Tag Archives: innovation

Unintended consequences: Australians not using sunscreens to avoid nanoparticles?

Friends of the Earth (FoE) Australia has waged a campaign against the use of nanosunscreens. It seems to have been somewhat successful but in a way that I imagine is upsetting. From the Feb. 9, 2012 news item on physorg.com,

The Cancer Council of Australia reports that we have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, with over 440,000 people receiving medical treatment for skin cancers each year, and over 1,700 people dying of all types of skin cancer annually.

The survey of public attitudes towards sunscreens with nanoparticles, commissioned by the Australian Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education and conducted last month, showed that about 17% of people in Australia were so worried about the issue, they would rather risk skin cancer by going without sunscreen than use a product containing nanoparticles. [emphasis mine] [please see correction at the end of this posting]

The survey along with three research papers were presented at the 2012 International Conference on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICONN) in Perth,Feb. 5-9.

One of the research studies indicates that claims of  ‘nano-free’ sunscreen products may be wrong, from the Feb. 9, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Scientists from Australia’s National Measurement Institute and overseas collaborators reported on a technique using the scattering of synchrotron light to determine the sizes of particles in sunscreens. They found that some commercial sunscreens that claim to be ‘nano-free’ do in fact contain nanostructured material. The findings highlight the need for clear definitions when describing nanomaterials.

The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration has released a statement on safety of sunscreens containing nanoparticles that concluded: “… the current weight of evidence suggests that TiO2 (titanium dioxide) and ZnO (zinc oxide) nanoparticles do not reach viable skin cells, rather, they remain on the surface of the skin and in the outer layer of the skin…”

You can get more information about the studies in either linked news item. The Australian government’s sunscreen use survey is available on this page; the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration review of the scientific literature on the safety of nanoscale (nanoparticulate) titanium dioxide and zinc oxide in sunscreens is available on this page; and the Cancer Council of Australia has information about sunscreens and nanoparticles on this page.

One can’t lay the blame for *13%* of the population’s hesitance to use any sunscreens at one door but I hope that civil societies like FoEAustralia will give a little thought to the unintended consequences of their campaigns.

The campaign was against nanosunscreens not all sunscreens but presumably coupled with other influences, it seems to have upset a significant percentage of the population to the point that they refuse to use any sunscreens at all for fear of inadvertently being exposed to nanoparticles.

Feb. 10, 2012 update: It’s a very interesting response from FoEAustralia (from the Feb. 10, 2012 article by Simon Lauder for ABC  [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] News),

“We’ve decided to recall the safe sunscreen guides that we have produced this summer until we can revise them based on new information that comes in,” Elena McMaster, the nanotechnology campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said.

“What we see with this research is that in the absence of government regulation, the nanotech industry is able to more or less make up their own rules about what constitutes a nano material,” she said.

“We are obviously probably as shocked as people in the industry about the NMI research results.

“I can’t emphasise enough how urgent we think it is that the Government regulates.”

The best FoEAustralia can offer in the face of the rather shocking information that 17% of the adult population are avoiding sunscreens altogether is a plea for more government regulation of a product that doesn’t seem to be dangerous according to research.

Dexter Johnson in his Feb. 10, 2012 Nanoclast posting noted this about the study which found that sunscreens claiming ‘no nanomaterials/nanoparticles’ did contain some,

“What we see with this research is that in the absence of government regulation, the nanotech industry is able to more or less make up their own rules about what constitutes a nano material,” said Elena McMaster, a FoE spokesperson.

That’s one interpretation, I suppose. But it could also be that traditional sunscreens might contain nanoscale particles even though no attempt had been made to manufacture or add them to the mix. Unintentional nanoparticles, if you will, not unlike those created when the tires of your car drive over the pavement.

I wonder what kind of government regulations the FoE will request. Will each container of sunscreen have to be opened and its contents examined with a scattering of synchrotron light to determine particle size?

In fact, there’s some evidence that nanoparticles are all over the place, some of them created by nature, from the May 11, 2012 article New Evidence for Natural Synthesis of Silver Nanoparticles on Nanowiki,

“this creates the idea that there may be some sort of natural cycle returning some of the ions to nanoparticles.” [said Robert MacCuspie at NIST {US National Institute of Standards and Technology}] It also helps explain the discovery, over the past few years, of silver nanoparticles in locations like old mining regions that are not likely to have been exposed to man-made nanoparticles, but would have significant concentrations of silver ions. [emphasis mine]

My respect for FoEAustralia is seriously damaged by this stance they’ve taken. As far as I’m concerned they should admit they’ve made a mistake by using scare tactics to force some sort of confrontation over nanosunscreens and their strategy to force regulation of nanomaterials has backfired seriously.

Feb.21.12 correction: According to the information in the Feb. 20, 2012 posting on 2020 Science, the percentage of Australians likely to avoid using sunscreens is 13%,

This has just landed in my email in box from Craig Cormick at the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education in Australia, and I thought I would pass it on given the string of posts on nanoparticles in sunscreens on 2020 Science over the past few years:

“An online poll of 1,000 people, conducted in January this year, shows that one in three Australians had heard or read stories about the risks of using sunscreens with nanoparticles in them,” Dr Cormick said.

“Thirteen percent of this group were concerned or confused enough that they would be less likely to use any sunscreen, whether or not it contained nanoparticles, putting them selves at increased risk of developing potentially deadly skin cancers.

“The study also found that while one in five respondents stated they would go out of their way to avoid using sunscreens with nanoparticles in them, over three in five would need to know more information before deciding.”

*’17%’ corrected to ‘13%’ on Sept. 22, 2016.

Canadian commercialization survey

CATA stands for Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance. I haven’t heard much about this group since they closed down their British Columbia office. It turns out they are still active and their latest project is a survey on commercialization in Canada. From the CATA commercialization project page,

The objective of this study, administered by CATAAlliance in partnership with University of Waterloo and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, is to identify what are the views of Canadian industry concerning effective commercialization of innovations – what works and what does not in Canadian industry attempts at being more effective in the global marketplace.

The performance of Canadian firms in commercializing innovation is a more essential economic factor than quantity of innovation if a large part of it is left sterile in the labs. Commercialization is perceived as the underperforming aspect of Canadian industry performance – especially among SMEs who need better ways and means to enhance their positions in the global marketplace.

