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).
It seems Japanese artists are ‘having a moment’. There’s a documentary (Kusama—Infinity) about contemporary Japanese female artist, Yayoi Kusama, making the festival rounds this year (2018). Last year (2017), the British Museum mounted a major exhibition of Hokusai’s work (19th Century) and in 2017, the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute benefit was inspired by a Japanese fashion designer, “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between.” (A curator at the Japanese Garden in Portland who had lived in Japan for a number of years mentioned to me during an interview that the Japanese have one word for art. There is no linguistic separation between art and craft.)
More recently, both Yoko Ono and Takashi Murakami have had shows in Vancouver, Canada. Starting with fear as I prefer to end with love, Murakami had a blockbuster show at the Vancouver Gallery.
Takashi Murakami: a dance with fear (and money too)
In the introductory notes at the beginning of the exhibit: “Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its own Leg,” it was noted that fear is one of Murakami’s themes. The first few pieces in the show had been made to look faded and brownish to the point where you had to work at seeing what was underneath the layers. The images were a little bit like horror films something’s a bit awry then scary and you don’t know what it is or how to deal with it.
After those images, the show opened up to bright, bouncy imagery commonly associated with Mrjakami’s work. However, if you look at them carefully, you’ll see many of these characters have big, pointed teeth. Also featured was a darkened room with two huge warriors.At a guess, I’d say they were 14 feet tall.
It made for a disconcerting show with its darker themes usually concealed in bright, vibrant colour. Here’s an image promoting Murakami’s Vancouver birthday celebration and exhibit opening,
‘Give me the money, now!’ says a gleeful Takashi Murakami, whose expansive show is currently at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Photo by the VAG. [downloaded from https://thetyee.ca/Culture/2018/02/07/Takashi-Murakami-VAG/]
The colours and artwork shown in the marketing materials (I’m including the wrapping on the gallery itself) were exuberant as was Murakami who acted as his own marketing material. I’m mentioning the money It’s very intimately and blatantly linked to Murakami’s art and work. Dorothy Woodend in a Feb. 7, 2018 article for The Tyee puts it this way (Note: Link have been removed),
The close, almost incestuous relationship between art and money is a very old story. [emphasis mine] You might even say it is the only story at the moment.
You can know this, understand it to a certain extent, and still have it rear up and bite you on the bum. [emphasis mine] Such was my experience of attending the exhibition preview of Takashi Murakami’s The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
The show is the first major retrospective of Murakami’s work in Canada, and the VAG has spared no expense in marketing the living hell out of the thing. From the massive cephalopod installed atop the dome of the gallery, to the ocean of smiling cartoon flowers, to the posters papering every inch of downtown Vancouver, it is in a word: huge.
If you don’t know much about Murakami the show is illuminating, in many different ways. Expansive in extremis, the exhibition includes more than 50 works that trace a path through the evolution of Murakami’s style and aesthetic, moving from his early dark textural paintings that blatantly ripped off Anselm Kiefer, to his later pop-art style (Superflat), familiar from Kanye West albums and Louis Vuitton handbags.
… make no mistake, money runs underneath the VAG show like an engine [emphasis mine]. You can feel it in the air, thrumming with a strange radioactive current, like a heat mirage coming off the people madly snapping selfies next to the Kanye Bear sculpture.
The artist himself seems particularly aware of how much of a financial edifice surrounds the human impulse to make images. In an on-stage interview with senior VAG [Vancouver Art Gallery] curator Bruce Grenville during a media preview for the show, Murakami spoke plainly about the need for survival (a.k.a. money) [emphasis mine] that has propelled his career.
Even the title of the show speaks to the notion of survival (from Woodend’s article; Note: Links have been removed),
The title of the show takes inspiration from Japanese folklore about a creature that sacrifices part of its own body so that the greater whole might survive. In the natural world, an octopus will chew off its own leg if there is an infection, and then regrow the missing limb. In the art world, the idea pertains to the practice of regurgitating (recycling) old ideas to serve the endless voracious demand for new stuff. “I don’t have the talent to come up with new ideas, so in order to survive, you have to eat your own body,” Murakami explains, citing his need for deadlines, and very bad economic conditions, that lead to a state of almost Dostoyevskyian desperation. “Please give me the money now!” he yells, and the assembled press laughs on cue.
The artist’s responsibility to address larger issues like gender, politics and the environment was the final question posed during the Q&A, before the media were allowed into the gallery to see the work. Murakami took his time before answering, speaking through the nice female translator beside him. “Artists don’t have that much power in the world, but they can speak to the audience of the future, who look at the artwork from a certain era, like Goya paintings, and see not just social commentary, but an artistic point of view. The job of the artist is to dig deep into human beings.”
