Tag Archives: Canadian Science Publishing

Canadian science: a new writing guide and a new open access journal

The book
The Scientist’s Guide to Writing: How to Write More Easily and Effectively Throughout Your Scientific Career by Stephen Heard (professor at the University of New Brunswick, Canada) was published today, April 12, 2016. Heard has written up his book and experiences in an April 12, 2016 posting on his blog, Scientist Sees Squirrel,

It’s been almost five years since I started work on what became The Scientist’s Guide to Writing. I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that as of today, the book is officially published!  The Scientist’s Guide is now available from your local or internet bookseller (links below) or, of course, from your local library. …

All scientists are writers – we have to be, or our work will be lost.  But many of us don’t find writing easy.  I wrote The Scientist’s Guide to tell you some of things I wish someone had told me when I was beginning to practice the craft.  Actually (and somewhat to my surprise), in writing it I learned new things that are helping me even this late in my career.  I think the book can help any writer; as of today, you can grab a copy and see whether I’m right.

I have taken a look at the Table of Contents, as usual with Amazon’s previews (thank you for the preview but sigh), I can’t copy and paste it here. Briefly, the book has 28 chapters and is split into seven parts: What Writing Is, Behavior, Content and Structure, Style, Revision, Some Loose Threads, and Final Thoughts. Should this whet your appetite, the paperback book is priced at $27.67 CAD.

The open access journal

An April 12, 2016 post by Dr. Jules Blais on the Canadian Science Publishing blog announces a new journal,

It is my distinct pleasure to introduce FACETS, an open access, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary science journal that will offer new approaches to publishing original research and perspectives, with a focus on multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary science and engineering.

… It is widely recognized that multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches will be increasingly required to face the challenges of the twenty-first century. Developments to improve and sustain essential aspects of modern society, such as health, energy, environment, and technology, will require a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspective. Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, multidisciplinary approaches refer to independent research leading to a common goal, whereas interdisciplinary research refers to a sharing of methods or concepts among participants. FACETS intends to promote both of these approaches. We believe FACETS is timely because we anticipate that the major research breakthroughs in the coming decades will be made at the interfaces of traditional fields of inquiry. …

Blais goes on to discuss whys of the open access policy, the types of manuscripts they will be accepting, and the journal’s bilingual language policy,

… Open access is still a relatively new concept and online journals have only existed for 20 years. Before this time, research was printed on paper and hand delivered to libraries, making it an exclusive enterprise accessible to the privileged few. There has now been a seismic shift in the research landscape with open access becoming more prevalent in publishing spheres, and in a growing number of cases, a requirement of funding agencies. Open access can serve to expand the reach, influence, and openness of research, making research accessible to those whose public funds have largely paid for it. Funding agency requirements for publishing open access research are now being seen across much of the world, which should put to rest any questions about the future of open access publishing – it is here to stay.

… We will accept a wide variety of paper types that represent the full coverage of research communication, including Research Articles, Review Articles, Perspectives, Communications, Notes, Comments, Editorials, and Science Applications Forum articles focusing on sound science that advances knowledge. An exciting aspect of our journal will be its Integrative Sciences section, which will feature topics at the interface between science and the humanities, including Science Communication, Science and Policy, Science Education, Science and Society, Conservation and Sustainability, Science and Ethics, and Public Health. … Another novel feature of FACETS is that we will accept submissions in either English or French to serve the research landscape in Canada and other francophone countries. …

You can find FACETS here and there’s a special deal available until June 30, 2016 where you can submit your piece free-of-processing-charge until then.

Ontario’s special science research, writing, and presentation programme (Online Research Co-op Pilot Program) for high schoolers

A group of teenagers in Thunder Bay , Ontario participating in a pilot programme where they were mentored online by Canadian government federal scientists were profiled in a May 9, 2104 news item published by The Chronicle Journal; the newspaper of the northwest (Ontario),

Three Churchill high school students have completed a bold journey in science.

The science co-op students were each teamed up with a federal scientist in a year-long pilot project that ended this week when the students presented their research paper to a panel of experts.

Shane Wong, 17, worked on nanotechnology, materials at the size of molecules and atoms. “I think I was watching an episode of Daily Planet actually, and they mentioned nanotechnology, and I thought that was really cool,’’ Wong recalled. “When they offered this program at the school, nanotechnology was one of them.”

Wesley Willick, 16, looked at a space-based automatic identification system. “It is basically a bunch of ships at sea . . . communicating with each other, (sharing) data such as speed and where they are heading and what they are carrying . . . relaying that information up to a satellite and back down to a mainland station which can organize the data and make sure none of the ships collide,” explained Willick.

“I originally signed up for military technology and I got paired with somebody who works at the Maritime Defence Institute in Halifax,’’ Willick said. “He gave me several different options . . . and thought this was the best to do because it had more papers written on it.”

Robin Little, 17, wrote on phage therapy, a bacteria used to attack specific bacteria and which can be genetically modified, he said. “This is going to be used as an alternative medication as opposed to antibiotics, as antibiotics are extremely dangerous and poisonous,” said Little. …

Simrun Chabal, an International Baccalaureate student, also participated in the science co-op, but was unavailable to do his presentation due to other commitments.

Churchill was one of six Ontario schools involved in the pilot project.

The full title for the project is this: Ontario On-Line Research Co-op for high school students. There’s this from the project homepage,

This course has been collaboratively developed by the Canadian Young Scientist Journal and the federal Science and Technology Cluster (Science.gc.ca).

The Online Research Co-op Pilot Program has been developed to help students transition from secondary school to postsecondary education. The program matches highly motivated high school students, in grades 11 and 12, with top researchers in the fields of science and technology. Students are offered opportunities to work on research projects, interact with like-minded peers, and gain early exposure to careers in science and technology. The online format of the course makes it accessible to students across Ontario.

The program has been piloted in four schools across the province:

Earl Haig Secondary School
École secondaire publique De la Salle
Sir Winston Churchill Collegiate & Vocational Institute
St. Martin Secondary School

Additional Ontario high schools can now apply to offer this opportunity for their students. Their letters of intent should be coordinated with the program liaison (liaison@cysjournal.ca) and submitted to the Canadian Young Scientist Journal.

The pilot program will be the topic of a workshop at the Ontario Cooperative Education Association Spring Conference (April 27 – 29, 2014) and at the Ontario Association of Physics Teachers Conference (May 24, 2014).The best On-Line Research Co-op projects will be:

profiled in the Canadian Young Scientist Journal and distributed to every high school in Ontario;
presented at the Ontario Annual Science and Innovation conference to the attention of the national academic community;
showcased on Science.gc.ca together with a Young Scientist Blog allowing students to share their experience and ideas with each other and with the general public.

