OpenPhysio podcast: Considering the precariat

Earlier this month I finally managed to publish an episode of the OpenPhysio podcast that’s been on my to-do list for about a year. I’ve been wanting to get the journal podcast series up and running for a while but for various reasons I haven’t been able to work on it as regularly as I’d like to. Even this episode, which we recorded in 2021, took me forever to edit and post.

However, I think the final product is nonetheless an interesting discussion around an important topic, which is covered further in the related article: Cleaver, S., Mohapratra, S. & Simard, M. (2021). Contagious precarity: A collective biographical analysis of early-career physiotherapist academics’ experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic. OpenPhysio.

Thank you to Shaun, Sidhi, and Mathieu for agreeing to record our conversation, and for their patience around the long delay in getting it published.

In this episode I speak with Shaun Cleaver, Sidhiprada Mohapratra, and Mathieu Simard, about their article describing their experiences as early-career academics affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. As part of the review process there were significant pieces of the article that the reviewers asked to be removed as they were not central to the main thrust of the work. I thought the sections that came out were nonetheless important to consider and so asked the three authors if we could talk about those aspects of their work that didn’t make it into the final publication.

Rowe, M., Cleaver, S., Mohapratra, S., & Simard, M. (2022). Considering the precariat. OpenPhysio podcast.

Technology platforms aren’t communities

You can use an outstanding technology platform that will facilitate engagement, interaction, sharing, collaboration, etc. but without engaged, interactive, generous people who want to work with each other in community, the technology won’t do much at all.

Conversely, a group of like-minded people who want to do interesting things will manage even if they have to use email.

Successful communities are built around people and relationships, not technology platforms.

Why shouldn’t journals publish translations of articles alongside the English version?

Update (14 April 2022): If you’re interested in the notion that something is lost when we default to English as the language of scientific communication, you may be interested in this reflective podcast by Shaun Cleaver that was prepared as part of the 2020 In beta unconference.

A few days ago I received a submission to OpenPhysio from someone who was clearly a non-English first language speaker. After a few rounds of email to make sure I understood the general structure and claims of the article, I decided that we’d go ahead and work together to tidy it up a bit, before sending it out for peer review. I know that reviewers can sometimes take on an editorial role as part of the process and wanted to make sure that the central ideas were clear.

However, it occurred to me that this may also be an opportunity to offer the author the option of preparing a translation of the article in their home language, to be published alongside the ‘original’ i.e. the English version. Authors go to a lot of effort to translate their work into English, which has this weird side-effect of closing it off to a population of non-English speakers, who may nonetheless have benefitted from reading it. I can only see upsides to this practice and almost no disadvantages, other than it adding a bit more work to the publishing process. And of course, authors would have to agree to take on the translation themselves (I’m talking from the context of a fee-free journal, like OpenPhysio, that wouldn’t be able to pay for this service).

There are no technical limitations that would prevent this. Making a second version of the article available is as simple as providing a link to the file. To start with, we could even say that the translation will be available as a ‘stripped back’ version, with no formatting and design i.e. it could simply be a PDF with the the original citation that points back to the canonical (English) version. Of course, the author can do this anyway but I think that making it available alongside the original would add some ‘credibility’ to the translation. This first iteration would just be a proof of concept. You can imagine that, over time, you could have it available in HTML (to help with discoverability), and also assign a DOI to the translated version to differentiate it from the canonical version. And you’d need to have a translator verify that the articles are the same.

I can’t think of any reasons for why we shouldn’t do this.

Research is applied curiosity

I sometimes hear colleagues say that they’re ‘not researchers’ but after some probing it turns out that what they really mean is, they don’t love the process of conducting formal research as is often required by higher education institutions.

I try to think of research and scholarship as applied curiosity, which reframes the concept in a way that feels more open-ended, less structured, and therefore more appealing.

After all, most people are curious about something and research is just the name we give to a process for learning more about the thing we’re curious about.

Tool: Wikiwand – a modern reader for Wikipedia

Wikiwand is a modern reader for web and mobile, that optimizes Wikipedia’s amazing content for a significantly improved reading experience. Fortunately, all articles on Wikipedia are released under a free license, which allows us to fetch Wikipedia articles and optimize them for maximum readability and enjoyment.

At Wikiwand, we’re all about providing you with a modern interface to the world’s knowledge.