Product innovation and new product commercialization receive the bulk of attention from researchers and policy makers. However, service innovations (whether production processes, marketing innovations, or organizational innovation) are just as important, especially that the service sector accounts for more than 70% of the GDP and more than 75% of Canadians are employed in the service sector. The results of this study will help Canadian Executives – in Industry as well as in Government – to assess their organizations impacts in matters of commercialization of innovation and to develop better practices and programs for ensuring Canadian industry competitiveness in the global marketplace.

The effort does seem to be heavily Ontario-inflected with one Alberta agency (Alberta Council of Technologies) listed as a sponsor and no other province represented. I suspect this has something to do with the difficulties of organizing any sort of effort across our very large country.

The survey part of the project remains open until October 1, 2011. A report based on the survey results and roundtable discussions (taking place Sept. 19, 2011) will be released October 24, 2011.

Tim Harper, Cientifica’s CEO, talks about their latest report on global nanotechnology funding and economic impacts

A big thanks to Tim Harper for both his insight and for taking the time to answer questions I had about the report, Report on Global Nanotechnology Funding and Impact (Global Funding of Nanotechnologies and Its Impact) released earlier this week on July 13, 2011.

(a) First, could you tell me a little bit about you and about Cientifica?

My background is hardcore nanotechnology – I spend years building and installing surface science instrumentation for VG Instruments, one of the first companies to commercialise the Scanning Tunnelling Microscope, or at least we did our best. But that was back in the days when a PDP 1-11 was the data system and successfully acquiring an image and interpreting it usually required a trip to Zurich to see Gerd Binnig and Heini Röhring [Note: They won the Nobel prize for their efforts on scanning tunnelling microscope]. I also spent a lot of time on Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry – hitting surfaces with beams of ions and then collecting what we knocked off.  After that I ran the electron microscopy section at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) labs in Holland before buying a lot of focussed ion beam systems and atomic force microscopes so that we could take things apart atom by atom if we suspected that they may fail half way to Mars!

Cientifica started off as a spin out in 1996 doing contract research for ESA before moving into networking scientists, advising venture capital firms about technology and producing information about nanotechnologies. Over the past ten years our work has been used by most governments, and we have been instrumental in designing or advising on a large number of national nanotechnology projects. After tracking nanotechnology for 12 years and usually being more or less right (blush) we have an increasing number of people who use us as a sanity check for projects and investments. But often the biggest successes are the least visible such as advising a client not to put a few hundred million dollars into manufacturing carbon nanotubes for which there was no channel to market.

(b) Is your latest report, 2011 Global Funding of Nanotechnologies and Its Impact, a successor of sorts (industrial sectors rather than countries are prominently listed) to your 2008 Nanotechnology Opportunities report?

It’s a progression from our first edition of the Nanotechnology Opportunity Report in 2002. In those days people just wanted to know what nanotechnology was, and to cut through a lot of the hype and disinformation. In 2002, 99.9% of people thought that nanotechnology was all about tiny robots. Ten years later it’s probably 90%, but at least the 10% involved in science policy, whether in government or companies know what nanotech really is. What people want now is some usable information  –  how does it affect my business or industry, and how can I take advantage of it. Most of our work is for private clients, who range from start ups through to multinationals and governments, and who tap our expertise in predicting the future impact of technology.

We still do a huge amount of work in industrials sectors, and we have publications in medicine and energy in the pipeline which we hope will allow people to cut through the hype and understand what (and when) the market opportunity will really be.

(c) Why did you choose to focus on nano R&D spending and potential economic impacts? Is it something to do with all of the talk about innovation?

We wanted to look first at the funding in both dollar and purchasing power parity terms as one R&D dollar gets more in China that it does in the US. There is a lot of national pride at stake about who is spending the most, and if you look at per capita spending it gets even more interesting. But getting technology to market isn’t just about making huge amounts of government money available. 90-95% of science funding doesn’t generate anything of any economic use (although it can be very useful for furthering scientific knowledge) so we need to look at how that 5-10% gets to market.  I have had a close relationship with the World Economic Forum for many years which also helps us move away from merely looking at science funding to looking at its economic impact, and we also use a lot of data from the World Bank, OECD [Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation], and various government studies when we try to model technology diffusion.

Over the years we have developed a quite sophisticated model that allows us to translate these various inputs into fairly good, and quite specific, market predictions. In the past 12 years some people have described our market forecasts as cynical or ultra conservative, but if you look back at what we’ve said and what actually happened, I think you’ll find that we were just being realistic. I know that some people want to see big numbers, but it must be all those years as a scientist that makes me satisfied with accurate numbers, no matter what the magnitude!

Innovation isn’t a problem, the academic system is stuffed to the gills with bright and innovative people, but convincing the rest of the world that they need your innovation is the stumbling block. When we looked at the ability of countries to take advantage of their technology funding, countries such as the US and Germany scored highly as they have plenty of commercial-facing research, a strong tradition of industry-academic partnerships, good government support for technology (and whatever individual academics may say it could be far far worse) and domestic industry hungry for technology to maintain their competitive advantage. What surprised us was the low ranking of the UK. While possessing some of the best universities in the world, the UK economy is predominantly service-based, and real estate and coffee shops tend to be less enthusiastic consumers of nanotechnology than chemical companies and auto manufacturers.

(d) It seems most countries are concerned/worried about the levels of their nano science research, their innovation, and consequent economic prospects. Is there any country that seems confident about its nano economic prospects and why do you think that is?

That is partly true, but most governments do not have a joined up strategy which can cause significant structural problems in the future. Post financial crisis, the emphasis has shifted to trimming budgets rather than making long term strategic investments, which is what nanotechnology is, and this gives us two major problems.

Firstly, there just isn’t enough support for early stage spin outs. There is a financial desert to cross between being a full time academic and having a company with enough proof of concept to attract angel or VC [venture capital] funding. Unless governments address this aspect it really doesn’t matter how much innovation is produced by the academic sector, most of it will go nowhere (other than the parts cherry picked by large companies). We really need to start thinking about the path that innovation takes to market, and to make that as smooth as possible.

