Tag Archives: Susan Baxter

Is it Nature or is it Henry Gee? science’s woman wars continue (or start up again)

I was thinking we’d get a few more months before another ‘how women are treated in science circles’ or gender issues (as it is sometimes known) story erupted. Our last cycle was featured in my Oct. 18, 2013 posting and mentioned again in my Dec. 31, 2013 posting titled: 2013: women, science, gender, and sex. (Note: I will be referring to these postinsg and the Oct. scandals again in this posting but first, I have to lay the groundwork.)

It seems Henry Gee, a senior editor at Nature magazine, disagreed with my preference for waiting a few more months and decided to start a new cycle on Jan. 17, 2014 when he outed (revealed her personal name) pseudonymous blogger and online presence, Dr. Isis, on his Twitter feed. Here’s the nature (pun noted) of the offence (from Michael Eisen’s Jan. 20, 2014 posting on his ‘it is NOT junk’ blog),

DrIsisHenryGeeIn addition to  Dr. Isis’ personal name, Gee describes her as an “inconsequential sports physio” which seems to have disturbed some folks at least as much as the outing. Dr. Isis describes herself this way (from the Isis the Scientist blog About page,

Dr. Isis is an exercise physiologist at a major research university working on some terribly impressive stuff. …

In the Jan. 20, 2014 posting on her blog, Dr. Isis responds to Gee’s action on Twitter (partial excerpt from the posting; Note: Links have been removed),

So, while I am “ok”, were his actions “ok?” Of course not, and they give me pause. I have undoubtedly been vocal over the last four years of the fact that I believe Nature, the flagship of our profession, does not have a strong track record of treating women fairly. I believe that Henry Gee, a representative of the journal, is responsible for some of that culture.  That’s not “vitriolic” and it’s not “bullying”. That is me saying, as a woman, that there is something wrong with how this journal and its editors engage 50% of the population (or 20% of scientists) and I believe in my right to say “this is not ‘ok’.”  Henry Gee responded by skywriting my real name because he believed that would hurt me personally – my career, my safety, my family. Whatever. Regardless of the actual outcome, the direct personal nature of the attack is highlighted by its support from some that I “had it coming.. [emphasis mine]

Henry Gee’s actions were meant to intimidate me into silence. He took this approach likely with the thought that it was the most powerful way he could hurt me. Nothing more. Although I am ok, there are some recent victims of outing behavior that are not. That’s frightening. To think that the editor of a journal would respond to criticism of his professional conduct regarding the fair treatment of women by attempting to personally injure and damage..

I recommend reading the post in it’s entirety as she also addresses the adjective, ‘inconsequential’ and expands further on the issues she has with Nature (magazine). As for the emphasis I”ve added to the phrase “… I have it coming …”, it reminded me of this passage in my Dec. 31, 2013 posting,

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.

Gee managed to fuse two prevailing attitudes toward women in a single tweet, rage when women aren’t ‘nice’ or ‘don’t know their place’ (apparently, Dr. Isis can be quite stinging in her criticisms and so he outs her) and dismissiveness (she’s an “inconsequential sports physio”) while showcasing Nature’s (his employer) and by extension his own importance in the world of science (“Nature quakes in its boots”).

Michael Eisen in his Jan. 20, 2014 posting explains why he thinks this situation is important and unpacks some of the reasons why a young scientist might wish to operate with a pseudonym (Note: A link has been removed),

Gee and Dr. Isis have apparently had issues in the past. I don’t know the full history, but I was witness to some of it after Gee published a misogynistic short story in Nature several years back. Gee behaved like an asshole back then, and apparently he has not stopped.

Think about what happened here. A senior figure at arguably the most important journal in science took it upon himself to reveal the name of a young, female, Latina scientist with whom he has fought and whom he clearly does not like. …

Having myself come under fairly withering criticism from Dr. Isis, I feel somewhat qualified to speak to this. She has a sharp tongue. She speaks with righteous indignation. I don’t always think she’s being fair. And, to be honest, her words hurt. But you know what? She was also right. I have learned a lot from my interactions with Dr. Isis – albeit sometimes painfully. I reflected on what she had to say – and why she was saying it. I am a better person for it. I have to admit that her confrontational style is effective.

