Tag Archives: Canada

Canadian scientists still being muzzled and a call for action on values and ethics in the Canadian federal public service

I’m starting with the older news about a survey finding that Canadian scientists are being muzzled before moving on to news about a recent survey where workers in the Canadian public services (and where most Canadian scientists are employed) criticizes the government’s values and ethics.

Muzzles, anyone?

It’s not exactly surprising to hear that Canadian scientists are still being muzzled for another recent story, (see my November 7, 2023 posting, “Money and its influence on Canada’s fisheries and oceans” for some specifics’ two of the authors are associated with Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, Canada) .

This December 13, 2023 essay is by Alana Westwood, Manjulika E. Robertson and Samantha M. Chu (all of Dalhousie University but none were listed as authors on the ‘money, fisheries, and oceans paper) on The Conversation (h/t December 14, 2023 news item on phys.org). These authors describe some recent research into the Canadian situation, specifically since the 2015 election and the Liberals formed the government and ‘removed’ the muzzles placed on scientists by the previous Conservative government,

We recently surveyed 741 environmental researchers across Canada in two separate studies into interference. We circulated our survey through scientific societies related to environmental fields, as well as directly emailing Canadian authors of peer-reviewed research in environmental disciplines.

Researchers were asked (1) if they believed they had experienced interference in their work, (2) the sources and types of this interference, and (3) the subsequent effects on their career satisfaction and well-being.

We also asked demographic information to understand whether researchers’ perceptions of interference differed by career stage, research area or identity.

Although overall ability to communicate is improving, interference is a pervasive issue in Canada, including from government, private industry and academia. We found 92 per cent of the environmental researchers reported having experienced interference with their ability to communicate or conduct their research in some form.

Interference also manifested in different ways and already-marginalized researchers experienced worse outcomes.

The writers go on to offer a history of the interference (there’s also a more detailed history in this May 20, 2015 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation [CBC] online news article by Althea Manasan) before offering more information about results from the two recent surveys, Note: Links have been removed,

In our survey, respondents indicated that, overall, their ability to communicate with the public has improved in the recent years. Of the respondents aware of the government’s scientific integrity policies, roughly half of them attribute positive changes to them.

Others argued that the 2015 change in government [from Conservative to Liberal] had the biggest influence. In the first few months of their tenure, the Liberal government created a new cabinet position, the Minister of Science (this position was absorbed into the role of Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry in 2019), and appointed a chief science advisor among other changes.

Though the ability to communicate has generally improved, many of the researchers argued interference still goes on in subtler ways. These included undue restriction on what kind of environmental research they can do, and funding to pursue them. Many respondents attributed those restrictions to the influence of private industry [emphasis mine].

Respondents identified the major sources of external interference as management, workplace policies, and external research partners. The chief motivations for interference, as the scientists saw it, included downplaying environmental risks, justifying an organization’s current position on an issue and avoiding contention.

Our most surprising finding was almost half of respondents said they limited their communications with the public and policymakers due to fears of negative backlash and reduced career opportunities.

In addition, interference had not been experienced equally. Early career and marginalized scientists — including those who identify as women, racialized, living with a disability and 2SLGBTQI+ — reported facing significantly more interference than their counterparts.

Scientists studying climate change, pollution, environmental impacted assessments and threatened species were also more likely to experience interference with their work than scientists in other disciplines.

The researchers used a single survey as the basis for two studies concerning interference in science,

Interference in science: scientists’ perspectives on their ability to communicate and conduct environmental research in Canada by Manjulika E. Robertson, Samantha M. Chu, Anika Cloutier, Philippe Mongeon, Don A. Driscoll, Tej Heer, and Alana R. Westwood. FACETS 8 (1) 30 November 2023 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1139/facets-2023-0005

This paper is open access.

Do environmental researchers from marginalized groups experience greater interference? Understanding scientists’ perceptions by Samantha M. Chu, Manjulika E. Robertson, Anika Cloutier, Suchinta Arif, and Alana R. Westwood.
FACETS 30 November 2023 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1139/facets-2023-0006

This paper is open access.

This next bit is on a somewhat related topic.

The Canadian government’s public service: values and ethics

Before launching into the latest news, here’s a little background. In 2016 the newly elected Liberal government implemented a new payroll system for the Canadian civil/public service. it was a débacle, which continues to this day (for the latest news I could find, see this September 1, 2023 article by Sam Konnert for CBC online news).

It was preventable and both the Conservative and Liberal governments of the day are responsible. You can get more details from my December 27, 2019 posting; scroll down to “The Minister of Digital Government and a bureaucratic débacle” and read on from there. In short, elected officials of both the Liberal and Conservative governments refused to listen when employees (both from the government and from the contractor) expressed grave concerns about the proposed pay system.

Now for public service employee morale, from a February 7, 2024 article by Robyn Miller for CBC news online, Note: Links have been removed,

Unions representing federal public servants say the government needs to do more to address dissatisfaction among the workforce after a recent report found some employees are unable to feel pride in their work.

“It’s more difficult now to be proud to be a public servant because of people’s perceptions of the institution and because of Canada’s role on the global stage,” said one participant who testified as part of the Deputy Ministers’ Task Team on Values and Ethics Report.

The report was published in late December [2023] by members of a task force assembled by Privy Council Clerk John Hannaford.

It’s the first major values and ethics review since an earlier report titled A Strong Foundation was released nearly 30 years ago.

Alex Silas, a regional executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said the union supports the recommendations in the report but wants to see action.

“What we’ve seen historically, unfortunately, is that the values and ethics proposed by the federal government are not implemented in the workplaces of the federal government,” Silas said.

According to the report, it drew its findings from more than 90 conversations with public servants and external stakeholders starting in September 2023.

The report notes “public servants must provide frank and professional advice, without partisan considerations or fear of criticism or political reprisals.” [emphasis mine]

“The higher up the food chain you go, the less accountability seems to exist,” said one participant.

So, either elected officials and/or higher ups don’t listen when you speak up or you’re afraid to speak up for fear of criticism and/or reprisals. Plus, there’s outright interference as noted in the survey of scientists.

For the curious, here’s a link to the Deputy Ministers’ Task Team on Values and Ethics Report to the Clerk of the Privy Council (Canada 2023).

Let’s hope this airing of dirty laundry leads to some changes.

Virtual panel discussion: Canadian Strategies for Responsible Neurotechnology Innovation on May 16, 2023

The Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) sent a May 11, 2023 notice (via email) about an upcoming event but first, congratulations (Bravo!) are in order,

The Science Meets Parliament [SMP] Program 2023 is now complete and was a huge success. 43 Delegates from across Canada met with 62 Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum on the Hill on May 1-2, 2023.

The SMP Program is championed by CSPC and Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer [through the Office of the Chief Science Advisor {OCSA}].

This Program would not have been possible without the generous support of our sponsors: The Royal Military College of Canada, The Stem Cell Network, and the University of British Columbia.

There are 443 seats in Canada’s Parliament with 338 in the House of Commons and 105 in the Senate and 2023 is the third time the SMP programme has been offered. (It was previously held in 2018 and 2022 according to the SMP program page.)

The Canadian programme is relatively new compared to Australia where they’ve had a Science Meets Parliament programme since 1999 (according to a March 20, 2017 essay by Ken Baldwin, Director of Energy Change Institute at Australian National University for The Conversation). The Scottish have had a Science and the Parliament programme since 2000 (according to this 2022 event notice on the Royal Society of Chemistry’s website).

By comparison to the other two, the Canadian programme is a toddler. (We tend not to recognize walking for the major achievement it is.) So, bravo to the CSPC and OCSA on getting 62 Parliamentarians to make time in their schedules to meet a scientist.

Responsible neurotechnology innovation?

From the Canadian Strategies for Responsible Neurotechnology Innovation event page on the CSPC website,

Advances in neurotechnology are redefining the possibilities of improving neurologic health and mental wellbeing, but related ethical, legal, and societal concerns such as privacy of brain data, manipulation of personal autonomy and agency, and non-medical and dual uses are increasingly pressing concerns [emphasis mine]. In this regard, neurotechnology presents challenges not only to Canada’s federal and provincial health care systems, but to existing laws and regulations that govern responsible innovation. In December 2019, just before the pandemic, the OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development] Council adopted a Recommendation on Responsible Innovation in Neurotechnology. It is now urging that member states develop right-fit implementation strategies.

What should these strategies look like for Canada? We will propose and discuss opportunities that balance and leverage different professional and governance approaches towards the goal of achieving responsible innovation for the current state of the art, science, engineering, and policy, and in anticipation of the rapid and vast capabilities expected for neurotechnology in the future by and for this country.

Link to the full OECD Recommendation on Responsible Innovation in Neurotechnology

Date: May 16 [2023]

Time: 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm EDT

Event Category: Virtual Session [on Zoom]

Registration Page: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_-g8d1qubRhumPSCQi6WUtA

The panelists are:

Dr. Graeme Moffat
Neurotechnology entrepreneur & Senior Fellow, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy [University of Toronto]

Dr. Graeme Moffat is a co-founder and scientist with System2 Neurotechnology. He previously was Chief Scientist and VP of Regulatory Affairs at Interaxon, Chief Scientist with ScienceScape (later Chan-Zuckerberg Meta), and a research engineer at Neurelec (a division of Oticon Medical). He served as Managing Editor of Frontiers in Neuroscience, the largest open access scholarly journal series in the field of neuroscience. Dr. Moffat is a Senior Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and an advisor to the OECD’s neurotechnology policy initiative.

Professor Jennifer Chandler
Professor of Law at the Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics, University of Ottawa

Jennifer Chandler is Professor of Law at the Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics, University of Ottawa. She leads the “Neuroethics Law and Society” Research Pillar for the Brain Mind Research Institute and sits on its Scientific Advisory Council. Her research focuses on the ethical, legal and policy issues in brain sciences and the law. She teaches mental health law and neuroethics, tort law, and medico-legal issues. She is a member of the advisory board for CIHR’s Institute for Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction (IMNA) and serves on international editorial boards in the field of law, ethics and neuroscience, including Neuroethics, the Springer Book Series Advances in Neuroethics, and the Palgrave-MacMillan Book Series Law, Neuroscience and Human Behavior. She has published widely in legal, bioethical and health sciences journals and is the co-editor of the book Law and Mind: Mental Health Law and Policy in Canada (2016). Dr. Chandler brings a unique perspective to this panel as her research focuses on the ethical, legal and policy issues at the intersection of the brain sciences and the law. She is active in Canadian neuroscience research funding policy, and regularly contributes to Canadian governmental policy on contentious matters of biomedicine.

