Tag Archives: R. Peter MacKinnon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… here’s the description,

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

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

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

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

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

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

The panelists are:

Marie-Claire Shanahan

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

Stephen Strauss

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

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

Amber Didow

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

Maryse de la Giroday (moderator)

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

Dr. Moira Stilwell, MLA

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

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

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

Rob Annan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian Chubb, Australia’s Chief Scientist, speaks at 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference

When the 3rd Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) opens tomorrow (Nov. 16, 2011), attendees will find a large number of sessions focussed on innovation. In fact, the keynote panel is titled, Big Picture Perspective on Science & Innovation Policy, and features three speakers all of whom are academics including Australia’s Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb. The other two speakers are Rémi Quirion, OC, Ph.D., CQ, FRSC, Chief Scientist & Chariman of the Board, Fonds de recherche du Québec and R. Peter MacKinnon, President, University of Saskatchewan
& member of the STIC [Science and Technology Innovation Council] State of the Nation Working Group. Here’s a description of the panel topic from the 2011 CSPC agenda page,

With continuing uncertainty about the global economy and with persistent public policy challenges that respect no borders, science and innovation policy is of increasing importance for governments and organizations across Canada and around the world.  How do leaders from various perspectives view the “big picture”?  What are the key challenges and opportunities in the decade ahead and how can science, technology and innovation help to address them?  How can states [nations] improve the performance of their science, technology and innovation systems to ensure better health outcomes, a safe and secure environment, and sustainable prosperity for their citizens?  How are macro-decisions on the state of science and innovation policy being made, and what foundations can support efficient national innovation systems?

Given that the world of academe is not known for its innovation, I always find it a bit odd to see these panels peopled by academics, especially when the speakers’ biographies don’t feature much in the way of innovative accomplishments.

I was a little curious to find out why an Australian (Ian Chubb) was included in this panel and on the ‘science culture’ panel. I did try to interview Chubb but he is making an extensive tour of Europe, Canada, and the US and did not have time to answer my questions. Luckily, I was able to find some information in a June 15, 2011 article by Lucinda Schmidt for the Sydney Morning Herald,

He began his third career, as chief scientist, on May 23 [2011].

”I’ve always loved science,” says the 67-year-old who grew up on the rural fringe of Melbourne, where there were plenty of opportunities for a curious boy to poke about in ant nests and wonder what made the stars twinkle.

He worked part time in a lab while completing his undergraduate degree then headed overseas for almost a decade, including six years at Oxford University doing his PhD.

”It was there that I realised I could probably cut the mustard [as a neuroscientist],” says Chubb, who returned to Australia in 1978 to lecture at Flinders University in South Australia.

After working as a neuroscientist for a number of years, Chubb changed career direction,

His second career included stints as deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Wollongong, chair of the federal government’s Higher Education Council, vice-chancellor of Flinders University for six years, then vice-chancellor of ANU for the past decade.

Chubb earned a reputation as a fearless but politically pragmatic advocate for tertiary education.

It would appear this second career will stand him in good stead as Australia’s chief scientist,

As chief scientist, Chubb’s political skills and forceful advocacy will be invaluable. His predecessor, the US physicist Penny Sackett, resigned halfway through her five-year term reportedly because of lack of government interest in her role.

Hopefully, Chubb will reach past the platitudes and give some insight into how he sees the role of a chief scientist and the political acumen necessary to make the position meaningful.

As I noted earlier, Chubb will also be speaking on the ‘science culture’ panel (along with Denise Amyot who was interviewed in my Nov. 15, 2011 posting here). He will be speaking about the ‘Inspiring Australia‘ initiative. The webpage for the initiative is a little disappointing in that it consists mostly of strategy documents, listings for two programmes which have the appearance of having predated this initiative (Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science and National Science Week Grants), and information about two Expert Working Groups ( Science and the media and Developing an Evidence Base for Science Engagement). The initiative itself is barely one year old.

I wish the organizers, speakers, and attendees an excellent conference.

2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference

It’s the third year for the Canadian Science Policy Conference. The first two were held in Toronto and Montréal, respectively. For a refreshing change of pace, they’re holding this year’s conference in Ottawa. (For anyone not familiar with Canadian geography, these locations are all relatively close to each other and this type of scheduling is the source of much grumbling from those of us in the ‘other’ provinces and the territories.)

You’ll be happy to know that the theme for the 2011 conference is: Building Bridges for the Future of Science Policy in Canada. Being held from Nov. 16 – 18, 2011, the conference features a keynote address from three speakers, Rémi Quirion, OC, Ph.D., CQ, FRSC, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Fonds de recherche du Québec; Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist for Australia; and R. Peter MacKinnon, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Saskatchewan. Unfortunately, there is no information about what they might discuss although one imagines they will focus on the theme for the conference. (Note: One cannot always depend on one’s speakers to keep to the theme. I know this from bittersweet [it's funny afterwards] experience.)

