Open publisher-invited reviews in Web of Science

Something to look out for in the academic science literature is the ability to read documents that are part of the peer review associated with a published article. These can include reviewer reports, author responses, and editor decision letters. Getting the full story around a paper of interest, from the author’s submission to the final published version, is really exciting. It can also be beneficial to any new researchers or new peer reviewers that would like to learn what to expect from the system.

The process is referred to as transparent peer review. It has been piloted at the American Chemical Society, and the Institute of Physics (IOP) recently implemented transparent peer review for all of it’s open access journals.

Here is an example of an IOP article that includes open peer review documentation. It can be hard to locate the documents on the website, but they are found by hovering over the Clarivate logo with all of the article metrics. It looks like this:

View Public Peer Reviews

Clativate has made it easy to identify articles that have peer review documents associated with them by adding “Open publisher-invited reviews” as a quick filter in their multidisciplinary Web of Science database. There may only be a small number of these papers in your search results, but this number will likely grow.

Here is what the option looks like after you run a search in Web of Science:

Open publisher-invited reviews quick filter in Web of Science

Let us know if you have any questions about this option, and if you find it useful!

Cryptocurrency: Defying the Norms of Financial Institutions

Gold coin with bitcoin logo

Thanks very much to Antoine Bissonnette & Faiza Ambreen Chowdhury for submitting their FACC 400 assignment to post on The Turret. This guest post looks at the use of cryptocurrency for philanthropy and economic management.

Cryptocurrency: Defying the Norms of Financial Institutions

by Antoine Bissonnette & Faiza Ambreen Chowdhury

In the landscape of global finance, a significant transformation is underway, particularly certain markets where the relevancy of traditional banking institutions is being challenged. Cryptocurrency, once regarded as a niche or speculative asset, is steadily becoming a cornerstone in many industries where traditional banking systems have either failed or cannot adequately meet the needs of the industry. This blog post delves into the pivotal role of cryptocurrency in such industries and emerging markets.

The Rise of Crypto Philanthropy

A growing number of charitable organizations are starting to embrace cryptocurrency donations. While there are organizations dedicated to accepting only crypto-donations like The Giving Block, nowadays even major charity funds such as UNICEF, Greenpeace and the Human Rights Foundation, all offer it as an option to potential donors [4].

There are multiple advantages this offers to both donors and recipients. Firstly, the use of cryptocurrency ensures transparency between donors and organizations, facilitated by the public logging of transactions inherent to cryptocurrency. So donors, recipients and the public can track where the money is going and witness the real-time impact of donations [1]. Digital currency also offers significant tax advantages for donors, the amount donated would not be subject to capital gains taxes, therefore deducted from the donor’s overall gross income [2].

For organizations, providing the choice for crypto donations helps broaden their funding sources. With the rise in popularity of bitcoin, there are more and more people who want to donate, but only have access to cryptocurrency. Another feature that can work in organizations’ favor is the price volatility of the digital currency market. Some organizations have been known to hold donations for some amount of time, to increase the value of donations with time [3].

While cryptocurrency philanthropy showcases the transformative potential of digital assets, its influence extends far beyond charitable donations. In emerging markets, cryptocurrencies are reshaping entire economies, offering financial inclusion and economic empowerment to those who have been left behind by traditional banking systems.

Countries like Venezuela and Argentina, facing hyperinflation and economic instability, have turned to cryptocurrencies not just as an investment but as a means to preserve wealth, transact, and participate in the global economy. In fact, cryptocurrency has become a beacon of hope in emerging markets, offering financial inclusion and economic empowerment to those who have been left behind by traditional banking systems.

Case Study: Cryptocurrency Adoption in Venezuela

In Venezuela, cryptocurrencies serve as a crucial tool against hyperinflation and government control. The country ranks high in global crypto adoption, driven by the necessity to preserve savings in a stable asset and the ease of conducting transactions even during power and internet outages [5] [6]. Moreover, Venezuela’s engagement with cryptocurrencies extends beyond just transactions; it has a significant presence in the crypto mining world, thanks to the country’s low electricity costs. This has led to the creation of a legal framework to support and regulate the mining industry, further solidifying the role of digital currencies in its economy [7].

Influence on Economic Stability in Argentina

Argentina presents another compelling case of crypto’s impact, where the devaluation of the local currency has pushed individuals and businesses towards cryptocurrencies. Stablecoins, in particular, have become popular for preserving the value of earnings and savings, acting as a digital stand-in for the much-sought-after US dollar. The adaptability of cryptocurrencies has allowed for innovative solutions like crypto debit cards, enabling Argentinians to make everyday purchases directly from their crypto wallets, thus circumventing the volatile local currency [8].

