In the future when humans have evolved to have much smaller brains and the ability to swim like penguins, a long-lasting ghost from the prior stage of human evolution tells us the tale of how it all went down. How overpopulation of the old-fashioned, big-brained humans, a very bad economy, and a series of unfortunate (fortunate?) events led to an odd group of humans being marooned in the Galapagos, surviving the worldwide fallout, and evolving into the smaller-brained, fish-eating, natural swimmers we have today.
I picked this up during a kindle sale for incredibly cheap purely for the author. I’d read three other Vonnegut works previously: Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five (read before my book blog), and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (review). I enjoyed the first two and felt meh about the last, so I was fairly confident I’d enjoy another Vonnegut book. So when one night my partner and I decided we wanted to read a book together (out loud to each other), we looked on my kindle, both glommed on to the name Vonnegut, and chose this as our first read together. So my reading experience was a mix of listening and reading out loud myself, which I am grateful for, because I honestly think Galapagos sounds even more absurdist aloud.
There is an incredibly unique writing style to this particular scifi book. So much so that my boyfriend and I wound up researching to find out if, perhaps, Vonnegut wrote this toward the end of his life when he was perchance senile. (It was not, although it was published in the 80s, unlike my three prior Vonnegut reads, which were published in the 60s). Then we wondered if maybe Vonnegut had Asperger’s, although we didn’t bother checking up on that. Why these wonderings? Well, Galapagos is a very odd book. The premise isn’t that odd for scifi — a projected future evolution of humans and telling how we got there. But the ultimate future is kind of hilariously odd (penguin-like humans). Mostly, though, the way the tale is told is odd and unique in a way that took time to grow on me.
Beyond the whole odd scenario, there’s the fact that if a character will be dead by the end of the chapter, an asterisk appears next to their name. And the names appear a lot. Vonnegut is incredibly fond of naming everyone and everything by their full name every time they appear. He also loves lists. (This is the part that had us wondering about Asperger’s). At first this is grating on the nerves, but with time it comes to feel like the vibe of the world you’re visiting when you open the book.
Similar to the lists and constant naming, there are philosophical asides. Some of these are worked smoothly into the story thanks to a handheld computer device (similar to a smartphone) that pulls up relevant quotes to read to the survivors. Other times, though, they are truly random asides that go so far off the path of the story you’re left wandering around in a cave in the woods instead of on the nice paved road. But then everything comes right back around to the story, and you can’t really be upset about spending some time listening to an old ghost ramble. For example:
What made marriage so difficult back then was yet again that instigator of so many other sorts of heartbreak: the oversize brain. That cumbersome computer could hold so many contradictory opinions on so many different subjects all at once, and switch from one opinion or subject to another one so quickly, that a discussion between a husband and wife under stress could end up like a fight between blindfolded people wearing roller skates. (page 67)
Off-topic? Yes. Quirky? Absolutely. Interesting and fun nonetheless? Totally.
The plot, in spite of being deeply meandering, does develop and actually tell a story. We learn how overpopulation caused disaster and then how a few humans managed to survive on the Galapagos Islands and evolve into the futuristic penguin-like folk. Along the way we have some fun side-trips like an Argentinian military man appearing on a talk show and trying to explain that Argentina really does have submarines, it’s just that once they go underwater they never show up again.
Although I did ultimately appreciate the absurdity and the quirkiness, I must admit that I think it was perhaps a bit overdone. At the very beginning of the book when the list-making and other elements like that were much more prevalent, I was more annoyed and might have stopped reading the book if it wasn’t for the fact that my boyfriend and I wanted to finish the first book we started reading together. It took until about 60% of the way in for the list-making to ease off a bit and the style of the book to really start to work for me. I could easily see a reader being totally lost by some of the more annoying elements of the book, and I wonder what the effect would be if the order was reversed. If the quirks built throughout the book instead of starting that way. Or even if they were just dialed back a bit. I think just that tiny bit of editing would have made me love the book.
