Tag Archives: Canadian Science Policy Centre

Canadian Science Policy Centre hosts panel discussion on April 18, 2017 about the April 22, 2017 US March for Science

Coming soon (April 22, 2017) to a city near you is a US ‘March for Science’. The big one will be held in Washington, DC but some 400 satellite marches are planned in cities across the US and around the world.

The Canadian Science Policy Centre has organized two panel discussions (one in Toronto and one in Ottawa) as a prelude to those cities’ marches,

A ‘March for Science’ is set to take place in over 400 locations around the world, including in Ottawa and Toronto, on April 22nd [2017]. The Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) invites you to attend public panels discussing the implications of the march.

To RSVP for the Ottawa event [4:30 pm – 6 pm EDT], please click here

To RSVP for the Toronto event [4:30 – 6:30 pm EDT] please click here

The Ottawa panel features:

Paul Dufour

Paul Dufour is a Fellow and Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Science, Society and Policy in the University of Ottawa and science policy Principal with PaulicyWorks in Gatineau, Québec. He is on the Board of Directors of the graduate student led Science Policy Exchange based in Montréal, and is member of the Investment Committee for Grand Challenges Canada. Paul Dufour has been senior advisor in science policy with several Canadian agencies and organizations over the course of the past 30 years. Among these: Senior Program Specialist with the International Development Research Centre, and interim Executive Director at the former Office of the National Science Advisor to the Canadian Government advising on international S&T matters and broad questions of R&D policy directions for the country. Mr. Dufour lectures regularly on science policy, has authored numerous articles on international S&T relations, and Canadian innovation policy. He is series co-editor of the Cartermill Guides to World Science and is the author of the Canada chapter for the UNESCO 2015 Science Report released in November 2015.

Dr. Kristin Baetz

Dr. Kristin Baetz is a Canada Research Chair in Chemical and Functional Genomics, Director of the Ottawa Institute of Systems Biology at uOttawa, President of the Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences.

Katie Gibbs

Katie Gibbs is a scientist, community organizer and advocate for science and evidence-based policies. While completing her PhD at the University of Ottawa researching threats to endangered species, she was the lead organizer of the ‘Death of Evidence’ rally which was one of the largest science rallies in Canadian history. Katie is a co-founder and Executive Director of Evidence for Democracy, a national, non-partisan, not-for- profit organization that promotes science integrity and the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making. She has a diverse background organizing and managing various causes and campaigns including playing an integral role in Elizabeth May’s winning election campaign in 2011. Katie is frequently asked to comment on science policy issues and has been quoted and published in numerous media outlets, including the CBC, The Hill Times, the Globe and Mail and the National Post.

Professor Kathryn O’Hara

Professor Kathryn O’Hara has been a faculty member in the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University since 2001. She is the first person to hold the School’s CTV Chair in Science Broadcast Journalism, the first such chair of its kind in anglophone Canada. A long-standing broadcast journalist, Professor O’Hara is the former consumer columnist with CBC’s Midday , a former co- anchor of CBC’s Newsday in Ottawa, and the former host of Later the Same Day , CBC Radio Toronto’s “drive-home” program. Her work has also appeared on CBC’s Quirks and Quarks and Ideas programs. Three years before coming to Carleton University, Professor O’Hara was an independent health and science producer for outlets such as RTE and CBC. She serves on the Science and Technology Advisory Boards for Environment Canada and Health Canada and chairs the EC panel on Environment and Health. She is an Associate Professor with the Carleton School of Journalism and Communication.

The Toronto panel is organized a little differently:

Canadian Science Policy Centre in collaboration with Ryerson University’s Faculty of Science presents a panel discussion on the ‘March for Science’. Join us for coffee/tea and light refreshment at 4:00pm followed by the panel discussion at 4:30pm.

Light reception sponsored by Ryerson University’s Faculty of Science

Dr. Imogen Coe

Dr. Imogen R. Coe is currently the Dean of the Faculty of Science at Ryerson University. Imogen possesses a doctorate (Ph.D.) and masters degree in Biology from the University of Victoria, B.C. and a bachelor’s degree from Exeter University in the U.K.  She is an affiliate scientist with Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, Keenan Research Centre at St. Michael’s Hospital which is where her research program is located.  She is an accomplished cell biologist and is internationally known for her work on membrane transport proteins (transporters) that are the route of entry into cells for a large class of anti-cancer, anti-viral and anti-parasite drugs.  She has served on NSERC, CIHR and NCIC scientific review panels and continues to supervise research projects of undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and research associates in her group. More about her research can be found  at her research website.

Mehrdad Hariri

Mehrdad Hariri is the founder and CEO of Canadian Science Policy Centre. The Centre is becoming the HUB for science technology and innovation policy in the country. He established the first national annual Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC), a forum dedicated to the Canadian Science Technology and Innovation (STI) Policy issues. The Conference engages stakeholders from the science and innovation field, academia and government in discussions of policy issues at the intersection of science and society. Now in its 9th year, CSPC has become the most comprehensive national forum on science and innovation policy issues.

Dr. Jim Woodgett

In his dual roles as Investigator and Director of Research of the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Dr. Jim Woodgett applies his visionary approach to research into the manipulation of cell processes to treat certain cancers, diabetes and neurodegenerative conditions, and to ensuring that discoveries made by the world-renowned Institute are applied to patient care. Dr. Woodgett is interested in the causes and treatment of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer Disease and bipolar disorder. What links this apparently broad range of diseases is their common basis in disruption of the lines of communication within the cells, or the signalling pathways. By studying the ways in which components of these pathways are mutated and transformed by disease, Dr. Woodgett can identify new and more effective therapeutic targets. Study of the WNT pathway, which contains a number of genes which account for about 90% of human colon cancer, is a particular area of interest. Recent advancements made by Dr. Woodgett’s team in adult stem cell division pave the way for scientists to harvest large quantities of these specialized cells which hold great promise for the treatment and cure of life- threatening illnesses.

Margrit Eichler

Margrit Eichler is Professor emerita of Sociology and Equity Studies at OISE/UT. Her over 200 publications deal, among other topics, with feminist methodology, gender issues, public health, environmental issues, and paid and unpaid work. She is a fellow Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the European Academy of Sciences. Since her retirement, she has been active in various citizens’ organizations, including as Secretary of Science for Peace and as President of the advocacy group Our Right to Know.

Ivan Semeniuk [science writer for Globe & Mail newspaper]

Dan Weaver

Dan Weaver is a Ph.D. candidate at the U of T Dept. of Physics. His research involves collecting and analyzing atmospheric measurements taken at the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. He is also involved in the validation of satellites such as Canada’s Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment.In 2012, Dan was at PEARL for fieldwork when the federal government cut science funding that supported PEARL and other research programs across the country. He started a campaign called Save PEARL to advocate for continued funding for climate and Arctic atmospheric research. Dan joined Evidence for Democracy to advocate for science and evidence-based decision-making in 2013 and is a member of its Board of Directors. Dan is also a member of the Toronto March for Science organizing committee.

Toronto tickets are going faster than Ottawa tickets.

I’m feeling just a bit indignant; there are not just two Canadian satellite marches as you might expect given how this notice is written up. There are 18! Eight provinces are represented with marches in Calgary (Alberta), Montréal (Québec), Prince George (British Columbia), Vancouver (British Columbia), Edmonton (Alberta), Winnipeg (Manitoba), Halifax (Nova Scotia), London (Ontario), Windsor (Ontario),  Hamilton (Ontario), Ottawa (Ontario), Toronto (Ontario), Victoria (British Columbia), Lethbridge (Alberta), St. John’s (Newfoundland and Labrador), Kitchener-Waterloo (Ontario), Sudbury (Ontario), and Saskatoon (Saskatchewan). Honestly, these folks in Ontario seem to have gotten quite insular. In any event, you can figure out how to join in by clicking here.

For those who might appreciate some cogent insight into the current science situation in the US (and an antidote to what I suspect will be a great deal of self-congratulation on these April 18, 2017 CSPC panels), there’s an April 14, 2017 article by Jason Lloyd for Slate.com (Note: Links have been removed),

The most prominent response to the situation will come April 22 [2017], as science advocates—including members of major organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science—“walk out of the lab and into the streets” for the first-ever March for Science. Modeled in part on January’s record-breaking Women’s March, organizers have planned a march in Washington and satellite marches in more than 400 cities across six continents. The March for Science is intended to be the largest assemblage of science advocates in history.

