New nano job board; Canadian science and technology strategy inferred by climate debate and 2010 federal budget?

Happy job hunting! Nanowerk has announced a new initiative (from the announcement),

Nanowerk, the leading information provider for all areas of nanotechnologies, today added to its nanotechnology information portal a new free job posting service.

The new application, called nanoJOBS, is available immediately on the Nanowerk website.

By posting their job openings on Nanowerk’s new nanoJOBS service, employers will reach a large audience in the areas of nanotechnologies, chemistry, physics, material sciences & engineering, medical technologies & pharmaceuticals, electronics, laboratory equipment, and all sectors involving state-of-the-art process technologies.

Like all other Nanowerk databases and directories, the nanoJOBS job postings are freely accessible. Employers need to register once and, in order to assure a high level of quality, their postings will be validated and approved by a Nanowerk administrator.

On other fronts, I mentioned climate science yesterday (March 22, 2010) in the context of public perception and how slow they can be to change.  Today I noticed a posting by Dave at The Black Hole blog which comes at the issue from a different angle. In the context of discussing science outreach in the UK, Dave describes two different lectures (pro and con) on climate change held at Cambridge. With some reluctance, Dave admits that the speaker (Nigel Lawson) on the ‘con’ side gave a better presentation and the ‘pro’ questioners at Lawson’s session were shrill and ill-considered (my words for the behaviour). As for Dave’s advice on how to ask politicians questions,

If you’re asking a politician a question, make it a yes or no question – people like Nigel Lawson are experts at saying what they want to say no matter what you ask, try boxing them in with logic and simplicity.

At the end of his post, Dave points to a March 18, 2010 article on Canadian climate science, the government’s attitude to it, and the 2010 federal budget in the Guardian newspaper. Titled Canadian government ‘hiding truth about climate change’, report claims by Stephen Leahy, the article notes that the Canadian federal 2010 budget did not allocate a single cent to climate change science with the consequence that the programmes will run out of money in early 2011. The Climate Action Network had obviously realized which way the wind was blowing as this nongovernmental organization released a report titled Troubling Evidence: The Harper Government’s Approach to Climate Science Research in Canada a few days after the budget was announced. From the Guardian article,

Climate change is not an abstract concept. It already results in the deaths of 300,000 people a year, virtually all in the world’s poorest countries. Some 325 million people are being seriously affected, with economic losses averaging 125 billion dollars a year, according to “The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis”, the first detailed look at climate change and the human impacts.

Canadians are unlikely to know any of this. [emphasis mine]

“Media coverage of climate change science, our most high-profile issue, has been reduced by over 80 percent,” says internal government documents obtained by Climate Action Network.

The dramatic decline results from a 2007 Harper government-imposed prohibition on government scientists speaking to reporters. Canadian scientists have told IPS they required permission from the prime minister’s communications office to comment on their own studies made public in scientific journals and reports.

If permission is granted, it requires written questions submitted in advance and often replies by scientists have to go through a vetting process. Within six months, reporters stopped calling and media coverage declined, the leaked report noted.

While climate experts were being muzzled, known climate change deniers were put in key positions on scientific funding bodies says Saul. The report documents three appointments and their public statements that climate change is a myth or exaggerated.

(One brief aside: the suggestion elsewhere  in the article that Maxime Bernier, former External Affairs minister, might one day step into the Prime Minister’s Office suggests that the reporter is not very familiar with Canadian politics. Also, he fails to note Harper’s roots in Alberta.) I’ve written previously about the 2007 muzzle which I believe sent a chill throughout the entire federal science community not just the scientists working for Environment Canada.

Before making some inferences about science and technology strategy/policy in Canada I need to offer some context. There is a stunning indifference to science policy amongst Canada’s political parties (I have more about that and links here). The only party which evinces an official strategy is the Conservative Party currently in office. The strategy occupies four bullet points in a very tightly written party platform. None of the other federal parties offers any science policy information on their websites. (Note: Marc Garneau of the Liberals has written up a document on his own initiative. You can find the links here.)

The Conservative government has consistently sent out messages about its attitude to science. If it makes money, it is good;  not unusual, as it is part of an international shift towards monetizing science research as quickly as possible. The Canadian difference is that there is no clear direction, i.e. no national science policy. (The prestigious international science journal, Nature,  published an editorial about the situation, which I mentioned here.)

