Tag Archives: Liberal Party

Science policy an issue in the Canada 2011 election?

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.

For anyone interested in asking candidates about their position on science and science policies, Peer Review Radio; Bringing Science Back to the People, will be webcasting interviews with four candidates from difference parties and constituencies (in the Ottawa region) and they are inviting questions both from Canadians and ‘informed World Citizens’ to be submitted by Weds., April 20, 2011. The interviews will be broadcast April 21 – 25, 2011. Here’s some more information about Peer Review Radio,

Science plays an increasing role in our daily lives, yet the average North American receives less than a minute of science news for every five hours of cable TV.

Peer Review Radio was established by a group of motivated graduate students with a desire to spread their love of science. By breaking down complicated concepts into bite-sized morcels, the ‘Peers’ hope to spark the curiosity of their listeners with relevant, reliable information. The end goal of this programme is to provide an outlet where anyone and everyone can understand current scientific issues and generate their own informed opinions. In addition, Peer Review Radio promotes careers in research and science and serves as a training ground for future scientists to acquire invaluable communication skills.

If you feel you need more information or a refresher, I’ve got some summaries and portions of commentaries culled from other blogs about the science policy and party platforms for the Canadian 2011 election.

For an overall analysis of what the various political parties are offering, you can check out Rob Annan’s April 11, 2011 posting where he offers an overview and specifics of the various parties’ research policy as described in their election platforms. The overviews have been excerpted, if you’re interested in reading the specifics, please see Rob’s posting,

The Conservative plan (pdf here) is slightly more detailed than the others, as they’ve rolled their recently tabled budget into their platform. The platform document includes a subsection devoted to R&D, in which they trumpet their track record (e.g. “made substantial new investments in R&D through Canada’s granting councils”, which I guess is technically true if you ignore the funding cuts that preceded – and exceeded – said “investments”).

The Liberals (pdf here) are pretty ambiguous about research policy, though they do have one idea that may be innovative (though probably isn’t).

The NDP (platform pdf here) doesn’t seem to have much of a plan for research, with nary a mention in the platform. Weird.

The Greens’ platform (pdf here) is described in detail in their Vision Green document, which includes their goals up to 2020. Of all platforms, it contains the most research-related content, and it is the most descriptive. Unlike the others, it also describes something akin to a “vision” for research in this country, which is predictably aligned with environmental and social justice politics. Oddly, this means that health research, a multi-billion dollar undertaking in this country and our largest research sector, is barely mentioned.

Bloc Québecois edit: an earlier edition based the Bloc positions on an executive summary of their platform.

I’m not sure why he removed the executive summary but for anyone interested in a summary of the Bloc Québécois science policy, it can be found at Agence Science Presses on the Élections Canada: La science des partis webpage written up in French (my stumbling translation follows) by Rob Annan and Pascal Lapointe,

Le Bloc Québécois considère que les politiques énergétiques et environnementales doivent s’appuyer sur des faits solidement démontrés par la science plutôt que sur des idéologies à courte vue. il mettra tout en œuvre pour que les scientifiques puissent communiquer directement avec les médias sans être censurés et sans risque de représailles.

Here goes the translation: The Bloc Québécois believes that energy and environmental policies should be based on scientific evidence rather than short-term political ideologies. As well, the party will free scientists to communicate directly to media without fear of censure or reprisal.

Nassif Ghoussoub on his Piece of Mind blog offers more analysis of the Liberal and Conservative party platforms re: science policy during this 2011 election season. From his April 15, 2011 posting about the Liberals and their science policy,

You expect that a Harvard Professor and a former Astronaut would cherish an opportunity to step up for a more serious, more vigorous, more rigorous, more scientifically driven, and less politically motivated research policy for the Government of Canada. Wrong! Ignatieff has been back in Canada long enough, and Garneau has been in politics long enough to know that a major discourse on research policy does not move votes. Remember the debates?

He goes on in more detail about a policy statement that he describes as ‘wishy-washy’.

In his April 18, 2011 posting, Nassif focuses on the Conservatives,

Unlike the other parties, the Conservatives have now a 5-year track record on research policy. Their proposed 2001 budget may also be considered as their platform, at least for the short term. Their research policies are de-facto more detailed, hence more open to scrutiny. The Tories’ record is mixed: Continuation of successful federal programs, more government interference in research prioritization and targeted funding, less emphasis on peer-review and the Tri-council, resistance to basic research, new elitist programs, yet major support for colleges.