Ian Burkhart
Neurotech Advocate and Founder of BCI [brain-computer interface] Pioneers Coalition

Ian is a C5 tetraplegic [also known as quadriplegic] from a diving accident in 2010. He participated in a ground-breaking clinical trial using a brain-computer interface to control muscle stimulation. He is the founder of the BCI Pioneers Coalition, which works to establish ethics, guidelines and best practices for future patients, clinicians, and commercial entities engaging with BCI research. Ian serves as Vice President of the North American Spinal Cord Injury Consortium and chairs their project review committee. He has also worked with Unite2Fight Paralysis to advocate for $9 million of SCI research in his home state of Ohio. Ian has been a Reeve peer mentor since 2015 and helps lead two local SCI networking groups. As the president of the Ian Burkhart Foundation, he raises funds for accessible equipment for the independence of others with SCI. Ian is also a full-time consultant working with multiple medical device companies.

Andrew Atkinson
Manager, Emerging Science Policy, Health Canada

Andrew Atkinson is the Manager of the Emerging Sciences Policy Unit under the Strategic Policy Branch of Health Canada. He oversees coordination of science policy issues across the various regulatory and research programs under the mandate of Health Canada. Prior to Health Canada, he was a manager under Environment Canada’s CEPA new chemicals program, where he oversaw chemical and nanomaterial risk assessments, and the development of risk assessment methodologies. In parallel to domestic work, he has been actively engaged in ISO [International Organization for Standardization and OECD nanotechnology efforts.

Andrew is currently a member of the Canadian delegation to the OECD Working Party on Biotechnology, Nanotechnology and Converging Technologies (BNCT). BNCT aims to contribute original policy analysis on emerging science and technologies, such as gene editing and neurotechnology, including messaging to the global community, convening key stakeholders in the field, and making ground-breaking proposals to policy makers.

Professor Judy Illes
Professor, Division of Neurology, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, UBC [University of British Columbia]

Dr. Illes is Professor of Neurology and Distinguished Scholar in Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia. She is the Director of Neuroethics Canada, and among her many leadership positions in Canada, she is Vice Chair of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Advisory Board of the Institute on Neuroscience, Mental Health and Addiction (INMHA), and chair of the International Brain Initiative (www.internationalbraininitiative.org; www.canadianbrain.ca), Director at Large of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Council of Canadian Academies.

Dr. Illes is a world-renown expert whose research, teaching and outreach are devoted to ethical, legal, social and policy challenges at the intersection of the brain sciences and biomedical ethics. She has made ground breaking contributions to neuroethical thinking for neuroscience discovery and clinical translation across the life span, including in entrepreneurship and in the commercialization of health care. Dr. Illes has a unique and comprehensive overview of the field of neurotechnology and the relevant sectors in Canada.

One concern I don’t see mentioned is bankruptcy (in other words, what happens if the company that made your neural implant goes bankrupt?) either in the panel description or in the OECD recommendation. My April 5, 2022 posting “Going blind when your neural implant company flirts with bankruptcy (long read)” explored that topic and while many of the excerpted materials present a US perspective, it’s easy to see how it could also apply in Canada and elsewhere.

For those of us on the West Coast, this session starts at 9 am. Enjoy!

*June 20, 2023: This sentence changed (We tend not to recognize that walking for the major achievement it is.) to We tend not to recognize walking for the major achievement it is.

FrogHeart’s 2022 comes to an end as 2023 comes into view

I look forward to 2023 and hope it will be as stimulating as 2022 proved to be. Here’s an overview of the year that was on this blog:

Sounds of science

It seems 2022 was the year that science discovered the importance of sound and the possibilities of data sonification. Neither is new but this year seemed to signal a surge of interest or maybe I just happened to stumble onto more of the stories than usual.

This is not an exhaustive list, you can check out my ‘Music’ category for more here. I have tried to include audio files with the postings but it all depends on how accessible the researchers have made them.

Aliens on earth: machinic biology and/or biological machinery?

When I first started following stories in 2008 (?) about technology or machinery being integrated with the human body, it was mostly about assistive technologies such as neuroprosthetics. You’ll find most of this year’s material in the ‘Human Enhancement’ category or you can search the tag ‘machine/flesh’.

However, the line between biology and machine became a bit more blurry for me this year. You can see what’s happening in the titles listed below (you may recognize the zenobot story; there was an earlier version of xenobots featured here in 2021):

This was the story that shook me,

Are the aliens going to come from outer space or are we becoming the aliens?

Brains (biological and otherwise), AI, & our latest age of anxiety

As we integrate machines into our bodies, including our brains, there are new issues to consider:

  • Going blind when your neural implant company flirts with bankruptcy (long read) April 5, 2022 posting
  • US National Academies Sept. 22-23, 2022 workshop on techno, legal & ethical issues of brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) September 21, 2022 posting

I hope the US National Academies issues a report on their “Brain-Machine and Related Neural Interface Technologies: Scientific, Technical, Ethical, and Regulatory Issues – A Workshop” for 2023.

Meanwhile the race to create brainlike computers continues and I have a number of posts which can be found under the category of ‘neuromorphic engineering’ or you can use these search terms ‘brainlike computing’ and ‘memristors’.

On the artificial intelligence (AI) side of things, I finally broke down and added an ‘artificial intelligence (AI) category to this blog sometime between May and August 2021. Previously, I had used the ‘robots’ category as a catchall. There are other stories but these ones feature public engagement and policy (btw, it’s a Canadian Science Policy Centre event), respectively,

  • “The “We are AI” series gives citizens a primer on AI” March 23, 2022 posting
  • “Age of AI and Big Data – Impact on Justice, Human Rights and Privacy Zoom event on September 28, 2022 at 12 – 1:30 pm EDT” September 16, 2022 posting

These stories feature problems, which aren’t new but seem to be getting more attention,

While there have been issues over AI, the arts, and creativity previously, this year they sprang into high relief. The list starts with my two-part review of the Vancouver Art Gallery’s AI show; I share most of my concerns in part two. The third post covers intellectual property issues (mostly visual arts but literary arts get a nod too). The fourth post upends the discussion,

  • “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know? Artificial Intelligence at the Vancouver (Canada) Art Gallery (1 of 2): The Objects” July 28, 2022 posting
  • “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know? Artificial Intelligence at the Vancouver (Canada) Art Gallery (2 of 2): Meditations” July 28, 2022 posting
  • “AI (artificial intelligence) and art ethics: a debate + a Botto (AI artist) October 2022 exhibition in the Uk” October 24, 2022 posting
  • Should AI algorithms get patents for their inventions and is anyone talking about copyright for texts written by AI algorithms? August 30, 2022 posting

Interestingly, most of the concerns seem to be coming from the visual and literary arts communities; I haven’t come across major concerns from the music community. (The curious can check out Vancouver’s Metacreation Lab for Artificial Intelligence [located on a Simon Fraser University campus]. I haven’t seen any cautionary or warning essays there; it’s run by an AI and creativity enthusiast [professor Philippe Pasquier]. The dominant but not sole focus is art, i.e., music and AI.)

There is a ‘new kid on the block’ which has been attracting a lot of attention this month. If you’re curious about the latest and greatest AI anxiety,

  • Peter Csathy’s December 21, 2022 Yahoo News article (originally published in The WRAP) makes this proclamation in the headline “Chat GPT Proves That AI Could Be a Major Threat to Hollywood Creatives – and Not Just Below the Line | PRO Insight”
  • Mouhamad Rachini’s December 15, 2022 article for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) online news overs a more generalized overview of the ‘new kid’ along with an embedded CBC Radio file which runs approximately 19 mins. 30 secs. It’s titled “ChatGPT a ‘landmark event’ for AI, but what does it mean for the future of human labour and disinformation?” The chat bot’s developer, OpenAI, has been mentioned here many times including the previously listed July 28, 2022 posting (part two of the VAG review) and the October 24, 2022 posting.

Opposite world (quantum physics in Canada)

Quantum computing made more of an impact here (my blog) than usual. it started in 2021 with the announcement of a National Quantum Strategy in the Canadian federal government budget for that year and gained some momentum in 2022:

  • “Quantum Mechanics & Gravity conference (August 15 – 19, 2022) launches Vancouver (Canada)-based Quantum Gravity Institute and more” July 26, 2022 posting Note: This turned into one of my ‘in depth’ pieces where I comment on the ‘Canadian quantum scene’ and highlight the appointment of an expert panel for the Council of Canada Academies’ report on Quantum Technologies.
  • “Bank of Canada and Multiverse Computing model complex networks & cryptocurrencies with quantum computing” July 25, 2022 posting
  • “Canada, quantum technology, and a public relations campaign?” December 29, 2022 posting

This one was a bit of a puzzle with regard to placement in this end-of-year review, it’s quantum but it’s also about brainlike computing

It’s getting hot in here

Fusion energy made some news this year.

There’s a Vancouver area company, General Fusion, highlighted in both postings and the October posting includes an embedded video of Canadian-born rapper Baba Brinkman’s “You Must LENR” [L ow E nergy N uclear R eactions or sometimes L attice E nabled N anoscale R eactions or Cold Fusion or CANR (C hemically A ssisted N uclear R eactions)].

BTW, fusion energy can generate temperatures up to 150 million degrees Celsius.

Ukraine, science, war, and unintended consequences

Here’s what you might expect,

These are the unintended consequences (from Rachel Kyte’s, Dean of the Fletcher School, Tufts University, December 26, 2022 essay on The Conversation [h/t December 27, 2022 news item on phys.org]), Note: Links have been removed,

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine has reverberated through Europe and spread to other countries that have long been dependent on the region for natural gas. But while oil-producing countries and gas lobbyists are arguing for more drilling, global energy investments reflect a quickening transition to cleaner energy. [emphasis mine]

Call it the Putin effect – Russia’s war is speeding up the global shift away from fossil fuels.

In December [2022?], the International Energy Agency [IEA] published two important reports that point to the future of renewable energy.

