Tag Archives: New Zealand

My name is Steve and I’m a sub auroral ion drift

Photo: The Aurora Named STEVE Couresty: NASA Goddard

That stunning image is one of a series, many of which were taken by amateur photographers as noted in a March 14, 2018 US National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA)/Goddard Space Flight Center news release (also on EurekAlert) by Kasha Patel about how STEVE was discovered,

Notanee Bourassa knew that what he was seeing in the night sky was not normal. Bourassa, an IT technician in Regina, Canada, trekked outside of his home on July 25, 2016, around midnight with his two younger children to show them a beautiful moving light display in the sky — an aurora borealis. He often sky gazes until the early hours of the morning to photograph the aurora with his Nikon camera, but this was his first expedition with his children. When a thin purple ribbon of light appeared and starting glowing, Bourassa immediately snapped pictures until the light particles disappeared 20 minutes later. Having watched the northern lights for almost 30 years since he was a teenager, he knew this wasn’t an aurora. It was something else.

From 2015 to 2016, citizen scientists — people like Bourassa who are excited about a science field but don’t necessarily have a formal educational background — shared 30 reports of these mysterious lights in online forums and with a team of scientists that run a project called Aurorasaurus. The citizen science project, funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation, tracks the aurora borealis through user-submitted reports and tweets.

The Aurorasaurus team, led by Liz MacDonald, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, conferred to determine the identity of this mysterious phenomenon. MacDonald and her colleague Eric Donovan at the University of Calgary in Canada talked with the main contributors of these images, amateur photographers in a Facebook group called Alberta Aurora Chasers, which included Bourassa and lead administrator Chris Ratzlaff. Ratzlaff gave the phenomenon a fun, new name, Steve, and it stuck.

But people still didn’t know what it was.

Scientists’ understanding of Steve changed that night Bourassa snapped his pictures. Bourassa wasn’t the only one observing Steve. Ground-based cameras called all-sky cameras, run by the University of Calgary and University of California, Berkeley, took pictures of large areas of the sky and captured Steve and the auroral display far to the north. From space, ESA’s (the European Space Agency) Swarm satellite just happened to be passing over the exact area at the same time and documented Steve.

For the first time, scientists had ground and satellite views of Steve. Scientists have now learned, despite its ordinary name, that Steve may be an extraordinary puzzle piece in painting a better picture of how Earth’s magnetic fields function and interact with charged particles in space. The findings are published in a study released today in Science Advances.

“This is a light display that we can observe over thousands of kilometers from the ground,” said MacDonald. “It corresponds to something happening way out in space. Gathering more data points on STEVE will help us understand more about its behavior and its influence on space weather.”

The study highlights one key quality of Steve: Steve is not a normal aurora. Auroras occur globally in an oval shape, last hours and appear primarily in greens, blues and reds. Citizen science reports showed Steve is purple with a green picket fence structure that waves. It is a line with a beginning and end. People have observed Steve for 20 minutes to 1 hour before it disappears.

If anything, auroras and Steve are different flavors of an ice cream, said MacDonald. They are both created in generally the same way: Charged particles from the Sun interact with Earth’s magnetic field lines.

The uniqueness of Steve is in the details. While Steve goes through the same large-scale creation process as an aurora, it travels along different magnetic field lines than the aurora. All-sky cameras showed that Steve appears at much lower latitudes. That means the charged particles that create Steve connect to magnetic field lines that are closer to Earth’s equator, hence why Steve is often seen in southern Canada.

Perhaps the biggest surprise about Steve appeared in the satellite data. The data showed that Steve comprises a fast moving stream of extremely hot particles called a sub auroral ion drift, or SAID. Scientists have studied SAIDs since the 1970s but never knew there was an accompanying visual effect. The Swarm satellite recorded information on the charged particles’ speeds and temperatures, but does not have an imager aboard.

“People have studied a lot of SAIDs, but we never knew it had a visible light. Now our cameras are sensitive enough to pick it up and people’s eyes and intellect were critical in noticing its importance,” said Donovan, a co-author of the study. Donovan led the all-sky camera network and his Calgary colleagues lead the electric field instruments on the Swarm satellite.

Steve is an important discovery because of its location in the sub auroral zone, an area of lower latitude than where most auroras appear that is not well researched. For one, with this discovery, scientists now know there are unknown chemical processes taking place in the sub auroral zone that can lead to this light emission.

Second, Steve consistently appears in the presence of auroras, which usually occur at a higher latitude area called the auroral zone. That means there is something happening in near-Earth space that leads to both an aurora and Steve. Steve might be the only visual clue that exists to show a chemical or physical connection between the higher latitude auroral zone and lower latitude sub auroral zone, said MacDonald.

“Steve can help us understand how the chemical and physical processes in Earth’s upper atmosphere can sometimes have local noticeable effects in lower parts of Earth’s atmosphere,” said MacDonald. “This provides good insight on how Earth’s system works as a whole.”

The team can learn a lot about Steve with additional ground and satellite reports, but recording Steve from the ground and space simultaneously is a rare occurrence. Each Swarm satellite orbits Earth every 90 minutes and Steve only lasts up to an hour in a specific area. If the satellite misses Steve as it circles Earth, Steve will probably be gone by the time that same satellite crosses the spot again.

In the end, capturing Steve becomes a game of perseverance and probability.

“It is my hope that with our timely reporting of sightings, researchers can study the data so we can together unravel the mystery of Steve’s origin, creation, physics and sporadic nature,” said Bourassa. “This is exciting because the more I learn about it, the more questions I have.”

As for the name “Steve” given by the citizen scientists? The team is keeping it as an homage to its initial name and discoverers. But now it is STEVE, short for Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.

Other collaborators on this work are: the University of Calgary, New Mexico Consortium, Boston University, Lancaster University, Athabasca University, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Alberta Aurora Chasers Facebook group.

If you live in an area where you may see STEVE or an aurora, submit your pictures and reports to Aurorasaurus through aurorasaurus.org or the free iOS and Android mobile apps. To learn how to spot STEVE, click here.

There is a video with MacDonald describing the work and featuring more images,

Katherine Kornei’s March 14, 2018 article for sciencemag.org adds more detail about the work,

Citizen scientists first began posting about Steve on social media several years ago. Across New Zealand, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, they reported an unusual sight in the night sky: a purplish line that arced across the heavens for about an hour at a time, visible at lower latitudes than classical aurorae, mostly in the spring and fall. … “It’s similar to a contrail but doesn’t disperse,” says Notanee Bourassa, an aurora photographer in Saskatchewan province in Canada [Regina as mentioned in the news release is the capital of the province of Saskatchewan].

Traditional aurorae are often green, because oxygen atoms present in Earth’s atmosphere emit that color light when they’re bombarded by charged particles trapped in Earth’s magnetic field. They also appear as a diffuse glow—rather than a distinct line—on the northern or southern horizon. Without a scientific theory to explain the new sight, a group of citizen scientists led by aurora enthusiast Chris Ratzlaff of Canada’s Alberta province [usually referred to as Canada’s province of Alberta or simply, the province of Alberta] playfully dubbed it Steve, after a line in the 2006 children’s movie Over the Hedge.

