Tag Archives: CCA

A new science advice network launched in the European Union

On June 23, 2014, the Euroscience Open Forum (in Copenhagen) saw the launch of a new pan-European science advice network. From a June 23, 2014 account by James Wilsdon (more about him in a moment) for the Guardian,

This afternoon, at the Euroscience Open Forum in Copenhagen, a new pan-EU network of government science advisers will hold its first meeting. Senior scientific representatives from twelve member states, including the UK’s Sir Mark Walport, will discuss how to strengthen the use of evidence in EU policymaking and improve coordination between national systems, particularly during emergencies, such as when clouds of volcanic ash from Iceland grounded flights across Europe in 2011.

Today’s [June 24, 2014] meeting is indeed the product of dedication: a painstaking 18-month effort by Glover [Anne Glover, chief scientific adviser to the outgoing President of the European commission, José Manuel Barroso] to persuade member states of the benefits of such a network. One of the challenges she has faced is the sheer diversity of models for scientific advice across Europe: while the UK, Ireland and (until recently) Czech Republic have a government chief scientist, several countries – including Portugal, Denmark, Finland and Greece – prefer to use an advisory committee. In another handful of member states, including Italy, Spain and Sweden, science advice is provided by civil servants. Others, such as Austria, Hungary and the Netherlands, look to the president of the national academy of science to perform the role. The rest, including France and Germany, use a hybrid of these models, or none at all.

The new network intends to respect this diversity, and not advance one approach as preferable to the others. (Indeed, it could be particularly counter-productive to promote the UK model in the current EU climate.)

Interestingly, Wilsdon goes on to note that a Chief Science Adviser for the European Union is a relatively new position having been in existence for two years (as of 2014) and there is no certainty that the new president (not yet confirmed) of the European Union will continue with the practice.

Wilsdon also mentions an international science advice conference to take place in New Zealand in August 2014. You can find out more about it in my April 8, 2014 posting where I noted that Wilsdon is one of the speakers or you can go directly to the conference website,  2014 Science Advice to Governments; a global conference for leading practitioners.

Getting back to James Wilsdon, this is the description they have for him at the Guardian,

James Wilsdon is professor of science and democracy at SPRU (Science and Technology Policy Research), University of Sussex. From 2008 to 2011 he was director of science policy at the Royal Society.

He’s also known in Canada as a member of the Council of Canadian Academies Expert Panel on The State of Canada’s Science Culture as per my Feb. 22, 2013 posting. The report is due this year and I expect it will be delivered in the Fall, just in time for the Canadian Science Policy Conference, Oct. 15 -17, 2014.

Finally, you might want to check out Wilsdon’s Twitter feed (https://twitter.com/jameswilsdon) for the latest on European science policy endeavours.

Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation welcomes Alex Benay as president and chief executive officer (CEO)

The search took over one year as the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC) cast about for a new president and CEO in the wake of previous incumbent Denise Amyot’s departure. From the June 17, 2014 CSTMC announcement,

The Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC) welcomes the appointment by the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, the Honourable Shelly Glover, of Alex Benay as its new President and CEO. Mr Benay will assume the role beginning July 2, 2014 for a 5-year term.

“This is excellent news,” said Dr Gary Polonsky, Chair of the CSTMC Board of Trustees. “Alex Benay is an exceptional leader with the capacity to heighten the CSTMC profile as the only national museum institution entirely dedicated to tracking Canada’s rich history and heritage in science, technology and innovation.”

“Alex’s appointment demonstrates the government’s support toward our museums”, added Dr Polonsky. “I wish to recognize Minister Glover’s leadership in this nomination process and express our gratitude for the appointment of a leader with vast experience in managing people, processes and resources. Alex’s significant networks in the private and public sectors in Canada and internationally, and leadership experience with Canada’s digital industry, will be great assets in developing the Corporation.”

Mr Benay was previously Vice-President, Government Affairs and Business Development at Open Text, Canada’s largest software company since 2011.

As President and CEO, Mr Benay will be responsible for the CSTMC’s day-to-day operations and a staff of about 225 employees and an annual budget of $33 million. The CSTMC includes the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and the Canada Science and Technology Museum. Collectively, they are responsible for preserving and protecting Canada’s scientific and technological heritage, while also promoting, celebrating, and sharing knowledge of that heritage and how it impacts Canadians’ daily lives.

I took a look at Mr. Benay’s LinkedIn profile and found this,

President and Chief Executive Officer
Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation

Government Agency; 201-500 employees; Museums and Institutions industry

June 2014 – Present (1 month) Ottawa, Canada Area

VP, Government Relations
OpenText

Public Company; 5001-10,000 employees; OTEX; Computer Software industry

August 2012 – June 2014 (1 year 11 months) Ottawa

VP, Enterprise Software and Cloud Services
Maplesoft Group

Privately Held; 51-200 employees; Information Technology and Services industry

March 2012 – August 2012 (6 months) Canada

VP, Government Relations
OpenText

Public Company; 5001-10,000 employees; OTEX; Computer Software industry

July 2011 – March 2012 (9 months) Ottawa, Ontario

Manage government relations including :
- trade relations
- trade promotion
- global strategic investment programs (G20, Commonwealth, etc.)
- senior level delegations and engagements
- manage government grant and industry investment programs
- Etc.

Provide company wide government thought leadership and strategic planning

Director, Industry Marketing
Open Text

Public Company; 5001-10,000 employees; OTEX; Computer Software industry

August 2010 – March 2012 (1 year 8 months) Ottawa, Ontario

Responsible for marketing and communication strategies for OpenText’s major industry sectors, enabling field sales and providing thought leadership in key priority sectors.

Director, Eastern Canadian Sales
Open Text

Public Company; 5001-10,000 employees; OTEX; Computer Software industry

January 2010 – August 2010 (8 months) Ottawa, Ontario

Responsible for all product, solutions and services sales for Ottawa, Québec and the Maritimes.

Senior Director, Customer Enablement
Open Text

Public Company; 5001-10,000 employees; OTEX; Computer Software industry

2009 – 2010 (1 year) Ottawa, Ontario

Responsible, throughout the Canadian public sector (including healtcare), for all professional services delivery, establishing a national training program, managing partner relations, pubic speaking engagements, technical support and overall existing customer relations.
Strong focus on strategic communications and planning throughout the Canadian Public Sector.

Director, Information Management
Canadian International Development Agency

Government Agency; 1001-5000 employees; Government Administration industry

2006 – 2009 (3 years) Gatineau, Québec

Responsible for all information and communications aspects within the organisation : enterprise technologies, communication strategies, strategic planning, etc. Including all policy, operational and management aspects of managing organisational information and knowledge

Director, Policy
Canadian International Development Agency

Government Agency; 1001-5000 employees; International Affairs industry

2004 – 2006 (2 years)

Define ICT policy framework for CIDA
coordinate with central agencies and other large multilateral organisations

Senior Program Manager
Canadian International Development Agency

Government Agency; 1001-5000 employees; International Affairs industry

2003 – 2004 (1 year)

Managed all information and communications elements for the Multilateral Programs Branch. Responsible for relations with United Nations, World Bank, etc.; ensuring all systems (technical and human) were properly enabling multilateral development; developed large and complex global engagement and communications strategies pertaining to Canadian multilateralism

Manager, Information, Communications and Knowledge Management
Natural Resources Canada

Government Agency; 1001-5000 employees; Government Administration industry

2001 – 2003 (2 years)

Responsible for the Energy Sector information, communication and knowledge management strategies, thought leadership, events, strategic planning and operational management.

Information Services Officer
Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

2000 – 2001 (1 year)

Provide global briefing and communications support to various senior Foreign Affairs and International Trade Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Assistant Deputy Ministers

Medical Assistant
Canadian Armed Forces

Government Agency; 10,001+ employees; Military industry

1999 – 2001 (2 years)

Medical Assistant duties included : emergency response, first aid, suturing, orderly duties, basic military training, etc.

Archival Assistant
Library and Archives Canada

Government Agency; 1001-5000 employees; Government Administration industry

1998 – 2000 (2 years)

He certainly brings an interesting and peripatetic work history to the position. Given his previous work record and that he looks to be relatively young (I estimate he’s a few years shy of 40), my most optimistic prediction is that he will last five to six years in this job, assuming he makes it past his first six months.

