Tag Archives: Stephen Harper

Mopping up that oil spill with a nanocellulose sponge and a segue into Canadian oil and politics

Empa (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology or ,in German, Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt) has announced the development of a nanocellulose sponge useful for cleaning up oil spills in a May 5, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

A new, absorbable material from Empa wood research could be of assistance in future oil spill accidents: a chemically modified nanocellulose sponge. The light material absorbs the oil spill, remains floating on the surface and can then be recovered. The absorbent can be produced in an environmentally-friendly manner from recycled paper, wood or agricultural by-products (“Ultralightweight and Flexible Silylated Nanocellulose Sponges for the Selective Removal of Oil from Water”).

A May 2, 2014 Empa news release (also on EurekAlert*}, which originated the news item, includes a description of the potential for oil spills due to transport issues, Empa’s proposed clean-up technology, and a request for investment,

All industrial nations need large volumes of oil which is normally delivered by ocean-going tankers or via inland waterways to its destination. The most environmentally-friendly way of cleaning up nature after an oil spill accident is to absorb and recover the floating film of oil. The Empa researchers Tanja Zimmermann and Philippe Tingaut, in collaboration with Gilles Sèbe from the University of Bordeaux, have now succeeded in developing a highly absorbent material which separates the oil film from the water and can then be easily recovered, “silylated” nanocellulose sponge. In laboratory tests the sponges absorbed up to 50 times their own weight of mineral oil or engine oil. They kept their shape to such an extent that they could be removed with pincers from the water. The next step is to fine tune the sponges so that they can be used not only on a laboratory scale but also in real disasters. To this end, a partner from industry is currently seeked.

Here’s what the nanocellulose sponge looks like (oil was dyed red and the sponge has absorbed it from the water),

The sponge remains afloat and can be pulled out easily. The oil phase is selectively removed from the surface of water. Image: Empa

The sponge remains afloat and can be pulled out easily. The oil phase is selectively removed from the surface of water.
Image: Empa

The news release describes the substance, nanofibrillated cellulose (NFC), and its advantages,

Nanofibrillated Cellulose (NFC), the basic material for the sponges, is extracted from cellulose-containing materials like wood pulp, agricultural by products (such as straw) or waste materials (such as recycled paper) by adding water to them and pressing the aqueous pulp through several narrow nozzles at high pressure. This produces a suspension with gel-like properties containing long and interconnected cellulose nanofibres .

When the water from the gel is replaced with air by freeze-drying, a nanocellulose sponge is formed which absorbs both water and oil. This pristine material sinks in water and is thus not useful for the envisaged purpose. The Empa researchers have succeeded in modifying the chemical properties of the nanocellulose in just one process step by admixing a reactive alkoxysilane molecule in the gel before freeze-drying. The nanocellulose sponge loses its hydrophilic properties, is no longer suffused with water and only binds with oily substances.

In the laboratory the “silylated” nanocellulose sponge absorbed test substances like engine oil, silicone oil, ethanol, acetone or chloroform within seconds. Nanofibrillated cellulose sponge, therefore, reconciles several desirable properties: it is absorbent, floats reliably on water even when fully saturated and is biodegradable.

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

Ultralightweight and Flexible Silylated Nanocellulose Sponges for the Selective Removal of Oil from Water by Zheng Zhang, Gilles Sèbe, Daniel Rentsch, Tanja Zimmermann, and Philippe Tingaut. Chem. Mater., 2014, 26 (8), pp 2659–2668 DOI: 10.1021/cm5004164 Publication Date (Web): April 10, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This article is behind a paywall.

I featured ‘nanocellulose and oil spills’ research at the University Wisconsin-Madison in a Feb. 26, 2014 post titled, Cleaning up oil* spills with cellulose nanofibril aerogels (Note: I corrected a typo in my headline hence the asterisk). I also have a Dec. 31, 2013 piece about a nanotechnology-enabled oil spill recovery technology project (Naimor) searching for funds via crowdfunding. Some major oil projects being considered in Canada and the lack of research on remediation are also mentioned in the post.

Segue Alert! As for the latest on Canada and its oil export situation, there’s a rather interesting May 2, 2014 Bloomberg.com article Canada Finds China Option No Easy Answer to Keystone Snub‘ by Edward Greenspon, Andrew Mayeda, Jeremy van Loon and Rebecca Penty describing two Canadian oil projects and offering a US perspective,

It was February 2012, three months since President Barack Obama had phoned the Canadian prime minister to say the Keystone XL pipeline designed to carry vast volumes of Canadian crude to American markets would be delayed.

Now Harper [Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper] found himself thousands of miles from Canada on the banks of the Pearl River promoting Plan B: a pipeline from Alberta’s landlocked oil sands to the Pacific Coast where it could be shipped in tankers to a place that would certainly have it — China. It was a country to which he had never warmed yet that served his current purposes. [China's President at that time was Hu Jintao, 2002 - 2012; currently the President is Xi Jinping, 2013 - ]

The writers do a good job of describing a number of factors having an impact on one or both of the pipeline projects. However, no mention is made in the article that Harper is from the province of Alberta and represents that province’s Calgary Southwest riding. For those unfamiliar with Calgary, it is a city dominated by oil companies. I imagine Mr. Harper is under considerable pressure to resolve oil export and transport issues and I would expect they would prefer to resolve the US issues since many of those oil companies in Calgary have US headquarters.

Still, it seems simple, if the US is not interested as per the problems with the Keystone XL pipeline project, ship the oil to China via a pipeline through the province of British Columbia and onto a tanker. What the writers do not mention is yet another complicating factor, Trudeau, both Justin and, the deceased, Pierre.

As Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau was unloved in Alberta, Harper’s home province, due to his energy policies and the formation of the National Energy Board. Harper appears, despite his denials, to have an antipathy towards Pierre Trudeau that goes beyond the political to the personal and it seems to extend beyond Pierre’s grave to his son, Justin. A March 21, 2014 article by Mark Kennedy for the National Post describes Harper’s response to Trudeau’s 2000 funeral this way,

Stephen Harper, then the 41-year-old president of the National Citizens Coalition (NCC), was a proud conservative who had spent three years as a Reform MP. He had entered politics in the mid-1980s, in part because of his disdain for how Pierre Trudeau’s “Just Society” had changed Canada.

So while others were celebrating Trudeau’s legacy, Harper hammered out a newspaper article eviscerating the former prime minister on everything from policy to personality.

Harper blasted Trudeau Sr. for creating “huge deficits, a mammoth national debt, high taxes, bloated bureaucracy, rising unemployment, record inflation, curtailed trade and declining competitiveness.”

On national unity, he wrote that Trudeau was a failure. “Only a bastardized version of his unity vision remains and his other policies have been rejected and repealed by even his own Liberal party.”

Trudeau had merely “embraced the fashionable causes of his time,” wrote Harper.

Getting personal, he took a jab at Trudeau over not joining the military during the Second World War: “He was also a member of the ‘greatest generation,’ the one that defeated the Nazis in war and resolutely stood down the Soviets in the decades that followed. In those battles however, the ones that truly defined his century, Mr. Trudeau took a pass.”

The article was published in the National Post Oct. 5, 2000 — two days after the funeral.

Kennedy’s article was occasioned by the campaign being led by Harper';s Conservative party against the  leader (as of April 2013) of the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau.

