Tag Archives: science culture

Science knowledge in the US circa 2014/15

The Pew Research Center has released a new report on the state of science knowledge in the US general public. From a Sept. 10, 2015 news item on phys.org,

There are substantial differences among Americans when it comes to knowledge and understanding of science topics, especially by educational levels as well as by gender, age, race and ethnicity, according to a new Pew Research Center report.

The representative survey of more than 3,200 U.S. adults finds that, on the 12 multiple-choice questions asked, Americans gave more correct than incorrect answers. The median was eight correct answers out of 12 (mean 7.9). Some 27% answered eight or nine questions correctly, while another 26% answered 10 or 11 items correctly. Just 6% of respondents got a perfect score.

You can test yourself if you like by taking the Pew Research Center’s online Science Knowledge Quiz.

Getting back to the study, a Sept. 10, 2015 Pew Research Center news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, provides more detail including general results and demographic breakdowns by education, race and ethnicity, gender, and age.

  • Most Americans (86%) correctly identify the Earth’s inner layer, the core, as its hottest part, and nearly as many (82%) know uranium is needed to make nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.
  • Americans fare well as a whole when it comes to one aspect of science history: Fully 74% of Americans correctly identify Jonas Salk as the person who developed the polio vaccine from among a list of other scientists that included Marie Curie, Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton.
  • And most Americans can distinguish between astronomy and astrology. Seventy-three percent of adults recognize the definition of astrology as the study of how the position of the stars and planets can influence human behavior. By comparison, 22% of adults incorrectly associate this definition with astronomy, while another 5% give some other incorrect response.
  • But other science-related terms and applications are not as well understood. Far fewer are able to identify the property of a sound wave that determines loudness. Just 35% correctly answer amplitude, or height. Some 33% incorrectly say it is frequency and 23% say it is wavelength. And just 34% correctly state that water boils at a lower temperature in a high-altitude setting (Denver) compared with its boiling point near sea level (Los Angeles).

“As science issues become ever-more tied to policy questions, there are important insights that come from exploring how much Americans know about science,” said lead author Cary Funk, an associate director of research at Pew Research Center. “Science encompasses a vast array of fields and information. These data provide a fresh snapshot of what the public knows about some new and some older scientific developments – a mixture of textbook principles covered in K-12 education and topics discussed in the news.”

The data show that adults with higher education levels are more likely to answer questions about science correctly. In this survey, education proves to be a major factor distinguishing higher performers. While the questions asked relate to a small slice of science topics, there are sizeable differences by education on all 12 multiple-choice questions. This pattern is consistent with a 2013 Pew Research Center report on this topic and with analysis of the factual knowledge index in the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators.

  • Adults with a college or postgraduate degree are more than twice as likely to get at least eight out of 12 questions right, compared with adults with a high school diploma or less (82% vs. 40%). Those with a postgraduate degree score an average of 9.5 correct answers out of 12, while those with a high school education or less get an average of 6.8 correct.
  • Fully 57% of adults with a postgraduate degree get 10 to 12 correct answers, whereas this is true for 18% of those with a high school diploma or less.
  • On all 12 questions, there is at least a 13 percentage point difference in correct answers between the highest- and lowest-educated groups. The largest difference is found in a question about the loudness of a sound. A 62% majority of those with a postgraduate degree correctly identify the amplitude (height) of the sound wave as determining its loudness, as do 52% of those with a four-year college degree. By contrast, 20% of those with a high school education or less answer this question correctly.

In addition to educational differences, gender gaps are evident on these science topics. The survey also finds differences in science knowledge between men and women on these questions, most of which connect to physical sciences. Men, on average, are more likely to give correct answers, even when comparing men and women with similar levels of education.

  • Men score an average of 8.6 out of 12 correct answers, compared with women’s 7.3 correct answers. Some 24% of women answer 10 or more questions correctly, compared with 43% of men who did this.
  • The largest difference between men and women occurs on a question asking respondents to select from a set of four images that illustrate what happens to light when it passes through a magnifying glass. Some 55% of men and 37% of women identify the correct image showing the lines crossing after they pass through a magnifying glass, a difference of 18 percentage points.
  • Men (73%) and women (72%) are equally likely to identify the definition of astrology from a set of four options, however. And on the question about which layer of the Earth is hottest, there are only modest differences, with 89% of men and 84% of women selecting the correct response.
  • Past Pew Research Center studies found women were at least equally likely than men to answer several biomedical questions correctly such as that resistant bacteria is the major concern about overuse of antibiotics. And, women were slightly more likely than men to recognize a more effective way to test a drug treatment in one previous Pew Research Center survey.

The survey also found differences in science knowledge associated with race and ethnicity. Overall, whites know the correct answer to more of these questions than Hispanics or blacks. Whites score a mean of 8.4 items out of 12 correct, compared with 7.1 among Hispanics and 5.9 among blacks. The pattern across these groups and the size of the differences vary, however. These findings are consistent with prior Pew Research Center surveys on this topic. Racial and ethnic group differences are also found on the factual science knowledge index collected on the General Social Survey, even when controlling for education level.

  • One of the largest differences between blacks and whites occurs on a question about the ocean tides: 83% of whites compared with 46% of blacks correctly identify the gravitational pull of the moon as one factor in ocean tides. (Hispanics fall in between these two groups, with 70% answering this question correctly.)
  • On one of the more difficult questions, a roughly equal share of whites (36%) and blacks (33%) correctly identify a difference found in cooking at higher altitudes: that water boils at a lower temperature. A quarter (25%) of Hispanics answered this question correctly.

Generally, younger adults (ages 18 to 49) display slightly higher overall knowledge of science than adults ages 65 and older on the 12 questions in the survey. The oldest adults – ages 65 and up – score lower, on average 7.6 out of 12 items, compared with those under age 50. But adults under age 30 and those ages 30 to 49 tend to identify a similar mean number of items correctly.

  • Fully eight-in-ten (80%) adults ages 18 to 29 correctly identify radio waves as the technology underlying cell phone calls. By contrast, 57% of those ages 65 and older know this.
  • On some questions there are no differences in knowledge across age groups. And, when it comes to one aspect of science history, older adults (ages 65 and older) are more likely than younger adults to identify Jonas Salk as the person who developed the polio vaccine. Fully 86% of those ages 65 and older correctly identify Salk as the vaccine’s developer, compared with 68% of adults ages 18 to 29.

The findings are based on a nationally representative survey of 3,278 randomly-selected adults that participate in Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel. The survey was conducted Aug. 11-Sept. 3, 2014 and included 12 questions, some of which included images as part of the questions or answer options. …

Cary Funk and Sara Kehaulani Goo wrote the report titled, “A Look at What the Public Knows and Does Not Know About Science.”

Part 2 (b) of 3: Science Culture: Where Canada Stands; an expert assessment (reconstructed)

Carrying on from part 2 (a) of this commentary on the Science Culture: Where Canada Stands assessment by the Council of Canadian Academies (CAC).

One of the most intriguing aspects of this assessment was the reliance on an unpublished inventory of Canadian science outreach initiatives (informal science education) that was commissioned by the Korean Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Creativity,

The system of organizations, programs, and initiatives that supports science culture in any country is dynamic. As a result, any inventory provides only a snapshot at a single point in time, and risks quickly becoming out of date. No sustained effort has been made to track public science outreach and engagement efforts in Canada at the national or regional level. Some of the Panel’s analysis relies on data from an unpublished inventory of public science communication initiatives in Canada undertaken in 2011 by Bernard Schiele, Anik Landry, and Alexandre Schiele for the Korean Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Creativity (Schiele et al., 2011). This inventory identified over 700 programs and organizations across all provinces and regions in Canada, including over 400 initiatives related to museums, science centres, zoos, or aquariums; 64 associations or NGOs involved in public science outreach; 49 educational initiatives; 60 government policies and programs; and 27 media programs. (An update of this inventory completed by the Panel brings the total closer to 800 programs.) The inventory is used throughout the chapter [chapter five] to characterize different components of the Canadian system supporting public science outreach, communication, and engagement. (p. 130 PDF; p. 98 print)

I’m fascinated by the Korean interest and wonder if this due to perceived excellence or to budgetary considerations. The cynic in me suspects the Korean foundation was interested in the US scene but decided that information from the Canadian scene would be cheaper to acquire and the data could be extrapolated to give a perspective on the US scene.

In addition to the usual suspects (newspapers, television, radio, science centres, etc.), the Expert Panel did recognize the importance of online science sources (they would have looked foolish if they hadn’t),

Canadians are increasingly using the internet to seek out information relating to science. This activity can take the form of generalized searches about science-related issues or more targeted forms of information acquisition. For example, Canadians report using the internet to seek out information on health and medical issues an average of 47 times a year, or nearly every week. Other forms of online exposure to scientific content also appear to be common. For example, 46% of Canadians report having read a blog post or listserv related to science and technology at least once in the last three months, and 62% having watched an online video related to science and technology.

An increasing reliance on the internet as the main source of information about science and technology is consistent with the evolution of the media environment, as well as with survey data from other countries. Based on the Panel’s survey, 17% of Canadians, for example, report reading a printed newspaper daily, while 40% report reading about the news or current events online every day. (p. 13/2 PDF; p. 100/1 print)

In common with the rest of the world, Canadians are producing and enjoying science festivals,

In Canada there are two established, large-scale science festivals. Science Rendezvous [founded in 2008 as per its Wikipedia entry] takes place in about 20 cities across the country and combines a variety of programming to comprise a day-long free event (Science Rendezvous, 2013).