Overall, this is a fun piece of absurdist scifi that examines evolution from an over-the-top hypothetical situation. Potential readers should be aware that this book is even more absurdist than Slaughterhouse-Five, so you must be willing to do some more intense suspending of disbelief and be willing to do some meandering and read some lists. If absurdist fiction is something you enjoy and meandering and lists won’t bother you, then this humorous examination of overpopulation, end-of-the-world, and future evolution might be right up your alley.
4 out of 5 stars
The final plenary, and indeed, the final non-CE class or tour event of MLA13 Boston, was on my list of events to blog for the official conference blog. I summed up the entire presentation. As stated previously, I can’t reproduce those posts here on my personal blog, so please go over and take a look at that summary before reading my responses to and thoughts on the presentation.
Got it? Good!
Ok, so, what was my reaction to this lecture? Well, first, honestly I had a bit of a panic. I felt frightened, unsafe, and like the world is doomed. At first I thought that was just my anxious-prone self over-reacting to the presentation, but after discussing it with friends and colleagues who were also there, I realized that Garrett seems to have actually sought to pull out this fear in people.
In a presentation that ends with pleas for us to fight fear and panic, why did she spend so much time investing in frightening us and very little (if any) spent in reassuring us? Why focus so much on pandemics just a single mistake away, germ warfare close at hand (although, not really since 3D printing of germs isn’t happening yet). I don’t know. I don’t know what would make Garrett think making people feel this way is a good thing. Maybe she’s fallen prey to the idea that the only way to get people to pay attention to your cause is to frighten them. I know people in various movements who use that tactic. It’s not one I’m a fan of. Maybe she didn’t intend to gloom and doom the people present. But I think she did. Given that her own speech pointed out the dangers of panic and unwarranted fear, I find it odd that this was her intent. And yet there you have it. A room full of frightened librarians. Think I’m exaggerating? Check out just a few of the tweets from during her presentation:
Everyone has their own style, and I certainly learned a lot from the presentation and wasn’t bored. But. I’m not a fan of nonfiction presentations (aka not horror plays or movies) inciting fear and panic in the audience. I think it’s counter-productive when talking to a room full of intelligent, educated individuals. Librarians aren’t 5 year olds who need to be told about icky germs in order to get us to wash our hands. I’m sure there could have been a way to give this presentation with truths and realities that could be frightening without actually inciting this level of anxiety. Even just a little positivity and more hope for the future would have been nice. You don’t want a populace that is exerting all their energy preparing for Armageddon.
I should also mention that I stood up to ask a question of Garrett at the end. With all the talk of synthetic biology, I wanted to know what her opinion was on GMOs. I admit, this is not an issue I am yet clear-cut on myself. I generally prefer organic, but I also understand the value of say rice that has been modified to have more vitamins in it for an at-risk population. But on the other hand I get the concern of manipulating something at a genetic level and what that might do to our own bodies when we ingest it. It’s something that just doesn’t have enough long-term studies yet to really show if it’s truly safe or not, and it concerns me that it’s mostly the poor, at-risk populations who are being used as guinea pigs eating it.
In any case, I asked Garrett at the public microphone about her stance on GMO foods and the movement to label them. Given all of her doom and gloom talk about synthetic viruses, I was shocked at her answer. She believes that GMO foods are necessary because as more of the world becomes middle class, more of the world is eating meat, and meat eating just cannot be sustained on the land we currently have available, so we must turn to eating synthetic foods.
Um, EXCUSE ME?!?!
So the lady who just spent over an hour and a half talking about how dangerous synthetic biology could turn out to be turns right around and says that meat eating isn’t sustainable to feed the entire globe (which it isn’t, see this article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) turns right around and says that well we have to eat GMOs to feed everyone because people won’t just give up meat. Right, ok, if someone is so concerned about the possible bad consequences of synthetic biology don’t you think she might possibly take this opportunity to espouse a vegetarian, vegan, or even just more plant-based diet to combat the global food crisis instead of relying exclusively on GMOs? Apparently not. Apparently it’s really great to fear-monger about pandemics and international relations but when it comes to what we eat, the basis of much of our health, that’s too controversial.
Well, at least it was an interesting final couple of hours of MLA13, although I can’t say I really feel that it was very useful to librarians or working to promote true global health.