Too bad it will likely undermine their cause.

The goals of organizers and participants are varied and worthy, but its critics—most prominently the president himself—will smear the march as simply anti-Trump or anti-Republican partisanship. Whether that’s true is beside the point, and scientists who are keen to participate ought to do so without worrying that they’re sullying their objectivity. The many communities distressed by the actions of this administration should of course exercise their right to protest, and the March for Science may inspire deeper social and political engagement.

But participants must understand that the social and political context in which this march takes place means that it cannot produce the outcomes intended by its organizers. The officially nonpartisan march embodies in miniature the larger challenges that confront the scientific enterprise in its relationship with a society that’s undergoing profound and often distressing changes.

Let’s start by looking at what the largest representative of the scientific community, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, intends by endorsing the march. According to the AAAS’s statement of support, the march will help:

…  protect the rights of scientists to pursue and communicate their inquiries unimpeded, expand the placement of scientists throughout the government, build public policies upon scientific evidence, and support broad educational efforts to expand public understanding of the scientific process.

In other words, scientists want support for instructing—not involving—the public in the scientific process, a greater influence on policymaking, and no political accountability. That’s a pretty audacious power play, and it’s easy to see how critics might cast the march’s intent as a privileged group seeking to protect and enhance its privileges. The thing is, they wouldn’t be entirely wrong.

As science policy journalist Colin Macilwain points out in Nature, scientists and other members of the technocratic class have generally enjoyed stable, middle-class employment and society’s respect and admiration for most of the past 70 years. They have benefited from scientific and technological progress while mostly remaining insulated from the collateral damage wrought by creative destruction. Federal funding has remained generous under progressive and conservative governments and through economic booms and busts. Scientists possess a variety of relatively comfortable perches from which they can express their ideas and shape public policy.

But there are a lot of people to whom the past seven decades have not been nearly so kind. They’ve struggled to find and keep well-paying jobs in a world in which technological advancement has decoupled economic growth from employment opportunities. They’ve lost a sense of having their voices heard in policymaking, as governance and regulation becomes increasingly complex. To see a select group of people and institutions profit from this complexity has, understandably, bred resentment throughout post-industrial countries.

So what should scientists do to safeguard and support their community instead? A good first step would be to acknowledge the scope and depth of the problem. The biggest issue confronting science is not a malicious and incompetent executive, or a research enterprise that might receive less generous funding than it’s enjoyed in the past. The critical challenge—and one that will still be relevant long after Donald Trump has gone back to making poor real estate decisions—is figuring out how scientists can build an enduring relationship with all segments of the American public, so that discounting, defunding, or vilifying scientists’ important work is politically intolerable.

This does not excuse whatever appalling policies Trump will no doubt seek to implement, against which scientists should speak out forcefully in the language of public values like free speech. They did this successfully against requests for the names of Department of Energy employees who attended U.N. climate talks and the clampdown on federal agencies’ external communications. But over the longer term, scientists need to improve their connection to the public and articulate their importance to society in a way that resonates with all Americans.

Academia can also challenge the insularity of scientific practice (and not just in the sciences). Instead of an overriding focus on publishing and grants, renewed attention to teaching could train more students in academic rigor and critical appraisal of, among other things, the false claims of a populist demagogue. With research universities scattered throughout the country, academics should be incentivized to improve ties with people who might otherwise consider scientists to be condescending eggheads who only give them bad news about the climate or the economy. University medical centers and military bases provide great models for these types of strong local relationships.

Finally, scientists and technologists must also attend to the social implications of their research. This includes anticipating and mitigating the socioeconomic effects of their innovations (here’s looking at you, Silicon Valley) by allocating resources to address problems they may exacerbate, such as inequality and job loss. The high-level discussion around CRISPR, the revolutionary gene-editing technology, is a good example of both the opportunity for and difficulty of responsible innovation. This process might be made more effective by bringing the public into scientific practice and policymaking using the tools of citizen science and deliberative democracy, rather than simply telling people what scientists are doing or explaining what policymakers have already decided.

If you have the time, please read Lloyd’s piece in its entirety. The piece has certainly generated a fair number of comments (121 when I last looked).

I have run a couple of posts which feature some well-meaning advice for our southern neighbours from Canadians along with my suggestion that they might not be as helpful as we hope.

Jan. 27, 2017 posting (scroll down past the internship announcement, about 15% of the way down)

Feb. 13, 2017 posting

Science blogging session at 2015 Canadian Science Policy Conference? Hmmm. Really, really really?

Who can resist a Carly Rae Jepsen reference (specifically, the “I really like you” song with its over 60 instances of the word, ‘really’)? Not me.

I have a few things to say about the Science Blogging: The Next Generation session organized by Science Borealis (?) for the Seventh Canadian Science Policy Conference, being held in Ottawa, Ontario from Nov. 25 – 27, 2015 at the Delta Ottawa City Centre Hotel.

First, congratulations to the session organizer(s) for a successful conference submission. (A few years ago I chatted with someone from an institution that I thought would gain almost automatic acceptance whose submission had been rejected. So, there is competition for these spots.) Second, I know it’s tough to pull a panel together. The process can range from merely challenging to downright hellacious.

That said, I have a few comments and suggestions. There seem to be a few oddities regarding the blogging session. Let’s start with the biographies where you’d expect to see something about science blogging credentials, i.e., the name of his or her science blog, how long they’ve publishing/writing, their topics, etc.

Brian Owens [moderator]
General Science editor, Research Canada/Science Borealis
Brian is an experienced science policy journalist. He is editor of Research Canada, the newest publication of the international science policy publisher Research Professional. He is also General Science editor of Science Borealis.

Our moderator does not mention having a blog or writing for one regularly although he does edit for Science Borealis (a Canadian science blog aggregator). How long has he been doing that and how do you edit a science blog aggregator?

Moving on, Owens’ LinkedIn profile indicates he returned to Canada from  the UK in November 2012. So, by the time the conference rolls round, he will have been back in the country three years. (Shades of Michael Ignatieff!) It’s possible he’s kept up with Canada’s science policy while he was in London but he does seem to have held a high pressure job suggesting he wouldn’t have had the bandwidth to regularly keep up with the Canadian science policy scene.

His LinkedIn profile shows this experience,

Online news editor
Nature Publishing Group
January 2011 – November 2012 (1 year 11 months)London, United Kingdom

Responsible for all online news and blog content, including running daily news meetings, assigning stories, editing copy and managing an international team of staff and freelance reporters. Also led on developing Nature’s social media strategy. [emphasis mine]

It’s always good to have Nature on your résumé, although the journal has a somewhat spotty reputation where social media is concerned. Perhaps he helped turn it around?

So, how does guy who’s never had a blog (editing is not the same thing) and has about three years experience back home in New Brunswick after several years abroad moderate a Canadian science blogging panel with a policy focus?

Given the information at hand, it seems a little sketchy but doable provided your panel has solid experience.

Let’s check out the panel (Note: All the excerpts come from this session description):

Amelia Buchanan
blogger, Journalism student at Algonquin College
A recent convert to science communication, Amelia Buchanan is a journalism student with a Bachelor’s degree in biology. She writes stories about science and technology at school and blogs about urban wildlife in her spare time.

What’s Buchanan’s blog called? After searching, I found this, lab bench to park bench. Her blog archives indicate that she started in April 2014. Unless she’s owned other blogs, she will have approximately 18 months experience writing about the natural world, for the most part, when the conference session takes place.

That’s not much experience although someone with a fresh perspective can be a good addition to panels like this. Let’s see who’s next.

Chris Buddle
Associate Professor and Associate Dean at McGill University’s Macdonald Campus, University of Montreal/Science Borealis
Dr. Chris Buddle is an Associate Professor and Associate Dean at McGill University’s Macdonald Campus. He is an enthusiastic and devoted science communicator and blogger, and a member of the Science Borealis board of directors.

What is his blog called? It turns out to be, Arthropod Ecology. The earliest date I could find for any mention of it was in 2012. Unfortunately, the About this blog description is relatively uninformative with regard to its inception so I’m stuck with that one reference to a 2012 posting on Buddle’s blog. This one, too, focuses on the natural world.

So, Buddle has possibly three years experience. He does write more extensive pieces but, more frequently, he illustrates* his posts liberally with images while making extensive use of bullet points and links elsewhere. He’s mixing two styles for his postings, ‘illustrated essay writing’ and ‘picture book with lots of linked resources’. It can be a way to address different audiences and attention spans.

