Tag Archives: Adam Afriyie

Science public engagement with policy makers—an idea for the Canadian scene?

Athene Donald’s Nov. 2, 2012 posting on Occam’s Corner (hosted by the Guardian) points out that scientists aren’t the only ones who need to engage, policy makers should try it too  (Note: I have removed links),

Recently the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has been consulting on its Science and Society programme, and I for one have fed my thoughts back to their team. On their web pages they also detail the progress they have made against previous objectives, set up a couple of years ago. Progress on some fronts is good, particularly in the way interactions with the media are progressing. Nevertheless, there are hints in the text implying unhealthy mental separation of different groupings. For example, language relating to how “we”, that is the scientists, are expected to engage with “you”, the public, might perhaps benefit from closer scrutiny. There are also some notable omissions of people who don’t seem to be expected to participate in engagement very much at all, notably “them” – those who set the agenda at the centre of power, comprising MP’s, civil servants and policy-makers in general. [emphases mine]

She’s suggesting engagement between scientists and policy makers, not engagement between the public, scientists, and policy makers. Personally, I’d like to see the latter take place, as well as, the former. Donald also goes on to reiterate her support for another suggestion,  (Note: I have removed links),

Nor does success, according to BIS, contain any mention of the suggestion, made by Adam Afriyie (then shadow Science Minister) before the last election, that MPs should get remedial science lessons. To quote my own MP and erstwhile colleague in Physics at the University of Cambridge, Dr Julian Huppert shortly after election as an MP in 2010, who said à propos of this:

“It would be really important for all MPs to have some exposure, because some of them will not have studied any science since they were 15 and it’s important to understand how to engage with it. You would then have a lot of MPs who were able to understand the information they were being presented with.”

Donald’s comments remind me of Preston Manning’s suggestions about Canadian scientists needing to engage more with politicians.  Luckily, Mr. Manning very kindly gave me an interview about those suggestions and more, ‘Preston Manning Interview (part 1 of 2) and PEN’s nanotechnology product inventory‘ and ‘Preston Manning Interview (part 2 of 2); Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies Events; ASTC Conference‘ in September 2009. That year, the first Canadian Science Policy Conference was held. Next week (Nov. 5-7, 2012) will see the fourth conference in Calgary, Alberta where Mr. Manning is scheduled to speak on this panel, ‘What is the appropriate division of labour between business, government, and the academy in advancing science-based innovation in Canada?’

Celebrating science and some nano Haiku too

There’s a special pre-conference for people involved in science events and festivals  just prior to the 2011 AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) annual meeting. The special pre-conference meeting is the 2011 International Public Science Events Conference (IPSEC) from Feb. 16-17, 2011. Both the IPSEC and AAAS conferences are taking place in Washington, DC.

From the 2011 IPSEC conference website,

This February the first ever International Public Science Events Conference (IPSEC) convenes for two days in Washington DC. From multi-million dollar citywide festivals, to intimate cafe meetings at the corner pub, new public science events are popping up across the globe. Join professionals from around the world to trade ideas and inspiration, forge new collaborations, and consider what is next for this rapidly growing field. And it is all timed to lead into the annual meeting of the world’s largest general scientific society: the AAAS.

Registration is free and there are a limited number of places.

I got my December issue of the NISE Net (Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network) newsletter a few weeks so the information isn’t quite as timely as it could but here we go,

There’s a NISE Net Content Map available. Now, I was expecting something along the lines of a map with visual representations of data that I would click on for a text description. This map is a text document with (from the newsletter),

key ideas for our educational experiences, including programs, exhibits, and media experiences for informal science education settings. It presents key content knowledge for engaging the public in learning about nanoscale science, engineering, and technology. The document was created by the network’s content steering group, with input from many people throughout the network, as well as a group of external advisors and reviewers.

