Tag Archives: NDP

Science panel on CBC (radio) Quirks & Quarks plus more

Science panel or is it a debate?

Kudos to the Quirks & Quarks team for pulling together a science panel/debate on their CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio One broadcast for the 2015 Canadian federal election. First, the tweet,

Many thanks for today’s election science panel: you were all great. Airs on Oct 10

Then, there’s the description from the Quirks & Quarks This week programme page,

This Week: Our All-Party Election Science Panel

Science and environmental issues have not been mentioned much in this long election campaign. So we thought we’d correct that by holding our own debate with candidates from all the major federal parties. [emphasis mine] We’ve gathered together:

– Lynne Quarmby, Green Party candidate in Burnaby-North, and  professor and Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Simon Fraser University
– Gary Goodyear, Conservative Party candidate in Cambridge, Ontario, and former Minister of State for Science and Technology
– Marc Garneau, Liberal Party candidate in NDG-Westmount, and a former Canadian astronaut
– Megan Leslie, NDP candidate in Halifax and her party’s environment critic

The panel or debate will be broadcast on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015 at 12 noon (rebroadcast on Monday, Oct. 12, 2015 at 11 pm and, in some markets, on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 at 3 pm and made available at some point as a podcast). The panel/debate will be moderated by Bob McDonald, host for Quirks & Quarks, CBC Radio One.

I have a few comments about the panel. I’m surprised they didn’t mention that Lynne Quarmby is the Greens’ science shadow minister (also known as, the science policy critic); Marc Garneau once wrote his own Liberal science policy (mentioned in my Jan. 22, 2010 posting; scroll down about 50% of the way) when the Liberals were less interested in science although they did evince more interest by appointing Ted Hsu, a physicist and MP as their most recent science shadow minister [unfortunately he’s not running in this election]); I’m not familiar with Megan Leslie as Kennedy Stewart is the NDP’s science shadow minister; and Gary Goodyear in addition to being the former Minister of State for Science and Technology is a chiropractor known for his response to a question about evolution. It ran something along the lines of, “I don’t answer questions about my religion.” As the howling died down, he tried again with something like this, “Evolution is like having a pair of shoes that don’t fit. Over time your feet and/or the shoes adapt.” It’s not entirely wrong but it does leave out significant and important aspects of evolution as we currently understand it. In any event, muffled weeping could be heard across the nation. Those were his only serious missteps. Of course, most of his subsequent comments were scripted.

I trust it will be an interesting and dynamic discussion.

Science & Policy Exchange (SPE)/Dialogue sciences et politiques interviews

New post SPE Interviews Science and Technology Critic [Liberal] and Deputy Critic [NDP], Ted Hsu and Laurin Liu

Ted Hsu (Liberal shadow science minister)

Laurin Liu (NDP deputy shadow science minister)

For those interested in the Science & Policy Exchange, there’s more on their Who we are webpage,

We are a team of volunteer graduate students and post-doctoral fellows convinced that science and policy must communicate to better serve society. We aim to make this conference the premier forum for stakeholders to discuss the future of the knowledge economy in Quebec. Science & Policy Exchange is one of the few bilingual student led initiatives directly engaging Québec’s political scene and effectively bridging the gap between academia, industry and government leaders. If you are a student in the sciences and are interested in joining the conference organization committee or to volunteer for our organization please contact us.

The Science & Policy Exchange is a registered charity organization (Canada Revenue Agency) and listed in the Registraire des Entreprises du Québec.

also available in French

Based on the copyright notice at the bottom of the Who we are webpage, I believe this organization has been in place since 2010.

Final comments

It is exciting to see science becoming part of the election conversation. So, despite quibbles about who is or isn’t on the Quirks & Quarks science panel and the inability to phone in and ask questions along with the fear that ‘science muzzles’ will dominate discussion to the exclusion of much else, this panel and the SPE interviews are a huge step forward and kudos are owed to all involved.

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

Election 2015 science panel

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

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

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

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

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

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

NDP Science Platform Details

Restore the voice of scientists in Canada

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

Support Canada’s world-class researchers

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

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

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

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

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

Science integrity

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Of Canadian 2015 election science debates and science weeks

You’d think science and technology might rate a mention in a debate focused on the economy but according to all accounts, that wasn’t the case last night in a Sept. 17, 2015 Canadian federal election debate featuring three party leaders, Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party, Thomas Mulcair of the New Democratic Party (NDP), and Stephen Harper, Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party. BTW, Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, was not invited but managed to participate by tweeting video responses to the debate questions. For one of the more amusing and, in its way, insightful commentaries on the debate, there’s a Sept. 17, 2015 blog posting on CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] News titled: ‘Old stock Canadians,’ egg timer, creepy set top debate’s odd moments; Moderator David Walmsley’s Irish accent and a ringing bell get reaction on social media.

As for science and the 2015 Canadian federal election, Science Borealis has compiled an informal resource list in a Sept. 18, 2015 posting and while I’ve excerpted the resources where you can find suggested questions for candidates, there’s much more to be found there,



Interestingly, the journal Nature has published a Sept. 17, 2015 article (h/t @CBC Quirks) by Nicola Jones featuring the Canadian election and science concerns and the impact science concerns have had on opposition party platforms (Note: Links have been removed),

Canadians will head to the polls on 19 October [2015], in a federal election that many scientists hope will mark a turning point after years of declining research budgets and allegations of government censorship.

