Tag Archives: Council of Canadian Academies

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.

2013: women, science, gender, and sex

2013 seems to have been quite the year for discussions about women, gender, and sex (scandals) in the world of science. In Canada, we had the Council of Canadian Academies assessment: Strengthening Canada’s Research Capacity: The Gender Dimension; The Expert Panel on Women in University Research, (my commentary was in these February 22, 2013 postings titled: Science, women and gender in Canada (part 1 of 2) and Science, women and gender in Canada (part 2 of 2, respectively). Elsewhere, there was a special issue (March 7, 2013) of Nature magazine which had this to say on the issue’s home page,

Women in Science

Science remains institutionally sexist. Despite some progress, women scientists are still paid less, promoted less frequently, win fewer grants and are more likely to leave research than similarly qualified men. This special issue of Nature takes a hard look at the gender gap — from bench to boardroom — and at what is being done to close it.

Shaunacy Ferro in a March 10, 2013 posting on the Popular Science website added to the discussion (Note: A link has been removed)

… Why, even as the demand for STEM education rises, do only a fifth of the physics Ph.Ds awarded in the U.S. go to women, as a new New York Times magazine story asks?

Written by Eileen Pollack, who was one of the first women to graduate from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1978, this story is a deeply personal one. Though she graduated with honors after having written a thesis that, years later, her advisor would call “exceptional,” no one–not even that same advisor–encouraged her to go on to a post-graduate career in science.

At that point, it seemed like more than the usual number of articles relative to most years but not enough to excite comment, that is, until the sexual harassment scandals of October 2013.  The best timeline I’ve seen for these scandals was written by the folks at ‘talk science to me’ in an Oct. 21, 2013 posting by Amanda. I offered an abbreviated version along with a more extensive commentary in my Oct. 18, 2013 posting and there was this Oct. 22, 2013 posting by Connie St. Louis for the Guardian science blogs which includes an earlier Twitter altercation in the UK science communication community along with the .scandals in North America. Jobs were lost and many people were deeply distressed by the discovery that one of the main proponents of science and social media, Bora Zivkovic  (Scientific American editor responsible for that magazine’s blog network, founder of Science Online, and tireless of promoter of many, many science writers and communicators) had stumbled badly by committing acts  construed as sexual harassment by several women.

In the end, the scandals provoked a lot of discussion about sexism, sexual harassment, and gender bias in the sciences but whether anything will change remains to be seen. While these discussions have taken on a familiar pattern of decrying male sexism; it should be noted that women, too, can be just as sexist as any man. In my Sept. 24, 2012 posting about some research into women, science, and remuneration, I noted this,

Nancy Owano’s Sept. 21, 2012 phy.org article on a study about gender bias (early publication Sept. 17, 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) describes a situation that can be summed up with this saying ‘we women eat our own’.

The Yale University researchers developed applications for a supposed position in a science faculty and had faculty members assess the applicants’ paper submissions.  From Owano’s article,

Applications were all identical except for the male names and female names. Even though the male and female name applications were identical in competencies, the female student was less likely to be hired, being viewed as less competent and desirable as a new-hire.

Results further showed the faculty members chose higher starting salaries and more career mentoring for applicants with male names.

Interestingly, it made no difference on hiring decisions as to whether the faculty member was male or female. Bias was just as likely to occur at the hands of a female as well as male faculty member.

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.

As for the two women involved in the sex scandals, both as whistle blowers, The Urban Scientist, DN Lee continues to write on her blog on the Scientific American (SA) website (her incident involved a posting she wrote about a sexist and racist incident with an editor from Biology Online [who subsequently lost their job] that was removed by the SA editors and, eventually, reinstated) while Monica Byrne continues to write on her personal blog although I don’t know if she has done any science writing since she blew the whistle on Bora. You may want to read Byrne’s account of events here

I think we (men and women) are obliged to take good look at sexism around us and within us and if you still have any doubts about the prevalence of sexism and gender bias against women, take a look at Sydney Brownstone’s Oct. 22, 2013 article for Fast Company,

These ads for U.N. Women show what happens if you type things like “women need to” into Google. The autocomplete function will suggest ways to fill in the blank based on common search terms such as “know their place” and “shut up.”

A quick, unscientific study of men-based searches comes up with very different Autocomplete suggestions. Type in “men need to,” and you’ll get “feel needed,” “grow up,” or “ejaculate.” Type in “men shouldn’t,” and you might get, “wear flip flops.”

Those searches were made in March 2013.

