“Bean-stalker” heads ‘Down Under’

February 14, 2011

Several months ago, I applied for and was awarded Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (ASSA) funding to conduct research on private-public partnerships in pulse research in Australia and Canada.  This research proposal grew out of work we (Phillips, Boland and Ryan) conducted on global public-private pulse research networks (see related blog entry: http://doccami.posterous.com/global-networks-of-actors-in-plant-genetic-re).  We discovered that of all countries in the world, Australia seems to be doing something right.  The network is well-connected and also well linked to global sources.  Canada, on the other hand, is a bit more fragmented.  So, what lessons can Canada learn from Australia?

The ASSA funding and my partnership with co-investigator, Dr. K. Siddique of the University of Western Australia, will enable me to explore this Australian pulse network a bit more.  I leave Thursday for ‘Down Under’ where, for three weeks, I will have the opportunity to interview folks connected to various institutions conducting pulse research and breeding (lentil, chick peas, beans etc).  All in all, it looks to be an interesting ride!  I will spend the first leg of my journey in Perth, at the University of Western Australia where I will meet with folks and attend the Western Australia Agribusiness Crop Update meetings on the 23rd and 24th.  Then I will head to Adelaide where the Pulse Breeding Australia meetings are scheduled for March 1st to the 3rd.  Pulse breeders across Australia will be in attendance. I will head to Canberra on the 3rd for meetings there and, finally, will end my journey in Melbourne (which will include a stop at LaTrobe University).  I will head home to Alberta on the 9th.

I look forward to keeping you posted as to how things transpire.  I hear that the fires are a-burning in Perth and that I may witness some of the effects of recent floodings in the Melbourne area.  I guess we shall see…

Excerpt from our work:

“This system consists of the major export countries of Canada, the USA and Australia along with two Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research Centres (CGIAR), ICARDA and ICRISAT and some individual research centres in France, India and South Africa. Institutionally, this system is composed of 17 P3s (26%), 22 universities (33%) and 27 government research centres (41%). There is a discernable absence of private firms. With one notable exception P3s dominate the three measures of influence. There are three P3s with total degree centrality measures of two or more standard deviations above mean, the Crop Development Centre/Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (CDC/SPG) of Canada and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and the Centre for Legumes in a Mediterranean Area (CLIMA), both of Australia.This indicates that these organizations are engaged in a higher level of network activity than other network institutions. Both the GRDC and CLIMA are the top ranked eigenvector actors according to their measures of two standard deviations above average (see table: 6.2 below), suggesting these are the only two actors with significant power rankings in this network.  In table: 6.3, the CDC/SPG with a measure six standard deviations above mean and the US Government research centre at Pullman, Washington with a measure of two standard deviations above mean both act as gatekeepers, controlling the flow of information, while experiencing a level of independence  due to multiple sources of new information. The CDC/SPG in particular, due to the magnitude of its betweeness measure, may occupy a unique position in this network regarding its ability to structure the flow of new information.”





The Wizardry of ‘Oz’ – a peek behind the curtain of the anti-GM movement

UPDATE (October 17, 2012): Dr. Oz aired yet another episode warning of the dangers of GM foods on October 16, 2012.  I am not a fan of Dr. Oz.  And I haven’t been for years.  The airing of this episode is not a random event.  It comes on the heels of the Séralini study (more here), the publication of Séralini’s book, the release of Jeffrey Smith’s latest video (coincidentally, it is narrated by Lisa Oz) and the forthcoming food labeling referendum in California, Prop 37. Dr. Don Huber has been ‘on the road’, too, spinning his pathogenic tale in the EU.

Dr. Oz Show: Ratings + Bias = YEP.

“This episode of the Dr. Oz Show is brought to you by Séralini, Smith and the Say YES to Prop 37 initiative.”

