Dissertation on TSpace

I am still trying to get them to replace the file with one that has a few minor typos corrected, but my dissertation went live on the University of Toronto’s TSpace platform today:

Persuasion Strategies: Canadian Campus Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaigns and the Development of Activists, 2012–20

Please don’t buy one before asking if I was planning to make you one already, but you can buy a print copy at cost from Lulu.com. I am also ordering a batch to reduce shipping costs, so if you want to get in on that let me know.

Limits of ChatGPT

With the world discussing AI that writes, a recent post from Bret Devereaux at A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry offers a useful corrective, both about how present-day large language models like GPT-3 and ChatGPT are far less intelligent and capable than naive users assume, and how they pose less of a challenge than feared to writing.

I would say the key point to take away is remembering that these systems are just a blender that mixes and matches words based on probability. They cannot understand the simplest thing, and so their output will never be authoritative or credible without manual human checking. As mix-and-matchers they can also never be original — only capable of emulating what is common in what they have already seen.

The soundest base for a diagnosis

So much depends on style, that factor of which we are growing more and more suspicious, that although the tendency of criticism is to explain a writer either in terms of his sexual experience or his economic background, I still believe technique remains the soundest base for a diagnosis, that it should be possible to learn as much about an author’s income and sex-life from one paragraph of his writing as from his cheque stubs and his love-letters, and one should also be able to learn how well he writes, and what are his influences. Critics who ignore style are liable to lump good and bad writers together in support of pre-conceived theories.

Connoly, Cyril. Enemies of Promise. George Routledge & Sons, Ltd. Broadway House: 68–74 Carter Lane, E.C. 1938

Nobody to write for but myself

It has occurred to me that, while I am waiting to hear back on numerous job applications, and while I am waiting to graduate in absentia on March 10, I can shamelessly use the University of Toronto libraries to research absolutely anything of interest. Today, I got some guidance in digital cartography, was invited into a 2.5 hour workshop on making honest and educational infographics, and began reading Cyril Connoly’s 1938 Enemies of Promise in search of backstory and inspiration for my Sherlock Holmes pastiche project.

By the way, while it hasn’t always been treated with perfect gentleness, and the repairs are such as would be used for a practical object rather than a museum piece (bent corners and pencil-marks abound inside, and whoever taped the barcode on to the cover didn’t think tearing the tape unevenly would mar its appearance), based on the front matter I think the Connoly is a first edition.

I intended the title, incidentally, to refer to self-motivated writing not being actively overseen, edited, or hurried along and not to suggest that nobody is reading my writing or that I don’t care about those who do. In fact, I am always curious to know who is still lurking around here after all these years, or who has stopped by because they found a single post of interest.

Reading my dissertation, step by step

Step #1: Learn a bit of the context and background to climate change politics

I know throwing a whole PhD thesis at someone gives them a lot to handle, especially if it is written in an unfamiliar academic style. Nonetheless, I took pains all through my PhD process to come up with a product which would be comprehensible and meaningful to the community of climate activists.

Several posts down the line, we will come to the “meta question” which motivates the chapter about the ethics of what ought to be done. As someone new to the document and/or climate change policy, I would start by looking at what I considered important explanatory text but which my committee directed I should remove from an over-long document:

Structural Barriers to Avoiding Catastrophic Climate Change

Basically, why is solving climate change a hard problem? We have governments that do an OK-to-decent job at most things, so why are they uniquely bad at caring for the climate long-term when its integrity is damaged by the use of fossil fuels? This first document explores that question in detail, and elaborates upon why old solutions aren’t working for this problem.

Making print copies of my dissertation

My print publication plans for the dissertation have become derailed.

Back when we made the fossil fuel divestment brief at U of T, we printed paper copies for the members of the committee considering the question and for U of T libraries and archives at the Toronto Reference Library’s Asquith Press.

Years ago, I attended a session on academic publishing led by representatives from some major scholarly presses. They said, among other things, that authors would have to pay about $8,000 out of pocket to have an index made; that authors need to apply for government grants to help pay for publication, and won’t be published if they don’t get them; that the process of getting a dissertation published will take about two years; and that the resulting trade paperback will be so specialized and expensive that only a handful of university library systems would ever buy it.

I wrote my dissertation because I think the contents are important and ought to be widely discussed. As such, it was always my plan to release it for free through whichever distribution channels might reach the most people.

I did plan to make paper copies at the Asquith Press, partly as thank-you gifts for major supporters and partly to donate to libraries and other organizations. Unfortunately, I learned on Saturday that “due to staffing changes within our department” the Asquith Press won’t be printing anything until May, and perhaps not even then. They referred me to some alternative printers, but the first one that got back to me wants $1,361 plus $168 shipping for their minumum order of 50 copies, which is about twice as many as I need even at a stretch.

Perhaps I will make one copy urgently to give to someone who wants it promptly on paper, then review the alternative printers to see if any can make the number of copies I want at a suitable price, and if not wait four months or more for Asquith to be back in service.

After a PhD

I am not depressed, but I definitely feel a lot of what this video from Andy Stapleton discusses:

I have certainly experienced the odd stutter-step ending of the program, which never brings a single day or moment when you are really done. There is such a moment, but it is mundane, private, and undramatic — probably the last time you make a formatting correction for the unknown administrator who reviews your dissertation for conformity to writing standards like which page numbers in the front matter are Roman numerals. That creates an odd sense of the thing being unfinished, even when there is nothing left to do.

The points about needing to prove yourself in the job market after finishing, as well as anxiety about whether a PhD was necessary, are also familiar from my recent thinking.

I wouldn’t say the video provides any useful and non-obvious advice, but reading within the broad category of writing by current and recent PhD students actually has immense psychological value by demonstrating the reality of shared experience and shared struggle, engaging about all the things we didn’t known when we began and (even more juicily and importantly) all the things your university will lie to you about to keep their business model going. A post by Bret Devereaux is a fine example of the genre, and was discussed here before.

Spam calls for papers on Academia.edu

In the last week or so, I have been deluged by “calls for papers” from a variety of similar sounding so-called journals which I don’t think really exist or, if they do, which are exceptionally scammy.

Keep an eye out for:

  • International Journal on Bioinformatics & Biosciences (IJBB)
  • Machine Learning and Applications: An International Journal (MLAIJ)
  • International Journal of Computer Science and Information Technology (IJCSIT)
  • International Journal of Microelectronics Engineering (IJME)
  • Advanced Energy: An International Journal (AEIJ)
  • International Journal on Cloud Computing: Services and Architecture (IJCCSA)
  • International Journal of Fuzzy Logic Systems (IJFLS)
  • Civil Engineering and Urban Planning: An International Journal (CiVEJ)
  • International Conference on Computer Networks & Communications (CCNET)
  • International Conference on Bioscience & Engineering

I have reported them all as spam to the platform, but I am not too hopeful about them taking action.

Free dissertation release

Official versions are forthcoming on the University of Toronto’s TSpace thesis hosting platform and on paper from the Asquith Press at the Toronto Reference Library, but I see no reason not to make my PhD dissertation available as a free PDF to anyone who is interested:

Persuasion Strategies: Canadian Campus Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaigns and the Development of Activists, 2012–20

I have been fighting for years to get this out into the world, so it makes no sense to wait for an arbitrary convocation date and then through further administrative delays.

If you are studying the fossil fuel divestment movement at universities or climate change activism generally in Canada, the US, and UK you may find the extended bibliography useful.