It’s hard to believe that Harper’s hesitation over China is solely due to human rights issues especially  since Harper has not been noted for consistent interest in those issues and, more particularly, since Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was one of the first ‘Western’ leaders to visit communist China . Interestingly, Harper has been much more enthusiastic about the US than Pierre Trudeau who while addressing the Press Club in Washington, DC in March 1969, made this observation (from the Pierre Trudeau Wikiquote entry),

Living next to you [the US] is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.

On that note, I think Canada is always going to be sleeping with an elephant; the only question is, who’s the elephant now? In any event, perhaps Harper is more comfortable with the elephant he knows and that may explain why China’s offer to negotiate a free trade agreement has been left unanswered (this too was not noted in the Bloomberg article). The offer and lack of response were mentioned by Yuen Pau Woo, President and CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, who spoke at length about China, Canada, and their trade relations at a Jan. 31, 2014 MP breakfast (scroll down for video highlights of the Jan. 31, 2014 breakfast) held by Member of Parliament (MP) for Vancouver-Quadra, Joyce Murray.

Geopolitical tensions and Canadian sensitivities aside, I think Canadians in British Columbia (BC), at least, had best prepare for more oil being transported and the likelihood of spills. In fact, there are already more shipments according to a May 6, 2014 article by Larry Pynn for the Vancouver Sun,

B.C. municipalities work to prevent a disastrous accident as rail transport of oil skyrockets

The number of rail cars transporting crude oil and petroleum products through B.C. jumped almost 200 per cent last year, reinforcing the resolve of municipalities to prevent a disastrous accident similar to the derailment in Lac-Mégantic in Quebec last July [2013].

Transport Canada figures provided at The Vancouver Sun’s request show just under 3,400 oil and petroleum rail-car shipments in B.C. last year, compared with about 1,200 in 2012 and 50 in 2011.

The figures come a week after The Sun revealed that train derailments jumped 20 per cent to 110 incidents last year in B.C., the highest level in five years.

Between 2011 and 2012, there was an increase of 2400% (from 50 to 1200) of oil and petroleum rail-car shipments in BC. The almost 300% increase in shipments between 2012 and 2013 seems paltry in comparison.  Given the increase in shipments and the rise in the percentage of derailments, one assumes there’s an oil spill waiting to happen. Especially so, if the Canadian government manages to come to an agreement regarding the proposed pipeline for BC and frankly, I have concerns about the other pipeline too, since either will require more rail cars, trucks, and/or tankers for transport to major centres edging us all closer to a major oil spill.

All of this brings me back to Empa, its oil-absorbing nanocellulose sponges, and the researchers’ plea for investors and funds to further their research. I hope they and all the other researchers (e.g., Naimor) searching for ways to develop and bring their clean-up ideas to market find some support.

*EurekAlert link added May 7, 2014.

ETA May 8, 2014:  Some types of crude oil are more flammable than others according to a May 7, 2014 article by Lindsay Abrams for Salon.com (Note: Links have been removed),

Why oil-by-rail is an explosive disaster waiting to happen
A recent spate of fiery train accidents all have one thing in common: highly volatile cargo from North Dakota

In case the near continuous reports of fiery, deadly oil train accidents hasn’t been enough to convince you, Earth Island Journal is out with a startling investigative piece on North Dakota’s oil boom and the dire need for regulations governing that oil’s transport by rail.

The article is pegged to the train that derailed and exploded last summer in  [Lac-Mégantic] Quebec, killing 47 people, although it just as well could have been the story of the train that derailed and exploded in Alabama last November, the train that derailed and exploded in North Dakota last December, the train that derailed and exploded in Virginia last week or — let’s face it — any future accidents that many see as an inevitability.

The Bakken oil fields in North Dakota are producing over a million barrels of crude oil a day, more than 60 percent of which is shipped by rail. All that greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuel is bad enough; that more oil spilled in rail accidents last year than the past 35 years combined is also no small thing. But the particular chemical composition of Bakken oil lends an extra weight to these concerns: according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, it may be more flammable and explosive than traditional crude.

While Abrams’ piece is not focused on oil cleanups, it does raise some interesting questions about crude oil transport and whether or not the oil from Alberta might also be more than usually dangerous.

Xerox Research Centre Canada, authentic currency, etc. and a ‘nano’ deal with Authentix

An April 1, 2014 news item on labcanada.com describes a recently signed deal which may turn up the competition in Canada’s currency authentication business sector,

The Xerox Research Centre Canada [XRCC] says it has signed a multi-year materials research services agreement with Dallas-based Authentix, a provider of anti-counterfeiting, brand protection and program integrity solutions for the oil and gas industry; currency, branded products and tax stamp markets.

“Working with companies like Authentix adds to the value our scientists bring to the research world,” said Paul Smith, vice president and director of the Xerox Research Centre Canada. “Not only do we continue to strengthen our scientific role in Canadian innovation, we are now bringing valuable research capabilities to other companies globally.”

Given that Xerox is a US company with a Canadian branch, I’m not sure how signing a deal with another US company aids Canadian innovation. On the plus side, it does give some Canadian scientists a job.

I also noted the reference to “currency authentication”, which suggests that Authentix could be in direct competition with the Canadian company, Nanotech Security Corp. (I have written about Nanotech Security Corp. previously with the two most recent being a Jan. 31, 2014 posting about the company’s presentation at an Optical Document Security Conference and a March 17, 2014 posting about the company’s first commercial client, TED.) Perhaps Xerox plans to spur Canadian innovation by providing more competition for our technology companies.

Here’s more from the March 31, 2014 Xerox news release, which originated the news item about the deal with Authentix,

Scientists at XRCC specialize in the design and development of electronic materials and specialty components; environmentally-friendly processes; coatings, applied nanotechnology; polymer science, engineering and pilot plant scale-up. [emphasis mine]

“Materials science research makes it possible to bring new levels of security, accuracy and efficiency to product authentication,” said Jeff Conroy, chief technology officer of Authentix.  “Leveraging the core competencies of Xerox’s materials lab in Canada expands and accelerates our ability to bring innovative solutions to the authentication market.”

Located near Toronto, XRCC is part of the global Xerox Innovation Group made up of researchers and engineers in five world-renowned research centers. Each center leverages XRCC’s unique, integrated, global materials research and development mandate.

You can find out more about Authentix here.

Getting back to XRCC, they had a longstanding relationship with Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT) having signed a 2007 contract with NINT and the Government of Alberta, from a Xerox Innovation Story,

In Canada’s first major public-private nanotechnology research partnership, the Xerox Research Centre of Canada (XRCC), NRC National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) and Government of Alberta will provide approximately $4.5 million for research and development of materials-based nanotechnology over the next three years.

The three partners will invest funds, human resources, and available infrastructures to create a research program and teams focused on developing commercially successful nanotechnology-based discoveries. Personnel from NINT and XRCC will collaborate on research projects at NINT in Edmonton, Alberta, and at XRCC in Mississauga, Ontario.

The funds will contribute to the hiring of eight to 10 scientists who will investigate materials-based nanotechnologies, including document- and display-related technologies. The research program, co-managed by XRCC and NINT, will allow access to Xerox’s experience in successfully commercializing technology to facilitate the market application of resulting inventions.