Alex Benay, president and CEO of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation

Alex Benay, president and CEO of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation

Getting back to his work record, I’m not sure how Mr. Benay manged to be both an archival assistant for Library and Archives Canada and a medical assistant for the Canadian Armed Forces from 1999 – 2000. (Possibly he was working in the Reserves, which, as I understand it, requires weekends and the occasional longterm stint easily contained within one’s work vacation.) There is one other niggling thing, wouldn’t 1998 – 2000 be three years not two?

Interestingly, the company with which Benay has been most closely associated is OpenText whose Chairman, Tom Jenkins, led a  panel to review government funding programmes for research and development (R&D, a term often synonymous with science and technology). The resultant report is known familiarly as the Jenkins Report (Innovation Canada: A Call to Action; Review of Federal Support to R&D;–Expert Panel Report). I’m guessing Mr. Benay brings with him some important connections both corporately and governmentally, which could potentially extend to the University of British Columbia where Arvind Gupta (a member of Jenkins’ expert panel) is due to take up the reins as president when Stephen Toope officially vacates the position June 30, 2014.

I’m not sure how much insight one can derive from this March 6, 2014 article (for Canadian Government Executive) written by Mr. Benay while he was enjoying his second stint as VP Government Relations for Open Text,

With the rise of “smart power,” distinct from “hard” and “soft” power of traditional theories of international relations, the use of online collaboration has become an integral part of government communication.

Public sector employees who adopt partner-based collaboration models will find that they are able to effectively achieve their goals and generate results. Ideas shared through open-platform communication technologies, peer-to-peer networks, and enterprise-grade secure collaboration platforms can help foster greater dialogue and understanding between governments and citizens, ultimately leading to more effective attainment of foreign policy goals.

Increasingly, public-private partnerships are driving this new era of e-diplomacy.

As an example, governments worldwide are achieving tremendous success through their use of Public Service Without Borders (PSWB), the secure, cloud-enabled collaboration and social media environment developed in partnership with the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC).

Using secure social software solutions, PSWB helps to connect all levels of public service employees to one another to network, engage, share ideas and impart valuable lessons learned in such areas as governance, healthcare, technology and the environment. Whether via desktops or through mobile devices, participants can connect, network, plan and deliver exciting new partnerships and initiatives anytime, from anywhere in the world. This online collaboration platform ultimately fosters better, faster and more efficient services to all constituencies.

Another case in point is the G-20 Summit in Toronto. For the first time in history, policymakers from around the world were able to collaborate over secure social networking software in advance of and during the Toronto G-20 Summit. A confidential and secure social networking application was created to enhance the sharing of government leaders’ stances on important world financial issues. [emphasis mine]

Providing the secure, hosted social networking platform to G-8 and G-20 participants was in itself a collaboration between Open Text, the Canadian Digital Media Network (CDMN) – the organization that attracted high-tech companies to the event – and the then-called Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT). [emphasis mine] In addition to secure Web access from anywhere in the world in real time, delegates were also able to access the application from their BlackBerrys, iPhones and iPads. The application supported multiple languages to enhance the ability of delegates to network productively.

The leap from ‘soft power’ in paragraphs one and two  to ‘public-private partnerships’ in paragraph three is a bit startling and suggests Benay’s tendency is towards ‘big picture’ thinking buttressed by a weakness for jumping from one idea to the next without much preparation. This is not a deal breaker as all leaders have weaknesses and a good one knows that sort of thing about him or herself so compensates for it.

Benay’s association with OpenText and, presumably, Jenkins suggests * strongly, when added to his article on public-private partnerships, that the CSTMC museums will be corporatized to a new degree. After all, it was Jenkins who delivered a report with recommendations to tie research funding more directly to business and economic needs. (This report was submitted to then Minister of State for Science and Technology, Gary Goodyear on Oct. 17, 2011 according to this Review of Federal Support to Research and Development  website. For those unfamiliar with the Canadian science and technology scene, this is considered a junior ministry and is part of the Industry Canada portfolio.) Since 2011, a number of these recommendations have been adopted, often accompanied by howls of despair (this May 22, 2013 posting delves into some of the controversies,which attracted attention by US observers).

I am somewhat intrigued by Benay’s experience with content management and digital media. I’m hopeful he will be using that experience to make some changes at the CSTMC such that it offers richer online and outreach experiences in the museums (Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and the Canada Science and Technology Museum) for those of us who are not resident in Ottawa. Amyot, during her* tenure, made some attempts (my Oct. 28, 2010 posting makes note of one such attempt) but they failed to take root for reasons not known* to me.

Returning to Benay’s old boss for a moment, Tom Jenkins has some connections of his own with regard to digital media and the military (from the OpenText Board of Directors page) ,

Mr. Jenkins was Chair of the Government of Canada’s military procurement review Panel which reported “Canada First: Leveraging Defence Procurement through Key Industrial Sectors (KICs) in February 2013 and reviewed the $490 Billion of federal public spending on defence to determine means by which the Canadian economy could benefit from military procurement.   Mr. Jenkins was Chair of the Government of Canada’s Research and Development Policy Review Panel which reported “Innovation Canada: A Call to Action” in October 2011 and reviewed the $7 Billion of federal public spending on research to assist the Canadian economy in becoming more innovative.   He was also chair of the November 2011 report to the Government of Canada on Innovation and Government Procurement.  He is also the Chair of the federal centre of excellence Canadian Digital Media Network (CDMN) which co-ordinates commercialization activity in the digital economy throughout Canada.  He is a member of the Canadian Government’s Advisory Panel on Open Government.  He is also an appointed member of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), past appointed member of the Government of Canada’s Competition Policy Review Panel (the Wilson Panel) which reported “Compete to Win” in June 2008, and past appointed member of the Province of Ontario’s Ontario Commercialization Network Review Committee (OCN) which reported in February 2009.  … Mr. Jenkins is also one of the founders of Communitech – the Waterloo Region Technology Association.  Mr. Jenkins served as a commissioned officer in the Canadian Forces Reserve and he currently serves as Honorary Colonel of the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada (RHFC), a reserve infantry regiment in the Waterloo Region. [emphases mine]

Meanwhile, Mr. Benay’s appointment takes place within a larger context where the Council of Canadian Academies will be presenting two assessments with direct bearing on the CSTMC. The first, which is scheduled for release in 2014, is The State of Canada’s Science Culture (an assessment requested by the CSTMC which much later was joined by Industry Canada and Natural Resources Canada). The assessment is featured in my Feb. 22, 2013 posting titled: Expert panel to assess the state of Canada’s science culture—not exactly whelming. I will predict now that a main focus of this report will be on children, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and the economy (i.e., how do we get more children to study STEM topics?). Following on that thought, what better to way to encourage children than to give them good experiences with informal science education (code for science museums and centres).

The second assessment is called Memory Institutions and the Digital Revolution and was requested by Library and Archives Canada (museums too perform archival functions). in the context of a Jan. 30,2014 posting about digitizing materials in Fisheries and Oceans Canada libraries I excerpted this from an earlier posting,

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

Background

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

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

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

While this could be considered a curse, these are interesting times.

* ‘a’ removed from ‘a strongly’ and ‘strongly’ moved to closer proximity with ‘suggests’, ‘her’ added to ‘her tenure’ and ‘know’ corrected to ‘known’ on June 19, 2014 at 1200 hours PDT.

Science Advice to Government; a global conference in August 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prof. Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist for Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chancellor Emeritus Kari Raivio, Council of Finnish Academies, Finland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overview of the symposium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

….

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

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

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

Unsanctioned libraries have been created by science staff.

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

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

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

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

Bad news:

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

Good news:

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

Bad news:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Global STEMx (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) Education Conference online in September 2013

A notice for this conference slipped into my mailbox on Aug. 19, 2013,

We hope you will consider joining us for the Global 2013 STEMx Education Conference, the world’s first massively open online conference for educators focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and more. The conference will be held over the course of three days, September 19-21, 2013, and will be free to attend! STEMxCon will be a highly inclusive event that will engage students and educators around the globe and will encourage primary, secondary, and tertiary (K-16) educators around the world to share and learn about innovative approaches to STEMx learning and teaching. …

Please register at http://www.stemxcon.com to attend and to be kept informed.