Shocker! Science data being lost at a disturbing rate

A Dec. 19, 2013 University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada) news release (on EurekAlert) provides a shock for anyone unfamiliar with the problems of accessing ‘old’ data,

Eighty per cent of scientific data are lost within two decades, according to a new study that tracks the accessibility of data over time.

The culprits? Old e-mail addresses and obsolete storage devices.

“Publicly funded science generates an extraordinary amount of data each year,” says Tim Vines, a visiting scholar at the University of British Columbia. “Much of these data are unique to a time and place, and is thus irreplaceable, and many other datasets are expensive to regenerate.

“The current system of leaving data with authors means that almost all of it is lost over time, unavailable for validation of the original results or to use for entirely new purposes.”

For the analysis, published today in Current Biology, Vines and colleagues attempted to collect original research data from a random set of 516 studies published between 1991 and 2011. They found that while all datasets were available two years after publication, the odds of obtaining the underlying data dropped by 17 per cent per year after that.

“I don’t think anybody expects to easily obtain data from a 50-year-old paper, but to find that almost all the datasets are gone at 20 years was a bit of a surprise.”

Vines is calling on scientific journals to require authors to upload data onto public archives as a condition for publication, adding that papers with readily accessible data are more valuable for society and thus should get priority for publication.

“Losing data is a waste of research funds and it limits how we can do science,” says Vines. “Concerted action is needed to ensure it is saved for future research.”

Unfortunately, there’s nothing about the research methodology in the news release. It would be nice to know how the researchers approached the topic and whether or not they focused on biological sciences and are generalizing those results to all of the sciences,including the social sciences. It is likely more or less true of all the sciences as there is a major issue with being able to access data over time. Whether or not the researcher can provide access to the data set, which is a problem in itself, there’s also the issue of obsolete hardware, software, and formats, problems that haunt the arts, the sciences, and the humanities, as well as, business and government. One of my more recent postings about the issue of archiving data is this March 8, 2012 posting and there’s this March 9, 2010 posting (I believe it was my first on the topic). I also mentioned the current Council of Canadian Academies assessment Memory Institutions and the Digital Revolution in a June 5, 2013 posting.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the UBC study,

The Availability of Research Data Declines Rapidly with Article Age by Timothy H. Vines, Arianne Y.K. Albert, Rose L. Andrew, Florence Débarre, Dan G. Bock, Michelle T. Franklin, Kimberly J. Gilbert, Jean-Sébastien Moore, Sébastien Renaut, Diana J. Rennison. Current Biology, 19 December 2013 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.11.014
Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Ltd All rights reserved.

This paper is behind a paywall.

Council of Canadian Academies’ Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness and three wise men

October 1, 2013, the Council of Canadian Academies released something they called a ‘new report’ but was effectively a summary of seven of their previous reports. They called the ‘new’ report, Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness. Here’s more about it from the media advisory),

A new report, entitled Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness, was released today by the Council of Canadian Academies at a breakfast event with the Economic Club of Canada.

Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness draws upon the insights reported in seven expert assessments conducted by the Council since 2006. Each assessment examined various aspects of Canada’s performance in science and technology, and innovation. Paradox Lost examines the complex ways in which research leads to innovation, and the factors that motivate Canadian business strategy. It also identifies four megatrends that will pose challenges for Canadian businesses in the years to come.

“The Council was pleased to initiate this review of its work,” said Elizabeth Dowdeswell, President and CEO of the Council of Canadian Academies. “We hope Paradox Lost will provide valuable insight for policy- and decision-makers across Canada.”
The report was led by a three-member expert advisory group composed of Marcel Côté, Founding Partner of SECOR Inc.; Bob Fessenden, Fellow of the Institute for Public Economics; and Peter Nicholson, former President of the Council of Canadian Academies.

First off, that breakfast cost $89/seat (if memory serves and it does because that’s a high price for breakfast and a review/summary of seven previously published reports). Here are the seven reports/assessments the committee of three (Côté, Fessenden, and Nicholson) was summarizing,

The report about women, science, and academe was not included in Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness (link to webpage hosting assessment and other documents). Are women going to be part of this brave, new innovative world? I realize it would have been a stretch but surely the report’s inclusion in the review would have been worthwhile.

As for the report itself, all 34 pp. of the PDF, I was expecting more given the literary allusion.Before I launch into this further, it should be said that I applaud the ambition in the titling. I appreciate literary references as I view them as an attempt to ground them in the culture which extends beyond policy wonks. While this one didn’t work for me, I hope the Council of Canadian Academies will try again with future assessments.

