Tag Archives: Review of Federal Support to Research and Development

Health Canada publishes results of public consultation on Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials!

Hot off the email.  I received notice, about 60 mins. ago, that the results of the March – August 2010 public consultation on Health Canada’s Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials. From my Oct. 11, 2011 email,

In March 2010, Health Canada launched a web-based consultation on the Interim Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials.  The consultation was open for comment from March 1 to August 31, 2010.  During that period, Health Canada received a total of 29 submissions from companies, industry groups, governments, academia, public interest groups and interested citizens.

Health Canada made changes to the Interim Policy Statement based on stakeholders’ feedback.  Changes were also informed by developments in international norms, evolving scientific evidence and regulatory program needs.  These changes appear in the Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterial which will continue to be updated as the body of scientific evidence and international norms progress.

Health Canada’s responses to key stakeholder comments are summarised in the following documents:

· Summary of Comments Received on the Interim Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials – March to August 2010

· Frequently Asked Questions Related to the Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterial.

The Policy Statement, the Summary Report, and the Frequently Asked Questions are all now available on Health Canada’s website on the Science and Research webpage at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/sr-sr/pubs/nano/index-eng.php

Thank you to Laird Roe, A/Director General, Science Policy Directorate Strategic Policy Branch, and all of the other folks who’ve worked to get this published.

I have taken a very quick look at the updated website which no longer includes the word ‘interim’ with its title: Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterial. It was made effective Oct. 6, 2011.

The changes made in response to submissions received as part of the public consultation are noted on the Summary of Comments Received on the Interim Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials – March to August 2010 page. Included is a list of the 29 respondents,

Companies:

  • DuPont Canada
  • Hogan Lovells International LLP
  • Johnson & Johnson Inc
  • Johnson & Johnson Medical Products
  • Logistik Unicorp
  • PerkinElmer Instruments

Industry Organizations

  • Canadian Apparel Federation
  • Canadian Association of Chemical Distributors
  • Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association
  • Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association
  • Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters
  • Canada’s Medical Technology Companies
  • Canada’s Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies
  • Food & Consumer Products of Canada
  • Industry Coordinating Group for the Canadian Environmental Protection Act
  • The Nanotechnology Panel of the American Chemistry Council
  • The Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc.

Governments:

  • Ministry of Health, Government of British Columbia
  • Peel Public Health

Academia:

  • Centre des Nanomatériaux de l’Université du Québec à Montréal

Public Interest Groups:

  • Canadian Cancer Society
  • Canadian Environmental Law Association
  • Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy

Media Blog:

  • FrogHeart.ca

Not sure I’d ever describe this as a media blog (obsession, maybe?) but to paraphrase the Scotsman Robbie Burns, it’s always interesting to see ourselves as others see us.

I’m sorry they didn’t post the individual submissions as they did for the Review of Federal Support to Research and Development as it would have interesting to see and compare the other submissions.

They did break down the comments in the various submissions,

Key comments provided fell into three categories:

  1. the Process of the creation of the working definition (how it was developed);
  2. the Content of the working definition (clarity/inclusion of key terms); and,
  3. the Application or use of the policy statement (clarifying the regulatory context).

This description of the categories is followed by a table which summarizes both the  comments and Health Canada’s responses (not reproduced here).

One of my key concerns, public engagement/discussion was not addressed either in the summary or on the FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) page. I suggest looking at the FAQs page as there is some very interesting information there including the answer to this question,

8. Does Health Canada take a precautionary approach to nanomaterials?

Taking a precautionary approach is key to fostering the development and inclusion of new knowledge into decision making. The precautionary approach is part of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, the Pest Control Products Act, and is referenced in the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act which will further support existing authorities to collect information regarding nanomaterial for the assessment of potential health risks and benefits.

Over the next few years, Health Canada will take an incremental approach to address regulatory, science and policy needs while allowing for the integration of new scientific evidence as it becomes available. Health Canada’s principle interest is in obtaining information that will improve the understanding of nanomaterials for risk assessment and risk management purposes.

I was much encouraged to see a flexible approach has been adopted as you can see in this example from the elaboration on the policy statement,

“Part a” of the Working Definition relates to current evidence suggesting that nanoscale properties/phenomena are more likely observable at the scale of 1-100 nanometres (more often at the lower end)5 and “Part b” reflects that it is possible for nanoscale properties/ phenomena to be exhibited outside this size range, such as select quantum devices6.