Aurorae have been studied for decades, but people may have missed Steve because their cameras weren’t sensitive enough, says Elizabeth MacDonald, a space physicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and leader of the new research. MacDonald and her team have used data from a European satellite called Swarm-A to study Steve in its native environment, about 200 kilometers up in the atmosphere. Swarm-A’s instruments revealed that the charged particles in Steve had a temperature of about 6000°C, “impressively hot” compared with the nearby atmosphere, MacDonald says. And those ions were flowing from east to west at nearly 6 kilometers per second, …

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

New science in plain sight: Citizen scientists lead to the discovery of optical structure in the upper atmosphere by Elizabeth A. MacDonald, Eric Donovan, Yukitoshi Nishimura, Nathan A. Case, D. Megan Gillies, Bea Gallardo-Lacourt, William E. Archer, Emma L. Spanswick, Notanee Bourassa, Martin Connors, Matthew Heavner, Brian Jackel, Burcu Kosar, David J. Knudsen, Chris Ratzlaff, and Ian Schofield. Science Advances 14 Mar 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 3, eaaq0030 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaq0030

This paper is open access. You’ll note that Notanee Bourassa is listed as an author. For more about Bourassa, there’s his Twitter feed (@DJHardwired) and his YouTube Channel. BTW, his Twitter bio notes that he’s “Recently heartbroken,” as well as, “Seasoned human male. Expert storm chaser, aurora photographer, drone flyer and on-air FM radio DJ.” Make of that what you will.

Nanofibrous fish skins for wrinkle-free skin (New Zealand’s biggest seafood company moves into skincare)

I am utterly enchanted by this venture employing fish skins and nanotechnology-based processes for a new line of skin care products and, they hope, medical applications,


For those who like text (from a May 21, 2018 Sanford media advisory),

Nanofibre magic turns fish skins into wrinkle busting skin care

Sanford partners with kiwi nanotech experts to help develop a wrinkle-busting skincare product made from Hoki skins.

New Zealand’s biggest and oldest seafood company is moving into the future of skincare and medicine by becoming supporting partner to West Auckland nanofibre producer Revolution Fibres, which is launching a potentially game-changing nanotech face mask.

The actiVLayr face masks use collagen extracted from fish skins as a base ingredient which is then combined with elements such as fruit extracts and hyaluronic acid to make a 100 percent natural and sustainably sourced product.

They have achieved stunning results in third party tests which show that the nanofiber masks can reduce wrinkles by up to 31.5%.*

Revolution Fibres CEO Iain Hosie says it is no exaggeration to say the masks could be revolutionary.

“The wayactiVLayr is produced, and the unique application method of placing it onto wet skin like a mask, means ingredients are absorbed quickly and efficiently into the skin to maximise the repair and protection of the skin.”

Sanford is delighted to support the work that Revolution Fibres is doing by supplying hoki fish skins. Hoki is a sustainably caught fish and its skin has some unique properties.

Sanford’s General Manager of Innovation, Andrew Stanley, says these properties make it ideal for the actiVLayr technology. “Hoki skins are rich in collagen, which is an essential part of our bodies. But their marine collagen is unique – it has a very low melt point, so when placed on the skin, it can dissolve completely and be absorbed in a way that collagen f rom other animals cannot.”

Sanford’s Chief Customer Officer, Andre Gargiulo, says working with the team at Revolution Fibres is a natural fit, because both company’s think about innovation and sustainability in the same way.

“We hope actiVLayr gets the global attention it deserves, and we’re delighted that our sustainably caught Hoki is part of this fantastic New Zealand product. It’s exactly what we’re all about at Sanford – making the most of the precious resources from the sea, working in a sustainable way and getting the most value out of the goodness we harvest from nature.”

Sanford’s Business Development Manager Adrian Grey says the focus on sustainability and value creation are so important for the seafood company.

“Previously we have been making use of these hoki skins, which is great, but they were being used only for fish meal or pet food products. Being able to supply and support a high tech company that is going to earn increased export revenue for New Zealand is just fantastic. And the product created is completely natural, harvested from a globally certified sustainable fishery.”

Sanford provides the hoki skins and then turns these skins into pure collagen using the science and skills of the team at Plant and Food in Nelson [New Zealand for those of us who associate Nelson with British Columbia]. Revolution Fibres transforms the Sanford product into nanofibre using a technique called electrospinning of which Revolution Fibres are the New Zealand pioneers.

During the electrospinning process natural ingredients known as “bioactives” (such as kiwifruit and grapes) and hyaluronic acid (an ingredient to help the skin retain moisture) are bonded to the nanofibres to create sheets of actiVLayr. When it is exposed to wet skin the nanofibres dissolve rapidly and release the bioactives deep into the skin.

The product is being launched at the China Beauty Fair in Shanghai on May 22 [2018] and will go on sale in China this month followed by Hong Kong and New Zealand later in the year.   Revolution Fibres CEO Iain Hosie says there is big demand for unique delivery systems of natural skin and beauty products such as actiVLayr in Asia, which was the key reason to launch the product in China. But his view of the future is even bigger.

“There are endless uses for actiVLayr and the one we’re most proud of is in the medical area with the ability for drug compounds or medicines to be added to the actiVLayr formula. It will enable a controlled dose to be delivered to a patient with skin lesions, burns or acne.”

Revolution Fibres is presenting at Techweek NZ as part of The Fourth Revolution event on May 25 [2018] in Christchurch which introduces high tech engineers who are building a better place.

*Testing conducted by Easy Care using VISIA Complexion Analysis

The media advisory also includes some ‘fascinating ‘facts’,

1kg of hoki skin produces 400 square meters of nanofibre material

Nanofibres are 1/500th the width of a human hair

Revolution Fibres is the only nanofibre producer in the world to meet aerospace industry standards with its AS9100d quality assurance certification

The marine collagen found in hoki skins is unique because of its relatively low melt point, meaning it can dissolve at a lower temperature which makes it perfect for human use

Revolution Fibres is based in West Auckland and employs 12 people, of which 4 have P hDs in science related to nanotechnology. There are also a number of employees with strong engineering backgrounds to complement the company’s Research & Development expertise

Sanford is New Zealand’s oldest and biggest seafood company. It was founded by Albert Sanford in Auckland in 1904

New Zealand’s hoki fishery is certified as sustainable by the London-based Marine Stewardship Council, which audits fisheries all over the world

You can find Sanford here and Revolution Fibres here.

For some perspective on the business side of things, there’s a May 21, 2018 article by Nikki Mandow for newsroom.co.nz,

Revolution Fibres first started talking about the possibility of a collagen nanofibre made from hoki almost a decade ago, as part of a project with Plant & Food’s Seafood Research Centre in Nelson, Hosie [Revolution Fibres CEO Iain Hosie] said, and the company got serious about making a product in 2013.

Previously, the hoki waste skins were used for fish meal and pet food, said Sanford business development manager Adrian Grey.

“Being able to supply and support a high tech company that is going to earn increased export revenue for New Zealand is just fantastic.”

Revolution Fibres also manufactures nanofibres for a number of other uses. These include anti-dust mite pillow coverings, anti-pollution protective face masks, filters for pumps for HRV’s home ventilation systems, and reinforcing material for carbon fibre for fishing rods. The latter product is made from recycled fishing nets collected from South America.

He [Revolution Fibres CEO Iain Hosie] said the company could be profitable, but instead has chosen to continue to invest heavily in research and development.

About 75 percent of revenue comes from selling proprietary products, but increasingly Hosie said the company is working on “co-innovation” projects, where Revolution Fibres manufactures bespoke materials for outside companies.

Revolution Fibres completed its first external funding round last year, raising $1.5 million from the US, and it has just completed another round worth approximately $1million. Hosie, one of the founders, still holds around 20 percent of the company.

He said he hopes to keep the intellectual property in New Zealand, although manufacturing of some products is likely to move closer to their markets – China and the US potentially. However, he said actiVLayr manufacture will remain in New Zealand, because that’s where the raw hoki comes from.

I wonder if we’ll see this product in Canada.

One other thing,  I was curious about this ” … the nanofiber masks can reduce wrinkles by up to 31.5%”  and Visia Complexion Analysis, which is a product from Canfield Scientific, a company specializing in imaging.  Here’s some of what Visia can do (from the Visia product page),

Percentile Scores

Percentile Scores

VISIA’s patented comparison to norms analysis uses the world’s largest skin feature database to grade your patient’s skin relative to others of the same age and skin type. Measure spots, wrinkles, texture, pores, UV spots, brown spots, red areas, and porphyrins.