ORIGINAL POST December 10, 2010: Last year when the whole Triffid (flax) issue came to light, I did some research on Genetic ID, the lab/firm behind the discovery of Triffid in the EU food supply chain. The main question that I had was – what’s the incentive for this particular lab to sniff out a de-registered, never commercially produced transgenic flax cultivar? (when the potential for rents would be limited (one would think, anyway))

Earlier this year, I took the initiative to mine some publicly available information on the internet and uncovered some interesting linkages amongst Genetic ID, the Maharishi Institute, the Natural Law Party and other anti-GM/GE individuals, organizations and firms.  See the network below.  The connections illustrated within the network represent a variety of linkages from board positions, organizational memberships, funding connections, fiscal interests in firms/companies, attendance at common events or like-sponsorship activities.  This data set, and the network, is – by no means – complete.  But the graph certainly sheds an interesting light on the interconnectedness amongst actors in this anti-GM/GE context.

Genetic ID and its questionable connections...

Genetic ID is at the centre of the network but I would like to draw your attention to another node: Jeffrey Smith.  You will recall that Smith got the lion’s share of airtime and the accolades (relative to Dr. Pam Ronald*) on the Dr. Oz episode earlier this week on Genetic Engineering and GM Food (- to view the episode, follow this link: http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/genetically-modified-foods-pt-1).  Jeffrey Smith is the VP of Communications for Genetic ID.  He also has close connections to the Natural Law Party and, although I was unable to find a documented or direct connection to it, the Maharishi Institute.  The Maharishi – a Transcendental Meditation “TM” yogi – and his legacy of affiliated interests and institutions are also central. Most of the organizations and several of the individuals are from Fairfield, Iowa where the Maharishi University is centered.  The Maharishi (1914-2008) was a proponent of Vedic Science (look it up, weird stuff) who established the Natural Law Party.  The NLP’s platform revolves around the Vedic Science and TM (Jeffrey Smith ran for US senate in 1998 in Iowa for the NLP). The Natural Law Party has branches in both the US and in New Zealand. (check out Smith practicing ‘yogic flying’ on: http://academicsreview.org/reviewed-individuals/jeffrey-smith/)

Now, if that wasn’t peculiar enough, here’s the real kicker. I decided to check into celebrity links with the Maharishi Institute (why not?).  There are numerous celebrities connected to the Maharishi Institute through fundraising events and sponsorship.  These include Ringo Starr, Clint Eastwood, Russell Brand, Katy Perry…the list goes on and on.  David Lynch is also one of them.  He established the David Lynch Foundation to support the teaching of TM (http://www.davidlynchfoundation.org/). For more on celebrities affiliated with TM see: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/20/fashion/20TM.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1328559372-/uV9YAjo1xkWg8IvtMe83g. Even Obama has “wowed” the TM-ers from Iowa by positioning himself in alignment with the rotation of the earth, in accordance with the teachings of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi when he spoke to a crowd in Fairfield in 2007.

But, interestingly enough, guess who is also part of this celebrity network?  Yep – Dr Oz. Apparently, Lynch, Oz and some other celebrities, including Clint Eastwood and George Lucas, got together for a fundraiser in late November in an effort to bring Transcendental Meditation to veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (see http://maharishi.posterous.com/).  And if you happen to be in NYC on Monday night, you might even want to take in The David Lynch Foundation Benefit Evening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (http://www.davidlynchfoundation.org/emailing/2010_09_met.html).  Dr. Oz will be there.

This is the crux of the problem.  Bias. This convoluted network that appears to begin with ‘TM’ and end with ‘OZ’ shows how good science and good science communication can be high-jacked and manipulated in entertainment media. 

I think that it is safe to say that our GE advocate, Dr. Pam Ronald, was screwed from the get-go on Dr. Oz’s Show.  In my opinion, the Show had no intention of representing the real, verifiable, documented side of this debate.  How could it?

Dr. Ronald recently blogged her ‘Oz’ experience:

“I  had a chance to plug some great science-based, academic, non-profit sites (bioforitifed,org, ucbiotech.org and academicsreview.org) but all of my case-specific examples (reduced insecticide use in GE cotton fieldsenhanced biodiversitydisease resistant papaya, Golden rice) were cut from the TV version. I guess the producers did not want to mix too much scientific evidence in there with the fantastical stuff.” (http://scienceblogs.com/tomorrowstable/2010/12/dr_oz_prescribes_non-gmo_diets.php)

At least Dr. Ronald still has her sense of humour.