Step-by-step pilot project description:

1. Choosing students

A selection process takes place at the participating high schools to choose the students who will take part in the online co-op. Students develop their cover letters and a description of science projects they would like to pursue. The co-op liaison passes the names of the successful students along with their cover letters, research requests and alternatives to the Science.gc.ca team to engage scientists interested in mentoring.

2. Finding the mentors

The Science.gc.ca team matches projects with scientists who expressed interest in mentoring and helping to develop the next generation of scientists. If no exact match is found for a particular project, the Science.gc.ca team will approach potential mentors in a similar field of study. After reviewing materials from students, the scientists agree to mentor a particular student.

3. The interview

The liaison arranges a Skype or telephone “interview” between the student, the mentor and the local co-op teacher. During the interview, the mentor and student will discuss the project and the expectations while making any mutually acceptable modifications.

4. Setting up collaboration

The Science.gc.ca team creates a separate online SharePoint site for each student and a mentoring scientist. The collaboration space allows for an easy exchange of ideas, information, assigning research topics, and reviewing work submitted over the period of one semester. The information on the roles and responsibilities of the student and the mentor are integrated into the site. As this is a pilot project, participants, teachers and mentors also have access to a forum for sharing successes, tips, and lessons learned with other teams.

5. Using collaboration spaces

Based on the interview, the mentor adapts the project expectations and deliverables and uploads them to the SharePoint site. The mentor also provides a list of resources that the student can use as well as tasks to be accomplished. The student and the mentor regularly communicate online and the student posts timely progress updates and uploads results of completed tasks. The mentor approves the student’s weekly timesheets and completes the mid-course and final evaluation forms online.

6. Measuring ongoing progress

Each collaboration site includes tools supporting ongoing interactions and measurement of student’s progress. The mentor and the co-op teacher have an opportunity to be involved as little or as much as necessary based on the course progress indicators; the mentor can decide when the student needs assistance or guidance. The student and the mentor meet half way through the course via Skype or telephone to discuss progress and if necessary modify the expectations for the deliverables and the final report. By the end of the course the student submits results in a form of project report, case study or research topic review.

7. Celebrating results

The Online Research Co-op Pilot Program supports students’ transition from high school into postsecondary institutes with a focus on 21st century career development. We will celebrate the best projects in the following ways:

Featuring them in the Canadian Young Scientist Journal distributed to every high school in Ontario;
Presenting the projects at the Ontario Annual Science and Innovation conference to the attention of the national academic community;
Creating a showcase on Science.gc.ca together with a Young Scientist Blog allowing students to share their experience and ideas.

All of the participating mentors will be recognised in a special section of Science.gc.ca for their contribution to the development of the next generation of Canadian scientists and researchers.

There’s also a plea for mentors on the project homepage,

This program allows participating scientists to mentor and shape the next generation of Canadian scientists through direct on-line contact. During a 4 month semester, students are expected to work for about 90 hours. Mentoring scientists are expected to contribute about 10 hours of their time over the same period. Early exposure to research can have a large impact on the career direction of these students. Recently, through the Canadian Young Scientist Journal, high school students demonstrated their ability to invent New Bio-science technologies, Non-voice over IP communication and more. However, these students require mentors to guide their intellectual curiosity.

Mentors have the opportunity to review the cover letter of students before accepting them as mentees. During an initial online meeting, the student and the mentor will discuss expectations and guidelines for the project. There will be generic assignments available for students (e.g., Writing a Scientific Paper, Critiquing a Scientific Paper, Report on Scientific Literature, Scientific Literature Review and Analysis), but the specifics of the project will be mutually agreed upon by both the student and mentor. An online SharePoint site will be a means for the students and mentors to share ideas, documents, and information. The mentor may be involved as little or as much as necessary in the student’s project, based on the course progress indicators. Mentorship duties may be partially designated to a graduate student in the mentor’s lab; however, all projects should provide students with the opportunity to gain knowledge and skills in science and technology research.

I’m glad to see this project and hope it is quite successful and spreads across the country in all directions.

One final comment, I am not familiar with the Canadian Young Scientist Journal (CYSJ) and after a bit of online digging, I found this description in its Wikipedia entry (Note: links have been removed),

The Canadian Young Scientist Journal (fr. Revue Canadienne des Jeunes Scientifiques) is a non-profit peer-reviewed publication covering highlight student-driven research and innovative work. It was established in May 2008 by its current editor-in-chief, Alexandre Noukhovitch[1] and is published by NRC Research Press. [emphasis mine] It provides secondary school students with an opportunity to publish the results of their research.[2] The journal is based in Toronto and is published twice per year. It works in close association with Youth Science Canada.[3] The journal includes project reports, case studies, and science book reviews authored by high school students.[4] To benefit science education and to support classroom activities, the journal publishes expert reviews along with students’ papers.

The journal was published by the Canadian federal government’s National Research Press which exists now as a brand for Canadian Science Publishing (CSP), a not-for-profit publishing group formed after the government severed it from Canada’s National Research Council. Oddly, there’s no mention of any publisher, CSP or otherwise, in the About the Journal page or elsewhere on the journal’s website but the Ads and sponsorships page does mention CSP in the Motivator category.

It’s always interesting trying to trace the network of relationships between government and non-government agencies especially since the Canadian federal government has created a number of not-for-profit agencies.I’m not trying to suggest sinister but it does get confusing when the agencies don’t think to include histories and explanations.

In the interest of clarifying things, I was involved in a project (Science Borealis; a Canadian science blog aggregator/hub/community) which was, and I think continues to to be, supported by CSP.

2013: Science Borealis an emergent science media network in Canada

It’s a wish fulfilled to see Canada now has a science blog aggregator and an incubator (in my opinion) for an emergent science media network giving prominence to science as delivered by blogs, Twitter, and other social media: Science Borealis. While the mainstream media has been struggling for some years with diminishing resources, the social media has been burgeoning and the landscape for science journalism and science communication has changed irrevocably. I find it fascinating that while conferences in Canada include science media panels they do not tend to include science bloggers or, if they do, the science bloggers are given a separate panel. It seems as if bloggers are not part of the media as far as the Canadian science and social science communities are concerned. This is particularly odd in a country such as Canada where we have so little mainstream media offering science content other than regurgitated press releases. (For those not familiar with the practice, many of the science articles you see in newspapers are press releases that have been rewritten by a journalist with no new content or commentary added; it’s a practice known as ‘churnalism‘.)