This year I got to go to the annual presentation by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) at MLA. NLM is an important medical library resource, as it provides many free, trustworthy health, medicine, and science research resources to the public. The NLM Update provides information on any important changes by NLM in the last year, as well as just any information/resources they would like to highlight.
- have data available of national origin of studies
- you can build your own specialized view if you’d like to
- a unique source of summary results for many trials
- NN/LMx training for librarians coming soon
- standardization makes information more usable
- SNOMED Clinical Terms (SNOMED CT)
- Genetic Testing Registry
- 3,005 tests registered by 290 labs in 37 countries
- useful inks for EHRs (Electronic Health Records)
- international standard for location of genetic variations
- PubMed Health
- more digitized guidelines
- specifically focused on flu site
- working on global microbial identifier for food-borne pathogens
- FY 2013 budget
- lost 5.5% annum ($19.2 million less)
- people are the most important NLM resource. Call them “brain-ware.”
- Index Cat
- XML data available for 3.7million citations
- index journals we trust cover-to-cover to keep up
- NLM exhibits
- “Native Voices: Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness” is current exhibit.
- There is an app of the interviews portion of the exhibit available on iTunes
- The NLM traveling exhibition program has been booked by 457 institution in 48 states.
- The Harry Potter exhibit grew out of last-minute attempt to make science interesting to middle schoolers.
- Traveling exhibits consist of 6 banners that can be rolled into mailing tubes for quick shipment.
- You must do local programming to borrow an exhibit
- NLM Associate Fellowship Program
- a program to get libraries to commit to keep print runs of journals
- check page to see what’s been saved already
- Environmental Health and Toxicology
- Disaster Information Management Research Center
- Inter-Library Loan (ILL)
- requests down almost 50% in last 10 years in Docline
- investigating this
- conference call with focus groups representing:
- large academic libraries
- special libraries
- not planning to take Docline away
- national survey in March 2013
- 60% hospitals
- agreed journals are electronic now
- disagreement on if licenses are easy to understand
- 15 years old in English, 10 years old in Spanish
- multiple language link –> follows US medical practices, also available in English translation
- US is 37% of users
- very active twitter account
- mobile site
- going through usability study
- More Spanish speaking males use than females. More English speaking females use than males.
- most of us want the full site not the mobile site
- MedlinePlus Connect
- allows EHR to send a code and get back patient-specific health information
- 5 day posting of jobs is a requirement of the government to speed up hirings. It is not a sign that they already know who to hire.
After the NLM Update, I attended the poster sessions. This is not something one tends to take notes at, so I don’t have very much to say about them, except that I am proud of my medical librarian friend who had a poster in the session. Go Katie!
Up next, the final plenary session! Phew!
At the meeting, librarians present their papers that were accepted to the conference. These are organized into groups of four sponsored by one of the MLA’s sections. The presentations are timed so that you can see the first presentation in one section then go to another section to see the second, etc… I wasn’t able to take notes at all of the section programming I listened to, because some of the rooms looked like this when I switched into them:
International Congress on Medical Librarianship 2: Trustworthy and Authoritative Publicly Available Information Section
“Trustworthiness and Authoritativeness of YouTube Videos on Smokeless Tobacco” by Donghua Tao, Prajakta Adsul, Ricardo Wray, Keri Jupka, Carolyn Semar, and Kathryn Goggins
- Use online media as a tool to educate health care users
- a future study could use a survey of real YouTube users and test their hypothesis
- Methodology of published papers doesn’t discuss how they searched YouTube
- See how videos connect to each other (videos referencing other videos)
- 3,603 unique videos brought up, randomly sampled 433, of which 278 were used based on inclusion criteria
“Twenty Years of the Cochrane Collaboration: A Legacy of Trustworthy and Authoritative Publicly Available Information and Plans for the Future” by Carol Lefebvre, Julie Glanville, Jessie McGowan AHIP, Alison Weightman, and Bernadette Coles
- 2013 is Cochrane’s 20th anniversary, and they have a special anniversary website.
