Category Archives: science funding

smARTcities SALON in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada on March 22, 2018

Thank goodness for the March 15, 2018 notice from the Art/Sci Salon in Toronto (received via email) announcing an event on smart cities being held in the nearby city of Vaughan (it borders Toronto to the north). It’s led me on quite the chase as I’ve delved into a reference to Smart City projects taking place across the country and the results follow after this bit about the event.

smARTcities SALON

From the announcement,


Smart City projects are currently underway across the country, including
Google SideWalk at Toronto Harbourfront. Canada’s first Smart Hospital
is currently under construction in the City of Vaughan. It’s an example
of the city working towards building a reputation as one of the world’s
leading Smart Cities, by adopting new technologies consistent with
priorities defined by citizen collaboration.

Hon. Maurizio Bevilacqua, P.C., Mayor chairs the Smart City Advisory
Task Force leading historic transformation in Vaughan. Working to become
a Smart City is a chance to encourage civic engagement, accelerate
economic growth, and generate efficiencies. His opening address will
outline some of the priorities and opportunities that our panel will


Lilian Radovac, PhD., Assistant Professor, Institute of Communication,
Culture, Information & Technology, University of Toronto. Lilian is a
historian of urban sounds and cultures and has a critical interest in
SmartCity initiatives in two of the cities she has called home: New York
City and Toronto..

Oren Berkovich is the CEO of Singularity University in Canada, an
educational institution and a global network of experts and
entrepreneurs that work together on solving the world’s biggest
challenges. As a catalyst for long-term growth Oren spends his time
connecting people with ideas to facilitate strategic conversations about
the future.

Frank Di Palma, the Chief Information Officer for the City of Vaughan,
is a graduate of York University with more than 20 years experience in
IT operations and services. Frank leads the many SmartCity initiatives
already underway at Vaughan City Hall.

Ron Wild, artist and Digital Art/Science Collaborator, will moderate the

Audience Participation opportunities will enable attendees to forward
questions for consideration by the panel.

You can register for the smARTcities SALON here on Eventbrite,

Art Exhibition Reception

Following the panel discussion, the audience is invited to view the art exhibition ‘smARTcities; exploring the digital frontier.’ Works commissioned by Vaughan specifically for the exhibition, including the SmartCity Map and SmartHospital Map will be shown as well as other Art/Science-themed works. Many of these ‘maps’ were made by Ron in collaboration with mathematicians, scientists, and medical researchers, some of who will be in attendance. Further examples of Ron’s art can be found HERE

Please click through to buy a FREE ticket so we know how many guests to expect. Thank you.

This event can be reached by taking the subway up the #1 west line to the new Vaughan Metropolitan Centre terminal station. Take the #20 bus to the Vaughan Mills transfer loop; transfer there to the #4/A which will take you to the stop right at City Hall. Free parking is available for those coming by car. Car-pooling and ride-sharing is encouraged. The facility is fully accessible.

Here’s one of Wild’s pieces,

144×96″ triptych, Vaughan, 2018 Artist: mrowade (Ron Wild?)

I’m pretty sure that mrowade is Ron Wild.

Smart Cities, the rest of the country, and Vancouver

Much to my surprise, I covered the ‘Smart Cities’ story in its early (but not earliest) days (and before it was Smart Cities) in two posts: January 30, 2015 and January 27,2016 about the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and its cities and technology public engagement exercises.

David Vogt in a July 12, 2016 posting on the Urban Opus website provides some catch up information,

Canada’s National Research Council (NRC) has identified Cities of the Future as a game-changing technology and economic opportunity.  Following a national dialogue, an Executive Summit was held in Toronto on March 31, 2016, resulting in an important summary report that will become the seed for Canadian R&D strategy in this sector.

The conclusion so far is that the opportunity for Canada is to muster leadership in the following three areas (in order):

  1. Better Infrastructure and Infrastructure Management
  2. Efficient Transportation; and
  3. Renewable Energy

The National Research Council (NRC) offers a more balanced view of the situation on its “NRC capabilities in smart infrastructure and cities of the future” webpage,

Key opportunities for Canada

North America is one of the most urbanised regions in the world (82 % living in urban areas in 2014).
With growing urbanisation, sustainable development challenges will be increasingly concentrated in cities, requiring technology solutions.
Smart cities are data-driven, relying on broadband and telecommunications, sensors, social media, data collection and integration, automation, analytics and visualization to provide real-time situational analysis.
Most infrastructure will be “smart” by 2030 and transportation systems will be intelligent, adaptive and connected.
Renewable energy, energy storage, power quality and load measurement will contribute to smart grid solutions that are integrated with transportation.
“Green”, sustainable and high-performing construction and infrastructure materials are in demand.

Canadian challenges

High energy use: Transportation accounts for roughly 23% of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions, followed closely by the energy consumption of buildings, which accounts for 12% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions (Canada’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change report).
Traffic congestion in Canadian cities is increasing, contributing to loss of productivity, increased stress for citizens as well as air and noise pollution.
Canadian cities are susceptible to extreme weather and events related to climate change (e.g., floods, storms).
Changing demographics: aging population (need for accessible transportation options, housing, medical and recreational services) and diverse (immigrant) populations.
Financial and jurisdictional issues: the inability of municipalities (who have primary responsibility) to finance R&D or large-scale solutions without other government assistance.

Opportunities being examined
Living lab

Test bed for smart city technology in order to quantify and demonstrate the benefits of smart cities.
Multiple partnering opportunities (e.g. municipalities, other government organizations, industry associations, universities, social sciences, urban planning).

The integrated city

Efficient transportation: integration of personal mobility and freight movement as key city and inter-city infrastructure.
Efficient and integrated transportation systems linked to city infrastructure.
Planning urban environments for mobility while repurposing redundant infrastructures (converting parking to the food-water-energy nexus) as population shifts away from personal transportation.


Sustainable urban bio-cycling.
‎System approach to the development of the technology platforms required to address the nexus.

Key enabling platform technologies
Artificial intelligence

Computer vision and image understanding
Adaptive robots; future robotic platforms for part manufacturing
Understanding human emotions from language
Next generation information extraction using deep learning
Speech recognition
Artificial intelligence to optimize talent management for human resources


Smart materials
Self-assembled nanostructures

Big data analytics

Predictive equipment maintenance
Energy management
Artificial intelligence for optimizing energy storage and distribution
Understanding and tracking of hazardous chemical elements
Process and design optimization

Printed electronics for Internet of Things

Inks and materials
Printing technologies
Large area, flexible, stretchable, printed electronics components
Applications: sensors for Internet of Things, wearables, antenna, radio-frequency identification tags, smart surfaces, packaging, security, signage

If you’re curious about the government’s plan with regard to implementation, this NRC webpage provides some fascinating insight into their hopes if not the reality. (I have mentioned artificial intelligence and the federal government before in a March 16, 2018 posting about the federal budget and science; scroll down approximately 50% of the way to the subsection titled, Budget 2018: Who’s watching over us? and scan for Michael Karlin’s name.)

As for the current situation, there’s a Smart Cities Challenge taking place. Both Toronto and Vancouver have webpages dedicated to their response to the challenge. (You may want to check your own city’s website to find if it’s participating.)I have a preference for the Toronto page as they immediately state that they’re participating in this challenge and they provide an explanation for what they want from you. Vancouver’s page is by comparison a bit confusing with two videos being immediately presented to the reader and from there too many graphics competing for your attention. They do, however, offer something valuable, links to explanations for smart cities and for the challenge.

Here’s a description of the Smart Cities Challenge (from its webpage),

The Smart Cities Challenge

The Smart Cities Challenge is a pan-Canadian competition open to communities of all sizes, including municipalities, regional governments and Indigenous communities (First Nations, Métis and Inuit). The Challenge encourages communities to adopt a smart cities approach to improve the lives of their residents through innovation, data and connected technology.

  • One prize of up to $50 million open to all communities, regardless of population;
  • Two prizes of up to $10 million open to all communities with populations under 500,000 people; and
  • One prize of up to $5 million open to all communities with populations under 30,000 people.

Infrastructure Canada is engaging Indigenous leaders, communities and organizations to finalize the design of a competition specific to Indigenous communities that will reflect their unique realities and issues. Indigenous communities are also eligible to compete for all the prizes in the current competition.

The Challenge will be an open and transparent process. Communities that submit proposals will also post them online, so that residents and stakeholders can see them. An independent Jury will be appointed to select finalists and winners.

Applications are due by April 24, 2018. Communities interested in participating should visit the
Impact Canada Challenge Platform for the applicant guide and more information.

Finalists will be announced in the Summer of 2018 and winners in Spring 2019 according to the information on the Impact Canada Challenge Platform.

It’s not clear to me if she’s leading Vancouver’s effort to win the Smart Cities Challenge but Jessie Adcock’s (City of Vancouver Chief Digital Officer) Twitter feed certainly features information on the topic and, I suspect, if you’re looking for the most up-to-date information on Vancovuer’s participation, you’re more likely to find it on her feed than on the City of Vancouver’s Smart Cities Challenge webpage.

Science funding, 2018 Canadian federal budget, and a conversation between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US science popularizer, Bill Nye (the Science Guy)

It may be too soon to describe it as a fallback position but Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, seems to return to science when he wants to generate or bask in positive news coverage.  Coming off a not entirely successful state visit to India (February 17 – 23, 2018), he received some of the worst notices of his international diplomatic efforts to date. (This February 23, 2018 article, ‘India to Justin Trudeau: Stop trying so hard‘, by Vidhi Doshi for The Washington Post was one of the kinder pieces while this February 25, 2018 article, ‘Why Justin Trudeau’s India tour turned out to be a diplomatic disaster‘, by Candice Malcolm and published on was one of the more scathing.

Budget 2018: We’re in the money

The announcement of the federal budget (February 27, 2018) might be viewed as offering welcome relief from torrents of criticism.  From a March 7, 2018 Canadian Science Policy Centre announcement (CSPC; received via email) about the publication of a series of opinion pieces (editorials) concerning the 2018 federal budget,

CSPC’s Official Statement on the Federal Budget 2018
Déclaration officielle du CPSC concernant le budget fédéral 2018

Canadian Science Policy Centre commends the Government of Canada for the strong investment in Science projected in the Budget 2018 for the next five years. The Centre congratulates all Canadians, in particular members of the Fundamental Science Review Panel and the entire community who strongly supported the panel recommendations and the investment in Science.

Le Centre sur les politiques scientifiques canadiennes félicite le Gouvernement du Canada pour son investissement substantiel en sciences prévu dans le budget 2018 pour les cinq prochaines années. Le Centre félicite tous les Canadiens, plus particulièrement les membres du Comité de l’examen du soutien aux sciences ainsi que la communauté dans son ensemble, qui a vivement appuyé les recommandations du Comité et l’investissement en sciences.

You can find the editorials here (17 in total including an interview with Science Minister Kirsty Duncan … surprisingly[!!!!], she’s very proud of the government’s budget for science) along with editorials on other issues. Russ Roberts’ piece (Federal Budget 2018 – Missed Another Opportunity to Maximize ROI on Canadians’ Investments in Innovation) stands out as it is rather ‘grumpy’ but only in comparison to pretty much everyone else who is pleased to one degree or another.

The editorials put me in mind of an old song celebrating money in a Busby Berkeley production. Prepare yourself, over the top was where he liked to live,

Budget 2018: a little more nuance

Brooke Struck over on offers some incisive analysis in two separate blog postings. First, he tackles the money in a February 28, 2018 posting (Note: Links have been removed),

The Naylor report [links to my 3-part series on the report also known as, INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research {Review of fundamental research final report} follow at the end of this posting] contained many recommendations, but the one that got the most press—and surely is the focus of attention right now, given the release of the budget yesterday—is the recommendation that funding for the three granting councils be increased. The amounts were quite high, too, calling for an increase from $3.5 billion to $4.8 billion to remediate slides over the decade of the previous government’s term.

The timing of the report’s release was wise, as a release before that year’s budget might have created the expectation that the money would flow immediately, which simply doesn’t fit with the timelines of federal budget development processes. From April 2017 to now, the research community in Canada has rallied around the report and its recommendations, sustaining a campaign to keep research (and its funding) in the national discussion.

One note that the panel emphasized was that the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) had been hit particularly hard. The rule of thumb is apparently that SSHRC is supposed to get 20% of the total granting council budget, while 40% goes to the natural sciences & engineering [Natural Sciences and Engineering Council] (NSERC) and 40% goes to health research [Canadian Institutes of Health Research] (CIHR). SSHRC’s portion had consistently clocked in at around 15%.

Furthermore, the report emphasized that the underlying reasoning behind the 40-40-20 split might not hold water anymore, as the social sciences and humanities really don’t have any other major sources of funding beyond government support, whereas other types of research can draw on support from other players as well. The 40-40-20 split from government is not a 40-40-20 split in practice once additional sources are considered in the equation.

Delivery: as promised?

And that brings us to yesterday’s budget. While the report had called for an injection of $1.3 billion, the finance minister apparently couldn’t scrape together more than a measly $925 million—which, of course, is a huge amount of money. Some will lament the gap and rend their shirts in twain about promises broken, while others will cheer the victory of science retaking its rightful place through another #PromiseKept. That increase translated into a 25% bump in fundamental research spending, so I guess how you feel about it depends on your views about how much a 25% increase really means. For those keeping score at home, that apparently closes the gap to about 90% of real spending power levels before the slides under Harper.

But was it a 25% increase for everyone? No, the $925 million was not split evenly between the councils. Identical portions of $354.7 million will go to NSERC and CIHR (roughly 38% each from the new money) while $215.5 million will go to SSHRC (just over 23% of the new money). Comparing their funding levels this morning to those of yesterday morning, NSERC and CIHR saw increases of about 20%–25%, while SSHRC saw an increase of over 40%.

But did the government really heed the advice of their panel about getting back to the 40-40-20 allocation across the councils (while acknowledging that even that split is perhaps not sufficient anymore)? With its increase, SSHRC will be up from 15% of the tri-council total to about 16.5% of the total. That sounds like progress.

On the flip side, though, the government has just announced a massive injection to research spending, with an ongoing annual increase after that (following the same split as the one-time boost). No further increases are likely to happen again in the near future, and it would take three more increases just like this one for SSHRC to reach its 20%. The social sciences and humanities have made some headway, but they aren’t likely to get any closer than this to their 20%. The big investment has been made, and this will be the status quo for a while—consider that the Naylor panel was the first of its kind in 40 years.

I don’t think this excerpt does justice to Struck’s posting and recommend you read it in its entirety if you have the time and there’s this March 8, 2018 posting where he examines ‘evidence’ in relation to the budget (Note: Links have been removed),

The new budget provides a lot of money for science. It also emphasizes the importance of evidence-based decision-making to government, employing the term “evidence-based” about 20 times in the document. A lot of the new science money is earmarked to increase science for policy as well, separate from the fundamental science funding we discussed last week.

For example, Statistics Canada will get millions of extra dollars, in one-time injections as well as increases to ongoing, regular operating budgets. Why? “Better data will… support [the Government’s] commitment to evidence-based policy-making.” (p. 187). There are also hundreds of millions of dollars for science conducted within the federal government: labs and facilities (p.83) as well as highlighted projects (e.g., ocean and freshwater surveillance, p. 98). Again, all this is on top of the $925 million for fundamental research outside of government, administered by the funding councils. All told, that’s a big boost for research.

What about the uptake of that research in decision-making? There’s a whole section in Chapter 2 entitled “Placing Evidence at the Centre of Program Evaluation and Design.” The result? Statistics Canada gets $1 million annually to “improve performance evaluations for innovation-related programs,” and the Treasury Board gets $2 million annually to build an internal team for innovation performance evaluation, drawing on (among other things) the StatsCan innovation data.