I think it’s time that Canadian university press officers/communications specialists/etc. and the marketing communications people in various agencies and businesses woke up to the fact that science bloggers, etc. are part of an emergent science media community.  For that matter, I hope some of the members of the Science Borealis community (full disclosure: I was on the founding team) wake up to that fact too. Yes, even I sometime fall prey to the old habits of thought about communication and outreach but what I find surprising is that many people in their 30s and younger have those same habits.  So, my wish for 2014 is that science blogging be recognized as integral to the science media landscape by everyone and we outgrow our ingrained habits of thought..

At the last count Dec. 31, 2013,  Science Borealis has some 50 blogs in its feed six weeks after its launch at the 5th Canadian Science Policy Conference (Nov. 20 – 22, 2013). Prior to the launch, we knew of the existence of approximately150 Canadian science blogs, so, I have a second wish: I hope more Canadian science bloggers join in 2014.

Science Borealis has a livefeed of blog postings on its homepage so you can see a variety of what’s available on any one day or if there’s some new science policy or science scandal, you can get a look at what bloggers are saying about it in more or less realtime. If you have a particular area of interest, there’s a subject listing too,

Biology and Life Sciences
Chemistry
Communication, Education and Outreach
Environmental and Earth Sciences
General Science
Health, Medicine and Veterinary Science
Mathematics and Statistics
Multimedia
Physics and Astronomy
Policy and Politics
Science in Society
Technology and Engineering

I don’t know if Science Borealis will thrive or fulfill any of my (or someone else’s ) wishes for an easy way to find other Canadian science blogs (Yay, I no longer feel obliged to do an annual roundup)  or as the beginning of a Canadian science media community but I applaud its existence and the other members of the founding team. The lead organizations were:

A special shoutout for:

Here are the rest of us:

What a fabulous way to top off 2013 with our very own science blog aggregator! Happy New Year’s Eve!

Science Borealis (new Cdn. science blog aggregator) and intellectual property sessions at the 5th Canadian Science Policy Conference

Science Borealis, a Canadian science blogging aggregator, being launched at the 2013 (5th annual) Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) in Toronto, Ontario (from Nov. 20 – 22, 2013). Mike Spear will be giving a preview of sorts at today’s luncheon and later there will a panel session about science blogger where Sarah Boon (one of the founding members) will officially launch the aggregator. Here’s more from the Nov. 21, 2013 Science Boreaiis news release (full disclosure: I am a member of the founding team),

Science Blogging Discussion Marks the Launch of Science Borealis

Science Borealis plans to feature up to 150 Canadian science blogs

Calgary and Toronto, November 21, 2013 – After months in the making, a new chapter in Canadian science communication will launch tomorrow at the Canadian Science Policy Conference at Toronto’s Allstream Centre.

The community-driven Science Borealis blogging network will grow Canada’s science communication community, while raising awareness of – and support for – Canadian science.  After a group of bloggers started talking about the idea in late 2012, the not-for-profit organizations Canadian Science Publishing and Genome Alberta added their support, funding, and time, and Science Borealis is now ready to move out of the developer’s lab and into the forefront of Canadian science communication.

Join us tomorrow (Friday) from 1:30p – 3:00p at the Allstream Centre in Toronto for a special panel presentation on science blogging that is part of CSPC 2013. You’ll hear a discussion covering the challenges facing science blogging in Canada, find out the success stories, and meet some of Canada’s science bloggers. The Science Borealis members will be easily recognizable by their distinctive t-shirts and will be pleased to answer your questions.

The panel, ‘Science blogging in Canada: Making use of a valuable resource’ will be moderated by Genome Alberta’s Mike Spear and feature speakers:

  • Rees Kassen, Associate Professor and University Research Chair, University of Ottawa
  • Sarah Boon, Associate Professor of Environmental Science, University of Lethbridge
  • Kennedy Stewart, Member of Parliament (NDP), Burnaby-Douglas
  • David Kent, Research Associate, University of Cambridge, UK
  • Lisa Willemse, Director of Communications, Stem Cell Network

Visit Science Borealis on the web at http://scienceborealis.ca , follow @ScienceBorealis on Twitter, or check out the #cancomm hashtag on Twitter.

Here’s more about the CSPC 2013 science blogging session from the conference’s P22: Science blogging in Canada: Making use of a valuable resource webpage,,

This session will take you into the revealing, thought-provoking and sometimes wild world of science blogs. They’re out there, they’re more numerous than you might think and they have impact. They validate successful science and challenge weak conclusions. And, in today’s climate, in which research has been shadowed and/or kept silent, and traditional print media is in decline, science blogs have emerged as an increasingly important tool for providing valuable context and understanding of research via an open and public forum that encourages debate. Searching the online world for credible information is not without its challenges. The Internet is often a source of misinformation, and blogs still suffer under an outdated perception that they are simply a place for writers and ideas that can’t get published anywhere else. But this has changed dramatically in the past 10 years as powerhouse media entities such as National Geographic, Scientific American and Nature have drawn high-profile science bloggers to their staff ranks to report and comment on scientific discoveries. Many professional researchers have also turned to blogging as a way to bring avid followers, both within and outside of academia, to the front lines of research, addressing current outcomes, methods and challenges within their scientific communities. There are numerous talented science bloggers in Canada, representing both the science reporting and documentary approaches. The proposed panel will address how science blogs can be useful for policy making, and present some upcoming initiatives designed to make blogs more accessible to government, the broader scientific community, industry and the public. The session will look at traditional methods of communicating science to policymakers and identify the role of online resources that, as a new and younger generation joins the political ranks, is increasingly relied upon as a primary source of information. It will outline the emergence of science blogs, and present specific examples of their impact on both the advancement of science and public perception of science. The panel will provide some strategies for how blogs can be used by parliamentarians, advisors and policy makers. The final speaker will take stock of science blogging resources in Canada and present the Canadian science blog network.