In an unprecedented move, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada — a union in Ottawa that represents more than 57,000 government scientists and other professionals — is campaigning in a federal race. “Here’s how we do things in the Harper government,” declares one of the union’s radio advertisements. “We muzzle scientists, we cut research and we ignore anyone who doesn’t tell us what we want to hear.”

Science advocates see little chance that their issues will be aired during a 17 September [2015] debate in Calgary that will pit Harper against NDP [New Democratic Party] leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. But concerns about the state of Canadian science have nevertheless influenced party platforms.

The middle-left Liberal Party has made scientific integrity part of its election campaign, proposing the creation of a central public portal to disseminate government-funded research. The party seeks to appoint a chief science officer to ensure the free flow of information.

Similarly, the NDP has called for a parliamentary science officer, a position that would be independent of the majority party or coalition leading the government.

Adding to the concern about the practice of science in Canada is the delayed release of a biennial report from the government’s Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC). Paul Wells in a June 26, 2015 article for Maclean’s Magazine discusses the situation (Note: Links have been removed),

It is distressing when organizations with no partisan role play the sort of games partisans want. The latest example is the advisory board that the Harper government created to tell it how Canada is doing in science.

I have written about the Science, Technology and Innovation Council every two years since it produced its first major report, in May 2009. STIC, as it’s known, is not some fringe group of pinko malcontents trying to stir up trouble and turn the people against their right and proper governing party. It was conceived by the Harper government (in 2007), appointed by the Harper government (in bits ever since), and it consists, in part, of senior officials who work with the Harper government every day. …

This group gives the feds the best advice they can get about how Canada is faring against other countries in its science, research and technology efforts. Its reports have been increasingly discouraging.

Perhaps you wonder: What’s the situation now? Keep wondering. Every previous STIC biennial report was released in the spring. This winter, I met a STIC member, who told me the next report would come out in May 2015 and that it would continue most of the declining trend lines established by the first three reports. I wrote to the STIC to ascertain the status of the latest report. Here’s the answer I received:

“Thank you for your interest. STIC’s next State of the Nation report will be released later in the Fall. We will be happy to inform you of the precise date and release details when they have been confirmed.”

There is no reason this year’s report was not released in the spring, as every previous report was. None except the approach of a federal election.

Getting back to a national science debate, I have written about a proposed debate to be held on the CBC Quirks and Quarks radio programme here in a Sept. 3, 2015 posting which also features a local upcoming (on Weds., Sept. 23, 2015) election science and technology debate amongst  federal candidates in Victoria, BC. I cannot find anything more current about the proposed national science debate other than the CBC radio producer’s claim that it would occur in early October. Earlier today (Sept. 18, 2015) I checked their Twitter feed (https://twitter.com/CBCQuirks) and their website (http://www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks). I wonder what’s taking so long for an announcement. In the space of a few hours, I managed to get Ted Hsu and Lynne Quarmby, science shadow ministers for the Liberal and Green parties, respectively, to express interest in participating.

Well, whether or not there is a 2015 national science debate, I find the level of interest, in contrast to the 2011 election, exciting and affirming.

In the midst of all this election and science discussion, there are some big Canadian science events on the horizon. First and technically speaking not on the horizon, there’s Beakerhead (a smashup of art, science, and engineering) in Calgary, Alberta which runs from Sept. 16 – 20, 2015. Here are a few of the exhibits and installations you can find should you get to Calgary in time (from a Sept. 16, 2015 Beakerhead news release),

The five days of Beakerhead officially get rolling today with the world’s largest pop-up gallery, called a String (Theory) of Incredible Encounters, with a circumference of five kilometres around downtown Calgary.

The series of public art installations is an exploration in creativity at the crossroads of art, science and engineering, and can be seen by touring Calgary’s neighbourhoods, from Inglewood to East Village to Victoria Park, 17th Ave and Kensington. The home base or hub for Beakerhead this year is at Station B (the Beakerhead moniker for installations at Fort Calgary).

Station B is home to two other massive firsts – a 30-foot high version of the arcade claw game, and a 6,400 square foot sandbox – all designed to inspire human ingenuity.

Beakerhead 2015 event will erupt on the streets and venues of Calgary from September 16 to 20, and includes more than 160 collaborators and 60 public events, ranging from theatre where the audience is dining as part of the show to installations where you walk through a human nose. More than 25,000 students will be engaged in Beakerhead through field trips, classroom visits and ingenuity challenges.

Just as Beakerhead ends, Canada’s 2015 Science Literacy Week opens Sept. 21 – 27, 2015. Here’s more about the week from a Sept. 18, 2015 article by Natalie Samson for University Affairs,

On Nov. 12 last year [2014], the European Space Agency landed a robot on a comet. It was a remarkable moment in the history of space exploration and scientific inquiry. The feat amounted to “trying to throw a dart and hit a fly 10 miles away,” said Jesse Hildebrand, a science educator and communicator. “The math and the physics behind that is mindboggling.”