Meaningful Comparisons

Meaningful Comparisons

Compare results side by side for any combination of views, features or time points, including graphs and numerical data. Zoom and pan images in tandem for clear and easy comparisons.

And, there’s my personal favourite (although it has nothing to do with the topic of this posting0,

Eyelash Analysis

Eyelash Analysis

Evaluates the results of lash improvement treatments with numerical assessments and graphic visualizations.

For anyone who wondered about why the press release has both ‘nanofibre’ and ‘nanofiber’, It’s the difference between US and UK spelling. Perhaps the complexion analysis information came from a US company or one that uses US spellings.

May 16, 2018: UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) First International Day of Light

Courtesy: UNESCO

From a May 11, 2018 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) press release (received via email),

UNESCO will welcome leading scientists on 16 May 2018 for the 1st edition of the International Day of Light (02:30-08:00 pm) to celebrate the role light plays in our daily lives. Researchers and intellectuals will examine how light-based technologies can contribute to meet pressing challenges in diverse areas, such as medicine, education, agriculture and energy.

            UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay will open this event, which will count with the participation of renowned scientists, including:

  • Kip Thorne, 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics, California Institute of Technology (United States of America).
  • Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics, Collège de France.
  • Khaled Toukan, Director of the Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME) based in Allan, Jordan.

The programme of keynotes and roundtables will address many key issues including science policy, our perception of the universe, and international cooperation, through contributions from experts and scientists from around the world.

The programme also includes cultural events, an illumination of UNESCO Headquarters, a photonics science show and an exhibit on the advances of light-based technologies and art.

            The debates that flourished in 2015, in the framework of the International Year of Light, highlighted the importance of light sciences and light-based technologies in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Several thousand events were held in 147 countries during the Year placed under the auspices of UNESCO.  

The proclamation of 16 May as the International Day of Light was supported by UNESCO’s Executive Board following a proposal by Ghana, Mexico, New Zealand and the Russian Federation, and approved by the UNESCO General Conference in November 2017.

More information:

I have taken a look at the programme which is pretty interesting. Unfortunately, I can’t excerpt parts of it for inclusion here as very odd things happen when I attempt to ‘copy and paste’. On the plus side. there’s a bit more information about this ‘new day’ on its event page,

Light plays a central role in our lives. On the most fundamental level, through photosynthesis, light is at the origin of life itself. The study of light has led to promising alternative energy sources, lifesaving medical advances in diagnostics technology and treatments, light-speed internet and many other discoveries that have revolutionized society and shaped our understanding of the universe. These technologies were developed through centuries of fundamental research on the properties of light – starting with Ibn Al-Haytham’s seminal work, Kitab al-Manazir (Book of Optics), published in 1015 and including Einstein’s work at the beginning of the 20th century, which changed the way we think about time and light.

The International Day of Light celebrates the role light plays in science, culture and art, education, and sustainable development, and in fields as diverse as medicine, communications, and energy. The will allow many different sectors of society worldwide to participate in activities that demonstrates how science, technology, art and culture can help achieve the goals of UNESCO – building the foundation for peaceful societies.

The International Day of Light is celebrated on 16 May each year, the anniversary of the first successful operation of the laser in 1960 by physicist and engineer, Theodore Maiman. This day is a call to strengthen scientific cooperation and harness its potential to foster peace and sustainable development.

Happy International Day of Light on Wednesday, May 16, 2018!

A transatlantic report highlighting the risks and opportunities associated with synthetic biology and bioengineering

I love e-Life, the open access journal where its editors noted that a submitted synthetic biology and bioengineering report was replete with US and UK experts (along with a European or two) but no expert input from other parts of the world. In response the authors added ‘transatlantic’ to the title. It was a good decision since it was too late to add any new experts if the authors planned to have their paper published in the foreseeable future.

I’ve commented many times here when panels of experts include only Canadian, US, UK, and, sometimes, European or Commonwealth (Australia/New Zealand) experts that we need to broaden our perspectives and now I can add: or at least acknowledge (e.g. transatlantic) that the perspectives taken are reflective of a rather narrow range of countries.

Now getting to the report, here’s more from a November 21, 2017 University of Cambridge press release,

Human genome editing, 3D-printed replacement organs and artificial photosynthesis – the field of bioengineering offers great promise for tackling the major challenges that face our society. But as a new article out today highlights, these developments provide both opportunities and risks in the short and long term.

Rapid developments in the field of synthetic biology and its associated tools and methods, including more widely available gene editing techniques, have substantially increased our capabilities for bioengineering – the application of principles and techniques from engineering to biological systems, often with the goal of addressing ‘real-world’ problems.

In a feature article published in the open access journal eLife, an international team of experts led by Dr Bonnie Wintle and Dr Christian R. Boehm from the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge, capture perspectives of industry, innovators, scholars, and the security community in the UK and US on what they view as the major emerging issues in the field.

Dr Wintle says: “The growth of the bio-based economy offers the promise of addressing global environmental and societal challenges, but as our paper shows, it can also present new kinds of challenges and risks. The sector needs to proceed with caution to ensure we can reap the benefits safely and securely.”

The report is intended as a summary and launching point for policy makers across a range of sectors to further explore those issues that may be relevant to them.

Among the issues highlighted by the report as being most relevant over the next five years are:

Artificial photosynthesis and carbon capture for producing biofuels

If technical hurdles can be overcome, such developments might contribute to the future adoption of carbon capture systems, and provide sustainable sources of commodity chemicals and fuel.

Enhanced photosynthesis for agricultural productivity

Synthetic biology may hold the key to increasing yields on currently farmed land – and hence helping address food security – by enhancing photosynthesis and reducing pre-harvest losses, as well as reducing post-harvest and post-consumer waste.

Synthetic gene drives

Gene drives promote the inheritance of preferred genetic traits throughout a species, for example to prevent malaria-transmitting mosquitoes from breeding. However, this technology raises questions about whether it may alter ecosystems [emphasis mine], potentially even creating niches where a new disease-carrying species or new disease organism may take hold.

Human genome editing

Genome engineering technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9 offer the possibility to improve human lifespans and health. However, their implementation poses major ethical dilemmas. It is feasible that individuals or states with the financial and technological means may elect to provide strategic advantages to future generations.

Defence agency research in biological engineering

The areas of synthetic biology in which some defence agencies invest raise the risk of ‘dual-use’. For example, one programme intends to use insects to disseminate engineered plant viruses that confer traits to the target plants they feed on, with the aim of protecting crops from potential plant pathogens – but such technologies could plausibly also be used by others to harm targets.

In the next five to ten years, the authors identified areas of interest including:

Regenerative medicine: 3D printing body parts and tissue engineering

While this technology will undoubtedly ease suffering caused by traumatic injuries and a myriad of illnesses, reversing the decay associated with age is still fraught with ethical, social and economic concerns. Healthcare systems would rapidly become overburdened by the cost of replenishing body parts of citizens as they age and could lead new socioeconomic classes, as only those who can pay for such care themselves can extend their healthy years.

Microbiome-based therapies

The human microbiome is implicated in a large number of human disorders, from Parkinson’s to colon cancer, as well as metabolic conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Synthetic biology approaches could greatly accelerate the development of more effective microbiota-based therapeutics. However, there is a risk that DNA from genetically engineered microbes may spread to other microbiota in the human microbiome or into the wider environment.

Intersection of information security and bio-automation

Advancements in automation technology combined with faster and more reliable engineering techniques have resulted in the emergence of robotic ‘cloud labs’ where digital information is transformed into DNA then expressed in some target organisms. This opens the possibility of new kinds of information security threats, which could include tampering with digital DNA sequences leading to the production of harmful organisms, and sabotaging vaccine and drug production through attacks on critical DNA sequence databases or equipment.

