Tag Archives: Kennedy Stewart

Happy Thanksgiving! Oct. 12, 2015, my last mention of science debates in the Canadian 2015 federal election, and my 4001st posting

Two things for me to celebrate today: Thanksgiving (in Canada, we celebrate on the 2nd Monday of October) and my 4001st posting (this one).

Science for the people

Plus, there’s much to celebrate about science discussion during the 2015 Canadian federal election. I stumbled across Science for the People, which is a weekly radio show based in Canada (from the About page),

Science for the People is a syndicated radio show and podcast that broadcasts weekly across North America. We are a long-format interview show that explores the connections between science, popular culture, history, and public policy, to help listeners understand the evidence and arguments behind what’s in the news and on the shelves.

Every week, our hosts sit down with science researchers, writers, authors, journalists, and experts to discuss science from the past, the science that affects our lives today, and how science might change our future.


If you have comments, show ideas, or questions about Science for the People, email feedback@scienceforthepeople.ca.

Theme Song

Our theme song music comes from the song “Binary Consequence” by the band Fractal Pattern. You can find the full version of it on their album No Hope But Mt. Hope.

License & Copyright

All Science for the People episodes are under the Creative Commons license. You are free to distribute unedited versions of the episodes for non-commercial purposes. If you would like to edit the episode please contact us.

Episode #338 (2015 Canadian federal election and science) was originally broadcast on Oct. 9,  2015 and features,

This week, we’re talking about politics, and the prospects for pro-science politicians, parties and voters in Canada. We’ll spend the hour with panelists Katie Gibbs, Executive Director of Evidence for Democracy, science librarian John Dupuis, journalist Mike De Souza, and former Canadian government scientist Steven Campana, for an in-depth discussion about the treatment of science by the current Canadian government, and what’s at stake for science in the upcoming federal election.

The podcast is approximately one hour long and Désirée Schell (sp?) hosts/moderates an interesting discussion where one of the participants notes that issues about science and science muzzles predate Harper. The speaker dates the issues back to the Chrétien/Martin years. Note: Jean Chrétien was Prime Minister from 1993 to 2003 and Paul Martin, his successor, was Prime Minister from 2003 to 2006 when he was succeeded by current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. (I attended a Philosophers’ Cafe event on Oct. 1, 2015 where the moderator dated the issues back to the Mulroney years. Note: Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister from 1984 – 1993.) So, it’s been 10, 20, or 30 years depending on your viewpoint and when you started noticing (assuming you’re of an age to have noticed something happening 30 years ago).

The participants also spent some time discussing why Canadians would care about science. Interestingly, one of the speakers claimed the current Syrian refugee crisis has its roots in climate change, a science issue, and he noted the US Dept. of Defense views climate change as a threat multiplier. For anyone who doesn’t know, the US Dept. of Defense funds a lot of science research.

It’s a far ranging discussion, which doesn’t really touch on science as an election issue until some 40 mins. into the podcast.

One day later on Oct. 10, 2015 (where you’ll find the podcast), the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Quirks & Quarks radio programme broadcast and made available its podcast of a 2015 Canadian election science debate/panel,

There is just over a week to go before Canadians head to the polls to elect a new government. But one topic that hasn’t received much attention on the campaign trail is science.

So we thought we’d gather together candidates from each of the major federal parties to talk about science and environmental issues in this election.

We asked each of them where they and their parties stood on federal funding of science; basic vs. applied research; the controversy around federal scientists being permitted to speak about their research, and how to cut greenhouse gas emissions while protecting jobs and the economy.

Our panel of candidates were:

– Lynne Quarmby, The Green Party candidate [and Green Party Science critic] in Burnaby North-Seymour, and  professor and Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Simon Fraser University

– Gary Goodyear, Conservative Party candidate in Cambridge, Ontario, and former Minister of State for Science and Technology

– Marc Garneau, Liberal Party candidate in NDG-Westmount, and a former Canadian astronaut

– Megan Leslie, NDP candidate in Halifax and her party’s environment critic

It was a crackling debate. Gary Goodyear was the biggest surprise in that he was quite vigorous and informed in his defence of the government’s track record. Unfortunately, he was also quite patronizing.

The others didn’t seem to have as much information and data at their fingertips. Goodyear quote OECD reports of Canada doing well in the sciences and they didn’t have any statistics of their own to provide a counter argument. Quarmby, Garneau, and Leslie did at one time or another come back strongly on one point or another but none of them seriously damaged Goodyear’s defense. I can’t help wondering if Kennedy Stewart, NDP science critic, or Laurin Liu, NDP deputy science critic, and Ted Hsu, Liberal science critic might have been better choices for this debate.

The Quirks & Quarks debate was approximately 40 or 45 mins. with the remainder of the broadcast devoted to Canadian 2015 Nobel Prize winner in Physics, Arthur B. McDonald (Takaaki Kajita of the University of Tokyo shared the prize) for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, i.e., neutrinos have mass.

Kate Allen writing an Oct. 9, 2015 article for thestar.com got a preview of the pretaped debate and excerpted a few of the exchanges,

On science funding

Gary Goodyear: Currently, we spend more than twice what the Liberals spent in their last year. We have not cut science, and in fact our science budget this year is over $10 billion. But the strategy is rather simple. We are very strong in Canada on basic research. Where we fall down sometimes as compared to other countries is moving the knowledge that we discover in our laboratories out of the laboratory onto our factory floors where we can create jobs, and then off to the hospitals and living rooms of the world — which is how we make that home run. No longer is publishing an article the home run, as it once was.

Lynne Quarmby: I would take issue with the statement that science funding is robust in this country … The fact is that basic scientific research is at starvation levels. Truly fundamental research, without an obvious immediate application, is starving. And that is the research that is feeding the creativity — it’s the source of new ideas, and new understanding about the world, that ultimately feeds innovation.

If you’re looking for a good representation of the discussion and you don’t have time to listen to the podcast, Allen’s article is a good choice.

Finally, Research2Reality, a science outreach and communication project I profiled earlier in 2015 has produced an Oct. 9, 2015 election blog posting by Karyn Ho, which in addition to the usual ‘science is dying in Canada’ talk includes links to more information and to the official party platforms, as well as, an exhortation to get out there and vote.

Something seems to be in the air as voter turnout for the advance polls is somewhere from 24% to 34% higher than usual.

Happy Thanksgiving!

2015 Canadian federal election and science: Science panel on CBC Radio, NDP platform, Maclean’s policy poll, and a Science Integrity Project

Election 2015 science panel

It took them long enough. After weeks of waiting,(my last plea was in a Sept.18, 2015 posting; scroll down about 50% of the way) the folks at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Quirks and Quarks radio programme have finally announced that there will be an election 2015 science panel show featuring representatives from Canada’s political parties. Here’s the tweet,

Game on! We’re recording our all-party election science panel next week, with all the major parties participating. Details to folo

This is pretty fresh news (fours ago means it was announced about 6:15 am PST (9:15 am EST where Quirks & Quarks is recorded). As for the details, they still have yet to follow.

NDP (New Democrat Party) science platform for 2015 federal election

Yesterday (Sept. 30, 2015), I received news from Kennedy Stewart’s, science shadow minister, team (that the New Democrat Party has announced a science platform for the 2015 election along with a plea for money. This news about the platform is a stunning turnaround for the NDP who largely ignored science in their 2011 campaign and whose previous shadow science minister, Jim Malloway. had an insurance agency and, apparently, no interest in science. However, Kennedy Stewart who has since taken on that portfolio and been very active seemed cautiously optimistic when I saw him at the Trottier Observatory opening at Simon Fraser University as noted in my April 17, 2015 posting. It looks like he was successful beyond his wildest dreams (amazing what a dip in the polls can do when your party has been almost leading for weeks in a tight three-way race).