The annual Eureka! Festival in Montréal (see Figure 5.6 [founded in 2007 as per its program list]) has over 100 activities over three days; it attracted over 68,000 attendees in 2012 (Eureka! Festival, 2013). More science festivals have recently been created. The University of Toronto launched the Toronto Science Festival in fall 2013 (UofT, 2013), and Beakerhead, a new festival described as a “collision of art and culture, technology, and engineering,” was launched in 2013 in Calgary (Beakerhead, 2013). Two Canadian cities have also recently won bids to host STEMfest (Saskatoon in 2015 and Halifax in 2018), an international festival of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (Global STEM States, 2014). (pp. 145/6 PDF; pp. 113/4 PDF)

The assessment notes have a grand total of five radio and television programmes devoted to science: The Nature of Things, Daily Planet, Quirks and Quarks, Découverte, and Les années lumière (p. 150 PDF; p. 118 print) and a dearth of science journalism,

Dedicated science coverage is notably absent from the majority of newspapers and other print journalism in Canada. As shown in Table 5.3, none of the top 11 newspapers by weekly readership in Canada has a dedicated science section, including nationals such as The Globe and Mail and National Post. Nine of these newspapers have dedicated technology sections, which sometimes contain sub-sections with broader coverage of science or environment stories; however, story coverage tends to be dominated by technology or business (or gaming) stories. Few Canadian newspapers have dedicated science journalists on staff, and The Globe and Mail is unique among Canadian papers in having a science reporter, a medicine and health reporter, and a technology reporter. (p. 152 PDF; p. 120 print)

Not stated explicitly in the assessment is this: those science and technology stories you see in the newspaper are syndicated stories, i.e., written by reporters for the Associated Press, Reuters, and other international press organizations or simply reprinted (with credit) from another newspaper.

The report does cover science blogging with this,

Science blogs are another potential source of information about developments in science and technology. A database compiled by the Canadian Science Writers’ Association, as of March of 2013, lists 143 Canadian science blogs, covering all areas of science and other aspects of science such as science policy and science culture (CSWA, 2013). Some blogs are individually authored and administered, while others are affiliated with larger networks or other organizations (e.g., Agence Science-Presse, PLOS Blogs). Canadian science blogger Maryse de la Giroday has also published an annual round-up of Canadian science blogs on her blog (www.frogheart.ca) for the past three years, and a new aggregator of Canadian science blogs was launched in 2013 (www.scienceborealis.ca). [emphases mine]

Data from the Panel’s survey suggest that blogs are becoming a more prominent source of information about science and technology for the general public. As noted at the beginning of the chapter, 46% of Canadians report having read a blog post about science or technology at least once in the past three months. Blogs are also influencing the way that scientific research is carried out and disseminated. A technical critique in a blog post by Canadian microbiologist Rosie Redfield in 2010, for example, catalyzed a widely publicized debate on the validity of a study published in Science, exploring the ability of bacteria to incorporate arsenic into their DNA. The incident demonstrated the potential impact of blogs on mainstream scientific research. CBC highlighted the episode as the Canadian science story of the year (Strauss, 2011), and Nature magazine identified Redfield as one of its 10 newsmakers of the year in 2011 as a result of her efforts to replicate the initial study and publicly document her progress and results (Hayden, 2011).

The impact of online information sources, however, is not limited to blogs, with 42% of Canadians reporting having heard about a science and technology news story though social media sources like Twitter and Facebook in the last three months. And, as noted earlier, the internet is often used to search for information about specific science and technology topics, both for general issues such as climate change, and more personalized information on medical and health issues.(pp. 153/4 PDF; pp. 121/2 print)

Yes, I got a shout out as did Rosie Redfield. We were the only two science bloggers namechecked. (Years ago, the Guardian newspaper was developing a science blog network and the editor claimed he couldn’t find many female science bloggers after fierce criticism of its first list of bloggers. This was immediately repudiated not only by individuals but someone compiled a list of hundreds of female science bloggers.) Still, the perception persists and I’m thrilled that the panel struck out in a different direction. I was also pleased to see Science Borealis (a Canadian science blog aggregator) mentioned. Having been involved with its founding, I’m also delighted its first anniversary was celebrated in Nov. 2014.

I doubt many people know we have a science press organization in Canada, Agence Science-Presse, but perhaps this mention in the assessment will help raise awareness in Canada’s English language media,

Founded in 1978 with the motto Parce que tout le monde s’intéresse à la science (“because everyone is interested in science”), Agence Science-Presse is a not-for-profit organization in Quebec that supports media coverage of science by distributing articles on scientific research or other topical science and technology issues to media outlets in Canada and abroad. The organization also supports science promotion activities aimed at youth. For example, it currently edits and maintains an aggregation of blogs designed for young science enthusiasts and science journalists (Blogue ta science). (p. 154 PDF; p. 122)

The final chapter (the 6th) of the assessment makes five key recommendations for ‘Cultivating a strong science culture’:

  1. Support lifelong science learning
  2. Make science inclusive
  3. Adapt to new technologies
  4. Enhance science communication and engagement
  5. Provide national or regional leadership

Presumably the agriculture reference in the chapter title is tongue-in-cheek. Assuming that’s not one of my fantasies, it’s good to see a little humour.

On to the first recommendation, lifelong learning,

… Science centres and museums, science programs on radio and television, science magazines and journalism, and online resources can all help fulfil this function by providing accessible resources for adult science learning, and by anticipating emerging information needs based on topical issues.

Most informal science learning organizations already provide these opportunities to varying degrees; however, this conception of the relative roles of informal and formal science learning providers differs from the traditional understanding, which often emphasizes how informal environments can foster engagement in science (particularly among youth), thereby triggering additional interest and the later acquisition of knowledge (Miller, 2010b). [emphasis mine] Such a focus may be appropriate for youth programming, but neglects the role that these institutions can play in ongoing education for adults, who often seek out information on science based on specific, well-defined interests or needs (e.g., a medical diagnosis, a newspaper article on the threat of a viral pandemic, a new technology brought into the workplace) (Miller, 2012). [emphases mine] Informal science learning providers can take advantage of such opportunities by anticipating these needs, providing useful and accessible information, and then simultaneously building and deepening knowledge of the underlying science through additional content.

I’m glad to see the interest in adult informal science education although the emphasis on health/medical and workplace technology issues suggests the panel underestimates, despite the data from its own survey, Canadians’ curiosity about and interest in science and technology. The panel also underestimates the tenacity with which many gatekeepers hold to the belief that no one is interested in science. It took me two years before a local organizer would talk to me about including one science-themed meeting in his programme (the final paragraph in my April 14, 2014 post describes some of the process  and my April 18, 2014 post describes the somewhat disappointing outcome). In the end, it was great to see a science-themed ‘city conversation’ but I don’t believe the organizer found it to be a success, which means it’s likely to be a long time before there’s another one.

The next recommendation, ‘Making science inclusive’, is something that I think needs better practice. If one is going to be the change one wants to see that means getting people onto your expert panels that reflect your inclusiveness and explaining to your audience how your expert panel is inclusive.

The ‘Adapting to new technologies’ recommendation is where I expected to see some mention of the social impact of such emerging technologies as robotics, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, etc. That wasn’t the case,

Science culture in Canada and other countries is now evolving in a rapidly changing technological environment. Individuals are increasingly turning to online sources for information about science and technology, and science communicators and the media are also adapting to the new channels of communication and outreach provided over the internet. As people engage more with new forms of technology in their home and work lives, organizations may be able to identify new ways to take advantage of available technologies to support learning and foster science interest and engagement. At the same time, as noted in Chapter 2, this transition is also challenging traditional models of operation for many organizations such as science centres, museums, and science media providers, forcing them to develop new strategies.

Examples of the use of new technologies to support learning are now commonplace. Nesta, an innovation-oriented organization based in the United Kingdom, conducted a study investigating the extent to which new technologies are transforming learning among students (Luckin et al., 2012) (p. 185 PDF; p. 153 print)

Admittedly, the panel was not charged with looking too far into the future but it does seem odd that in a science culture report there isn’t much mention (other than a cursory comment in an early chapter) of these emerging technologies and the major changes they are bringing with them. If nothing else, the panel might have wanted to make mention of artificial intelligence how the increasing role of automated systems may be affecting science culture in Canada. For example, in my July 16, 2014 post I made described a deal Associated Press (AP) signed with a company that automates the process of writing sports and business stories. You may well have read a business story (AP contracted for business stories) written by an artificial intelligence system or, if you prefer the term, an algorithm.

The recommendation for ‘Enhancing science communication and engagement’ is where I believe the Expert Panel should be offered a bouquet,

… Given the significance of government science in many areas of research, government science communication constitutes an important vector for increasing public awareness and understanding about science. In Canada current policies governing how scientists working in federal departments and agencies are allowed to interact with the media and the public have come under heavy criticism in recent years …

Concerns about the federal government’s current policies on government scientists’ communication with the media have been widely reported in Canadian and international
press in recent years (e.g., Ghosh, 2012; CBC, 2013c; Gatehouse, 2013; Hume, 2013; Mancini, 2013; Munro, 2013). These concerns were also recently voiced by the editorial board of Nature (2012), which unfavourably compared Canada’s current approach with the more open policies now in place in the United States. Scientists at many U.S. federal agencies are free to speak to the media without prior departmental approval, and to
express their personal views as long as they clearly state that they are not speaking on behalf of the government. In response to such concerns, and to a formal complaint filed by the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Victoria and Democracy Watch, on April 2, 2013 Canada’s Information Commissioner launched an investigation into whether current policies and policy instruments in seven federal departments and agencies are “restricting or prohibiting government scientists from speaking with or sharing research with the media and the Canadian public” (OICC, 2013).