Imagine Mr. Hildebrand’s disappointment then, as national news programs that night spent about half as much time reporting on the comet landing as they did covering Barack Obama’s gum-chewing faux pas in China. For Mr. Hildebrand, the incident perfectly illustrates why he founded Science Literacy Week, a Canada-wide public education campaign celebrating all things scientific.

From Sept. 21 to 27 [2015], several universities, libraries and museums will highlight the value of science in our contemporary world by hosting events and exhibits on topics ranging from the lifecycle of a honeybee to the science behind Hollywood films like Jurassic World and Contact.

Mr. Hildebrand began developing the campaign last year, shortly after graduating from the University of Toronto with a bachelor’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology. He approached the U of T Libraries for support and “it really snowballed from there,” the 23-year-old said.

Though Mr. Hildebrand said Science Literacy Week wasn’t inspired by public criticism against the federal government’s approach to scientific research and communication, he admitted that it makes the campaign seem that much more important. “I’ve always wanted to shout from the rooftops how cool science is. This is my way of shouting from the rooftops,” he said.

In the lead-up to Science Literacy Week, museum scientists with the Alliance of Natural History Museums of Canada have been posting videos of what they do and why it’s important under the hashtag #canadalovesscience. The end of the campaign will coincide with a lunar eclipse and will see several universities and observatories hosting stargazing parties.

You can find out more about this year’s events on the Science Literacy Week website. Here are a few of the BC events I found particularly intriguing,

UBC Botanical Garden – Jointly run as part of National Forest Week/Organic Week

September 20th, 10 a.m-12 p.m – A Walk in the Woods

Come discover the forest above, below and in between on our guided forest tour! Explore and connect with trees that hold up our 300-metre long canopy walkway. [emphasis mine] Meet with grand Firs, Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedars and learn about the importance of forests to biodiversity, climate change and our lives.

September 24th, 7:30-11 P.M – Food Garden Tour and Outdoor Movie Night

What better way to celebrate Organic Week than to hear about our exciting plans for the UBC Food Garden? Tour renewed garden beds to see what’s been growing. Learn about rootstocks, cultivars, training techniques and tree forms for fruit trees in this area.  Then make your way to out enchanting outdoor Ampitheatre and watch Symphony of the Soil, a film celebrated by the UN for 2015, the International Year of the Soil.

I highlighted the UBC Botanical Garden canopy walkway because you really do walk high up in the forest as you can see in this image of the walkway,

[downloaded from http://www.familyfuncanada.com/vancouver/canopy-walk-ubc-botanical-garden/]

[downloaded from http://www.familyfuncanada.com/vancouver/canopy-walk-ubc-botanical-garden/]

This image is from an undated article by Lindsay Follett for Family Fun Vancouver.

While it’s still a month away, there is Canada’s upcoming 2015 National Science and Technology Week, which will run from Oct. 16 – 25. To date, they do not have any events listed for this year’s week but they do invite you to submit your planned event for inclusion in their 2015 event map and list of events.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill C-558: Parliamentary Science Officer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endorsement Quotes

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

– Katie Gibbs, Executive Director, Evidence for Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FrogHeart (part 2) at the 2012 Canadian Science Policy Conference (or Kennedy Stewart and his proposed science policy)

The last session I attended at the 2012 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) was a bonus as I didn’t see it listed in the conference programme. Kennedy Stewart, NDP Member of Parliament for  Burnaby-Douglas and shadow minister for Science and Technology, released his document, Toward a National Science Policy at an after hours presentation.

As far as I’m concerned, this document represents a seismic shift, whether Stewart and his colleague, Laurin Liu, Deputy Science and Technology critic, are successful or not at introducing any kind of policy into the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) platform.

Given that I was unable to get responses to my questions about the NDP and its science policy from Jim Maloway (not the only one person or party to ignore my requests), one of the party’s former science and technology critics, and that Libby Davies’ constituency assistant dismissively described science to me as a ’boutique’ issue, I’m hugely heartened to see this interest.  (My Jan. 15, 2010 and April 26, 2011 postings [amongst others] recount some of my adventures trying to find information about the science policies of this country’s various political parties.)

If the hope is to set the terms for the discussion of science policy in Canada as Stewart stated during the launch, this document fails. It seems to have been heavily influenced by the Jenkins report (you can find my thoughts on that report in my Oct. 21, 2011 posting). Stewart’s document emphasizes funding for academic and government basic science research as opposed to emphasizing research applications and industrial research as they did in the Jenkins report. In effect, identical to the Jenkins report, Stewart’s document focusses on research and funding to the exclusion of any other concerns. Unlike Tom Jenkins and his expert panel, Stewart was not constrained to a government mandate so this choice of such a narrow view is troubling.

In other news, the launch was a bit of a ‘sausage fest’, mostly men with the few women in the room doing very little talking (while I was there). In effect, the gender issues which are present in so many ways throughout the science enterprise were also present in the room where we met. The question for me these days is: how do we deal with the gender issues without turning the solution into a special project or being heavy-handed (e.g. Now. the women get to speak. So men, shush. Ok?)?