A variety of lexicons and interpretations of “nano-terminology” currently exist, underlining the importance of understanding the context in which these terms are used. In the risk assessment context supporting hazard and exposure assessment for risk characterization and management, the term “nanoscale properties/phenomena” refers to size-related properties which have qualities or characteristics that do not readily extrapolate from those observed in individual atoms, molecules or bulk materials. For example, “bulk” gold is not very reactive, but nanoscale gold can act as a chemical catalyst2. For risk assessment purposes, this term includes observable biological or environmental effects resulting from size-related properties as described above. Examples of such biological or environmental effects could be increased permeability through cell membranes8 or increased reactivity of iron/iron oxides for the purposes of groundwater remediation9, respectively.

So there you have it a few nits to pick and a few roses to give. I trust and hope that there will be more commentary from other sources over the coming days.

In March 2010, Health Canada launched a web-based consultation on the Interim Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials.  The consultation was open for comment from March 1 to August 31, 2010.  During that period, Health Canada received a total of 29 submissions from companies, industry groups, governments, academia, public interest groups and interested citizens.

Health Canada made changes to the Interim Policy Statement based on stakeholders’ feedback.  Changes were also informed by developments in international norms, evolving scientific evidence and regulatory program needs.  These changes appear in the Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterial which will continue to be updated as the body of scientific evidence and international norms progress.

Health Canada’s responses to key stakeholder comments are summarised in the following documents:

· Summary of Comments Received on the Interim Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials – March to August 2010

Frequently Asked Questions Related to the Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterial.

The Policy Statement, the Summary Report, and the Frequently Asked Questions are all now available on Health Canada’s website on the Science and Research webpage at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/sr-sr/pubs/nano/index-eng.php

Nanomaterials, nanomedicines and nanodefinitions

I was chatting earlier this week, in the most general way possible, with someone in Ottawa about nanotechnology and regulations.  The individual noted that nanotechnology initiatives in various countries and regions are attaining traction and I think the evidence is in the increased (and heated) discussion/debate about defining nanomaterials. The latest twist in the discussion comes from Alok Jha, a science writer for The Guardian. In his Sept. 6, 2011 article, Nanotechnoglogy world: Nanomedicine offers new cures, he tackles the topic from the nanomedicine perspective.

The EU ObservatoryNano organisation, which supports European policy makers through scientific and economic analysis of nanoscience and nanotechnology developments, produced a report on the ethics of nanotechnology written by Ineke Malsch, director of Malsch TechnoValuation. She says the problem with regulating medical nanotechnology can be how to define a product’s area of application. “The distinction between a medical device and a pharmaceutical is quite fuzzy. …”

How do you regulate a drug-releasing implant, for example? Is Cuschieri’s nano-carrier a pharmaceutical or a medical device? One of [the] key issues, says Malsch, is that there is the lack of common agreement or definition, at the international level, of what a nanoparticle is and what constitutes nanomedicines. “There is continuing discussion about these definitions which will hopefully be resolved before the end of the year.”

Current regulations are more than enough for current technologies, says Malsch, but she adds that this will need to be kept under review. But over-regulating now would also be a mistake. Pre-empting (and trying to pre-regulate) technology that does not yet exist is not a good idea, she says.

This view was backed up by Professor Andrew Maynard, the director of the Risk Science Centre, who says: “With policy-makers looking for clear definitions on which to build ‘nano-regulations’, there is a growing danger of science being pushed aside.”

This (the fuzzy distinction between a pharamaceutical and a medical device) certainly adds a new twist to the debate for me.

Also, I should note that this article’s banner says: Nanotechnology world, in association with Nano Channels.Tim Harper (Cientifica and TNTlog) noticed in an earlier Guardian article on nanotechnology (from his July 7, 2011 posting),

My delight at seeing a sensible piece about “nanotechnology in everyday life” by Colin Stuart (@skyponderer) published in the Guardian Newspaper turned to puzzlement when I noticed that the article was “Paid for by NanoChannels.”

There seems to be some distinction between “paid for” and “in association with,” but I can’t confirm that at this time. Now back to the topic.

