Category Archives: science policy

Science Advice to Government; a global conference in August 2014

There’s a big science advice conference on the horizon for August 28 – 29, 2014 to be held in New Zealand according to David Bruggeman’s March 19, 2014 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),

… It [the global science advice conference] will take place in Auckland, New Zealand August 28 and 29 [2014].  It will be hosted by the New Zealand Chief Science Adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman.

(If you’re not following Sir Peter’s work and writings on science advice and science policy, you’re missing out.)

The announced panelists and speakers include chief scientists and/or chief science advisers from several countries and the European Union.  It’s a very impressive roster.  The conference is organised around five challenges:

  • The process and systems for procuring evidence and developing/delivering scientific      advice for government
  • Science advice in dealing with crisis
  • Science advice in the context of opposing political/ideological positions
  • Developing an approach to international science advice
  • The modalities of science advice: accumulated wisdom

The 2014 Science Advice to Governments; a global conference for leading practitioners is being organized by the International Council for Science. Here’s a list of the confirmed speakers and panellists (Note: Links have been removed),

We are delighted that the following distinguished scientists have confirmed their participation in the formal programme:

Prof. Shaukat Abdulrazak, CEO National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation, Kenya

Dr. Ian Boyd, Chief Science Advisor, Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) UK

Dr. Phil Campbell, Editor-in-Chief, Nature

Dr. Raja Chidambaram, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, and Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet, India

Prof. Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist for Australia

Prof. Brian Collins, University College London’s Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (UCL STEaPP)

Dr. Lourdes J Cruz, President of the National Research Council of the Philippines and National Scientist

Prof. Heather Douglas, Chair in Science & Society, Balsillie School of International Affairs, U. of Waterloo Canada

Prof. Mark Ferguson, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, and Director General, Science Foundation Ireland

Prof. Anne Glover, Chief Science Adviser to the President of the European Commission

Sir Peter Gluckman, Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, New Zealand

Dr. Jörg Hacker, President of the German Academy of Sciences – Leopoldina; Member of UN Secretary General’s Scientific Advisory Board

Dr. Yuko Harayama, Executive member of Council for Science and Technology Policy, Cabinet Office of Japan; Member of UN Secretary General’s Scientific Advisory Board; former Deputy Director OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry

Prof. Andreas Hensel, President of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Germany

Prof. Gordon McBean, President-elect, International Council for Science (ICSU)

Prof. Romain Murenzi, Executive Director of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS)

Dr. Mary Okane, Chief Scientist and Engineer, New South Wales Australia

Prof. Remi Quirion, Chief Scientist, Province of Quebec, Canada

Chancellor Emeritus Kari Raivio, Council of Finnish Academies, Finland

Prof. Nils Chr. Stenseth, President of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and President of the International Biological Union (IUBS)

Dr. Chris Tyler, Director of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) in UK

Sir Mark Walport, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government of the UK

Dr. James Wilsdon, Professor of Science and Democracy, University of Sussex, UK

Dr. Steven Wilson, Executive Director, International Council for Science (ICSU)

Dr. Hamid Zakri, Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia; Member of UN Secretary General’s Scientific Advisory Board

I noticed a couple of Canadian representatives (Heather Douglas, Chair in Science & Society at the University of Waterloo, and Remi Quirion, Chief Scientist, province of Québec) on the list. We don’t have any science advisors for the Canadian federal government but it seems they’ve instituted some such position for the province of Québec. In lieu of a science advisor, there is the Council of Canadian Academies, which “is an independent, not-for-profit organization that supports independent, authoritative, and evidence-based expert assessments that inform public policy development in Canada” (from their About page).

One other person should be noted (within the Canadian context), James Wilsdon is a member of the Expert Panel for the Council of Canadian Academies’ still-in-progress assessment, The State of State of Canada’s Science Culture. (My Feb. 22, 2013 posting about the assessments provides a lengthy discourse about the assessment and my concerns about both it and the panel.)

Getting back to this meeting in New Zealand, the organizers have added a pre-conference symposium on science diplomacy (from the Science and Diplomacy webpage), Note: A link has been removed,

We are pleased to announce the addition of a pre-conference symposium to our programme of events. Co-chaired by Dr. Vaughan Turekian, Editor-in-Chief of the AAAS Journal Science and Diplomacy, and the CE of New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, this symposium will explore ‘the place of science in foreign ministries’.

Overview of the symposium

The past decade has seen unprecedented interested in the interface between science and diplomacy from a number of perspectives including:

- Diplomacy for Science – building international relationships to foster robust collaborative scientific networks and shared expertise and infrastructure;
- Science for Diplomacy – the science enterprise as a doorway to relationship building between nations with shared goals and values;
- Science in Diplomacy – the role of science in various diplomatic endeavours (e.g.: verification of agreements on climate change, nuclear treaties etc; in support of aid projects; in promoting economic and trade relationships; and in various international agreements and instruments such as phyto-sanitary regulations, free trade agreements, biodiversity agreements etc.).

Yet, despite the growing interest in this intersection, there has been little discussion of the practical realities of fostering the rapprochement between two very distinct professional cultures and practices, particularly with specific reference to the classical pillars of foreign policy: diplomacy; trade/economic; and aid. Thus, this pre-conference symposium will be focusing on the essential question:

How should scientists have input into the operation of foreign ministries and in particular into three pillars of foreign affairs (diplomacy, trade/economics and foreign aid)?

The discussion will focus on questions such as: What are the mechanisms and methods that can bring scientists and policy makers in science and technology in closer alignment with ministries or departments of foreign affairs and vice versa? What is the role of public scientists in assisting countries’ foreign policy positions and how can this be optimised? What are the challenges and opportunities in enhancing the role of science in international affairs? How does the perception of science in diplomacy vary between large and small countries and between developed and developing countries?

To ensure vibrant discussion the workshop will be limited to 70 participants. Anyone interested is invited to write to [email protected] with a request to be considered for this event.

The conference with this newly added symposium looks to be even more interesting than before. As for anyone wishing to attend the science diplomacy symposium, the notice has been up since March 6, 2014 so you may wish to get your request sent off while there’s still space (I assume they’ll put a notice on the webpage once the spaces are spoken for). One final observation, it’s surprising in a science conference of this size that there’s no representation from a US institution (e.g., the National Academy of Sciences, Harvard University, etc.) other than the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) organizer of the pre-conference symposium.

Greg Rickford, we hardly knew ya; hello to Ed Holder, Canada’s new Minister of State (Science and Technology)

A shakeup in the Stephen Harper (Conservative party) government’s cabinet was destined when Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance, announced his resignation in a surprise move earlier this March (2014). Greg Rickford was promoted from Minister of State (Science and Technology), considered a junior ministry, to Minister of Natural Resources, a more important portfolio.

A March 20, 2014 posting by David Bruggeman on his Pasco Phronesis blog first alerted me to the change (Note: A link has been removed,

… Taking his responsibilities for science and technology will be MP Ed Holder from Ontario.  Holder represents parts of London, Ontario, and has stood in Parliament since 2008.  His background is in insurance, where he established a successful brokerage company, and contributed time and resources to several charitable causes.  In other words, the appointment reflects the second-tier status the science minister holds within the Canadian government.

(To be fair, science ministers who are elected politicians in many other nations hold a similar status.)

I did find some commentary about Holder and his move, from the March 19, 2014 article by John Miner for the London Free Press,

Eight years after Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won power, the London region — turf they’ve since sewn up — finally has its first Tory cabinet minister.

The question is, why has it taken so long?

London West MP Ed Holder’s appointment Wednesday [March 19, 2014] as minister of state for science and technology makes him the government’s first London minister and its first in the 10-riding region.

Holder’s move from the back benches, part of a cabinet mini-shuffle triggered by Jim Flaherty’s surprise resignation as finance minister, also makes him ­London’s first Conservative ­minister in Ottawa in 21 years.

Holder wasn’t doing interviews Wednesday [March 19, 2014], but in a statement said “I have always believed that investments in science and research create good jobs and drive economic growth.”

On social media, some questioned why Holder was given the science and technology beat when he has a philosophy degree and an insurance background. But others, including former London Liberal MP Glen Pearson, praised the move on Twitter.