Honestly, I’d like to see this document shredded. Sure, keep some of the material about funding basic research and the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation Development) data for inclusion in a more visionary, wide ranging document which includes the rest of us in an NDP science policy.

Here are my suggestions, start with the recognition that science affects all of us and can be accessible to all of us. Think in terms of culture, not just research funding. Here are some questions I would use to start building a science policy and then I’d ask for more questions.

How do we stimulate a science discussion in Canada? (thank you Marie-Claire Shanahan)

How do we better link education/training with the labour market?

How do we approach risk in an environment with growing uncertainties?

What impact will emerging technologies have on education/environment/society/etc.?

What role could citizen scientists play in the Canadian science enterprise?

How do we address the gender issues in science, recognizing that it’s not always men discriminating against women but it can be women discriminating against women? (my Sept. 24, 2012 posting titled, Uncomfortable truths; favouring males a gender bias practiced by male and female scientists)

How do we do a better job of funding research?

How do we encourage exchanges between artists, scientists, business leaders, politicians, dancers, philosophers, etc. for a more rounded approach to science?

In a nutshell: change the perspective and reframe the discussion. The topic can narrowed later but the time to really open up the thinking is at the beginning of the process, not at the end. It’s a little bit like cooking. At the beginning, you have your choice of ingredients but once you’ve put the bacon in the frying pan, you’ve committed to a dish that contains bacon.

Still, I’m thankful for the interest wish good luck to Kennedy Stewart and Laurin Liu as they develop a national science policy for the NDP.

For a perspective from the outside, David Bruggeman, a US science policy blogger, comments about this NDP document in his Nov. 11, 2012 posting on the Pasco Phronesis blog.

ETA Nov. 15, 2012: I realized (early this morning) that my own session “Thinking big … ” could also be described as a bit of a sausage fest. I mention that revelatory moment and some very interesting work on integrating gender ideas into research (and, I hope, policy) taking place place in Europe and the US in this Nov. 15, 2012 posting.

I also want to add a question to my list: What about open access to science research? (I think that research paid for by tax dollars ought to be accessible to those who have funded it.)

Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, Canada) poems at lunchtime June 2012

Coming up tomorrow (June 20, 2012) is another entry in the Lunch poems @sfu (Simon Fraser University) series in downtown Vancouver (Canada):

This month lunch poems @sfu presents:

Sonnet L’Abbé and her guest poet Renée Sarojini Saklikar

When: Wednesday, June 20th, 2012, 12 noon to 1 pm

Where: Teck Gallery (on main floor), SFU Harbour Centre,

515 West Hastings Street,

Vancouver, BC

Sonnet L’Abbé is the author of two collections of poetry, A Strange Relief and Killarnoeand a reviewer of Canadian fiction and poetry for The Globe and Mail. She is currently at the University of British Columbia writing a dissertation on botanical metaphors in representations of human cognition in the work of American poet Ronald Johnson.

Renée Sarojini Saklikar writes thecanadaproject, a life-long poem chronicle. Work from thecanadaproject appears online and in newspapers and literary journals. Poems from thecanadaproject will be the focus of a seminar at the Association of Cultural Studies Crossroads conference, Paris, July 2012. Renée is working on her first book, a sequence of elegies about Canada / Air India.

Neither poet appears to have a website but I did find this about L’Abbé in a Wikipedia essay (Note: I have removed links and footnotes.),

Sonnet L’Abbé is a Canadian poet and critic. As a poet, L’Abbé writes about national identity, race, gender and language. She has been shortlisted for the 2010 CBC Literary Award for poetry and has won the Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award for most promising writer under 35.As a critic, she is a regular reviewer of fiction and poetry for The Globe and Mail and has written scholarly articles on Canadian contemporary poetry.

And, I found this poem of Renée Sarojini Saklikar’s (from the Leaf Press website),

Carnarvon Street Lament

Oh I like the fog bound morning
hours when light casts a shadow
on my raggedy sweater and shoes cause
I’m now what I always knew I’d be
a raggedy woman just off the streets Oh
I sing in my veins a trapped noise
not let to the air cause I’m a raggedy girl
gone home from high towers to the ground
Oh watch me that’s where I’ll be
learning to spin wool to plant carrots in the dark soil Oh
I pound my feet ‘neath the big box towers
driven from road to road I’m the Raggedy One
claiming the moon oh the stars the sun.

As it turns out, Saklikar is married to Adrian Dix, leader of the New Democratic Party and of the opposition in the BC (British Columbia)  Legislative Assembly according to an April 17, 2011 article by Charlie Smith for the Georgia Straight newspaper when Dix was chosen to be party leader.

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!

