Tag Archives: The State of Science and Technology in Canada 2012

Council of Canadian Academies’ Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness and three wise men

October 1, 2013, the Council of Canadian Academies released something they called a ‘new report’ but was effectively a summary of seven of their previous reports. They called the ‘new’ report, Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness. Here’s more about it from the media advisory),

A new report, entitled Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness, was released today by the Council of Canadian Academies at a breakfast event with the Economic Club of Canada.

Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness draws upon the insights reported in seven expert assessments conducted by the Council since 2006. Each assessment examined various aspects of Canada’s performance in science and technology, and innovation. Paradox Lost examines the complex ways in which research leads to innovation, and the factors that motivate Canadian business strategy. It also identifies four megatrends that will pose challenges for Canadian businesses in the years to come.

“The Council was pleased to initiate this review of its work,” said Elizabeth Dowdeswell, President and CEO of the Council of Canadian Academies. “We hope Paradox Lost will provide valuable insight for policy- and decision-makers across Canada.”
The report was led by a three-member expert advisory group composed of Marcel Côté, Founding Partner of SECOR Inc.; Bob Fessenden, Fellow of the Institute for Public Economics; and Peter Nicholson, former President of the Council of Canadian Academies.

First off, that breakfast cost $89/seat (if memory serves and it does because that’s a high price for breakfast and a review/summary of seven previously published reports). Here are the seven reports/assessments the committee of three (Côté, Fessenden, and Nicholson) was summarizing,

The report about women, science, and academe was not included in Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness (link to webpage hosting assessment and other documents). Are women going to be part of this brave, new innovative world? I realize it would have been a stretch but surely the report’s inclusion in the review would have been worthwhile.

As for the report itself, all 34 pp. of the PDF, I was expecting more given the literary allusion.Before I launch into this further, it should be said that I applaud the ambition in the titling. I appreciate literary references as I view them as an attempt to ground them in the culture which extends beyond policy wonks. While this one didn’t work for me, I hope the Council of Canadian Academies will try again with future assessments.

As for how this attempt failed, who thought it would be a good idea to reference Paradise Lost, John Milton’s epic (written in 10 volumes), 17th century, English poem concerning humanity’s fall from grace as signified by banishment from the Garden of Eden? It’s not only a literary reference, it’s a biblical reference and an old testament one at that. To sum it up, this reference alludes to Judeo-Christian religious traditions, comes from an English literary tradition, and concerns banishment from an idyllic place, due to a woman’s failure of character or inherent sinfulness, depending on your reading of that story. The reference/wordplay in the title seems a bit tone deaf.

Leaving the literary/biblical aspects of the title aside, ‘Paradox Lost’ doesn’t make sense since one might be able to ‘resolve’ a paradox but one generally doesn’t ‘lose’ one. Interestingly the authors seems to concur as they use the verb ‘resolve’,in their Executive Summary (from p. 6 of the report PDF)

The Council of Canadian Academies (the Council) has, since 2006, completed seven expert panel assessments analyzing in great depth Canada’s performance in science and technology (S&T) and innovation. This document synthesizes the main findings of that work, from which two main conclusions emerge:
•Canadian academic research, overall, is strong and well regarded internationally.
•Canadian business innovation, by contrast, is weak by international standards, and this is the primary cause of Canada’s poor productivity growth.

The conclusions are linked by a paradox. Why has Canada’s research excellence not translated into more business innovation? The paradox is resolved once it is recognized that (i) most innovation does not work according to a “linear” model in which academic research yields a pipeline filled with ideas that, following some research and development (R&D), are commercialized by business; and (ii) business strategy in Canada is powerfully influenced by many factors besides those that motivate innovation. [emphasis mine] These factors include Canada’s comparative advantage in a remarkably integrated North American economy, the state of domestic competition, the profitability of existing business models, and the particular Canadian attitude to business risk that has been shaped by the foregoing conditions.

There is a second paradox. How has Canada’s economy sustained relative prosperity despite weak innovation and correspondingly feeble productivity growth? The answer is that Canadian firms have been as innovative as they have needed to be. Until the early 2000s, their competitiveness was supported by an ample labour supply and a favourable exchange rate, which made productivity growth less urgent. Since then, the boom in commodity prices has supported Canadian incomes in the aggregate. But a high-wage country like Canada cannot sustain its prosperity indefinitely without healthy productivity growth and its necessary prerequisite — an aggressively innovative business sector.

There’s nothing new in the report but the authors did highlight a few ideas in their conclusions as per the Executive Summary (from p. 8 of the report PDF),

In summary:
• Policy-makers and commentators need to acknowledge that the business innovation problem in Canada has a pedigree as old as the country itself.
• Canadian business has not become more innovative because it has been able to prosper without needing to do so.
• Now, business will have to embrace innovation-focused business strategies to compete and survive.
• This creates the conditions where public policies to support business innovation can be more effective than in the past because innovation policy objectives and business motivation will finally be aligned.

I’m with the authors on the first two conclusions but as the for the third one (the fourth follows on the third), I’m not convinced that Canadian business feels obliged to make any changes. It’s survived quite handily till now and given the evidence from the OECD Science, Technology and Industry 2013 Scorecard (my Oct.30, 2013 posting offers more detail), Canadian businesses have been diminishing investment in R&D over the last decade and it seems unlikely that there will be any changes in the near future regardless of government programmes. Businesses in Canada have some of the best tax incentives for R&D amongst OECD countries; we’re second to France only in terms of lavish taxpayer support. Other than lip service, is there any indication that Canadian business motivation “… will finally be aligned” with government policy objectives?

One might say (and I will) the the last conclusion was foregone given the committee of ‘three wise men’ (let’s stick with the biblical allusions even it is one from the new testament), include a politician/economist who founded a management consulting firm, an academic/bureaucrat, and a career bureaucrat.