Over the longer term, issues identified include:

New makers disrupt pharmaceutical markets

Community bio-labs and entrepreneurial startups are customizing and sharing methods and tools for biological experiments and engineering. Combined with open business models and open source technologies, this could herald opportunities for manufacturing therapies tailored to regional diseases that multinational pharmaceutical companies might not find profitable. But this raises concerns around the potential disruption of existing manufacturing markets and raw material supply chains as well as fears about inadequate regulation, less rigorous product quality control and misuse.

Platform technologies to address emerging disease pandemics

Emerging infectious diseases—such as recent Ebola and Zika virus disease outbreaks—and potential biological weapons attacks require scalable, flexible diagnosis and treatment. New technologies could enable the rapid identification and development of vaccine candidates, and plant-based antibody production systems.

Shifting ownership models in biotechnology

The rise of off-patent, generic tools and the lowering of technical barriers for engineering biology has the potential to help those in low-resource settings, benefit from developing a sustainable bioeconomy based on local needs and priorities, particularly where new advances are made open for others to build on.

Dr Jenny Molloy comments: “One theme that emerged repeatedly was that of inequality of access to the technology and its benefits. The rise of open source, off-patent tools could enable widespread sharing of knowledge within the biological engineering field and increase access to benefits for those in developing countries.”

Professor Johnathan Napier from Rothamsted Research adds: “The challenges embodied in the Sustainable Development Goals will require all manner of ideas and innovations to deliver significant outcomes. In agriculture, we are on the cusp of new paradigms for how and what we grow, and where. Demonstrating the fairness and usefulness of such approaches is crucial to ensure public acceptance and also to delivering impact in a meaningful way.”

Dr Christian R. Boehm concludes: “As these technologies emerge and develop, we must ensure public trust and acceptance. People may be willing to accept some of the benefits, such as the shift in ownership away from big business and towards more open science, and the ability to address problems that disproportionately affect the developing world, such as food security and disease. But proceeding without the appropriate safety precautions and societal consensus—whatever the public health benefits—could damage the field for many years to come.”

The research was made possible by the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, the Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative (both at the University of Cambridge), and the Future of Humanity Institute (University of Oxford). It was based on a workshop co-funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation and the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

A transatlantic perspective on 20 emerging issues in biological engineering by Bonnie C Wintle, Christian R Boehm, Catherine Rhodes, Jennifer C Molloy, Piers Millett, Laura Adam, Rainer Breitling, Rob Carlson, Rocco Casagrande, Malcolm Dando, Robert Doubleday, Eric Drexler, Brett Edwards, Tom Ellis, Nicholas G Evans, Richard Hammond, Jim Haseloff, Linda Kahl, Todd Kuiken, Benjamin R Lichman, Colette A Matthewman, Johnathan A Napier, Seán S ÓhÉigeartaigh, Nicola J Patron, Edward Perello, Philip Shapira, Joyce Tait, Eriko Takano, William J Sutherland. eLife; 14 Nov 2017; DOI: 10.7554/eLife.30247

This paper is open access and the editors have included their notes to the authors and the authors’ response.

You may have noticed that I highlighted a portion of the text concerning synthetic gene drives. Coincidentally I ran across a November 16, 2017 article by Ed Yong for The Atlantic where the topic is discussed within the context of a project in New Zealand, ‘Predator Free 2050’ (Note: A link has been removed),

Until the 13th century, the only land mammals in New Zealand were bats. In this furless world, local birds evolved a docile temperament. Many of them, like the iconic kiwi and the giant kakapo parrot, lost their powers of flight. Gentle and grounded, they were easy prey for the rats, dogs, cats, stoats, weasels, and possums that were later introduced by humans. Between them, these predators devour more than 26 million chicks and eggs every year. They have already driven a quarter of the nation’s unique birds to extinction.

Many species now persist only in offshore islands where rats and their ilk have been successfully eradicated, or in small mainland sites like Zealandia where they are encircled by predator-proof fences. The songs in those sanctuaries are echoes of the New Zealand that was.

But perhaps, they also represent the New Zealand that could be.

In recent years, many of the country’s conservationists and residents have rallied behind Predator-Free 2050, an extraordinarily ambitious plan to save the country’s birds by eradicating its invasive predators. Native birds of prey will be unharmed, but Predator-Free 2050’s research strategy, which is released today, spells doom for rats, possums, and stoats (a large weasel). They are to die, every last one of them. No country, anywhere in the world, has managed such a task in an area that big. The largest island ever cleared of rats, Australia’s Macquarie Island, is just 50 square miles in size. New Zealand is 2,000 times bigger. But, the country has committed to fulfilling its ecological moonshot within three decades.

In 2014, Kevin Esvelt, a biologist at MIT, drew a Venn diagram that troubles him to this day. In it, he and his colleagues laid out several possible uses for gene drives—a nascent technology for spreading designer genes through groups of wild animals. Typically, a given gene has a 50-50 chance of being passed to the next generation. But gene drives turn that coin toss into a guarantee, allowing traits to zoom through populations in just a few generations. There are a few natural examples, but with CRISPR, scientists can deliberately engineer such drives.

Suppose you have a population of rats, roughly half of which are brown, and the other half white. Now, imagine there is a gene that affects each rat’s color. It comes in two forms, one leading to brown fur, and the other leading to white fur. A male with two brown copies mates with a female with two white copies, and all their offspring inherit one of each. Those offspring breed themselves, and the brown and white genes continue cascading through the generations in a 50-50 split. This is the usual story of inheritance. But you can subvert it with CRISPR, by programming the brown gene to cut its counterpart and replace it with another copy of itself. Now, the rats’ children are all brown-furred, as are their grandchildren, and soon the whole population is brown.

Forget fur. The same technique could spread an antimalarial gene through a mosquito population, or drought-resistance through crop plants. The applications are vast, but so are the risks. In theory, gene drives spread so quickly and relentlessly that they could rewrite an entire wild population, and once released, they would be hard to contain. If the concept of modifying the genes of organisms is already distasteful to some, gene drives magnify that distaste across national, continental, and perhaps even global scales.

These excerpts don’t do justice to this thought-provoking article. If you have time, I recommend reading it in its entirety  as it provides some insight into gene drives and, with some imagination on the reader’s part, the potential for the other technologies discussed in the report.

One last comment, I notice that Eric Drexler is cited as on the report’s authors. He’s familiar to me as K. Eric Drexler, the author of the book that popularized nanotechnology in the US and other countries, Engines of Creation (1986) .

“Innovation and its enemies” and “Science in Wonderland”: a commentary on two books and a few thoughts about fish (1 of 2)

There’s more than one way to approach the introduction of emerging technologies and sciences to ‘the public’. Calestous Juma in his 2016 book, ”Innovation and Its Enemies; Why People Resist New Technologies” takes a direct approach, as can be seen from the title while Melanie Keene’s 2015 book, “Science in Wonderland; The Scientific Fairy Tales of Victorian Britain” presents a more fantastical one. The fish in the headline tie together, thematically and tenuously, both books with a real life situation.

Innovation and Its Enemies

Calestous Juma, the author of “Innovation and Its Enemies” has impressive credentials,

  • Professor of the Practice of International Development,
  • Director of the Science, Technology, and Globalization Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Better Science and International Affairs,
  • Founding Director of the African Centre for Technology Studies in Nairobi (Kenya),
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of London, and
  • Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences.

Even better, Juma is an excellent storyteller perhaps too much so for a book which presents a series of science and technology adoption case histories. (Given the range of historical time periods, geography, and the innovations themselves, he always has to stop short.)  The breadth is breathtaking and Juma manages with aplomb. For example, the innovations covered include: coffee, electricity, mechanical refrigeration, margarine, recorded sound, farm mechanization, and the printing press. He also covers two recently emerging technologies/innovations: transgenic crops and AquAdvantage salmon (more about the salmon later).

