Category Archives: science policy

Canadian Science Policy Conference inaugurates Lecture Series: Science Advice in a Troubled World

The Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) launched a lecture series on Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 with Sir Peter Gluckman as the first speaker in a talk titled, Science Advice in a Troubled World. From a Jan. 18, 2017 CSPC announcement (received via email),

The inaugural session of the Canadian Science Policy Lecture Series was hosted by ISSP [University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science Society and Policy (ISSP)] on Monday January 16th [2017] at the University of Ottawa. Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand gave a presentation titled “Science Advise [sic] in a troubled world”. For a summary of the event, video and pictures please visit the event page.  

The session started with speeches by Monica Gattiner, Director, Institute for Science, Society and Policy, Jacques Frémont, President of the University of Ottawa as well as Mehrdad Hariri, CEO and President of the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC).

The talk itself is about 50 mins. but there are lengthy introductions, including a rather unexpected (by me) reference to the recent US election from the president of the University of Ottawa, Jacques Frémont (formerly the head of Québec’s Human Rights Commission, where the talk was held. There was also a number of questions after the talk. So, the running time for the video 1 hr. 12 mins.

Here’s a bit more information about Sir Peter, from the Science Advice in a Troubled World event page on the CSPC website,

Sir Peter Gluckman ONZ FRS is the first Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, having been appointed in 2009. He is also science envoy and advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He is chair of the International Network of Government Science Advice (INGSA), which operates under the aegis of the international Council of Science (ICSU). He chairs the APEC Chief Science Advisors and Equivalents group and is the coordinator of the secretariat of Small Advanced Economies Initiative.  In 2016 he received the AAAS award in Science Diplomacy. He trained as a pediatric and biomedical scientist and holds a Distinguished University Professorship at the Liggins Institute of the University of Auckland. He has published over 700 scientific papers and several technical and popular science books. He has received the highest scientific (Rutherford medal) and civilian (Order of New Zealand, limited to 20 living persons) honours in NZ and numerous international scientific awards. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, a member of the National Academy of Medicine (USA) and a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (UK).

I listened to the entire video and Gluckman presented a thoughtful, nuanced lecture in which he also mentioned Calestous Juma and his 2016 book, Innovation and Its Enemies (btw, I will be writing a commentary about Juma’s extraordinary effort). He also referenced the concepts of post-truth and post-trust, and made an argument for viewing evidence-based science as part of the larger policymaking process rather than the dominant or only factor. From the Science Advice in a Troubled World event page,

Lecture Introduction

The world is facing many challenges from environmental degradation and climate change to global health issues, and many more.  Societal relationships are changing; sources of information, reliable and otherwise, and their transmission are affecting the nature of public policy.

Within this context the question arises; how can scientific advice to governments help address these emerging issues in a more unstable and uncertain world?
The relationship between science and politics is complex and the challenges at their interface are growing. What does scientific advice mean within this context?
How can science better inform policy where decision making is increasingly made against a background of post-truth polemic?

I’m not in perfect agreement with Gluckman with regard to post-truth as I have been influenced by an essay of Steve Fuller’s suggesting that science too can be post-truth. (Fuller’s essay was highlighted in my Jan. 6, 2017 posting.)

Gluckman seems to be wielding a fair amount of influence on the Canadian scene. This is his second CSPC visit in the last few months. He was an invited speaker at the Eighth Annual CSPC conference in November 2016 and, while he’s here in Jan. 2017, he’s chairing the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) International Panel on Peer Review. (The CIHR is one of Canada’s three major government funding agencies for the sciences.)

In other places too, he’s going to be a member of a panel at the University of Oxford Martin School in later January 2017. From the “Is a post-truth world a post-expert world?” event page on the Oxford Martin webspace,

Winston Churchill advised that “experts should be on tap but never on top”. In 2017, is a post-truth world a post-expert world? What does this mean for future debates on difficult policy issues? And what place can researchers usefully occupy in an academic landscape that emphasises policy impact but a political landscape that has become wary of experts? Join us for a lively discussion on academia and the provision of policy advice, examining the role of evidence and experts and exploring how gaps with the public and politicians might be bridged.

This event will be chaired by Achim Steiner, Director of the Oxford Martin School and former Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, with panellists including Oxford Martin Visiting Fellow Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand and Chair of the International Network for Government Science Advice; Dr Gemma Harper, Deputy Director for Marine Policy and Evidence and Chief Social Scientist in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and Professor Stefan Dercon, Chief Economist of the Department for International Development (DFID) and Professor of Economic Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government.

This discussion will be followed by a drinks reception, all welcome.

Here are the logistics should you be lucky enough to be able to attend (from the event page),

25 January 2017 17:00 – 18:15

Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School

34 Broad Street (corner of Holywell and Catte Streets)
Oxford
OX1 3BD

Registration ((right hand column) is free.

Finally, Gluckman has published a paper on the digital economy as of Nov. 2016, which can be found here (PDF).

Understanding nanotechnology with Timbits; a peculiarly Canadian explanation

For the uninitiated, Timbits are also known as donut holes. Tim Hortons, founded by ex-National Hockey League player Tim Horton who has since deceased, has taken hold in the Canada’s language and culture such that one of our scientists trying to to explain nanotechnology thought it would be best understood in terms of Timbits. From a Jan. 14, 2017 article (How nanotechnology could change our lives) by Vanessa Lu for thestar.com,

The future is all in the tiny.

Known as nanoparticles, these are the tiniest particles, so small that we can’t see them or even imagine how small they are.