Secondly, and more seriously, we are approaching a dangerous time in human history. Science and technology are moving faster than ever before thanks to the automation of lab systems and almost real time sharing of results through online journals. At the same time, people are increasingly distrustful of technology, perhaps as a result of it being so far removed from everyday life, which leads to whole areas of science such as GMOs [genetically modified organisms] or nuclear energy becoming tainted. So while we have increasing pressure on food, water, energy, health and every other resource caused by a rising global population, we are being denied the tools which could help improve the conditions of people across the globe. I’m deeply involved in an initiative that sprung from our emerging technologies work at the World Economic Forum, which involves the setting up of a global Centre for Emerging Technologies Intelligence, with the aim of ensuring that we can and will develop the technologies needed to provide clean water, better health and cheap food to the world, whether that comes from nanotechnology, industrial biotechnology, or any other emerging technology.  But the project is less about the technology than making sure that the importance of technology is recognised by governments and international organisations. It is no good running around firefighting crises when we could be thinking ahead and averting them. There’s still a long way to go, but we are talking to a number of governments who are keen to host the centre.

(e) I find it interesting that regions/countries (Alberta, Texas, Iran, and increasingly, other Middle Eastern countries) that have been dependent on oil as a source of wealth are heavily invested in nanotechnology. Are there any conclusions to be drawn from that?

Diversification is the name of the game. It is very dangerous for local or national economies to be dependent on a single sector, even when it is one as lucrative as oil & gas. We have done a lot of work in the Middle East, and the issue there is also one of employment. Most of the expertise for oil & gas is imported and in Gulf countries that have gone from fishing villages to major international cities within a generation there is a real need to provide employment for their youthful populations. Nanotechnology and life sciences are seen as industries of the future and are increasingly central to strategy in the Gulf.

Iran is a different case, and it’s a place I have visited several times to discuss nanotechnologies. While the world may have some issues with the Iranian government, the scientists and business people I deal with are just like the rest of us. Iran has some great science going on, and the US embargo has meant that they have had to be quite ingenious to get access to even basic instrumentation such as electron microscopes. However, there’s a large domestic market, and the Iranians are manufacturing everything from scientific instruments to nanomaterials. When the political issues are solved, I think a few people will be surprised by the level of sophistication of Iranian nanoscience. [Note: For an example of what Tim is referring to, see the Fast Company article (Using 3-D Printers To Mock Up New Teeth) by Morgan Glendaniel, as it mentions the impact that Iranian scientists have had on this new nano-enabled technology.)

(f) Is there anything that you couldn’t include in the report but wanted to? For example, a country that doesn’t register yet in terms of its spending or innovation quotient numbers but that you think is quietly gearing up.

Our dataset is very large, and this report is just the tip of the iceberg as we have clients who pay for the detailed information. As a result the published report just concentrates on the top level numbers for the major economies. There are a few places that really stand out though, such as Singapore. The science and technology infrastructure in Singapore is world class, but it is a small country with no real domestic market so the challenge will be commercialising the fruits of its nanotechnology projects. The current strategy is based on licensing to multinationals but that alone won’t justify the investment so I suspect we will see a lot more partnering around the region, leveraging Singaporean technology in regional markets as, for example, SingTel has successfully done.

A real disappointment is India, with their leading Scientist, CNR Rao, being recently quoted as thinking that the country is in danger of missing the boat. [Note: You can find some of the quotes in this July 8, 2011 posting.]  I have spent large amounts of time in India and I know the raw talent is there, but the creaky infrastructure and lack of political will means that they are currently performing way below their potential.

(g) I will be asking a question or two about the Canada and nanotechnology from a global perspective but I’d like to learn a little bit about the project/workshop you delivered for the Canadian government some years ago. As I recall, it was an analysis of the Canadian effort at that point in time. And, are there any plans for future presentations in Canada?

We did some work for the NRC [National Research Council] a few years ago and also attended a few conferences in Canada in the early part of the decade [2000s] but since then I haven’t been back, although judging from the activity that is going on and looking at where Canada is on the rankings then maybe I should spend more time there!

(h) Generally, how would you describe Canada and its role in the global nanotechnology effort?

Our numbers indicate that it is a good place to be, similar to Australia, The Netherlands, Singapore and the Nordic economies, which is what you would expect.  The US, Russia and China are way out in front with huge funding programs, so the way to compete is obviously to be smarter and find niches rather than trying to cover every aspect of what is a huge field. Knowing where you want the economy to go and nurturing the technologies that will help you achieve that is always a good strategy. But governments are usually terrible at picking winners. Most politicians and civil servants are often ill equipped to advise people on how to run a business, so creating the right environment for innovation and then letting entrepreneurs get on with it is probably the best option.

(i) Are there any suggestions you’d make to Canadian policymakers as to improving Canada’s situation?

Think I just answered that above. 😉 In a nutshell it’s not about how much; it’s about how effective the funding is.

(j) How much work is it to write a report like 2011 Global Funding of Nanotechnologies and Its Impact?

It is harder than it looks.  We have been collecting these numbers for the last 10 years but that’s only part of it. We also have to build and maintain relationships with a huge network of government agencies and scientists around the world so that we can understand which numbers are real.  A lot of governments are very happy to announce funding for nanotechnology, but that doesn’t actually mean that it is available and much of what what we try to do is confirm that all the funding we track is real cash and not just a political announcement.

(k) Is there anything you’d like to add?

After 12 years and almost $70 billion in funding we have to keep thinking about why we do science and how we can encourage its results to be translated into both economic and social well-being. The technology transfer process is very inefficient and the path is strewn with many obstacles. If this was a business process someone would have found a way to streamline it by now.

Thank you Tim Harper for going ‘over and above’ in answering my questions.

One final note, in addition to being a ‘serial tech entrepreneur’ (ETA July 18, 2011: I added the word tech to ‘serial entrepreneur’] and CEO (chief executive officer) of Cientifica, Tim co-owns a fashion boutique, Foxbat in the Spitalfields district of London, UK  (proving that people involved in nanotechnology have a broad set of interests).

Comments on the Golden Triangle workshop for PCAST’s PITAC

I didn’t catch the entire webcast as it was live streaming but what I caught was fascinating to observe. For those who don’t know, PCAST is the US President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and PITAC is the President’s Innovation and Technology Advisory Committee. This morning they held a workshop mentioned in yesterday’s posting here that was focused on innovation in the US regarding information technology, nanotechnology, and biotechnology (the Golden Triangle). You can go to the PCAST website for information about this morning’s workshop and hopefully find a copy of the webcast once they’ve posted it.

A few items from the webcast caught my attention such as a comment by Judith Estrin (invitee and business woman). She talked about a laboratory gap (aka valley of death) while referencing the loss of large industrial labs such as the Bell Labs where as of Aug. 2008 the focus shifted from basic science to more easily commercialized applications.