Usually, I’d jump to a description of the keynote speakers but I think this explanation for why they’ve added an x to STEM bears some attention (from the notice),

The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics acronym is no longer adequate, as it is missing well over 20 letters that represent key skills & disciplines. As such, x = Computer Science (CS), Computational Thinking (CT), Inquiry (I), Creativity & Innovation (CI), Global Fluency (GF), Collaboration ( C ), …and other emerging disciplines & 21st century skills.

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) assessment Strengthening Canada’s Research Capacity: The Gender Dimension; The Expert Panel on Women in University Research also noted that the STEM designation leaves something to be desired (my Feb. 22, 2013 posting).

Now onto the keynote speakers (from the notice),

We have a terrific set of keynote speakers for STEMxCon, including

  • Tim Bell on computer science in New Zealand,
  • Al Byers on STEM teacher learning communities at the NSTA [National Science Teachers Association],
  • Jeanne Century on STEM schools,
  • Cristin Frodella on the Google Science Fair,
  • Paloma Garcia-Lopez on the Maker Education Initiative,
  • Iris Lapinski on Apps for Good,
  • Ramsey Musallar on an inquiry-based learning cycle,
  • Ramji Raghavan on sparking curiosity and nurturing creativity, and
  • Avis Yates Rivers on inspiring the next generation in IT.

More information at http://stemxcon.com/page/2013-keynotes.

It’s still possible to respond to the call for presentation proposals, from the  ‘Call’ page,

Proposals can be submitted from May 30th – September 1st, 2013, and we will begin accepting proposals starting June 30th, 2013. We encourage you to submit your proposal as early as possible because as soon as a proposal is accepted, you are given the ability to select from the available presentation times (the time choices become increasingly limited closer to the event). You may submit more than one proposal, but we will give priority to providing as many presenters the chance to present as possible.

Your presentation proposal, once submitted, will be listed on the STEMx Conference website, with the opportunity for members of this network to view, comment on, and/or “like” your presentation proposal. This will give you and the other members of this site the chance to share ideas and to make connections before, during, and after the conference. …

Presentations should be at least 20 minutes in length, and all sessions must be completed (including Q&A) within one hour. All sessions will be held in the Blackboard Collaborate online platform (previously Elluminate/Wimba). You will be responsible for familiarizing yourself with the web conferencing platform. We will send you recorded training material, as well as provide live training sessions where you can ask questions. To practice, you can also sign up for the Collaborate trial room at http://www.WeCollaborate.com.

All presentations will be recorded and released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License. For more information, please visit: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/). By submitting to present, you are agreeing to these terms.

Presentations must be non-commercial. Interest in commercial sponsorship or presentations should be directed to Steve Hargadon at [email protected].

The guidelines for submissions and other pertinent details are on the Call for proposals page.

I did find some information about the organization and the entities supporting its conference efforts on the 2013 STEMx Conference Welcome! webpage (Note: Links have been removed),

STEMxCon’s founding sponsor is HP [Hewlett Packard]. As one of the world’s largest technology companies with operations in more than 170 countries, HP is helping to solve environmental and social challenges by uniting the power of people and technology. The HP Sustainability & Social Innovation team focuses on improving lives and businesses every day by focusing on the environment, health, education, and community. By bringing together the expertise of their more than 300,000 HP employees in collaboration with our partners, HP makes technology work for people in powerful ways that create a positive impact on the world.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE®) is also a core conference supporter, and is the premier membership association for educators and education leaders engaged in improving learning and teaching by advancing the effective use of technology in PK–12 and teacher education. ISTE represents more than 100,000 education leaders and emerging leaders throughout the world and informs its members regarding educational issues of national and global scope.

I like the openness of their approach and the note somewhere in the submission guidelines that the language in which the presentation is being offered be mentioned suggests they’re making a big effort to attract an international audience. I wish them the best of luck.

Cyborgian dance at McGill University (Canada)

As noted in the Canadian Council of Academies report ((State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012), which was mentioned in my Dec. 28, 2012 posting, the field of visual and performing arts is an area of strength and that is due to one province, Québec. Mark Wilson’s Aug. 13, 2013 article for Fast Company and Paul Ridden’s Aug. 7, 2013 article for gizmag.com about McGill University’s Instrumented Bodies: Digital Prostheses for Music and Dance Performance seem to confirm Québec’s leadership.

From Wilson’s Aug. 13, 2013 article (Note: A link has been removed),

One is a glowing exoskeleton spine, while another looks like a pair of cyborg butterfly wings. But these aren’t just costumes; they’re wearable, functional art.

In fact, the team of researchers from the IDML (Input Devices and Music Interaction Laboratory [at McGill University]) who are responsible for the designs go so far as to call their creations “prosthetic instruments.”

Ridden’s Aug. 7, 2013 article offers more about the project’s history and technology,

For the last three years, a small research team at McGill University has been working with a choreographer, a composer, dancers and musicians on a project named Instrumented Bodies. Three groups of sensor-packed, internally-lit digital music controllers that attach to a dancer’s costume have been developed, each capable of wirelessly triggering synthesized music as the performer moves around the stage. Sounds are produced by tapping or stroking transparent Ribs or Visors, or by twisting, turning or moving Spines. Though work on the project continues, the instruments have already been used in a performance piece called Les Gestes which toured Canada and Europe during March and April.

Both articles are interesting but Wilson’s is the fast read and Ridden’s gives you information you can’t find by looking up the Instrumented Bodies: Digital Prostheses for Music and Dance Performance project webpage,

These instruments are the culmination of a three-year long project in which the designers worked closely with dancers, musicians, composers and a choreographer. The goal of the project was to develop instruments that are visually striking, utilize advanced sensing technologies, and are rugged enough for extensive use in performance.

The complex, transparent shapes are lit from within, and include articulated spines, curved visors and ribcages. Unlike most computer music control interfaces, they function both as hand-held, manipulable controllers and as wearable, movement-tracking extensions to the body. Further, since the performers can smoothly attach and detach the objects, these new instruments deliberately blur the line between the performers’ bodies and the instrument being played.

The prosthetic instruments were designed and developed by Ph.D. researchers Joseph Malloch and Ian Hattwick [and Marlon Schumacher] under the supervision of IDMIL director Marcelo Wanderley. Starting with sketches and rough foam prototypes for exploring shape and movement, they progressed through many iterations of the design before arriving at the current versions. The researchers made heavy use of digital fabrication technologies such as laser-cutters and 3D printers, which they accessed through the McGill University School of Architecture and the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology, also hosted by McGill.

Each of the nearly thirty working instruments produced for the project has embedded sensors, power supplies and wireless data transceivers, allowing a performer to control the parameters of music synthesis and processing in real time through touch, movement, and orientation. The signals produced by the instruments are routed through an open-source peer-to-peer software system the IDMIL team has developed for designing the connections between sensor signals and sound synthesis parameters.

For those who prefer to listen and watch, the researchers have created a video documentary,

I usually don’t include videos that run past 5 mins. but I’ve made an exception for this almost 15 mins. documentary.

I was trying to find mention of a dancer and/or choreographer associated with this project and found a name along with another early stage participant, choreographer, Isabelle Van Grimde, and composer, Sean Ferguson, in Ridden’s article.

Nano, agriculture, and water

Surprisingly, the Council of Canadian Academies’ (CCA) Water and Agriculture in Canada: Towards Sustainable Management of Water Resources assessment (published Feb. 2013) had very little to with regard to how emerging technologies such as synthetic biology and nanotechnology are having and will have an impact on water and agriculture. Here’s the bit on synthetic biology,

Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology is defined as the design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems and the re-design of existing natural biological systems for useful purposes (RAE, 2009). It is an emerging technology that is expected to have wide-ranging implications for agriculture in the future (RAE, 2009). The agricultural technology sector anticipates that synthetic biology will lead to greater productivity, profitability, and sustainability by increasing, for example: crop water productivity; nitrogen use efficiency; yields; pest, disease, and drought resistance; and the quality, quantity, and processing characteristics of agricultural products Dunbar, 2011). However, as with current methods of transgenic manipulation, concerns relating to the safety and health impacts of synthetic biology will need to be responsibly and carefully addressed (RAE, 2009). (print version pp. 134-5)

Surely they could have found a more recent reference than 2009. I don’t disagree with the overall assessment of synthetic biology but I think they were a bit miserly to confine themselves to a single paragraph.

