Tag Archives: Kennedy Stewart

Hot off the email: Member of Parliament Kennedy Stewart and legislating protection for Canadian science

After narrowly winning his seat in the Oct. 19, 2015 election, Kennedy Stewart is busy back at work as science critic/shadow minister for the NDP (New Democratic Party). Today (Nov. 26, 2015), he made this announcement at the 2015 Canadian Science Policy Conference (Nov. 25 – 27), from the Nov. 26, 2015 email,

NDP will re-table legislation to give public science a stronger voice in government

OTTAWA – During the Canadian Science Policy Conference, NDP Science Critic Kennedy Stewart called on the new Liberal government to enshrine scientific freedom into law and announced the opposition’s concrete proposals to defend evidence-based policy.

“After years of muzzling, mismanagement, and misuse of research by the Conservatives, our scientists need lasting protections in order to finally turn the page on the lost Harper decade,” said Dr. Stewart, an Associate Professor on leave from Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy. “The new Minister for Science should get to work drafting ethics legislation that unequivocally ensures the open communication of scientific research throughout government.”

MP Stewart will re-table two key science proposals when Parliament returns in December.

“Canada needs a new science advisor that is independent of the government and reports directly to Parliament,” continued Dr. Stewart. “Their mandate needs to be comprehensive and protected by law – like the NDP’s proposal for a Parliamentary Science Officer.”

I have written about Kennedy Stewart and his reproposed Parliamentary Science Officer legislation previously in a Dec. 1, 2014 posting which provides more information on how that position differs from the Chief Science Officer position to be filled shortly if I’ve understood the priorities in Kirsty Duncan’s Minister of Science mandate letter properly (Nov. 17, 2015 posting) but the reproposed scientific integrity legislation is new to me.

Reactions to Canada’s 2015 election Liberal majority and speculations about science and the new cabinet

The euphoria is dying down and, on balance, there was surprisingly little, the tone being more one of optimism laced with caution on the occasion of the Conservative’s defeat at the hands of the Liberal party in the Oct. 19, 2015 Canadian federal election.

Of course the big question for me and other Canadian science bloggers is:

What about science in the wake of the 2015 Liberal majority government in Canada?

I’ve gathered bits and pieces from various published opinions on the topic. First, there’s Brian Owen, a freelance writer in St. Stephen, New Brunswick (there’s more about him in my Aug. 18, 2015 posting about the upcoming Canadian Science Policy Conference to be held Nov. 25 -27, 2015 in Ottawa [Canada’s capital]) in an Oct. 20, 2015 opinion piece for ScienceInsider,

Many Canadian scientists are celebrating the result of yesterday’s federal election, which saw Stephen Harper’s Conservative government defeated after nearly 10 years in power.

The center-left Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau won an unexpected majority government, taking 184 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons. The Conservatives will form the opposition with 99 seats, while the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) fell to third place with just 44 seats.

“Many scientists will be pleased with the outcome,” says Jim Woodgett, director of research at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. “The Liberal party has a strong record in supporting science.” [emphasis mine]

I don’t think the Liberal record is that great. If I understand it rightly, the first muzzle placed on government scientists was applied by a then Liberal government to Health Canada. That’s right the Conservatives got the idea from the Liberals and it’s not the only one they got from that source. Omnibus bills were also pioneered by the Liberal government.

However, hope still springs in mine and others’ bosoms as can be seen in an Oct. 21, 2015 essay in the Guardian (UK newspaper) by Michael Halpern of the Center for Science and Democracy at the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists  (Note: Links have been removed),

There was a palpable outpouring of relief from Canadian scientists as the Liberal Party won a majority on Monday night [Oct. 19, 2015], bringing to an end nine years of escalating hostility by the Harper government towards its own research base. Drastic cuts to funding and constraints on scientific freedom have significantly damaged Canadian research and its capacity to develop science-based public health and environmental policies.

Eight hundred scientists from thirty-two countries wrote an open letter urging the prime minster to ease restrictions on scientists and data. In October 2014, a Ryerson University professor wrote in Science magazine that the election presented an “opportunity to reboot the federal government’s controversial approach to science policy and research.”

All of this advocacy worked. Science became a major campaign issue during the election. There were all-party debates on science policy and extensive media coverage. The Green, Liberal and NDP platforms included significant commitments to restore science to its rightful place in society and public policy.