Here’s more about the platform from Kennedy Stewart’s website, NDP Science Platform page,

NDP Science Platform Details

Restore the voice of scientists in Canada

We will create a Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister headed by a Chief Science Advisor to ensure that our government always has access to the best possible scientific advice from experts in all fields.
We will establish the Office of the Parliamentary Science Officer as per Bill C-558 to ensure that parliamentarians have the best possible access to science-based analysis.
We will immediately move to restore the mandatory long-form census and provide the necessary funding to ensure it can be included in the 2016 census.
We will put an end to the Conservatives’ policy of muzzling scientists and ensure that Canada’s leading experts are freely available to speak to the media and to publish their findings. We will implement the NDP’s comprehensive plan to promote the voice of scientist’s in Ottawa as laid out in M-453 to promote scientific integrity.
We will work to re-establish scientific capacity in government departments, including Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Support Canada’s world-class researchers

We will restore the independence of Canada’s granting agencies and respect their status as arm’s length government agencies to ensure the best research gets funded.
We will maintain the Canada First Research Excellence Fund to help Canadian universities compete globally.
We will support researchers in post-secondary education institutions – including universities, colleges and polytechnics – with a total investment of $105 million in new funds over five years. We will make sure that government policy supports both our leading research institutions and values the role that smaller colleges and universities play in communities across Canada.
Ensure a balanced approach to science and technology policy. We will undertake a transparent and inclusive review of Canada’s science and technology strategy to ensure that all voices are heard.
We will make government data open and available by default, in a useable format to assist researchers and businesses across Canada.

Maclean’s: a surprising result from their 2015 election policy poll

Amanda Shendruk in a Sept. 23, 2015 posting for Maclean’s magazine notes some unexpected (to the unobservant) results in their informal online poll about policy (Note: Links have been removed),

Maclean’s readers are overwhelmingly in favour of a policy that would put an end to Ottawa’s well-trod path of data destruction and scientist silencing. A month ago, we published the Policy Face-Off Machine, an online tool that pits two policies against each other at random, asking you to choose which you prefer. The catch? The parties pitching the policies aren’t identified when you’re making the pick. Well, we’ve been keeping track of these policy votes and, with more than 100,000 visitors already, we’ve got a great pile of data on what proposals Canadians prefer. With some surprise, we’ve discovered that Canadians really want government-funded science made available to the public. In fact, that Green- and Liberal-backed policy was chosen over other policies three out of four times, and is the tool’s most-picked policy to date.

There’s more including a graph of the results in Shendruk’s posting.

Science integrity

John Dupuis of the Confessions of a Science Librarian blog loosely links science integrity and the 2015 federal election in his Sept. 30, 2015 posting about a new project (Note: Links have been removed),

Though not explicitly tied to our current federal election campaign, the début this week of the Science Integrity Project and the publishing of their Statement of Principles for Sound Decision Making in Canada just as the campaign heats up is surely not coincidental.

There are excerpts from the site in Dupuis’ posting which I have eschewed (why repeat work that has been done, i.e., summarizing the information) in favour of material from the Science Integrity Project website’s Background page (Note: Links have been removed),


Canada has a history of initiatives aimed at ensuring the effective use of science and technological advice in government decision-making. “Backgrounder: The Evolving Context of Science Integrity in Canada” provides an overview of past efforts, highlighting good practices for science advice. *
In this background document, we focus primarily on the historical relationship between science (as defined here) and policy making in Canada. In the accompanying “Science Integrity Project: Synthesis of Pre-Forum Interviews”, we address the history and use of both science and indigenous knowledge in policy making.

To establish the scope and nature of issues involved with the effective and consistent use of the best available evidence, the Science Integrity Project began with a series of interviews with scientists, indigenous knowledge holders, and policy makers across Canada. The resulting insights from 30 interviews are summarized in the “Science Integrity Project: Synthesis of Pre-Forum Interviews”.

From February 2-4, 2015, a Forum was held in Toronto with over 60 scientists and public policy analysts, current and past representatives of public and Indigenous governments, philanthropists and representatives of non-government organizations to discuss the status of evidence-based decision-making at every level of government. To inform this discussion, the summary report of interviews was shared with Forum participants. The “Statement of Principles for Sound Decision-making in Canada” and the accompanying illustrative examples are products of the Forum’s work.


I’d like to see at least four parties at the CBC science panel, the Conservatives, the Liberals, the NDP, and the Greens. I’d really like to see something that goes beyond the “Conservatives are bad because they muzzled scientists and are making data and research unavailable” discussion. Here are some of my questions,

  • What priorities does your party want to set for research in Canada?
  • What role does your party see for Canada’s Science and Technology Museums Corporation?
  • How is your party going to address the impacts from synthetic biology, robotics, nanotechnology and other emerging technologies as they become part of our daily lives?
    • For example, what impact on the economy does your party foresee as artificially intelligent and/or robotic devices come online?
  • Does your party foresee a role for citizen science and what might that role be?
  • Does your party plan on additional science outreach? And, will it stretch itself beyond the current twin and near maniacal obsessions evinced by media and popular culture:  (1) youth already understand science easily and are the only ones who need outreach (BTW, it’s poorly planned and there are big gaps for kids who have grown past the ‘wow’ presentations and don’t plan on being scientists but are still really interested) and (2) old people aren’t important and they’re all sick and draining our resources so why bother teaching them anything?
  • Does your party have a plan to better recognize that social sciences are ‘sciences’ too? And, is there a plan to foster closer cooperation not only with the social sciences but the arts and the humanities?

There are other questions out there. Science Borealis (Canadian blog and blog aggregator) has a Sept. 18, 2015 posting (it’s in the subsection titled: Resources) which aggregates a number of resources including places where you can get ideas for election 2015 science questions.

One final comment, it’s exciting but I hope we keep our heads. There’s a certain pedantic, top-down quality to the discussion and projects such as the Science Integrity Project. For example, in posts such as a Sept. 15, 2015 posting on Science Borealis where the writers discuss Science Borealis’ participation in a discussion with the Canada Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)  on its new strategic plan which includes a mandate to foster a science culture in Canada. The comments are all top-down as in, “We scientists will tell you (everybody else) what is good science and what science we should have. We are the only arbiters.” It’s an unconscious bias and, by now, everyone should know how that works out.

That said, I’m very enthused about the possibilities and excited about the upcoming radio science debate.

Updates on a Canadian election science debate and the 2015 Canadian Science Policy Conference (blog session) plus a protest song

I have some good news on a couple of fronts. First, it seems increasingly likely that we will see a 2015 election science debate.

Canadian election 2015 science debate

The debate will be, according to Jim Handman, senior producer, held in early October 2015 on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio’s Quirks and Quarks program. Here’s what Mr. Handman had to say after I tweeted and contacted them about holding an election science debate,

… Quirks has approached all the parties at the national
level to provide candidates for a radio panel on science to be
broadcast in early October. They have all expressed interest and we are waiting to hear about specific candidates. It is up to the parties to choose the participants.

Not realizing something was in the works at Quirks and Quarks and following on a suggestion from David Bruggeman at Pasco Phronesis (noted in my Aug. 17, 2015 posting), I contacted Lynne Quarmby (Green shadow science minister), Ted Hsu (Liberal shadow science minister), Kennedy Stewart (NDP [New Democratic Party] shadow science minister), and Ed Holder (Conservative science minister) about their willingness to participate in a debate. As of this writing, both Lynne Quarmby and Ted Hsu have shown interest.

While I was busy tweeting, this was brought to my attention,


You can see, if you look carefully at the bottom of the poster, the Evidence for Democracy logo. Those folks kicked off a proposal for science debate for this election in an Aug. 12, 2015 opinion piece for the Toronto Star.

Plus, CBC is reporting a new call for a science debate in a Sept. 3, 2015 news item by Julie Ireton,

Members of Canada’s long-silent scientific research community are increasingly speaking out during this year’s federal campaign as they desperately try to make science an election issue.

Jules  Blais, a biology professor at the University of Ottawa, calls cuts to science-related jobs “targeted strikes.”

Like many Canadian scientists, Blais considers himself non-partisan and said he’s not campaigning for any particular party, but that he and others are speaking out for the need to protect independent scientific research.

“Science has always been apolitical by its nature, but in recent years because of the dramatic changes that we’re seeing in the way science is being done, and science is being conducted, it’s increasingly a political issue,” said Blais.

To sum it up, it all looks quite promising for 2015 although I hope any national debate will be more broad-ranging and nuanced than a simple Conservative science policy bashing.

For anyone interested in ancient history, there’s my Aug. 17, 2015 posting which provides a view of previous efforts to get a science debate during an election in English-speaking Canada and notes like efforts have taken place in French-speaking Canada. Happily for anyone wanting a more complete history, Pascal Lapointe and Josh Silberg have written an Aug. 31, 2015 posting on Science Borealis detailing efforts in Québec.

