Tag Archives: censorship

Silence of the Labs (exposé) a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) television event scheduled for January 10, 2014

I’ve perhaps overstated the case by calling the upcoming telecast ‘Silence of the Labs’ an event,. For many people in the Canadian science community, it will be an event but for most of the television audience it’s simply the first new episode of the Fifth Estate’s 2014 schedule. (For anyone unfamiliar with the Fifth Estate, it’s the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s [CBC] longest running, 39th season, and most prestigious investigative journalism television programme.)

Assuming there are some people who haven’t been following this story about the ‘silencing’ of Canada’s scientists or censorship as it has been called, here’s a précis (and if you’ve been following it more closely than I have and note any errors or have any additions, please do use the commenting option (Note: Due to spam issues, I moderate comments so it may take a few hours or more [I don’t usually check the blog on the weekends]  before your comments appear.)

I think my earliest mention of the topic was in 2009 (Sept. 21, 2009; scroll down to the last paragraph). At this point, the Conservative government  had put a ‘muzzle’ on government scientists working for Environment Canada not allowing them to speak directly to media representatives about their work. All questions were to be directed to ministry communications officers. In fact, the muzzle was first discussed in a National Post Jan. 31, 200-8 article by Margaret Munro (which predates this blog’s existence by a few months). In a Sept. 16, 2013 posting, I featured the then recent muzzling of Natural Resources Canada, a story which was first covered by Margaret Munro. My understanding is that Health Canada had also been ‘muzzled’ but that was done earlier by the Liberal government when it was in power.

My colleague, David Bruggemen (Pasco Phronesis blog) disagrees with the contention by many in the Canadian science community that these ‘muzzles’ constitute a form of censorship. In addition to the postings he has made on his blog he also commented on my March 7, 2012 posting (I linked to one of David’s postings on the topic and included an excerpt from it) where I discussed my failure to get answers to questions from an institution located on the University of British Columbia lands and linked it to the ‘muzzle’. In that context,, I mused about censorship.

Since 2012 the focus seems to have shifted from media representatives being able to get direct and uninhibited access to scientists to the public’s right to know and attempts to ‘shut down’ scientific inquiry. In July 2012, there was a rally in Ottawa called Death of Evidence (discussed in both my July 10, 2012 posting and my July 13, 2012 posting followed by a 2013 cross Canada event, Stand up for Science described in my Oct. 4, 2013 posting. As I noted in that posting, most of the science being ‘censored’ or ‘attacked’ is environmental. Institutions such as the Perimeter Institute (theoretical physics)  in Ontario and TRIUMF, Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics in British Columbia have done very well under the Conservative government.

with all that, here’s a preview (51 seconds) of the Silence of the Labs,

You can find out more about the episode here and, if you should miss the telecast, you’ll probably be able to watch later on the Fifth Estate’s CBC  Player webpage. As for the ‘Silence of the Labs” (hat off for the pun), I believe it will be broadcast at 9 pm regardless of timezone on the local CBC channel across most of the country; I assume that as usual Newfoundland will enjoy the telecast at 9:30 pm.

Erotica, censorship, and PayPal

There’s been some talk here in Canada about censorship, journalism, and science in regards to the government requiring (since fall 2011) that journalists direct their interview requests to the communications offices of the Ministry of Natural Resources. This practice has been described as a muzzle. It is the 2nd ministry in the last few years to be given this treatment, the first was the Ministry of the Environment. In my March 7, 2012 posting I touched on this issue (scroll about 40% of the way down) in the context of an encounter with someone at the University of British Columbia (UBC). You may want to continue onto the comments for the March 7, 2012 posting where David Bruggeman of the Pasco Phronesis blog eloquently argues that neither my experience with UBC nor the government muzzles amounted to censorship. (As of today, April 30, 2012, I’m still working on my response.)

Given that in addition to censorship I am quite interested in e-publishing, the April 20, 2012 story (PayPal, You’ve Met Your Match: Erotica Writers) by David Zax for Fast Company caught my attention,

Mark Coker is the CEO of Smashwords, an e-book publishing and distribution platform. Coker recently won a highly publicized battle against PayPal, which briefly refused to work with Smashwords unless Coker removed certain naughty titles from the site. Fast Company caught up with Coker and learned, among other things, that writers of incest erotica can be very articulate.

FAST COMPANY: What is Smashwords?

