What I find most exciting about this conference is the range of countries being represented. At first glance, I’ve found Argentina, Thailand, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Costa Rica and more in a science meeting being held in Canada. Thank you to the organizers and to the organization International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA)
As I’ve noted many times here in discussing the science advice we (Canadians) get through the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), there’s far too much dependence on the same old, same old countries for international expertise. Let’s hope this meeting changes things.
The conference (with the theme Build Back Wiser: Knowledge, Policy and Publics in Dialogue) started on Monday, August 30, 2021 and is set to run for four days in Montréal, Québec. and as an online event The Premier of Québec, François Legault, and Mayor of Montréal, Valérie Plante (along with Peter Gluckman, Chair of INGSA and Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist of Québec; this is the only province with a chief scientist) are there to welcome those who are present in person.
You can find a PDF of the four day programme here or go to the INGSA 2021 website for the programme and more. Here’s a sample from the programme of what excited me, from Day 1 (August 30, 2021),
8:45 | Plenary | Roundtable: Reflections from Covid-19: Where to from here?
Moderator: Mona Nemer – Chief Science Advisor of Canada
Speakers: Joanne Liu – Professor, School of Population and Global Health, McGill University, Quebec, Canada Chor Pharn Lee – Principal Foresight Strategist at Centre for Strategic Futures, Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore Andrea Ammon – Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Sweden Rafael Radi – President of the National Academy of Sciences; Coordinator of Scientific Honorary Advisory Group to the President on Covid-19, Uruguay
9:45 | Panel: Science advice during COVID-19: What factors made the difference?
Romain Murenzi – Executive Director, The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), Italy
Stephen Quest – Director-General, European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), Belgium Yuxi Zhang – Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, United Kingdom Amadou Sall – Director, Pasteur Institute of Dakar, Senegal Inaya Rakhmani – Director, Asia Research Centre, Universitas Indonesia
One last excerpt, from Day 2 (August 31, 2021),
Studio Session | Panel: Science advice for complex risk assessment: dealing with complex, new, and interacting threats
Moderator: Eeva Hellström – Senior Lead, Strategy and Foresight, Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, Finland
Speakers: Albert van Jaarsveld – Director General and Chief Executive Officer, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria Abdoulaye Gounou – Head, Benin’s Office for the Evaluation of Public Policies and Analysis of Government Action Catherine Mei Ling Wong – Sociologist, LRF Institute for the Public Understanding of Risk, National University of Singapore Andria Grosvenor – Deputy Executive Director (Ag), Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, Barbados
Studio Session | Innovations in Science Advice – Science Diplomacy driving evidence for policymaking
Moderator: Mehrdad Hariri – CEO and President of the Canadian Science Policy Centre, Canada
Speakers: Primal Silva – Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Chief Science Operating Officer, Canada Zakri bin Abdul Hamid – Chair of the South-East Asia Science Advice Network (SEA SAN); Pro-Chancellor of Multimedia University in Malaysia Christian Arnault Emini – Senior Economic Adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office in Cameroon Florence Gauzy Krieger and Sebastian Goers – RLS-Sciences Network [See more about RLS-Sciences below] Elke Dall and Angela Schindler-Daniels – European Union Science Diplomacy Alliance Alexis Roig – CEO, SciTech DiploHub – Barcelona Science and Technology Diplomacy Hub, Spain
RLS-Sciences works under the framework of the Regional Leaders Summit. The Regional Leaders Summit (RLS) is a forum comprising seven regional governments (state, federal state, or provincial), which together represent approximately one hundred eighty million people across five continents, and a collective GDP of three trillion USD. The regions are: Bavaria (Germany), Georgia (USA), Québec (Canada), São Paulo (Brazil), Shandong (China), Upper Austria (Austria), and Western Cape (South Africa). Since 2002, the heads of government for these regions have met every two years for a political summit. These summits offer the RLS regions an opportunity for political dialogue.
Getting back to the main topic of this post, INGSA has some satellite events on offer, including this on Open Science,
Open Science: Science for the 21st century |
Science ouverte : la science au XXIe siècle
Thursday September 9, 2021; 11am-2pm EST | Jeudi 9 septembre 2021, 11 h à 14 h (HNE).
This event will be in English and French (using simultaneous translation) | Cet événement se déroulera en anglais et en français (traduction simultanée)
In the past 18 months we have seen an unprecedented level of sharing as medical scientists worked collaboratively and shared data to find solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has accelerated the ongoing cultural shift in research practices towards open science.
This acceleration of the discovery/research process presents opportunities for institutions and governments to develop infrastructure, tools, funding, policies, and training to support, promote, and reward open science efforts. It also presents new opportunities to accelerate progress towards the UN Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals through international scientific cooperation.
At the same time, it presents new challenges: rapid developments in open science often outpace national open science policies, funding, and infrastructure frameworks. Moreover, the development of international standard setting instruments, such as the future UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science, requires international harmonization of national policies, the establishment of frameworks to ensure equitable participation, and education, training, and professional development.
This 3-hour satellite event brings together international and national policy makers, funders, and experts in open science infrastructure to discuss these issues.
The outcome of the satellite event will be a summary report with recommendations for open science policy alignment at institutional, national, and international levels.
The event will be hosted on an events platform, with simultaneous interpretation in English and French. Participants will be able to choose which concurrent session they participate in upon registration. Registration is free but will be closed when capacity is reached.
This satellite event takes place in time for an interesting anniversary. The Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI), also known as Montreal Neuro, declared itself as Open Science in 2016, the first academic research institute (as far as we know) to do so in the world (see my January 22, 2016 posting for details about their open science initiative and my December 19, 2016 posting for more about their open science and their decision to not pursue patents for a five year period).
As I write this on Friday, August 13, 2021 there seems seems to be unanimous consensus that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will drop the writ this weekend (Update: He did on Sunday, August 15, 2021) and Canadians will be are voting in a federal election on September 20, 2021.
Consequently, it seems like an opportune moment to feature the Periodically Political podcast and its parent organization, Elect STEM.
These are very high minded people: Darren Anderson, Christopher Caputo, and Monika Stolar.(click on the photos)., each of whom has at least one PhD in one science or other. (There’s a little more about the co-founders at the end of this posting.)
Here’s more about Elect STEM (STEM = science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), from the website homepage,
What We Do
We seek to make science non-partisan by engaging more scientists in politics.
Issues We Focus On
We provide information and support for Canadians with a STEM background who want to engage in politics across all parties and levels of government.
I have a few questions:
How does engaging more scientists in politics make it non-partisan? Any evidence?
Perhaps I missed it but where on the website is the toolkit or detailed information about how to enter politics (municipal, provincial, federal)?
How is the Elect STEM website and its podcast being funded? (Is it self-funded?)
Why not include STEAM (the A is for arts) and STEMM (the second M is for medicine)? (My suggestion: call the organization Elect STEM+)
Clever name for the podcast series! It is an allusion to the Periodic Table of Elements, yes?
For some reason, it was decided that the December 28, 2020 podcast would be called Episode 0. (I’m not a big fan of that decision.)
Their Season 1 Episode 1 (Kyle Demes interview) was posted January 20, 2021. Note: Demes who has a PhD in Zoology works as a strategist and consultant. He does not list any political experience on his website.
I recognized a couple of politician’s names (Preston Manning and Dalton McGuinty) as being part of season 1. I’m sure there are others. Do check out the list. From the little I’ve seen, it’s quite eclectic.
You will notice that after their 13th episode, which was a recapitulation (recap) of their first season, they added more episodes (Political Bonus Track no. ?). Dr. Mona Nemer’s, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, interview (episode 15, also known as, Political Bonus Track 2) was added on Friday, August 13, 2021.
I imagine this election campaign will either jumpstart season 2 or spawn several ‘Political Bonus Tracks’. Perhaps they’ll be able to interview:
Marc Garneau, former astronaut, PhD in Electrical Engineering, and current Minister of Foreign Affairs
Kirsty Duncan, PhD in Geography, former minister of science and minister of sport and persons with disabilities, current MP (Member of Parliament)
Gary Goodyear, incomplete undergraduate degree in biomechanics and psychology, Doctor of Chiropractic (?), and former Minister of State for Science & Technology
Ted Hsu, PhD in physics, former MP
Molly Shoichet (pronounced shoy, then, ket or quette), PhD in polymer science and engineering, biomedical engineer, briefly, Chief Scientist for Ontario (it’s first)
Pascal Lapointe, science journalist, editor-in-chief of Agence Science-Presse (Québec’s Science Press Agency) and founder of Je Vote Pour La Science,
Andrew Weaver, PhD in Applied Mathematics, former leader of the BC (British Columbia) Green Party and former MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly)
Moira Stilwell, MD, originator of a BC government science’ initiative (scroll down my April 28, 2020 posting to the ‘Year of Science in British Columbia’ subhead for a brief comment about how that idea changed shape as it went through the political process), and former Minister of Advanced Education, Minister of Regional Economic and Skills Development, and Minister of Social Development, currently head of Nuclear Medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Radiology at the University of British Columbia
Jane Philpott, MD and former Minister of Health, Minister of Indigenous Services, and President of the Treasury Board, currently Dean of Health Sciences and Diector of the School of Medicine for Queen’s University
Rémi Quirion, neuroscientist, PhD (I’m not able to identify in which field), The Chief Scientist of Québec
Someone (Mehrdad Hariri?) from the Canadian Science Policy Centre?
Perhaps there’s someone who could talk about indigenous science and politics?
What about someone from the Northern territories? (climate change and Arctic anyone?)
As for Kennedy Stewart who’s currently mayor of Vancouver, read on as to why that might be interesting.
A few comments
I don’t have any great moral objections to Elect STEM’s purpose (get more scientists to run for political office) but I’m not convinced that elected officials with scientific training will make a big difference.
Running for office at the federal and provincial and, even, municipal (of the larger cities) levels requires name recognition, which is acquired through party affiliation. There are very few successful independent politicians at any of these levels.
Once you’ve joined a political party and decided to run under their banner, you are obliged to support the party and its leader. Should you be successfully elected, you will vote along party lines or there will be consequences.
Since the book’s publication, Kennedy Stewart has left federal politics and become mayor of the city of Vancouver. Somewhere along the way, he appears to have lost interest in science policy. (See my November 14, 2012 posting for the first of many posts covering Stewart’s science policy efforts. Just search ‘Kennedy Stewart’ in the blog search engine for the others.)
A PhD in political science, Stewart has focused his efforts on more newsworthy topics as he campaigns for the next election. He seems to have been in campaign mode since he first got elected as mayor.
Whatever you or I may think of that approach, the current Canadian political system rewards the behaviour. It’s something to keep in mind when insisting that scientists run for political office.
More about Stolar, Caputo, and Anderson (plus a bonus)
All three co-founders have ties to either or both the University of Toronto and York University.
I don’t have much about Monika Stolar, “scientist, graphic designer, communicator, and Research & Industry Relations Officer at Simon Fraser University,” other than her website
Christopher Caputo, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair. at the Caputo Lab at York University has his profile page here.
Darren Anderson, chief executive officer (CEO) Vive Crop Protection, was featured here in an interview (thank you! in a February 25, 2011 posting) when he was Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of the company then known as Vive Nano. Most recently, the company was mentioned here on the occasion of its 15th anniversary in a July 20, 2021 posting (scroll down about 45% of the way).
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
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:
Canada is happily participating in a UNESCO meeting on open science,
the 2021 Canadian federal budget just dedicated a big chunk of money to augmenting Canada’s national patent strategy, and
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?
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.
Part 1 covered some of the more formal aspects science culture in Canada, such as science communication education programmes, mainstream media, children’s science magazines, music, etc. Part 2 covered science festivals, art/sci or sciart (depending on who’s talking, informal science get togethers such ‘Cafe Sccientifque’, etc.
This became a much bigger enterprise than I anticipated and so part 3 is stuffed with the do-it-yourself (DIY) biology movement in Canada, individual art/sci or lit/sci projects, a look at what the mathematicians have done and are doing, etc. But first there’s the comedy.
Comedy, humour, and science
Weirdly, Canadians like to mix their science fiction (scifi) movies with humour. (I will touch on more scifi later in this post but it’s too big a topic to cover inadequately, let alone adequately, in this review.) I post as my evidence of the popularity of comedy science fiction films, this from the Category: Canadian science fiction films Wikipedia webpage,
As you see, comedy science fiction is the second most populated category. Also, the Wikipedia time frame is much broader than mine but I did check one Canadian science fiction comedy film, Bang Bang Baby, a 2014 film, which, as it turns out, is also a musical.
Daniel Chai is a Vancouver-based writer, comedian, actor and podcaster. He is co-host of The Fear of Science podcast, which combines his love of learning with his love of being on a microphone. Daniel is also co-founder of The Fictionals Comedy Co and the creator of Improv Against Humanity, and teaches improv at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He is very excited to be part of Vancouver Podcast Festival, and thanks everyone for listening!