If our conflicts had existed in the “real world” where I’m a reasonably well known, male tenured UC [University of California] Berkeley professor and HHMI  [Howard Hughes Medical Institute] Investigator and she’s a young, female, Latina woman at the beginning of her research career, the deck is stacked against her. Whatever the forum, odds are I’m going to come out ahead, not because I’m right, but because that’s just the way this world works. And I think we can all agree that this is a very bad thing. This kind of power imbalance is toxic and distorting. It infuses every interaction. The worst part of it is obvious – it serves to keep people who start down, down. But it also gives people on the other side the false sense that they are right. It prevents them from learning and growing.

But when my interlocutor is anonymous, the balance of power shifts. Not completely. But it does shift. And it was enough, I think, to fundamentally change the way the conversations ended. And that was a good thing. I know I’m not going to convince many people that they should embrace this feeling of discomfort – this loss of power. But I hope, at least, people can appreciate why some amongst us feel so strongly about protecting this tool in their arsenal, and why what Gee did is more fundamental and reprehensible than the settling of a grudge.

I recommend reading Eisen’s posting in its entirety and this Jan. 21, 2014 posting by Dr. Julienne Rutherford on her Biological ANthropology Developing Investigators Troop blog. She provides more context for this situation and a personal perspective as an untenured professor herself (Note: Links have been removed),

As a biological anthropologist working toward tenure, a paper in Nature could “make” my career. I have as-yet-untenured colleagues at Ivies who get tsked-tsked for NOT submitting to Nature. The reverence for impact factors requires us to consider this the pinnacle of scientific publishing, at the same time that senior representatives of that very same journal with public platforms show absolutely no shame in trivializing our efforts as scientists or our very real struggles as outsiders in the Old White Boys Club. Struggles that make me feel like this a lot, and I actually have it pretty easy.

This continued outsider existence is what leads many to seek the clearly imperfect protection of an online pseudonym. Pseudonymity on the the internet has a long and defensible history, largely as protection of some kind, often against reprisals by employers. Sometimes as protection against cyber-stalking and sometimes real-life stalking and physical assault. But another reason is that it can offer protection against the clubbishness and bullying of privileged scholars with powers to hire, publish, grant funds. The power to deem one as a scientist of consequence. The power to refuse the pervasive poison that is their privilege and blindness. …

Interestingly, the same day Gee lashed out at Dr. Isis, Nature issued an apology for a letter they had recently published. Here’s an excerpt from the letter that was published online on Jan. 15, 2014,

Research: Publish on the basis of quality, not gender by Lukas Koube. Nature 505, 291 (16 January 2014) doi:10.1038/505291e Published online 15 January 2014

The publication of research papers should be based on quality and merit, so the gender balance of authors is not relevant in the same way as it might be for commissioned writers (see Nature 504, 188; 2013) [a special issue on women and gender issues in science]. Neither is the disproportionate number of male reviewers evidence of gender bias. …

Koube’s letter is behind a paywall but i gather the rest of it continues in a similarly incendiary and uninformed fashion.

Kelly Hills writes about the letter and Nature’s apology in a Jan. 17, 2014 posting on her Life As An Extreme Sport blog (Note: Links have been removed),

While Nature’s apology is better than a nonpology, it’s not actually a full apology, and it doesn’t surprise me that it’s not being as well-received as the editors likely hoped. I detailed some of my issues with the apology on Twitter this morning, but I wanted to take the time to actually expand on what is necessary for a complete apology.

You can find quite a few different opinions on what constitutes an actual apology. I am fond of a four stage approach: Recognition, Responsibility, Remorse/Regret, Remedy. I think it’d be easiest to go through each of these and the Nature apology, to see where they succeed, and where they fail. Hopefully this will be illustrative not only to them now, but others in the future.

… When you recognize your mistake, you need to be specific. This is what Nature said:

On re-examining the letter and the process, we consider that it adds no value to the discussion and unnecessarily inflames it, that it did not receive adequate editorial attention, and that we should not have published it.