As for nanotechnologies,

5.11 Nanotechnologies

Nanotechnology applications are being developed for different agricultural uses including: the detection of pathogenic and parasitic organisms; sensing of environmental conditions and properties (such as humidity, soil moisture, and soil and groundwater contaminants); the controlled release of fertilizers and pesticides; improved water retention in soils and uptake by plants; drug delivery and improved nutrient utilization in livestock; degradation of organic contaminants; and water treatment (Kabiri et al., 2011; Knauer & Bucheli, 2009; Manimegalai et al., 2011; Thornton, 2010). Wireless nanosensors, for example, can be used in combination
with remote sensing and precision irrigation systems to greatly enhance WUE.

Nanoscale technologies for fertilizer and pesticide application can greatly reduce runoff and water contamination. Most nanotechnologies are still in their infancy, and associated risks and benefits must be carefully evaluated. Nonetheless, they represent a promising approach towards greater improvements in WUE (OECD, 2010). However, the potential for negative impacts of nanotechnologies on the environment and health needs to be researched (Knauer & Bucheli, 2009) and their application supported by risk assessment. (pp. 144-5; print version)

Not much attention paid to nanotechnology either, although they did manage to find some more recent references. I wonder why they didn’t organize the information about synthetic biology and nanotechnology  in a section on emerging technologies and discuss some of the implications and research  at more length. Certainly there’s a lot of interest and concern regarding nanotechnology impacts on agriculture and water.

I have two more items for this posting (to prove my point at least in part), one is about nanomaterials and fertilizer and the other one is about two UN organizations and their nanotechnology and water purification initiative.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has released a report about nanomaterials in soil fertilizers according to an April 26, 2013 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Nanomaterials added to soil via fertilizers and treated sewage waste used to fertilize fields could threaten soil health necessary to keep land productive, says a new report released today by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). Peer-reviewed scientific research also indicates possible negative impacts of nano-fertilizers on public health and the food supply.

IATP’s report, Nanomaterials in Soil: Our Future Food Chain? (pdf), draws attention to the delicate soil food chain, including microbes and microfauna, that enable plant growth and produce new soil. Laboratory experiments have indicated that sub-molecular nanoparticles could damage beneficial soil microbes and the digestive systems of earthworms, essential engineers in maintaining soil health.

The IATP April 24, 2013 news release, which originated the news item,

Nanomaterials are advertised as a component of market-available fertilizers—designed to increase the effectiveness of fertilizers by making them the same size as plant and root pores—but because nanotechnology is an unregulated global industry, there is no pre-market safety assessment. Several researchers assume that nanomaterials are increasingly present in biosolids (also known as sewage sludge) used as fertilizer on about 60 percent of U.S. agricultural land. [emphasis mine]

“In light of published research, the Obama administration should institute an immediate moratorium on fertilizing with biosolids from sewage treatment plants near nanomaterial fabrication facilities. A moratorium would give researchers time to determine whether nanomaterials in soil can be made safe and to research alternatives to building soil heath, rather than depending on fertilization with biosolids.” says IATP’s Dr. Steve Suppan.

Over time, the report explains, nanomaterials in these agricultural inputs can accumulate and harm soil health. More research is urgently needed to adequately understand possible long-term impacts of nanotechnology.

“As agri-nanotechnology rapidly enters the market, can soil health and everything that depends on it can be sustained without regulation?” asks Suppan. “That’s the question regulators, researchers and anyone involved in our food system should be asking themselves.”

The report also details risks specific to farmers and farmworkers applying dried biosolids that incorporate nanomaterials, including inflammation of the lungs, fibrosis and other toxicological impacts.

With no regulatory system in place—in the U.S. or elsewhere—for producing, and selling nano-fertilizers, IATP’s report concludes by asking for governments to require robust technology assessments involving biological engineers, soil scientists, public health professionals, farmers and concerned citizens before allowing indiscriminate application by industry.

It seems to me IATP could have cited some facts, rather than assumptions,  in the news release, and perhaps even referenced a study or two relative to their claim of risks “specific to farmers and farmworkers applying dried biosolids that incorporate nanomaterials, including inflammation of the lungs, fibrosis and other toxicological impacts.” I have looked at the report briefly and there is some interesting and valuable research in there although I haven’t looked closely enough to see if any of it supports the claims in their news release.  I suspect not since they usually trumpet those findings and numbers loudly.

As for the two UN agencies and their water purification and nanotechnology initiative, this May 31, 2013 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Culture Organization) news release explains,

Providing access to clean water is one of the most pressing challenges in developing countries. Lack of access to safe drinking water impacts the lives and well-being of millions of people, whereas non-existent, or inadequate, wastewater treatment is threatening the quality of water resources, as well as ecosystems that we depend on.  Conventional water purification and wastewater treatment technologies often require large infrastructure, high initial capital investment, and considerable operating costs associated with the use of energy and chemicals.

What is the potential that nanotechnology holds to address these water problems?   What nanotechnologies offer the most immediate promise in water purification and wastewater treatment? Which areas of water use are in the largest need of a technological upgrade and innovation?

These were the main questions raised by a joint UNESCO-UNIDO  session on “Nanotechnology Applications in Water Purification and Wastewater Treatment”, which was the kick-off event of cooperation between UNESCO and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), which the two organizations have recently embarked on in the area of nanotechnology for clean water in developing countries.

Under this cooperation, the two organizations will work together on a number of joint activities to explore the potential of nanotechnology in water purification and wastewater treatment, as an emerging technology that may provide sustainable and innovative solutions to reach the Millennium Development Goals on safe drinking water and basic sanitation, as well as to contribute towards the post-2015 development agenda and future Sustainable Development Goals.  Complementing ongoing activities of UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme aimed at promoting water sciences, the cooperation with the Investment and Technology Unit of UNIDO brings a perspective on how advances in emerging technological developments, such as those in nanotechnology, can be utilized to enhance existing solutions to water problems and make a paradigm shift in water treatment systems, as industrial applications of nanotechnology are expanding rapidly.

Experts participating in the session presented research findings on promising nanotechnology applications in water such as improved membrane technologies, removal of bacteria and other pollutants, including pharmaceuticals and trace contaminants, water quality monitoring, remediation of polluted water systems, greater wastewater reuse, desalinization, as well as less-water intensive agriculture.  The session did not focus on the optimistic technological aspect alone.   Discussions touched upon also on how to draw the line between opportunities and challenges that limit nanotechnology applications in water.

The session emphasized the need for a balanced approach to nanotechnology applications in water and underlined the risks associated with toxicology and wider impacts on human health and the environment as of importance for further deliberations given that water is a basic human need and integral to health and well-being.  Another issue of consideration was ethical issues of nanotechnology applications in water that arise from uncertainties related to environmental and health risks. Participants of the session also shared experiences on community engagement in making nanotechnologies relevant to local needs by presenting an example of using nanotechnology to provide clean water in a school in a developing country village.

Given these recent doings with IATP and UNIDO/UNESCO, I was truly surprised at how little attention the CCA paid to nanotechnologies and, by extension, the other emerging technologies.

Memories, science, archiving, and authenticity

This is going to be one of my more freewheeling excursions into archiving and memory. I’ll be starting with  a movement afoot in the US government to give citizens open access to science research moving onto a network dedicated to archiving nanoscience- and nanotechnology-oriented information, examining the notion of authenticity in regard to the Tiananmen Square incident on June 4, 1989, and finishing with the Council of Canadian Academies’ Expert Panel on Memory Institutions and the Digital Revolution.

In his June 4, 2013 posting on the Pasco Phronesis blog, David Bruggeman features information and an overview of  the US Office of Science and Technology Policy’s efforts to introduce open access to science research for citizens (Note: Links have been removed),

Back in February, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a memorandum to federal science agencies on public access for research results.  Federal agencies with over $100 million in research funding have until August 22 to submit their access plans to OSTP.  This access includes research publications, metadata on those publications, and underlying research data (in a digital format).

A collection of academic publishers, including the Association of American Publishers and the organization formerly known as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (publisher of Science), has offered a proposal for a publishing industry repository for pubic access to federally funded research that they publish.