I give you

  • Marcel Côté economist and politician as he’s described in this Wikipedia essay where he’s also described as a founding partner of Secor, a strategic management consulting firm;
  • Bob Fessenden, fellow of the Institute for Public Economies (University of Alberta, former Deputy Minister in four different Government of Alberta departments: Economic Development; Sustainable Resource Development; Innovation and Science; and Advanced Education and Technology, plus somewhere along the way, he was staff member at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Foresty; and
  • Peter Nicholson, inaugural president of the Council of Canadian Academies from February 2006 through December 2009, he was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy in the Office of the Prime Minister of Canada from 2003 to 2006, prior to which he was Special Advisor to the Secretary-general of the OECD. The biography also mentions some experience in the fields of banking and telecommunications.

Is it any wonder that these three might conclude that public policies could now be more effective? After all, it would confirm their life’s work.

AAAS 2013 meeting in Boston,US and Canadian research excellence

The 2013 annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) will be held in Boston, Massachusetts from Feb. 14 – 18, 2013 with a much better theme this year, The Beauty and Benefits of Science, than last year’s, Flattening the World. (It didn’t take much to improve the theme, eh?)

Plenary speakers range from AAAS’s president, William N. Press to Nathan Myhrvold, a venture capitalist to astrophysicist, Robert Kirshner to Cynthia Kenyon, a molecular biologist to Sherry Turkle. From the AAAS webpage describing Turkle’s 2013 plenary lecture,

Sherry Turkle

Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, MIT

The Robotic Moment: What Do We Forget When We Talk to Machines?

Dr. Turkle is founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. She received a joint doctorate in sociology and personality psychology from Harvard University and is a licensed clinical psychologist. Her research focuses on the psychology of human relationships with technology, especially in the realm of how people relate to computational objects. She is an expert on mobile technology, social networking, and sociable robotics and a regular media commentator on the social and psychological effects of technology. Her most recent book is Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

Given my experience last year in the 2012 meeting media room, I’m surprised to see a social media session is planned, from the session webpage,

Engaging with Social Media
Communicating Science
Thursday, February 14, 2013: 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Ballroom A (Hynes Convention Center)

In a constantly changing online landscape, what is the best way for scientists and engineers to engage the public through social media? This session will discuss how people are accessing science information via blogs and social networks and the importance of researchers getting involved directly. [emphasis mine]  Speakers will address the ways that researchers can create meaningful interactions with the public through social media.

Organizer: Cornelia Dean, The New York Times
Co-Organizer: Dennis Meredith, Science Communication Consultant
Moderator: Carl Zimmer, Independent Science Journalist

Speakers:
XXXX Scicurious, Neurotic Physiology
Science Blogging for Fun and Profit
Christie Wilcox, University of Hawaii
Science in a Digital Age
Dominique Brossard, University of Wisconsin
Science and the Public in New Information Environments

I’d love to see how the theme of ‘researcher engaging directly’ gets developed. In theory, I have no problems with the concept. Unfortunately, those words are sometimes code for this perspective, ‘only experts (scientists/accredited journalists) should discuss or write about science’. A couple of quick comments, my Jan. 13, 2012 posting featured an interview with Carl Zimmer, this session’s moderator, about his science tattoo book and Dominique Brossard, one of the speakers, was last mentioned here in my Jan. 24, 2013 posting titled, Tweet your nano, in the context of a research study on social media and nanotechnology.

In keeping with the times (as per my Jan. 28, 2013 posting about the colossal research prizes for the Graphene and Human Brain Project initiatives), the 2012 AAAS annual meeting features a Brain Function and Plasticity thread or subtheme. There’s this session amongst others,

The Connectome: From the Synapse to Brain Networks in Health and Disease
Brain Function and Plasticity
Saturday, February 16, 2013: 8:30 AM-11:30 AM
Room 304 (Hynes Convention Center)

A series of innovative studies are being done to map the brain from the molecular to the systems level both structurally and functionally. At the synaptic level, how neurotransmitters, their receptors, and signaling pathways influence neural function and plasticity is becoming much better understood. Integrating neuronal function at the level of single neurons and groups of neurons into larger circuits at the anatomical level in the mammalian brain, while a daunting task, is being studied by advanced imaging techniques requiring vast amounts of information storage and processing. To integrate local circuit function with whole brain function, understanding the structure and processing of brain networks is critical. A major project to accomplish this task, the Human Connectome Project, is in the process of integrating the structure and function of brain networks using the most advanced imaging and analysis techniques in 1,200 people, including twins and their nontwin siblings. This step will allow for major new insights into not only brain structure and function, but also their genetic underpinnings. Comparing this information in both the normal brain and in different brain disorders such as neurodegenerative diseases is providing novel insights into how understanding brain function from the molecular to the systems level will provide insights into normal brain function and disease pathogenesis as well as provide new treatment strategies.

Organizer:

David Holtzman, Washington University

Speakers:

Mark F. Bear, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Molecules and Mechanisms Involved in Synaptic Plasticity in Health and Disease
Jeff Lichtman, Harvard University
Connectomics: Developing a Wiring Diagram for the Mammalian Brain
Steve Petersen, Washington University
The Human Connectome Project
Marcus E. Raichle, Washington University
The Brain’s Dark Energy and the Default Mode Network
Nicole Calakos, Duke University
Synaptic Plasticity in the Basal Ganglia in Health and Disease
William W. Seeley, University of California
Brain Networks: Linking Structure and Function in Neurodegenerative Diseases

Then, there’s this session featuring graphene,

What’s Hot in Cold
Sunday, February 17, 2013: 8:30 AM-11:30 AM
Room 308 (Hynes Convention Center)