Jeff is the producer and co-host of The Fear of Science. By day, he is a graphic designer/digital developer [according to his LinkedIn profile, he works at Science World], and by night he is a cosplayer, board gamer and full-time geek. Jeff is passionate about all things science, and has been working in science communication for over 4 years. He brings a general science knowledge point of view to The Fear of Science.
Here’s more about The Fear of Science from its homepage (where you will also find links to their podcasts),
A podcast that brings together experts and comedians for an unfiltered discussion about complicated and sometimes controversial science fears in a fun and respectful way.
This podcast seems to have taken life in August 2018.(Well, that’s as far back as the Archived episodes stretch on the website.)
This is Vancolour is a podcast hosted by Mo Amir and you will find this description on the website,
THIS IS A PODCAST ABOUT VANCOUVER AND THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE THIS CITY COLOURFUL
Cartoonist, writer, and educator, Raymond Nakamura produces work for Telus Science World and the Science Borealis science aggregator. His website is known as Raymond’s Brain features this image,
Much has been happening on this front. First for anyone unfamiliar with do-it-yourself biology, here’s more from its Wikipedia entry,
Do-it-yourself biology (DIY biology, DIY bio) is a growing biotechnological social movement in which individuals, communities, and small organizations study biology and life science using the same methods as traditional research institutions. DIY biology is primarily undertaken by individuals with extensive research training from academia or corporations, who then mentor and oversee other DIY biologists with little or no formal training. This may be done as a hobby, as a not-for-profit endeavour for community learning and open-science innovation, or for profit, to start a business.
A January 21, 2020 posting here listed the second Canadian DIY Biology Summit organized by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). It was possible to attend virtually from any part of Canada. The first meeting was in 2016 (you can see the agenda here). You’ll see in the agenda for the 2nd meeting in 2020 that there have been a few changes as groups rise into and fall out of existence.
From the 2020 agenda, here’s a list representing the players in Canada’s DIYbio scene,
Most of these organizations (e.g., Victoria Makerspace, Synbiota, Bricobio, etc.) seem to be relatively new (founded in 2009 or later) which is quite exciting to think about. This March 13, 2016 article in the Vancouver Observer gives you a pretty good overview of the DIY biology scene in Canada at the time while providing a preview of the then upcoming first DIY Biology summit.
*The Open Science Network in Vancouver was formerly known as DIYbio YVR. I’m not sure when the name change occurred but this July 17, 2018 article by Emily Ng for The Ubyssey (a University of British Columbia student newspaper) gives a little history,
In 2009, a group of UBC students and staff recognized these barriers and teamed up to democratize science, increase its accessibility and create an interdisciplinary platform for idea exchange. They created the Open Science Network (OSN).
The Open Science Network is a non-profit society that serves the science and maker community through education, outreach and the provision of space. Currently, they run an open community lab out of the MakerLabs space on East Cordova and Main street, which is a compact space housing microscopes, a freezer, basic lab equipment and an impressive amount of activity.
The lab is home to a community of citizen scientists, professional scientists, artists, designers and makers of all ages who are pursuing their own science projects.
Members who are interested in lab work can receive some training in “basic microbiology techniques like pipetting, growing bacteria, using the Polymerase Chain Reaction machine (PCR) [to amplify DNA] and running gels [through a gel ectrophoresis machine to separate DNA fragments by size] from Scott Pownall, a PhD graduate from UBC and the resident microbiologist,” said Wong [ Wes Wong, a staff member of UBC Botany and a founding member of OSN].
The group has also made further efforts to serve their members by offering more advanced synthetic biology classes and workshops at their lab.
There is another organization called ‘Open Science Network’ (an ethnobiology group and not part of the Vancouver organization). Here is a link to the Vancouver-based Open Science Network (a community science lab) where they provide further links to all their activities including a regular ‘meetup’.
I have poetry, a book, a television adaptation, three plays with mathematics and/or physics themes and more.
In 2012 there was a night of poetry readings in Vancouver. What made it special was that five poets had collaborated with five scientists (later amended to four scientists and a landscape architect) according to my December 4, 2012 posting. The whole thing was conceptualized and organized by Aileen Penner who went on to produce a chapbook of the poetry. She doesn’t have any copies available currently but you can contact her on her website’s art/science page if you are interested in obtaining a copy. She doesn’t seem to have organized any art/science projects since. For more about Aileen Penner who is a writer and poet, go to her website here.
The Banff International Research Station (BIRS) it’s all about the mathematics) hosted a workshop for poets and mathematicians way back in 2011. I featured it (Mathematics: Muse, Maker, and Measure of the Arts) after the fact in my January 9, 2012 posting (scroll down about 30% of the way). If you have the time, do click on my link to Nassif Ghoussoub’s post on his blog (Piece of Mind) about mathematicians, poetry, and the arts. It’s especially interesting in retrospect as he is now the executive director for BIRS, which no longer seems to have workshops that meld any of the arts with mathematics, and science.
That sadly seems to be it for poetry and the sciences, including mathematics. If you know of any other poetry/science projects or readings, etc. in Canada during the 2010-9 decade, please let me know in the comments.
Karl Schroeder, a Canadian science fiction author, has written many books but of particular interest here are two futuristic novels for the Canadian military.The 2005 novel, Crisis in Zefra, doesn’t fit the time frame I’ve established for this review but the the 2014 novel, Crisis in Urla (scroll down) fits in nicely. His writing is considered ‘realistic’ science fiction in that it’s based on science research and his work is also associated with speculative realism (from his Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),
Karl Schroeder (born September 4, 1962) is a Canadianscience fiction author. His novels present far-future speculations on topics such as nanotechnology, terraforming, augmented reality, and interstellar travel, and are deeply philosophical.
The other author I’m mentioning here is Margaret Atwood. The television adaptation of her book, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has turned a Canadian literary superstar into a supernova (an exploding star whose luminosity can be the equivalent of an entire galaxy). In 2019, she won the Booker Prize, for the second time for ‘The Testaments’ (a followup to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’), sharing it with Bernardine Evaristo and her book ‘Girl, Woman, Other’. Atwood has described her work (The Handmaid’s Tale, and others) as speculative fiction rather than science fiction. For me, she bases her speculation on the social sciences and humanities, specifically history (read her Wikipedia entry for more).
In 2017 with the television adaptation of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, Atwood’s speculative fiction novel became a pop culture phenomenon. Originally published in 1985, the novel was also adapted for a film in 1990 and for an opera in 2000 before it came to television, according to its Wikipedia entry.
There’s a lot more out there, Schroeder and Atwood are just two I’ve stumbled across.
I have drama, musical comedy and acting items.
Pi Theatre’s (Vancouver) mathematically-inclined show, ‘Long Division‘, ran in April 2017 and was mentioned in my April 20, 2017 posting (scroll down about 50% of the way).
This theatrical performance of concepts in mathematics runs from April 26 – 30, 2017 (check here for the times as they vary) at the Annex at 823 Seymour St. From the Georgia Straight’s April 12, 2017 Arts notice,
“Mathematics is an art form in itself, as proven by Pi Theatre’s number-charged Long Division. This is a “refreshed remount” of Peter Dickinson’s ambitious work, one that circles around seven seemingly unrelated characters (including a high-school math teacher, a soccer-loving imam, and a lesbian bar owner) bound together by a single traumatic incident. Directed by Richard Wolfe, with choreography by Lesley Telford and musical score by Owen Belton, it’s a multimedia, movement-driven piece that has a strong cast. … “
You can read more about the production here. As far as I’m aware, there are no upcoming show dates.
There seems to be some sort of affinity between theatre and mathematics, I recently featured (January 3, 2020 posting) a theatrical piece by Hannah Moscovitch titled, ‘Infinity‘, about time, physics, math and more. It had its first production in Toronto in 2015.
John Mighton, a playwright and mathematician, wrote ‘The Little Years’ which has been produced in both Vancouver and Toronto. From a May 9, 2005 article by Kathleen Oliver for the Georgia Straight,
The Little Years is a little jewel of a play: small but multifaceted, and beautifully crafted.
John Mighton’s script gives us glimpses into different stages in the life of Kate, a woman whose early promise as a mathematician is cut short. At age 13, she’s a gifted student whose natural abilities are overlooked by 1950s society, which has difficulty conceiving of women as scientists. Instead, she’s sent to vocational school while her older brother, William, grows up to become one of the most widely praised poets of his generation.
John Mighton is a successful playwright and mathematician, yet at times in his life, he’s struggled with doubt. However, he also learned there was hope, and that’s the genesis of The Little Years, which opens at the Tarragon Theatre on Nov. 16 and runs to Dec. 16 .
In keeping (more or less) with this subsection’s theme ‘The Word’, Mighton has recently had a new book published, ‘All Things Being Equal: Why Math is the Key to a Better World’, according to a January 24, 2020 article (online version) by Jamie Portman for Postmedia,
It’s more than two decades since Canadian mathematician and playwright John Mighton found himself playing a small role in the film, Good Will Hunting. What he didn’t expect when he took on the job was that he would end up making a vital contribution to a screenplay that would go on to win an Oscar for its writers, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.
What happened on that occasion tells you a great deal about Mighton’s commitment to the belief that society grossly underestimates the intellectual capacity of human beings — a belief reiterated with quiet eloquence in his latest book, All Things Being Equal.
Mighton loved the experience but as shooting continued he became troubled over his involvement in a movie that played “heavily on the idea that geniuses like Will are born and not made.” This was anathema to his own beliefs as a mathematician and he finally summoned up the courage to ask Affleck and Damon if he could write a few extra lines for his character. This speech was the result: “Most people never get the chance to see how brilliant they can be. They don’t find teachers who believe in them. They get convinced they’re stupid.”
At a time of growing controversy across Canada over the teaching of mathematics in school and continuing evidence of diminishing student results, Mighton continues to feel gratitude to the makers of Good Will Hunting for heeding his concerns. [I will be writing a post about the latest PISA scores where Canadian students have again slipped in their mathematics scores.]
Mighton is on the phone from from Toronto, his voice soft-spoken but still edged with fervour. He pursues two successful careers — as an award-winning Canadian playwright and as a renowned mathematician and philosopher who has devoted a lifetime to developing strategies that foster the intellectual potential of all children through learning math. But even as he talks about his 2001 founding of JUMP Math, a respected charity that offers a radical alternative to conventional teaching of the subject, he’s anxious to remind you that he’s a guy who almost failed calculus at university and who once struggled to overcome his “own massive math anxiety.”
You can find out more about John Mighton in his Wikipedia entry (mostly about his academic accomplishments) and on the JUMP Math website (better overall biography).
It’s called ‘Math Out Loud’ and was first mentioned here in a January 9, 2012 posting (the same post also featured the BIRS poetry workshop),
“When Mackenzie Gray talks about the way Paul McCartney used a recursive sequence to make the song “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” seem to last forever, you realize that part of the Beatles’ phenomenal success might have sprung from McCartney’s genius as a mathematician.
When Roger Kemp draws on a napkin to illustrate that you just have to change the way you think about numbers to come up with a binary code for pi (as in 3.14 ad infinitum), you get a sense that math can actually be a lot of fun.”
Produced by MITACS which in 2012 was known as ‘Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems’, a not-for-profit research organization, the musical went on tour in the Fall of 2012 (according to my September 7, 2012 posting). Unusually, I did not embed the promotional trailer for this 2012 musical so, here it is now,
Since 2012, Mitacs has gone through some sort of rebranding process and it’s now described as a nonprofit national research organization. For more you can read its Wikipedia entry or go to its website.
Acting and storytelling
It turns out there was an acting class (five sessions) for scientists at the University of Calgary in 2017. Here’s more from the course’s information sheet,
Act Your Science: Improve Your Communication Skills with Training in Improvisation 2 hours a session, 5 sessions, every Wednesday starting November 14  …
Dr. Jeff Dunn, Faculty of Graduate Studies, Graduate Students Association, the Canadian Science Writers Association [also known as Science Writers and Communicators of Canada] and the Loose Moose Theatre have teamed together to provide training in a skill which will be useful where ever your career takes you.
The goal of this project is to improve the science communication skills of graduate students in science fields. We will improve your communication through the art of training in improvisation. Training will help with speech and body awareness. Improvisation will provide life‐long skills in communication, in a fun interactive environment.
For many years, Alan Alda, a well-known actor (originally of the “MASH” television series fame), has applied his acting skills and improvisation training to help scientists improve their communication. He developed the Alan Alda Centre for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.
The training will involve five 2hr improvisation workshop sessions led by one of Canada’s top professional improvisation trainers, Dennis Cahill, the Artistic Director from Loose Moose Theatre. Dennis has an international reputation for developing the theatrical style of improvisation. Training involves a lot of moving around (and possibly rolling on the floor!) so dress casually. Be prepared to release your inhibitions!
The information sheet includes a link to this University of Chicago video (posted on Youtube February 24, 2014) of actor Alan Alda discussing science communication,
Victoria Bouvier, a Michif-Metis woman, is of the Red River Settlement and Boggy Creek, Manitoba, and born and raised in Calgary. She is an Assistant professor in Indigenous Studies at Mount Royal University and a doctoral candidate in Educational Research [emphasis mine] at the University of Calgary. Her research is exploring how Michif/Métis people, born and raised in urban environments, practice and express their self-understandings, both individually and collectively through using an Indigenous oral system and visual media as methodology.