David provides a somewhat caustic perspective on the publishers’ proposal while Jocelyn Kaiser’s June 4, 2013 article for ScienceInsider details the proposal in more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

Organized in part by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), which represents many commercial and nonprofit journals, the group calls its project the Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States (CHORUS). In a fact sheet that AAP gave to reporters, the publishers describe CHORUS as a “framework” that would “provide a full solution for agencies to comply with the OSTP memo.”

As a starting point, the publishers have begun to index papers by the federal grant numbers that supported the work. That index, called FundRef, debuted in beta form last week. You can search by agency and get a list of papers linked to the journal’s own websites through digital object identifiers (DOIs), widely used ID codes for individual papers. The pilot project involved just a few agencies and publishers, but many more will soon join FundRef, says Fred Dylla, executive director of the American Institute of Physics. (AAAS, which publishes ScienceInsider, is among them and has also signed on to CHORUS.)

The next step is to make the full-text papers freely available after agencies decide on embargo dates, Dylla says. (The OSTP memo suggests 12 months but says that this may need to be adjusted for some fields and journals.) Eventually, the full CHORUS project will also allow searches of the full-text articles. “We will make the corpus available for anybody’s search tool,” says Dylla, who adds that search agreements will be similar to those that publishers already have with Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic Search.

I couldn’t find any mention in Kaiser’s article as to how long the materials would be available. Is this supposed to be an archive, as well as, a repository? Regardless, I found the beta project, FundRef, a little confusing. The link from the ScienceInsider article takes you to this May 28, 2013 news release,

FundRef, the funder identification service from CrossRef [crossref.org], is now available for publishers to contribute funding data and for retrieval of that information. FundRef is the result of collaboration between funding agencies and publishers that correlates grants and other funding with the scholarly output of that support.

Publishers participating in FundRef add funding data to the bibliographic metadata they already provide to CrossRef for reference linking. FundRef data includes the name of the funder and a grant or award number. Manuscript tracking systems can incorporate a taxonomy of 4000 global funder names, which includes alternate names, aliases, and abbreviations enabling authors to choose from a standard list of funding names. Then the tagged funding data will travel through publishers’ production systems to be stored at CrossRef.

I was hoping that clicking on the FundRef button would take me to a database that I could test or tour. At this point, I wouldn’t have described the project as being at the beta stage (from a user’s perspective) as they are still building it and gathering data. However, there is lots of information on the FundRef webpage including an Additional Resources section featuring a webinar,

Attend an Introduction to FundRef Webinar – Thursday, June 6, 2013 at 11:00 am EDT

You do need to sign up for the webinar. Happily, it is open to international participants, as well as, US participants.

Getting back to my question on whether or not this effort is also an archive of sorts, there is a project closer to home (nanotechnologywise, anyway) that touches on these issues from an unexpected perspective, from the Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies in Society (NETS); sharing research and learning tools About webpage,

The Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies in Society: Sharing Research and Learning Tools (NETS) is an IMLS-funded [Institute of Museum and Library Services] project to investigate the development of a disciplinary repository for the Ethical, Legal and Social Implications (ELSI) of nanoscience and emerging technologies research. NETS partners will explore future integration of digital services for researchers studying ethical, legal, and social implications associated with the development of nanotechnology and other emerging technologies.

NETS will investigate digital resources to advance the collection, dissemination, and preservation of this body of research,  addressing the challenge of marshaling resources, academic collaborators, appropriately skilled data managers, and digital repository services for large-scale, multi-institutional and disciplinary research projects. The central activity of this project involves a spring 2013 workshop that will gather key researchers in the field and digital librarians together to plan the development of a disciplinary repository of data, curricula, and methodological tools.

Societal dimensions research investigating the impacts of new and emerging technologies in nanoscience is among the largest research programs of its kind in the United States, with an explicit mission to communicate outcomes and insights to the public. By 2015, scholars across the country affiliated with this program will have spent ten years collecting qualitative and quantitative data and developing analytic and methodological tools for examining the human dimensions of nanotechnology. The sharing of data and research tools in this field will foster a new kind of social science inquiry and ensure that the outcomes of research reach public audiences through multiple pathways.

NETS will be holding a stakeholders workshop June 27 – 28, 2013 (invite only), from the workshop description webpage,

What is the value of creating a dedicated Nano ELSI repository?
The benefits of having these data in a shared infrastructure are: the centralization of research and ease of discovery; uniformity of access; standardization of metadata and the description of projects; and facilitation of compliance with funder requirements for data management going forward. Additional benefits of this project will be the expansion of data curation capabilities for data repositories into the nanotechnology domain, and research into the development of disciplinary repositories, for which very little literature exists.

What would a dedicated Nano ELSI repository contain?
Potential materials that need to be curated are both qualitative and quantitative in nature, including:

  • survey instruments, data, and analyses
  • interview transcriptions and analyses
  • images or multimedia
  • reports
  • research papers, books, and their supplemental data
  • curricular materials

What will the Stakeholder Workshop accomplish?
The Stakeholder Workshop aims to bring together the key researchers and digital librarians to draft a detailed project plan for the implementation of a dedicated Nano ELSI repository. The Workshop will be used as a venue to discuss questions such as:

  • How can a repository extend research in this area?
  • What is the best way to collect all the research in this area?
  • What tools would users envision using with this resource?
  • Who should maintain and staff a repository like this?
  • How much would a repository like this cost?
  • How long will it take to implement?

What is expected of Workshop participants?
The workshop will bring together key researchers and digital librarians to discuss the requirements for a dedicated Nano ELSI repository. To inform that discussion, some participants will be requested to present on their current or past research projects and collaborations. In addition, workshop participants will be enlisted to contribute to the draft of the final project report and make recommendations for the implementation plan.

While my proposal did not get accepted (full disclosure), I do look forward to hearing more about the repository although I notice there’s no mention made of archiving the materials.

The importance of repositories and archives was brought home to me when I came across a June 4, 2013 article by Glyn Moody for Techdirt about the Tiananmen Square incident and subtle and unsubtle ways of censoring access to information,

Today is June 4th, a day pretty much like any other day in most parts of the world. But in China, June 4th has a unique significance because of the events that took place in Tiananmen Square on that day in 1989.

Moody recounts some of the ways in which people have attempted to commemorate the day online while evading the authorities’ censorship efforts. Do check out the article for the inside scoop on why ‘Big Yellow Duck’ is a censored term. One of the more subtle censorship efforts provides some chills (from the Moody article),

… according to this article in the Wall Street Journal, it looks like the Chinese authorities are trying out a new tactic for handling this dangerous topic:

On Friday, a China Real Time search for “Tiananmen Incident” did not return the customary message from Sina informing the user that search results could not be displayed due to “relevant laws, regulations and policies.” Instead the search returned results about a separate Tiananmen incident that occurred on Tomb Sweeping Day in 1976, when Beijing residents flooded the area to protest after they were prevented from mourning the recently deceased Premiere [sic] Zhou Enlai.

This business of eliminating and substituting a traumatic and disturbing historical event with something less contentious reminded me both of the saying ‘history is written by the victors’ and of Luciana Duranti and her talk titled, Trust and Authenticity in the Digital Environment: An Increasingly Cloudy Issue, which took place in Vancouver (Canada) last year (mentioned in my May 18, 2012 posting).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Question

How might memory institutions embrace the opportunities and challenges posed by the changing ways in which Canadians are communicating and working in the digital age?

Sub-questions

With the use of new communication technologies, what types of records are being created and how are decisions being documented?
How is information being safeguarded for usefulness in the immediate to mid-term across technologies considering the major changes that are occurring?
How are memory institutions addressing issues posed by new technologies regarding their traditional roles in assigning value, respecting rights, and assuring authenticity and reliability?
How can memory institutions remain relevant as a trusted source of continuing information by taking advantage of the collaborative opportunities presented by new social media?

From the Expert Panel webpage (go there for all the links), here’s a complete listing of the experts,

Expert Panel on Memory Institutions and the Digital Revolution

Dr. Doug Owram, FRSC, Chair
Professor and Former Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus (Kelowna, BC)

Sebastian Chan     Director of Digital and Emerging Media, Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum (New York, NY)

C. Colleen Cook     Trenholme Dean of Libraries, McGill University (Montréal, QC)

Luciana Duranti   Chair and Professor of Archival Studies, the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, BC)

Lesley Ellen Harris     Copyright Lawyer; Consultant, Author, and Educator; Owner, Copyrightlaws.com (Washington, D.C.)