Beyond that, the previous budget outlined $2 million annually for the federal Chief Science Advisor and her secretariat. That outlay doesn’t mention improving evidence-based decision-making, though it’s a key part of the CSA’s mandate. Together, what we see here is that there’s a huge disparity between the new money being spent on research and data, and the new money being spent to develop “a strong culture of evidence-based decision-making” (Budget 2018, p. 276).

Reading between the line items

The funding disparity suggests that the government feels that evidence-based policymaking is hampered primarily by supply-side problems. If we just pushed more science in the front end, we’d get a better flow of evidence through the policymaking pipeline. There’s almost no money to patch up whatever holes there may be in that pipeline between the research money inputs and the better policy outputs.

This quality of analysis is what one would hope for from the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC). Perhaps once their initial euphoria and back-patting has passed, the CSPC commentators will offer more nuanced takes on the budget.

Budget 2018: The good includes a new intellectual property strategy

First, there’s a lot to like in the 2018 budget as the CSPC folks noticed. Advancing gender equality, supporting innovation and business, supporting fundamental research through the tri-council agencies, and more are all to the good.

Surprisingly, no one else seems to have mentioned a new (?) intellectual property strategy introduced in the document (from Chapter 2: Progress; scroll down about 80% of the way, Note: The formatting has been changed),

Budget 2018 proposes measures in support of a new Intellectual Property Strategy to help Canadian entrepreneurs better understand and protect intellectual property, and get better access to shared intellectual property.

What Is a Patent Collective?
A Patent Collective is a way for firms to share, generate, and license or purchase intellectual property. The collective approach is intended to help Canadian firms ensure a global “freedom to operate”, mitigate the risk of infringing a patent, and aid in the defence of a patent infringement suit.

Budget 2018 proposes to invest $85.3 million over five years, starting in 2018–19, with $10 million per year ongoing, in support of the strategy. The Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development will bring forward the full details of the strategy in the coming months, including the following initiatives to increase the intellectual property literacy of Canadian entrepreneurs, and to reduce costs and create incentives for Canadian businesses to leverage their intellectual property:

  • To better enable firms to access and share intellectual property, the Government proposes to provide $30 million in 2019–20 to pilot a Patent Collective. This collective will work with Canada’s entrepreneurs to pool patents, so that small and medium-sized firms have better access to the critical intellectual property they need to grow their businesses.
  • To support the development of intellectual property expertise and legal advice for Canada’s innovation community, the Government proposes to provide $21.5 million over five years, starting in 2018–19, to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. This funding will improve access for Canadian entrepreneurs to intellectual property legal clinics at universities. It will also enable the creation of a team in the federal government to work with Canadian entrepreneurs to help them develop tailored strategies for using their intellectual property and expanding into international markets.
  • To support strategic intellectual property tools that enable economic growth, Budget 2018 also proposes to provide $33.8 million over five years, starting in 2018–19, to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, including $4.5 million for the creation of an intellectual property marketplace. This marketplace will be a one-stop, online listing of public sector-owned intellectual property available for licensing or sale to reduce transaction costs for businesses and researchers, and to improve Canadian entrepreneurs’ access to public sector-owned intellectual property.

The Government will also consider further measures, including through legislation, in support of the new intellectual property strategy.

Helping All Canadians Harness Intellectual Property
Intellectual property is one of our most valuable resources, and every Canadian business owner should understand how to protect and use it.

To better understand what groups of Canadians are benefiting the most from intellectual property, Budget 2018 proposes to provide Statistics Canada with $2 million over three years to conduct an intellectual property awareness and use survey. This survey will help identify how Canadians understand and use intellectual property, including groups that have traditionally been less likely to use intellectual property, such as women and Indigenous entrepreneurs. The results of the survey should help the Government better meet the needs of these groups through education and awareness initiatives.

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office will also increase the number of education and awareness initiatives that are delivered in partnership with business, intermediaries and academia to ensure Canadians better understand, integrate and take advantage of intellectual property when building their business strategies. This will include targeted initiatives to support underrepresented groups.

Finally, Budget 2018 also proposes to invest $1 million over five years to enable representatives of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples to participate in discussions at the World Intellectual Property Organization related to traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, an important form of intellectual property.

It’s not wholly clear what they mean by ‘intellectual property’. The focus seems to be on  patents as they are the only intellectual property (as opposed to copyright and trademarks) singled out in the budget. As for how the ‘patent collective’ is going to meet all its objectives, this budget supplies no clarity on the matter. On the plus side, I’m glad to see that indigenous peoples’ knowledge is being acknowledged as “an important form of intellectual property” and I hope the discussions at the World Intellectual Property Organization are fruitful.

That said, it’s good to see the government adopting a fresh approach to the matter.

Budget 2018: Who’s watching over us?

Russ Roberts (CSPC editorial) makes an excellent point in his piece about getting some sort of return on investment (ROI) made by the Canadian government on behalf of its taxpayers. One note, the issue is not new and unique to this Liberal government. As far as I’m aware, there never has been any mechanism for determining whether taxpayers’ money has been well spent and other than knowing that insulin was a huge boon to the world and could be described as a great ROI. So, I’m not suggesting that everything has to be measured in dollars and cents but just that we occasionally give it some thought.

Another aspect I’d like to see considered is oversight. In my March 5, 2018 posting I posed a question, What is happening with Alberta’s (Canada) Ingenuity Lab? In sum, Dr. Carlo Montemagno came to Alberta to head up the lab which is funded to the tune of $100M over 10 years. He was making over $500,000/year when he left some five years into the project to become Chancellor at Southern Illinois University (SIU). I had some questions about Montemagno’s tenure in Alberta. For example, was hiring his daughter and son-in-law (as he did again at SIU where he has received severe criticism) to work at the Ingenuity Lab a good idea? It may have been but it seems as if the question was never asked. Other questions also present themselves such as, what is happening to an industrial pilot project on carbon transformation that Montemagno touted?

Increasingly, I’m wondering what sort of oversight these heavily funded science projects are receiving, especially in light of the government’s massive foul up over the Phoenix pay system for federal government employees. (I’m aware that I’m conflating science and technology.) We’re entering the third year of a botched (a very polite term) and increasingly expensive payroll technology implementation. Take for example this recommendation from the Canada Treasury Board’s Lessons Learned from the Transformation of Pay Administration Initiative webpage which has me shaking my head,

Fully test the IT Solution before launch
Lesson 14: Launch any required new IT solution only after it has been fully tested with end-to-end real-life simulations using a broad spectrum of real users and when all doubts regarding success have been addressed and verified independently.

The federal government has over 300,000 employees whose payroll was migrated to this system and they didn’t test it (!) or so I infer from this recommendation. (According to a CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] news online August 24, 2017 news item, a little over 1/2 of Canada’s federal public servants have been affected,

Nearly one in every two federal public servants paid through the problem-plagued Phoenix system has opened a file seeking redress for a pay issue, CBC News has learned.

As of Aug. 8 [2017], there were 156,035 employees who had been waiting at least 30 days to have their pay complaint dealt with, according to data released to Radio-Canada by a government source.

That number represents nearly one-half of the 313,734 public servants paid through Phoenix. It’s also the first instance in which the scope of the Phoenix payroll issues has been laid clear in terms of people affected, rather than in terms of “transactions” or “cases.”

The documents show the government has been tracking the numbers of individuals affected by Phoenix since at least June 26 [2017].

“It’s shocking that we’ve just learned that they were hiding those numbers, because they didn’t want to show how big that catastrophe is for our public servants,” said Alexandre Boulerice, the NDP’s [New Democratic Party] finance critic.

Interestingly,  the government is hoping to introduce more technology into their governance. Michael Karlin’s (@supergovernance) Twitter feed and his latest essay provide some insight into the government’s preparations for the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI), Note: Links have been removed,

Towards Rules for Automation in Government

Caveat: This is a personal view of work underway that I’m leading. What I describe is subject to incredible change as this policy work winds its way through government and consultations. Our approach may change for reasons that I’m simply not privy to, and that’s fine. This is meant to solicit ideas, but also show the complexity about what it takes to make policy. I hope that people find it useful, particularly students of public admin. It also represents my view of the world only, and neither my organization’s or the Government of Canada writ large.

AI is a rapidly evolving space, and trying to create rules in a time of disruption is risky. Too severe and innovation can be hindered; this is unacceptable during a time when the Government of Canada is embracing digital culture. On the other hand, if the rules don’t have meaning and teeth, and Canadians will not be sufficiently protected from the negative outcomes of this technology, like this or this. Trying to strike the right balance between facilitating innovation while being protective of right is a challenge, and one that benefits from ongoing discussions with different sectors across the country. It also means that I might work hard to build a consensus around a set of rules that we try out and have to scrap and redesign after a year in deployment because they don’t work.

Let’s not forget the 2017 Canadian federal budget introduced funding ($125M) for a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy to be administered by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). So, federal funding for science is often intimately linked to technology., hence the conflation.

Sunny ways: a discussion between Justin Trudeau and Bill Nye

Billed as a discussion about the Canadian federal 2018 budget and science, Justin Trudeau sat down with Bill Nye, a US science popularizer and television personality on March 6, 2018 for about an hour. Kate Young, parliamentary secretary to the minister of science (Kirsty Duncan) was moderator.

As to be expected Bill Nye did not know much about the budget and the funding it provided for science, technology, research, and innovation but he was favourably impressed overall. In short, if you were looking for an incisive policy discussion, this was not the venue for it.

The conversation was quite genial throughout. Paul Wells in his March 6, 2018 article for Maclean’s offers a good summary of the main points and answers a few questions I had (for example, why a US television science personality?),

News of this bit of show-business [televised discussion] drew a fair bit of advance comment, most of it on Twitter on Monday night, some of it critical or worried. Some who don’t like Nye’s climate-change activism said he’s not a scientist. This is, by many definitions, true: He’s a mechanical engineer. I’m here to tell you that it’s hard to get a degree in mechanical engineering without learning some science, but for those inclined to draw distinctions, fill your boots. Others wished a Canadian scientist had been Trudeau’s chosen interlocutor, instead of some TV Yankee.

Part of the answer to that came from the U of O students, who were pleased to see the Prime Minister but plainly way more pleased to see Bill Nye the Science Guy. There simply isn’t a Canadian scientist (or science-friendly mechanical engineer) who would have provoked as much excitement. [emphasis mine; sadly true]

My own concern was that Nye, who has been critical of the Trump administration, might attempt to draw distinctions between the blackened anti-science hell-pit of his own country and the bright shiny city on a hill called Canada. Such distinctions would have been misinformed, for reasons I’ll explain in a bit, but in fact Nye mostly managed to avoid making them.

Mostly he and Trudeau just shot the breeze, in ways that were low on detail but not unpleasant.

One comment that Trudeau made raised a lot of interest on Paul Wells’ fTwitfer feed (#inklessPW), ‘all babies are scientists’. Wells’ notes where this idea likely originated (Note: A link has been removed),

The babies-are-scientists bit, I heard from a former New Brunswick education minister named Kelly Lamrock, could come from a book that was in vogue at about the time Trudeau was working as a schoolteacher, The Scientist in the Crib. To anyone who’s watched a toddler who was fascinated about dinosaurs grow into a teenager who couldn’t care less, Trudeau’s reverie makes sense as folk wisdom if not as a precise description of the scientific method.

There are also people who claim all babies are artists or musicians or mathematicians or … . Take your pick.

Wells goes on to highlight two female researchers (Trudeau being famously feminist and whose government just presented a budget boosting women) invited onstage to participate in the conversation (Note: Links have been removed),

… two young women researchers were invited onstage. Plainly their role was to be admired as pathbreaking young women researchers, pulverizing glass ceilings, embodying budget initiatives. To my relief, neither seemed interested in acting the part, or at least not in behaving as if sent straight from Central Casting.

Caitlin Miron from Queen’s University has already received some coverage for discovering a… thing… that could “switch off” cancer cells. This is how Miron was introduced. She could switch off cancer cells. It’s how Nye addressed her. You could switch off cancer cells! Miron answered, reasonably enough, that that’s how it might turn out someday, but that on the other hand it might not, and in the meantime she’s learning interesting new things about cancer cells. She was plainly flattered by the attention, but not interested in boiling her work down to slogans just yet.

Then the PM and the science guy turned to Ayda Elhage, who’s a PhD student in Chemistry at the University of Ottawa. Elhage, who was born in Lebanon, launched into a description of her work, which concentrates on (among other things) the tunable photocatalytic activity of palladium-decorated titanium dioxide [likely titanium dioxide nanoparticles]. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how important this work is! At least I hope I don’t, because I understood almost none of it! I think it’s about complex new materials whose properties can be triggered by light. Or not. Anyway, the way she resisted any attempt to reduce her work to a gimmick or gadget was heartening to hear.

Wells winds up with this,

…  the truth is that even now, today, in the second of the dark Trump years, the United States is far more of a performer in science research than Canada is. The U.S. National Institutes of Health have about 6 or 7 times the per-capita budget of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research; NASA and the National Science Foundation together spend about twice as much per capita as Canada’s Natural Science and Engineering Research Council.

The new investments in last week’s budget, while welcome, won’t change the orders of magnitude here. The U.S. commitment to science research is cultural and durable. The Trump White House’s call for cuts to granting agencies was met with budget increases to those agencies from Congress. Trudeau’s conversion to the cause comes after almost a year’s steady pressure from the Canadian research community. But I bet those researchers were heartened to hear Trudeau talking like one of them so soon after the budget came down.

Wells also covers their comments on support for fundamental research and a foray into the Kinder Morgan pipeline controversy.

From Wells’ Twitter feed (on the day of),

2 hours ago

Nye asks Trudeau about “this pipeline, Morgan Kinder.” Uh oh.

2 hours ago

Trudeau talks about “tremendous potential” for renewables. “However, we’re not going to get there tomorrow.” The has to be a “transition phase.”

2 hours ago

This answer is longer than the Oscars.

Nye did not correctly identify the pipeline but he did comment on his visit to Fort McMurray. In any event, the Kinder Morgan portion of the discussion seemed scripted (to me), i.e, Trudeau knew the question was coming and was prepared for it. I’m guessing he also knew Nye was going to give him and his government a pass after hearing the reasons for their decision.

One question that I found interesting but not mentioned in Wells’ article was about language and the arts. It was neither Trudeau’s not Nye’s finest moment. They were clearly unable to shift gears, part of their problem being that much of what they discussed in terms of ‘baby scientists’ could also be said about the arts. Yes, all babies make art!

Final thoughts

As noted earlier, here’s a lot to applaud in the new budget, more support for fundamental research, catch up funding for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and greater support for women in the sciences and technology.

At the same time, I wish this government put more thought into how it’s spending taxpayers’ money.


For anyone who’s curious, you can find the full 2018 federal budget here and you’ll find the science funding in Chapter 2: Progress.

For the curious, you can watch the entire (!) Trudeau/Nye conversation, 1 hour, 9 minutes and 30 seconds here.

For anyone interested in the Naylor report (or my comments on it), there’s this three-part series:

  • INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research (Review of fundamental research final report): 1 of 3
  • INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research (Review of fundamental research final report): 2 of 3
  • INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research (Review of fundamental research final report): 3 of 3

For anyone who hasn’t been following the Canadian political scene, “sunny ways” is a term that Justin Trudeau uses to describe, in part, his political philosophy. Here’s an explanation of the term from the Liberal Party of Canada’s website,

Canadians have often heard Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak of Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s [Canadian Prime Minister from 1896-1911] sunny ways – a guiding philosophy that both men share. Like Laurier, the Prime Minister knows that politics can be a positive and powerful force for change. …

Wilfrid Laurier’s appeal for the “sunny way” in political discourse has its roots in the Manitoba Schools Question. When Manitoba became a province in 1870, a dual school system was established to reflect the province’s Protestant and largely English-speaking population, and its Catholic and predominantly French-speaking, residents.