First, the IEA revised its projection of renewable energy growth upward by 30%. It now expects the world to install as much solar and wind power in the next five years as it installed in the past 50 years.

The second report showed that energy use is becoming more efficient globally, with efficiency increasing by about 2% per year. As energy analyst Kingsmill Bond at the energy research group RMI noted, the two reports together suggest that fossil fuel demand may have peaked. While some low-income countries have been eager for deals to tap their fossil fuel resources, the IEA warns that new fossil fuel production risks becoming stranded, or uneconomic, in the next 20 years.

Kyte’s essay is not all ‘sweetness and light’ but it does provide a little optimism.

Kudos, nanotechnology, culture (pop & otherwise), fun, and a farewell in 2022

This one was a surprise for me,

Sometimes I like to know where the money comes from and I was delighted to learn of the Ărramăt Project funded through the federal government’s New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF). Here’s more about the Ărramăt Project from the February 14, 2022 posting,

“The Ărramăt Project is about respecting the inherent dignity and interconnectedness of peoples and Mother Earth, life and livelihood, identity and expression, biodiversity and sustainability, and stewardship and well-being. Arramăt is a word from the Tamasheq language spoken by the Tuareg people of the Sahel and Sahara regions which reflects this holistic worldview.” (Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine)

Over 150 Indigenous organizations, universities, and other partners will work together to highlight the complex problems of biodiversity loss and its implications for health and well-being. The project Team will take a broad approach and be inclusive of many different worldviews and methods for research (i.e., intersectionality, interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary). Activities will occur in 70 different kinds of ecosystems that are also spiritually, culturally, and economically important to Indigenous Peoples.

The project is led by Indigenous scholars and activists …

Kudos to the federal government and all those involved in the Salmon science camps, the Ărramăt Project, and other NFRF projects.

There are many other nanotechnology posts here but this appeals to my need for something lighter at this point,

  • “Say goodbye to crunchy (ice crystal-laden) in ice cream thanks to cellulose nanocrystals (CNC)” August 22, 2022 posting

The following posts tend to be culture-related, high and/or low but always with a science/nanotechnology edge,

Sadly, it looks like 2022 is the last year that Ada Lovelace Day is to be celebrated.

… this year’s Ada Lovelace Day is the final such event due to lack of financial backing. Suw Charman-Anderson told the BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] the reason it was now coming to an end was:

You can read more about it here:

In the rearview mirror

A few things that didn’t fit under the previous heads but stood out for me this year. Science podcasts, which were a big feature in 2021, also proliferated in 2022. I think they might have peaked and now (in 2023) we’ll see what survives.

Nanotechnology, the main subject on this blog, continues to be investigated and increasingly integrated into products. You can search the ‘nanotechnology’ category here for posts of interest something I just tried. It surprises even me (I should know better) how broadly nanotechnology is researched and applied.

If you want a nice tidy list, Hamish Johnston in a December 29, 2022 posting on the Physics World Materials blog has this “Materials and nanotechnology: our favourite research in 2022,” Note: Links have been removed,

“Inherited nanobionics” makes its debut

The integration of nanomaterials with living organisms is a hot topic, which is why this research on “inherited nanobionics” is on our list. Ardemis Boghossian at EPFL [École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne] in Switzerland and colleagues have shown that certain bacteria will take up single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs). What is more, when the bacteria cells split, the SWCNTs are distributed amongst the daughter cells. The team also found that bacteria containing SWCNTs produce a significantly more electricity when illuminated with light than do bacteria without nanotubes. As a result, the technique could be used to grow living solar cells, which as well as generating clean energy, also have a negative carbon footprint when it comes to manufacturing.

Getting to back to Canada, I’m finding Saskatchewan featured more prominently here. They do a good job of promoting their science, especially the folks at the Canadian Light Source (CLS), Canada’s synchrotron, in Saskatoon. Canadian live science outreach events seeming to be coming back (slowly). Cautious organizers (who have a few dollars to spare) are also enthusiastic about hybrid events which combine online and live outreach.

After what seems like a long pause, I’m stumbling across more international news, e.g. “Nigeria and its nanotechnology research” published December 19, 2022 and “China and nanotechnology” published September 6, 2022. I think there’s also an Iran piece here somewhere.

With that …

Making resolutions in the dark

Hopefully this year I will catch up with the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) output and finally review a few of their 2021 reports such as Leaps and Boundaries; a report on artificial intelligence applied to science inquiry and, perhaps, Powering Discovery; a report on research funding and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Given what appears to a renewed campaign to have germline editing (gene editing which affects all of your descendants) approved in Canada, I might even reach back to a late 2020 CCA report, Research to Reality; somatic gene and engineered cell therapies. it’s not the same as germline editing but gene editing exists on a continuum.

For anyone who wants to see the CCA reports for themselves they can be found here (both in progress and completed).

I’m also going to be paying more attention to how public relations and special interests influence what science is covered and how it’s covered. In doing this 2022 roundup, I noticed that I featured an overview of fusion energy not long before the breakthrough. Indirect influence on this blog?

My post was precipitated by an article by Alex Pasternak in Fast Company. I’m wondering what precipitated Alex Pasternack’s interest in fusion energy since his self-description on the Huffington Post website states this “… focus on the intersections of science, technology, media, politics, and culture. My writing about those and other topics—transportation, design, media, architecture, environment, psychology, art, music … .”

He might simply have received a press release that stimulated his imagination and/or been approached by a communications specialist or publicists with an idea. There’s a reason for why there are so many public relations/media relations jobs and agencies.

Que sera, sera (Whatever will be, will be)

I can confidently predict that 2023 has some surprises in store. I can also confidently predict that the European Union’s big research projects (1B Euros each in funding for the Graphene Flagship and Human Brain Project over a ten year period) will sunset in 2023, ten years after they were first announced in 2013. Unless, the powers that be extend the funding past 2023.

I expect the Canadian quantum community to provide more fodder for me in the form of a 2023 report on Quantum Technologies from the Council of Canadian academies, if nothing else otherwise.

I’ve already featured these 2023 science events but just in case you missed them,

  • 2023 Preview: Bill Nye the Science Guy’s live show and Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. (Scientific Training And Tactical Intelligence Operative Network) coming to Vancouver (Canada) November 24, 2022 posting
  • September 2023: Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand set to welcome women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) November 15, 2022 posting

Getting back to this blog, it may not seem like a new year during the first few weeks of 2023 as I have quite the stockpile of draft posts. At this point I have drafts that are dated from June 2022 and expect to be burning through them so as not to fall further behind but will be interspersing them, occasionally, with more current posts.

Most importantly: a big thank you to everyone who drops by and reads (and sometimes even comments) on my posts!!! it’s very much appreciated and on that note: I wish you all the best for 2023.

Canada’s exploratory talks about joining the European Union’s science funding programme (Horizon Europe)

Thanks to Dr. Mona Nemer, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, for the update (via an April 21, 2022 tweet) on the talks concerning Canada’s possible association with the European Union’s Horizon Europe science funding programme.

I’ve done some digging and found this February 6, 2019 article by Michael Rogers for mairecuriealumni.eu which describes the first expressions of interest,

The EU’s biggest ever R&D programme, which will run for seven years from 2021, will offer “more flexible” entry terms for foreign countries, the European Commission’s director-general for research and innovation said Tuesday [February 5, 2019].

Successive EU R&D programmes have welcomed outside participation, but the offer of association membership to Horizon Europe, a status that allows countries to participate in EU research under the same conditions as member states, will be much wider than in the past, said Jean-Eric Paquet.

“Our goal for association is very ambitious and aimed at making it much more agile and palatable for a broader range of partners,” Paquet told a Science|Business conference in Brussels.

Already, there is interest. “I want us to be an associate member,” said Rémi Quirion, chief scientist of Québec. He was speaking for his own province but said he believes the Canadian federal government shares this ambition.

“What’s happening in the US with the current president is an opportunity for us. We need new friends,” Quirion said. “Our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says, ‘Canada is back on the global scene’, and we want to play with you.”

Negotiations to associate with Horizon Europe, which will be one of the largest funding initiatives in the world for scientific research with a proposed budget of €94.1 billion, haven’t yet begun, though there have been some preliminary discussions.

Then, there was this June 15, 2021 article by Goda Naujokaitytė for Science Business,

Canada: doors open to Horizon Europe association

The EU is making moves to welcome Canada as an associated country in the new €95.5 billion R&D programme, Horizon Europe, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement following the EU-Canada summit in Brussels on Monday [June 14, 2021].

“We invited Canadian researchers to participate in our programmes. We want them with us to intensify the exchanges between our innovators, for example in bioeconomy, advanced manufacturing, clean energy, digital technologies, you just name it,” said von der Leyen. “And our Canadian friends were happy about this invitation.”

Following the summit “exploratory discussions” towards “a possible association of Canada” to Horizon Europe will begin. There will be a particular focus on supporting the green and digital transitions, including green hydrogen, artificial intelligence and quantum cooperation.

The Commission has been sounding out to Canada about possible membership for a while, but serious talks on an enhanced level of cooperation with Canada as an associated country under Horizon Europe stalled as EU officials focused on tying up loose ends with Brexit.

Following this, the row on the terms of associated country participation in sensitive quantum and space research projects led to further delays.

Beyond Horizon Europe, the Commission hopes to strengthen cooperation with Canada in a number of other areas.

As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, the two sides hope to ensure uninterrupted vaccine flows between the countries and intensify cooperation in health.

One initiative will be a new health alliance. Details are yet to be revealed, but the alliance will have a global dimension, working to ensure that new technologies, such as mRNA, can reach other parts of the world, like Africa and Latin America. “We will share expertise; we will share lessons learnt and best practices to be better prepared and work closely together on these issues,” said von der Leyen.

Another area of cooperation will be in raw materials. Guaranteed supplies of certain minerals and metals [emphasis mine] are essential to the European economy and currently the EU is too dependent on China.

“We, as Europeans, want to diversify our imports away from producers like China. Because we want more sustainability, we want less environmental damage and we want transparency on labour conditions,” von der Leyen said.

It’s not unusual to see raw materials, such as minerals, prove to be one of Canada’s substantive attractions. Interestingly, critical minerals played a starring role in our latest federal budget (see my April 19, 2022 posting and scroll down about 50% of the way to the ‘Mining’ subhead).