Peter Julian’s interview about proposing Canada’s first nanotechnology legislation (part 2 of 3); more on the UK Nanotechnologies Strategy; Dylan Thomas, neuroscience and an open reading

This is part 2 of an interview with Member of Parliament, Peter Julian, NDP (New Democrat Party) who tabled the first Canadian bill to regulate nanotechnology. Yesterday’s part of the interview featured some biographical notes about Mr. Julian and his answers to questions about why he, in particular, tabled the bill; the NDP’s shadow science minister’s (Jim Malloway) involvement; and the NDP’s commitment to science policy. Today, Julian explains why he favours the application of the precautionary principle to nanotechnology, notes the research he used before writing his bill, and comments on a national inventory scheme. NOTE: As some folks may prefer other media or summaries/commentaries on these reports, in situations where I have additional material, I’ve taken the liberty of giving links, clearly marking my additions.

Why do you favour applying the precautionary principle which has received some criticism as it favours the status quo?

I believe that the precautionary principle does not favour the status quo. The status quo hinders appropriate applications of precaution. Environmental, health, and safety gaps in the application of Nanotechnology are a shared concern between countries, as reflected in recent reports to Congress and the EU and at the OECD. Precaution towards discovery, product, production, use and eventual disposal is simple common sense.

The precautionary principle deters action without reflection. When a product is massively put on the market we have to be sure that it will not have adverse effects on health and the environment, and not just a short lived positive effect on the bottom line.

What research materials support your (BILL) and are these materials that you would recommend interested citizens read?

I have a list of links concerning these materials:

ED. NOTE:  I offered some commentary here and links to other commentaries here about this report.

  • The Chatham House briefing paper, Regulating Nanomaterials: A Transatlantic Agenda (September 2009) an excellent eight page read:


ED. NOTE: There is a Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN)webcast of a presentation by the folks who authored the report. The webcast and speaker presentations can be found here and my commentary on the webcast here.

ED. NOTE: PEN webcast a presentation by J. Clarence Davies on Oversight of Next Generation Nanotechnology available here along with a speaker’s presentation and additional materials.

  • The National Nanotechnology Initiative document lays out a substantive, and sound, research program. Canada’s strategy remains limited in scope and vision.


I noticed mention of a public inventory for nanomaterials and it reminded me of a proposed Environment Canada nanomaterials inventory or reporting plan that was announced in January 2008. Do you know if this inventory ever took place or what its current status is?

The inventory is not completed yet. The bill develops a mandatory requirement for an inventory and there have been no prior operational inventories regarding nanotechnology products, which is why this bill is so important.

I would like to stress that in addition to the precautionary principle, Bill C-494 is built on a definition of Nanotechnology that adopts a broader and more inclusive definition of nanomaterials. This is consistent with the findings of the UK House of Lords Science and Technology Committee:

  • We recommend that the Government should work towards ensuring that any regulatory definition of nanomaterials proposed at a European level, in particular in the Novel Foods Regulation, should not include a size limit of 100nm but instead refer to ‘the nanoscale’ to ensure that all materials with a dimension under 1000nm are considered.A change in functionality, meaning how a substance interacts with the body, should be the factor that distinguishes a nanomaterial from its larger form within the nanoscale.

UK House of Lords Science and Technology Committee
Nanotechnologies and Food (8 January 2010)
Recommendation 12, p.76


This is in contrast with Health Canada policy which looks at narrow definition of nanomaterials:

  • Health Canada’s Science Policy Directorate announced the adoption of the Interim Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials and its posting on the Health Canada website 2 March 2010. This Government of Canada policy adopts a 1-100nm “inclusive” regulatory benchmark, effective immediately, with a public comment period underway.


ED. NOTE: I made an error in my question, the proposed nano inventory by Environment Canada was announced in Jan. 2009. My postings on the announcement are here and here. The odd thing about the announcement was that it was made initially by PEN which is located in Washington, DC and subsequently picked up by Canadian news media. As far as I know, Environment Canada has never offered comment about its 2009 plan for a nanotechnology inventory.

Tomorrow Julian wraps up with answers to questions about why someone who’s shadow portfolio includes international trade is interested in nanotechnology and the potential costs for his proposed legislation.

Peter Julian interview Part 1, Part 3, Comments: Nano Ontario, Comments: nanoAlberta

More on the UK 2010 Nanotechnologies Strategy Report

Dexter Johnson over on Nanoclast has done some detective work in a bid to understand why the market numbers used in the report differ wildly from anyone else’s. From Dexter’s posting,

It [the report] quotes market numbers for nano-enabled products that are such a drastic departure from most estimates that it leaves one questioning why tens of billions of dollars are being poured in by governments around the world to fund research.

If you have it, do take the time to follow along as Dexter  trails the company that the UK government used as its source for their market numbers. Amongst other names, I recognized one, ObservatoryNANO. (It was an organization I followed briefly and dismissed as being frivolous.)

One other commenter has emerged, Tim Harper. Now as the  principle of a nanotechnology business consulting company (Cientifica) some might be inclined to dismiss his comments but they have the ring of honest frustration and a sincere desire to contribute. From Harper’s posting,

Every UK nanotech report to date has excluded any data provided by UK companies. Even offers of free copies of our market research to government committees looking into various bits of nanotechnology provoke the same response as if we’d offered them a fresh dog turd wrapped in newspaper.

