is also petition going around that states that research paid for by US taxpayer dollars should be available for free to US taxpayers (and others!) on the internet. Don’t worry if you are Canadian citizen, by signing this petition, Canadians would get access to the US research too and it would help convince the Canadian government to adopt similar rules. [emphasis mine]

Here’s where you can go to sign the petition. As for the notion that this will encourage the Canadian government to adopt an open access philosophy, I do not know. On the one hand, the government has opened up access to data, notably Statistics Canada data, mentioned by Frances Woolley in her March 22, 2012 posting about that and other open access data initiatives by the Canadian government on the Globe and Mail blog,

The federal government is taking steps to build the country’s data infrastructure. Last year saw the launch of the open data pilot project, data.gc.ca. Earlier this year the paywall in front of Statistics Canada’s enormous CANSIM database was taken down. The National Research Council, together with University of Guelph and Carleton University, has a new data registration service, DataCite, which allows Canadian researches to give their data permanent names in the form of digital object identifiers. In the long run, these projects should, as the press releases claim, “support innovation”, “add value-for-money for Canadians,” and promote “the reuse of existing data in commercial applications.”

That seems promising but there is a countervailing force. The Canadian government has also begun to charge subscription fees for journals that were formerly free. From the March 8, 2011 posting by Emily Chung on the CBC’s (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Quirks and Quarks blog,

The public has lost free online access to more than a dozen Canadian science journals as a result of the privatization of the National Research Council’s government-owned publishing arm.

Scientists, businesses, consultants, political aides and other people who want to read about new scientific discoveries in the 17 journals published by National Research Council Research Press now either have to pay $10 per article or get access through an institution that has an annual subscription.

It caused no great concern at the time,

Victoria Arbour, a University of Alberta graduate student, published her research in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, one of the Canadian Science Publishing journals, both before and after it was privatized. She said it “definitely is too bad” that her new articles won’t be available to Canadians free online.

“It would have been really nice,” she said. But she said most journals aren’t open access, and the quality of the journal is a bigger concern than open access when choosing where to publish.

Then, there’s this from the new publisher, Canadian Science Publishing,

Cameron Macdonald, executive director of Canadian Science Publishing, said the impact of the change in access is “very little” on the average scientist across Canada because subscriptions have been purchased by many universities, federal science departments and scientific societies.

“I think the vast majority of researchers weren’t all that concerned,” he said. “So long as the journals continued with the same mission and mandate, they were fine with that.”

Macdonald said the journals were never strictly open access, as online access was free only inside Canadian borders and only since 2002.

So, journals that offered open access to research funded by Canadian taxpapers (to Canadians only) are now behind paywalls. Chung’s posting notes the problem already mentioned in the UK Guardian postings, money,

“It’s pretty prohibitively expensive to make things open access, I find,” she {Victoria Arbour] said.

Weir [Leslie Weir, chief librarian at the University of Ottawa] said more and more open-access journals need to impose author fees to stay afloat nowadays.

Meanwhile, the cost of electronic subscriptions to research journals has been ballooning as library budgets remain frozen, she said.

So far, no one has come up with a solution to the problem. [emphasis mine]

It seems they have designed a solution in the UK, as noted in John Bynner’s posting; perhaps we could try it out here.

Before I finish up, I should get to the situation in Argentina, from the May 27, 2012 posting on the Pasco Phronesis (David Bruggeman) blog (Note: I have removed a link in the following),

The lower house of the Argentinian legislature has approved a bill (en Español) that would require research results funded by the government be placed in institutional repositories once published.  There would be exceptions for studies involving confidential information and the law is not intended to undercut intellectual property or patent rights connected to research.  Additionally, primary research data must be published within 5 years of their collection.  This last point would, as far as I can tell, would be new ground for national open access policies, depending on how quickly the U.S. and U.K. may act on this issue.

Argentina steals a march on everyone by offering open access publication and open access data, within certain, reasonable constraints.

Getting back to David’s May 27, 2012 posting, he offers also some information on the European Union situation and some thoughts  on science policy in Egypt.