Someone is going to ‘get all up in my grill’ if I say that the Dr. Oz Show is responsible for intentionally spreading false information.  So, I won’t say that.  But based upon the network that I outline here – one which Oz appears to be strongly embedded in and linked to – I think that it is fair to say that the “good” Doctor (I use this term loosely) represents the interests of the anti-GM/GE movement. He has certainly demonstrated an anti-science bias against GM crops and food.

Check out my blog entry on the Genetic ID network that I posted earlier this year.

Here are two other related blog entries that I wrote earlier this week in follow up to the Dr. Oz Show. One is an article by Wager and McHughen addressing some of the misconceptions around GM and the other shines a light on the lack of accountability by some extremists in the anti-GE movement.

*Dr Ronald is Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of California, Davis, where she studies the role that genes play in a plant’s response to its environment. She is the co-author of Tomorrow’s Table. And by the way, Dr. Ronald’s husband (and co-author of the book) – Raoul Adamchuk – is the Market Garden Coordinator at the UC Davis Student Farm and has expertise in organics/production). Check out my blog entry on their book.

EPILOGUE (January 2011):  This blog generated quite a bit of interest and, subsequently, an interesting dialogue on the Biofortified website.  David Tribe initiated the discourse around “Vedic businesses” and “Natural Law” Check out the over 60 comments at: “http://www.biofortified.org/2010/12/vedic-businesses-use-clever-advertising/  Additionally, Why Evolution is True posted another interesting piece on on the campaign “Rock Stars of Science” and Dr. Oz’s involvement in it (posted December 17, 2010): http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/rock-star-of-science-hurts-science/.

Modes of Collaboration in Modern Science: Beyond Power Laws and Pref Attach…

*Modes of Collaboration in Modern Science:*

*Beyond Power Laws and Preferential Attachment*

*Staša Milojevi*



The goal of the study was to determine the underlying processes leading to the observed collaborator distribution in modern scientific fields, with special attention to non power-law behavior. Nanoscience is used as a case study of a modern interdisciplinary field and its coauthorship network for 2000–2004 period is constructed from the NanoBank database. We find three collaboration modes that correspond to three distinct ranges in the distribution of collaborators: (1) for authors with fewer than 20 collaborators (the majority) preferential attachment does not hold and they form a log-normal “hook”
instead of a power law; (2) authors with more than 20 collaborators benefit from preferential attachment and form a power law tail; and (3) authors with between 250 and 800 collaborators are more frequent than expected because of the hyper authorship practices in certain subfields.

modes of collab Milojevic 2010.pdf
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Genetic ID and its questionable connections…

April 19, 2010 

(Please refer to a recent related blog: “The Wizardry of Oz: a peek behind the curtain of the anti-GM movement” http://doccami.posterous.com/the-wizardry-of-oz-a-peek-behind-the-curtain)

By gathering information and data points through a review of publically available online information (journal articles and web pages), I generated a network on Genetic ID and the firm’s connections to a complexity of actors and institutions. The resulting network outlines what is clearly a convoluted network of bias – both politically and theologically – against GE and GMO. With the recent Triffid issue,Genetic ID has stood to reap significant financial benefits through testing revenues (I should qualify this – – – the company is “presumed” to have gained financially).

Please note, Jeffrey Smith of “Seeds of Deception” fame is at the centre of this network.  Also, the Maharashi (Transcendental Meditation “TM” yogi) and his affiliated interests and institutions are also central. Most of the organizations and several of the individuals are from Fairfield, Iowa where the Maharashi University is centred.  The Maharashi is a proponent of Vedic Science (look it up, weird stuff) and established the Natural Law Party whose platform revolves around the Vedic Science and TM. The Natural Law Party has branches in the US and in New Zealand. 

This work is preliminary. What are your thoughts on this?


new paper by Phillips & Ryan on network governance

Governance of International Networks:
A Social Network Analysis of International Institutions related to Plant Genetic Resources
Authors: P.W.B. Phillips and C.D. Ryan (yep, that’s me!)