“The sun’s warm rays prove more effective than the wind’s bluster.”

By 1890, the Anglophone population widely outnumbered the Francophones. Seeking to appeal to this growing population, the provincial government of Thomas Greenway attempted to abolish the dual school system. With the support of the federal Conservative government, Manitoba’s Catholic community launched a court challenge of the school law. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council ruled that while the law was valid, the federal government could restore public funding to denominational schools. In 1895, despite it being deeply divisive, Prime Minister Mackenzie Bowell introduced legislation to force Manitoba to restore Catholic schools – a measure that was then postponed due to severe opposition within his own cabinet, ultimately leading to his resignation.

In contrast to Bowell’s heavy-handed approach, Liberal Leader Wilfrid Laurier proposed that a diplomatic “sunny way” would work better, using as an illustration Aesop’s fable in which the sun and the wind hold a contest to see who can remove a traveler’s coat. The sun’s warm rays prove more effective than the wind’s bluster.

While more than 120 years have passed, Prime Minister Trudeau shares Laurier’s belief that the “sunny way” remains essential to solving the complex problems facing our country.

Trudeau seems to have had remarkable luck with his ‘sunny ways’ which sometimes seem more like a form of teflon coating than an approach to diplomacy as per Sir Wilfred Laurier. At other times, Trudeau appears to have a magic touch where diplomacy is concerned. He is famously able to deal with the volatile US President, Donald Trump.

What is happening with Alberta’s (Canada) Ingenuity Lab?

Alberta’s Ingenuity Lab (first mentioned here in a November 19, 2013 posting) seems to have been launched sometime in 2012 (or maybe 2013). It;s a province of Alberta initiative and at the time of I first heard of it I questioned the necessity for another nanotechnology institution in Alberta (or anywhere else in Canada for that matter).

Amuse bouche: a roundup of the Canadian nanotechnology scene

Since 2012/3 a great many things have changed. The National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT) seems to have become almost completely dormant; the same can be said for Canada’s NanoPortal and nanoAlberta.

Adding to this brief roundup of the nanotechnology scene in Canada, the province of Alberta lists their various facilities on their Nanotechnology and microsystems webpage. As that page was last updated on 2012 you may find the information no longer viable.

A quick search for NanoQuébec yielded Prima Québec; Pôle recherche innovation matériaux avancés (that’s research for innovation and advanced materials; I think). Finally, there is still a Nano Ontario.

Should anyone know of a Canadian ‘nano’ institution that should be included, please do let me know in the ‘comments’.

Ingenuity Lab: Basics

The University of Alberta’s Faculty of Engineering’s Engineering Research webpage (copyright 2002-2018) describes the Ingenuity Lab this way,

ingenuity Lab (the Nanotechnology Accelerator) is a large scale ($100M), 10-year, multidisciplinary research and development initiative co-located at the Faculty of Engineering,  the University of Alberta and the National Institute for Nanotechnology. Led by chemical engineering professor and Canada Research Chair holder Carlo Montemagno, iNgenuity is focused on groundbreaking bionanotechnology advances and innovative business practices that will enable Alberta to become a world-leading centre for nanotechnology innovation. (

That’s a very large enterprise by Canadian standards.

After a great deal of initial promotion for both the lab and its director, Dr. Carlo Montemagno, the lab settled into a pattern of making bold announcements, many of which I covered here,

The blog search engine here privileges titles containing the search term (in this case, Ingenuity Lab) first and then restarts, in date order, all of the other ‘nontitle’ mentions. (I stopped with the titles.)

Last year (2017), there was a major change at the Ingenuity Lab, the director, Dr. Carlo Montemagno, moved to Illinois to become the Chancellor for Southern Illinois University (SIU). Unfortunately, I did not receive any response from Dr. Montemagno to the interview questions I sent him, twice, via email. I also emailed, once, SIU’s chief marketing and communications, Rae Goldsmith. For the curious, here are the questions,

(1) What differences did you experience as a researcher between the Canadian approach to nanotechnology (the National Institute of Nanotechnology is one of the Canada National Research Council’s institute’s) and the US approach (National Nanotechnology Initiative, a central funding hub and research focus for the US government)?

(2) Will your experience in Canada affect how you approach your work at SIU? Assuming, there is some influence, how will that experience affect your work at SIU?

(3) What are you most proud of achieving while leading Alberta’s Ingenuity Lab?

(4) Could you reflect on the trends you see with regard to nanotechnology not just in Canada and/or the US but internationally too?

(5) Is there anything else you’d like to add?

My questions were pretty much puffballs. In the meantime, it seems Dr. Montemagno attracted some serious journalistic interest, from a February 21, 2018 article by Dawn Rhodes for the Chicago Tribune,

When Chancellor Carlo Montemagno took the helm at Southern Illinois University Carbondale in July [2017], he set to work on a plan to dismantle and rebuild academics at the struggling campus, which has hemorrhaged enrollment over the past several years. His idea was a bold one, rarely if ever attempted at a large public university: eliminate academic departments.

The plan drew ire as well as praise, opening some bitter fissures among faculty, students and staff. That discord seems to have grown in recent weeks, particularly as the chancellor has become embroiled in controversies that have intensified scrutiny of his leadership.

In January [2018], SIU student paper The Daily Egyptian revealed the university hired Montemagno’s daughter and son-in-law shortly after he assumed the chancellor post. The investigation showed that the couple’s work history traces the same path as Montemagno’s, with the pair having held jobs at the same institutions he worked at for the past decade.

There have also been complaints that Montemagno is too directly influencing other hiring at the university — which he denies.

Both issues are the subjects of separate ethics investigations, SIU system President Randy Dunn said.

Then on Thursday [February 15, 2018?], the chancellor said he used part of his relocation allotment from the university to help cover the costs of moving his daughter’s family to southern Illinois, as well, adding up to $16,076.45. Montemagno said “there was a misunderstanding about what could be covered in the move” so he picked up the tab for part of the added costs and reimbursed SIU for the remaining expense of moving his daughter’s household.

The revelation that the new chancellor’s family members received jobs at Southern Illinois, which cut dozens of positions just weeks before his arrival and in the midst of the two-year state budget impasse, irked many at the university. It also drew sharp retorts from a member of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

In an interview Monday [February 19, 2018?], Montemagno said he recognized the optics of using part of his moving allowance for his daughter’s benefit and decided to pay back the university. But he said he never hid the fact that his family members were hired by SIU and he shrugged off criticism he has received in recent weeks. Although it caught some by surprise, SIU leaders had, in fact, approved the family hires as part of the chancellor’s hiring negotiations.

Rhodes’ article provides fascinating insight into the political struggles currently taking place at SIU. I encourage you to read the piece in its entirety if you have the time.

Ingenuity Lab: We are family

The appearance of Melissa Germain (Montemagno’s daughter) and her husband, Jeffrey Germain (Montemagno’s son-in-law), in the article was a bit of a surprise. Both were involved with the Ingenuity Lab. (I contacted Melissa Germain years ago to get on the lab’s media list to receive all their news releases. She agreed to put me on the list but I never received anything from them. Whether that was by accident or by design, I’ll never know. Jeff Germain was, for a time, the Ingenuity Lab’s interim director.)

Logically, this means that the University of Alberta hired not only Dr. Montemagno but also his daughter and son-in-law. As Rhodes’ article notes, it’s not unusual for faculty members to insist their spouses also be given jobs. The surprise here is that Montemagno’s daughter and her spouse were part of the deal, informal (SIU?) or otherwise (Alberta?).

In trying to find more information about the Ingenuity Lab’s budgets and financials (unsuccessful), I stumbled across the site (accessed March 5, 2018), which features some comments about the working environment at Alberta’s Ingenuity lab,

11 Jul, 2017

Helpful (1)

“Family Run Lab with Public Funding at the University of Alberta”
Current Employee – Anonymous Employee in Edmonton, AB
Doesn’t Recommend
Negative Outlook

I have been working at Ingenuity Lab full-time (More than a year)


-You will learn how to handle uncomfortable environment very well.
-There are some good researchers and staffs in the group.


– It is a public funded lab that controls by family members. This is not the issue for a private company, but it makes it really unacceptable for a public funded research group.
– The family members without required credentials can override any decision easily.
– The management team (the family members) spend lots of public funding for publicity
-Some of the group members bend easily with wind to stay … Show More

Advice to Management

-Presenting FALSE FACTS has expiry date! It is important to leave good name behind.
-Bringing family members without any credentials on board is not being wise.
– Just investing on gaining publicity is not enough. Nowadays, having output has the final say.

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share via Email
Copy Link

Other Employee Reviews for Ingenuity Lab

21 Mar, 2017

Helpful (3)
Ingenuity Lab Logo
“A family run business”

Former Employee – Anonymous in Edmonton, AB
Doesn’t Recommend
Negative Outlook

I worked at Ingenuity Lab full-time (More than a year)


Well funded lab with all the facilities located in the National Institute of Nanotechnology. The labs are at a great location and easy access to Tim Hortons.


All the administrative posts are filled with family members. No good communication between researchers and the director is surrounded by his trust worthy group of highly qualified politicians. The projects are all hypothetical and there is a lack of passion for hardcore fundamental research. They run as in commercial companies and does not belong in the NINT. They should relocate in the industrial areas of South Edmonton.

Advice to Management

Start publishing papers in peer reviewed journals rather than cheap publicity in local and national newspapers.

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share via Email
Copy Link

8 Feb, 2016

Helpful (2)
Ingenuity Lab Logo
“Clouded vision of ingenuity”
Former Employee – Anonymous Employee

I worked at Ingenuity Lab full-time (Less than a year)


Plenty of funding, this place will be in business for at least the next three years. Most of the people are a pleasure to be around.


There is noticeable friction between different team leads. Lack of information between groups has led to a few costly mistakes. It is run much more like a company than research group, results that can make money or be patent-able are the only goals.

Advice to Management

Ditch the yes-men family members that you have installed, and hire industrial trained scientists if you want the results you are looking for.

It’s hard to know if there is one disgruntled person waging a campaign or if there are three very unhappy people from a lab team of about 100 scientists. But the complaints are made several months apart, which suggests three people and generally where there’s one complain there are more, unvoiced complaints. Interestingly, all three complaints focus on the Ingenuity Lab as a ‘family-run’ enterprise. It seems that Montemagno, like a certain US president, prefers to work with his family.

According to this article in The New Economy, Montemagno came to Alberta because it offered an opportunity to conduct research in a progressive fashion,,

In 2012, Dr Montemagno was lured back to the world of research when the opportunity to lead a large-scale nanotechnology accelerator initiative in Alberta materialised. His background traversing agricultural and bioengineering, petroleum engineering, and nanotechnology made him an ideal choice to lead the exciting new programme. The opportunity was significant and he viewed Alberta as a land of opportunity with an entrepreneurial spirit; he decided to make the move to Canada. The vision of advancing technologies to solve grand challenges recaptured his imagination. The initiative is now branded as Ingenuity Lab. [emphases mine]

Located within the University of Alberta, Canada, Ingenuity Lab is an assembly of multi-disciplinary experts who work closely to develop technological advancements in ways that are not otherwise possible. Not only is Ingenuity Lab different to other initiatives in the way it operates its goal-orientated and holistic approach, but also in the progressive way it conducts research. In this model, limitations on creativity that surround the traditional university faculty model (which rewards individual success and internal competition) are overcome.[emphases mine]

Three (at least) employees seem to suggest otherwise. Still, there are situations where trusted colleagues, familial or not, migrate together from one employer to another. For example, Nigel Lockyer was the Director for TRIUMF (Canada’s particle accelerator centre; formerly, Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics). He brought on board with him, Timothy Meyer someone with whom (I believe) he had a previous working/professional relationship. Lockyer is now the Director of the Fermilab (University of Chicago, Illinois, US) and guess who also works at the Fermilab? Lockyer and Meyer were quite successful at TRIUMF and they appear to be revitalizing the Fermi Lab, which until their tenure seemed moribund. (See: University of Chicago Sept. 27, 2017 news release: Nigel Lockyer appointed to second term as director of Fermilab; and Timothy Meyer’s profile page on the Fermilab website to confirm the biographical details for yourself.)

These days, the Ingenuity Lab (accessed March 5, 2017) lists Murray Gray, PhD, as their interim director. He is a professor emeritus from the University of Alberta. There is still an Ingenuity Lab website, Facebook account, and Twitter account. The Twitter account has been inactive since August 2017, their website is curiously empty, while the Facebook account boasts a relatively recent posting of a research paper.

Final thoughts

With all the money for science funding flying around, it seems like it might be time to start assessing the ROI (return on investment) for these projects and, perhaps, giving a closer eye to how it’s spent (oversight) in the first place. In Canada.

Other than an occasional provincial or federal audit that might or might not occur, is anyone providing consistent oversight for these multimillion dollar science investments? For example, the Canadian federal government recently announced $950M investment in five superclusters (see Feb. 15, 2018 Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada news release). One of the superclusters has to do with supply chains and AI (artificial intelligence. Here’s what Paul Wells in a Feb. 15, 2018 article for Maclean’s observed,

The AI supply-chain group from, essentially, Montreal (wait! I guess I’m just guessing about that) is comically gnomic. I could find no name of any actual person or company anywhere on the website. Only a series of Zen riddles. “Over 120 industrial and enabling institutions, from very large firms to start-ups, have joined forces in this journey,” the website says helpfully, “and we have strong momentum.”

You can see it for yourself here. Who will be providing oversight? At what intervals? And, how?

In searching for further information about funding and budgets, I found this (in addition to the feedback from disgruntled Ingenuity Lab employees), Dr. Carlo Montemagno received $556,295.06 in compensation and $40,215.81 for ‘other’ in 2016 and $538,345.35 in compensation and $37,815.98 for ‘other’ in 2015 (accessed March 5, 2018).

The information about Dr. Montemagno’s salary and benefits can be found on the University of Alberta’s Human Resource Services public Sector Compensation Disclosure page. Presumably, the 2017 figures have not yet been released, as well, Montegmagno’s 2017 salary .may not be disclosed for the same reason neither Melissa Germain’s nor Jeffrey Germain’s salaries are disclosed,

The Alberta government’s Public Sector Compensation Transparency Act (2015) requires that the University of Alberta disclose the name, position, compensation, non-monetary benefits and severance for all employees whose total compensation plus severance exceeds an annual threshold [emphasis mine]. Remuneration paid to members of the Board of Governors will also be disclosed. Disclosure must be published annually on or before June 30th for compensation paid in the previous calendar year. Employees who terminated between January 1 and June 30 that received pay in lieu of notice, pay during a period of notice and/or severance pay and the total of those amounts exceeds the threshold will be included on the disclosure list each December. The disclosure list will identify the name and the amount of severance. Any other compensation will be reported on the next June’s disclosure.

The Public Sector Compensation Transparency Act applies to more than 150 agencies, boards, and commissions, to independent offices of the Alberta Legislature, and to employees of Convenant Health.

For questions or concerns, please contact Wayne Patterson, Executive Director, Human Resource Services.

There may have been a good reason for Montemagno’s compensation of over 1/2 million dollars per year, for 2015 and 2016 at least. Researchers are expected to bring in money through research grants. I found one funding announcement for $1.7M from Natural Resource Canada on the Ingenuity Lab’s news release page (accessed March 5, 2018).