This isn’t a bad start. Ultimately, there is recognition that the commentary was inflammatory and it shouldn’t have been published. That said, what would have made it a good example of recognition is acknowledgement that the commentary that was published was offensive, as well. It’s not about adding no value, or even being inflammatory–it’s that it’s a point of view that has been systematically deconstructed and debunked over years, to the point that people who hold it are actually advocating biased, if not complete misogynistic, positions.

I found this a very interesting read as Hills elucidates on one of my pet peeves, the non apology apology and something I recognize as one of my own faults, offering a non apology, i.e., offering excuses for my behaviour along with “I’m sorry.”

Before finishing this post, I want to include a little more information about Henry Gee (from his Wikipedia essay; Note: Links have been removed),

Dr Henry Gee (born 1962 in London, England) is a British paleontologist and evolutionary biologist. He is a senior editor of Nature, the scientific journal.[1]

Gee earnt his B.Sc. at the University of Leeds and completed his Ph.D. at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, where, in his spare time, he played keyboard for a jazz band fronted by Sonita Alleyne, who went on to establish the TV and radio production company Somethin’ Else.[2] Gee joined Nature as a reporter in 1987 and is now Senior Editor, Biological Sciences.[citation needed] He has published a number of books, including Before the Backbone: Views on the Origin of the Vertebrates (1996), In Search of Deep Time (1999),[3][4] A Field Guide to Dinosaurs (illustrated by Luis Rey) (2003) and Jacob’s Ladder (2004).

On January 17th, 2014, Gee became embroiled in internet controversy by revealing the identity of an anonymous science blogger, Melissa Bates [7]. Bates was an open critic of the scientific journal Nature, where Gee is a senior editor. Gee’s comments were an apparent attempt to discredit the blogger’s reputation, but many felt his doxing went too far[8] . It was later revealed that Gee is not unfamiliar with pseudonyms himself, using the pseudonym “Cromercrox” to curate his own Wikipedia entry.

I am a bit surprised by the lack of coverage on the Guardian science blogs where a number of essays were featured during the Oct. 2013 ‘sex scandals’. Perhaps no one has had enough time to write it up or perhaps the Guardian editors feel that enough has been written about gender and science. Note, Henry Gee writes for the Guardian.

It’s hard for me to tell whether or not Henry Gee’s Twitter feed (@HenryGeeBooks) is a personal account or a business account  (access seems to be restricted as of Jan. 22, 2014 12:40 pm PDT; you can access this) but it does seem that Gee has conflated his professional and personal lives in such a way that one may not be easily distinguishable from the other. This does leave me with a question, is Nature responsible for comments made on their employee’s personal Twitter feed (assuming HenryGeeBooks is a personal feed)?  No and yes.

As far as I’m concerned no employer has a right to control any aspects of an employee’s personal life unless it impacts their work, e.g. pedophiles should not be employed to work with young children. In Henry Gee’s case he invoked his employer and his professional authority as one of their editors with “Nature quakes in its boots” and that means I expect to see some sort of response from NPG .

I’ve mentioned the October 2013 scandals because Nature Publishing Group (NGP) owns Scientific American, one of the publications that was at the centre of the scandals. Their (Scientific American/NPG) response was found to be lacking that time too. At this point, we have two responses that are lacking (the excuses over the Scientific American aspects of the October 2013 scandals and the apology over the Koube letter published in January 2014) and a nonresponse with regard to Gee’s tweet.

Regarding Henry Gee, perhaps this massive indignation which has caused his Twitter page to be made inaccessible, at this time  will also cause him to reconsider his attitudes about women and about the power he wields (or wielded?). I fear that won’t be the case and that he’s more likely to be building resentment. Ultimately, this is what confounds me about these situations, how does one confront a bully without driving them into more extreme forms of the behaviour and attitudes that led to the confrontation? I don’t believe there’s ‘a one size fits all’ answer to this, I just wish there was more discussion about the issue. I speak here as a Canadian who is still haunted by L’École Polytechnique massacre in Montréal (from the Wikipedia essay; Note: Links have been removed),