Presented at the Political Studies Association Conference, Edinburgh, Scotland
March 2010

Governing in the modern times has become more complicated and complex, with an array of new governing structures encompassing the globe. Discrete institutions are increasingly intertwined and embedded in governing networks at sub-national, state and international levels. This paper investigates this new reality and uses it to examine the international governing system for plant genetics and genomic resources. Over the last century, issues have surfaced with technological progress and innovations that add complexity in the governing challenge, such as research management, intellectual property ownership, risk regulation and international trade in knowledge-intensive products. This paper explicitly examines one of the foundational issues of global knowledge management in the area of biotechnology—policies, practices and structures to support access and benefit-sharing (ABS) related to traditional knowledge (TK) and capacity-building in indigenous communities and developing countries. This paper uses social network analysis to investigate the complicated and complex interactions among a network of 108 international institutions and programs involved in ABS and TK. Using multiple layers of social network analysis, the structures and underlying meanings of the relationships in the governing network are studied and investigated for their structure, effectiveness and resiliency.

Admit it, you are SO excited to read this!

Keep it real, folks!

Phillips and Ryan 2010.pdf
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Manuel Castells & Bruno Latour speak…

Bruno Latour:
Presentation and Keynote at the International Network Theory Conference, organized by the ANN and SONIC research centers, that took place on Feb 19-20, 2010 at the University of Southern California.

“A collective phenomenon is not necessarily a social one.”


Manuel Castells provides an introduction to the conference…

“Diffusion, Search and Play: Vega-Redondo’s approach to complex social networks.”

Below, a review I wrote on Vega-Redondo’s manuscript “Complex Social
Networks” for /Science and Public Policy /(Volume 35(9))


Complex Social Networks
(Econometric Society Monographs)
*Author: Vega-Redondo, Fernando
Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2007
ISBN 9780521674096*

Reviewer: Camille (Cami) D. Ryan, B.Comm, Ph.D.
Published in: /Science and Public Policy, Volume 35 (9), November 2008/

As a social scientist and a social network analysis enthusiast, I am always looking for new sources to cite and new material to enable me to push the boundaries of my thinking and to bridge into more complex analytical processes.

Vega-Redondo’s monograph /Complex Social Networks/ does just that. The monograph, published by Cambridge University Press as part of its Econometric Society Monograph series provides a well-organized overview of theoretical research that lies at the juncture of the study of complex networks and social network analysis. The study of complex networks has gained popularity over the last decade or so, founded in statistical physics, but is often foreign to researchers from other disciplines. /Complex Social Networks/ attempts to bridge the gap by providing the social scientist, looking to explore the intricacies of complexity, with an overview of the main issues and techniques associated with complex networks. Conversely, the monograph also provides the complex network theorist with socioeconomic references and examples as viewed through the economics lens.

In the introduction, Vega-Redondo suggests the interdisciplinary approach may be useful in the study of complex networks with a review of the range of applications and empirical evidence in the realms of: transportation networks, internet networks, information flows through citation analysis, biological networks and, of course, social networks. The author acknowledges that although there is some methodological convergence amongst these research areas, he does validate that they “…naturally maintain many specificities of their own”, particularly socioeconomic networks where “…environments cannot be ignored” (10). Vega-Redondo then provides illustrative examples of the latter including: labor markets, technological diffusion, social movements and recruitment, peer effects, R&D partnerships and networks of organizations. He then provides a checklist of features for identifying complex networks which enable the researcher to “…recognize qualitative features of large social networks that could have significant implications on how [they] operate in the real world” (11). Most significantly, Vega-Redondo outlines the three key forces that underpin network agent behaviour in nearly all interesting network applications: diffusion, search and play. These three factors serve as dominant themes throughout the monograph.