These case studies shed light on a broader trend within the financial system, where cryptocurrencies are not just speculative assets but vital financial tools. They offer a way to mitigate the impacts of economic volatility, and enable businesses to operate smoothly despite fluctuating local currencies. As new markets continue to evolve, the role of cryptocurrencies is likely to expand, potentially transforming the global financial landscape and making financial inclusion a tangible reality for millions.

In summary, cryptocurrency is revolutionizing global finance by challenging traditional banking norms. From transforming philanthropy to providing economic stability in emerging markets, its impact is undeniable. Cryptocurrency’s journey is just beginning, promising a dynamic future for finance worldwide.

References:

[1] “Is Cryptophilanthropy The Future Of Giving? | Altoo AG,” Jan. 12, 2024. https://altoo.io/crypto-philanthropy-and-the-future-of-future-of-giving/ (accessed Mar. 28, 2024).

[2] “Tax Deductions for Crypto Donations,” TokenTax. https://tokentax.co/blog/tax-deductions-for-crypto-donations (accessed Mar. 28, 2024).

[3] R. Stevens, “Crypto for Good: How to Donate Crypto and Who Accepts It,” www.coindesk.com, Oct. 12, 2022. https://www.coindesk.com/learn/crypto-for-good-how-to-donate-crypto-and-who-accepts-it/ (accessed Mar. 28, 2024).

[4] T. G. Block, “List of Nonprofits Accepting Bitcoin & Crypto Donations,” The Giving Block. https://thegivingblock.com/resources/nonprofits-accepting-crypto-donations/

[5] Al Jazeera. (2021, June 22). With Venezuela’s economy in crisis, cryptocurrency fills the gaps. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/6/22/with-venezuelas-economy-in-crisis-cryptocurrency-fills-the-gaps

[6] Goschenko, S. (2021, May 28). A look at why Venezuela is the third country with the most crypto adoption – emerging markets bitcoin news. Bitcoin News. https://news.bitcoin.com/venezuela-numbers-cryptocurrency-adoption-factors/

[7] Abad, J. (2022, February 12). P2P payments spurred crypto adoption across Venezuela in 2021. Cointelegraph. https://cointelegraph.com/news/p2p-payments-spurred-crypto-adoption-across-venezuela-in-2021

[8] The Chainalysis Team. (2023, October 23). Latin America cryptocurrency adoption: Data and analysis. Chainalysis. https://www.chainalysis.com/blog/latin-america-cryptocurrency-adoption/

New Open Access Agreement with Elsevier

Over the past few years, the most significant trend in academic publishing has arguably been in the introduction of so-called Transformative Agreements. These agreements aim to repurpose the funds paid out by libraries for subscription fees, instead redirecting them to cover the publishing fees required to make articles open-access and freely available to the public.

Earlier this month a new transformative agreement was signed between Elsevier and the Canadian Knowledge Resource Network (CRKN), a partnership of 85 libraries and research institutions across Canada. This means that corresponding authors at McGill will benefit from unlimited open access publishing at no cost in more than 1,800 Elsevier hybrid journals in this list; for these journals the article processing charge (APC) will be completely waived. For Gold Access journals there is a 20% reduction in the APC. The agreement will last three years, from January 1, 2024, to December 31, 2026 inclusive. When submitting an article, make sure that you use your McGill email in order to be eligible, and be sure to check out the detailed instructions before submitting.

We at the Library are very excited about this new agreement and we hope that it leads to many more McGill authors being able to publish their work without worrying about publishing fees, while also being able to more easily satisfy the Tri-Council Open Access Funding Policy.

If you’d like more help or information from us, you can get in touch with your liaison librarian, or with our Scholarly Communications Team. If you’d like more information about transformative agreements and this new deal with Elsevier, CRKN have published a press release as well as the text of the full agreement with Elsevier.

Citation politics

We may want to believe that citation practices in STEM are unbiased, but the evidence out there says otherwise. It speaks to the politics and privilege that have pervaded peer review and the published literature.

Here is just a handful of recent examples:

What can we do?

There are a few things that we can do in our citation practices to make a difference. First, if we recognize that citations are power, then we can exercise that power in our own reference lists. When we write articles or otherwise disseminate our research outputs, we can choose to break away from citing the usual suspects and cite responsibly. One easy to remember rule of thumb is the Gray test. Our works pass the Gray test if they cite and discuss the scholarship of at least two women and two non-white people. We can also consider including citation diversity statements.

Second, we can be representative in the works that we recommend to others. For example, here is a Gender Balance Assessment Tool that is available to check that our reading lists are not mostly works written by male authors.

Third, when we find ourselves in a position to judge the work of others we can let go of our reliance on citation metrics. We can commit to evaluating works on their scientific merit and consider alternative metrics not based on citation counts.

Of course, we can also talk about citation politics with our colleagues. There is lots to think about and discuss!

Find more citation politics resources and readings, along with sources for alternative metrics on the Impact Measurements guide.

