Tag Archives: Marie-Claire Shanahan

Sci comm, Canada, and the Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! network of Canadian science blog(ger)s

If a hashtag (ou mot-dièse en français) is a way to judge these things, there’s an upswing of interest in Canadian science communication. The hashtag in question is #cancomm (on Twitter) and seems to have developed a life beyond its original designation as a Twitter stream devoted to one of the sessions at the ScienceOnline2013 conference held Jan. 30 – Feb. 2, 2013 in North Carolina, USA.

Before mentioning anything about the latest developments (I sent some interview questions to both of the presenters), here’s more about the ScienceOnline 2013 session titled Communicating science where there is no science communication presented by Marie-Claire Shanahan and Colin Schultz who focused on the situation in Canada,

Scientists, journalists, and communicators working outside of the United States and the UK face fundamentally different problems from those living within well-served media landscapes. For example: Canada has few science magazines, a couple television shows, and a handful of radio programmes aimed at a general science audience (with the exception of the French-speaking Quebec, which has a dynamic science writing community). Government funded research grants do not require outreach or education. [emphasis mine] And, government scientists have been all but barred from talking to journalists. In Canada and other countries with sparse science communication infrastructures, the dominant issues revolve not around journalists vs bloggers, or scientists vs press releases vs the media, but instead focus on what can be done to make science communication exist at all, in any form. This session will explore how scientists, educators, and media people can promote scientific discussions and scientific interest in regions that lack established venues.

A number of salient (and I believe them to be indisputable) points are made. I did highlight one statement which is arguable. There is one funding agency (granted, only one) which includes a requirement for outreach/communication and that is the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). From Section 8 of the CFI’s Policy and Program document (PDF) dated March 2012,

As an independent corporation created by the Government of Canada, the CFI places paramount importance on demonstrating to Canadians the impacts and outcomes of its investments. And as recipients of CFI funding, institutions have an essential role to play in highlighting the impacts, outcomes and benefits of research, through communications activities such as:

• news releases, news conferences and other media relations initiatives;

• print and online publications;

• social media;

• special events (groundbreakings, openings, milestone celebrations, conferences and other public outreach activities);

• presentations;

• correspondence;

• advertising.

In the context of these activities, the CFI also requests that institutions acknowledge the financial support of the CFI. (p. 81)

At any rate, I did send off some questions in hopes of an interview with both presenters but, as sometimes happens, Marie-Claire Shanahan has not replied and, more uniquely,  Colin Schultz has decided to publish my questions and his answers on his own blog.  My policy with the interviews I conduct is to publish the replies along with the questions in their entirety changing only the typos. I don’t offer any observations of my own after the fact. Since Colin Schultz has published the interview himself, I will treat it as I do anything else I find on web. I do not copy an entire piece but will excerpt the bits I find interesting and comment at will.

According to the ‘secret source’ who attended your presentation, you and Marie-Claire were very harsh in your assessments of the science communication efforts and environment in Canada. Given that most of my readers won’t have attended the presentation, could you summarize the presentation in a few bullet points and note where you agree and disagree with your co-presenter?

… Science Online pulls together brilliant, creative, hard-working and entrepreneurial problem solvers, communicators with a passion for science and a vigilante spirit. Many of these people, however, also have basically no idea what is going on in Canada in terms of the political atmosphere, the size of the mainstream press, or the scope of the science communication community. [emphasis mine] One of the goals I had in mind when putting together my short introduction for the session was that I wanted to tap into these clever minds so that we could all put our heads together and come up with projects that will work within the Canadian cultural context. [emphasis mine]

The Shanahan/Schultz presentation was 60 minutes long.  So, these people got to know Canada and the Canadian science communication scene well enough in 60 minutes to suggest projects that work within the Canadian cultural context. Interesting.

Here’s more from question 1 (Note: I have removed links),

I opened the session with numbers: We have one mainstream science magazine, two TV shows, and one radio show. A 1998 study found that we had 18 full time science journalists at daily newspapers, and I mused that this number probably went down as the media industry crashed and companies cut their staff.

With no official science blogger database that I know of, I pulled from your (Maryse’s) own annual counts (2010, 2011, 2012) and the self-selected bloggers pulled together by the Canadian Science Writers’ Association to estimate that there are likely a few dozen science bloggers in the country. [emphasis mine] Discussions in the room pointed out that there are probably more than listed in those two places, but the order of magnitude on the guess is probably close enough.

I believe my last annual count (2012 roundup) listed approximately 40 – 50 more or less active, including English and French language, Canadian Science blogs/bloggers. (A colleague recently [Feb. 15, 2013] produced a spreadsheet list of approximately 70 active blogs/bloggers.) More from Schultz on the first question,

From the numbers I moved into my second main point, asking: “Why does any of this matter?” Scientific knowledge is borderless, so does it really matter if we hear about Canadian science?

To answer this I suggested that there is a split: for people learning about science, for keeping up with all the cool developments that are taking shape around the world, then no, it doesn’t really matter. Canadian, American, English, Australian—wherever your news comes from doesn’t really make much a difference.

But, there is the other side of it. There are serious scientific issues in Canadian life—the tar sands, oceans management, fisheries research, the climate of the Arctic—that will only really be addressed by Canadians, and outside of the larger issues of climate change or biodiversity, only really affect Canadians. Without established venues to discuss and report and debate science, without an established culture of science communication, there won’t necessarily be the conversation that we need on these and other issues.

I noted that when people aren’t aware of the work being done by Canadian scientists or Canadian federal agencies that it could become easier for those projects to slide away, a case that came to the fore recently with the cutting of federal scientists, the potential closing of the Experimental Lakes, or the issue of muzzling.

Then, there were the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th questions,

Were you trying to be harsh in your assessment? I read the presentation description which didn’t have a single positive comment about efforts in English Canada; did that hold true for the presentation or did you leaven it with some positive comments (and what were those positive comments)? Note: A link has been removed.

There is a lot of good science communication going on in Canada. Personally, I think that Daily Planet is a treasure, and following the session I had people asking how they could see it from abroad. Marie-Claire, and some audience members, raised examples of informal or non-mainstream media projects that are doing great work on science communication and science outreach.

Would it surprise you to know that about the same time you gave your presentation a group (with no prior knowledge of said presentation) had formed to create a Canadian science blogging network? Full disclosure: I am a member of this group.

I heard whispers of this in the hallways at the conference, and think it’s a great idea. Building a blogging network will help draw people together, and help them find one another. I think that we have a lot of really serious issues to tackle, but this is a great place to start.

Purely for fun, I have three names for a national network. (These names are not from the group.) Which one would you join, if you one had one choice?

(a) Canuckian science blog(ger) network?
(b) Canadian science blog(ger) network?
(c) Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Canadian science blog(ger) network?

The last one, definitely.

You can find the entire set of responses at Colin Schultz’s blog. I wish him good luck as he breathes some life back into it. (His last posting prior to this ‘interview’ was on July 13, 2012, and the posting before that was dated Feb. 8, 2012.)

Note: I did correct two of my own interview typos in the words ‘assessment’ and ‘with’.

There are in fact two groups (that I know of) who have talked about putting together a Canadian science blog(ger) network. There was the group forming at the ScienceOnline 2013 conference and there was another group forming as a consequence of a suggestion in my 2012 roundup. The two groups appear to be coalescing but it’s all very loose at this point. Who knows? There may be other groups who just haven’t made themselves known as yet.