MARK COKER: We’re probably the world’s largest distributor of self-published e-books and e-books from small independent presses. We were founded in 2008. A writer comes to Smashwords, uploads a Word document, which we instantly convert into multiple formats to be read on a Kindle or other device. Those are then available for sale at Smashwords.com at a price set by the author. 85% of all proceeds go to the author, so we flipped the compensation model upside-down. In traditional publishing, in the best case, an author earns 17.5% off an e-book’s list price. In 2008, we had 140 titles; in 2009, we had 6,000 titles; today we have just over 115,000.

You recently came to prominence by picking a fight with PayPal, which threatened to stop working with you if you failed to remove some smutty titles from your store.

On a Saturday, I received an email from PayPal notifying me I had about five days to remove all books containing themes of rape, bestiality, and incest. That was upsetting; we’d been working with PayPal for almost four years. I offered to meet with them, but they responded that they didn’t take meetings, and this was their policy. [emphasis mine] By luck, I called in to the general customer support line, and person who picked up happened to be an author, a member of the Romance Writers of America. She knew who Smashwords was, and knew it was a legitimate platform for indie authors, and that kind soul volunteered to walk us through the process and connect us with people who could actually listen to us.

Did you find purveyors of underage incest erotica to be surprisingly articulate?

We’ve never allowed underage erotica–we’ve always had a strict policy about that. But for the other folks, yes, I found them incredibly articulate and well spoken. Writers are great at communicating, and they were pissed off.

What happened next?

On Monday I received a phone call from a higher-level manager within the PayPal enforcement division. In that call we agreed to continue discussions in good faith, and that PayPal would not turn off its services while we gave it time to work this out. At that point I put into place a new strategy. PayPal had said that they were doing this only because of the credit card companies and banks they worked with. I thought if we could put enough pressure on the credit card companies, that would open the whole thing up. We got the press to start contacting credit card companies to ask if they were behind this or not, and we also escalated the email campaign to all our authors and then all our customers. The public anger rose, and ultimately PayPal wanted out, and the credit card companies relented and gave permission to relax the policies. I think with this incident, a lot of authors realized Smashwords was standing behind them. I think if anyone tries to push the indie author community down again, we’ll be there to help stand behind these authors. In the end I think it was a great victory for free speech, and shows the rising power of self-publishing authors in the publishing community.

There is more to Zax’s article including a discussion of a recent US Dept. of Justice lawsuit over e-book pricing and some criticism of Coker’s other responses to the PayPal anti-erotica initiative.

Zachary Knight in a March 5, 2012 posting on Techdirt covered the story as it was happening. There’s some additional insight into PayPal and its policies as well as a description of how Smashwords and Coker responded to the pressure.

Getting back to the issue of censorship, I find this striking because it seems to have been done at arm’s length. It’s not PayPal, it’s the credit card companies who have decided that these books must be removed. I’m wondering how the credit card companies, as a group, concluded that they didn’t want to have customers paying for e-book erotica. Did they meet somewhere in their secret headquarters and make a group decision? For that matter, why e-book erotica? Don’t people use credit cards to pay for other forms of erotica (movies/downloads?) and/or pornography?

Something else I found quite striking was that PayPal refused to meet because ‘that’s the policy’. I am not much enamoured of agencies (corporate, government, etc.) that make these unilateral decisions and then hide behind policies designed to eliminate any discussion.

By the way, for anyone who’s interested in Smashwords, it looks like a very interesting site with a wide range of materials. From the home page,

Angel’s Whisper    by Muhammad Nasim
You set the price! 20040 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » Inspiration » Personal inspiration.
A collection of short and literary blogs of Naseem Mahnavi arranged latest first. They contain wisdom with humor and compelling opinion. Anecdotes range from ants discussing gravity to interpretation of Nistradamus’s quartains and history of America. Perhaps the most interesting part is the candid definitions of common terms compiled over a five year period of blogging. For readers of all ages.

Midnight Arpeggios: An Illustrated Philosophy of Practicing & Music    by M.J. Murphy
Price: $4.99 USD. 22650 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Essay » Literature.
If you are looking for a discussion of musicianship at a basic philosophical level then this is for you. You will find a collection of 23 short, original essays on music that are inspired, informal, and brilliantly illustrated with classic artwork.

Blood of the Revenant    by N.R. Allen
Price: $0.99 USD. 72490 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy.
As Gabriel begins to unravel the dangerous mystery that surrounds the strange and dark place called Returning City, he is drawn into a very deadly secret, one that threatens to destroy not only him but everyone he has ever cared about.

Helping with Homework: A Guide for Teachers and Parents  by Irene Taylor
Price: $4.99 USD. 10250 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » Education and Study Guides » Elementary.
Homework…does that word make you cringe? Homework is probably the most talked about idea in education today. Is it an unnecessary waste of energy for student and parents, or a useful tool for teachers?