In a technology-laden society, people are capturing millions of photographs and videos that document their lived experiences, followed by uploading them to social media sites. As mass amounts of media is being shared each day, the question becomes: are we utilizing photos and videos to derive meaning from our everyday lived experiences, while settling in to a deeper sense of our self-in-relation?
This session will explore how photos and videos, positioned within an Indigenous oral system, are viewed and interacted with as a third perspective in the role of storytelling.
Finally, h/t to Jennifer Bon Bernard’s April 19, 2017 article (reposted Dec. 11, 2019) about Act Your Science for the Science Writers and Communicators blog. The original date doesn’t look right to me but perhaps she participated in a pilot project.
Neuroscience, science policy, and science advice
The end of this part is almost in sight
Knitting in Toronto and drawings in Vancouver (neuroscience)
In 2017, Toronto hosted a neuroscience event which combined storytelling and knitting (from my October 12, 2017 posting (Note: the portion below is an excerpt from an ArtSci Salon announcement),
With NARRATING NEUROSCIENCE we plan to initiate a discussion on the role and the use of storytelling and art (both in verbal and visual forms) to communicate abstract and complex concepts in neuroscience to very different audiences, ranging from fellow scientists, clinicians and patients, to social scientists and the general public. We invited four guests to share their research through case studies and experiences stemming directly from their research or from other practices they have adopted and incorporated into their research, where storytelling and the arts have played a crucial role not only in communicating cutting edge research in neuroscience, but also in developing and advancing it.
The ArtSci Salon folks also announced this (from the Sept. 25, 2017 ArtSci Salon announcement; received via email),
ATTENTION ARTSCI SALONISTAS AND FANS OF ART AND SCIENCE!! CALL FOR KNITTING AND CROCHET LOVERS!
In addition to being a PhD student at the University of Toronto, Tahani Baakdhah is a prolific knitter and crocheter and has been the motor behind two successful Knit-a-Neuron Toronto initiatives. We invite all Knitters and Crocheters among our ArtSci Salonistas to pick a pattern (link below) and knit a neuron (or 2! Or as many as you want!!)
BRING THEM TO OUR OCTOBER 20 ARTSCI SALON! Come to the ArtSci Salon and knit there!
That link to the patterns is still working.
Called “The Beautiful Brain” and held in the same time frame as Toronto’s neuro event, Vancouver hosted an exhibition of Santiago Ramon y Cajal’s drawings from September 5 to December 3, 2017. In concert with the exhibition, the local ‘neuro’ community held a number of outreach events. Here’s what I had in my September 11, 2017 posting where I quoted from the promotional material for the exhibition,
The Beautiful Brain is the first North American museum exhibition to present the extraordinary drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852–1934), a Spanish pathologist, histologist and neuroscientist renowned for his discovery of neuron cells and their structure, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1906. Known as the father of modern neuroscience, Cajal was also an exceptional artist. He combined scientific and artistic skills to produce arresting drawings with extraordinary scientific and aesthetic qualities.
A century after their completion, Cajal’s drawings are still used in contemporary medical publications to illustrate important neuroscience principles, and continue to fascinate artists and visual art audiences. …
Pictured: Santiago Ramón y Cajal, injured Purkinje neurons, 1914, ink and pencil on paper. Courtesy of Instituto Cajal (CSIC).
From Vancouver, the exhibition traveled to a gallery in New York City and then onto the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Mehrdad Hariri has done a an extraordinary job as its founder and chief executive officer. The CSPC has developed from a single annual conference to an organization that hosts different events throughout the year and publishes articles and opinion pieces on Canadian science policy and has been instrumental in the development of a Canadian science policy community.
The magnitude of Hariri’s accomplishment becomes clear when reading J.w. Grove’s [sic] article, Science Policy, in The Canadian Encyclopedia and seeing that the most recent reports on a national science policy seem to be the Science Council’s (now defunct) 4th report in 1968, Towards a National Science Policy in Canada, the OECD’s (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) 1969 Review of [Canada’s] Science Policy, and 3 reports from the Senate’s Lamontagne Committee (Special Committee on Science Policy). Grove’s article takes us only to 1988 but I have been unable to find any more recent reports focused on a national science policy for Canada. (If you have any information about a more recent report, please do let me know in the comments.)
A November 5, 2019 piece (#VoteScience: lessons learned and building science advocacy beyond the election cycle) on the CSPC website further illustrates how the Canadian science policy community has gained ground (Note: Links have been removed),
… on August 8, 2019, a coalition of Canadian science organizations and student groups came together to launch the #VoteScience campaign: a national, non-partisan effort to advocate for science in the federal elections, and make science an election issue.
Specifically, we — aka Evidence for Democracy, Science & Policy Exchange (SPE), and the Toronto Science Policy Network (TSPN) [emphases mine] — built a collection of tools and resources to empower Canadian scientists and science supporters to engage with their local candidates on science issues and the importance of evidence-informed decision-making. Our goal was to make it easy for as many Canadians as possible to engage with their candidates — and they did.
Over the past three months, our #VoteScience portal received over 3,600 visitors, including 600 visitors who used our email form to reach out directly to their local candidates. Collectively, we took #VoteScience selfies, distributed postcards to supporters across Canada, and even wrote postcards to every sitting Member of Parliament (in addition to candidates from all parties in each of our own ridings). Also of note, we distributed a science policy questionnaire to the federal parties, to help better inform Canadians about where the federal parties stand on relevant science issues, and received responses from all but one party. We’ve also advocated for science through various media outlets, including commenting for articles appearing in The Narwhal and Nature News, and penning op-eds for outlets such as the National Observer, University Affairs, Le Devoir, and Découvrir.
Prior to SPIN, the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA; more about them in part 4), issued a 2017 report titled, Science Policy: Considerations for Subnational Governments. The report was the outcome of a 2016 CCA workshop originally titled, Towards a Science Policy in Alberta. I gather the scope broadened.
Interesting trajectory, yes?
Chief Science advisors/scientists
In September 2017, the Canadian federal government announced that a Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer, had been appointed. I have more about the position and Dr. Nemer in my September 26, 2017 posting. (Prior to Dr. Nemer’s appointment a previous government had discontinued a National Science Advisor position that existed from 2004 to 2008.)
The Office of the Chief Science Advisor released it first annual report in 2019 and was covered here in a March 19, 2019 posting.
Québec is the only province (as far as I know) to have a Chief Scientist, Rémi Quirion who was appointed in 2011.
Onto Part 4 where you’ll find we’ve gone to the birds and more.
*The Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) section was written sometime in February 2020. I believe they are planning to publish an editorial piece I submitted to them on April 20, 202 (in other words, before this post was published) in response to their call for submissions (see my April 1, 2020 post for details about the call). In short, I did not praise the organization with any intention of having my work published by them. (sigh) Awkward timing.
This posting will focus on science, technology, the tragic consequence of bureaucratic and political bungling (the technology disaster that is is the Phoenix payroll system), and the puzzling lack of concern about some of the biggest upcoming technological and scientific changes in government and society in decades or more.
Setting the scene
After getting enough Liberal party members elected to the Canadian Parliament’s House of Commons to form a minority government in October 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a new cabinet and some changes to the ‘science’ portfolios in November 2019. You can read more about the overall cabinet announcement in this November 20, 2019 news item by Peter Zimonjic on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) website, my focus will be the science and technology. (Note: For those who don’t know, there is already much discussion about how long this Liberal minority government will last. All i takes is a ‘loss of confidence’ motion and a majority of the official opposition and other parties to vote ‘no confidence’ and Canada will back into the throes of an election. Mitigating against a speedy new federal election,, the Conservative party [official opposition] needs to choose a new leader and the other parties may not have the financial resources for another federal election so soon after the last one.)
Getting back to now and the most recent Cabinet announcements, it seems this time around, there’s significantly less interest in science. Concerns about this were noted in a November 22, 2019 article by Ivan Semeniuk for the Globe and Mail,
Canadian researchers are raising concerns that the loss of a dedicated science minister signals a reduced voice for their agenda around the federal cabinet table.
“People are wondering if the government thinks its science agenda is done,” said Marie Franquin, a doctoral student in neuroscience and co-president of Science and Policy Exchange, a student-led research-advocacy group. “There’s still a lot of work to do.”
While not a powerful player within cabinet, Ms. Duncan [Kirsty Duncan] proved to be an ardent booster of Canada’s research community and engaged with its issues, including the muzzling of federal scientists by the former Harper government and the need to improve gender equity in the research ecosystem.
Among Ms. Duncan’s accomplishments was the appointment of a federal chief science adviser [sic] and the commissioning of a landmark review of Ottawa’s support for fundamental research, chaired by former University of Toronto president David Naylor
… He [Andre Albinati, managing principal with Earnscliffe Strategy Group] added the role of science in government is now further bolstered by chief science adviser [sic] Mona Nemer and a growing network of departmental science advisers [sic]. .
Mehrdad Hariri, president of the Canadian Science Policy Centre …, cautioned that the chief science adviser’s [sic] role was best described as “science for policy,” meaning the use of science advice in decision-making. He added that the government still needed a separate role like that filled by Ms. Duncan … to champion “policy for science,” meaning decisions that optimize Canada’s research enterprise.
There’s one other commentary (by CresoSá) but I’m saving it for later.
The science minister disappears
There is no longer a separate position for Science. Kirsty Duncan was moved from her ‘junior’ position as Minister of Science (and Sport) to Deputy Leader of the government. Duncan’s science portfolio has been moved over to Navdeep Bains whose portfolio evolved from Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (yes, there were two ‘ministers of science’) to Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. (It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Sadly, nobody from the Prime Minister’s team called to ask for my input on the matter.)
Science (and technology) have to be found elsewhere
There’s the Natural Resources (i.e., energy, minerals and metals, forests, earth sciences, mapping, etc.) portfolio which was led by Catherine McKenna who’s been moved over to Infrastructure and Communities. There have been mumblings that she was considered ‘too combative’ in her efforts. Her replacement in Natural Resources is Seamus O’Regan. No word yet on whether or not, he might also be ‘too combative’. Of course, it’s much easier if you’re female to gain that label. (You can read about the spray-painted slurs found on the windows of McKenna’s campaign offices after she was successfully re-elected. See: Mike Blanchfield’s October 24, 2019 article for Huffington Post and Brigitte Pellerin’s October 31, 2019 article for the Ottawa Citizen.)
There are other portfolios which can also be said to include science such as Environment and Climate Change which welcomes a new minister, Jonathan Wilkinson moving over from his previous science portfolio, Fisheries, Oceans, and Canadian Coast Guard where Bernadette Jordan has moved into place. Patti Hajdu takes over at Heath Canada (which despite all of the talk about science muzzles being lifted still has its muzzle in place). While it’s not typically considered a ‘science’ portfolio in Canada, the military establishment regardless of country has long been considered a source of science innovation; Harjit Sajjan has retained his Minister of National Defence portfolio.
Plus there are at least half a dozen other portfolios that can be described as having significant science and/or technology elements folded into their portfolios, e.g., Transport Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food, Safety and Emergency Preparedness, etc.
As I tend to focus on emerging science and technology, most of these portfolios are not ones I follow even on an irregular basis meaning I have nothing more to add about them in this posting. Mixing science and technology together in this posting is a reflection of how tightly the two are linked together. For example, university research into artificial intelligence is taking place on theoretical levels (science) and as applied in business and government (technology). Apologies to the mathematicians but this explanation is already complicated and I don’t think I can do justice to their importance.
Moving onto technology with a strong science link, this next portfolio received even less attention than the ‘science’ portfolios and I believe that’s undeserved.
The Minister of Digital Government and a bureaucratic débacle
These days people tend to take the digital nature of daily life for granted and that may be why this portfolio has escaped much notice. When the ministerial posting was first introduced, it was an addition to Scott Brison’s responsibilities as head of the Treasury Board. It continued to be linked to the Treasury Board when Joyce Murray* inherited Brison’s position, after his departure from politics. As of the latest announcement in November 2019, Digital Government and the Treasury Board are no longer tended to by the same cabinet member.
The new head of the Treasury Board is Jean-Yves Duclos while Joyce Murray has held on to the Minister of Digital Government designation. I’m not sure if the separation from the Treasury Board is indicative of the esteem the Prime Minister has for digital government or if this has been done to appease someone or some group, which means the digital government portfolio could well disappear in the future just as the ‘junior’ science portfolio did.
Regardless, here’s some evidence as to why I think ‘digital government’ is unfairly overlooked, from the minister’s December 13, 2019 Mandate Letter from the Prime Minister (Note: All of the emphases are mine],
I will expect you to work with your colleagues and through established legislative, regulatory and Cabinet processes to deliver on your top priorities. In particular, you will:
Lead work across government to transition to a more digital government in order to improve citizen service.