Canadian Science Policy Conference blogging session

In an Aug. 18, 2015 posting, I highlighted and critiqued the blogging session offered at the upcoming 2015 Canadian Science Policy Conference. One of the blog panel members, Chris Buddle kindly contacted me via Twitter to answer a few of the questions I’d posed and to tell me that he’d contacted the organizers and suggested some changes be made to the descriptions based on my comments. You can find the changed descriptions here.

They’ve added one person to the panel, Lisa Willemse, who’s billed as Senior Communications Advisor, Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

One final comment about the science blogging panel descriptions, I wish they’d added links to the blogs. Perhaps that wasn’t technical feasible?

Protest song

Part of what has mobilized scientists and a discussion of science in Canada has been the Conservative government’s policy of ‘muzzling scientists’. Glyn Moody in a Sept. 1, 2015 posting on Techdirt profiles an incident where Environment Canada scientist, Tony Turner, has been put on leave while charges that he violated conflict-of-interest rules are being investigated. His sin: he wrote a protest song, got a group of friends and supporters to sing it with him, and then posted it to Youtube. From Moody’s posting (Note: A link has been removed),

Turner’s song, with its opening lines “Who controls our parliament? Harperman, Harperman. Who squashes all dissent? Harperman, Harperman,” and a refrain of “It’s time for you to go,” is pretty mild stuff. …

Of course, the great thing about the Canadian government’s absurd overreaction to this gentlest of private protests is that many more people will now learn that Turner is an environmental scientist who is being muzzled by a bunch of desperate control freaks who are frightened that the Canadian people might be told the truth about important scientific issues. Thank goodness for the Streisand Effect…. [As I understand it, Barbra Streisand once responded to criticism or commentary about herself that she found offensive. Her response, given her star power, drew a great of attention to the commentary. Techdirt folks have dubbed this the ‘Streisand’ effect, i.e. drawing attention to something no one would have noticed otherwise.]

An Aug. 28, 2015 article by Madeline Smith for the Globe and Mail provides details about the protest song and government response,

An Environment Canada scientist is under investigation for allegedly breaching the public service code of ethics by writing and performing a political song that criticizes the Harper government.

Andrew Hall, who filmed the Harperman video – a singalong with a backup choir that had almost 60,000 views as of Friday [Aug. 28, 2015] evening – said the song is a “joyful” expression of protest. [emphasis mine] He said Mr. Turner wasn’t acting as a public servant, so there should be a reasonable expectation “to be able to engage in democracy.”

As of Thurs., Sept. 3, 2015 at 10 am PDT the number of views is 525,823. So, from June 2015 when it was first posted to Aug. 28, 2015, there were almost 60,000 views. The Streisand effect in operation!

According to Smith’s article, Turner, after working for the government for 20 years, is months from retirement.

Finally, the song,

Rousing, isn’t it? That said, there is a fine line to be tread here. Civil servants are required to be neutral and, assuming you’re not dealing with noxious forces, you need to be respectful of the agreements you’ve made. As a civil servant for a number of years, that freedom of speech vs. neutrality ethics divide always bothered me. I believe that people are entitled to speak their opinions in private but I do see the point of insisting on neutrality professionally and privately. Most times, neutrality is the way to go for civil servants. However, there are times when one must speak out. The question is: what is the tipping point?

ETA Sept. 4, 2015: In the US they’re having their own civil servant neutrality issues. As evidenced by this story of the Kentucky clerk who refuses to issue marriage licences to same sex couples, civil service neutrality is not an open and shut discussion. Note: Slate has adopted a policy of urging readers to subscribe with popup ads.

A science debate during the 2015 Canadian federal campaign?

I’m thrilled to see David Bruggeman (Pasco Phronesis blog) make a suggestion about a way to include a science debate during the current Canadian federal election campaign. In his Aug. 16, 2015 posting, David notes his suggestion follows on an opinion piece in the Toronto Star (Note: A link has been removed),

Thanks to Twitter, I read this opinion piece in The Toronto Star advocating for science to be part of the leaders’ debates leading to the October 19 [2015] Parliamentary election.  Breaking from previous tradition, there will be not two debates (one in English, one in French), but at least six. …

I think the compressed campaign schedule (though it is the longest Canadian campaign in history) will make it difficult to get either a debate exclusively on science questions or science questions into the debates that will be held.

… I would recommend not copying those of us on your southern border concerning science debates. [emphasis mine] Rather I suggest you review our British cousins and adapt your strategy accordingly.  Two science questions were part of a UK leaders debate in the 2010 campaign (though it was the one conducted over YouTube and Facebook), but that same campaign saw three cross-party debates at the science ministerial level.  [emphases mine] …

I think it manageable to have the science minister and his shadow minister counterparts in the major Canadian parties debate each other.

Interesting idea and I like it! Unfortunately, I’ve never heard of an election debate amongst shadow ministers/critics in the Canadian context, which means there’s nothing to build on. However, the advantage for this particular election campaign is that this is a three horse race (meaning no one party is clearly in the lead) consequently, election organizers for the three parties might be more open to opportunities which might gain some election votes.

As for the opinion piece (Aug. 12, 2015) in the Toronto Star written by Katie Gibbs and Alana Westwood, both from Evidence for Democracy, they outline their reasons for a science debate in Canada’s 2015 federal election,

Canada’s commitment to science, and our scientific capacity, made us an international leader for years. It was Canadian medical researchers who decoded the breast cancer genome, invented medical insulin and have developed a promising Ebola vaccine. Social scientists and statisticians help us understand our changing demographics, guiding decisions on everything from where to build new schools and hospitals to helping businesses make smarter investment choices. Right now, environmental scientists are using their expertise to guide the fight against forest fires in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

Evidence for Democracy analyzed debate questions in all the televised English-language federal leaders’ debates from 1968 to 2011 (with the exception of 1997, for which we could not find a record) to see which topics were discussed. Unsurprisingly, 32 per cent of all debate questions focused on the economy — taxes, unemployment, trade agreements, etc. Social policies including medicare, child care, and women’s issues covered 25 per cent of the questions. Government accountability and ethics accounted for 20 per cent, with national unity, foreign affairs, and public safety making up most of the rest. Only 2 per cent of debate questions focused on protection of the environment.

Gibbs and Westwood asked this question in the piece,

Given the clear importance of science in our lives, why has a question about science policy never — not once — been asked in a federal leaders’ debate?

It’s a very simple answer, the election organizers don’t believe science debates will attract a large audience allowing them one more chance to hammer their election messages home and, perhaps more importantly, they don’t think a debate will garner any votes.

I expect Gibbs and Westwood know this as they go on to make a compelling case for why a science debate in Canada is important (Note: A link has been removed),

Once a world-leader in scientific research, recent decisions have eroded our science capacity and our international scientific reputation. It’s estimated that up to 5,000 federal scientists have lost their jobs, and over 250 research and monitoring programs and institutions have been closed. Our recently launched website called True North Smart and Free, documents dozens of examples of funding cuts to science, government scientists being silenced and policy decisions that ignore the best available evidence. This is essential public-interest science needed to protect Canadian’s health and safety, from food inspection to monitoring toxic chemicals in water.

Many Canadians, including our scientific community are speaking out. Even beyond our borders, the current government has been widely criticized for its treatment of science. In recent years scientists have stepped out of their labs in large rallies on Parliament Hill and across the country. By the thousands, Canadians have joined with them not only in protest but in a shared commitment to strong public science and evidence-based decision-making. Every major Canadian newspaper, including the Toronto Star, has written high-profile editorials on science. Even international media such as New York Times and the prestigious science journal Nature have commented on the decline in Canadian science and the treatment of our government scientists.

Political parties clearly want to discuss it as well. This last session of parliament saw an unprecedented focus on science policy issues with the NDP, Liberals, and Greens all introducing bills and motions aimed at improving the state of public-interest science in Canada.

I hope this is a successful effort for the 2015 campaign. It’s great to see these efforts building up. In 2011, Adrian J. Ebsary of Peer Review Radio worked tirelessly to bring science into that year’s federal election (my April 25, 2011 posting, April 26, 2011 posting, and April 29, 2011 posting). In Québec, Pascal Lapointe has been working for several years to bring science into election debates both provincially and federally. Assuming you’re comfortable reading in French, you can find Pascal’s Je vote pour la science here. It’s all part of his larger enterprise Agence Science-Presse where he makes sure Québeckers get their science news.