More AI Tools: Using Gemini for PubMed Searches

In a previous blog post, we discussed the use of ChatGPT for PubMed searches. Now that Gemini, previously Bard from Google, has become available in Canada, it’s worth taking a look at how the technology interprets requests for PubMed searches and how it differs from ChatGPT.

We’ll be using the exact same example that we used previously:

In former smokers with chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, is pulmonary rehabilitation an effective treatment method?

When asked to generate a MeSH only search string, this is what the program comes up with:

("Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease"[Mesh] AND "Pulmonary Rehabilitation"[Mesh]) AND ("Exp-Smokers"[Mesh] AND "Smoking Cessation"[Mesh]) [Optional: AND "Treatment Outcome"[Mesh]]

It seems like all AI programs share a brain cell when it comes to MeSH. Like ChatGP, Gemini is making up its own MeSH terms – Pulmonary Rehabilitation and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease are not MeSH terms! It has also included Exp-Smokers, when the correct MeSH term is Ex-Smokers. Yikes.

Another obvious issue is the use of AND to combine “Exp-Smokers”[Mesh] and “Smoking Cessation”[Mesh]. In the context of this question, these are synonyms, part of the same concept, and would therefore be combined using OR.

Let’s take a look at Gemini’s response as a whole:

While ChatGPT just spits out MeSH terms, Gemini seems to take it one step further and offer advice. The use of Required and Optional is presumptuous, but I can appreciate that the program tries to explain what kind of articles your query will return.

The biggest problem, and the one I take the most issue with, is the program’s declaration that adding the MeSH term Treatment Outcome will broaden your search. While Treatment Outcome might be a broad term, including this MeSH term will severely narrow your search and potentially eliminate relevant articles. The more concepts you combine using the Boolean operator AND, the less results you will end up with.

When asked to generate a list of keywords, Gemini provided one or two synonyms for each concept, even though we know from the complete search we generated in the last post that there are way more out there:

If you’re going to be using any AI program to generate synonyms, it’s best to enter your terms one at a time, and only after you’ve combed through other sources, like relevant journal articles or a thesaurus.

Gemini is also struggling with the concept of Booleans. The search string it generates is riddled with Boolean errors:

(COPD OR ex-smoker) AND pulmonary rehabilitation AND (exercise training OR dyspnea OR quality of life)

My head hurts just looking at this… I’ve used different colours to group together keywords of the same concept. COPD and ex-smoker are two entirely different concepts and should not be grouped together. If exercise training is often used in conjunction with pulmonary rehabilitation like Gemini says, then why is it not being combined using OR? Presumably, Gemini thinks that dyspnea and quality of life are important outcomes, so the use of OR to combine them is not false, but it shouldn’t have grouped exercise training with them. Overall, it’s a mess.

One thing that I think Gemini does better than ChatGPT is the explanation for searching both MeSH terms and keywords, and I trust it more as a learning tool than as a search string generator:

If you’re still not sure why you should complement your MeSH terms with appropriate keywords, take a look at our Health Sciences FAQ.

By now you’re probably thinking, “Gee, I don’t think Gemini could possibly get any more wrong.” Well, BUCKLE UP! I asked Gemini how to exclude keywords, wanting to know how it would explain the Boolean operator NOT:

Here, Gemini is telling you that instead of using NOT, you can simply use AND – to exclude a term. That’s not how that works! Booleans are sacred! They’re as old as time itself! You can’t just go around changing them! PubMed’s own User Guide warns that the minus sign (-) is converted to a space. Consequently, if you wanted to retrieve articles that talk mention COPD but not bronchitis, Gemini would have you type this: (“COPD” AND – “Bronchitis”). But PubMed isn’t interpreting this search the way Gemini thinks it is:

PubMed is ignoring your minus, turning it into a space, and searching instead for articles that mention both COPD and bronchitis. The correct way to exclude bronchitis is by entering: “COPD” NOT “bronchitis”.

I’m not ready to give you my blessing to generate searches using ChatGPT or Gemini. Maybe one day we’ll get there, but for now, I think I’ve demonstrated why you shouldn’t trust either of these tools with the job. The good news is that if you’re struggling with searching in PubMed or other medical databases, your librarians are here to help you! Contact us with any questions relating to searches and databases.

Using ChatGPT for PubMed Searches: Be Smart!

With the advent of new AI technologies geared at making academic life simpler, it can be tempting to try to use these tools to help when in unchartered territory. And while some of these tools like ChatGPT can be helpful starting points, they should not be relied on entirely for your medical research. 

PubMed is a freely available biomedical database that has over 36 million records from leading journals in the medical field. It is usually the starting point for most medical research. However, it is not always easy to navigate, and some researchers struggle with building a comprehensive search. Although PubMed is taught to medical students at the undergraduate level and to other students in the health sciences, it can take a while before you feel comfortable searching on your own. 