The study of ultracold atoms and molecules is now the frontier of low-temperature science, reaching temperatures of a few hundred picokelvin above absolute zero. This field was made possible by a technique that did not exist 30 years ago: laser cooling of atoms. It is hardly obvious that the laser, which produces the most intense light on Earth and is routinely used in industrial applications for cutting and welding medal, would also provide the most powerful coolant. Such are the surprises of science, where a breakthrough in one area transforms others in unexpected ways. Since 1997, eight Nobel Laureates in physics have been recognized for contributions to ultracold atomic and molecular science, which has become one of the most vibrant fields in physics, cutting across traditional disciplinary boundaries, e.g., atomic, molecular, and optical; condensed matter; statistical physics; and nuclear and particle physics. This field builds on two accomplishments that it was the first to achieve: first, the production of quantum degenerate matter using a wide range of elements and, second, exquisite control of quantum degenerate matter at the atomic level. These have led to record low temperatures, ultraprecise atomic clocks, and new forms of quantum matter that generalize ideas from magnetism superconductivity and graphene physics.

Organizer:

Charles W. Clark, Joint Quantum Institute

Speakers:

Markus Greiner, Harvard University
Quantum Simulation: A Microscopic View of Quantum Matter
Ana Maria Rey, University of Colorado
Atomic Clocks: From Precise Timekeepers to Quantum Simulators
Daniel Greif, ETH Zurich
Exploring Dirac Points with Ultracold Fermions in a Tunable Honeycomb Lattice
Gretchen Campbell, Joint Quantum Institute
Superflow in Bose-Einstein Condensate Rings: Tunable Weak Links in Atom Circuits
Benjamin Lev, Stanford University
New Physics in Strongly Magnetic Ultracold Gases

Amongst all these other sessions, there’s a session about Canadian science,

Introduction to Canadian Research Excellence: Evidence & Examples
Friday, February 15, 2013: 11:00 AM-12:00 PM
Room 205 (Hynes Convention Center)

The Canada Pavilion in the Exhibit Hall gives a taste of what lies north of Boston and the 49th parallel. Join us at this workshop to learn about opportunities in Canada for research and study. Canada recently completed a comprehensive analysis of its domestic science and technology strengths. The final report of the expert panel of the Council of Canadian Academies will be presented, including the use of global benchmarks and insights on international collaborations. Two of the drivers for Canadian excellence will be introduced: large-scale science facilities in key fields and a system of targeted fellowships and research chairs that recruit globally.

Coordinator:

Tim Meyer, TRIUMF

Presenters:

Tim Meyer, TRIUMF,
Chad Gaffield, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
Eliot Phillipson, University of Toronto

“Introduced,” really? Large scale science facilities are not new in Canada or anywhere else for that matter and the programmes of targeted fellowships have been around long enough and successful enough that it is being copied.

First, there was the Canada Research Chair programme, which was instituted in 2000. From the About Us page (Note: A link has been removed),

The Canada Research Chairs program stands at the centre of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world’s top countries in research and development. [emphasis mine]

In 2000, the Government of Canada created a permanent program to establish 2000 research professorships—Canada Research Chairs—in eligible degree-granting institutions across the country.

The Canada Research Chairs program invests $300 million per year to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds.

This was programme was followed up with the Canada Excellence Research Chairs Program in 2008, from the Background page (Note: A link has been removed),

Launched in 2008, the Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) Program supports Canadian universities in their efforts to build on Canada’s growing reputation as a global leader in research and innovation. The program awards world-renowned researchers and their teams up to $10 million over seven years to establish ambitious research programs at Canadian universities. These awards are among the most prestigious and generous available globally.

In May 2010, the first group of Canada Excellence Research Chairs was announced. Selected through a rigorous, multilevel peer review process, these chairholders are helping Canada build a critical mass of expertise in the four priority research areas of the federal government’s science and technology strategy …

Here’s an excerpt from my Feb. 21, 2012 posting,

Canadians have been throwing money at scientists for some years now (my May 20, 2010 posting about the Canada Excellence Research Chairs programme). We’ve attempted to recruit from around the world with our ‘research chairs’ and our ‘excellence research chairs’ and our Network Centres of Excellence (NCE) all serving as enticements.

The European Research Council (ERC) has announced that they will be trying to beat us at our own game at the AAAS 2012 annual meeting in Vancouver (this new ERC programme was launched in Boston, Massachusetts in January 2012).

The Canadian report these folks will be discussing was released in Sept. 2012 and was  featured here in a two-part commentary,

The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report—examined (part 1: the executive summary)

The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report—examined (part 2: the rest of the report)

My Sept. 27, 2012 posting features my response to the report’s launch on that day.

As for the AAAS 2013 annual meeting, there’s a lot, lot more of it and it’s worth checking out, if for no other reason than to anticipate the types of science stories you will be seeing in the coming months.

The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report—examined (part 2: the rest of the report)

The critiques I offered in relation to the report’s  executive summary (written in early Oct. 2012 but not published ’til now) and other materials can remain more or less intact now that I’ve read the rest of the report (State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 [link to full PDF report]). Overall, I think it’s a useful and good report despite what I consider to be some significant shortcomings, not least of which is the uncritical acceptance of the view Canada doesn’t patent enough of its science and its copyright laws are insufficient.