Juma provides an analysis of the various ways in which the public and institutions panic over innovation and goes on to offer solutions. He also injects a subtle note of humour from time to time. Here’s how Juma describes various countries’ response to risks and benefits,

In the United States products are safe until proven risky.

In France products are risky until proven safe.

In the United Kingdom products are risky even when proven safe.

In India products are safe when proven risky.

In Canada products are neither safe nor risky.

In Japan products are either safe or risky.

In Brazil products are both safe and risky.

In sub-Saharan Africa products are risky even if they do not exist. (pp. 4-5)

To Calestous Juma, thank you for mentioning Canada and for so aptly describing the quintessentially Canadian approach to not just products and innovation but to life itself, ‘we just don’t know; it could be this or it could be that or it could be something entirely different; we just don’t know and probably will never know.’.

One of the aspects that I most appreciated in this book was the broadening of the geographical perspective on innovation and emerging technologies to include the Middle East, China, and other regions/countries. As I’ve  noted in past postings, much of the discussion here in Canada is Eurocentric and/or UScentric. For example, the Council of Canadian Academies which conducts assessments of various science questions at the request of Canadian and regional governments routinely fills the ‘international’ slot(s) for their expert panels with academics from Europe (mostly Great Britain) and/or the US (or sometimes from Australia and/or New Zealand).

A good example of Juma’s expanded perspective on emerging technology is offered in Art Carden’s July 7, 2017 book review for Forbes.com (Note: A link has been removed),

In the chapter on coffee, Juma discusses how Middle Eastern and European societies resisted the beverage and, in particular, worked to shut down coffeehouses. Islamic jurists debated whether the kick from coffee is the same as intoxication and therefore something to be prohibited. Appealing to “the principle of original permissibility — al-ibaha, al-asliya — under which products were considered acceptable until expressly outlawed,” the fifteenth-century jurist Muhamad al-Dhabani issued several fatwas in support of keeping coffee legal.

This wasn’t the last word on coffee, which was banned and permitted and banned and permitted and banned and permitted in various places over time. Some rulers were skeptical of coffee because it was brewed and consumed in public coffeehouses — places where people could indulge in vices like gambling and tobacco use or perhaps exchange unorthodox ideas that were a threat to their power. It seems absurd in retrospect, but political control of all things coffee is no laughing matter.

The bans extended to Europe, where coffee threatened beverages like tea, wine, and beer. Predictably, and all in the name of public safety (of course!), European governments with the counsel of experts like brewers, vintners, and the British East India Tea Company regulated coffee importation and consumption. The list of affected interest groups is long, as is the list of meddlesome governments. Charles II of England would issue A Proclamation for the Suppression of Coffee Houses in 1675. Sweden prohibited coffee imports on five separate occasions between 1756 and 1817. In the late seventeenth century, France required that all coffee be imported through Marseilles so that it could be more easily monopolized and taxed.

Carden who teaches economics at Stanford University (California, US) focuses on issues of individual liberty and the rule of law with regards to innovation. I can appreciate the need to focus tightly when you have a limited word count but Carden could have a spared a few words to do more justice to Juma’s comprehensive and focused work.

At the risk of being accused of the fault I’ve attributed to Carden, I must mention the printing press chapter. While it was good to see a history of the printing press and attendant social upheavals noting its impact and discovery in regions other than Europe; it was shocking to someone educated in Canada to find Marshall McLuhan entirely ignored. Even now, I believe it’s virtually impossible to discuss the printing press as a technology, in Canada anyway, without mentioning our ‘communications god’ Marshall McLuhan and his 1962 book, The Gutenberg Galaxy.

Getting back to Juma’s book, his breadth and depth of knowledge, history, and geography is packaged in a relatively succinct 316 pp. As a writer, I admire his ability to distill the salient points and to devote chapters on two emerging technologies. It’s notoriously difficult to write about a currently emerging technology and Juma even managed to include a reference published only months (in early 2016) before “Innovation and its enemires” was published in July 2016.

Irrespective of Marshall McLuhan, I feel there are a few flaws. The book is intended for policy makers and industry (lobbyists, anyone?), he reaffirms (in academia, industry, government) a tendency toward a top-down approach to eliminating resistance. From Juma’s perspective, there needs to be better science education because no one who is properly informed should have any objections to an emerging/new technology. Juma never considers the possibility that resistance to a new technology might be a reasonable response. As well, while there was some mention of corporate resistance to new technologies which might threaten profits and revenue, Juma didn’t spare any comments about how corporate sovereignty and/or intellectual property issues are used to stifle innovation and quite successfully, by the way.

My concerns aside, testimony to the book’s worth is Carden’s review almost a year after publication. As well, Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the federal government of New Zealand, mentions Juma’s book in his January 16, 2017 talk, Science Advice in a Troubled World, for the Canadian Science Policy Centre.

Science in Wonderland

Melanie Keene’s 2015 book, “Science in Wonderland; The scientific fairy tales of Victorian Britain” provides an overview of the fashion for writing and reading scientific and mathematical fairy tales and, inadvertently, provides an overview of a public education programme,

A fairy queen (Victoria) sat on the throne of Victoria’s Britain, and she presided over a fairy tale age. The nineteenth century witnessed an unprecedented interest in fairies and in their tales, as they were used as an enchanted mirror in which to reflection question, and distort contemporary society.30  …  Fairies could be found disporting themselves thought the century on stage and page, in picture and print, from local haunts to global transports. There were myriad ways in which authors, painters, illustrators, advertisers, pantomime performers, singers, and more, capture this contemporary enthusiasm and engaged with fairyland and folklore; books, exhibitions, and images for children were one of the most significant. (p. 13)

… Anthropologists even made fairies the subject of scientific analysis, as ‘fairyology’ determined whether fairies should be part of natural history or part of supernatural lore; just on aspect of the revival of interest in folklore. Was there a tribe of fairy creatures somewhere out thee waiting to be discovered, across the globe of in the fossil record? Were fairies some kind of folks memory of any extinct race? (p. 14)

Scientific engagements with fairyland was widespread, and not just as an attractive means of packaging new facts for Victorian children.42 … The fairy tales of science had an important role to play in conceiving of new scientific disciplines; in celebrating new discoveries; in criticizing lofty ambitions; in inculcating habits of mind and body; in inspiring wonder; in positing future directions; and in the consideration of what the sciences were, and should be. A close reading of these tales provides a more sophisticated understanding of the content and status of the Victorian sciences; they give insights into what these new scientific disciplines were trying to do; how they were trying to cement a certain place in the world; and how they hoped to recruit and train new participants. (p. 18)

Segue: Should you be inclined to believe that society has moved on from fairies; it is possible to become a certified fairyologist (check out the fairyologist.com website).

“Science in Wonderland,” the title being a reference to Lewis Carroll’s Alice, was marketed quite differently than “innovation and its enemies”. There is no description of the author, as is the protocol in academic tomes, so here’s more from her webpage on the University of Cambridge (Homerton College) website,

Role:
Fellow, Graduate Tutor, Director of Studies for History and Philosophy of Science

Getting back to Keene’s book, she makes the point that the fairy tales were based on science and integrated scientific terminology in imaginative ways although some books with more success than other others. Topics ranged from paleontology, botany, and astronomy to microscopy and more.

This book provides a contrast to Juma’s direct focus on policy makers with its overview of the fairy narratives. Keene is primarily interested in children but her book casts a wider net  “… they give insights into what these new scientific disciplines were trying to do; how they were trying to cement a certain place in the world; and how they hoped to recruit and train new participants.”