I have long been interested in open access publication as I feel it’s infuriating to be denied access to research that one has paid for in tax dollars. I have written on the topic before in my Beethoven inspires Open Research (Nov. 18, 2011 posting) and Princeton goes Open Access; arXiv is 10 years old (Sept. 30, 2011 posting) and elsewhere.

ETA May 28, 2012: I found this NRC Research Press website for the NRC journals and it states,

We are pleased to announce that Canadians can enjoy free access to over 100 000 back files of NRC Research Press journals, dating back to 1951. Access to material in these journals published after December 31, 2010, is available to Canadians through subscribing universities across Canada as well as the major federal science departments.

Concerned readers and authors whose institutes have not subscribed for the 2012 volume year can speak to their university librarians or can contact us to subscribe directly.

It’s good to see Canadians still have some access, although personally, I do prefer to read recent research.

ETA May 29, 2012: Yikes, I think this is one of the longest posts ever and I’m going to add this info. about libre redistribution and data mining as they relate to open access in this attempt to cover the topic as fully as possible in one posting.

First here’s an excerpt  from  Ross Mounce’s May 28, 2012 posting on the Palaeophylophenomics blog about ‘Libre redistribution’ (Note: I have removed a link),

I predict that the rights to electronically redistribute, and machine-read research will be vital for 21st century research – yet currently we academics often wittingly or otherwise relinquish these rights to publishers. This has got to stop. The world is networked, thus scholarly literature should move with the times and be openly networked too.

To better understand the notion of ‘libre redistribution’ you’ll want to read more of Mounce’s comments but you might also  want to check out Cameron Neylon’s comments in his March 6, 2012 posting on the Science in the Open blog,

Centralised control, failure to appreciate scale, and failure to understand the necessity of distribution and distributed systems. I have with me a device capable of holding the text of perhaps 100,000 papers It also has the processor power to mine that text. It is my phone. In 2-3 years our phones, hell our watches, will have the capacity to not only hold the world’s literature but also to mine it, in context for what I want right now. Is Bob Campbell ready for every researcher, indeed every interested person in the world, to come into his office and discuss an agreement for text mining? Because the mining I want to do and the mining that Peter Murray-Rust wants to do will be different, and what I will want to do tomorrow is different to what I want to do today. This kind of personalised mining is going to be the accepted norm of handling information online very soon and will be at the very centre of how we discover the information we need.

This moves the discussion past access (taxpayers not seeing the research they’ve funded, researchers who don’t have subscriptions, libraries not have subscriptions, etc.)  to what happens when you can get access freely. It opens up new ways of doing research by means of text mining and data mining redistribution of them both.

2011 Scientific integrity processes: the US and Canada

Given recent scientific misconduct  (July is science scandal month [July 25 2011] post at The Prodigal Academic blog) and a very slow news month this August,  I thought I’d take a look at scientific integrity in the US and in Canada.

First, here’s a little history. March 9, 2009 US President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on Scientific Integrity (excerpted),

Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change, and protection of national security.

The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions.  Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions.  If scientific and technological information is developed and used by the Federal Government, it should ordinarily be made available to the public.  To the extent permitted by law, there should be transparency in the preparation, identification, and use of scientific and technological information in policymaking.  The selection of scientists and technology professionals for positions in the executive branch should be based on their scientific and technological knowledge, credentials, experience, and integrity.

December 17, 2010 John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy,  issued his own memorandum requesting compliance with the President’s order (from the Dec. 17, 2010 posting on The White House blog),

Today, in response to the President’s request, I am issuing a Memorandum to the Heads of Departments and Agencies that provides further guidance to Executive Branch leaders as they implement Administration policies on scientific integrity. The new memorandum describes the minimum standards expected as departments and agencies craft scientific integrity rules appropriate for their particular missions and cultures, including a clear prohibition on political interference in scientific processes and expanded assurances of transparency. It requires that department and agency heads report to me on their progress toward completing those rules within 120 days.