What can be said for certain is this,  Mike Spear at Genome Alberta has created the CanComm.org website for Canadian science communicators, aka, CanComm – Communication with a Science Flavour and a Canadian Twist. Sarah Boon, one of the organizers of our hoped for network, has written a Feb. 23, 2013 post on her Watershed Moments blog that provides pointed and thoughtful insight into many of the current issues on the Canadian science scene and the Canadian science communication scene and includes this (Note: Links have been removed),

It’s not that we don’t have an interested and involved public and the science communicators to engage them. It’s more that we don’t have the infrastructure to link communicators together like the Americans do with the Science Online meeting in Raleigh or the AAAS Meeting in Boston, or blog networks like PLoS Blogs or the Discover and SciAm networks.

To that end, groups like Genome Alberta, the Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA), the Science Media Centre of Canada (SMCC), and Canadian Science Publishing (CSP) are working with individuals such as myself, @frogheart, @8CrayonScience, @raymondsbrain and others to build a Canadian science communication and (ultimately) blog network. If you’re interested in joining, you can register at cancomm.org.

Full disclosure: One of my pieces got a shoutout in another part of Sarah’s posting and I’m chuffed. Regardless, I still would have described her posting as pointed and thoughtful and I notice I’m not alone as per the #cancomm twitter feed.

For anyone interested in the latest regarding the French language version of hashtag, there’s a Jan. 24, 2013 article in The Connexion; France’s English-language newspaper,

THE French government has caused amusement on the internet by insisting the proper term for “hashtag” in French should be mot-dièse.
I look forward to seeing you all at cancomm.org in any language we can use to communicate.

2012 Canadian science blog roundup and some thoughts on a Canadian science blog network

This is my 3rd annual roundup of Canadian science blogs and the science blogging scene in Canada seems to be getting more lively (see my Dec. 31, 2010 posting and Dec. 29, 2011 posting to compare).

As I did last year, I will start with

Goodbyes

Don’t leave Canada appears to be gone as there hasn’t been posting there since May 4, 2011. I’m sorry to see it go as Rob Annan provided thoughtful commentary on science policy on a regular basis for years. Thank you, Rob. (BTW, he’s now the director of policy, research and evaluation at MITACS.)

Cool Science, John McKay’s blog has been shut down as of Oct. 24, 2012,

Hi everyone. This will mark the final post of the CoolScience.ca site and it will be quietly taken offline in November. I will also be closing down the Twitter and Facebook accounts and moving everything over to my professional accounts that are all focused on communicating science, technology, engineering and medicine.

The Dark Matter science blog by Tom Spears, which I reluctantly (as it was a ‘newspaper blog’ from the Ottawa Citizen)included last year  has since disappeared as has NeuroDojo, a blog written by a Canadian scientist in Texas.

Goodbye ish

Marc Leger’s Atoms and Numbers blog’s latest posting is dated Oct. 23, 2012 but the pattern here seems similar to Marie-Claire’s (see the next one) where the posting is erratic but relatively regular (once or twice per month) until October of this year.

Marie-Claire Shanahan is posting less frequently on her Boundary Vision blog with the last posting there on Oct. 9, 2012.

The Bubble Chamber blog from the University of Toronto’s Science Policy Work Group seems to be fading away with only one posting for 2012, Reply to Wayne Myrvold on the Higgs Boson.

Colin Schulz’s CMBR blog hasn’t had a new posting since July 13, 2012′s 11 Things You Didn’t Know About Canada. In any event, it looks like the blog is no longer primarily focused on science.

The Exponential Book blog by Massimo Boninsegni features an Oct. 24, 2012 posting and a similar posting pattern to Marie-Claire & Marc.

exposure/effect which was new last year has gone into a fairly lengthy hiatus as per its last post in January 30, 2012 posting.

Theoretical biologist, Mario Pineda-Krch of Mario’s Entangled Bank blog is also taking a lengthy hiatus as the last posting on that blog was June 11, 2012.

Nicole Arbour’s Canadian science blog for the UK High Commission in Ottawa hasn’t featured a posting since Oct. 15, 2012′s The Power of We: Adapting to climate change.

Gregor Wolbring’s Nano and Nano- Bio, Info, Cogno, Neuro, Synbio, Geo, Chem… features an Aug. 4, 2012 posting which links to one of his nano articles, (Nanoscale Science and Technology and People with Disabilities in Asia: An Ability Expectation Analysis) published elsewhere.

Jeff Sharom’s Science Canada blog highlights links to editorials and articles on Canadian science policy but doesn’t seem to feature original writing by Sharom or anyone else, consequently, it functions more as a reader/aggregator than a blog.

The Black Hole blog which was always more focused on prospect for Canadian science graduates than Canadian science, hence always a bit of a stretch for inclusion here, has moved to the University Affairs website where it focuses more exclusively on the Canadian academic scene with posts such as this, Free journal access for postdocs in between positions  from Dec. 12, 2012.

Returning to the roundup:

John Dupuis’ Confessions of a Science Librarian whose Dec. 26, 2012 posting, Best Science (Fiction) Books 2012: io9 seems timely for anyone taking a break at this time of year and looking for some reading material.

Daniel Lemire’s blog is known simply as Daniel Lemire. He’s a computer scientist in Montréal who writes one of the more technical blogs I’ve come across and his focus seems to be databases although his Dec. 10, 2012 posting covers the topic of how to get things accomplished when you’re already busy.

Dave Ng, a professor with the Michael Smith Laboratories at the University of British Columbia, is a very active science communicator who maintain the Popperfont blog. The latest posting (Dec. 24, 2012) features Sciencegeek Advent Calendar Extravaganza! – Day 24.

Eric Michael Johnson continues with his The Primate Diaries blog on the Scientific American blog network. His Dec. 6, 2012 posting is a reposted article but he has kept up a regular (once per month, more or less) posting schedule,

Author’s Note: The following originally appeared at ScienceBlogs.com and was subsequently a finalist in the 3 Quarks Daily Science Prize judged by Richard Dawkins. Fairness is the basis of the social contract. As citizens we expect that when we contribute our fair share we should receive our just reward. When social benefits are handed out …

Rosie Redfield is keeping with both her blogs, RRTeaching (latest posting, Dec. 6, 2012) and RRResearch (Nov. 17, 2012).

Sci/Why is a science blog being written by Canadian children’s writers who discuss science, words, and the eternal question – why?

Mathematician Nassif Ghoussoub’s Piece of Mind blog continues to feature incisive writing about science, science funding, policy and academe.

Canadian science writer Heather Pringle continues to post on the The Last Word on Nothing, a blog shared collectively by a number of well known science writers. Her next posting is scheduled for Jan. 3, 2013, according to the notice on the blog.

A little off my usual beat but I included these last year as they do write about science albeit medical and/or health science:

Susan Baxter’s blog Curmudgeon’s Corner features her insights into various medical matters, for example there’s her Dec. 1, 2012 posting on stress, the immune system, and the French antipathy towards capitalism.

Peter Janiszewski and Travis Saunders co-own two different blogs, Obesity Panacea, which is part of the PLoS (Public Library of Science) blogs network, and Science of Blogging which features very occasional posting but it’s worth a look for nuggets like this Oct. 12, 2012 (?) posting on social media for scientists.

After posting the 2011 roundup,

I had a number of suggestions for more Canadian science blogs such as these four who are part of the Scientific American SA) blogging network (in common with Eric Michael Johnson),

Dr. Carin Bondar posts on the SA blog, PsiVid, along with Joanne Manaster. There’s more than one Canadian science blogger who co-writes a blog. This one is self-described as, A cross section of science on the cyberscreen.