University of Waterloo’s Frank Gu paints a picture of their scale.

“Take a Timbit and start slicing it into smaller and smaller pieces, so small that every Canadian — about 35 million of us — can hold a piece of the treat,” he said. “And those tiny pieces are still a little bigger than a nanoparticle.”

For years, consumers have seen the benefits of nanotechnology in everything from shrinking cellphones to ultrathin televisions. Apple’s iPhones have become more powerful as they have become smaller — where a chip now holds billions of transistors.

“As you go smaller, it creates less footprint and more power,” said Gu, who holds the Canada research chair in advanced targeted delivery systems. “FaceTime, Skype — they are all powered by nanotechnology, with their retina display.”

Lu wrote a second January 14, 2017 article (Researchers developing nanoparticles to purify water) for thestar.com,

When scientists go with their gut or act on a hunch, it can pay off.

For Tim Leshuk, a PhD student in nanotechnology at the University of Waterloo, he knew it was a long shot.

Leshuk had been working with Frank Gu, who leads a nanotechnology research group, on using tiny nanoparticles that have been tweaked with certain properties to purify contaminated water.

Leshuk was working on the process, treating dirty water such as that found in Alberta’s oilsands, with the nanoparticles combined with ultraviolet light. He wondered what might happen if exposed to actual sunlight.

“I didn’t have high hopes,” he said. “For the heck of it, I took some beakers out and put them on the roof. And when I came back, it was far more effective that we had seen with regular UV light.

“It was high-fives all around,” Leshuk said. “It’s not like a Brita filter or a sponge that just soaks up pollutants. It completely breaks them down.”

Things are accelerating quickly, with a spinoff company now formally created called H2nanO, with more ongoing tests scheduled. The research has drawn attention from oilsands companies, and [a] large pre-pilot project to be funded by the Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance is due to get under way soon.

The excitement comes because it’s an entirely green process, converting solar energy for cleanup, and the nanoparticle material is reuseable, over and over.

It’s good to see a couple of articles about nanotechnology. The work by Tim Leshuk was highlighted here in a Dec. 1, 2015 posting titled:  New photocatalytic approach to cleaning wastewater from oil sands. I see the company wasn’t mentioned in the posting so, it must be new; you can find H2nanO here.

Discussion of a divisive topic: the Oilsands

As for the oilsands, it’s been an interesting few days with the Prime Minister’s (Justin Trudeau) suggestion that dependence would be phased out causing a furor of sorts. From a Jan. 13, 2017 article by James Wood for the Calgary Herald,

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s musings about phasing out the oilsands Friday [Jan. 13, 2017] were met with a barrage of criticism from Alberta’s conservative politicians and a pledge from Premier Rachel Notley that the province’s energy industry was “not going anywhere, any time soon.”

Asked at a town hall event in Peterborough [Ontario] about the federal government’s recent approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Trudeau reiterated his longstanding remarks that he is attempting to balance economic and environmental concerns.

“We can’t shut down the oilsands tomorrow. We need to phase them out. We need to manage the transition off of our dependence on fossil fuels but it’s going to take time and in the meantime we have to manage that transition,” he added.

Northern Alberta’s oilsands are a prime target for environmentalists because of their significant output of greenhouse gas emissions linked to global climate change.

Trudeau, who will be in Calgary for a cabinet retreat on Jan. 23 and 24 [2017], also said again that it is the responsibility of the national government to get Canadian resources to market.

Meanwhile, Jane Fonda, Hollywood actress, weighed in on the issue of the Alberta oilsands with this (from a Jan. 11, 2017 article by Tristan Hopper for the National Post),

Fort McMurrayites might have assumed the celebrity visits would stop after the city was swept first by recession, and then by wildfire.

Or when the provincial government introduced a carbon tax and started phasing out coal.

And surely, with Donald Trump in the White House, even the oiliest corner of Canada would shift to the activist back burner.

But no; here comes Jane Fonda.

“We don’t need new pipelines,” she told a Wednesday [Jan. 11, 2017] press conference at the University of Alberta where she also dismissed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “good-looking Liberal” who couldn’t be trusted.

Saying that her voice was joined with the “Indigenous people of Canada,” Fonda explained her trip to Alberta by saying “when you’re famous you can help amplify the voices of people that can’t necessarily get a lot of press people to come out.”

Fonda is in Alberta at the invitation of Greenpeace, which has brought her here in support of the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion — a group of Canadian First Nations and U.S. tribes opposed to new pipelines to the Athabasca oilsands.

Appearing alongside Fonda, at a table with a sign reading “Respect Indigenous Decisions,” was Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, who, as leader of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, has led anti-pipeline protests and litigation in British Columbia.

“The future is going to be incredibly litigious,” he said in reference to the approved expansion of the Trans-Mountain pipeline.

The event also included Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, which is leading a legal challenge to federal approval of the Line 3 pipeline.

Although much of Athabasca’s oil production now comes from “steam-assisted gravity drainage” projects that requires minimal surface disturbance, on Tuesday Fonda took the requisite helicopter tour of a Fort McMurray-area open pit mine.

As you can see, there are not going to be any easy answers.

Changes to the US 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act

This is one of Barack Obama’s last acts as President of the US according to a Jan. 5, 2017 posting by Lynn L. Bergeson on the Nanotechnology Now website,

The American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (S. 3084) would amend the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act (15 U.S.C. § 7501 et seq.) to change the frequency of National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) reports. The strategic plan would be released every five instead of every three years, and the triennial review would be renamed the quadrennial review and be prepared every four years instead of every three. The evaluation of the NNI, which is submitted to Congress, would be due every four instead of every three years. … On December 28, 2016, the bill was presented to President Obama. President Obama is expected to sign the bill.