The École Polytechnique Massacre, also known as the Montreal Massacre, occurred on December 6, 1989 at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Twenty-five-year-old Marc Lépine, armed with a legally obtained Mini-14 rifle and a hunting knife, shot twenty-eight people before killing himself. He began his attack by entering a classroom at the university, where he separated the male and female students. After claiming that he was “fighting feminism” and calling the women “a bunch of feminists,” he shot all nine women in the room, killing six. He then moved through corridors, the cafeteria, and another classroom, specifically targeting women to shoot. Overall, he killed fourteen women and injured ten other women and four men in just under twenty minutes before turning the gun on himself.[1][2]

I applaud the women who have spoken up and continue to speak up and I hope we all men and women can work towards ways of confronting bullies while also allowing for the possibility of change.

Finally, thanks to Susan Baxter for alerting me to this latest gender and science story cycle. Here’s Susan’s blog where she writes about medical matters (mostly). Her latest post concern’s Lyme’s disease.

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.

2011 roundup and thoughts on the Canadian science blogging scene

Last year I found about a dozen of us, Canadians blogging about science, and this year (2011) I count approximately 20 of us. Sadly, one blog has disappeared; Elizabeth Howell has removed her PARS3C blog from her website. Others appear to be in pause mode, Rob Annan at the Researcher Forum: Don’t leave Canada behind (no posts since May 4, 2011), The Bubble Chamber at the University of Toronto (no posts since Aug. 12, 2011), Gregor Wolbring’s  Nano and Nano- Bio, Info, Cogno, Neuro, Synbio, Geo, Chem…  (no new posts since Oct. 2010; I’m about ready to give up on this one) and Je vote pour la science (no posts since May 2011).

I’ve been fairly catholic in my approach to including blogs on this list although I do have a preference for blogs with an individual voice that focuses primarily on science (for example, explaining the science you’re writing about rather than complaining about a professor’s marking of your science paper).

Piece of Mind is Nassif Ghoussoub’s (professor of mathematics at the University of British Columbia) blog which is largely about academe, science, and grants. Nassif does go much further afield in some of his posts, as do we all from time to time. He’s quite outspoken and always interesting.

Cool Science is John McKay’s blog which he describes this way ” This site is about raising a creative rationalist in an age of nonsense. It is about parents getting excited about science, learning and critical thinking. It is about smart parents raising smart kids who can think for themselves, make good decisions and discern the credible from the incredible. ” His posts cover a wide range of topics from the paleontology museum in Alberta to a space shuttle launch to the science of good decisions and more.

Dave Ng makes me dizzy. A professor with the Michael Smith Laboratories at the University of British Columbia, he’s a very active science communicator who has started blogging again on the Popperfont blog. This looks like a compilation of bits from Twitter, some very brief postings, and bits from other sources. I’m seeing this style of blogging more frequently these days.

The queen of Canadian science blogging, Rosie Redfield, was just acknowledged as a ‘newsmaker of the year’ by Nature magazine. The Dec. 22, 20111 Vancouver Sun article by Margaret Munro had this to say,

A critical thinker in Vancouver has been named one of the top science newsmakers of the year.

“She appeared like a shot out of the blogosphere: a wild-haired Canadian microbiologist with a propensity to say what was on her mind,” the leading research journal Nature says of Rosie Redfield, a professor at the University of B.C.

The journal editors say Redfield is one of 10 individuals who “had an impact, good or bad, on the world of science” in 2011. She was chosen for her “critical” inquiry and “remarkable experiment in open science” that challenged a now-infamous “arsenic life” study funded by NASA.

Rosie has two blogs, RRResearch and RRTeaching. She used to say she wasn’t a blogger but I rather think she’s changed her tune.

Jeff Sharom’s Science Canada blog isn’t, strictly speaking, a blog so much as it is an aggregator of Canadian science policy news and a good one at that. There are also some very useful resources on the site. (I shamelessly plundered Jeff’s list to add more blogs to this posting).