Here’s my edited version (I removed fluff, i.e. material along these lines: scientific integrity is of utmost importance …) of the list Holdren provided,

Foundations

  1. Ensure a culture of scientific integrity.
  2. Strengthen the actual and perceived credibility of Government research. Of particular importance are (a) ensuring that selection of candidates for scientific positions in executive branch is based primarily on their scientific and technological knowledge, credentials, experience, and integrity, (b) ensuring that data and research used to support policy decisions undergo independent peer review by qualified experts where feasibly and appropriate, and consistent with law, (c) setting clear standards governing conflicts, and (d) adopting appropriate whistleblower protections.
  3. Facilitate the free flow of scientific and technological information, consistent with privacy and classification standards. … Consistent with the Administration’s Open Government Initiative, agencies should expand and promote access to scientific and technological information by making it available  online in open formats. Where appropriate, this should include data and models underlying regulatory proposals and policy decisions.
  4. Establish principles for conveying scientific and technological information to the public. … Agencies should communicate scientific and technological findings by including a clear explication of underlying assumptions; accurate contextualization of uncertainties; and a description of the probabilities associated with optimistic and pessimistic projections, including best-case and worst-case scenarios where appropriate.

Public communication

  1. In response to media interview requests about the scientific and technological dimensions of their work, agencies will offer articulate and knowledgeable spokespersons who can, in an objective and nonpartisan fashion, describe and explain these dimension to the media and the American people.
  2. Federal scientists may speak to the media and the public about scientific and technological matters based on their official work, with appropriate coordination with their immediate supervisor and their public affairs office. In no circumstance may public affairs officers ask or direct Federal scientists to alter scientific findings.
  3. Mechanisms are in place to resolve disputes that arise from decisions to proceed or not to proceed  with proposed interviews or other public information-related activities. …

(The sections on Federal Advisory Committees and professional development were less relevant to this posting, so I haven’t included them here.)

It seems to have taken the agencies a little longer than the 120 day deadline that John Holdren gave them but all (or many of the agencies) have complied according to an August 15, 2011 posting by David J. Hanson on the Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) website,

OSTP director John P. Holdren issued the call for the policies on May 5 in response to a 2009 Presidential memorandum (C&EN, Jan. 10, page 28). [emphasis mine] The memorandum was a response to concerns about politicization of science during the George W. Bush Administration.

The submitted integrity plans include 14 draft policies and five final policies. The final policies are from the National Aeronautics & Space Administration, the Director of National Intelligences for the intelligence agencies, and the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and Interior.

Draft integrity policies are in hand from the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, Labor, and Transportation and from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency, Social Security Administrations, OSTP, and Veterans Administration.

The drafts still under review are from the Department of State, the Agency for International Development, and the National Institute of Standards & Technology.

The dates in this posting don’t match up with what I’ve found but it’s possible that the original deadline was moved to better accommodate the various reporting agencies. In any event, David Bruggeman at his Pasco Phronesis blog has commented on this initiative in a number of posts including this August 10, 2011 posting,

… I’m happy to see something out there at all, given the paltry public response from most of the government.  Comments are open until September 6.Regrettably, the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] policy falls into a trap that is all too common.  The support of scientific integrity is all too often narrowly assumed to simply mean that agency (or agency-funded) scientists need to behave, and there will be consequences for demonstrated bad behavior.

But there is a serious problem of interference from non-scientific agency staff that would go beyond reasonable needs for crafting the public message.

David goes on to discuss a lack of clarity in this policy and in the Dept. of the Interior’s policy.

His August 11, 2011 posting notes the OSTP claims that 19 departments/agencies have submitted draft or final policies,

… Not only does the OSTP blog post not include draft or finalized policies submitted to their office, it fails to mention any timeframe for making them publicly available.  Even more concerning, there is no mention of those policies that have been publicly released.  That is, regrettably, consistent with past practice. While the progress report notes that OSTP will create a policy for its own activities, and that OSTP is working with the Office of Management and Budget on a policy for all of the Executive Office of the President, there’s no discussion of a government-wide policy.