As for how this attempt failed, who thought it would be a good idea to reference Paradise Lost, John Milton’s epic (written in 10 volumes), 17th century, English poem concerning humanity’s fall from grace as signified by banishment from the Garden of Eden? It’s not only a literary reference, it’s a biblical reference and an old testament one at that. To sum it up, this reference alludes to Judeo-Christian religious traditions, comes from an English literary tradition, and concerns banishment from an idyllic place, due to a woman’s failure of character or inherent sinfulness, depending on your reading of that story. The reference/wordplay in the title seems a bit tone deaf.

Leaving the literary/biblical aspects of the title aside, ‘Paradox Lost’ doesn’t make sense since one might be able to ‘resolve’ a paradox but one generally doesn’t ‘lose’ one. Interestingly the authors seems to concur as they use the verb ‘resolve’,in their Executive Summary (from p. 6 of the report PDF)

The Council of Canadian Academies (the Council) has, since 2006, completed seven expert panel assessments analyzing in great depth Canada’s performance in science and technology (S&T) and innovation. This document synthesizes the main findings of that work, from which two main conclusions emerge:
•Canadian academic research, overall, is strong and well regarded internationally.
•Canadian business innovation, by contrast, is weak by international standards, and this is the primary cause of Canada’s poor productivity growth.

The conclusions are linked by a paradox. Why has Canada’s research excellence not translated into more business innovation? The paradox is resolved once it is recognized that (i) most innovation does not work according to a “linear” model in which academic research yields a pipeline filled with ideas that, following some research and development (R&D), are commercialized by business; and (ii) business strategy in Canada is powerfully influenced by many factors besides those that motivate innovation. [emphasis mine] These factors include Canada’s comparative advantage in a remarkably integrated North American economy, the state of domestic competition, the profitability of existing business models, and the particular Canadian attitude to business risk that has been shaped by the foregoing conditions.

There is a second paradox. How has Canada’s economy sustained relative prosperity despite weak innovation and correspondingly feeble productivity growth? The answer is that Canadian firms have been as innovative as they have needed to be. Until the early 2000s, their competitiveness was supported by an ample labour supply and a favourable exchange rate, which made productivity growth less urgent. Since then, the boom in commodity prices has supported Canadian incomes in the aggregate. But a high-wage country like Canada cannot sustain its prosperity indefinitely without healthy productivity growth and its necessary prerequisite — an aggressively innovative business sector.

There’s nothing new in the report but the authors did highlight a few ideas in their conclusions as per the Executive Summary (from p. 8 of the report PDF),

In summary:
• Policy-makers and commentators need to acknowledge that the business innovation problem in Canada has a pedigree as old as the country itself.
• Canadian business has not become more innovative because it has been able to prosper without needing to do so.
• Now, business will have to embrace innovation-focused business strategies to compete and survive.
• This creates the conditions where public policies to support business innovation can be more effective than in the past because innovation policy objectives and business motivation will finally be aligned.

I’m with the authors on the first two conclusions but as the for the third one (the fourth follows on the third), I’m not convinced that Canadian business feels obliged to make any changes. It’s survived quite handily till now and given the evidence from the OECD Science, Technology and Industry 2013 Scorecard (my Oct.30, 2013 posting offers more detail), Canadian businesses have been diminishing investment in R&D over the last decade and it seems unlikely that there will be any changes in the near future regardless of government programmes. Businesses in Canada have some of the best tax incentives for R&D amongst OECD countries; we’re second to France only in terms of lavish taxpayer support. Other than lip service, is there any indication that Canadian business motivation “… will finally be aligned” with government policy objectives?

One might say (and I will) the the last conclusion was foregone given the committee of ‘three wise men’ (let’s stick with the biblical allusions even it is one from the new testament), include a politician/economist who founded a management consulting firm, an academic/bureaucrat, and a career bureaucrat.

I give you

  • Marcel Côté economist and politician as he’s described in this Wikipedia essay where he’s also described as a founding partner of Secor, a strategic management consulting firm;
  • Bob Fessenden, fellow of the Institute for Public Economies (University of Alberta, former Deputy Minister in four different Government of Alberta departments: Economic Development; Sustainable Resource Development; Innovation and Science; and Advanced Education and Technology, plus somewhere along the way, he was staff member at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Foresty; and
  • Peter Nicholson, inaugural president of the Council of Canadian Academies from February 2006 through December 2009, he was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy in the Office of the Prime Minister of Canada from 2003 to 2006, prior to which he was Special Advisor to the Secretary-general of the OECD. The biography also mentions some experience in the fields of banking and telecommunications.

Is it any wonder that these three might conclude that public policies could now be more effective? After all, it would confirm their life’s work.

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.