Oversee the Chief Information Officer and the Canadian Digital Service as they work with departments to develop solutions that will benefit Canadians and enhance the capacity to use modern tools and methodologies across Government.
Lead work to analyze and improve the delivery of information technology (IT) within government. This work will include identifying all core and at-risk IT systems and platforms. You will lead the renewal of SSC [Shared Services Canada which provides ‘modern, secure and reliable IT services so federal organizations can deliver digital programs and services to meet Canadians’ needs’] so that it is properly resourced and aligned to deliver common IT infrastructure that is reliable and secure.
Lead work to create a centre of expertise that brings together the necessary skills to effectively implement major transformation projects across government, including technical, procurement and legal expertise.
Support the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry in continuing work on the ethical use of data and digital tools like artificial intelligence for better government.
With the support of the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, accelerate progress on a new Government of Canada service strategy that aims to create a single online window for all government services with new performance standards.
Support the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development in expanding and improving the services provided by Service Canada.
Support the Minister of National Revenue on additional steps required to meaningfully improve the satisfaction of Canadians with the quality, timeliness and accuracy of services they receive from the Canada Revenue Agency.
Support the Minister of Public Services and Procurement in eliminating the backlog of outstanding pay issues for public servants as a result of the Phoenix Pay System.
Lead work on the Next Generation Human Resources and Pay System to replace the Phoenix Pay System and support the President of the Treasury Board as he actively engages Canada’s major public sector unions.
Support the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and the Minister of National Revenue to implement a voluntary, real-time e-payroll system with an initial focus on small businesses.
Fully implement lessons learned from previous information technology project challenges and failures [e,g, the Phoenix Payroll System], particularly around sunk costs and major multi-year contracts. Act transparently by sharing identified successes and difficulties within government, with the aim of constantly improving the delivery of projects large and small.
Encourage the use and development of open source products and open data, allowing for experimentation within existing policy directives and building an inventory of validated and secure applications that can be used by government to share knowledge and expertise to support innovation.
To be clear, the Minister of Digital Government is responsible (more or less) for helping to clean up a débacle, i.e., the implementation of the federal government’s Phoenix Payroll System and drive even more digitization and modernization of government data and processes.
They’ve been trying to fix the Phoenix problems since the day it was implemented in early 2016.That’s right, it will be four years in Spring 2020 when the Liberal government chose to implement a digital payroll system that had been largely untested and despite its supplier’s concerns.
That video was posted on September 24, 2018 (on YouTube) and, to my knowledge, the situation has not changed appreciably. A November 8, 2019 article by Tom Spears for the Ottawa Citizen details a very personal story about what can only be described as a failure on just about every level you can imagine,
Linda Deschâtelets’s death by suicide might have been prevented if the flawed Phoenix pay system hadn’t led her to emotional and financial ruin, a Quebec coroner has found.
Deschâtelets died in December of 2017, at age 52. At the time she was struggling with chronic pain and massive mortgage payments.
The fear of losing her home weighed heavily on her. In her final text message to one of her sons she said she had run out of energy and wanted to die before she lost her house in Val des Monts.
But Deschâtelets might have lived, says a report from coroner Pascale Boulay, if her employer, the Canada Revenue Agency, had shown a little empathy.
“During the final months before her death, she experienced serious financial troubles linked to the federal government’s pay system, Phoenix, which cut off her pay in a significant way, making her fear she would lose her house,” said Boulay’s report.
“A thorough analysis of this case strongly suggests that this death could have been avoided if a search for a solution to the current financial, psychological and medical situation had been made.”
Boulay found “there is no indication that management sought to meet Ms. Deschâtelets to offer her options. In addition, the lack of prompt follow-up in the processing of requests for information indicates a distressing lack of empathy for an employee who is experiencing real financial insecurity.”
Pay records “indeed show that she was living through serious financial problems and that she received irregular payments since the beginning of October 2017,” the coroner wrote.
As well, “her numerous online applications using the form for a compensation problem, in which she expresses her fear of not being able to make her mortgage payments and says that she wants a detailed statement of account, remain unanswered.”
On top of that, she had chronic back pain and sciatica and had been missing work. She was scheduled to get an ergonomically designed work area, but this change was never made even though she waited for months.
Money troubles kept getting worse.
She ran out of paid sick leave, and her department sent her an email to explain that she had automatically been docked pay for taking sick days. “In this same email, she was also advised that in the event that she missed additional days, other amounts would be deducted. No further follow-up with her was done,” the coroner wrote.
That email came eight days before her death.
Deschâtelets was also taking cocaine but this did not alter the fact that she genuinely risked losing her home over her financial problems, the coroner wrote.
“Given the circumstances, it is highly likely that Ms. Deschâtelets felt trapped” and ended her life “because of her belief that she would lose the house anyway. It was only a matter of time.”
The situation is “even more sad” because CRA had advisers on site who dealt with Phoenix issues, and could meet with employees, Boulay wrote.
“The federal government does a lot of promotion of workplace wellness. Surprisingly, these wellness measures are silent on the subject of financial insecurity at work,” Boulay wrote.
I feel sad for the family and indignant that there doesn’t seem to have been enough done to mitigate the hardships due to an astoundingly ill-advised decision to implement an untested payroll system for the federal government’s 280,000 or more civil servants.
Canada’s Senate reports back on Phoenix
I’m highlighting the Senate report here although there are also two reports from the Auditor General should you care to chase them down. From an August 1, 2018 article by Brian Jackson for IT World Canada,
In February 2016, in anticipation of the start of the Phoenix system rolling out, the government laid off 2,700 payroll clerks serving 120,000 employees. [I’m guessing the discrepancy in numbers of employees may be due to how the clerks were laid off, i.e., if they were load off in groups scheduled to be made redundant at different intervals.]
As soon as Phoenix was launched, problems began. By May 2018 there were 60,000 pay requests backlogged. Now the government has dedicated resources to explaining to affected employees the best way to avoid pay-related problems, and to file grievances related to the system.
“The causes of the failure are multiple, including, failing to manage the pay system in an integrated fashion with human resources processes, not conducting a pilot project, removing essential processing functions to stay on budget, laying off experienced compensation advisors, and implementing a pay system that wasn’t ready,” the Senate report states. “We are dismayed that this project proceeded with minimal independent oversight, including from central agencies, and that no one has accepted responsibility for the failure of Phoenix or has been held to account. We believe that there is an underlying cultural problem that needs to be addressed. The government needs to move away from a culture that plays down bad news and avoids responsibility, [emphasis mine] to one that encourages employee engagement, feedback and collaboration.”
There is at least one estimate that the Phoenix failure will cost $2.2 billion but I’m reasonably certain that figure does not include the costs of suicide, substance abuse, counseling, marriage breakdown, etc. (Of course, how do you really estimate the cost of a suicide or a marriage breakdown or the impact that financial woes have on children?)
Also concerning the Senate report, there is a July 31, 2018 news item on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news online,
“We are not confident that this problem has been solved, that the lessons have all been learned,” said Sen. André Pratte, deputy chair of the committee. [emphases mine]
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has said the Phoenix situation could continue until 2023, yet government funding commitments so far have fallen significantly short of what is needed to end the Phoenix nightmare.
PSAC will continue pressing for enough funding and urgent action:
eliminate the over 200,000 cases in the pay issues backlog
compensate workers for their many hardships
properly develop, test and launch a new pay system
2023 would mean the débacle had a seven year lifespan, assuming everything has been made better by then.
Finally, there seems to be one other minister tasked with the Phoenix Pay System ‘fix’ (December 13, 2019 mandate letter) and that is the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, Anita Anand. She is apparently a rookie MP (member of Parliament), which would make her a ‘cabinet rookie’ as well. Interesting choice.
More digital for federal workers and the Canadian public
Despite all that has gone before, the government is continuing in its drive to digitize itself as can be seen in the Minister of Digital Government’s mandate letter (excerpted above in ‘The Minister of Digital Government and some …’ subsection) and on the government’s Digital Government webspace,
Our digital shift to becoming more agile, open, and user-focused. We’re working on tomorrow’s Canada today.
I don’t find that particularly reassuring in light of the Phoenix Payroll System situation. However, on the plus side, Canada has a Digital Charter with 10 principles which include universal access, safety and security, control and consent, etc. Oddly, it looks like it’s the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry who are tasked with enhancing and advancing the charter. Shouldn’t this group also include the Minister of Digital Government?
The Minister of Digital Government, Joyce Murray, does not oversee a ministry and I think that makes this a ‘junior’ position in much the same way the Minister of Science was a junior position. It suggests a mindset where some of the biggest changes to come for both employees and the Canadian public are being overseen by someone without the resources to do the work effectively or the bureaucratic weight and importance to ensure the changes are done properly.
It’s all very well to have a section on the Responsible use of artificial intelligence (AI) on your Digital Government webspace but there is no mention of ways and means to fix problems. For example, what happens to people who somehow run into an issue that the AI system can’t fix or even respond to because the algorithm wasn’t designed that way. Ever gotten caught in an automated telephone system? Or perhaps more saliently, what about the people who died in two different airplane accidents due to the pilots’ poor training and an AI system? (For a more informed view of the Boeing 737 Max, AI, and two fatal plane crashes see: a June 2, 2019 article by Rachel Kraus for Mashable.)
The only other minister whose mandate letter includes AI is the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, Navdeep Bains (from his December 13, 2019 mandate letter),
With the support of the Minister of Digital Government, continue work on the ethical use of data and digital tools like artificial intelligence for better government.
So, the Minister of Digital Government, Joyce Murray, is supporting the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, Navdeep Bains. That would suggest a ‘junior’ position wouldn’t it? If you look closely at the Minister of Digital Services’ mandate letter, you’ll see the Minister is almost always supporting another minister.
Where the Phoenix Pay System is concerned, the Minister of Digital Services is supporting the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, the previously mentioned rookie MP and rookie Cabinet member, Anita Anand. Interestingly, the employees’ union, PSAC, has decided (as of a November 20, 2019 news release) to ramp up its ad campaign regarding the Phoenix Pay System and its bargaining issues by targeting the Prime Minister and the new President of the Treasury Board, Jean-Yves Duclos. Guess whose mandate letter makes no mention of Phoenix (December 13, 2019 mandate letter for the President of the Treasury Board).
Open government, eh?
Putting a gift bow on a pile of manure doesn’t turn it into a gift (for most people, anyway) and calling your government open and/or transparent doesn’t necessarily make it so even when you amend your Access to Information Act to make it more accessible (August 22, 2019 Digital Government news release by Ruth Naylor).
One of the Liberal government’s most heavily publicized ‘open’ initiatives was the lifting of the muzzles put on federal scientists in the Environment and Natural Resources ministries. Those muzzles were put into place by a Conservative government and the 2015 Liberal government gained a lot of political capital from its actions. No one seemed to remember that Health Canada also had been muzzled. That muzzle had been put into place by one of the Liberal governments preceding the Conservative one. To date there is no word as to whether or not that muzzle has ever been lifted.
However, even in the ministries where the muzzles were lifted, it seems scientists didn’t feel free to speak even many months later (from a Feb 21, 2018 article by Brian Owens for Science),
More than half of government scientists in Canada—53%—do not feel they can speak freely to the media about their work, even after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government eased restrictions on what they can say publicly, according to a survey released today by a union that represents more than 16,000 federal scientists.
That union—the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) based in Ottawa—conducted the survey last summer, a little more than a year and a half into the Trudeau government. It followed up on a similar survey the union released in 2013 at the height of the controversy over the then-Conservative government’s reported muzzling of scientists by preventing media interviews and curtailing travel to scientific conferences. The new survey found the situation much improved—in 2013, 90% of scientists felt unable to speak about their work. But the union says more work needs to be done. “The work needs to be done at the department level,” where civil servants may have been slow to implement political directives, PIPSC President Debi Daviau said. ”We need a culture change that promotes what we have heard from ministers.”
To better illustrate this concern, in 2013, The Big Chill revealed that 86% of respondents feared censorship or retaliation from their department or agency if they spoke out about a departmental decision or action that, based on their scientific knowledge, could bring harm to the public interest. In 2017, when asked the same question, 73% of respondents said they would not be able to do so without fear of censorship or retaliation – a mere 13% drop.
It’s possible things have improved but while the 2018 Senate report did not focus on scientists, it did highlight issues with the government’s openness and transparency or in their words: “… a culture that plays down bad news and avoids responsibility.” It seems the Senate is not the only group with concerns about government culture; so do the government’s employees (the scientists, anyway).
The recently announced Liberal cabinet brings what appear to be cosmetic changes to the science file. Former Science Minister Kirsty Duncan is no longer in it, which sparked confusion among casual observers who believed that the elimination of her position signalled the termination of the science ministry or the downgrading of the science agenda. In reality, science was and remains part of the renamed Ministry of Innovation, Science, and (now) Industry (rather than Economic Development), where Minister Navdeep Bains continues at the helm.