Since these concerns have come to light, many current and former government scientists have discussed how these policies have affected their interactions with the media. Marley Waiser, a former scientist with Environment Canada, has spoken about how that department’s policies prevented her from discussing her research on chemical pollutants in Wascana Creek near Regina (CBC, 2013c). Dr. Kristi Miller, a geneticist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, was reportedly prevented from speaking publicly about a study she published in Science, which investigated whether a viral infection might be the cause of declines in Sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser River (Munro, 2011).

According to data from Statistics Canada (2012), nearly 20,000 science and technology professionals work for the federal government. The ability of these researchers to communicate with the media and the Canadian public has a clear bearing on Canada’s science culture. Properly supported, government scientists can serve as a useful conduit for informing the public about their scientific work, and engaging the public in discussions about the social relevance of their research; however, the concerns reported above raise questions about the extent to which current federal policies in Canada are limiting these opportunities for public communication and engagement. (pp. 190/1 PDF; p. 158/9 print)

Kudos for including the information and for this passage as well,

Many organizations including science centres and museums, research centres, and even governments may be perceived as having a science promotion agenda that portrays only the benefits of science. As a result, these organizations are not always seen as promoters of debate through questioning, which is a crucial part of the scientific process. Acknowledging complexity and controversy is another means to improve the quality of public engagement in science in a range of different contexts. (p. 195 PDF; p. 163 print)

One last happy note, which is about integrating the arts and design into the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics communities),

Linking Science to the Arts and Design U.S. advocates for “STEM to STEAM” call for an incorporation of the arts in discussions of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in an effort to “achieve a synergistic balance” (Piro, 2010). They cite positive outcomes such as cognitive development, reasoning skills, and concentration abilities. Piro (2010) argues that “if creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking — all touted as hallmark skills for 21st-century success — are to be cultivated, we need to ensure that STEM subjects are drawn closer to the arts.” Such approaches offer new techniques to engage both student and adult audiences in science learning and engagement opportunities.

What I find fascinating about this STEM to STEAM movement is that many of these folks don’t seem to realize is that until fairly recently the arts and sciences recently have always been closely allied.  James Clerk Maxwell was also a poet, not uncommon amongst 19th century scientists.

In Canada one example of this approach is found in the work of Michael R. Hayden, who has conducted extensive genetic research on Huntington disease. In the lead-up to the 2000 Human Genome Project World Conference, Hayden commissioned Vancouver’s Electric Company Theatre to fuse “the spheres of science and art in a play that explored the implications of the revolutionary technology of the Human Genome Project” (ECT, n.d.). This play, The Score, was later adapted into a film. Hayden believes that his play “transforms the scientific ideas explored in the world of the laboratory into universal themes of human identity, freedom and creativity, and opens up a door for a discussion between the scientific community and the public in general” (Genome Canada, 2006). (p. 196 PDF; p. 164 print)

I’m not sure why the last recommendation presents an either/or choice, ‘Providing national or regional leadership’, while the following content suggests a much more fluid state,

…  it should be recognized that establishing a national or regional vision for science culture is not solely the prerogative of government. Such a vision requires broad support and participation from the community of affected stakeholders to be effective, and can also emerge from that community in the absence of a strong governmental role.

The final chapter (the seventh) restates the points the panel has made throughout its report. Unexpectedly, part 2 got bigger, ’nuff said.

Part 2 (a) of 3: Science Culture: Where Canada Stands; an expert assessment (reconstructed)

Losing over 2000 words, i.e., part 2 of this commentary on the Science Culture: Where Canada Stands assessment by the Council of Canadian Academies (CAC) on New Year’s Eve 2014 was a bit of blow. So, here’s my attempt at reconstructing my much mourned part 2.

There was acknowledgement of Canada as a Arctic country and an acknowledgement of this country’s an extraordinary geographical relationship to the world’s marine environment,

Canada’s status as an Arctic nation also has a bearing on science and science culture. Canada’s large and ecologically diverse Arctic landscape spans a substantial part of the circumpolar Arctic, and comprises almost 40% of the country’s landmass (Statistics Canada, 2009). This has influenced the development of Canadian culture more broadly, and also created opportunities in the advancement of Arctic science. Canada’s northern inhabitants, the majority of whom are Indigenous peoples, represent a source of knowledge that contributes to scientific research in the North (CCA, 2008).

These characteristics have contributed to the exploration of many scientific questions including those related to environmental science, resource development, and the health and well-being of northern populations. Canada also has the longest coastline of any country, and these extensive coastlines and marine areas give rise to unique research opportunities in ocean science (CCA, 2013a). (p. 55 PDF; p. 23 print)

Canada’s aging population is acknowledged in a backhand way,

Like most developed countries, Canada’s population is also aging. In 2011 the median age in Canada was 39.9 years, up from 26.2 years in 1971 (Statistics Canada, n.d.). This ongoing demographic transition will have an impact on science culture in Canada in years to come. An aging population will be increasingly interested in health and medical issues. The ability to make use of this kind of information will depend in large part on the combination of access to the internet, skill in navigating it, and a conceptual toolbox that includes an understanding of genes, probability, and related constructs (Miller, 2010b). (p. 56 PDF; p. 24 print)

Yes, the only science topics of interest for an old person are health and medicine. Couldn’t they have included one sentence suggesting an aging population’s other interests and other possible impacts on science culture?

On the plus side, the report offers a list of selected Canadian science culture milestones,

• 1882 – Royal Society of Canada is established.
• 1916 – National Research Council is established.
• 1923 – Association canadienne-française pour l’avancement des sciences (ACFAS) is established.
• 1930 – Canadian Geographic is first published by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
• 1951 – Massey–Lévesque Commission calls for the creation of a national science and technology museum.
• 1959 – Canada sees its first science fairs in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Hamilton, Toronto, Montréal, and Vancouver; volunteer coordination eventually grows into Youth Science Canada.
• 1960 – CBC’s Nature of Things debuts on television; Fernand Séguin hosts “Aux frontières de la science.”
• 1962 – ACFAS creates Le Jeune scientifique, which becomes Québec Science in 1970.
• 1966 – Science Council of Canada is created to advise Parliament on science and technology issues.
• 1967 – Canada Museum of Science and Technology is created.
• 1969 – Ontario Science Centre opens its doors (the Exploratorium in San Francisco opens the same year).
• 1971 – Canadian Science Writers’ Association is formed.
• 1975 – Symons Royal Commission on Canadian Studies speaks to how understanding the role of science in society is important to understanding Canadian culture and identity.
• 1975 – Quirks and Quarks debuts on CBC Radio.
• 1976 – OWL children’s magazine begins publication.
• 1977 – Association des communicateurs scientifiques du Québec is established.
• 1978 – L’Agence Science-Presse is created.
• 1981 – Association des communicateurs scientifiques creates the Fernand-Séguin scholarship to identify promising young science journalists.
• 1982 – Les Débrouillards is launched in Quebec. (p. 58 PDF; p. 26 print)

The list spills onto the next page and into the 2000’s.

It’s a relief to see the Expert Panel give a measured response to the claims made about science culture and its various impacts, especially on the economy (in my book, some of the claims have bordered on hysteria),

The Panel found little definitive empirical evidence of causal relationships between the dimensions of science culture and higher-level social objectives like stronger economic performance or more effective public policies. As is the case with much social science research, isolating the impacts of a single variable on complex social phenomena is methodologically challenging, and few studies have attempted to establish such relationships in any detail. As noted in 1985 by the Bodmer report (a still-influential report on public understanding of science in the United Kingdom), although there is good reason prima facie to believe that improving public understanding of science has national economic benefits, empirical proof for such a link is often elusive (RS & Bodmer, 1985). This remains the case today. Nevertheless, many pieces of evidence suggest why a modern, industrialized society should cultivate a strong science culture. Literature from the domains of cognitive science, sociology, cultural studies, economics, innovation, political science, and public policy provides relevant insights. (p. 63 PDF; p. 31 print)

Intriguingly, while the panel has made extensive use of social science methods for this assessment there are some assumptions made about skill sets required for the future,

Technological innovation depends on the presence of science and technology skills in the workforce. While at one point it may have been possible for relatively low-skilled individuals to substantively contribute to technological development, in the 21st century this is no longer the case. [emphasis mine] Advanced science and technology skills are now a prerequisite for most types of technological innovation. (p. 72 PDF; p. 40 print)

Really, it’s no longer possible for relatively low-skilled individuals to contribute to technological development? Maybe the expert panel missed this bit in my March 27, 2013 post,

Getting back to Bittel’s Slate article, he mentions Foldit (here’s my first piece in an Aug. 6, 2010 posting [scroll down about 1/2 way]), a protein-folding game which has generated some very exciting science. He also notes some of that science was generated by older, ‘uneducated’ women. Bittel linked to Jeff Howe’s Feb. 27, 2012 article about Foldit and other crowdsourced science projects for Slate where I found this very intriguing bit,

“You’d think a Ph.D. in biochemistry would be very good at designing protein molecules,” says Zoran Popović, the University of Washington game designer behind Foldit. Not so. “Biochemists are good at other things. But Foldit requires a narrow, deeper expertise.”