Congress.gov is hosting the S.3084 – American Innovation and Competitiveness Act webpage listing all of the actions, to date, taken on behalf of this bill; Obama signed the act on Jan. 6, 2017.

One final note, Obama’s last day as US President is Friday, Jan. 20, 2016 but his last ‘full’ day is Thursday, Jan. 19, 2016 (according to a Nov. 4, 2016 posting by Tom Muse for About.com).

Nanoview report published by Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment

According to a Dec. 13, 2016 posting by Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton for the National Law Review blog the German government has released a report on nanotechnology, perceptions of risk, and communication strategies,

On November 15, 2016, Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) published a report, in English, entitled Nanoview — Influencing factors on the perception of nanotechnology and target group-specific risk communication strategies. In 2007, BfR conducted a survey concerning the public perception of nanotechnology. Given the newness of nanotechnology and that large sections of the population did not have any definite opinions or knowledge of it, BfR conducted a follow-up survey, Nanoview, in 2012. Nanoview also included the additional question of which communication measures for conveying risk information regarding nanotechnology are best suited to reach the majority of the population. …  The report states that, given the findings from the 2007 representative survey, which confirmed gender-specific differences in the perception of nanotechnology, ideal-typical male and ideal-typical female concepts were developed. Focus groups then reviewed and optimized the conceptual considerations.  According to the report, the ideal-typical male concept met the expectations of the male target groups (nano-types “supporters” and “cautious observers”).

…  According to the report, the conceptual approach of the ideal-typical female concept met the expectations of the female target groups (nano-types “sceptics” and “cautious observers”), as well as catering to the information needs of some men (“cautious observers”).  …

The report concludes that, with regard to the central communication measure, creating an information portal on the Internet appears to be the most meaningful strategy. .. The report states: “The ideal-typical male concept is geared towards the provision of information on scientific, technical and application-related aspects of nanotechnology, for example.  The ideal-typical female concept focuses on the provision of information on application-related aspects of nanotechnology and support for everyday (purchase) decisions.”

I have quickly gone through the report and it’s interesting to note that the age range surveyed in 2012 was 16 to 60. Presumably Germany is in a similar position to other European countries, Canada, the US, and others in that the main portion of the population is ageing and that population is living longer; consequently, it seems odd to have excluded people over the age of 60.

I found more details about the gender differences expressed regarding nanotechnology, from Nanoview — Influencing factors on the perception of nanotechnology and target group-specific risk communication strategies,

For the following findings, there were numerous significant differences for the variables gender and age:
 Women are on the whole more sceptical towards nanotechnology than men; i.e.
– men tend to be more in favour of nano applications than women
– men  take  a  more  positive  view  than  women  of the  risk-benefit  ratio  in  general  and  in connection with specific applications
– men have a far better feeling about nanotechnology than women
– when  it  comes  to  information  about  nanotechnology, men  have  more faith  in  the government than women; women have more faith than men in environmental organisations as well as health and work safety authorities
– in  some  areas,  men  have  a  far  more  positive  attitude  towards  nanotechnology than women
 Younger  people  are  on  the  whole  more  open-minded  about  nanotechnology than older people; i.e.
-younger people tend to be more in favour of nano applications than older people. The cohort of 16 to 30-year-olds is in some cases far more open-minded than the population overall
– younger people take a (slightly) more positive view than older people of the risk-benefit ratio in general and in connection with specific applications
– in some areas, younger people have a far more positive attitude towards nanotechnology than older people

In  contrast,  there  are few  to  hardly  any  significant  differences for  the  variables  “education”, “size of household”, “income” and “migration background”. [p. 77]

I also found this to be of interest,

In recent years, there has been little or no change in awareness levels among the general population with regard to nanotechnology. This is shown by a comparison of the representative Germany-wide surveys on the risk perception of nanotechnology among the population conducted in 2007 and 2012 (cf. Chapter 0). In response to the open question regarding nanotechnology, around 40% of respondents in the 2012 survey say they had not previously heard of nanotechnology or nanomaterials (cf. Chapter 4.2.2). At the same time, however, those  respondents  who did know about the topic were able to make fairly differentiated statements on individual issues and applications. The risk-benefit ratio of nanotechnology is seen slightly more critically than five years previously, and the general attitude towards nanotechnology has become less favourable. The subjective feeling of being informed about the issue is also still less pronounced than is the case with other innovative technologies. From the point of view  of  consumers,  therefore, this means that an information deficit still exists when it comes to nanotechnology. (p. 83)

It seems to be true everywhere. Awareness of nanotechnology does not seem to change much.

This is a 162 pp. report, which recommends risk communication strategies for nanotechnology,

The findings of the representative survey underline the need to inform the public at the earliest possible date about scientific knowledge as well as the potential and possible risks of nanotechnology. For this reason, the challenge was to develop two alternative target group-specific risk communication concepts. The drafting of these concepts was a two-phase process and took account not only of the prior work done in the research project but also of the insights gained from two group discussions with consumers (focus groups). Against the backdrop of the findings from the representative survey, which  confirmed the gender-specific differences in the perception of nanotechnology, it was decided in consultation with the client to develop an ideal-typical male and an ideal-typical female concept. … (p. 100)

This returns us to the beginning with the Bergeson/Hutton post. For more details you do need to read the report. By the way, the literature survey is quite broad and interesting bringing together more than 20 surveys to provide an international (largely Eurocentric) perspective.