Arguably, these reactions show that appearances have been central [emphasis mine] to the modus operandi of this government. Minister Duncan was an active, and generally well-liked, champion for the Trudeau government’s science platform. She carried the torch of team science over the last four years, becoming vividly associated with the launch of initiatives such as the Fundamental Science Review, the creation of the chief science advisor position, and the introduction of equity provisions in the Canada Research Chairs program. She talked a good talk, but her role did not in fact give her much authority to change the course of science policy in the country. From the start, her mandate was mostly defined around building bridges with members of cabinet, which was likely good experience for her new role of deputy house leader.
Upon the announcement of the new cabinet, Minister Bains took to Twitter to thank Dr. Duncan for her dedication to placing science in “its rightful place back at the centre of everything our government does.” He indicated that he will take over her responsibilities, which he was already formally responsible for. Presumably, he will now make time to place science at the centre of everything the government does.
This kind of sloganeering has been common [emphasis mine] since the 2015 campaign, which seems to be the strategic moment the Liberals can’t get out of. Such was the real and perceived hostility of the Harper Conservatives to science that the Liberals embraced the role of enlightened advocates. Perhaps the lowest hanging fruit their predecessors left behind was the sheer absence of any intelligible articulation of where they stood on the science file, which the Liberals seized upon with gusto. Virtue signalling [emphasis mine] became a first line of response.
When asked about her main accomplishments over the past year as chief science advisor at the recent Canadian Science Policy Conference in Ottawa, Mona Nemer started with the creation of a network of science advisors across government departments. Over the past four years, the government has indeed not been shy about increasing the number of appointments with “science” in their job titles. That is not a bad thing. We just do not hear much about how “science is at the centre of everything the government does.” Things get much fuzzier when the conversation turns to the bold promises of promoting evidence-based decision making that this government has been vocal about. Queried on how her role has impacted policy making, Dr. Nemer suggested the question should be asked to politicians. [emphasis mine]
I’m tempted to describe the ‘Digital Government’ existence and portfolio as virtue signalling.
There doesn’t seem to be all that much government interest in science or, even, technology for that matter. We have a ‘junior’ Minister of Science disappear so that science can become part of all the ministries. Frankly, I wish that science were integrated throughout all the ministries but when you consider the government culture, this move more easily lends itself to even less responsibility being taken by anyone. Take another look at the Canada’s Chief Science Advisor’s comment: “Queried on how her role has impacted policy making, Dr. Nemer suggested the question should be asked to politicians.” Meanwhile, we get a ‘junior Minister of Digital Government whose portfolio has the potential to affect Canadians of all ages and resident in Canada or not.
A ‘junior’ minister is not necessarily evil as Sá points out but I would like to see some indication that efforts are being made to shift the civil service culture and the attitude about how the government conducts its business and that the Minister of Digital Government will receive the resources and the respect she needs to do her job. I’d also like to see some understanding of how catastrophic a wrong move has already been and could be in the future along with options for how citizens are going to be making their way through this brave new digital government world and some options for fixing problems, especially the catastrophic ones.
*December 30, 2019 correction: After Scott Brison left his position as President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government in January 2019, Jane Philpott held the two positions until March 2019 when she left the Liberal Party. Carla Quatrough was acting head from March 4 – March 18, 2019 when Joyce Murray was appointed to the two positions which she held for eight months until November 2019 when, as I’ve noted, the ‘Minister of Digital Government’ was split from the ‘President of the Treasury Board’ appointment.
ETA January 28, 2020: The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has an update on the Phoenix Pay System situation in a January 28, 2020 posting (supplied by The Canadian Press),
More than 98,000 civil servants may still owe the federal government money after being overpaid through the disastrous Phoenix pay system.
… the problems persist, despite the hiring of hundreds of pay specialists to work through a backlog of system errors.
The public service pay centre was still dealing with a backlog of about 202,000 complaints as of Dec. 24 , down from 214,000 pay transactions that went beyond normal workload in November .
Dr. Mona Nemer, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, and her office have issued their 2018 annual report. It is also the office’s first annual report. (Brief bit of history: There was a similar position, National Science Advisor (Canada) from 2004-2008. Dr. Arthur Carty, the advisor, was dumped and the position eliminated when a new government by what was previously the opposition party won the federal election.)
The report can be found in html format here which is where you’ll also find a link to download the full 40 pp. report as a PDF.
Being an inveterate ‘skip to the end’ kind of a reader, I took a boo at the Conclusion,
A chief science advisor plays an important role in building consensus and supporting positive change to our national institutions. Having laid the foundation for the function of the Chief Science Advisor in year one, I look forward to furthering the work that has been started and responding to new requests from the Prime Minister, the Minister of Science and members of Cabinet in my second year. I intend to continue working closely with agency heads, deputy ministers and the science community to better position Canada for global leadership in science and innovation.
I think the conclusion could have done with a little more imagination and/or personality, even by government report standards. While there is some interesting material in other parts of the report, on the whole, it is written in a pleasant, accessible style that raises questions.
Let’s start here with one of the sections that raises questions,
The Budget 2018 commitment of $2.8 billion to build multi-purpose, collaborative federal science and technology facilities presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to establish a strong foundation for Canada’s future federal science enterprise. Similarly momentous opportunities exist to create a Digital Research Infrastructure Strategy [emphasis mine] for extramural science and a strategic national approach to Major Research Facilities. This is an important step forward for the Government of Canada in bringing principles and standards for federal science in line with practices in the broader scientific community; as such, the Model Policy will not only serve for the benefit of federal science, but will also help facilitate collaboration with the broader scientific community.
Over the past year, my office has participated in the discussion around these potentially transformative initiatives. We offered perspectives on the evidence needed to guide decisions regarding the kind of science infrastructure that can support the increasingly collaborative and multidisciplinary nature of science.
Among other things, I took an active part in the deliberations of the Deputy Ministers Science Committee (DMSC) and in the production of recommendations to Cabinet with respect to federal science infrastructure renewal. I have also analyzed the evolving nature and needs for national science facilities that support the Canadian science community.
Success in building the science infrastructure of the next 50 years and propelling Canadian science and research to new heights will require that the multiple decisions around these foundational initiatives dovetail based on a deep and integrated understanding of Canada’s science system and commitment to maintaining a long-term vision.
Ultimately, these infrastructure investments will need to support a collective vision and strategy for science in Canada, including which functions federal science should perform, and which should be shared with or carried out separately by academic and private sector researchers, in Canada and abroad. These are some of the essential considerations that must guide questions of infrastructure and resource allocation.
Canadian government digital infrastructure is a pretty thorny issue and while the article I’m referencing is old, I strongly suspect they still have many of the same problems. I’m going to excerpt sections that are focused on IT, specifically, the data centres and data storage. Prepare yourself for a bit of a shock as you discover the government did not know how many data centres it had. From a December 28, 2016 article by James Bagnall for the Ottawa Citizen,
Information technology [IT} offered an even richer vein of potential savings. For half a century, computer networks and software applications had multiplied willy-nilly as individual departments and agencies looked after their own needs. [emphases mine] The result was a patchwork of incompatible, higher-cost systems. Standardizing common, basic technologies such as email, data storage and telecommunications seemed logical. [emphasis mine]
It had been tried before. But attempts to centralize the buying of high-tech gear and services had failed, largely because federal departments were allowed to opt out. Most did so. They did want to give up control of their IT networks to a central agency.
The PCO determined this time would be different. The prime minister had the authority to create a new federal department through a simple cabinet approval known as an order-in-council. Most departments, including a reluctant Canada Revenue Agency and Department of National Defence, would be forced to carve out a significant portion of their IT groups and budgets — about 40 per cent on average — and hand them over to Shared Services.
Crucially, the move would not be subject to scrutiny by Parliament. And so Shared Services [Shared Services Canada] was born on Aug. 3, 2011.
Speed was demanded of the agency from the start. Minutes of meetings involving senior Shared Services staff are studded with references to “tight schedules” and the “urgency” of getting projects done.
Part of that had to do with the sheer age of the government’s infrastructure. The hardware was in danger of breaking down and the underlying software for many applications was so old that suppliers such as Microsoft, PeopleSoft and Adobe had stopped supporting it. [emphases mine]
The faster Shared Services could install new networks, the less money it would be forced to throw at solving the problems caused by older technology.
… Because the formation of Shared Services had been shrouded in such secrecy, the hiring of experienced outsiders happened last minute. Grant Westcott would join Shared Services as COO in mid-September.
Sixty-three years old at the time, Wescott had served as assistant deputy minister of Public Services in the late 1990s, when he managed the federal government’s telecommunications networks. In that role, he oversaw the successful effort to prepare systems for the year 2000.
More relevant to his new position at Shared Services, Westcott had also worked for nearly a decade at CIBC. As executive vice-president, he had been instrumental in overhauling the bank’s IT infrastructure. Twenty-two of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce’s [CIBC] data centres were shrunk into just two, saving the bank more than $40 million annually in operating costs. Among other things, Westcott and his team consolidated 15 global communications networks into a single voice and data system. More savings resulted.
It wasn’t without glitches. CIBC was forced on several occasions to apologize to customers for a breakdown in certain banking services.
Nevertheless, Westcott’s experience suggested this was not rocket science, at least not in the private sector. [emphasis mine] Streamlining and modernizing IT networks could be done under the right conditions. …
While Shared Services is paying Bell only for the mailboxes it has already moved [there was an email project, which has since been resolved], the agency is still responsible for keeping the lights on at the government’s legacy data centres [emphasis mine]— where most of the electronic mailboxes, and much of the government’s software applications, for that matter, are currently stored.
These jumbles of computers, servers, wires and cooling systems are weighed down by far too much history — and it took Shared Services a long time to get its arms around it.
“We were not created with a transformation plan already in place because to do that, we needed to know what we had,” Forand [Liseanne Forand, then president of Shared Services Canada] explained to members of Parliament. “So we spent a year counting things.” [emphasis mine]
Shared Services didn’t have to start from scratch. Prior to the agency’s 2011 launch, the PCO’s administrative review tried to estimate the number of data centres in government by interviewing the IT czars for each of the departments. Symptomatic of the far-flung nature of the government’s IT networks — and how loosely these were managed — the PCO [Privy Council Office] didn’t even come close.
“When I was at Privy Council, we thought there might be about 200 data centres,” Benoit Long, senior assistant deputy minister of Shared Services told the House of Commons committee last May , “After a year, we had counted 495 and I am still discovering others today.” [emphasis mine]
Most of these data centres were small — less than 1,000 square feet — often set up by government scientists who didn’t bother telling their superiors. Just 22 were larger than 5,000 square feet — and most of these were in the National Capital Region. These were where the bulk of the government’s data and software applications were stored.
In 2012, Grant Westcott organized a six-week tour of these data centres to see for himself what Shared Services was dealing with. According to an agency employee familiar with the tour’s findings, Westcott came away profoundly shocked.
Nearly all the large data centres were decrepit [emphasis mine], undercapitalized and inefficient users of energy. Yet just one was in the process of being replaced. This was a Heron Road facility with a leaking roof, considered key because it housed Canada Revenue Agency [CRA] data.
Bell Canada had been awarded a contract to build and operate a new data centre in Buckingham. The CRA data would be transferred there in the fall of 2013. A separate part of that facility is also meant to host the government’s email system.
The remaining data centres offered Westcott a depressing snapshot. [emphasis mine]
Most of the gear was housed in office towers, rather than facilities tailormade for heavy-duty electronics. With each new generation of computer or servers came requirements for more power and more robust cooling systems. The entire system was approaching a nervous breakdown.[emphasis mine]
Not only were the data centres inherited by Shared Services running out of space, the arrangements for emergency power bordered on makeshift. One Defence Department data centre, for instance, relied [on] a backup generator powered by a relatively ancient jet engine. [emphases mine] While unconventional, there was nothing unique about pressing military hardware into this type of service. The risk had to do with with training — the older the jet engine, the fewer employees there were who knew how to fix it. [emphasis mine]
The system for backing up data wasn’t much better. At Statistics Canada — where Westcott’s group was actually required to swear an oath to keep the data confidential before entering the storage rooms — the backup procedure called for storing copies of the data in a separate but nearby facility.While that’s OK for most disasters, the relative proximity still meant Statcan’s repository of historical data was vulnerable to a bombing or major earthquake.
Two and a quarter years later, I imagine they’ve finished counting their data centres but how much progress they might have made on replacing and upgrading the hardware and the facilities is not known to me but it’s hard to believe that all of the fixes have been made, especially after reading the Chief Science Advisor’s 2018 annual report (the relevant bits are coming up shortly.
If a more comprehensive view of the current government digital infrastructure interests you, I highly recommend Bagnall’s article. It’s heavy going for someone who’s not part of the Ottawa scene but it’s worth the effort as it gives you some insight into the federal government’s workings, which seem remarkably similar regardless as to which party is in power. Plus, it’s really well written.