I think there’s a significant difference between doing basic research in an academic environment and doing it in an industrial environment. I believe what Estrin is referencing is the support an industrial laboratory can offer a scientist who wants to pursue an avenue of basic research which might not find initial support within the academic structure and/or ongoing support as it makes its arduous way to commercialization.

With the loss of a number of large laboratories, start-up companies are under pressure to fill the gap but they have a big problem trying to support that interstitial space between basic research and applied research as they don’t have sufficient capitalization.

The similarity to the Canadian situation with its lack of industrial laboratories really caught my attention.

Franco Vitiliano, President and CEO of ExQor Technologies Inc., reiterated a point made earlier and afterwards about the interdisciplinary nature of the work and difficulty of operating in a business environment that is suspicious and/or fails to understand that kind of work. I was captivated by his story about bio-nanolasers and how these were developed from an observations made about water drops.

Anita Goel, Chairman and CEO of Nanobiosym Inc., noted that another problem with financing lies with the current financial models which are increasingly focused on the short-term and are risk-averse. As well, the current venture capital model is designed to support one technology application for one market. This presents a problem with the interdisciplinary nature of the work in the biotechnology, nanotechnology, and information technology fields currently taking place with its applications being considered for multiple markets.

There were many astute and interesting speakers. I can’t always remember who said what and sometimes I couldn’t see the person’s placard so I apologize if I’ve wrongly attributed some of the comments. If someone could correct me, I’d be more than happy to edit the changes in.

I was suprised that there were no individuals from the venture capital  community or representatives from some of the large companies such as HP Labs, IBM, etc. Most of the start-ups represented at the meeting came from the biomedical sector. I did not hear anyone discuss energy, clean water, site remediation, or other such applications. As far as I could tell there weren’t any nongovernmental agencies present either. Nonetheless, it was a very crowded table and I imagine that more people would have necessitated a much longer session.

I found the webcast was stimulating but the acid test for this meeting and others of its type is always whether or not action is taken.

As for the Canadian situation with it’s ‘innovation gap’, there’s more in Rob Annan’s posting, Research policy odds and sods, where he highlights a number of recent articles  about Canadian innovation laced with some of his observations. It’s a good roundup of the latest and I encourage you to check it out.

ETA June 23 2010: Dexter Johnson at Nanoclast offers his thoughts on the webcast and notes that while the promotional material suggested a discussion about public engagement, the workshop itself was focused on the ‘innovation gap’. He highlights comments from speakers I did not mention, as well as some of the questions received via Facebook and Twitter. For someone who doesn’t have the time to sit through the webcast, I strongly suggest that you check out Dexter’s posting as he adds insight borne of more intimate knowledge than mine of the US situation.

Canada’s new copyright bill (C-32) and OECD’s take on intellectual property rights and innovation

Canada’s conservative government introduced a new bill (C-32) on copyright last Wednesday, June 2, 2010. The previous attempt, Bill C-61, died and, as I recall, that death occurred after furious protest largely concerning the ‘digital lock’ provision. This provision was modeled on a similar US provision, which has been highly contested in that country. For a brief description of a digital lock I went to Michael Geist’s blog where I found a posting answering 32 questions about Bill C-32,,

… what are anti-circumvention or digital lock provisions? The short answer is that they are provisions that grant legal protection to technological protection measures (TPMs). In plainer English, traditional copyright law grants creators a basket of exclusive rights in their work. TPMs or digital locks (such as copy-controls on CDs, DVDs, or e-books) effectively provide a second layer of protection by making it difficult for most people to copy or sometimes access works in digital format. Anti-circumvention legislation creates a third layer of protection by making it an infringement to simply pick or break the digital lock (in fact, it even goes further by making it an infringement to make available tools or devices that can be used to pick the digital lock). Under the Bill C-32, it would be an infringement to circumvent a TPM [digital lock] even if the intended use of the underlying work would not constitute traditional copyright infringement. [emphases mine]

I gather that even if I copy something that is now legal in Canada, e. g., make a photocopy of a page from a book for noncommercial purposes, that it will be illegal if I try this with an e-book where I need to break a digital lock. In effect, all copying becomes illegal if there’s a digital lock or other ‘technological protection measure’, which is likely with provisions such as this while we move to using more and more towards using digital media.

Intriguingly, an earlier posting by Michael Geist which focused on the original bill C-61 cited a research paper with a focus on copyright policy in Canada, the US, and Mexico where this was noted,

According to [Michèle] Austin [chief of staff for then Industry Canada Minister, Maxime Bernier], the decision to introduce U.S.-style DMCA [digital lock] rules in Canada in 2007 was strictly a political decision, the result of pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office desire to meet U.S. demands. She states “the Prime Minister’s Office’s position was, move quickly, satisfy the United States.” When Bernier and then-Canadian Heritage Minister Bev Oda protested, the PMO replied “we don’t care what you do, as long as the U.S. is satisfied.” [emphasis mine]

Thankfully, the new bill according to Geist and other sources he cites (I recommend reading his blog if you’re interested in this issue), is fairly balanced overall except for the digital lock provision.

There are two possibilities that come to mind when I consider how this ‘digital lock provision’ in the new copyright bill could have an impact on science in Canada. First, if publishers put locks on articles in science journals, you’d no longer be able to copy and paste selections (properly cited of course) into your own paper.

Second, copyright is a subclassification, along with patents and trademarks, of intellectual property law. While all three are intended to protect the creators of content, products, etc., they are often used as legal tools to intimidate competitors (large corporations or agencies such as the International Olympics Committee) or extort money (patent trolls), which tends to suppress innovation and competition. Restricting use through a new copyright law may not have a direct effect on patent law but the environment in which business and the legal profession operate will be affected and I strongly suspect adversely so.

I mentioned yesterday, The OECD Innovation Strategy: Getting a Head Start on Tomorrow and its Key Findings report. From p. 18,

An important contributor to building such networks and markets is the ability to own certain kinds of knowledge, as recognised by intellectual property rights [IPR]. IPRs provide an important incentive to invest in innovation by allowing firms to recover their investment costs. Patents are particularly important for small firms, as they can facilitate entry into new markets and enable competition and collaboration with other firms. IPRs should be well protected and appropriately enforced. Weak protection of IPRs undermines incentives to invest in innovation, facilitates counterfeiting and piracy, reduces the potential for technology transfer and limits the formation of markets for knowledge.

However, the protection of knowledge needs to be combined with policies and mechanisms that facilitate access and transfer. Excessively strong IPR may hamper the appropriate use of protected knowledge and discourage follow-on research and research in adjacent areas to the detriment of both competition and innovation.