He goes on to detail what he terms: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly elements of their science policy.

As for my take on things, I’m not a policy wonk. That said, I have looked at the various policies (can’t find the Bloc Québécois electoral platform [plateforme électorale] in either English or French) and don’t find that any of the parties view science as being important. A couple of paragraphs are devoted to it in the Liberal platform and there’s some mention in the Conservative platform too but the NDP and the Greens have folded science policy into other platform issues. As Nassif points out, science is not a vote-getter. For some anecdotal support of that comment, as I have mentioned elsewhere, I had one NDP constituency assistant describe science policy to me as a ’boutique’ issue.

I notice there’s no mention of reinstituting a science advisor (there was a position until the Conservatives cut it in their first term) or educating MP’s about science (they offer workshops in the UK) or even (other than the Bloc Québécois summary on the Agence Science Presses website) what role science advice or evidence may have in policy decisions where scientific information should play a key role e.g. regulating nanotechnology. Nor is there any discussion (again, other than from the Bloc Québécois) about federal scientists being allowed to freely discuss their work with the media. ETA April 18, 2011: One more question: What role do you see for science in Canadian society? (Aside: I may have just given myself the question I want for Peer Review Radio. Better take another look at the rules!)

If you too have questions for Peer Review Radio’s last webcast of the season, ETA April 18, 2011: I’ve added more information about how to post questions and comments. First some rules from the Peer Review Radio website,

Rules for #SciLxn41 Question Submissions
1. Must relate vaguely to funding and/or plans of action regarding to science, science education, science communication, research, health and innovation. 2. Must not be targeted questions at single candidates or parties, but must ask questions that can be posed to all four candidates equally. Deadline: April 20th we will openly publish the list of questions submitted to the candidates. That’s it! So please, post your comments with the #SciLxn41 hashtag on Twitter, share them on our Facebook Page, Reblog them at the Ottawa Orbital Tumblr, or drop a comment right here!

Participatory science; wearable batteries; radio interview with Andrew Maynard; shadow science ministers in Canada’s political parties

Ordinary people (nonscientists like me) have a long tradition of participating in scientific research in areas such as astronomy and ornithology (bird watching). A local example is the eagle count which takes place at Brackendale every year. (Aside: The 2010 count has already taken place but it’s still possible to attend festival events which are now part of the Brackendale eagle count experience.)

Someone whose science interests may be more esoteric can have trouble finding opportunities to pursue their interests. Thanks to the Science Cheerleader there is a new online resource to help you find a project. From the Science Cheerleader blog,

Hot diggity-DOG! After years in the making, my partner, Michael Gold, and I–with generous support from Science House–have officially unveiled the beta version (that means this is still a work-in-progress) of ScienceForCitizens.net . Science journalist, Carl Zimmer, who frequently writes for Discover and Time Magazine, said “It’s like Amazon.com for all sorts of possibilities for doing cool citizen science”. We’ll take that

And thanks to the Pasco Phronesis blog for the info. about the Science Cheerleader.

For an abrupt change of pace: Yes, you could be wearing your batteries at some point in the future. Scientists at Stanford University (CA) have found a way to easily and inexpensively turn cotton or polyester fibres into batteries or, as they call it, wearable energy textiles or e-textiles. From the news item on BBC News,

“Wearable electronics represent a developing new class of materials… which allow for many applications and designs previously impossible with traditional electronics technologies,” the authors [of the study published in ACS Nano Letters] wrote.

A number of research efforts in recent years have shown the possibility of electronics that can be built on flexible and even transparent surfaces – leading to the often-touted “roll-up display”.

However, the integration of electronics into textiles has presented different challenges, in particular developing approaches that work with ordinary fabrics.

Now, Yi Cui and his team at Stanford University in the US has shown that their “ink” made of carbon nanotubes – cylinders of carbon just billionths of a metre across – can serve as a dye that can simply and cheaply turn a t-shirt into an “e-shirt”.

I’ve taken a look at the research paper which, as these things go, is pretty readable. Bravo to the American Chemical Society (ACS) for not placing the material behind a paywall. The article, Stretchable, Porous and Conductive Energy Textiles,  published in the ACS journal Nano Letters is here.

I had the pleasure of listening to a radio interview on Whyy Radio conducted by Marty Moss-Coane where she interviewed Dr. Andrew Maynard, Chief Science Advisor for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnolgies. The interview (approximately 50 mins.)  titled, The Science and Safety of Nanotechnology, is available for listening here. Moss-Coane was well-prepared, asked good questions, and had listeners call in with their own questions. Dr. Andrew Maynard was, as always, very likable and interesting.