“This level of public and private sector partnership helps fuel the type of innovation that will keep Alberta, and Canada as a whole, strong and competitive in an increasingly global, knowledge-based economy,” said Doug Horner, minister for Advanced Education and Technology, Government of Alberta. “The investments from the Government of Alberta, Xerox and NINT will build a world-class nanotechnology research program that embraces the spirit of innovation, but also that of commercialization.”

I find the references to Xerox and innovation and commercialization amusing since the company is famous for its innovation missteps. For example, the company owned the photocopying business from the 1960s into the 1970s due to its patent rights but once those rights ran out (there’s usually a time limit on a patent) the company was poorly equipped to compete. My guess is that they didn’t know how in an environment where they no longer held a monopoly. The other famous story concerns the mouse and the graphical user interface both of which were developed at Xerox but the company never pursued those innovations leaving Stephen Jobs and his colleagues to found Apple.

At any rate, Xerox survived those missteps so perhaps they learned something and they really do mean it when they talk about spurring innovation. Although, given the business model for most Canadian technology companies, I expect Nanotech Security Corp. to get purchased by Authentix or one of its competitors with the consequence that Canadian taxpayers have helped to pay, yet again, for innovation that will be purchased by a corporate entity with headquarters in another country and much less interest in maintaining a business presence in Canada. If you think I’m being cynical about another country’s corporate interests in Canada, take a look at this excerpt from Derrick Penner’s March 28, 2014 article for the Vancouver Sun about Vancouver’s recent Globe 2014 conference,

Globe, the biannual conference on sustainable development [March 26 - 28, 2014], is as much about doing business as it is about discussing bright ideas for reducing the impact of industry on the environment.

And a new twist for European delegates, such as Roumeas [Vincent Roumeas, a business development manager for the Paris Region Economic Development Agency], is the prospect of Canada Europe Free Trade.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, last October, signed an agreement in principal, which commits the two sides to finalizing a full agreement giving each other tariff-free access to each others’ markets.

Roumeas said it is too soon to tell how much of a draw EU free trade will be because he is working on developing immediate prospects within the next 18 months, which would be before any benefits from free trade would kick in, if the deal is concluded.

However, his colleague Jeremy Bernard Orawiec, a trade adviser for UbiFrance, does see the agreement as an attraction for French firms interested the American market.

He added that the U.S. is viewed as a tough market to crack, so Canada is looked at as an easier-accessed entry point to all of North America.

“It’s really positive to see Canada able to make an agreement before the U.S.,” Orawiec said. “It gives us a time frame so (companies) can come here [Canada] and explore the whole American market.” [emphases mine]

It’s not clear from his comments but I suspect Orawiec is unaware that Mexico is part of North America. In any event, Canada as a market place or as an innovation centre is not important in and of itself. One can criticize Orawiec for making those comments but I’d like to thank him as he has expressed an attitude that I believe is widely held.

Does digitizing material mean it’s safe? A tale of Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans scientific libraries

As has been noted elsewhere the federal government of Canada has shut down a number of Fisheries and Oceans Canada libraries in a cost-saving exercise. The government is hoping to save some $440,000 in the 2014-15 fiscal year by digitizing, consolidating, and discarding the libraries and their holdings.

One would imagine that this is being done in a measured, thoughtful fashion but one would be wrong.

Andrew Nikiforuk in a December 23, 2013 article for The Tyee wrote one of the first articles about the closure of the fisheries libraries,

Scientists say the closure of some of the world’s finest fishery, ocean and environmental libraries by the Harper government has been so chaotic that irreplaceable collections of intellectual capital built by Canadian taxpayers for future generations has been lost forever.

Glyn Moody in a Jan. 7, 2014 post on Techdirt noted this,

What’s strange is that even though the rationale for this mass destruction is apparently in order to reduce costs, opportunities to sell off more valuable items have been ignored. A scientist is quoted as follows:

“Hundreds of bound journals, technical reports and texts still on the shelves, presumably meant for the garbage or shredding. I saw one famous monograph on zooplankton, which would probably fetch a pretty penny at a used science bookstore… anybody could go in and help themselves, with no record kept of who got what.”

Gloria Galloway in a Jan. 7, 2014 article for the Globe and Mail adds more details about what has been lost,

Peter Wells, an adjunct professor and senior research fellow at the International Ocean Institute at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said it is not surprising few members of the public used the libraries. But “the public benefits by the researchers and the different research labs being able to access the information,” he said.

Scientists say it is true that most modern research is done online.

But much of the material in the DFO libraries was not available digitally, Dr. Wells said, adding that some of it had great historical value. And some was data from decades ago that researchers use to determine how lakes and rivers have changed.

“I see this situation as a national tragedy, done under the pretext of cost savings, which, when examined closely, will prove to be a false motive,” Dr. Wells said. “A modern democratic society should value its information resources, not reduce, or worse, trash them.”

Dr. Ayles [Burton Ayles, a former DFO regional director and the former director of science for the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg] said the Freshwater Institute had reports from the 1880s and some that were available nowhere else. “There was a whole core people who used that library on a regular basis,” he said.

Dr. Ayles pointed to a collection of three-ringed binders, occupying seven metres of shelf space, that contained the data collected during a study in the 1960s and 1970s of the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline. For a similar study in the early years of this century, he said, “scientists could go back to that information and say, ‘What was the baseline 30 years ago? What was there then and what is there now?’ ”

When asked how much of the discarded information has been digitized, the government did not provide an answer, but said the process continues.

Today, Margo McDiarmid’s Jan. 30, 2014 article for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) news online further explores digitization of the holdings,

Fisheries and Oceans is closing seven of its 11 libraries by 2015. It’s hoping to save more than $443,000 in 2014-15 by consolidating its collections into four remaining libraries.

Shea [Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea] told CBC News in a statement Jan. 6 that all copyrighted material has been digitized and the rest of the collection will be soon. The government says that putting material online is a more efficient way of handling it.

But documents from her office show there’s no way of really knowing that is happening.

“The Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ systems do not enable us to determine the number of items digitized by location and collection,” says the response by the minister’s office to MacAulay’s inquiry. [emphasis mine]

The documents also that show the department had to figure out what to do with 242,207 books and research documents from the libraries being closed. It kept 158,140 items and offered the remaining 84,067 to libraries outside the federal government.

Shea’s office told CBC that the books were also “offered to the general public and recycled in a ‘green fashion’ if there were no takers.”

The fate of thousands of books appears to be “unknown,” although the documents’ numbers show 160 items from the Maurice Lamontagne Library in Mont Jolie, Que., were “discarded.”  A Radio-Canada story in June about the library showed piles of volumes in dumpsters.

And the numbers prove a lot more material was tossed out. The bill to discard material from four of the seven libraries totals $22,816.76

Leaving aside the issue of whether or not rare books were given away or put in dumpsters, It’s not confidence-building when the government minister can’t offer information about which books have been digitized and where they might located online.

Interestingly,  Fisheries and Oceans is not the only department/ministry shutting down libraries (from McDiarmid’s CBC article),

Fisheries and Oceans is just one of the 14 federal departments, including Health Canada and Environment Canada, that have been shutting physical libraries and digitizing or consolidating the material into closed central book vaults.

I was unaware of the problems with Health Canada’s libraries but Laura Payton’s and Max Paris’ Jan. 20, 2014 article for CBC news online certainly raised my eyebrows,

Health Canada scientists are so concerned about losing access to their research library that they’re finding workarounds, with one squirrelling away journals and books in his basement for colleagues to consult, says a report obtained by CBC News.