And now for a complete change of pace,

Dylan Thomas and neuroscience

There‘s an event tonight  (Thursday, March 25, 2010) in Vancouver being put on by the Dylan Thomas Circle (he lived in North Vancouver for a time as he worked on Under the volcano). It’s being held at the Red Dragon Pub at the Cambrian Hall on 17th & Main St.  Doors open at 6:45 pm and the presentation starts at 7:30 pm followed by an open reading. From the news release,


“Dylan Thomas, Creativity and Neuroscience”

Ariadne Sawyer will lead an exploration into creativity and the creative process as manifest through the works and the life of Dylan Thomas. She will investigate why we are creative, what happens during the creative process and what effect it has upon us.

This will be followed by an intermission and an: ‘OPEN READING’: an invitation to everyone who is interested to read aloud a poem or literary excerpt of their choice. This can be your own work, Dylan’s work or any other writer’s material. Most importantly, it is our chance to indulge in a little of our own creativity and to do it in a relaxed and in a friendly atmosphere.

About Ariadne Sawyer:

Ariadne has done on line Performance Plus Coaching with trainees from England, France, Canada and the United States for the last two years. She has received the Award of Excellence given by McLean-Hunter for the Brain Bulletin Series. Ariadne publishes an electronic newsletter called: Ariadne’s Performance Plus Newsletter along with Performance Plus Tips which are sent to all the participating trainees. She also co-hosts a weekly radio program on CFRO 102.7 FM, which has been on the air for the past two years. The Performance Plus Mini Course has been presented on the show with astounding success. She has two electronic courses available soon on the Internet. Performance Plus Level One and the Performance Plus Diplomacy Course. Ariadne has worked with trainees from Europe, the US and across Canada.

Peter Julian interview on tabling the first nanotechnology bill in Canada’s parliament (part 1 of 3); musings on oil-rich regions and nanotechnology

In mid-March 2010, Member of Parliament, Peter Julian, NDP (New Democrat Party) tabled the first Canadian bill (ETA June 22, 2010: Bill C-494) to regulate nanotechnology. Kudos to him for bringing nanotechnology into a national public forum and hopefully inspiring some discussion and debate.

Mr. Julian kindly agreed (thank you!) to answer some e-mail interview questions which I will be posting in a 3-part interview starting today where he answers questions about why he tabled the bill, the involvement of the NDP’s science shadow minister, and the state of the NDP’s science policy.

For anyone who’s not familiar with Mr. Julian, I got some biographical information from his constituency website,

Peter Julian

Member of Parliament, Burnaby–New Westminster
International Trade
Asia-Pacific Gateway
Deputy Critic Fisheries (West Coast Fisheries)
2010 Olympics

  • Has been the most active MP from Western Canada so far in the 40th Parliament.
  • First elected Member of Parliament for Burnaby-New Westminster in 2004 (by a narrow margin of 300 votes), and re-elected in 2006 (by 4,000 votes) and again in 2008 (by 7,000 votes).
  • Served as Critic on International Trade, Transportation, Persons with Disabilities, Gateways and the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in 39th Parliament; Critic on International Trade, the Treasury Board, Transportation and Persons with Disabilities in 38th Parliament.
  • Ranked fifth of 308 MPs in crafting of Private Member’s legislation in 39th Parliament including tougher drunk driving laws and eliminating toxic substances found in fire retardants.
  • Most active rookie in the House of Commons in the 38th Parliament.
  • Prominent critic of Harper Conservatives’ softwood lumber sellout. Called “the Iron Man” by CTV’s David Akin for determination to stop the sellout.
  • Previously a financial administrator, community activist and manual labourer. Served as National Executive Director of Council of Canadians – (founding member), former Executive Director of the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (WIDHH).
  • Instrumental in building the British Columbia Disability Employment Network
  • Former National Policy Coordinator and Assistant and Acting Federal Secretary of the New Democratic Party of Canada.

Now on to the interview:

What was the impetus for including nanotechnology as part of this bill? i.e. was there some specific incident or has this been an ongoing concern?

The major forces for including my bill on nanotechnology were; the concerns raised by constituents, the progressive work done by the European Union (including the EU Council Directive on cosmetic products and the January 2010 report of the UK’s House of Lords Science and Technology Committee Report). In contrast Canada has made minimal progress towards ensuring that nanotechnology discoveries are safely introduced into the marketplace, environment, and to Canadians.

The exponential increase in applications and products using this type of technology makes updating the regulatory framework necessary. A regulatory vacuum cannot persist if the commercial and societal promises of nanotechnologies are to be fulfilled. There are trade and safety implications involved.

A modernized regulatory framework, based on precaution given the rapid evolution of nanotechnologies, would help ensure that Canadians will be protected from unintended effects. At the same time, it would enable Canadian businesses to enjoy a predictable regulatory environment for investment and innovation, for nanotechnology is a key driver in Canada’s continued growth via sustainable development.

The following are the key components of Bill C-494:

A) A definition of Nanotechnology definition based on “nanometre scale” (1-1000nm),

B) Prescribed Government of Canada research and studies, with the precautionary principle providing direction for a ‘life-cycle’ approach to nanotechnology, and,

C) A Nanotechnology Inventory established and published.

