Science Cafe in Alberta, more science policy thoughts, and the Netherlands publishes a nano intiative

I wish I could be in Calgary (Alberta, Canada) next Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2008 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Unicorn (pub?) on 304 8th Avenue SouthWest. They’re having an informal event called “Nanotoxicology; is the use of nanoparticles putting human and environmental health at risk?” Speakers include Lori Sheremeta from the National Institute of Nanotechnology and David Cramb, Nanoscience Program Director, University of Calgary. For more details, go here.

I read (skimmed) through Canada’s science policy document, “Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage” and policy is really not my thing but a few things did strike me. First, basic science is given remarkably short shrift as the emphasis is strongly on scientific applications that can be brought to market in the foreseeable future. As I recall, none of the funding initiatives mentioned were focused on basic science. How are we going to keep a science alive if we don’t support theorists, thinkers. and dreamers?

If you think about it, a lot of the nanotechnology applications that will be coming to market in the near future are based in quantum theory much of which got its start about 100 years ago at the beginning of the 20th Century (Einstein and all that). It’s taken us 100 years or so to get from theory to developing every day applications.

Next,  nanotechnology is mentioned twice (p. 55 and p. 71) in the report but only briefly.  The primary focus for Canada’s scientific efforts will be in: (a) environmental science and technologies, (b) natural resources and energy, (c) health and related life sciences and technologies, and (d) information and communications technologies.

Finally, there are two paragraphs on intellectual property and copyright (intriguing in light of the government’s latest and very strange piece of proposed copyright legislation which, if enforced, would turn at least 80% [my estimate] of Canada’s population into criminals). Back to the report, they want to offer protection (presumable for the fruits of Canadian scientific labour)  through a modern system of patent and copyright laws while ensuring innovation.

I’m not sure what they mean by modern but RIM (Blackberry is their big product)) got caught by someone (viewed by many as a patent troll) in the US and had to pay big time when the US judge found in the alleged troll’s favour. (Patent trolls are people who file hundreds and thousands of patents for everything they can think of, do little to no original work of their own, and then look for opportunities to sue a successful company in an area where they claim their patent has been infringed. This is an international phenomenon and not confined to Canada and the US.) It seems to me that the modern system of copyright and patent protection is getting increasingly complex and in threatening to strangle innovation and creativity. I’ve certainly run into problems in my own work and in my Sept. 29, 2008 blog posting I gave a link to a report that suggests that Canada’s current intellectual property laws are stifling innovation and cutting off whole areas of scientific research. (Their focus was biotechnology but the ideas are applicable to many areas.)

Long posting today! Finally, the Netherlands Nano Initiative has been published and the strategists are advising that 1 billion Euros be invested over 10 years (between 2010 and 2020). (Note: that’s actually 11 years.) There’s more detail here and if you can read Dutch, there’s a lot more here.

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