Oddly, Dr. Montemagno was appointed chancellor at SIU on July 13, 2017 and his start date was August 15, 2017 (July 13, 2017 SIU news release). That’s unusually fast for an academic institution for a position at that level. Not to mention Montemagno’s position in Alberta.

SIU is not the only place to inspire Montemagno to dream (eliminate academic departments from their university as per Rhodes’ article). He dreamt big for Alberta too. From an Oct. 30,2015 article by Gary Lamphier for the Edmonton Journal,

Faced with so many serious challenges, it’s no surprise Alberta’s oilpatch and its once-envied economy are sputtering, prompting gleeful outbreaks of schadenfreude from Vancouver to Toronto.

But what if Alberta could upend the basic economic paradigm [emphasis mine] in which it operates? Suppose Alberta could curb its carbon emissions, thus shedding its nasty environmental reputation and giving it the social licence needed to build new oil pipelines, while diversifying the economy at the same time?

Sound impossible? Don’t be so sure. That’s Carlo Montemagno’s dream, and the world-renowned director of Alberta’s Ingenuity Lab, who heads a team of about 100 scientists, has a bold plan to do it. It’s called the carbon transformation project, and he hopes to pull it off by the end of this decade. [emphases mine]

If it works, the scheme would capture the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted at any one of dozens of Alberta industrial sites, from power plants to petrochemical facilities, without requiring any massive retrofits or the kind of multibillion-dollar investments associated with carbon sequestration.

Through a process employing artificial light, water and electricity, it would harness industrial CO2 emissions to create more than 70 commercially valuable carbon-containing chemicals, Montemagno says. Such chemicals could form the essential building blocks for dozens of consumer and industrial products, ranging from auto antifreeze and polyester fibres to food additives.

The plan is brilliant in its simplicity. Montemagno’s team aims to turn a bad thing — CO2 — into a good thing, one that creates value, wealth, and new jobs. And he hopes to do it without trashing Alberta’s existing oil-fired economy.

Instead, his concept involves simply tacking one more process onto the province’s industrial sites, thus creating valuable new feedstock for existing or new industries.

“If it all works, it means you can produce products you need to satisfy local economic needs, create more value from emissions, generate more revenue and more products,” says Montemagno, who has science degrees from Cornell University, Penn State, and a PhD in civil engineering and geological sciences from University of Notre Dame.

“The big argument today is, you burn fossil fuels and release CO2 into the atmosphere, and end up causing global warming,” he says.

“But the problem isn’t that you’re burning fossil fuels. The problem is you’re releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. So is there an opportunity to not release CO2 and instead capture and use it in other products? It’s really about stating the problem in the appropriate language.”

With funding from Alberta’s Climate Change and Emissions Management Corp., Ingenuity Lab is hard at work developing a $1.3-million demonstration project to prove the concept. Montemagno hopes to have an industrial-scale pilot project running in three to four years. [emphasis mine]

Montemagno certainly had an exciting plan. And, 2018 would be around the time someone might expect to see the “industrial-scale pilot project for carbon transformation” mentioned (2015 + three to four years) in Lamphier’s article. Where is it? When is it starting?

And now, Montemagno has some exciting plans for SIU?


With regard to hiring family members, the Chicago Sun-Time Editorial Board (Feb. 5, 2018 editorial) does not approve,

Here’s a pro tip for you chancellors at hard-up public universities who are thinking about hiring your own daughters:

Don’t do it.

Don’t hire your sons-in-law, either.


It looks bad, and nobody afterward will feel quite so confident that you are serious about getting your university’s finances in order and protecting important academic programs.

They might look at you, fairly or not, like you’re an old-time Chicago ward boss.

Carlo Montemagno was hired last year as chancellor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He makes $340,000 a year.

That’s a lot of money, but top university talent doesn’t come cheap, not even at a state university that has been forced to cut millions of dollars from its budget in recent years and has considered cutting seven degree programs.

Then, on Sept. 1, 2017, three months after Montemagno came on board, his daughter, Melissa Germain, was hired as assistant director of university communications, with an annual salary of $52,000. One month later, his son-in-law, Jeffrey Germain, was hired as “extra help” in the office of the vice chancellor for research, at $45 an hour.

Allow us to pause here to wonder why Montemagno, no stranger to the back-biting culture of university campuses, failed to foresee that this would become a minor flap. …

It didn’t seem to occur to the members of the Editorial Board that Montemagno had successfully pulled off this feat in Alberta before arriving at SIU. Also, they seem unaware he took a pay cut of over $100,000 ($340,000 USD = $437,996.28 CAD as of March 2, 2018). That’s an awfully big pay cut even if it is in Canadian dollars.

In any event, I wish the folks at SIU all the best and I hope Dr. Montemagno proves to be a successful and effective chancellor. (It doesn’t look good when you hire your family but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong and, as for output from the Ingenuity Lab, everyone has a least one mistake and one failure in their working careers. For good measure, sometimes something that looks like a failure turns out to be a success. However, I think some questions need to be asked.

I offer my thanks to the student reporters at SIU’s The Daily Egyptian , Dawn Rhodes, and the Chicago-Tribune Editorial Board whose investigative reporting and commentary supplied me with enough information to go back and reappraise what I ‘knew’ about the Ingenuity Lab.

As for the Ingenuity Lab, perhaps we’ll hear more about their Carbon transformation programme later this year (2018). Unfortunately, the current webpage does not have substantive updates. There are some videos but they seem more like wistful thinking than real life projects.

To answer my own question, What is happening with Alberta’s (Canada) Ingenuity Lab? The answer would seem to be, not much.

If they are cleaning up a mess and this looks like it might be the case, I hope they’re successful and can move forward with their projects. I would like to hear more about the Ingenuity Lab in the future.

US National Nanotechnology Initiative publishes 2018 US President’s 2018 budget request

The US National Nanotechnology Initiative has made its budget request for 2018 according to a Dec. 5, 2017 anouncement by Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla Hutton at the Nano and Other Emerging Chemical Technologies blog on the JD Supra website (Note: A link has been removed),

On November 30, 2017, the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) published a supplement to the President’s 2018 budget.  The supplement also serves as NNI’s annual report and summarizes the progress made in achieving NNI’s goals, the research and development (R&D) activities and plans of the participating agencies, and the agency investments in each program component area.  The President’s 2018 Budget requests $1.2 billion for the NNI, “a continued investment in support of innovation promoting America’s competitiveness, economic growth, and national security.”  The NNI investments proposed for 2018 reflect an emphasis on broad, fundamental research in nanoscience to provide a continuing pipeline of new discoveries that will enable future transformative commercial products and services.  …

The November 30, 2017 NNI Supplement to the President’s 2018 Budget can be found here. Click on the download button (or go here) for the full supplement which includes explanations for the initialisms, e.g., PCA, STIR, etc. and sections such as this about key points,

Key Points about the 2016–2018 NNI Investments

• Reductions in overall NNI investments for 2018 relative to 2016–2017 and previous years are consistent with the goal of the President’s 2018 Budget to prioritize Federal resources on areas that industry is not likely to support, over later-stage applied research and development that the private sector is better equipped to pursue.

• The actual NNI investments reported by the participating agencies for 2016 ($1.56 billion) are significantly larger than 2016 estimated investments published in the 2017 Budget ($1.43 billion) and 2016 requested investments published in the 2016 Budget ($1.50 billion). This change is due largely to the fact that an increasing proportion of agencies’ nanotechnology investments are coming from “core” R&D programs, where the high success rate of nanotechnology-related proposals cannot be anticipated in advance.

• Total funding for PCA 1, Nanotechnology Signature Initiatives and Grand Challenges, for 2018 (nearly $200 million, representing over 16% of the NNI total) reflects the emphasis on focused investments in R&D that advances interagency cooperation and public/private partnerships in support of national priorities, as a key part of the overall NNI funding strategy.

• The NNI’s Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenge for Future Computing is a new investment category in the President’s 2018 Budget, included for the first time under PCA 1. This challenge helps to address renewed international competition for U.S. leadership in semiconductor manufacturing and downstream information technology industries. For 2016, agencies are reporting over $140 million in investments under the NNI budget crosscut (including related research under the Nanoelectronics NSI) in this sector, which is critical for both national security and economic competitiveness.

• The increase in the percentage of total NNI investments in PCA 2, Foundational Research (from 36% in 2016 to nearly 40% in the 2018 Budget) reflects the Budget’s focus on supporting early-stage R&D, and is consistent with calls by NNI advisory bodies to maintain a pipeline of basic research that will lead to the innovations of the future.

• Proportional NNI investments in PCA 3 (Nanotechnology-Enabled Applications, Devices, and Systems) hold steady at about 24% of the total NNI investments for 2016–2018, down slightly from 25% in 2015.

• NNI agencies continue to provide consistent, proportional funding for PCA 4 (Research Infrastructure and Instrumentation) for 2016–2018, at 15–16% of the NNI total. The 2018 request ($179 million, representing about 15% of the NNI total investment) includes sustained support for NSF’s National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure network of university-based nanotechnology user facilities. The President’s 2018 Budget for DOE requests continued support for three of the original five Nanoscale Science Research Centers. PCA 4 also includes research to develop novel or improvedinstrumentation, which is critical to continued progress in nanotechnology and to maintain U.S. competitiveness internationally.

• PCA 5 (Environment, Health, and Safety—EHS) investments are a key element of the NNI’s strategy to ensure responsible development of nanotechnology. For 2016–2018, the proportional research investments reported under PCA 5 (see Appendix A for definitions) are approximately 6% of the NNI total for 2016 and 2017, and 5.5% in the 2018 Budget. In addition to the PCA 5 investments, some research reported under other PCAs (e.g., PCA 1 and PCA 4) also contributes to the overall EHS research portfolio.

• The return of the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to the NNI budget crosscut in the 2018 President’s Budget is another example of where nanotechnology innovations initially funded by basic research agencies are now coming to fruition in R&D programs focused on applications, devices, and systems that directly contribute to national priorities.

• Investments in SBIR and STTR funding by the participating agencies, reported outside of the formal NNI funding crosscut tabulated in the budget tables shown above, play a critical role in transitioning nanotechnology innovations into products for commercial and public benefit (NNI Goal 2), as discussed below. [pp. 14-17 (print) pp. 22-25 [PDF)]

Happy reading!

Robots in Vancouver and in Canada (two of two)

This is the second of a two-part posting about robots in Vancouver and Canada. The first part included a definition, a brief mention a robot ethics quandary, and sexbots. This part is all about the future. (Part one is here.)

Canadian Robotics Strategy

Meetings were held Sept. 28 – 29, 2017 in, surprisingly, Vancouver. (For those who don’t know, this is surprising because most of the robotics and AI research seems to be concentrated in eastern Canada. if you don’t believe me take a look at the speaker list for Day 2 or the ‘Canadian Stakeholder’ meeting day.) From the NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) events page of the Canadian Robotics Network,

Join us as we gather robotics stakeholders from across the country to initiate the development of a national robotics strategy for Canada. Sponsored by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), this two-day event coincides with the 2017 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS 2017) in order to leverage the experience of international experts as we explore Canada’s need for a national robotics strategy.

Vancouver, BC, Canada

Thursday September 28 & Friday September 29, 2017 — Save the date!

Download the full agenda and speakers’ list here.


The purpose of this two-day event is to gather members of the robotics ecosystem from across Canada to initiate the development of a national robotics strategy that builds on our strengths and capacities in robotics, and is uniquely tailored to address Canada’s economic needs and social values.

This event has been sponsored by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and is supported in kind by the 2017 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS 2017) as an official Workshop of the conference.  The first of two days coincides with IROS 2017 – one of the premiere robotics conferences globally – in order to leverage the experience of international robotics experts as we explore Canada’s need for a national robotics strategy here at home.

Who should attend

Representatives from industry, research, government, startups, investment, education, policy, law, and ethics who are passionate about building a robust and world-class ecosystem for robotics in Canada.

Program Overview

Download the full agenda and speakers’ list here.

DAY ONE: IROS Workshop 

“Best practices in designing effective roadmaps for robotics innovation”

Thursday September 28, 2017 | 8:30am – 5:00pm | Vancouver Convention Centre

Morning Program:“Developing robotics innovation policy and establishing key performance indicators that are relevant to your region” Leading international experts share their experience designing robotics strategies and policy frameworks in their regions and explore international best practices. Opening Remarks by Prof. Hong Zhang, IROS 2017 Conference Chair.

Afternoon Program: “Understanding the Canadian robotics ecosystem” Canadian stakeholders from research, industry, investment, ethics and law provide a collective overview of the Canadian robotics ecosystem. Opening Remarks by Ryan Gariepy, CTO of Clearpath Robotics.

Thursday Evening Program: Sponsored by Clearpath Robotics  Workshop participants gather at a nearby restaurant to network and socialize.

Learn more about the IROS Workshop.

DAY TWO: NSERC-Sponsored Canadian Robotics Stakeholder Meeting
“Towards a national robotics strategy for Canada”

Friday September 29, 2017 | 8:30am – 5:00pm | University of British Columbia (UBC)

On the second day of the program, robotics stakeholders from across the country gather at UBC for a full day brainstorming session to identify Canada’s unique strengths and opportunities relative to the global competition, and to align on a strategic vision for robotics in Canada.

Friday Evening Program: Sponsored by NSERC Meeting participants gather at a nearby restaurant for the event’s closing dinner reception.

Learn more about the Canadian Robotics Stakeholder Meeting.

I was glad to see in the agenda that some of the international speakers represented research efforts from outside the usual Europe/US axis.

I have been in touch with one of the organizers (also mentioned in part one with regard to robot ethics), Ajung Moon (her website is here), who says that there will be a white paper available on the Canadian Robotics Network website at some point in the future. I’ll keep looking for it and, in the meantime, I wonder what the 2018 Canadian federal budget will offer robotics.

Robots and popular culture

For anyone living in Canada or the US, Westworld (television series) is probably the most recent and well known ‘robot’ drama to premiere in the last year.As for movies, I think Ex Machina from 2014 probably qualifies in that category. Interestingly, both Westworld and Ex Machina seem quite concerned with sex with Westworld adding significant doses of violence as another  concern.

I am going to focus on another robot story, the 2012 movie, Robot & Frank, which features a care robot and an older man,

Frank (played by Frank Langella), a former jewel thief, teaches a robot the skills necessary to rob some neighbours of their valuables. The ethical issue broached in the film isn’t whether or not the robot should learn the skills and assist Frank in his thieving ways although that’s touched on when Frank keeps pointing out that planning his heist requires he live more healthily. No, the problem arises afterward when the neighbour accuses Frank of the robbery and Frank removes what he believes is all the evidence. He believes he’s going successfully evade arrest until the robot notes that Frank will have to erase its memory in order to remove all of the evidence. The film ends without the robot’s fate being made explicit.

In a way, I find the ethics query (was the robot Frank’s friend or just a machine?) posed in the film more interesting than the one in Vikander’s story, an issue which does have a history. For example, care aides, nurses, and/or servants would have dealt with requests to give an alcoholic patient a drink. Wouldn’t there  already be established guidelines and practices which could be adapted for robots? Or, is this question made anew by something intrinsically different about robots?

To be clear, Vikander’s story is a good introduction and starting point for these kinds of discussions as is Moon’s ethical question. But they are starting points and I hope one day there’ll be a more extended discussion of the questions raised by Moon and noted in Vikander’s article (a two- or three-part series of articles? public discussions?).

How will humans react to robots?