***ETA: Aug. 20, 2015: Chris Buddle has kindly provided more information about his blog via twitter:

Aug 20
@frogheart yes it is called “arthropod ecology”, I post 1-2 times per week, since 2012. Some posts are ‘link-fests’ hence the bullets 3/n

@frogheart many other posts are long-form research blogging. Had about 300K + unique visitors, & avg b/w 600-900 visits per day 4/n

@frogheart audience is other scientists, students, colleagues, broader public. Try to write in ‘plain language’ to make accessible

Thank you, Chris for providing more details about your blog and passing on a link to this posting with its criticisms and suggestions to the session organizers.***

* ‘illustrate’ changed to ‘illustrates’ Aug. 20, 2015.

The fourth panelist in this group is,

Sabrina Doyle
Canadian Geographic
Sabrina Doyle is the new media editor at Canadian Geographic. She is fascinated by arctic exploration, enjoys triathlons, and has a deep fondness for all things edible. Hates dirt under her fingernails but loves activities that get it there. Tweet her at @sab_jad |

I gather this bio is something she uses elsewhere. Unfortunately, it doesn’t answer the question: what is she doing on this panel?

It turns out she writes the posts for the Canadian Geographic Compass Blog. From her LinkedIn profile, she’s been working for Canadian Geographic since July 2013 and became responsible for the blog in Oct. 2014. She doesn’t seem to have blogged prior to that time, which gives her approximately 13 months experience once she’s at the science blogging session in November 2015. While she, too, writes much about the natural world, she offers the most diverse range of topics amongst the panelists.

There is one more panelist,

Paul Dufour
Principal/adjunct professor, PaulicyWorks/University of Ottawa
Paul Dufour is Principal of PaulicyWorks, a science and technology policy consulting firm based in Gatineau, Quebec, and an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy.

Dufour does not seem to own and/or write a blog and, as far as I’m aware, has no media background of any kind (Dufour’s LinkedIn profile). He seems to a science policy wonk which makes sense for the conference but leaves the question: what he is doing on this panel? Other media experience might have given him some comparative insight into how blogs have affected the science media and science policy spaces. But perhaps he reads blogs and is going to share how they’ve influenced his work in science policy?

Here’s what they’re supposed to be talking about, from the session description,

Science blogs serve many communities, including research, policy, the mainstream media and the public at large. They validate successful science, challenge weak conclusions, and are an increasingly important tool for providing valuable context and understanding of research via an open and public forum that encourages debate. Further, science blogging fills the void left by the changing media landscape with fewer resources invested in science writing and reporting. Policy makers are looking to trusted blogs and social channels for insight and information.

This session will provide an in-depth and hands-on look at science blogging and its impact on the Transformation of Science, Society and Research in the Digital Age. With a particular focus on tools and platforms, best practices, the current Canadian blogging landscape, and some predictions for the future, this interactive session will demonstrate how blogs are a platform for engagement, discussion and sharing of science.

Canada has many talented science bloggers, representing both the science reporting and documentary approaches. Our science blogging community has strengthened and grown in recent years, with Science Borealis, launched at the 2013 CSPC, providing a cohesive platform for discussion, discovery and delivery. The proposed panel will address how science blogs are useful for both policymakers and scientists.

Tapping into the power of the crowd, the session will interactively engage the audience in the creation of a quality, high-impact, policy-oriented blog post that will later be published on Science Borealis. The panel will provide audience members with hands-on experience in good blogging practice: goals, approaches, dos and don’ts — and more — to create a well-designed post accessible to government, the broader scientific community, industry and the public.

The panel will discuss the current state of science blogging in Canada showcasing best examples and demonstrating their impacts on the public perception of science and the transformation of science and research and. It will briefly explore this type of digital engagement with an eye to the future. [this para seems redundant]

The validity of at least some of the assertions in the first paragraph are due to work by researchers such as Dominique Brossard and Dietram Sheufele (New media landscapes and the science information consumer) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It would have been nice to have seen a few citations (I’d really like to see the research supporting the notion that policymakers read and are influenced by science bloggers) replacing that somewhat redundant final paragraph.

I highlighted a number of words and terms, “platform,” “engagement,” “interactive,” “high-impact,” and “Tapping into the power of the crowd,” which I imagine helped them sell this panel to the organizers.

Despite some statements suggesting otherwise, it seems the main purpose of this session is to focus on and write a science policy posting, “the session will interactively engage the audience in the creation of a quality, high-impact, policy-oriented blog post .” That should be an interesting trick since none of the panelists write that type of blog and the one science policy type doesn’t seem to write for any kind of blog. I gather the panelists are going to tap into ‘the power of each other’. More puzzling, this session seems like a workshop not a panel. Just how are the participants going to have a “hands-on” experience of “interactively writing up a science policy blog post?” There aren’t that many ways to operationalize this endeavour. It’s either a session where people have access to computers and collectively write and post individual pieces under one banner or they submit their posts and someone edits in real time or someone is acting as secretary taking notes from the discussion and summarizing it in a post (not exactly hands-on for anyone except the writer).

As for the ‘tips and tricks’ to be offered by the panelists, is there going to be a handout and/or accessible webpage with the information? I also don’t see any mention about building an audience for your work, search engine optimization, and/or policies for your blog (e.g., what do you do when someone wants to send you a book for review? how do you handle comments [sometimes people get pretty angry]?).

I hope there’s an opportunity to update the bios. in the ways I’ve suggested: list your blog, explain what you write, how long you’ve been posting, how you’ve built up your audience, etc. For the participants who don’t have blogs perhaps they could discuss how blogs have affected their work, or not. In any event, I wish the organizers and panelists good luck. Especially since the session is scheduled for the very end of the conference. (I’ve been in that position; everyone at that conference laughed when they learned when my session was scheduled.)

7th (2015) Canadian Science Policy Conference line-up

The Seventh Canadian Science Policy Conference, being held in Ottawa, Ontario from Nov. 25 – 27, 2015 at the Delta Ottawa City Centre Hotel, has announced its programme and speakers in a July 16, 2015 Canadian Science Policy Centre newsletter,


Theme 1: Transformative and Converging Technologies on
Private Sector Innovation and Productivity

New technologies, from 3D printing to quantum computing, present risks and opportunities for Canadian industries and the economy. Join CSPC 2015 in a discussion of how Canada’s mining industry and digital economy can best take advantage of these technological innovations.

Challenges Associated with Transferring New Technologies to the Mining Industry,
Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation

Creating Digital Opportunity for Canada: challenges and emerging trends,
Munk School of Global Affairs

Disruptive Technologies,
Ryerson University

Theme 2: Big Science in Canada – Realizing the Benefits

ENCode, the LHC, the Very Large Array: Big Science is reshaping modern research and with it, Canada’s scientific landscape. Join the conversation at CSPC 2015 on how Canada navigates those vast new waters.

Science Without Boundaries,

Are we Jupiters in the celestial field of science? How ‘Big Science’ and major facilities influence Canadian Science Culture,

Theme 3: Transformation of Science, Society and Research
in the Digital Age: Open science, participation, security and

The digital age has brought important changes to the Canadian scientific landscape. Come discuss and think about the effects of those changes on our society.

The Role of Innovation in Addressing Antimicrobial Resistance,
Industry Canada

Digital Literacy: What is going to make the real difference?,

Science Blogging: The Next Generation,
Science Borealis

Proposals for Advancing Canadian Open Science Policy,
Environment Canada

Theme 4: Science and Innovation for Development

Innovation and sciences are among the key driver of development. Come and find out how Canadian creativity creates unique opportunities.

Role of Open Science in Innovation for Development,
International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

Learning Creativity in STEM Education,
University of Calgary

Theme 5: Evidence-Based Decision Making: The challenge
of connecting science and policy making

GMOs, climate change, energy: Many of the big major issues facing Canada fall at the nexus of science and policymaking. Join CSPC 2015 in a discussion of the role of big data and evidence-based decision-making in government.

Beating Superbugs: Innovative Genomics and Policies to Tackle AMR,
Genome Canada

Addressing Concerns Over GMOs – Striking the Right Balance,
Agriculture and Agri-food Canada

Who Should be the Voice for Science Within Government?,
Evidence for Democracy

Data Driven Decisions: Putting IoT, Big Data and Analytics to Work For Better Public Policy,

The future of university support for Canada’s Science, Technology & Innovation Strategy,
York University

Please note, there will be more panels announced soon.