Wanted: Chief Science Advisor for Canadian government

Thanks to Stephanie Taylor’s Dec. 6, 2016 posting on the Science Borealis blog for an update on Canada’s Chief Science Advisor situation. Ta da: The Government of Canada has announced an official job opportunity in a Dec. 5, 2016 Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada news release,

More than 35,000 people in the federal government are involved in science and technology activities. Also, nearly 50,000 researchers and trainees across the country are supported by the federally funded research councils. From clean air and water to food security and technological advancements, science plays a crucial role in providing the evidence the Government of Canada needs to make decisions that improve the lives of Canadians.

Today, the search begins for the person who will be instrumental in furthering the Government’s commitment to science-based decision making. The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, is delivering on her key mandate commitment by launching the search for a Chief Science Advisor for Canada. The announcement took place at the historic Library of the National Research Council in Ottawa.

The Chief Science Advisor will be responsible for providing scientific advice to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Science and members of Cabinet. This individual will also advise on how to ensure that government science is open to the public, that federal scientists are able to speak freely about their work, and that science is effectively communicated across government. The office will be supported by a team of scientists and policy experts.

The position is now open to all Canadians. The full job description and information on applying can be found on the Governor in Council website. The application process is expected to close [emphasis mine] on January 27, 2017.

I gather they’re keeping their options open with that “expected to close” phrase leaving them room to weasel out of the Jan. 27, 2016 deadline. In any event, here’s the job description (or as it’s being called “appointment opportunity”, from the Governor in Council Appointments nomination webspace,

Chief Science Advisor,

Appointment Opportunity

We know that our country is stronger — and our government more effective — when decision-makers reflect Canada’s diversity. Moving forward, the Government of Canada will use an appointment process that is transparent and merit-based, strives for gender parity, and ensures that Indigenous Canadians and minority groups are properly represented in positions of leadership. We will continue to search for Canadians who reflect the values that we all embrace: inclusion, honesty, fiscal prudence, and generosity of spirit. Together, we will build a government as diverse as Canada.

The overarching goal of the Minister of Science is to support scientific research and the integration of scientific considerations in our investment and policy choices.

The Government of Canada is currently seeking applications from diverse and talented Canadians from across the country who are interested in the following position:

Chief Science Advisor (full-time position)

The Government of Canada is establishing the position of Chief Science Advisor, which will report to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Science. Transparent communication of science and evidence-based policy-making are among the federal government’s top priorities. The new Chief Science Advisor will play a key role in fulfilling that commitment.

The Chief Science Advisor’s main function will be to advise the government on how to ensure that government science is fully available to the public, that scientists are able to speak freely about their work, and that scientific analyses are considered when the government makes decisions. The Chief Science Advisor will focus on how scientific information is disseminated and used by the federal government, and how evidence is incorporated into government-wide decision-making. This will include a particular emphasis on federal scientific research and activities. Looking to broader scientific issues, as an adviser and coordinator of advice, the Chief Science Advisor will aim to provide impartial scientific advice on key issues with science or research components of relevance to Canada.

Candidates must apply online by January 27, 2017, via the Governor in Council website. Your cover letter should be addressed to the Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet (Senior Personnel), Privy Council Office, and should be sent only through the on-line application.

Salary Range: Under review

Position Location: Ottawa, Ontario

Official Languages and Diversity

The Government of Canada will consider bilingual proficiency and diversity in assessing candidates for this position. You are therefore encouraged to include in your online profile your ability to speak and understand your second official language. Preference may be given to candidates who are members of one or more of the following groups: women, Indigenous Canadians, persons with disabilities, and visible minorities.

To be considered for this position, please provide examples from your career that clearly demonstrate how you meet the following requirements in your application. Please note that the maximum size of each document uploaded as part of your application is 3 MB. A maximum of five (5) documents may be uploaded in respect of any application, including the cover letter and curriculum vitae.

Education and Experience

  • A doctoral degree in natural sciences, mathematics, engineering sciences, health sciences or social sciences;
  • Significant experience as a scientific research practitioner and peer reviewer, with a strong record of peer-reviewed publications in a relevant field of specialization;
  • Demonstrated leadership and management experience within public or private research organizations;
  • Experience participating in scientific advisory bodies established by government (e.g., expert panels, task forces, committees) would be an asset; and
  • Experience in one or more of the following areas would be an asset:
    • involvement in scientific reviews within legislative or regulatory processes;
    • public scientific communication;
    • promoting transparency and integrity in scientific research; and
    • evaluation of scientific or research programs or projects.

If you are selected for an interview, the following criteria will be assessed:

Knowledge, Skills and Abilities

  • Knowledge of the machinery of the federal government and its decision-making process, as well as knowledge of Canadian federal science and technology policy;
  • Knowledge of scientific and non-scientific issues relevant to the federal government;
  • Knowledge of the challenges and opportunities facing evidence-based policy-making within government;
  • Knowledge of the state of current scientific evidence – including accepted theories, established findings and existing uncertainties – outside the candidate’s field of specialization;
  • Ability to provide scientific advice in support of policy decisions in an authoritative and independent manner, combining knowledge and experience and effectively addressing the limits of science, the insufficiency of evidence, and appropriately framing uncertainties;
  • Ability to provide constructive scientific advice on contentious issues where considerations include, but are not limited to, science, and recognizing her or his advisory role in the context of decision-making;
  • Ability to provide sound advice while demonstrating integrity and independence through non-partisanship;
  • Ability to think creatively, with a strategic vision for science that extends to the longer term;
  • Ability to work effectively within a committee or working group framework with various governmental actors; and
  • Superior communication skills, both written and oral, including the ability to develop and maintain effective relationships and networks with officials and stakeholders in the scientific community.