Which is a nice sentiment to be sure, but increasingly art is about celebrity and profit. Record-breaking shows like Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty and Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between demonstrated an easy appeal for both audiences and corporations. One of Murakami’s earlier exhibitions featured a Louis Vuitton pop-up shop as part of the show. Closer to home, the Fight for Beauty exhibit mixed fashion, art and development in a decidedly queasy-making mixture.
There is money to be made in culture of a certain scale, with scale being the operative word. Get big or get out.
Woodend also relates the show and some of the issues it raises to the local scene (Note: Links have been removed),
A recent article in the Vancouver Courier about the Oakridge redevelopment plans highlighted the relationship between development and culture in raw numbers: “1,000,000 square feet of retail, 2,600 homes for 6,000 people, office space for 3,000 workers, a 100,000-square-foot community centre and daycare, the city’s second-largest library, a performing arts academy, a live music venue for 3,000 people and the largest public art program in Vancouver’s history…”
Westbank’s Ian Gillespie [who hosted the Fight for Beauty exhibit] was quoted extensively, outlining the integration between the city and the developer. “The development team will also work with the city’s chief librarian to figure out the future of the library, while the 3,000-seat music venue will create an ‘incredible music scene.’” The term “cultural hub” also pops up so many times it’s almost funny, in a horrifying kind of way.
But bigness often squeezes out artists and musicians who simply can’t compete. Folk who can’t fill a 3,000-seat venue, or pack in thousands of visitors, like the Murakami show, are out of luck.
Vancouver artists, who struggle to survive in the city and have done so for quite some time, were singularly unimpressed with the Oakridge development proposal. Selina Crammond, a local musician and all-around firebrand, summed up the divide in a few eloquent sentences: “I mean really, who is going to make up this ‘incredible music scene’ and fill all of these shiny new venues? Many of my favourite local musicians have already moved away from Vancouver because they just can’t make it work. Who’s going to pay the musicians and workers? Who’s going to pay the large ticket prices to be able to maintain these spaces? I don’t think space is the problem. I think affordability and distribution of wealth and funding are the problems artists and arts workers are facing.”
The stories continue to pop up, the most recent being the possible sale and redevelopment of the Rio Theatre. The news sparked an outpouring of anger, but the story is repeated so often in Vancouver, it has become something of a cliché. You need only to look at the story of the Hollywood Theatre for a likely ending to the saga.
Which brings me back around to the Murakami exhibit. To be perfectly frank, the show is incredible and well-worth visiting. I enjoyed every minute of wandering through it taking in the sheer expanse of mind-boggling, googly-eyed detail. I would urge you to attend, if you can afford it. But there’s the rub. I was there for free, and general admission to the VAG is $22.86. This may not seem like a lot, but in a city where people can barely make rent, culture becomes the purview of them that can afford it.
The City of Vancouver recently launched its Creative Cities initiative to look at issues of affordability, diversity and gentrification.
We shall see if anything real emerges from the process. But in the meantime, Vancouver artists might have to eat their own legs simply to survive. [Tyee]
Survival issues and their intimate companions, fear, are clearly a major focus for Murakami’s art.
For the curious, the Vancouver version of the Murakami retrospective show was held from February 3 – May 6, 2018. There are still some materials about the show available online here.
Yoko Ono and the power of love (and maybe money, too)
More or less concurrently with the Murakami exhibition, the Rennie Museum (formerly Rennie Collection), came back from a several month hiatus to host a show featuring Yoko Ono’s “Mend Piece.”
Rennie Museum is pleased to present Yoko Ono’s MEND PIECE, Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York City version (1966/2015). Illustrating Ono’s long standing artistic quest in social activism and world peace, this instructional work will transform the historic Wing Sang building into an intimate space for creative expression and bring people together in an act of collective healing and meditation. The installation will run from March 1 to April 15, 2018.
First conceptualized in 1966, the work immerses the visitor in a dream-like state. Viewers enter into an all-white space and are welcomed to take a seat at the table to reassemble fragments of ceramic coffee cups and saucers using the provided twine, tape, and glue. Akin to the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-sabi, an embracing of the flawed or imperfect, Mend Piece encourages the participant to transform broken fragments into an object that prevails its own violent rupture. The mended pieces are then displayed on shelves installed around the room. The contemplative act of mending is intended to promote reparation starting within one’s self and community, and bridge the gap created by violence, hatred, and war. In the words of Yoko Ono herself, “Mend with wisdom, mend with love. It will mend the earth at the same time.”