Keynote Session

Science Advice to Governments
Innovation, science and technologies never had a more critical role in decision making than today. CSPC 2015 keynote session will address the importance and role of the input from the scientific world to decision making in political affairs.


Sir Peter Gluckman,
Chief Science Adviser to New Zealand Government

Rémi Quirion,
Chief Scientist, Quebec

Arthur Carty,
Executive Director, Inst. Nanotechnology U Waterloo, Former science adviser to PM Paul Martin [emphasis mine]

I have a few comments. First, I’m glad to see the balance between the “money, money, money” attitude and more scholarly/policy interests has been evened out somewhat as compared to last year’s conference in Halifax (Nova Scotia). Second, I see there aren’t any politicians listed as speakers in the website’s banner as is the usual case (Ted Hsu, Member of Parliament and current science critic for the Liberal Party, is on the speaker list but will not be running in the 2015 election). This makes some sense since there is a federal election coming up in October 2015 and changes are likely. Especially, since it seems to be a three-horse race at this point. (For anyone unfamiliar with the term, it means that any one of the three main political parties could win and lead should they possess a majority of the votes in the House of Commons. There are other possibilities such as a minority government led by one party (the Harper Conservatives have been in that situation). Or, should two parties, with enough combined votes to outnumber the third party, be able to agree, there could be a coalition government of some kind.) As for other politicians at the provincial and municipal levels, perhaps it’s too early to commit? Third, Arthur Carty, as he notes, was a science advisor to Prime Minister Paul Martin. Martin was the leader of the country for approximately two years from Dec. 2003 – Nov. 2005 when a motion of non confidence was passed in Parliament (more about Paul Martin and his political career in his Wikipedia entry) an election was called for January 2006 when Stephen Harper and the conservatives were voted in to form a minority government. Arthur Carty’s tenure as Canada’s first science advisor began in 2004 and ended in 2008, according to Carty’s Wikipedia entry. It seems Carty is not claiming to have been Stephen Harper’s science advisor although arguably he was the Harper government’s science advisor for the same amount of time. This excerpt from a March 6, 2008 Canada.com news item seems to shed some light on why the Harper sojourn is not mentioned in Cary’s conference biography,

The need for a national science adviser has never been greater and the government is risking damage to Canada’s international reputation as a science leader by cutting the position, according to the man who holds the job until the end of the month.

Appearing before a Commons committee on Thursday, Arthur Carty told MPs that he is “dismayed and disappointed” that the Conservative government decided last fall to discontinue the office of the national science adviser.

“There are, I think, negative consequences of eliminating the position,” said Carty. He said his international counterparts have expressed support for him and that Canada eliminating the position has the “potential to tarnish our image,” as a world leader in science and innovation.

Carty was head of the National Research Council in 2004 when former prime minister Paul Martin asked him to be his science adviser.

In October 2006, [months] after Prime Minister Stephen Harper was elected, Carty’s office was shifted to Industry Canada. After that move, he and his staff were “increasingly marginalized,” Carty told the industry, science and technology committee, and they had little input in crafting the government’s new science and technology strategy.

But Conservative members of the committee questioned whether taxpayers got their money’s worth from the national adviser and asked Carty to explain travel and meal expenses he had claimed during his time in the public service, including lunch and dinner meetings that cost around $1,000 each. Some of the figures they cited were from when Carty was head of the National Research Council.

The suggestions that Carty took advantage of the public purse prompted Liberal MP Scott Brison to accuse the Tories of launching a “smear campaign” against Carty, whom he described as a “great public servant.”

“I have never overcharged the government for anything,” Carty said in his own defence.

The keynote has the potential for some liveliness based on Carty’s history as a science advisor but one never knows.  It would have been nice if the organizers had been able to include someone from South Korea, Japan, India, China, etc. to be a keynote speaker on the topic of science advice. After all, those countries have all invested heavily in science and made some significant social and economic progress based on those investments. If you’re going to talk about the global science enterprise perhaps you could attract a few new people (and let’s not forget Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East) to the table, so to speak.

You can find out more about the conference and register (there’s a 30% supersaver discount at the moment) here.

2015 Canadian federal budget and science

Think of this post as a digest of responses to and analyses of the ‘science component’ of the Canadian federal government’s 2015 budget announcement made on April 21, 2015 by Minister of Finance, Joe Oliver. First off the mark, the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) has featured some opinions about the budget and its impact on Canadian science in an April 27, 2015 posting,

Jim Woodgett
Director, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute of Sinai Health System

Where’s the Science Beef in Canadian Budget 2015?

Andrew Casey
President and CEO, BIOTECanada

Budget 2015: With the fiscal balance restored where to next?

Russ Roberts
Senior Vice President – Tax & Finance, CATA Alliance

Opinion on 2015 Federal Budget

Ron Freeman
CEO of Innovation Atlas Inc. and Research Infosource Inc. formerly co-publisher of RE$EARCH MONEY and co-founder of The Impact Group

Workman-Like Budget Preserves Key National Programs

Paul Davidson
President, Universities Canada

A Reality Check on Budget 2015

Dr. Kamiel Gabriel
Associate Provost of Research and Graduate Programs at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), Science Adviser and Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) of Research at the Ontario Ministry of Research & Innovation

The 2015 Federal Budget Targets Key Segments of Voters

I suggest starting with Woodgett’s piece as he points out something none of the others who chose to comment on the amount of money dedicated to the tricouncil funding agencies (Canadian Institutes of Health Research [CIHR], Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council [NSERC], and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council [SSHRC]) seemed to have noticed or deemed important,

The primary source of science operating funds are provided by the tricouncils, CIHR/NSERC and SSHRC, which, when indirect costs and other flow through dollars (e.g. CRCs) are included, accounts for about $2.5 billion in annual funding. There are no new dollars added to the tricouncil budgets this year (2015/16) but there is a modest $46 million to be added in 2016/17 – $15 million to CIHR and NSERC, $7.5 million to SSHRC and the rest in indirects. [emphases mine] This new money, though, is largely ear-marked for new initiatives, such as the CIHR Strategy on Patient Oriented Research ($13 million) and an anti-microbial resistant infection program ($2 million). Likewise for NSERC and SSHRC although NSERC enjoys around $16 million relief in not needing to support industrial postgraduate scholarships as this responsibility moves to MITACS with no funding loss at NSERC. Alex Usher of Higher Education Strategy Associates, estimates that, taking inflation into account, tricouncil funding will be down 9% since 2008. [emphasis mine] It is hardly surprising that funding applications to these agencies are under enormous competitive pressure. At CIHR, the last open operating grant competition yielded unprecedented low success rates of ~14% along with across-the-board budget cuts of grants that were funded of 26%. This agency is in year 1 of major program reforms and has very little wiggle-room with its frozen budget.

To be fair, there are sources other than the tricouncil for science funding although their mandate is for ‘basic’ science, more or less. Over the last few years, there’s been a greater emphasis on tricouncil funding that produces economic results and this is in line international trends.

Getting back to the CSPC’s opinions, Davidson’s piece, notes some of that additional funding,

With $1.33 billion earmarked for the Canada Foundation for Innovation [CFI], Budget 2015 marks the largest single announcement of Canadian research infrastructure funding. This is something the community prioritized, given the need for state-of-the-art equipment, labs, digital tools and high-speed technology to conduct, partner and share research results. This renewed commitment to CFI builds on the globally competitive research infrastructure that Canadians have built over the last 15 years and enables our researchers to collaborate with the very best in the world. Its benefits will be seen in universities across the country and across disciplines. Key research infrastructure investments – from digital to major science infrastructure – support the broad spectrum of university research, from theoretical and discovery to pre-competitive and applied.

The $45 million announced for TRIUMF will support the laboratory’s role in accelerating science in Canada, an important investment in discovery research.

While the news about the CFI seems to have delighted a number of observers, it should be noted (as per Woodgett’s piece) that the $1.3B is to be paid out over six years ($220M per year, more or less) and the money won’t be disbursed until the 2017/18 fiscal year. As for the $45M designated for TRIUMF (Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics), this is exciting news for the lab which seems to have bypassed the usual channels, as it has before, to receive its funding directly from the federal government.