“We’ll reverse the $40 million cut that Harper made to our federal ocean science and monitoring programs,” said Liberal leader Justin Trudeau at a September campaign stop. “The war on science ends with the liberal government.” In tweet after tweet after tweet, opposition candidates argued that they were best positioned to defend scientific integrity.

Now that it’s been elected with a healthy majority, the Liberal Party says it will make data openly available, unmuzzle scientists, bring back the long form census, appoint a chief science officer, and make the agency Statistics Canada fully independent.

In the United States, many celebrated the end of the Bush administration in 2008, thinking that its restrictions on science would evaporate the moment that the Obama administration took office. It wasn’t true. There has been significant progress in protecting scientists from political influence. But the public has still lacked access to scientific information on multiple environmental and public health issues.

So who will keep watch over the new government, as it’s forced to choose among its many priorities? Canadian unions, scientists, policy experts and activists need to continue to push for real change. It’s up to those who care most about science and democracy to keep Trudeau on his toes.

Returning to Owen’s article, there are more pledges from the new Liberal government,

… Trudeau has also said his party will embrace “evidence based policy” and “data-driven decision-making,”  do more to address climate change, protect endangered species, and review the environmental impact of major energy and development projects.

Woodgett welcomes those pledges, but warns that they would not address the larger issue of what he sees as the government’s neglect of basic research funding. “I hope we will see less short-term thinking and much greater support for discovery research going forward,” he says. “We are at serious risk of a lost generation of scientists and it’s critical that younger researchers are given a clear indication that Canada is open to their ideas and needs.”

Science advocates plan to watch the new government closely to ensure it lives up to its promises. “Great to see Harper gone, but another majority is an awfully big blank cheque,” wrote Michael Rennie, a freshwater ecologist at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, on Twitter.

David Bruggeman in a cautionary Oct. 22, 2015 posting (on his Pasco Phronesis blog) sums things up in this title: Will New Canadian Government Be The Change Its Scientists Can Believe In? (Note: Links have been removed),

… Only one of the four party representatives at the recent science and technology debate managed to win a seat in the upcoming Parliament.  MP Marc Garneau will remain in Parliament, and his experience in the Canadian Space Agency means he may be able to better manage the changes sought in official government (as opposed to Parliamentary) policy.

The Conservatives will now shift to being the Official Opposition (the largest party not in power).  However, the current cabinet minister responsible for science and technology, and at least two of his predecessors, lost their seats.  The party that was the Official Opposition, the New Democratic Party (NDP), lost several seats, returning to the third largest party in Parliament.  (However, they appear to be a more natural ally for the Liberals than the Conservatives) MP Kennedy Stewart, who has championed the establishment of a Parliamentary Science Officer, barely retained his seat.  He will likely remain as the NDP science critic.

… While the policies on media access to government scientists are part of this trend, they may not be the first priority for Trudeau and his cabinet.  It may turn out to be something similar to the transition from the Bush to the Obama Administrations.  Changes to policies concerning so-called political interference with science were promised, but have not gotten the thorough commitment from the Obama Administration that some would have liked and/or expected.

As David notes. we lost significant critical voices when those Conservative MPs failed to get re-elected.

In a post-election Oct. 24, 2015 posting, Sarah Boon offers a call to action on her Watershed Moments blog (Note: Links have been removed),

I think it’s important to realize, however, that the work doesn’t end here.

Canadian scientists found their voice in the run up to the election, but they’d better not lose it now.

In a pre-election editorial on the Science Borealis Blog, Pascal Lapointe suggested that – after the election – the organizations that worked so hard to make science an election issue should join forces and keep pushing the government to keep science as a top priority. These groups include Evidence for Democracy, the Science Integrity Project, Get Science Right, Our Right to Know, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, and more.

Finally, there’s an Oct. 20, 2015 posting by Canadians Julia Whidden and Rachel Skubel on the Southern Fried Science blog explaining the Canadian election to American colleagues in what begins in a facey style which, thankfully and quickly, switches to informative and opinionated (Note: They have nothing good to say about the Conservatives and science),

Up until this past year, the thought of Canadian politics had probably never crossed your mind. For some of you, your introduction to the topic may have been via the astute criticisms of John Oliver published this past weekend. His YouTube video currently skyrocketing at just under 3 million views in less than 48 hours, may have even been the introduction to Canadian politics for some Canadians. Let’s face it: in comparison to the flashy and sometimes trashy race of our neighbors to the south (ahem, you Americans), Canadian politics are usually tame, boring, and dry. …

We present a few major issues related to marine science and conservation that Harper either dragged down or destroyed, and the complementary response by our new PM Trudeau from his platform. …

Based on the Liberals party’s platform, and their statements throughout the last year, here’s a taste of the contrasts between old and new:

Harper/Conservatives Trudeau/Liberals
Marine Protected AreasCommitted in 2011 to protect 10% of Canada’s coastal marine and coastal areas by 2020 under the International Convention on Biodiversity, but is lagging at a meager 1.3% – and only 0.11% is fully closed to “extractive activities.” 




