The last session I attended at the 2012 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) was a bonus as I didn’t see it listed in the conference programme. Kennedy Stewart, NDP Member of Parliament for Burnaby-Douglas and shadow minister for Science and Technology, released his document, Toward a National Science Policy at an after hours presentation.
As far as I’m concerned, this document represents a seismic shift, whether Stewart and his colleague, Laurin Liu, Deputy Science and Technology critic, are successful or not at introducing any kind of policy into the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) platform.
Given that I was unable to get responses to my questions about the NDP and its science policy from Jim Maloway (not the only one person or party to ignore my requests), one of the party’s former science and technology critics, and that Libby Davies’ constituency assistant dismissively described science to me as a ’boutique’ issue, I’m hugely heartened to see this interest. (My Jan. 15, 2010 and April 26, 2011 postings [amongst others] recount some of my adventures trying to find information about the science policies of this country’s various political parties.)
If the hope is to set the terms for the discussion of science policy in Canada as Stewart stated during the launch, this document fails. It seems to have been heavily influenced by the Jenkins report (you can find my thoughts on that report in my Oct. 21, 2011 posting). Stewart’s document emphasizes funding for academic and government basic science research as opposed to emphasizing research applications and industrial research as they did in the Jenkins report. In effect, identical to the Jenkins report, Stewart’s document focusses on research and funding to the exclusion of any other concerns. Unlike Tom Jenkins and his expert panel, Stewart was not constrained to a government mandate so this choice of such a narrow view is troubling.
In other news, the launch was a bit of a ‘sausage fest’, mostly men with the few women in the room doing very little talking (while I was there). In effect, the gender issues which are present in so many ways throughout the science enterprise were also present in the room where we met. The question for me these days is: how do we deal with the gender issues without turning the solution into a special project or being heavy-handed (e.g. Now. the women get to speak. So men, shush. Ok?)?
Honestly, I’d like to see this document shredded. Sure, keep some of the material about funding basic research and the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation Development) data for inclusion in a more visionary, wide ranging document which includes the rest of us in an NDP science policy.
Here are my suggestions, start with the recognition that science affects all of us and can be accessible to all of us. Think in terms of culture, not just research funding. Here are some questions I would use to start building a science policy and then I’d ask for more questions.
How do we stimulate a science discussion in Canada? (thank you Marie-Claire Shanahan)
How do we better link education/training with the labour market?
How do we approach risk in an environment with growing uncertainties?
What impact will emerging technologies have on education/environment/society/etc.?
What role could citizen scientists play in the Canadian science enterprise?
How do we address the gender issues in science, recognizing that it’s not always men discriminating against women but it can be women discriminating against women? (my Sept. 24, 2012 posting titled, Uncomfortable truths; favouring males a gender bias practiced by male and female scientists)
How do we do a better job of funding research?
How do we encourage exchanges between artists, scientists, business leaders, politicians, dancers, philosophers, etc. for a more rounded approach to science?
In a nutshell: change the perspective and reframe the discussion. The topic can narrowed later but the time to really open up the thinking is at the beginning of the process, not at the end. It’s a little bit like cooking. At the beginning, you have your choice of ingredients but once you’ve put the bacon in the frying pan, you’ve committed to a dish that contains bacon.
Still, I’m thankful for the interest wish good luck to Kennedy Stewart and Laurin Liu as they develop a national science policy for the NDP.
For a perspective from the outside, David Bruggeman, a US science policy blogger, comments about this NDP document in his Nov. 11, 2012 posting on the Pasco Phronesis blog.
ETA Nov. 15, 2012: I realized (early this morning) that my own session “Thinking big … ” could also be described as a bit of a sausage fest. I mention that revelatory moment and some very interesting work on integrating gender ideas into research (and, I hope, policy) taking place place in Europe and the US in this Nov. 15, 2012 posting.
I also want to add a question to my list: What about open access to science research? (I think that research paid for by tax dollars ought to be accessible to those who have funded it.)