Glendon Mellow, a professional science illustrator,  posts on The Flying Trilobite (his own blog) and Symbiartic: the art of science and the science of art, an SA blog he shares with Kalliopi Monoyios.

Larry Moran, a biochemist at the University of Toronto, posts on science and anything else that tickles his fancy on his Sandwalk blog.

Eva Amsen who posts on a number of blogs including the NODE; the community site for developmental biologists  (which she also manages) but the best place to find a listing of her many blogs and interests is at easternblot.net, where she includes this self-description on the About page,

Online Projects

  • Musicians and Scientists – Why are so many people involved in both music and science? I’m on a mission to find out.
  • the NodeMy day job is managing a community site for developmental biologists around the world. The site is used by equal numbers of postdocs, PhD students, and lab heads.
  • SciBarCamp/SciBarCamb – I co-instigated SciBarCamp, an unconference for scientists, in Toronto in 2008. Since then I have co-organized five similar events in three countries, and have advised others on how to run science unconferences.
  • You Learn Something New Every Day – a Tumblr site that automatically aggregates tweets with the hashtag #ylsned, and Flickr photos tagged ylsned, to collect the interesting bits of trivia that people come across on a daily basis.
  • Lab Waste – During my last months in the lab as a PhD student, I made a mini-documentary (using CC-licensed materials) about the excessive amount of disposable plastics used in research labs. It screened in 2009 in the “Quirky Shorts” program of the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York.
  • Expression Patterns – In 2007 I was invited to blog on Nature Network. The complete archives from 2007-2012 are now on this site.
  • easternblot.net – Confusingly, my other science blog was named after this entire domain. It ran from 2005 to 2010, and can be found at science.easternblot.net

I believe Amsen is Canadian and working in the UK but if anyone could confirm, I would be much relieved.

Someone, who according to their About page prefers to remain anonymous but lives in Victoria, BC, and posts (somewhat irregularly, the last posting is dated Nov. 10, 2012) on The Olive Ridley Crawl,

I am an environmental scientist blogging about environmental and development issues that interest me. I prefer to be anonymous(e) because I work with some of the companies I may talk about and I want to avoid conflict of interest issues at work. This gets tricky because I am at the periphery of a lot of events happening in the world of my greatest expertise, persistent organic pollutants, endocrine disrupting compounds, their effects on health and the policy fights around chemicals, their use the controversies! So, I’ve reluctantly moved away from writing about what I know most about, which means this blog suffers severely. I still soldier on, though!

I was born, and grew up in India, so I am interested in all things South Asian and tend to view most all Western government and Western institution actions through a colonialist scratched lens! I am also becoming much more active about my feminism, so who knows what that will do to this blog. I have been meaning to write a monstrous essay about women, the environment and justice, but that’s a task!

I used to live in Chapel Hill, NC with a partner of long vintage (the partnership, that is, not her!) and a crazy cat who thinks he’s a dog. We moved to Victoria, BC in 2008 and I’ve been busy learning about Canadian policy, enjoying this most beautiful town I live in.

Why Olive Ridley? Well, the Olive Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys Olivacea) nests on the coasts of Madras, India and I got my start in the wonderful world of conservation working on the Olive Ridley with the Students’ Sea Turtle Conservation Network. So, I do have fond memories for this beautiful creature. And yes, as my dear partner reminds me, I did meet her on the beach when I was doing this work.

Agence Science-Presse (based in Québec and headed by Pascal Lapointe) features three blogs of its own:

Blogue ta science : les billets dédiés aux jeunes.

Discutez avec notre expert : avez-vous suivi notre enquête CSI ?

Autour des Blogues : les actualités de nos blogueurs et de la communauté.

There’s also a regular podcast under the Je vote pour la science banner.

genegeek appears to be Canadian (it has a domain in Canada) but the blog owner doesn’t really identify herself (there’s a photo) on the About page but no name and no biographical details. I did receive a tweet last year about genegeek from C. Anderson who I imagine is the blog owner.

There’s also the Canadian BioTechnologist2.0 blog, which is sponsored by Bio-Rad Canada and is written by an employee.

These next ones were added later in the year:

Chuck Black writes two blogs as he noted in June 2012,

I write two blogs which, while they focus more on space than science, do possess strong science components and overlap with some of the other blogs here.

They are: Commercial Space and Space Conference News.

Andy Park also came to my attention in June 2012. He writes the  It’s the Ecology, Stupid! blog.

Something About Science is a blog I featured in an Aug. 17, 2012 posting and I’m glad to see blogger, Lynn K, is still blogging.

New to the roundup in 2012:

SSChow, Sarah Chow’s blog, focuses on science events in Vancouver (Canada) and science events at the University of British Columbia and miscellaneous matters pertinent to her many science communication efforts.

The Canadian federal government seems to be trying its hand at science blogging with the Science.gc.ca Blogs (http://www.science.gc.ca/Blogs-WSE6EBB690-1_En.htm). An anemic effort given that boasts a total of six (or perhaps it’s five) posting in two or three years.

The Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA) currently features a blog roll of its members’ blogs. This is a new initiative from the association and one I’m glad to see.  Here’s the list (from the CSWA member blog page),

Anne Steinø (Research Through the Eyes of a Biochemist)
Arielle Duhame-Ross (Salamander Hours)
Bob McDonald (I’m choking on this one since it’s a CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] blog for its Quirks and Quarks science pr0gram)
Cadell Last (The Ratchet)
Edward Willett
Elizabeth Howell (she seems to be blogging again and the easiest way for me to get to her postings was to click on the Archives link [I clicked on December 2012 to get the latest] after doing that I realized that the images on the page link to postings)
Heather Maughan
Justin Joschko
Kimberly Gerson (Endless Forms Most Beautiful)
Mark Green (a CSWA member, he was born and educated in the US where he lives and works; ordinarily I would not include him, even with his  CSWA membership status,  but he writes a monthly science column for a Cape Breton newspaper, which has made me pause)
Pamela Lincez (For the Love of Science)
Sarah Boon (Watershed Moments)
Susan Eaton (she seems to be reposting articles written [presumably by her] for the AAPG [American Association of Petroleum Geologists] Explorer and other organizations in her blog]

Barry Shell’s site (listed as a CSWA member blog) doesn’t match my admittedly foggy notion of a blog. It seems more of an all round Canadian science resource featuring profiles of Canadian scientists, a regularly updated news archive, and more. Science.ca is extraordinary and I’m thankful to have finally stumbled across it but it doesn’t feature dated posts in common with the other blogs listed here, even the most commercial ones.

Tyler Irving (I had no idea he had his own blog when I mentioned him in my Sept. 25, 2012 posting about Canadian chemists and the Canadian Chemical Institute’s publications) posts at the Scientific Canadian.

I choke again, as I do when mentioning blogs that are corporate media blogs, but in the interest of being as complete as possible Julia Belluz writes the Scien-ish blog about health for MacLean’s magazine.

Genome Alberta hosts a couple of blogs: Genomics and Livestock News & Views.

Occam’s Typewriter is an informal network of science bloggers two of whom are Canadian:

Cath Ennis (VWXYNot?) and Richard Wintle (Adventures in Wonderland). Note: The Guardian Science Blogs network seems to have some sort of relationship with Occam’s Typewriter as you will see postings from the Occam’s network featured as part of Occam’s Corner on the Guardian website.

My last blogger in this posting is James Colliander from the University of  Toronto’s Mathematics Department. He and Nassif (Piece of Mind blog mentioned previously) seem to share a similar interest in science policy and funding issues.