Or as it turns out, more than one. Some gamers have a preternatural ability to recognize patterns, an innate form of spatial reasoning most of us lack. Others—often “grandmothers without a high school education,” says Popovic—exercise a particular social skill. “They’re good at getting people unstuck. They get them to approach the problem differently.” What big pharmaceutical company would have anticipated the need to hire uneducated grandmothers? (I know a few, if Eli Lilly HR is thinking of rejiggering its recruitment strategy.) [emphases mine]

It’s not the idea that technical and scientific skills are needed that concerns me; it’s the report’s hard line about ‘low skills’ (which is a term that is not defined). In addition to the notion that future jobs require only individuals with ‘high level’ skills; there’s the notion (not mentioned in this report but gaining general acceptance in the media) that we shouldn’t ever have to perform repetitive and boring activities. It’s a notion which completely ignores a certain aspect of the learning process. Very young children repeat over and over and over and over … . Apprenticeships in many skills-based crafts were designed with years of boring, repetitive work as part of the training. It seems counter-intuitive but boring, repetitive activities can lead to very high level skills such as the ability to ‘unstick’ a problem for an expert with a PhD in biochemistry.

Back to the assessment, the panel commissioned a survey, conducted in 2013, to gather data about science culture in Canada,

The Panel’s survey of Canadian science culture, designed to be comparable to surveys undertaken in other countries as well as to the 1989 Canadian survey, assessed public attitudes towards science and technology, levels and modes of public engagement in science, and public science knowledge or understanding. (The evidence reported in this chapter on the fourth dimension, science and technology skills, is drawn from other sources such as Statistics Canada and the OECD).

Conducted in April 2013, the survey relied on a combination of landline and mobile phone respondents (60%) and internet respondents (40%), randomly recruited from the general population. In analyzing the results, responses to the survey were weighted based on Statistics Canada data according to region, age, education, and gender to ensure that the sample was representative of the Canadian public. 7 A total of 2,004 survey responses were received, with regional breakdowns presented in Table 4.1. At a national level, survey results are accurate within a range of plus or minus 2.2% 19 times out of 20 (i.e., at the 95% confidence interval), and margins of error for regional results range from 3.8% to 7.1%). Three open-ended questions were also included in the survey, which were coded using protocols previously applied to these questions in other international surveys. 8 All open-ended questions were coded independently by at least three bilingual coders, and any discrepancies in coding were settled through a review by a fourth coder. (p. 79 PDF; p. 47 print)

The infographic’s data in part 1 of this commentary, What Do Canadians Think About Science and Technology (S&T)? is based on the survey and other statistical information included in the report especially Chapter four focused on measurements (pp. 77  – 127 PDF; pp. 45 – 95 print). While the survey presents a somewhat rosier picture of the Canadian science culture than the one I experience on a daily basis, the data seems to have been gathered in a thoughtful fashion. Regardless of the assessment’s findings and my opinions,  how Canadians view science became a matter of passionate debate in the Canadian science blogging community (at least parts of it) in late 2014 as per a Dec. 3, 2014 posting by the Science Borealis team on their eponymous blog (Note: Links have been removed),

The CBC’s Rick Mercer is a staunch science advocate, and his November 19th rant was no exception. He addressed the state of basic science in Canada, saying that Canadians are “passionate and curious about science.”

In response, scientist David Kent wrote a post on the Black Hole Blog in which he disagreed with Mercer, saying, “I do not believe Mr. Mercer’s idea that Canadians as a whole are interested although I, like him, would wish it to be the case.”

Kent’s post has generated some fierce discussion, both in the comments on his original post and in the comments on a Facebook post by Evidence for Democracy.

Here at Science Borealis, we rely on a keen and enthusiastic public to engage with the broad range of science-based work our bloggers share, so we decided to address some of the arguments Kent presented in his post.

Anecdotal evidence versus data

Kent says “Mr. Mercer’s claims about Canadians’ passions are anecdotal at best, and lack any evidence – indeed it is possible that Canadians don’t give a hoot about science for science’s sake.”

Unfortunately, Kent’s own argument is based on anecdotal evidence (“To me it appears that… the average Canadian adult does not particularly care about how or why something works.”).

If you’re looking for data, they’re available in a recent Council of Canadian Academies report that specifically studied science culture in Canada. Results show that Canadians are very interested in science.

You can find David Kent’s Nov. 26, 2014 post about Canadians, Rick Mercer and science here. Do take a look at the blog’s comments which feature a number of people deeply involved in promoting and producing Canadian science culture.

I promised disturbing statistics in the head for this posting and here they are in the second paragraph,

Canadian students perform well in PISA [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)] , with relatively high scores on all three of the major components of the assessment (reading, science, and mathematics) compared with students in other countries (Table 4.4). In 2012 only seven countries or regions had mean scores on the science assessment higher than Canada on a statistically significant basis: Shanghai–China, Hong Kong–China, Singapore, Japan, Finland, Estonia, and Korea (Brochu et al., 2013). A similar pattern holds for mathematics scores, where nine countries had mean scores higher than Canada on a statistically significant basis: Shanghai–China, Singapore, Hong Kong–China, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Macao–China, Japan, Lichtenstein, and Switzerland (Brochu et al., 2013). Regions scoring higher than Canada are concentrated in East Asia, and tend to be densely populated, urban areas. Among G8 countries, Canada ranks second on mean science and mathematics scores, behind Japan.

However, the 2012 PISA results also show statistically significant declines in Canada’s scores on both the mathematics and science components. Canada’s science score declined by nine points from its peak in 2006 (with a fall in ranking from 3rd to 10th), and the math score declined by 14 points since first assessed in 2003 (a fall from 7th to 13th) (Brochu et al., 2013). Changes in Canada’s standing relative to other countries reflect both the addition of new countries or regions over time (i.e., the addition of regions such as Hong Kong–China and Chinese Taipei in 2006, and of Shanghai–China in 2009) and statistically significant declines in mean scores.

My Oct. 9, 2013 post discusses the scores in more detail and as the Expert Panel notes, the drop is disconcerting and disturbing. Hopefully, it doesn’t indicate a trend.

Part 2 (b) follows immediately.

Science Culture: Where Canada Stands; an expert assessment, Part 3 of 3: where were …?

I did have some major issues with this report. I’ve already touched on the makeup of the Expert Panel in my Feb. 22, 2013 post (Expert panel to assess the state of Canada’s science culture—not exactly whelming). There could have been more women on the panel (also noted in part 2 of this commentary) and they could have included a few culture makers (writers, visual artists, performing artists). Also mentioned in part 2 of this commentary, it would have been nice to have seen a few people from the aboriginal communities and a greater age range represented on the panel or on advisory committees.

In a discussion about science culture, I am somewhat shocked that the Situating Science; Science in Human Contexts research cluster was never mentioned. From the programme’s About Us page,

Created in 2007 with the generous funding of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Strategic Knowledge Cluster grant, Situating Science is a seven-year project promoting communication and collaboration among humanists and social scientists that are engaged in the study of science and technology.

A Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) seven-year programme devoted to Canada’s science culture and it wasn’t mentioned??? An oversight or a symptom of a huge disconnection within Canada’s science culture? I vote for disconnection but please do let me know what you think in the comments section.

As for the assessment’s packaging (cover, foreword, and final words), yikes! The theme colour (each CAC assessment has a theme colour; their policing assessment is blue) for Canada’s science culture is red, perhaps evoking the Canadian maple leaf on the flag. The picture on the cover depicts a very sweet, blond(e), white child with glasses too big for his/her face rimmed in thick black. Glasses are a long established symbol for nerds/intellectual people. So, it would seem Canada’s science culture is blond, nerdy, and, given the child’s clothing, likely male, though in this day and age not definitively so. Or perhaps the child’s hair is meant to signify the maple leaf on the flag with a reversed field (the cover) being red and the leaf being white.

The problem here is not a single image of a blond(e) child, the problem is the frequency with which blond(e) children are used to signify Canadians. Thankfully, advertising images are becoming more diverse but there’s still a long way to go.

There are also issues with the beginning and the end of the report. Two scientists bookend the report: both male, both physicists, one from the UK and the other from the US.

C. P. Snow and his 1959 lecture ‘Two Cultures’ about science and society is mentioned by the Expert Panel’s Chair, Arthur Carty (himself from the UK). In his foreword/message, Carty speculates about how C. P. Snow would respond to today’s science culture environment in a fashion that brings to mind William Lyon MacKenzie King, Canada’s Prime Minister from December 1921 – June 1926;  September 1926 – August 1930; and October 1935 – November 1948, Mackenzie King regularly communed with the dead. From the Wikipedia entry on William Lyon Mackenzie King (Note: Links have been removed),

Privately, he was highly eccentric, with his preference for communing with spirits, using seances and table-rapping, including those of Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, his dead mother, his grandfather William Lyon Mackenzie, and several of his Irish Terrier dogs, all named Pat except for one named Bob. He also claimed to commune with the spirit of the late President Roosevelt. He sought personal reassurance from the spirit world, rather than seeking political advice. Indeed, after his death, one of his mediums said that she had not realized that he was a politician. King asked whether his party would win the 1935 election, one of the few times politics came up during his seances. His occult interests were kept secret during his years in office, and only became publicized later. Historians have seen in his occult activities a penchant for forging unities from antitheses, thus having latent political import. In 1953, Time stated that he owned—and used—both an Ouija board and a crystal ball.