I’m a little more interested in the talk which ushers in the first full day of the conference. Scheduled for 8:40 am on Thursday, November 17, 2011 the talk is titled, Building Stronger Communities Through Innovation. Here’s a preview from the 2011 CSPC agenda page,

How do we build innovative communities? This is a central challenge for Canada in the 21st century since innovative communities form the foundation of a prosperous country. As more than a decade of research on industry clusters has shown, a robust innovation system can have a profoundly positive impact on local communities when it translates into high quality jobs, industrial growth, new enterprises, improved public infrastructure and services and a cleaner, healthier environment.

But building innovation into our communities takes the involvement of individuals and institutions across the spectrum of society. Universities, colleges, research hospitals, private companies, governments and non-profit agencies, along with the talented, creative people that work in these organizations, must be free to work together and share their knowledge and ideas.

Yet fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange between different organizations, with different interests and capacities can be challenging. Successful collaboration requires time, resources, communication, shared goals, commitment and risk-taking.

A panel of leading Canadian thinkers in inter-sectoral and inter-organizational collaboration will discuss how university and college researchers can work with local businesses to translate new knowledge into new creative products and beneficial services. They will look at the role of research hospitals in contributing to both the health and wealth of local communities. And they will discuss best practices in overcoming the institutional and cultural barriers to collaboration.

The speakers for this session are:

Gilles G. Patry, Ph.D, President and CEO,Canada Foundation for Innovation; Chad Gaffield,, Ph.D, President, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council; Dr. Kevin Smith, President and CEO, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, St Joseph’s Lifecare Centre Brantford; Fred Morley, Executive VP & Chief Economist, Greater Halifax Partnership; Fassi Kafyeke Director, Strategic Technology,Bombardier Aerospace; Hon. Mike Harcourt, Lawyer, Community Activist, and former BC Premier

Given that the report of the Review of Federal Support to R&D has just been released (my posting will be out later today), it would be nice if they mention the report and its likely impact on the science community. It’s probably too late but it would be fabulous if someone from the expert panel could be persuaded to give a talk.

I’m mentioning these two panels simply because I know a speaker on each. David Kent ( CIHR Postdoctoral, University of Cambridge) is moderating the Education and Training of Scientists panel. David is 1/2 of the blogging team for The Black Hole; Science in Canada Issues Affecting Science Trainees blog (Beth Swan is the other 1/2). You can find out more about the conference and David’s latest panel doings in his Oct. 18, 2011 posting. The other panelist is Tim Meyer (Head of Strategic Planning & Communications, TRIUMF) who’s on the Reaching out with Big Science panel. Are they going to talk about blogging and social media or are they going to focus primarily on mainstream media. Given that two of the other speakers are Penny Park (Science Media Centre of Canada) and Jay Ingram (until recently a host for the Daily Planet programme on the Discovery Channel and author), I’m guessing the focus will be mainstream media.

Note Oct. 20, 2011: A few minor grammatical changes made in a bid to make this piece readable. We’ll see how that works.

ETA Oct. 24, 2011: I can’t believe missed this panel (Science Culture, Organized and Prioritized: Three National and International Initiatives) which features another person I’ve had the pleasure of encountering, Denise Amyot, President and Chief Executive Office of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC). In order to make up for my oversight I’m including a description here,

Culture is big: annually, some 290 million citizens actively participate in the exhibitions, programs, events and outreach initiatives organized by 2,400 science centres worldwide. Other types of institutions, radio, internet, and film build further on that reach. This session will examine three recent initiatives that seek to organize, define, and take strategic advantage of the work of hundreds of diverse science engagement and knowledge creation organisations nationally and internationally. Increasingly, strategic focus among this diverse set of content and communication partners is bringing new attention to science engagement for the benefit of national and global society.

This session will examine Inspiring Australia, an initiative of the Australian government to create regional networks of diverse engagement organizations and connect them effectively with the science knowledge creators in order to better execute science engagement in that country. We will also examine an initiative to benchmark “science culture” in order to better measure future progress . And finally we will examine a global initiative by science centres to use science engagement in a truly global context.

Well, the first initiative is clearly from Australia (perhaps this explains Ian Chubb’s role as one of the conference’s opening keynote speakers and as one of three speakers on this panel) and the third initiative is coming from the science centres (one of the panelists is from the Ontario Science Centre) so perhaps the second initiative is coming from the CSTMC?