The draft report from a consultant hired by the department warned it not to close its library, but the report was rejected as flawed and the advice went unheeded.

Before the main library closed, the inter-library loan functions were outsourced to a private company called Infotrieve, the consultant wrote in a report ordered by the department. The library’s physical collection was moved to the National Science Library on the Ottawa campus of the National Research Council last year.

“Staff requests have dropped 90 per cent over in-house service levels prior to the outsource. This statistic has been heralded as a cost savings by senior HC [Health Canada] management,” the report said.

“However, HC scientists have repeatedly said during the interview process that the decrease is because the information has become inaccessible — either it cannot arrive in due time, or it is unaffordable due to the fee structure in place.”

….

The report noted the workarounds scientists used to overcome their access problems.

Mueller [Dr. Rudi Mueller, who left the department in 2012] used his contacts in industry for scientific literature. He also went to university libraries where he had a faculty connection.

The report said Health Canada scientists sometimes use the library cards of university students in co-operative programs at the department.

Unsanctioned libraries have been created by science staff.

“One group moved its 250 feet of published materials to an employee’s basement. When you need a book, you email ‘Fred,’ and ‘Fred’ brings the book in with him the next day,” the consultant wrote in his report.

“I think it’s part of being a scientist. You find a way around the problems,” Mueller told CBC News.

Unsanctioned, underground libraries aside, the assumption that digitizing documents and books ensures access is false.  Glyn Moody in a Nov. 12, 2013 article for Techdirt gives a chastening example of how vulnerable our digital memories are,

The Internet Archive is the world’s online memory, holding the only copies of many historic (and not-so-historic) Web pages that have long disappeared from the Web itself.

Bad news:

This morning at about 3:30 a.m. a fire started at the Internet Archive’s San Francisco scanning center.

Good news:

no one was hurt and no data was lost. Our main building was not affected except for damage to one electrical run. This power issue caused us to lose power to some servers for a while.

Bad news:

Some physical materials were in the scanning center because they were being digitized, but most were in a separate locked room or in our physical archive and were not lost. Of those materials we did unfortunately lose, about half had already been digitized. We are working with our library partners now to assess.

That loss is unfortunate, but imagine if the fire had been in the main server room holding the Internet Archive’s 2 petabytes of data. Wisely, the project has placed copies at other locations …

That’s good to know, but it seems rather foolish for the world to depend on the Internet Archive always being able to keep all its copies up to date, especially as the quantity of data that it stores continues to rise. This digital library is so important in historical and cultural terms: surely it’s time to start mirroring the Internet Archive around the world in many locations, with direct and sustained support from multiple governments.

In addition to the issue of vulnerability, there’s also the issue of authenticity, from my June 5, 2013 posting about science, archives and memories,

… Luciana Duranti [Professor and Chair, MAS {Master of Archival Studies}Program at the University of British Columbia and Director, InterPARES] and her talk titled, Trust and Authenticity in the Digital Environment: An Increasingly Cloudy Issue, which took place in Vancouver (Canada) last year (mentioned in my May 18, 2012 posting).

Duranti raised many, many issues that most of us don’t consider when we blithely store information in the ‘cloud’ or create blogs that turn out to be repositories of a sort (and then don’t know what to do with them; ça c’est moi). She also previewed a Sept. 26 – 28, 2013 conference to be hosted in Vancouver by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), “Memory of the World in the Digital Age: Digitization and Preservation.” (UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme hosts a number of these themed conferences and workshops.)

The Sept. 2013 UNESCO ‘memory of the world’ conference in Vancouver seems rather timely in retrospect. The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) announced that Dr. Doug Owram would be chairing their Memory Institutions and the Digital Revolution assessment (mentioned in my Feb. 22, 2013 posting; scroll down 80% of the way) and, after checking recently, I noticed that the Expert Panel has been assembled and it includes Duranti. Here’s the assessment description from the CCA’s ‘memory institutions’ webpage,

Library and Archives Canada has asked the Council of Canadian Academies to assess how memory institutions, which include archives, libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions, can embrace the opportunities and challenges of the changing ways in which Canadians are communicating and working in the digital age.

Background

Over the past three decades, Canadians have seen a dramatic transformation in both personal and professional forms of communication due to new technologies. Where the early personal computer and word-processing systems were largely used and understood as extensions of the typewriter, advances in technology since the 1980s have enabled people to adopt different approaches to communicating and documenting their lives, culture, and work. Increased computing power, inexpensive electronic storage, and the widespread adoption of broadband computer networks have thrust methods of communication far ahead of our ability to grasp the implications of these advances.

These trends present both significant challenges and opportunities for traditional memory institutions as they work towards ensuring that valuable information is safeguarded and maintained for the long term and for the benefit of future generations. It requires that they keep track of new types of records that may be of future cultural significance, and of any changes in how decisions are being documented. As part of this assessment, the Council’s expert panel will examine the evidence as it relates to emerging trends, international best practices in archiving, and strengths and weaknesses in how Canada’s memory institutions are responding to these opportunities and challenges. Once complete, this assessment will provide an in-depth and balanced report that will support Library and Archives Canada and other memory institutions as they consider how best to manage and preserve the mass quantity of communications records generated as a result of new and emerging technologies.

The Council’s assessment is running concurrently with the Royal Society of Canada’s expert panel assessment on Libraries and Archives in 21st century Canada. Though similar in subject matter, these assessments have a different focus and follow a different process. The Council’s assessment is concerned foremost with opportunities and challenges for memory institutions as they adapt to a rapidly changing digital environment. In navigating these issues, the Council will draw on a highly qualified and multidisciplinary expert panel to undertake a rigorous assessment of the evidence and of significant international trends in policy and technology now underway. The final report will provide Canadians, policy-makers, and decision-makers with the evidence and information needed to consider policy directions. In contrast, the RSC panel focuses on the status and future of libraries and archives, and will draw upon a public engagement process.

So, the government is shutting down libraries in order to save money and they’re praying (?) that the materials have been digitized and adequate care has been taken to ensure that they will not be lost in some disaster or other. Meanwhile the Council of Canadian Academies is conducting an assessment of memory institutions in the digital age. The approach seems to backwards.

On a more amusing note, Rick Mercer parodies at lease one way scientists are finding to circumvent the cost-cutting exercise in an excerpt (approximately 1 min.)  from his Jan. 29, 2014 Rick Mercer Report telecast (thanks Roz),

Mercer’s comment about sports and Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper’s preferences is a reference to Harper’s expressed desire to write a book about hockey and possibly a veiled reference to Harper’s successful move to prorogue parliament during the 2010 Winter Olympic games in Vancouver in what many observers suggested was a strategy allowing Harper to attend the games at his leisure.

Whether or not you agree with the decision to shutdown some libraries, the implementation seems to have been a remarkably sloppy affair.

The European Union’s Technology Platform on Nanomedicine (ETPN) and Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Sometimes the European Union (EU) projects make my head spin and this is one of those times. From a June 6, 2013 news item on Nanowerk (Note: Links have been removed),

The European Technology Platform on Nanomedicine (ETPN) and the NANOMED2020 project published the White Paper on Contribution of Nanomedicine to Horizon 2020 (pdf), the next European Framework Programme for Research and Innovation till 2020. This strategic document provides a set of key recommendations for the European Commission and the EU Member States to create a favourable ecosystem for the successful deployment of Nanomedicine in Europe. It lays thereby the groundwork to manage the efficient translation of nanotechnology from a Key Enabling Technology (KET) into new and innovative medical products.