Here’s a list of the speakers along with their bios. (from the 2013 CSPC panel webpage),

Rees Kassen
Co-Chair
Global Young Academy

Dr. Rees Kassen is professor and University Research Chair in Experimental Evolution at the University of Ottawa. He is also co-chair of the Global Young Academy (www.globalyoungacademy.net), an international organization of early-career researchers acting as the voice of young scientists around the world and past chair of the Partnership Group for Science and Engineering (PAGSE; www.pagse.org), an association of 26 professional and scientific organizations acting on behalf of over 50,000 members from academia, industry and government in Canada. Dr Kassen completed his PhD at McGill University and then went on to an NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship and Elizabeth Wordsworth Research Fellowship at St Hugh’s College, Oxford. He is known internationally for his integrative approach to the study of biodiversity and pioneering work using microbes to study evolutionary and ecological processes in the laboratory. He was awarded an NSERC Steacie Fellowship in 2010 and was a World Economic Forum/IAP Young Scientist in 2010 and 2011.

Sarah Boon
Associate Professor of Environmental Science
University of Lethbridge

Sarah Boon is an Associate Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Lethbridge. She has worked in the Arctic and the western Cordillera on topics ranging from mountain pine beetle effects on snow processes, to stream temperature and salmonids. She’s also a science writer and editor, and blogs at Watershed Moments. A hydrologist by training, Sarah has written opinion pieces on both science policy and science communication. She is part of a team developing a Canadian science blog aggregator, to build Canadian science communication networks.

Kennedy Stewart
Member of Parliament (NDP)

Kennedy Stewart was elected to the riding of Burnaby-Douglas for the New Democratic Party in May 2011. He is the Official Opposition Critic for Science and Technology, and member of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. Kennedy holds a Ph.D. in Government from the London School of Economics and is a tenured associate professor on leave from Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy. While at SFU, Kennedy authored numerous refereed publications and was awarded grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada and other organizations as principal investigator and was joint investigator on a $2.5 Million SSHRC Major Collaborative Research Initiative on Multilevel Governance and Public Policy in Canadian Municipalities. Before coming to SFU in 2002, Kennedy held a number of positions at Canadian and UK universities and was Director of the Public Policy and Management Master’s Program at Birkbeck College, University of London. He has served as a referee for various academic journals including British Columbia Studies, Canadian Journal of Political Science, Canadian Journal of Sociology, Canadian Political Science Review, Canadian Journal of Urban Research, Thomson/Nelson Press and has been reviewed grants for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. As an academic, Kennedy frequently provided commentary on on local, national and international issues and was a regular guest columnist for the Vancouver Sun. He served as policy advisor to the British Columbia Local Government Elections Task Force, City of Vancouver Electoral Reform Commission, British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly, British Columbia Ministry of Municipal Affairs, Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council, the Great Bear Rainforest Solutions Project, City of Vancouver Mayor’s Office, City of Calgary, and the Vancouver Public Library. His latest co-authored book, Local Government in Canada, was published in 2012 by Nelson. Kennedy is married to Jeanette Ashe, a political science instructor at Douglas College completing her Ph.D. in politics at the University of London.

David Kent
Research Associate
University of Cambridge, UK

Dr. David Kent is a research associate at the University of Cambridge, UK. In 2009 he created The Black Hole website which provides analysis of issues related to the education and training of scientists in Canada. He also writes for Signals blog, a leading source of commentary on stem cells and regenerative medicine. Previously, Dr. Kent served as joint coordinator for the UBC branch of the Let’s Talk Science Partnership Program (2004-07), an award winning national science outreach program. Dr. Kent grew up in St. John’s, NL, obtained a B.Sc. in Genetics and English Literature at the University of Western Ontario and completed his Ph.D. in blood stem cell biology at the University of British Columbia. He has been awarded scholarships or fellowships from the CIHR, NSERC, the Canadian Stem Cell Network, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, and the Lady Tata Memorial Trust. His current laboratory research focuses on normal blood stem cells and how changes in their regulation lead to cancers. He also sits on the executive of the Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars.

Lisa Willemse
Director of Communications
Stem Cell Network

Lisa Willemse has worked within government-funded research networks for the past 13 years as a project manager and communications specialist. She is currently the Director of Communications for the Stem Cell Network, one of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence, a position she has held since 2008. In addition to more traditional forms of communications, such as the creation of two science exhibitions, Lisa was an early adopter of new media and has used social media platforms such as Twitter to establish the Stem Cell Network as a leader among its peers. In 2008, she began developing a blog dedicated to sharing findings and commentary related to stem cell research that would also serve as a training/mentorship platform for young scientists interested in acquiring science communications skills. She serves as the blog’s editor in chief and an occasional contributor. This blog, Signals, is widely regarded as one of the best in the stem cell field and enjoys a robust following by readers from across the globe.

Mike Spear
Director of Corporate Communications
Genome Alberta

Mike Spear is currently Director of Corporate Communications for Genome Alberta, a non-profit genetic research funding organization based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Prior to that much of his career was spent as a Producer, Executive Producer, and Program Manager with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. While there he received a CBC President’s award, a Farm Writer’s Award and his newsrooms and current affairs programs received several CBC Peer Awards and RTNDA Awards. He has worked in broadcast news, current affairs, music and drama and was a media trainer with the National Democratic Institute in Croatia. He has launched the conservative world of biotechnology communications into the 21st century with the creation of GenOmics, a news aggregator based on an Open Source platform Genome Alberta has supported with U.S. based partners. He and Genome Alberta are heavily involved in the Fall 2013 launch of Science Borealis, a new Canadian Science blogging network.

I would prefer a little more description, in each précis, about what the individuals will be discussing. I could do with a little less biography. For example, congratulations to Kennedy Steward for being married but I don’t find the information pertinent here. Also, I would have liked to have seen a little more information about the panel members’ blogs, although it seems only Sarah Boon and David Kent write on a blog(s).

One other session caught my attention and that was the one concerning intellectual property (patents) which was held on Nov. 21, 2013. The session was organized by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. From the P9: Courting Confusion: the Patent Act, legal decisions, and impacts on Canada’s science and innovation landscape webpage,,

“Canada’s Patent Act exists to encourage progress in science and the useful arts. It achieves this by securing inventors’ property rights in their inventions, thus establishing a market-based regime of incentives to foster innovation. Securing a patent is based on following logical, sound principles, unchanged in two centuries. The Patent Act itself establishes an order of steps that, if correctly followed, would resolve many controversial issues.

Under the act, a patentable invention must satisfy four main criteria: patent-eligible subject-matter; novelty; utility, and; non-obviousness. Novelty means new anywhere in the world. Utility is met where a person of ordinary skill, reading the specification, would understand the utility of the claimed invention. Non-obviousness requires that a persons of ordinary skill would not have been led to the claimed invention directly by the earlier teachings of others.

Recently, the scope of patent-eligible subject-matter has been controversial in pharmaceuticals, the life sciences; and in business methods, particularly involving computer software.