The installation of MEND PIECE, Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York City version at Rennie Museum will be accompanied by an espresso bar, furthering the notions of community and togetherness.
Yoko Ono (b. 1933) is a Japanese conceptual artist, musician, and peace activist pioneering feminism and Fluxus art. Her eclectic oeuvre of performance art, paintings, sculptures, films and sound works have been shown at renowned institutions worldwide, with recent exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Copenhagen Contemporary, Copenhagen; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; and Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires. She is the recipient of the 2005 IMAJINE Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2009 Venice Biennale Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, among other distinctions. She lives and works in New York City.
While most of the shows have taken place over two, three, or four floors, “Mend Piece” was on the main floor only,
Courtesy: Rennie Museum
There was another “Mend Piece” in Canada, located at the Gardiner Museum and part of a larger show titled: “The Riverbed,” which ran from February 22 to June 3, 2018. Here’s an image of one of the Gardiner Museum “Mend” pieces that was featured in a March 7, 2018 article by Sonya Davidson for the Toronto Guardian,
Here’s what Davidson had to say about the three-part installation, “The Riverbed,”
I’m sitting on one of the cushions placed on the floor watching the steady stream of visitors at Yoko Ono’s exhibition The Riverbed at the Gardiner Museum. The room is airy and bright but void of colours yet it’s vibrant and alive in a calming way. There are three distinct areas in this exhibition: Stone Piece, Line Piece and Mend Piece. From what I’ve experienced in Ono’s previous exhibitions, her work encourages participation and is inclusive of everyone. She has the idea. She encourages us to go collaborate with her. Her work is describe often as redirecting our attention to ideas, instead of appearances.
Mend Piece is the one I’m most familiar with. It was part of her exhibition I visited in Reykjavik [Iceland]. Two large communal tables are filled with broken ceramic pieces and mending elements. Think glue, string, and tape. Instructions from Ono once again are simple but with meaning. Take the pieces that resonate with you and mend them as you desire. You’re encourage [sic] to leave it in the communal space for everyone to experience what you’ve experienced. It reminded me of her work decades ago where she shattered porcelain vases, and people invited people to take a piece with them. But then years later she collected as many back and mended them herself. Part contemporary with a nod to the traditional Japanese art form of Kintsugi – fixing broken pottery with gold and the philosophy of nothing is ever truly broken. The repairs made are part of the history and should be embraced with honour and pride.
The experience at the Rennie was markedly different . I recommend reading both Davidson’s piece (includes many embedded images) in its entirety to get a sense for how different and this April 7, 2018 article by Jenna Moon for The Star regarding the theft of a stone from The Riverbed show at the Gardiner,
A rock bearing Yoko Ono’s handwriting has been stolen from the Gardiner Museum, Toronto police say. The theft reportedly occurred around 5:30 p.m. on March 12.
The rock is part of an art exhibit featuring Ono, where patrons can meditate using several river rocks. The stone is inscribed with black ink, and reads “love yourself” in block letters. It is valued at $17,500 (U.S.), [emphasis mine] Toronto police media officer Gary Long told the Star Friday evening.
As far as I can tell, they still haven’t found the suspect who was described as a woman between the ages of 55 and 60. However the question that most interests me is how did they arrive at a value for the stone? Was it a case of assigning a value to the part of the installation with the stones and dividing that value by the number of stones? Yoko Ono may focus her art on social activism and peace but she too needs money to survive. Moving on.
Musings on ‘mend’
Participating in “Mend Piece” at the Rennie Museum was revelatory. It was a direct experience of the “traditional Japanese art form of Kintsugi – fixing broken pottery with gold and the philosophy of nothing is ever truly broken.” So often art is at best a tertiary experience for the viewer. The artist has the primary experience producing the work and the curator has the secondary experience of putting the show together.
For all the talk about interactive installations and pieces, there are few that truly engage the viewer with the piece. I find this rule applies: the more technology, the less interactivity.
“Mend” insisted on interactivity. More or less. I went with a friend and sat beside the one person in the group who didn’t want to talk to anyone. And she wasn’t just quiet, you could feel the “don’t talk to me” vibrations pouring from every one of her body parts.
The mending sessions were about 30 minutes long and, as Davidson notes, you had string, two types of glue, and twine. For someone with any kind of perfectionist tendencies (me) and a lack of crafting skills (me), it proved to be a bit of a challenge, especially with a semi-hostile person beside me. Thank goodness my friend was on the other side.