ETA Jan.2.13: This is a social science oriented blog maintained by a SSHRC- (Social Science and Humanities Research Council) funded network cluster called the Situating Science Cluster and the blog’s official name is: Cluster Blog. This is where you go to find out about Science and Technology Studies (STS) and History of Science Studies, etc. and events associated with those studies.

I probably should have started with this definition of a Canadian blogger, from the Wikipedia entry,

A Canadian blogger is the author of a weblog who lives in Canada, has Canadian citizenship, or writes primarily on Canadian subjects. One could also be considered a Canadian blogger if one has a significant Canadian connection, though this is debatable.

Given how lively the Canadian science blogging scene has become, I’m not sure I can continue with these roundups as they take more time each year.  At the very least, I’ll need to define the term Canadian Science blogger, in the hope of reducing the workload,  if I decide to continue after this year.

There’s a rather interesting Nov. 26, 2012 article by Stephanie Taylor for McGill Daily about the Canadian public’s science awareness and a dearth of Canadian science communication,

Much of the science media that Canadians consume and have access to is either American or British: both nations have a robust, highly visible science media sector. While most Canadians wouldn’t look primarily to American journalism for political news and analysis, science doesn’t have the same inherent national boundaries that politics does. While the laws of physics don’t change depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on, there are scientific endeavours that are important to Canadians but have little importance to other nations. It’s unlikely that a British researcher would investigate the state of the Canadian cod fishery, or that the British press would cover it, but that research is critical to a substantial number of Canadians’ livelihoods.

On the other hand, as Canadian traditional media struggles to consistently cover science news, there’s been an explosion of scientists of all stripes doing a lot of the necessary big picture, broad context, critical analysis on the internet. The lack of space restrictions and accessibility of the internet (it’s much easier to start a blog than try to break in to traditional media) mean that two of the major barriers to complex discussion of science in the media are gone. Blogs struggle to have the same reach as newspapers and traditional media, though, and many of the most successful science blogs are under the online umbrella of mainstream outlets like Scientific American and Discover. Unfortunately and perhaps unsurprisingly, there is currently no Canadian science blog network like this. [emphasis mine]

Yes, let’s create a Canadian science blog network. I having been talking to various individuals about this over the last year (2012) and while there’s interest, someone offered to help and then changed their mind. Plus, I was hoping to persuade the the Canadian Science Writers Association to take it on but I think they were too far advanced in their planning for a member’s network to consider something more generalized (and far more expensive). So, if anyone out there has ideas about how to do this, please do comment and perhaps we can get something launched in 2013.

FrogHeart (part 1) at the 2012 Canadian Science Policy Conference (& Thinking big panel)

Unfortunately, I was only present for one day (Nov. 6, 2012) at the Fourth Canadian Science Policy Conference in Calgary, Alberta. In fact, my one day was more like a 1/2 day due to delays at the airport. It broke my heart to miss most of Panel 13: Dissecting Canada’s Science & Technology Landscape, which featured a discussion of the Council of Canadian Academies’ latest assessment, “The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012.” I have my fingers crossed that a video of the presentation will be posted in the not too distant future.

Jeffrey Simpson, Ph.D and National Affairs Columnist at The Globe and Mail moderated the panel discussion about this latest assessment (the last one was in 2006) which was requested by Industry Canada. The panel included: Dr. Eliot Phillipson, Ph.D, Sir John and Lady Eaton Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Toronto (he led the expert panel which presided over the assessment); Lorraine Whale, Ph.D and Manager of Unconventional Resource Research at Shell Global Solutions (Canada); and R. Peter MacKinnon, former President of the University of Saskatchewan.

I did manage to attend Panel 16: The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese: Turning Talk of Creativity Into a Sustainable Creative Economy which featured a slew of creative types such as Mary Anne Moser, Ph.D and Co-Founder of Beakerhead; Jay Ingram, Co-Founder of Beakerhead; Jasmine Palardy, Program Manager of Beakerhead;  Patrick Finn, Ph.D and Performance Expert, University of Calgary; and Haley Simons, Ph.D, Executive Director of Creative Alberta.

Creativity workshops are to hard to pull off, especially when you pepper them with leadership information, an argument for the importance of creativity in examinations of the economy, descriptions of the creative process, etc. while leading the group through the process of designing a better mouse trap. It was an odd choice for a creativity exercise, notwithstanding the metaphor in the group’s panel title. I liked some of the ideas they were trying to discuss and demonstrate but I associate creativity with an element of play and letting loose. Devising a better mouse trap didn’t activate my sense of play nor was there time to let loose any creative/chaotic impulses as we were either listening to someone giving us information or trying to complete the exercises we were given.

For anyone who’s noticed the incidence of the institution, Beakerhead, amongst the panelists, it’s a new  art/engineering event which will be taking place in Calgary during the Calgary Stampede, I believe (from the About page),

Beakerhead is an annual movement that culminates in a five-day citywide spectacle that brings together the arts and engineering sectors to build, engage, compete and exhibit interactive works of art, engineered creativity and entertainment.

Starting annually in 2013, Beakerhead will take place in Calgary’s major educational institutions, arts and culture venues, on the streets and, most importantly, in communities.
From performances and installations to workshops and concerts, Beakerhead is made possible by a continuously growing list of partners who share the desire of staging a collaborative event of epic proportions.

I wish them well with Beakerhead while I’m somewhat unclear as to what the workshop was supposed to achieve. Personally, I would have preferred working on a Beakerhead event for 2013. Imagine if those of us at the 2012 CSPC “Second mouse” presentation had developed something that might actually take place. That’s creativity in action and I think they could have drawn together all that other stuff they were trying to communicate to us by inviting us to participate in something meaningful.

Next up was Panel 19: Thinking big: science culture and policy in Canada, which I was moderating. From my Oct. 1, 2012 posting,

… here’s the description,

Science culture is more than encouraging kids to become scientists to insure our economic future; more than having people visit a science museum or centre and having fun; more than reading an interesting article in a newspaper or magazine about the latest whizbang breakthrough; more than educating people so they become scientifically literate and encourage ‘good’ science policies; it is a comprehensive approach to community- and society-building.

We live in a grand (in English, magnificent and en francais, big) country, the 2nd largest in the world and it behooves us all to be engaged in developing a vibrant science culture which includes

  • artists (performing and visual),
  • writers,
  • scientists,
  • children,
  • seniors,
  • games developers,
  • doctors,
  • business people,
  • elected officials,
  • philosophers,
  • government bureaucrats,
  • educators,
  • social scientists,
  • and others

as we grapple with 21st century scientific and technical developments.

As scientists work on prosthetic neurons for repair in people with Parkinsons and other neurological diseases, techniques for tissue engineering, self-cleaning windows, exponentially increased tracking capabilities for devices and goods tagged with RFID devices, engineered bacteria that produce petroleum and other products (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Living Foundries project), and more, Canadians will be challenged to understand and adapt to a future that can be only dimly imagined.

Composed of provocative thinkers from the worlds of science writing, science education, art/science work, and scientific endeavour, during this panel discussion they will offer their ideas and visions for a Canadian science culture and invite you to share yours. In addition to answering questions, each panelist will prepare their own question for audience members to answer.

The panelists are:

Marie-Claire Shanahan

Marie-Claire Shanahan is a professor of science education and science communication at the University of Alberta. She is interested in how and why students make decisions to pursue their interests science, in high schools, post-secondary education and informal science education. She also conducts research on interactions between readers and writers in online science communications.