Kate Hennessy     Assistant Professor, Simon Fraser University, School of Interactive Arts and Technology (Surrey, BC)

Kevin Kee     Associate Vice-President Research (Social Sciences and Humanities) and Canada Research Chair in Digital Humanities, Brock University (St. Catharines, ON)

Slavko Manojlovich     Associate University Librarian (Information Technology), Memorial University of Newfoundland (St. John’s, NL)

David Nostbakken     President/CEO of Nostbakken and Nostbakken, Inc. (N + N); Instructor of Strategic Communication and Social Entrepreneurship at the School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University (Ottawa, ON)

George Oates     Art Director, Stamen Design (San Francisco, CA)

Seamus Ross     Dean and Professor, iSchool, University of Toronto (Toronto, ON)

Bill Waiser, SOM, FRSC     Professor of History and A.S. Morton Distinguished Research Chair, University of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon, SK)

Barry Wellman, FRSC     S.D. Clark Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto (Toronto, ON)

I notice they have a lawyer whose specialty is copyright, Lesley Ellen Harris. I did check out her website, copyrightlaws.com and could not find anything that hinted at any strong opinions on the topic. She seems to feel that copyright is a good thing but how far she’d like to take this is a mystery to me based on the blog postings I viewed.

I’ve also noticed that this panel has 13 people, four of whom are women which equals a little more (June 5, 2013, 1:35 pm PDT, I substituted the word ‘less’ for the word ‘more’; my apologies for the arithmetic error) than 25% representation. That’s a surprising percentage given how heavily weighted the fields of library and archival studies are weighted towards women.

I have meandered somewhat but my key points are this:

  • How we are going to keep information available? It’s all very well to have repository but how long will the data be kept in the repository and where does it go afterwards?
  • There’s a bias certainly with the NETS workshop and, likely, the CCA Expert Panel on Memory Institutions and the Digital Revolution toward institutions as the source for information that’s worth keeping for however long or short a time that should be. What about individual efforts? e.g. Don’t Leave Canada Behind ; FrogHeart; Techdirt; The Last Word on Nothing, and many other blogs?
  • The online redirection of Tiananmen Square incident queries is chilling but I’ve often wondered what happen if someone wanted to remove ‘objectionable material’ from an e-book, e.g. To Kill a Mockingbird. A new reader wouldn’t notice the loss if the material has been excised in a subtle or professional  fashion.

As for how this has an impact on science, it’s been claimed that Isaac Newton attempted to excise Robert Hooke from history (my Jan. 19, 2012 posting). Whether it’s true or not, there is remarkably little about Robert Hooke despite his accomplishments and his languishment is a reminder that we must always take care that we retain our memories.

ETA June 6, 2013: David Bruggeman added some more information links about CHORUS in his June 5, 2013 post (On The Novelty Of Corporate-Government Partnership In STEM Education),

Before I dive into today’s post, a brief word about CHORUS. Thanks to commenter Joe Kraus for pointing me to this Inside Higher Ed post, which includes a link to the fact sheet CHORUS organizers distributed to reporters. While there are additional details, there are still not many details to sink one’s teeth in. And I remain surprised at the relative lack of attention the announcement has received. On a related note, nobody who’s been following open access should be surprised by Michael Eisen’s reaction to CHORUS.

I encourage you to check out David’s post as he provides some information about a new STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) collaboration between the US National Science Foundation and companies such as GE and Intel.

Expert panel to assess the state of Canada’s science culture—not exactly whelming

I was very excited when the forthcoming assessment The State of Canada’s Science Culture was announced in early 2012 (or was it late 2011?). At any rate, much has happened since then including what appears to be some political shenanigans. The assessment was originally requested by the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation. After many, many months the chair of the panel was announced, Arthur Carty, and mentioned here in my Dec. 19, 2012 posting.

I was somewhat surprised to note (although I didn’t say much about it in December) that the science culture in Canada assessment webpage now included two new government agencies as requestors, Industry Canada and Natural Resources Canada. Where are Environment Canada, Transport Canada, Heritage Canada (we have an exciting science history which is part of our Canadian heritage), Health Canada, and Statistics Canada? For that matter, why not the entire civil service structure, as arguably every single government department has a vested interest in and commitment to science culture in Canada?

It took an extraordinarily long period of time before the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) announced its chair and expert panel and presumably the addition of two random government departments in the request was a factor. One would hope that the CCA’s desire to find the most exciting and diverse group of ‘experts’ would be another factor in the delay.  To be clear my greatest concern is not about the individuals. It is the totality of the panel that concerns me most deeply. Here’s the list from The Expert Panel on the State of Canada’s Science Culture webpage,

The Expert Panel on the State of Canada’s Science Culture is comprised of the following members:

Arthur Carty,  O.C., FRSC, FCAE  (Chair) Executive Director, Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology (Waterloo, ON)

Adam Bly, Founder and Chairman, Seed (New York, NY)

Karen A. Burke, Director, Regulatory Affairs, Drug Safety and Quality Assurance,  Amgen Canada Inc. (Mississauga, ON)

Edna F. Einsiedel, Professor, Department of Communication and Culture,  University of Calgary (Calgary, AB)

Tamara A. Franz-Odendaal, NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering (Atlantic Canada) and Associate Professor of  Biology, Mount Saint Vincent University (Halifax, NS)

Ian Hacking, C.C., FRSC University Professor Emeritus, Philosophy, University of Toronto (Toronto, ON)

Jay Ingram, C.M. Chair, Science Communications Program, Banff Centre; Former Co-Host, Discovery Channel’s “Daily Planet” (Calgary, AB)

Sidney Katz, C.M. Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology,  Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of British Columbia (Vancouver, BC)

Marc LePage, President and CEO, Génome Québec (Montréal, QC)

James Marchbank, Former CEO, Science North (Sudbury, ON)

Timothy I. Meyer, Head, Strategic Planning and Communications, TRIUMF (Vancouver, BC)

Jon Miller, Research Scientist, Center for Political Studies, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI)

Bernard Schiele, Professor of Communications, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and Researcher, Centre interuniversitaire de recherche sur la science et la technologie (CIRST) (Montréal, QC)

Dawn Sutherland, Canada Research Chair in Science Education in Cultural Contexts, University of Winnipeg (Winnipeg, MB)

James Wilsdon, Professor of Science and Democracy, University of Sussex (Brighton, United Kingdom)

Given the CCA’s most recent assessment, Strengthening Canada’s Research Capacity: The Gender Dimension, it’s striking that the number of women on this panel of 15 individuals is four. This suggests that while the CCA is happy to analyze information and advise about gender and science, it is not able to incorporate its own advice when assembling an expert panel, especially one concerning science culture.

There is only one person in the group who has built a business and that’s Adam Bly. Ordinarily I’d be happy to see this inclusion but Bly and/or his company (Seed Media Group) are making an attempt to trademark the term ‘scientific thinking’. (I’ve objected to attempts to trademark parts of commonly used language many, many times in the past.) In addition to that, there’s another activity I questioned in my Feb. 11, 2013 posting about visualizing nanotechnology data.

(For those who are interested in some of the discussion around attempts to trademark phrases that are in common usage, there’s a Feb. 18, 2013 posting by Mike Masnick on Techdirt about a bank which is attempting to trademark the term ‘virtual wallet’.)

It’s a shame the members of the panel did not (or were not encouraged) to write a biography that showed their interest in science culture, however the member imagines it to be. Following the links from the ‘expert panel’ page leads only to information that has been reused countless times and has absolutely no hint of personality or passion. Even a single sentence would have been welcome. Whatever makes these individuals ‘experts on science culture in Canada’ has to be inferred. As it is, this looks like a list of policy and academic wonks with a few media types (Bly and Ingram) and business types (Bly, again, and Burke) thrown in for good measure.