Here’s the latest news from an April 21, 2022 news update (titled: Conclusion of exploratory talks on the association of New Zealand and Canada to Horizon Europe: towards formal negotiations) on the European Commission website (as mentioned on Dr. Nemer’s April 21, 2022 tweet),

The informal exploratory talks launched on 10 February 2022 between the European Commission, DG Research and Innovation, and New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and on 15 July 2021 between DG Research and Innovation and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), have reached a conclusion.

These exploratory talks have paved the way to move towards the next stage of the process, the formal negotiation of the association agreement. They provided all parties with the opportunity to discuss the technical aspects of the envisaged association, including the prospective terms and conditions for participation in Horizon Europe actions and in the Programme’s governance.

The Commission will now prepare recommendations to the Council to launch the two negotiation processes and seek negotiating directives. Once the Council adopts such directives, the formal negotiations could commence upon readiness of New Zealand and of Canada. All parties expressed the hope that New Zealand and Canada could be associated to Horizon Europe as from 2023.

Although it’s dated December 21, 2021 this news update from the European Commission (titled: Updates on the association of third countries to Horizon Europe) is being continuously updated with the latest being dated April 25, 2022,

As of 25 April 2022, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Iceland, Israel, Kosovo*, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Turkey have applicable association agreements in place. Association agreements have also been signed with Albania, Tunisia, Ukraine. They are currently undergoing national ratification procedures and are expected to enter into force shortly.

It gives you an idea of the international scope.

Toronto’s (Canada) ArtSci Salon offers: Naturalized Encounters (a series of international, networked meals known as “Follow the Spread” starting Sunday, October 3, 2021

My September 26, 2021 Art/Sci Salon notice (received via email) provides these details,

Naturalization = The ecological phenomenon in which a species, taxon, or population of exotic (as opposed to native) origin integrates into a given ecosystem, becoming capable of reproducing and growing in it, and proceeds to disseminate spontaneously. In some instances, the presence of a species in a given ecosystem is so ancient that it cannot be presupposed whether it is native or introduced
How does adaptation through naturalization occur? What happens to the native population? How does coexistence happen?

Our first event will revolve around the Solanum Melongena, a plant species in the nightshade family Solanaceae commonly known as the eggplant. This plant (and the many different names it goes by Aubergine, Melanzana, Brinjal, Berenjena, باذنجان, vânătă, 茄子,بادمجان) uncertain origins, grown worldwide for its edible fruit. Eggplants exist in many shapes, sizes and colors.

Our event will be a harvest potluck, with dialogues, storytelling, and exchanges about and beyond food. Our guests will engage in creative interventions to reflect on the many ways food, and food mobility affects all sentient beings, both humans and non-humans; peoples and civilizations; individuals’ health and collective traditions. Food is nourishment, care, medicine, and art. Food is political. Food is ultimately about our survival.

This is the first of a series of networked meals titled “FOLLOW THE SPREAD,” which will be staged around the world and across time zones throughout Fall 2021-Spring 2022 in Canada (October 3, Spring 2022), Norway (October 7), the Netherlands and Taiwan (Spring 2022).

Join us online to meet 10 Canadian artists and scholars as they launch the series in Toronto and engage in a nourishing and inspiring feast

Amira Alamary
TBA

Antje Budde
Antje Budde is a conceptual, queer-feminist, interdisciplinary experimental scholar-artist and an Associate Professor of Theatre Studies, Cultural Communication and Modern Chinese Studies at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Toronto. Antje has created multi-disciplinary artistic works in Germany, China and Canada and works tri-lingually in German, English and Mandarin. She is the founder of a number of queerly feminist performing art projects including most recently the (DDL)2 or (Digital Dramaturgy Lab)Squared – a platform for experimental explorations of digital culture, creative labor, integration of arts and science, and technology in performance. She is interested in the intersections of natural sciences, the arts, engineering and computer science.

Charmaine Lurch
Charmaine Lurch is a multidisciplinary artist whose painting, sculpture, and social engagement reveal the intricacies and complexities of the relationships between us and our environments. Her sculptures, installations, and interventions produce enchantment as she skillfully contends with what is visible and present in conjunction with what remains unsaid or unnoticed. Lurch applies her experience in community arts and education to create inviting entry points into overwhelmingly complex and urgent racial, ecological, and historical reckonings.

Lurch’s work contends with both spatiality and temporality, enchanting her subject matter with multiple possibilities for engagement. This can be seen in the interplay between light, wire, and space in her intricate wire sculptures of bees and pollen grains, and in what scholar Tiffany Lethabo King refers to as the “open edgelessness” of Sycorax. A sensuous dynamism belies the everyday tasks reflected in her charcoal-on-parchment series Being, Belonging and Grace. Lurch’s particular evocations and explorations of space and time invite an analysis of their own, and her work has been engaged with by academics. These include King, who chose Sycorax Gesture, a charcoal illustration for the cover of her book The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies, in which King discusses Lurch’s work in depth. Scholar Katherine McKittrick both inserted and engaged with Lurch’s work in her latest notable book, Dear Science & Other Stories.

Dave Kemp
Dave Kemp is a visual artist whose practice looks at the intersections and interactions between art, science and technology: particularly at how these fields shape our perception and understanding of the world. His artworks have been exhibited widely at venues such as at the McIntosh Gallery, The Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Art Gallery of Mississauga, The Ontario Science Centre, York Quay Gallery, Interaccess, Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre, and as part of the Switch video festival in Nenagh, Ireland. His works are also included in the permanent collections of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre and the Canada Council Art Bank.

Dolores Steinman
Dolores Steinman is a trained pediatrician who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. She is very active in several Art/Science communities locally and internationally.

Elaine Whittaker
Elaine Whittaker is a Canadian visual artist working at the intersection of art, science, medicine, and ecology. She considers biology as contemporary art practice and as the basis for her installations, sculptures, paintings, drawings, and digital images. Whittaker has exhibited in art and science galleries and museums in Canada, France, Italy, UK, Ireland, Latvia, China, South Korea, Australia, Mexico, and the U.S. Artwork created as Artist-in-Residence with the Pelling Laboratory for Augmented Biology (University of Ottawa) was exhibited in La Fabrique du Vivant at the Pompidou Centre, Paris  in 2019.  She was one of the first Artists-in-Residence with the Ontario Science Centre in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto. Her work has also been featured in art, literary, and medical magazines, and books, including Bio Art: Altered Realities by William Myers (2015).

Elizabeth Littlejohn
Elizabeth Littlejohn is a communications professor, human rights activist, photojournalist, and documentary film-maker. She has written for Rabble.ca for the past thirteen years on social movements, sustainable urban planning, and climate change. As a running gun social movement videographer, she has filmed internationally. Her articles, photojournalism, and videos have documented Occupy, Idle No More, and climate change movements, and her photographs have been printed in NOW Magazine, the Toronto Star, and Our Times.

Recently Elizabeth Littlejohn has completed ‘The City Island’, a feature-length documentary she directed about the razing of homes on the Toronto Islands and the islanders’ stewardship of the park system, with the support of the Canada Council. Currently, Elizabeth is developing the Toronto Island Puzzle Tour, an augmented-reality smartphone application with five locales depicting hidden history of the Toronto Island, and funded by the City of Toronto’s Artworx Grant.

Gita Hashemi
Gita Hashemi works in visual and performance art, digital and net art, and language-based art including live embodied writing, and in publishing. Her transdisciplinary, multi-platform and often site-responsive projects explore historical, trans-border and marginalized narratives and their traces in contemporary contexts. She has received numerous project grants from Canadian arts councils, and won awards from Toronto Community Foundation, Baddeck International New Media Festival, American Ad Federation, and Ontario Association of Art Galleries among others. Hashemi is an Ontario Heritage Trust’s Doris McCarthy Artist in Residence in 2021 with a land-based project. Her work has been exhibited at many international venues including SIGGRAPH, Los Angeles; Center for Book Arts, New York; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; Plug-In, Basel; Casoria Museum of Contemporary Art, Naples; Al Kahf Art Gallery, Bethlehem; Red House Centre for Culture, Sofia; Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Yucatan, Merida; National Museum of Contemporary Art, Bucharest; Worth Ryder Gallery, Berkeley; Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Santa Fe, Argentina; Museum of Movements, Malmo; and JolibaZWO, Berlin among others. In Canada her work has been presented at A Space Gallery, York Quay Gallery, YYZ, MAI, and Carlton University Art Gallery. She has exhibited in numerous festivals including Electroshock, France; VI Salon y coloquio internacional de art digital, Havana; New Media Art Festival, Bangkok; Biennale of Electronic Art, Perth; and New Music and Art Festival, Bowling Green and others.

Nina Czegledy
Toronto based artist, curator, educator, works internationally on collaborative art, science & technology projects. The changing perception of the human body and its environment, as well as paradigm shifts in the arts, inform her projects. She has exhibited and published widely, won awards for her artwork and has initiated, led and participated in workshops, forums and festivals worldwide at international events.

Roberta Buiani
Artistic Director of the ArtSci Salon at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences (Toronto). Her artistic work has travelled to art festivals (Transmediale; Hemispheric Institute Encuentro; Brazil), community centers and galleries (the Free Gallery Toronto; Immigrant Movement International, Queens, Museum of Toronto), and scientific institutions (RPI; the Fields Institute). She is a research associate at the Centre for Feminist Research and a Scholar in Residence at Sensorium: Centre for Digital Arts and Technology, at York University.

Tune in on Oct 3 [2021] at 10:30 AM EDT; 4:30 PM CET; 10:30 PM CST [Note: For those of us on the West Coast, that will 7:30 am PDT]

To view the video on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, just go to the ‘Naturalized Encounters’ webpage on the ArtSci Salon website and scroll down.

Canadian and Guadeloupean oysters: exposure to nanoplastics and arsenic

A May 27, 2021 news item on phys.org describes research into oysters and nanoplastics,

Oysters’ exposure to plastics is concerning, particularly because these materials can accumulate and release metals which are then absorbed by the mollusks. According to a recent study published in the journal Chemosphere, the combined presence of nanoplastics and arsenic affects the biological functions of oysters. This study was conducted by the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) in Québec City and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) at the University of Bordeaux in France

A May 27, 2021 INRS news release (French language version here and an English language version on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides fascinating details,

The international research team chose to study arsenic, since it is one of the most common metals absorbed by the plastic debris collected from the beaches of Guadeloupe. “Oysters easily accumulate metals from the environment into their tissues. We therefore wanted to test whether the combined exposure to nanoplastics and arsenic would increase the bioaccumulation of this contaminant,” reported Marc Lebordais, the Master’s student in charge of the research.