I was hoping for a little more insight into Holder’s approach to the portfolio and his personal thoughts on science and technology as opposed to the regional pique and the government rhetoric being reiterated in the article. (The curious can find out more about Ed Holder here.) As noted in my July 17, 2013 posting when Rickford was appointed to the Science and Technology portfolio in July 2013, I don’t believe that the minister has to have a science degree and/or research experience. However, I do like to think they’ve given or will give the matter some thought.

As befitting the Natural Resources’ portfolio’s importance I have found some commentary about Rickford’s move, from the March 19, 2014 article by Alex Boutillier for thestar.com,

Newly minted Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford gives the Harper government a new face on the energy portfolio as a number of key projects hang in the balance.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper promoted the Kenora [Ontario] MP from a junior minister to one of the most important and sensitive portfolios in the Conservative government in a mini cabinet shuffle Wednesday [March 19, 2014].

Rickford replaces Joe Oliver, who was moved to finance after the surprise departure of Jim [Jim] Flaherty on Tuesday. The move gives the Conservatives a chance to change the tone of debate surrounding a number of large-scale pipeline and mining projects; a debate that turned toxic at times under Oliver’s watch.

The bilingual 46-year old has a nursing degree, a MBA from Laval, and civil and common law degrees from McGill. He worked as a nurse on reserves in northern Ontario, giving him an instinctive feel for communicating with aboriginal communities as well as a degree of credibility in relations with those communities.

That experience can only help Rickford as he navigates difficult negotiations with First Nations groups on the Keystone XL pipeline, the proposed Northern Gateway project, and the prospective Ring of Fire mining development in northern Ontario.

As Rickford prepares for the negotiations, Holder makes announcements such as this one, from a March 28, 2014 University of British Columbia (UBC) news release (I’ve trimmed the list down to the two ‘sciencish’ appointments),

UBC gets $8.5M boost for eight Canada Research Chairs

Research ranging from Latin poetry to neuroethics at the University of British Columbia has received an $8.5 million boost in federal funding for eight professors appointed or renewed as Canada Research Chairs.

The UBC contingent is among the 102 new and renewed chairs announced Friday [March 28, 2014] by Ed Holder, Minister of State for Science and Technology, at the University of Alberta. [emphasis mine]

The Minister of National Revenue Kerry-Lynne Findlay announced UBC’s two new recipients and six renewals at an event on the Vancouver campus to recognize B.C. appointees. The event featured the work of Martin Ordonez, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who was named a new Chair in Power Converters and Renewable Systems. His work aims to maximize the use of renewable energy from wind, solar, and the ocean by developing the next generation of power conversion and storage solutions to produce low emissions power.

“The CRC program strengthens UBC’s leading role in world-class research, attracting the best and the brightest minds to work here,” said John Hepburn, UBC vice-president, research and international. “The work of these professors creates lasting change within Canada and beyond.”

Renewed CRCs at UBC are:

Judy Illes, Chair in Neuroethics
Illes studies the ethics of neuroscience, a field that allows us to understand, monitor and potentially manipulate human thought using technology.

For a full list of UBC’s Canada Research Chairs mentioned in the announcement, go here.

Longtime readers know I sometimes make connections between ideas that are at best tenuous and the ‘we hardly knew ya’ phrase which leaped into my mind while considering a head for this post led me, eventually, to punk rock band, Dropkick Murphys,

The song, also known as ‘Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye’ has a long history as per its Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

“Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye” (also known as “Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye” or “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya”) is a popular traditional song, sung to the same tune as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”. First published in London in 1867 and written by Joseph B. Geoghegan, a prolific English songwriter and successful music hall figure,[1] it remained popular in Britain and Ireland and the United States into the early years of the 20th century. The song was recorded by The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem on their self-titled album in 1961,[2][3] leading to a renewal of its popularity.

Originally seen as humorous, the song today is considered a powerful anti-war song. …

Lyrics

While goin’ the road to sweet Athy, hurroo, hurroo
While goin’ the road to sweet Athy, hurroo, hurroo
While goin’ the road to sweet Athy
A stick in me hand and a tear in me eye
A doleful damsel I heard cry,
Johnny I hardly knew ye.

Chorus:

With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo
With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo
With your drums and guns and guns and drums
The enemy nearly slew ye
Oh my darling dear, Ye look so queer
Johnny I hardly knew ye.

Where are the eyes that looked so mild, hurroo, hurroo
Where are the eyes that looked so mild, hurroo, hurroo
Where are the eyes that looked so mild
When my poor heart you first beguiled
Why did ye scadaddle from me and the child
Oh Johnny, I hardly knew ye.

(Chorus)

Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo
Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo
Where are your legs that used to run
When you went to carry a gun
Indeed your dancing days are done
Oh Johnny, I hardly knew ye.

(Chorus)

I’m happy for to see ye home, hurroo, hurroo
I’m happy for to see ye home, hurroo, hurroo
I’m happy for to see ye home
All from the island of Ceylon
So low in the flesh, so high in the bone
Oh Johnny I hardly knew ye.

(Chorus)

Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo
Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo
Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg
Ye’re an armless, boneless, chickenless egg
Ye’ll have to be put with a bowl out to beg
Oh Johnny I hardly knew ye.

(Chorus)

They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo
They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo
They’re rolling out the guns again
But they never will take my sons again
No they’ll never take my sons again
Johnny I’m swearing to ye.

As for the Dropkick Murphys, here’s an excerpt from their Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

Dropkick Murphys are an American Celtic punk band formed in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1996.[1] The band was initially signed to independent punk record label Hellcat Records, releasing five albums for the label, and making a name for themselves locally through constant touring and yearly St. Patrick’s Day week shows, held in and around Boston. The 2004 single “Tessie” became the band’s first hit and one of their biggest charting singles to date. The band’s final Hellcat release, 2005′s The Warrior’s Code, included the song “I’m Shipping Up to Boston”; the song was featured in the 2006 Academy Award-winning movie The Departed, and went on to become the band’s only Platinum-selling single to date, and remains one of their best-known songs.

In 2007, the band signed with Warner Bros. Records and began releasing music through their own vanity label, Born & Bred. 2007′s The Meanest of Times made its debut at No. 20 on the Billboard charts and featured the successful single, “The State of Massachusetts”, while 2011′s Going Out in Style was an even bigger success, making its debut at No. 6, giving the band their highest-charting album to date.[2][3] The band’s eighth studio album, Signed and Sealed in Blood was released in 2013 making its debut at No. 9 on the Billboard charts.[4]

2014 strategic plan for the US National Nanotechnology Initiative

Every few years the US government releases a strategic plan for its nanotechnology efforts and the latest is the 2014 National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) Strategic Plan. A Feb. 28, 2014 news item on Nanowerk offers some information about this latest one (Note: A link has been removed),

The 2014 National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategic Plan (pdf) updates and replaces the prior NNI Strategic Plan released in February of 2011. As called for in the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act (Public Law 108-153, 15 USC §7501), the NNI Strategic Plan describes the NNI vision and goals and the strategies by which these goals are to be achieved, including specific objectives within each of the goals. Also as called for in the Act, the Plan describes the NNI investment strategy and the investment categories, known as the program component areas (PCAs), used in the annual NNI budget crosscut.

You can access the 2014 strategic plan and other related documents from here. I was not able to find an executive summary either on the site or in the place but here are the 2014 NNI goals from the2014  plan (pp. 15-6 PDF; pp. 5-6 print version),

Vision and Goals
The vision of the NNI is a future in which the ability to understand and control matter at the nanoscale leads to a revolution in technology and industry that benefits society. The NNI expedites the discovery, development, and deployment of nanoscale science, engineering, and technology to serve the public good through a program of coordinated research and development aligned with the missions of the participating agencies. In order to realize the NNI vision, the NNI agencies are working collectively toward the following four goals:

Goal 1: Advance a world-class nanotechnology research and development program.

The NNI enables U.S. leadership in nanotechnology R&D by stimulating discovery and innovation. The Initiative expands the boundaries of knowledge and develops technologies through a comprehensive program of R&D. The NNI agencies invest at the frontiers and intersections of many disciplines, including biology, chemistry, engineering, materials science, and physics. The interest in nanotechnology arises from its potential to significantly impact numerous fields, including aerospace, agriculture, energy, the environment, healthcare, information technology, homeland security, national defense, and transportation systems.

