Tag Archives: Scientific American blog network

2013: women, science, gender, and sex

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

Women in Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Male Faculty               Female Faculty

30,520.82                    29, 333.33

 

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

Male Faculty               Female Faculty

27,111.11                    25,000.00

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

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

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

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

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

Those searches were made in March 2013.

The October 2013 science blogging scandals and an emerging science blog aggregator/community in Canada (Science Borealis)

As I noted in my post earlier this week (Oct. 15, 2013), there are a lot of lovely things about the internet and concomitant media we use to interact with each other but there are also more difficult aspects as those of us who blog about science have discovered anew this last week or so. There have been a number of dramas being enacted and while there are websites which offer more comprehensive timelines, I feel obliged to offer something here otherwise my comments won’t make much sense to someone new to the situation.

It stated last week (Friday, Oct. 11, 2013) with DN Lee, a science blogger on the Scientific American blog network (SciAm blogs). She posted a piece about an interaction she had with a Biology Online editor who’d asked her to contribute as a guest blogger. She asked if she’d be paid and on hearing ‘no’ said something along the lines of ‘thanks but no’. The response from the editor, this is a direct quote, was this  “Because we don’t pay for blog entries? Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?” DN Lee then wrote about this incident in her Oct. 11, 2013 posting which was deleted within one hour of its publication by SciAm Editor in Chief and Senior VP,, Mariette DiChristina. (Arturo R. García offers a full timeline [up to his posting's publication date] and commentary about the incident and the SciAm editor’s story as to why the posting was deleted [it has since been restored], along with an embedded video of DN Lee responding to the ‘whore’ comment, in his Oct. 14, 2013 posting on Racialicious.)

As far as I can tell, there was an online uproar which drove this incident to its current conclusion with Lee’s post reinstated and the Biology Online editor fired. I am making a point of mentioning this because it appears that the SciAm blogs editor (who has changed her story as to why the post was deleted in the first place) was pushed into reinstating Lee’s post due to the uproar and not because of any considered reflection. (For another take on these incidents with DN Lee, you can read Greg Laden’s Oct. 12, 2013 posting, on the SciBlogs website, where he partially contextualizes it with the Pepsigate incident, on SciBlogs some years ago, and how it was handled.)

It’ll be interesting to see what DN Lee does in the next few months as she continues to process and respond to what happened to her. She’s handled the situation with grace and offers some excellent advice about establishing your own bottom line in her video.

Ordinarily the story would end here, more or less. video. However, the furor has set off another set of incidents. First, Monica Byrne, writer and playwright, reposted a piece from the year before, Oct. 9, 2012, about an incident she experienced at some point in 2012 and slowly came to realize was a form of sexual harassment. She was propositioned by a respected, male science writer, blogger, and ‘mover and shaker’ within the science blogging community. It was done in a rather subtle way (it’s subtle when it’s being done to you) which is why it took her a while to understand what had happened.Byrne gives a good description of of the process of slowly realizing what happened and her various reactions to the realization and to Bora.

At the time in 2012 she didn’t name him but, this year, on Oct. 14, 2013, after reading about DN Lee’s treatment at SciAm blogs, she reposted the piece naming Bora Zivkovic as the male in question. For those not familiar with Bora’s prominence within the science blogoshpere, Laura Helmuth in her Oct.17,2013 piece for Slate describes it this way (Note: Links have been removed),

He [Bora Zivkovic] founded an extremely popular conference for science bloggers [Science Online], established science blog networks at various publications, and now (at least as I write) runs the well-respected collection of blogs at Scientific American. His nickname is the Blogfather. One common route into a science writing career in the past several years has been through Zivkovic: He routinely publishes young writers and promotes their stories with his large social media audience. Zivkovic has always been extremely solicitous of young journalists, generous with his time, charming, enthusiastic, gregarious.

Bora’s prominence and popularity meant he got lots of support and at least one person thought Byrne should not have named Bora publicly. Dr. Andrew Maynard (whom I’ve featured here many times and for whom I feel much respect and gratitude; he’s notably active on Twitter, with blogs, and elsewhere in the science blog, etc. community) decided to approach Byrne via email discussing the repercussions for Bora of the public shaming and strongly hinting that she remove Bora’s name from the reposted piece. You can read Andrew’s account of his actions, his email, and the comments he’s drawn from others in this Oct. 15, 2013 posting on the 2020 Science blog and some of his process as he realizes his own issues regarding sexual harassment and likable colleagues.

In retrospect Andrew’s email looks ill considered but he does bring up an interesting point, how do we deal with the sins other people commit upon us, and I’m offering this corollary: how does the sinner deal with those they’ve sinned against? Given that Bryne waited a year before revealing her harasser’s name, she either gave that some thought or had decided that she no longer cared about trying to get work in the science writing field or perhaps it was a bit of both.