However, historian Charles Perry Stacey, author of the 1976 book A Very Double Life, which examined King’s secret life in detail, with work based on intensive examination of the King diaries, concluded, despite long-running interests in the occult and spiritualism, that King did not allow his beliefs to influence his decisions on political matters. Stacey wrote that King entirely gave up his interests in the occult and spiritualism during World War II.[80]

At the end of the report, Carty quotes Brian Greene, a US physicist,  p. 218 (PDF) thereby neatly framing Canada between the UK and the US,

However, as stated by physicist Brian Greene (2008), one of the simplest reasons for developing a stronger science culture is that doing so helps foster a fuller, richer experience of science itself:

Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that’s precise, predictive, and reliable — a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional. To be able to think through and grasp explanations — for everything from why the sky is blue to how life formed on earth — not because they are declared dogma, but because they reveal patterns confirmed by experiment and observation, is one of the most precious of human experiences.

Couldn’t we have found one Canadian thinker or perhaps a thinker from somewhere else on the globe? Assuming there’s a next time, I hope the approach evolves to something more reflective of Canadian society.

In the meantime there is more, much more in the assessment  including a discussion of science-based policy and including the arts to turn STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to STEAM and I encourage you take a look at either the full version, the executive summary, or the abridged version, all of which can be found here.

Science Culture: Where Canada Stands; an expert assessment, Part 1 of 3: Canadians are doing pretty well

After almost two years, Science Culture: Where Canada Stands (256 pp. PDF; 222 pp. print) was released in August  2014 by the Council of Canadian Academies (CAC). The assessment as the CAC calls these reports was first mentioned here in a Dec. 19, 2012 post about the questions being asked and with a follow up Feb. 22, 2013 post when its Expert Panel was announced.

I believe this is the first document of its kind, i.e., assessing science culture in Canada, and it is very welcome. I have mixed feelings about the report; there’s some excellent content packaged in a rather unfortunate manner. (BTW, I was chuffed to find that my blog and I were mentioned in it.)

I will start with the good stuff first. The CAC has provided an infographic of how Canada compares to other countries where science culture is concerned,

[downloaded from http://www.scienceadvice.ca/uploads/eng/assessments%20and%20publications%20and%20news%20releases/science-culture/coca%20rankings-cmyk.jpg]

[downloaded from http://www.scienceadvice.ca/uploads/eng/assessments%20and%20publications%20and%20news%20releases/science-culture/coca%20rankings-cmyk.jpg]

It’s encouraging to see how well we’re doing globally although the report does note that some countries don’t have data for comparison and other countries’ may have older data (Canadian data gathered for this report is relatively recent as per one of the excerpts [further in this post] from Ivan Semeniuk’s August 28, 2014 Globe and Mail article) so the rankings may not reflect a truly accurate global ranking.

Here’s another infographic; this one describing Canadians’ attitudes towards and beliefs about science and technology,

[downloaded from http://www.scienceadvice.ca/uploads/eng/assessments%20and%20publications%20and%20news%20releases/science-culture/coca%20national%20percentages%20infographic-cmyk.jpg]

[downloaded from http://www.scienceadvice.ca/uploads/eng/assessments%20and%20publications%20and%20news%20releases/science-culture/coca%20national%20percentages%20infographic-cmyk.jpg]

As encouraging as these infographics are, Ivan Semeniuk (also namechecked in the report) notes some of the concerns broached in the assessment in his Aug, 28, 2014 Globe and Mail article,

From knowing what a molecule is to endorsing government support for basic research, Canadians as a whole display a clearer understanding of and a more positive attitude toward science than people in most other developed countries.

Overall, the report’s message is a positive one for Canada. “Canadians rank quite highly when it comes to science knowledge, attitudes and engagement in comparison with other countries in the world,” said Arthur Carty, chair of the panel that produced the report and a former national science adviser.

But despite high levels of interest, the report also reveals that in practical terms, most Canadians have an arm’s-length relationship with science. [emphasis mine] Only 20 per cent of first university degrees in Canada are awarded in science and engineering fields and only 30 per cent of employed Canadians work at science and technology related jobs – fewer than in the majority of other countries with a comparable standard of living.

It seems Semeniuk and the expert panel subscribe to the notion that formal science education is the only true measure of a ;close’ relationship with science. Neither party seems to take much comfort in the fact that Canadians keep up with science once their formal education (scientific or otherwise) is over (from Semeniuk’s article,

Among the most striking results from the survey is that Canada ranks first in science literacy, with 42 per cent of Canadians able to read and understand newspaper stories detailing scientific findings.

The comparatively high interest in science that Canadians express suggests they may be doing better than most at keeping up with the discoveries that have come along since their formal education ended. [emphasis mine] An emphasis on lifelong learning is important for cultivating a national science culture, the report’s authors say, because the leading edge of research is driven by knowledge that was not available 10 or 20 years ago.

The comparatively recent Canadian data, as mentioned earlier, may not provide a true picture of Canada’s ranking (from Semeniuk’s article),

But ongoing research by Dr. Miller [Jon Miller, a panel member and director of the International Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy at the University of Michigan] and others suggest that science literacy is on the rise everywhere, and therefore Canada’s high ranking could also be a function of how recently it was surveyed relative to other countries. Whatever the reason, the report’s numbers suggest there is more to be learned about precisely how Canadians are relating to science and how that is changing, says broadcaster and author Jay Ingram, who was also on the panel.

Getting on to the report/assessment proper, I do like the note of skepticism about the impact a strong science culture has on society given the somewhat hysterical claims made by some adherents to this philosophy,

Many claims have been advanced about the impacts of a strong science culture. Such claims are often plausible given the extent to which science and technology feature in most aspects of individual and social life. However, there is limited empirical evidence to substantiate these claims, and in some cases that evidence points to more complexity in the way these impacts are manifested than is typically acknowledged. Much of this evidence suggests that, while a stronger science culture may contribute to a range of personal or social benefits, it is not always in itself sufficient to ensure the realization of those benefits.(p. 24 PDF; p. xxii print]

It’s a thoughtfulness I very much appreciate.

The report offers a definition of science that could include social science but, given a rather egregious omission (more about that in part 3 of this commentary), does not appear to do so,

Science is a systematic means of discovery and exploration that enriches our collective understanding of the world and universe around us. It is a fundamental part of Canadian culture and society, implicated in nearly every aspect of individual and social life. (p. 34 PDF; p. 2 print)

I was intrigued to learn the term ‘science culture’ is specific to Canada,

One of the first challenges faced by the Panel was to define science culture. While often used in Canadian discussions of science and technology policy, the term is rarely defined with precision. It is most frequently used to convey the degree to which society and the public are broadly engaged in, and supportive of, science. For example, at the launch of Canada’s National Science and Technology Week in 1990, the then Minister for Science, William Winegard, stated that “a science culture means a society that embraces science, involves itself in the development, application and use of new technologies, and celebrates national achievements [in science] with pride and enthusiasm” (National Science and Technology Week, 1990).

The use of this term in Canada partly reflects Canada’s bilingual heritage. In other English-speaking countries, terms such as science literacy, public understanding of science, public engagement in science, and public communication of science are more common (Durant, 1993). These terms are not synonymous with each other, or with science culture. However, they are related concepts, representing a range of perspectives that have been applied to the study of how the public relates to, interacts with, and develops views about science and technology. Patterns in the use of these terms in the literature over time also reflect an evolution in the way in which scholars, scientists, and policy-makers discuss science and society issues (Bauer, 2009). In French, the preferred term is generally la culture scientifique or la culture scientifique et technique, and the use of these terms in Quebec may have contributed to the use of the English science culture throughout Canada.

Compared with science literacy or public understanding of science, science culture is a more expansive concept, encompassing different aspects of the relationship between society and science. (p. 39 PDF; p, 7 print)

Globally, discussions about science are necessary,

Public discussions about the role of science in society are now dominated by a number of critical issues. Debates about nuclear power, climate change, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and stem cells are common across many countries and have been frequently the source of both national and international studies. For example, concern about anthropogenic global warming has generated a significant amount of research on public perception and attitudes related to science and technology. … The global reach of many of these issues requires international policy responses involving coordination and alignment of many governments. Both government actions and media coverage of these issues can have an impact on public perception of science and technology on an international scale.

Specific events abroad can also have a major impact on science culture around the world. The crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan in 2011, for example, caused widespread concern over nuclear safety across many countries and significantly affected public perception of the safety of these technologies (Kim et al., 2013). In Canada this event precipitated a review of all major nuclear facilities and the development of a four-year action plan to strengthen the safety of the nuclear industry (Canadian Nuclear Association, 2012; Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, 2012) (pp. 46/7 PDF; pp. 14/5 print)

In a description of how new technologies are changing society and affecting the practice of science, the expert panel introduces the notion of ‘citizen science’ (Note: I agree with the notion and have a category for citizen science on this blog),

One such impact concerns how the public can participate in and contribute to scientific work. Canadian physicist Michael Nielsen argues that new possibilities for large-scale scientific collaboration resulting from web-based platforms can potentially transform the practice of science due to changes in how scientists collaborate, and to the development of online platforms for engaging the public in scientific research (Nielsen, 2012). “Citizen science” initiatives allow the public to contribute to many kinds of scientific activity, often through collaborative, web-based platforms … (p. 47 PDF; p. 15 print)

I was pleased to see that the influence of popular culture was also mentioned although I did feel it was a bit lacking,

First, popular culture can influence attitudes towards science and technology and perceptions of scientists and their role in society. The foundation of science is the acquisition of knowledge. Ungar (2000) argues that in some segments of society, attaining highly specialized knowledge is viewed as elitist. [emphasis mine] As such, it is sometimes popular to denigrate intellectualism in favour of a more egalitarian and conversational ethos, which may devalue the contributions of scientists. In a review of U.S. children’s educational science programs, Long and Steinke (1996) report that images of science have emphasized characteristics such as truth, fun, accessibility, and ubiquity. Scientists were portrayed through several stereotypes in these shows, ranging from being omniscient and elite to eccentric and antisocial. (p. 51 PDF; p. 19 print)

The panel adopted a rather interesting approach to a fairly complex topic and, in my view, gave it shorter shrift than it deserved. Frankly, the view that the science community is elitist has some merit. How do you like someone using the term ‘dumbing down’ in your presence?