Should you choose to support the notion of a national science debate, I suggest contacting the political parties for Canada’s Minister of State for Science and Technology, Ed Holder (Conservative Party, former insurance broker), Stewart Kennedy (New Democratic Party, academic and political scientist), Ted Hsu (Liberal Party; a physicist by training, he’s not running in the 2015 election but remains the party’s science critic for now), and Lynne Quarmby, (Green Party, biochemist and molecular biologist).

Finally, you can find True North Smart + Free here.

Science pledge for Canadians launched on June 16, 2015 and a flashback to political parties and Canadian science policy (a lack of it)

H/t to Speaking Up For Canadian Science.

As noted in a previous post, I’m not super impressed with the ‘War on Science’ branding favoured by a distinct portion of the Canadian science community as I find it reductionist. After all, Canada’s current Conservative government is perfectly happy with certain kinds of science, just not climate science, most of the biological sciences, environmental sciences, … (I imagine you’ve gotten the drift). That said, I am sympathetic (admittedly self-serving) to the concerns over the government’s antipathy towards science communication of all kinds.

The latest news about the movement to change the attitude to many Canadian science efforts comes from a June 16, 2015 article by Fram Dinshaw for the National Observer,

Federal MPs from three opposition parties signed a pledge in support of science-driven policies after recent protests by federal scientists against the Harper government’s cuts to departments and its muzzling of research.

Signing on at the June 16 [2015] press conference by Evidence for Democracy were NDP’s Kennedy Stewart, the official opposition’s science and technology critic, Liberal MP and former astronaut Marc Garneau, and Green Party leader Elizabeth May.

Stewart has already tabled three bills before parliament to restore Ottawa’s scientific capacity, including restoration of the long form census, an ethical code to end muzzling of scientists, and the creation of a parliamentary science officer with the powers of an auditor-general.

Evidence for Democracy is pushing back in the run-up to October’s federal election by promoting the implementation of a new government-wide communications policy to ensure that government scientists can speak publicly about their research and creating a new federal science office to advise decision-makers, according to a media release dated June 16.

“Scientists are now supporting this issue publicly,” Dr. Katie Gibbs, Executive Director of Evidence for Democracy, said. “To my knowledge this is the first time Canadian scientists have mobilized to promote science as a federal election issue. The Pledge invites Parliamentarians and the broader community show their support for public-interest science and evidence-based decision-making.”

“The trends we’ve seen in recent years are deeply troubling to many in the scientific community,” Dr. Scott Findlay, Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Ottawa and Evidence for Democracy Board member, said. Trends include, “funding cuts to science, government scientists not being able to speak about their work, and decisions that appear to play fast and loose with scientific evidence.”

You can find Evidence for Democracy’s Science Pledge here.

Science policy flashback

One of my first science policy posts was a January 15, 2010 piece where I tried to find science policies for Canada’s four main political parties (Liberals, New Democrats [NDP], Conservatives, and Greens). The only party that mentioned science policy was the Conservative Party.

I followed up that first post with one dated January 22, 2010 where I tracked down then official ‘science’ critics for each party (Liberals, Marc Garneau; Greens, Frances Coates; and New Democrats, Jim Malloway) and the Ministry of State for Science and Technology (Conservative Member of Parliament, Gary Goodyear) and tried to find something about science on their websites and in their writings. Garneau was the only Member of Parliament to mention science. In fact, he’d written a science policy on his own.

The last election year (2011) produced a few posts on political parties and science policies. I’m particularly fond of my April 18, 2011 post,

It’s only in my dreams or, perhaps, my nightmares that science policy is considered an important issue in a Canadian federal election. Being an election issue can be a two-edged sword, you get more attention but that can work for you and/or against you. On balance, I think it’s better to be considered an election issue than to be ignored and it seems to me that there’s a lot more effort (not from the political parties) this election to put science policy in the limelight.

I posted two followups: April 26, 2011 (it features a visualization of the issues in the 2011 election; science did not rate a placement in the graphic) and April 29, 2011.

Things have changed since those first science policy posts. Some of the changes have been influenced by the international zeitgeist and some by individuals such as Pascal Lapointe and his team members at Agence Science- Presse in Québec, by politicians newly concerned about science issues, and new Canadian science organizations with  political outlooks such as Evidence for Democracy and Speak Up For Canadian Science, and, of course, individual scientists themselves.

“No badge? No water!” at the Trottier Observatory opening (Simon Fraser University, Canada)

Being refused a sip of water at a media event is one of those experiences that has you shaking your head in bemusement.  The event was held at Simon Fraser University (SFU)  on Friday, April 17, 2015* (today) between 10:30 and 11:30 am PST to celebrate the opening of the Trottier Observatory and Courtyard. Here’s how it was billed in the April 15, 2015 SFU media advisory I received,

What better way to celebrate the lead up to International Astronomy Week than the grand opening of a new observatory at Simon Fraser University?

Media are cordially invited to the grand opening of the Trottier Observatory and Science Courtyard, happening this Friday, April 17. This facility represents the most recent commitment by Lorne Trottier and Louise Rousselle Trottier towards science education at SFU.

A private event to formally open the observatory and recognize donor support will take place at SFU’s Burnaby campus on Friday, April 17 from 10:30-11:30 a.m. Members of the Trottier Family will be in attendance along with Government and other key VIPs. SFU will also host a public “Star Party” event to celebrate the grand opening during the evening.

SFU Physics professor Howard Trottier and his brother Lorne Trottier will be available for interviews on Friday, April 17th from 9:30-10:15 AM and from 11:30-12:30 PM.


–       Grand-opening of the Trottier Observatory and Science Courtyard


–       Friday, April 17

–       10:30-11:30 AM (Private Opening Ceremony and Site Tour)

7:00-11:00 PM (Public Star Party-currently full)


–       SFU’s Burnaby campus, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, in front of Strand Hall

I hadn’t realized I was supposed to RSVP and so arrived to learn that I needed a badge to sit in the area for invited guests. Sadly, there was no fence to indicate where I might be free to stand. There were chairs for guests and it was very important that I not stand behind the chairs. This was a special standing zone for people with badges who could sit or stand wherever they liked. I, on the other hand, was allowed to stand back further in some mythical zone (about 18 inches away from the invited zone) where the unwashed were allowed to gaze longingly at the invitees.

Getting back to the observatory, a lot of thought seems to have been put into the design inside and outside. Unfortunately, there aren’t many details available as I can’t find anything more than this (scroll down about 75% of the way for the fact sheet) in the way of backgrounders, An April 12, 2015 article by Shawn Conner for the Vancouver Sun offers some details,

The facility features a large dome housing a 0.7-metre diameter (27-inch) reflector telescope, bigger than the one at the HR MacMillan Space Centre.

The observatory, Trottier [Howard Trottier, physics professor at SFU] says, is much more advanced since he visited his first one while in middle school.

“There’ve been a number of revolutions in telescopes,” the 55-year-old said. “Manufacturing costs are lower, much bigger telescopes are built. Even portable telescopes can be really quite big on a scale that was impossible when I was first into astronomy.”

One of the observatory’s features is a digital feed that community groups and schools across Canada can remotely access and deploy. Schools in B.C. will be invited to tender proposals to run the telescope from wherever they are.

Apparently, the plantings outside the observatory have an astronomical meaning. More immediately communicative are a series of four incised plaques which show the northern and southern skies in the autumn and spring respectively. Stone benches nearby also have meaning although what that might be is a mystery. Perhaps more information will become available online at SFU’s Trottier Observatory webspace.

As for my sip of water, I was gobsmacked when I was refused after standing in the sun for some 40 minutes or more (and a 1 hour transit trip) by Tamra Morley of SFU. Only invited people with badges were to be allowed water. She did note that there was water on campus elsewhere for me, although no directions were forthcoming.

Amusingly, Ms. Morley (who stood about 5’8″ in her shoes)* flung her arms out to either side making a barrier of her body while refusing me. For the record, on a good day I’m 5’4″. I’m also female and over the age of 60. And, there was more than enough water, coffee, and tea for invited and uninvited guests.

These things happen. Sometimes, the person just isn’t having  good day or is overzealous.

One final note, I met Kennedy Stewart, Member of Parliament and the New Democratic Party’s science critic at the event. He’s busy preparing for the upcoming election (either Spring or Fall 2015*) and hoping to get science policy included on the party’s 2015* election platform. I wish him good luck!