In a sense both authors are describing how technologies are introduced and integrated into society. Keene provides a view that must seem almost halcyon for many contemporary innovation enthusiasts. As her topic area is children’s literature any resistance she notes is primarily literary invoking a debate about whether or not science was killing imagination and whimsy.

It would probably help if you’d taken a course in children’s literature of the 19th century before reading Keene’s book is written . Even if you haven’t taken a course, it’s still quite accessible, although I was left wondering about ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and its relationship to mathematics (see Melanie Bayley’s December 16, 2009 story for the New Scientist for a detailed rundown).

As an added bonus, fairy tale illustrations are included throughout the book along with a section of higher quality reproductions.

One of the unexpected delights of Keene’s book was the section on L. Frank Baum and his electricity fairy tale, “The Master Key.” She stretches to include “The Wizard of Oz,” which doesn’t really fit but I can’t see how she could avoid mentioning Baum’s most famous creation. There’s also a surprising (to me) focus on water, which when it’s paired with the interest in microscopy makes sense. Keene isn’t the only one who has to stretch to make things fit into her narrative and so from water I move onto fish bringing me back to one of Juma’s emerging technologies

Part 2: Fish and final comments

Science Alive! is everywhere; #AskACurator is Sept. 13, 2017; and more

Researching a piece sometimes leads you to unexpected corners on the internet. This started with an announcement about #AskACurator on Twitter and Instagram in the August 30, 2017 issue (received via email) of What’s Up @ The Museums (from Ingenium or what was known as the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation).

Science Alive!

In trying to pad out the one announcement that might be of interest to people who don’t live near one of Canada’s science and technology museums, i.e., anyone who lives outside of Ottawa, Ontario, I checked out their fairly new (the first video in the series was posted in February 2016) science podcast series, Science Alive!

Despite reservations (I have very little interest in space exploration and even less in the Canadarm), I found the first video in the series quite engaging,

Of course, I had more questions but that’s the point o what is intended to be both an information and promotional video designed to attract visitors.

But, this is not the only Science Alive. Simon Fraser University (SFU) has a student-run, not-for-profit organization known as Science AL!VE, which runs summer camps and weekend clubs in British Columbia. (This SFU organization is part of Actua, “Canada’s largest STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] outreach organization. They have annual reports stretching back to 2010/11.)

There’s also a Science Alive with Living Things in Michigan, US and a science alive! in New Zealand, which “is a not-for-profit trust promoting science and technology worldwide.”

I had to stop there but there are more ‘science alive’ programmes out there.

#AskACurator

Here’s the announcement that started my Science Alive! adventure, from the August 30, 2017 issue (received via email) of What’s Up @ The Museums,

#AskACurator
September 13, 2017
September is more than back to school time – it’s Ask a Curator Time! Our Museums are excited to once again be among more than 1200 museums from 52 countries participating in #AskACurator Day on Wednesday September 13, 2017! Have a question for our curators?

Send your questions to @SciTechMuseum, @avspacemuseum or @AgMuseum!

#AskACurator is being organized by someone called Mar Dixon. Her website‘s About Me page (from the homepage, click on About Me)  lists current and past projects only. I can certainly appreciate why she might have done that. (IMO) Describing your education, past employers, achievements, etc., i.e., standard biographical information can get boring but the projects you’re working on or have worked on and are passionate about? Well, for some us it’s all about the work.

Here’s more about the Sept. 13, 2017 #AskACurator day on Twitter and Instagram,

This is the list of all museums who signed up so far. It is in alphabetical order by country. I’m updating this page every few days. If your museum isn’t on listed, use the sign up form.  If you are listed and can NOT take part in 2017 please contact me at mar@mardixon.com or @MarDixon on Twitter.

Please note:  @AskACurator is also on Instagram AND Twitter so feel free to use the tag on there!

How to take Part: Participants  Want to know how to Take Part? There’s an article for that! (Please note the date has changed!)

How to take Part: Museums  You might want to tell your followers the time your curator will be available.  Some museums write it on their events page, others leave it open to see what questions they receive.  However, to get your name out there – it helps to jump in to general questions and not just wait to be asked a specific question.  Some people will use the hashtag to ask questions such as how to know what to collect, what skills are needed, what are the unknowns of being a curator etc.  We also have a few #Askacurator people who have questions like ‘do you have a teddy bear in your collection’ or ‘what’s the funniest thing you heard in your museum’ etc.

Last updated August 29 2017
Museums taking part: 1421

Countries: 54

For anyone who’s never dealt with a curator, you might find this video where curator David Pantalony discusses a giant globe and what they did and didn’t include on the globe from Ingenium’s Science Alive! series informative,

Beakerhead Sept. 13 – 17, 2017 in Calgary

Here’s more about this year’s iteration of the event (from the Beakerhead attend page),

Mark your calendars for September 13 – 17, 2017 when Beakerhead takes over Calgary with a smash up of art, science and engineering both indoors and out! From citywide, pop-up engineered art galleries and flame-spitting, larger-than-life public art encounters to the entertaining science of … everything, there’s something for everyone!

With over 60 events and programs to choose from, Beakerhead has something for everyone – whether you define yourself as “creative” or “technical” in nature. In 2016 over 130,000 people took part, including a few actual astronauts!

In 2017, Beakerhead celebrates the ups and downs of experimentation and invention!
A special Canada 150 version of Beakerhead will see Calgary’s downtown core become a canvas for a larger-than-life interactive experience where participants will navigate to and from Beakerhead encounters å la Snakes and Ladders while we celebrate the ups and downs that mark the wild and bumpy ride of invention and creativity.

Events, experiments and programs that make up the five day spectacle include:

  • Snakes and Ladders: An interactive experience that encourages exploration of the city (and human ingenuity) through delightfully engineered public art installations.
  • Workshops and talks: explore the science of scent, play with your food, immerse yourself in the laboratory of life!
  • Four to Six: A street party on Stephen Avenue where science gets social.
  • Ticketed events: Command to be entertained by world famous (and soon-to-be-famous) inventors, scientists, performers (and maybe even an animal or two!)
  • Ingenuity challenges: In that past, Beakerhead has pit catapult teams against each other – this year expect a new high-reaching competition!
  • Community programs: Beakerhead becomes a stage for over 100 collaborating organizations, both large and small, to show off their discoveries and creativity through events and programs of their own. Learn how you can take part, too!
  • School tours, talks, and challenges: Beakerhead engages 25,000 students each year.

The Beakerhead events page is overwhelming and I suggest the unitiated scrol down to the Highlights section where you can find out more about the organization, find a programme announcement which allows you to orient yourself (somewhat), and more.

European Science Open Forum (ESOF) 2018

This science shindig comes along every two years. The last one was in Manchester, UK in 2016 and now it’s time to gear up for Toulouse, France in 2018 (from the ESOF July 2017 newsletter received via email),

ESOF 2018 in Toulouse.
Save the date! One year to go.

The next EuroScience Open Forum, ESOF 2018 will be held in Toulouse, France, 9-14 July 2018 in just one year from now!
Save the dates and plan your visit to the European City of Science 2018, with the ESOF 2018 motto: « Sharing Science: towards new horizons! »

With more than 300 sessions proposed in the first call for scientific sessions on 10 themes and 4 cross-cutting domains covering all sciences, the programme promises to be attractive and a major crossroad of debates on the future of science and how to share it.

Keep an eye on ongoing and future calls: www.esof.eu

Key dates:
Call for Scientific sessions: February -June 2017
Call for Science in the City Festival initiatives: June – September 2017
Call for Careers & Science to Business sessions: July – October 2017
Call for posters and interactive presentations: October 2017 – January 2018

Consider that
– ESOF is the largest interdisciplinary science event in Europe.
– ESOF is a cross-road for exchange between scientists, students, policy makers, innovators, industry managers and science media.
– 2018 is a key year for the preparation of the next framework programme [major seven-year European Union science funding programme; the current such programme is Horizon 2020, which stated in 2013] for research and innovation of the European Union and key discussions will occur at ESOF 2018.