My concern regarding the technometrics (counting patents) is definitely not echoed in the report,

One key weakness of these measures is that not all types of technology development lead to patentable technologies. Some, such as software development, are typically subject to copyright instead. This is particularly relevant for research fields where software development may be a key aspect of developing new technologies such as computer sciences or digital media. Even when patenting is applicable as a means of commercializing and protecting intellectual property (IP), not all inventions are patented. (p. 18 print, p. 42 PDF)

In my view this is a little bit like fussing over the electrical wiring when the foundations of your house are  in such bad repair that the whole structure is in imminent danger of falling. As noted in my critique of the executive summary, the patent system in the US and elsewhere is in deep, deep trouble and, is in fact, hindering innovation. Here’s an interesting comment about patent issues being covered in the media (from a Dec. 27, 2012 posting by Mike Masnick for Techdirt),

There’s been a recent uptick in stories about patent trolling getting mainstream media attention, and the latest example is a recent segment on CBS’s national morning program, CBS This Morning, which explored how patent trolls are hurting the US economy …

… After the segment, done by Jeff Glor, one of the anchors specifically says to him [Austin Meyer of the Laminer company which is fighting a patent troll in court and getting coverage on the morning news]: “So it sounds like this is really stifling innovation and it hurts small businesses!”

Getting back to the report, I’m in more sympathy with the panel’s use of  bibliometrics,

As a mode of research assessment, bibliometric analysis has several important advantages. First, these techniques are built on a well-developed foundation of quantitative data. Publication in peer-reviewed journals is a cornerstone of research dissemination in most scientific and academic disciplines, and bibliometric data are therefore one of the few readily available sources of quantitative information on research activity that allow for comparisons across many fields of research. Second, bibliometric analyses are able to provide information about both research productivity (i.e., the quantity of journal articles produced) and research impact (measured through citations). While there are important methodological issues associated with these metrics (e.g., database coverage by discipline, correct procedures for normalization and aggregation, self-citations, and negative citations, etc.), [emphasis mine] most bibliometric experts agree that, when used appropriately, citation based indicators can be valid measures of the degree to which research has had an impact on later scientific work … (p. 15 print, p. 39, PDF)

Still, I do think that a positive publication bias (i.e., the tendency to publish positive results over negative or inclusive results) in the field medical research should have been mentioned as it is a major area of concern in the use  of bibliometrics and especially since one of the identified areas of  Canadian excellence is  in the field of medical research.

The report’s critique of the opinion surveys has to be the least sophisticated in the entire report,

There are limitations related to the use of opinion surveys generally. The most important of these is simply that their results are, in the end, based entirely on the opinions of those surveyed. (p. 20 print, p. 44 PDF)

Let’s see if I’ve got this right. Counting the number of citations a paper, which was peer-reviewed (i.e., a set of experts were asked for their opinions about the paper prior to publication) and which may have been published due to a positive publication, bias yields data (bibliometrics) which are by definition more reliable than an opinion. In short, the Holy Grail (a sacred object in Christian traditions) is data even though that data or ‘evidence’  is provably based on and biased by opinion which the report writers identify as a limitation. Talk about a conundrum.

Sadly the humanities, arts, and social sciences (but especially humanities and arts) posed quite the problem regarding evidence-based analysis,

While the Panel believes that most other evidence-gathering activities undertaken for this assessment are equally valid across all fields, the limitations of bibliometrics led the Panel to seek measures of the impact of HASS [Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences] research that would be equivalent to the use of bibliometrics, and would measure knowledge dissemination by books, book chapters, international awards, exhibitions, and other arts productions (e.g., theatre, cinema, etc.). Despite considerable efforts to collect information, however, the Panel found the data to be sparse and methods to collect it unreliable, such that it was not possible to draw conclusions from the resulting data. In short, the available data for HASS-specific outputs did not match the quality and rigour of the other evidence collected for this report. As a result, this evidence was not used in the Panel’s deliberations.

Interestingly, the expert panel was led by Dr. Eliot Phillipson, Sir John and Lady Eaton Professor of Medicine Emeritus, [emphasis mine] University of Toronto, who received his MD in 1963. Evidence-based medicine is the ne plus ultra of medical publishing these days. Is this deep distress over a lack of evidence/data in other fields a reflection of the chair’s biases?  In all the discussion and critique of the methodologies, there was no discussion about reflexivity, i. e., the researcher’s or, in this case, the individual panel members’ (individually or collectively) biases and their possible impact on the report. Even with so called evidence-based medicine, bias and opinion are issues.

While the panel was not tasked to look into business-led R&D efforts (there is a forthcoming assessment focused on that question) mention was made in Chapter 3 (Research Investment) of the report. I was particularly pleased to see mention of the now defunct Nortel with its important century long contribution to Canadian R&D efforts. [Full disclosure: I did contract work for Nortel on and off for two years.]

A closer look at recent R&D expenditure trends shows that Canada’s total investment in R&D has declined in real terms between 2006 and 2010, driven mainly by declining private-sector research performance. Both government and higher education R&D expenditures increased modestly over the same five-year period (growing by 4.5 per cent and 7.1 per cent respectively), while business R&D declined by 17 per cent (see Figure 3.3). Much of this decline can be attributed to the failing fortunes and bankruptcy of Nortel Networks Corporation, which was one of Canada’s top corporate R&D spenders for many years. Between 2008 and 2009 alone, global R&D expenditure at Nortel dropped by 48 per cent, from nearly $1.7 billion to approximately $865 million (Re$earch Infosource, 2010) with significant impact on Canada. Although growth in R&D expenditure at other Canadian companies, particularly Research In Motion, partially compensated for the decline at Nortel, the overall downward trend remains. (p. 30 print, p. 54 PDF)

Chapter 4 of the report (Research Productivity and Impact) is filled with colourful tables and various diagrams and charts illustrating areas of strength and weakness within the Canadian research endeavour, my concerns over the metrics notwithstanding. I was a bit startled by our strength in Philosophy and Theology (Table 4.2 on p. 41 print, p. 65 PDF) as it was not touted in the initial publicity about the report. Of course, they can’t mention everything so there are some other pleasant surprises in here. Going in the other direction, I’m a little disturbed by the drop (down from 1.32 in 1999-2004 to 1.12 in 2005-1010) in the ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) specialization index but that is, as the report notes, a consequence of the Nortel loss and ICT scores better in other measures.