Getting back to the report, I realize it’s not within the Chief Science Advisor’s scope to discuss the entirety of the government’s digital infrastructure but ***Corrected March 22, 2019 : Ooops! As originally written this section was incorrect. Here’s the corrected version; you can find the original version at the end of this post: “… 40 percent of facilities are more than 50 years old …” doesn’t really convey the depth and breadth of the problem. Presumably, these facilities also include digital infrastructure. At any rate, 40 percent of what? Just how many of these facilities are over 50 year old?*** By the way, the situation as the Chief Science Advisor’s Office describes it, gets a little worse, keep reading,
Over the past two years, the Treasury Board Secretariat has worked with the federal science community to develop an inventory of federal science infrastructure.
The project was successful in creating a comprehensive list of federal science facilities and documenting their state of repair. It reveals that some 40 percent of facilities are more than 50 years old and another 40 percent are more than 25 years old. The problem is most acute in the National Capital Region.
A similar inventory of research equipment is now underway. This will allow for effective coordination of research activities across organizations and with external collaborators. The Canada Foundation for Innovation, which provides federal funding toward the costs of academic research infrastructure, has created a platform upon which this work will build.
***Also corrected on March 20, 2019: Bravo to the Treasury Board for creating an inventory of the aging federal science infrastructure, which hopefully includes the digital.*** Following on Bagnall’s outline of the problems, it had to be discouraging work, necessary but discouraging. ***Also corrected on March 20, 2019: Did they take advantage of the Shared Services Canada data centrre counting exercise? Or did they redo the work?*** In any event, both the Treasury Board and the Chief Science Advisor have even more ahead of them.
Couldn’t there have been a link to the inventory? Is it secret information? It would have been nice if Canada’s Chief Science Advisor’s website had offered additional information or a link to supplement the 2018 annual report.
Admittedly there probably aren’t that many people who’d like more information about infrastructure and federal science offices but surely they could somehow give us a little more detail. For example, I understand there’s an AI (artificial intelligence) initiative within the government and given some of the issues, such as the Phoenix payroll system debacle and the digital infrastructure consisting of ‘chewing gum and baling wire’, my confidence is shaken. Have they learned any lessons? The report doesn’t offer any assurance they are taking these ‘lessons’ into account as they forge onwards.
“Lies, damned lies, and statistics” is a phrase describing the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments. It is also sometimes colloquially used to doubt statistics used to prove an opponent’s point.
The phrase was popularized in the United States by Mark Twain (among others), who attributed it to the British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” However, the phrase is not found in any of Disraeli’s works and the earliest known appearances were years after his death. Several other people have been listed as originators of the quote, and it is often erroneously attributed to Twain himself.
Here’s a portion of the 2018 report, which is “using the persuasive power of numbers”, in this case, to offer a suggestion about why people mistrust science,
A recent national public survey found that eight in ten respondents wanted to know more about science and how it affects our world, and roughly the same percentage of people are comfortable knowing that scientific answers may not be definitive. 1 [emphases mine] While this would seem to be a positive result, it may also suggest why some people mistrust science, [emphasis mine] believing that results are fluid and can support several different positions. Again, this reveals the importance of effectively communicating science, not only to counter misinformation, but to inspire critical thinking and an appreciation for curiosity and discovery.
I was happy to see the footnote but surprised that the writer(s) simply trotted out a statistic without any hedging about the reliability of the data. Just because someone says that eight out of ten respondents feel a certain way doesn’t give me confidence in the statistic and I explain why in the next section.
They even added that ‘people are aware that scientific answers are not necessarily definitive’. So why not be transparent about the fallibility of statistics in your own report? If that’s not possible in the body of the report, then maybe put the more detailed, nuanced analysis in an appendix.Finally, how did they derive the notion from the data suggesting that people are aware that science is a process of refining knowledge and adjusting it as needed might lead to distrust of science? It’s possible of course but how do you make that leap based on the data you’re referencing? As for that footnote, where was the link to the report? Curious, I took a look at the report.
Ontario Science Centre and its statistics
For the curious, you can find the Ontario Science Centre. Canadian Science Attitudes Research (July 6, 2018) here where you’ll see the methodology is a little light on detail. (The company doing this work, Leger, is a marketing research and analysitcs company.) Here’s the methodology, such as it is,
QUANTITATIVE RESEARCH INSTRUMENT
An online survey of 1501 Canadians was completed between June 18 and 26, 2018, using Leger’s online panel.The margin of error for this study was +/-2.5%, 19 times out of 20.
Where applicable, this year’s results have been compared back to a similar study done in 2017 (OSC Canadian Science Attitudes Research, August 2017). The use of arrows ( ) indicate significant changes between the two datasets.
ABOUT LEGER’S ONLINE PANEL
Leger’s online panel has approximately 450,000 members nationally and has a retention rate of 90%.
Stringent quality assurance measures allow Leger to achieve the high-quality standards set by the company. As a result, its methods of data collection and storage outperform the norms set by WAPOR (The World Association for Public Opinion Research). These measures are applied at every stage of the project: from data collection to processing, through to analysis.We aim to answer our clients’ needs with honesty, total confidentiality, and integrity.
I didn’t find any more substantive description of the research methodology but there is a demographic breakdown at the end of the report and because they’ve given you the number of the number of people paneled (1501) at the beginning of the report, you can figure out just how many people fit into the various categories.
Now, the questions: What is a Leger online panel? How can they confirm that the people who took the survey are Canadian? How did they put together this Leger panel, e.g., do people self-seletct? Why did they establish a category for people aged 65+? (Actually, in one section of the report, they make reference to 55+.) Read on for why that last one might be a good question.
I haven’t seen any surveys or polls originating in Canada that seem to recognize that a 65 year old is not an 80 year old. After all, they don’t lump in 20 year olds with 40 year olds because these people are at different stages in their lifespans, often with substantive differences in their outlook.. Maybe there are no differences between 65 year olds and 80 year olds but we’ll never know because no one ever asks. When you add in Canada’s aging population, the tendency to lump all ‘old’ people together seems even more thoughtless.
These are just a few questions that spring to mind and most likely, the pollsters have a more substantive methodology. There may have been a perfectly good reason for not including more detail in the version of the report I’ve linked to. For example, a lot of people will stop reading a report that’s ‘bogged down’ in too much detail. Fair enough but why not give a link to a more substantive methodology or put it in an appendix?
One more thing, I couldn’t find any data in the Ontario Science Centre report that would support the Chief Science Advisor Office’s speculation about why people might not trust science. They did hedge, as they should, “… seem to be a positive result, it may also suggest why some people mistrust science …” but the hedging follows directly after the ” … eight in ten respondents …”. which structurally suggests that there is data supporting the speculation. If there is, it’s not in the pollster’s report.
I just wish the office of the Chief Science Advisor had created the foundation to support this,
Establishing a National Science Advisory System
Science and scientific information permeate the work of the federal government, creating a continuous need for decision-makers to negotiate uncertainty in interpreting often variable and generally incomplete scientific evidence for policy making. With science and technology increasingly a part of daily life, the need for science advice will only intensify.
As such, my office has been asked to assess and recommend ways to improve the existing science advisory function [emphasis mine] within the federal government. To that end, we examined the science advisory systems in other countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as the European Union. [emphasis mine]
A key feature of all the systems was a network of department-level science advisors. These are subject matter experts who work closely with senior departmental officials and support the mandate of the chief science advisor. They stand apart from day-to-day operations and provide a neutral sounding board for senior officials and decision-makers evaluating various streams of information. They also facilitate the incorporation of evidence in decision-making processes and act as a link between the department and external stakeholders.
I am pleased to report that our efforts to foster a Canadian science advisory network are already bearing fruit. Four organizations [emphasis mine] have so far moved to create a departmental science advisor position, and the first incumbents at the Canadian Space Agency and the National Research Council [emphasis mine] are now in place. I have every confidence that the network of departmental science advisors will play an important role in enhancing science advice and science activities planning, especially on cross-cutting issues.
Who asked the office to assess and recommend ways to improve the existing science advisory function? By the way, the European Union axed the position of Chief Science Adviser, after Anne Glover, the first such adviser in their history, completed the term of her appointment in 2014 (see James Wilsdon’s November 13, 2014 article for the Guardian). Perhaps they meant countries in the European Union?
Which four organizations have created departmental science advisor positions? Presumably the Canadian Space Agency and the National Research Council were two of the organizations?
If you’re looking at another country’s science advisory systems do you have some publicly available information, perhaps a report and analysis? Is there a set of best practices? And, how do these practices fit into the Canadian context?
More generally, how much is this going to cost? Are these departmental advisors expected to report to the Canadian federal government’s Chief Science Advisor, as well as, their own ministry deputy minister or higher? Will the Office of the Chief Science Advisor need more staff?
I could be persuaded that increasing the number of advisors and increasing costs to support these efforts are good ideas but it would be nice to see the Office of Chief Science Advisor put some effort into persuasion rather than assuming that someone outside the tight nexus of federal government institutions based in Ottawa is willing to accept statements. that aren’t detailed and/or supported by data.
I’m torn. I’m supportive of the position of the Chief Science Advisor of Canada and happy to see a report. It looks like there’s some exciting work being done.
I also hold the Chief Advisor and the Office to a high standard. It’s understandable that they may have decided to jettison detail in favour of making the 2018 annual report more readable but what I don’t understand is the failure to provide a more substantive report or information that supports and details the work. There’s a lack of transparency and, also, clarity. What do they mean by the word ‘science’. At a guess, they’re not including the social sciences.
On the whole, the report looks a little sloppy and that’s the last thing I expect from the Chief Science Advisor.
*** This is the original and not accurate version: “… 40 percent of facilities are more than 50 years old …” doesn’t really convey the depth and breadth of the problem. Let’s start with any easy question: 40 percent of what? Just how many of these computers are over 50 year old? By the way, the situation as the Chief Science Advisor’s Office describes it, gets a little worse, keep reading, AND THIS: Bravo to the Treasury Board for tracking down those data centres and more. AND THIS: Also, was this part of the Shared Services Canada counting exercise?
The dates are November 7 -9, 2018 and as the opening draws closer I’m getting more ‘breathlessly enthusiastic’ announcements. Here are a few highlights from an October 23, 2018 announcement received via email,
CSPC 2018 is honoured to announce that the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, will be delivering the keynote speech of the Gala Dinner on Thursday, November 8 at 7:00 PM. Minister Duncan will also hand out the 4th Science Policy Award of Excellence to the winner of this year’s competition.
CSPC 2018 features 250 speakers, a record number, and above is the breakdown of the positions they hold, over 43% of them being at the executive level and 57% of our speakers being women.
*All information as of October 15, 2018
If you think that you will not meet any new people at CSPC and all of the registrants are the same as last year, think again!
Over 57% of registrants are attending the conference for the FIRST TIME!
Secure your spot today!
*All information as of October 15, 2018
Here’s more from an October 31, 2018 announcement received via email,
One year after her appointment as Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer will discuss her experience with the community. Don’t miss this opportunity.
[Canadian Science Policy Centre editorials in advance of conference]
Role Title: Director of Communications
Deadline: November 5, 2018
Salary: $115,000 to $165,000
About the Council of Canadian Academies
The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) is a not-for-profit organization that conducts assessments of evidence on scientific topics of public interest to inform decision-making in Canada.
The CCA is seeking an experienced communications professional to join its senior management team as Director of Communications. Reporting to the President and CEO, the Director is responsible for developing and implementing a communications plan for the organization that promotes and highlights the CCA’s work, brand, and overall mission to a variety of potential users and stakeholders; overseeing the publication and dissemination of high-quality hard copy and online products; and providing strategic advice to the President and CCA’s Board, Committees, and Panels. In fulfilling these responsibilities, the Director of Communications is expected to work with a variety of interested groups including the media, the broad policy community, government, and non-governmental organizations.
Key Responsibilities and Accountabilities
Under the direction of the President and CEO, the Director leads a small team of communications and publishing professionals to meet the responsibilities and accountabilities outlined below.
Strategy Development and External Communications
• Develop and execute an overall strategic communications plan for the organization that promotes and highlights the CCA’s work, brand, and overall mission.
• Oversee the CCA’s presence and influence on digital and social platforms including the development and execution of a comprehensive content strategy for linking CCA’s work with the broader science and policy ecosystem with a focus on promoting and disseminating the findings of the CCA’s expert panel reports.
• Provide support, as needed for relevant government relations activities including liaising with communications counterparts, preparing briefing materials, responding to requests to share CCA information, and coordinating any appearances before Parliamentary committees or other bodies.
• Harness opportunities for advancing the uptake and use of CCA assessments, including leveraging the strengths of key partners particularly the founding Academies.
Publication and Creative Services
• Oversee the creative services, quality control, and publication of all CCA’s expert panel reports including translation, layout, quality assurance, graphic design, proofreading, and printing processes.
• Oversee the creative development and publication of all CCA’s corporate materials including the Annual Report and Corporate Plan through content development, editing, layout, translation, graphic design, proofreading, and printing processes.
Advice and Issues Management
• Provide strategic advice and support to the President’s Office, Board of Directors, Committees, and CCA staff about increasing the overall impact of CCA expert panel reports, brand awareness, outreach opportunities, and effective science communication.
• Provide support to the President by anticipating project-based or organizational issues, understanding potential implications, and suggesting strategic management solutions.