However, in the past few years, Canadian courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC), have issued rulings which may be seen as inconsistent or confusing in areas of patent-eligibility, novelty, utility, and non-obviousness . Canada does not have a specialized patent court, and the volume of litigation is insufficient to yield a finely developed body of law. Few judges have a technical or scientific background; fewer still have a background in patents.

This session will discuss how these issues have played out in several recent high profile cases and their implications for Canada’s science and innovation landscape.

In a modern agricultural context, the patenting of higher life forms is controversial, and has been the subject of two high-profile SCC decisions: Harvard College v. Canada (Commissioner of Patents) (the “Harvard Mouse” case), and Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser (2004), which centered on patent infringement for genetically-engineered (GE) canola.

The 5-4 decision in the Schmeiser case led to concerns amongst anti-GE and some civil society and consumer groups about the ability to patent “the genes of life” and quasi-related unease about corporate concentration in the agriculture and food sectors. However, stakeholders in the agricultural biotechnology sector received the decision positively, as it affirmed the validity of their gene and cell patents and demonstrated that they could successfully seek redress for infringement.

In the Amazon.com case, the Federal Court of Appeal faced the issue of patent-eligibility of business methods, particularly those implemented by software applications. Although there had been hope that the Amazon.com case would bring clarity to the law, the outcome has been enigmatic. The patenting of business methods was also the subject of considerable debate in submissions before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology for their March 2013 report on the Intellectual Property Regime in Canada.

Recently, the courts have had difficulty with utility. Odd decisions in the pharmaceutical field are now yielding equally surprising results in other business sectors. These cases and other practice changes have altered the balance between inventors and the public, and their effects now working their way through the economy.”

The moderator and the panelists are (from the session webpage),

Albert L. Abaunza
Co-founder
Abaunza McLeod LLP – Intellectual Property Law Canada

Albert L. Abaunza graduated from Université de Montréal in 2006 with a B.Sc. in biomedical science. During his undergraduate studies, Albert worked as a research assistant in pharmacology and biochemistry, where he studied the effects of reactive oxygen species (ROS) on the catalytic activity of the hepatic cytochrome P450 and participated in a high-throughput screening project for protein-protein interactions in a yeast model by using Protein-fragment complementation assay.

While studying biomedical science, Albert became involved in the planning and orchestration of the McGill Bioethics Conference for two consecutive years as VP Administration and VP External

After graduating in 2006, Albert decided to pursue his law studies at the Université de Sherbrooke and at Queen’s University where he was admitted to the national joint program and was granted a dual law degree; a Bachelors of laws (LL.B.) and a Juris Doctor (J.D.), in 2009 and 2010, consecutively.

During his last year of law school, Albert was concurrently focused on a specialization in health technology assessment and management. After having successfully completed the international program in four different cities; Barcelona, Rome, Montréal and Toronto, Albert was granted a M.Sc. degree in health technology assessment from Université de Montréal in 2012.

In 2013, Albert joined forces with Dr. Mark C. McLeod and co-founded Abaunza McLeod LLP – Intellectual Property Law Canada, where together and with the support of other well-seasoned IP practitioners, they provide a full spectrum of intellectual property law services in English, French and Spanish.

Ken Bousfield
Partner
Bereskin and Parr

Mr. Bousfield has significant experience in the railroad industry and has also obtained protection for consumer goods, oil field equipment, and a wide variety of mechanical and electro-mechanical other devices. He is a member of the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada’s (IPIC) Information Technology Committee.

Prior to being admitted to the bar, Mr. Bousfield obtained significant industry experience working as a designer and test engineer for an electronic equipment manufacturer and for an aircraft company.

Brian Gray
Senior Partner
Norton Rose

Brian Gray’s practice at Norton Rose focuses on litigation and dispute resolution in patent, copyright, trade-mark and advertising matters. He provides strategic advice concerning intellectual property matters and advises on the intellectual property and technology aspects of transactions.
Mr. Gray has taught patent and trade-mark law at the University of Toronto and has taught copyright law at McGill University. Mr. Gray has authored numerous papers on patent, trade-mark, trade secret, copyright and technology transfer.

He is on the editorial board of World Intellectual Property Report, Federated Press Intellectual Property Quarterly and of World E-Commerce Report and has also served on the editorial board of the Trade-Mark Reporter.

From 1989 to 1999 Mr. Gray was a member of Canada’s National Biotechnology Advisory Committee, appointed by the Minister of Industry to advise on science policy. He has also served as counsel for the intervener – Canadian Banking Association and the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association – in the Amazon case.

Richard Gold
James McGill Professor
McGill University – Faculty of Law

Dr. Richard Gold is a James McGill Professor at McGill University’s Faculty of Law where he was the founding Director of the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy. He is also an Associate Member of the Department of Human Genetics at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine. He teaches in the area of intellectual property and innovation. His research centres on the nexus between innovation systems and intellectual property,with an emphasis on the life sciences.

Professor Gold has provided advice to Health Canada, Industry Canada, the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (where he was the lead author of the OECD Guidelines on the Licensing of Genetic Inventions and a report on Collaborative Mechanisms in Life Science Intellectual Property), the World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Health Organization and UNITAID.

His research has been published in high-impact journals in science, law, philosophy, international relations including Nature Biotechnology, The Lancet, PLoS Medicine, the McGill Law Journal, Public Affairs Quarterly and the European Journal for International Relations.

Giuliano Tolusso
Senior Policy Officer
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Giuliano Tolusso is a senior policy officer with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Ottawa. He has spent most of the past decade at AAFC working on biotechnology and emerging technology issues from a number of perspectives including communications and issues management, intellectual property policy and international trade policy. Prior to joining AAFC in 2001, Giuliano was a marketing and communications executive for a number of trade and professional associations in Toronto. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from Carleton University in Ottawa.

At last year’s CSPC, he organized and moderated a provocative panel discussion entitled Talking to Canadians about Biotechnology: Should we wake up the neighbourhood

Anyone who has read this blog with any frequency knows I’m not a maximalist where intellectual property is concerned. Further, I have observed that most lawyers seem interested in having more patents rather than fewer patents. After all, that’s how they make their money.