In the last one of his recent series, the August 12, 2011 posting focuses on a Dept. of Commerce memo (Note: The US Dept. of Commerce includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology),

“This memorandum confirms that DAO 219-1 [a Commerce Department order concerning scientific communications] allows scientists to engage in oral fundamental research communications (based on their official work) with the media and the public without notification or prior approval to their supervisor or to the Office of Public Affairs. [emphasis David Bruggeman] Electronic communications with the media related to fundamental research that are the equivalent of a dialogue are considered to be oral communications; thus, prior approval is not required for  scientist to engage in online discussions or email with the media about fundamental research, subject to restrictions on protected nonpublic information as set forth in 219-1.”

I find the exercise rather interesting especially in light of Margaret Munro’s July 27, 2011 article, Feds silence scientist over salmon study, for Postmedia,

Top bureaucrats in Ottawa have muzzled a leading fisheries scientist whose discovery could help explain why salmon stocks have been crashing off Canada’s West Coast, according to documents obtained by Postmedia News.

The documents show the Privy Council Office, which supports the Prime Minister’s Office, stopped Kristi Miller from talking about one of the most significant discoveries to come out of a federal fisheries lab in years.

Science, one of the world’s top research journals, published Miller’s findings in January. The journal considered the work so significant it notified “over 7,400″ journalists worldwide about Miller’s “Suffering Salmon” study.

The documents show major media outlets were soon lining up to speak with Miller, but the Privy Council Office said no to the interviews.

In a Twitter conversation with me, David Bruggeman did note that the Science paywall also acts as a kind of muzzle.

I was originally going to end the posting with that last paragraph but I made a discovery, quite by accident. Canada’s Tri-Agency Funding Councils opened a consultation with stakeholders on Ethics and Integrity for Institutions, Applicants, and Award Holders on August 15, 2011 which will run until September 30, 2011. (This differs somewhat from the US exercise which is solely focussed on science as practiced in various government agencies.  The equivalent in Canada would be if Stephen Harper requested scientific integrity guidelines from the Ministries of Environment, Natural Resources, Health, Industry, etc.) From the NSERC Ethics and Integrity Guidelines page,

Upcoming Consultation on the Draft Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), and NSERC (the tri-agencies) continue to work on improving their policy framework for research and scholarly integrity, and financial accountability. From August 15 to September 30, 2011, the three agencies are consulting with a wide range of stakeholders in the research community on the draft consultation document, Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research.

I found the answers to these two questions in the FAQs particularly interesting,

  • What are some of the new elements in this draft Framework?

The draft Framework introduces new elements, including the following:

A strengthened Tri-Agency Research Integrity Policy
The draft Framework includes a strengthened Tri-Agency Research Integrity Policy that clarifies the responsibilities of the researcher.

‘Umbrella’ approach to RCR
The draft Framework provides an overview of all applicable research policies, including those related to the ethical conduct of research involving humans and financial management, as well as research integrity. It also clarifies the roles and responsibilities of researchers, institutions and Agencies in responding to all types of alleged breaches of Agency policies, for example, misuse of funds, unethical conduct of research involving human participants or plagiarism.

A definition of a policy breach
The draft Framework clarifies what constitutes a breach of an Agency policy.

Disclosure
The draft Framework requires researchers to disclose, at the time of application, whether they have ever been found to have breached any Canadian or other research policies, regardless of the source of funds that supported the research and whether or not the findings originated in Canada or abroad.

The Agencies are currently seeking advice from privacy experts on the scope of the information to be requested.

Institutional Investigations
The Agencies currently specify that institutional investigation committee membership must exclude those in conflict of interest. The draft Framework stipulates also that an investigation committee must include at least one member external to the Institution, and that an Agency may conduct its own review or compliance audit, or require the Institution to conduct an independent review/audit.

Timeliness of investigation
Currently, it is up to institutions to set timelines for investigations. The draft Framework states that inquiry and investigation reports are to be submitted to the relevant Agency within two and seven months, respectively, following receipt of the allegation by the institution.

  • Who is being consulted?

The Agencies have targeted their consultation to individual researchers, post-secondary institutions and other eligible organizations that apply for and receive Agency funding.