I love Wikipedia but it’s user interface hasn’t changed much since it was first created and it’s not always easy to read. Wikiwand provides a modern, well-designed view of the content with easy access to some of the more common features.

Presentation for World Physiotherapy: A critical perspective on technology-enhanced education

I’m in the process of trying to track down and share some of the presentations I’ve given in the last couple of years, which were recorded but not always made public. I’m putting them into a YouTube channel alongside some of the other videos I’m working on, mainly because I think they’ll be more useful there than on my hard drive.

In 2020 I was invited to present some thoughts on the impact of the Covid pandemic on physiotherapy education as part of a World Physiotherapy Education webinar series.

I wanted to use the opportunity to encourage colleagues to take a critical perspective on the move to online and blended learning environments, and to reflect on how the choices we’d made were unlikely to be optimal. Given that those choices could possibly inform teaching practice for the next few decades, I wanted to push back against what I saw as the dominant paradigm, and to argue that no matter how engaging or well-produced, these were not ideal formats for online learning.

And then I also wanted to talk about how we can use technology to design transformative learning experiences for students, using a critical pedagogy; to change power relationships in the classroom; to develop networks for collaborative activities; to bring students’ personal histories and lives into the learning environment; and to increase diversity and interaction in the process.

The most important century – blog post series from Holden Karnofsky

The “most important century” series of blog posts argues that the 21st century could be the most important century ever for humanity, via the development of advanced AI systems that could dramatically speed up scientific and technological advancement, getting us more quickly than most people imagine to a deeply unfamiliar future.

Karnofsky, H. (2021). The most important century blog post series. Cold Takes.

One of the most interesting, inspiring, and thought-provoking things I’ve read in a while.

People-centred AI: A short video presentation

Sometime in 2021 I put together a short video describing my thinking around the relationship between human beings and the development of artificial intelligence. The video was part of an unsuccessful application but I thought it might still be interesting enough to share here.

The video describes some of the ways in which I see human cultural, political, ethical, and social values being entwined with machine learning algorithms. I can’t see how either human or machine learning development can move forward and not engage in a reckoning with the other. Our futures – human and AI – are deeply entangled and any attempt to address one without a consideration of the other is bound to fall short of the best version of what’s possible.

Note that the music and artwork in the video were all generated by machine learning algorithms.

Comment: AI-written blog posts are spam

The problem with AI-generated articles isn’t that they are fake, but that they are mediocre. The purpose of writing is not just about sharing your thoughts with others; it’s about adding value.

Werdmüller, B. (2022). AI-written blog posts are spam.

Great twist at the end of this article. Highly recommended for anyone who cares about writing.

Thinking in public: From note to publication – A conversation with David Nicholls

Towards the end of 2021 I recorded a conversation with David Nicholls.[1] I wanted to talk to Dave about his process for converting incoming information into the kinds of outputs that so many in the health professions community find valuable. We talked about how we both try to limit the information we’re exposed to, how we filter that information, aggregate it, synthesise it, and use it to create something new.

What stood out for me was Dave’s uncompromising emphasis on attention and how he sets up his working environment to help him ignore the background noise of the world. We talk about lists, weekly reviews, time-blocking, the value of having an inbox, and cover a range of tools and services we use to help us achieve our goals.

Dave makes the argument that academics don’t need more time; we need more focus, and shares his experience of how he goes about doing that. The result is a small window onto an academic workflow that’s all about creating space. Not space to fit more information and activities into but the kind of space that gives your ideas room to expand.

Note: Because of a technical error I wound up capturing only a very poor version of Dave’s audio. That, and the fact that I’ve had a personal upheaval (in the literal sense of that word) over the last few months, have meant that it’s taken me much longer than I would’ve liked to get this conversation published. Some of what we discussed has changed, at least, for me, so it’s likely that Dave and I will have another chat soon-ish. I’ve done my best to enhance the audio but there are still sections that are hard to make out, so I apologise in advance. I hope that this conversation is nonetheless a useful one.

  1. Dave is a Professor in the Auckland University of Technology, the founder of the Critical Physiotherapy network, the Physiotherapy History Association, and the co-founder of the Environmental Physiotherapy Association (along with Filip Maric). In addition to the work he does with these professional organisations Dave is also a prolific author, publishing regularly in a wide variety of formats including blog posts, academic articles, conference presentations, and social media.↩︎