Another agency which seems to have received its funding directly from the federal government is the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), From an April 22, 2015 news release,

The Council of Canadian Academies welcomes the federal government’s announcement of new funding for in-depth, authoritative, evidence-based assessments. Economic Action Plan 2015 allocated $15 million over five years [$3M per year] for the Council of Canadian Academies.

“This is welcome news for the Council and we would like to thank the Government for this commitment. Over the past 10 years the Council has worked diligently to produce high quality reports that support policy and decision-making in numerous areas,” said Janet Bax, Interim President. “We appreciate the support from Minister Holder and his predecessors, Minsters Goodyear and Rickford, for ensuring meaningful questions have been referred to the Council for assessment.” [For anyone unfamiliar with the Canadian science minister scene, Ed Holder, current Minister of State for Science and Technology, and previous Conservative government ministers, Greg Rickford and Gary Goodyear]

As of March 31st, 2015 the Council has published 31 reports on topics as diverse as business innovation, the future of Canadian policing models, and improving medicines for children. The Council has worked with over 800 expert volunteers from across Canada and abroad. These individuals have given generously of their time and as a result more than $16 million has been leveraged in volunteer support. The Council’s work has been used in many ways and had an impact on national policy agendas and strategies, research programs, and supported stakeholders and industry groups with forward looking action plans.

“On behalf of the Board of Governors I would like to extend our thanks to the Government,” said Margaret Bloodworth, Chair of the Board of Governors.  “The Board is now well positioned to consider future strategic directions for the organization and how best to further expand on the Council’s client base.”

The CCA news is one of the few item about social science funding, most observers such as Ivan Semeniuk in an April 27, 2015 article for the Globe and Mail, are largely focused on the other sciences,

Last year [2014], that funding [for the tricouncil agencies] amounted to about$2.7-billion, and this year’s budget maintains that. Because of inflation and increasing competition, that is actually a tightening of resources for rank-and-file scientists at Canada’s universities and hospitals. At the same time, those institutions are vying for a share of a $1.5-billion pot of money called the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, which the government unveiled last year and is aimed at helping push selected projects to a globally competitive level.

“This is all about creating an environment where our research community can grow,” Ed Holder, Minister of State for Science and Technology, told The Globe and Mail.

One extra bonus for science in this year’s budget is a $243.5-million commitment to secure Canada’s partnership in the Thirty Meter Telescope, a huge international observatory that is slated for construction on a Hawaiian mountain top. Given its high price-tag, many thought it unlikely that the Harper government would go for the project. In the end, the telescope likely benefited from the fact that had the Canada committed less money, most of the economic returns associated with building it would flow elsewhere.

The budget also reflects the Harper government’s preference for tying funding to partnerships with industry. A promised increase of $46-million for the granting councils next year will be largely for spurring collaborations between academic researchers and industrial partners rather than for basic research.

Whether or not science becomes an issue in the upcoming election campaign, some research advocates say the budget shows that the government’s approach to science is still too narrow. While it renews necessary commitments to research infrastructure, they fear not enough money will be left for people doing the kind of work that expands knowledge but does not always produce an immediate economic return.

An independent analysis of the 2015 budget prepared by Higher Education Strategy Associates, a Toronto based consulting firm, shows that when inflation is factored in, the money available for researchers through the granting councils has been in decline since 2009.

Canadian scientists are the not only ones feeling a pinch. Neal V. Patel’s April 27, 2015 article (originally published on Wired) on the Slate website discusses US government funding in an attempt to contextualize science research crowdfunding (Note: A link has been removed),

In the U.S., most scientific funding comes from the government, distributed in grants awarded by an assortment of federal science, health, and defense agencies. So it’s a bit disconcerting that some scientists find it necessary to fund their research the same way dudebros raise money for a potato salad. Does that migration suggest the current grant system is broken? If it is, how can we ensure that funding goes to legitimate science working toward meaningful discoveries?

On its own, the fact that scientists are seeking new sources of funding isn’t so weird. In the view of David Kaiser, a science historian at MIT, crowdfunding is simply the latest “pendulum swing” in how scientists and research institutions fund their work. Once upon a time, research at MIT and other universities was funded primarily by student tuition and private philanthropists. In 1919, however, with philanthropic investment drying up, MIT launched an ambitious plan that allowed local companies to sponsor specific labs and projects.

Critics complained the university had allowed corporate interests to dig their claws into scientific endeavors and befoul intellectual autonomy. (Sound familiar?) But once WWII began, the U.S. government became a force for funding, giving huge wartime grants to research groups nationwide. Federal patronage continued expanding in the decades after the war.

Seventy years later, that trend has reversed: As the federal budget shrinks, government investment in scientific research has reached new lows. The conventional models for federal grants, explains University of Iowa immunologist Gail Bishop, “were designed to work such that 25 to 30 percent of studies were funded. Now it’s around 10 percent.”

I’m not sure how to interpret the Canadian situation in light of other jurisdictions. It seems clear that within the Canadian context for government science funding that research funding is on a downward trend and has been going down for a few years (my June 2, 2014 posting). That said, we have another problem and that’s industrial research and development funding (my Oct. 30, 2013 posting about the 2013 OECD scorecard for science and technology; Note: the scorecard is biannual and should be issued again in 2015). Businesses don’t pay for research in Canada and it appears the Conservative and previous governments have not been successful in reversing that situation even marginally.

Canadian Science Policy Conference Call for Proposals

I missed the first call for the 7th annual Canadian Science Policy Conference but luckily it has been extended to either May 1, 2015 (on the website) or May 8, 2015 (in the news release). First, here are some details about where and when the conference is being held (from the Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) April 10, 2015 news release),

The 7th Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) is returning to the nation’s capital after four years. This year the CSPC will be held in Ottawa, Ontario, on November 25-27th, 2015, at the Delta Ottawa City Centre Hotel. The CSPC draws representatives from the business, government, academic and research, media, non-profit, and education sectors across Canada to discuss the present and future of Canadian science, technology, and innovation policy.

Should you be interested in submitting a proposal, here are the themes and formats to consider,

CSPC 2015 themes are:

The Impact of Transformative and Converging Technologies on Private Sector Innovation and Productivity

Big Science in Canada: Realizing the Benefits

Transformation of Science, Society and Research in the Digital Age: Open Science, Participation, Security and Confidentiality

Science and Innovation for Development

Evidence-Based Decision Making: The Challenge of Connecting Science and Policy Making

CSPC 2015 Panel Format (Streams)

Green Paper Discussions

Case Studies

Lightning/TED-type Talks

Interactive Learning Session

Debate Format

At Issue Format

Proposals are welcome from organizations and individuals from across all sectors and disciplines. This year CSPC encourages proposals with a future oriented approach, a focus on solutions to challenges, and using interactive formats.

You can found out more about the evaluation criteria and the formats on the Canadian Science Policy Conference Call for Proposals webpage. As for the deadline, I’m making the assumption that the date on the website (May 1, 2015) is the one to work towards.

Status of women in science and technology Apr. 23, 2013 panel at the University of Toronto (Canada)

The Canadian Science Policy Centre is hosting a special event for women in science, from The Status of Women in Science and Technology event page,

The Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) is pleased to announce an exciting panel discussion, The Status of Women in Science and Technology, in participation with two generations of women scientists to provide insights into how to strengthen their position in science and technology.

Over the course of an afternoon, both established and early career women scientists drawn from different fields (including academia, government, the private sector and not-for-profit organizations) will be engaged in discussions related to how they got where they are today, how they overcame challenges along the way, what advice they would give to others early in their career to achieve their goals, their assessment of the overall status of women in science and technology and what can — and should — be done to improve their status. In light of the recently released report from the The Status of Women in Science and Technology, here, that highlighted the lack of available mentorship for women scientists in Canada, we think this will be a wonderful event that redresses that landscape.

Btw, I did write a commentary about the Council of Canadian Academies report on women and science, Science, women and gender in Canada (part 1 of 2) in my Feb.22, 2013 posting and Science, women and gender in Canada (part 2 of 2) also on Feb. 22, 2013.