Stephen Strauss

Stephen Strauss, Canadian Science Writers’ Association president, has been writing about science for 30 years. After receiving a B.A. (history) from the University of Colorado, he worked as an English teacher, a social worker, an editor before joining the Globe and Mail in 1979. He began writing about science there.

Since leaving the newspaper in 2004 he has written for the CBC.ca, Nature, New Scientist, The Canadian Medical Association Journal as well as authored books and book chapters. He has written for organizations such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Government of Ontario and has won numerous awards.

Amber Didow

Amber Didow is the Executive Director for the Canadian Association of Science Centres. She has over 20 years experience in the non-profit sector and advancing informal education. She has worked within the Science Centre field for many years including the Saskatchewan Science Centre and Science World British Columbia.  Amber’s background includes new business development; educational outreach; programming with at-risk youth; creating community based science events; melding science with art and overseeing the creation and development of both permanent and travelling exhibitions. Amber has a strong passion for community development within the sector.

Maryse de la Giroday (moderator)

Maryse de la Giroday currently runs one of the largest and longest running Canadian science blogs (frogheart.ca) where she writes commentary on  nanotechnology, science policy, science communication, society, and the arts. With a BA in Communication (Simon Fraser University, Canada) and an MA in Creative Writing and New Media (De Montfort University, UK), she combines education and training in the social sciences and humanities with her commitment as an informed member of the science public. An independent scholar, she has presented at international conferences on topics of nanotechnology, storytelling, and memristors.

Dr. Moira Stilwell, MLA

Dr. Moira Stilwell was appointed Minister of Social Development  for the province of British Columbia in September 2012. Elected MLA for Vancouver-Langara in the 2009 provincial general election. She previously served as Parliamentary Secretary for Industry, Research and Innovation to the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health with a focus on Health Innovation. She also served as Vice Chair of the Cabinet Committee on Jobs and Economic Growth. In her first cabinet appointment, she served as Minister of Advanced Education and Labour Market Development from June 2009 to October 2010.

Prior to her political career, Stilwell graduated from the University of Calgary Medical School. She received further training in nuclear medicine at the University of British Columbia and in radiology at the University of Toronto after that. She served for several years as the Head of Nuclear Medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver, Surrey Memorial Hospital, and Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Clinic but left all those positions in 2009 to run for public office.

The driving force behind the province’s Year of Science in BC (2010-11) initiative for schools, Stilwell has a passionate interest and commitment to integrating science awareness and culture in government, education, and society.

Rob Annan

Rob is the Director of Policy, Research and Evaluation at Mitacs, a leading Canadian not-for-profit that supports innovation through skills development, research, and collaboration between students, researchers, and industry. Mitacs supports research across sciences, humanities and social sciences and understands that innovation often occurs at the intersection of science and culture. Mitacs’ approach to innovation is reflected in our outreach activities, most notably Math Out Loud – a theatre musical designed to inspire Canadian students to understand and appreciate the mathematics that surround them. Inspired by Laval University’s renowned Professor of Mathematics Jean-Marie De Koninck and produced by Academy Award winner Dale Hartleben, Math Out Loud explores the relationships between math and culture as an effective outreach tool.

Prior to joining Mitacs, Rob worked as a consultant to universities, researchers and non-profit agencies for strategic planning and policy, and was active as a blogger on science policy issues in Canada. Rob embodies the intersection of arts and science, with a PhD in Biochemistry from McGill University, a BSc in Biology from UVic and a BA in English from Queen’s University.

We started late and I think it went relatively well although next time (assuming there is one) I’ll practice cutting people off in a timely fashion and giving more direction. In other words, any criticisms of the session should be directed at me. The panelists were great.

Marie-Claire Shanahan, professor of science education at the University of Alberta, introduced a provocative question in the context of acknowledging Canada’s excellent science education programmes, Why isn’t there an active science discourse in Canada? Audience members tried to answer that question and came to no general agreement.

Stephen Strauss, president of the Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA), introduced what I thought was a very exciting idea, a science entrepot supported by the CSWA. The entrepot would be a storage webspace for all Canadian science news releases and a place where the people producing the news releases would get feedback on their efforts. The feedback idea is an acknowledgement that, increasingly,  scientists in Canada are writing their own news releases. There wasn’t much uptake from the audience on this idea but perhaps people need more time think about something that changes their relationship to the media.

The Honourable Dr. Moira Stilwell discussed her experiences trying to introduce science into government, that is, trying to use more scientific approaches in the various BC ministries. The former head of Nuclear Medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital, Surrey Memorial Hospital, and Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Clinic described the process by which her big idea became part of a government initiative and changed mightily in the process.

Rob Annan, director of policy, research, and evaluation at Mitacs, talked about different approaches Mitacs has taken to embedding science culture in Canada and he challenged the audience about the notion of expertise with regard to science as one of the audience members expressed great distress (sadness mixed with anger/indignation) over the ‘declining’ trust in science experts. I hope Rob will correct me if I get this wrong, I believe his point was that experts need to stop assuming that they are right and the public just has to listen and do as they are told. The audience member did not couch his comments that way but the assumption that we, the unwashed must do as we are told and our concerns are not relevant or wrong, is often at the heart of the ‘expertise’ claim. (Also I’m going to interject, I think the audience member had flipped the issue around. The question I’d be asking is why expertise in science is accepted unthinkingly in some areas and distrusted in others.)

Amber Didow, executive director of the Canadian Association of Science Centres, spoke about the importance of these centres with regard to science culture, the extensive programming they provide, and their relationship to their communities both locally and further afield. The fact that we were in Calgary’s new ‘science world’ (in Calgary, it’s Telus Spark) added greatly to the experience.

I did attend one more session, Kennedy Stewart’s NDP (New Democratic Party) Science Policy session but that’s for part 2.

ETA Nov. 14, 2012: I’ve forgotten my manners and I apologize for not doing this sooner. Thank you to the organizers for an exciting and well paced conference. Special thanks to Marissa Bender who eased my way before, during, and after; Dustin Rivers for making sure that I didn’t fall over from hunger once I finally arrived and  his impeccable graciousness, Mehrdad Hariri for his understanding and for extending a helping hand in the midst of what must have been one of heaviest organizational periods for the 2012 conference (I am impressed), Sean for his invaluable advice regarding rush hour traffic in Calgary, and the two heroic women who managed the portable mikes for my session.

2012 Canadian Science Policy Conference and thinking big about Canadian science culture and policy

The 2012 Canadian Science Policy Conference is coming up in Calgary, Alberta on Nov. 5-7, 2012. and FrogHeart will be there moderating the Thinking Big: Science Culture and Policy in Canada panel. More about that in a minute but first, here’s the announcement, which I received at about  12:30 pm PDT, Oct. 1, 2012 (so this is pretty fresh off the email) :

Minister of State for Science and Technology, the Hon. Gary Goodyear, and Alberta Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education, the Hon. Stephen Khan, will be speaking at the CSPC 2012

Calgary, Alberta November 5th – 7th

TORONTO, ONTARIO–(Marketwire – Sept. 28, 2012) - CSPC 2012 is pleased to announce that the Hon. Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology will provide the opening keynote address on Monday, November 5th at 8:45 AM.

Also, the Hon. Stephen Khan, Alberta Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education will provide a luncheon keynote speech on Tuesday, November 6th.