Goal 2: Foster the transfer of new technologies into products for commercial and public benefit.

Nanotechnology contributes to U.S. competitiveness and national security by improving existing products and processes and by creating new ones. The NNI agencies implement strategies that maximize the economic and public benefits of their investments in nanotechnology, based on understanding the fundamental science and responsibly translating this knowledge into practical applications.

Goal 3: Develop and sustain educational resources, a skilled workforce, and a dynamic infrastructure and toolset to advance nanotechnology.

A skilled science and engineering workforce, leading-edge instrumentation, and state-of-the-art facilities are essential to advancing nanotechnology R&D. Educational programs and resources are required to inform the general public, decision makers, and other stakeholders (including regulators, managers, insurers, and financiers), and to produce the next generation of nanotechnologists—that is, the researchers, inventors, engineers, and technicians who drive discovery, innovation, industry, and manufacturing.

Goal 4: Support responsible development of nanotechnology.

The NNI aims to responsibly develop nanotechnology by maximizing the benefits of nanotechnology while, at the same time, developing an understanding of potential risks and the means to assess and manage them. Specifically, the NNI agencies pursue a program of research, education, collaboration, and communication focused on the environmental, health, and safety (EHS) implications of nanotechnology—informed by the interagency 2011 NNI EHS Research Strategy9—and on broader societal dimensions of nanotechnology development. In addition, NNI agency efforts are guided by two memoranda from the Emerging Technologies Interagency Policy Coordination Committee (ETIPC)10 that outline broad principles for regulation and oversight of emerging technologies and, more specifically, nanotechnology.11,12 Responsible development requires engagement with universities, industry, government agencies (local, regional, state, and Federal), nongovernmental organizations, and other communities.

The plan’s concluding comments include information about how the 2014 versions differs from the others (pp. 67-8 PDF; pp. 57-8 print version; Note: A link has been removed),

This fourth NNI Strategic Plan, developed by the Nanoscale, Science, Engineering, and Technology (NSET) Subcommittee, addresses evolving scientific, technological, and societal priorities, as well as the needs of the broader nanotechnology community. The same NNI foundational principles and practices on which the three earlier strategic plans were built are embodied in this consensus plan:

• A common vision—a future in which the ability to understand and control matter at the nanoscale leads to a revolution in technology and industry that benefits society.
• A framework that provides context for NNI agencies in the formulation of their intramural and extramural research portfolios and allocation of their resources in support of their agencyspecific missions.
• Collective and concerted efforts of the NNI agencies to achieve the four goals through the stated objectives, via individual agency and multi-agency collaborative initiatives and activities.
• Continuous needs assessments via outreach to myriad stakeholders by means ranging from informal interactions to webinars and stakeholder workshops.
• Open, transparent communication with the general public regarding the benefits and potential risks of nanotechnology to human health and the environment.
• Strong, proactive engagement with international organizations.

Several aspects of this current strategic plan differ significantly from the prior plans. The program component areas (PCAs) were revised to better represent the current state of nanotechnology; the revisions addressed, among other things, substantial advances in applications and commercialization, expanded interagency collaborations, and broader participation of agencies in non-R&D activities. Finally, the revised PCA descriptions are better aligned with the goals and objectives of the current plan. Some of the objectives were changed to reflect nanotechnology advances and evolving stakeholder needs and to hone the language to facilitate clearer communication and comprehension of the objectives. Improved consistency among the goals was achieved by assigning sub-objectives to each objective and by making the level of specificity of the text for the objectives more uniform.

In the past three years, extensive progress has been made by the NNI agencies in addressing the goals and associated objectives in the 2011 NNI Strategic Plan, as detailed in the agency updates available in the annual NNI Supplement to the President’s Budget.42 Several notable achievements illustrate such progress. The three Nanotechnology Signature Initiatives (NSIs) initiated in 2010 are models of successful interagency collaborations that leverage the strengths, resources, and investments of the NNI agencies. Two new NSIs were established in 2012 that cut across many nanotechnology application areas and are aligned with the plans and activities of the agencies participating in each of these NSIs. To foster technology transfer and business creation, the NNI held a Regional, State, and Local Initiatives in Nanotechnology Workshop in 2012 to discuss Federal resources available to regional, state, and local (RSLs) organizations, as well as RSL best practices. The functionality and content of the NNI website www.nano.gov have been greatly expanded to establish a robust hub for nanotechnology information dissemination aimed at a multitude of stakeholder groups. For example, there are comprehensive webpages devoted to addressing common concerns of nanotechnology start-up companies and providing education and training resources for K–12 students and teachers, as well as compilations of educational institutions with nanotechnology-focused programs at the associate, bachelor, and doctoral levels. The website contains over 150 publications and resources on scientific, educational, and societal dimensions workshops; current and historical NNI budget documents; and the research strategies of individual NNI agencies. Interagency collaborations are widespread and varied in nature; since the launch of the Initiative, its annual budget supplements and other documents have identified well over a hundred concrete efforts involving multiple agency collaboration, including joint and parallel solicitations, interagency agreements, memoranda of understanding, co-sponsored workshops, and jointly operated facilities.

Since the inception of the NNI in 2000, nanotechnology has been increasingly relied upon across broad areas of national importance, enabling revolutionary advances in diverse areas such as cancer treatment, renewable energy, and information processing. Building on these advances and future developments, it is expected that new nanotechnology-enabled applications, products, and systems will emerge with novel and improved functionality and performance. These innovations are enabled by ongoing support from NNI agencies and by the insight and expertise of the entire stakeholder community, including academic researchers, industry representatives, and the public. The NNI and its agencies are committed to sustaining and enhancing the role of the Federal Government in assuring that all aspects of nanotechnology—R&D, commercialization, infrastructure (education, workforce, and research facilities), and responsible development—are strengthened to benefit society, the U.S. economy, and international competitiveness.

Personally, I’m most interested in how they will balance goal no. 2: commercialization with goal no. 4: responsible development.

Science publishing, ‘high impact’, reliability, and the practice of science

Konstantin Kakaes has written a provocative and astute article (Feb. 27, 2014 on Slate) about science and publishing, in particular about ‘high impact’ journals.

In 2005, a group of MIT graduate students decided to goof off in a very MIT graduate student way: They created a program called SCIgen that randomly generated fake scientific papers. Thanks to SCIgen, for the last several years, computer-written gobbledygook has been routinely published in scientific journals and conference proceedings. [emphasis mine]

Apparently some well known science publishers have been caught (from the Kakaes article; Note: A link has been removed),

According to Nature News, Cyril Labbé, a French computer scientist, recently informed Springer and the IEEE, two major scientific publishers, that between them, they had published more than 120 algorithmically-generated articles. In 2012, Labbé had told the IEEE of another batch of 85 fake articles. He’s been playing with SCIgen for a few years—in 2010 a fake researcher he created, Ike Antkare, briefly became the 21st most highly cited scientist in Google Scholar’s database.

Kakaes goes on to explain at least in part why this problem has arisen,

Over the course of the second half of the 20th century, two things took place. First, academic publishing became an enormously lucrative business. And second, because administrators erroneously believed it to be a means of objective measurement, the advancement of academic careers became conditional on contributions to the business of academic publishing.

As Peter Higgs said after he won last year’s Nobel Prize in physics, “Today I wouldn’t get an academic job. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think I would be regarded as productive enough.” Jens Skou, a 1997 Nobel Laureate, put it this way in his Nobel biographical statement: today’s system puts pressure on scientists for, “too fast publication, and to publish too short papers, and the evaluation process use[s] a lot of manpower. It does not give time to become absorbed in a problem as the previous system [did].”

Today, the most critical measure of an academic article’s importance is the “impact factor” of the journal it is published in. The impact factor, which was created by a librarian named Eugene Garfield in the early 1950s, measures how often articles published in a journal are cited. Creating the impact factor helped make Garfield a multimillionaire—not a normal occurrence for librarians.