Here’s more about this free Apr. 23, 2013 CSPC workshop being offered at the University of Toronto (Note: Links have been removed),


Main Panel

Wendy Cukier, PhD
Vice-President, Research & Innovation
Ryerson University – Bio

Hon. Lorna Marsden, PhD
President emeriti and former Vice-Chancellor
York University– Bio

Maydianne C.B. Andrade, PhD
Professor & Canada Research Chair
Integrative Behaviour & Neuroscience Group
University of Toronto Scarborough

**More panelists to be confirmed

Responding Panel

Robin E. Duncan, PhD
Assistant Professor
University of Waterloo

Shiva Amiri, PhD
Senior Program Lead
Ontario Brain Institute

Dawn M.E. Bowdish, PhD.
Assistant Professor
McMaster Immunology Research Centre

Details as to where and when,

Date:  April 23, 2013

Time: 4:00pm to 7:00pm

  • Registration: 4:00pm
  • Opening Remark:  4:30pm – 4:35pm
  • Panel Opening: 4:35pm – 5:00pm
  • Interactive Panel Discussion (Main & Responding): 5:00pm – 6:00pm
  • Q&A:  6:00pm – 6:45pm
  • Closing Remarks:  6:45pm – 6:50pm

Venue: University of Toronto, Medical Science Building, MacLeod Auditorium, 1 King’s College Circle.

To register please RSVP to lauren.ashton@sciencepolicy.ca with

1) Name, 2) Company/Organization, 3) Title/Level of Study

I’ve never come across an event with a ‘main’ panel and a ‘responding’ panel before but I’d love to see it. Unfortunately, there’s no mention of a webcast either live or posted afterward and there’s no chance I’ll be in Toronto on the day.

Informing research choices—the latest report from the Canadian Council of Academies (part 2: more details and my comments)

In general, I found this to be a thoughtful report, Canadian Council of Academies (CCA) Informing Research Choices: Indicators and Judgment, and have at the most a few criticisms. Starting with this bit about the Discovery Grants Programme (DGP), funded by Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and ‘expert judgment’,

The focus of NSERC on science assessment practices is directed partly by a long-standing concern that the allocation of DGP funding across fields is overly dependent on historical funding patterns, and that future allocations should incorporate other factors such as research quality, changes in the scientific landscape, and the emergence of research fields.

This review of international science assessment reveals a diverse landscape of assessment methods and practices. Two of the lessons emerging from the review are especially relevant to the Panel’s charge. First, the national research context is significant in defining a given science assessment, and no single set of indicators for assessment will be ideal in all circumstances, though evidence gathered from examining experiences of other countries may help inform the development of a science assessment strategy for Canada. Second, there is a global trend towards national science assessment models that incorporate both quantitative indicators and expert judgment. [emphases mine] (p. 31 print version, p. 51 PDF)

Ok, how do we define ‘expert’? Especially in light of the fact that  the report discusses ‘peer’ and ‘expert’ review (p. 50 print version, p. 70 PDF). Here’s a definition (or non definition) of ‘expert review’ from the report,

Following the definition provided by the OECD (2008), the Panel uses the term “expert review” to refer to deliberative evaluation processes based on expert judgment used in the context of evaluations of broader research fields or units. (p. 51 print version, p. 71 PDF)

Tautology, anyone?

The report also describes more quantitative measures such as bibliometrics (how many times and where were your scientists published), amongst others.  From the report,

The simplest bibliometric indicators are those based on publication counts. In principle, such counts can be generated for many different types of publications (e.g., books, book chapters). In practice, due to the limitations of coverage in indexed bibliographic databases, existing indicators are most often based on counts of peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals. Basic publication indicators typically take the form of absolute counts of the number of journal articles for a particular unit (e.g., individual, research group, institution, or field) by year or for a period of years. Such indicators are typically framed as a measure of research output.

Additional indicators based on publication counts can be derived from shares of publication counts (e.g., a research group’s share of total publications in an institution, a field’s share of total publications in a country). These share-based indicators generally are used to capture information about the relative importance of research output originating from a particular unit or field. More advanced indicators based on weighted publication counts can also be created when publication output is typically weighted by some measure of the quality of the research outlet. For example, journal impact factors (a measure of the relative citedness of a journal) may be used to give a higher weight to publications in more prestigious or competitive journals. [emphasis mine] Unlike straight publication counts, these metrics also depend on some other measure of quality, either based on citation or on some other assessment of the relative quality of different journals. (pp. 55-56 print version, pp. 75-76 PDF)

There are more bibliometrics discussed along with some of their shortcomings but, interestingly, no mention of open access publishing and its possible impacts on  ‘prestigious journals’ and on the bibliometrics themselves.

Getting back to my question in part 1 ” I was looking for evidence that the panel would have specific recommendations for avoiding an over-reliance on metrics (which I see taking place and accelerating in many areas not just for science funding).”Interestingly the report makes references to qualitative approaches without ever defining it although the the term ‘quantitative indicators’ is described in the glossary,

Quantitative indicators: any indicators constructed from quantitative data (e.g., counts of publications, citations, students, grants, research funding).

The qualitative approaches mentioned  in the report include ‘expert’ review, peer review, and case studies. Since I don’t understand what they mean by ‘expert’, I’m not sure I understand ‘peer’. As for the case studies, here’s how this approach is described (Note: I have removed a footnote),

The case study is perhaps the most common example of other types of qualitative methods used in research assessment. Case studies are often used to explore the wider socio-economic impacts of research. For example, the U.K. Research Excellence Framework (REF) …

Project Retrosight is a Canadian example of the case study approach used in research assessment. Undertaken as part of a multinational study to evaluate the impact of basic biomedical and clinical cardiovascular and stroke research projects, Project Retrosight measured payback of projects using a sampling framework. [emphasis mine]  Despite several limitations to the analysis (e.g., the number of case studies limiting the sample pool from which to draw observations, potential inconsistencies in reporting and comparability), the case study approach provided an effective platform for evaluating both the how and the why of evidence to demonstrate impact. The key findings of the study revealed a broad and diverse range of impacts, with the majority of broader impacts, socio-economic and other, coming from a minority of projects (Wooding et al., 2011).  (p. 53 print version, p. 73 PDF)

My understanding of the word ‘payback’ is that it’s related to the term ‘return on investment’ and that measure requires  quantitative data. If so, how was the Project Retrosight qualitative? The description in the report doesn’t offer that information.

The conclusion from the final paragraph of the report doesn’t offer any answers,

… quantitative indicators are far from obviating the need for human expertise and judgment in the research funding allocation decision process. Indicators should be used to inform rather than replace expert judgment. Given the inherent uncertainty and complexity of science funding decisions, these choices are best left in the hands of well-informed experts with a deep and nuanced understanding of the research funding contexts in question, and the scientific issues, problems, questions, and opportunities at stake. (p. 104 print version, p. 124 PDF)

I very much appreciate the approach the ‘expert’ panel took and the thoughtful nature of the report  but I feel it falls short. The panel offers an exhortation but no recommendations for ensuring that science funding decisions don’t become entirely reliant on metrics; they never do describe what they mean by ‘expert’ or explain the difference between qualitative and quantitative;’ and there’s no mention of ‘trends/disruptive developments’ such as open access publishing, which could have a powerful impact on the materials ‘experts’ use when making their research allocation decisions.

The full report, executive summary, abridged report, appendices,  news release and media backgrounder are available here.

ETA July 9, 2012 12:40 PST: There’s an interview (audio or text depending on your preferences) with Rita Colwell the report’s expert panel at the Canadian Science Policy Centre website here.

Canadian Science Policy Conference (in Calgary): call for papers and presentations

The 4th edition of the Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) will take place in Calgary, Alberta as I hinted (I also suggested that Edmonton was in contention)  in my Feb. 20, 2012 posting. If you have an interest in presenting at the conference, this is the time to submit your session proposals.  From the April 23, 2012 CSPC notice,

Call for Canadian Science Policy Conference 2012 Sessions

Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) 2012 is inviting members of the science policy community to submit proposals for the conference program Nov 5-6, 2012 in Calgary, Alberta. All submissions must be received online by end of day June 8, 2012.

This year’s conference sessions will be under the following 4 themes:

  • Innovating on energy supply and demand for more sustainable resource management: a critical test for the integration of science, technology and policy
  • Re-imagining Canadian Healthcare: How innovation in science and policy can contribute to a more sustainable system
  • Food, Fuel and Farmers: Agriculture at the convergence of multi-disciplinary science policy issues
  • Science-Technology-Society-Nexus

CSPC has become the focal point for Canadian science policy issues, in large part because of the active participation it encourages from the science policy community. Bringing together professionals from business, academia, government and non-profit, CSPC provides an annual forum to discuss the most relevant issues to science, technology and innovation in Canada during its conference sessions. Help shape this year’s dialogue by submitting your session proposal now!