10 Minute Tidy: 108 Ways to Organize Your Office Quickly, 2nd edition    by Shannon McGinnis
Price: $2.99 USD. 28020 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » Business & Economics » Office management.
The 108 Tips in this book offer you fast, easy solutions for increasing your efficiency and productivity at the office. By focusing your attention on one task at a time and devoting just 10 minutes at a time to each tip, you can organize your business for success

M-CORP 2020    by Sajjad  Tameez
Price: Free! 3470 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Fiction» Adventure » Action.
In the year 2020, M-Corp, a huge cooperation has bailed out the UK; but for the price of M-Corp having complete control. As society gets chewed up by the rich, and the government takes a back-seat, a modern day Robin Hood emerges, taking things into his own hands. But can one act change the course of the future? Or will the wicked wheels of corruption crush anything that comes in its way.

Using Astrology to Find Your Luck: What Works?   by K.C. Powers
Price: $24.99 USD. 37750 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » New Age » Astrology.
Ever wondered what a Lottery Winners Chart looks like? Ever wondered if maybe YOU could win something big? What planets cause the biggest wins and what are the best Triggers of a Lucky Event? These questions have been the subject of my passionate research for over a decade. This book concentrates on Luck and Good Fortune and what really works in astrological prediction.

Reporting Live: Articles and Letters from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair   by Lyndon Irwin
Price: $10.99 USD. 67620 words. Language: English. Published by Gregath Publishing Company, Inc. on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » Biography » Historical biography.
Articles and Letters from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair

Make Your Own Beer   by Dee Phillips
Price: $2.99 USD. 6160 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » Cooking, Food, Wine, Spirits » Beer.
Here is all the information you need to start making your own great tasting beer at home. From informing you about how the beer making process works to telling you about the different types of beers, you will be able to start making your own beer. 10 great tasting beer recipes included!

The Open Bible – The Gospel of Matthew: Chapter 17    by Open Bible Matthew
Price: Free! 1090 words. Language: English. Published by The Open Bible on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » Religion and Spirituality » Bibles.
Chapter 17 of Matthew from the Open Bible, a simple easy to understand translation, produced to enable anyone to create their own Bible video and audio recordings etc without any legal restrictions. Chapter 17 includes the account of the Transfiguration on the Mount, and also the miracle of the money in the fish’s mouth

Any budding authors out there? As for censorship and science, I will be getting back to that soon.

E-readers: musings on publishing and the word (part 2 of 3)

While the debates rage on about tablets versus e-readers and about e-ink vs LCD readers and about Kindle vs Nook and other e-reader contenders, there are other more fundamental debates taking place as per articles like E-reading: Revolution in the making or fading fad? by Annie Huang on physorg.com,

Four years ago Cambridge, Mass.-based E Ink Corporation and Taiwan’s Prime View International Co. hooked up to create an e-paper display that now supplies 90 percent of the fast growing e-reader market.

The Taiwanese involvement has led some observers to compare e-reading to the Chinese technological revolution 2,000 years ago in which newly invented paper replaced the bulky wooden blocks and bamboo slats on which Chinese characters were written.

But questions still hang over the Taiwanese-American venture, including the readiness of the marketplace to dispense with paper-based reading, in favor of relatively unfamiliar e-readers.

“It’s cockamamie to think a product like that is going to revolutionize the way most people read,” analyst Michael Norris of Rockville, Maryland research firm Simba Information Co. said in an e-mail. Americans use e-books at a rate “much, much slower than it looks.”

I don’t know that this constitutes proof that Micheal Norris is right (ETA Sept. 21, 2010, this Techdirt article Don’t Be Confused By Amazon’s Ebook Sales Claims by Mike Masnick cites research that supports Norris’ claim) but the essay E-reader revolt: I’m leaving youth culture behind by Emma Silvers certainly suggests that not all of the younger (Millenial) generation is necessarily as enamoured of e-readers and associated techno gadgets as is commonly touted,

At 26, I’m part of a generation raised on gadgets, but actual books are something I just refuse to give up

One recent story in the New York Times went so far as to claim that iPads and Kindles and Nooks are making the very act of reading better by — of course — making it social. As one user explained, “We are in a high-tech era and the sleekness and portability of the iPad erases any negative notions or stigmas associated with reading alone.” Hear that? There’s a stigma about reading alone. (How does everyone else read before bed — in pre-organized groups?) Regardless, it turns out that, for the last two decades, I’ve been Doing It Wrong. And funny enough, up until e-books came along, reading was one of the few things I felt confident I was doing exactly right.