Earlier there was the contention that intimate interactions with robots and sexbots would decrease empathy and the ability of human beings to interact with each other in caring ways. This sounds a bit like the argument about smartphones/cell phones and teenagers who don’t relate well to others in real life because most of their interactions are mediated through a screen, which many seem to prefer. It may be partially true but, arguably,, books too are an antisocial technology as noted in Walter J. Ong’s  influential 1982 book, ‘Orality and Literacy’,  (from the Walter J. Ong Wikipedia entry),

A major concern of Ong’s works is the impact that the shift from orality to literacy has had on culture and education. Writing is a technology like other technologies (fire, the steam engine, etc.) that, when introduced to a “primary oral culture” (which has never known writing) has extremely wide-ranging impacts in all areas of life. These include culture, economics, politics, art, and more. Furthermore, even a small amount of education in writing transforms people’s mentality from the holistic immersion of orality to interiorization and individuation. [emphases mine]

So, robotics and artificial intelligence would not be the first technologies to affect our brains and our social interactions.

There’s another area where human-robot interaction may have unintended personal consequences according to April Glaser’s Sept. 14, 2017 article on (Note: Links have been removed),

The customer service industry is teeming with robots. From automated phone trees to touchscreens, software and machines answer customer questions, complete orders, send friendly reminders, and even handle money. For an industry that is, at its core, about human interaction, it’s increasingly being driven to a large extent by nonhuman automation.

But despite the dreams of science-fiction writers, few people enter a customer-service encounter hoping to talk to a robot. And when the robot malfunctions, as they so often do, it’s a human who is left to calm angry customers. It’s understandable that after navigating a string of automated phone menus and being put on hold for 20 minutes, a customer might take her frustration out on a customer service representative. Even if you know it’s not the customer service agent’s fault, there’s really no one else to get mad at. It’s not like a robot cares if you’re angry.

When human beings need help with something, says Madeleine Elish, an anthropologist and researcher at the Data and Society Institute who studies how humans interact with machines, they’re not only looking for the most efficient solution to a problem. They’re often looking for a kind of validation that a robot can’t give. “Usually you don’t just want the answer,” Elish explained. “You want sympathy, understanding, and to be heard”—none of which are things robots are particularly good at delivering. In a 2015 survey of over 1,300 people conducted by researchers at Boston University, over 90 percent of respondents said they start their customer service interaction hoping to speak to a real person, and 83 percent admitted that in their last customer service call they trotted through phone menus only to make their way to a human on the line at the end.

“People can get so angry that they have to go through all those automated messages,” said Brian Gnerer, a call center representative with AT&T in Bloomington, Minnesota. “They’ve been misrouted or been on hold forever or they pressed one, then two, then zero to speak to somebody, and they are not getting where they want.” And when people do finally get a human on the phone, “they just sigh and are like, ‘Thank God, finally there’s somebody I can speak to.’ ”

Even if robots don’t always make customers happy, more and more companies are making the leap to bring in machines to take over jobs that used to specifically necessitate human interaction. McDonald’s and Wendy’s both reportedly plan to add touchscreen self-ordering machines to restaurants this year. Facebook is saturated with thousands of customer service chatbots that can do anything from hail an Uber, retrieve movie times, to order flowers for loved ones. And of course, corporations prefer automated labor. As Andy Puzder, CEO of the fast-food chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s and former Trump pick for labor secretary, bluntly put it in an interview with Business Insider last year, robots are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.”

But those robots are backstopped by human beings. How does interacting with more automated technology affect the way we treat each other? …

“We know that people treat artificial entities like they’re alive, even when they’re aware of their inanimacy,” writes Kate Darling, a researcher at MIT who studies ethical relationships between humans and robots, in a recent paper on anthropomorphism in human-robot interaction. Sure, robots don’t have feelings and don’t feel pain (not yet, anyway). But as more robots rely on interaction that resembles human interaction, like voice assistants, the way we treat those machines will increasingly bleed into the way we treat each other.

It took me a while to realize that what Glaser is talking about are AI systems and not robots as such. (sigh) It’s so easy to conflate the concepts.

AI ethics (Toby Walsh and Suzanne Gildert)

Jack Stilgoe of the Guardian published a brief Oct. 9, 2017 introduction to his more substantive (30 mins.?) podcast interview with Dr. Toby Walsh where they discuss stupid AI amongst other topics (Note: A link has been removed),

Professor Toby Walsh has recently published a book – Android Dreams – giving a researcher’s perspective on the uncertainties and opportunities of artificial intelligence. Here, he explains to Jack Stilgoe that we should worry more about the short-term risks of stupid AI in self-driving cars and smartphones than the speculative risks of super-intelligence.

Professor Walsh discusses the effects that AI could have on our jobs, the shapes of our cities and our understandings of ourselves. As someone developing AI, he questions the hype surrounding the technology. He is scared by some drivers’ real-world experimentation with their not-quite-self-driving Teslas. And he thinks that Siri needs to start owning up to being a computer.

I found this discussion to cast a decidedly different light on the future of robotics and AI. Walsh is much more interested in discussing immediate issues like the problems posed by ‘self-driving’ cars. (Aside: Should we be calling them robot cars?)

One ethical issue Walsh raises is with data regarding accidents. He compares what’s happening with accident data from self-driving (robot) cars to how the aviation industry handles accidents. Hint: accident data involving air planes is shared. Would you like to guess who does not share their data?

Sharing and analyzing data and developing new safety techniques based on that data has made flying a remarkably safe transportation technology.. Walsh argues the same could be done for self-driving cars if companies like Tesla took the attitude that safety is in everyone’s best interests and shared their accident data in a scheme similar to the aviation industry’s.

In an Oct. 12, 2017 article by Matthew Braga for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) news online another ethical issue is raised by Suzanne Gildert (a participant in the Canadian Robotics Roadmap/Strategy meetings mentioned earlier here), Note: Links have been removed,

… Suzanne Gildert, the co-founder and chief science officer of Vancouver-based robotics company Kindred. Since 2014, her company has been developing intelligent robots [emphasis mine] that can be taught by humans to perform automated tasks — for example, handling and sorting products in a warehouse.

The idea is that when one of Kindred’s robots encounters a scenario it can’t handle, a human pilot can take control. The human can see, feel and hear the same things the robot does, and the robot can learn from how the human pilot handles the problematic task.

This process, called teleoperation, is one way to fast-track learning by manually showing the robot examples of what its trainers want it to do. But it also poses a potential moral and ethical quandary that will only grow more serious as robots become more intelligent.

“That AI is also learning my values,” Gildert explained during a talk on robot ethics at the Singularity University Canada Summit in Toronto on Wednesday [Oct. 11, 2017]. “Everything — my mannerisms, my behaviours — is all going into the AI.”

At its worst, everything from algorithms used in the U.S. to sentence criminals to image-recognition software has been found to inherit the racist and sexist biases of the data on which it was trained.

But just as bad habits can be learned, good habits can be learned too. The question is, if you’re building a warehouse robot like Kindred is, is it more effective to train those robots’ algorithms to reflect the personalities and behaviours of the humans who will be working alongside it? Or do you try to blend all the data from all the humans who might eventually train Kindred robots around the world into something that reflects the best strengths of all?

I notice Gildert distinguishes her robots as “intelligent robots” and then focuses on AI and issues with bias which have already arisen with regard to algorithms (see my May 24, 2017 posting about bias in machine learning, AI, and .Note: if you’re in Vancouver on Oct. 26, 2017 and interested in algorithms and bias), there’s a talk being given by Dr. Cathy O’Neil, author the Weapons of Math Destruction, on the topic of Gender and Bias in Algorithms. It’s not free but  tickets are here.)

Final comments

There is one more aspect I want to mention. Even as someone who usually deals with nanobots, it’s easy to start discussing robots as if the humanoid ones are the only ones that exist. To recapitulate, there are humanoid robots, utilitarian robots, intelligent robots, AI, nanobots, ‘microscopic bots, and more all of which raise questions about ethics and social impacts.

However, there is one more category I want to add to this list: cyborgs. They live amongst us now. Anyone who’s had a hip or knee replacement or a pacemaker or a deep brain stimulator or other such implanted device qualifies as a cyborg. Increasingly too, prosthetics are being introduced and made part of the body. My April 24, 2017 posting features this story,

This Case Western Reserve University (CRWU) video accompanies a March 28, 2017 CRWU news release, (h/t ScienceDaily March 28, 2017 news item)

Bill Kochevar grabbed a mug of water, drew it to his lips and drank through the straw.

His motions were slow and deliberate, but then Kochevar hadn’t moved his right arm or hand for eight years.

And it took some practice to reach and grasp just by thinking about it.

Kochevar, who was paralyzed below his shoulders in a bicycling accident, is believed to be the first person with quadriplegia in the world to have arm and hand movements restored with the help of two temporarily implanted technologies. [emphasis mine]

A brain-computer interface with recording electrodes under his skull, and a functional electrical stimulation (FES) system* activating his arm and hand, reconnect his brain to paralyzed muscles.

Does a brain-computer interface have an effect on human brain and, if so, what might that be?

In any discussion (assuming there is funding for it) about ethics and social impact, we might want to invite the broadest range of people possible at an ‘earlyish’ stage (although we’re already pretty far down the ‘automation road’) stage or as Jack Stilgoe and Toby Walsh note, technological determinism holds sway.

Once again here are links for the articles and information mentioned in this double posting,

That’s it!

ETA Oct. 16, 2017: Well, I guess that wasn’t quite ‘it’. BBC’s (British Broadcasting Corporation) Magazine published a thoughtful Oct. 15, 2017 piece titled: Can we teach robots ethics?

Model-type coding

By model, I mean Karlie Kloss whose computer coding camp project was profiled in an August 31, 2017 article by Elizabeth Segran for Fast Company (Note: Links have been removed),

It all started on a whim. Four years ago, supermodel Karlie Kloss decided to take an intensive coding course at New York Flatiron School. She had never written a lick of code in her life, but she wanted to see what the fuss about coding was all about. Between runway shows in Paris and Milan, and magazine shoots in London and New York, she would sit down with her instructor, Avi Flombaum, and learn the basics of Ruby on Rails.

“It was sheer curiosity that led me to take that class,” the 25-year-old Kloss tells Fast Company. “But it was really eye-opening to learn about the hardware and the software that goes into the tech we use every day.”

As a successful model, Kloss didn’t have any immediate reason to learn how to code, but she soon realized the activity could bring sweet rewards–literally. “One of the first things I learned how to program was a drone that could pick up a cookie on one side of the room and deliver it to the other side of the room,” she says with a twinkle in her eye. “It’s still one of my favorite things I’ve learned to do with code.”

Around 2012, coding bootcamps like the Flatiron course began popping up all over the country with the promise of equipping people with no prior training with the basics of computer science. In Kloss’s case, she was surprised to discover that coding wasn’t an impenetrable skill. “It’s a language just like any other language,” she says. “And the way our world is going, learning to code should be just as important as learning your mother tongue.”

There’s a persistent narrative in our culture that women are less inclined to pursue computer science. This was evident in the infamous Google memo, in which an employee, James Damore, claimed that women are genetically less inclined to code. This hasn’t been Kloss’s experience, though. She’s encountered many young women who are just as curious as she is about the technology that surrounds them. “They are aware of the power of these technical skills and how they are shaping the world today,” Kloss says. “These young women grew up with this technology embedded and they’re not scared to try building things. They are more forward-thinking than we sometimes give them credit for.”

Back in 2014, Kloss put out a call on her social media channels, asking if there were like-minded young women out there who wanted to code but didn’t have access to a course. She received an avalanche of responses from young women and ultimately offered scholarships to 21 young women to attend a two-week summer camp at the Flatiron School.

Three years later, Kloss says that this initiative–called Kode With Klossy–has grown and evolved. So far, more than 400 girls age 13 to 18 have gone through the Kode With Klossy summer camps. Kloss can now track where these students have ended up, and the results have been impressive. One of the original beneficiaries just won the grand prize at the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon, together with three other high school girls. (The team beat out 750 engineers with a virtual reality app that can help treat and diagnose ADHD efficiently.) …

There’s a bit more about Kloss and her camps, although it’s mostly about Kloss’s career, in a June 2017 article by Laura Brown for In Style magazine.

You can find Kode with Klossy here; the efforts are concentrated in the US. For anyone interested in coding initiatives in Canada, there’s Ladies learning Code, which offers both girls only and co-ed opportunities amongst others. Also, the Canadian federal government is getting in on the act with a $50M programme as I noted in my June 16, 2017 posting,

Government officials are calling the new $50M programme to teach computer coding skills to approximately 500,000 Canadian children from kindergarten to grade 12, CanCode (h/t June 14, 2017 news item on Here’s more from the June 14, 2017 Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada news release,,

Young Canadians will get the skills they need for the well-paying jobs of the future as a result of a $50-million program that gives them the opportunity to learn coding and other digital skills.

The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, together with the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, today launched CanCode, a new program that, over the next two years, will give 500,000 students from kindergarten to grade 12 the opportunity to learn the in-demand skills that will prepare them for future jobs.

The program also aims to encourage more young women, Indigenous Canadians and other under-represented groups to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. In addition, it will equip 500 teachers across the country with the training and tools to teach digital skills and coding.

 Getting back to Segran’s article about Kloss’s coding camps, the writer describes the current approach to coding camps in the US,

The problem, she [Kloss] believes, is access. Many middle and high schools don’t offer coding courses, although this is slowly changing. And when they are offered, they tend to be oversubscribed by male students, creating an uncomfortable imbalance in the classroom. Then there are the popular coding bootcamps, such as the one that Kloss took, but they often come with hefty price tags: Tuition can cost upward of $1,000 a week. There have also been questions about how sustainable the coding bootcamp business model really is, since several companies, like The Iron Yard and Dev Bootcamp, have had to shut down recently.

I guess we’ll see what happens with the Canadian $50M in the next few years and whether it proves a more effective approach (i.e., government and not-for-profit) than the individual business and not-for-profit efforts seen in the US.

Canadian science policy news and doings (also: some US science envoy news)

I have a couple of notices from the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC), a twitter feed, and an article in online magazine to thank for this bumper crop of news.

 Canadian Science Policy Centre: the conference

The 2017 Canadian Science Policy Conference to be held Nov. 1 – 3, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario for the third year in a row has a super saver rate available until Sept. 3, 2017 according to an August 14, 2017 announcement (received via email).

Time is running out, you have until September 3rd until prices go up from the SuperSaver rate.

Savings off the regular price with the SuperSaver rate:
Up to 26% for General admission
Up to 29% for Academic/Non-Profit Organizations
Up to 40% for Students and Post-Docs

Before giving you the link to the registration page and assuming that you might want to check out what is on offer at the conference, here’s a link to the programme. They don’t seem to have any events celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary although they do have a session titled, ‘The Next 150 years of Science in Canada: Embedding Equity, Delivering Diversity/Les 150 prochaine années de sciences au Canada:  Intégrer l’équité, promouvoir la diversité‘,

Enhancing equity, diversity, and inclusivity (EDI) in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) has been described as being a human rights issue and an economic development issue by various individuals and organizations (e.g. OECD). Recent federal policy initiatives in Canada have focused on increasing participation of women (a designated under-represented group) in science through increased reporting, program changes, and institutional accountability. However, the Employment Equity Act requires employers to act to ensure the full representation of the three other designated groups: Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities. Significant structural and systemic barriers to full participation and employment in STEM for members of these groups still exist in Canadian institutions. Since data support the positive role of diversity in promoting innovation and economic development, failure to capture the full intellectual capacity of a diverse population limits provincial and national potential and progress in many areas. A diverse international panel of experts from designated groups will speak to the issue of accessibility and inclusion in STEM. In addition, the discussion will focus on evidence-based recommendations for policy initiatives that will promote full EDI in science in Canada to ensure local and national prosperity and progress for Canada over the next 150 years.