The concern about ‘impact factors’ high or low with regard to science publishing is a discussion I first stumbled across and mentioned in an April 22, 2010 posting where I noted the concern with metrics extends beyond an individual career or university’s reputation but also affects national reputations. Kostas Kostarelos in a Jan. 24, 2014 posting on the Guardian science blogs notes this in his discussion of how China’s policies could affect the practice of science (Note: Links have been removed),

…  For example, if a Chinese colleague publishes an article in a highly regarded scientific journal they will be financially rewarded by the government – yes, a bonus! – on the basis of an official academic reward structure. Publication in one of the highest impact journals is currently rewarded with bonuses in excess of $30,000 – which is surely more than the annual salary of a starting staff member in any lab in China.

Such practices are disfiguring the fundamental principles of ethical integrity in scientific reporting and publishing, agreed and accepted by the scientific community worldwide. They introduce motives that have the potential to seriously corrupt the triangular relationship between scientist or clinician, publisher or editor and the public (taxpayer) funding agency. They exacerbate the damage caused by journal quality rankings based on “impact factor”, which is already recognised by the scientific community in the west as problematic.

Such measures also do nothing to help Chinese journals gain recognition by the rest of the world, as has been described by two colleagues from Zhejiang University in an article entitled “The outflow of academic articles from China: why is it happening and can it be stemmed?”.

At this point we have a system that rewards (with jobs, bonuses, etc.) prolific publication of one’s science achieved either by the sweat of one’s brow (and/or possibly beleaguered students’ brows) or from a clever algorithm. It’s a system that encourages cheating and distorts any picture we might have of scientific achievement on a planetary, national, regional, university, or individual basis.

Clearly we need to do something differently. Kakaes mentions an initiative designed for that purpose, the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA). Please do let me know in the Comments section if there are any other such efforts.

Governing in the Dark; a March 5, 2014 national (Canada) lecture

I think it’s pretty easy to guess the perspective from the title of the lecture, Governing in the Dark: Evidence, Accountability and the Future of Canadian Science (the third in a series titled, The Lives of Evidence) being offered by the Situating Science project on March 5,2014. Here’s more about it from the event page,

The national Situating Science project and partners are pleased to present the third talk in the national lecture series:

The Lives of Evidence
A multi-part national lecture series examining the cultural, ethical, political, and scientific role of evidence in our world.

Part 3:
Governing in the Dark: Evidence, Accountability and the Future of Canadian Science

Scott Findlay, Co-founder of Evidence for Democracy and Associate Professor of Biology, University of Ottawa.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 7:30 PM
Ondaatje Hall, McCain Building, Dalhousie University, 6135 University Ave.,
Halifax, NS

Free.                                    
Watch live online here! (7:30 PM Atlantic / 6:30 PM ET)

Scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about the Canadian government’s attitude towards science. They are concerned about declining federal investment in public interest science; a shift away from federal funding of basic research to business-oriented research; policies that restrict the communication of scientific information among government scientists and to the public; and – despite assurances to the contrary from federal ministers – an increasingly cavalier attitude towards science-informed decision-making. Are these symptoms of an ongoing erosion of basic democratic principles? What are some possible therapeutic and preventative interventions?

Supported by:
Dalhousie University Department of Physics and Atmospheric Science, Evidence for Democracy, and Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs

I last mentioned the speaker, Scott Findlay, in an Oct. 4, 2013 posting in the context of a series of protests (Stand up for Science) organized for Fall 2013.

Does digitizing material mean it’s safe? A tale of Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans scientific libraries

As has been noted elsewhere the federal government of Canada has shut down a number of Fisheries and Oceans Canada libraries in a cost-saving exercise. The government is hoping to save some $440,000 in the 2014-15 fiscal year by digitizing, consolidating, and discarding the libraries and their holdings.

One would imagine that this is being done in a measured, thoughtful fashion but one would be wrong.

Andrew Nikiforuk in a December 23, 2013 article for The Tyee wrote one of the first articles about the closure of the fisheries libraries,

Scientists say the closure of some of the world’s finest fishery, ocean and environmental libraries by the Harper government has been so chaotic that irreplaceable collections of intellectual capital built by Canadian taxpayers for future generations has been lost forever.

Glyn Moody in a Jan. 7, 2014 post on Techdirt noted this,

What’s strange is that even though the rationale for this mass destruction is apparently in order to reduce costs, opportunities to sell off more valuable items have been ignored. A scientist is quoted as follows:

“Hundreds of bound journals, technical reports and texts still on the shelves, presumably meant for the garbage or shredding. I saw one famous monograph on zooplankton, which would probably fetch a pretty penny at a used science bookstore… anybody could go in and help themselves, with no record kept of who got what.”

Gloria Galloway in a Jan. 7, 2014 article for the Globe and Mail adds more details about what has been lost,

Peter Wells, an adjunct professor and senior research fellow at the International Ocean Institute at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said it is not surprising few members of the public used the libraries. But “the public benefits by the researchers and the different research labs being able to access the information,” he said.

Scientists say it is true that most modern research is done online.

But much of the material in the DFO libraries was not available digitally, Dr. Wells said, adding that some of it had great historical value. And some was data from decades ago that researchers use to determine how lakes and rivers have changed.

“I see this situation as a national tragedy, done under the pretext of cost savings, which, when examined closely, will prove to be a false motive,” Dr. Wells said. “A modern democratic society should value its information resources, not reduce, or worse, trash them.”

Dr. Ayles [Burton Ayles, a former DFO regional director and the former director of science for the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg] said the Freshwater Institute had reports from the 1880s and some that were available nowhere else. “There was a whole core people who used that library on a regular basis,” he said.

Dr. Ayles pointed to a collection of three-ringed binders, occupying seven metres of shelf space, that contained the data collected during a study in the 1960s and 1970s of the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline. For a similar study in the early years of this century, he said, “scientists could go back to that information and say, ‘What was the baseline 30 years ago? What was there then and what is there now?’ ”

When asked how much of the discarded information has been digitized, the government did not provide an answer, but said the process continues.

Today, Margo McDiarmid’s Jan. 30, 2014 article for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) news online further explores digitization of the holdings,

Fisheries and Oceans is closing seven of its 11 libraries by 2015. It’s hoping to save more than $443,000 in 2014-15 by consolidating its collections into four remaining libraries.

Shea [Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea] told CBC News in a statement Jan. 6 that all copyrighted material has been digitized and the rest of the collection will be soon. The government says that putting material online is a more efficient way of handling it.

But documents from her office show there’s no way of really knowing that is happening.

“The Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ systems do not enable us to determine the number of items digitized by location and collection,” says the response by the minister’s office to MacAulay’s inquiry. [emphasis mine]

The documents also that show the department had to figure out what to do with 242,207 books and research documents from the libraries being closed. It kept 158,140 items and offered the remaining 84,067 to libraries outside the federal government.

Shea’s office told CBC that the books were also “offered to the general public and recycled in a ‘green fashion’ if there were no takers.”

The fate of thousands of books appears to be “unknown,” although the documents’ numbers show 160 items from the Maurice Lamontagne Library in Mont Jolie, Que., were “discarded.”  A Radio-Canada story in June about the library showed piles of volumes in dumpsters.

And the numbers prove a lot more material was tossed out. The bill to discard material from four of the seven libraries totals $22,816.76

Leaving aside the issue of whether or not rare books were given away or put in dumpsters, It’s not confidence-building when the government minister can’t offer information about which books have been digitized and where they might located online.

Interestingly,  Fisheries and Oceans is not the only department/ministry shutting down libraries (from McDiarmid’s CBC article),

Fisheries and Oceans is just one of the 14 federal departments, including Health Canada and Environment Canada, that have been shutting physical libraries and digitizing or consolidating the material into closed central book vaults.

I was unaware of the problems with Health Canada’s libraries but Laura Payton’s and Max Paris’ Jan. 20, 2014 article for CBC news online certainly raised my eyebrows,

Health Canada scientists are so concerned about losing access to their research library that they’re finding workarounds, with one squirrelling away journals and books in his basement for colleagues to consult, says a report obtained by CBC News.

The draft report from a consultant hired by the department warned it not to close its library, but the report was rejected as flawed and the advice went unheeded.