CSPC 2012 will feature an impressive program with more than 90 speakers – leaders of science and innovation – from industry, academia, the media and government. These include:

  • Hon. Moira Stilwell,  MLA, Minister of Social Development, BC
  • Bob Fessenden, Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy, Government of Alberta
  • Dan Wicklum, CEO, Canada Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, (COSIA)
  • Antonia Maioni, Incoming President, Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Jeffrey Simpson, National Affairs Columnist, The Globe and Mail
  • Jay Ingram, Founder, Beakerhead, Science Journalist
  • Rory McAlpine, Vice President, Maple Leaf Foods
  • Mike Herrington, Executive Director, Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM)
  • Richard Hawkins, Canada Research Chair, Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, University of Calgary

Keynote session: Pulling Together: “What is the appropriate division of labour between business, government, and the academy in advancing science-based innovation in Canada?” a dialogue with the three Honourary Co-Chairs:

  • The Hon. Preston Manning C.C., President & CEO, Manning Centre for Building Democracy
  • Dr. Eric Newell, Chancellor Emeritus, University of Alberta, Former Chair and CEO, Syncrude Canada Ltd.
  • M. Elizabeth Cannon, PhD, FCAE, FRSC, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Calgary

Twenty-one panel sessions, reflecting the four conference themes, submitted from across the country and internationally, including:

  • Innovation, R&D, and Productivity in the Oil and Gas Sector
  • Dissecting Canada’s Science & Technology Landscape
  • Innovation and Agriculture and the Role of Policy
  • Next Generation e-Health: Integrating Research, Policy, Industry
  • Entrepreneurship as a vehicle for innovation
  • “Science Policy 101″ workshop

For the complete agenda please go to http://www.cspc2012.ca/glance.php and for descriptions of all the panel discussions see http://www.cspc2012.ca/paneldescriptions.php.

Don’t miss Canada’s premiere science policy conference as it brings a spotlight to Western Canada!

Follow us on Twitter @sciencepolicy, Facebook, and LinkedIn for the latest in science policy news and conference updates.

Register Now!

Register today at https://www.verney.ca/cspc2012/registration/index.php to benefit from the Early Bird rate (ends October 1, 2012).

The Canadian conference has a major fan in David Bruggeman of the Pasco Phronesis blog as per his Aug. 28, 2012 posting titled ‘Where Canada Might Lead The World – The Fourth Canadian Science Policy Conference‘,

Later this year the fourth Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) will take place in Alberta, Calgary.  I attended the first conference in 2009, when it was held in Toronto.  I found it quite valuable, and not being Canadian, I think that says something.  In the three years since the first conference, the number of presenters and panels has grown consistently, and I think the conference provides an important convening function for the nation’s researchers and practitioners interested in science policy.

I wish we had something like it in the United States. …

As for the Thinking big panel, here’s the description,

Science culture is more than encouraging kids to become scientists to insure our economic future; more than having people visit a science museum or centre and having fun; more than reading an interesting article in a newspaper or magazine about the latest whizbang breakthrough; more than educating people so they become scientifically literate and encourage ‘good’ science policies; it is a comprehensive approach to community- and society-building.

We live in a grand (in English, magnificent and en francais, big) country, the 2nd largest in the world and it behooves us all to be engaged in developing a vibrant science culture which includes

  • artists (performing and visual),
  • writers,
  • scientists,
  • children,
  • seniors,
  • games developers,
  • doctors,
  • business people,
  • elected officials,
  • philosophers,
  • government bureaucrats,
  • educators,
  • social scientists,
  • and others

as we grapple with 21st century scientific and technical developments.

As scientists work on prosthetic neurons for repair in people with Parkinsons and other neurological diseases, techniques for tissue engineering, self-cleaning windows, exponentially increased tracking capabilities for devices and goods tagged with RFID devices, engineered bacteria that produce petroleum and other products (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Living Foundries project), and more, Canadians will be challenged to understand and adapt to a future that can be only dimly imagined.

Composed of provocative thinkers from the worlds of science writing, science education, art/science work, and scientific endeavour, during this panel discussion they will offer their ideas and visions for a Canadian science culture and invite you to share yours. In addition to answering questions, each panelist will prepare their own question for audience members to answer.

The panelists are:

Marie-Claire Shanahan

Marie-Claire Shanahan is a professor of science education and science communication at the University of Alberta. She is interested in how and why students make decisions to pursue their interests science, in high schools, post-secondary education and informal science education. She also conducts research on interactions between readers and writers in online science communications.

Stephen Strauss

Stephen Strauss, Canadian Science Writers’ Association president, has been writing about science for 30 years. After receiving a B.A. (history) from the University of Colorado, he worked as an English teacher, a social worker, an editor before joining the Globe and Mail in 1979. He began writing about science there.

Since leaving the newspaper in 2004 he has written for the CBC.ca, Nature, New Scientist, The Canadian Medical Association Journal as well as authored books and book chapters. He has written for organizations such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Government of Ontario and has won numerous awards.

Amber Didow

Amber Didow is the Executive Director for the Canadian Association of Science Centres. She has over 20 years experience in the non-profit sector and advancing informal education. She has worked within the Science Centre field for many years including the Saskatchewan Science Centre and Science World British Columbia.  Amber’s background includes new business development; educational outreach; programming with at-risk youth; creating community based science events; melding science with art and overseeing the creation and development of both permanent and travelling exhibitions. Amber has a strong passion for community development within the sector.

Maryse de la Giroday (moderator)

Maryse de la Giroday currently runs one of the largest and longest running Canadian science blogs (frogheart.ca) where she writes commentary on  nanotechnology, science policy, science communication, society, and the arts. With a BA in Communication (Simon Fraser University, Canada) and an MA in Creative Writing and New Media (De Montfort University, UK), she combines education and training in the social sciences and humanities with her commitment as an informed member of the science public. An independent scholar, she has presented at international conferences on topics of nanotechnology, storytelling, and memristors.

Dr. Moira Stilwell, MLA

Dr. Moira Stilwell was appointed Minister of Social Development  for the province of British Columbia in September 2012. Elected MLA for Vancouver-Langara in the 2009 provincial general election. She previously served as Parliamentary Secretary for Industry, Research and Innovation to the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health with a focus on Health Innovation. She also served as Vice Chair of the Cabinet Committee on Jobs and Economic Growth. In her first cabinet appointment, she served as Minister of Advanced Education and Labour Market Development from June 2009 to October 2010.

Prior to her political career, Stilwell graduated from the University of Calgary Medical School. She received further training in nuclear medicine at the University of British Columbia and in radiology at the University of Toronto after that. She served for several years as the Head of Nuclear Medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver, Surrey Memorial Hospital, and Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Clinic but left all those positions in 2009 to run for public office.

The driving force behind the province’s Year of Science in BC (2010-11) initiative for schools, Stilwell has a passionate interest and commitment to integrating science awareness and culture in government, education, and society.

Rob Annan

Rob is the Director of Policy, Research and Evaluation at Mitacs, a leading Canadian not-for-profit that supports innovation through skills development, research, and collaboration between students, researchers, and industry. Mitacs supports research across sciences, humanities and social sciences and understands that innovation often occurs at the intersection of science and culture. Mitacs’ approach to innovation is reflected in our outreach activities, most notably Math Out Loud – a theatre musical designed to inspire Canadian students to understand and appreciate the mathematics that surround them. Inspired by Laval University’s renowned Professor of Mathematics Jean-Marie De Koninck and produced by Academy Award winner Dale Hartleben, Math Out Loud explores the relationships between math and culture as an effective outreach tool.