I very much appreciated the inclusion of the questions used in the surveys and the order in which they were asked, a practice which seems to be disappearing elsewhere. The discussion about possible biases and how the data was weighted to account for biases is interesting,

Because the responding population was significantly different than the sample population (p<0.01) for some countries, the data were weighted to correct for over- or under-representation. For example, Canadians accounted for 4.4 per cent of top-cited researchers, but 7.0 per cent of those that responded. After weighting, Canadians account for 4.4 per cent in the analyses that follow. This weighting changed overall results of how many people ranked each country in the top five by less than one per cent.

Even with weighting to remove bias in choice to respond, there could be a perception that self-selection is responsible for some results. Top-cited Canadian researchers in the population sample were not excluded from the survey but the results for Canada cannot be explained by self-promotion since 37 per cent of all respondents identified Canada among the top five countries in their field, but only 7 per cent (4.4 per cent after weighting) of respondents were from Canada. Similarly, 94 per cent of respondents identified the United States as a top country in their field, yet only 33 per cent (41 per cent after weighting) were from the United States. Furthermore, only 9 per cent of respondents had either worked or studied in Canada, and 28 per cent had no personal experience of, or association with, Canada or Canadian researchers (see Table 5.2). It is reasonable to conclude that the vast majority of respondents based their evaluation of Canadian S&T on its scientific contributions and reputation alone. (p. 65 print, p. 89 PDF)

There is another possible bias  not mentioned in the report and that has to do with answering the question: What do you think my strengths and weaknesses are? If somebody asks you that question and you are replying directly, you are likely to focus on their strong points and be as gentle as possible about their weaknesses. Perhaps the panel should consider having another country ask those questions about Canadian research. We might find the conversation becomes a little more forthright and critical.

Chapter 6 of the report discusses research collaboration which is acknowledged as poorly served by bibliometrics. Of course, collaboration is a strategy which Canadians have succeeded with not least because we simply don’t have the resources to go it alone.

One of the features I quite enjoyed in this report are the spotlight features. For example, there’s the one on stem cell research,

Spotlight on Canadian Stem Cell Research

Stem cells were discovered by two Canadian researchers, Dr. James Till and the late Dr. Ernest McCulloch, at the University of Toronto over 50 years ago. This great Canadian contribution to medicine laid the foundation for all stem cell research, and put Canada firmly at the forefront of this field, an international leadership position that is still maintained.

Stem cell research, which is increasingly important to the future of cell replacement therapy for diseased or damaged tissues, spans many disciplines. These disciplines include biology, genetics, bioengineering, social sciences, ethics and law, chemical biology, and bioinformatics. The research aims to understand the mechanisms that govern stem cell behaviour, particularly as it relates to disease development and ultimately treatments or cures.

Stem cell researchers in Canada have a strong history of collaboration that has been supported and strengthened since 2001 by the Stem Cell Network (SCN) (one of the federal Networks of Centres of Excellence), a network considered to be a world leader in the field. Grants awarded through the SCN alone have affected the work of more than 125 principal investigators working in 30 institutions from Halifax to Vancouver. Particularly noteworthy institutions include the Terry Fox Laboratory at the BC Cancer Agency; the Hotchkiss Brain Institute in Calgary; Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, Mount Sinai Hospital, University Health Network, and the University of Toronto; the Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research in Ottawa; and the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer in Montréal. In 2010, a new Centre for the Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine was formed to further support stem cell initiatives of interest to industry partners.

Today, Canadian researchers are among the most influential in the stem cell and regenerative medicine field. SCN investigators have published nearly 1,000 papers since 2001 in areas such as cancer stem cells; the endogenous repair of heart, muscle, and neural systems; the expansion of blood stem cells for the treatment of a variety of blood-borne diseases; the development of biomaterials for the delivery and support of cellular structures to replace damaged tissues; the direct conversion of skin stem cells to blood; the evolutionary analysis of leukemia stem cells; the identification of pancreatic stem cells; and the isolation of multipotent blood stem cells capable of forming all cells in the human blood system. (p. 96 print, p. 120 PDF)

Getting back to the report and my concerns, Chapter 8 on S&T capacity focuses on science training and education,

• From 2005 to 2009, there were increases in the number of students graduating from Canadian universities at the college, undergraduate, master’s and doctoral levels, with the largest increase at the doctoral level.

• Canada ranks first in the world for its share of population with post-secondary education.

• International students comprise 11 per cent of doctoral students graduating from Canadian universities. The fields with the largest proportions of international students include Earth and Environmental Sciences; Mathematics and Statistics; Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry; and Physics and Astronomy.

• From 1997 to 2010, Canada experienced a positive migration flow of researchers, particularly in the fields of Clinical Medicine, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), Engineering, and Chemistry. Based on Average Relative Citations, the quality of researchers emigrating and immigrating was comparable.

• In three-quarters of fields, the majority of top-cited researchers surveyed thought Canada has world-leading research infrastructure or programs. (p. 118 print, p. 142 PDF)

Getting back to more critical matters, I don’t see a reference to jobs in this report. It’s all very well to graduate a large number of science PhDs, which we do,  but what’s the point if they can’t find work?

  • From 2005 to 2009, there were increases in the number of students graduating from Canadian universities at the college, undergraduate, master’s and doctoral levels, with the largest increase at the doctoral level.
  • Canada ranks first in the world for its share of population with post-secondary education.
  • International students comprise 11 per cent of doctoral students graduating from Canadian universities. The fields with the largest proportions of international students include Earth and Environmental Sciences; Mathematics and Statistics; Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry; and Physics and Astronomy.
  • From 1997 to 2010, Canada experienced a positive migration flow of researchers, particularly in the fields of Clinical Medicine, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), Engineering, and Chemistry. Based on Average Relative Citations, the quality of researchers emigrating and immigrating was comparable.
  • In three-quarters of fields, the majority of top-cited researchers surveyed thought Canada has world-leading research infrastructure or programs. (p. 118 print, p. 142 PDF)

The Black Whole blog on the University Affairs website has discussed and continues to discuss the dearth of jobs in Canada for science graduates.