And that
– Toulouse, the Capital of Occitania, in Southern France and the Capital of aeronautics and space research will surprise you with the many facets of its culture and scientific domains.
– And is both a historical and modern lively City, home of 120 000 students!

We are eager to share this event with you and are sure you will make it a wonderful success!

Dr Anne Cambon-Thomsen
ESOF 2018 Champion

You can find out more about ESOF on the website’s About page,

ESOF (EuroScience Open Forum) is the largest interdisciplinary science meeting in Europe. It is dedicated to scientific research and innovation and offers a unique framework for interaction and debate for scientists, innovators, policy makers, business people and the general public.

Created in 2004 by EuroScience, this biennial European forum brings together over 4 000 researchers, educators, business actors, policy makers and journalists from all over the world to discuss breakthroughs in science. More than 40% of the participants are students and young researchers.

The 8th edition of ESOF will take place in Toulouse, France, from 9 till 14 July 2018.

ESOF figures

4000+ delegates from 80+ countries
400+ journalists and science communicators
150+ conferences, workshops and scientific sessions
200+ events open to the general public, attended by more than 35 000 participants

What to expect at ESOF?

Taking part in ESOF is a unique opportunity to:

  • further knowledge on the challenges and breakthroughs in research, innovation and their relation to society;
  • create links, exchange and debate with leaders of the scientific community worldwide in an interdisciplinary context;
  • communicate the latest news on scientific research and innovation to an international audience;
  • develop a network in view of building a research career.

Find out more about ESOF and EuroScience: www.euroscience.org

I can’t find an overarching theme for the event or any promotional videos but there is this: Robots and humans : How do they cooperate ? 5Th preparatory meeting ESOF 2018 video (running time: 1 hour and 41 mins.) The title is if nothing else an intriguing hint of what ESOF 2018 may hold.

I also checked out the Science in the City Festival (formerly City of Science) and found information for this previously mentioned call,

Parallel to the EuroScience Open Forum, the Science in the City Festival will invest the city and its surroundings.

As a free event, Science in the City Festival is aimed at people of all ages who are curious about science and innovation.

If you wish to be part of the Science in the City programme, please send your proposals for our call for initiatives by filling this online form.

Deadline: 30th September 2017

Call for initiatives for the Science in the City Festival(PDF)

The online form lists a set of ESOF 2018 themes or stems or topics,

If it helps, Toulouse is known as ‘la Ville Rose’ or Pink City.

That’s it for this roundup of ‘sciencish’ bits.

Canadian Science Policy Conference inaugurates Lecture Series: Science Advice in a Troubled World

The Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) launched a lecture series on Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 with Sir Peter Gluckman as the first speaker in a talk titled, Science Advice in a Troubled World. From a Jan. 18, 2017 CSPC announcement (received via email),

The inaugural session of the Canadian Science Policy Lecture Series was hosted by ISSP [University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science Society and Policy (ISSP)] on Monday January 16th [2017] at the University of Ottawa. Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand gave a presentation titled “Science Advise [sic] in a troubled world”. For a summary of the event, video and pictures please visit the event page.  

The session started with speeches by Monica Gattiner, Director, Institute for Science, Society and Policy, Jacques Frémont, President of the University of Ottawa as well as Mehrdad Hariri, CEO and President of the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC).

The talk itself is about 50 mins. but there are lengthy introductions, including a rather unexpected (by me) reference to the recent US election from the president of the University of Ottawa, Jacques Frémont (formerly the head of Québec’s Human Rights Commission, where the talk was held. There was also a number of questions after the talk. So, the running time for the video 1 hr. 12 mins.

Here’s a bit more information about Sir Peter, from the Science Advice in a Troubled World event page on the CSPC website,

Sir Peter Gluckman ONZ FRS is the first Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, having been appointed in 2009. He is also science envoy and advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He is chair of the International Network of Government Science Advice (INGSA), which operates under the aegis of the international Council of Science (ICSU). He chairs the APEC Chief Science Advisors and Equivalents group and is the coordinator of the secretariat of Small Advanced Economies Initiative.  In 2016 he received the AAAS award in Science Diplomacy. He trained as a pediatric and biomedical scientist and holds a Distinguished University Professorship at the Liggins Institute of the University of Auckland. He has published over 700 scientific papers and several technical and popular science books. He has received the highest scientific (Rutherford medal) and civilian (Order of New Zealand, limited to 20 living persons) honours in NZ and numerous international scientific awards. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, a member of the National Academy of Medicine (USA) and a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (UK).

I listened to the entire video and Gluckman presented a thoughtful, nuanced lecture in which he also mentioned Calestous Juma and his 2016 book, Innovation and Its Enemies (btw, I will be writing a commentary about Juma’s extraordinary effort). He also referenced the concepts of post-truth and post-trust, and made an argument for viewing evidence-based science as part of the larger policymaking process rather than the dominant or only factor. From the Science Advice in a Troubled World event page,

Lecture Introduction

The world is facing many challenges from environmental degradation and climate change to global health issues, and many more.  Societal relationships are changing; sources of information, reliable and otherwise, and their transmission are affecting the nature of public policy.

Within this context the question arises; how can scientific advice to governments help address these emerging issues in a more unstable and uncertain world?
The relationship between science and politics is complex and the challenges at their interface are growing. What does scientific advice mean within this context?
How can science better inform policy where decision making is increasingly made against a background of post-truth polemic?

I’m not in perfect agreement with Gluckman with regard to post-truth as I have been influenced by an essay of Steve Fuller’s suggesting that science too can be post-truth. (Fuller’s essay was highlighted in my Jan. 6, 2017 posting.)

Gluckman seems to be wielding a fair amount of influence on the Canadian scene. This is his second CSPC visit in the last few months. He was an invited speaker at the Eighth Annual CSPC conference in November 2016 and, while he’s here in Jan. 2017, he’s chairing the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) International Panel on Peer Review. (The CIHR is one of Canada’s three major government funding agencies for the sciences.)

In other places too, he’s going to be a member of a panel at the University of Oxford Martin School in later January 2017. From the “Is a post-truth world a post-expert world?” event page on the Oxford Martin webspace,

Winston Churchill advised that “experts should be on tap but never on top”. In 2017, is a post-truth world a post-expert world? What does this mean for future debates on difficult policy issues? And what place can researchers usefully occupy in an academic landscape that emphasises policy impact but a political landscape that has become wary of experts? Join us for a lively discussion on academia and the provision of policy advice, examining the role of evidence and experts and exploring how gaps with the public and politicians might be bridged.

This event will be chaired by Achim Steiner, Director of the Oxford Martin School and former Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, with panellists including Oxford Martin Visiting Fellow Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand and Chair of the International Network for Government Science Advice; Dr Gemma Harper, Deputy Director for Marine Policy and Evidence and Chief Social Scientist in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and Professor Stefan Dercon, Chief Economist of the Department for International Development (DFID) and Professor of Economic Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government.

This discussion will be followed by a drinks reception, all welcome.

Here are the logistics should you be lucky enough to be able to attend (from the event page),

25 January 2017 17:00 – 18:15

Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School

34 Broad Street (corner of Holywell and Catte Streets)
Oxford
OX1 3BD

Registration ((right hand column) is free.

Finally, Gluckman has published a paper on the digital economy as of Nov. 2016, which can be found here (PDF).