Prior to joining Mitacs, Rob worked as a consultant to universities, researchers and non-profit agencies for strategic planning and policy, and was active as a blogger on science policy issues in Canada. Rob embodies the intersection of arts and science, with a PhD in Biochemistry from McGill University, a BSc in Biology from UVic and a BA in English from Queen’s University.

Hope to see you at the conference!

2011 roundup and thoughts on the Canadian science blogging scene

Last year I found about a dozen of us, Canadians blogging about science, and this year (2011) I count approximately 20 of us. Sadly, one blog has disappeared; Elizabeth Howell has removed her PARS3C blog from her website. Others appear to be in pause mode, Rob Annan at the Researcher Forum: Don’t leave Canada behind (no posts since May 4, 2011), The Bubble Chamber at the University of Toronto (no posts since Aug. 12, 2011), Gregor Wolbring’s  Nano and Nano- Bio, Info, Cogno, Neuro, Synbio, Geo, Chem…  (no new posts since Oct. 2010; I’m about ready to give up on this one) and Je vote pour la science (no posts since May 2011).

I’ve been fairly catholic in my approach to including blogs on this list although I do have a preference for blogs with an individual voice that focuses primarily on science (for example, explaining the science you’re writing about rather than complaining about a professor’s marking of your science paper).

Piece of Mind is Nassif Ghoussoub’s (professor of mathematics at the University of British Columbia) blog which is largely about academe, science, and grants. Nassif does go much further afield in some of his posts, as do we all from time to time. He’s quite outspoken and always interesting.

Cool Science is John McKay’s blog which he describes this way ” This site is about raising a creative rationalist in an age of nonsense. It is about parents getting excited about science, learning and critical thinking. It is about smart parents raising smart kids who can think for themselves, make good decisions and discern the credible from the incredible. ” His posts cover a wide range of topics from the paleontology museum in Alberta to a space shuttle launch to the science of good decisions and more.

Dave Ng makes me dizzy. A professor with the Michael Smith Laboratories at the University of British Columbia, he’s a very active science communicator who has started blogging again on the Popperfont blog. This looks like a compilation of bits from Twitter, some very brief postings, and bits from other sources. I’m seeing this style of blogging more frequently these days.

The queen of Canadian science blogging, Rosie Redfield, was just acknowledged as a ‘newsmaker of the year’ by Nature magazine. The Dec. 22, 20111 Vancouver Sun article by Margaret Munro had this to say,

A critical thinker in Vancouver has been named one of the top science newsmakers of the year.

“She appeared like a shot out of the blogosphere: a wild-haired Canadian microbiologist with a propensity to say what was on her mind,” the leading research journal Nature says of Rosie Redfield, a professor at the University of B.C.

The journal editors say Redfield is one of 10 individuals who “had an impact, good or bad, on the world of science” in 2011. She was chosen for her “critical” inquiry and “remarkable experiment in open science” that challenged a now-infamous “arsenic life” study funded by NASA.

Rosie has two blogs, RRResearch and RRTeaching. She used to say she wasn’t a blogger but I rather think she’s changed her tune.

Jeff Sharom’s Science Canada blog isn’t, strictly speaking, a blog so much as it is an aggregator of Canadian science policy news and a good one at that. There are also some very useful resources on the site. (I shamelessly plundered Jeff’s list to add more blogs to this posting).

The Black Hole is owned by Beth Swan and David Kent (although they often have guest posters too). Here’s a description from the About page,

I have entered the Post Doctoral Fellow Black Hole… I’ve witnessed a lot and heard about much more and, while this is the time in academic life when you’re meant to be the busiest, I have begun this blog. Just as a black hole is difficult to define, the label Post Doc is bandied about with recklessness by university administrators, professors, and even PDFs themselves. One thing is certain though… once you get sucked in, it appears to be near impossible to get back out.

David, Beth, and their contributors offer extensive discussions about the opportunities and the failings of the post graduate science experience.

Nicole Arbour, a Science and Innovation Officer at the British High Commission Office in Ottawa, Canada, blogs regularly about Canadian science policy and more on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office blogs.

Colin Schultz, a freelance science journalist, blogs at his website CMBR. He focuses largely on climate change, environmental research, space, and science communication.

exposure/effect is a blog about toxicology, chemical exposures, health and more, which is written by a scientist who chooses to use a pseudonym, ashartus.

Mario’s Entangled Bank is written by theoretical biologist, Mario Pineda-Krch at the University of Alberta. One of Pineda-Krch’s most recent postings was about a special section of a recent Science Magazine issue on Reproducible Research.

Boundary Vision is written by Marie-Claire Shanahan, a professor of science education at the University of Alberta. She not only writes a science blog, she also researches the language and the social spaces of science blogs.

Eric Michael Johnson writes The Primate Diaries blog which is now part of the Scientific American blog network. With a master’s degree in evolutionary anthropology, Johnson examines the interplay between evolutionary biology and politics both on his blog and as part of his PhD work (he’s a student at the University of British Columbia).

The Atoms and Numbers blog is written by Marc Leger. From the About Marc page,

I am a scientist who has always been curious and fascinated by how our universe works.  I love discovering the mysteries and surprises of our World.  I want to share this passion with others, and make science accessible to anyone willing to open their minds.

Many people have appreciated my ability to explain complex scientific ideas in simple terms, and this is one motivation behind my website, Atoms and Numbers.  I taught chemistry in universities for several years, and I participated in the Scientists in the Schools program as a graduate student at Dalhousie University, presenting chemistry magic shows to children and teenagers from kindergarten to grade 12.  I’ve also given presentations on chemistry and forensics to high school students.  I’m even acknowledged in a cookbook for providing a few morsels of information about food chemistry.

Massimo Boninsegni writes about science-related topics (some are about the academic side of science; some physics; some personal items) on his Exponential Book blog.

The Last Word on Nothing is a group blog that features Heather Pringle, a well-known Canadian science writer, on some posts. Pringle’s latest posting is, Absinthe and the Corpse Reviver, all about a legendary cure for hangovers. While this isn’t strictly speaking a Canadian science blog, there is a Canadian science blogger in the group and the topics are quite engaging.

Daniel Lemire’s blog is known simply as Daniel Lemire. He’s a computer scientist in Montréal who writes one of the more technical blogs I’ve come across and his focus seems to be databases. He does cover other topics too, notably in this post titled, Where do debt, credit and currencies come from?

Confessions of a Science Librarian by John Dupuis (head of the Steacie Science & Engineering Library at York University) is a blog I missed mentioning last year and I’m very glad I remembered it this year. As you might expect from a librarian, the last few postings have consisted of lists of the best science books of 2011.

Sci/Why is a science blog being written by Canadian children’s writers who discuss science, words, and the eternal question – why?

I have mixed feelings about including this blog, the Dark Matter science blog by Tom Spears, as it is a ‘newspaper blog’ from the Ottawa Citizen.

Similarly, the MaRS blog is a corporate initiative from the Toronto area science and technology business incubator, MaRS Discovery District.

The last three blogs I’m mentioning are from medical and health science writers.

Susan Baxter’s blog Curmudgeon’s Corner features her insights into various medical matters, for example there’s her Dec. 5, 2011 posting on mammograms, along with her opinions on spandex, travel, and politics.

Peter Janiszewski and Travis Saunders co-own two different blogs, Obesity Panacea, which is part of the PLoS (Public Library of Science) blogs network, and Science of Blogging (nothing posted since July 2011 but it’s well worth a look).