Searching in PubMed requires using a balance of the controlled vocabulary terms, MeSH terms, and keywords. These are meant to complement each other and allow you to find the most complete set of results.

ChatGPT can definitely help you get started, and even make helpful suggestions, but we want to make sure you’re using it properly! 

When doing any kind of searching, it is important to break down your research question to its basic searchable components. In the health sciences, we point people to the PICO model, which allows you to identify the patient population (P), the intervention (I), the comparator (C) and the patient outcomes (O). We would then combine these components to come up with a searchable question. 

For the purposes of this blog post, we will be using the following research question as an example: In former smokers with chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, is pulmonary rehabilitation an effective treatment method?

We can start by asking ChatGPT to tell us the MeSH terms that are appropriate for use in this question:

Looks good, right? Wrong! 

Let’s talk about what works, first. ChatGPT does a great job of breaking down the question and telling you what concepts should be searched. The way the search is entered into the database is also correct. In PubMed, search terms should always be entered between quotation marks and the search fields should be entered in square brackets.

The most glaring problem is that ChatGPT has made up MeSH terms. Pulmonary Rehabilitation is not a MeSH term! Neither is Former Smokers!  If you enter “Pulmonary Rehabilitation”[mesh] or “Former Smokers”[mesh] into PubMed as ChatGPT suggests, you would get zero results. The closest MeSH term for Former Smokers is Ex-Smokers, but there is no close MeSH term for Pulmonary Rehabilitation.

Although ChatGPT’s suggestions are valuable, you always need to check the MeSH database for the accuracy of the terms provided. 

Next, let’s take a look at what ChatGPT will generate when asked to build a keyword search: 

(“Former Smokers” OR “Smoking Cessation” OR “Tobacco Use Cessation”) AND (“Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease” OR COPD) AND (“Pulmonary Rehabilitation” OR “Respiratory Therapy” OR “Exercise Therapy for Lungs”) AND (“Treatment Effectiveness” OR “Therapeutic Efficacy” OR “Outcome Assessment”)

One of the first things that jumps out at me, and what I’ve written in red, is the acronym COPD. While it is not incorrect to enter the acronym as a keyword, the lack of quotation marks is what worries me. In failing to add quotation marks, PubMed triggers Automatic Term Mapping, a problematic feature that adds unnecessary search terms and results based on what the database thinks you are searching for. 

The image below will show you the difference between searching with and without quotation marks:

PubMed has translated the search to include the correct MeSH term, but also include the individual words (disease, pulmonary, obstructive, chronic) as their own, stand-alone keywords. Are you still going to find articles related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease? Sure. But there are certainly going to be more irrelevant articles for you to sift through. Just look at the difference in the numbers – 109 thousand as compared to 62 thousand! 

Another problem with ChatGPT is its inclusion of outcome search terms. We don’t normally build a search with outcomes, especially such generic ones. Instead, outcomes are screened for once we have our set of results. You will certainly find articles about pulmonary rehabilitation in former smokers with COPD that don’t use terms like “treatment effectiveness” and “outcome assessment” in the title and abstract. By putting these terms in the search, you are forcing the database to look for them and consequently eliminating relevant results. 

When asked to generate a search with MeSH terms and keywords for our initial question, ChatGPT combines what we’ve seen above and gives you one big search string to enter into the database: 

(“Former Smokers”[MeSH] OR “Smoking Cessation”[MeSH] OR “Tobacco Use Cessation”[MeSH] OR “Former Smokers” OR “Smoking Cessation” OR “Tobacco Use Cessation”) AND (“Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease”[MeSH] OR COPD OR “Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease”) AND (“Pulmonary Rehabilitation”[MeSH] OR “Respiratory Therapy”[MeSH] OR “Exercise Therapy for Lungs”[MeSH] OR “Pulmonary Rehabilitation” OR “Respiratory Therapy” OR “Exercise Therapy for Lungs”) AND (“Treatment Effectiveness”[MeSH] OR “Therapeutic Efficacy”[MeSH] OR “Outcome Assessment”[MeSH] OR “Treatment Effectiveness” OR “Therapeutic Efficacy” OR “Outcome Assessment”) 

At the time of this writing, this search yields two results. TWO! In fact, PubMed isn’t too happy with our search either, and issues the following warning: 

Not only has it kept the two made-up MeSH terms that we already saw, but it’s created a few new ones, too, including, Exercise Therapy for Lungs, Treatment EffectivenessTherapeutic Efficacy and Outcome Assessment. And Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is not technically a MeSH term. The correct MeSH term is Pulmonary Diseases, Chronic Obstructive. MeSH terms need to be exact.