Getting back to the assessment, I was happy to see that Québec was more or less given its due,

As the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population, Quebec has its own organizations dedicated to the promotion of science in the public (e.g., Association francophone pour le savoir); its own set of French- language science media organizations and programs (e.g., Agence Science-Presse, “Découverte,” “Le Code Chastenay”); French-language science museums and centres (e.g., Centre des sciences de Montréal); science festivals (e.g., Festival Eurêka!); and many other organizations and programs involved in supporting science culture and communication for the Francophone population. The formal science education and training system also differs in Quebec, given the role of institutions such as the collèges d’enseignement général et professionnel (CEGEP). The historical development of science culture in Quebec is also distinct from that of Anglophone Canada, more firmly rooted in French and European discourses about science, culture, and cultural policies (Chartrand et al., 1987; Schiele et al., 1994). As a result of these differences, past inquiries into science culture in Canada have often treated Quebec as separate from the rest of Canada, and the Quebec government has sponsored its own investigations into science culture in the province (e.g., CST, 2002a). (p. 53 PDF; p. 21 print)

I believe it’s the province with the most support of any for science culture and it cannot be an accident that Seed (a former Canadian and once successful English language science magazine and enterprise) was founded in Montréal, Québec.

The report also notes Aboriginal contributions to Canadian science culture,

Canada’s Aboriginal cultures also play a role in defining the science culture landscape in Canada, both through their own knowledge traditions and their impacts on science education and outreach. Aboriginal knowledge has also been incorporated into some provincial science curricula, and some science textbooks now teach students about both scientific and Aboriginal knowledge systems, as a result of the collaboration between ministries of education, Aboriginal Elders, and one Canadian publisher (Aikenhead & Elliott, 2010). Aboriginal knowledge and traditions have also had impacts on scientific research in Canada, with biologists, ecologists, climatologists, and geologists incorporating Aboriginal knowledge in their research in a number of ways … (pp. 53/4 PDF; pp. 21/2 print)

It would have been nice to know if any experts of Aboriginal origin were included in the expert panel and/or in the group of reviewers as it would have been nice to see more women in those groups. If you’re going to discuss diversity and opening things up then perhaps you should consider ‘being the change’ rather than simply discussing it.

The report also mentioned Canada’s ageing population never once suggesting there might be ways to integrate that population into the larger science culture. The report’s bias was definitely youthful. Again on the subject of ‘being the change’, it might have been interesting to include youth and seniors in an advisory capacity to the panel.

On to part 2 and part 3.

Science, opera, and oil: a revelation

Alice Bell’s April 29,2014 posting for the Guardian science blogs explores the relationship between money from oil companies to culture, especially science culture (Note: A link has been removed),

Question: What has science got in common with opera? Answer: They are both cultural pursuits favoured by the oil industry.

This comes via the NGO Platform  [elsewhere this organization is called Platform London] who produced a new infographic this week, visualising their research exploring how much oil money goes into London’s galleries and museums.

The graphic leads with the Royal Opera House, the Tate, the National Portrait Gallery and the British Museum, and you might have seen coverage of the protest at the Viking exhibition this weekend. But I noticed something interesting when I scrolled down. Because what’s at the centre of the Shell/ BP cultural sponsorship Venn diagram, taking money from both companies? Turns out, apart from the Royal Opera House, they are all scientific institutions: the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum and the National Maritime Museum.

Here’s the infographic,

Infographic from Platform London illustrating how oil moneyflows through national cultural institutions in the UK. Photograph: Hannah Davey, Mel Evans and Platform London/Platform London [downloaded from http://platformlondon.org/p-publications/artoilinfographic/]

Infographic from Platform London illustrating how oil moneyflows through national cultural institutions in the UK. Photograph: Hannah Davey, Mel Evans and Platform London/Platform London [downloaded from http://platformlondon.org/p-publications/artoilinfographic/]

You can find a larger version and a PDF of the infographic on the Platform London Culture Clash – Arts & Oil Money webpage where you’ll also get more information such as this,

For the last two and a half years Tate has been involved in a Freedom of Information struggle over its refusal to disclose information over details and discussions over its sponsorship relationship with BP. Despite a ruling from the Information Commissioner in May that Tate was breaking information law on a number of counts in not revealing information regarding to sponsorship discussions, Tate has appealed and the tribunal hearing is likely to place in September 2014.

Meanwhile, Bell focuses on the science portion of this ‘culture equation’,

I imagine members of the scientific community will feel slightly uncomfortable to see themselves nestled there with such a traditionally elitist space as the Royal Opera House. Is that really how they want to be used? Is that really what museums of science are for?

Science often sees itself as the poor cousin, culturally speaking, so I guess there will also be people pleased to see science at the nexus of an exercise in mapping cultural power. Science may enjoy huge political, financial and economic support elsewhere, but museums of science and technology often feel less popular, slightly awkward and unglamorous compared to art galleries and theatres. … You might also argue it’s a class thing; science just isn’t traditionally posh enough, though again maybe that is changing. Or maybe we unfairly dismiss science museums as kids stuff (as if that isn’t important in itself).

I was fascinated to find this little gem in Bell’s piece,

That the oil industry likes hanging with science isn’t news. To take a topical example, the latest space at the Science Museum to come baring the Shell logo is the new exhibition on James Lovelock. Though it doesn’t say so in the exhibition itself, Lovelock has worked for Shell. Indeed he is an advocate of the company, writing in his 2000 book, Homage to Gaia:

“My experiences with Shell left me firmly with the impression that they are neither stupid nor villains. On the contrary I know of no other human agency that plans as far ahead or considers the environment more closely” (page 162-3 of 2000 edition of Homage to Gaia)

Lovelock and his ‘Gaia’ concept were much beloved and discussed in some of my (Canadian) university courses in the late ’80s and early ’90s and none of my professors ever mentioned Lovelock’s relationship to Shell.

Getting back to the infographic and the relationship between oil money and culture, there was a bit of scandal in 2012 in Canada regarding the sponsorship of the Canada Museum of Science and Technology’s exhibition “Energy: Power to Choose,” I made note of it in a June 13, 2012 posting (Sex in Ottawa (Canada), energy and corporate patronage, and war anniversaries) where I looked at that scandal,  another example of corporate cultural patronage, and an example of an attempted government ‘intervention’ in a museum ‘sex show’, all in aid of ‘painting a picture’ of some the challenges associated with cultural production.

It’s a confounding situation at times. For example, the Du Maurier Foundation (in Canada) funded a diverse array of arts and some very exciting work was a shown as a consequence of that generosity. Unfortunately, it was a cigarette company and eventually, Du Maurier shut down its arts funding (I think it became illegal in the early 2000s) and that loss is felt to this day in 2014.

I recently wrote a piece about oil and Canada (scroll down about 40% of the way) in the context of a May 6, 2014 posting about the need for more research on oil cleanup technologies.

Late to the Stand Up for Science party/protest of Sept. 16, 2013

It’s not the first time I’ve missed a party and I have to say thank you to my US colleagues (David Bruggeman’s Oct. 3, 2013 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog and Glyn Moody’s Oct. 3, 2013 Techdirt posting) for insuring I found out about the Sept. 16, 2013 series of cross Canada protest rallies, Stand Up for Science, regarding the ‘muzzling’ of science communication in Canada.

Suzanne Goldenberg’s Sept. 16, 2013 article for the Guardian provides a good overview of the situation. I have excerpted the bits that are new to me (Note: Links have been removed),

Researchers in 16 Canadian cities have called protests on Monday against science policies introduced under the government of Stephen Harper, which include rules barring government researchers from talking about their own work with journalists and, in some cases, even fellow researchers.

“There a lot of concern in Canada right now about government scientists not being allowed to speak about their research to the public because of the new communications policies being put into place,” said Katie Gibbs, director of a new group, Evidence for Democracy, which is organising the protests.

This year, [2013] Canada’s department of fisheries and oceans released a new set of rules barring scientists from discussing their findings with the public or publishing in academic journals.[emphasis mine]

The new guidelines required all scientists to submit papers to a departmental manager for review – even after they had been accepted for publication by an academic journal.

The proposed rules became public earlier this year after American scientists on a joint US-Canadian project in the eastern Arctic took exception at the new conditions.

The government was accused this month [Sept. 2013] of delaying its annual report on greenhouse gas emissions – usually released in mid-summer – because it was universally expected to show a double-digit rise in carbon pollution.

The government is actually trying to bar people from having their work published in academic journals? Well, brava to Katie Gibbs and Evidence for Democracy for organizing the Sept. 16, 2013 rallies and their predecessor, the Death of Evidence Rally (for more info. about that previous event there’s my July 10, 2012 posting announcing and discussing the ‘Death of Evidence’ and my July 13, 2013 posting which featured a roundup of comments regarding the 2012 rally).

Interestingly the Evidence for Democracy’s (E4D) Board of Directors seems to be largely comprised of biologists (from the Who We Are webpage),

E4D’s Board of Directors

Katie Gibbs

Dr. Gibbs recently completed a PhD in Biology from the University of Ottawa and has a diverse background organizing and managing various causes and campaigns.

Scott Findlay

Dr.Findlay is an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Ottawa and former Director of the University of Ottawa’s Institute of the Environment.