The scientists proved that the bioaccumulation of arsenic does not increase when nanoplastics are also present. However, it remained higher in the gills of the Canadian Crassostrea virginica oyster [emphasis mine] than in the Isognomon alatus oyster, found in Guadeloupe. These results are the first to highlight the diverging sensitivity of different species. [emphasis mine]

Gene deregulation

In addition to bioaccumulation, the team also observed an overexpression of genes responsible for cell death and the number of mitochondria–a cell’s energy centres–in C. virginica. In I. alatus, the expression of these same genes was less significant.

“Evaluating the expression of genes involved in important functions, such as cell death and detoxification, gives us information on the toxicity of nanoplastics and arsenic on a cellular level,” explained the young researcher, who is co-directed by Professors Valérie Langlois of INRS and Magalie Baudrimont of the University of Bordeaux.

The food chain

The next step, after characterizing the presence of nanoplastics and arsenic in oysters, would be to study how these contaminants are transferred through the food chain.

“Analytical tools are currently being developed to quantify the presence of nanoplastics in biological tissues,” said Marc Lebordais. “Understanding the amount of nanoplastics in farmed oysters currently boils down to a technical issue.” ?

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

Molecular impacts of dietary exposure to nanoplastics combined with arsenic in Canadian oysters (Crassostrea virginica) and bioaccumulation comparison with Caribbean oysters (Isognomon alatus) by Marc Lebordais, Juan Manuel Gutierrez-Villagomez, Julien Gigault, Magalie Baudrimont, and Valérie Langlois. Chemosphere Volume 277, August 2021, 130331 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2021.130331 First published online 19 March 2021.

This paper is open access.

Council of Canadian Academies (CCA): science policy internship and a new panel on Public Safety in the Digital Age

It’s been a busy week for the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA); I don’t usually get two notices in such close order.

2022 science policy internship

The application deadline is Oct. 18, 2021, you will work remotely, and the stipend for the 2020 internship was $18,500 for six months.

Here’s more from a September 13, 2021 CCA notice (received Sept. 13, 2021 via email),

CCA Accepting Applications for Internship Program

The program provides interns with an opportunity to gain experience working at the interface of science and public policy. Interns will participate in the development of assessments by conducting research in support of CCA’s expert panel process.

The internship program is a full-time commitment of six months and will be a remote opportunity due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Applicants must be recent graduates with a graduate or professional degree, or post-doctoral fellows, with a strong interest in the use of evidence for policy. The application deadline is October 18, 2021. The start date is January 10, 2022. Applications and letters of reference should be addressed to Anita Melnyk at internship@cca-reports.ca.

More information about the CCA Internship Program and the application process can be found here. [Note: The link takes you to a page with information about a 2020 internship opportunity; presumably, the application requirements have not changed.]

Good luck!

Expert Panel on Public Safety in the Digital Age Announced

I have a few comments (see the ‘Concerns and hopes’ subhead) about this future report but first, here’s the announcement of the expert panel that was convened to look into the matter of public safety (received via email September 15, 2021),

CCA Appoints Expert Panel on Public Safety in the Digital Age

Access to the internet and digital technologies are essential for people, businesses, and governments to carry out everyday activities. But as more and more activities move online, people and organizations are increasingly vulnerable to serious threats and harms that are enabled by constantly evolving technology. At the request of Public Safety Canada, [emphasis mine] the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has formed an Expert Panel to examine leading practices that could help address risks to public safety while respecting human rights and privacy. Jennifer Stoddart, O.C., Strategic Advisor, Privacy and Cybersecurity Group, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin [law firm], will serve as Chair of the Expert Panel.

“The ever-evolving nature of crimes and threats that take place online present a huge challenge for governments and law enforcement,” said Ms. Stoddart. “Safeguarding public safety while protecting civil liberties requires a better understanding of the impacts of advances in digital technology and the challenges they create.”

As Chair, Ms. Stoddart will lead a multidisciplinary group with expertise in cybersecurity, social sciences, criminology, law enforcement, and law and governance. The Panel will answer the following question:

Considering the impact that advances in information and communications technologies have had on a global scale, what do current evidence and knowledge suggest regarding promising and leading practices that could be applied in Canada for investigating, preventing, and countering threats to public safety while respecting human rights and privacy?

“This is an important question, the answer to which will have both immediate and far-reaching implications for the safety and well-being of people living in Canada. Jennifer Stoddart and this expert panel are very well-positioned to answer it,” said Eric M. Meslin, PhD, FRSC, FCAHS, President and CEO of the CCA.

More information about the assessment can be found here.

The Expert Panel on Public Safety in the Digital Age:

  • Jennifer Stoddart (Chair), O.C., Strategic Advisor, Privacy and Cybersecurity Group, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin [law firm].
  • Benoît Dupont, Professor, School of Criminology, and Canada Research Chair in Cybersecurity and Research Chair for the Prevention of Cybercrime, Université de Montréal; Scientific Director, Smart Cybersecurity Network (SERENE-RISC). Note: This is one of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE)
  • Richard Frank, Associate Professor, School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University; Director, International CyberCrime Research Centre International. Note: This is an SFU/ Society for the Policing of Cyberspace (POLCYB) partnership
  • Colin Gavaghan, Director, New Zealand Law Foundation Centre for Law and Policy in Emerging Technologies, Faculty of Law, University of Otago.
  • Laura Huey, Professor, Department of Sociology, Western University; Founder, Canadian Society of Evidence Based Policing [Can-SEPB].
  • Emily Laidlaw, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Cybersecurity Law, Faculty of Law, University of Calgary.
  • Arash Habibi Lashkari, Associate Professor, Faculty of Computer Science, University of New Brunswick; Research Coordinator, Canadian Institute of Cybersecurity [CIC].
  • Christian Leuprecht, Class of 1965 Professor in Leadership, Department of Political Science and Economics, Royal Military College; Director, Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University.
  • Florian Martin-Bariteau, Associate Professor of Law and University Research Chair in Technology and Society, University of Ottawa; Director, Centre for Law, Technology and Society.
  • Shannon Parker, Detective/Constable, Saskatoon Police Service.
  • Christopher Parsons, Senior Research Associate, Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto.
  • Jad Saliba, Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Magnet Forensics Inc.
  • Heidi Tworek, Associate Professor, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, and Department of History, University of British Columbia.

Oddly, there’s no mention that Jennifer Stoddart (Wikipedia entry) was Canada’s sixth privacy commissioner. Also, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin (her employer) changed its name to Fasken in 2017 (Wikipedia entry). The company currently has offices in Canada, UK, South Africa, and China (Firm webpage on company website).

Exactly how did the question get framed?

It’s always informative to look at the summary (from the reports Public Safety in the Digital Age webpage on the CCA website),

Information and communications technologies have profoundly changed almost every aspect of life and business in the last two decades. While the digital revolution has brought about many positive changes, it has also created opportunities for criminal organizations and malicious actors [emphasis mine] to target individuals, businesses, and systems. Ultimately, serious crime facilitated by technology and harmful online activities pose a threat to the safety and well-being of people in Canada and beyond.

Damaging or criminal online activities can be difficult to measure and often go unreported. Law enforcement agencies and other organizations working to address issues such as the sexual exploitation of children, human trafficking, and violent extremism [emphasis mine] must constantly adapt their tools and methods to try and prevent and respond to crimes committed online.

A better understanding of the impacts of these technological advances on public safety and the challenges they create could help to inform approaches to protecting public safety in Canada.

This assessment will examine promising practices that could help to address threats to public safety related to the use of digital technologies while respecting human rights and privacy.

The Sponsor:

Public Safety Canada

The Question:

Considering the impact that advances in information and communications technologies have had on a global scale, what do current evidence and knowledge suggest regarding promising and leading practices that could be applied in Canada for investigating, preventing, and countering threats to public safety while respecting human rights and privacy?

Three things stand out for me. First, public safety, what is it?, second, ‘malicious actors’, and third, the examples used for the issues being addressed (more about this in the Comments subsection, which follows).

What is public safety?

Before launching into any comments, here’s a description for Public Safety Canada (from their About webpage) where you’ll find a hodge podge,

Public Safety Canada was created in 2003 to ensure coordination across all federal departments and agencies responsible for national security and the safety of Canadians.

Our mandate is to keep Canadians safe from a range of risks such as natural disasters, crime and terrorism.

Our mission is to build a safe and resilient Canada.

The Public Safety Portfolio

A cohesive and integrated approach to Canada’s security requires cooperation across government. Together, these agencies have an annual budget of over $9 billion and more than 66,000 employees working in every part of the country.

Public Safety Partner Agencies

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) manages the nation’s borders by enforcing Canadian laws governing trade and travel, as well as international agreements and conventions. CBSA facilitates legitimate cross-border traffic and supports economic development while stopping people and goods that pose a potential threat to Canada.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) investigates and reports on activities that may pose a threat to the security of Canada. CSIS also provides security assessments, on request, to all federal departments and agencies.

The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) helps protect society by encouraging offenders to become law-abiding citizens while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control. CSC is responsible for managing offenders sentenced to two years or more in federal correctional institutions and under community supervision.

The Parole Board of Canada (PBC) is an independent body that grants, denies or revokes parole for inmates in federal prisons and provincial inmates in province without their own parole board. The PBC helps protect society by facilitating the timely reintegration of offenders into society as law-abiding citizens.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) enforces Canadian laws, prevents crime and maintains peace, order and security.

So, Public Safety includes a spy agency (CSIS), the prison system (Correctional Services and Parole Board), and the national police force (RCMP) and law enforcement at the borders with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). None of the partner agencies are dedicated to natural disasters although it’s mentioned in the department’s mandate.