• Ensure consistent messages, style, and approaches in the delivery of all internal and external communications across the organization.
• Mentor, train, and advise up to five communications and publishing staff on a day-to-day basis and complete annual performance reviews and planning.
• Lead the development and implementation of all CCA-wide policy and procedures relating to all aspects of communications and publishing.
• Represent the issues, needs, and ongoing requirements for the communications and publishing staff as a member of the CCA senior management team.
The Director of Communications requires:
• Superior knowledge of communications and public relations principles – preferably as it applies in a non-profit or academic setting;
• Extensive experience in communications planning and issues management;
• Knowledge of current research, editorial, and publication production standards and procedures including but not limited to: translation, copy-editing, layout/design, proofreading and publishing;
• Knowledge of evaluating impact of reports and assessments;
• Knowledge in developing content strategy, knowledge mobilization techniques, and creative services and design;
• Knowledge of human resource management techniques and experience managing a team;
• Experience in coordinating, organizing and implementing communications activities including those involving sensitive topics;
• Knowledge of the relationships and major players in Canada’s intramural and extramural science and public policy ecosystem, including awareness of federal science departments and Parliamentary committees, funding bodies, and related research groups;
• Knowledge of Microsoft Office Suite, Adobe Creative Suite, WordPress and other related programs;
• Knowledge of a variety of social media platforms and measurement tools.
The Director of Communications must have:
• Superior time and project management skills
• Superior writing skills
• Superior ability to think strategically regarding how best to raise the CCA’s profile and ensure impact of the CCA’s expert panel reports
• Ability to be flexible and adaptable; able to respond quickly to unanticipated demands
• Strong advisory, negotiation, and problem-solving skills
• Strong skills in risk mitigation
• Superior ability to communicate in both written and oral forms, effectively and diplomatically
• Ability to mentor, train, and provide constructive feedback to direct reports
Education and Experience
This knowledge and skillset is typically obtained through the completion of a post-secondary degree in Journalism, Communications, Public Affairs or a related field, and/or a minimum of 10
years of progressive and related experience. Experience in an organization that has addressed topics in public policy would be valuable.
Language Requirements: This position is English Essential. Fluency in French is a strong asset.
To apply to this position please send your CV and cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org before November 5, 2018. The cover letter should answer the following questions in 1,000 words or less:
1. How does your background and work experience make you well-suited for the position of Director of Communications at CCA?
2. What trends do you see emerging in the communications field generally, and in science and policy communications more specifically? How might CCA take advantage of these trends and developments?
3. Knowing that CCA is in the business of conducting assessments of evidence on important policy topics, how do you feel communicating this type of science differs from communicating other types of information and knowledge?
While research is world-class and technology start-ups are thriving, few companies grow and mature in Canada. This cycle — invent and sell, invent and sell — allows other countries to capture much of the economic and social benefits of Canadian-invented products, processes, marketing methods, and business models. …
So, the problem is ‘invent and sell’. Leaving aside the questionable conclusion that other countries are reaping the benefits of Canadian innovation (I’ll get back to that shortly), what questions could you ask about how to break the ‘invent and sell, invent and sell’ cycle? Hmm, maybe we should ask, How do we break the ‘invent and sell’ cycle in Canada?
… Escaping this cycle may be aided through education and training of innovation managers who can systematically manage ideas for commercial success and motivate others to reimagine innovation in Canada.
To understand how to better support innovation management in Canada, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) asked the CCA two critical questions: What are the key skills required to manage innovation? And, what are the leading practices for teaching these skills in business schools, other academic departments, colleges/polytechnics, and industry?
As lawyers, journalists, scientists, doctors, librarians, and anyone who’s ever received misinformation can tell you, asking the right questions can make a big difference.
As for the conclusion that other countries are reaping the benefits of Canadian innovation, is there any supporting data? We enjoy a very high standard of living and have done so for at least a couple of generations. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has a Better Life Index, which ranks well-being on these 11 dimensions (from the OECD Better Life Index entry on Wikipedia), Note: Links have been removed,
Housing: housing conditions and spendings (e.g. real estate pricing)
Income: household income and financial wealth
Jobs: earnings, job security and unemployment
Community: quality of social support network
Education: education and what you get out of it
Environment: quality of environment (e.g. environmental health)
This notion that other countries are profiting from Canadian innovation while we lag behind has been repeated so often that it’s become an article of faith and I never questioned it until someone else challenged me. This article of faith is repeated internationally and sometimes seems that every country in the world is worried that someone else will benefit from their national innovation.
Getting back to the Canadian situation, we’ve decided to approach the problem by not asking questions about our article of faith or how to break the ‘invent and sell’ cycle. Instead of questioning an assumption and producing an open-ended question, we have these questions (1) What are the key skills required to manage innovation? (2) And, what are the leading practices for teaching these skills in business schools, other academic departments, colleges/polytechnics, and industry?
in my world that first question, would be a second tier question, at best. The second question, presupposes the answer: more training in universities and colleges. I took a look at the report’s Expert Panel webpage and found it populated by five individuals who are either academics or have strong ties to academe. They did have a workshop and the list of participants does include people who run businesses, from the Improving Innovation Through Better Management‘ report (Note: Formatting has not been preserved),
Former President and Vice-Chancellor of
Wilfrid Laurier University (Waterloo, ON)
Richard Boudreault, FCAE,
Chairman, Sigma Energy
Storage (Montréal, QC)
Judy Fairburn, FCAE,
Past Board Chair, Alberta Innovates;
retired EVP Business Innovation & Chief Digital Officer,
Cenovus Energy Inc. (Calgary, AB)
Tom Jenkins, O.C., FCAE,
Chair of the Board, OpenText
Director of the Institute for Gender and the
Economy and Distinguished Professor, Rotman School of
Management, University of Toronto (Toronto, ON)
Senior Vice President of Engineering,
Shopify Inc. (Ottawa, ON)
Academic Director and Professor, i2I, Beedie
School of Business, Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, BC)
John L. Mann, FCAE,
Owner, Mann Consulting
CEO, Volta Labs (Halifax, NS)
Professor of Higher Education and Director of
the Centre for the Study of Canadian and International
Higher Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education,
University of Toronto (Toronto, ON)
Professor and Chair, J. Herbert Smith
Centre for Technology Management & Entrepreneurship,
Faculty of Engineering, University of New Brunswick
Senior Executive, Innovation, IBM Canada
J. Mark Weber,
Eyton Director, Conrad School of
Entrepreneurship & Business, University of Waterloo
I am a little puzzled by the IBM executive’s presence (Dan Sinai) on this list. Wouldn’t Canadians holding onto their companies be counterproductive to IBM’s interests? As for John L. Mann, I’ve not been able to find him or his consulting company online. it’s unusual not to find any trace of an individual or company online these days.
In all there were nine individuals representing academic or government institutions in this list. The gender balance is 10 males and five females for the workshop participants and three males and two females for the expert panel. There is no representation from the North or from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, or Newfoundland.
If they’re serious about looking at how to use innovation to drive higher standards of living, why aren’t there any people from Asian countries where they have been succeeding at that very project? South Korea and China come to mind.
I’m sure there are some excellent ideas in the report, I just wish they’d taken their topic to heart and actually tried to approach innovation in Canada in an innovative fashion.
Meanwhile, Vancouver gets another technology hub, from an October 30, 2018 article by Kenneth Chan for the Daily Hive (Vancouver [Canada]), Note: Links have been removed,
Vancouver’s rapidly growing virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) tech sectors will greatly benefit from a new VR and AR hub created by Launch Academy.
The technology incubator has opened a VR and AR hub at its existing office at 300-128 West Hastings Street in downtown, in partnership with VR/AR Association Vancouver. Immersive tech companies have access to desk space, mentorship programs, VR/AR equipment rentals, investor relations connected to Silicon Valley [emphasis mine], advisory services, and community events and workshops.
Within the Vancouver tech industry, the immersive sector has grown from 15 companies working in VR and AR in 2015 to 220 organizations today.
Globally, the VR and AR market is expected to hit a value of $108 billion by 2021, with tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft [emphasis mine] investing billions into product development.
In the Vancouver region, the ‘invent and sell’ cycle can be traced back to the 19th century.
One more thing, as I was writing this piece I tripped across this news: “$7.7-billion pact makes Encana more American than Canadian‘ by Geoffrey Morgan. It’s in the Nov. 2, 2018 print edition of the Vancouver Sun’s front page for business. “Encana Corp., the storied Canadian company that had been slowly transitioning away from Canada and natural gas over the past few years under CEO [Chief Executive Officer] Doug Suttles, has pivoted aggressively to US shale basins. … Suttles, formerly as BP Plc. executive, moved from Calgary [Alberta, Canada] to Denver [Colorado, US], though the company said that was for personal reasons and not a precursor to relocation of Encana’s headquarters.” Yes, that’s quite believable. By the way, Suttles has spent* most of his life in the US (Wikipedia entry).
In any event, it’s not just Canadian emerging technology companies that get sold or somehow shifted out of Canada.
So, should we break the cycle and, if so, how are we going to do it?
*’spend’ corrected to ‘spent’ on November 6, 2018.
The folks at the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) have just announced a pilot project heavily influenced by a successful Australian initiative matching scientists and lawmakers for a day. This is going to cost the participant money and the application deadline is August 31, 2018.
If you’re still interested, from a July 10, 2018 CSPC announcement (received via email),
The Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC), in partnership with the Chief Science Advisor of Canada [Mona Nember], is launching a new and exciting pilot program: Science Meets Parliament. This is a unique opportunity that invites scientists and engineers of various disciplines to spend one day on the Hill, shadow an MP or senator, explore their role in modern political decision making, and develop an understanding of the parliamentary process.
This program is modeled on the acclaimed program run by Science and Technology Australia, now in its 19th year. You can find more information about the Science and Technology Australia’s Science Meets Parliament event by clicking here. We are grateful to our Australian colleagues for allowing us to adopt the name and model.
Scientists and politicians desire a mechanism to build close and resilient connections. Strengthening evidence-informed decision-making requires systematic connectivity between the scientific and legislative communities. This program will help to create an open and ongoing channel between the two communities.
This program aims to facilitate a crucial dialogue between scientists and political leaders. Selected scientists from across the country will have the rare opportunity to spend a full day on Parliament Hill shadowing an MP or Senator, attending House committee meetings and Question Period, and sharing your passion for science with Parliamentarians.
The program includes exercises and teleconference workshops leading up to the event as well as an orientation and training session on the day before, hosted by the Institute on Governance in Ottawa’s Byward Market.
For Parliamentarians and Senators:
Interact with researchers driving science and innovation in Canada
Build lasting connections with scientists from diverse regions and specialties
Discuss the intersection of science and decision-making on the Hill
Meet with MPs, Senators, their staff, and the Federal political community.
Showcase their research and discuss the impact of research outcomes for Canadians
Learn about the organization, rationale, and motivations of decision-making in Parliamentary procedures.
For this pilot year, the program is open to researchers who currently hold a Tier II Canada Research Chair and are affiliated with a Canadian post-secondary institution. [emphases mine]
The researchers should come from diverse range of science and engineering disciplines including all social, medical, and natural Sciences.We expect that 15-20 candidates will be selected. We hope to open the application process to researchers from all career stages in future years.
CSPC will oversee the application process and will base final selection of the Delegates on applicant diversity in terms of geography, language, gender, discipline, and visible minority.
The one day event will include:
An informative orientation session that includes information about the business of Parliament and exercises that prepare Delegates to speak with politicians
Meetings with Members of Parliament and Senators, the Chief Science Advisor of Canada, and possibly the Minister of Science (subject to her availability)
Shadowing a Member of Parliament or Senator during the day
Networking reception with MPs, Senators, and staff that will include a closing speech by a guest of honour.
The program will be held on the hill on November 6th . [emphasis mine] The mandatory orientation session will be in the late afternoon of Monday Nov. 5th. Delegates are highly encouraged to stay in Ottawa for the 10th Canadian Science Policy Conference, CSPC 2018, held from Nov. 7-9. In this unique forum, delegates will have the opportunity to discuss the most pressing issues of science and innovation policy in Canada. For more information about the CSPC 2018, please visit the website: www.cspc2018.ca
The detailed event agenda will be made available in the upcoming weeks.
Registration fee: Accepted delegates will be required to pay $250.00 , which will include breakfast, lunch, the evening networking reception, and admission to the program. All delegates will be responsible for their own travel and accommodation costs. [emphases mine]
Scientists who attend this session are required to either present a lecture at their host institution, and/or write an editorial for the CSPC’s editorial page about their experience, interactions with Parliamentarians, and insights they gained during this experience.
Tier 2 Chairs – tenable for five years and renewable once, are for exceptional emerging researchers, acknowledged by their peers as having the potential to lead in their field. Nominees for Tier 2 positions are assistant or associate professors (or they possess the necessary qualifications to be appointed at these levels by the nominating university). For each Tier 2 Chair, the university receives $100,000 annually for five years.
Good luck! And, CSPC folks, thank you for giving those of us on the West Coast a midnight deadline!