Do better, ChatGPT…

Now, let’s take a look at a search that I, a health sciences human librarian made for the same research question:

(“Ex-Smokers”[MeSH] or “Tobacco Use Cessation”[mesh] or “ex smoker*” or “exsmoker*” or “former smoker*” OR ((“history” AND (“smoking” or “cigarette*” or “tobacco”))) AND (“Breathing Exercises”[Mesh] or “breathing exercise*” or “pulmonary rehab*” or “respirat* rehab*” or “respiratory muscle training” or “breath* control*” or “lung rehab*” or “lung exercise*” or “respiratory exercise*”)) AND (“Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive”[mesh] or “Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease*” or “Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease*” or “COPD” or “COAD” or “Chronic Obstructive Airway Disease*” or “Chronic Airflow Obstruction*” or “Chronic Bronchitis” or “Pulmonary Emphysema*” or “Centrilobular Emphysema*” or “Panlobular Emphysema*” or “Focal Emphysema*”)

This search combines the correct MeSH terms with keywords and synonyms. I brainstormed different terms for all of the key concepts, and included conditions that fall under the umbrella term of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. All search terms are nicely encased in quotation marks to avoid automatic term mapping and I used truncation to account for different spellings. This search yielded 157 results.

Eat your heart out, ChatGPT!

While ChatGPT may not be great at making your search strategy, it can be useful. It can help you break down your question into concepts and offer suggestions during the brainstorming process. Try asking the program to generate synonyms for words – it might bring up things that you never thought of before. 

For example, I asked ChatGPT to generate a list of synonyms for cancer: 

They’re not all winners, and I wouldn’t enter them all into a search engine, but maybe I didn’t think to include malignancy and this was a great reminder. Or maybe I didn’t think to truncate the word cancer as cancer* to include terms such as cancers or cancerous, or to truncate malignan* to account for malignant, malignancy or malignancies. Thanks, ChatGPT! While I don’t recommend using ChatGPT for everything, using it as a thesaurus can be quite fruitful.

Try these tips out the next time you use ChatGPT, or any other AI program, and see the difference in your searches. Don’t forget to contact your librarians for specific questions related to PubMed. You can find a list of librarians by subject matter here.

Teaching Climate Change: Prof. John Gyakum Discusses His New Course, ATOC 183

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Professor John Gyakum from the department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences about his new course “ATOC 183: Climate and Climate Change” being offered this winter. Full disclosure: I am the liaison librarian for his department and will be working with him to provide library support for the course.

Here is what he had to say.

Tara:

Thanks so much Professor Gyakum for taking the time to share with our blog readers about your new course “Climate and Climate Change”. First off, tell us about the course.

Professor Gyakum:

As you probably know, I’ve been teaching Natural Disasters (ATOC/EPSC 185) with John Stix for 25 years. And the thing is climate change is a natural disaster and I’m really passionate about talking to students and working together to understand what we know about climate change and perhaps more importantly what we don’t know.

Tara:

25 years, that’s a long time.

Professor Gyakum:

It is. I had no idea until John Stix mentioned it earlier this term, but yeah, it’s been that long.

Tara:

What is your anticipated student demographic for this course?

Professor Gyakum:

You know, I have not looked in detail at the registration numbers. We have about 145 students. My expectation is that the demographics of our student population will be very similar to what we’ve been having in Natural Disasters. The levels will range probably from U0 to U3. And we’re expecting to have students from all faculties.

Tara:

Are you expecting students to have a certain base level of knowledge when they’re starting this course or will it be for people new to this area of study?

Professor Gyakum:

There are no prerequisites whatsoever and I expect to be able to reach out to all students without any preparation for this course.

Tara:

What led you to developing the course?

Professor Gyakum:

We’ve been incorporating climate change into the Natural Disasters course for the past 5-7 years. It only lasts for one week as a module. It’s an exciting field. Furthermore, I’m in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and it’s my view that we should be leaders in articulating the science [of climate change] to our students and doing so in an accessible way.

Tara:

Was this [initiative] driven from your own experience in Natural Disasters or was it a combination of hearing about needs for a course like this from students in that class or from elsewhere?

Professor Gyakum:

A combination of my experience in Natural Disasters and also as Department Chair. I’m not Department Chair now, but I had been for about 16 years. And Chairs assign teaching. It was pretty clear to me that this was a gap in our departmental outreach that we needed to fill.

Tara:

Absolutely. A lot of people report feelings of eco anxiety when faced with the immensity of the problem of climate change. How will your course help students deal with the kinds of feelings that this topic can generate?

Professor Gyakum:

Well, you know, we’ve touched on this a little bit in our [Natural Disasters] course. There’s no doubt about it that when we pose this question as a Slido [polling] question to the students, their reactions are predominantly pessimistic and lots of people are really quite depressed about this, with good reason. It’s very frustrating for students when they see that governments are not acting in a way that is responsible. What we tell them and what I’m going to be intending to articulate to our students is that there’s a lot of reason for optimism. Primarily because we, as individuals, can work towards a better future. In other words, we do not have to rely upon a government that may not be so proactive. We can do things for ourselves, that contribute to mitigating against climate change and taking actions.