After my recent posting on science policy in Canada and the four major political parties, I thought I’d check out the various shadow science ministers or critics. Here’s what I found,

Gary Goodyear, Conservative, Minister of State (Science and Technology)

Jim Maloway, NDP, Science and Technology [portfolio]

Frances Coates, Green Party, shadow minister Science and Technology

Marc Garneau, Liberal Party, Industry, Science and Technology critic

I have looked at all their websites and Garneau seems the most interested in science and technology issues. Given that he’s a former astronaut and is an engineer, one might expect that he would have a major interest in the subject. He’s written a paper on the subject (thanks to the folks at The Black Hole for finding it). If you go here and either read or scroll to the bottom, you will find a link to his paper. He also has a poll on his website, What is the importance of science and technology to create the jobs for tomorrow? You can go here to answer the question. As for the others, Goodyear lists a series of announcements in news releases as accomplishments which makes identifying his actual accomplishments difficult. Jim Maloway does not mention science on his website and Frances Coates posted a few times on her blog in 2008 but made no mention of science.

Science policy and Canada’s political parties

After yesterday’s discussion of the Nature editorial on Canadian science policy or the lack thereof, I went in search of four federal political parties and their science policies. I looked at the websites for the Green Party, New Democrat Party, the Liberal Party, and the Conservative Party for their platforms and/or policy documents.

Coincidentally I found a mention of policy and the Liberal party in Barbara Yaffe’s Vancouver Sun column today (here) and discovered that the party leader, Michael Ignatieff, is making a campus tour of the country as part of a Liberal party public consultation. All this activity is leading up to a Liberal party policy convention in Montreal, March 26-28, 2010.

Back to my search, I did not dig deeply as I don’t believe these documents should be difficult to find. I could not find a set of policies or platform on the Liberal party website. The Green Party has a very easily found policy platform (Vision Green) which has no mention of science or research. Initially I couldn’t find any mention of the arts but those policies are to be found in the People section, Beauty and Integrity subsection. The New Democrat Party has its easily found platform here but no mention of science in it. As for the Conservative party, my hat’s off to them. Their policy declaration (found here and dated November 2008) was the only specific reference to science that I found. Like it or not, it’s in the section on Economic Development,

27. Science, Research and Development
i) The Conservative Party supports the establishment [sic] a single authority or single window to review big
science projects according to published guidelines. These types of projects are often tied up in the
bureaucracy because, under the current system, they are forced to seek funding from a myriad ofdepartments and agencies. A single-window approach would be more transparent for the research community and more accountable to Canadian taxpayers.
ii) We support the creation of an independent Chief Scientist who would advise and report to Parliament
on scientific matters, and help coordinate science policy issues within government, and internationally.
This office would be modeled on the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology in the United
Kingdom. The Chief Scientist should be mandated by Parliament to provide independent and balanced
analysis of public policy issues related to science and technology. This information should be provided
openly to Parliamentarians and Canadians to enable informed decisions.
iii) We support the funding of innovation, technology and research through the granting councils. We
support a competitive peer review process and enhanced transparency and accountability to determine
who shall receive grants through these councils.
iv) We recognize the importance of private sector investment in research and development of commercial
applications. We recognize that the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax
credit has been successful in spurring private investment in research and development. The government should work with stakeholders in all fields of research and various industry sectors to expand this tax credit. We support the elimination of the capital tax and the reduction of the capital gains tax because the
effectiveness of the SR&ED tax credit relies upon the general level of tax on capital and investment. In
principle, we believe the government should provide more scientific research and experimental
development tax incentives.

You’ll notice that item ii) supports the notion of an independent adviser or Chief Scientist. It sounds like an attempt to revive the now defunct science adviser position, eliminated after Harper took office, but they do mention modeling it on a UK institution. Of course, they haven’t actually created the position yet. Still, they’re the only Canadian political party that appears to have a science policy.

As per some of my comments yesterday about science and policy advisers in the US, I received a response from David Bruggeman who kindly clarified the situation for me here. You can read more about US science and technology policy (and other related issues) at David’s blog Pasco Phronesis. He does comment on the Nature editorial about Canadian science policy here as per their perspective on the American Association for the Advancement of Science as a lobby group.