Language Requirements

Proficiency in both official languages would be preferred.

If you move on to the next stage of the selection process, we will contact your references to verify how you have demonstrated the Experience requirements and the following Personal Attributes in your current and recently held positions:

  • Strategic and innovative thinker
  • Superior interpersonal skills
  • Strong analytical skills
  • Sound judgment
  • High ethical standards and integrity
  • Tact and diplomacy

Eligibility Factors and Conditions of Employment

In your application, it will be important that you confirm you meet the following requirements:

  • You reside in or are willing to relocate to the National Capital Region or to a location within reasonable commuting distance; and
  • You are willing to travel across Canada and internationally.

If you are appointed to this position:

You must comply with the Ethical and Political Activity Guidelines for Public Office Holders throughout your appointment, as a term and condition of employment. The guidelines are available on the Governor in Council Appointments website, under “Forms and Reference Material“.

You will be subject to the Conflict of Interest Act. Public office holders appointed on a full-time basis must submit to the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, within 60 days of appointment, a confidential report in which they disclose all of their assets, liabilities and outside activities. For more information, please visit the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner’s website.

A link to this notice will be placed in the Canada Gazette to assist the Governor in Council in identifying qualified candidates for this position. It is not, however, intended to be the sole means of recruitment.

A roster of qualified candidates may be established and may be used for similar opportunities.

The applicant login can be found here and, if this is your first time, you will need to register first.

Interestingly, I don’t think you need to be a Canadian citizen or even to have worked in Canada before applying for this appointment. Of course, it’s highly unlikely you’d understand government processes without some Canadian experience.

I have one other comment, innovative thinkers (the top of the list for personal attributes) tend to be disruptive. In fact, I’ve just found a new term for them, “angelic troublemakers,” in a Sept. 22, 2016 article by *Shane Snow* for Fast Company,

We all know the story of the 1963 March on Washington because it culminated in one of the most iconic moments of the Civil Rights Movement, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., declaring, “I have a dream.” What many of us don’t know, though, is that the march might not have happened—and the fight for civil rights might have been a lot bloodier—if not for a rather troublesome character named Bayard Rustin.

Rustin was trouble for several reasons. He was a contrarian and outspoken. He was a radical follower of Gandhi, and what Fox News today might call “extremely liberal.” He was also openly gay, which made him a political lightning rod in those days. And yet King fought to keep Rustin around at every turn. That’s because Rustin was a master agitator, exactly what the movement needed.

At Rustin’s urging, the fledgling Civil Rights Movement eschewed direct conflict in favor of being really annoying to the powers that were. He understood that in order to make progress, he and his fellow activists didn’t need to talk and fight the way persecuted people always had. They needed to show—kindly—how it was flawed.

As Rustin famously put it, they needed to be “a group of angelic troublemakers.”

Instead of throwing rocks, Rustin encouraged civil rights protesters to sit down in the streets. Instead of tipping over buses, he encouraged supporters to boycott them. Instead of taking up arms, he encouraged people to link arms and get in the way.

Angelic troublemaking—or going against the grain in a benevolent fashion—is a powerful philosophy for business as well as social movements. It’s not just about being difficult; it’s about forcing people to see situations differently. It’s about making a mess, with good intentions, so things can change.

I suspect what the Canadian government is actually looking for is someone who is open to and champions innovative thinking.

At any rate, it’s good to see that we’re on our way to getting a Chief Science Advisor and it seems we might hear an announcement sometime in Spring 2017.

*Corrected Dec.7, 2016 at 1430 PST: I erroneously identified Walton Isaacson as the author of the Fast Company article. It is an advertising agency which uses Bayard Rustin and ‘angelic troublemaking’ as inspirational principles.

Council of Canadian Academies and science policy for Alberta

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has expanded its approach from assembling expert panels to report on questions posed by various Canadian government agencies (assessments) to special reports from a three-member panel and, now, to a workshop on the province of Alberta’s science policy ideas. From an Oct. 27, 2016 CCA news release (received via email),

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) is pleased to announce that it is undertaking an expert panel workshop on science policy ideas under development in Alberta. The workshop will engage national and international experts to explore various dimensions of sub-national science systems and the role of sub-national science policy.

“We are pleased to undertake this project,” said Eric M. Meslin, PhD, FCAHS, President and CEO of the CCA. “It is an assessment that could discuss strategies that have applications in Alberta, across Canada, and elsewhere.”

A two-day workshop, to be undertaken in November 2016, will bring together a multidisciplinary and multi-sectoral group of leading Canadian and international experts to review, validate, and advance work being done on science policy in Alberta. The workshop will explore the necessary considerations when creating science policy at the sub-national level. Specifically it will:

  • Debate and validate the main outcomes of a sub-national science enterprise, particularly in relation to knowledge, human, and social capital.
  • Identify the key elements and characteristics of a successful science enterprise (e.g., funding, trust, capacity, science culture, supporting interconnections and relationships) with a particular focus at a sub-national level.
  • Explore potential intents of a sub-national science policy, important features of such a policy, and the role of the policy in informing investment decisions.