I found more information on the ETPN webpage,

Based on an in-depth analysis of the main bottlenecks in the translation of nanomedicine to the market, i.e. the inefficient selection process of translatable projects and the lack of technical infrastructures, such as pharmacology and toxicology facilities, the White Paper strives for the creation of an strong SME [small to medium enterprises] based supply chain for innovative therapeutics and diagnostics as a profitable industrial sector. This will support innovation and keep production and high tech jobs in Europe for the benefit of both European economy and European patients. The pivotal proposition of the White Paper is the establishment of a Nanomedicine Translation Hub designed as an umbrella for a set of complementary actions and initiatives such as:

  • a dedicated Nanomedicine Translation Advisory Board (TAB) with experienced industrial experts to select, guide and push forward the best translatable concepts,
  • a European Nano-Characterisation Laboratory (EU-NCL) for physical, chemical and biological characterisation of nanomaterials intended for medical use,
  • GMP manufacturing pilot lines for clinical batches to assist both academia and SMEs to develop nanomedical materials for validation in clinical trials, before transfer to dedicated manufacturing organisations,
  • a dedicated NanoMed SME instrument aiming at funding discovery projects and innovative SMEs in order to keep excellence in nanomedicine research and development.

I have looked at the White Paper, which is a slim 32 pp. and was particularly struck by this passage,

Based on this experience, the ETPN will cooperate with health care industry organisations to bring together EU, national and private resources to create an SME based supply chain for innovative ground breaking therapeutics and diagnostics. It will focus on nanotechnology based medicine and regenerative medicine, moving European SMEs to a position where their knowledge of development competes with the best in the US and Far East. This strengthening of the nanomedicine supply chain will support nanomedicine innovation and keep high tech jobs in Europe for the benefit both of the European economy and patients. (p. 6)

The ETPN folks are prepared to be generous in light of changing medical and health care research conditions,

Much has changed in the last decade in healthcare companies, with the result that pharmaceutical companies for example are moving to a global Open Innovation model, with a reduction in their own research capacities, especially in Europe. They have found their revenues under pressure and their pipeline of new products unable to provide the income to support the headcount without a loss of jobs. Most large pharmaceutical companies have now radically changed and embraced in-licencing and Open Innovation (OI) to try to reduce risks, to lower costs and to raise innovation standards. One consequence of this move is the cut in R&D staff in Europe’s research centres, and an investment in business development with the aim of technology scouting and in-licencing from academia or SMEs. This global strategy aims to recognise novel putative products or concepts, from SMEs and academics, wherever they originate in the world . Large companies are now focusing their business on late clinical validation, regulatory approval and worldwide distribution. The advantage for large pharmaceutical companies as well as for diagnostic and imaging companies is that it does not require early investment of resources, just the use of the knowledge of what makes a good potential marketable product. However, this OI concept will only succeed in Europe, if projects from the emerging healthcare supply chain of SMEs (and even academics) are developable.

If I read this rightly, they want to keep jobs in Europe and they’re perfectly happy to receive from other parts of the world. It seems to me that this could develop into a one-directional relationship and it provides an interesting contrast to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s current campaign for a Canada-EU trade pact. From the Financial Post’s June 13, 2013 article by Stephen Rennie about Harper’s appeal to the British Parliament,

The prime minister’s pitch included talk of Canada’s economic strength relative to much of the rest of the world. Harper argued, as he often has in the past, against protectionism and touted trade as the main driver of prosperity.

“Another value whose certainty has been repeatedly proven, though sadly sometimes more in the breach than the application, is that everyone gains in an open economy,” Harper said.

“Our businesses grow when new markets are opened.”

To sum this up, I find the ETPN project intriguing and applaud the transparency although I find the messages a little confusing. As for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, I hope he has someone on his staff paying attention to these things.

Gary Goodyear rouses passions: more on Canada’s National Research Council and its new commitment to business

Gary Goodyear’s, Minister of State (Science and Technology), office in attempting to set the record straight has, inadvertently, roused even more passion in Phil Plait’s (Slate.com blogger) bosom and inspired me to examine more commentary about the situation regarding the NRC and its ‘new’ commitment to business.

Phil Plait in a May 22, 2013 followup to one 0f his recent postings (I have the details about Plait’s and other commentaries in my May 13, 2013 posting about the NRC’s recent declarations) responds to an email from Michele-Jamali Paquette, the director of communication for Goodyear (Note: A link has been removed),

I read the transcripts, and assuming they are accurate, let me be very clear: Yes, the literal word-for-word quotation I used was incorrect, and one point I made was technically and superficially in error. But the overall point—that this is a terrible move by the NRC and the conservative Canadian government, short-changing real science—still stands. And, in my opinion, Goodyear’s office is simply trying to spin what has become a PR problem.

I’ll note that in her email to me, Paquette quoted my own statement:

John MacDougal [sic], President of the NRC, literally said, “Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value”

Paquette took exception to my use of the word “literally,” emphasizing it in her email. (The link, in both her email and my original post, goes to the Toronto Sun story with the garbled quotation.) Apparently MacDougal did not literally say that. But the objection strikes me as political spin since the meaning of what MacDougal said at the press conference is just as I said it was in my original post.

As I pointed out in my first post: Science can and should be done for its own sake. It pays off in the end, but that’s not why we do it. To wit …

Paquette’s choice of what issues (the 2nd issue was Plait’s original description of the NRC as a funding agency) to dispute seem odd and picayune as they don’t have an impact on Plait’s main argument,

Unfortunately, despite these errors, the overall meaning remains the same: The NRC is moving away from basic science to support business better, and the statements by both Goodyear and MacDougal [sic] are cause for concern.

Plait goes on to restate his argument and provide a roundup of commentaries. It’s well worth reading for the roundup alone.  (One picayune comment from me, I wish Plait would notice that the head of Canada’s National Research Council’s name is spelled this way, John McDougall.)

Happily, Nassif Ghoussoub has also chimed in with a May 22, 2013 posting (on his Piece of Mind blog) regarding the online discussion (Note: Links have been removed),

The Canadian twitter world has been split in the last couple of days. … But then, you have the story of the Tories’ problem with science, be it defunding, muzzling, disbelieving, doubting, preventing, delegitimizing etc. The latter must have restarted with the incredible announcement about the National Research Council (NRC), presented as “Canada sells out science” in Slate, and as “Failure doesn’t come cheap” in Maclean’s. What went unnoticed was the fact that the restructuring turned out to be totally orthogonal to the recommendations of the Jenkins report about the NRC. Then came the latest Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC) report, which showed that Canada’s expenditure on research and development has fallen from 16th out of 41 comparable countries in the year Stephen Harper became prime minister, to 23rd in 2011. Paul Wells seems to be racking up hits on his Maclean’s article,  “Stephen Harper and the knowledge economy: perfect strangers.”  But the story of the last 48 hours has been John Dupuis’s chronology of what he calls, “The Canadian war on science” and much more.

Yes, it’s another roundup but it’s complementary (albeit with one or two repetitions) since Plait does not seem all that familiar with the Canadian scene (I find it’s always valuable to have an outside perspective) and Nassif is a longtime insider.