* ‘April 17, 2017’ changed to ‘April 17, 2015’; ‘Spring or Fall 2017’ changed to ‘Spring or Fall 2015’; ‘the party’s 2017 election platform’ changed to ‘the party’s 2015’ election platform and (who stood about 5’8″ in her shoes) added on April 17, 2015 at 1630 PST. Yikes, I seem invested in the year 2017.

Update on proposal for a science watchdog in Canada and a change for the Chief Public Health Officer

“Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows.” I always think of roulette wheels when I hear that one but now I’m going to be thinking about the mysterious ways of the internet.

David Bruggeman in a Nov. 26, 2014 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog writes about a bill before the Canadian Parliament to create a position for a Parliamentary Science Officer. Interestingly, he got the information from FrogHeart Daily. It’s a paper I created a few years ago and had forgotten until now. So, I guess thanks  to David and to me (?). In any event I had written about this proposed position (months after the fact) in July 30, 2014 post regarding science policy and advice in Canada and in New Zealand.

Getting back to David’s Nov. 26, 2014 posting (Note: A link has been removed),

The bill, introduced in December of last year [2013], would establish a Parliamentary Science Officer.  As outlined in the bill, the position would be an independent officer of Parliament, meaning the person would be appointed with the approval of Parliament, and serve a term of seven years.  The position would appear to be on par with the Information Commissioner of Canada and other appointed positions.  (MP [Kennedy] Stewart [NDP] has referred to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, likely because that position is more advisory than the Information Commissioner.)

Here’s Kennedy Stewart’s Nov. 21, 2013 news release regarding his proposed Parliamentary Science Officer bill,

Bill C-558: Parliamentary Science Officer

“This bill represents the strongest effort yet to protect the pursuit and use of scientific research in the federal government. It goes beyond what we had in the past and charts a bold vision for where we need to go,” said MP Kennedy Stewart (Burnaby-Douglas), an Associate Professor on leave from Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy. “After years of muzzling, mismanagement, and misuse of science by the Conservative government, this new office will promote real transparency and ensure decisions made in Ottawa are based on the best available scientific evidence.”

Modeled on the current Parliamentary Budget Officer, the UK’s Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology, and the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, the Parliamentary Science Officer would be established as an independent agent of Parliament. It would have a legislated mandate to:

Assess the state of scientific evidence relevant to any proposal or bill before Parliament;
Answer requests from Committees and individual Members for unbiased scientific information;

Conduct independent analysis of federal science and technology policy;
Raise awareness of scientific issues across government and among Canadians;
Encourage coordination between departments and agencies conducting scientific research.

“Beginning with the closure of the National Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, the Conservatives have used every tool at their disposal to prevent, limit, and restrict Canadian scientists from sharing their research with policy-makers and the public,” said MP Laurin Liu (Rivière-des-Mille-Îles), Deputy Critic for Science and Technology. “Being independent from the government and responsible for serving the needs of the legislature, a Parliamentary Science Officer would revitalize scientific integrity in Ottawa.”

I’m not sure chiding the Conservative government is necessarily the best way to go about establishing this new position and, as noted in the 2013 news release and elsewhere, this government axed the National Science Advisor position when they first came to power with a minority in the House of Commons. At this juncture, it seems unlikely that the government which has a healthy majority in the House of Commons will vote to create a Parliamentary Science Officer position.

Nonetheless, Kennedy Stewart has issued a Nov. 26, 2014 news release about Bill C-558,

Important members of the scientific community are endorsing the NDP’s proposal to create an independent science watchdog with responsibility to curb the muzzling of public scientists and provide Parliament with sound information and expert advice on scientific issues.

“Science in Canada is at a crossroads. After years of government scientists being muzzled by the Conservatives, this new office will promote real transparency and ensure decisions made in Ottawa are based on the best available scientific evidence,” said NDP Science & Technology Critic Kennedy Stewart (Burnaby-Douglas).

The Parliamentary Science Officer Act, Bill C-558, introduced by Dr. Stewart will be a first practical step to mend the relationship between scientists and politicians, and will give public science a more robust voice in the federal government.

“For too long we have heard that scientific evidence is ignored by policy-makers and that federal scientists are being unduly prevented from sharing their research with Canadians. I’m proud that the scientific community is rallying behind the NDP’s proposal for a Parliamentary Science Officer,” said Dr. Stewart, an Associate Professor on-leave from Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy.

Endorsement Quotes

“Public interest science and smart government decision-making are essential for keeping Canadians safe, healthy and prosperous. Yet there is growing concerns that the role of science and evidence in informing smart policy decisions is being eroded. Creating a Parliamentary Science Officer to be a dedicated office that provides non-partisan, independent, objective, and readily available analysis of the science relevant for public policy issues would be a huge step in the right direction. It’s time for Canada to create a Parliamentary Science Officer to give science a stronger voice in the federal government.”

– Katie Gibbs, Executive Director, Evidence for Democracy

“Canadians and their elected representatives need unbiased and non-partisan advice on science policy. The Office of the National Science Advisor had been designed to fill this role, however imperfectly, until it was eliminated in 2008 by the Conservative government. One potential new approach would be to create a Parliamentary Science Officer that provides independent advice and analysis to Parliament about the adequacy and effectiveness of the nation’s scientific policies, priorities, and funding. Bill C-558 would bring evidence back to Parliament.”

– Sylvain Schetagne, Associate Executive Director, Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT)

“Federal scientists and researchers who inspect the food we eat, monitor our environment, approve our medications, and contribute to Canada’s innovative capacity have repeatedly and increasingly expressed concern with the direction of science in Canada in recent years. Restrictive communication policies, cuts to science programs and personnel, political interference in research, and the misuse of evidence are systematically dismantling Canada’s scientific capacity and placing the health and safety of Canadians at risk. The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), which represents over 15,000 federal scientists and researchers, endorses Bill C-558 to establish a Parliamentary Science Officer. The need for unbiased and independent advice on science policy is essential in order to protect the health and safety of Canadians and the environment.”

–  Debi Daviau, President, Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC)

“Parliament routinely makes decisions with mighty consequences for millions of Canadians.  For MPs to cast informed votes, and make smart spending and legislative judgements they need to have a dependable, independent sounding board.  The breadth of scientific research methodologies and sheer volume of accumulated knowledge about social, health, and physical sciences alone would be daunting even if food, drug, alcohol, and other vested interests weren’t also trying to bend the ears and steer the actions of MPs.  I urge all MPs to support the speedy passage of Bill C-558 – The Parliamentary Science Officer Act – in the short time remaining in the current session of Parliament.”

– Bill Jeffery, National Coordinator, Centre for Science in the Public Interest

“The state of Canada’s finances is important — but so is the state of Canada’s public interest science. Perhaps the time has come to create a well-resourced Parliamentary Science Officer (PSO), charged with providing independent analysis to Parliament on the state of Canada’s public interest science. Such an office would also provide an objective analysis of the current state of scientific understanding on a range of policy and legislative issues and, perhaps most importantly, synthesize and evaluate the scientific evidence relevant to policy or management alternatives. This oversight function would serve to expose instances where scientific evidence has been misrepresented or ignored, and highlight where there is simply little scientific evidence on which to draw. Does Canada need such an institution? Yes, desperately.”

– Paul Dufour, former Executive Director of the Office of the National Science Advisor; Fellow and Adjunct Professor with the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa.

While many sectors of the Canadian scientific community are distressed at the government’s approach to science, in particular, environmental science, there are some sectors that are content. I’d suggest the Canadian physics community, for one,  is quite happy.

Finally getting to the the second item noted in the headline, David Bruggeman’s Nov. 28, 2014 post concerns a change for a parliamentary officer position already in place, the Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO), Note: Links have been removed,

This commentary in The Toronto Star notes a plan by the Canadian government to change the status of the country’s Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO).  Part of the current omnibus budget legislation before the Canadian Parliament, the Officer would no longer be the chief executive of the Public Health Agency (PHA), but simply an officer.  A President would be appointed to run the PHA.  Presumably this would mean that the President would become the public health face of the agency and the government, with the CPHO holding a strictly advisory role.

A Nov. 12, 2014 article by Kelly Grant in the Globe and Mail describes the proposed new roles for the CPHO and the PHA president,

The proposed changes, which are tucked into Ottawa’s most recent omnibus budget bill, would make the top doctor an “officer” who would keep providing scientific advice to the health minister but who would no longer be deputy head of the agency.