Before the main library closed, the inter-library loan functions were outsourced to a private company called Infotrieve, the consultant wrote in a report ordered by the department. The library’s physical collection was moved to the National Science Library on the Ottawa campus of the National Research Council last year.

“Staff requests have dropped 90 per cent over in-house service levels prior to the outsource. This statistic has been heralded as a cost savings by senior HC [Health Canada] management,” the report said.

“However, HC scientists have repeatedly said during the interview process that the decrease is because the information has become inaccessible — either it cannot arrive in due time, or it is unaffordable due to the fee structure in place.”

….

The report noted the workarounds scientists used to overcome their access problems.

Mueller [Dr. Rudi Mueller, who left the department in 2012] used his contacts in industry for scientific literature. He also went to university libraries where he had a faculty connection.

The report said Health Canada scientists sometimes use the library cards of university students in co-operative programs at the department.

Unsanctioned libraries have been created by science staff.

“One group moved its 250 feet of published materials to an employee’s basement. When you need a book, you email ‘Fred,’ and ‘Fred’ brings the book in with him the next day,” the consultant wrote in his report.

“I think it’s part of being a scientist. You find a way around the problems,” Mueller told CBC News.

Unsanctioned, underground libraries aside, the assumption that digitizing documents and books ensures access is false.  Glyn Moody in a Nov. 12, 2013 article for Techdirt gives a chastening example of how vulnerable our digital memories are,

The Internet Archive is the world’s online memory, holding the only copies of many historic (and not-so-historic) Web pages that have long disappeared from the Web itself.

Bad news:

This morning at about 3:30 a.m. a fire started at the Internet Archive’s San Francisco scanning center.

Good news:

no one was hurt and no data was lost. Our main building was not affected except for damage to one electrical run. This power issue caused us to lose power to some servers for a while.

Bad news:

Some physical materials were in the scanning center because they were being digitized, but most were in a separate locked room or in our physical archive and were not lost. Of those materials we did unfortunately lose, about half had already been digitized. We are working with our library partners now to assess.

That loss is unfortunate, but imagine if the fire had been in the main server room holding the Internet Archive’s 2 petabytes of data. Wisely, the project has placed copies at other locations …

That’s good to know, but it seems rather foolish for the world to depend on the Internet Archive always being able to keep all its copies up to date, especially as the quantity of data that it stores continues to rise. This digital library is so important in historical and cultural terms: surely it’s time to start mirroring the Internet Archive around the world in many locations, with direct and sustained support from multiple governments.

In addition to the issue of vulnerability, there’s also the issue of authenticity, from my June 5, 2013 posting about science, archives and memories,

… Luciana Duranti [Professor and Chair, MAS {Master of Archival Studies}Program at the University of British Columbia and Director, InterPARES] and her talk titled, Trust and Authenticity in the Digital Environment: An Increasingly Cloudy Issue, which took place in Vancouver (Canada) last year (mentioned in my May 18, 2012 posting).

Duranti raised many, many issues that most of us don’t consider when we blithely store information in the ‘cloud’ or create blogs that turn out to be repositories of a sort (and then don’t know what to do with them; ça c’est moi). She also previewed a Sept. 26 – 28, 2013 conference to be hosted in Vancouver by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), “Memory of the World in the Digital Age: Digitization and Preservation.” (UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme hosts a number of these themed conferences and workshops.)

The Sept. 2013 UNESCO ‘memory of the world’ conference in Vancouver seems rather timely in retrospect. The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) announced that Dr. Doug Owram would be chairing their Memory Institutions and the Digital Revolution assessment (mentioned in my Feb. 22, 2013 posting; scroll down 80% of the way) and, after checking recently, I noticed that the Expert Panel has been assembled and it includes Duranti. Here’s the assessment description from the CCA’s ‘memory institutions’ webpage,

Library and Archives Canada has asked the Council of Canadian Academies to assess how memory institutions, which include archives, libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions, can embrace the opportunities and challenges of the changing ways in which Canadians are communicating and working in the digital age.
Background

Over the past three decades, Canadians have seen a dramatic transformation in both personal and professional forms of communication due to new technologies. Where the early personal computer and word-processing systems were largely used and understood as extensions of the typewriter, advances in technology since the 1980s have enabled people to adopt different approaches to communicating and documenting their lives, culture, and work. Increased computing power, inexpensive electronic storage, and the widespread adoption of broadband computer networks have thrust methods of communication far ahead of our ability to grasp the implications of these advances.

These trends present both significant challenges and opportunities for traditional memory institutions as they work towards ensuring that valuable information is safeguarded and maintained for the long term and for the benefit of future generations. It requires that they keep track of new types of records that may be of future cultural significance, and of any changes in how decisions are being documented. As part of this assessment, the Council’s expert panel will examine the evidence as it relates to emerging trends, international best practices in archiving, and strengths and weaknesses in how Canada’s memory institutions are responding to these opportunities and challenges. Once complete, this assessment will provide an in-depth and balanced report that will support Library and Archives Canada and other memory institutions as they consider how best to manage and preserve the mass quantity of communications records generated as a result of new and emerging technologies.

The Council’s assessment is running concurrently with the Royal Society of Canada’s expert panel assessment on Libraries and Archives in 21st century Canada. Though similar in subject matter, these assessments have a different focus and follow a different process. The Council’s assessment is concerned foremost with opportunities and challenges for memory institutions as they adapt to a rapidly changing digital environment. In navigating these issues, the Council will draw on a highly qualified and multidisciplinary expert panel to undertake a rigorous assessment of the evidence and of significant international trends in policy and technology now underway. The final report will provide Canadians, policy-makers, and decision-makers with the evidence and information needed to consider policy directions. In contrast, the RSC panel focuses on the status and future of libraries and archives, and will draw upon a public engagement process.

So, the government is shutting down libraries in order to save money and they’re praying (?) that the materials have been digitized and adequate care has been taken to ensure that they will not be lost in some disaster or other. Meanwhile the Council of Canadian Academies is conducting an assessment of memory institutions in the digital age. The approach seems to backwards.

On a more amusing note, Rick Mercer parodies at lease one way scientists are finding to circumvent the cost-cutting exercise in an excerpt (approximately 1 min.)  from his Jan. 29, 2014 Rick Mercer Report telecast (thanks Roz),

Mercer’s comment about sports and Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper’s preferences is a reference to Harper’s expressed desire to write a book about hockey and possibly a veiled reference to Harper’s successful move to prorogue parliament during the 2010 Winter Olympic games in Vancouver in what many observers suggested was a strategy allowing Harper to attend the games at his leisure.

Whether or not you agree with the decision to shutdown some libraries, the implementation seems to have been a remarkably sloppy affair.

The beauty of silence in the practice of science

Most writers need silence at some point in their process and I feel strongly that’s true of anyone involved in creative endeavours of any kind including science. As well, it may seem contradictory to some but one needs to be both open (communicative) and closed (silent).

These days in the field of science there’s a lot of pressure to be open and communicative at all times according to Felicity Mellor’s [Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at Imperial College London] Jan. 15, 2014 blog posting for the Guardian and she feels it’s time to redress the balance (Note: Links have been removed),

Round the back of the British Library in London, a new building is taking shape. Due to open in 2015, the Crick Institute is set to become one of the largest research centres for biomedical science in Europe, housing over 1200 scientists.

The aim is to foster creative and imaginative research through interdisciplinary collaboration and the emphasis on collaboration pervades every aspect of the enterprise, from its joint foundation by six major institutions through to the very fabric of the building itself.

In stark contrast to the hunkered-down solidity of the British Library next door, with its pin-drop silences within, the glass walls and open-plan labs of the Crick Institute are intended to create “an atmosphere that maximises openness and permeability”. In place of the studious silences of the library, there will be the noisy cacophony of multidisciplinary exchanges.

Collaboration is clearly a key component of modern science and the Crick Institute is not alone in prioritising cross-disciplinary interaction. The rhetoric of openness is also widespread, with calls for public engagement and open data further extending the demands on scientists’ communications.

… Last year, Victoria Druce, then a student on the MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College, interviewed some of the scientists due to move into the Crick and found that they were already getting twitchy about sharing equipment and spoke territorially about their labs.