As far as I can tell, there is no mention of ethical issues where the government has interfered in the dissemination of scientific information; it seems there is an assumption that almost all ethical misbehaviour is on that part of the individual researcher or a problem with an institution following policy. There is one section devoted breaches by institutions (all two paragraphs of it),

5 Breaches of Agency Policies by Institutions

In accordance with the MOU signed by the Agencies and each Institution, the Agencies require that each Institution complies with Agency policies as a condition of eligibility to apply for and administer Agency funds.

The process followed by the Agencies to address an allegation of a breach of an Agency policy by an Institution, and the recourse that the Agencies may exercise, commensurate with the severity of a confirmed breach, are outlined in the MOU.

My criticism of this is similar to the one that David Bruggeman made of the US policies in that the focus is primarily on the individual.

Geek rap, Björk, and science communication

I came across a June 29, 2011 article in Physics Today [online] by Steve Corneliussen about ‘geek’ rap. From the Corneliussen article,

Science rap is no flash in the pan according to Dennis Overbye, the high-visibility New York Times science writer. This week he proclaimed that “‘geek rap’ … is becoming one of the most popular and vital forms of science communication.” Immediately he added: “Few exegeses of the Large Hadron Collider match Alpinekat’s ‘Large Hadron Rap’ for punch and rhythm, and Stephen Hawking’s robot voice and puckish wit have spawned a host of imitators, like M C Hawking, rapping about black holes and entropy.”

Poetry and/or music, in combination with science is not new. Take a few more recent examples, James Clerk Maxwell, in addition to his scientific accomplishments in the 19th century, was also a poet and Tom Lehrer (pianist and mathematician) set the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements to music (The Elements) in the 1950s.

One can stretch back further to De rerum natura, an epic poem about physics and Epicurean philosophy written by Lucretius in the first century BCE (before the common era). From the Wikipedia essay on De rerum natura,

The poem, written in dactylic hexameter, is divided into six books, and explores Epicurean physics through richly poetic language and metaphors. Lucretius presents the principles of atomism; the nature of the mind and soul; explanations of sensation and thought; the development of the world and its phenomena; and explains a variety of celestial and terrestrial phenomena. The universe described in the poem operates according to these physical principles, guided by fortuna, “chance,” and not the divine intervention of the traditional Roman deities.

It’s good to see that rappers are keeping the traditions alive and reinterpreting them for modern audiences. Dennis Overbye, the New York Times science writer mentioned in the Corneliussen article, recently highlighted Baba Brinkman, a Vancouver-based rapper, (mentioned here a few times a list of those posts follows), who’s currently  performing his Rap Guide to Evolution at an off Broadway theatre. From Overbye’s June 27, 2011 article of Brinkman’s show,

Don’t sleep with mean people.

That’s a lesson some of us learn painfully, if at all, in regard to our personal happiness. That there could be a cosmic evolutionary angle to this thought had never occurred to me until I heard Baba Brinkman, a rap artist and Chaucer scholar, say it the other night. Think of it as the ultimate example of thinking globally and acting very, very locally. We are all in the process of recreating our species in our most intimate acts:

Don’t sleep with mean people, that’s the anthem

Please! Think about your granddaughters and grandsons

Don’t sleep with mean people, pretty or handsome

Mean people hold the gene pool for ransom.

Writing on NYTimes.com last year, Olivia Judson, the biologist and author, called the evolution rap show “one of the most astonishing, and brilliant, lectures on evolution I’ve ever seen.” On a humid night last week the crowd spilled out of the playhouse and down the streets of SoHo after the show, chatting about the technical and social aspects of natural selection.

Björk has taken her own approach to science, music, and, in her case, song with her new show Biophilia. From the July 1, 2011 article by David Robson for The New Scientist’s Culture Lab blog,

As the lights dimmed and we waited for Björk to mount the stage of the Victorian market hall, the last thing I expected to hear was a recording of the dulcet tones of David Attenborough, waxing lyrical about nature, music and technology.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, though. The show does, after all, take its name, Biophilia, from Edward O. Wilson’s theory about the instinctive bond between humankind and nature, which he claims is a necessary consequence of our evolutionary origins. And the Icelandic singer has made it clear that she is a life-long fan of the British naturalist. “When I was a kid, my rock star was David Attenborough,” she recently told Rolling Stone. “I’ve always been interested in science.”