The Black Hole is owned by Beth Swan and David Kent (although they often have guest posters too). Here’s a description from the About page,

I have entered the Post Doctoral Fellow Black Hole… I’ve witnessed a lot and heard about much more and, while this is the time in academic life when you’re meant to be the busiest, I have begun this blog. Just as a black hole is difficult to define, the label Post Doc is bandied about with recklessness by university administrators, professors, and even PDFs themselves. One thing is certain though… once you get sucked in, it appears to be near impossible to get back out.

David, Beth, and their contributors offer extensive discussions about the opportunities and the failings of the post graduate science experience.

Nicole Arbour, a Science and Innovation Officer at the British High Commission Office in Ottawa, Canada, blogs regularly about Canadian science policy and more on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office blogs.

Colin Schultz, a freelance science journalist, blogs at his website CMBR. He focuses largely on climate change, environmental research, space, and science communication.

exposure/effect is a blog about toxicology, chemical exposures, health and more, which is written by a scientist who chooses to use a pseudonym, ashartus.

Mario’s Entangled Bank is written by theoretical biologist, Mario Pineda-Krch at the University of Alberta. One of Pineda-Krch’s most recent postings was about a special section of a recent Science Magazine issue on Reproducible Research.

Boundary Vision is written by Marie-Claire Shanahan, a professor of science education at the University of Alberta. She not only writes a science blog, she also researches the language and the social spaces of science blogs.

Eric Michael Johnson writes The Primate Diaries blog which is now part of the Scientific American blog network. With a master’s degree in evolutionary anthropology, Johnson examines the interplay between evolutionary biology and politics both on his blog and as part of his PhD work (he’s a student at the University of British Columbia).

The Atoms and Numbers blog is written by Marc Leger. From the About Marc page,

I am a scientist who has always been curious and fascinated by how our universe works.  I love discovering the mysteries and surprises of our World.  I want to share this passion with others, and make science accessible to anyone willing to open their minds.

Many people have appreciated my ability to explain complex scientific ideas in simple terms, and this is one motivation behind my website, Atoms and Numbers.  I taught chemistry in universities for several years, and I participated in the Scientists in the Schools program as a graduate student at Dalhousie University, presenting chemistry magic shows to children and teenagers from kindergarten to grade 12.  I’ve also given presentations on chemistry and forensics to high school students.  I’m even acknowledged in a cookbook for providing a few morsels of information about food chemistry.

Massimo Boninsegni writes about science-related topics (some are about the academic side of science; some physics; some personal items) on his Exponential Book blog.

The Last Word on Nothing is a group blog that features Heather Pringle, a well-known Canadian science writer, on some posts. Pringle’s latest posting is, Absinthe and the Corpse Reviver, all about a legendary cure for hangovers. While this isn’t strictly speaking a Canadian science blog, there is a Canadian science blogger in the group and the topics are quite engaging.

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. He does cover other topics too, notably in this post titled, Where do debt, credit and currencies come from?

Confessions of a Science Librarian by John Dupuis (head of the Steacie Science & Engineering Library at York University) is a blog I missed mentioning last year and I’m very glad I remembered it this year. As you might expect from a librarian, the last few postings have consisted of lists of the best science books of 2011.

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

I have mixed feelings about including this blog, the Dark Matter science blog by Tom Spears, as it is a ‘newspaper blog’ from the Ottawa Citizen.

Similarly, the MaRS blog is a corporate initiative from the Toronto area science and technology business incubator, MaRS Discovery District.

The last three blogs I’m mentioning are from medical and health science writers.

Susan Baxter’s blog Curmudgeon’s Corner features her insights into various medical matters, for example there’s her Dec. 5, 2011 posting on mammograms, along with her opinions on spandex, travel, and politics.

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 (nothing posted since July 2011 but it’s well worth a look).

I don’t have anything particularly profound to say about the state of Canadian science blogging this year. It does look to be getting more populous online and I hope that trend continues. I do have a wish for the New Year; I think it should be easier to find Canadian science blogs and would like  to see some sort of network or aggregated list.