I believe that the definition contained in Bill C-494 constitutes the first legislative body effort since UK House of Lords Committee recommended a similar nanometre scale definition.

Was the NDP’s science shadow minister involved in this bill? What was Jim Malloway’s contribution?

As you may know, private members bills are at the initiative of individual MPs. I have consulted with the NDP Environment and Health critics, in addition to our own research, library of Parliament support, and input from civil society. Jim Malloway and the NDP caucus support the principle of Bill C-494 and share the view that Nanotechnologies present a tremendous opportunity for Canada and that is why safety must be ensured.

Is there going to be more interest in science policy from the NDP?

The NDP is focused on securing sound foundations for science policy by making sure the government has enough resources to support the development of science while monitoring the consequences. We are also focused on ensuring that funding for post secondary education is appropriate and the resources and knowhow of the public sector are not trivialized and outsourced. The civil service needs a critical mass of expertise to support a healthy science development policy. We must encourage and preserve independent research at the university level and make sure that it is not subservient to corporate funding. Science must be allowed to evolve regardless of the commercial aspect. Our small caucus is focused on helping create these conditions where Canadian science and its applications can flourish in both private and not-for-profit spheres, with appropriate regulatory safeguards.

Tomorrow: Mr. Julian answers questions about the ‘precautionary principle’ and the research that supports his bill.

Peter Julian interview Part 2, Part 3, Comments: Nano Ontario, Comments: nanoAlberta

Oil-rich regions and nano

I had a few idle thoughts on seeing a notice on Nanowerk in mid-March that Iran has published a national nanotechnology standard. From the notice on Nanowerk,

The committee of Iranian nanotechnology standardization chose 49 main words in nanotechnology by means of ISO, BSI, and ASTM published standards and translated their definitions into Persian in cooperation with a team from Persian Language and Literature Academy.

The words like nanotechnology, nanomaterials, nanoparticle, nanoscale, nanotube, nanosystem etc have been defined in this standard.

(I did click on the link for the publication but unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an English language version available.)

I find it interesting that there is so much activity on the nanotechnology front in Iran and other other oil-producing regions including Alberta (Canada) which hosts the National Institute for Nanotechnology and gets a great deal of funding from the Alberta provincial government. Texas, also known for its oil, hosts a leader in nanotechnology research, Rice University which is celebrating its 25th anniversary as the site where ‘bucky balls’ or buckminster fullerenes were first discovered. In Saudi Arabia, they opened KAUST (King Abdullah University for Science and Technology) in September 2009. While the ambitions range far beyond (the Saudis hope to establish a modern ‘House of Wisdom’) nanotechnology, its research is an important element in the overall scheme of things. I guess the reason that all these areas which are known for their oil production are so invested in nanotechnology is that they know time is running out and they need new ways to keep their economies afloat.

New nano job board; Canadian science and technology strategy inferred by climate debate and 2010 federal budget?

Happy job hunting! Nanowerk has announced a new initiative (from the announcement),

Nanowerk, the leading information provider for all areas of nanotechnologies, today added to its nanotechnology information portal a new free job posting service.

The new application, called nanoJOBS, is available immediately on the Nanowerk website.

By posting their job openings on Nanowerk’s new nanoJOBS service, employers will reach a large audience in the areas of nanotechnologies, chemistry, physics, material sciences & engineering, medical technologies & pharmaceuticals, electronics, laboratory equipment, and all sectors involving state-of-the-art process technologies.

Like all other Nanowerk databases and directories, the nanoJOBS job postings are freely accessible. Employers need to register once and, in order to assure a high level of quality, their postings will be validated and approved by a Nanowerk administrator.

On other fronts, I mentioned climate science yesterday (March 22, 2010) in the context of public perception and how slow they can be to change.  Today I noticed a posting by Dave at The Black Hole blog which comes at the issue from a different angle. In the context of discussing science outreach in the UK, Dave describes two different lectures (pro and con) on climate change held at Cambridge. With some reluctance, Dave admits that the speaker (Nigel Lawson) on the ‘con’ side gave a better presentation and the ‘pro’ questioners at Lawson’s session were shrill and ill-considered (my words for the behaviour). As for Dave’s advice on how to ask politicians questions,

If you’re asking a politician a question, make it a yes or no question – people like Nigel Lawson are experts at saying what they want to say no matter what you ask, try boxing them in with logic and simplicity.

At the end of his post, Dave points to a March 18, 2010 article on Canadian climate science, the government’s attitude to it, and the 2010 federal budget in the Guardian newspaper. Titled Canadian government ‘hiding truth about climate change’, report claims by Stephen Leahy, the article notes that the Canadian federal 2010 budget did not allocate a single cent to climate change science with the consequence that the programmes will run out of money in early 2011. The Climate Action Network had obviously realized which way the wind was blowing as this nongovernmental organization released a report titled Troubling Evidence: The Harper Government’s Approach to Climate Science Research in Canada a few days after the budget was announced. From the Guardian article,

Climate change is not an abstract concept. It already results in the deaths of 300,000 people a year, virtually all in the world’s poorest countries. Some 325 million people are being seriously affected, with economic losses averaging 125 billion dollars a year, according to “The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis”, the first detailed look at climate change and the human impacts.