In any event, Byrne decided to go forward and Bora offered an apology both in 2012 and in an Oct. 15, 2013 posting on his blog,

I am very ashamed of this incident which happened more than a year ago. Staff at Scientific American spoke to me and Ms. Byrne about our interaction at that time. I asked that my sincere apologies be conveyed to Ms. Byrne for the distress she suffered as a result of my inappropriate remarks and emails to her, and I also expressed my deep regret to the company about acting unprofessionally. The company offered her an apology as well. It was a difficult time for me personally and I made a mistake – I should not have shared my personal issues with her. It is not behavior that I have engaged in before or since. [emphasis mine]

Unfortunately, there have been other incidents according to both the comments attached to Byrne’s blog posting and this Oct.17, 2013 posting by Hannah Wilton on Ladybits on Medium (Note: Links have been removed),

The reaction on Twitter was one of disbelief and anger from his network of science bloggers and friends. “Science blogosphere, I am tweetless… I can’t even retweet what has left me so stunned.” “Enraged children with a persecution complex are out on a witch hunt, it’ll blow over eventually…” “My closest friend is @boraz. I know him better than almost everyone. I would give my life for him. Thought you should know that.”

At first, I was paralyzed. But when I saw the “protect the herd” mentality among my friends, with some doubting that this behavior even qualified as sexual harassment, I had to speak up. I couldn’t leave Monica ridiculed and alone. Bora has been a friend and mentor for years. He recruited me to blog for Scientific American. And yet, even if she hadn’t named him, I would have recognized him from his behavior because I have gone through it too.

There are some voices in this discussion I want to include here, Priya Shetty in her Oct. 15, 2013 piece for Huffington Post condemns the silence about sexual harassment within the science community, Another Sexual Harassment Case in Science: The Deafening Silence That Surrounds It Condones It; Roger Pielke, Jr. in his Oct. 16, 2013 posting gives his perspective on the situation and why he thinks Andrew Maynard was wrong, Talking About Sexual Harassment in Science; and Alice Bell in her Oct. 16, 2013 posting for the Guardian, offers some context about science blogging, the Pepsigate incident, and her belief that this conversation about both incidents (Lee and Byrne), has revealed a dynamic community struggling to come to terms with sexual harassment in particular, Science, blogging, sexual harassment and the power of speaking out; The power of science blogging has always been the community, its members can find strength there.

Before offering a few of my thoughts on the issues. I am stating that In common with many others in the science blogosphere, I have had interactions (three or four?) with Bora. In my case they’ve been through this blog and on Twitter and through my involvement with Science Borealis (an aggregator/community for Canadian science bloggers that will be launched some time this fall (2013). I confess, I liked the man.

For me, the issues centre around Bora’s apology to Byrne and the institutional response (Scientific American) to the incidents. Leaving aside any question about the frequency with which he has met young women at coffee shops or elsewhere to share inappropriate personal stories and hint at a desire for an affair,,he’s had a year to consider the situation with Byrne. This latest  apology seems curiously bereft of any insight into his own behaviour or genuine remorse or empathy for the person he has sinned against. He’s ashamed (the first thing he says is about himself) and it was more than a year ago (so what Bora?). He expresses remorse (briefly) and acknowledges he was unprofessional. The next sentence is where the apology really falls apart, the company apologized too (?). I’m not sure how to interpret that phrase; does this mean the company is behind Bora or that Byrne now has three apologies (one from the company and two from Bora) which is above and beyond what’s necessary in this case?  The reference to the company apology is immediately followed by the statement that he was having a ‘difficult time’ and he made a mistake by sharing personal issues. Really? Sharing personal issues was the mistake?

Pretty much everyone has done this, i.e., offered a nonapology. Part of the problem here is that Bora has had a year to think about this incident so the apology seems a bit flimsy or cheap and, of course, the evidence strongly suggests this apology ends in a lie ” .. not behavior that I have engaged in before or since.”

The whole thing looks like a form of cheap grace, as per Diedrich Bonhoeffer, a Christian theologian, sourced from here,

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

It’s not a perfect quote for this situation but it does touch on a lot of what was going on in Bora’s 2013 apology.

As many people have pointed out the situation between Byrne (and others) brings up questions about power and its abuse. There’s an Oct. 18, 2013 posting on the Guardian which suggests Four ways to avoid becoming a leading sex pest; Be self-aware, recognise the trappings of power, deal with harassment proactively, and appreciate what leadership is really about. Those four points are important with regard to any situation where an abuse of power is possible. Mind you, it’s easy to come up with handy dandy guidelines, the difficulty is and always has been execution.