There’s also this list of speakers . Curiously, I don’t see Kirsty Duncan, Canada’s Minister of Science on the list, nor do I see any other politicians in the banner for their conference website  This divergence from the CSPC’s usual approach to promoting the conference is interesting.

Moving onto the conference, the organizers have added two panels to the programme (from the announcement received via email),

Friday, November 3, 2017
Open Science and Innovation
Organizer: Tiberius Brastaviceanu
Organization: ACES-CAKE

10:30AM- 12:00PM
The Scientific and Economic Benefits of Open Science
Organizer: Arij Al Chawaf
Organization: Structural Genomics

I think this is the first time there’s been a ‘Tiberius’ on this blog and teamed with the organization’s name, well, I just had to include it.

Finally, here’s the link to the registration page and a page that details travel deals.

Canadian Science Policy Conference: a compendium of documents and articles on Canada’s Chief Science Advisor and Ontario’s Chief Scientist and the pre-2018 budget submissions

The deadline for applications for the Chief Science Advisor position was extended to Feb. 2017 and so far, there’s no word as to whom it might be. Perhaps Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan wants to make a splash with a surprise announcement at the CSPC’s 2017 conference? As for Ontario’s Chief Scientist, this move will make province the third (?) to have a chief scientist, after Québec and Alberta. There is apparently one in Alberta but there doesn’t seem to be a government webpage and his LinkedIn profile doesn’t include this title. In any event, Dr. Fred Wrona is mentioned as the Alberta’s Chief Scientist in a May 31, 2017 Alberta government announcement. *ETA Aug. 25, 2017: I missed the Yukon, which has a Senior Science Advisor. The position is currently held by Dr. Aynslie Ogden.*

Getting back to the compendium, here’s the CSPC’s A Comprehensive Collection of Publications Regarding Canada’s Federal Chief Science Advisor and Ontario’s Chief Scientist webpage. Here’s a little background provided on the page,

On June 2nd, 2017, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance commenced the pre-budget consultation process for the 2018 Canadian Budget. These consultations provide Canadians the opportunity to communicate their priorities with a focus on Canadian productivity in the workplace and community in addition to entrepreneurial competitiveness. Organizations from across the country submitted their priorities on August 4th, 2017 to be selected as witness for the pre-budget hearings before the Committee in September 2017. The process will result in a report to be presented to the House of Commons in December 2017 and considered by the Minister of Finance in the 2018 Federal Budget.




The deadline for pre-2018 budget submissions was Aug. 4, 2017 and they haven’t yet scheduled any meetings although they are to be held in September. (People can meet with the Standing Committee on Finance in various locations across Canada to discuss their submissions.) I’m not sure where the CSPC got their list of ‘science’ submissions but it’s definitely worth checking as there are some odd omissions such as TRIUMF (Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics)), Genome Canada, the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, CIFAR (Canadian Institute for Advanced Research), the Perimeter Institute, Canadian Light Source, etc.

Twitter and the Naylor Report under a microscope

This news came from University of British Columbia President Santa Ono’s twitter feed,

 I will join Jon [sic] Borrows and Janet Rossant on Sept 19 in Ottawa at a Mindshare event to discuss the importance of the Naylor Report

The Mindshare event Ono is referring to is being organized by Universities Canada (formerly the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada) and the Institute for Research on Public Policy. It is titled, ‘The Naylor report under the microscope’. Here’s more from the event webpage,

Join Universities Canada and Policy Options for a lively discussion moderated by editor-in-chief Jennifer Ditchburn on the report from the Fundamental Science Review Panel and why research matters to Canadians.


Jennifer Ditchburn, editor, Policy Options.

Jennifer Ditchburn

Editor-in-chief, Policy Options

Jennifer Ditchburn is the editor-in-chief of Policy Options, the online policy forum of the Institute for Research on Public Policy.  An award-winning parliamentary correspondent, Jennifer began her journalism career at the Canadian Press in Montreal as a reporter-editor during the lead-up to the 1995 referendum.  From 2001 and 2006 she was a national reporter with CBC TV on Parliament Hill, and in 2006 she returned to the Canadian Press.  She is a three-time winner of a National Newspaper Award:  twice in the politics category, and once in the breaking news category. In 2015 she was awarded the prestigious Charles Lynch Award for outstanding coverage of national issues. Jennifer has been a frequent contributor to television and radio public affairs programs, including CBC’s Power and Politics, the “At Issue” panel, and The Current. She holds a bachelor of arts from Concordia University, and a master of journalism from Carleton University.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

 12-2 pm

Fairmont Château Laurier,  Laurier  Room
 1 Rideau Street, Ottawa

I can’t tell if they’re offering lunch or if there is a cost associated with this event so you may want to contact the organizers.

As for the Naylor report, I posted a three-part series on June 8, 2017, which features my comments and the other comments I was able to find on the report:

INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research (Review of fundamental research final report): 1 of 3

INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research (Review of fundamental research final report): 2 of 3

INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research (Review of fundamental research final report): 3 of 3

One piece not mentioned in my three-part series is Paul Wells’ provocatively titled June 29, 2017 article for MacLean’s magazine, Why Canadian scientists aren’t happy (Note: Links have been removed),

Much hubbub this morning over two interviews Kirsty Duncan, the science minister, has given the papers. The subject is Canada’s Fundamental Science Review, commonly called the Naylor Report after David Naylor, the former University of Toronto president who was its main author.

Other authors include BlackBerry founder Mike Lazaridis, who has bankrolled much of the Waterloo renaissance, and Canadian Nobel physicist Arthur McDonald. It’s as blue-chip as a blue-chip panel could be.

Duncan appointed the panel a year ago. It’s her panel, delivered by her experts. Why does it not seem to be… getting anywhere? Why does it seem to have no champion in government? Therein lies a tale.

Note, first, that Duncan’s interviews—her first substantive comment on the report’s recommendations!—come nearly three months after its April release, which in turn came four months after Duncan asked Naylor to deliver his report, last December. (By March I had started to make fun of the Trudeau government in print for dragging its heels on the report’s release. That column was not widely appreciated in the government, I’m told.)

Anyway, the report was released, at an event attended by no representative of the Canadian government. Here’s the gist of what I wrote at the time:


Naylor’s “single most important recommendation” is a “rapid increase” in federal spending on “independent investigator-led research” instead of the “priority-driven targeted research” that two successive federal governments, Trudeau’s and Stephen Harper’s, have preferred in the last 8 or 10 federal budgets.

In English: Trudeau has imitated Harper in favouring high-profile, highly targeted research projects, on areas of study selected by political staffers in Ottawa, that are designed to attract star researchers from outside Canada so they can bolster the image of Canada as a research destination.

That’d be great if it wasn’t achieved by pruning budgets for the less spectacular research that most scientists do.

Naylor has numbers. “Between 2007-08 and 2015-16, the inflation-adjusted budgetary envelope for investigator-led research fell by 3 per cent while that for priority-driven research rose by 35 per cent,” he and his colleagues write. “As the number of researchers grew during this period, the real resources available per active researcher to do investigator-led research declined by about 35 per cent.”

And that’s not even taking into account the way two new programs—the $10-million-per-recipient Canada Excellence Research Chairs and the $1.5 billion Canada First Research Excellence Fund—are “further concentrating resources in the hands of smaller numbers of individuals and institutions.”

That’s the context for Duncan’s remarks. In the Globe, she says she agrees with Naylor on “the need for a research system that promotes equity and diversity, provides a better entry for early career researchers and is nimble in response to new scientific opportunities.” But she also “disagreed” with the call for a national advisory council that would give expert advice on the government’s entire science, research and innovation policy.

This is an asinine statement. When taking three months to read a report, it’s a good idea to read it. There is not a single line in Naylor’s overlong report that calls for the new body to make funding decisions. Its proposed name is NACRI, for National Advisory Council on Research and Innovation. A for Advisory. Its responsibilities, listed on Page 19 if you’re reading along at home, are restricted to “advice… evaluation… public reporting… advice… advice.”

Duncan also didn’t promise to meet Naylor’s requested funding levels: $386 million for research in the first year, growing to $1.3 billion in new money in the fourth year. That’s a big concern for researchers, who have been warning for a decade that two successive government’s—Harper’s and Trudeau’s—have been more interested in building new labs than in ensuring there’s money to do research in them.

The minister has talking points. She gave the same answer to both reporters about whether Naylor’s recommendations will be implemented in time for the next federal budget. “It takes time to turn the Queen Mary around,” she said. Twice. I’ll say it does: She’s reacting three days before Canada Day to a report that was written before Christmas. Which makes me worry when she says elected officials should be in charge of being nimble.

Here’s what’s going on.

The Naylor report represents Canadian research scientists’ side of a power struggle. The struggle has been continuing since Jean Chrétien left office. After early cuts, he presided for years over very large increases to the budgets of the main science granting councils. But since 2003, governments have preferred to put new funding dollars to targeted projects in applied sciences. …

Naylor wants that trend reversed, quickly. He is supported in that call by a frankly astonishingly broad coalition of university administrators and working researchers, who until his report were more often at odds. So you have the group representing Canada’s 15 largest research universities and the group representing all universities and a new group representing early-career researchers and, as far as I can tell, every Canadian scientist on Twitter. All backing Naylor. All fundamentally concerned that new money for research is of no particular interest if it does not back the best science as chosen by scientists, through peer review.

The competing model, the one preferred by governments of all stripes, might best be called superclusters. Very large investments into very large projects with loosely defined scientific objectives, whose real goal is to retain decorated veteran scientists and to improve the Canadian high-tech industry. Vast and sprawling labs and tech incubators, cabinet ministers nodding gravely as world leaders in sexy trendy fields sketch the golden path to Jobs of Tomorrow.

You see the imbalance. On one side, ribbons to cut. On the other, nerds experimenting on tapeworms. Kirsty Duncan, a shaky political performer, transparently a junior minister to the supercluster guy, with no deputy minister or department reporting to her, is in a structurally weak position: her title suggests she’s science’s emissary to the government, but she is not equipped to be anything more than government’s emissary to science.

A government that consistently buys into the market for intellectual capital at the very top of the price curve is a factory for producing white elephants. But don’t take my word for it. Ask Geoffrey Hinton [University of Toronto’s Geoffrey Hinton, a Canadian leader in machine learning].

“There is a lot of pressure to make things more applied; I think it’s a big mistake,” he said in 2015. “In the long run, curiosity-driven research just works better… Real breakthroughs come from people focusing on what they’re excited about.”

I keep saying this, like a broken record. If you want the science that changes the world, ask the scientists who’ve changed it how it gets made. This government claims to be interested in what scientists think. We’ll see.

Incisive and acerbic,  you may want to make time to read this article in its entirety.

Getting back to the ‘The Naylor report under the microscope’ event, I wonder if anyone will be as tough and direct as Wells. Going back even further, I wonder if this is why there’s no mention of Duncan as a speaker at the conference. It could go either way: surprise announcement of a Chief Science Advisor, as I first suggested, or avoidance of a potentially angry audience.

For anyone curious about Geoffrey Hinton, there’s more here in my March 31, 2017 post (scroll down about 20% of the way) and for more about the 2017 budget and allocations for targeted science projects there’s my March 24, 2017 post.

US science envoy quits

An Aug. 23, 2017article by Matthew Rosza for notes the resignation of one of the US science envoys,

President Donald Trump’s infamous response to the Charlottesville riots — namely, saying that both sides were to blame and that there were “very fine people” marching as white supremacists — has prompted yet another high profile resignation from his administration.

Daniel M. Kammen, who served as a science envoy for the State Department and focused on renewable energy development in the Middle East and Northern Africa, submitted a letter of resignation on Wednesday. Notably, he began the first letter of each paragraph with letters that spelled out I-M-P-E-A-C-H. That followed a letter earlier this month by writer Jhumpa Lahiri and actor Kal Penn to similarly spell R-E-S-I-S-T in their joint letter of resignation from the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities.

Jeremy Berke’s Aug. 23, 2017 article for provides a little more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

A State Department climate science envoy resigned Wednesday in a public letter posted on Twitter over what he says is President Donald Trump’s “attacks on the core values” of the United States with his response to violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“My decision to resign is in response to your attacks on the core values of the United States,” wrote Daniel Kammen, a professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley, who was appointed as one five science envoys in 2016. “Your failure to condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazis has domestic and international ramifications.”

“Your actions to date have, sadly, harmed the quality of life in the United States, our standing abroad, and the sustainability of the planet,” Kammen writes.

Science envoys work with the State Department to establish and develop energy programs in countries around the world. Kammen specifically focused on renewable energy development in the Middle East and North Africa.

That’s it.

US Dept. of Agriculture announces its nanotechnology research grants

I don’t always stumble across the US Department of Agriculture’s nanotechnology research grant announcements but I’m always grateful when I do as it’s good to find out about  nanotechnology research taking place in the agricultural sector. From a July 21, 2017 news item on Nanowerk,,

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced 13 grants totaling $4.6 million for research on the next generation of agricultural technologies and systems to meet the growing demand for food, fuel, and fiber. The grants are funded through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

“Nanotechnology is being rapidly implemented in medicine, electronics, energy, and biotechnology, and it has huge potential to enhance the agricultural sector,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “NIFA research investments can help spur nanotechnology-based improvements to ensure global nutritional security and prosperity in rural communities.”

A July 20, 2017 USDA news release, which originated the news item, lists this year’s grants and provides a brief description of a few of the newly and previously funded projects,

Fiscal year 2016 grants being announced include:

Nanotechnology for Agricultural and Food Systems

  • Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, $450,200
  • Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, $340,000
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts, $444,550
  • University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Nevada,$150,000
  • North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota, $149,000
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, $455,000
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, $450,200
  • Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, $402,550
  • University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, $405,055
  • Gordon Research Conferences, West Kingston, Rhode Island, $45,000
  • The University of Tennessee,  Knoxville, Tennessee, $450,200
  • Utah State University, Logan, Utah, $450,200
  • The George Washington University, Washington, D.C., $450,200

Project details can be found at the NIFA website (link is external).

Among the grants, a University of Pennsylvania project will engineer cellulose nanomaterials [emphasis mine] with high toughness for potential use in building materials, automotive components, and consumer products. A University of Nevada-Las Vegas project will develop a rapid, sensitive test to detect Salmonella typhimurium to enhance food supply safety.

Previously funded grants include an Iowa State University project in which a low-cost and disposable biosensor made out of nanoparticle graphene that can detect pesticides in soil was developed. The biosensor also has the potential for use in the biomedical, environmental, and food safety fields. University of Minnesota (link is external) researchers created a sponge that uses nanotechnology to quickly absorb mercury, as well as bacterial and fungal microbes from polluted water. The sponge can be used on tap water, industrial wastewater, and in lakes. It converts contaminants into nontoxic waste that can be disposed in a landfill.

NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and extension and promotes transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges. NIFA support for the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel has resulted in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate climate variability and ensure food safety. To learn more about NIFA’s impact on agricultural science, visit, sign up for email updates (link is external) or follow us on Twitter @USDA_NIFA (link is external), #NIFAImpacts (link is external).

Given my interest in nanocellulose materials (Canada was/is a leader in the production of cellulose nanocrystals [CNC] but there has been little news about Canadian research into CNC applications), I used the NIFA link to access the table listing the grants and clicked on ‘brief’ in the View column in the University of Pennsylania row to find this description of the project,


NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs) are natural materials with exceptional mechanical properties that can be obtained from renewable plant-based resources. CNFs are stiff, strong, and lightweight, thus they are ideal for use in structural materials. In particular, there is a significant opportunity to use CNFs to realize polymer composites with improved toughness and resistance to fracture. The overall goal of this project is to establish an understanding of fracture toughness enhancement in polymer composites reinforced with CNFs. A key outcome of this work will be process – structure – fracture property relationships for CNF-reinforced composites. The knowledge developed in this project will enable a new class of tough CNF-reinforced composite materials with applications in areas such as building materials, automotive components, and consumer products.The composite materials that will be investigated are at the convergence of nanotechnology and bio-sourced material trends. Emerging nanocellulose technologies have the potential to move biomass materials into high value-added applications and entirely new markets.