The focus is largely on criminal activity and espionage. On that note, a very senior civilian RCMP intelligence official, Cameron Ortis*, was charged with passing secrets to foreign entities (malicious actors?). (See the September 13, 2021 [updated Sept. 15, 2021] news article by Amanda Connolly, Mercedes Stephenson, Stewart Bell, Sam Cooper & Rachel Browne for CTV news and the Sept. 18, 2019 [updated January 6, 2020] article by Douglas Quan for the National Post for more details.)

There appears to be at least one other major security breach; that involving Canada’s only level four laboratory, the Winnipeg-based National Microbiology Lab (NML). (See a June 10, 2021 article by Karen Pauls for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news online for more details.)

As far as I’m aware, Ortis is still being held with a trial date scheduled for September 2022 (see Catherine Tunney’s April 9, 2021 article for CBC news online) and, to date, there have been no charges laid in the Winnipeg lab case.

Concerns and hopes

Ordinarily I’d note links and relationships between the various expert panel members but in this case it would be a big surprise if they weren’t linked in some fashion as the focus seems to be heavily focused on cybersecurity (as per the panel member’s bios.), which I imagine is a smallish community in Canada.

As I’ve made clear in the paragraphs leading into the comments, Canada appears to have seriously fumbled the ball where national and international cybersecurity is concerned.

So getting back to “First, public safety, what is it?, second, ‘malicious actors’, and third, the examples used for the issues,” I’m a bit puzzled.

Public safety as best I can tell, is just about anything they’d like it to be. ‘Malicious actors’ is a term I’ve seen used to imply a foreign power is behind the actions being held up for scrutiny.

The examples used for the issues being addressed “sexual exploitation of children, human trafficking, and violent extremism” hint at a focus on crimes that cross borders and criminal organizations, as well as, like-minded individuals organizing violent and extremist acts but not specifically at any national or international security concerns.

On a more mundane note, I’m a little surprised that identity theft wasn’t mentioned as an example.

I’m hopeful there will be some examination of emerging technologies such as quantum communication (specifically, encryption issues) and artificial intelligence. I also hope the report will include a discussion about mistakes and over reliance on technology (for a refresher course on what happens when organizations, such as the Canadian federal government, make mistakes in the digital world; search ‘Phoenix payroll system’, a 2016 made-in-Canada and preventable debacle, which to this day is still being fixed).

In the end, I think the only topic that can be safely excluded from the report is climate change otherwise it’s a pretty open mandate as far as can be told from publicly available information.

I noticed the international panel member is from New Zealand (the international component is almost always from the US, UK, northern Europe, and/or the Commonwealth). Given that New Zealand (as well as being part of the commonwealth) is one of the ‘Five Eyes Intelligence Community’, which includes Canada, Australia, the UK, the US, and, NZ, I was expecting a cybersecurity expert. If Professor Colin Gavaghan does have that expertise, it’s not obvious on his University of Otaga profile page (Note: Links have been removed),

Research interests

Colin is the first director of the New Zealand Law Foundation sponsored Centre for Law and Policy in Emerging Technologies. The Centre examines the legal, ethical and policy issues around new technologies. To date, the Centre has carried out work on biotechnology, nanotechnology, information and communication technologies and artificial intelligence.

In addition to emerging technologies, Colin lectures and writes on medical and criminal law.

Together with colleagues in Computer Science and Philosophy, Colin is the leader of a three-year project exploring the legal, ethical and social implications of artificial intelligence for New Zealand.

Background

Colin regularly advises on matters of technology and regulation. He is first Chair of the NZ Police’s Advisory Panel on Emergent Technologies, and a member of the Digital Council for Aotearoa, which advises the Government on digital technologies. Since 2017, he has been a member (and more recently Deputy Chair) of the Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology. He was an expert witness in the High Court case of Seales v Attorney General, and has advised members of parliament on draft legislation.

He is a frustrated writer of science fiction, but compensates with occasional appearances on panels at SF conventions.

I appreciate the sense of humour evident in that last line.

Almost breaking news

Wednesday, September 15, 2021 an announcement of a new alliance in the Indo-Pacific region, the Three Eyes (Australia, UK, and US or AUKUS) was made.

Interestingly all three are part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance comprised of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, and US. Hmmm … Canada and New Zealand both border the Pacific and last I heard, the UK is still in Europe.

A September 17, 2021 article, “Canada caught off guard by exclusion from security pact” by Robert Fife and Steven Chase for the Globe and Mail (I’m quoting from my paper copy),

The Canadian government was surprised this week by the announcement of a new security pact among the United States, Britain and Australia, one that excluded Canada [and New Zealand too] and is aimed at confronting China’s growing military and political influence in the Indo-Pacific region, according to senior government officials.

Three officials, representing Canada’s Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Defence departments, told the Globe and Mail that Ottawa was not consulted about the pact, and had no idea the trilateral security announcement was coming until it was made on Wednesday [September 15, 2021] by U.S. President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The new trilateral alliance, dubbed AUKUS, after the initials of the three countries, will allow for greater sharing of information in areas such as artificial intelligence and cyber and underwater defence capabilities.

Fife and Chase have also written a September 17, 2021 Globe and Mail article titled, “Chinese Major-General worked with fired Winnipeg Lab scientist,”

… joint research conducted between Major-General Chen Wei and former Canadian government lab scientist Xiangguo Qiu indicates that co-operation between the Chinese military and scientists at the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) went much higher than was previously known. The People’s Liberation Army is the military of China’s ruling Communist Party.

Given that no one overseeing the Canadian lab, which is a level 4 and which should have meant high security, seems to have known that Wei was a member of the military and with the Cameron Ortis situation still looming, would you have included Canada in the new pact?

*ETA September 20, 2021: For anyone who’s curious about the Cameron Ortis case, there’s a Fifth Estate documentary (approximately 46 minutes): The Smartest Guy in the Room: Cameron Ortis and the RCMP Secrets Scandal.

Science policy updates (INGSA in Canada and SCWIST)

I had just posted my Aug. 30, 2021 piece (4th International Conference on Science Advice to Governments (INGSA2021) August 30 – September 2, 2021) when the organization issued a news release, which was partially embargoed. By the time this is published (after 8 am ET on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021), the embargo will have lifted and i can announce that Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist of Québec (Canada), has been selected to replace Sir Peter Gluckman (New Zealand) as President of INGSA.

Here’s the whole August 30, 2021 International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA) news release on EurekAlert, Note: This looks like a direct translation from a French language news release, which may account for some unusual word choices and turns of phrase,

What? 4th International Conference on Science Advice to Governments, INGSA2021.

Where? Palais des Congrès de Montréal, Québec, Canada and online at www.ingsa2021.org

When? 30 August – 2 September, 2021.

CONTEXT: The largest ever independent gathering of interest groups, thought-leaders, science advisors to governments and global institutions, researchers, academics, communicators and diplomats is taking place in Montreal and online. Organized by Prof Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist of Québec, speakers from over 50 countries[1] from Brazil to Burkina Faso and from Ireland to Indonesia, plus over 2000 delegates from over 130 countries, will spotlight what is really at stake in the relationship between science and policy-making, both during crises and within our daily lives. From the air we breathe, the food we eat and the cars we drive, to the medical treatments or the vaccines we take, and the education we provide to children, this relationship, and the decisions it can influence, matter immensely.  

Prof Rémi Quirion, Conference Organizer, Chief Scientist of Québec and incoming President of INGSA added: “For those of us who believe wholeheartedly in evidence and the integrity of science, the past 18 months have been challenging. Information, correct and incorrect, can spread like a virus. The importance of open science and access to data to inform our UN sustainable development goals discussions or domestically as we strengthen the role of cities and municipalities, has never been more critical. I have no doubt that this transparent and honest platform led from Montréal will act as a carrier-wave for greater engagement”.

Chief Science Advisor of Canada and Conference co-organizer, Dr Mona Nemer, stated that: “Rapid scientific advances in managing the Covid pandemic have generated enormous public interest in evidence-based decision making. This attention comes with high expectations and an obligation to achieve results. Overcoming the current health crisis and future challenges will require global coordination in science advice, and INGSA is well positioned to carry out this important work. Canada and our international peers can benefit greatly from this collaboration.”

Sir Peter Gluckman, founding Chair of INGSA stated that: “This is a timely conference as we are at a turning point not just in the pandemic, but globally in our management of longer-term challenges that affect us all. INGSA has helped build and elevate open and ongoing public and policy dialogue about the role of robust evidence in sound policy making”.

He added that: “Issues that were considered marginal seven years ago when the network was created are today rightly seen as central to our social, environmental and economic wellbeing. The pandemic highlights the strengths and weaknesses of evidence-based policy-making at all levels of governance. Operating on all continents, INGSA demonstrates the value of a well-networked community of emerging and experienced practitioners and academics, from countries at all levels of development. Learning from each other, we can help bring scientific evidence more centrally into policy-making. INGSA has achieved much since its formation in 2014, but the energy shown in this meeting demonstrates our potential to do so much more”.

Held previously in Auckland 2014, Brussels 2016, Tokyo 2018 and delayed for one year due to Covid, the advantage of the new hybrid and virtual format is that organizers have been able to involve more speakers, broaden the thematic scope and offer the conference as free to view online, reaching thousands more people. Examining the complex interactions between scientists, public policy and diplomatic relations at local, national, regional and international levels, especially in times of crisis, the overarching INGSA2021 theme is: “Build back wiser: knowledge, policy & publics in dialogue”.

The first three days will scrutinize everything from concrete case-studies outlining successes and failures in our advisory systems to how digital technologies and AI are reshaping the profession itself. The final day targets how expertize and action in the cultural context of the French-speaking world is encouraging partnerships and contributing to economic and social development. A highlight of the conference is the 2 September announcement of a new ‘Francophonie Science Advisory Network’.       

Prof. Salim Abdool Karim, a member of the World Health Organization’s Science Council, and the face of South Africa’s Covid-19 science, speaking in the opening plenary outlined that: “As a past anti-apartheid activist now providing scientific advice to policy-makers, I have learnt that science and politics share common features. Both operate at the boundaries of knowledge and uncertainty, but approach problems differently. We scientists constantly question and challenge our assumptions, constantly searching for empiric evidence to determine the best options. In contrast, politicians are most often guided by the needs or demands of voters and constituencies, and by ideology”.