Chapter 9 of the report breaks down the information on a regional (provincial) bases. As you might expect, the research powerhouses are Ontario, Québec, Alberta and BC. Chapter 10 summarizes the material on a field basis, i.e., Biology; Chemistry; Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry; Econ0mics; Social Sciences; etc.  and those results were widely discussed at the time and are mentioned in part 1 of this commentary.

One of the most striking results in the report is Chapter 11: Conclusions,

The geographic distribution of the six fields of strength is difficult to determine with precision because of the diminished reliability of data below the national level, and the vastly different size of the research enterprise in each province.

The most reliable data that are independent of size are provincial ARC scores. Using this metric, the leading provinces in each field are as follows:

  • Clinical Medicine: Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta
  • Historical Studies: New Brunswick, Ontario, British Columbia
  • ICT: British Columbia, Ontario
  •  Physics and Astronomy: British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec
  • Psychology and Cognitive Sciences: British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Ontario
  • Visual and Performing Arts: Quebec [emphasis mine] (p. 193 print, p. 217 PDF)

Canada has an international reputation in visual and performing which is driven by one province alone.

As for our national fading reputation in natural resources and environmental S&T that seems predictable by almost any informed observer given funding decisions over the last several years.

The report does identify some emerging strengths,

Although robust methods of identifying emerging areas of S&T are still in their infancy, the Panel used new bibliometric techniques to identify research clusters and their rates of growth. Rapidly emerging research clusters in Canada have keywords relating, most notably, to:

• wireless technologies and networking,

• information processing and computation,

• nanotechnologies and carbon nanotubes, and

• digital media technologies.

The Survey of Canadian S&T Experts pointed to personalized medicine and health care, several energy technologies, tissue engineering, and digital media as areas in which Canada is well placed to become a global leader in development and application. (p. 195 print; p. 219 PDF)

I wish I was better and faster at crunching numbers because I’d like to spend time examining the data more closely but the reality is that all data is imperfect so this report like any snapshot is an approximation. Still, I would have liked to have seen some mention of changing practices in science. For example, there’s the protein-folding game, Foldit, which has attracted over 50,000 players (citizen scientists) who have answered questions and posed possibilities that had not occurred to scientists. Whether this trend will continue to disappear is to be answered in the future. What I find disconcerting is how thoroughly this and other shifting practices (scientists publishing research in blogs) and thorny issues such as the highly problematic patent system were ignored. Individual panel members or the report writers themselves may have wanted to include some mention but we’ll never know because the report is presented as a singular, united authority.

In any event, Bravo! to the expert panel and their support team as this can’t have been an easy job.

If you have anything to say about this commentary or the report please do comment, I would love to hear more opinions.

The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report—examined (part 1: the executive summary)

In my Sept. 27, 2012 posting about its launch,  we celebrated the Council of Canadian Academies, The State of science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report unconditionally. Today (Dec. , 2012), it’s time for a closer look.

I’m going to start with the report’s executive summary and some of the background information. Here’s the question the 18-member expert panel attempted to answer,

What is the current state of science and technology in Canada?

Additional direction was provided through two sub-questions:

Considering both basic and applied research fields, what are the scientific disciplines and technological applications in which Canada excels? How are these strengths distributed geographically across the country? How do these trends compare with what has been taking place in comparable countries?

In which scientific disciplines and technological applications has Canada shown the greatest improvement/decline in the last five years? What major trends have emerged? Which scientific disciplines and technological applications have the potential to emerge as areas of prominent strength for Canada?  (p. xi paper, p. 13 PDF)

Here’s more general information about the expert panel,

The Council appointed a multidisciplinary expert panel (the Panel) to address these questions. The Panel’s mandate spanned the full spectrum of fields in engineering, the natural sciences, health sciences, social sciences, the arts, and humanities. It focused primarily on research performed in the higher education sector, as well as the government and not-for-profit sectors. The mandate specifically excluded an examination of S&T performed in the private sector (which is the subject of a separate Council assessment on the state of industrial research and development). The Panel’s report builds upon, updates, and expands the Council’s 2006 report, The State of Science and Technology in Canada. (p. xi paper, p. 13 PDF)

As I noted in my Sept. 27, 2012 posting, the experts have stated,

  • The six research fields in which Canada excels are: clinical medicine, historical studies, information and communication technologies (ICT), physics and astronomy, psychology and cognitive sciences, and visual and performing arts.
  • Canadian science and technology is healthy and growing in both output and impact. With less than 0.5 per cent of the world’s population, Canada produces 4.1 per cent of the world’s research papers and nearly 5 per cent of the world’s most frequently cited papers.
  • In a survey of over 5,000 leading international scientists, Canada’s scientific research enterprise was ranked fourth highest in the world, after the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany.
  • Canada is part of a network of international science and technology collaboration that includes the most scientifically advanced countries in the world. Canada is also attracting high-quality researchers from abroad, such that over the past decade there has been a net migration of researchers into the country.
  • Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta are the powerhouses of Canadian science and technology, together accounting for 97 per cent of total Canadian output in terms of research papers. These provinces also have the best performance in patent-related measures and the highest per capita numbers of doctoral students, accounting for more than 90 per cent of doctoral graduates in Canada in 2009.
  • Several fields of specialization were identified in other provinces, such as: agriculture, fisheries, and forestry in Prince Edward Island and Manitoba; historical studies in New Brunswick; biology in Saskatchewan; as well as earth and environmental sciences in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia.