Who’s going to tell Bora he’s out of line? Until recently, it seems the answer to that is no one. Other than issuing an apology what did Scientific American do? And what will they do now?

Given the evidence, I’m looking at the situation with DN Lee, I’m not encouraged. The female editor at SciAm, Mariette DiChristina,, Editor in Chief and Senior VP, is trying to weasel her and the company out of responsibility for making the rather poor and ill-considered decision to remove Lee’s post. The first excuse, by the way, was that Lee’s piece was not about science. When that was contested by other SciAm bloggers who themselves had posted ‘non’ science pieces, a new excuse was found, they had to confirm the facts. It’s the weaseling that is so irritating. Just admit you folks made a mistake and you need to fix it.

As for the incident with Byrne (and others), it puts everything that Bora has done in terms of hiring and promoting people under a magnifying lens raises questions abut that and everything he’s worked at.

Scientific American may want to consider some kind of audit and ‘transparent’ communication about how they’re dealing with Lee’s situation and with the questions raised by Bora’s actions. Above all else, they shouldn’t indulge in any more weaseling.

Easy to say but as I look at the situation with Science Borealis getting ready to launch, I’m aware of just how easy it is to royally foul things up through an excess of speed, egotism (the certainty that one is a good person … no one is a good person all the time), and the sanctity of one’s own good intentions (I have good intentions so I don’t have to ask for permission; I don’t have time; etc.) or an unwillingness to be the odd person challenging and asking inconvenient questions.

One final thought, too often people think that good leadership means your team does what you want them to do. No,. Good leaders attract disparate and talented people who thoughtfully provide strong opinions based on insight, often painfully acquired. These are difficult teams to lead because those types of people aren’t just going to shut up and follow you. They want to be heard, they want their input to be taken into account, they’re likely to tell you things you don’t want to hear (helping the leader to achieve humility whether or not s/he wants it or not), and they’re going slow things down (helping the leader to achieve patience).

There aren’t too many easy ways to deal with issues of power (sexual harassment usually comes down to power). Self-awareness (both personal and institutional)  helps and that, sadly, is usually gained through bitter experience. Certainly, that’s how I’ve gained most of my self-awareness (such as it is).

I think most of the commentary has played itself out but on the off chance someone feels moved to comment here, I do take the weekends off and won’t be back until Monday, Oct. 21, 2013.

ETA Oct. 22, 2013: According to an Oct. 22, 2013 posting by Connie St. Louis on the Guardian Science blogs, Bora Zivkoovic resigned his position with Scientific American on Friday, Oct. 18, 2013.

2012 Canadian science blog roundup and some thoughts on a Canadian science blog network

This is my 3rd annual roundup of Canadian science blogs and the science blogging scene in Canada seems to be getting more lively (see my Dec. 31, 2010 posting and Dec. 29, 2011 posting to compare).

As I did last year, I will start with

Goodbyes

Don’t leave Canada appears to be gone as there hasn’t been posting there since May 4, 2011. I’m sorry to see it go as Rob Annan provided thoughtful commentary on science policy on a regular basis for years. Thank you, Rob. (BTW, he’s now the director of policy, research and evaluation at MITACS.)

Cool Science, John McKay’s blog has been shut down as of Oct. 24, 2012,

Hi everyone. This will mark the final post of the CoolScience.ca site and it will be quietly taken offline in November. I will also be closing down the Twitter and Facebook accounts and moving everything over to my professional accounts that are all focused on communicating science, technology, engineering and medicine.

The Dark Matter science blog by Tom Spears, which I reluctantly (as it was a ‘newspaper blog’ from the Ottawa Citizen)included last year  has since disappeared as has NeuroDojo, a blog written by a Canadian scientist in Texas.

Goodbye ish

Marc Leger’s Atoms and Numbers blog’s latest posting is dated Oct. 23, 2012 but the pattern here seems similar to Marie-Claire’s (see the next one) where the posting is erratic but relatively regular (once or twice per month) until October of this year.

Marie-Claire Shanahan is posting less frequently on her Boundary Vision blog with the last posting there on Oct. 9, 2012.

The Bubble Chamber blog from the University of Toronto’s Science Policy Work Group seems to be fading away with only one posting for 2012, Reply to Wayne Myrvold on the Higgs Boson.

Colin Schulz’s CMBR blog hasn’t had a new posting since July 13, 2012’s 11 Things You Didn’t Know About Canada. In any event, it looks like the blog is no longer primarily focused on science.

The Exponential Book blog by Massimo Boninsegni features an Oct. 24, 2012 posting and a similar posting pattern to Marie-Claire & Marc.

exposure/effect which was new last year has gone into a fairly lengthy hiatus as per its last post in January 30, 2012 posting.