That role would now be carried out by a president, a new post that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already recommended be filled by Krista Outhwaite, the civil servant who led the agency while the government left the chief public health officer job vacant for 16 months.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose says the idea for the new structure came from the agency itself and that it “makes a lot of common sense” to permanently relieve the busy top doctor, Gregory Taylor, of the burden of overseeing 2,500 employees and a $615-million budget.

The change would leave him to concentrate on the rest of the job’s original mandate, namely providing public-health advice to the government, delivering health messages to Canadians and co-ordinating with provinces and international health bodies, as he has done recently in preparing the country for potential cases of Ebola.

“He will focus primarily on communicating and engaging in public-health issues,” Ms. Ambrose said.

Interestingly, Dr. Taylor, the current CPHO incumbent, did not offer any quotes for this article and was not able to be interviewed on the matter although he does seem amenable to this new structure. It would appear the change has already occurred in practice; the proposed legislation will merely legitimize it (from Grant’s article),

He [Taylor] became the acting chief public health officer after David Butler-Jones, the first person to hold the job, suffered a stroke in May, 2012 and formally stepped down in June of 2013. Ms. Outhwaite, who is not a medical doctor, was temporarily made deputy head of the agency in May 2012, a post she has held since.

Dr. Taylor, meanwhile, was officially elevated to the role of chief public health officer on Sept. 24 [2014]. Under the existing legislation, that job is still designated as the agency deputy head. In an interview with The Globe and Mail that day [Sept. 24, 2014], he said the stopgap approach of running the agency in co-operation with Ms. Outhwaite had been working very well.

According to Grant’s article, Taylor has acquitted himself well as a national spokesperson on public health issues concerning Canadians. However, this is a rather disturbing omission with regard to Ebola and the processing of visa applications from three countries hard hit by the disease in West Africa,

… Since his [Dr. Gregory Taylor’s] appointment, he has appeared alongside Ms. Ambrose [Health Minister Rona Ambrose] at several news conferences on Ebola, taking questions and offering calm and common-sense advice about the virus.

The exception to that has been the government’s controversial decision to stop processing visa applications from the three West African countries hardest hit by Ebola, a move that the World Health Organization says is not supported by the science and runs afoul of International Health Regulations.

Dr. Taylor has not spoken publicly on the matter and the Public Health Agency of Canada has referred all questions about the policy to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, which oversees visa rules.

Questions as to whether Dr. Taylor had privately provided advice to the government on this matter were left unanswered.

It seems odd that Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer has no comment about visa applications from three West African countries not being processed due to the Ebola outbreak when this decision is contrary to scientific evidence and international regulations. What is a CPHO for if not to offer advice and commentary based on scientific evidence?

Science advice tidbits: Canada and New Zealand

Eight months after the fact, I find out from the Canadian Science Policy Centre website that a private member’s bill calling for the establishment of a parliamentary science officer was tabled (November 2013) in Canada’s House of Commons. From a Nov. 21, 2013 article by Ivan Semeniuk for the Globe and Mail,

With the Harper government facing continued criticism from many quarters over its policies towards science, the opposition has announced it wants to put in place a parliamentary champion to better shield government researchers and their work from political misuse.

In a private member’s bill to be tabled next week the NDP [New Democratic Party] science and technology critic, Kennedy Stewart, calls for the establishment of a parliamentary science officer reporting not to the government nor to the Prime Minister’s office, but to Parliament as a whole.

The role envisioned in the NDP bill is based in part on a U.K. model and is similar in its independence to that of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. The seven-year, one-term appointment would also work in concert with other federal science advisory bodies, including the Science, Technology and Innovation Council – which provides confidential scientific advice to the government but not to Parliament – and the Council of Canadian Academies, which provides publicly accessible information related to science policy but does not make recommendations.

Speaking to a room mainly filled with science policy professionals, Dr. Stewart drew applause for the idea but also skepticism about whether such an ambitious multi-faceted role could be realistically achieved or appropriately contained within one job.

Stewart was speaking about his private member’s bill at the 2013 Canadian Science Policy Conference held in Toronto, Ontario from Nov. 20 – 22, 2013.

More recently and in New Zealand, a national strategic plan for science in society was released (h/t to James Wilsdon’s twitter feed). From a July 29, 2014 Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor media release,

With today’s [July 29, 2014] launch of A Nation of Curious Minds, the national strategic plan for science in society by Ministers Joyce and Parata [Minister of Science and Innovation, Hon Steven Joyce, and Minister of Education, Hon Hekia Parata ], Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor,called it an important next step in a journey. Sir Peter was Chair of the National Science Challenges Panel that recommended Government take action in this area, and was Chair of the Reference Group that advised on the plan.

Sir Peter noted that a stand-out feature of the plan is that it does not simply put the onus on the public – whether students, families, or communities – to become better informed about science. Rather, there is a clear indication of the responsibility of the science sector and the role of the media in making research more accessible and relevant to all New Zealanders. “It is a two-way conversation,” said Sir Peter. “Scientists can no longer assume that their research direction and their results are of interest only to their peers, just as the public and governments need to better understand the types of answers that they can and cannot expect from science.”

The plan also calls for a Participatory Science Platform. Curiosity aroused, I chased down more information, From p. 31 (PDF) of New Zealand’s national strategic plan for science in society,

The participatory science platform builds on traditional concepts in citizen science and enhances these through collaborative approaches more common to community-based participatory research. [emphasis mine] Participatory science is a method of undertaking scientific research where volunteers can be meaningfully involved in research in collaboration with science professionals (including post- graduate students or researchers and private sector scientists) and builds on international models of engagement.

The goal is to involve schools/kura and/or community-based organisations such as museums and associations in projects with broad appeal, that have both scientific value and pedagogical rigour, and that resonate with the community. In addition, several ideas are being tested for projects of national significance that would integrate with the National Science Challenges and be national in reach.

The participatory science platform has the potential to:

›offer inspiring and relevant learning opportunities for students and teachers
›engage learners and participants beyond the school/kura community to reach parents, whānau
and wider communities
›offer researchers opportunities to become involved in locally relevant  lines of enquiry, where data can be enriched by the local knowledge and contribution of citizens.

The participatory science platform is built on four core components and incorporates mātauranga

1. A process that seeks ideas for participatory science projects both from the community (including early childhood education services and kōhanga reo, schools/kura, museums and other organisations, Kiwi authorities or community associations) and from science professionals (from post-graduate students to principal investigators in both the public and private sectors
2. A managed process for evaluating these ideas for both pedagogical potential (in the case of schools/kura) and scientific quality, and for ensuring their practicality and relevance to the participating partners (science sector and community-based)
3. A web-based match-making process between interested community-based partners and science professionals
4. A resource for teachers and other community or learning leaders to assist in developing their projects to robust standards.

The platform’s website will serve as a match-making tool between scientists and potential community-based partners seeking to take part in a research project by offering a platform for community-initiated and scientist-initiated research.

A multi-sectoral management and review panel will be established to maintain quality control over the programme and advise on any research ethics requirements.

All projects will have an institutional home which will provide a coordination role. This could be a school, museum, zoo, science centre, iwi office or research institute, university or other tertiary

The projects will be offered as opportunities for community-based partners to participate in scientific research as a way to enhance their local input, their science knowledge and their interest,
and (in the case of schools) to strengthen learning programmes through stronger links to relevant learning environments and expertise.

Once matches are made between community-based partners and scientists, these partners would self-direct their involvement in carrying out the research according to an agreed plan and approach.

A multi-media campaign will accompany the launch of programme, and a dedicated website/social media site will provide a sustained channel of communication for ideas that continue to emerge. It will build on the momentum created by the Great New Zealand Science Project and leverages the legacy of that project, including its Facebook page. [emphasis mine]

To enable more sophisticated projects, a limited number of seed grants will be made available to help foster a meaningful level of community involvement. The seed grants will part-fund science professionals and community/school groups to plan together the research question, data collection, analysis and knowledge translation strategy for the project. In addition, eligible costs could include research tools or consumables that would not otherwise be accessible to community partners.

I admire the ambitiousness and imagination of the Participatory Science Platform project and hope that it will be successful. As for the rest of the report, there are 52 pp. in the PDF version for those who want to pore over it.

For anyone unfamiliar (such as me) with the Great New Zealand Science Project, it was a public consultation where New Zealanders were invited to submit ideas and comments about science to the government.  As a consequence of the project, 10 research areas were selected as New Zealand’s National Science Challenges. From a June 25, 2014 government update,

On 1 May 2013 Prime Minister John Key and Hon Steven Joyce, Minister of Science and Innovation, announced the final 10 National Science Challenges.