Tara:

Things like?

Professor Gyakum:

On a personal level, of course, your own habits, including transportation. Take the bus, take the metro, walk. It’s not always possible for people to do that but, at the same time, people can and should be acting responsibly. Diet has a role as well. Our choices of what we eat have an impact on the climate.

Tara:

Definitely. How will your course fit in with existing courses? How will it complement things that are already being offered at McGill like “FSCI 198: Climate Crisis and Climate Actions,” offered through the Office of Science Education and “GEOG 514: Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation?”

Professor Gyakum:

First of all, I think our department should be playing a leadership role in this aspect. And I think the contributions that we’re going to be making with this climate course are, in fact, not duplicating what exists already but rather complementing. To do that, what I intend to do is focus on what we do know as scientists in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. In particular, I will be discussing extreme weather systems and we will be having guest speakers from various areas in the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences community to articulate this. Water vapour is the most important greenhouse gas. And that’s not really looked upon very much in current climate change courses. One of the reasons is that water vapour has a tendency to disperse. You have a warm air mass, particularly in the summer. It goes away with a cold front and the water vapour lifetime is rather short. However, there’s been more recent evidence to suggest that extreme weather systems and even submarine volcanic eruptions can, in fact, inject a massive amount of water vapour into the stratosphere, where the lifetimes are much longer. Also, we’re going to be looking at some of the radiative aspects of clouds that have an impact on our climate. So there are some nuances here, very important subtleties that are critical to our understanding of the problem.

Tara:

So would it be fair to say that this course will be taking more of a science bent than some of the other courses that might be more [policy-oriented]?

Professor Gyakum:

I mean the other courses certainly have science in them. What we’re doing here is to emphasize extreme weather systems not just simply as a symptom but rather as a really significant producer of sometimes cataclysmic feedbacks on the climate system.

Tara:

I’m a fan of the Walrus Magazine and there was an article that came out in 2022 on climate change education. One of the people interviewed in that article was saying and I’m quoting “climate education should be framed in a way that incites hope and incites change.” That sounds like a very challenging, yet very important, task. How do you plan to incite hope and change in your classroom?

Professor Gyakum:

I think what we can do here is show our students tangible examples of what we as individuals can do and what we can do on a political level, albeit relatively small-scale to begin with, depending upon the students’ own personalities, to affect positive changes in our political system that would facilitate taking strong action against the ill effects of climate change. So I think this can be done really at all ages and at all levels and at all areas of expertise. I think that’s an excellent article that you were referring to. I have to produce a realistic state of affairs – there’s no question about that – but at the same time, there are good examples that I can show of individuals and also governments doing a terrific job in addressing the whole issue of climate change.

Tara:

You’re making me want to take the course! Are you accepting people auditing the course?

Professor Gyakum:

Totally. It’s not a remotely-given course, so some of this depends upon the size of the classroom, of course.

Tara:

Related to that, I know you have taught online before. I remember the years before the pandemic when you offered the very popular Natural Disasters course free online as a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). What lessons about the way you taught that course will inform how you teach this new in-person one?

Professor Gyakum:

So when we taught the MOOC, both John Stix and I had this idea that teaching a 45 or 75 minute lecture was just fine, but what we found with the MOOC was that we really needed to break things up and focus on a topic for a limited period of time, 10 to 15 minutes. And then, at the same time, what we found since the MOOC, and since the pandemic, is that we’re really working harder towards engaging students more proactively, even in a 600-person class. We do this with questions, feedback and even discussions. I think that’s going to be a readily available tool that we can use in this climate course, which right now has about 140 students, which is a fraction of what we have in Natural Disasters. So I’m looking forward to that.

Tara:

So what you’re saying is that you’re taking the practice from your online course of integrating engaging activities and bringing that into the physical classroom?

Professor Gyakum:

Absolutely. We’re going to be using techniques to actively engage the students in every single class much more frequently than has been a typical practice. At the same time, we want to know if anything that we’ve said during the lecture has gotten into people’s brains. We can do that with some of the questions that we ask students. It’s very important. Sometimes we, as instructors, can be very surprised at what a student really learns and does not learn from what we’ve just said. [Using techniques for engaging students] is an excellent tool for gathering fairly quick feedback for both the students and the instructors.

Tara:

That can help you then to tailor your teaching moving forward.

Professor Gyakum:

Yes. Even in Natural Disasters – we’ve done this for 25 years – but we’re constantly changing the way we teach.

Tara:

That’s fantastic. I think that makes so much sense because every class is different and, as these things move forward and time passes, the kinds of knowledge that students are bringing to the classroom are different and that impacts what you teach.