There are more details at the CSPC 2012 website including this excerpt from the conference’s Themes page,

Re-imagining Canadian Healthcare: How innovation in science and policy can contribute to a more sustainable system?

Canadian healthcare spending has been rising steadily over the past few decades with health expenditure to GDP ratios rising from 7% in 1979 to a peak at almost 12% in 2009. Canada, like many nations, has a population that is getting older, living longer, and demanding quality care as well as improvements to the universal healthcare system. Innovation can contribute to improved performance of the system, but the impacts of innovation on cost, efficiency, and health outcomes are not always straightforward.

This CSPC theme will explore the policies and approaches for innovation to positively impact the health system. It will examine innovation and policy issues that related to improving effective and efficient care, accessibility, universality, sustainability, and cost versus benefits.

Food, Fuel and Farmers: Agriculture at the convergence of multi-disciplinary science policy issues

Agriculture requires upwards of 40% of the world’s land area and over 70% of the global fresh water reserves, in turn, generating nearly $2 trillion in global revenues while feeding more than 7 billion people. The implications of agricultural practices and policies thus have a direct link to global economic, environmental and societal outcomes and impacts many other sectors. The global challenge for agriculture, therefore, is to increase production while simultaneously reducing the environmental footprint. Canadian farmers, scientists, policy makers and businesses are responding with innovations in water and land use, genetics, bioproducts and bioprocesses. Productivity isn’t just about yields any more; it’s about energy content and optimization as well as issues such as minimizing losses in the transportation and distribution systems.

This CSPC theme will explore how science is at the heart of these questions. Increasingly, we see that the next generation of farmers and ranchers need to be scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs. However, what does this mean for the universities, policies, regulation and markets that these farmers and ranchers need to thrive going forward? And what does today’s science and innovation applied to agriculture mean for agriculture, energy, environmental and trade policies in the future?


Science and technology are significant pillars in our society and are increasingly transforming the world we live in as well as how we live within that world. Society expects solutions to our most pressing issues, and developments in S&T can bring answers and perspective to these issues. However, advances in S&T can also create new questions. Additionally, popular debate can polarize the public, and controversial S&T issues grow in number. It is, therefore, vital for the science policy community to identify such issues, contribute to discourse, and propose solutions or a way forward.

This theme, within the overarching context of S&T and Society, will examine a variety of issues such as engagement; education and public outreach; publication and data; peer-review; the bread and nature of the innovation system; social innovation; communication; and other major or topical issues in Canadian science policy.

Details about the proposal format, etc. are on the conference’s Submissions page,


  1. Please submit a brief proposal that outlines the title and subject of your session, as well as proposed speakers (including bios), format and goals of the proposed conference session. Please note the word limit on the website.
  2. Proposals must be submitted to the CSPC program committee online at www.cspc2012.ca/presentationsubmissions.php for evaluation prior end of day June 8, 2012. CONFERENCE THEMES:

This year’s conference themes are under the 4 categories of energy, health, agriculture and major issues in science and society. The theme descriptions are under the following titles:

  • Innovating on energy supply and demand for more sustainable resource management: a critical test for the integration of science, technology and policy
  • Re-imagining Canadian Healthcare: How innovation in science and policy can contribute to a more sustainable system
  • Food, Fuel and Farmers: Agriculture at the convergence of multi-disciplinary science policy issues
  • Science-Technology-Society-Nexus

They are intended to spark some insightful exploration and debate on the issues, but more importantly they seek to highlight some of the innovative ways in which science, technology and policy can contribute to an integrated and systemic approach to solving these issues in Canada and the world.

The CSPC 2012 Program Committee will review each of the proposals and evaluate them based on the following criteria:

  • Quality of the proposed session: CSPC tries to cover topics that are highly relevant or timely for the science policy community in Canada to discuss. Sessions that can draw together strong speakers or facilitators on subjects that are either garnering much attention publically or politically, or that are enduring societal problems, will rank more competitively than those that don’t. Sessions with confirmed speakers will rank more competitively than those without.
  • Alignment with the conference objectives: The conference objectives seek to support innovation in Canada and build both community and ideas for strengthening the science policy environment. The session proposal will be evaluated on its ability to support these primary objectives.
  • Alignment with the conference themes: CSPC strives for a balance that dives deep enough into the issues to identify specific elements of what works and what doesn’t from planning through to implementation, yet is still able to make the discussion accessible to a broader audience. Sessions should include experts that can provide detailed examples under the CSPC 2012 themes to support their arguments, and translate those details into more transferable lessons learned and best practices.
  • Representation of a diverse range of speakers: CSPC doesn’t have a specific formula for evaluating session speakers, but it does embrace diversity as one of its core values. The more diverse the range of perspectives that your speakers can offer in terms of roles (government, business, academia, non-profit etc.) or discipline, gender, ethnicity, geography, experience or other aspects, the stronger your proposal will be relative to the others.


Sessions are 90 minutes. Typically they have followed a panel presentation format, but some adopt more of a workshop or facilitated discussion style. CSPC has received enthusiastic feedback regarding sessions that allow for more interaction between the speakers and the delegates, and also those that bring a lively debate. Case studies and stories are easier for people to engage with than lists, facts and rhetoric. Consider challenging your speakers to be more creative when sharing their ideas.

The majority of the delegates will be fairly educated on different fields of science policy, but may not understand your field. You may want to include materials to prime the audience in order to allow your session to explore things to a greater depth. Many of the delegates are also practitioners in the science policy community, hungry for things to take back to their work beyond education and awareness. Often we’re asking people to “step outside their comfort zones” in order to foster more creativity in the way we think about and approach science, technology, policy and innovation. The more you can challenge your audience to participate in some way, such as writing down their biases or the first things that come to their mind, sharing with the person next to them what they think the key issues are, or hosting full break-out discussions the better.

Based on past attendance the majority is from academic, government, or non-profit institutions. CSPC is trying to target participants from the private sector for whom science policy is highly relevant, yet underrepresented. If you can propose a session which will engage this audience or if you have suggestions on how to better engage this sector please let us know!

Conference registration is free for speakers and facilitators.

As for suggestions about how to engage with folks from the private sector, that’s an interesting problem. I find it encouraging that they want to extend the discussion to a larger audience but I’m  not sure which part of the private sector they want to engage.  Investors? Venture capitalists? Bankers? Lawyers? Startup business owners? Big business? Accountants? Youthful entrepreneurs? New media? Gamers? etc.This gives me a lot to think about.

One small historical note, the first CSPC conference led to the creation of the Canadian Science Policy Centre which exists online here.

Good luck with your submissions!

Canada Election 2011, science writers, and an update on Peer Review Radio Candidate Interviews

Emily Chung (CBC News online) wrote up an April 26, 2011 article highlighting an open letter that the Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA) have sent during this election 2011 campaign season to Conservative leader, Steven Harper; Green party leader, Elizabeth May; Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff; and NDP leader, Jack Layton about the ‘muzzle’ place on federal scientists (from the article),

A group representing 500 science journalists and communicators across Canada sent an open letter Tuesday to Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, NDP Leader Jack Layton and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May documenting recent instances where they say federal scientists have been barred from talking about research funded by taxpayers.

“We urge you to free the scientists to speak,” the letter said. “Take off the muzzles and eliminate the script writers and allow scientists — they do have PhDs after all — to speak for themselves.”

Kathryn O’Hara, president of the association, said openness and transparency are issues that haven’t come up much in the election campaign, and her group felt it was important to ask about them.

The federal government spends billions each year on scientific research, and taxpayers must be able to examine the results, she said, otherwise, “how can you get a real sense of … value in money going toward science?”

The public also needs to be able to see whether government policy is based on evidence uncovered using taxpayer money, she added.

It’s good to see science writers getting the topic of science into the election coverage. I’m a little puzzled that the science policy centre folks (Canadian Science Policy Centre) don’t seem to have organized an ‘ask your candidates about science campaign’ or composed questions and sent their own open letter to the federal parties or devised some other tactic to highlight science and science policy in this election campaign.