The ten research areas identified as New Zealand’s first National Science Challenges are:

Ageing well – harnessing science to sustain health and wellbeing into the later years of life …

A better start – improving the potential of young New Zealanders to have a healthy and successful life …

Healthier lives – research to reduce the burden of major New Zealand health problems …

High value nutrition – developing high value foods with validated health benefits …

New Zealand’s biological heritage – protecting and managing our biodiversity, improving our biosecurity, and enhancing our resilience to harmful organisms …

Our land and water  – Research to enhance primary sector production and productivity while maintaining and improving our land and water quality for future generations …

Sustainable seas – enhance utilisation of our marine resources within environmental and biological constraints.

The deep south – understanding the role of the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean in determining our climate and our future environment …

Science for technological innovation – enhancing the capacity of New Zealand to use physical and engineering sciences for economic growth …

Resilience to nature’s challenges – research into enhancing our resilience to natural disasters …

The release of “A Nation of Curious Minds, the national strategic plan for science in society” is timely, given that the 2014 Science Advice to Governments; a global conference for leading practitioners is being held mere weeks away in Auckland, New Zealand (Aug. 28, – 29, 2014).

In Canada, we are waiting for the Council of Canadian Academies’ forthcoming assessment  The State of Canada’s Science Culture, sometime later in 2014. The assessment is mentioned at more length here in the context of a Feb. 22, 2013 posting where I commented on the expert panel assembled to investigate the situation and write the report.

2013 (5th annual) Canadian Science Policy Conference announces some new (for this year) initiatives

An Oct. 29, 2013  announcement highlights some of the speakers you can expect at the 2013 (5th annual) Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) being held in Toronto, Ontario from Nov. 20 – 22, 2013. The conference whose overarching theme is ScienceNext: Incubating Innovation and Ingenuity features (Note: I have bolded this year’s new initiatives),,

CSPC 2013 Welcomes Minister Rickford:
We are thrilled to announce that the Honourable Greg Rickford, [Canada’s] Minister of State (Science and Technology, and Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario) will speak at CSPC 2013, more details to follow. Be sure not to miss it, register now!

Are you the next Rick Mercer? Bill Nye?
CSPC presents its first ever humorous speech contest, Whose Science is it Anyway? Thursday, November 21st at 9pm. To enter, send your name, contact info and 2-3 lines about your story to aanchal.kamra@gmail.com. Attractive prizes to be won! Deadline: 5pm, Friday, Nov. 15 (Finalists will be notified Monday, Nov. 18)

CSPC is now Accepting Donations:
We are quite pleased to announce that with the generous support from Ryerson University, CSPC can issue charitable tax receipts for donations. If you wish to donate please contact us or visit cspc2013.ca for more details. www.cspc2013.ca


• 600+ participants, 28 panel sessions, 150+ speakers including:

– Hon. Reza Moridi, MPP,Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation

– John Knubley, Deputy Minister, Industry Canada

– Robert Hardt, President and CEO, Siemens Canada Limited

– Wendy Cukier, Vice President of Research and Innovation, Ryerson University

– Pierre Meulien, President and CEO, Genome Canada

– Paul Young, Vice President Research, University of Toronto

More exciting names are being added to the Program.

Inauguration of the Awards of Excellence in Science Policy – a first in Canada

• 3 pre conference full day workshops/symposiums

– Science Policy Nuts and Bolts
– Science Diplomacy
– Communication of Science


• The Honourable Michael H. Wilson, Chairman, Barclays Capital Canada Inc. and Chancellor, University of Toronto

• Mandy Shapansky, President and Chief Executive Officer, Xerox Canada Ltd.


• Private Sector R&D and Innovation: New Realities and New Models

• Emerging Trends: Science & Technology in International Trade and Diplomacy

• Science and Technology Communication

• Graduate Studies and Research Training: Prospects in a Changing Environment

• Emerging Issues in Canadian Science Policy

A couple of comments. I notice that Member of Parliament (NDP) Kennedy Stewart,, the Official Opposition Critic for Science and Technology, and member of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, is included as a feature speaker this year. Last year (2012), he held an impromptu, after official conference presentation hours sessions on science policy. Good to see that he’s been included in the official programme for 2013. Perhaps next year (2014) will see the Liberal critic for Science and Technology. Ted Hsu as a speaker.

Pierre Lapointe is another speaker whose name caught my attention as he is the President and Chief Executive Officer of FPInnovations, one of the partners behind CelluForce (the other partner is Domtar), the Canadian nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC, aka, cellulose nanocrystals, CNC) initiative. In my Oct. 3, 2013 posting,  I noted that CelluForce had stopped producing NCC as they had a stockpile of the product. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there’ll be any mention of the stockpile since Lapointe is on a panel organized by Genome Canada and titled: The complexity of driving the bio-economy: Genomics, Canada’s natural resources and private-public collaborations.

What kind of science do we want? A few thoughts on the National Research Council of Canada and its new dedication to business

Last week in its May 7, 2013 news release, the National Research Council of Canada flung open the doors of its closet and declared itself ‘open for business’,

The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) has transformed into an industry-focused research and technology organization. The refocused NRC will work with Canadian industries to bridge technology gaps, helping build a more innovative Canadian economy.

“NRC plays a pivotal role at the heart of Canada’s innovation system,” said the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Science and Technology). “The refocused NRC will provide Canadian industries with access to strategic research and development, technical services and specialized scientific infrastructure they need to succeed.”

“The Government’s top priority is jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for all Canadians,” said the Honourable Claude Carignan, Deputy Leader of the Government at the Senate. “By refocusing the NRC into a research and technology organization, our Government is ensuring that Canadian firms have the instruments and tools they need to become even more successful on the global stage.”

The refocused NRC will support Canadian industries by investing in large-scale research projects that are directed by and for Canadian business. It will also develop international networks to ensure timely access to primary research and will open the doors to world class scientific infrastructure, technical expertise and people.

“We are very excited about this change. Our organization is now easier for business to understand and access,” said John R. McDougall, President of the National Research Council. “We are committed to being a strong partner for innovation, and focused on achieving the concrete outcomes that will contribute to a stronger and more prosperous Canada. We will measure our success by the success of our clients.”

Research and technology organizations are mission-oriented providers of innovation services to firms and governments, dedicated to building economic competitiveness and, in doing so, improving quality of life. The refocused NRC will strengthen Canadian industry by encouraging more business investment to develop innovative products and services.

Response has ranged from mild interest to apoplexy and heartbreak.

Phil Plait, a US astronomer and creator of the Bad Astronomy blog/book/website, has opined in a May 13, 2013 posting at Slate.com (Note: A link has been removed),

This is not a joke. I wish it were.

John MacDougal [sic], President of the NRC, literally said, “Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value”. Gary Goodyear, the Canadian Minister of State for Science and Technology, also stated “There is [sic] only two reasons why we do science and technology. First is to create knowledge … second is to use that knowledge for social and economic benefit. Unfortunately, all too often the knowledge gained is opportunity lost.”

This is monumentally backwards thinking. That is not the reason we do science. Economic benefits are results of doing research, but should not be the reason we do it. Basic scientific research is a vast endeavor, and some of it will pay off economically, and some won’t. In almost every case, you cannot know in advance which will do which.

… If proposed and immediate economic benefits are the prime factors in choosing what science to fund, then the freedom of this human endeavor will be critically curtailed. It’s draining the passion and heart out of one of the best things we humans do.

This intensity suggests that Plait is unaware that the changeover has been taking place over a number of years. Hannah Hoag in an April 19, 2011 piece for Nature magazine noted this about the changeover which was even then taking place,

Canada’s largest research entity has a new focus — and some disaffected scientists. On 1 April [2011], the National Research Council (NRC), made up of more than 20 institutes and programmes with a total annual budget larger than Can$1 billion (US$1 billion), switched to a funding strategy that downplays basic research in favour of programmes designed to attract industry partners and generate revenue. [emphasis mine] Some researchers suggest that the shift is politically driven, because it brings the agency into philosophical alignment with the governing Conservative Party of Canada, which is in the middle of an election campaign.

The change was announced in a memo from NRC president John McDougall on 2 March [2011], and involves the transfer of authority over 20% of the agency’s research funds and the entire Can$60-million budget for large equipment and building costs to the NRC’s senior executive committee, which will direct it towards research with a focus on economic development, rather than pure science. Until now, individual institutes have had authority over research spending. McDougall wrote that in future, 80% of the research budget will be centralized, with “curiosity and exploratory activities” to be funded by the remaining 20%.