Adding to my travails was the gallery assistant (a local art student) who got very anxious and hovered over me as I attempted and failed to set my piece on a ledge in the room (twice). She was very nice and happy to share, without being intrusive, information about Yoko Ono and her work while we were constructing our pieces. I’m not sure what she thought was going to happen when I started dropping things but her hovering brought back memories of my adolescence when shopkeepers would follow me around their store.
Most of my group had finished and even though there was still time in my session, the next group rushed in and took my seat while I failed for the second time to place my piece. I stood for my third (and thankfully successful) repair attempt.
At that point I went to the back where more of the “Mend” communal experience awaited. Unfortunately, the coffee bar’s (this put up especially for the show) espresso machine was not working. There was some poetry on the walls and a video highlighting Yoko Ono’s work over the years and the coffee bar attendant was eager to share (but not intrusively so) some information about Yoko and her work.
As I stated earlier, it was a revelatory experience. First, It turned out my friend had been following Yoko’s work since before the artist had hooked up with John Lennon and she was able to add details to the attendants’ comments.
Second, I didn’t expect was a confrontation with the shards of my past and personality. In essence, mending myself and, hopefully, more. There was my perfectionism, rejection by the unfriendly tablemate, my emotional response (unspoken) to the hypervigilant gallery assistant, having my seat taken from me before the time was up, and the disappointment of the coffee bar. There was also a rediscovery of my friend, a friendly tablemate who made a beautiful object (it looked like a bird), the helpfulness of both the gallery assistants, Yoko Ono’s poetry, and a documentary about the remarkable Yoko.
All in all, it was a perfect reflection of imperfection (wabi-sabi), brokenness, and wounding in the context of repair (Kintsugi)/healing.
Thank you, Yoko Ono.
For anyone in Vancouver who feels they missed out on the experience, there are some performances of “Perfect Imperfections: The Art of a Messy Life” (comedy, dance, and live music) at Vancity Culture Lab at The Cultch from June 14 – 16, 2018. You can find out more here.
It certainly seems as if there’s a great interest in Japanese art, if you live in Vancouver (Canada), anyway. The Murakami show was a huge success for the Vancouver Art Gallery. As for Yoko Ono, the Rennie Museum extended the exhibit dates due to demand. Plus, the 2018 – 2020 version of the Vancouver Biennale is featuring (from a May 29, 2018 Vancouver Biennale news release),
… Yoko Ono with its 2018 Distinguished Artist Award, a recognition that coincides with reissuing the acclaimed artist’s 2007 Biennale installation, “IMAGINE PEACE,” marshalled at this critical time to re-inspire a global consciousness towards unity, harmony, and accord. Yoko Ono’s project exemplifies the Vancouver Biennale’s mission for diverse communities to gain access, visibility and representation.
The British Museum’s show (May 25 – August 13, 2017), “Hokusai’s Great Wave,” was seen in Vancouver at a special preview event in May 2017 at a local movie house, which was packed.
The documentary film festival, DOXA (Vancouver) closed its 2018 iteration with the documentary about Yayoi Kusama. Here’s more about her from a May 9, 2018 article by Janet Smith for the Georgia Straight,
Amid all the dizzying, looped-and-dotted works that American director Heather Lenz has managed to capture in her new documentary Kusama—Infinity, perhaps nothing stands out so much as images of the artist today in her Shinjuku studio.
Interviewed in the film, the 89-year-old Yayoi Kusama sports a signature scarlet bobbed anime wig and hot-pink polka-dotted dress, sitting with her marker at a drawing table, and set against the recent creations on her wall—a sea of black-and-white spots and jaggedy lines.
“The boundary between Yayoi Kusama and her art is not very great,” Lenz tells the Straight from her home in Orange County. “They are one and the same.”
It was as a young student majoring in art history and fine art that Lenz was first drawn to Kusama—who stood out as one of few female artists in her textbooks. She saw an underappreciated talent whose avant-pop works anticipated Andy Warhol and others. And as Lenz dug deeper into the artist’s story, she found a woman whose struggles with a difficult childhood and mental illness made her achievements all the more remarkable.
Today, Kusama is one of the world’s most celebrated female artists, her kaleidoscopic, multiroom show Infinity Mirrors drawing throngs of visitors to galleries like the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Seattle Art Museum over the past year. But when Lenz set out to make her film 17 long years ago, few had ever heard of Kusama.
I am hopeful that this is a sign that the Vancouver art scene is focusing more attention to the west, to Asia. Quite frankly, it’s about time.
