Tag Archives: NDP

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:

http://www.chathamhouse.org.uk/publications/papers/view/-/id/774/

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.

http://www.nano.gov/NNI_EHS_Research_Strategy.pdf

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

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld/ldsctech.htm

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.

http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/sr-sr/consult/_2010/nanomater/index-eng.php

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,

THE DYLAN THOMAS CIRCLE OF VANCOUVER presents

“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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Maloway, NDP, Science and Technology [portfolio]

Frances Coates, Green Party, shadow minister Science and Technology

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

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