The Council did release a backgrounder describing the methodology the experts used to arrive at their conclusions,

In total, the Panel used a number of different methodologies to conduct this assessment, including: bibliometrics (the study of patterns in peer-reviewed journal articles); technometrics (the analysis of patent statistics and indicators), an analysis of highly qualified and skilled personnel; and opinion surveys of Canadian and international experts.

• To draw comparisons among the results derived through the different methodologies, and to integrate the findings, a common classification system was required. The Panel selected a classification system that includes 22 research fields composed of 176 sub-fields, which included fields in the humanities, arts, and social sciences.

Recognizing that some measurement tools used by the Panel (e.g. bibliometric measures) are a less relevant way of measuring science and technology strength in the humanities, arts, and social sciences, where research advances may be less often communicated in peer-reviewed journal articles, the Panel made considerable attempts to evaluate measures such as books and book chapters, exhibitions, and esteem measures such as international awards. However, the Panel was hampered by a lack of available data. As a result, the information and data collected did not meet the Council’s high standards and was excluded from the assessment.

• The Panel determined two measures of quality, a field’s international average relative citations (ARC) rank and its rank in the international survey, to be the most relevant in determining the field’s position compared with other advanced countries. Based on these measures of quality, the

Bibliometric Analysis (the study of patterns in peer-reviewed journal articles)

• Bibliometric analysis has several advantages, namely, that it is built on a well-developed foundation of quantitative data and it is able to provide information on research productivity and impact.

• For this assessment, the Panel relied heavily on bibliometrics to inform their deliberations. The Panel commissioned a comprehensive analysis of Canadian and world publication trends. It included consideration of many different indicators of output and impact, a study of collaboration patterns, and an analysis of researcher migration. Overall, the resulting research was extensive and critical for determining the research fields in which Canada excels.

• Standard bibliometrics do not identify patterns of collaboration among researchers, and may not adequately capture research activity within an interdisciplinary realm. Therefore, the Panel used advanced bibliometric techniques that allow for the identification of patterns of collaboration between Canadian researchers and those in other countries (based on the co-authorship of research papers); and clusters of related research papers, as an alternative approach to assessing Canada’s research strengths.

Technometrics (analysis of patent statistics and indicators)

• Technometrics is an important tool for determining trends in applied research. This type of analysis is routinely used by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and other international organizations in comparing and assessing science and technology outputs across countries.

• In 2006, the Expert Panel on Science and Technology used technometrics to inform their work. In an effort to ensure consistency between the 2006 and the 2012 assessments, technometrics were once again used as a measurement tool.

• The 2012 Panel commissioned a full analysis of Canadian and international patent holdings in the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to capture information about Canada’s patent stock and production of intellectual property relative to other advanced economies. Canadians accounted for 18,000 patented inventions in the USPTO, compared to 12,000 at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office during the period 2005-2010.

Opinion Surveys

• To capture a full range of Canadian science and technology activities and strengths, two extensive surveys were commissioned to gather opinions from Canadian experts and from the top one per cent of cited researchers from around the world.

• A survey of Canadian science and technology experts was conducted for the 2006 report. In

2012 this exercise was repeated, however, the survey was modified with three key changes:

o respondents were pre-chosen to ensure those responding were experts in Canadian science and technology;

o to allow comparisons of bibliometric data, the survey was based on the taxonomy of 22 scientific fields and 176 sub-fields; and

o a question regarding the identification of areas of provincial science and technology strength was added.

• To obtain the opinions of international science and technology experts regarding Canada’s science and technology strengths, the Panel conducted a survey of the top cited one percent of international researchers. Over 5,000 responded to the survey, including Canadians. This survey, combined with the results from the bibliometric analysis were used to determine the top six fields of research in which Canada excels.

..

Research Capacity

• The Panel conducted an analysis related to Canadian research capacity. This analysis drew evidence from a variety of sources including bibliometric data and existing information from publications by organizations such as the OECD and Statistics Canada.

• The Panel was also able to look at various Canadian research capacities which included research infrastructure and facilities, trends in Canada’s research faculty and student populations, the degree of collaboration among researchers in Canada and other countries, and researcher migration between Canada and other countries.

To sum it up, they used bibliometrics (how many citations, publications in peer-reviewed journals, etc.), technometrics (the number of patents filed, etc.), and opinion surveys, along with data from other publications. it sounds very impressive but I am wondering why Canada is so often unmentioned as a top research country in analyses produced outside of Canada. In the 2011 OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) Science, Technology, and Industry scorecard, we didn’t place all that well according to my Sept. 27, 2011 posting,

Other topics were covered as well, the page hosting the OECD scorecard information boasts a couple of animations, one of particular interest to me (sadly I cannot embed it here). The item of interest is the animation featuring 30 years of R&D investments in OECD and non-OECD countries. It’s a very lively 16 seconds and you may need to view it a few times. You’ll see some countries rocket out of nowhere to make their appearance on the chart (Finland and Korea come to mind) and you’ll see some countries progress steadily while others fall back. The Canadian trajectory shows slow and steady growth until approximately 2000 when we fall back for a year or two after which we remain stagnant. [emphasis added here]

Notably, the 2012 State of Canadian Science and Technology does not mention investment in this sector as they do in the OECD scorecard and  even though that’s usually one of the measures for assessing the health of your science and technology sector.