As a special treat, here’s a ‘Yoko Ono tribute’ from the Bare Naked Ladies,
i don’t usually feature jobs for political parties but there appears to be a movement afoot in the US where scientists are possibly going to run for political office so it seems more à propos than usual. Before getting to the job information (for a Canadian political party), here’s more about the nascent scientists as politicians movement from a Jan. 25, 2017 article (Professor Smith Goes to Washington) by Ed Yong for The Atlantic (Note: Links have been removed),
For American science, the next four years look to be challenging. The newly inaugurated President Trump, and many of his Cabinet picks, have repeatedly cast doubt upon the reality of human-made climate change, questioned the repeatedly proven safety of vaccines. Since the inauguration, the administration has already frozen grants and contracts by the Environmental Protection Agency and gagged researchers at the US Department of Agriculture. Many scientists are asking themselves: What can I do?
And the answer from a newly formed group called 314 Action is: Get elected.
The organization, named after the first three digits of pi, is a political action committee that was created to support scientists in running for office. It’s the science version of Emily’s List, which focuses on pro-choice female candidates, or VoteVets, which backs war veterans. “A lot of scientists traditionally feel that science is above politics but we’re seeing that politics is not above getting involved in science,” says founder Shaughnessy Naughton. “We’re losing, and the only way to stop that is to get more people with scientific backgrounds at the table.”
Yong is a good writer and the article offers some insight into why scientists do or don’t involve themselves in the political process along with links for more information.
***ETA Feb. 13, 2017: phys.org has published an article by Deborah Netburn (originally written for the Los Angeles Times) which offers some insight into scientists some of whom are involving themselves in politics for the first in their lives in a Feb. 13, 2017 news item titled ‘Science entering a new frontier: Politics‘.***
Science Borealis, the Canadian science blog aggregrator/community, has chimed in on the science and politics situation in the US with two blog postings on the topic. I wish they’d used titles that more accurately reflected the content but there’s Sarah Boon’s Jan. 24, 2017 posting, The War on Science: Can the US Learn From Canada? on her Watershed Moments blog, where she notes how different the situations are and how much Americans have already done and are doing to work on the issues,
When Donald Trump was first elected president of the United States, our editorial team at Science Borealis talked about whether or not we should write an editorial supporting US scientists in what was likely going to become a fight for science. In the end we decided not to write it, for a number of reasons. For one thing, the likely impact of Trump on science remained a huge unknown. But for another thing, we thought US scientists were already well-prepared for a war on science. …
Unfortunately, Boon goes on to offer a collection of writings on the Canadian situation. I understand it’s well meant but I can’t help recalling people who rushed to comfort me in a difficult situation by recounting their own stories, at length. It wasn’t as helpful as they might have hoped.
One final observation, I have an objection to the term ‘war on science’; there was never a war on science in Canada. There was/is a war on certain kinds of science. In any event, here’s getting to the point of this posting.
Are you a young Canadian with a love of politics? Are you passionate about serving your community, engaging with volunteers, and talking with Canadians about the issues that matter most? The Liberal Party of Canada is looking for hardworking young leaders to join Justin Trudeau’s team this summer, to help us continue to grow Canada’s Liberal movement from coast to coast to coast.
Whether it includes marching in the Vancouver Pride Parade, knocking on doors in Halifax, getting our message out to Canadians using social media, supporting our local Liberal associations in their communities, or learning directly from our campaign experts in Ottawa, an internship with the LPC is guaranteed to be an unforgettable summer! Our interns will have the opportunity to learn the foundations of organizing and campaigning directly from the people who paved our road to victory in 2015, and those who are already hard at work planning for the next election. With less than three years until the next general election, our team is looking for talented young Canadians to bring fresh and innovative ideas to the table.
You’ll gain valuable career experience, and get to know leading members of the Liberal team.
While every individual’s tasks and projects will be different, selected Liberal interns may work in areas including:
Communications and Media Relations
National Field – Campaigns
Graphic and Web Design
Local Field and Outreach
Finance and Accounting
Who: You! All Registered Liberals are encouraged to apply! We are looking for talented young Canadians from coast to coast to coast to work on Justin Trudeau’s team and become the next generation of leaders in the largest, most open, and most inclusive political movement in Canadian history.
Where: Most Interns will be placed in the Liberal Party of Canada National Office in Ottawa, and there also exciting opportunities available in our Regional Offices across the country. Please indicate in your application at least one city where you would be interested in working with our team.
When: Internship positions will run from Monday, May 1 to Friday, August 25. You must be available full-time for the duration of the internship.
This is a full-time, paid internship. [emphasis mine]
All applicants will receive an email of confirmation upon the submission of their application. Interviews will be conducted throughout the month of February. Due to a high volume of applications, only those who are selected for an interview will be contacted.