This is going to be relatively short and sweet(ish). Starting with the 2017 review:
Nano blogosphere and the Canadian blogosphere
From my perspective there’s been a change taking place in the nano blogosphere over the last few years. There are fewer blogs along with fewer postings from those who still blog. Interestingly, some blogs are becoming more generalized. At the same time, Foresight Institute’s Nanodot blog (as has FrogHeart) has expanded its range of topics to include artificial intelligence and other topics. Andrew Maynard’s 2020 Science blog now exists in an archived from but before its demise, it, too, had started to include other topics, notably risk in its many forms as opposed to risk and nanomaterials. Dexter Johnson’s blog, Nanoclast (on the IEEE [Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website), maintains its 3x weekly postings. Tim Harper who often wrote about nanotechnology on his Cientifica blog appears to have found a more freewheeling approach that is dominated by his Twitter feed although he also seems (I can’t confirm that the latest posts were written in 2017) to blog here on timharper.net.
The Canadian science blogosphere seems to be getting quieter if Science Borealis (blog aggregator) is a measure. My overall impression is that the bloggers have been a bit quieter this year with fewer postings on the feed or perhaps that’s due to some technical issues (sometimes FrogHeart posts do not get onto the feed). On the promising side, Science Borealis teamed with the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada Association to run a contest, “2017 People’s Choice Awards: Canada’s Favourite Science Online!” There were two categories (Favourite Science Blog and Favourite Science Site) and you can find a list of the finalists with links to the winners here.
However, I can’t help wondering: where were ASAP Science, Acapella Science, Quirks & Quarks, IFLS (I f***ing love science), and others on the list for finalists? I would have thought any of these would have a lock on a position as a finalist. These are Canadian online science purveyors and they are hugely popular, which should mean they’d have no problem getting nominated and getting votes. I can’t find the criteria for nominations (or any hint there will be a 2018 contest) so I imagine their nonpresence on the 2017 finalists list will remain a mystery to me.
Looking forward to 2018, I think that the nano blogosphere will continue with its transformation into a more general science/technology-oriented community. To some extent, I believe this reflects the fact that nanotechnology is being absorbed into the larger science/technology effort as foundational (something wiser folks than me predicted some years ago).
As for Science Borealis and the Canadian science online effort, I’m going to interpret the quieter feeds as a sign of a maturing community. After all, there are always ups and downs in terms of enthusiasm and participation and as I noted earlier the launch of an online contest is promising as is the collaboration with Science Writers and Communicators of Canada.
Canadian science policy
It was a big year.
Canada’s Chief Science Advisor
With Canada’s first chief science advisor in many years, being announced Dr. Mona Nemer stepped into her position sometime in Fall 2017. The official announcement was made on Sept. 26, 2017. I covered the event in my Sept. 26, 2017 posting, which includes a few more details than found the official announcement.
You’ll also find in that Sept. 26, 2017 posting a brief discourse on the Naylor report (also known as the Review of Fundamental Science) and some speculation on why, to my knowledge, there has been no action taken as a consequence. The Naylor report was released April 10, 2017 and was covered here in a three-part review, published on June 8, 2017,
I have found another commentary (much briefer than mine) by Paul Dufour on the Canadian Science Policy Centre website. (November 9, 2017)
Subnational and regional science funding
This began in 2016 with a workshop mentioned in my November 10, 2016 posting: ‘Council of Canadian Academies and science policy for Alberta.” By the time the report was published the endeavour had been transformed into: Science Policy: Considerations for Subnational Governments (report here and my June 22, 2017 commentary here).
I don’t know what will come of this but I imagine scientists will be supportive as it means more money and they are always looking for more money. Still, the new government in British Columbia has only one ‘science entity’ and I’m not sure it’s still operational but i was called the Premier’s Technology Council. To my knowledge, there is no ministry or other agency that is focused primarily or partially on science.
Meanwhile, a couple of representatives from the health sciences (neither of whom were involved in the production of the report) seem quite enthused about the prospects for provincial money in their (Bev Holmes, Interim CEO, Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, British Columbia, and Patrick Odnokon (CEO, Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation) October 27, 2017 opinion piece for the Canadian Science Policy Centre.
Artificial intelligence and Canadians
An event which I find more interesting with time was the announcement of the Pan=Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy in the 2017 Canadian federal budget. Since then there has been a veritable gold rush mentality with regard to artificial intelligence in Canada. One announcement after the next about various corporations opening new offices in Toronto or Montréal has been made in the months since.
What has really piqued my interest recently is a report being written for Canada’s Treasury Board by Michael Karlin (you can learn more from his Twitter feed although you may need to scroll down past some of his more personal tweets (something cassoulet in the Dec. 29, 2017 tweets). As for Karlin’s report, which is a work in progress, you can find out more about the report and Karlin in a December 12, 2017 article by Rob Hunt for the Algorithmic Media Observatory (sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada [SHRCC], the Centre for Study of Democratic Citizenship, and the Fonds de recherche du Québec: Société et culture).
On looking back I see that the year started out at quite a clip as I was attempting to hit the 5000th blog posting mark, which I did on March 3, 2017. I have cut back somewhat from the 3 postings/day high to approximately 1 posting/day. It makes things more manageable allowing me to focus on other matters.
By the way, you may note that the ‘Donate’ button has disappeared from my sidebard. I thank everyone who donated from the bottom of my heart. The money was more than currency, it also symbolized encouragement. On the sad side, I moved from one hosting service to a new one (Sibername) late in December 2016 and have been experiencing serious bandwidth issues which result on FrogHeart’s disappearance from the web for days at a time. I am trying to resolve the issues and hope that such actions as removing the ‘Donate’ button will help.
I wish my readers all the best for 2018 as we explore nanotechnology and other emerging technologies!
(I apologize for any and all errors. I usually take a little more time to write this end-of-year and coming-year piece but due to bandwidth issues I was unable to access my draft and give it at least one review. And at this point, I’m too tired to try spotting error. If you see any, please do let me know.)
I have several bits of news, mostly about upcoming event. Tour bits pertaining to the upcoming Canadian Science Policy Conference, one bit about science rapper, Baba Brinkman and his new album (and some of his upcoming events), and one bit about Art The Science.
Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC)
The 2017 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) takes place Nov. 1 – 3, 2017 in Ottawa and in the last couple of weeks there have been a number of announcements meant to entice procrastinators or the easily distracted or the somewhat reluctant to register.
(1) An Oct. 10, 2017 announcement (received via email) trumpets an opportunity to have lunch with Canada’s new Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer,
CSPC 2017 is pleased to announce Canada’s new Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer, will be attending the 9th Canadian Science Policy Conference. Dr. Nemer will discuss her insights on her new role as the Chief Science Advisor. The luncheon session will be on Thursday, November 2 , 12:30 PM to 1:30 PM. Don’t miss this opportunity to ask your questions to Canada’s Chief Science Advisor.
For anyone who’d like more information, I posted about Dr. Nemer’s appointment in a Sept. 26, 2017 piece.
(2) Onto the next announcement which arrived in an Oct. 13, 2017 email,
CSPC 2017 is pleased to announce that the Minister of Science, Honourable Kirsty Duncan, will be the guest of the keynote session and will address the delegates on the evening of Thursday, November 2 , after the networking reception. Minister Duncan will also be attending the Evening of Celebration and Inspiration on November 1 and will present the Youth Award of Excellence in Science Policy.
(3) The latest ‘guest’ announcement arrived in an Oct. 23, 2017 email,
CSPC 2017 is pleased to announce that Her Excellency, the Right Honourable Julie Payette [former astronaut], the Governor General of Canada, will deliver remarks at the Evening of Celebration and Inspiration on Wednesday, November 1 .
Join us to celebrate 150 Years of Achievement in Canadian Science at the CSPC 2017 Evening of Celebration and Inspiration. There will be a networking reception at 4:30 PM open to all conference delegates.
The Evening of Celebration and Inspiration will begin at 5:30 PM and is open to all conference delegates who have RSVP’d specifically for the Evening.
Highlights of the evening will include:
Address by the Governor General
Keynote Lecture by Dr. Neil Turok, ‘We Are Innovators’
Youth Award of Excellence Ceremony presented by Hon. Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science
Short remarks by Dr. Art McDonald and Dr. Remi Quirion
Other special program features to be announced soon
A recent poll commissioned by the Ontario Science Centre paints an alarming picture of the public perception of science in Canada (http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/technology/science-attitudes-survey-2017-1.4298800). 43 percent of Canadians believe that scientific findings are a matter of opinion, while 66 percent agree that false information reported as fact (‘fake news’) is affecting their knowledge of science. The poll does present a silver lining, however. 82 percent of Canadians would like to know more about science and how it affects our world.
For me as a science communicator, these results are both a source of worry and an opportunity. At its core, they speak both to the disconnect between Canadian scientific institutions and the public and to the decreasing value of information in the age of post-truth. In that context, my mission as a science communicator is to facilitate a conversation between science and society to engage the public in Canadian science.
When Nikki Berreth and I founded Science Slam Canada in Vancouver in 2016, we hoped it would offer a new way to make science personal, relatable, and accessible. The speed and energy with which it grew was something we couldn’t have predicted. In the span of a year, it evolved from a fun side project into a multi-city network hosting a range of events and enabling scientists to better connect with their communities.
So what exactly is a science slam? Based on the format of a poetry slam, a science slam is a competition that allows a range of scientific knowledge holders, including researchers, students, and educators to share their science with a general audience. Competitors have five minutes to present on any science topic and are judged based on communication skills, audience engagement, and scientific accuracy. Use of a projector or slideshow is not allowed, but props and creative presentation styles are encouraged.
The slam format provides an informal medium for the public and the scientific community to connect with and learn from each other. Science slams generally take place in bars, cafes, or theaters, which remove scientists from their traditional lecture environments. The lack of projector also takes away a common presentation ‘crutch’ and forces competitors to engage with their audience more directly.
Competitors and judges are chosen through a selection process designed to support diversity and maximize the benefit to speakers and the audience. Past speakers have ranged from students and researchers to educators and actors. Judges have included professors, media personalities, comedians and improvisers. And since the event is as much about the audience as about the speakers, spectators are asked to vote for their favourite speaker.
As moderators for the CSPC 2017 Science Slam workshop, Nikki Berreth and I are excited to give a voice to the local science community. The slam will showcase young scientists and science communicators from the Ottawa area, including graduate students, undergraduate students, and government scientists sharing topics from the treatment of brain cancer to the use of drones for enhancement of wireless connectivity. We promise you an action-packed workshop, an engaging learning experience, and an interactive discussion about science communication in Canada.
There is apparently a Science Slam Canada group of some kind. They had a super slam in May 2017 which was the culmination of a year of science slam events in Vancouver. You can find their Youtube channel here.
Alan Shapiro who is listed as a science communicator and co-founder of both Canada Science Slam and a business, LitScientist, has a science background. Another science communicator who appears to have never taken any training in communication? It puts me in mind of a favourite story about Canadian literary great, Margaret Atwood. Most likely it’s apocryphal but anyone whose heard one of her earlier interviews (she seems to have mellowed in the last few years) can hear her voice. As the story goes, there was a dinner at a tony (upper crust) home in Toronto where Atwood was seated beside a brain surgeon who turned to her exclaiming at his good luck. He was retiring and wanted her advice as he intended to take up writing in his sunset years. Atwood turned to him and agreed it was great good luck as she too was retiring and now intended to take up brain surgery.
It’s lovely to see people get involved in science communication but the field does require discipline, skill, training, and practice. It’s possible Shapiro is a ‘natural’ but even naturals need to work at it eventually.
Baba Brinkman and his consciousness rap
The Rap Guide to Consciousness was released on Oct. 13, 2017 according to an announcement received from rapper Baba Brinkman via email,
Today is the day The Rap Guide to Consciousness hits digital stores, which means if you haven’t heard it yet I encourage you to give the record a listen, and if you’re in a “supporting independent artists” kind of mood, perhaps even pay to download it. But whether you pay or not, please write a review on iTunes or Amazon, where the opinions of others go a long way towards convincing people to give it a chance. Or write me an email reply telling me what you think, and I’ll write back and try to persuade you to post your thoughts online if they are complimentary. Ah, the glorious interplay of human consciousness!
Speaking of consciousness, here’s a thought experiment about what it would be like to live without it, a new music video for one of the songs on the mew album: Zombie. The thought experiment works like this: listen to the rap as I describe the details of what a Zombie is like, and if you think you can imagine what I’m describing, some philosophers think this feat of imagination counts as evidence against a strictly material basis of consciousness. I confess that I can’t imagine what I’m describing in the song, just as I can’t imagine (but can describe) a perfect circle with four corners, but I’m interested to know if you can. Here’s a link to the video [Note: the video is embedded below this notice].
I also continue to tour and perform the show. Here’s a video of a recent event at YouTube Studios here in New York, the 25th anniversary of Skeptic Magazine, featuring Michael Shermer and Deepak Chopra discussing contrasting views of consciousness, and me rapping about it.