The unease is about more than territoriality (from the blog posting),

Researchers may quickly find ways to carve up the multidisciplinary spaces of the Crick Institute. But will they ever be able to shut themselves off from all that openness? Where, in these spaces of constant chatter, are scientists supposed to find a place to think?

Historically, the pursuit of knowledge was characterised as an activity conducted in, and requiring, silence, symbolically located in solitary spaces – whether the garret of the writer or the study of the intellectual. Newton was famously reluctant to engage with others and his theory of gravity came to him whilst sequestered in Lincolnshire, remote from the hubbub of London. Darwin, too, withdrew to Down House and held off publishing for as long as he could.

Mellor acknowledges that Darwin and Newton did not live in complete seclusion as there were neighbours, family members, and servants about during their ‘solitary’ sojourns but they still were able to enjoy some solitude where it seems the scientists at the Crick Institute will not (from the blog posting),

… when scientists recount moments of creativity, they frequently allude to periods of solitude and silence. If the aim of research centres like the Crick Institute is to foster creativity, then perhaps silence and withdrawal need to be catered for as well as collaboration and communication.

In response to this perceived need, Mellor and her colleague, Stephen Webster, organized a series of conferences titled, The silences of science, from the conferences’ homepage,

Constructive pauses and strategic delays in the practice and communication of science

The Silences of Science is an AHRC-funded reearch network examining different aspects of the paradox that science depends both on prolixity and on reticence. It seeks to interrogate the assumption that open and efficient channels of communication are always of greatest benefit to science and to society. It aims to remind the research community of the creative importance of silence, of interruptions in communication, of isolation and of ‘stuckness’.

Through a series of three workshops and conferences, the research network will bring together a range of scholars – from literary studies, anthropology, legal studies, religious studies, as well as from the history and philosophy of science and science communication studies – to draw on insights from their disciplines in order to examine the role of silence within the sciences.

Workshop/conference series: 

Conceptualising Silence: 2nd-3rd July 2013, Wellcome Trust. Programme here.

Silence in the History and Communication of Science: 17th December 2013, Imperial College London. (Further details and recordings of talks can be found here.)

The Role of Silence in Scientific Practice: Spring 2014, Imperial College London.

The most recent of the conferences features, as noted previously, audio recordings of some of the talks (from the Silence in the History and Communication of Science webpage),

Silence is often construed negatively, as a lack, an absence. Yet silences carry meaning. They can be strategic and directed at particular audiences; they can be fiercely contested or completely overlooked. Silence is not only oppressive but also generative, playing a key role in creative and intellectual processes. Conversely, speech, whilst seeming to facilitate open communication, can serve to mask important silences or can replace the quietude necessary for insightful thought with thoughtless babble.

Despite a currently dominant rhetoric that assumes that openness in science is an inherent good, science – and its communication – depends as much on discontinuities, on barriers and lacunae, as it does on the free flow of information. …

Brian Rappert (University of Exeter). The sounds of silencing.
Kees-Jan Schilt (University of Sussex), “Tired with this subject…”: Isaac Newton on publishing and the ideal natural philosopher.
Nick Verouden (Delft University of Technology), Silences as strategic communication in multi-disciplinary collaborations within the university and beyond.
Paul Merchant (National Life Stories, The British Library), “He didn’t go round the conference circuit talking about it”: oral histories of Joseph Farman and the ozone hole.
Emma Weitkamp (University of the West of England), Offering anonymity: journalists, PR and funders.
Carolyn Cobbold (University of Cambridge), The silent introduction of synthetic dyestuffs into food in the 19th century
Oliver Marsh (UCL), Lurking nine to five: ‘non-participants’ in online science communication.
Ann Grand (University of the West of England), Having it all: quality and quantity in open science.
Camilla Mørk Røstvik (University of Manchester), The silence of Rosalind Franklin’s Photograph 51
Elizabeth Hind, Reconstructing ancient thought: the case of Egyptian mathematics
Tim Boon (Science Museum) ‘The Silence of the Labs’: on mute machines and the communication of science
Alice White (University of Kent), Silence and selection: the “trick cyclist” at the War Office Selection Boards

Enjoy! One final note, Tim Boon’s ‘Silence of the Labs’ is not to be confused with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) Fifth Estate telecast titled Silence of the Labs (mentioned in my Jan. 6, 2014 posting),which focused on opposition to Canadian government initiatives which have forced journalists to send queries for interviews and interview questions to communications officers rather than directly to the scientists and such other measures.

Science diplomacy: a brief examination of the art as practiced in the US, UK, and Canada

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) announced its new quarterly publication about Science Diplomacy, Cultures in a Jan. 13, 2014 news release found on EurekAlert,

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) announces a new quarterly publication, Cultures, that explores the intersection of science, policy, and the global challenges we all share by bringing diverse voices to a common platform.

Each issue will feature articles and interviews focused around a central global theme. The inaugural issue explores the question, “What is the role of scientists in addressing today’s global challenges?” Drs. Bruce Alberts, John Holdren, and Gebisa Ejeta speak from their unique perspectives on diplomacy, climate change, and food security. In addition to these pieces, the issue features an interview with past ASM President Dr. Jo Handelsman, an essay by eight ASM Young Ambassadors of Science, and a sister society contribution by the American Chemical Society.

While the American Society for Microbiology wouldn’t be my first guess if asked which organization might publish a journal focused on science and diplomacy, I find it intriguing and you can find this new open access journal here.

For anyone who’s not entirely certain what the term ‘science diplomacy’ entails, there’s this description on Wikipedia (Note: Links have been removed),

Science diplomacy is the use of scientific collaborations among nations to address common problems and to build constructive international partnerships. Many experts and groups use a variety of definitions for science diplomacy. However, science diplomacy has become an umbrella term to describe a number of formal or informal technical, research-based, academic or engineering exchanges.

In January 2010, the Royal Society [UK] and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)[7] noted that “science diplomacy” refers to three main types of activities:

“Science in diplomacy”: Science can provide advice to inform and support foreign policy objectives.
“Diplomacy for science”: Diplomacy can facilitate international scientific cooperation.
“Science for diplomacy”: Scientific cooperation can improve international relations.

Before the term science diplomacy was coined, such initiatives—-in the United States—were often called “smart power” or “soft power” by those in the field. The term, “soft power,” was coined by Joseph Nye of Harvard University in a 1990 book, Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power.[8] In an editorial in the Washington Post that he cowrote with Richard Armitage, he said, “In a changing world, the United States should become a smarter power by once again investing in the global good — by providing things that people and governments want but cannot attain without U.S. leadership. By complementing U.S. military and economic strength with greater investments in soft power, Washington can build the framework to tackle tough global challenges.”[9] His notion of “smart power” became popular with the term’s use by members of the Clinton administration, and more recently the Obama Administration. However, the Obama Administration also uses the term science diplomacy.[10]

The AAAS has a Center for Science Diplomacy which amongst other activities publishes a quarterly journal, Science & Diplomacy. For a perspective on science diplomacy as practiced in the US, there’s a very interesting Aug. 23, 2013 Guardian blog post by Audra J. Wolfe, writer, editor and historian based in Philadelphia, (Note: Links have been removed),

The Obama Administration has embraced the concept of science diplomacy as a way to bridge cultural and economic gaps between the United States and the rest of the world. The director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, John P Holdren, regularly meets with his science policy counterparts from Brazil, China, India, Japan, Korea and Russia. The US State Department has sent a series of American scientists abroad as “Science Envoys” in hopes of using scientific relationships as an olive branch to the Muslim world. Since 2009, these science envoys, acting as private citizens, have collectively visited almost 20 countries, including Indonesia, Morocco, Bangladesh, Kazahkstan and pre-revolution Egypt.

This new interest in science diplomacy is at least partially explained by the nature of contemporary global problems: issues of resource distribution, climate change, and uneven economic growth can only be solved with input from science. …

Wolfe also notes this,

But science diplomacy programmes also draw on a long tradition that holds science and scientists as uniquely qualified to spread American ideals. In the 1960s (the last time that the United States made a sustained effort to use science diplomacy to build international partnerships), the concept was marred by ties to propaganda campaigns and intelligence operations.