It’s about time to catch up with Canadian rapper, Baba Brinkman who has made an industry of rapping about science issues (mostly). Here’s a brief rundown of some of his latest ventures.
He was in Paris for the climate talks (also known as World Climate Change Conference 2015 [COP21]) and produced this ‘live’ rap on Dec. 10, 2015 for the press conference on “Moral Obligation – Scientific Imperative” for Climate Matters,
The piece is part of his forthcoming album and show “The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos.”
On Dec. 18, 2015 Baba released a new music video with his take on religion and science (from a Dec. 18, 2015 posting on his blog),
The digital animation is by Steven Fahey, who is a full time animator for the Simpsons, and I’m completely blown away by the results he achieved. The video is about the evolution of religious instincts, and how the secular among us can make sense of beliefs we don’t share.
Here’s the ‘Religion evolves’ video,
A few days after Baba released his video, new research was published contradicting some of what he has in there (i.e., religion as a binding element for societies struggling to survive in ancient times. From a Dec. 21, 2015 University of Central Florida news release on EurekAlert (Note: A link has been removed),
Humans haven’t learned much in more than 2,000 years when it comes to religion and politics.
Religion has led to social tension and conflict, not just in today’s society, but dating back to 700 B.C. according to a new study published today in Current Anthropology .
University of Colorado anthropology Professor Arthur A. Joyce and University of Central Florida Associate Professor Sarah Barber found evidence in several Mexican archeological sites that contradict the long-held belief that religion acted to unite early state societies. It often had the opposite effect, the study says.
“It doesn’t matter if we today don’t share particular religious beliefs, but when people in the past acted on their beliefs, those actions could have real, material consequences,” Barber said about the team’s findings. “It really behooves us to acknowledge religion when considering political processes.”
Sounds like sage advice in today’s world that has multiple examples of politics and religion intersecting and resulting in conflict.
The team published its findings “Ensoulment, Entrapment, and Political Centralization: A Comparative Study of Religion and Politics in Later Formative Oaxaca,” after spending several years conducting field research in the lower Río Verde valley of Oaxaca, Mexico’s Pacific coastal lowlands. They compared their results with data from the highland Valley of Oaxaca.
Their study viewed archaeological evidence from 700 B.C. to A.D. 250, a period identified as a time of the emergence of states in the region. In the lower Verde, religious rituals involving offerings and the burial of people in cemeteries at smaller communities created strong ties to the local community that impeded the creation of state institutions.
And in the Valley of Oaxaca, elites became central to mediating between their communities and the gods, which eventually triggered conflict with traditional community leaders. It culminated in the emergence of a regional state with its capital at the hilltop city of Monte Albán.
“In both the Valley of Oaxaca and the Lower Río Verde Valley, religion was important in the formation and history of early cities and states, but in vastly different ways,” said Joyce, lead author on the study. “Given the role of religion in social life and politics today, that shouldn’t be too surprising.”
The conflict in the lower Río Verde valley is evident in rapid rise and fall of its state institutions. At Río Viejo, the capital of the lower Verde state, people had built massive temples by AD 100. Yet these impressive, labor-intensive buildings, along with many towns throughout the valley, were abandoned a little over a century later.
“An innovative aspect of our research is to view the burials of ancestors and ceremonial offerings in the lower Verde as essential to these ancient communities,” said Joyce, whose research focuses on both political life and ecology in ancient Mesoamerica. “Such a perspective is also more consistent with the worldviews of the Native Americans that lived there.”
Getting back to Baba, having research, which contradicts or appears to contradict your position, suddenly appear is part of the scientific process. Making your work scientifically authentic adds pressure for a performer or artist, on the other hand, it also blesses that performer or artist with credibility. In any event, it’s well worth checking out Baba’s website and, for anyone, who’s wanted to become a patron of the arts (or of a particular rapper), there’s this Dec. 3, 2015 posting on Baba’s blog about Patreon,
Every year or so since 2010 I’ve reached out to my friends and fans asking for help with a Kickstarter or IndieGogo campaign to fund my latest album or video project. Well now I’m hoping to put an end to that regular cycle with the help of Patreon, a site that lets fans become patrons with exclusive access to the artists they support and the work they help create.
The American Chemical Society’s (ACS) 245th meeting (April 7 – 11, 2013) features a few items about nanotechnology: the funding of it and the toxicological testing of it, in two separate news items which bear a ‘political’ link.
An April 9, 2013 news item on Azonano tells of concerns regarding recent funding cuts resulting from the US budget sequestration,
Speaking at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society, A. Paul Alivisatos, Ph.D., expressed concern that the cuts come when nanotechnology is poised to deliver on those promises. He told the meeting, which continues through Thursday, that ill-conceived cuts could set back America’s progress in nanotechnology by decades.