Theoretical biologist, Mario Pineda-Krch of Mario’s Entangled Bank blog is also taking a lengthy hiatus as the last posting on that blog was June 11, 2012.

Nicole Arbour’s Canadian science blog for the UK High Commission in Ottawa hasn’t featured a posting since Oct. 15, 2012’s The Power of We: Adapting to climate change.

Gregor Wolbring’s Nano and Nano- Bio, Info, Cogno, Neuro, Synbio, Geo, Chem… features an Aug. 4, 2012 posting which links to one of his nano articles, (Nanoscale Science and Technology and People with Disabilities in Asia: An Ability Expectation Analysis) published elsewhere.

Jeff Sharom’s Science Canada blog highlights links to editorials and articles on Canadian science policy but doesn’t seem to feature original writing by Sharom or anyone else, consequently, it functions more as a reader/aggregator than a blog.

The Black Hole blog which was always more focused on prospect for Canadian science graduates than Canadian science, hence always a bit of a stretch for inclusion here, has moved to the University Affairs website where it focuses more exclusively on the Canadian academic scene with posts such as this, Free journal access for postdocs in between positions  from Dec. 12, 2012.

Returning to the roundup:

John Dupuis’ Confessions of a Science Librarian whose Dec. 26, 2012 posting, Best Science (Fiction) Books 2012: io9 seems timely for anyone taking a break at this time of year and looking for some reading material.

Daniel Lemire’s blog is known simply as Daniel Lemire. He’s a computer scientist in Montréal who writes one of the more technical blogs I’ve come across and his focus seems to be databases although his Dec. 10, 2012 posting covers the topic of how to get things accomplished when you’re already busy.

Dave Ng, a professor with the Michael Smith Laboratories at the University of British Columbia, is a very active science communicator who maintain the Popperfont blog. The latest posting (Dec. 24, 2012) features Sciencegeek Advent Calendar Extravaganza! – Day 24.

Eric Michael Johnson continues with his The Primate Diaries blog on the Scientific American blog network. His Dec. 6, 2012 posting is a reposted article but he has kept up a regular (once per month, more or less) posting schedule,

Author’s Note: The following originally appeared at ScienceBlogs.com and was subsequently a finalist in the 3 Quarks Daily Science Prize judged by Richard Dawkins. Fairness is the basis of the social contract. As citizens we expect that when we contribute our fair share we should receive our just reward. When social benefits are handed out …

Rosie Redfield is keeping with both her blogs, RRTeaching (latest posting, Dec. 6, 2012) and RRResearch (Nov. 17, 2012).

Sci/Why is a science blog being written by Canadian children’s writers who discuss science, words, and the eternal question – why?

Mathematician Nassif Ghoussoub’s Piece of Mind blog continues to feature incisive writing about science, science funding, policy and academe.

Canadian science writer Heather Pringle continues to post on the The Last Word on Nothing, a blog shared collectively by a number of well known science writers. Her next posting is scheduled for Jan. 3, 2013, according to the notice on the blog.

A little off my usual beat but I included these last year as they do write about science albeit medical and/or health science:

Susan Baxter’s blog Curmudgeon’s Corner features her insights into various medical matters, for example there’s her Dec. 1, 2012 posting on stress, the immune system, and the French antipathy towards capitalism.

Peter Janiszewski and Travis Saunders co-own two different blogs, Obesity Panacea, which is part of the PLoS (Public Library of Science) blogs network, and Science of Blogging which features very occasional posting but it’s worth a look for nuggets like this Oct. 12, 2012 (?) posting on social media for scientists.

After posting the 2011 roundup,

I had a number of suggestions for more Canadian science blogs such as these four who are part of the Scientific American SA) blogging network (in common with Eric Michael Johnson),

Dr. Carin Bondar posts on the SA blog, PsiVid, along with Joanne Manaster. There’s more than one Canadian science blogger who co-writes a blog. This one is self-described as, A cross section of science on the cyberscreen.

Glendon Mellow, a professional science illustrator,  posts on The Flying Trilobite (his own blog) and Symbiartic: the art of science and the science of art, an SA blog he shares with Kalliopi Monoyios.

Larry Moran, a biochemist at the University of Toronto, posts on science and anything else that tickles his fancy on his Sandwalk blog.