o is my overly personal, defensive reaction to the e-reader boom nothing more than preemptive fear of the future, of change in general? I’d like to think I’m slightly more mature than that, but at its core my visceral hatred of the computer screen-as-book is at least partially composed of sadness at the thought of kids growing up differently from how I did, of the rituals associated with learning to read — and learning to love to read — ceasing to resemble yours and mine. Nine-year-olds currently exist who will recall, years from now, the first time they read “Charlotte’s Web” on their iPads, and I’m going to have to let that go. For me, there’s just still something universal about ink on paper, the dog-earing of yellowed pages, the loans to friends, the discovery of a relative’s secret universe of interests via the pile on their nightstand. And it’s not really hyperbole to say it makes me feel disconnected from humanity to imagine these rituals funneled into copy/paste functions, annotated files on a screen that could, potentially, crash.

I doubt I’m the only one, even in my supposedly tech-obsessed generation, who thinks this way.

Well, maybe Silvers is a minority but there is at least one market sector, education texts, that e-readers don’t seem to satisfy as Pasco Phronesis (David Bruggeman) in an August 12, 2010 posting notes evidence that e-readers are less efficient than regular books,

Edward Tenner (who you should be following on general principle) at The Atlantic gathers some findings that suggest e-readers are less effective than regular books from an efficiency perspective – something that matters to readers concerned with educational texts. Both in terms of reading speed and the distraction of hypertext links, e-Readers are not the best means to focus on whatever text you’re trying to read.

Those problems may be remedied with a new $46M investment in Kno, Inc. (from the Sept. 8, 2010 news item on physorg.com),

Founded in May 2009 and short for “knowledge,” Kno is developing a two-panel, touchscreen tablet computer that will allow users to read digital textbooks, take notes, access the Web and run educational applications.

“Kno is gearing up to launch the first digital device that we believe will fundamentally improve the way students learn,” said Osman Rashid, Kno’s chief executive and co-founder.

Rashid said the funding will “help us continue to deliver on our product roadmap and ultimately deliver on our vision to bring innovative digital technology to the world of education.”

Still, there’s another downside to e-readers as per this item, Reminder: You Don’t Own Your Ebooks; Amazon Locks Customer Out And Doesn’t Respond To Help Requests by Mike Masnik on Techdirt,

We’ve pointed out in the past that if you’re “buying” ebooks on devices like the Kindle or the iPad, it’s important to remember that you’re not really “buying” the books, and you don’t really own them. We’re seeing that once again with a story on Consumerist about a woman who was locked out of the ebooks on her Kindle for a month:

In fact, they can do a lot more than just lock you out of your account they can delete books that you’ve purchased as Amazon did with books such as George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, and The Virtue of Selfishness, and some of the Harry Potter books. Apparently, these titles were illegally uploaded which is why Amazon removed them. Farhad Manjoo’s Slate essay Why 2024 Will Be Like Nineteen Eighty-Four; How Amazon’s remote deletion of e-books from the Kindle paves the way for book-banning’s digital future on these incidents explores the implications,

The worst thing about this story isn’t Amazon’s conduct; it’s the company’s technical capabilities. Now we know that Amazon can delete anything it wants from your electronic reader. That’s an awesome power, and Amazon’s justification in this instance is beside the point. As our media libraries get converted to 1’s and 0’s, we are at risk of losing what we take for granted today: full ownership of our book and music and movie collections.

Most of the e-books, videos, video games, and mobile apps that we buy these days day aren’t really ours. They come to us with digital strings that stretch back to a single decider—Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, or whomever else. … Now we know what the future of book banning looks like, too.

Consider the legal difference between purchasing a physical book and buying one for your Kindle. When you walk into your local Barnes & Noble to pick up a paperback of Animal Farm, the store doesn’t force you to sign a contract limiting your rights. If the Barnes & Noble later realizes that it accidentally sold you a bootlegged copy, it can’t compel you to give up the book—after all, it’s your property. The rules are completely different online. When you buy a Kindle a  book [sic], you’re implicitly agreeing to Amazon’s Kindle terms of service. The contract gives the company “the right to modify, suspend, or discontinue the Service at any time, and Amazon will not be liable to you should it exercise such right.” In Amazon’s view, the books you buy aren’t your property—they’re part of a “service,” and Amazon maintains complete control of that service at all times. Amazon has similar terms covering downloadable movies and TV shows, as does Apple for stuff you buy from iTunes.

I certainly like owning my books and the idea that some unseen individual might decide to remove access with the click of a few keystrokes certainly gives me pause. As for whether or not people are using e-readers and their ilk, I have more about that along with my thoughts on these debates and what’s happening with ‘the word’ in part 3.