“The National Science Foundation announced that they will issue a thousand fewer new grants this year because of sequestration,” said Alivisatos, referring to the across-the-board mandatory federal budget cuts that took effect on March 1. “What it means in practice is that an entire generation of early career scientists, some of our brightest and most promising scientists, will not have the funding to launch their careers and begin research properly, in the pathway that has established the United States as leader in nanotechnology research. It will be a setback, perhaps quite serious, for our international competitiveness in this key field.”
Alivisatos described applications of nanotechnology that can help reduce fossil fuel consumption and the accompanying emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. He is professor of chemistry and materials science and the Larry and Diane Bock Professor of Nanotechnology at the University of California at Berkeley, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and co-editor of the ACS journal Nano Letters. …
Alivisatos expressed concern, however, that cuts in federal funding will take a heavy toll on the still-emerging field. He explained that the reductions stand to affect scientists at almost every stage of making contributions to society. Young scientists, for instance, will find it more difficult to launch research programs in new and promising fields.[emphases mine] Established scientists will have to trim research programs, and may not have the money to explore promising new leads.
“We haven’t been able to communicate adequately with the public and policymakers, and explain the impact of what may sound like small and unimportant cuts in funding.” Alivisatos said. “A 5 percent reduction in funding — well, to the public, it seems like nothing. In reality, these cuts will be applied in ways that do maximal damage to our ability to be globally competitive in the future.”
Coincidentally or not, the ACS had placed an Apr. 8, 2013 news release on EurekAlert highlighting some work in the field of nanotoxicology led by a ‘young’ scientist (I imagine she received her funding prior to sequestration) doing some exciting work,
Earlier efforts to determine the health and environmental effects of the nanoparticles that are finding use in hundreds of consumer products may have produced misleading results by embracing traditional toxicology tests that do not take into account the unique properties of bits of material so small that 100,000 could fit in the period at the end of this sentence.
That was among the observations presented here today at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society, by one of the emerging leaders in nanoscience research. The talk by Christy Haynes, Ph.D., was among almost 12,000 presentations at the gathering, which organizers expect to attract more than 14,000 scientists and others.
Haynes delivered the inaugural Kavli Foundation Emerging Leader in Chemistry Lecture at the meeting, … Sponsored by the Kavli Foundation, the Emerging Leaders Lectures recognize the work of outstanding young chemical scientists. [emphasis mine] …
“Christy Haynes is the perfect scientist to launch this prestigious lecture series,” said Marinda Li Wu, Ph.D., president of the ACS. “Haynes’ research is making an impact in the scientific community in efforts to use nanoparticles and nanotechnology in medicine and other fields. And that research has sparked the popular imagination, as well. Haynes was included in Popular Science‘s ‘Brilliant 10’ list, a group of ‘geniuses shaking up science today.’ [emphasis mine] We are delighted to collaborate with the Kavli Foundation in highlighting the contributions of such individuals.”
Moving on from politics to science, the EurekAlert Apr. 8, 2013 news release offers a standard discussion regarding gold and nanoparticle gold before highlighting the aspect that marks Haynes’ fresh approach to toxicity at the nanoscale,
A 1-ounce nugget of pure gold, for instance, has the same chemical and physical properties as a 2-ounce nugget or a 27-pound gold bar. For nanoparticles, however, size often dictates the physical and chemical properties, and those properties change as the size decreases.
Haynes said that some of the earlier nanotoxicology tests did not fully take those and other factors into account when evaluating the effects of nanoparticles. In some cases, for instance, the bottom line in those tests was whether cells growing in laboratory cultures lived or died after exposure to a nanoparticle.
“While these results can be useful, there are two important limitations,” Haynes explained. “A cell can be alive but unable to function properly, and it would not be apparent in those tests. In addition, the nature of nanoparticles — they’re more highly reactive — can cause ‘false positives’ in these assays.”
Haynes described a new approach used in her team’s work in evaluating the toxicity of nanoparticles. It focuses on monitoring how exposure to nanoparticles affects a cell’s ability to function normally, rather than just its ability to survive the exposure. In addition, they have implemented measures to reduce “false-positive” test results, which overestimate nanoparticle toxicity. One of the team’s safety tests, for instance, determines whether key cells in the immune system can still work normally after exposure to nanoparticles. In another, the scientists determine whether bacteria exposed to nanoparticles can still communicate with each other, engaging in the critical biochemical chatter that enables bacteria to form biofilms, communities essential for them to multiply in ways that lead to infections.