To lead the design of the workshop, complete the necessary background research, and develop the workshop summary report, the CCA has appointed a five member Workshop Steering Committee, chaired by Joy Johnson, FCAHS, Vice President, Research, Simon Fraser University. The other Steering Committee members are: Paul Dufour, Adjunct Professor, Institute for Science, Society and Policy; University of Ottawa, Principal, Paulicy Works; Janet Halliwell, Principal, J.E. Halliwell Associates, Inc.; Kaye Husbands Fealing, Chair and Professor, School of Public Policy, Georgia Tech; and Marc LePage, President and CEO, Genome Canada.

The CCA, under the guidance of its Scientific Advisory Committee, and in collaboration with the Workshop Steering Committee, is now assembling a multidisciplinary, multi-sectoral, group of experts to participate in the two-day workshop. The CCA’s Member Academies – the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Academy of Engineering, and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences – are a key source of membership for expert panels. Many experts are also Fellows of the Academies.

The workshop results will be published in a final summary report in spring 2017. This workshop assessment is supported by a grant from the Government of Alberta.

By comparison with the CCA’s last assessment mentioned here in a July 1, 2016 posting (The State of Science and Technology and Industrial Research and Development in Canada), this workshop has a better balance. The expert panel is being chaired by a woman (the first time I’ve seen that in a few years) and enough female members to add up to 60% representation. No representation from Québec (perhaps not a surprise given this is Alberta) but there is 40% from the western provinces given there is representation from both BC and Alberta. Business can boast 30% (?) with Paul Dufour doing double duty as both academic and business owner. It’s good to see international representation and one day I hope to see it from somewhere other than the US, the UK, and/or the Europe Union. Maybe Asia?

You can find contact information on the CCA’s Towards a Science Policy in Alberta webpage.

One comment, I find the lack of a specific date for the workshop interesting. It suggests either they were having difficulty scheduling or they wanted to keep the ‘unwashed’ away.

2016 Canadian Science Policy Conference started in Ottawa (Canada) today, Nov. 8, 2016

For those of us following from afar, the 2016 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC), being held in Ottawa from Nov. 8 – 10, 2016, offers us Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram options, all of which you can find here.

There are a number of symposia sessions this morning, Nov. 8, 2016 (ET) but the conference proper doesn’t seem to get started until the afternoon. Here are a few of the sessions the organizers want to highlight (from a Nov. 4, 2016 CSPC announcement received via email),

CSPC 2016 kicks off with an exciting and informative Keynote Session. The Honorable Dr. Reza Moridi, Ontario Minister of Research, Innovation and Science (left), and Dr. Arthur McDonald, joint winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics (right) will address the significance of fundamental research in economic growth.  This discussion will be moderated by Victoria Kaspi, astrophysicist and a professor at McGill University. This session takes place on Tuesday, November 8 [2016], at 6:30 pm

Our second Keynote Session features Homa Hoodfar, a sociocultural anthropologist and professor emerita of anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal. She was detained while travelling in Iran and spent 112 days in jail there. She will speak on Science, Human Rights and Academic Freedom. This session will begin at 6:00 pm on Wednesday, November 9 [2016].

Plenary Session: Collaboration and Cooperation on the Challenge of Clean Energy: An International Perspective, Wednesday, November 9 [2016], at 8:30 am.

This plenary session brings together perspectives from global leaders in academia, government (Canadian and foreign), and industry. The panel will discuss potential innovative intergovernmental mechanisms that will enable all sectors to work together to bring about a transformation in clean energy S&T.

Plenary Session:  Converging Science: Fostering Innovation through a New Model of Transdisciplinary Research, Thursday, November 10 [2016], at 8:30 am.

This plenary session aims to address the following: identify opportunities and barriers to the convergence of disciplines and fields of research; discuss strategies that could be developed to enable the potential of convergence; and debate the possibility of developing and implementing new strategies and organizational structures that could improve the effectiveness of the Canadian research enterprise.

Panel: Building Capacity for Science Policy In Canada! organized by CSPC, Wednesday Nov 9 [2016], 1:30
We encourage everyone to attend this session and present recommendations and be part of the capacity building in Science Policy in Canada.

This is an interactive session that will discuss the practical recommendations on how to build capacity in science policy the gaps and priorities, and how CSPC can be more effective as a HUB for sharing resources, disseminating knowledge and becoming a Think-Do Tank in Science Policy.

You can still register for the conference, unless you’re a student (that category has sold out). If this is all too precipitate for you, there’s the 2017 CSPC, which for the third year in a row take place in Ottawa when it will celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary.

The State of Science and Technology (S&T) and Industrial Research and Development (IR&D) in Canada

Earlier this year I featured (in a July 1, 2016 posting) the announcement of a third assessment of science and technology in Canada by the Council of Canadian Academies. At the time I speculated as to the size of the ‘expert panel’ making the assessment as they had rolled a second assessment (Industrial Research and Development) into this one on the state of science and technology. I now have my answer thanks to an Oct. 17, 2016 Council of Canadian Academies news release announcing the chairperson (received via email; Note: Links have been removed and emphases added for greater readability),

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) is pleased to announce Dr. Max Blouw, President and Vice-Chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University, as Chair of the newly appointed Expert Panel on the State of Science and Technology (S&T) and Industrial Research and Development (IR&D) in Canada.