He added: “What is changing is that grass-roots citizens worldwide are no longer ill-informed and passive bystanders. And they are rightfully demanding greater transparency and accountability. This has brought the complex contradictions between evidence and ideology into the public eye. Covid-19 is not just a disease, its social fabric exemplifies humanity’s interdependence in slowing global spread and preventing new viral mutations through global vaccine equity. This starkly highlights the fault-lines between the rich and poor countries, especially the maldistribution of life-saving public health goods like vaccines. I will explore some of the key lessons from Covid-19 to guide a better response to the next pandemic”.

Speaking on a panel analysing different advisory models, Prof. Mark Ferguson, Chair of the European Innovation Council’s Advisory Board and Chief Science Advisor to the Government of Ireland, sounded a note of optimism and caution in stating that: “Around the world, many scientists have become public celebrities as citizens engage with science like never before. Every country has a new, much followed advisory body. With that comes tremendous opportunities to advance the status of science and the funding of scientific research. On the flipside, my view is that we must also be mindful of the threat of science and scientists being viewed as a political force”.

Strength in numbers

What makes the 4th edition of this biennial event stand out is the perhaps never-before assembled range of speakers from all continents working at the boundary between science, society and policy willing to make their voices heard. In a truly ‘Olympics’ approach to getting all stakeholders on-board, organisers succeeded in involving, amongst others, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the United Nations Development Programme, UNESCO and the OECD. The in-house science services of the European Commission and Parliament, plus many country-specific science advisors also feature prominently.

As organisers foster informed debate, we get a rare glimpse inside the science advisory worlds of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation, the World Economic Forum and the Global Young Academy to name a few. From Canadian doctors, educators and entrepreneurs and charitable foundations like the Welcome Trust, to Science Europe and media organisations, the programme is rich in its diversity. The International Organisation of the Francophonie and a keynote address by H.E. Laurent Fabius, President of the Constitutional Council of the French Republic are just examples of two major draws on the final day dedicated to spotlighting advisory groups working through French. 

INGSA’s Elections: New Canadian President and Three Vice Presidents from Chile, Ethiopia, UK

The International Network for Government Science Advice has recently undertaken a series of internal reforms intended to better equip it to respond to the growing demands for support from its international partners, while realising the project proposals and ideas of its members.

Part of these reforms included the election in June, 2021 of a new President replacing Sir Peter Gluckman (2014 – 2021) and the creation of three new Vice President roles.

These results will be announced at 13h15 on Wednesday, 1st September during a special conference plenary and awards ceremony. While noting the election results below, media are asked to respect this embargo.

Professor Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist of Québec (Canada), replaces Sir Peter Gluckman (New Zealand) as President of INGSA.
 

Professor Claire Craig (United Kingdom), CBE, Provost of Queen’s College Oxford and a member of the UK government’s AI Council, has been elected by members as the inaugural Vice President for Evidence.
 

Professor Binyam Sisay Mendisu (Egypt), PhD, Lecture at the University of Addis Ababa and Programme Advisor, UNESCO Institute for Building Capacity in Africa, has been elected by members as the inaugural Vice President for Capacity Building.
 

Professor Soledad Quiroz Valenzuela (Chile), Science Advisor on Climate Change to the Ministry of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation of the government of Chile, has been elected by members as the Vice President for Policy.

Satellite Events: From 7 – 9 September, as part of INGSA2021, the conference is partnering with local,  national and international organisations to ignite further conversations about the science/policy/society interface. Six satellite events are planned to cover everything from climate science advice and energy policy, open science and publishing during a crisis, to the politicisation of science and pre-school scientific education. International delegates are equally encouraged to join in online. 

About INGSA: Founded in 2014 with regional chapters in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, INGSA has quicky established an important reputation as aa collaborative platform for policy exchange, capacity building and research across diverse global science advisory organisations and national systems. Currently, over 5000 individuals and institutions are listed as members. Science communicators and members of the media are warmly welcomed to join.

As the body of work detailed on its website shows (www.ingsa.org) through workshops, conferences and a growing catalogue of tools and guidance, the network aims to enhance the global science-policy interface to improve the potential for evidence-informed policy formation at sub-national, national and transnational levels. INGSA operates as an affiliated body of the International Science Council which acts as trustee of INGSA funds and hosts its governance committee. INGSA’s secretariat is based in Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

Conference Programme: 4th International Conference on Science Advice to Government (ingsa2021.org)

Newly released compendium of Speaker Viewpoints: Download Essays From The Cutting Edge Of Science Advice – Viewpoints

[1] Argentina, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Chad, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte D’Ivoire, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Senegal, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, UK, USA. 

Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST)

As noted earlier this year in my January 28, 2021 posting, it’s SCWIST’s 40th anniversary and the organization is celebrating with a number of initiatives, here are some of the latest including as talk on science policy (from the August 2021 newsletter received via email),

SCWIST “STEM Forward Project”
Receives Federal Funding

SCWIST’s “STEM Forward for Economic Prosperity” project proposal was among 237 projects across the country to receive funding from the $100 million Feminist Response Recovery Fund of the Government of Canada through the Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE) federal department.

Read more. 

iWIST and SCWIST Ink Affiliate MOU [memorandum of understanding]

Years in planning, the Island Women in Science and Technology (iWIST) of Victoria, British Columbia and SCWIST finally signed an Affiliate MOU (memorandum of understanding) on Aug 11, 2021.

The MOU strengthens our commitment to collaborate on advocacy (e.g. grants, policy and program changes at the Provincial and Federal level), events (networking, workshops, conferences), cross promotion ( event/ program promotion via digital media), and membership growth (discounts for iWIST members to join SCWIST and vice versa).

Dr. Khristine Carino, SCWIST President, travelled to Victoria to sign the MOU in person. She was invited as an honoured guest to the iWIST annual summer picnic by Claire Skillen, iWIST President. Khristine’s travel expenses were paid from her own personal funds.

Discovery Foundation x SBN x SCWIST Business Mentorship Program: Enhancing Diversity in today’s Biotechnology Landscape

The Discovery Foundation, Student Biotechnology Network, and Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology are proud to bring you the first-ever “Business Mentorship Program: Enhancing Diversity in today’s Biotechnology Landscape”. 

The Business Mentorship Program aims to support historically underrepresented communities (BIPOC, Women, LGBTQIAS+ and more) in navigating the growth of the biotechnology industry. The program aims to foster relationships between individuals and professionals through networking and mentorship, providing education and training through workshops and seminars, and providing 1:1 consultation with industry leaders. Participants will be paired with mentors throughout the week and have the opportunity to deliver a pitch for the chance to win prizes at the annual Building Biotechnology Expo. 

This is a one week intensive program running from September 27th – October 1st, 2021 and is limited to 10 participants. Please apply early. 

Events

September 10

Art of Science and Policy-Making Go Together

Science and policy-making go together. Acuitas’ [emphasis mine] Molly Sung shares her journey and how more scientists need to engage in this important area.

September 23

Au-delà de l’apparence :

des femmes de courage et de résilience en STIM

Dans le cadre de la semaine de l’égalité des sexes au Canada, ce forum de la division québécoise de la Société pour les femmes canadiennes en science et technologie (la SCWIST) mettra en vedette quatre panélistes inspirantes avec des parcours variés qui étudient ou travaillent en science, technologie, ingénierie et mathématiques (STIM) au Québec. Ces femmes immigrantes ont laissé leurs proches et leurs pays d’origine pour venir au Québec et contribuer activement à la recherche scientifique québécoise. 

….

The ‘Art and Science Policy-Making Go Together’ talk seems to be aimed at persuasion and is not likely to offer any insider information as to how the BC life sciences effort is progressing. For a somewhat less rosy view of science and policy efforts, you can check out my August 23, 2021 posting, Who’s running the life science companies’ public relations campaign in British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada)?; scroll down to ‘The BC biotech gorillas’ subhead for more about Acuitas and some of the other life sciences companies in British Columbia (BC).

For some insight into how competitive the scene is here in BC, you can see my August 20, 2021 posting (Getting erased from the mRNA/COVID-19 story) about Ian MacLachlan.

You can check out more at the SCWIST website and I’m not sure when the August issue will be placed there but they do have a Newsletter Archive.

Five country survey of reactions to food genome editing

Weirdly and even though most of this paper’s authors are from the University of British Columbia (UBC; Canada), only one press release was issued and that was by the lead author’s (Gesa Busch) home institution, the University of Göttingen (Germany).

I’m glad Busch, the other authors, and the work are getting some attention (if not as much as I think they should).

From a July 9, 2021 University of Göttingen press release (also on EurekAlert but published on July 12, 2021),

A research team from the University of Göttingen and the University of British Columbia (Canada) has investigated how people in five different countries react to various usages of genome editing in agriculture. The researchers looked at which uses are accepted and how the risks and benefits of the new breeding technologies are rated by people. The results show only minor differences between the countries studied – Germany, Italy, Canada, Austria and the USA. In all countries, making changes to the genome is more likely to be deemed acceptable when used in crops rather than in livestock. The study was published in Agriculture and Human Values.

Relatively new breeding technologies, such as CRISPR [clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) gene editing, have enabled a range of new opportunities for plant and animal breeding. In the EU, the technology falls under genetic engineering legislation and is therefore subject to rigorous restrictions. However, the use of gene technologies remains controversial. Between June and November 2019, the research team collected views on this topic via online surveys from around 3,700 people from five countries. Five different applications of gene editing were evaluated: three relate to disease resistance in people, plants, or animals; and two relate to achieving either better quality of produce or a larger quantity of product from cattle.

“We were able to observe that the purpose of the gene modification plays a major role in how it is rated,” says first author Dr Gesa Busch from the University of Göttingen. “If the technology is used to make animals resistant to disease, approval is greater than if the technology is used to increase the output from animals.” Overall, however, the respondents reacted very differently to the uses of the new breeding methods. Four different groups can be identified: strong supporters, supporters, neutrals, and opponents of the technology. The opponents (24 per cent) identify high risks and calls for a ban of the technology, regardless of possible benefits. The strong supporters (21 per cent) see few risks and many advantages. The supporters (26 per cent) see many advantages but also risks. Whereas those who were neutral (29 per cent) show no strong opinion on the subject.

This study was made possible through funding from the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano and Genome BC.

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

Citizen views on genome editing: effects of species and purpose by Gesa Busch, Erin Ryan, Marina A. G. von Keyserlingk & Daniel M. Weary. Agriculture and Human Values (2021) Published: DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-021-10235-9

This paper is open access.