John Dupuis’ May 20, 2013 posting (on his Confessions of a Science Librarian blog), mentioned by both Nassif and Plait, provides an extraordinary listing of stories ranging from 2006 through to 2013 whose headlines alone paint a very bleak picture of the practice of science in Canada,

As is occasionally my habit, I have pulled together a chronology of sorts. It is a chronology of all the various cuts, insults, muzzlings and cancellations that I’ve been able to dig up. Each of them represents a single shot in the Canadian Conservative war on science. It should be noted that not every item in this chronology, if taken in isolation, is necessarily the end of the world. It’s the accumulated evidence that is so damning.

As I’ve noted before, I am no friend of Stephen Harper and his Conservative government and many of their actions have been reprehensible and, at times, seem childishly spiteful but they do occasionally get something right. There was a serious infrastructure problem in Canada. Buildings dedicated to the pursuit of science were sadly aged and no longer appropriate for the use to which they were being put. Harper and his government have poured money into rebuilding infrastructure and for that they should be acknowledged.

As for what the Conservatives are attempting with this shift in direction for the National Research Council (NRC), which has been ongoing for at least two years as I noted in my May 13, 2013 posting, I believe they are attempting to rebalance the Canadian research enterprise.  It’s generally agreed that Canada historically has very poor levels of industrial research and development (R&D) and high levels of industrial R&D are considered, internationally, as key to a successful economy. (Richard Jones, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Sheffield, UK, discusses how a falling percentage of industrial R&D, taking place over decades,  is affecting the UK economy in a May 10, 2013 commentary on the University of  Sheffield SPERI [Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute] website.)

This NRC redirection when taken in conjunction with the recent StartUp visa programme (my May 20, 2013 posting discusses Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney’s recent recruitment tour in San Francisco [Silicon Valley]),  is designed to take Canada and Canadians into uncharted territory—the much desired place where we develop a viable industrial R&D sector and an innovative economy in action.

In having reviewed at least some of the commentary, there are a couple of questions left unasked about this international obsession with industrial R&D,

  • is a country’s economic health truly tied to industrial R&D or is this ‘received’ wisdom?
  • if industrial R&D is the key to economic health, what would be the best balance between it and the practice of basic science?

As for the Canadian situation, what might be some of the unintended consequences? It occurs to me that if scientists are rewarded for turning their research into commercially viable products they might be inclined to constrain access to materials. Understandable if the enterprise is purely private but the NRC redirection is aimed at bringing together academics and private enterprise in a scheme that seems a weird amalgam of both.

For example, cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) are not easily accessed if you’re a run-of-the-mill entrepreneur. I’ve had more than one back-channel request about how to purchase the material and it would seem that access is tightly controlled by the academics and publicly funded enterprise, in this case, a private business, who produce the material. (I’m speaking of the FPInnovations and Domtar comingling in CelluForce, a CNC production facility and much more. It would make a fascinating case study on how public monies are used to help finance private enterprises and their R&D efforts; the relationship between nongovernmental agencies (FPInnovations, which I believe was an NRC spinoff), various federal public funding agencies, and Domtar, a private enterprise; and the power dynamics between all the players including the lowly entrepreneur.

Canadian federal government coughs up funds ($1.8M) for ecoEnergy project at the University of Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology

Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of  Canada, recently announced a series of 32 grants for Natural Resources Canada’s ecoENERGY Innovation Initiative. From the May 3, 2013 announcement,

To this end, on May 3, 2013, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced support of more than $82 million through Natural Resources Canada’s ecoENERGY Innovation Initiative (ecoEII) for 55 innovative projects across Canada. Of these, 15 will be pre-commercialization demonstration projects to test the feasibility of various technologies, and 40 will be research and development projects to address knowledge gaps and bring technologies from the conceptual stage to the ready-to-be-tested stage of development.

For all projects, funding provided by NRCan will be allocated from the date of signature of contribution agreements until March 31, 2016, the project end date.

Since 2006, the Government of Canada has taken action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build a more sustainable environment through more than $10 billion in investments in green infrastructure, energy efficiency, clean energy technologies and the production of cleaner energy and cleaner fuels.

….

High Energy Density Energy Storage for Automotive Applications
Lead Proponent: University of Waterloo
Location: Waterloo, Ontario
Funding: $1,870,000

Today’s electric vehicles are limited by driving range and cost, both of which greatly depend on the electric vehicle’s battery pack. The objective of this project is to develop advanced energy materials based on nanotechnology concepts for high energy density storage.

There’s more about the announcement in a May 14, 2013 news item in the LabCanada.com Daily news,

Led by Professor Linda Nazar of the Faculty of Science and the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Waterloo, the study will examine completely new approaches to materials and chemical components of batteries that could result in more powerful, and longer-lasting batteries for hybrid electric or electric cars.

“The funding from Natural Resources Canada allows us to expand our electrochemical energy storage laboratory here at Waterloo to explore beyond lithium-ion batteries using nanotechnology and completely different approaches to battery chemistry,” said Professor Nazar, a Canada Research Chair in Solid State Energy Materials. “This research is high-risk, but it has the potential to create batteries with much greater storage capacity and at lower costs.”

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) is providing $1.8 million over four years to Professor Nazar for her work titled High Energy Density Storage for Automotive Applications.  Partnerships on the project include Hydro-Québec, the Korea Institute of Energy Technology Evaluation and Planning, and BASF (SE).

For anyone who’s interested in Natural Resources Canada’s ecoENERGY Innovation Initiative (ecoEII), here’s the website.

Canadian government withdraws from UN treaty, recycles old news, and undergoes a ‘muzzled’ science probe

Every once in a while, there’s a slew of announcements that seem to reveal a pattern of sorts with regard to political doings. In this case, I’m looking at three announcements about recent moves by the  Canadian Conservative government and which seem, to me, curiously interlinked.

First there was the announcement (CBC Mar. 27, 2013 news item) that Canada is withdrawing from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, in those Countries Experiencing Severe Drought and/or Desertification (to become the only country in the world not party to it) and its annual commitment of $350,000. The CBC Mar. 28, 2013 news item provided more detail,

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said less than one-fifth of the $350,000 Canada contributes to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification goes to programming.

“This particular organization spends less than 20 per cent — 18 per cent — of the funds that we send it are actually spent on programming, the rest goes to various bureaucratic measures.That’s not an effective way to spend taxpayers’ money,” Harper told MPs during question period Thursday.

The Canadian Press reported Wednesday [Mar. 27, 2013?] the UN secretariat that administers the program was unaware of Canada’s decision until contacted by its reporter.

A spokesperson for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) [emphasis mine] told CBC News the head of the secretariat was informed of the decision on Monday [Mar. 25, 2013?], and written confirmation was delivered to the UN Secretary General’s office in New York the same day.

But a UN official in Bonn told CBC News that Canada notified the UN about its withdrawal “informally last week by telephone” and “this is not considered proper notification… or protocol.”

The proper protocol is to formally write to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York and formally provide a notice that Canada is withdrawing from the treaty.