Nanotechnology enables robots and human enhancement: part 1

I’m doing something a little different as I’m going to be exploring some ideas about robots and AI today and human enhancement technologies over the next day or so. I have never been particularly interested in these topics but after studying and thinking about nanotechnology I have found that I can’t ignore them since nanotech is being used to enable these, for want of a better word, innovations. I have deep reservations about these areas of research, especially human enhancement, but I imagine I would have had deep reservations about electricity had I been around in the days when it was first being commercialized.

This item, Our Metallic Reflection: Considering Future Human-android Interactions, in Science Daily is what set me off,

Everyday human interaction is not what you would call perfect, so what if there was a third party added to the mix – like a metallic version of us? In a new article in Perspectives on Psychological Science, psychologist Neal J. Roese and computer scientist Eyal Amir from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign investigate what human-android interactions may be like 50 years into the future.

As I understand the rough classifications, there are robots (machines that look like machines), androids (machines that look like and act like humans), and cyborgs (part human/part machine). By the way, my mother can be designated as a cyborg since she had her hip replacement a few years ago. It’s a pretty broad designation including people with pacemakers, joint replacements, as well as any other implanted object not native to a human body.

The rest of the Science Daily article goes on to state that by 2060 androids will be able to answer in human-like voices, answer questions and more. The scientists studying the potential interactions are trying to understand how people will react psychologically to these androids of 2060.

For an alternative discussion about robots, AI, etc. you can take a look at a project where Mary King, a collegue and fellow classmate (we completed an MA programme at De Montfort University), compares Western and Japanese responses to them.

This research project explores the theories and work of Japanese and Western scientists in the field of robotics and AI. I ask what differences exist in the approach and expectations of Japanese and Western AI scientists, and I show how these variances came about.

Because the Western media often cites Shinto as the reason for the Japanese affinity for robots, I ask what else has shaped Japan’s harmonious feelings for intelligent machines. Why is Japan eager to develop robots, and particularly humanoid ones? I also aim to discover if religion plays a role in shaping AI scientists’ research styles and perspectives. In addition, I ask how Western and Japanese scientists envision robots/AI playing a role in our lives. Finally, I enquire how the issues of roboethics and rights for robots are perceived in Japan and the West.

You can go here for more.  Amongst other gems, you’ll find this,

Since 1993 Robo-Priest has been on call 24-hours a day at Yokohama Central Cemetery. The bearded robot is programmed to perform funerary rites for several Buddhist sects, as well as for Protestants and Catholics. Meanwhile, Robo-Monk chants sutras, beats a religious drum and welcomes the faithful to Hotoku-ji, a Buddhist temple in Kakogawa city, Hyogo Prefecture. More recently, in 2005, a robot dressed in full samurai armour received blessings at a Shinto shrine on the Japanese island of Kyushu. Kiyomori, named after a famous 12th-century military general, prayed for the souls of all robots in the world before walking quietly out of Munakata Shrine.

It seems our androids are here already despite what the article in Science Daily indicates. More tomorrow.

Book launch announcement:  Susan Baxter, guest blogger here and lead author of The Estrogen Errors: Why Progesterone is Better for Women’s Health, is having a book launch tomorrow, Thursday, July 23, 2009 from 6 – 8 pm, at Strands Hair and Skin Treatment Centre, #203 – 131 Water St. (in the same complex as the kite store), Vancouver.

Guest blogger on hormones, Suzanne Somers, and Oprah

Sorry for the delay in getting this up but here at last are my guest blogger’s comments on issues about estrogen and women’s health. First, I should introduce her, Susan Baxter, PhD. is co-author with Jerilynn Prior, MD of the newly published Estrogen Errors. Now for her comments,

In believing that hormones – pills, patches, injectables, bioidentical, you-name-it – will somehow keep you young and vibrant Suzanne Somers and Oprah are part of a long and undistinguished history, one that places estrogen front and centre. Progesterone, the other natural (post-ovulatory) hormone that crucially balances out estrogen during each menstrual cycle, an afterthought, if mentioned at all.

From the synthetic estrogen DES (diethylstilbestrol) in the 1930’s to the estrogen derived from pregnant mares’ urine, Premarin, since the 1950’s, estrogen “replacement” has morphed in our collective imaginations into the fountain of youth. And where it really started was with a 1966 bestseller, Feminine Forever.