I certainly consider the ‘digital lock provision’ in the current bill (C-32) as excessively strong and I don’t see how it helps innovation and competition (I think competition arises from innovation which is why I put it second).

US National Science Foundation on science and communicating about its impact on society and OECD report on innovation as a societal effort

On the heels of last week”s posting about the importance of a broad-ranging approach to science and innovation (See: Rob Annan’s [Don’t leave Canada behind blog] latest post, Innovation isn’t just about science funding and Poetry, molecular biophysics and innovation in Canada on this blog), I found these and other related issues being discussed elsewhere. (Side note: I’d love to hear from anyone who might be able to comment on these issues as they arise in other countries. I get most of my information from Canadian, US, and UK sources so it does tend to be limited.)

Dave Bruggeman at Pasco Phronesis highlights an editorial and an article by Corie Lok about the US National Science Foundation and its efforts to have scientists demonstrate or communicate the broader societal impacts of their research work by making it a requirement in their grant application. From Dave’s posting,

Do read the pieces [published in the journal Nature], because I think the point about developing the infrastructure to support research on broader impacts and the implementation of those broader impacts is a necessary step. With a support system in place, researchers may be more inclined to take the criterion seriously. With infrastructure better able to measure impacts, science advocates may have better data from which to advance their causes. …

While there was some mention of efforts in the U.K. and the European Commission to do similar work in making more explicit the connections between scientific research and broader impacts, I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a bit more effort to make a stronger connection of lessons learned both for other countries and for the U.S. This is particularly true if new U.K. Science and Universities Minister Willets goes through with a campaign promise to give the Research Excellence Framework a more thorough review.

I encourage you to read Dave’s posting in its entirety as he adds thoughtful commentary and information about the situation in the US while I focus on other aspects of the issue, from the Nature editorial,

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) is unique among the world’s science-funding agencies in its insistence that every proposal, large or small, must include an activity to demonstrate the research’s ‘broader impacts’ on science or society. This might involve the researchers giving talks at a local museum, developing new curricula or perhaps forming a start-up company. [emphases mine]

The requirement’s goal is commendable. It aims to enlist the scientific community to help show a return on society’s investment in research and to bolster the public’s trust in science — the latter being particularly important given the well-organized movements currently attacking concepts such as evolution and climate change.

I find the notion that starting up a new company is a way of demonstrating research’s broader societal impact rather unexpected and something I like and dislike in equal measure. I can certainly see where it would encourage the kind of innovation that the Canadian government wishes to foster and I can see the benefits. On the other hand, I think there is a very strong focus on the almighty buck to the exclusion of other social benefits as per “show a return on society’s investment in research,” in the editorial excerpt’s 2nd paragraph. You’ll note that ‘fostering trust’ is second and it’s in the service of ensuring that cherished concepts are not attacked. (Aside: While Nature uses evolution and climate change for its examples here, scientists have fought bitterly over other cherished concepts which have over time proved to be incorrect. For years geneticists dismissed some 98% of the human genome as ‘junk DNA’ . It turns out they were wrong. [see this article in New Scientist for more about the importance of ‘junk DNA’])

As for the focus on ‘society’s return on its research investment’, there’s this from Corie Lok’s Nature article,

Research-funding agencies are forever trying to balance two opposing forces: scientists’ desire to be left alone to do their research, and society’s demand to see a return on its investment. [emphasis mine]

The European Commission, for example, has tried to strike that balance over the past decade by considering social effects when reviewing proposals under its various Framework programmes for research. And the Higher Education Funding Council for England announced last year that, starting in 2013, research will be assessed partly on its demonstrable benefits to the economy, society or culture.

But no agency has gone as far as the US National Science Foundation (NSF), which will not even consider a proposal unless it explicitly includes activities to demonstrate the project’s ‘broader impacts’ on science or society at large. “The criterion was established to get scientists out of their ivory towers and connect them to society,” explains Arden Bement, director of the NSF in Arlington, Virginia.

Here there seems to be a softening of the “return on investment” focus on money and the economy to include “broader impacts” on society and culture. Since the phrase ‘return on investment’ comes from the financial services sector, the meaning will default, unless carefully framed, to financial and economic considerations only.

I guess the question I have is, how do we value broader impacts? I’m a scientist, Get me out of here is a public engagement programme I’ve mentioned before (towards the end of this posting). How do you measure the outcome for a programme where kids stay after school to chat online with scientists about science? Sure you can measure how many kids participate and whether more of them indicate an interest in studying science but these are short-term. There are other possibilities such as increased science literacy over their lifetimes or going on to become a scientist but that will be at least 10 years away. There are also other less directly measurable possibilities (such as using an idea from an online science chat to create a story or an art piece decades after the fact) but these are in the long term and don’t lend themselves easily to measurement.

One other issue, I’d like to touch on is the scientists themselves having difficulty with the concept of ‘broader implications’. I sometimes ask them something along this line, where is your work going to be used or what are the practical applications. The answers can baffle me as I receive a very stripped down response which doesn’t answer the question adequately for someone (me) who isn’t an expert colleague. As I’m usually interviewing by email, I don’t have the option of asking all of the followup questions (often, more than one would be needed) to extract the information.

I’m hopeful that the situation will change with projects such as Terry at the University of British Columbia, from the About page listing a special course,


What is ASIC200? Full course details can be found [here], but here’s a gander at the general course description:

“Human society confronts a range of challenges that are global in scope. These changes threaten planetary and local ecosystems, the stability and sustainability of human societies, and the health and well being of human individuals and communities. The natural and human worlds are now interacting at the global level to an unprecedented degree. Responding to these global issues will be the greatest challenge facing human society in the 21st century. In this course students will explore selected global issues from the perspective of both the physical and life sciences and the social sciences and humanities. The fundamental philosophy of the course is that global issues cannot be fully understood or addressed without a functional literacy in both the Sciences and the Arts. [emphasis mine] In this course, students will develop the knowledge and the practical skills required to become engaged citizens in the local, national, and international civil society dialogue on global issues.”