- Cochrane Collaboration crates the Cochrane Library
- plain long summaries, free, multiple languages
- 4 million downloads in 2010
- 6 million downloads in 2012
- New publishing agreement with Wiley
- February 1, 2013 to the end of 2018
- gold open access –> author pays a publication fee then article is available immediately
- green open access –> no author payment but there is a 1 year embargo
- impact of Cochrane Reviews
- We’re not here to decide if we publish clinical data but how
- 20 years ago:
- only 20,000 RCTs indexed in medline
- no RCT filter in medline
- new MeSH term for quasi-RCT: Controlled Clinical Trial
- 1996 Central launched
- medline’s retagging project supports Central
- proliferation of search filters
- Cochrane Handbook has grown
- registration of clinical trials
- move toward single portals
- increased access to clinical study reports
- PubReMiner will increase use
- text mining increase
- strengthen relationship with other organizations
- challenge will still lie in discoverability
Federal Libraries Section: The Role of Librarians in Evidence-Based Medicine: Part One
“Telling the Research Story: A Role for Librarians in Analyzing Research Impact Based on Evidence” by Terrie Wheeler and Cathy C. Sarli AHIP
- Genesis project (Not really sure what this is. Had trouble seeing the slides and hearing).
- citation analysis
- “It is no longer enough to measure what we can–we need to measure what matters.”
- Found a lot of gray literature using Google
- use clean data –> clear linkage
- explanation of the h-index
- explanation of the g-index
- explanation of the tapered h-index
- all index factors have one limitation or another
- can we produce future science with publication data? Maybe.
That’s all of my notes I managed to get. I’ll have to figure out how to better juggle notebooks/pens next year. Or maybe MLA can get us more seating. Up next, the National Library of Medicine’s Update.
The Rise of Evidence-Based Health Sciences Librarianship (MLA13 Boston: Janet Doe Lecture by Joanne Gard Marshall, AHIP, FMLA)
The third plenary is given by a librarian who is respected in the field, but who is not the current MLA president. Last year, we had a fascinating lecture by Mark Funk in which he showed us his extensive research documenting what librarians talk about in our published literature. This year, Joanne Gard Marshall presented “Linking Research to Practice: The Rise of Evidence-Based Health Sciences Librarianship,” which while an interesting title mostly came across as a list of names of people she considered important. She also spent 5 to 10 minutes summing up Mark Funk’s previous speech. I think my tweet from during this plenary sums up my feelings pretty well:
- David Sackett founded Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM), and his textbook Evidence-Based Medicine: How to Practice and Teach EBM, 2e is considered crucial in the field.
- Sackett defines EBM as, “The conscientious, explicit, judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients.”
- Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) is influenced by three factors:
- Best research
- Clinical expertise
- Patient values and preferences
- The old indexing (in PubMed etc…) didn’t used to include type or level of evidence in the terminology.
- Evidence-Based Librarianship (EBL) is advocated for by McKibbon and Eldredge. You may see a free PMC article summing that up here.
- Steps of EBL:
- formulate answerable question
- search for evidence
- critically appraise evidence
- The research section of MLA has a free journal, Hypothesis, that is recommended.
- MLA has a research imperative that you may read here.
- “Randomized Control Trials, contrary to popular belief, are not the only way to control variables.”
- Booth and Brice are named as big names in EBL. Their book is Evidence-Based Practice for Information Professionals: A Handbook.
- There is a journal on EBL called Evidence Based Library and Information Practice. It is free, but you must register to comment or receive email notifications of new issues.
- Recommends the book Diffusion of Innovations by Everett M. Rodgers to help with where we are going in EBL. Take the model presented and adapt it and truly make it work for us.
- Research must be balanced and paired with professional knowledge.
While the information I garnered is good, for a one hour lecture, it’s not very much. I left off the lists of names of previous Janet Doe lecturers, for instance. I believe that if Marshall had focused much more in on the topic of EBL and its connection to EBM, which is an interesting topic, that it would have been a much better lecture. Instead this received only a portion of the time so that we could be subjected to the names of previous Janet Doe lecturers and of course lists of people to thank. I am pleased to have found two new open access journals to read for my profession, but I do wish the lecture had gone further.
Up next is section programming.