2011 is the International Year of Chemistry (IYC)! You can find out more about that here. They provide a world map that features local representatives. Naturally, I looked for the Canadian ones. Information about your own local representatives are available from the map or in a standard list format. Here’s the portion of the map that features IYC Canadian representatives.

Finally, the monthly nano Haiku, or, in this case, Haikus:

From the future
Evil nanoscientist
Will he conquer us?

by Keith Ostfeld of the Children’s Museum of Houston. This Haiku was inspired by the play Attack of the Nanoscientist which can be found in the NISE Net Catalog.

Inspired by the consumerism surrounding the holidays, Luke Donev submitted the following Haikus about branding nano:

Oh nano branding:
we seek to educate but
compete with Apple

It’s NaNoWriMo!
(National Novel Writing
Month) More brand Nano.

Thoughts about scientists speaking to Members of Parliament in Canada and elsewhere

It’s hard to tell from reading the Evidence document what precisely the hearing before Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Health was intended to address. The title for the hearing is general, Potential Risks and Benefits of Nanotechnology and it’s impossible to gauge how well informed the committee members in attendance are.

None of the advisors (for a list see yesterday’s posting) speaking to the committee gave a description or explained nanotechnology or used stories/examples to illustrate their points. Not offering an explanation was unusual. There seems to have been an assumption that all the committee members knew about it. If the committee members do understand nanotechnology, at least somewhat, they belong to a very small category of outsiders (not directly involved in nano research or nano product development or nano business effort or nano policy). My suspicion is that Canadian MPs don’t have easy access to much science information so this scenario is unlikely.

All this reminded me of Preston Manning’s (founder of the Reform Party and the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance Party [now absorbed by the Conservative Party] in Canada and opposition science critic) comments about scientists needing to learn how to communicate better with politicians (Nov. 2, 2009 posting on this blog).

I suspect part of the difficulty is that speakers were given five minutes and they all had overriding issues they wanted to cover. The document has numerous instances where the Chair warns the speaker that their allotted speaking time is coming to an end and they will have to conclude their comments.

As for not offering examples or stories about the use of nanomaterials in nanotechnology-enabled products to illustrate their points, that’s a pretty simple and effective technique. Based on my reading of the document for the hearing, I better appreciate Preston Manning’s suggestion that Canadian scientists get better training to communicate with MPs.

The Black Hole, Devils of Details: Getting Scientists to Understand How Policy Making Works, June 16, 2010 is a posting where blogger Dave (a Canadian scientist currently doing postdoctoral work at Cambridge University, UK) details his experience at a recent meeting ,

Yesterday I attended a panel discussion at Cambridge run by a group called the Centre for Science and Policy. It is part of a series of events designed to engage and unite those at the University who have an interest in the role of scientific information in government policy. This particular session was entitled Working on the inside and highlighted the roles of Cambridge academics that have pursued these sorts of roles in Government.

The panelists all had some role in bringing a scientific perspective to the parliamentarians at Whitehall. These roles, however, were distinct and spanned multiple career stages, areas of focus, and included different sets of responsibilities.

These Cambridge academics weren’t being parachuted into a hearing for a five minute presentation with questions afterwards; they were folded into various agencies for the purpose of offering scientific advice to UK MPs.

Coincidentally I found this June 9, 2010 article (Dave Willets plugs science lessons for MPs) by Mark Henderson for The Times on the Canadian Science Policy website this morning. This is another approach they’re taking in the UK that could prove valuable here too,

One of *Afriyie’s best moves in opposition was to commit the Tories to giving new MPs some rudimentary training in science as part of their parliamentary induction. The Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology agreed to do this training, so long as it was open to MPs of other parties as well. And the first such training day will take place next Tuesday [June 15, 2010].

* Prior to the 2010 UK elections, Adam Afrifie was Tory opposition Science spokesperson. Now the Tories are part of a coalition government, Dave Willets is the Minister in charge of science.

If anyone has comments that point to confirming or debunking my suspicions regarding Canadian MPs and their access to science information, please do let me know.