Methodology

I have one quick comment about the methodology. It can be difficult to get a sample that breaks down along demographic lines that is close to or identical to national statistics. That said, it was striking to me that every country was under represented in the ’60 years+ ‘ category. In Canada, it was by 10 percentage points (roughly). For other countries the point spread was significantly wider. In Italy, it was a 30 percentage point spread (roughly).

I found the data in the Supplementary Materials yesterday (July 13, 2021). When I looked this morning, that information was no longer there but you will find what appears to be the questionnaire. I wonder if this removal is temporary or permanent and, if permanent, I wonder why it was removed.

Participants for the Canadian portion of the survey were supplied by Dynata, a US-based market research company. Here’s the company’s Wikipedia entry and its website.

Information about how participants were recruited was also missing this morning (July 14, 2021).

Genome British Columbia (Genome BC)

I was a little surprised when I couldn’t find any information about the program or the project on the Genome BC website as the organization is listed as a funder.

There is a ‘Genomics and Society’ tab (seems promising, eh?) on the homepage where you can find the answer to this question: What is GE³LS Research?,

GE3LS research is interdisciplinary, conducted by researchers across many disciplines within social science and humanities, including economics, environment, law, business, communications, and public policy.

There’s also a GE3LS Research in BC page titled Project Search; I had no luck there either.

It all seems a bit mysterious to me and, just in case anything else disappears off the web, here’s a July 13, 2021 news item about the research on phys.org as backup to what I have here.

Not a pretty picture: Canada and a patent rights waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

At about 7:15 am PT this morning , May 13, 2021, I saw Dr. Mona Nemer’s (Canada’s Chief Science Advisor) tweet (Note: I’m sorry the formatting isn’t better,

Maryse de la Giroday@frogheart Does this mean Canada will support a waiver on patent rights for COVID-19 vaccines?

7:18 AM · May 13, 2021

Dr. Mona Nemer@ChiefSciCanThe global health crisis of the past year has underscored the critical importance of openly sharing scientific information. We are one step closer to making #openscience a reality around the world. So pleased that my office was part of these discussions. http://webcast.unesco.org/events/2021-05-OS-IGM/ Quote Tweet

Canada at UNESCO@Canada2UNESCO · May 6@Canada2UNESCO is partaking in negotiations today on the draft recommendation on #OpenScience The benefits of #science and #technology to health, the #economy and #development should be available to all.6:40 AM · May 13, 2021·Twitter Web App

No reply. No surprise

Brief summary of Canada’s COVID-19 patent rights nonwaiver

You’ll find more about the UNESCO meeting on open science in last week’s May 7, 2021 posting (Listen in on a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) meeting [about Open Science]).

At the time, I noted a disparity in Canada’s policies centering on open science and patents; scroll down to the “Comments on open science and intellectual property in Canada” subsection for a more nuanced analysis. For those who don’t have the patience and/or the time, it boils down to this:

  1. Canada is happily participating in a UNESCO meeting on open science,
  2. the 2021 Canadian federal budget just dedicated a big chunk of money to augmenting Canada’s national patent strategy, and
  3. Canada is “willing to discuss” a waiver at the World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings.

I predicted UNESCO would see our representative’s enthusiastic participation while our representative at the WTO meeting would dance around the topic without committing. to anything. Sadly, it’s starting to look like I was right.

Leigh Beadon in a May 12, 2021 posting on Techdirt reveals the situation is worse than I thought (Note: Links have been removed),

Few things illustrate the broken state of our global intellectual property system better than the fact that, well over a year into this devastating pandemic and in the face of a strong IP waiver push by some of the hardest hit countries, patents are still holding back the production of life-saving vaccines. And of all the countries opposing a waiver at the WTO (or withholding support for it, which is functionally the same thing), Canada might be the most frustrating [emphasis mine].

Canada is the biggest hoarder [emphasis mine] of vaccine pre-orders, having secured enough to vaccinate the population five times over. Despite this, it has constantly run into supply problems and lagged behind comparable countries when it comes to administering the vaccines on a per capita basis. In response to criticism of its hoarding, the government continues to focus on its plans to donate all surplus doses to the COVAX vaccine sharing program — but these promises were somewhat more convincing before Canada became the only G7 country to withdraw doses from COVAX. Despite all this, and despite pressure from experts who explain how vaccine hoarding will prolong the pandemic for everyone, the country has continually refused to voice its support for a TRIPS patent waiver at the WTO.

Momentum for changing Canada’s position on a COVID-19 vaccine patent right waivers?

Maclean’s magazine has a May 10, 2021 open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

The only way to combat this pandemic successfully is through a massive global vaccination campaign on a scale and timeline never before undertaken. This requires the production of effective tools and technologies to fight COVID-19 at scale and coordinated global distribution efforts.

The Trade-Related Aspect of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement at the World Trade Organization (WTO) is leading to the opposite outcome. Vaccine production is hindered by granting pharmaceutical companies monopoly power through protection of intellectual property rights, industrial designs and trade secrets. Pharmaceutical companies’ refusal to engage in health technology knowledge transfer makes large-scale, global vaccine production in (and for) low- and middle-income countries all but impossible. The current distribution of vaccines globally speaks to these obstacles.

Hundreds of civil society groups, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the elected governments of over 100 countries, including India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have come together and stated that current intellectual property protections reduce the availability of vaccines for protecting their people. On May 5, 2021 the United States also announced its intention to support a temporary waiver for vaccines at the WTO.

We are writing to ask our Canadian government to demonstrate its commitment to an equitable global pandemic response by supporting a temporary waiver of the TRIPS agreement. But clearly that is a necessary but not a sufficient first step. We recognize that scaling up vaccine production requires more than just a waiver of intellectual property rights, so we further request that our government support the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) to facilitate knowledge sharing and work with the WTO to address the supply chain and export constraints currently impeding vaccine production. Finally, because vaccines must be rolled out as part of an integrated strategy to end the acute phase of the epidemic, we request that Canada support the full scope of the TRIPS waiver, which extends to all essential COVID-19 products and technologies, including vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

The status quo is clearly not working fast enough to end the acute phase of the pandemic globally. This waiver respects global intellectual property frameworks and takes advantage of existing provisions for exceptions during emergencies, as enshrined in the TRIPS agreement. Empowering countries to take measures to protect their own people is fundamental to bringing this pandemic to an end.

Anand Giridharadas (author of the 2018 book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World) also makes the case for a patent rights waiver in his May 11, 2021 posting on The Ink, Note: A link has been removed,

Patents are temporary monopolies granted to inventors, to reward invention and thus encourage more of it. But what happens when you invent a drug that people around the world require to stay alive? What happens when, furthermore, that drug was built in part on technology the public paid for? Are there limits to intellectual property?

For years, activists have pressured the United States government to break or suspend patents in particular cases, as with HIV/Aids. They have had little luck. Indeed, the United States has often fought developing countries when they try to break patents to do right by their citizens, choosing American drug companies over dying people.

So it was a dramatic swerve when, last week, the Biden administration announced that it supported a waiver of the patents for Covid vaccines.

Not long afterward, I reached out to several leading activists for vaccine access to understand the significance of the announcement and where we go from here.

in all this talk about patents and social justice and, whether it’s directly referenced or not, money, the only numbers of I’ve seen,until recently, have been numbers of doses and aggregate costs.

How much does a single vaccine dose cost?

A Sunday, April 11, 2021 article by Krassen Nikolov for EURACTIV provides an answer about the cost in one region, the European Union,

“Pfizer cost €12, then €15.50. The Commission now signs contracts for €19,50”, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov revealed on Sunday [April 11, 2021].

The European Commission is in talks with Pfizer for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines in 2022 and 2023. Borissov said the contracts provide for €19.50 per dose.

Under an agreement with the vaccine producing companies, the European Commission has so far refused to reveal the price of vaccines. However, last December Belgian Secretary of State Eva De Bleeker shared on Twitter the vaccine prices negotiated by the Commission, as well as the number of doses purchased by her government. Then, it became known that the AstraZeneca jab costs €1.78 compared to €12 for Pfizer-BioNTech.

€12 to €19,50, that’s an increase of over 50%. I wonder how Pfizer is justifying such a hefty increase?

According to a March 16, 2021 article by Swikar Oli for the National Post (a Canadian newspaper), these prices are a cheap pandemic special prices,

A top Pfizer executive told shareholders the company is looking at a “significant opportunity” to raise the price of its Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

While addressing investors at the virtual Barclays Global Healthcare Conference last week, Pfizer CFO Frank D’Amelio noted they could raise prices when the virus becomes endemic, meaning it’s regularly found in clusters around the globe, according to a transcript of the conference posted on Pfizer’s website.

Current vaccine pricing models are pandemic-related, D’Amelio explained. After the pandemic is defeated and “normal market conditions” arrive, he noted the window would open for a “significant opportunity…from a pricing perspective.”

“So the one price that we published is the price with the U.S. of $19.50 per dose. Obviously, that’s not a normal price like we typically get for a vaccine, $150, $175 [emphasis mine] per dose,” he said, “So pandemic pricing.”

If I remember it rightly, as you increase production, you lower costs per unit. In other words, it’s cheaper to produce one dozen than one, which is why your bakery charges you less money per bun or cake if you purchase by the dozen.

During this pandemic, Pfizer has been producing huge amounts of vaccine, which they would not expect to do should the disease become endemic. As Pfizer has increased production, I would think the price should be dropping but according to the Bulgarian prime minister, it’s not.

They don’t seem to be changing the vaccine as new variants arrive. So, raising the prices doesn’t seem to be linked to research issues and as for the new production facilities, surely those didn’t cost billions.

Canada and COVID-19 money

Talking about money, Canada has a COVDI-19 billionaire according to a December 23, 2020 article (Meet The 50 Doctors, Scientists And Healthcare Entrepreneurs Who Became Pandemic Billionaires In 2020) by Giacomo Tognini for Forbes.

I have a bit more about Carl Hansen (COVID-19 billionaire) and his company, AbCellera, in my December 30, 2020 posting.

I wonder how much the Canadian life sciences community has to do with Canada’s hesitancy over a COVID-19 vaccine patent rights waiver.