Eva Amsen who posts on a number of blogs including the NODE; the community site for developmental biologists  (which she also manages) but the best place to find a listing of her many blogs and interests is at easternblot.net, where she includes this self-description on the About page,

Online Projects

  • Musicians and Scientists – Why are so many people involved in both music and science? I’m on a mission to find out.
  • the NodeMy day job is managing a community site for developmental biologists around the world. The site is used by equal numbers of postdocs, PhD students, and lab heads.
  • SciBarCamp/SciBarCamb – I co-instigated SciBarCamp, an unconference for scientists, in Toronto in 2008. Since then I have co-organized five similar events in three countries, and have advised others on how to run science unconferences.
  • You Learn Something New Every Day – a Tumblr site that automatically aggregates tweets with the hashtag #ylsned, and Flickr photos tagged ylsned, to collect the interesting bits of trivia that people come across on a daily basis.
  • Lab Waste – During my last months in the lab as a PhD student, I made a mini-documentary (using CC-licensed materials) about the excessive amount of disposable plastics used in research labs. It screened in 2009 in the “Quirky Shorts” program of the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York.
  • Expression Patterns – In 2007 I was invited to blog on Nature Network. The complete archives from 2007-2012 are now on this site.
  • easternblot.net – Confusingly, my other science blog was named after this entire domain. It ran from 2005 to 2010, and can be found at science.easternblot.net

I believe Amsen is Canadian and working in the UK but if anyone could confirm, I would be much relieved.

Someone, who according to their About page prefers to remain anonymous but lives in Victoria, BC, and posts (somewhat irregularly, the last posting is dated Nov. 10, 2012) on The Olive Ridley Crawl,

I am an environmental scientist blogging about environmental and development issues that interest me. I prefer to be anonymous(e) because I work with some of the companies I may talk about and I want to avoid conflict of interest issues at work. This gets tricky because I am at the periphery of a lot of events happening in the world of my greatest expertise, persistent organic pollutants, endocrine disrupting compounds, their effects on health and the policy fights around chemicals, their use the controversies! So, I’ve reluctantly moved away from writing about what I know most about, which means this blog suffers severely. I still soldier on, though!

I was born, and grew up in India, so I am interested in all things South Asian and tend to view most all Western government and Western institution actions through a colonialist scratched lens! I am also becoming much more active about my feminism, so who knows what that will do to this blog. I have been meaning to write a monstrous essay about women, the environment and justice, but that’s a task!

I used to live in Chapel Hill, NC with a partner of long vintage (the partnership, that is, not her!) and a crazy cat who thinks he’s a dog. We moved to Victoria, BC in 2008 and I’ve been busy learning about Canadian policy, enjoying this most beautiful town I live in.

Why Olive Ridley? Well, the Olive Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys Olivacea) nests on the coasts of Madras, India and I got my start in the wonderful world of conservation working on the Olive Ridley with the Students’ Sea Turtle Conservation Network. So, I do have fond memories for this beautiful creature. And yes, as my dear partner reminds me, I did meet her on the beach when I was doing this work.

Agence Science-Presse (based in Québec and headed by Pascal Lapointe) features three blogs of its own:

Blogue ta science : les billets dédiés aux jeunes.

Discutez avec notre expert : avez-vous suivi notre enquête CSI ?

Autour des Blogues : les actualités de nos blogueurs et de la communauté.

There’s also a regular podcast under the Je vote pour la science banner.

genegeek appears to be Canadian (it has a domain in Canada) but the blog owner doesn’t really identify herself (there’s a photo) on the About page but no name and no biographical details. I did receive a tweet last year about genegeek from C. Anderson who I imagine is the blog owner.

There’s also the Canadian BioTechnologist2.0 blog, which is sponsored by Bio-Rad Canada and is written by an employee.

These next ones were added later in the year:

Chuck Black writes two blogs as he noted in June 2012,

I write two blogs which, while they focus more on space than science, do possess strong science components and overlap with some of the other blogs here.

They are: Commercial Space and Space Conference News.

Andy Park also came to my attention in June 2012. He writes the  It’s the Ecology, Stupid! blog.

Something About Science is a blog I featured in an Aug. 17, 2012 posting and I’m glad to see blogger, Lynn K, is still blogging.

New to the roundup in 2012:

SSChow, Sarah Chow’s blog, focuses on science events in Vancouver (Canada) and science events at the University of British Columbia and miscellaneous matters pertinent to her many science communication efforts.

The Canadian federal government seems to be trying its hand at science blogging with the Science.gc.ca Blogs (http://www.science.gc.ca/Blogs-WSE6EBB690-1_En.htm). An anemic effort given that boasts a total of six (or perhaps it’s five) posting in two or three years.

The Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA) currently features a blog roll of its members’ blogs. This is a new initiative from the association and one I’m glad to see.  Here’s the list (from the CSWA member blog page),

Anne Steinø (Research Through the Eyes of a Biochemist)
Arielle Duhame-Ross (Salamander Hours)
Bob McDonald (I’m choking on this one since it’s a CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] blog for its Quirks and Quarks science pr0gram)
Cadell Last (The Ratchet)
Edward Willett
Elizabeth Howell (she seems to be blogging again and the easiest way for me to get to her postings was to click on the Archives link [I clicked on December 2012 to get the latest] after doing that I realized that the images on the page link to postings)
Heather Maughan
Justin Joschko
Kimberly Gerson (Endless Forms Most Beautiful)
Mark Green (a CSWA member, he was born and educated in the US where he lives and works; ordinarily I would not include him, even with his  CSWA membership status,  but he writes a monthly science column for a Cape Breton newspaper, which has made me pause)
Pamela Lincez (For the Love of Science)
Sarah Boon (Watershed Moments)
Susan Eaton (she seems to be reposting articles written [presumably by her] for the AAPG [American Association of Petroleum Geologists] Explorer and other organizations in her blog]

Barry Shell’s site (listed as a CSWA member blog) doesn’t match my admittedly foggy notion of a blog. It seems more of an all round Canadian science resource featuring profiles of Canadian scientists, a regularly updated news archive, and more. Science.ca is extraordinary and I’m thankful to have finally stumbled across it but it doesn’t feature dated posts in common with the other blogs listed here, even the most commercial ones.

Tyler Irving (I had no idea he had his own blog when I mentioned him in my Sept. 25, 2012 posting about Canadian chemists and the Canadian Chemical Institute’s publications) posts at the Scientific Canadian.

I choke again, as I do when mentioning blogs that are corporate media blogs, but in the interest of being as complete as possible Julia Belluz writes the Scien-ish blog about health for MacLean’s magazine.

Genome Alberta hosts a couple of blogs: Genomics and Livestock News & Views.

Occam’s Typewriter is an informal network of science bloggers two of whom are Canadian:

Cath Ennis (VWXYNot?) and Richard Wintle (Adventures in Wonderland). Note: The Guardian Science Blogs network seems to have some sort of relationship with Occam’s Typewriter as you will see postings from the Occam’s network featured as part of Occam’s Corner on the Guardian website.

My last blogger in this posting is James Colliander from the University of  Toronto’s Mathematics Department. He and Nassif (Piece of Mind blog mentioned previously) seem to share a similar interest in science policy and funding issues.

ETA Jan.2.13: This is a social science oriented blog maintained by a SSHRC- (Social Science and Humanities Research Council) funded network cluster called the Situating Science Cluster and the blog’s official name is: Cluster Blog. This is where you go to find out about Science and Technology Studies (STS) and History of Science Studies, etc. and events associated with those studies.

I probably should have started with this definition of a Canadian blogger, from the Wikipedia entry,

A Canadian blogger is the author of a weblog who lives in Canada, has Canadian citizenship, or writes primarily on Canadian subjects. One could also be considered a Canadian blogger if one has a significant Canadian connection, though this is debatable.

Given how lively the Canadian science blogging scene has become, I’m not sure I can continue with these roundups as they take more time each year.  At the very least, I’ll need to define the term Canadian Science blogger, in the hope of reducing the workload,  if I decide to continue after this year.

There’s a rather interesting Nov. 26, 2012 article by Stephanie Taylor for McGill Daily about the Canadian public’s science awareness and a dearth of Canadian science communication,

Much of the science media that Canadians consume and have access to is either American or British: both nations have a robust, highly visible science media sector. While most Canadians wouldn’t look primarily to American journalism for political news and analysis, science doesn’t have the same inherent national boundaries that politics does. While the laws of physics don’t change depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on, there are scientific endeavours that are important to Canadians but have little importance to other nations. It’s unlikely that a British researcher would investigate the state of the Canadian cod fishery, or that the British press would cover it, but that research is critical to a substantial number of Canadians’ livelihoods.

On the other hand, as Canadian traditional media struggles to consistently cover science news, there’s been an explosion of scientists of all stripes doing a lot of the necessary big picture, broad context, critical analysis on the internet. The lack of space restrictions and accessibility of the internet (it’s much easier to start a blog than try to break in to traditional media) mean that two of the major barriers to complex discussion of science in the media are gone. Blogs struggle to have the same reach as newspapers and traditional media, though, and many of the most successful science blogs are under the online umbrella of mainstream outlets like Scientific American and Discover. Unfortunately and perhaps unsurprisingly, there is currently no Canadian science blog network like this. [emphasis mine]

Yes, let’s create a Canadian science blog network. I having been talking to various individuals about this over the last year (2012) and while there’s interest, someone offered to help and then changed their mind. Plus, I was hoping to persuade the the Canadian Science Writers Association to take it on but I think they were too far advanced in their planning for a member’s network to consider something more generalized (and far more expensive). So, if anyone out there has ideas about how to do this, please do comment and perhaps we can get something launched in 2013.