Kathryn O’Hara

Ms. O’Hara is an Associate Professor of Journalism at Carleton University and holds the CTV Chair in Science Broadcast Journalism.

Susan Pinkus

Ms. Pinkus has a M.Sc. in conservation biology and community ecology and is a senior staff scientist at Ecojustice.

By pointing out the concentration of biologists within the E4D board, I’m trying to hint at the difficulty of communicating across disciplinary boundaries (biologists network with other biologists partly because it’s easier to find people who belong to the same organizations and attend the same conferences). When Canada’s geography is also taken into account, the fact that the group managed to organize events in 17 cities (also listed on the E4D Stand Up for Science webpage; scroll down about 40% of the page) across the country), according to Ivan Semeniuk’s Sept. 16, 2013, article about the rallies for the Globe and Mail newspaper, becomes quite laudable.

Matthew Robinson’s Sept. 17, 2013 article for the Vancouver Sun gives a BC (the city of Vancouver is located in the province of British Columbia,Canada) flavour to the proceedings,

David Suzuki [biologist], Alexandra Morton [biologist] and other prominent B.C.-based scientists rallied on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery Monday to decry what they called the continued muzzling of federal scientists and to reason for broadened science funding. ….

Separate from the protests, NDP science and technology critic Kennedy Stewart [Member of Parliament from BC] tabled Monday [Sept. 16, 2013] a motion for federal departments to permit scientists to speak freely to the media and the public.

The motion would, among other things, allow federal scientists to present personal viewpoints and prohibit elected officials, ministerial staff and communications officers from directing scientists to suppress or alter their findings.

Gibbs said the timing of the NDP motion was not co-ordinated.

Meanwhile, another group, Scientists for the Right to Know, has been emerging. From the About us page,

In 2012, a Working Group of Science for Peace started to look into the muzzling of science and scientists in Canada. Muzzling is a broad process that may be carried out by governments, industry, universities, and others. However, we quickly realized that the current federal government is actually waging a war on basic science. While other Canadian governments have engaged in muzzling as well, we have never witnessed the type of systematic attack on basic science that is happening right now in Canada.

We therefore decided to focus at present on the muzzling of science on the part of the federal government. We also decided that we needed to find a means to engage the public at large. The focus of our work shifted, then, from researching the issue to advocating for unmuzzled science. It became clear that the work the group was envisaging would exceed the mandate of Science for Peace –  education. We decided to form a new organization frankly devoted to advocacy.

The inaugural meeting of Scientists for the Right to Know took place in April 2013. We are currently in the process of incorporating as a non-profit organization. …


The organization has an executive comprised of three people (from the About us page),


President – Margrit Eichler


Treasurer – Phyllis Creighton


Secretary – Sue Kralik


Margrit Eichler is Professor Emerita of OISE/UT. She received her PhD in Sociology from Duke University.  She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and of the European Academy of Sciences, and  she received an honorary doctorate from Brock University. She has remained an activist during her entire  academic career.


Phyllis Creighton is a translations editor with the renowned Dictionary of Canadian Biography/Dictionnaire biographique du Canada. She holds an MA in history from the University of Toronto. An ethicist and author — and Raging Granny–, she has long worked for peace, nuclear disarmament, human rights, social justice, conservation, and environmental protection. She holds the Anglican Award of Merit, the Order of Ontario, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.


Sue Kralik is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario and earned a Master of Education degree at the University of Toronto. Sue recently retired as a school Principal. While working as a Principal, Sue led school based anti-war and social justice initiatives and remains committed to working for peace, social justice, and respect for the environment.

Interestingly, Scientists for the Right to Know has sprung forth from the Humanities and Social Sciences communities.

It’s  an exciting time for Canadian science culture;, I just wish the communication between these groups and other interested groups and individuals was better. That way, I (and, I suspect, other Canadian science bloggers) wouldn’t be left wondering how they managed to miss significant events such as the inception of the Evidence for Science group,and of the  Scientists for the Right to Know group, and the Stand Up for Science cross Canada rally.

Forbes magazine and US science culture

Forbes magazine, which is based in the US but now has editions produced in many countries, describes its focus as business and finance. So, it might seem a little unexpected to find a list of rising stars in the fields of science and health until one remembers the current fascination, worldwide, with innovation which often seems to mean science research which can be commercialized.

Forbes has just published its list of ’30 under 30′ rising stars in the fields of Science and Health Care. Pedro Valencia, who studied with and worked in Robert Langer’s lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was one of the 30 cited in the 2012 list. From the Dec. 27, 2012 news item on Azonano,

Valencia was cited for figuring out “how to more quickly synthesize nanoparticles that can be used to make drugs more effective and less toxic and to put multiple drugs inside the same nanotech medicine. This has resulted in many top-notch scientific publications and the formation of a start-up, Blend Therapeutics.”

Valencia was the recipient of the NSF Graduate Fellowship. He was co-advised by Professor Langer and Dr. Omid Farokhzad of the Brigham Women’s Hospital – Harvard Medical School.

Langer and Farokhzad were mentioned in my Oct. 28, 2011 posting about nanotechnology commercialization efforts,

… BIND Biosciences and Selecta Biosciences, two leading nanomedicine companies, announced today that they have entered into investment agreements with RUSNANO, a $10-billion Russian Federation fund that supports high-tech and nanotechnology advances.

RUSNANO is co-investing $25 million in BIND and $25 million in Selecta, for a total RUSNANO investment of $50 million within the total financing rounds of $94.5 million in the two companies combined. …

The proprietary technology platforms of BIND and Selecta originated in laboratories at Harvard Medical School directed by Professor Omid Farokhzad, MD, and in laboratories at MIT directed by Professor Robert Langer, ScD, a renowned scientist who is a recipient of the US National Medal of Science, the highest US honor for scientists, and is an inventor of approximately 850 patents issued or pending worldwide. Drs. Langer and Farokhzad are founders of both companies. [Farokhzad was featured in a recent Canadian Broadcasting Corporation {CBC}, Nature of Things, television episode about nanomedicine, titled More than human.] Professor Ulrich von Andrian, MD, PhD, head of the immunopathology laboratory at Harvard Medical School, is a founder of Selecta.

It is fascinating to observe not only the linkages between business and science/health but also the way in which those linkages contribute to a larger ‘science culture’, which includes science festivals, science-oriented popular culture, science talks for just a few examples.

Council of Canadian Academies tries to answer question: What is the state of Canada’s science culture?

The Council of Canadian Academies is an organization designed to answer questions about science in Canada. From the Council’s About Us webpage on their website,

The Council is an independent, not-for-profit corporation that supports science-based, expert assessments (studies) to inform public policy development in Canada. The Council began operation in 2005 and consists of a Board of Governers, a Scientific Advisory Committee and Secretariat. The Council draws upon the intellectual capital that lies within its three Member Academies the Royal Society of Canada (RSC); the Canadian Academy of Engineering;  and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.

Our mission is to contribute to the shaping of evidence-based public policy that is in the public interest. This is achieved by appointing independent, multidisciplinary panels of expert volunteers. The Council’s work encompasses a broad definition of science, incorporating the natural, social and health sciences as well as engineering and the humanities.

Expert Panels directly address the question and sub-questions referred to them. Panel assessments may also identify: emerging issues, gaps in knowledge, Canadian strengths, and international trends and practices. Upon completion, assessments provide government decision-makers, academia and stakeholders with high-quality information required to develop informed and innovative public policy.

Several months ago, Gary Goodyear, Canada’s Minister of State (Science and Technology), requested on behalf of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC), Natural Resources Canada, and Industry Canada an assessment of science culture in Canada. From the State of Canada’s Science Culture webpage on the Council of Canadian Academies website,

Over the past 30 years, public interest and debate has been steadily growing in Canada and abroad over the need to foster a science culture as part of the national science and technology agenda. In this period, significant government and private investments have contributed to the development of hundreds of individual science culture programs and institutions.

Now more than ever the volume of programs and data support the need for a national examination of issues, such as the performance indicators that best reflect the vitality of Canada’s science culture, and a need to understand where Canada ranks internationally. The expert panel will be asked to consider these and other questions such as what factors influence an interest in science among youth; what are the key components of the informal system that supports science culture; and what strengths and weaknesses exist in the Canadian system.

Assessments of science culture can focus either on science in the general culture, or the culture among scientists. This assessment will focus principally on the former, with additional interest in understanding the underlying connections among entrepreneurship, innovation and science. …

The full assessment process includes a rigorous peer review exercise to ensure the report is objective, balanced and evidence-based. Following the review and approval by the Council’s Board of Governors, the complete report will be made available on the Council’s website in both official languages. …


What is the state of Canada’s science culture?


  1. What is the state of knowledge regarding the impacts of having a strong science culture?
  2. What are the indicators of a strong science culture? How does Canada compare with other countries against these indicators? What is the relationship between output measures and major outcome measures?
  3. What factors (e.g., cultural, economic, age, gender) influence interest in science, particularly among youth?
  4. What are the critical components of the informal system that supports science culture (roles of players, activities, tools and programs run by science museums, science centres, academic and not-for-profit organizations and the private sector)? What strengths and weaknesses exist in Canada’s system?
  5. What are the effective practices that support science culture in Canada and in key competitor countries?

Hopefully, the expert panel will have a definition of some kind for “science culture.”