In my August 31, 2011 posting, I noted the latest salvo from Hermann Stamm, of the European Commission Joint Research Centre, Institute for Health and Consumer Protection where he reiterated that a hard and fast definition based on size is the best choice. In his Sept. 6, 2011 posting, Andrew where he expands on a concern (i. e. policymakers will formulate a definition not based on scientific data but based on political pressures and/or public relations worries) that I’ve given short shrift. From his Sept. 6, 2011 posting,

And despite policy makers repeatedly stating that any form of nanomaterial regulation should be science-based, I have the sense that they are scrambling to use science to justify a predetermined conclusion – that engineered nanomaterials should be regulated on the basis of a hard and fast definition – rather than using science to guide their actions.Instead, I would suggest that we need to put aside preconceptions of what is important and what is not here, and start by asking how new generations of sophisticated (or advanced) materials interact with biological systems; where these interactions have the potential to cause harm in ways not captured within current regulatory frameworks; and how these frameworks can be adapted or altered to ensure that an increasing number of unusual substances are developed and used as safely as possible – no matter what label or “brand” is applied to them.

He was a little more explicit about what he thinks are the reasons behind this preference for a “hard and fast definition” in his April 15, 2011 posting,

Sadly, it now looks like we are heading toward a situation where the definitions of nanomaterials underpinning regulations will themselves be based on policy, not science.

This scares the life out of me, because it ends up taking evidence off the table when it comes to oversight, and replacing it with assumptions and speculation on what people think is relevant, rather than what actually is – not good for safety, and certainly not good for business.

 

All this got me to thinking about the Interim Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials and the public consultation which ended August 31, 2010.  According to the website, we will be learning the results of the consultation,

Reporting to Canadians

Health Canada will make the results of this consultation available on this Web site.  Health Canada will take further steps to illustrate how the policy statement will be applied in specific contexts.  These steps could include guidance documents for specific products or substances, targeted workshops and postings of answers to frequently asked questions.  The Interim Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials will be updated as comments are received, as the body of scientific evidence increases, and as international norms progress.

If you have any questions, contact [email protected].

Strangely, there’s no mention of the 29 submissions that were made (my May 27, 2011 posting)  or a listing of who made the submissions as was done for Canada’s ‘innovation consultation’ or, more formally, the Review of Federal Support to Research and Development (which started in Oct. 2010 and ended in Feb. 2011 and received some 250 submissions).

Science research spending and innovation in Europe and reflections on the Canadian situation

I thought I’d pull together some information about science funding and innovation for closer examination. First, in early July 2011 the European Union announced plans for a huge spending increase, approximately 45%, for science. Their current programme, the Seventh Framework Programme (US$79B budget) is coming to an end in 2013 and the next iteration will be called, Horizon 2020 (proposed US$114B budget).  Here’s more from Kit Eaton’s July 6, 2011 article on Fast Company,

The proposal still awaits approval by the E.U.’s parliament and member states, but just getting this far is a milestone. The next phase is to forge spending into the next generation of the E.U.’s Framework Programme, which is its main research spending entity, to produce a plan called Horizon 2020. The spending shift has been championed by E.U. research commissioner Márie Geoghan-Quinn, and means that the share of the E.U. budget portioned out for scientific research will eventually double from its 4.5% figure in 2007 to 9% in 2020.

How will Europe pay for it? This is actually the biggest trick being pulled off: More than €4.5 billion would be transferred from the E.U.’s farm subsidies program, the Common Agricultural Policy. This is the enormous pile of cash paid by E.U. authorities to farmers each year to keep them in business, to keep food products rolling off the production line, and to keep fields fallow–as well as to diversify their businesses.

Nature journal also covered the news in a July 5, 2011 article by Colin Macilwane,

Other research advocates say that the proposal — although falling short of the major realignment of funding priorities they had been hoping for — was as good as could be expected in the circumstances. “Given the times we’re in, we couldn’t realistically have hoped for much more,” says Dieter Imboden, president of Eurohorcs, the body representing Europe’s national research agencies.

Geoghegan-Quinn told Nature that the proposal was “a big vote of confidence in science” but also called on researchers to push to get the proposal implemented — especially in their home countries. “The farmers will be out there lobbying, and scientists and researchers need to do the same,” she says.

While the European Union wrangles over a budget that could double their investment in science research, Canadians evince, at best, a mild interest in science research.

The latest Science, Technology and Innovation Council report, State of the Nation 2010: Canada’s Science, Technology and Innovation System, was released in June 2011 and has, so far, occasioned little interest despite an article in the Globe & Mail and a Maclean’s blog posting by Paul Wells. Hopefully,  The Black Hole Blog, where Beth Swan and David Kent are writing a series about the report, will be able to stimulate some discussion.

