Archive for Royal Irish Academy

Making a Statement about Ukraine

Posted in Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , , , , on March 2, 2022 by telescoper

A Ukrainian student here in Maynooth gave out some ribbons for staff and students to show support by making a visible statement of solidarity. I’m proud to be wearing one:

Public statements made by institutions such as universities and research organizations aren’t going to end the war in Ukraine, but they can at least offer solidarity with the victims of war and sometimes even offer practical support.

I was very pleased to see on Friday, dust a day after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that my own University, Maynooth, issued a statement on the conflict:

Maynooth University condemns the invasion of Ukraine and we extend our deepest sympathy at this dark hour to all our Ukrainian colleagues, students and graduates as they anxiously await word from friends and family fleeing their homes.

Also in our thoughts are members of the MU community from the entire region, whose families, lives and livelihoods are affected by the escalating tension and violence.

Maynooth University stands in solidarity with those who cherish democracy and peace, and we will undertake a process of engagement with colleagues from this region to discuss and explore ways to activate our support.  

It doesn’t say much, but it was at least timely and thoughtful. Far better than remaining silent.

The Royal Irish Academy issued a statement on Monday:

The Royal Irish Academy, as Ireland’s national academy for science, the humanities, and social sciences, is shocked and deeply concerned at the military invasion by Russia of Ukraine. The Academy notes with grave concern the damage this represents to educational and scientific institutions, academics, and international research collaboration, and to the social, economic and cultural foundations of Ukraine. The Academy expresses support and solidarity with the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. The Academy also wishes to salute the courageous position taken by many members of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who associated their signature with that of several hundred researchers and scientific journalists from their country in an open letter denouncing the aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation and calling for its immediate end.

In my own field, I saw a statement issued by various learned societies and organizations in the field of astronomy. It’s not as strong but at least does offer some practical supports for Ukrainian academics fleeing the war:

The European Astronomical Society (EAS), the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the American Astronomical Society (AAS), and African Astronomical Society (AfAS), the Astronomical Society of Australia (ASA), and the Korean Astronomical Society (KAS) have been observing with great concern the events unfolding in Ukraine and fear the adverse consequences for the scientific community, our colleagues, and their families. We have been receiving reports of the dire circumstances they are experiencing: their freedom, safety and even their lives are under threat.

The mission of our societies is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects, including research, communication, education and development through international cooperation. We believe in free expression and free exchange of scientific ideas and in peaceful collaboration at a global level. The current events jeopardise the scientific cooperation within our European community and with the rest of the world.

We are deeply concerned for the Ukrainian community as well as for the entire region. Triggered by the life-threatening situation in which our Ukrainian colleagues find themselves, we wish to encourage members to help wherever possible in this difficult time for Ukraine. Ukrainian astronomers seeking support should contact the Institute of International Education (IIE) scholar rescue fund, which supports refugee scholars and is activating an Ukraine-specific student emergency fund.

Notice that the Royal Astronomical Society is absent from the list of signatories. Indeed it has not made any public statement whatsoever about the invasion of Ukraine. Their silence is deafening. From where I sit, as a Fellow, their policy of ignoring the conflict just looks spineless and contemptible.

UPDATE: The Royal Astronomical Society has now posted a statement (dated 2nd March):

The Royal Astronomical Society deeply regrets the illegal military invasion of Ukraine, a sovereign democratic nation, by Russia. Our thoughts and hopes go out to our fellow scientists and all the citizens of Ukraine for their safety and well-being. We will be exploring avenues for supporting our fellow scientists who are fleeing the war zone with government agencies and our sister societies.

There are a number of non-governmental organisations working to provide humanitarian relief in Ukraine itself and in neighbouring countries, including the following, who welcome donations:

British Red Cross

United Help Ukraine

Sunflower of Peace

Voices of Children

As far I know the Institute of Physics has so far refused to address the Ukraine crisis.

The Institute of Physics has also now issued a (brief) statement (dated 3rd March):

The Institute of Physics condemns Russia’s actions against Ukraine which are a violation of one of the most fundamental norms of international law that prohibits the use or threat of force by one state against another. As a member of the European Physical Society we support the statement of the Executive Committee.

Physics is a global endeavour, and we continue to support academic freedom of scientists everywhere.

We hope for a quick resolution of the crisis to bring an end to its devastating impacts on the people of Ukraine.

My regard for both these organizations has fallen considerably in the last week, to the point that I now seriously doubt whether I wish to remain a Fellow of either. If there are good reason why I should change my mind, or if either organization has made public statements that I’ve missed, I’d love to hear them, either through the comments box or privately.

P.S. The Royal Society of London is also yet to make a statement on Ukraine. I find this regrettable. Obviously, though, I am not a Fellow of that organization so am not able to resign.

UPDATE: The Royal Society has now joined with the National Academies of all the G7 Nations in making a strong statement against the Russian invasion of Ukraine:

I don’t know why it took a full week to get there, but I am pleased at last that the RAS, IOP and Royal Society have now at least said something. Every little helps.

Plan S Open Access Briefing

Posted in Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on January 22, 2019 by telescoper

This morning I found myself in the centre of Dublin to attend an event at the Royal Irish Academy, in Dawson Street. Coincidentally this is just a few yards from the Mansion House, scene of the meeting of the First Dáil on 21st January 1919 (which I blogged about here) and also scene of the commemorations of its centenary yesterday. I’m guessing that the removals van was taking away some of the paraphernalia used for yesterday’s event.

Anyway, the event at the Royal Irish Academy organized by the National Open Research Forum (NORF) was intended to disseminate information about Plan S – a European initiative for Open Access publishing.

I have blogged about Plan S and some of the reactions to it before (e.g. here and here).

The main point is that comprehensive technical guidance on how to comply with Plan S and you can also submit feedback on the guidance here until the deadline of February 8th 2019. Full implementation is expected by January 2020. Things are moving relatively quickly, which is a very good thing. Some people thing this deadline is unrealistic, but I think it was a smart move to make it close so as to galvanize researchers into action.

I learnt a particularly interesting fact during the talk by Maynooth’s own Cathal McCauley, namely that the global revenues of the academic publishing industry amount to about, €22 billion per annum. This exceeds the global revenues of the recorded music industry. Profit margins for these publishers are much larger (up to 45%) than Apple, Google and BMW. The research community is being fleeced, and the worst offenders are the `Big Four’: Elsevier, Springer, Wiley and Taylor & Francis.

One of the main concerns expressed in the discussion session was the extent that move away from traditional journals might have a negative effect on early career researchers, as those responsible for hiring postdocs and new faculty members often concentrate on the journal in which their work is published rather than the work itself. The obvious way to address this problem to use article-level information rather than journal-level metrics, which is entirely feasible to do, but it is true that we need a change of culture across the board to make this work for the benefit of science as whole. I am optimistic about this, largely because I recall very well how rapidly the culture in astrophysics adapted to the existence of the arXiv. With regard to open access publishing the way forward is to disrupt the existing Academic Journal Racket by developing alternative modes publication which demonstrate benefits in cost, reach and simplicity, combined with pressure from funding agencies imposing mandates on publications arising from their grants.

There is no question in my mind that in just a few years, when Open Access is the overwhelmingly dominant mode of publication, researchers will look back and wonder why we ever put up with the absurd system we have at present.

As a final comment I’ll mention that the Open Journal of Astrophysics got a few mentions during the session. I’m hoping to make some exciting announcements about this journal very soon indeed. Before that, however, I have to go to Belfast to give a talk…