Getting back to the panel, it can’t escape anyone’s notice that it is almost entirely made up of lawyers with two exceptions being a policy officer from the agency listed as the session organizer and an academic lawyer. The whole thing seems odd as it is a discussion on points of law and would appear to be of interest to lawyers only. How would attending this session help a ‘would be’ scientist innovator/inventor/entrepreneur? Perhaps it’s meant for policy makers but if that’s the case, wouldn’t a comprehensive discussion about patents and their utility be more useful than a  discussion about specific legal decisions? (They say they will discuss more general points but first they’ll have to describe the cases pertaining to the specific decisions under discussion which will take up much of the time allotted for the session.)

Given the 2013 CSPC conference theme: ScienceNext: Incubating Innovation and Ingenuity, I would have thought that perhaps an opinion from potential investors or successful entrepreneurs might be of interest in a discussion about patents. For example, Mike Masnick writes in his Nov. 14, 2013 posting for Techdirt about research which suggests venture capitalists find the current US patent regime problematic (Canadians and others file many of their patents in the US),

… The idea that patents are what drive investments definitely does not appear to be the case.

The related bit of information is a new research study, done by Robin Feldman, looking at the view of patents from the venture capital perspective, surveying around 200 venture capitalists and their portfolio companies about their views on patents — which are decidedly negative:

Both the companies and the venture capitalists overwhelming believe that patent demands have a negative impact on the venture-backed community, with all or most of those assertions coming from entities whose core activity involves licensing or litigating patents. These impacts are described in terms of the specific costs expended by the companies and by the distraction to management, engineers, and other employees. Most important, participants described the human toll that patent demands have had on entrepreneurs. In addition, when making funding decisions, the vast majority of venture capitalists do not consider the potential for selling to assertion entities if the company fails. On the flip side, 100% of venture capitalists indicated that if a company had an existing patent demand against it, it could potentially be a major deterrent in deciding whether to invest.

In other words: having patents does not significantly impact the decision to invest, but being the target of patent trolls has significant consequences for entrepreneurs, and makes investors less willing to invest in important innovations.

In any event, I hope the science blogging panel is a huge success and for anyone who’s curious about an outside perspective on the 2013 CSPC, there’s David Bruggeman’s Nov. 19, 2013 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog (where he regularly comments on science policy).

News about Canadian Science Policy Conference 2013 and Science Borealis logo contest

The Canadian Science Policy Conference 2013 organizers have announced their preliminary programme and early  registration for the 2013 (5th annual) conference, from an Aug. 8, 2013 announcement,

The 5th Canadian Science Policy Conference

Registration is Now Open and Panels are announced below.

After 5 years, the Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) is returning to Toronto to host an expanded, diversified, richer science policy conference. The conference offers a unique platform for stakeholders to connect at the national level, to exchange ideas on key issues in science, technology, and innovation policy, and to craft a future based on strong, dynamic, and innovative policy-making for the benefit of all Canadians.

CSPC 2013 Highlights:

  • 400+ participants
  • 3 pre-conference workshop symposiums (Science Policy Nuts and Bolts, Science Diplomacy & Science and Technology Communication)
  • Inauguration of the Awards of Excellence in Science Policy – a first in Canada
  • Double the number of sessions from last year, now up to 30
  • Diversified panel sessions maximizing panelist-participant interactions

….

We are pleased to announce 25 panels across CSPC 2013’s five themes: international trade and diplomacy, private sector innovation, communicating science, graduate studies and training, and emerging issues in Canadian science policy.

Asian Science and Technology Strategies and Process – Implications for Canada

Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada

The evolving science and technology landscape for development in the South and the models and opportunities for science diplomacy

International Development Research Centre

The world in 2020: Three questions for internationalized science

UK Science & Innovation Network

The complexity of driving the bio-economy: Genomics, Canada’s natural resources and private-public collaborations

Genome Canada
Canada’s Commercialization Challenge

Schroeder & Schroeder Inc

Inspiring Excellence – Engaging students in meaningful science experiences

Let’s Talk Science
The Solitudes: Government science, the Media, and Those who help them Interact: Can we ever get along under today’s rules of engagement?

Canadian Science Writers’ Association

Journalists are from Mars; scientists are from Venus. Will they ever be on the same planet?

Maclean’s/Medical Post/MIT

Who are the innovators in Canada and what do we know about the individuals who drive innovation?

THECIS

Evaluating large-scale S&T initiatives: A case study on the complexity of capturing and disseminating meaningful outcome and impacts data

Genome Canada 

Science Funding Mechanisms

Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute
Science blogging in Canada: Making use of a valuable resource [emphasis mine]

Science Communications Canada
Training the next generation of scientists – who are they and what will they do?

Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars and The Black Hole Blog
Is a PhD Really a Waste of Time?

University of Toronto
Is Canada able to meet its needs for research and innovation on northern issues, given that it does not have graduate programs situated in the three Canadian territories?

Government of Yukon
Strategies to Enhance Productivity of Knowledge Workers

Strategy First Consulting (SFC) 

Ocean Research and Policy

Ocean Networks Canada 

Canadian Innovation: Understanding the role of IR&D

The Council of Canadian Academies

Big data: solutions for the big problems faced by modern societies

British Consulate General Toronto 

More details about the program will be posted on our website shortly. The titles of six more panels will also be announced at this time.

I have a little inside scoop about the panel on science blogging.  One of the panelists (I believe she proposed the presentation) is Sarah Boon of the Watershed Moments blog who has also been one of the prime movers behind the Science Borealis initiative.

I last wrote about Science Borealiis (blogging science from Canadian perspectives) and its logo contest in a June 14, 2013 posting, which mentioned the other prime movers behind this science aggregator/hub/community along with details about the contest. For anyone interested in making a submission, the contest deadline was extended to Aug. 15, 2013.

Recently, we (I’m involved too) announced the contest jurors,

The logos will be judged by

  • Raymond K. Nakamura, science blogger (Vancouver’s Science World blog), web comic artist, and science exhibition content developer (http://raymondsbrain.com/)
  • Janice Whitehead, owner and publisher of Preview: The Gallery Guide, a visual arts publication that is distributed through Alberta, BC, Washington state, and Oregon (http://www.preview-art.com/)

There are prizes,

  • Prizes will be awarded to 3 finalists chosen by the Science Borealis team. Prizes will be awarded as follows.
    • Winners:
    • Personal subscription to any NRC Research Press journal (published by Canadian Science Publishing), plus a $50 amazon gift card and a laptop bag
    • Runners Up:
    • {Prizes provided by Genome Alberta and Canadian Science Publishing}
  • Finalists will be announced via Science Borealis social media channels
  • Finalists’ designs will not be revealed publicly
  • The winning design and designer will be announced via Science Borealis social media channels
  • The winning designer will be recognized on the Science Borealis website with a link to his/her site if applicable

Good luck to all and, should you be attending the Canadian Science Policy Conference, please don’t miss the science blogging panel.