From Beth’s July 12, 2011 posting,

The report – at least the section I’m talking about today – is based on data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment and Statistics Canada. Some of the interesting points include:

  • 15-year-old Canadians rank in the top 10 of OECD countries for math and science in 20091.
  • 80% of 15-19 year-old Canadians are pursuing a formal education, which is lower than the OECD average
  • But Canada ranks 1st in OECD countries for adults (ages 25–64 years) in terms of the percentage of the population with a post-secondary education (49%)
  • The numbers of Canadian students in science and engineering at the undergraduate level increased (18% increase in the number of science undergraduate degrees, 9% increase in the number of engineering undergraduate degrees) in 2008 compared to 2005

This all begs the question, though, of what those science-based graduates do once they graduate. It’s something that we’ve talked about a fair bit here on the Black Hole and the STIC report gives us some unhappy data on it. Canada had higher unemployment rates for science-based PhDs (~3-4%) compared to other OECD countries (e.g., in the US, it’s about ~1-1.5%).  Specifically, in 2006 Canada had the highest rate of unemployment for the medical sciences -3%- and engineering -4%- and the third highest rate of unemployment for the natural sciences -3%- among the OECD countries: the data are from 2006.

David, in his July 16, 2011 posting, focuses on direct and indirect Canadian federal government Research & Development (R&D) spending,

It appears from a whole host of statistics, reports, etc – that Canada lags in innovation, but what is the government’s role in helping to nurture its advancement.  Is it simply to create fertile ground for “the market” to do its work?  or is it a more interventionist style of determining what sorts of projects the country needs and investing as such?  Perhaps it involves altering the way we train and inspire our young people?

Beth then comments on Canadian business R&D investment, which has always been a low priority according to the material I’ve read, in her July 25, 2011 posting on ,

Taken together, this shows a rather unfavourable trend in Canadian businesses not investing in research & development – i.e, not contributing to innovation. We know from Dave’s last posting that Canada is not very good at contributing direct funds to research and my first posting in this series illustrated that while Canada is pretty good at getting PhDs trained, we are not so good at having jobs for those PhDs once they are done their schooling.

The latest July 27, 2011 posting from David asks the age old question, Why does Canada lag in R&D spending?

Many reports have been written over the past 30 years about Canada and its R&D spending, and they clamour one after the other about Canada’s relative lack of investment into R&D.  We’ve been through periods of deep cutbacks and periods of very strong growth, yet one thing remains remarkably consistent – Canada underspends on R&D relative to other countries.

The waters around such questions are extremely murky and tangible outcomes are tough to identify and quantify when so many factors are at play.  What does seem reasonable though is to ask where this investment gap is filled from in other countries that currently outstrip Canada’s spending – is it public money, private money, foreign money, or domestic money?  Hopefully these questions are being asked and answered before we set forth on another 30 year path of poor relative investment.

As I stated in my submission to the federal government’s R&D review panel and noted in my March 15, 2011 posting about the ‘Innovation’ consultation, I think we need to approach the issues in more imaginative ways.

Scientific collaboration: a royal society report

The UK’s Royal Society has released a science policy report titled, Knowledge, Networks and Nations; Global scientific collaboration in the 21st century. I have taken a brief glance at this 114 page report and am impressed with the analysis and the thoughtfulness and range of the discussion about the ‘global scientific landscape’. The authors claim this landscape is becoming largely collaborative while the research enterprise becomes multipolar, i. e., less dominated by a few countries (US, UK, Germany, Japan, etc.) as China, Turkey, India, Brazil and many others increase their scientific output. From the Royal Society’s webpage (http://royalsociety.org/policy/reports/knowledge-networks-nations/?utm_source=social_media&utm_medium=hootsuite&utm_campaign=standard),

Knowledge, Networks and Nations surveys the global scientific landscape in 2011, noting the shift to an increasingly multipolar world underpinned by the rise of new scientific powers such as China, India and Brazil; as well as the emergence of scientific nations in the Middle East, South-East Asia and North Africa. The scientific world is also becoming more interconnected, with international collaboration on the rise. Over a third of all articles published in international journals are internationally collaborative, up from a quarter 15 years ago.