For reasons that are somewhat of a mystery to me, the report indicates dissatisfaction with Canada’s patent performance (we don’t patent often enough),

In contrast to the nation’s strong performance in knowledge generation is its weaker performance in patents and related measures. Despite producing 4.1 per cent of the world’s scientific papers, Canada holds only 1.7 per cent of world patents, and in 2010 had a negative balance of nearly five billion dollars in royalties and licensing revenues. Despite its low quantity of patents, Canada excels in international comparisons of quality, with citations to patents (ARC scores), ranking second in the world, behind the United States. (p. xiii print, p. 15 PDF)

I have written extensively about the problems with the patent system, especially the system in the US, as per Billions lost to patent trolls; US White House asks for comments on intellectual property (IP) enforcement; and more on IP, in my June 28, 2012 posting and many others. As an indicator or metric for excellence in science and technology, counting your patents (or technometrics as defined by the Council of Canadian Academies) seems problematic. I appreciate this is a standard technique practiced by other countries but couldn’t the panel have expressed some reservations about the practice? Yes, they mention problems with the methodology but they seem unaware that there is growing worldwide dissatisfaction with patent practices.

Thankfully this report is not just a love letter to ourselves. There was an acknowledgement that some areas of excellence have declined since the 2006 report. For those following the Canadian science and technology scene, it can’t be a surprise to see that natural resources and environmental science and technology (S&T) are among the declining areas (not so coincidentally there is less financial investment by the federal government),

This assessment is, in part, an update of the Council’s 2006 assessment of the state of S&T in Canada. Results of the two assessments are not entirely comparable due to methodological differences such as the bibliometric database and classification system used in the two studies, and the survey of top-cited international researchers which was not undertaken in the 2006 assessment. Nevertheless, the Panel concluded that real improvements have occurred in the magnitude and quality of Canadian S&T in several fields including Biology, Clinical Medicine, ICT, Physics and Astronomy, Psychology and Cognitive Sciences, Public Health and Health Services, and Visual and Performing Arts. Two of the four areas identified as strengths in the 2006 report — ICT and health and related life sciences and technologies — have improved by most measures since 2006.

The other two areas identified as strengths in the 2006 report — natural resources and environmental S&T — have not experienced the same improvement as Canadian S&T in general. In the current classification system, these broad areas are now represented mainly by the fields of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry; and Earth and Environmental Sciences. The Panel mapped the current classification system for these fields to the 2006 system and is confident that the overall decline in these fields is real, and not an artefact of different classifications. Scientific output and impact in these fields were either static or declined in 2005–2010 compared to 1994–2004. It should be noted, however, that even though these fields are declining relative to S&T in general, both maintain considerable strength, with Canadian research in Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry ranked second in the world in the survey of international researchers, and Earth and Environmental Sciences ranked fourth.

I’m not sure when I’ll get to part 2 of this as I have much on my plate at the moment but I will get back to this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… here’s the description,

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

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

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

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

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

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

The panelists are:

Marie-Claire Shanahan

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

Stephen Strauss

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

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

Amber Didow

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

Maryse de la Giroday (moderator)

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

Dr. Moira Stilwell, MLA

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

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

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

Rob Annan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report celebrated

This morning, Sept. 27, 2012, the Council of Canadian Academies released its 2nd report on the state of science and technology in Canada. I haven’t had time to read the full report (officially titled:  The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012) but did attend (virtually) a webinar/press conference that was hosted by the Science Media Centre of Canada and found the mood amongst the presenters,

  • Elizabeth Dowdeswell, President of the Council of Canadian Academies and chair of the 1st (2006) report on science and technology in Canada;
  • Dr. Eliot A. Phillipson, chair of the expert panel, Sir John and Lady Eaton Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Toronto and former President and CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation; and
  • Dr. Sara Diamond, President, Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U)

to be celebratory. The Council of Canadian Academies Sept. 27, 2012 news release on EurekAlert sums up much of what is said in the webinar,

“There is much for Canadians to be proud of as Canada’s international reputation is strong, science and technology research is robust across the country, and globally we are considered to have world-leading research infrastructure and programs,” said Panel Chair Dr. Eliot Phillipson. “The Panel’s findings are comprehensive and represent one of the most in-depth examinations of Canadian science and technology ever undertaken.”

Here are some of the findings (from the news release),

  • The six research fields in which Canada excels are: clinical medicine, historical studies, information and communication technologies (ICT), physics and astronomy, psychology and cognitive sciences, and visual and performing arts.
  • Canadian science and technology is healthy and growing in both output and impact. With less than 0.5 per cent of the world’s population, Canada produces 4.1 per cent of the world’s research papers and nearly 5 per cent of the world’s most frequently cited papers.
  • In a survey of over 5,000 leading international scientists, Canada’s scientific research enterprise was ranked fourth highest in the world, after the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany.
  • Canada is part of a network of international science and technology collaboration that includes the most scientifically advanced countries in the world. Canada is also attracting high-quality researchers from abroad, such that over the past decade there has been a net migration of researchers into the country.
  • Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta are the powerhouses of Canadian science and technology, together accounting for 97 per cent of total Canadian output in terms of research papers. These provinces also have the best performance in patent-related measures and the highest per capita numbers of doctoral students, accounting for more than 90 per cent of doctoral graduates in Canada in 2009.
  • Several fields of specialization were identified in other provinces, such as: agriculture, fisheries, and forestry in Prince Edward Island and Manitoba; historical studies in New Brunswick; biology in Saskatchewan; as well as earth and environmental sciences in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia.

The Council of Canadian Academies webpage which hosts the completed assessment, The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 provides links to the full report, an abridged version, an executive summary, a listing of the 18 member expert panel, and more.

Early media responses (as per my Google search of Sept. 27, 2012, 1338 hours (PDT) suggest one of two attitudes: “Canadian science and technology is healthy” or “Canadians are falling behind in the areas of environmental and resources sciences.”

For the moment, I’m going to celebrate and shelve my critique for a later date (probably early next week, Oct. 1-5, 2012) when I’ve had time to read the full report.