I like this approach as it requires that arts students also extend their range; it’s not just scientists doing all the work to expand understanding. Even the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) is getting in on the act with recommendations for more innovative societies. From Key Findings (p. 9) in The OECD Innovation Strategy: Getting a Head Start on Tomorrow,

Formal education is the basis for forming human capital, and policy makers should ensure that education systems help learners to adapt to the changing nature of innovation from the start. This requires curricula and pedagogies that equip students with the capacity to learn and apply new skills throughout their lives. Emphasis needs to be placed on skills such as critical thinking, creativity, communication, user orientation and teamwork, in addition to domain-specific and linguistic skills. [emphasis mine]

The recommendation is inclusive and not aimed at a specific group such as scientists, although the Key Findings and the Executive Summary (which can be found on this page) seem most heavily invested in developing recommendations for business/market/entrepreneurial innovation rather than the sciences or the humanities.

Poetry, molecular biophysics and innovation in Canada

There’s an interesting story by Karen Hopkin (Carpe Datum)  in the latest The Scientist newsletter about Gregory Petsko, a would-be student of epic poetry who changed his field of studies to molecular biophysics as he made his way to a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford. From Carpe Datum,

With his heart set on the study of epic poetry, Petsko arranged to work with Maurice Bowra, a preeminent classicist, and set sail for England. “Back then, all the Rhodes scholars traveled over on the Queen Elizabeth, which took 8 days,” he says. “And sometime while I was out over the Atlantic, Maurice Bowra died.” Not sure how to proceed, Petsko phoned Princeton and spoke to the head of the lab where he’d worked part-time to earn a few bucks. “He told me to go over to David Phillips’s lab and get a degree in molecular biophysics,” says Petsko. “And it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“For me, structure is just a means to an end. That end is function. I care about function,” he says. “I want to know how things work.”

“Greg never loses sight of the big picture. For him, it’s ultimately about the biology,” says former postdoc Ann Stock, an HHMI investigator at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey–Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “In the field of structural biology, that hasn’t always been true. In the early years, many structural biologists focused mostly on the nuts-and-bolts technical aspects of solving three-dimensional structures.” Petsko is proficient when it comes to nuts and bolts, she says, “but he sees them as tools that allow him to explore the biology of proteins.”

I find it interesting that Petsko is well grounded in the humanities as there is a longstanding argument that an education in the humanities and/or liberal arts is a “big picture” education. Petsko’s discoveries include the TIM barrel,

“It’s like an alpha helix or a beta-pleated sheet: the TIM barrel is a protein fold that basically implies function,” says [Jan] Westpheling [geneticist at University of Georgia]. “And Greg discovered it. This was a profound contribution in the days when people were just beginning to understand the three-dimensional structure of proteins.”

If you’re interested in more about how scientists think and work, please do read Hopkin’s story as I’m now switching gears to Rob Annan’s (Don’t leave Canada behind blog) latest post, Innovation isn’t just about science funding.

Rob raises a number of points about innovation in Canada, along with this one (from the post),

Expecting researchers to produce innovative research and to translate it into the broader world is unrealistic. And giving more money to researchers isn’t going to change that.

Much of the discussion about Canada’s lack of innovation is focused on how money can be made from research. Scientists are quite innovative in their research; the problem, from the government’s perspective, lies in bringing the research to market. Back to Rob,

… Unlike scientific research, social and commercial innovation isn’t a relatively linear process you can lay out in five year funding applications. It doesn’t require a highly-specialized skill set. It requires a broad skill set that involves creative thinking, communication skills, problem-solving, critical thinking, and cultural and civic understanding – all of which need to be applied to the varied stages of innovation development.

These are the attributes of successful entrepreneurs. These are also the attributes of a liberal arts and science education.

You might say that Petsko embodies “the attributes of a liberal arts and science education,” although as far as I know he’s not an entrepreneur.  Rob expands on the notion of “big picture” education,

Even a who’s-who of Canadian high-tech CEOs have made an explicit case for the importance of liberal arts and science graduates in their industries.

Yes, we need to fund scientific research to ensure that we have a deep pool of innovation from which to draw. But translating this research into world-leading social or commercial innovation won’t happen if we leave it strictly to the scientists. Individuals trained in the social sciences and humanities bring an essential skill set to the process, and we neglect funding these areas at our competitive peril.

Thank you, Rob. It’s always good when someone who’s a scientist makes these kinds of comments as someone with a liberal arts/social science/humanities background could be accused of being self-serving.

While the  Petsko story doesn’t perfectly illustrate Rob’s points, it does hint at the importance of broad-based thinking for breakthroughs and, ultimately, innovation. I’d add one item to Rob’s list of skills, risktaking.

I do have a few questions but I’m going to take those to Rob’s comments section.

Thinking about Canada’s copyright act, property rights, and slowing innovation

A new copyright bill is supposed to be introduced to Canada’s Parliament sometime this week according to both Michael Geist and the National Post. From Geist’s blog(May 19, 2010),

The National Post’s Don Martin reports that the copyright bill could be introduced next week with confirmation of the broad outlines of the bill I reported on earlier this month. Martin, who, describes the forthcoming bill as heavy-handed, reports:

All signals suggest Heritage Minister James Moore has triumphed over the objections of Industry Minister Tony Clement, setting up Canada to march in excessively protected lockstep with a United States that boasts the toughest laws against pirated music or movies on the planet.

In Geist’s latest post (May 25, 2010) on this issue,

The foundational principle behind C-61 was the primacy of digital locks. When a digital lock (often referred to as digital rights management or technological protection measure) is used – to control copying, access or stifle competition – the lock supersedes virtually all other rights. The fight over the issue has pitted the tech-savvy Industry Minister Tony Clement, who has reportedly argued for a flexible implementation, against Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore, who has adopted what many view as an out-of-touch approach that would bring back the digital lock provisions virtually unchanged.

Moore has declined to comment on his position, but his approach raises some difficult questions …

I have posted elsewhere about the impact that intellectual property law (which includes copyright, patents, and trademarks) can have on the practice of science/innovation, i.e. crippling it, and on how the number of patents received are used as a measure of scientific progress. It’s interesting that a measure for progress can also function as an impediment to it.

In contrast to the usual discussion about copyright, Mike Masnick (Techdirt) has written an article (May 24, 2010) that highlights the notion of fairness-based legal liability. From the article,

His [Marshall van Alstyne] most recent paper, co-authored with Gavin Clarkson, explores both how strict intellectual property rights lead to socially inefficient outcomes, and how “fairness” principles could be much more efficient. The paper uses a combination of real world examples, previous research and game theory to make a rather compelling case.