Canadians are unlikely to know any of this. [emphasis mine]

“Media coverage of climate change science, our most high-profile issue, has been reduced by over 80 percent,” says internal government documents obtained by Climate Action Network.

The dramatic decline results from a 2007 Harper government-imposed prohibition on government scientists speaking to reporters. Canadian scientists have told IPS they required permission from the prime minister’s communications office to comment on their own studies made public in scientific journals and reports.

If permission is granted, it requires written questions submitted in advance and often replies by scientists have to go through a vetting process. Within six months, reporters stopped calling and media coverage declined, the leaked report noted.

While climate experts were being muzzled, known climate change deniers were put in key positions on scientific funding bodies says Saul. The report documents three appointments and their public statements that climate change is a myth or exaggerated.

(One brief aside: the suggestion elsewhere  in the article that Maxime Bernier, former External Affairs minister, might one day step into the Prime Minister’s Office suggests that the reporter is not very familiar with Canadian politics. Also, he fails to note Harper’s roots in Alberta.) I’ve written previously about the 2007 muzzle which I believe sent a chill throughout the entire federal science community not just the scientists working for Environment Canada.

Before making some inferences about science and technology strategy/policy in Canada I need to offer some context. There is a stunning indifference to science policy amongst Canada’s political parties (I have more about that and links here). The only party which evinces an official strategy is the Conservative Party currently in office. The strategy occupies four bullet points in a very tightly written party platform. None of the other federal parties offers any science policy information on their websites. (Note: Marc Garneau of the Liberals has written up a document on his own initiative. You can find the links here.)

The Conservative government has consistently sent out messages about its attitude to science. If it makes money, it is good;  not unusual, as it is part of an international shift towards monetizing science research as quickly as possible. The Canadian difference is that there is no clear direction, i.e. no national science policy. (The prestigious international science journal, Nature,  published an editorial about the situation, which I mentioned here.)

The Canadian government does not have a chief science advisor (that office was cancelled in 2006 2008 [Corrected Mar.24.10 as per Wikipedia entry thanks to Shewonk for the date and do read her blog for another take on what she calls the anti-science attitude in Canada]) and replaced the position with a new advisory board reporting to the Minister of Industry called the  Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC ).

In the 2010 budget, the government announced that 245 positions on various boards would be cut for a saving of approximately $1M with no mention made in the news report as to which boards would suffer cuts or how the decisions would be made as to which positions would be lost due to attrition. (Given that STIC has 17 members on its board, I would imagine that there is some fat to be lost. However, it’s been my experience that the fat gets retained while the meat is discarded.)

In the 2009 budget, Genome Canada was ignored and the tri-council funding agencies suffered cuts. This year some money has been restored to the tri-council and Genome Canada and some science agencies such as TRIUMF (nuclear research facility at the University of British Columbia) have enjoyed substantive new funding while climate scientists have been thoroughly ignored.

The consistent messages to be derived are (1) that science will be somewhat supported for a time and (2) science that we (Conservatives) don’t approve of will be strangled (not unusual and not confined to the Canadian situation). Other than a few distinct areas such as climate change, drug addiction (Insite facility in Vancouver), and, apparently, Genomic research, there is no clear understanding as to which research is acceptable. Presumably there is interest in research where investments will show profit but if that were the case, why no clear focus on emerging technologies such as (I use this example only because I’m somewhat familiar with the subject area) nanotechnology? In fact, I’d like a clear focus, let’s call it a policy, on anything scientific.

If one is of Machiavellian inclinations, one might suspect a strategy of deliberate confusion as the government keeps the science community off-balance (it’s a guessing game as to which agency/group(s) will lose in the 2011 budget), confused (no science policy/direction) and from banding together (some groups did very well in the 2010 budget and have no incentive to complain as they have funding for the next 5 years).

It’s easy to blame the Conservative government currently in power but I think that Canadian scientists should bear some of the burden. There is very little substantive outreach or attempt to communicate to politicians or the public in an attempt to put science policy forward in any kind of national debate. Where is the Canadian equivalent to a Royal Society in the UK or the American Association for the Advancement of Science in the US?

In the meantime, I just got a notice that Carl Weiman (currently a professor at the University of British Columbia) has been nominated for an appointment as Associate Director of Science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Weiman has accepted the nomination. From the news release,

Wieman, a 2001 Nobel Laureate joined UBC’s Faculty of Science in 2007 as professor of Physics and Director of the $12 million Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative (CWSEI) to transform the teaching of science at UBC and elsewhere. He will take an unpaid leave of absence from the university upon confirmation of his appointment by the US Senate.

Wieman came to UBC from the University of Colorado, where he won the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics and where he maintains a part-time appointment to head up an education project similar to the CWSEI.

Interesting, non?

Before I sign off, do read Rob Annan’s latest, scathingly funny/sad roundup and analysis of responses to the federal 2010 budget now that the dust is starting to settle.

Tomorrow: my interview with Peter Julian, the NDP member of Parliament who has tabled Canada’s first nanotechnology bill.