Science Borealis: a Canadian science blog aggregator/community and its logo contest

Big things are afoot for the Canadian science blogging community. A few of us are developing an aggregator/network which we hope to launch in Fall 2012 with a logo for what we are calling Science Borealis. The Canadian science blogging community has grown exponentially in the last two years (according my count, ymmv) and this aggregator/network effort is the first of its kind for this country.

Canadian Science Publishing, a non-profit, which was until a few years ago known as the NRC Research Press and was part of Canada’s National Research Council, has in the persons of Jenny Ryan and Mary Seligy been a lead in the Science Borealis effort which includes,

along with input from Jude Isabella of the Canadian Science Writers Association, Bora Zivkovic of the Scientific American Blog Network, ScienceOnline and other efforts, Karyn Traphagen of ScienceSeeker.org, and members of the Google+ Science Communications Canada community.

We’re now looking for *even more input into Science Borealis: blogging from Canadian perspectives. This time we’d like it in the form of a logo: Science Borealis Logo Contest.

There will be prizes awarded to 3 finalists chosen by the Science Borealis team:

  • Laptop bag
  • Personal subscription to any NRC Research Press journal (published by Canadian Science Publishing)
  • Any book or ebook available from the NRC Research Press online bookstore (provided by Canadian Science Publishing)

Announcements

  • Finalists:
    • will be announced via Science Borealis social media channels
    • designs will not be revealed publicly
  • Winning design and designer:
    • will be announced via Science Borealis social media channels
    • a link added to the Science Borealis website to the winner’s site, if applicable

Who May Enter?

Any Canadian or person residing in Canada is eligible to submit a logo design – you don’t have to be a graphic arts professional or a science blogger.

Contest Rules and Process

  1. Individuals may submit up to 3 logo designs
  2. Designs must be original and not based on pre-existing art or contain any elements protected by copyright
  3. Each design must be presented in both colour and greyscale.
  4. Winning artist agrees to work with Science Borealis to finalize design.
  5. Winning artist agrees to provide Science Borealis with high-resolution images of the design in the format specified by the web developer.
  6. Winning artist agrees to turn over all rights to the use of the design to Science Borealis.
  7. Science Borealis reserves the right to not select any of the designs submitted.

Deadline for submissions is 5 July, 2013.

Submissions

We are looking for submissions that reflect the dynamism, uniqueness, and excitement found in the Canadian science blogging and communications communities.

    1. Submit via email attachment to ScienceBorealis@gmail.com.
      • Include your full name, email address, and a brief bio in the body of your email.
      • For judging purposes, logos may be submitted in JPG, PNG, or EPS format.
      • Please use the following format for filenames:  Lastname_Firstname_Logo1_colour.xxx
        Lastname_Firstname_Logo1_grey.xxx
      • ….
  1. Deadline for submissions is 5 July, 2013

Logo Specifications

  1. Logo Text:  Science Borealis
  2. Tagline: Blogging from Canadian Perspectives
  3. Size & Scale:
    • Logo should scale to fit into space 280 px wide by 95 px high
  4. Colour Palette:  Unspecified
  5. Design may include Logo Text within the logo or may be a standalone image.
  6. ..
  7. Logos may be designed in any print media – Photoshop, hand drawn or painted, vector art, etc.
  8. Logo must render in grayscale with minimal loss of detail and impact.
  9. Logo must be adjustable to either a dark or a light background.

For more information and full details see scienceborealis.ca or scienceborealis.com. (ETA June 20,2013: I added the link to scienceborealis.ca and reversed the order for presenting the Science Borealis links with .ca first and .com second.)

We look forward to seeing your logo design by July 5, 2013 which you can send to ScienceBorealis@gmail.com. Thank you!

* Correction June 20, 2013: ‘event’ changed to ‘even’.

Sci comm, Canada, and the Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! network of Canadian science blog(ger)s

If a hashtag (ou mot-dièse en français) is a way to judge these things, there’s an upswing of interest in Canadian science communication. The hashtag in question is #cancomm (on Twitter) and seems to have developed a life beyond its original designation as a Twitter stream devoted to one of the sessions at the ScienceOnline2013 conference held Jan. 30 – Feb. 2, 2013 in North Carolina, USA.

Before mentioning anything about the latest developments (I sent some interview questions to both of the presenters), here’s more about the ScienceOnline 2013 session titled Communicating science where there is no science communication presented by Marie-Claire Shanahan and Colin Schultz who focused on the situation in Canada,

Scientists, journalists, and communicators working outside of the United States and the UK face fundamentally different problems from those living within well-served media landscapes. For example: Canada has few science magazines, a couple television shows, and a handful of radio programmes aimed at a general science audience (with the exception of the French-speaking Quebec, which has a dynamic science writing community). Government funded research grants do not require outreach or education. [emphasis mine] And, government scientists have been all but barred from talking to journalists. In Canada and other countries with sparse science communication infrastructures, the dominant issues revolve not around journalists vs bloggers, or scientists vs press releases vs the media, but instead focus on what can be done to make science communication exist at all, in any form. This session will explore how scientists, educators, and media people can promote scientific discussions and scientific interest in regions that lack established venues.

A number of salient (and I believe them to be indisputable) points are made. I did highlight one statement which is arguable. There is one funding agency (granted, only one) which includes a requirement for outreach/communication and that is the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). From Section 8 of the CFI’s Policy and Program document (PDF) dated March 2012,

As an independent corporation created by the Government of Canada, the CFI places paramount importance on demonstrating to Canadians the impacts and outcomes of its investments. And as recipients of CFI funding, institutions have an essential role to play in highlighting the impacts, outcomes and benefits of research, through communications activities such as:

• news releases, news conferences and other media relations initiatives;

• print and online publications;

• social media;

• special events (groundbreakings, openings, milestone celebrations, conferences and other public outreach activities);

• presentations;

• correspondence;

• advertising.

In the context of these activities, the CFI also requests that institutions acknowledge the financial support of the CFI. (p. 81)

At any rate, I did send off some questions in hopes of an interview with both presenters but, as sometimes happens, Marie-Claire Shanahan has not replied and, more uniquely,  Colin Schultz has decided to publish my questions and his answers on his own blog.  My policy with the interviews I conduct is to publish the replies along with the questions in their entirety changing only the typos. I don’t offer any observations of my own after the fact. Since Colin Schultz has published the interview himself, I will treat it as I do anything else I find on web. I do not copy an entire piece but will excerpt the bits I find interesting and comment at will.