Her discussion of what happened in the 1960s vis à vis science diplomacy is well worth reading especially as she points to some unfortunate parallels with the current efforts (Note: Links have been removed),

The Obama administration’s resurrection of the concept of science diplomacy offers enormous potential. But, once again, the intelligence establishment has found in science diplomacy a convenient cover for its own needs. The CIA’s use of a fake vaccination campaign in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the subsequent withdrawal of aid workers from Pakistan over fears for their safety, are all too familiar. Once again, covert operations are threatening to derail genuinely helpful, hopeful activities that might otherwise go a long way toward building international goodwill.

For all that Wolfe critiques past and present efforts, she does end with a hopeful exhortation, “This time, science diplomacy is worth doing right.”

As part of the US science diplomacy efforts, the current US administration has  been appointing science envoys. The latest batch are (according to a Nov. 8, 2012 US State Department news release,

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton today, at an event on Wildlife Trafficking and Conservation: A Call to Action, announced the appointment of three new science envoys: Professor Bernard Amadei, Professor Susan Hockfield, and Professor Barbara Schaal.

These preeminent scientists will seek to deepen existing ties, foster new relationships with foreign counterparts and discuss potential areas of collaboration that will help address global challenges and realize shared goals. The Science Envoys travel in their capacity as private citizens and advise the White House, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. scientific community about the insights they gain from their travels and interactions.

The Science Envoy program demonstrates the United States continued commitment to science, technology, and innovation as tools of diplomacy. As Secretary Clinton stated in her remarks at a Department event, Wildlife Trafficking and Conservation: A Call to Action, “Building scientific partnerships is an important tool in addressing such global challenges. …

These three scientists represent the third cohort of Science Envoys since the program’s inception in 2009. Previous cohorts have visited 19 countries, including Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, South Africa, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan.

Dr. Bernard Amadei holds the Mortenson Endowed Chair in Global Engineering and is Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Having earned his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley his main research and teaching interests have focused on rock mechanics and engineering geology. Among his many distinctions, Dr. Amadei is the founding president of Engineers Without Borders and is an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering.

Dr. Susan Hockfield has served recently as president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she remains on the Neuroscience faculty. She also serves as the Marie Curie Visiting Professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School. She earned her Ph.D. at the Georgetown University School of Medicine and has focused her research on brain development and a specific form of brain cancer. Dr. Hockfield has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Barbara Schaal earned her Ph.D. in biology from Yale University and is the Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor at the Washington University in St. Louis in the Department of Biology. She is recognized for her work in evolutionary biology, particularly for studies that use DNA sequences to understand evolutionary biology. She holds the distinction of being the first woman elected to the vice presidency of the National Academy of Sciences and is a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

While the US science diplomacy effort seems to have its beginnings in the 1960s, the effort in the UK appears to be altogether newer as David D. Clary, former chief scientific adviser to the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office ,writes in his Sept. 2013 article for Science & Diplomacy,

On March 29, 2009, I heard the prime minister of the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown, give the Romanes Lecture in the historic Sheldonian Theatre at the University of Oxford. Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill are among those who have given this highly prestigious lecture. Brown chose the title “Science and Our Economic Future.” He gave the lecture in the middle of the economic crisis and he stated that “it is science above all that can give us hope.” He also announced that he was creating a new role of chief scientific adviser (CSA) to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), who would be involved in “bringing science to international policy making and diplomacy.”

A few days later, a search agency asked me if I would be interested in becoming this first CSA.

While this specific post seems to be relatively new, there is a longstanding tradition within the UK government of having science advisers for specific departments so this to be an extension of their ongoing science advice programmes into the realm of foreign affairs.

As for Clary and the new role, he notes that is was a part-time position and in common with his US counterparts he traveled throughout the world (from the article)

I was delighted to be able to work with the UK Science and Innovation Network, which is a unique organization placing about ninety officers in UK embassies and high commissions in twenty-five countries. The network is involved with enhancing international relations through scientific collaborations between the UK and other countries. I was pleased to champion this organization’s excellent work and made visits to eighteen countries to promote its various projects. Scientific interactions with emerging economies were a priority. In Istanbul I launched a new Knowledge Partnership between the UK and Turkey together with Vince Cable, the UK secretary of state for business innovation and skills. In similar visits to Delhi, Medellín, Nanjing, Ottawa, Singapore, and other cities, I saw exciting collaborative scientific initiatives across the continents.

Amongst his many other activities, Clary visited Ottawa (Canada). From an April 17, 2012 posting on Nicole Arbour’s UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Ottawa) blog (Note: Links have been removed),

Prof. David Clary (his blog), Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) recently visited Ottawa, on the invitation of the Office of the Auditor General(@OAG_BVG) to participate in a Science Forum, looking at how science can be used to better inform policy, in times of austerity.

Part of this involved discussions of how science advice to government was done in the UK, and the role of CSAs in advising the UK government during the recent budget reforms.  The overall event went very well and was attended by an excellent cast of Canadian science and policy characters ….

Here’s a video of David Clary discussing his trip to Ottawa in 2012 (from Arbour’s April 17, 2012 posting),

I was not able to find any additional details about Clary’s visit although I do note his mention of marine resources and future UK/Canada efforts in the context of a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Dec. 9, 2013 online news item about science diplomacy and the Arctic,

Arctic claim process melds science, diplomacy
At issue is claim to oil and gas in seabed under Arctic continental shelf

Canada filed its claim for a portion of the continental shelf under the Arctic Ocean with the UN Conventional on the Law of the Sea on Friday.  The problem is that other countries, including Russia, Denmark and Norway, are making the same claims to parts of the seabed that could be a rich source  of resources.

All the parties involved have said they will follow international law and they’ve agreed that science must underlie the process. One of the roles of the UN commission will be to doublecheck the science that each country has submitted and then there is much diplomacy and negotiation ahead.

Then all the parties making claims have pledged to negotiate in good faith and  in a timely manner over this vast swath of territory, most of it covered with ice yearround.

“We know that you can have the best kinds of international law, best processes set out, but politics often intervene and that’s of course, what everyone is most concerned about in this contest,” Huebert [Rob Huebert,associate director at the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary] said.

Huebert said it would be foolish for environmental groups to object to this process on the grounds that oil and gas exploration should not take place in Arctic waters.

Too many other countries want a piece of Arctic resources and Canada can only protect the region if its claim holds up, he said.

If you don’t establish boundaries over who owns the soil and subsoil, then what happens when some of these other countries that are a very interested in the region – like China, South Korea, Japan, would you then start having a free-for-all,” he said.

While the CBC news item does not mention the UK in this context, China, Korea, Japan, India, Singapore, and Italy all received observer status to the intergovernmental group the Arctic Council in May 2013 according to a May 16, 2013 article by Alex Blackburne for blueandgreentomorrow.com,

China, Japan and South Korea are among six countries that have this week been granted observer status within intergovernmental group the Arctic Council.

The organisation, whose only members are Iceland, Norway, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the US, has previously not allowed non-northern regions to join.

But the promotion of the three Asian nations – as well as India, Singapore and Italy – to observer status signals a change in strategy.

“There is no such thing as a free lunch”, said Norwegian foreign minister Espen Barth Eide.

“By becoming an observer you’re also signing up to the principles embodied by this organisation, and that is why we have been working hard to make that happen.”

Experts say 13% of the world’s oil reserves are found in the Arctic, as well as 30% of as yet undiscovered gas deposits.

Getting back to the UK science diplomacy effort for a moment, Clary;s term as chief science adviser to the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has ended and there is a new appointee according to a Feb. 7, 2013 UK government news release,

Professor Robin Grimes has been appointed as the new Chief Scientific Adviser to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, starting in February 2013.

Professor Grimes is currently Professor of Materials Physics at Imperial College, Director of the Centre for Nuclear Engineering at Imperial College, and Director of the Rolls-Royce University Technology Centre for Nuclear Engineering. He is a Fellow of several learned societies including the Institution of Nuclear Engineers and the Institute of Physics.