Basically, it explains all the reasons why intellectual property leads to hoarding of information that slows innovation:

Property rights provide incentives to create information but they also provide incentives to hoard it prior to the award of protection. All-or-nothing rights, in particular, limit prior sharing. An unintended consequence is to slow, not has- ten, forward progress when innovation hinges on combining disparately owned private ideas.

Apply this thinking (“… they [property rights] also provide incentives to hoard it prior to the award of protection”) to nanotechnology and the other emerging technologies all of which are highly dependent on interdisciplinary cooperation and you can see what starts happening. Then add some of the current copyright craziness (a YouTube clip of This hour has 22 minutes),

As the video makes clear, once ownership has been awarded, i.e. you have a copyright, there are the issues of control for the purposes of your business model.

It would seem that if the ‘new’ bill resembles the old bill, Canadians will be faced with the possibility of less innovation via this new law despite the feedback the government received during last summer’s public consultations and at a time when it’s been recognized that there is too little innovation in Canada.

Science policy, innovation and more on the Canadian 2010 federal budget; free access in the true north; no nano for Van Gogh’s The Bedroom; frogs, foam and biofuels

There are more comments about Canada’s 2010 federal budget on the Canadian Science Policy Centre website along with listings of relevant news articles which they update regularly. There’s also a federal budget topic in the forums section but it doesn’t seem have attracted much commentary yet.

The folks at The Black Hole blog offer some pointed commentary with regard to the budget’s treatment of post doctorate graduates. If I understand the comments correctly, the budget has clarified the matter of taxation, i. e., post doctoral grants are taxable income, which means that people who were getting a break on taxes are now losing part of their income. The government has also created a new class of $70,000 post doctoral grants but this will account for only 140 fellowships. With some 6000 post doctoral fellows this means only 2% of the current pool of applicants will receive these awards. Do read The Black Hole post as they clarify what this means in very practical terms.

There’s been another discussion outcome from the 2010 budget, a renewed interest in innovation. I’m kicking off my ‘innovation curation efforts’ with this from an editorial piece by Carol Goar in the Toronto Star,

Five Canadian finance ministers have tried to crack the productivity puzzle. All failed. Now Jim Flaherty is taking a stab at it.

Here is the conundrum: We don’t use our brainpower to create new wealth. We have a highly educated population, generous tax incentives for research and development and lower corporate tax rates than any leading economic power. Yet our businesses remain reluctant to invest in new products and technologies (with a few honourable exceptions such as Research in Motion, Bombardier and Magna). They don’t even capitalize on the exciting discoveries made in our universities and government laboratories.

Economists are starting to ask what’s wrong. Canada ranked 14th in business spending on research and development – behind all the world’s leading industrial powers and even smaller nations such as Belgium and Ireland – in the latest statistical roundup by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

I believe she’s referring to the 2009 OECD scorecard in that last bit (you can find the Canada highlights here).

There are many parts to this puzzle about why Canadians and their companies are not innovative.  Getting back to Goar’s piece,

Kevin Lynch, who served as Stephen Harper’s top adviser from 2006 to 2009 [and is now the vice-chair of the Bank of Montreal Financial Group], has just written an article in Policy Options, an influential magazine, laying the blame squarely on corporate Canada. He argues that, unless business leaders do their part, it makes little sense to go on spending billions of dollars on research and development. “In an era of fiscal constraint, there has to be a compelling narrative to justify new public investments when other areas are being constrained,” he says.

Here’s a possible puzzle piece, in yesterday’s (March 15, 2010) posting I noted a study by academic, Mary J. Benner, where she pointed out that securities analysts do not reward/encourage established US companies such as Polaroid (now defunct) and Kodak to adopt new technologies. I would imagine that the same situation exists here in Canada.

For another puzzle piece: I’ve made mention of the mentality that a lot of entrepreneurs (especially in Canadian high tech) have and see confirmation  in a Globe and Mail article by Simon Avery about the continuing impact of the 2000 dot com meltdown where he investigates some of the issues with venture capital and investment as well as this,

“It’s a little bit about getting into the culture of winning, like the Olympics we just had,” says Ungad Chadda, senior vice-president of the Toronto Stock Exchange. “I don’t think the technology entrepreneurs around here are encouraged and supported to think beyond the $250-million cheque that a U.S. company can give them.”

One last comment from  Kevin Lynch (mentioned in the second of the Goar excerpts) about innovation and Canada from his recent opinion piece in the Globe and Mail,

A broader public dialogue is essential. We need to make the question “What would it take for Canada to be an innovative economy for the 21st century?” part of our public narrative – partly because our innovation deficit is a threat to our competitiveness and living standards, and partly because we can be a world leader in innovation. We should aspire to be a nation of innovators. We should rebrand Canada as technologically savvy, entrepreneurial and creative.

Yes, Mr. Lynch a broader dialogue would be delightful but there does seem to be an extraordinary indifference to the notion from many quarters. Do I seem jaundiced? Well, maybe that’s because I’ve been trying to get some interest in having a Canadian science policy debate and not getting very far with it. In principle, people call for more dialogue but that requires some effort to organize and a willingness to actually participate.

(As for “rebranding”, is anyone else tired of hearing that word or its cousin branding?)

On a completely other note, the University of Ottawa has announced that it is supporting open access to its faculty’s papers with institutional funding. From the news release,

According to Leslie Weir, U of Ottawa’s chief librarian, the program encompasses several elements, including a new Open Access (or OA) repository for peer-reviewed papers and other “learning objects”; an “author fund” for U of Ottawa researchers to help them cover open-access fees charged by journal publishers; a $50,000-a-year budget to digitize course materials and make them available to anyone through the repository; and support for the University of Ottawa Press’s OA journals.

But the university stopped short of requiring faculty members to deposit their papers with the new repository. “We all agreed that incentives and encouragement was the best way to go,” said Ms. Weir, who worked on the program with an internal group of backers, including Michael Geist, professor of intellectual property law, and Claire Kendall, a professor in the faculty of medicine who has been active in OA medical journals.

There is some criticism of the decision to make the programme voluntary. Having noticed the lack of success that voluntary reporting of nanomaterials has had, I’m inclined to agree with the critics. (Thanks to Pasco Phronesis for pointing me to the item.)

If you’ve ever been interested in art restoration (how do they clean and return the colours of an old painting to its original hues?, then the Van Gogh blog is for you. A member of the restoration team is blogging each step of The Bedroom’s (a famous Van Gogh painting) restoration. I was a little surprised that they don’t seem to be using any of the new nano-enabled techniques for examining the painting or doing the restoration work.