And boy, did she manage to pack a dizzying amount of it into the show. There were songs about plate tectonics, galaxy formation, crystallisation, DNA and heredity, equilibrium, gravity and dark matter. Then there were the novel instruments, including four harps driven by 10-foot pendulums and a gigantic Tesla coil that sparked in time to the music. We’re told that the structures of her compositions, too, were inspired by scientific ideas – the beats to some of the songs were based on prime number sequences, for example.

While Baba’s rap is peer-reviewed, Björk’s work is aimed a little differently. As David Bruggeman (Pasco Phronesis) explains in his July 3, 2011 posting,

They [reviews of Biophilia] suggest that Björk is not even thinking of encroaching on Baba Brinkman or They Might Be Giants science music turf anytime soon.  While she shares their enthusiasm for science, expressing that enthusiasm, rather than explaining the concepts underneath it, seems to be the main science emphasis of the work.

Here’s a demonstration of the Tesla coil synth prior to a Biophilia performance in Campfield (ETA July 5, 2011: This is where Bjork premiered Biophilia June 27, 2011 at the Manchester International Festival, more details in July 5, 2011 note added after this  post),

There are more Biophilia-related video clips but this was one of the shorter ones.

As for the Baba Brinkman posts I mentioned earlier, here are the most relevant ones from the earliest to the latest,

Darwin theme: Rap about Darwin & evolutionary biology and Darwinism in quantum dots

Rapping science

Interview with Baba Brinkman who performs his Rap Guide to Evolution in Vancouver on Feb. 20, 2011

Performance, feedback, revision: Baba Brinkman’s Feb.20.11 performance

Baba Brinkman launches his new Lit Fuse record label website and a Vancouver debut performance of his Chaucer/Gilgamesh/Beowulf adaptation

2011 World Science Festival and a couple of Canucks

Prince Charles, evolution and Baba Brinkman

Here’s very recent news (from a July 4, 2011 email) about Baba’s CD,

First thing’s [sic] first, I have a new CD out! The Rap Guide to Evolution: Revised is a brand new 14-track album produced by Mr. Simmonds. It started out as a “remix” of the original RGE CD from a few years ago but soon took on a life of its own with all new music, new collaborations, and most of the lyrics re-written (performance, feedback, revision), plus three completely new tracks. We’ve been working on this album all year long and finally finished it last week. Click here to listen to the evolution of the rap guide, and download it Radiohead-style (pay what you like).

I like the fact that there’s a range of approaches to science communication, poetry, and music. I think there’s room for everybody.

ETA July 5, 2011: There’s a July 4, 2011 article by Simon Reynolds of The Guardian that offers a little more information about Biophilia and Björk (from the article),

Originally formulated by scientist Edward O Wilson, the biophilia hypothesis suggests that human beings have an innate affinity with the natural world – plants, animals or even the weather. Yet it’s not biophilia but good old-fashioned fandom that has drawn a small band of Björk obsessives to queue outside Manchester’s Campfield Market Hall since 10am this morning. Not that there’s anything old-fashioned about the woman they are here to see. Biophilia is the Icelandic singer’s new project – the word means “love of living things” – and promises to push the envelope so far you’ll need the Hubble telescope to see it.

A collection of journalists have already had a preview at a press conference in the Museum of Science and Industry over the road. Björk is absent, preparing for tonight’s live show, her first in the UK for over three years, which will open the Manchester international festival. Instead, artist and app developer Scott Snibbe, musicologist Nikki Dibben and project co-ordinator James Merry talk through Biophilia’s many layers. There will be an album in September, with an app to go with each of the 10 songs. There will be an education project, designed to teach children about nature, music and technology – some local kids will embark on it next week. There will be a documentary. And then there will be tonight’s show, performed in the round to a 2,000-strong crowd including journalists representing publications from New Scientist to the New York Times, as well as the diehard fans waiting outside.

There you have it.