“Dr. Blouw is a widely respected leader with a strong background in research and academia,” said Eric M. Meslin, PhD, FCAHS, President and CEO of the CCA. “I am delighted he has agreed to serve as Chair for an assessment that will contribute to the current policy discussion in Canada.”

As Chair of the Expert Panel, Dr. Blouw will work with the multidisciplinary, multi-sectoral Expert Panel to address the following assessment question, referred to the CCA by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED):

What is the current state of science and technology and industrial research and development in Canada?

Dr. Blouw will lead the CCA Expert Panel to assess the available evidence and deliver its final report by late 2017. Members of the panel include experts from different fields of academic research, R&D, innovation, and research administration. The depth of the Panel’s experience and expertise, paired with the CCA’s rigorous assessment methodology, will ensure the most authoritative, credible, and independent response to the question.

“I am very pleased to accept the position of Chair for this assessment and I consider myself privileged to be working with such an eminent group of experts,” said Dr. Blouw. “The CCA’s previous reports on S&T and IR&D provided crucial insights into Canada’s strengths and weaknesses in these areas. I look forward to contributing to this important set of reports with new evidence and trends.”

Dr. Blouw was Vice-President Research, Associate Vice-President Research, and Professor of Biology, at the University of Northern British Columbia, before joining Wilfrid Laurier as President. Dr. Blouw served two terms as the chair of the university advisory group to Industry Canada and was a member of the adjudication panel for the Ontario Premier’s Discovery Awards, which recognize the province’s finest senior researchers. He recently chaired the International Review Committee of the NSERC Discovery Grants Program.

For a complete list of Expert Panel members, their biographies, and details on the assessment, please visit the assessment page. The CCA’s Member Academies – the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Academy of Engineering, and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences – are a key source of membership for expert panels. Many experts are also Fellows of the Academies.

The Expert Panel on the State of S&T and IR&D
Max Blouw, (Chair) President and Vice-Chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University
Luis Barreto, President, Dr. Luis Barreto & Associates and Special Advisor, NEOMED-LABS
Catherine Beaudry, Professor, Department of Mathematical and Industrial Engineering, Polytechnique Montréal
Donald Brooks, FCAHS, Professor, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and Chemistry, University of British Columbia
Madeleine Jean, General Manager, Prompt
Philip Jessop, FRSC, Professor, Inorganic Chemistry and Canada Research Chair in Green Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, Queen’s University; Technical Director, GreenCentre Canada
Claude Lajeunesse, FCAE, Corporate Director and Interim Chair of the Board of Directors, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.
Steve Liang, Associate Professor, Geomatics Engineering, University of Calgary; Director, GeoSensorWeb Laboratory; CEO, SensorUp Inc.
Robert Luke, Vice-President, Research and Innovation, OCAD University
Douglas Peers, Professor, Dean of Arts, Department of History, University of Waterloo
John M. Thompson, O.C., FCAE, Retired Executive Vice-Chairman, IBM Corporation
Anne Whitelaw, Associate Dean Research, Faculty of Fine Arts and Associate Professor, Department of Art History, Concordia University
David A. Wolfe, Professor, Political Science and Co-Director, Innovation Policy Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto

You can find more information about the expert panel here and about this assessment and its predecesors here.

A few observations, given the size of the task this panel is lean. As well, there are three women in a group of 13 (less than 25% representation) in 2016? It’s Ontario and Québec-dominant; only BC and Alberta rate a representative on the panel. I hope they will find ways to better balance this panel and communicate that ‘balanced story’ to the rest of us. On the plus side, the panel has representatives from the humanities, arts, and industry in addition to the expected representatives from the sciences.

International effort to develop and disseminate ‘transformative innovation policy’ around the world

A new group, globally based, has been founded with the purpose of redefining innovation policy according to a Sept. 7 (?), 2016 University of Sussex press release (also on EurekAlert),

SPRU [Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex] is marking its 50th anniversary by announcing a new global consortium of scientists, experts and policy officials to address global challenges, such as access to food and energy, rising inequality, and climate change.

SPRU is celebrating 50 years at the forefront of thinking on science, technology and innovation with a major conference from 7-9 September 2016. The conference is based on the overarching theme of ‘Transforming Innovation’.

SPRU believes that innovation policy has the potential to help tackle some of the world’s most central challenges, such as sustainable development and inequality and it has developed a research strategy that is focused on long-term transformative change and innovation across different sectors, societies and structures.

The conference provides an opportunity for academics, policy makers and civil society actors to come together to will explore the nature, determinants and direction of innovation and its contribution to meeting current and future global challenges such as climate change, economic growth, sustainability and security.

Rooted now in the School of Business Management and Economics, SPRU is focused on responding effectively to these interconnected challenges by fundamentally rethinking how we organise, govern, direct and accelerate innovation so that it contributes to long-term sustainable development, economic progress and social justice.

With this objective, at the opening session on Wednesday (7 September [2016]), a new initiative – the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium (TIPC) – will be launched. The Consortium will bring together global actors to examine and research innovation systems as well as explore the future of innovation policy.

Alongside SPRU, the founding organisations are; Colciencias, the Government of Colombia’s Department of Science, Technology and Innovation; the National Research Foundation in South Africa; and Forskningsradet: The Research Council in Norway, with a further cohort anticipated before the end of the pilot phase in 2016/17.

Professor Johan Schot, Director of SPRU said: “At the same time that we celebrate this significant milestone for our organisation, we see that the world is facing an increasing number of crises and persistent problems.

“The modern way of provisioning our basic needs is not sustainable in the long run, and is already causing climate change, profound societal turmoil, tensions and conflict on an unprecedented scale.