The Canadian government does not have a chief science advisor (that office was cancelled in 2006 2008 [Corrected Mar.24.10 as per Wikipedia entry thanks to Shewonk for the date and do read her blog for another take on what she calls the anti-science attitude in Canada]) and replaced the position with a new advisory board reporting to the Minister of Industry called the  Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC ).

In the 2010 budget, the government announced that 245 positions on various boards would be cut for a saving of approximately $1M with no mention made in the news report as to which boards would suffer cuts or how the decisions would be made as to which positions would be lost due to attrition. (Given that STIC has 17 members on its board, I would imagine that there is some fat to be lost. However, it’s been my experience that the fat gets retained while the meat is discarded.)

In the 2009 budget, Genome Canada was ignored and the tri-council funding agencies suffered cuts. This year some money has been restored to the tri-council and Genome Canada and some science agencies such as TRIUMF (nuclear research facility at the University of British Columbia) have enjoyed substantive new funding while climate scientists have been thoroughly ignored.

The consistent messages to be derived are (1) that science will be somewhat supported for a time and (2) science that we (Conservatives) don’t approve of will be strangled (not unusual and not confined to the Canadian situation). Other than a few distinct areas such as climate change, drug addiction (Insite facility in Vancouver), and, apparently, Genomic research, there is no clear understanding as to which research is acceptable. Presumably there is interest in research where investments will show profit but if that were the case, why no clear focus on emerging technologies such as (I use this example only because I’m somewhat familiar with the subject area) nanotechnology? In fact, I’d like a clear focus, let’s call it a policy, on anything scientific.

If one is of Machiavellian inclinations, one might suspect a strategy of deliberate confusion as the government keeps the science community off-balance (it’s a guessing game as to which agency/group(s) will lose in the 2011 budget), confused (no science policy/direction) and from banding together (some groups did very well in the 2010 budget and have no incentive to complain as they have funding for the next 5 years).

It’s easy to blame the Conservative government currently in power but I think that Canadian scientists should bear some of the burden. There is very little substantive outreach or attempt to communicate to politicians or the public in an attempt to put science policy forward in any kind of national debate. Where is the Canadian equivalent to a Royal Society in the UK or the American Association for the Advancement of Science in the US?

In the meantime, I just got a notice that Carl Weiman (currently a professor at the University of British Columbia) has been nominated for an appointment as Associate Director of Science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Weiman has accepted the nomination. From the news release,

Wieman, a 2001 Nobel Laureate joined UBC’s Faculty of Science in 2007 as professor of Physics and Director of the $12 million Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative (CWSEI) to transform the teaching of science at UBC and elsewhere. He will take an unpaid leave of absence from the university upon confirmation of his appointment by the US Senate.

Wieman came to UBC from the University of Colorado, where he won the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics and where he maintains a part-time appointment to head up an education project similar to the CWSEI.

Interesting, non?

Before I sign off, do read Rob Annan’s latest, scathingly funny/sad roundup and analysis of responses to the federal 2010 budget now that the dust is starting to settle.

Tomorrow: my interview with Peter Julian, the NDP member of Parliament who has tabled Canada’s first nanotechnology bill.

2 thoughts on “New nano job board; Canadian science and technology strategy inferred by climate debate and 2010 federal budget?

  1. inkbat

    hi frogheart – read with interest your comments on science policy etc. and agree that the silence is deafening. I am not strictly sure, however, what any declaration of policy would mean in the absence of funding (or is that what you said and I was simply too tired and missed it?), particularly given the extent to which this discourse – along with pretty much everything else – has become politicized: right vs left, tar sands and industry vs the environment. granted, the solutions as presented are so life altering as to be ridiculous (for goodness sake, if you’re to tell people that every single thing they do is killing the planet they’re going to tune you out) but surely a concerted effort …
    I should stop before my general frustration at such things chokes me ..
    :)

  2. admin

    Hi Inkbat! I was using the climate change science situation as a means of commenting on science policy in Canada as a whole and pointing out that in the absence of a policy one is left with trying to infer some sort of direction for funding and resources. As for telling “people that every single thing they’re doing is killing the planet” with resultant apathy, I heartily agree.

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