Given the name for this website, I have to mention the work done with frogs in pursuit of developing new biofuels by scientists at the University of Cincinnati. From the news item on Nanotechnology Now,

In natural photosynthesis, plants take in solar energy and carbon dioxide and then convert it to oxygen and sugars. The oxygen is released to the air and the sugars are dispersed throughout the plant — like that sweet corn we look for in the summer. Unfortunately, the allocation of light energy into products we use is not as efficient as we would like. Now engineering researchers at the University of Cincinnati are doing something about that.

The researchers are finding ways to take energy from the sun and carbon from the air to create new forms of biofuels, thanks to a semi-tropical frog species [Tungara frog].

Their work focused on making a new artificial photosynthetic material which uses plant, bacterial, frog and fungal enzymes, trapped within a foam housing, to produce sugars from sunlight and carbon dioxide.

Here’s an illustration of the frog by Megan Gundrum, 5th year DAAP student (I tried find out what DAAP stands for but was unsuccessful, ETA: Mar.31.10, it is the Design, art, and architecture program at the University of Cincinnati),

illustration by Megan Gundrum, 5th year DAAP student

Thank you to the University of Cincinnati for making the image available.

PCAST report; University of Alberta claims leadership in providing nanotech facilities for undergrad students; a securities analysis and innovation in Canada; Mar.10.10 UK debate; science songs

Triumph! After a technical glitch or two,  I was able to watch the live stream of the National Nanotechnology Initiative’s (NNI) representatives’, Maxine Savitch and Ed Penhoet, presentation to the  President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, on Friday, March 12, 2010.  The short story (and it’s the same one for every agency): please keep funding us and please sir, we’d like more. (Oliver Twist reference in that last bit)

More seriously, I was impressed by the fact that they adopted a measured approach regarding basic vs commercialization funding needs and regarding competition for leadership in nanotechnology (US vs the rest of the world). There was an acknowledgment that the NNI is ten years old and from there they launched into the need for funding to commercialize nanotechnology while maintaining their commitment to basic science research. They noted that the US is a leader in nanotechnology but its leadership is eroding as more countries in Europe and Asia particularly devote more attention and resources to nanotechnology research.

Surprisingly, they first singled out Germany as a nanotechnology leader; it’s usually (by international organizations and other jurisdictions as well as the US) China which is singled out first as a competitor because of its extraodinarily fast progress to the top three or five depending on what you’re measuring as nanotechnology research. I think this strategy worked well as it expanded the notion of competition between the US and a single country to emphasize the global aspect of the nanotechnology endeavour and the need for a range of strategies.

I had another surprise while watching the live stream when they discussed strategies for retaining students who study for advanced degrees in the US and return to their home countries on completion. There was talk of stapling a “green card” (permission to work in the US) to the graduate diploma although one member of the council hastened to suggest that they only wanted the “right” kinds of advanced degrees. Presumably the council member did not want to encourage experts with advanced degrees in medieval Italian poetry and other such frippery to remain in the US.

There was considerable concern (which led to a recommendation) about the scarcity of data on commercialization, i.e., the true value of the nanotechnology aspect of a product and its benefits.

Mention was made of risks and hazards with the recommendation that research needs to be focused on defining a path for commercialization and on developing a regulatory framework.

Nanoclast (IEEE blogger), Dexter Johnson, has also commented here on the March 12, 2010 PCAST presentation, if you want another perspective.

The folks at Edmonton’s University of Alberta are doing a little chest beating about the nanotechnology research facilities they make available for undergraduate students. From Elise Stolte’s article in the Edmonton Journal,

In a small, windowless room at the University of Alberta, a dozen undergraduate students sit in the middle of $2-million worth of new equipment sensitive enough to measure an atom, the smallest particle of matter.

It’s the first place in Canada where students not yet finished their first degree can start running real experiments on the nano scale, lab co-ordinator Ben Bathgate said.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California’s Stanford University have undergraduate labs that come close, “but they don’t have the range of equipment,” he said.

It’s fragile, state-of-the-art, and so new that one of the 18 machines still has parts in bubble wrap.

I don’t really care whether or not the equipment is better than what they have in Stanford and MIT, I’m just glad to see that an effort is being made to provide students with facilities so they can learn and participate in some exciting and cutting edge research. This is only part of the picture, Tim Harper over at TNT Log comments on a recent report (Vision for UK Research by the Council for Science and Technology) in his post titled, A Concerted Effort to Save British Science,

… there is also a need to start thinking about science in a different way. In fact we really need to look at the whole process of scientific innovation from primary education to technology funding.

This is a holistic approach to the entire endeavour and means that students won’t be left with a degree or certificate and no where to go, which leads me to the topic of innovation.

I’ve commented before on innovation in Canada and the fact that there is general agreement that established businesses don’t spend enough money on R&D (research and development). There is an eye-opening study by Mary J. Benner of The Wharton School which provides what may be some insight into the situation. From the news item on physorg.com,

The reluctance of securities analysts to recommend investment in veteran companies using new techniques to grapple with radical technological change may be harming these companies as they struggle to compete, according to a new study in the current issue of Organization Science, a journal of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS).

The findings suggest that management teams contemplating bold innovation and the adoption of radical technological change may be held back by conservative investment firms that reward firms that stick to their knitting by extending existing technologies.

“This may be short-sighted,” says Dr. Benner. “Existing companies may be rewarded in the short run with increased stock prices for focusing on strategies that extend the financial performance from the old technology, but they may pay later in the face of threatening technological substitutes.”

Benner’s article is behind a paywall but the news item on physorg.com does offer a good summary.

Kudos to Ms. Benner for pointing out that established companies don’t seem to get much support when they want to embrace new technologies. Benner’s discussion about Polaroid and Kodak is quite salutary. (Note: I once worked for Creo Products, computer-to-plate technology, which was eventually acquired by Kodak, a company which, last I heard, is now in serious financial trouble.) This study certainly provides a basis for better understanding why Canadian companies aren’t inclined to innovate much.

The Brits enjoyed their third and final for this series of UK Cross-Party Science Policy Debate on Tuesday, March 9, 2010. The webcast which was live streamed from the House of Commons is available here.  At 2.5 hours I haven’t found the time to listen past the first few minutes. Dave Bruggeman, Pasco Phronesis, does provide some commentary from his perspective as a US science policy analyst.

One final bit for today, the Pasco Phronesis blog provides some videos of science songs from the Hear Comes Science album by They Might Be Giants.