Nano in Egypt and in Iran

It’s great to get some information about what’s going on in Egypt and Iran with regard to nanotechnology and Julian Taub at the Scientific American blog network has posted a couple of very interesting interviews about what’s happening in those countries.  From Taub’s Jan. 12, 2012 posting (Felafel Tech: Nanotechnology in Egypt), here’s a description of his interview subject,

Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Mottaleb is the leading nanotechnology consultant in Egypt and Director of the Nano Materials Masters Program and the founding director for the Center of Nanotechnology at Nile University. He also helped write a chapter for NATO Science for Peace on nanomaterial consumer applications, as well as numerous research papers and articles on the issue of nanotechnology for developing countries. I sit down with him to discuss the importance of nanotechnology, the state of technological progress and public nanotechnology education after the revolution, and Egypt’s future role in the global nanotechnology landscape.

After talking about the impact that the recent revolution has had on the nanotech industry (briefly: not much since there wasn’t much of a nanotech industry in the first place) in Egypt, Abdel-Mottaleb discusses the impact on nanotechnology research at his center,

It has slowed things significantly, because now our students have to try to use facilities wherever available in Egypt. This always depends on the availability of the equipment and the response costs for us to use the equipment and the facilities at other universities or research centers. We’ve rented some labs from some companies located near the university, which are not even adequate. Our research has slowed down, students are frustrated but committed to finish and go to work, and contribute to the society and to Egypt. It has affected us deeply, negatively, but we are committed to solve it.

A significant hurdle we are facing now is the fact that the Egyptian government has stopped our move into our new campus. Since 2007, we have been operating out of temporary facilities and awaiting the completion the campus. The government has granted Ahmed Zewail (1999 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry) the full use of our campus, and since May 2010, he is refusing to allow the university to move into the facilities. This is despite the fact that the facilities were partly funded by donations to the university and the facilities remain unused to date.  Several rounds of negotiations have failed due to his insistence on shutting down the university. He plans to build a new university (Zewail University). It is very difficult to us to understand his position and intentions. We hope that the international community will support us and not allow the shutting down of a very young and successful university.

In answer to a question from Taub about the best way to advance Egyptian R&D (research and development) in nanotechnology,

I think we need a national nano initiative. It needs specific and measurable targets that all the resources that are going to be allocated for nanotechnology are going to be put into that area, and achieving targets. We need a significant collaboration with the international community. We need to find a way to establish such bi-lateral collaboration schemes, and in the end, we need the facilities. We have a huge untapped human resource power here, I mean, it’s really wonderful to see a fresh graduate from university writing a full proposal and standing up and defending it on a very scientific level, and really holding a sound argument. Unfortunately they are unable to execute these proposals because of the lack of funding and the lack of facilities.

This is really the way out, and nanotechnology can affect the culture in this region. You can use the interdisciplinary thinking and push the idea that you cannot do something on your own, you need collaborations, you need to blend other disciplines, and this is very similar to having foreigners or people in different language speaking countries having to find a way to work together. Nanotechnology really instills that into the minds of the students, and gives them the opportunity to question and challenge the conditions or the dogmas they have, whether it is about science, or culture, or politics. Nanotechnology is a wonderful venue to promote intercultural dialogue, and interfaith dialogue. You can really see the opportunities.

I find that last bit about nanotechnology’s  interdisciplinary nature as having an impact on dialogue in many spheres (Abdel-Mottaleb mentions science, culture, and politics) quite interesting and something I’ve not seen in either the Canadian or US discourses.

Egypt and nanotechnology were previously mentioned  in my Nov. 21, 2011 posting (Egyptian scientists win cash prize for innovation: a nano test for Hepatitis C) and I have also mentioned Egypt, science, and the revolution in my Feb. 4, 2011 posting (Brief bit about science in Egypt and brief bit about Iran’s tech fair in Syria). That gives me a tidy segue to Taub’s Jan. 13, 2012 posting (Science and Sanctions: Nanotechnology in Iran).

Here’s a little bit about  Dr. Abdolreza Simchi, the interview subject, from Taub’s introduction,

Dr. Simchi is a distinguished nanotechnology researcher heading the Research Center for Nanostructured and Advanced Materials (RCNAM) at the Department of Material Science and Engineering of Sharif University, where he focuses on biomedical engineering and sustainable technology. Nanotechnology is a new and interdisciplinary field where scientists can engineer atom and molecules on the nanoscale, fifty thousand times thinner than a human hair.