As a nuclear energy specialist, Professor Grimes has advised the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into nuclear research requirements, and was part of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) which provided official advice on the 2011 Fukushima disaster. He has considerable experience of high-level international work with HMG science and policy colleagues, including overseas missions to Vietnam, Malaysia and Japan.
Working as part of a Whitehall network of Departmental Chief Scientific Advisers, and drawing on the support of the HMG Science and Innovation Network, the FCO Chief Scientific Adviser provides advice to the Foreign Secretary, Ministers and officials on science and innovation in foreign policy across the FCO’s three priorities (Prosperity, Security, Consular Services).

The FCO Chief Scientific Adviser enhances departmental capability to strengthen key policies with scientific evidence (e.g. around climate change and energy, counter-proliferation and polar regions), broadens the UK diplomatic contact network in the scientific community, and creates opportunities for constructive engagement with high-tech business in support of UK prosperity and growth.

As the UK has a science adviser who travels on behalf of its foreign office and the US sends out science envoys on behalf of the US government, Canada (despite the title of the CBC news item) does not have a comparable science diplomacy effort. After all the 5th annual Canadian Science Policy Conference (November 20 -22, 2013), advertised their Science Diplomacy workshop with these words,

This symposium is a first of its kind in Canada, and intends to initiate a dialogue on science diplomacy and raise awareness about its importance.

Canada has huge potential to become a global player in the area of science and technology. By mobilizing its resources in the area of science diplomacy, Canada can strengthen its position internationally and benefit both economically and politically.

With one of the most diverse scientific communities in the world, Canada has a huge potential to tap into this resource in order to:
•Increase its ties in science and technology with the international community
•Use its diaspora scientist communities as Canada’s science and innovation ambassadors
•Strengthen Canada’s global position as a powerhouse of science and technology

Canada will also benefit by learning from good practices in innovation through the expansion of science and technological interactions with other countries. This will also increase our footprint in international trade and entrepreneurial activities in science and technology.

The panels on the symposium include:
• Science Diplomacy; A Re-Emerging Concept
• Canadian Context of Science Diplomacy, What is the Stake for Canada?
• Scientific Research and International Affairs
• Diaspora Scientists and Grassroots Efforts in Science Diplomacy
• Bridging the ST/International Diplomacy Gap

Introduction: The notion of Science Diplomacy 8:45 – 9:00
Vaughan Turekian [Chief International Officer for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)]

Adventures of Science Diplomacy 9:00 – 9:45
Peter Singer [CEO Grand Challenges Canada]

Coffee Break 9:45 – 10:00

Scientific Collaboration, taste of diplomacy 10:00 11:45

Halla Thorsteinsdottir: North South South Collaboration
Yvon Martel; China Canada Collaboration in Agriculture
Rabiz Foda; Canada US India Collaboration

Lunch 11:45 – 12:45

Grassroots, Diaspora Scientists 12:45 – 1:45
Raju Goteti, Indian Canadian Scientists
Rees Kassen, Academy of Young Scientists
Mehrdad Hariri [President and CEO Canadian Science Policy Centre]

Vision for Science Diplomacy 1:45 – 2:45
Vaughan Turekian, Paul Dufour [Principal PaulicyWorks]

There are two things that strike me about the Canadian effort (1) it’s being overtly initiated by Canadian scientists whereas the current UK and US efforts seem to have been initiated by their respective governments and (2) it’s at a very early stage.

Researchers propose massive shift in science funding enterprise

The massive science funding shift that researchers are proposing won’t fundamentally change who or what research is funded so much as it will require fewer resources as described in a Jan. 8, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Researchers in the United States have suggested an alternative way to allocate science funding. The method, which is described in EMBO reports (“From funding agencies to scientific agency”), depends on a collective distribution of funding by the scientific community, requires only a fraction of the costs associated with the traditional peer review of grant proposals and, according to the authors, may yield comparable or even better results.

The Jan. 8, 2014 EMBO [European Molecular Biology Organization] news release, which originated the news item, quotes the lead author’s perspective on the current funding systems and describes the proposed solution which is meant for all science funding,

“Peer review of scientific proposals and grants has served science very well for decades. However, there is a strong sense in the scientific community that things could be improved,” said Johan Bollen, professor and lead author of the study from the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University. “Our most productive researchers invest an increasing amount of time, energy, and effort into writing and reviewing research proposals, most of which do not get funded. That time could be spent performing the proposed research in the first place.” He added: “Our proposal does not just save time and money but also encourages innovation.”

The new approach is possible due to recent advances in mathematics and  computer technologies. The system involves giving all scientists an annual, unconditional fixed amount of funding to conduct their research. All funded scientists are, however, obliged to donate a fixed percentage of all of the funding that they previously received to other researchers. As a result, the funding circulates through the community, converging on researchers that are expected to make the best use of it. “Our alternative funding system is inspired by the mathematical models used to search the internet for relevant information,” said Bollen. “The decentralized funding model uses the wisdom of the entire scientific community to determine a fair distribution of funding.”

The authors believe that this system can lead to sophisticated behavior at a global level. It would certainly liberate researchers from the time-consuming process of submitting and reviewing project proposals, but could also reduce the uncertainty associated with funding cycles, give researchers much greater flexibility, and allow the community to fund risky but high-reward projects that existing funding systems may overlook.

“You could think of it as a Google-inspired crowd-funding system that encourages all researchers to make autonomous, individual funding decisions towards people, not projects or proposals,” said Bollen. “All you need is a centralized web site where researchers could log-in, enter the names of the scientists they chose to donate to, and specify how much they each should receive.”

The authors emphasize that the system would require oversight to prevent misuse, such as conflicts of interests and collusion. Funding agencies may need to confidentially monitor the flow of funding and may even play a role in directing it. For example they can provide incentives to donate to specific large-scale research challenges that are deemed priorities but which the scientific community can overlook.

“The savings of financial and human resources could be used to identify new targets of funding, to support the translation of scientific results into products and jobs, and to help communicate advances in science and technology,” added Bollen. “This funding system may even have the side-effect of changing publication practices for the better: researchers will want to clearly communicate their vision and research goals to as wide an audience as possible.”

While the research is US-centric, it’s easy to see its applicabllity in many, if not all, jurisdictions around the world.

I have two links and two citations. The first is for the EMBO Reports paper,

From funding agencies to scientific agency; Collective allocation of science funding as an alternative to peer review by  Johan Bollen, David Crandall, Damion Junk, Ying Ding, & Katy Börner. Article first published online: 7 JAN 2014 DOI: 10.1002/embr.201338068

© 2014 The Authors

This paper is behind a paywall.

The second link and citation is for an earlier version of the paper on arXiv.org, which is an open access archive,

Collective allocation of science funding: from funding agencies to scientific agency
by Johan Bollen, David Crandall, Damion Junk, Ying Ding, & Katy Boerner.
(Submitted on 3 Apr 2013)

Here’s the abstract from the April 2013 version of the paper on arXiv.org,

Public agencies like the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) award tens of billions of dollars in annual science funding. How can this money be distributed as efficiently as possible to best promote scientific innovation and productivity? The present system relies primarily on peer review of project proposals. In 2010 alone, NSF convened more than 15,000 scientists to review 55,542 proposals. [emphasis mine] Although considered the scientific gold standard, peer review requires significant overhead costs, and may be subject to biases, inconsistencies, and oversights. We investigate a class of funding models in which all participants receive an equal portion of yearly funding, but are then required to anonymously donate a fraction of their funding to peers. The funding thus flows from one participant to the next, each acting as if he or she were a funding agency themselves. Here we show through a simulation conducted over large-scale citation data (37M articles, 770M citations) that such a distributed system for science may yield funding patterns similar to existing NIH and NSF distributions, but may do so at much lower overhead while exhibiting a range of other desirable features. Self-correcting mechanisms in scientific peer evaluation can yield an efficient and fair distribution of funding. The proposed model can be applied in many situations in which top-down or bottom-up allocation of public resources is either impractical or undesirable, e.g. public investments, distribution chains, and shared resource management.

It’s interesting to note the agencies which supported the research (from the news release),

Awards from the National Science Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Institutes of Health supported the work.

It would seem there’s an appetite for change given the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are the two largest science funding agencies in the US.