If you’re interested in reviewing the report you can go here (http://royalsociety.org/uploadedFiles/Royal_Society_Content/Influencing_Policy/Reports/2011-03-28-Knowledge-networks-nations.pdf) to access the PDF directly. I particularly noticed this bit in the executive summary,

Science is essential for addressing global challenges, but it cannot do so in isolation. A wide range of approaches will be required, including the appropriate use of financial incentives, incorporating non-traditional forms of knowledge, and working with the social sciences and wider disciplines. Science is crucial but it is unlikely to produce all the answers by itself: the science infrastructure works best when it is supported by, and enables, other systems. [emphases mine] (p. 7)

It’s good to see this notion that ‘science alone is not the answer’ stated elsewhere and it’s particularly good to see that it was stated by scientists themselves. (This is the point I was trying to make to the expert panel for the recent Canadian public consultation on innovation (aka Review of Federal Support to Research and Development)  in my Feb. 18, 2011 posting [http://www.frogheart.ca/?p=2836], in my March 15, 2011 posting [http://www.frogheart.ca/?p=3118], and in my submission.)

The recommendations in the Royal Society report include these (from the Royal Society wepage),

It makes 5 major recommendations:

1. Support for international science should be maintained and strengthened
2. Internationally collaborative science should be encouraged, supported and facilitated
3. National and international strategies for science are required to address global challenges
4. International capacity building is crucial to ensure that the impacts of scientific research are shared globally
5. Better indicators are required in order to properly evaluate global science

I don’t have anything to say about the recommendations other than they seem sensible. One final note, the visualization of the data is quite interesting and worth a look. I’d love to have made a copy and embedded one of their visualizations here but I guess they’re not quite as collaboratively-minded as they like to think of themselves because it’s not possible. (I always think that collaboration includes giving some of your material to another party.) I do urge you to visit here (http://royalsociety.org/knowledge-networks-nations-graph/) to see a figure representing the number of collaborative papers as a proportion of national output. Not your standard bar chart. If you glance through the report, you’ll see different types of these visualizations, some of which I understand better than others.

ETA April 12, 2011: David Bruggeman at his Pasco Phronesis made an insightful observation about Iran and the discussion that the Royal Society’s report has generated (from his April 7, 2011 posting, Meet the New Science Superpower…Iran),

Yeah, you read that right. New Scientist noted that in the Royal Society’s recently released report Knowledge, Networks and Nations that Iran has the fastest rate of growth in scientific publication in the world. I find that an interesting variation in the press coverage of the report, which is almost exclusively about how China is, once again, playing catch-up to the U.S. in scientific publishing.

Do take a look at the comments in full. There are more tidbits.

Canada’s innovation consultation

The official title for the Canadian government public consultation which ended Feb. 18, 2011 is Review of Federal Support to Research and Development. I had some issues with this consultation as I noted at length in my Feb. 18, 2011 posting and contrary to what I stated at the time (I reasoned that no one would pay much attention to what I had to say as it didn’t fit the terms of reference) but on reflection I decided to make the submission anyway, which is now posted on the government’s website here. My largest bone of contention with this process is the way the discussion is framed, i.e., the terms of reference for the consultation and that’s basically what I tried to say in the submission.

Meanwhile, some 250 others also made submissions and according to Rob Annan at the Researcher Forum; Don’t leave Canada behind blog (excerpted from his March 9, 2011 posting),

Just… wow.

Earlier this year, the R&D Review Panel issued a call for submissions from interested parties regarding government support for business- and industry-related R&D. Today the submission papers have been made public.

What a treasure trove of special pleading. [emphasis mine]

There are more than 250 submissions from industry, academia and government. I sympathize with Tom Jenkins and his fellow panelists who will have to sift through these not-even-thinly-veiled self-interested calls for support.

Major industry players have made submissions, including JD Irving, Pratt & Whitney, and Bombardier. These international industry leaders will no doubt be able to provide a global sense of how to nurture innovation and strengthen our economy. What are their suggestions? Well, Irving would like rules to be changed so it can get IRAP funding and access collaborative R&D grants without university collaboration. [emphasis mine]

I left a few juicy bits behind but I think you get the idea. At least some of this was suggested/predicted by Nassif Ghoussoub on his Piece of Mind blog in a Jan. 14, 2011 posting,

Do you really think that anyone of the heads/directors/presidents (the shopkeepers!) of these programs (the shops!) are going to testify that their programs are deficient and need less funding? What about those individuals that are getting serious funding from these programs (the clients!)?

No, a lot of these people asked for more. (I’m hoping at least a few people tried to address the spirit of the consultation which is why I said “a lot of these people” instead of the all encompassing “these people.)

As far as I’m concerned changing the rules of the game so the players stop gaming the system will last about as long as it takes for the players to figure how to game the new system. We need to look at the game and ask ourselves if we need to change it.