Dr. Simchi represents a bridge between Iran and the West. He has received many awards for his work, not only from Iran, but also from Germany, the UK, and the UN. He earned his PhD in a joint program between Sharif University and the University of Vienna and then worked at the German technology institute Fraunhofer at the beginning of his career.

Before excerpting a few more items from Taub’s post, I’m going to introduce a little information about Iran and its nanotechnology initiative from Tim Harper, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Cientifica. I interviewed Tim in my July 15, 2011 posting (Tim Harper, Cientifica’s CEO, talks about their latest report on global nanotechnology funding and economic impacts), where he mentioned Iran briefly and, after his visit to Iran’s Nano 2011 exhibition, he discussed it more extensively on his own blog. From Tim’s Nov. 17, 2011 posting on TNTLog,

Iran has always been a source of fascination, a place of ancient culture and history and now a country making a lot of noise about science and technology, so I was pleased to be invited by the Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council to attend the Iran Nano 2011 exhibition in Tehran.

The unique aspect of Iranian nanotechnology is that because of the various international sanctions over the past thirty years it’s not the kind of place where you can just order an AFM or an electron microscope from a major US or Japanese supplier. As a result there was lots of home made kit on display, from sputtering systems, through surface analysis to atomic force microscopes.

So, Iranian scientists have engineered their way around the embargo on selling high tech equipment of Iran – and there was no shortage of high-end laptops on display either – but so often science is not about how much stuff you have in your lab, but what you can do with it.

Here’s what Dr. Simchi had to say about sanctions in Taub’s interview (Jan. 13, 2012 posting),

I believe sanction has two faces. On one hand, it restricts the accessibility to facilities, equipment, and materials. This part is certainly disturbing the progress. However, I see another side that somehow is good! The sanction has limited the mobility of our students and experts. I believe the strength of the country is its talented and brilliant students and well-established academic media. This is the most important difference between Iran and other neighboring countries. Over three million students have now enrolled in Iranian Universities. Hundred thousands are now registered at graduate levels. This is a true strength and advantage of Iran. As far as the American and European banning of the mobility of Iranian students via visa restriction, we enjoy more and more from forced-prohibited brain drain.

What is the wonder in rapid development of Iran in scientific publication when thousands of talented graduate students join the university annually? This is a direct consequence of well-educated students, working hard even in a tough condition.  I am personally an example of this scenario (although I am not belonging to the upper 10% of talented scientists in Iran). I was unable to go to the US to visit Standford University due to the September 11 tragedy and was twice refused a visa to visit UC Berkeley. What would have happened if I had been successful to go to the US and possibly settle down? Up to now, I have graduated many talented students at SUT. They are really brilliant and I am very proud of them. Some of them left the country to continue their studies in Europe and the US but many are living in Iran and truly contribute to nanotechnology development.  Since my research area is not strategic and has no dual applications (mainly biomaterials and green technologies), I enjoy collaborating with many scientists in the US, Canada, Europe, South Korea, and Japan.

Simchi’s research focus is interesting in light of his specialty (from Taub’s Jan. 13, 2012 posting),

I am principally a metallurgist, and specifically a particulate materials scientist. However, I always look at science and technology side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder. In fact, it is of prime importance to me, as an engineer, to see where and how my research output might be utilized; the maximum and direct benefit for the nation and human beings are my utmost aims. In simple words, I look towards the national interests. My people suffer from cancer (Iran is a country with high-cancer risk), environmental pollution (for instance, Tehran is one of the most polluted cities in the world), and limited water resources (dry lands). Therefore, I keep trying to combine my knowledge on particulate materials with nanotechnology, i.e. size effect, to improve healthcare via biomedical applications of materials, and to combat environmental problems. I am particularly interested in developing nanoparticles for diagnosis and therapy and to use them in tissue engineering applications.

As for what Iran is doing with regard to commericalization, Tim notes this (from the Nov. 17, 2011 posting at TNTlog),

In terms of commercial products there were many on display. Agriculture was well represented, with fertilisers, pesticides, coatings to reduce fruit spoilage and even catalytic systems to remove ethylene from fruit storage facilities. Construction materials were another large area, with a wide range of building materials on display. Absent were areas such as semiconductors and medical devices, but once again their absence illustrates that INIC [Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council] is focussing much more on the solutions demanded by Iranian industry rather than trying to compete with more advanced economies.

Tim’s view that the absence of medical devices at the exhibition he visited is evidence that INIC is focussed on industry solutions suggests Dr. Simchi’s interests in biomedical and tissue engineering applications may prove a little challenging to pursue. In any event, I heartily recommend reading Taub’s interviews and Tim’s posting in their entirely.