Professor Gyakum:

That’s exactly right. And you know, one of your first questions about the demographics, I don’t know the specifics of the demographics, but I’m going to try in the very first class to engage with the students and work with them to address student strengths because the demographics of a particular class change from year to year. I want to know where they’re from, what sort of background they have. I can’t do it all in one day, but at least I can get an idea of what students’ interests are and what they would like to learn.

Tara:

Excellent. What are some of the main things that you hope students will take from your class this upcoming semester? What main takeaways are you hoping they’re going to come away from your class having learned?

Professor Gyakum:

I think the real emphasis is to instill students with a good idea of what we know about climate change and in particular what we don’t know. A lot of times, politicians, naysayers and so forth spend a lot of time talking about issues that are related to climate change, which are really unknown, totally unknown. There is a lot that we do know about climate change and in particular some of the initial phases of the course are going to go into basics. We will cover what the greenhouse gases are, what they do to our climate and how we as human beings can make changes. Following up on that, we’re going to be talking about some of the implications of the science and what we can do to learn and also to work towards a better environment, a more habitable environment for humans.

Tara:

Is there anything else that you want to tell me about the course?

Professor Gyakum:

Well, it’s going to be fun. I can’t wait for it to start. I realize there is a holiday coming on, but at the same time, I feel very enthusiastic and very passionate about this course. I hope to convey some of that enthusiasm and passion to the students so that they themselves will be able to move ahead and learn. And get something positive out of this course [that can help them] in the different paths they will take in the future. That might be policy, science, arts, anything that the students can do to convey their knowledge and do so in a constructive way to make our society better. So that’s my goal.

Tara:

That’s a very big mission.

Professor Gyakum:

It is. In academia, we have to think big, but at the same time, we have to be practical about what we can do. But just conveying the enthusiasm to some fantastic students that we have at McGill is sometimes all it really takes to expand this vision and to make ourselves a part of a much better world. So, to some extent, I’m relying upon the wisdom and the strength and the enthusiasm of our McGill students to go forward.

Tara:

You’ve got a good bank of people to do work with, that’s for sure. I think McGill students are definitely on board with this topic.

Professor Gyakum:

They certainly are and, like I said, I think I’ve told you before, I feel very privileged to be a part of the McGill community. To have you, in particular, as our librarian to help us and provide resources to students for doing their work. And the student body itself makes a huge contribution to our scholarly community. And I’m just very, very thankful that I can be a part of that.

Tara:

Me too. Thank you so much. I’m really looking forward to hearing more about the class as it moves forward. It’s been really exciting to hear about the course. Thanks again!

Introducing the Health Sciences FAQ!

The team of Health Sciences librarians is pleased to announce the launch of the new Health Sciences FAQ. We have put together a list of 22 of the most common questions we’ve seen across the various health sciences fields and provided in-depth answers, as well as resources to help you.

Questions cover topics related to knowledge synthesis, including different types of reviews, foreground vs. background questions, the evidence pyramid, searching, medical databases and more! The FAQ is for anyone thinking about or currently undertaking research in the health sciences, including students in the disciplines of medicine, dentistry and nursing. Does it explain the difference between subject headings and keywords? You bet! Does it answer your PICO assignment? No (sorry!), but it does explain PICO and other question formulation frameworks. 

Still have questions? No problem! Feel free to submit a question for our consideration or leave a comment on an already-published post. Remember, for more immediate assistance during the semester, you can chat or text with a librarian from 10 am to 6 pm, Monday through Friday, and from 12 pm to 5 pm on Saturday and Sunday. Find more information about our Ask a Librarian service here

Top 10 Tips for Picking an Engineering Paper Topic

Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/83633410@N07/7658298768

“I’m currently working on my technical paper for the winter semester and I’m having trouble deciding on a topic for the paper. Are you the right person to talk to about this?” I have received this kind of question many times over the past few years. Finding a topic can be tricky! Here are some of my favourite ways that you can use to decide on an engineering topic to research for a course. Whether it’s for WCOM 206, CIVE 432, CIVE 664, MECH 532 or any other engineering course, hopefully some of these tips can help you hone in on a topic that will work well for you!