Bravo to the team who posted these submissions online and opened access to the rest of us.

Innovation discussion in Canada lacks imagination

Today, Feb. 18, 2011, is the last day you have to make a submission to the federal government of Canada’s Review of Federal Support to Research and Development.

By the way, the  expert panel appointed and tasked with carrying out this consultation consists of:

Mr. Thomas Jenkins – Chair
Dr. Bev Dahlby
Dr. Arvind Gupta
Ms. Monique F. Leroux
Dr. David Naylor
Mrs. Nobina Robinson

They represent a mix of industry and academic representatives; you can read more about them here. You will have to click for each biography. Unfortunately, neither the website nor the consultation paper offer a list of members of the panel withbiographies that are grouped together for easy scanning.

One sidenote, big kudos to whomever decided this was a good idea (from the Review web page),

Important note: Submissions received by the panel will be made publicly available on this site as early as March 4, 2011.[emphases mine] * The name and organizational affiliation of the individual making the submission will be posted on the site; however, contact information (i.e., email addresses, phone numbers and postal addresses) will not be posted, unless that information is embedded in the submission itself.

This initiative can be viewed in two ways: (a) necessary housecleaning of funding programmes for research and development (R&D) that are not effective and (b) an attempt to kickstart more innovation, i.e. better ties between government R&D efforts and industry to achieve more productivity, in Canada. From the consultation paper‘s introduction,

WHY A REVIEW?

Innovation by business is a vital part of maintaining a high standard of living in Canada and building Canadian sources of global advantage. The Government of Canada plays an important role in fostering an economic climate that encourages business innovation, including by providing substantial funding through tax incentives and direct program support to enhance business research and development (R&D). Despite the high level of federal support, Canada continues to lag behind other countries in business R&D expenditures (see Figure 1), and this is believed to be a significant factor in contributing to the country’s weak productivity growth. Recognizing this, Budget 2010 announced a comprehensive review of federal support to R&D in order to maximize its contribution to innovation and to economic opportunities for business. (p. 1 print;  p. 3 PDF)

I’d like to offer a submission but I can’t for two reasons. (a)  I really don’t know much about the ‘housecleaning’ aspects. (b) The panel’s terms of reference vis à vis innovation are so constrained that any comments I could offer fall far outside it’s purview.

Here’s what I mean by ‘constrained terms of reference’ (from the consultation paper),

The Panel has been asked to provide advice related to the following questions:

§ What federal initiatives are most effective in increasing business R&D and facilitating commercially relevant R&D partnerships?

§ Is the current mix and design of tax incentives and direct support for business R&D and businessfocused R&D appropriate?

§ What, if any, gaps are evident in the current suite of programming, and what might be done to fill these gaps?

In addition, the Panel’s mandate specifies that its recommendations not result in an increase or decrease to the overall level of funding required for federal R&D initiatives. (p. 3 print; p. 5 PDF)

The ‘housecleaning’ effort is long overdue. Even good government programmes can outlive their usefulness while ineffective and/or bad programmes don’t get jettisoned soon enough or often enough. If you want a sense of just how complicated our current R & D funding system is, just check this out from Nassif Ghoussoub’s (Piece of Mind blog) Jan. 14, 2011 posting,

Now the number of programs that the government supports, and which are under review is simply mind boggling.

First, you have the largest piece of the puzzle, the $4-billion “Scientific Research and Experimental Develoment tax credit program” (SR&ED), which seems to be the big elephant in the room. I hardly know anything about this program, besides the fact that it is a federal tax incentive program, administered by the Canada Revenue Agency, that encourages Canadian businesses of all sizes, and in all sectors to conduct research and development in Canada. Former VP of the NRC and former President of Alberta Ingenuity, Peter Hackett, has lots to say about this. Also on youtube.

But you don’t need to be an expert to imagine the line-up of CEOs waiting to testify as to how important these tax incentives are to the country? “Paris vaut bien une messe” and a billion or four are surely worth testifying for.

Next, just take a look (below) at this illustrative list of more directly funded federal programs. Why “illustrative”?, because there is at least one hundred more!

Do you really think that anyone of the heads/directors/presidents (the shopkeepers!) of these programs (the shops!) are going to testify that their programs are deficient and need less funding? What about those individuals that are getting serious funding from these programs (the clients!)?

Nassif’s list is 50 (!) programmes long and he suggests there are another 100 of them? Yes, housecleaning is long overdue but as Nassif points out. the people most likely to submit comment about these programmes  are likely to be beneficiaries uninclined to see their demise.