It’s not the only nanocellulose material project being funded in this round, there’s this at North Dakota State University, from the NIFA ‘brief’ project description page,


NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Synthetic polymers are quite vulnerable to fire.There are 2.4 million reported fires, resulting in 7.8 billion dollars of direct property loss, an estimated 30 billion dollars of indirect loss, 29,000 civilian injuries, 101,000 firefighter injuries and 6000 civilian fatalities annually in the U.S. There is an urgent need for a safe, potent, and reliable fire retardant (FR) system that can be used in commodity polymers to reduce their flammability and protect lives and properties. The goal of this project is to develop a novel, safe and biobased FR system using agricultural and woody biomass. The project is divided into three major tasks. The first is to manufacture zinc oxide (ZnO) coated cellulose nanoparticles and evaluate their morphological, chemical, structural and thermal characteristics. The second task will be to design and manufacture polymer composites containing nano sized zinc oxide and cellulose crystals. Finally the third task will be to test the fire retardancy and mechanical properties of the composites. Wbelieve that presence of zinc oxide and cellulose nanocrystals in polymers will limit the oxygen supply by charring, shielding the surface and cellulose nanocrystals will make composites strong. The outcome of this project will help in developing a safe, reliable and biobased fire retardant for consumer goods, automotive, building products and will help in saving human lives and property damage due to fire.

One day, I hope to hear about Canadian research into applications for nanocellulose materials. (fingers crossed for good luck)

In scientific race US sees China coming up from rear

Sometime it seems as if scientific research is like a race with everyone competing for first place. As in most sports, there are multiple competitions for various sub-groups but only one important race. The US has held the lead position for decades although always with some anxiety. These days the anxiety is focused on China. A June 15, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily suggests that US dominance is threatened in at least one area of research—the biomedical sector,

American scientific teams still publish significantly more biomedical research discoveries than teams from any other country, a new study shows, and the U.S. still leads the world in research and development expenditures.

But American dominance is slowly shrinking, the analysis finds, as China’s skyrocketing investing on science over the last two decades begins to pay off. Chinese biomedical research teams now rank fourth in the world for total number of new discoveries published in six top-tier journals, and the country spent three-quarters what the U.S. spent on research and development during 2015.

Meanwhile, the analysis shows, scientists from the U.S. and other countries increasingly make discoveries and advancements as part of teams that involve researchers from around the world.

A June 15, 2017 Michigan Medicine University of Michigan news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, details the research team’s insights,

The last 15 years have ushered in an era of “team science” as research funding in the U.S., Great Britain and other European countries, as well as Canada and Australia, stagnated. The number of authors has also grown over time. For example, in 2000 only two percent of the research papers the new study looked include 21 or more authors — a number that increased to 12.5 percent in 2015.

The new findings, published in JCI Insight by a team of University of Michigan researchers, come at a critical time for the debate over the future of U.S. federal research funding. The study is based on a careful analysis of original research papers published in six top-tier and four mid-tier journals from 2000 to 2015, in addition to data on R&D investment from those same years.

The study builds on other work that has also warned of America’s slipping status in the world of science and medical research, and the resulting impact on the next generation of aspiring scientists.

“It’s time for U.S. policy-makers to reflect and decide whether the year-to-year uncertainty in National Institutes of Health budget and the proposed cuts are in our societal and national best interest,” says Bishr Omary, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the new data-supported opinion piece and chief scientific officer of Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center. “If we continue on the path we’re on, it will be harder to maintain our lead and, even more importantly, we could be disenchanting the next generation of bright and passionate biomedical scientists who see a limited future in pursuing a scientist or physician-investigator career.”

The analysis charts South Korea’s entry into the top 10 countries for publications, as well as China’s leap from outside the top 10 in 2000 to fourth place in 2015. They also track the major increases in support for research in South Korea and Singapore since the start of the 21st Century.

Meticulous tracking

First author of the study, U-M informationist Marisa Conte, and Omary co-led a team that looked carefully at the currency of modern science: peer-reviewed basic science and clinical research papers describing new findings, published in journals with long histories of accepting among the world’s most significant discoveries.

They reviewed every issue of six top-tier international journals (JAMA, Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, Cell, Nature and Science), and four mid-ranking journals (British Medical Journal, JAMA Internal Medicine, Journal of Cell Science, FASEB Journal), chosen to represent the clinical and basic science aspects of research.

The analysis included only papers that reported new results from basic research experiments, translational studies, clinical trials, metanalyses, and studies of disease outcomes. Author affiliations for corresponding authors and all other authors were recorded by country.

The rise in global cooperation is striking. In 2000, 25 percent of papers in the six top-tier journals were by teams that included researchers from at least two countries. In 2015, that figure was closer to 50 percent. The increasing need for multidisciplinary approaches to make major advances, coupled with the advances of Internet-based collaboration tools, likely have something to do with this, Omary says.

The authors, who also include Santiago Schnell, Ph.D. and Jing Liu, Ph.D., note that part of their group’s interest in doing the study sprang from their hypothesis that a flat NIH budget is likely to have negative consequences but they wanted to gather data to test their hypothesis.

They also observed what appears to be an increasing number of Chinese-born scientists who had trained in the U.S. going back to China after their training, where once most of them would have sought to stay in the U.S. In addition, Singapore has been able to recruit several top notch U.S. and other international scientists due to their marked increase in R&D investments.

The same trends appear to be happening in Great Britain, Australia, Canada, France, Germany and other countries the authors studied – where research investing has stayed consistent when measured as a percentage of the U.S. total over the last 15 years.

The authors note that their study is based on data up to 2015, and that in the current 2017 federal fiscal year, funding for NIH has increased thanks to bipartisan Congressional appropriations. The NIH contributes to most of the federal support for medical and basic biomedical research in the U.S. But discussion of cuts to research funding that hinders many federal agencies is in the air during the current debates for the 2018 budget. Meanwhile, the Chinese R&D spending is projected to surpass the U.S. total by 2022.

“Our analysis, albeit limited to a small number of representative journals, supports the importance of financial investment in research,” Omary says. “I would still strongly encourage any child interested in science to pursue their dream and passion, but I hope that our current and future investment in NIH and other federal research support agencies will rise above any branch of government to help our next generation reach their potential and dreams.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Globalization and changing trends of biomedical research output by Marisa L. Conte, Jing Liu, Santiago Schnell, and M. Bishr Omary. JCI Insight. 2017;2(12):e95206 doi:10.1172/jci.insight.95206 Volume 2, Issue 12 (June 15, 2017)

Copyright © 2017, American Society for Clinical Investigation

This paper is open access.

The notion of a race and looking back to see who, if anyone, is gaining on you reminded me of a local piece of sports lore, the Roger Banister-John Landy ‘Miracle Mile’. In the run up to the 1954 Commonwealth Games held in Vancouver, Canada, two runners were known to have broken the 4-minute mile limit (previously thought to have been impossible) and this meeting was considered an historic meeting. Here’s more from the website,

On August 7, 1954 during the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, B.C., England’s Roger Bannister and Australian John Landy met for the first time in the one mile run at the newly constructed Empire Stadium.

Both men had broken the four minute barrier previously that year. Bannister was the first to break the mark with a time of 3:59.4 on May 6th in Oxford, England. Subsequently, on June 21st in Turku, Finland, John Landy became the new record holder with an official time of 3:58.

The world watched eagerly as both men approached the starting blocks. As 35,000 enthusiastic fans looked on, no one knew what would take place on that historic day.

Promoted as “The Mile of the Century”, it would later be known as the “Miracle Mile”.

With only 90 yards to go in one of the world’s most memorable races, John Landy glanced over his left shoulder to check his opponent’s position. At that instant Bannister streaked by him to victory in a Commonwealth record time of 3:58.8. Landy’s second place finish in 3:59.6 marked the first time the four minute mile had been broken by two men in the same race.

The website hosts an image of the moment memorialized in bronze when Landy looks to his left as Banister passes him on his right,

By Statue: Jack HarmanPhoto: Paul Joseph from vancouver, bc, canada – roger bannister running the four minute mileUploaded by Skeezix1000, CC BY 2.0,

Getting back to science, I wonder if some day we’ll stop thinking of it as a race where, inevitably, there’s one winner and everyone else loses and find a new metaphor.

The Canadian science scene and the 2017 Canadian federal budget

There’s not much happening in the 2017-18 budget in terms of new spending according to Paul Wells’ March 22, 2017 article for,

This is the 22nd or 23rd federal budget I’ve covered. And I’ve never seen the like of the one Bill Morneau introduced on Wednesday [March 22, 2017].

Not even in the last days of the Harper Conservatives did a budget provide for so little new spending — $1.3 billion in the current budget year, total, in all fields of government. That’s a little less than half of one per cent of all federal program spending for this year.

But times are tight. The future is a place where we can dream. So the dollars flow more freely in later years. In 2021-22, the budget’s fifth planning year, new spending peaks at $8.2 billion. Which will be about 2.4 per cent of all program spending.

He’s not alone in this 2017 federal budget analysis; CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) pundits, Chantal Hébert, Andrew Coyne, and Jennifer Ditchburn said much the same during their ‘At Issue’ segment of the March 22, 2017 broadcast of The National (news).

Before I focus on the science and technology budget, here are some general highlights from the CBC’s March 22, 2017 article on the 2017-18 budget announcement (Note: Links have been removed,

Here are highlights from the 2017 federal budget:

  • Deficit: $28.5 billion, up from $25.4 billion projected in the fall.
  • Trend: Deficits gradually decline over next five years — but still at $18.8 billion in 2021-22.
  • Housing: $11.2 billion over 11 years, already budgeted, will go to a national housing strategy.
  • Child care: $7 billion over 10 years, already budgeted, for new spaces, starting 2018-19.
  • Indigenous: $3.4 billion in new money over five years for infrastructure, health and education.
  • Defence: $8.4 billion in capital spending for equipment pushed forward to 2035.
  • Care givers: New care-giving benefit up to 15 weeks, starting next year.
  • Skills: New agency to research and measure skills development, starting 2018-19.
  • Innovation: $950 million over five years to support business-led “superclusters.”
  • Startups: $400 million over three years for a new venture capital catalyst initiative.
  • AI: $125 million to launch a pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy.
  • Coding kids: $50 million over two years for initiatives to teach children to code.
  • Families: Option to extend parental leave up to 18 months.
  • Uber tax: GST to be collected on ride-sharing services.
  • Sin taxes: One cent more on a bottle of wine, five cents on 24 case of beer.
  • Bye-bye: No more Canada Savings Bonds.
  • Transit credit killed: 15 per cent non-refundable public transit tax credit phased out this year.

You can find the entire 2017-18 budget here.

Science and the 2017-18 budget

For anyone interested in the science news, you’ll find most of that in the 2017 budget’s Chapter 1 — Skills, Innovation and Middle Class jobs. As well, Wayne Kondro has written up a précis in his March 22, 2017 article for Science (magazine),

Finance officials, who speak on condition of anonymity during the budget lock-up, indicated the budgets of the granting councils, the main source of operational grants for university researchers, will be “static” until the government can assess recommendations that emerge from an expert panel formed in 2015 and headed by former University of Toronto President David Naylor to review basic science in Canada [highlighted in my June 15, 2016 posting ; $2M has been allocated for the advisor and associated secretariat]. Until then, the officials said, funding for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) will remain at roughly $848 million, whereas that for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) will remain at $773 million, and for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council [SSHRC] at $547 million.

NSERC, though, will receive $8.1 million over 5 years to administer a PromoScience Program that introduces youth, particularly unrepresented groups like Aboriginal people and women, to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics through measures like “space camps and conservation projects.” CIHR, meanwhile, could receive modest amounts from separate plans to identify climate change health risks and to reduce drug and substance abuse, the officials added.

… Canada’s Innovation and Skills Plan, would funnel $600 million over 5 years allocated in 2016, and $112.5 million slated for public transit and green infrastructure, to create Silicon Valley–like “super clusters,” which the budget defined as “dense areas of business activity that contain large and small companies, post-secondary institutions and specialized talent and infrastructure.” …

… The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research will receive $93.7 million [emphasis mine] to “launch a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy … (to) position Canada as a world-leading destination for companies seeking to invest in artificial intelligence and innovation.”

… Among more specific measures are vows to: Use $87.7 million in previous allocations to the Canada Research Chairs program to create 25 “Canada 150 Research Chairs” honoring the nation’s 150th year of existence, provide $1.5 million per year to support the operations of the office of the as-yet-unappointed national science adviser [see my Dec. 7, 2016 post for information about the job posting, which is now closed]; provide $165.7 million [emphasis mine] over 5 years for the nonprofit organization Mitacs to create roughly 6300 more co-op positions for university students and grads, and provide $60.7 million over five years for new Canadian Space Agency projects, particularly for Canadian participation in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s next Mars Orbiter Mission.

Kondros was either reading an earlier version of the budget or made an error regarding Mitacs (from the budget in the “A New, Ambitious Approach to Work-Integrated Learning” subsection),

Mitacs has set an ambitious goal of providing 10,000 work-integrated learning placements for Canadian post-secondary students and graduates each year—up from the current level of around 3,750 placements. Budget 2017 proposes to provide $221 million [emphasis mine] over five years, starting in 2017–18, to achieve this goal and provide relevant work experience to Canadian students.

As well, the budget item for the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy is $125M.

Moving from Kondros’ précis, the budget (in the “Positioning National Research Council Canada Within the Innovation and Skills Plan” subsection) announces support for these specific areas of science,

Stem Cell Research

The Stem Cell Network, established in 2001, is a national not-for-profit organization that helps translate stem cell research into clinical applications, commercial products and public policy. Its research holds great promise, offering the potential for new therapies and medical treatments for respiratory and heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, auto-immune disorders and Parkinson’s disease. To support this important work, Budget 2017 proposes to provide the Stem Cell Network with renewed funding of $6 million in 2018–19.

Space Exploration

Canada has a long and proud history as a space-faring nation. As our international partners prepare to chart new missions, Budget 2017 proposes investments that will underscore Canada’s commitment to innovation and leadership in space. Budget 2017 proposes to provide $80.9 million on a cash basis over five years, starting in 2017–18, for new projects through the Canadian Space Agency that will demonstrate and utilize Canadian innovations in space, including in the field of quantum technology as well as for Mars surface observation. The latter project will enable Canada to join the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) next Mars Orbiter Mission.

Quantum Information

The development of new quantum technologies has the potential to transform markets, create new industries and produce leading-edge jobs. The Institute for Quantum Computing is a world-leading Canadian research facility that furthers our understanding of these innovative technologies. Budget 2017 proposes to provide the Institute with renewed funding of $10 million over two years, starting in 2017–18.

Social Innovation

Through community-college partnerships, the Community and College Social Innovation Fund fosters positive social outcomes, such as the integration of vulnerable populations into Canadian communities. Following the success of this pilot program, Budget 2017 proposes to invest $10 million over two years, starting in 2017–18, to continue this work.

International Research Collaborations

The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) connects Canadian researchers with collaborative research networks led by eminent Canadian and international researchers on topics that touch all humanity. Past collaborations facilitated by CIFAR are credited with fostering Canada’s leadership in artificial intelligence and deep learning. Budget 2017 proposes to provide renewed and enhanced funding of $35 million over five years, starting in 2017–18.