One more bit about science and the Canada 2011 federal election, Peer Review Radio has now posted two interviews with candidates answering questions about science policy and their respective parties. The interviews with Scott Bradley, running for the Liberal Party in Ottawa-Centre and Emma Hogbin running for the Green Party in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound are each about 22 minutes long. The show producer and host, Adrian J. Ebsary promises to post the interviews with me, Marie-Claire Shanahan, and other interested science policy observers soon. Unfortunately, he was not able to broadcast the interviews as he hoped.

British election and science, lessons for Canadians?

I’m finally getting around to posting about the British Election and its science aspect in a little more detail than I did in my April 23, 2010 posting now that’s it been held and a coalition is going forward.

During the election period, all three parties produced manifestos that included some mention of policies for science. The Canadian Science Policy Centre provides links to an analysis of the science policies (in the New Scientist journal) found in the Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and Labour parties’ election 2010 manifestos. Short story: not a lot of detail in any of them but there are differences.

In light of the election results and the roles the various parties are likely to play in the government once it is formed, I have given the Liberal Democrats more prominence by putting them first. While the Conservatives won far more seats, it would seem that the Liberal Democrats will have substantial leverage with their colleagues in a coalition government and it will be interesting to see if they use this leverage for science.

The Liberal Democrats (excerpted from the New Scientist commentary),

Today saw the Liberal Democrats publish their election manifesto – Change that works for you – which is the last of the big three.

Like Labour’s and the Conservatives’, the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto covers science policies affecting research and education.

Unlike the other two, however, the Liberal Democrats have also made commitments about scientific advice in government.

Liberal Democrats say they want to create a “dynamic environment for science and innovation”, but the focus of their commitments is firmly on the science side.

Although they recognise the importance of science investment to the economic recovery, they admit that the economic climate means that they cannot commitment to increased investment.

The Conservatives (excerpted from the New Scientist commentary),

Like Labour’s manifesto, published yesterday, science policies affecting research, innovation and education all get a mention.

With the Conservatives leading in the polls, scientists will be particularly keen to know what the level of their commitment to science is – especially after it has been said they are “a vision-free zone” when it comes to science policy.

In fact, the Conservation vision for science is upfront in the foreword to the manifesto, stating that they want “an economy where Britain leads in science, technology and innovation”.

Finally, Labour (excerpted from the New Scientist commentary)

Labour is the first party to publish its election manifesto – A future fair for all.

There is debate about the importance of manifestos, but they do set out what the parties’ political priorities would be. Science policies affecting research, innovation and education all get a mention in the manifesto, but none of those commitments rank as one of their 50 steps for a fairer Britain.

The economy is probably the biggest issue in this election, and it is in the first section on “growth” that science policy first is mentioned.

Labour takes the opportunity to highlight the “substantial” investment it has made in the research base since 1997. This is certainly true, as Labour has almost doubled investment in the research base between 1997 and 2007 in real terms.

It is harder to argue, as Labour claims, that it has “massively increased investment in research and development (R&D) as a proportion of national income.” In 1997, 1.77% of GDP was spent on R&D and in 2007 it was up to 1.81%. In both 1997 and 2007 was 0.55% of GDP was spent on R&D by government.

In terms of funding commitments, Labour says it will have a “ring-fenced science budget in the next spending review”.

(A ‘ring-fenced’ budget would be a commitment to a minimum guaranteed amount for funding.)

Richard Jones on his blog, Soft Machines, provides some insight into the use of ‘science’ social media during the 2010 election campaign. From his post,

Is there a significant constituency for science, that might impose any political price on cutting science budgets? This election has seen high hopes for social media as a way of mobilising a science voting block – see #scivote on Twitter. Looking at this, one sees something that looks very much like an attempt to develop an identity politics for science – the idea that there might be a “science vote”, in the way that people talk (correctly or not) about a “gay vote” or a “christian vote”. There’s a sense of a community of right-minded people, with leaders from politics and the media, and clear dividing lines from the forces of unreason. What’s obvious, though, is this strategy hasn’t worked – a candidate standing on a single issue science platform ended up with 197 votes, which compares unfavourably with the 228 votes the Monster Raving Loony Party got in my own, nearby constituency.

I would encourage you to read the entire post as Richard provides an insider’s (he’s a scientist who’s been involved in a number of important British science reports and advisory groups) view.

CaSE (Campaign for Science and Engineering) has posted an analysis of science policy in the new coalition government based on the manifestos and the coalition negotiation agreement. (Note: CaSE is a British science advocacy organization mentioned in this blog here.) From CaSE’s May 12, 2010 posting,

The dramatic election outcome gives the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats an opportunity to rethink and refine their election commitments. Science and engineering did not feature in the coalition negotiation agreement, but looking through the parties’ manifestos and additional commitments made in letters from David Cameron and Nick Clegg to CaSE, gives us a feel for what the future might hold.

Funding is always a key issue,

First, as ever, let’s talk about the money – do the parties agree on funding the research base? The Liberal Democrats committed to not cutting science spending in the first year of the new Parliament. Unfortunately, the Conservatives never wrote down strong commitments, although they did promise a multi-year settlement in recognition of the need for stability.

The Conservatives came close, but never actually committed to protecting science budget spending once it has been allocated. The Liberal Democrats stated that they would clearly define and then ring-fence this spending.

On how the money should be allocated, the Liberal Democrats support the Haldane Principle – that decisions on how the science budget should be spent are best made by those in the science community itself.

The poster (Hilary Leevers) also comments on private investment and education and skills but I’m more focused on science and engineering in government or ‘science advice’,

The Liberal Democrats made a series of strong commitments on scientific advice and policy making which we hope that they can persuade the Conservatives to adopt. First, they endorsed the original Principles for the Treatment of Independent Scientific Advice, which was drawn up by the scientific community and underlines the independence and freedom of advisers to the Government. CaSE would like to see an adaptation of this incorporated into the new Ministerial Code.

The Liberal Democrats pledged to appoint a Chief Scientific Adviser to the Treasury and reinforce the powers of the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, as well as strengthening the role of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. They also said that they would like to see regular use of Randomised Controlled Trials in testing new social policy initiatives.

Finally, both parties committed to reform libel laws, as the Conservatives put it, “to protect freedom of speech, reduce costs and discourage libel tourism”, and more specifically for researchers from the Liberal Democrats, “to protect peer reviewed research from libel suits”. Reviewing libel laws to protect feedom of speech did actually make it into the coalition agreement.

As of today, David Willetts has been named Minister of State for Universities and Science, from the May 13, 2010 CaSE posting,

In our brave new coalition government, it seems that there will be two strong, respected and thoughtful advocates for science and engineering. David Willetts has been appointed Minister of State for Universities and Science in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) with Vince Cable as Secretary of State for BIS. Cable studied natural sciences with economics at Cambridge and, while his background is not in the sciences, Willetts has often engaged well with science issues in his former roles as Shadow Secretary for Education and then Innovation, Universities and Skills.

Dave Bruggeman (Pasco Pronesis blog) also notes Willett’s appointment in one of his recent postings and, in a previous posting, provided the numbers of newly elected British MPs with science experience,

The Times had estimated that the number of MPs with a science background and/or serious engagement with science issues would drop from 86 to 77. It dropped to 71.

Dave goes on to provide some thoughtful analysis as to what all this might mean in the context of Britain’s current economic situation.

It’s interesting to consider these British science election commentaries in relationship to the Canadian scene which features three national federal parties (only one of which has any mention of science in its policy platform [4 four bullet points in the Conservation party platform]). No science debates and no mention (that I can recall) of science in any Canadian election for the last 10 years, at least.

The current discussion about science in Britain is extraordinary by Canadian standards and my hat’s off to the Brits not only for ‘getting science to the table’ but for working so long and so hard to make sure that it stays there.

There are a couple rays of hope on the Canadian scene, the Canadian Science Policy Centre which will be putting on its second annual conference this coming October (I’ll post more about that as details are released).  There are also Canadian science bloggers such as:

  • Rob Annan at Don’t leave Canada behind who comments extensively on the Canadian science policy scene and offers in-depth analysis;
  • Pascal Lapointe and his colleague at Je vote pour la science (coincidentally they have a podcast about scientists as politicians, which includes some commentary about the recent British election); offer wide-ranging discussion on Canadian science policy and science; and
  • the folks at The Black Hole who usually comment on the situation for Canadian science postdoctoral ‘students’ while also offering thoughts on science education and literacy.

Not exactly a blog,

  • Science Canada functions as an aggregator of Canadian science policy news.

If you know of any other bloggers or developments on the Canadian science policy scene, please do let me know.