  1. Look up research areas of some of the professors in your department. Every engineering department has a list of professors and you’ll find links to their research areas from those lists. For example, here is the list of Civil Engineering professors: https://www.mcgill.ca/civil/people and if you click on any of their names, you will often see their research areas and/or a list of their publications.
  2. To get an idea of what other WCOM 206 students have done before, check out papers that have won the best paper contest here. They will give you ideas for how narrow a topic a good paper should have and possibly point you to topics of interest.
  3. I often get inspiration from this magazine on engineering education called Prism. Each issue has a section called “First look” where they talk about cool new engineering technologies.
  4. Engineering grand challenges. This is a list put together by the US National Academy of Engineering. There are lots of excellent ideas for research that is really needed in today’s world: http://www.engineeringchallenges.org/challenges.aspx.
  5. Canadian engineering grand challenges https://engineeringdeans.ca/en/project/cegc/ – these grand challenges are designed to help address the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  6. The Royal Academy of Engineering, the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, has put together a website on how engineering is addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals https://raeng.org.uk/sdgs. There is a wealth of great research topics on those pages.
  7. It’s always good to pick a topic that you have a personal interest in. Have you done an internship already? If so, you could pick something related to that. If you haven’t done an internship yet, that’s okay. You can check out the kinds of internships that are available to McGill students and pick a topic related to one that sounds interesting to you. You’ll find internship opportunities for McGill students in MyFuture here. Similarly, even if you’re not ready to look for a job yet, you can look in MyFuture for jobs of interest. The kind of work that employers are hiring for could give you ideas for research topics you might want to learn more about.
  8. If there is a broad area of research you are interested in, you could skim a book on the topic, especially looking in the chapter headings to see if any of the narrower topics covered in the book interest you. You can find books on a topic by searching words in the library catalogue here and narrowing the results to books only.
  9. Similarly, if there is a broad area of research that interests you, you can search the topic in Compendex here. It’s normal that you will get thousands of results. Next, use the “Refine” limits on the left-hand side of the screen to select “Controlled vocabulary” à “View more”. A pop-up window will open with all the “tags” that have been assigned to the articles in the results list. As a way of narrowing your topic, check out what the tags are and select one or more that interest you.
  10. Check out past blog posts on this blog, the Turret! There are even some past student assignments posted that might give you some ideas.

I hope these suggestions will help you. If you have other ideas for ways of coming up with a research topic, I would love to hear about it! You can contact me at taradotmawhinneyatmcgilldotca .

If, after reading this, you could still use some guidance, please know that the engineering librarians at Schulich Library are always happy to meet with you for a research consultation where we can discuss with you further. You’ll find the engineering librarian for your department listed at: https://www.mcgill.ca/library/contact/askus/liaison.

Happy researching!

Thanks to WCOM 206 professor Terry Newman for her thoughtful feedback on this blog post.

Celebrating Excellence in Communication Award winners!

Please join me in congratulating the WCOM 206 Excellence in Communication Award winner for Winter/Summer 2022, Gabriel Lacroix, and Fall 2022, Sophie Allard. Their papers were chosen as the best among their peers across all sections of the Communication in Engineering course. Well done!

The full text of their papers have been added to the McGill Library repository, eScholarship.

Costs and Effectiveness of Roof Based Urban Heat Island Mitigation Strategies

by Gabriel Lacroix

The temperature of cities during summer keeps increasing due to climate change and the urban heat island phenomenon. These temperatures lead to increased mortality rates, discomfort, energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to deteriorating air quality. To alleviate the effects of this phenomenon, many effective mitigation strategies have been developed. In the highly urbanized areas where the urban heat island is the most problematic, roof area is abundant, making mitigation strategies like green roofs and cool roofs attractive. This paper compares the effectiveness of green and cool roofs at mitigating the urban heat island effect by evaluating the temperature reductions they provide, the lifecycle costs associated with them, and the added benefits from implementing them. This comparison found that green and cool roofs provide similar temperature reductions with cool roofs being more cost-effective and green roofs providing valuable added benefits.

Comparative Analysis of Carbon Capture Systems for Fossil Fuel-Fired Power Plants

by Sophie Allard

Power generation through the combustion of fossil fuels produces most of the world’s electricity; however, this results in considerable carbon dioxide emissions and harmful environmental effects. As global energy demands continue to rise, researchers have begun investigating strategies to mitigate emissions by fossil fuel-fired power plants and carbon capture and storage has emerged as a feasible and effective method of doing so. This paper provides a comparative analysis of three methods of carbon capture: post-combustion, pre-combustion and oxy-combustion capture. Post-combustion capture refers to the process of separating carbon dioxide from the flue gas produced by combustion through absorption in a solvent. Pre-combustion capture involves removing the CO2 from the fuel prior to combustion through a series of isolated reactions, leaving pure hydrogen to be burned for power generation. Oxy-combustion capture involves the combustion of fossil fuels in an environment of pure oxygen, such that the flue gas produced can easily be condensed to isolate the CO2. While these three systems are effective emission reduction strategies, pre-combustion capture is associated with the highest efficiency. However, given the high cost of implementing and running pre-combustion and oxy-combustion capture systems in coal or natural gas-fired power plants, post-combustion capture was determined to be the best solution, based on practicability, efficiency and economic feasibility. Through the employment of carbon capture, the emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants could be significantly reduced in order to mitigate the alarming effects of climate change.