After waiting what seems to be an unusually long period, the Council announced the chair for the  “science culture” expert panel (from the CCA Dec. 19, 2012 news release),

Arthur Carty to Serve as Expert Panel Chair on the State of Canada’s Science Culture

The Council is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Arthur Carty, O.C., as Chair of the Expert Panel on the State of Canada’s Science Culture. In 2011, the Minister of State (Science and Technology) on behalf of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC), Natural Resources Canada, and Industry Canada requested the Council conduct an in-depth, evidence-based assessment on the state of Canada’s science culture.

As Chair of the Council’s Expert Panel, Dr. Carty will work with a multidisciplinary group of experts, to be appointed by the Council, to address the following question: What is the state of Canada’s science culture?

Dr. Carty is currently the Executive Director of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Waterloo. Dr. Carty also serves as Special Advisor to the President on international science and technology collaboration, and as Research Professor in the Department of Chemistry. Prior to this, Dr. Carty served as Canada’s first National Science Advisor to the Prime Minister and to the Government of Canada from 2004-2007 and as President of the National Research Council Canada from 1994-2004.

You can find out more on Carty’s biography webpage, on the CCA website,

Arthur Carty is the Executive Director of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Waterloo, Special Advisor to the President on international science and technology collaboration, and Research Professor in the Department of Chemistry

From 2004-2008, Dr. Carty served as Canada’s first National Science Advisor to the Prime Minister and to the Government of Canada. Prior to this appointment, he was President of the National Research Council Canada for 10 years. Before this, he spent 2 years at Memorial University and then 27 years at the University of Waterloo, where he was successively Professor of Chemistry, Director of the Guelph-Waterloo Centre for Graduate Work in Chemistry and Biochemistry, Chair of the Department of Chemistry, and Dean of Research.


Carty’s profile page on the Waterloo Institute of Nanotechnology (WIN) website offers the same information but in more detail.

It’s difficult to divine much from the biographical information about Carty as it is very purpose-oriented to impress the reader with Carty’s international and national involvements in the field of science advice and collaboration. Carty may have extensive experience with multi-disciplinary teams and an avid interest in a science culture that includes informal science education and the arts and humanities, unfortunately, it’s not visible on either the CCA or WIN website biographies.

Hopefully,  Carty and the CCA will assemble a diverse expert panel. (Warning: blatant self-promotion ahead) If they are looking for a person of diverse personal and professional interests

  • who has an MA in Creative Writing (nonfiction and fiction) and New Media from De Montfort University in Leicester, UK and
  • a BA (Communication – Honors) from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada and
  • who has built up one of the largest and longest-running independent science blogs in the country thereby contributing to science culture in Canada,
  • neatly combining the social sciences, the humanities, and an informed perspective on science and science culture in Canada in one person,

they may want to contact me at nano@frogheart.ca. I have more details in the CV and can supply references.

Science culture panel and Denise Amyot at the 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference

The 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) starts tomorrow, Nov. 16, 2011 and runs until Nov. 18, 2011. Denise Amyot, speaker on the 2011 CSPC Science Culture, Organized and Prioritized: Three National and International Initiatives panel and President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation, has very kindly given me an interview.

Here’s a little bit about Denise Amyot first (from the bio on the 2011 CSPC conference website),

Denise Amyot is currently, President and CEO of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation whose mandate is to foster scientific and technological literacy throughout the country. The Corporation and its three museums – the Canada Agriculture Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and the Canada Science and Technology Museum – tell the stories of Canadian ingenuity and achievement in science and technology.

She has worked both in National Headquarters and in regions in several federal departments including central agencies, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, National Defense, Natural Resources Canada, and Canadian Heritage. In her former three roles as Assistant Deputy Minister, she was respectively responsible for leading and managing leadership development programs and developing policies for employees and executives throughout the public Service of Canada, the corporate management services, as well as public affairs and ministerial services. She has worked extensively in policy and line operations in the context of programs and service delivery, in social, economic, and cultural areas. She also worked for few years with the Government of the Northwest Territories.

Ms Amyot is the former President of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada, Vice-President of the Head of Federal Agencies Steering Committee, and member of the Board of Governors at the Ottawa University and at the Algonquin College. She is the former President of the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada and former President of the Communications Community Office.

Ms Amyot has obtained a Master’s degree in Education and three Bachelor degrees in Biology, in Arts and in Education.

Now, here are the questions and answers:

The panel (Science Culture, Organized and Prioritized: Three National and International Initiatives) features you from the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC); Lesley Lewis, CEO of the Ontario Science Centre; Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist for Australia and is being moderated by Tracey Ross, ED for the Canadian Association of Science Centres. Could you describe the difference between a museum of science and technology and a science centre?

Science museums are distinctive from science centres as they are the steward of a collection that provides an historical perspective on a specific cross-section of society. Science museums use artifacts from their collection to interpret science and technology within society and help visitor acquire a deeper understanding on its developmental and evolutionary nature. Like science centres, science museums also engage visitors on various aspect of current science and offer experiential, hands on activities.

Could you give a little history of the CSTMC and explain why there are three museums?

The CSTMC was created 21 years ago to govern the Canada Science and Technology Museum and the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. The Canada Agriculture Museum joined the corporation in 1997. Previous to 1990 all national museums were managed through a single corporation which posed challenges considering the diversity of audience, needs and mandates of these institutions.

The three museums share a common vision of engaging all Canadians in appreciating their scientific and technological heritage, and awaken them to our country’s potential of creativity and innovation to solve today’s challenges and propel us in the 21st century.

How do you view science culture in Canada and how would you describe it in relation to the international scene?

There has never been a time in history when science and technology have had greater impact on the lives of our citizens or have been more important to our economic competitiveness, prosperity and societal well being. I understand science culture as the degree in which Canadians understand the basic of science, are able to make daily decisions informed by a basic understanding of science and use of scientific method (inquiry). Science culture is an important vector of economic prosperity. Science culture also informs the degree in which science is considered as a desirable field of study for youth (STEM) leading to fulfilling careers.

Sustaining a strong and vibrant science culture is essential to Canada’s long term economic, environmental and social success in a global world. The world is looking at Canada to develop an economic and societal model that will smartly develop new and innovative ways of sustaining the exploitation of its natural resources while creating an inclusive society that will harness the talent, creativity and potential of every citizen. In the last ten years, jobs in science and technology have seen the largest growth.

Last year an initiative from the CSTMC for an online science network/hub was announced. Can you talk a little about the initiative and what happened to it?

For financial reasons, we have taken a step back in this project and have decided to postpone activities for the time being. Inspiring Australia has put a similar idea forward earlier this year and with significantly more resources than those we had put forward. We are watching this closely, to see how they will go about this and what sort of engagement they will garner.

I see the need for a more active national dialogue on science beyond sharing information about research, or explaining how it will benefit us. We need an open and respectful two-way dialogue between the experts and the citizens, the converted and the agnostics, a dialogue that spans the nation and involves universities, schools, science centres and museums, governments, businesses, community groups, and individuals. To change our collective thinking about science, more efforts will need to be directed to this dialogue. But most importantly, it will require stronger collaborations and coordination between institutions nation-wide. Using emerging digital technologies and social media applications seem to be the way of the future and we remain committed to playing a role in this area.

I assume you’ll be talking about the initiative to benchmark science culture in order to measure future progress. Could you share a little bit about your talk (how do you go about benchmarking science culture; has anyone done it before; how long will it take; does it require government funding; and, if so, how much?) that could serve both as a preview and as some information for those of us who won’t be able to attend?

There is strong agreement that having a strong and vibrant science culture is fundamental to the future of our country. For years we have been in discussion, inconclusively, on how best to go about this. We have seen numerous initiatives. Many pilot projects. I believe that best policies are evidence-based and informed by compelling performance indicators. There is still a bit of work needed in the science community to identify broadly supported indicators that could best reflect the vitality of our science culture in Canada.

Canada’s science culture is shaped by the interplay of various public, private and non-profit players delivering a range of activities and tools designed to enhance understanding and interest, among Canadians of all ages, in science. There are hundreds of different formal and informal science education and awareness and awareness building programs in this country and we hardly can map out their contribution to the vitality of science culture in our country. We need to collect output and outcome indicators to start benchmarking our progress and devise an effective national strategy. For example we need to measure beyond literacy levels or number of graduates in STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] to include such things as science coverage and audience in the media, public opinion on science and scientists and many other indicators used in other countries.

I’ve noticed that most of the discussion about innovation is centered on the notion of business; do you think that culture has a place at that table?

YES! Actually the concept of science culture reflects the fact that part of our general culture there has to be a strong dose of science. And creativity, innovation, risk taking, entrepreneurship. The business sector fully understands the crucial nature of a strong science culture as a driver to our country’s competitiveness.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

As members of the science community, it is our responsibility to ensure that Canadians recognize not only the great achievements of our scientists, but that they see how science-based evidence inform our everyday lives.

I believe that the same curiosity and joy of discovery experienced by young Canadians visiting our science museums and science centres can be shared by all Canadians. I believe that this can then be turned into an active commitment to make Canada a country where scientific discovery and innovation shape our identity as Canadians, and contribute to the health of our economy and to the vibrancy of our nation. Creative thinking and a spirit of entrepreneurship are at the heart of innovation. Creative thinking does not require a lot of raw material but is underpinned by a strong science culture. We need to foster and support that value.

Thank you Mme. Amyot for sharing your insights and enthusiasm about science culture and offering this preview of the 2011 CSPC ‘Science Culture’ panel in the midst of your busy schedule.

I am very grateful to you and Mike Harcourt, Tim Meyer, and David Kent for taking the time to answer my questions about your work and about your talks for the 2011 CSPC panels where you will be appearing over the next few days.