According to the ‘secret source’ who attended your presentation, you and Marie-Claire were very harsh in your assessments of the science communication efforts and environment in Canada. Given that most of my readers won’t have attended the presentation, could you summarize the presentation in a few bullet points and note where you agree and disagree with your co-presenter?

… Science Online pulls together brilliant, creative, hard-working and entrepreneurial problem solvers, communicators with a passion for science and a vigilante spirit. Many of these people, however, also have basically no idea what is going on in Canada in terms of the political atmosphere, the size of the mainstream press, or the scope of the science communication community. [emphasis mine] One of the goals I had in mind when putting together my short introduction for the session was that I wanted to tap into these clever minds so that we could all put our heads together and come up with projects that will work within the Canadian cultural context. [emphasis mine]

The Shanahan/Schultz presentation was 60 minutes long.  So, these people got to know Canada and the Canadian science communication scene well enough in 60 minutes to suggest projects that work within the Canadian cultural context. Interesting.

Here’s more from question 1 (Note: I have removed links),

I opened the session with numbers: We have one mainstream science magazine, two TV shows, and one radio show. A 1998 study found that we had 18 full time science journalists at daily newspapers, and I mused that this number probably went down as the media industry crashed and companies cut their staff.

With no official science blogger database that I know of, I pulled from your (Maryse’s) own annual counts (2010, 2011, 2012) and the self-selected bloggers pulled together by the Canadian Science Writers’ Association to estimate that there are likely a few dozen science bloggers in the country. [emphasis mine] Discussions in the room pointed out that there are probably more than listed in those two places, but the order of magnitude on the guess is probably close enough.

I believe my last annual count (2012 roundup) listed approximately 40 – 50 more or less active, including English and French language, Canadian Science blogs/bloggers. (A colleague recently [Feb. 15, 2013] produced a spreadsheet list of approximately 70 active blogs/bloggers.) More from Schultz on the first question,

From the numbers I moved into my second main point, asking: “Why does any of this matter?” Scientific knowledge is borderless, so does it really matter if we hear about Canadian science?

To answer this I suggested that there is a split: for people learning about science, for keeping up with all the cool developments that are taking shape around the world, then no, it doesn’t really matter. Canadian, American, English, Australian—wherever your news comes from doesn’t really make much a difference.

But, there is the other side of it. There are serious scientific issues in Canadian life—the tar sands, oceans management, fisheries research, the climate of the Arctic—that will only really be addressed by Canadians, and outside of the larger issues of climate change or biodiversity, only really affect Canadians. Without established venues to discuss and report and debate science, without an established culture of science communication, there won’t necessarily be the conversation that we need on these and other issues.

I noted that when people aren’t aware of the work being done by Canadian scientists or Canadian federal agencies that it could become easier for those projects to slide away, a case that came to the fore recently with the cutting of federal scientists, the potential closing of the Experimental Lakes, or the issue of muzzling.

Then, there were the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th questions,

Were you trying to be harsh in your assessment? I read the presentation description which didn’t have a single positive comment about efforts in English Canada; did that hold true for the presentation or did you leaven it with some positive comments (and what were those positive comments)? Note: A link has been removed.

There is a lot of good science communication going on in Canada. Personally, I think that Daily Planet is a treasure, and following the session I had people asking how they could see it from abroad. Marie-Claire, and some audience members, raised examples of informal or non-mainstream media projects that are doing great work on science communication and science outreach.

Would it surprise you to know that about the same time you gave your presentation a group (with no prior knowledge of said presentation) had formed to create a Canadian science blogging network? Full disclosure: I am a member of this group.

I heard whispers of this in the hallways at the conference, and think it’s a great idea. Building a blogging network will help draw people together, and help them find one another. I think that we have a lot of really serious issues to tackle, but this is a great place to start.

Purely for fun, I have three names for a national network. (These names are not from the group.) Which one would you join, if you one had one choice?

(a) Canuckian science blog(ger) network?
(b) Canadian science blog(ger) network?
(c) Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Canadian science blog(ger) network?

The last one, definitely.

You can find the entire set of responses at Colin Schultz’s blog. I wish him good luck as he breathes some life back into it. (His last posting prior to this ‘interview’ was on July 13, 2012, and the posting before that was dated Feb. 8, 2012.)

Note: I did correct two of my own interview typos in the words ‘assessment’ and ‘with’.

There are in fact two groups (that I know of) who have talked about putting together a Canadian science blog(ger) network. There was the group forming at the ScienceOnline 2013 conference and there was another group forming as a consequence of a suggestion in my 2012 roundup. The two groups appear to be coalescing but it’s all very loose at this point. Who knows? There may be other groups who just haven’t made themselves known as yet.

What can be said for certain is this,  Mike Spear at Genome Alberta has created the CanComm.org website for Canadian science communicators, aka, CanComm – Communication with a Science Flavour and a Canadian Twist. Sarah Boon, one of the organizers of our hoped for network, has written a Feb. 23, 2013 post on her Watershed Moments blog that provides pointed and thoughtful insight into many of the current issues on the Canadian science scene and the Canadian science communication scene and includes this (Note: Links have been removed),

It’s not that we don’t have an interested and involved public and the science communicators to engage them. It’s more that we don’t have the infrastructure to link communicators together like the Americans do with the Science Online meeting in Raleigh or the AAAS Meeting in Boston, or blog networks like PLoS Blogs or the Discover and SciAm networks.

To that end, groups like Genome Alberta, the Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA), the Science Media Centre of Canada (SMCC), and Canadian Science Publishing (CSP) are working with individuals such as myself, @frogheart, @8CrayonScience, @raymondsbrain and others to build a Canadian science communication and (ultimately) blog network. If you’re interested in joining, you can register at cancomm.org.

Full disclosure: One of my pieces got a shoutout in another part of Sarah’s posting and I’m chuffed. Regardless, I still would have described her posting as pointed and thoughtful and I notice I’m not alone as per the #cancomm twitter feed.

For anyone interested in the latest regarding the French language version of hashtag, there’s a Jan. 24, 2013 article in The Connexion; France’s English-language newspaper,

THE French government has caused amusement on the internet by insisting the proper term for “hashtag” in French should be mot-dièse.
I look forward to seeing you all at cancomm.org in any language we can use to communicate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The people behind the US campaign have produced a video,

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

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

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

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

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

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

….

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

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

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

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

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

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

It caused no great concern at the time,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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