Proposed MPAs have been stalled by inaction, failure to cooperate by the federal government or stakeholders, and overall a system which needs an infusion of resources – not cuts – to meet ambitious goals.

“We will increase the amount of Canada’s marine and coastal areas that are protected from 1.3 percent to 5 percent by 2017, and 10 percent by 2020.” Liberal Party’s Protecting our Oceans mandate

There is a bit of misinformation in the Southern Fried Science posting,

The National Research Council (NRC) is Canada’s equivalent of America’s National Science Foundation (NSF).

The closest analogue to the US National Science Foundation is Canada’s Tri-Council Agencies comprised of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Next step: appointing a cabinet

Oddly, I haven’t found anyone speculating as to what will happen to science when Justin Trudeau announces his cabinet. He has already stated that his cabinet will be significantly smaller than Stephen Harper’s cabinet of 39 ministers. Numbers for the new cabinet range from 25 to 28 to 30. The largest proposed Trudeau cabinet (30) is almost 25% less than the previous one. Clearly, some ministries will have to go or be combined with other ones.

I’m guessing that Science, which is considered a junior ministry, will be rolled into another ministry, possibly Industry, to be renamed, Industry and Science. Or, by appointing a Chief Science Advisor, Trudeau trumpets the new importance of science with this special status and disburses the Science Ministry responsibilities amongst a variety of ministries.

In any event, I look forward to finding out later this week (Nov. 2 – 6, 2015) whether either or neither of my predictions comes true.

*Canadian cabinet update: To see how I got it both wrong and right see my Nov.4, 2015 posting.

ETA Nov. 5, 2015: I found one more piece for this roundup, an Oct. 22, 2015 article by Helen Carmichael for Chemistry World published by the UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry (Note: Links have been removed),

There will likely be a shift in the Canadian government’s target research areas towards areas such as green energy and away from fossil fuels, observers say. In addition, they expect that the Trudeau government will be more hands off when it comes to the science that it funds – giving money to the granting councils and trusting them to disburse those funds via peer review. …

The way that science is funded – the politicisation of science – will be less of an issue for the next while,’ says John Brennan, a chemistry and chemical biology professor at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, who directs the school’s Biointerfaces Institute.

Trudeau and his Liberal party have promised to appoint a chief science officer similar to the national science adviser position that the Harper government eliminated in 2008. Canada’s new chief science officer would report to the prime minister and ensure that government science is available to the public, that all the country’s scientists are able to speak freely about their work and that scientific analyses are considered when the Canadian government develops policy. The Trudeau government has also said that it will create a central online portal for government-funded scientific research to enable greater public access.

The Liberals offer quite a different vision for the Canadian economy than the Conservatives, planning to run short-term budget deficits to increase government spending on public infrastructure, and to return the country to a balanced budget in 2019–20. The party has committed to C$25 million (£12 million) in funding for National Parks and reversing budget cuts to government ocean science and monitoring programmes.

In addition to proposing initiatives to increase business investment in research and development, the Liberals want a tax credit, and will invest C$200 million annually to support innovation in the forestry, fisheries, mining, energy and agriculture sectors. Public science is particularly important in Canada, where the private sector funds a much lower proportion of research than most industrialised nations.

Provincial governments own Canada’s natural resources, with fossil fuel production largely in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Energy production is a major part of the Canadian economy. Trudeau has committed to set up a C$2 billion fund to help the country transition to a low carbon economy, but meanwhile he is not expected to withdraw support for the proposed Alberta to Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Incoming president and chief executive of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC), Bob Masterson, recently told Chemistry World that rapid policy decisions by Canadian governments and retailers, without sufficient consultation with industry, are not advantageous or based on sound science. He described missed opportunities for the Canadian chemical industry to engage with regulators, coupled with a lack of coordination between various tiers of Canada’s national and regional regulations. On key issues, such as Canada’s Chemical Management Plan, global trade and maintaining competitive corporate tax rates, Masterson says the CIAC believes the liberal positions represent continuity rather than change from the previous government.