I half jokingly applied to be on the panel in my Dec. 19, 2012 posting so (excluding me) here’s a list of people I’d suggest would make for a more interesting panel,

  • Margaret Atwood (writes speculative/science fiction)
  • Baba Brinkman (rapper, MFA from the University of Victoria, BC, known internationally for his Rap Guide to Evolution, the world’s peer-reviewed science rap)
  • Claire Eamer, founder of the Sci/Why blog about Canadian science writing for kids, science writer located in Yukon
  • Mary Filer (internationally known artist in glass who worked in the Montreal Neuro Centre and was a member of one of the most storied surgical teams in Canadian history)
  • Pascal Lapointe, founder of Agence Science Presse agency and Je vote pour la science project
  • Robert Lepage (theatre director known internationally for his groundbreaking use of technology)
  • Robert J. Sawyer (internationally know Canadian science fiction writer)

Could they not have found one visual or performing artist or writer or culture maker to add to this expert panel? One of them might have added a hint of creativity or imagination to this assessment.  Ironically, the visual and performing arts were included in the CCA’s asssesment The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 released in Sept. 2012.

As for incorporating other marginalized, be it by race, ethnicity, social class, ability, etc., groups the panel members’ biography pages do not give any hint of whether or not any attempt was made. I hope attempts will be made during the information gathering process and that those attempts will be documented, however briefly, in the forthcoming assessment.

In any event, I’ve been hearing a few whispers about the panel and its doings. Apparently, the first meeting was held recently and predictably (from my Dec. 19, 2012 posting),

Hopefully, the expert panel will have a definition of some kind for “science culture.”

the expert panel discussed a definition for science culture. I hear from another source the panel may even consider science blogging in their assessment. It seems amusing that this possibility was mentioned in hushed tones suggesting there was no certainty science blogging would be included in the assessment since Bly and his company established the Science Blogs network. Of course, there was the ‘Pepsigate’ situation a few years ago. (This Wikipedia essay offers the least heated description I’ve seen of the Science Blogs/Pepsi contretemps.)

I have a prediction about this forthcoming assessment, it will be hugely focused on getting more children to study STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects. I have no formal objection to the notion but it does seem like a huge opportunity lost to focus primarily on children when it’s the parents who so often influence their children’s eventual choices.  Here’s an excerpt from my Jan. 31, 2012 post illustrating my point about children, their parents, and attitudes towards science,

One of the research efforts in the UK is the ASPIRES research project at King’s College London (KCL), which is examining children’s attitudes to science and future careers. Their latest report, Ten Science Facts and Fictions: the case for early education about STEM careers (PDF), is profiled in a Jan. 11, 2012 news item on physorg.com (from the news item),

Professor Archer [Louise Archer, Professor of Sociology of Education at King’s] said: “Children and their parents hold quite complex views of science and scientists and at age 10 or 11 these views are largely positive. The vast majority of children at this age enjoy science at school, have parents who are supportive of them studying science and even undertake science-related activities in their spare time. They associate scientists with important work, such as finding medical cures, and with work that is well paid.

“Nevertheless, less than 17 per cent aspire to a career in science. These positive impressions seem to lead to the perception that science offers only a very limited range of careers, for example doctor, scientist or science teacher. It appears that this positive stereotype is also problematic in that it can lead people to view science as out of reach for many, only for exceptional or clever people, and ‘not for me’.

Professor Archer says the findings indicate that engaging young people in science is not therefore simply a case of making it more interesting or more fun. She said: “There is a disconnect between interest and aspirations. Our research shows that young people’s ambitions are strongly influenced by their social backgrounds – ethnicity, social class and gender – and by family contexts. [emphases mine]

I purposefully used the term STEM as I suspect this expert panel will not have knowledge of the HSE (humanities, social sciences, and education), LS (life sciences), and PCEM (physical sciences, computer science, engineering, and mathematics) categories as defined by the recent assessment “(Strengthening Canada’s Research Capacity: The Gender Dimension; The Expert Panel on Women in University Research.” Those categories were defined as an attempt to reflect the disposition of the major science funding organizations in Canada ((SSHRC [Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council], CIHR [Canadian Institutes of Health Research], and NSERC [Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council]) and, arguably, they are a big—if not the biggest—influence on Canadian science culture.

I do have a question I hope will be answered in the assessment. If we motivate more children to study science type topics, where will the jobs be? David Kent on University Affairs’ The Black Hole blog has written about science trainees and their future for years. In fact, his Feb. 19, 2013 posting is titled, Planning Ahead: How many of you are there and who will pay you?

Interestingly, there was an announcement this morning of another assessment which could be described as related to science culture, from the Feb. 22, 2013 CCA news release,

Doug Owram to Serve as Expert Panel Chair on Memory Institutions and the Digital Revolution

The Council is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Doug Owram, FRSC, as Chair of the Expert Panel on Memory Institutions and the Digital Revolution. Library and Archives Canada has asked the Council to assess how memory institutions, including archives, libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions, can embrace the opportunities and challenges in which Canadians are communicating and working in the digital age.

While the expert panel has yet to be announced, it is comforting to note that Owram is an historian and the link between memory and history seems unimpeachable. Oddly, the page listing ‘in progress assessments’ has the Memory Institutions and the Digital Revolution assessment listed as being On Hold (more political shenanigans?). Regardless, you can find out more about the assessment and its questions on the Memory Institutions and the Digital Revolution assessment page.

I wonder what impact, if any, these assessments will have on each other. In the meantime, I have one more prediction, the word innovation will be used with gay abandon throughout the science culture assessment.

Science, women and gender in Canada (part 2 of 2)

The material in the executive summary for Strengthening Canada’s Research Capacity: The Gender Dimension; The Expert Panel on Women in University Research, which was released on Nov. 21, 2012 by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) is developed throughout the report. (Part 1 of my commentary is here.)

The passage about the economic importance of diversity supported by a quote from University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera hearkens back to the executive summary,

From an economic perspective, the underrepresentation of female researchers in academia raises many potential problems, not least the effects of a labour pool that operates at considerably less than full capacity. University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera noted:

“I think our society isn’t balanced if we don’t have the contribution of both genders, in addition to people of different ethnic origins and different racial backgrounds. We all know that diversity is a strength. That’s what you see in nature. So why would we rob ourselves of ensuring that we have it?” (in Smith, 2011).

U.S. researchers Hong and Page (2004) found that diverse groups tend to outperform homogeneous groups, even when the homogeneous groups are composed of the most talented problem solvers. They attribute this to the notion that individuals in homogeneous groups often think in similar ways, whereas diverse groups approach problems from multiple perspectives (Hong & Page, 2004). Considering that varied groups are “invariably more creative, innovative and productive” than homogeneous groups, the argument for encouraging women to be active in decision-making groups is similar to that for minority populations in general (Calnan & Valiquette, 2010). Similarly, the European Commission’s Expert Group on Structural Change (2011) analyzed a number of studies indicating that group creativity is fed by gender balance,25 and collective intelligence is positively correlated with the proportion of women in a group.26 As the McKinsey (2008) Report Women Matter 2 pointed out, since half of the talent pool is made up of women, it makes economic and social sense to bring the best minds of both sexes together to address the challenges that face society. (p. 60/1 PDF; p. 30/1 print)

One  of the more interesting aspects of this report is how the panel broke down the categories,

For the Panel’s analyses, fields of study were organized into three large categories: humanities, social sciences, and education (HSE); life sciences (LS); and physical sciences, computer science, mathematics and engineering (PCEM).31 The HSE, PCEM and LS categories are somewhat different from the categories commonly used in other reports, such as the well-known science, technology, engineering and mathematics classification (STEM);32 however, the Panel decided that the former classification was best suited to the Canadian context. For example, HSE, LS, and PCEM reflect the priorities of the three major Canadian granting agencies (SSHRC, CIHR, and NSERC). Considering the Tri-Council’s high level of involvement in funding available to researchers, it is logical to use a uniquely Canadian framework to define disciplines at the aggregate level. (pp. 68/9 PDF; pp. 38/9 print)

This categorization is not one I’ve seen before and I find it quite intriguing and compelling. Already noted in part 1 of my commentary is that the arts have no place in this report even though they are mentioned as an area of excellence in the State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report released by the CCA in Sept. 2012.

The section following the description of the research categories is filled with data about salaries over time and across various fields of interest. Briefly, women have not done as well as men historically. While the gaps have narrowed in some ways, there is still a disparity today. There’s also a discussion about the difficulty of comparing numbers over time.