Chapter two provides a nice segue from the introduction to the remaining sections of the monograph. It presents the main concepts and basic tools of the modern theory of complex networks including definitions as well as network types and characteristics. The latter characteristics include an overview of qualitative features of networks illustrated through their measures such as geodesic distance, connectivity, cohesiveness and component size. The chapter then provides an overview of networks types: Poisson random networks, general random networks, small worlds and scale free networks. Chapter three takes the reader into the well-established field of research of epidemiology as an illustrative and quantitative examination of social phenomenon wherein diffusion (one of Vega-Redondo’s key forces) is propagated from one agent to another but is unaffected by the environmental conditions within which the two nodes reside. This is akin to biological infection and the author explores three frameworks that can explain this type of epidemiological network phenomenon: resilient diffusion (SI model), the reach of diffusion waves (SIR model) and long-run prevalence (SIS model). Chapter four provides a complimentary exploration of the diffusion and interaction (play) through neighborhood effects. In this case, diffusion relies on coordination efforts rather than simulation or reproduction which better reflects the realities and nuances of social phenomenon. Vega-Redondo presents the reader with the diffusion effects on random networks both in the context of permanent adoptive behaviour and temporary adoptive behaviour. What I particularly was pleased to see Vega-Redondo consider in this section was the notion of continuous innovation. Quite rightly, he looks at innovation as an endogenous consisting of the “…juxtaposition of different earlier processes of (partial) diffusion…” (145). Thus, Vega-Redondo quite rightly conceptualizes diffusion and play in networks as being both fueled by and dependent upon the persistent process of innovation.

Chapter five delves into the final force at work in social processes on large, complex networks: search. The search factor or function is an important one, driven by the problem-solving impetus. If one agent is unable to address an issue, he/she seeks to find another agent within the network that can. In large networks, optimizing the search function is further complicated by the scope of the networks of agents and, often, limited access to and ability to process information. Vega-Redondo also considers the happenstance wherein there are simultaneous pursuits amongst agents along assorted paths with varying objectives driving behaviour. The author’s exploration of this sheds light on how the topology of a given network encroaches on the delay problems of congestion in search endeavours. Vega-Redondo then looks at network design issues that outline network topologies that would optimize a given network. In the final chapter, the author considers, in combination, the three forces of search, diffusion and play in the formation of social networks within the context of a complex environment. This nicely rounds out the monograph, encapsulating concepts and methods outlined earlier with the real-world notion of endegenous network formation and evolution. Vega-Redondo balances the notions of search, diffusion and play and how they can drive network formation with the relationship between agents’ embedded behaviour and the overall evolution of the network. He delves into some of the representative instances of game theoretic models which illustrate how incentives affect problems of network formation: connections model, access model and coordination game model. He then studies them through the lens of static equilibrium lens but then moves into the dynamic long-run scenario in terms of network formation processes, challenging the linear access model and addressing the shortcomings of bounded-rationality learning in games. Vega-Redondo pulls the “complexity” card and explores scenarios through a variety of dynamic models “…where nonstationarity of the environment is made explicit and takes alternate forms” (26). In all cases, an interesting interplay between network design and strategic choice is uncovered that proves to be the determining factor in how well a given network can develop and maintain connectivity.

Rounding out the monograph is a series of three appendices which are referred to throughout the book. In them, Vega-Redondo provides detailed descriptions of the techniques utilized and outlined in the monograph. These three appendices, along with the introduction, are effective ‘book-ends’ to this body of work on complex social networks. Overall, /Complex Social Networks/ is a tight, well-organized reference book for complexity theorists and social network enthusiasts alike. Each chapter includes references to social and economic topics. However, most of the content revolves around highly mathematical processes that are part of the social phenomenon occurring within networks. This book is not for the mathematically faint-of-heart!

Nevertheless, the monograph is a good reference for the social scientist that wishes to expand his/her knowledge into the nuances of complexity theory and its often dense mathematical processes and also good for the purist complexity theorist as it illustrates real-world socioeconomic examples. Vega-Redondo’s conceptualization of three driving forces or themes in complex social networks, which are dominant elements of this monograph, is quite useful. While social and economic examples are referred to throughout the monograph, these more abstract concepts keep technical and theoretical approaches an arm’s length from particular domains and, rather, focus the reader on the notion of social processes in network-based search, diffusion and play activities.