FrogHeart presents: Steep (1) A digital poetry of gold nanoparticles on Nov. 17, 2016 in Vancouver (Canada)

For anyone who has wanted to hear about the videopoem or poetryfilm, Steep (1): A digital poetry of gold nanoparticles, that I presented at the 2015 International Symposium on Electronic Arts (ISEA) in Vancouver, your wait is over. From the Canadian Academy of Independent Scholars Nov. 7, 2016 announcement (received via email),

Date:  Thursday, November 17th, 2016
Time:  7:30 pm
Place:  Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC Campus, 515 West Hastings Street (between Seymour and Richards Streets) in the Diamond Lounge
Speaker:  Maryse de la Giroday
Topic:  A digital poetry of gold nanoparticles: a Steep art/science project

Outline:

An object of desire, the stuff of myth and legend, and a cross-cultural icon, gold is now being perceived in a whole new way at the nanoscale where its properties and colour undergo a change. Increasingly used as a component in biomedical applications, gold nanoparticles are entering the environment (air, soil, and water).  ‘Steep (1): A digital poetry of gold nanoparticles’ is a short videopoem exploring the good and the bad about gold at the macroscale and at the nanoscale.

Presented at the 2015 International Symposium on Electronic Arts, the Steep (1) videopoem is an art/sci collaboration between Maryse de la Giroday (science writer and poet) from Canada and Raewyn Turner (video artist) from New Zealand. In addition to a look at the video, the presentation offers an inside perspective on incorporating science, poetry, and video in an art/sci piece. As well, there’ll be some discussion regarding one or more of Maryse’s and Raewyn’s current art/sci projects.

Brief Biography:
Maryse de la Giroday writes and publishes the largest, independent, science blog in Canada. Her main focus is nanotechnology (the Canadian kind when she can find it). She has also written several pieces for local visual arts magazine, Preview. Maryse holds an undergraduate Communications (honours) degree from Simon Fraser University and a Master’s degree (Creative Writing and New Media) from De Montfort University (UK). (Unfortunately, Raewyn will either be in New Zealand or on the US East Coast and unable to attend.)

You can preview the video here at steep.nz or here on Vimeo.

D-PLACE: an open access database of places, language, culture, and enviroment

In an attempt to be a bit more broad in my interpretation of the ‘society’ part of my commentary I’m including this July 8, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily (Note: A link has been removed),

An international team of researchers has developed a website at d-place.org to help answer long-standing questions about the forces that shaped human cultural diversity.

D-PLACE — the Database of Places, Language, Culture and Environment — is an expandable, open access database that brings together a dispersed body of information on the language, geography, culture and environment of more than 1,400 human societies. It comprises information mainly on pre-industrial societies that were described by ethnographers in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

A July 8, 2016 University of Toronto news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

“Human cultural diversity is expressed in numerous ways: from the foods we eat and the houses we build, to our religious practices and political organisation, to who we marry and the types of games we teach our children,” said Kathryn Kirby, a postdoctoral fellow in the Departments of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Geography at the University of Toronto and lead author of the study. “Cultural practices vary across space and time, but the factors and processes that drive cultural change and shape patterns of diversity remain largely unknown.

“D-PLACE will enable a whole new generation of scholars to answer these long-standing questions about the forces that have shaped human cultural diversity.”

Co-author Fiona Jordan, senior lecturer in anthropology at the University of Bristol and one of the project leads said, “Comparative research is critical for understanding the processes behind cultural diversity. Over a century of anthropological research around the globe has given us a rich resource for understanding the diversity of humanity – but bringing different resources and datasets together has been a huge challenge in the past.

“We’ve drawn on the emerging big data sets from ecology, and combined these with cultural and linguistic data so researchers can visualise diversity at a glance, and download data to analyse in their own projects.”

D-PLACE allows users to search by cultural practice (e.g., monogamy vs. polygamy), environmental variable (e.g. elevation, mean annual temperature), language family (e.g. Indo-European, Austronesian), or region (e.g. Siberia). The search results can be displayed on a map, a language tree or in a table, and can also be downloaded for further analysis.

It aims to enable researchers to investigate the extent to which patterns in cultural diversity are shaped by different forces, including shared history, demographics, migration/diffusion, cultural innovations, and environmental and ecological conditions.

D-PLACE was developed by an international team of scientists interested in cross-cultural research. It includes researchers from Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human history in Jena Germany, University of Auckland, Colorado State University, University of Toronto, University of Bristol, Yale, Human Relations Area Files, Washington University in Saint Louis, University of Michigan, American Museum of Natural History, and City University of New York.

The diverse team included: linguists; anthropologists; biogeographers; data scientists; ethnobiologists; and evolutionary ecologists, who employ a variety of research methods including field-based primary data collection; compilation of cross-cultural data sources; and analyses of existing cross-cultural datasets.

“The team’s diversity is reflected in D-PLACE, which is designed to appeal to a broad user base,” said Kirby. “Envisioned users range from members of the public world-wide interested in comparing their cultural practices with those of other groups, to cross-cultural researchers interested in pushing the boundaries of existing research into the drivers of cultural change.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

D-PLACE: A Global Database of Cultural, Linguistic and Environmental Diversity by Kathryn R. Kirby, Russell D. Gray, Simon J. Greenhill, Fiona M. Jordan, Stephanie Gomes-Ng, Hans-Jörg Bibiko, Damián E. Blasi, Carlos A. Botero, Claire Bowern, Carol R. Ember, Dan Leehr, Bobbi S. Low, Joe McCarter, William Divale, Michael C. Gavin.  PLOS ONE, 2016; 11 (7): e0158391 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0158391 Published July 8, 2016.

This paper is open access.

You can find D-PLACE here.

While it might not seem like that there would be a close link between anthropology and physics in the 19th and early 20th centuries, that information can be mined for more contemporary applications. For example, someone who wants to make a case for a more diverse scientific community may want to develop a social science approach to the discussion. The situation in my June 16, 2016 post titled: Science literacy, science advice, the US Supreme Court, and Britain’s House of Commons, could  be extended into a discussion and educational process using data from D-Place and other sources to make the point,

Science literacy may not be just for the public, it would seem that US Supreme Court judges may not have a basic understanding of how science works. David Bruggeman’s March 24, 2016 posting (on his Pasco Phronesis blog) describes a then current case before the Supreme Court (Justice Antonin Scalia has since died), Note: Links have been removed,

It’s a case concerning aspects of the University of Texas admissions process for undergraduates and the case is seen as a possible means of restricting race-based considerations for admission.  While I think the arguments in the case will likely revolve around factors far removed from science and or technology, there were comments raised by two Justices that struck a nerve with many scientists and engineers.

Both Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice John Roberts raised questions about the validity of having diversity where science and scientists are concerned [emphasis mine].  Justice Scalia seemed to imply that diversity wasn’t esential for the University of Texas as most African-American scientists didn’t come from schools at the level of the University of Texas (considered the best university in Texas).  Chief Justice Roberts was a bit more plain about not understanding the benefits of diversity.  He stated, “What unique perspective does a black student bring to a class in physics?”

To that end, Dr. S. James Gates, theoretical physicist at the University of Maryland, and member of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (and commercial actor) has an editorial in the March 25 [2016] issue of Science explaining that the value of having diversity in science does not accrue *just* to those who are underrepresented.

Dr. Gates relates his personal experience as a researcher and teacher of how people’s background inform their practice of science, and that two different people may use the same scientific method, but think about the problem differently.

I’m guessing that both Scalia and Roberts and possibly others believe that science is the discovery and accumulation of facts. In this worldview science facts such as gravity are waiting for discovery and formulation into a ‘law’. They do not recognize that most science is a collection of beliefs and may be influenced by personal beliefs. For example, we believe we’ve proved the existence of the Higgs boson but no one associated with the research has ever stated unequivocally that it exists.

More generally, with D-PLACE and the recently announced Trans-Atlantic Platform (see my July 15, 2016 post about it), it seems Canada’s humanities and social sciences communities are taking strides toward greater international collaboration and a more profound investment in digital scholarship.