There is another problem with this ‘housecleaning’ process in that they seem to be interested in ‘tweaking’ rather than renovating or rethinking the system. Rob Annan at the Researcher Forum (Don’t leave Canada behind) blog, titled his Feb. 4, 2011 post, Innovation vs. Invention, as he questions what we mean by innovation (excerpt from his posting),

I wonder if we’ve got the whole thing wrong.

The fact is: universities don’t produce innovation. For that matter, neither does industrial R&D.

What university and industrial research produces is invention.

The Blackberry is not an innovation, it’s an invention. A new cancer-fighting drug is not an innovation, it’s an invention. A more durable prosthetic knee is not an innovation, it’s an invention.

Universities can – and do – produce inventions.

In fact, they produce inventions at an astonishing rate. University tech transfer offices (now usually branded as “centres for innovation and commercialization”) register more intellectual property than could ever be effectively commercialized.

But innovation is distinct from invention. Innovation is about process.

Innovation is about finding more efficient ways to do things. Innovation is about increasing productivity. Innovation is about creating new markets – sometimes through the commercialization of inventions.

Innovation is about the how not about the what.

Thought-provoking, yes? I think a much broader scope needs to be taken if we’re going really discuss innovation in Canada. I’m talking about culture and making a cultural shift. One of the things I’ve noticed is that everyone keeps saying Canadians aren’t innovative. Fair enough. So, how does adding another government programme change that? As far as I can tell, most of the incentives that were created have simply encouraged people to game the system, which is what you might expect from people who aren’t innovative.

I think one of the questions that should have been asked is, how do you encourage the behaviour, in this case a cultural shift towards innovation, you want when your programmes haven’t elicited that behaviour?

Something else I’d suggest, let’s not confine the question(s) to the usual players as they’ll be inclined to offer more of the same. (There’s an old saying, if you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.)

Another aspect of making a cultural shift is modeling at least some of the behaviours. Here’s something what Dexter Johnson at the Nanoclast blog (IEEE Spectrum) noticed about US President Barack Obama’s January 2011 State of the Union address in his January 28, 2011 posting,

Earlier this week in the President’s State of the Union Address, a 16-year-old girl by the name Amy Chyao accompanied the First Lady at her seat.

No doubt Ms. Chyao’s presence was a bit of stage craft to underscore the future of America’s ingenuity and innovation because Ms. Chyao, who is still a high school junior, managed to synthesize a nanoparticle that when exposed to infrared light even when it is inside the body can be triggered like a bomb to kill cancer cells. [emphasis mine] Ms. Chyao performed her research and synthesis in the lab of Kenneth J. Balkus, Jr., a chemistry professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.

This is a remarkable achievement and even more so from someone still so young, so we would have to agree with Prof. Balkus’ assessment that “At some point in her future, she’ll be a star.”

However, Chyao was given to us as a shining example of the US potential for innovation, and, as a result, its competitiveness. So beyond stage craft, what is the assessment of innovation for the US in a time of emerging technologies such as nanotechnology? [emphasis mine]

As President Obama attempts to rally the nation with “This is our Sputnik moment”, Andrew Maynard over on his 20/20 blog tries to work out what innovation means in our current context as compared to what it meant 50 years ago at the dawn of the space race.

Notice the emphasis on innovation. Our US neighbours are as concerned as we are about this and what I find interesting is that there glimmers of a very different approach. Yes, Chyao’s presence was stagecraft but this kind of ‘symbolic communication’ can be incredibly important. I say ‘can’ because if it’s purely stagecraft then it will condemned as a cheap stunt but if they are able to mobilize ‘enough’ stories, programmes, education, etc. that support the notion of US ingenuity and innovation then you can see a cultural shift occur. [Perfection won’t be achieved; there will be failures. What you need are enough stories and successes.] Meanwhile, Canadians keep being told they’re not innovative and ‘we must do something’.

This US consultation may be more stagecraft but it shows that not all consultations have to be as thoroughly constrained as the Canadian one finishing today.  From Mike Masnick’s Feb. 9, 2011 posting (The White House Wants Advice On What’s Blocking American Innovation) on Techdirt,

The White House website kicked off a new feature this week, called Advise the Advisor, in which a senior staff member at the White House will post a YouTube video [there’s one in this posting on the Techdirt website] on a particular subject, asking the public to weigh in on that topic via a form. The very first such topic is one near and dear to our hearts: American Innovation. [emphasis mine] …

And here is the answer I provided:

Research on economic growth has shown time and time again the importance of basic innovation towards improving the standard of living of people around the world. Economist Paul Romer’s landmark research into innovation highlighted the key factor in economic growth is increasing the spread of ideas.