Carmichael’s offers a good overview and is the only one of *three* (the others* being from David Bruggeman *and Michael Halpern*) analyses  I’ve found, that are being written by people who are not navel gazing.

*’two’ changed to ‘three’, ‘other’ changed to ‘others’, and ‘and Michael Halpern’ added 1250 PST on Nov. 5, 2015.

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!

ETA Oct. 14, 2015:  There’s been some commentary about the Quirks & Quarks debate elsewhere. First, there’s David Bruggeman’s Oct. 13, 2015 post on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),

Chalk it up to being a Yank who doesn’t give Canadian science policy his full attention, but one thing (among several) I learned from the recent Canadian cross-party science debate concerns open access policy.

As I haven’t posted anything on Canadian open access policies since 2010, clearly I need to catch up.  I am assuming Goodyear is referring to the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy, introduced in February by his successor as Minister of State for Science and Technology.  It applies to all grants issued from May 1, 2015 and forward (unless the work was already applicable to preexisting government open access policy), and applies most of the open access policy of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) to the other major granting agencies (the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada).

The policy establishes that grantees must make research articles coming from their grants available free to the public within 12 months of publication. …

Then, there’s Michael Rennie, an Assistant Professor at Lakehead University and a former Canadian government scientist whose Oct. 14, 2015 posting on his unmuzzled science blog notes this,

This [Gary Goodyear’s debate presentation] pissed me off so much it made me come out of retirement on this blog.

Listening to Gary Goodyear (Conservative representative, and MP in Cambridge and former Minister of State for Science and Technology), I became furious with the level of misinformation given. …

Rennie went ahead and Storified the twitter responses to the Goodyear’s comments (Note: Links have been removed),

Here’s my Storify of tweets that help clarify a good deal of the misinformation Gary Goodyear presented during the debate, as well as some rebuttals from folks who are in the know: I was a Canadian Government Scientist with DFO [Department of Fisheries and Oceans] from 2010-2014, and was a Research Scientist at the Experimental Lakes Area [ELA], who heard about the announcement regarding the intention of the government to close the facility first-hand on the telephone at ELA.

Goodyear: “I was involved in that decision. With respect to the Experimental Lakes, we never said we would shut it down. We said that we wanted to transfer it to a facility that was better suited to operate it. And that’s exactly what we’ve done. Right now, DFO is up there undertaking some significant remediation effects to clean up those lakes that are contaminated by the science that’s been going on up there. We all hope these lakes will recover soon so that science and experimentation can continue but not under the federal envelope. So it’s secure and it’s misleading to suggest that we were trying to stop science there.”
There’s so many inaccuracies in here, it’s hard to know where to start. First, Goodyear’s assertion that there are “contaminated lakes” at ELA is nonsense. Experiments conducted there are done using environmentally-relevant exposures; in other words, what you’d see going on somewhere else on earth, and in every case, each lake has recovered to it’s natural state, simply by stopping the experiment.

Second, there ARE experiments going on at ELA currently, many of which I am involved in; the many tours, classes and researchers on site this year can attest to this.

Third, this “cleanup” that is ongoing is to clean up all the crap that was left behind by DFO staff during 40 years of experiments- wood debris, old gear, concrete, basically junk that was left on the shorelines of lakes. No “lake remediation” to speak of.

Fourth, the conservative government DID stop science at ELA- no new experiments were permitted to begin, even ones that were already funded and on the books like the nanosilver experiment which was halted until 2014, jeopardizing the futures the futures of many students involved. Only basic monitoring occurred between 2012-2014.

Last, the current government deserves very little credit for the transfer of ELA to another operator; the successful move was conceived and implemented largely by other people and organizations, and the attempts made by the government to try and move the facility to a university were met with incredulity by the deans and vice presidents invited to the discussion.

There’s a lot more and I strongly recommend reading Rennie’s Storify piece.

It was unfortunate that the representatives from the other parties were not able to seriously question Goodyear’s points.

Perhaps next time (fingers crossed), the representatives from the various parties will be better prepared. I’d also like to suggest that there be some commentary from experts afterwards in the same way the leaders’ debates are followed by commentary. And while I’m dreaming, maybe there could be an opportunity for phone-in or Twitter questions.

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.