Earlier this week, I highlighted Canada’s strength in the field of regenerative medicine, specifically stem cells in a March 21, 2017 posting. The $6M in the current budget doesn’t look like increased funding but rather a one-year extension. I’m sure they’re happy to receive it  but I imagine it’s a little hard to plan major research projects when you’re not sure how long your funding will last.

As for Canadian leadership in artificial intelligence, that was news to me. Here’s more from the budget,

Canada a Pioneer in Deep Learning in Machines and Brains

CIFAR’s Learning in Machines & Brains program has shaken up the field of artificial intelligence by pioneering a technique called “deep learning,” a computer technique inspired by the human brain and neural networks, which is now routinely used by the likes of Google and Facebook. The program brings together computer scientists, biologists, neuroscientists, psychologists and others, and the result is rich collaborations that have propelled artificial intelligence research forward. The program is co-directed by one of Canada’s foremost experts in artificial intelligence, the Université de Montréal’s Yoshua Bengio, and for his many contributions to the program, the University of Toronto’s Geoffrey Hinton, another Canadian leader in this field, was awarded the title of Distinguished Fellow by CIFAR in 2014.

Meanwhile, from chapter 1 of the budget in the subsection titled “Preparing for the Digital Economy,” there is this provision for children,

Providing educational opportunities for digital skills development to Canadian girls and boys—from kindergarten to grade 12—will give them the head start they need to find and keep good, well-paying, in-demand jobs. To help provide coding and digital skills education to more young Canadians, the Government intends to launch a competitive process through which digital skills training organizations can apply for funding. Budget 2017 proposes to provide $50 million over two years, starting in 2017–18, to support these teaching initiatives.

I wonder if BC Premier Christy Clark is heaving a sigh of relief. At the 2016 #BCTECH Summit, she announced that students in BC would learn to code at school and in newly enhanced coding camp programmes (see my Jan. 19, 2016 posting). Interestingly, there was no mention of additional funding to support her initiative. I guess this money from the federal government comes at a good time as we will have a provincial election later this spring where she can announce the initiative again and, this time, mention there’s money for it.

Attracting brains from afar

Ivan Semeniuk in his March 23, 2017 article (for the Globe and Mail) reads between the lines to analyze the budget’s possible impact on Canadian science,

But a between-the-lines reading of the budget document suggests the government also has another audience in mind: uneasy scientists from the United States and Britain.

The federal government showed its hand at the 2017 #BCTECH Summit. From a March 16, 2017 article by Meera Bains for the CBC news online,

At the B.C. tech summit, Navdeep Bains, Canada’s minister of innovation, said the government will act quickly to fast track work permits to attract highly skilled talent from other countries.

“We’re taking the processing time, which takes months, and reducing it to two weeks for immigration processing for individuals [who] need to come here to help companies grow and scale up,” Bains said.

“So this is a big deal. It’s a game changer.”

That change will happen through the Global Talent Stream, a new program under the federal government’s temporary foreign worker program.  It’s scheduled to begin on June 12, 2017.

U.S. companies are taking notice and a Canadian firm, True North, is offering to help them set up shop.

“What we suggest is that they think about moving their operations, or at least a chunk of their operations, to Vancouver, set up a Canadian subsidiary,” said the company’s founder, Michael Tippett.

“And that subsidiary would be able to house and accommodate those employees.”

Industry experts says while the future is unclear for the tech sector in the U.S., it’s clear high tech in B.C. is gearing up to take advantage.

US business attempts to take advantage of Canada’s relative stability and openness to immigration would seem to be the motive for at least one cross border initiative, the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative. From my Feb. 28, 2017 posting,

There was some big news about the smallest version of the Cascadia region on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 when the University of British Columbia (UBC) , the University of Washington (state; UW), and Microsoft announced the launch of the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative. From the joint Feb. 23, 2017 news release (read on the UBC website or read on the UW website),

In an expansion of regional cooperation, the University of British Columbia and the University of Washington today announced the establishment of the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative to use data to help cities and communities address challenges from traffic to homelessness. The largest industry-funded research partnership between UBC and the UW, the collaborative will bring faculty, students and community stakeholders together to solve problems, and is made possible thanks to a $1-million gift from Microsoft.

Today’s announcement follows last September’s [2016] Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Vancouver, B.C. The forum brought together regional leaders for the first time to identify concrete opportunities for partnerships in education, transportation, university research, human capital and other areas.

A Boston Consulting Group study unveiled at the conference showed the region between Seattle and Vancouver has “high potential to cultivate an innovation corridor” that competes on an international scale, but only if regional leaders work together. The study says that could be possible through sustained collaboration aided by an educated and skilled workforce, a vibrant network of research universities and a dynamic policy environment.

It gets better, it seems Microsoft has been positioning itself for a while if Matt Day’s analysis is correct (from my Feb. 28, 2017 posting),

Matt Day in a Feb. 23, 2017 article for the The Seattle Times provides additional perspective (Note: Links have been removed),

Microsoft’s effort to nudge Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., a bit closer together got an endorsement Thursday [Feb. 23, 2017] from the leading university in each city.

The partnership has its roots in a September [2016] conference in Vancouver organized by Microsoft’s public affairs and lobbying unit [emphasis mine.] That gathering was aimed at tying business, government and educational institutions in Microsoft’s home region in the Seattle area closer to its Canadian neighbor.

Microsoft last year [2016] opened an expanded office in downtown Vancouver with space for 750 employees, an outpost partly designed to draw to the Northwest more engineers than the company can get through the U.S. guest worker system [emphasis mine].

This was all prior to President Trump’s legislative moves in the US, which have at least one Canadian observer a little more gleeful than I’m comfortable with. From a March 21, 2017 article by Susan Lum  for CBC News online,

U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to limit travel into his country while simultaneously cutting money from science-based programs provides an opportunity for Canada’s science sector, says a leading Canadian researcher.

“This is Canada’s moment. I think it’s a time we should be bold,” said Alan Bernstein, president of CIFAR [which on March 22, 2017 was awarded $125M to launch the Pan Canada Artificial Intelligence Strategy in the Canadian federal budget announcement], a global research network that funds hundreds of scientists in 16 countries.

Bernstein believes there are many reasons why Canada has become increasingly attractive to scientists around the world, including the political climate in the United States and the Trump administration’s travel bans.

Thankfully, Bernstein calms down a bit,

“It used to be if you were a bright young person anywhere in the world, you would want to go to Harvard or Berkeley or Stanford, or what have you. Now I think you should give pause to that,” he said. “We have pretty good universities here [emphasis mine]. We speak English. We’re a welcoming society for immigrants.”​

Bernstein cautions that Canada should not be seen to be poaching scientists from the United States — but there is an opportunity.

“It’s as if we’ve been in a choir of an opera in the back of the stage and all of a sudden the stars all left the stage. And the audience is expecting us to sing an aria. So we should sing,” Bernstein said.

Bernstein said the federal government, with this week’s so-called innovation budget, can help Canada hit the right notes.

“Innovation is built on fundamental science, so I’m looking to see if the government is willing to support, in a big way, fundamental science in the country.”

Pretty good universities, eh? Thank you, Dr. Bernstein, for keeping some of the boosterism in check. Let’s leave the chest thumping to President Trump and his cronies.

Ivan Semeniuk’s March 23, 2017 article (for the Globe and Mail) provides more details about the situation in the US and in Britain,

Last week, Donald Trump’s first budget request made clear the U.S. President would significantly reduce or entirely eliminate research funding in areas such as climate science and renewable energy if permitted by Congress. Even the National Institutes of Health, which spearheads medical research in the United States and is historically supported across party lines, was unexpectedly targeted for a $6-billion (U.S.) cut that the White House said could be achieved through “efficiencies.”

In Britain, a recent survey found that 42 per cent of academics were considering leaving the country over worries about a less welcoming environment and the loss of research money that a split with the European Union is expected to bring.

In contrast, Canada’s upbeat language about science in the budget makes a not-so-subtle pitch for diversity and talent from abroad, including $117.6-million to establish 25 research chairs with the aim of attracting “top-tier international scholars.”

For good measure, the budget also includes funding for science promotion and $2-million annually for Canada’s yet-to-be-hired Chief Science Advisor, whose duties will include ensuring that government researchers can speak freely about their work.

“What we’ve been hearing over the last few months is that Canada is seen as a beacon, for its openness and for its commitment to science,” said Ms. Duncan [Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science], who did not refer directly to either the United States or Britain in her comments.

Providing a less optimistic note, Erica Alini in her March 22, 2017 online article for Global News mentions a perennial problem, the Canadian brain drain,

The budget includes a slew of proposed reforms and boosted funding for existing training programs, as well as new skills-development resources for unemployed and underemployed Canadians not covered under current EI-funded programs.

There are initiatives to help women and indigenous people get degrees or training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the so-called STEM subjects) and even to teach kids as young as kindergarten-age to code.

But there was no mention of how to make sure Canadians with the right skills remain in Canada, TD’s DePratto {Toronto Dominion Bank} Economics; TD is currently experiencing a scandal {March 13, 2017 Huffington Post news item}] told Global News.

Canada ranks in the middle of the pack compared to other advanced economies when it comes to its share of its graduates in STEM fields, but the U.S. doesn’t shine either, said DePratto [Brian DePratto, senior economist at TD .

The key difference between Canada and the U.S. is the ability to retain domestic talent and attract brains from all over the world, he noted.

To be blunt, there may be some opportunities for Canadian science but it does well to remember (a) US businesses have no particular loyalty to Canada and (b) all it takes is an election to change any perceived advantages to disadvantages.

Digital policy and intellectual property issues

Dubbed by some as the ‘innovation’ budget (official title:  Building a Strong Middle Class), there is an attempt to address a longstanding innovation issue (from a March 22, 2017 posting by Michael Geist on his eponymous blog (Note: Links have been removed),

The release of today’s [march 22, 2017] federal budget is expected to include a significant emphasis on innovation, with the government revealing how it plans to spend (or re-allocate) hundreds of millions of dollars that is intended to support innovation. Canada’s dismal innovation record needs attention, but spending our way to a more innovative economy is unlikely to yield the desired results. While Navdeep Bains, the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister, has talked for months about the importance of innovation, Toronto Star columnist Paul Wells today delivers a cutting but accurate assessment of those efforts:

“This government is the first with a minister for innovation! He’s Navdeep Bains. He frequently posts photos of his meetings on Twitter, with the hashtag “#innovation.” That’s how you know there is innovation going on. A year and a half after he became the minister for #innovation, it’s not clear what Bains’s plans are. It’s pretty clear that within the government he has less than complete control over #innovation. There’s an advisory council on economic growth, chaired by the McKinsey guru Dominic Barton, which periodically reports to the government urging more #innovation.

There’s a science advisory panel, chaired by former University of Toronto president David Naylor, that delivered a report to Science Minister Kirsty Duncan more than three months ago. That report has vanished. One presumes that’s because it offered some advice. Whatever Bains proposes, it will have company.”

Wells is right. Bains has been very visible with plenty of meetings and public photo shoots but no obvious innovation policy direction. This represents a missed opportunity since Bains has plenty of policy tools at his disposal that could advance Canada’s innovation framework without focusing on government spending.

For example, Canada’s communications system – wireless and broadband Internet access – falls directly within his portfolio and is crucial for both business and consumers. Yet Bains has been largely missing in action on the file. He gave approval for the Bell – MTS merger that virtually everyone concedes will increase prices in the province and make the communications market less competitive. There are potential policy measures that could bring new competitors into the market (MVNOs [mobile virtual network operators] and municipal broadband) and that could make it easier for consumers to switch providers (ban on unlocking devices). Some of this falls to the CRTC, but government direction and emphasis would make a difference.

Even more troubling has been his near total invisibility on issues relating to new fees or taxes on Internet access and digital services. Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly has taken control of the issue with the possibility that Canadians could face increased costs for their Internet access or digital services through mandatory fees to contribute to Canadian content.  Leaving aside the policy objections to such an approach (reducing affordable access and the fact that foreign sources now contribute more toward Canadian English language TV production than Canadian broadcasters and distributors), Internet access and e-commerce are supposed to be Bains’ issue and they have a direct connection to the innovation file. How is it possible for the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister to have remained silent for months on the issue?

Bains has been largely missing on trade related innovation issues as well. My Globe and Mail column today focuses on a digital-era NAFTA, pointing to likely U.S. demands on data localization, data transfers, e-commerce rules, and net neutrality.  These are all issues that fall under Bains’ portfolio and will impact investment in Canadian networks and digital services. There are innovation opportunities for Canada here, but Bains has been content to leave the policy issues to others, who will be willing to sacrifice potential gains in those areas.

Intellectual property policy is yet another area that falls directly under Bains’ mandate with an obvious link to innovation, but he has done little on the file. Canada won a huge NAFTA victory late last week involving the Canadian patent system, which was challenged by pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. Why has Bains not promoted the decision as an affirmation of how Canada’s intellectual property rules?

On the copyright front, the government is scheduled to conduct a review of the Copyright Act later this year, but it is not clear whether Bains will take the lead or again cede responsibility to Joly. The Copyright Act is statutorily under the Industry Minister and reform offers the chance to kickstart innovation. …

For anyone who’s not familiar with this area, innovation is often code for commercialization of science and technology research efforts. These days, digital service and access policies and intellectual property policies are all key to research and innovation efforts.

The country that’s most often (except in mainstream Canadian news media) held up as an example of leadership in innovation is Estonia. The Economist profiled the country in a July 31, 2013 article and a July 7, 2016 article on provides and update.


Science monies for the tri-council science funding agencies (NSERC, SSHRC, and CIHR) are more or less flat but there were a number of line items in the federal budget which qualify as science funding. The $221M over five years for Mitacs, the $125M for the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, additional funding for the Canada research chairs, and some of the digital funding could also be included as part of the overall haul. This is in line with the former government’s (Stephen Harper’s Conservatives) penchant for keeping the tri-council’s budgets under control while spreading largesse elsewhere (notably the Perimeter Institute, TRIUMF [Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics], and, in the 2015 budget, $243.5-million towards the Thirty Metre Telescope (TMT) — a massive astronomical observatory to be constructed on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, a $1.5-billion project). This has lead to some hard feelings in the past with regard to ‘big science’ projects getting what some have felt is an undeserved boost in finances while the ‘small fish’ are left scrabbling for the ever-diminishing (due to budget cuts in years past and inflation) pittances available from the tri-council agencies.

Mitacs, which started life as a federally funded Network Centre for Excellence focused on mathematics, has since shifted focus to become an innovation ‘champion’. You can find Mitacs here and you can find the organization’s March 2016 budget submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance here. At the time, they did not request a specific amount of money; they just asked for more.

The amount Mitacs expects to receive this year is over $40M which represents more than double what they received from the federal government and almost of 1/2 of their total income in the 2015-16 fiscal year according to their 2015-16 annual report (see p. 327 for the Mitacs Statement of Operations to March 31, 2016). In fact, the federal government forked over $39,900,189. in the 2015-16 fiscal year to be their largest supporter while Mitacs’ total income (receipts) was $81,993,390.

It’s a strange thing but too much money, etc. can be as bad as too little. I wish the folks Mitacs nothing but good luck with their windfall.

I don’t see anything in the budget that encourages innovation and investment from the industrial sector in Canada.

Finallyl, innovation is a cultural issue as much as it is a financial issue and having worked with a number of developers and start-up companies, the most popular business model is to develop a successful business that will be acquired by a large enterprise thereby allowing the entrepreneurs to retire before the age of 30 (or 40 at the latest). I don’t see anything from the government acknowledging the problem let alone any attempts to tackle it.

All in all, it was a decent budget with nothing in it to seriously offend anyone.