I don’t have anything particularly profound to say about the state of Canadian science blogging this year. It does look to be getting more populous online and I hope that trend continues. I do have a wish for the New Year; I think it should be easier to find Canadian science blogs and would like  to see some sort of network or aggregated list.

Sick and tired of the ‘social media is changing how science is practiced’ narrative

The whole ‘social media is changing ______’ puzzles me. You can fill in the blank with science/government/social relationships/etc. It’s always the same notion. Somehow social media is engendering changes the like of which we’ve never seen before.

  • The February 2011 overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt was all due to social media, as is the current social unrest in many Middle Eastern Countries.
  • Social relationships are being negatively impacted (nobody talks to anybody else anymore or it’s opening new avenues for relationships)
  • The practice of science is being changed by the use of social media.
  • etc.

Mostly I’m concerned with the one about science since I recently ended up on a panel where the discussion turned on this topic. I think there are a lot of things having an impact on how science is practiced and trying to establish the role social media is playing, if any, is a little premature.

We had Rosie Redfield on the panel. Rosie is a professor at the University of British Columbia who was part of the ‘arsenic life’ story that took the internet by a storm in late November/early December 2010. (Confession: I got caught up in the excitement in my Dec. 6, 2010 posting and recanted in my Dec. 8, 2010 posting.) Recently, there’s been a story about ‘arsenic life’ by Carl Zimmer for Slate magazine titled, How #arseniclife changed science. Here’s Zimmer’s set up (from the Slate article),

On November 29, NASA announced that it would soon hold a press conference to “discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.” Wild speculation ran amok—perhaps scientists had found living things on one of Saturn’s moons. At the press conference, the scientists did not unveil an actual extraterrestrial, but they did have big news. A new paper had just been published in the journal Science, they said, which described bacteria that seemed able to build their own DNA from arsenic. If that were true, it would be an historic discovery, because no such ability has ever been found among Earth’s life-forms.

The paper was published online in late November and attracted a great deal of discussion and criticism almost immediately on blogs (Rosie Redfield’s RRResearch amongst them) and on twitter via the hash tag topic, #arseniclife. The print version of the paper, along with critical letters, will appear in the June 3, 2011 issue of Science.

Here’s Zimmer’s take on what makes this particular scientific dust-up different,

For those of us who have been tracking #arseniclife since last Thanksgiving, however, today comes as an anticlimax. There’s not much in the letters to Science that we haven’t read before. In the past, scientists might have kept their thoughts to themselves, waiting for journals to decide when and how they could debate the merits of a study. But this time, they started talking right away, airing their criticisms on the Internet. In fact, the true significance of the aliens-that-weren’t will be how it helped change the way scientists do science.

Zimmer goes on to describe this new practice,

Redfield and her colleagues are starting to carry out a new way of doing science, known as post-publication peer review. Rather than leaving the evaluation of new studies to a few anonymous scientists, researchers now debate the merit of papers after they have been published. The collective decision they come to stays open to revision.

Post-publication peer review—and open science in general—is attracting a growing number of followers in the scientific community. But some critics have argued that it’s been more successful in theory than in practice. The #arseniclife affair is one of the first cases in which the scientific community openly vetted a high-profile paper, and influenced how the public at large thought about it.

Post-publication peer review existed before social media as per ‘cold fusion’ (Wikipedia essay). I remember it because I wasn’t particularly interested in science at the time but this was everywhere and it went on for months. There was the initial excitement and enthusiasm (the ‘cold fusion’ scientists were featured on the cover of Times or Newsweek or maybe both in the days when those magazines were powerhouse publications). Then, as the initial enthusiasm died down, the storm of scientific criticism started (those other scientists may not have had social media but they made themselves felt). The story took place over eight to 10 months and achieved public awareness in a way that scientists can only fantasize about these days.  By comparison, the arsenic story blew up and disappeared from public consciousness within roughly two weeks, if that.

Social media may yet change how science is practiced but I wouldn’t use Zimmer’s story about #arsencilife to support that belief, in fact, I think it could support another idea altogether.

The ‘arsenic’ story was, by comparison, with ‘cold fusion’ greatly truncated and most members of the public never really heard about it and, as a consequence, were not exposed to the furious debate and discussion as they were with  ‘cold fusion’.  They did not get exposed to how science ‘really works and therein lies a problem because they did not see the uncertainties, the mistakes, and revised ideas.

As for what factors may be having an impact on scientific practice, I’d suggest reading Identifying good scientists and keeping them honest on The Black Hole blog by David Kent. Here’s an excerpt,

In a February 2011 interview with Lab Times, Cambridge scientist Peter Lawrence1 reflects on his own career and complains that “the heart of research is sick” as he charts the changes in the way in which science is pursued.  Briefly, he cites impact factors and the increased need to assign metrics to scientists (# of publications, H-index, etc) as main drivers of producing low quality research and unfairly squeezing out some good scientists who do not publish simply for the sake of publishing.  Impact factor fever runs deep throughout laboratories but, most damagingly, exists at the funding agency and university administrative level as well.

ETA June 17, 2011: For anyone who’d like to read some updated and contrasting discussion about the #arseniclife aftermath for scientific practice and science education there are two June 16, 2011 guest posts for Scientific American, one from Rosie Redfield and the other from Marie-Claire Shanahan. Plus, if you are interested in more details about the cold fusion story and the role electronic communication played, check out Marie-Claire Shanahan’s post,  Arsenic, cold fusion and the legitimacy of online critique, on the Boundary Vision blog.

#SciLxn41; Peer Review Radio’s end of season broadcast on April 26, 2011

Tomorrow, April 26, 2011, at 9 am PST (12 noon EST) Peer Review Radio will be broadcasting its last show of the season (scroll down and over to the right for your choice of listening to it live or, later, as a podcast), a programme on science policy in the 2011 Canadian Federal Election.

Adrian J. Ebsary is producing and hosting the show, which will feature interviews with me, Marie-Claire Shanahan, science education professor at the University of Alberta and blogger at Boundary Vision, amongst others discussing science policy, science education, and more as they relate to the platforms of the Bloc Québécois, Conservative, Green, Liberal, and NDP federal parties in this 2011 election season.

Unfortunately, we were not able to get candidates from each of the federal parties to talk to us about their party’s 2011 election platform and science policy. Two candidates did agree to discuss it but due to CRTC rules, all the parties must be given equal broadcast time, so Adrian is not able to include them in the broadcast. Consequently, interviews with Scott Bradley, Liberal party candidate running in Ottawa Centre, and Emma Hobgin, Green party candidate in Owen Sound and the party’s shadow Science Minister, will be distributed after the programme has aired via Youtube. That’s the current plan, if anything changes, I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, there’s an April 24, 2011 article in the Times-Colonist (a Victoria, BC newspaper) by Postmedia News reporter, Mike De Souza about Australian scientist Tim Flannery’s bafflement over the lack of discussion about science issues such as the environment and climate change in the federal election campaigns. From the article,

A best-selling Australian author who is known as the “rock star” of modern science is baffled to see Canada’s election campaign side-stepping around climate change and environmental issues.

In an interview with Postmedia News, Tim Flannery, recently appointed as chief commisioner of the Australian government’s climate commission, says the environment is one of the top issues everywhere he travels.

But after arriving in North America earlier this month to promote his new book, Here on Earth, he noted from the recent federal leaders debates that Canada’s political climate was different than what he saw during a visit three years ago.

“I watched (the debates) with great interest but I was mystified to see that the environment just didn’t rank at all,” said Flannery, who leads the commission that engages the Australian public in discussions about climate change.