“It is clear that we cannot globalise our current ways of providing food, energy, mobility, healthcare and water.

“TIPC aims to analyse our current world – which is in deep transition – and develop a new, shared rationale and vision for innovation policy.”

The Consortium’s key objective is to examine and expand on current innovation frames and approaches to assist in solving urgent social and economic issues of our time. TIPC also seeks to engage in policy design and experimentation, training and skill formation. The project involves building new platforms for a mutual learning process between the Global North and South and between research and policy.

“Science, technology and innovation fundamentally contribute to promoting progress in Colombia. They provide solutions to the great challenges we face in building a long-lasting and stable peace. Our country has initiated a transformation phase which requires rethinking the ST&I policies of today – in order to rise to the occasion of this historic challenge,” remarked Alejandro Olaya Davila, Deputy Director of Colciencias.

Yet, how do we ensure that the ‘right’ innovations occur? The TIPC is based on a new framing of innovation (Innovation 3.0 ) that recognises that negative impacts or externalities of innovation can overtake positive contributions. This frame focuses on mobilising the power of innovation for addressing a wide range of societal challenges including inequality, unemployment and climate change. It emphasises policies for directing socio-technical systems into socially desirable directions and embeds processes of change in society.

Anne Kjersti Fahlvik, Execute Director Division for Innovation, the Research Council of Norway, commented: “The directionality that the grand societal challenges provide is increasingly accepted by our research and innovation systems. Advanced and better science, technology and innovation are pointed to as the way forward. Yet, we also experience how the grand challenges entail challenges to ourselves as a research funding organization.

“The challenge of addressing Grand Challenges – to cite a well-known title – has come to stay and is inviting us out of our comfort zone. At The Research Council of Norway many of us have been inspired by SPRU to venture out and experiment these last years. We are excited by the prospect of future “crossover” collaborations for continued learning and development – as envisioned by the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium.”

Dr Aldo Stroebel, Executive Director, International Relations and Cooperation, National Research Foundation, said: “As a leading science granting council, the National Research Foundation of South Africa values this strategic partnership.

“Different types of innovation play a role at various stages, and it is an opportune time to explore successful innovation experiments for a potentially different framework for development. A key challenge for innovation policy in emerging countries like South Africa is to encourage inclusive growth and support research addressing major social challenges – an important focus of the consortium.

“Managing for success through a focus on the factors that enhance impact is a joint objective of the programme, for a robust framework of engagement. SPRU’s leadership in this endeavour is clear and respected.”

In addition, VINNOVA – the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems, TEKES, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation and The Chinese Academy of Science and Technology for Development – CASTED, also signed an expression of interest to join the Consortium.

Across his entire career, SPRU’s founder Chris Freeman embraced an ‘economics of hope’- a principle which embodies a positive view of our potential to direct innovation, creativity and new technologies towards more sustainable and inclusive futures. It is with this ethos that the new Consortium will look to shape innovation over the next 50 years and beyond.

You can find the SPRU here.

Public comment invited on *2016* US draft National Nanotechnology Initiative strategic plan

A Sept. 23, 2016 news item on Nanowerk announces a public consultation on the latest draft US National Nanotechnology Initiative strategic plan (Note: Links have been removed),

The draft 2016 National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) Strategic Plan is now available online for public comment prior to publication. The public is encouraged to submit comments electronically through www.nano.gov/2016strategy, or via email to 2016NNIStrategy@nnco.nano.gov. Public comments should be one page or less and include reference page and line numbers. Comments are due by September 23, 2016. Additional guidance is available in the Federal Register.

The NNI Strategic Plan describes the initiative’s vision and goals and the strategies by which these goals are to be achieved. The plan includes a description of the NNI investment strategy and the program component areas called for by the 21st Century Research and Development Act of 2003, and it also identifies specific objectives toward collectively achieving the NNI vision. This plan updates and replaces the NNI Strategic Plan of February 2014.

A Sept. 12, 2016 US National Nanotechnology Initiative notice provides a link to the 67pp. draft document and further information. You can also check the US Federal Register for the official document. The deadline for submitting comments is Sept. 23, 2016, in short, you have ten days.

*ETA Sept. 15, 2016: Sam Pearson in a Sept. 14, 2016 article (open access during a free trial) for Bloomberg BNA offers some analysis of the 2016 draft plan,

The draft document, which sets out goals for developing and commercializing the technology and was released Sept. 12 [2016], is largely unchanged from previous versions. The plan, which is required under the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, sets policy for the White House-led National Nanotechnology Initiative for the next three years across 20 departments and independent agencies.

The environment and health spending is about 7 percent of the initiative’s total budget, an increase from 4.8 percent in fiscal year 2011 and just 2.8 percent in fiscal year 2006. When combined with related spending in other sectors, the total is about 10 percent of the budget, the document states.

“There’s significant potential positive aspects of this, but we need those to be managed in a mature way to ensure that we’re not bringing about something that’s so profound without any laws in place,” Ian Illuminato, a health and environment consultant at Friends of the Earth, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 12 [2016], “which has so far been what’s happening.”

Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups have pushed for tougher evaluations of the potential health risks of nanotech products.

In a statement to Bloomberg BNA Sept. 12 [2016], Jay West, head of the Nanotechnology Panel of the American Chemistry Council, said the group planned to examine the proposal.

For the curious, there’s more analysis in Pearson’s article.

*’2016′ added on Sept. 15, 2016.