Secretly produced by drug companies eager to market their estrogen pills, written by a kindly New York gynecologist Robert Wilson (his son later admitted to the drug company connection), Feminine Forever was blatant propaganda that took America by storm. In no time at all menopause became cemented in the popular imagination as a “deficiency” disease that estrogen could cure. And during an era where midlife women, no longer beautiful or fertile, were losing any status they may have had (as the TV series Mad Men depicts), Wilson’s song was one they wanted to hear. Really, it wasn’t age or the culture treating women badly; it wasn’t economic or social, it was medical. Then, once a handful of epidemiological studies linked taking estrogen with being healthier (bearing in mind that such studies can only show correlation, not cause), millions of women began taking hormone “replacement” therapy or “HRT”.

I use quotes for “HRT”, incidentally, because – as my coauthor endocrinologist Jerilynn Prior has accurately pointed out – how can hormones at menopause be a “replacement” when all women’s hormones naturally wane at this stage of their lives. The term suggests parity with a diabetic taking insulin – except it is not.

The estrogen-is-good-for-you argument should have died, once and for all, in 2002 when the largest clinical trial in history, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) was stopped early because the women who were taking the hormones were found to be suffering from ridiculously high levels of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, blood clots and more. For those women whose perimenopause (the transition into menopause during, usually, the forties) is onerous, progesterone works for symptom relief and doesn’t cause anything dire. But no, here we are again, stuck in the inane and superficial: Oprah, Somers, Newsweek. What we are not hearing is how these women, along with everyone else, have so internalized the fallacy that a woman’s true nature is to be fertile (and with high levels of estrogen) that all else is forgotten. So we continue to argue about the what and the – when the real issue is the why. But, as the late Stephen Jay Gould once said, we believe most fervently in those facts that allow us to believe our social prejudices are true. And there is no prejudice as thoroughly engrained as that of the value of women being equal to their being young and fruitful.

That is the real story.

(My thanks to Frogheart and all the other bloggers – e.g., http://trueslant.com/womenomics/2009/06/08/did-anyone-else-think-the-newsweek-photo-of-oprah-was-mysogenistic-and-just-plain-dumb/ – and other commentators, many linked to on this blog, who have criticized the Newsweek story thoughtfully. However, as a social scientist and medical writer who has studied the subject, I continue to be appalled at our societal love affair with hormones, in general; estrogen, in particular; and our blithe disregard for the natural cycles and stages of a woman’s life.)

As I said in Part 2 of my post, titled Synchronicity, Oprah, Newsweek, and Hormones, it’s not necessary to denigrate someone personally to critique what their ideas. Thank you Susan!

Deepak Chopra chimes in on Oprah and Newsweek

Over on the Huffington Post, Deepak Chopra has written a commentary on the Newsweek article about Oprah and her health shows. I notice that while he supports her overall position on alternative therapies he steers clear of the hormone, face lift, and iodine/thyroid stories that were cited in the Newsweek article. He does some telling points about modern medical practice and some of its attendant issues. If you want to read the article for yourself, it’s here.

Later today, guest blogger, Susan Baxter (who’ll be talking about hormones and current medical practice).

Synchronicity, Oprah, Newsweek, and hormones: Part 2

Back to my main programme, hormones are popularly believed to make people, particularly women, crazy.  Teenagers are hormonal (i.e. difficult and crazy to deal with) with females often being considered the more difficult. How many times have you heard, “Boys are easier.” Then there’s PMS, that’s when a menstruating woman’s hormones make her crazy. Finally, we have menopause (when hormonal output changes again) is well known as a time when women get difficult or crazy.

Coincidentally, Oprah is at that age, the menopausal age. Having difficulty swallowing this? Take a look at p. 37, the page I mentioned in yesterday’s with the original or working title for the article. There’s an image there of Oprah in 1972 when she was crowned Miss Black Nashville. What possible reason is there to run an old beauty pageant picture? The only way it makes any sense within the context of the piece is as contrast. Had they gone with original title they would never have been able to justify using that image. Take a good look at the images they use with the article and ask yourself why they included a picture of Oprah seated in a back seat of a car with curlers in her hair.