In Canada, most funding for academic researchers flows through agencies other than the NRC. [emphasis mine] However, with 4,700 scientists, guest researchers, technologists and support staff pursuing specialities from astrophysics to plant biotechnology at its institutes, the NRC plays a vital part in the nation’s scientific community, as a generator of original research and a service provider to government and industry.

While I’m no friend of the current Canadian government or John McDougall for that matter, this is an attempt to dealt with a longstanding issue, Canada’s failure with industrial research. From the Feb. 27, 2013 article, which prefigures the current discussion by a little over two months, by Tom Spears  in the Ottawa Citizen,

In October [2012], members of the House of Commons Industry Committee challenged McDougall to justify the changes.

Now McDougall has responded that Canada’s economy can’t wait for slow advances.

As science investment has grown in Canada, “our productivity and competitiveness, as measured by various organizations in the world, has been going in exactly the opposite direction,” he said in an interview.

“The primary reason for that is entirely speculative … But it would appear that Canada’s balance is quite different from other countries.”

That means we’re good at academic research, he says. We’re not so good at putting new knowledge to work.

“We’re not doing the things that take technology and ‘productize’ it.” (He makes exceptions to that: We’re strong in informational technology and in space-related industries such as robotics and building satellites.)

And he argues the answer lies in involving industry with the research from the start “rather than shoving it down their throat and hoping they’ll take it.”

For example, one new “flagship program” at NRC is to develop wheat that will resist cold and drought better than today’s, require less fertilizer, and produce greater yields.

“The timeline for this kind of thing is in the order of seven or eight years, which left to normal — I’ll call it traditional approaches — would typically be 20,” he said.

A similar ‘Canada is poor at commercializing research’ theme is mentioned in a May 7, 2013 article by Barrie McKenna and Ivan Semeniuk for the Globe and Mail,

The National Research Council, which gave the country canola and the atomic clock, will now be taking its scientific cues from Canadian industry as part of a makeover of the country’s flagship research labs.

The overhaul, quietly begun two years ago and formally unveiled Tuesday, means the 97-year-old NRC will focus on a clutch of large-scale, business-driven research projects at the expense of the basic science that was once at its core. The Conservative government says it wants to leverage the NRC’s world-class resources – everything from wind tunnels and ice tanks to high-powered microscopes – to help reverse the country’s chronically lagging innovation performance.

“Our businesses are not doing the research that they need to do,” Gary Goodyear, the minister of state for science and technology, told reporters in Ottawa. “So something had to be done.”

The move is in keeping with the Conservative government’s emphasis on a business model for public policy, such as tying foreign aid to economic development. It is also another significant foray into the science file, with critics saying the new approach is shortsighted and may shut the door on vast areas of promising fundamental research.

Mr. Goodyear insisted the government isn’t abandoning basic science, just shifting its focus to commercializing discoveries. “The day is past when a researcher could hit a home run simply by publishing a paper on some new discovery,” he said. “The home run is when somebody utilizes the knowledge that was discovered for social or economic gain.”

As part of the overhaul, the NRC is consolidating its disparate operations into a dozen business units and will focus on just five core areas of research: health costs, manufacturing, community infrastructure, security, and natural resources and the environment. Companies, or industries, will be able to tap the NRC’s expertise and labs, while sharing the cost of projects – as well as the intellectual property that results.

“Our job is to change innovation performance,” NRC president John McDougall explained in an interview. “So we have to do the things that will make that happen. Discovery science is necessary, but it’s not sufficient.”

Kennedy Stewart, the NDP (New Democratic Party; the official opposition) Member of Parliament expresses his opinion in his May 7, 2013 news release,

“Conservative incompetence meets Conservative narrow-mindedness,” said NDP Science and Technology critic Kennedy Stewart (Burnaby–Douglas). “They don’t want research driven by researchers themselves or public funding for science going towards actual scientific advancement. Their short-sighted approach will in fact hurt economic growth in the long run because it shuts the door on the long-view fundamental research that truly leads to scientific breakthroughs.”

Widespread dissatisfaction among the over 4,000 NRC employees and the change of focus away from basic research, patents and publications will increase the drain of Canada’s best and brightest minds to other OECD countries that are investing in scientific research heavily. Under the Conservatives, Canada just can’t compete.

“The government has been handing pink slips to scores of NRC scientists and researchers, lowering the organization’s research capacity and devastating internal morale,” said Stewart.  “It is hard to see how business will get scientific advice from the NRC if they fire all the scientists. Who they keep will spend their time trying to get off this runaway train.”

As best as I can unravel, there are several issues in the material I have excerpted:

  • what is the right mix of science, basic to applied/industrial?
  • it’s widely acknowledged that Canadians have done more poorly in the area of industrial science than colleagues in other OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries
  • how do we address the issue?

The solution that the current Canadian government has arrived *at is impossible to assess at this point (although I have a guess as to the outcome) and something needed to be done with the National Research Council of Canada as noted in an April 7, 2010 posting on the Don’t leave Canada behind; Researcher Forum blog (I believe the writer was Rob Annan),

The NRC is a mess.

And the mess of the NRC neatly encapsulates much that’s wrong with Canadian science policy. No direction, no cohesion, multiple conflicting purposes.

Rob goes on to discuss the NRC’s mandate (Note: A link has been removed),

Well, the NRC is mandated, by the original NRC Act of 1916, “to undertaking, assisting or promoting scientific and industrial research in different fields of importance to Canada”. It did this very successfully into the 1960s, at which point, its greatest successes were carved out and handed to new organizations.

So what’s left? Well the NRC Act has a few specific mandates that the NRC fulfills: standards of measurement, manage observatories, investigate and standardize industrial materials, perform agricultural research, and maintain a national science library (which is under major financial stress, but let’s save that for another time). But the general mandate to “undertake, assist, or promote” scientific and industrial research is open to interpretation, and is a source of conflict.

I’m not sure if the NRC Act has been amended since 2010 to allow for these latest changes but Rob goes on to make, what is for me, a more interesting point (Note: A link has been removed),

But since the 1980s, the NRC has been without a strong sense of self. Is it a basic research organization or an applied research organization? Does it exist to perform independent, government-sponsored research, or does it provide research services in support of the private sector? Does it perform early-stage research and then partner with industry, or is it a fee-for-service research organization? The answer is yes.

The NRC is being pulled in too many directions.

What does our Minister of Industry [at the time, Tony Clement] have to say about the NRC?

NRC‘s aim is to bring timely solutions to market in areas of national importance: clean energy, health and wellness, and the environment. NRC will continue to partner with Canadian firms to deliver tangible, market-oriented results in high-impact and emerging industry sectors, such as the automotive sector.

But the NRC isn’t designed to do this – this is a different mandate than what is laid out in the Act. Which would be fine – maybe it’s time for a change – except that the NRC institutes have been, not surprisingly, built according to the mandate outlined in the NRC Act – as research laboratories, not product development laboratories or partnership incubators. And the people recruited to run these labs are scientists, not business-people. They want to do science, not chase down industrial partnerships in the automotive sector or take their clean energy products to market. They’ve been recruited for their scientific abilities; it’s a bit of a stretch to expect them also to be market innovators.

Furthermore, because the government does not fund the full cost of research at the institutes, these labs are dependent on research funding from external sources. If the funding was coming from Canadian business, then the vision of our Industry minister would be fulfilled. Unfortunately, Canadian business is notoriously averse to investing in academic or government research. So these labs are dependent on CIHR, NSERC, or private funding – mostly basic science funding. So, the government builds a system of research laboratories, forces them into dependence on basic science funding, and then complains that there isn’t enough market-driven research going on? [all emphases mine]

I realize that CIHR and NSERC funding programs have changed but the issue with Canadian business paying for research has not. It is, as I have noted in other pieces, a cultural issue with the key question being, How do you inculcate a business culture that innovates? What we have now is a ‘start-up’ culture where people found businesses based on exciting research and plan on growing those businesses to a point where they can be sold to larger companies from the US or Britain or elsewhere. Based on these comments, my guess is that the current changes to the NRC will not result in the ‘innovation’ the government has repeatedly stated is its primary goal since our basic business culture will remain untouched. One last thing, I think people are going to figure out how to game this new NRC.

*at added on May 22, 2013