Paul Heinbecker, a former Canadian ambassador to the UN and chief foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, wrote an Apr. 1, 2013 essay for the Globe and Mail about some recent history between Canada and the UN, this latest withdrawal, and its implications (Note: A link has been removed),

Following the Harper government’s failure in 2010 to win a Canadian seat on the UN Security Council, its disregard of the UN gave way to disdain. Ottawa’s rare appearances at the UN have tended to stress what it regards as Canada’s uniquely “principled” foreign policy, bringing to mind U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s characterization of Canadian foreign policy in the fifties as “the stern voice of the daughter of God,” and cementing Canada’s long-standing reputation as global mother-in-law.

Because of the links between drought, land degradation, desertification and climate change, withdrawal from the Desertification Convention comes with potentially significant costs. …

Heinbecker develops this line of thought by noting that the withdrawal makes it seem that Canada does not care about climate change (let’s not forget the withdrawal from Kyoto protocol, the UN Convention on Climate Change, a UN initiative from which the Canadian Conservative government withdrew in 2011) and noting this,

Given that the government of Alberta as well as ministers and departments in Ottawa have been going to considerable effort and expense to argue in the U.S. that Canada does care, it is self-harming to hand America’s Keystone opponents a stick to beat the pipeline with.

Also, because the locus of most of the devastation arising from desertification is in Africa, walking away from a treaty whose creation was led by the Mulroney and Chrétien governments reinforces the impression that Ottawa no longer cares about Africa. It is an impression that this government also went to some trouble and expense to try to reverse. Further, because the worst destruction from desertification is happening in the Sahara region, abandoning the treaty sends a mixed signal about the security issues at stake in Mali and the Sahel, and about Canadian mining interests there as well.

Thankfully, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the conservative government are ensuring that our annual $350,000 contribution, after 2014, will no be longer wasted on what they termed a ‘talkfest’. To combat this negative impression being made on the rest of the world, there’s been an announcement (Azonano Apr. 6, 2013 news item) recycling some old government news about monies for the second phase of the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF),

 “The Harper Government is committed to increasing food security to those most in need as part of Canada’s effective international assistance through investing in scientific research and innovation,” said Parliamentary Secretary Brown [Lois Brown]. “Canadian universities, businesses, and NGOs [nongovernmental organizations]  have expertise that they can share with the world. Together, we can use innovation to put an end to global hunger.”

The Canadian International Food Security Research Fund is a joint initiative between the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). [emphases mine] It supports innovative research partnerships between Canadian and developing-country researchers to respond to immediate food needs while increasing access to quality, nutritious food over the long term. Phase 2 will focus on connecting promising research results to public and private sector organizations that can get them to end users on a larger scale.

“IDRC and CIDA have a long history of supporting Canada’s leadership in agricultural research and innovation for development,” said Jean Lebel, Acting President of IDRC. “CIFSRF demonstrates our mutual commitment to achieving sustainable results that put Canada’s considerable experience in agricultural and nutrition science to work globally to ensure farmers have access to new technologies and specialized expertise to keep pace with the growing demand for food.  Through CIFSRF, we are also expanding Canada’s scientific base and contributing to the country’s science and technology strategy.”

The Canadian International Food Security Research Fund, first launched in 2009, currently supports 19 projects, bringing together some of the best researchers from 11 Canadian and 26 developing-country organizations, as well as partners from scientific, private sector and civil society organizations, to develop innovative solutions to improve global food security.

The part where it got really interesting for me was the April 4, 2013 article by Rick Westhead for  star.com about the funds some of which are bound for the University of Guelph as per its Apr. 5, 2013 news release about the matter. Not to be too confusing but the following excerpt is from the April 4, 2013 Westhead article,

Manish Raizada, a University of Guelph agriculture professor, is changing lives in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka by showing farmers how to boost crop yields with weeding and planting techniques and by adding new crops.

Other Canadian researchers are bolstering Ethiopia’s agriculture sector, introducing farmers to rhizobia, a bacteria that naturally adds nitrogen to the soil and helped Saskatchewan, nearly a century ago, become a leading soybean exporter.

Then there are Canadian-led efforts in India that use nanotechnology to improve the lifespan of mangoes, efforts that should help improve livelihoods in a country where half of children under five are malnourished. [In fact, this an India, Sri Lanka, and Canada effort which I mentioned in a June 21, 2012 posting and again in a Nov. 1, 2012 posting.]

For instance, McGurk [Dr. Stephen McGurk, IDRC director of agriculture programmes] said one government-funded project is helping lengthen the shelf life of mangoes by as much as two weeks by introducing a nanoparticle-based coating that prevents them from ripening as fast.

“That way they’re attractive when they get to market, not looking like pulp,” McGurk said. “That science, once it has been tried in India can be equally applied to fruits here like plums or raspberries.”

Interestingly, McGurk gives this quote to Westhead,

“In no way would Canadian scientists in the agriculture sector say they are muzzled,” said Stephen McGurk, director of IDRC’s agriculture programs. [emphasis mine] “We’re engaged outside our borders and doing research now that’s valuable to Canadians but has to prove its salt somewhere else first.”

What makes McGurk an interesting spokesperson regarding ‘muzzles and Canadian scientists’ is that he  is an economist and a sinologist who prior to his latest appointment as IDRC director of agriculture programmes seems to have lived in Asia for the last 12 years and given this career description is likely from the US originally (from the Oct. 9, 2012 IDRC announcement of McGurk’s appointment),

Stephen McGurk is a Sinologist and economist who has spent more than two decades studying Asia’s rural development.Since 2006, he has been Director of IDRC’s Regional Office for South Asia and China in New Delhi (now the Asia Regional Office). From 2000 to 2006, he led IDRC’s office in Singapore.

Before joining IDRC, McGurk worked with the Ford Foundation in Beijing, where he was responsible for its economic security program in China. He has also taught at the University of California and worked with the World Bank on investments in China’s rural development. McGurk has a PhD from Stanford University’s [California] Food Research Institute.

I am curious as to how Dr. McGurk comes by his information about Canadian government agricultural scientists and their views on muzzles or lack thereof.

In looking at all of these bits of information, the desertification treaty withdrawal seems odd, almost as if it were designed to divert attention from something else the Conservative government is doing. Or, perhaps it’s an example of meanspirited shortsightedness something this government has been accused of before.

The recycled news item seems like it might not be as helpful as one would hope, although governments of all stripes are known to announce monies for projects that have been previously announced making it seem that a great deal more money is being dispersed than is the case. These announcements are always excellent for distraction but one would think the government would be eager to emphasize funding for projects in African countries rather than Asian countries given the conservatives’ current public relations problems in that region, as noted by Heinbecker.

As for McGurk’s quote about muzzles and agricultural scientists, while it does seem a bit ‘facey’ of him, he, at least, is not afraid to say something (although it’s not clear why he was asked about the muzzle since the news release was strictly about funding). For more about the ‘muzzles’,  there’s this excerpt from the Apr. 2, 2013 Canadian Press news item found at macleans.ca on campus,

Federal policies that restrict what government scientists can say publicly about their work are about to be put under the microscope.

Federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault has agreed to investigate how government communications rules on taxpayer-funded science impact public access to information.

Legault is responding to a detailed complaint lodged by the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria and the ethics advocacy group Democracy Watch.

Their lengthy report — “Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy?” — laid out repeated examples of taxpayer-funded science being suppressed or limited to pre-packaged media lines across six different government departments and agencies.