Traditionally, many people have considered the patent system to be a key driver for innovation, but, over the last few decades, research has repeatedly suggested that this is not the case. In fact, patents more frequently act as a hindrance to innovation rather than as a help to it. Recent research by James Bessen & Michael Meurer (reviewing dozens of patent studies) found that the costs of patents far outweigh the benefits.

This is a problem I see daily as the founder of a startup in Silicon Valley — often considered one of the most innovative places on earth. Patents are not seen as an incentive to innovation at all. Here, patents are simply feared. The fear is that anyone doing something innovative will be sued out of nowhere by someone with a broad patent. A single patent lawsuit can cost millions of dollars and can waste tons of resources that could have gone towards actual innovation. Firms in Silicon Valley tend to get patents solely for defensive purposes.

Getting back to Dexter, there is one other aspect of his comments that should be considered, the emphasis on ‘emerging technologies’. The circumstances in which we currently find ourselves are hugely different than they were during the Industrial revolution, the arrival of plastics and pesticides, etc. We understand our science and technology and their impacts quite differently than we did even a generation ago and that requires a different approach to innovation than the ones we’ve used in the past. From Andrew Maynard’s Jan. 25, 2011 posting (2020 Science blog),

… if technology innovation is as important as Obama (and many others besides) believes it is, how do we develop the twenty first century understanding, tools and institutions to take full advantage of it?

One thing that is clear is that in connecting innovation to action, we will need new insights and “intelligence” on how to make this connection work in today’s world. These will need to address not only the process of technology innovation, but also how we develop and use it within an increasingly connected society, where more people have greater influence over what works – and what doesn’t – than ever before. This was the crux of a proposal coming out of the World Economic Forum Global Redesign Agenda earlier this year, which outlined the need for a new Global Center for Emerging Technologies Intelligence.

But beyond the need for new institutions, there is also the need for far more integrated approaches to building a sustainable future through technology innovation – getting away from the concept of technology innovation as something that is somebody else’s business, and making it everybody’s business. This was a central theme in the World Economic Forum report that Tim Harper of CIENTIFICA Ltd. and I published last week.

There’s a lot more to be said about the topic. Masnick did get a response of sorts to his submission about US innovation (from his Feb. 17, 2011 posting on Techdirt),

Tony was the first of a bunch of you to send over the news that President Obama’s top advisor, David Plouffe, has put up a blog post providing a preliminary overview of what he “heard” via the Ask the Advisor question, which we wrote about last week, concerning “obstacles to innovation.” The only indication that responses like mine were read was a brief mention about how some people complained about how the government, and particularly patent policy, got in the way of innovation:

Many respondents felt that too much government regulation stifled businesses and innovators and that the patent process and intellectual property laws are broken.

Unfortunately, rather than listening to why today’s patent system is a real and significant problem, it appears that Plouffe is using this to score political points for his boss …

Masnick hasn’t lost hope as he goes on to note in his posting.

For yet another perspective, I found Europeans weighed in on the innovation topic at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) 2011 annual meeting this morning (Feb. 18, 2011). From a Government of Canada science blog (http://blogs.science.gc.ca/) posting, Mobilizing resources for research and innovation: the EU model, by Helen Murphy,

EU Commission Director-General of the Joint Research Centre Robert-Jan Smits spoke about what all countries agree on: that research and innovation are essential to prosperity — not just now, but even more so in the future.

He said European leaders are voicing the same message as President Obama, who in his recent State of the Union address linked innovation to “winning the future” — something he called the “Sputnik movement of our generation.”

Smits talked about the challenge of getting agreement among the EU’s 27 member countries on a growth strategy. But they have agreed; they’ve agreed to pursue growth that is smart (putting research and innovation at centre stage), sustainable (using resources efficiently and responsibly) and inclusive (leaving no one behind and creating new jobs).

The goal is ambitious: the EU aims to create nearly four million new jobs in Europe and increase the EU’s GDP by 700 billion Euros by 2025.

What I’m trying to say is that innovation is a big conversation and I hope that the expert panel for Canada’s current consultation on this matter will go beyond its terms reference to suggest that ‘housecleaning and tweaking’ should be part of a larger initiative that includes using a little imagination.