The article itself is bookend by the hormone story. It starts with Suzanne Somers and the January 2009 hormone show and ends with a mention of Suzanne Somers lest we forget that this is really about the hormones and aging.

One last thing, there are 20 pages of advertising in the Newsweek issue. Two advertisers from the pharmaceutical sector purchased 10 pages of advertising. The other 10 pages are spread between a travel magazine, telecommunications company, beer, audio equipment, non profit, church, automotive, coffee, automobile software, and an insurance company. Oh, Newsweek itself also has a page.

I don’t think the pharamceutical companies dictated the cover story but the folks at Newsweek had to know that the attack on crazy, wackadoodle alternative therapies would not put any future advertising in jeopardy.

No one element puts the article over the top; it’s the combination of elements. Some of them deliberate and some of them serendipitous. Unfortunately, in the end we’re left with a peculiarly vicious attack on aging and being a woman. In Oprah’s case, a powerful and successful woman.

It’s not necessary to denigrate someone when you’re critcising them. For a more thoughtful critique of Oprah’s health programmes, you can check Dr. Rahul Parikh’s article on Salon.com, here.

Tomorrow, Susan Baxter, author of Estrogen Errors, on how the medical establishment (just like Oprah and Suzanne Somers) has had a longtime infatuation with estrogen.

I’m quite surprised, I just checked Rob Annan’s blog, Researcher Forum: Don’t Leave Canada Behind to find some major changes taking place with regard to the science ministry in the UK and science funding in Germany.

Synchronicity, Oprah, Newsweek, and hormones: Part 1

In one of those odd coincidences, I’d been working on a publicity project for a book called Estrogen Erors; Why Progesterone is Better for Women’s Health by Susan Baxter, PhD, and Jerilynn C. Prior, MD for the last few months when the Newsweek (June 8, 2009) issue featuring Oprah and her health advice  hit the newstands last week.  It really hit hard because an important chunk of the article is about hormones and women and I just have to unpack at least part of the article and the imagery.

I’m going to devote at least the first few days of this week to health information because whilst I was reeling from the Newsweek article I found a misleading discussion of nanotechnology in a fashion magazine. But that’s for later this week.

I should mention I’m not an Oprah fan. I found her programme mildly interesting years ago but these days, I find her programme unwatchable for more than five minutes. In fact, it has to be at least one or two years since I watched even that much.

I think the Newsweek article is the result of a perfect storm. First, I’m assuming that Newsweek is in serious financial trouble and somebody made a business decision to incite people to purchase the magazine. After all, Oprah sells. Second, celebrities are regularly built up and torn down. Oprah has been at the top for a long time and has been relatively unscathed, ’til now.

So, I’d been waiting for some kind of Oprah teardown process for a while and thought the problems with the school in South Africa might start it off. I never guessed that it was going to be health programmes. Now onto the unpacking.

The article itself is laced with cheap shots but it probably wouldn’t have seemed so vicious if the editors had used the working title, Why Oprah may be hazardous to your health (p. 37 on a page called Feature; The First Rough Draft). The title they did choose, CRAZY TALK; Oprah, Wacky Cures & You superimposed over an image of Oprah with mouth open, hands open, palms out, and by her face, and ‘crazy’ curly hair is disturbing. If you were quickly scanning the title and registering the image, you might think it was an article about Oprah going crazy.

The article itself begins on page 55 and it starts with a hormone story. In January 2009 Oprah had a programme about hormones and aging women which featured the actess, Suzanne Somers and other guests.

(Aside: The authors, one of whom has a book on menopause which is being published in September 2009 [it is disclosed in the story although I can't find exactly where right now], offer some misleading information of their own.

Outside Oprah’s world, there isn’t a raging debate about replacing hormones. p. 55

Pick up a woman’s magazine and you’ll find that there are still people out there who are arguing for adding estrogen in the firm belief that you can never have too much despite evidence to the contrary. [Wednesday this week, Susan Baxter, the lead author for Estrogen Errors, will blog here about the level of misinformation still circulating.]) Part 2 of the unpacking tomorrow.