Chris Tollefson, the executive director of UVic’s law centre, said their research into suppressed science revealed both the wide scope of the practice and that it “represents a significant departure” in government practice over the last five to seven years.

…Gary Goodyear, the minister of state for science and technology, was not available Monday to defend Conservative practices. His office provided an email stating government scientists “are readily available to share their research with the media and the public.”

“Last year, Environment Canada participated in more than 1,300 media interviews, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada issued nearly 1,000 scientific publications, and Natural Resources Canada published nearly 500 studies,” said the statement.

It came the same day that the Globe and Mail reported that the National Research Council declined to make available its lead engineer for a front page story on research into truck safety. [emphases mine]

“Great spin — but missing the point,” Democracy Watch’s Duff Conacher said of the government response.

“It’s not the number of documents, it’s what percentage of documents are being released.”

Truck safety? That seems an odd topic for which to suppress or restrict any discussion with the lead engineer. But then, why withdraw from a treaty to save $350,000? As for the recycled announcement about funding for food and agriculture projects in Asia when you have substantive perception issues regarding  Africa and having someone who hasn’t lived in the country for 12 years defending your policies, the whole thing seems rather inept.

Canada’s York University and India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation

York University (Ontario, Canada) has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation according to a Nov. 10, 2012 article in The Hindu Business Line,

The agreement will facilitate the two partners to pursue collaborative defence research in the areas of advanced materials, nanotechnology, life sciences, bio-informatics, chemical and biological defence, sensors, and others. Both sides have planned a number of joint projects in the time to come.

The Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister and Chief of the Defence Organisation, V.K. Saraswat, and Robert Haché, Vice-President Research & Innovation, York University, signed the pact during the visit of the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in New Delhi.

Elsewhere in the article, York University is described as a research centre for Canada’s Dept. of National Defence specializing in chemical and biological defence, counter-terrorism, and something called ‘soldier as a system’ (I believe it has something to do with wearable computing).  Interestingly, I haven’t found any information about this MOU on the York University website or a federal government website. As well, I wasn’t able to find any information about York University’s DRDC research centre status and/or its defence research specialties. All of the information I’ve found has been on Indian news websites.

Ottawa science protest (Death of Evidence rally) inspired by UK Science for the Future funeral

9 am PST (12 noon EST) today (July 10, 2012), scientists in Ottawa are staging a mock funeral for a ‘Death of Evidence’ protest. (ETA July 10, 2012 10:4e am PST, here’s a link to the CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] liveblog of the rally.) Natalie Stechyson wrote a July 8, 2012 article for the Ottawa Citizen describing the proposed event,

A funeral procession — complete with a coffin, black-clad mourners and a scythe-wielding grim reaper — will make its way to Parliament Hill Tuesday as hundreds of scientists from across Canada rally in protest of federal science cuts.

Members of Canada’s scientific community are staging the rally to mourn the “death of evidence” in what the rally’s organizers say is the federal government’s war on science.

The cuts, according to the organizers’ media release, are being imposed on critical research programs in Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the National Research Council of Canada, Statistics Canada, through the closure of Experimental Lakes Area, the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory and the First Nations Statistical Institute, and through the elimination of the National Science Adviser and National Round Table on Environment and Economy.

It would be easy to say that scientists are upset because the cuts are resulting job losses, but the issues are much more fundamental than that, Findlay [co-organizer Scott Findlay, associate professor of biology and former director the University of Ottawa's Institute of the Environment]  said.

US environment correspondent, Suzanne Goldenberg wrote a July 9, 2012 blog posting in the UK’s Guardian newspaper noting (Note: I have removed some links),

Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, faces a widening revolt by the country’s leading scientists against sweeping cuts to government research labs and broadly pro-industry policies.

The scientists plan to march through Ottawa in white lab coats on Tuesday in the second big protest in a month against the Harper government’s science and environmental agenda.

Harper is accused of pushing through a slew of policies weakening or abolishing environmental protections – with an aim of expanding development of natural resources such as the Alberta tar sands.

His government is also accused of jeopardising Canada’s scientific reputation by shutting down the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), a research station that produced critical evidence to help stop acid rain.

The prime minister’s office refused to comment on the protests or the budget cuts. The environment minister, Peter Kent, also declined to respond.

… the cuts that seem to have galvanised the protests on Tuesday was the government’s decision to shut down the Experimental Lakes Area in March 2013.

Since the decision first trickled out – as a government leak – the Harper government has faced widening criticism in Canadian media.

Scientists say the closure, due in March 2013, would rob researchers of a rare chance to conduct science on a real-life scale – not just in a laboratory flask, said Smol [Prof John Smol, a freshwater lake biologist at Queen's University in Kingston].

Over the years, it has provided critical evidence on the causes of acid rain, and the effects on fish and their habitats of dumping fertilisers, detergents, or mercury.

“Any water quality problem we have on the planet, the research started out there,” Smol said. “I think we need that information to get solid policy to deal with our environmental problems.”

(I have mentioned the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) previously in a June 12, 2012 posting and in a May 3, 2012 posting.)

If you are moved to join this protest but can’t attend the Ottawa event, you can participate virtually at the Death of Evidence website by joining in a Virtual Candlelight Vigil,

Use your cell phone or a digital camera to take photo of you holding a candle. If possible, incorporate a science-related tool or symbol in your photo (calculator, test tube, graduated cylinder, periodic table, magnifying glass, compass, goggles, etc).

You can upload that photo to the Candlelight Vigil: Death of Evidence group on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/groups/solidaritydoe/ or email it to [email protected]. We will post those photos on the website at www.deathofevidence.ca and will send a message with all of these photos to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The theatrical elements of the Death of Evidence rally seem to have been inspired by a May 15, 2012 protest held in London, England (from the May 15, 2012 posting by Adam Smith for the UK Guardian newspaper),

More than 100 scientists took part in a mock Victorian funeral procession in Westminster on Tuesday morning to protest against a science funding policy they claim “puts the future of British science in mortal danger”.

The scientists staged a rally outside parliament before delivering a petition in a coffin to Downing Street. Around 25 scientists also met their MPs to ask them to sign an early day motion about their concerns.

Mark your calendar for Oct. 2, 2011 and the WAVE Conference

Shortly after Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s announcement of $2M in funding (noted in my Oct. 11, 2010 posting) for ACAMP, or the Alberta Centre for Advanced Microsystems and Nanotechnology Products as it’s known more formally,  the organization announced a conference for 2011. From the Oct. 12, 2010 news item on Nanowerk,

Products incoporating micro and nano technology, play a powerful role in reducing cost and integrating new functionality for the world market. On Oct 2nd 2011, a three day global gathering of stakeholders bent on taking state of the art products incorporating MNT (Micro & Nano Technology) to market will be converge on Lake Louise.

This business to business event, the WAVE2011 conference and exhibition theme is bringing products to market incorporating MNT. Over 125 exhibitors will demonstrate and present new technologies to an international audience.

“This three day event brings together the stakeholders involved in the value chain from materials supply through end product, including distributors and sales representatives, manufacturers, materials producers, equipment suppliers and investors.” explained Ken Brizel, CEO of ACAMP, “The event will focus on five primary market area’s Cleantech, Health & Medical, Agriculture & Forestry, Conventional Energy, Consumer & Commercial, with a global perspective.”

I realize it’s early days yet but if ACAMP’s upcoming WAVE conference interests you, the website can be found here.