Given that women entered the academic sphere in serious numbers during the 1960s and each successive wave has dealt with different social imperatives, e.g. the drive to encourage women to study the science and mathematics in particular doesn’t gain momentum until decades after the 1960s. When a career timeframe (someone who entered an undergraduate programme in 2000 may have just finished their PhD in 2011 and, if lucky, would have started their career in the last 1.5 years) is added to this data, it becomes clear that we won’t understand the impact of higher enrollment and higher numbers of graduates for some years to come. From report,

The Panel recognizes that time is needed to see whether the higher numbers of women in the student population will translate into correspondingly higher numbers in tenure track or tenured positions. However, the Panel also questioned whether those changes would occur as quickly as one could expect considering the growth of female students among the general student population. Published by CAUT (2011), new appointment data on full-time university teachers38 from Statistics Canada and UCASS indicate that of the 2,361 new appointments in 2008–2009, 57.7 per cent were men, and 42.3 per cent were women. While this represents an increase from 2001–2002, when 62.7 per cent of the 2,634 new appointees were men and 37.3 per cent were women (CAUT, 2005), parity in new hires has not yet been achieved.39 (pp. 80/1 PDF; pp. 50/1 print)

Canada is not alone,

The higher one looks in university ranks, the fewer women are present in comparison to men. This trend is not unique to Canada. In general, the Canadian profile is similar to that found in other economically advanced nations including the U.S., and to the average profile seen in European Union (EU) countries. For example, in both Canada and the EU, women held slightly over 40 per cent of grade C45 research positions [approximately assistant professor level] and about 18 per cent of grade A46 positions [the highest research level] (Figure 3.8) in 2007 (Cacace, 2009).47 This global similarity reinforces the systemic nature of the under representation of women in academia. (p. 85 PDF; p. 55 print) Note:  The descriptions of grade C and grade A were taken from the footnotes.)

The difference is most striking when comparing C grade (assistant professor) to A grade (full professor) positions and their gendering,

The percentage of women at the Grade B level is generally lower than at the Grade C level, with the exception of Sweden (47 per cent) (please see also Figures A2.3 and A2.4 in Appendix 2). Finland also boasts a comparatively higher percentage of women at this rank, at 49 per cent. However, the greatest difference in women’s representation is noticeable between the ranks of associate professor and full professor. Again, there is some variation across countries (e.g., Finland at 23 per cent; Canada at 18 per cent; Germany at 12 per cent), which indicates that some nations have farther to go to achieve gender parity in research than others. In general though, the relatively low proportion of women at the full professor level suggests that the glass ceiling remains intact in Canada as well as in several comparator countries. (p. 87 PDF; p. 57 print) [emphasis mine]

In an earlier section of the report, there was discussion of  the impact that maternity, which forces an interruption, has on a career.  There was also discussion of the impact that stereotypes have,

The effects of stereotypes are cumulative. The desire for peer acceptance plus the influence of stereotypes make it difficult for anyone to escape powerful “cultural messages” (Etzkowitz et al., 2000). This is one of the reasons why gendered trends emerge in girls’ and boys’ choices and, combined with the lack of policy change, a reason why it is still difficult for women to advance in some university departments. Later on in the life course, these messages can make it harder for women’s professional experience to be valued in academia, as evidenced by findings that demonstrate that curricula vitae are evaluated differently based on whether the applicant’s name is male or female (Steinpreis et al., 1999), or that blind auditions increase the chances that women musicians will be hired in orchestras … (p. 95 PDF; p. 65 print)

What I find fascinating about stereotypes is that since we are all exposed to them, we are all inclined to discriminate along those stereotypical lines.  For example, I wrote about some research into wages for graduate students in a Sept. 24, 2012 posting where I pointed out that a female graduate student was better off seeking employment with a male professor, despite the fact that she would still be offered less money than her male counterpart,

I tracked down the paper (which is open access), Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students by Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, John F. Dovidio, Victoria L. Bescroll, Mark J. Graham, and Jo Handelsman and found some figures in a table which I can’t reproduce here but suggest the saying ‘we women eat their own’ isn’t far off the mark. In it, you’ll see that while women faculty members will offer less to both genders, they offer significantly less to female applicants.

For a male applicant, here’s the salary offer,

Male Faculty               Female Faculty

30,520.82                    29, 333.33

For a female applicant, here’s the salary offer,

Male Faculty               Female Faculty

27,111.11                    25,000.00

To sum this up, the men offered approximately $3000 (9.25%) less to female applicants while the women offered approximately $4000 (14.6%) less. It’s uncomfortable to admit that women may be just as much or even more at fault as men where gender bias is concerned. However, it is necessary if the situation is ever going to change.

The researchers did not mention this aspect of the disparity in their news release nor (to my knowledge) was it mentioned in any of the subsequent coverage, other than on my blog.

Nowhere in this CCA report is there any hint that women discriminate against women. One is left with the impression, intentional or not, that discrimination against women will disappear once there are more women at higher levels in the worlds of academe and science. Given the one piece of research I’ve cited and much anecdotal evidence, I think that assumption should be tested.

Leaving aside which gender is ‘doing what to whom’, gender bias at home and at school has a great impact on who enters which field,

In sum, home and school environments, sociocultural attitudes, and beliefs regarding gender roles and the value of education affect gender differences in academic choice and performance. Self-confidence, test scores, and ultimately post-secondary and career choices are often by-products of these factors (UNESCO, 2007). The lack of women in science and engineering — and the lack of men in education studies and humanities — could be a result of gender bias during childhood and teen socialization (Vallès Peris & Caprile Elola-Olaso, 2009). (p. 97 PDF; p. 67 print) [emphasis mine]

I realize this report is focused on gender issues in the sciences, nonetheless, I find it striking there is no mention of social class (at home and at school) with regard to the impact that has on aspirations to a research career and, for that matter, any impact social class might have on gender roles.

Also, there is no substantive mention of age as a factor, which seems odd, since women are more likely to interrupt their careers for childbearing and childrearing purposes. This interruption means they are going to be older when they re-enter the workforce and an older woman is still perceived quite differently than an older man, irrespective of career accomplishments.

The Nov. 21, 2012 news release from the CCA summarizes the conclusions in this fashion,

“There is no single solution to remedy the underrepresentation of women in the highest ranks of academic research careers. The issue itself is a multifaceted one that is affected by social, cultural, economic, institutional, and political factors and contexts”, commented Panel Chair Dr. Lorna R. Marsden. “There has been significant progress in the representation of women in the academy since the 1970s, and there is much to be celebrated. However, as evidenced by the wide variation in women’s representation by discipline and rank, there are still challenges to overcome.”

The Expert Panel developed a baseline of information regarding the statistical profile of women researchers in Canada. The major findings from the statistical profile are:

  •       In general, the Canadian profile is similar to that of other economically advanced nations.
  •       Women’s progress in Canadian universities is uneven and dependent on discipline and rank.
  •        The higher the rank, the lower the percentage of women in comparison to men.

The Panel also identified key factors that affect the multiple career paths of women. These factors start early in life with stereotypes that define roles and expectations, followed by a lack of knowledge about requisites for potential career paths, and a lack of role models and mentors. These issues, combined with a rigid tenure track structure, challenges associated with the paid work-family life balance, and the importance of increased support and coordination amongst governments and institutions need to be examined if Canada is going to achieve a greater gender balance within academia.

There’s a lot of admire in this report. As noted in part 1 of this commentary, I particularly appreciate the inclusion of personal narrative (life-writing) with the usual literature surveys and data analyses; the discussion around the importance of innovation regarding the economy and the reference to research showing that innovation is enhanced by the inclusion of marginalized groups; and the way in which values fundamental to Canadian society were emphasized.

The photograph on the front cover was a misstep. The most serious criticism I have of this assessment is the failure to recognize that simply having more women in leadership positions will not necessarily address gender equity issues. Stereotypes about women and gender run deep in both men and women and that needs to be recognized and dealt with. I am also disappointed that they failed to mention in the conclusion the impact that leadership has on gender equity and the necessity of giving leaders a reason (carrot and/or stick) to care about it.

I cannot comment on the makeup of the expert panel as I’m largely unfamiliar with the individuals, other than to say that as expected, this panel was largely composed of women.

I recommend reading the report as I learned a lot from it not least that there are many science organizations in this country that I’d not heard of or encountered previously. One final appreciation, I thought deconstructing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to create HSE (humanities, social sciences, and education), LS (life sciences), and PCEM (physical sciences, computer science, engineering, and mathematics) so the designations more clearly reflected Canadian science funding realities was brilliant.