“So far, we have found that nanoparticles made of silver or titanium may be the most problematic, though I would say that neither is as bad as some of the alarmist media speculations, especially when they are stabilized appropriately,” said Haynes. “I think that it will be possible to create safe, stable coatings on nanoparticles that will make them stable and allow them to leave the body appropriately. We need more research, of course, in order to make informed decisions.”
Hopefully, you find this mixture of science and politics as interesting as I do.
ETA Apr. 10, 2013: Dexter Johnson has commented on and provided some contextual information about nanotechnology research funding in the US in response to the Alivisatos talk about sequestration and its possible impact on nanotechnology research in Apr. 9, 2013 posting (Note: A link has been removed),
There is always room for the argument that reassessing and reallocating resources can help make nanotechnology more efficient and productive, something observers have pointed out in NASA taking on less of its own nanotechnology research and outsourcing it to other government organizations. But it’s not always easy to tell which fundamental research projects will turn out to have been the most productive, and worse, the timing of these cuts could be extremely painful as they occur at a critical moment for U.S. nanotechnology.
The UK is apparently getting ready to introduce evidence-based science into government policies and decisions. According a Jan. 18, 2013 opinion piece by Michael Brooks for New Scientist, the Department for Education will be one of the first to institute this new approach (Note: Links have been removed),
It has been a long time coming, according to Chris Wormald, permanent secretary at the Department for Education. The civil service is not short of clever people, he points out, and there is no lack of desire to use evidence properly. More than 20 years as a serving politician has convinced him that they are as keen as anyone to create effective policies. “I’ve never met a minister who didn’t want to know what worked,” he says. What has changed now is that informed policy-making is at last becoming a practical possibility.
That is largely thanks to the abundance of accessible data and the ease with which new, relevant data can be created. This has supported a desire to move away from hunch-based politics. [emphasis miine]
Last week, for instance, Rebecca Endean, chief scientific advisor and director of analytical services at the Ministry of Justice, announced that the UK government is planning to open up its data for analysis by academics, accelerating the potential for use in policy planning.
At the same meeting, hosted by innovation-promoting charity NESTA, Wormald announced a plan to create teaching schools based on the model of teaching hospitals. In education, he said, the biggest single problem is a culture that often relies on anecdotal experience rather than systematically reported data from practitioners, as happens in medicine. [emphasis mine] “We want to move teacher training and research and practice much more onto the health model,” Wormald said.
Now what could possibly pose a problem for this charming idea of evidence-based policy planning?
In education, the evidence-based revolution has already begun. A charity called the Education Endowment Foundation is spending £1.4 million on a randomised controlled trial of reading programmes in 50 British schools.
There are reservations though. The Ministry of Justice is more circumspect about the role of such trials. Where it has carried out randomised controlled trials, they often failed to change policy, or even irked politicians with conclusions that were obvious. “It is not a panacea,” Endean says.
The biggest need is perhaps foresight. Ministers often need instant answers, and sometimes the data are simply not available. Bang goes any hope of evidence-based policy.
Crucial to the process will be convincing the public about the value and use of data, so that everyone is on-board. This is not going to be easy. When the government launched its Administrative Data Taskforce, which set out to look at data in all departments and opening it up so that it could be used for evidence-based policy, it attracted minimal media interest.
There are economic issues. Most of the predictable areas where data and evidence would be useful span different departments, and funding for research that involves multiple government departments is near-impossible to come by at the moment. “Only counter-terrorism gets cross-departmental funding,” Wiles says.
And those at the frontline of all this may also need convincing. Some teachers have already expressed reservations. There may be problems with parents not wanting their children to take part in education trials. For instance, in a control group they will feel left out of innovation; in the experimental arm they will worry that the old ways were better. What’s more, teachers may be tempted to halt a trial early if they feel it is not helping students. [emphasis mine]
There’s a basic assumption being made that evidence-based medicine has been a huge and howling success. I see no evidence cited either in this article or anywhere else that this has been the case. Medicine and health care research and practice have bifurcated in some fascinating ways. Researchers and clinicians live in different worlds and have very little contact. It is increasingly difficult (almost impossible) for a clinician to run a research project as the research process has become the province of professional grant writers and others who jump innumerable hoops for monies with the consequence that researchers have scant clinical experience.
No human clinical trial is ever large enough (1000 or 10000 or more) to give perfect insight into a drug’s effects once it gets used in the general population (millions and billions) which is why drugs that have managed to get approval are sometimes shown to be more dangerous and/or less effective than originally believed. There is also the problem of positive publication bias. Researchers publish studies that show positive results because journals don’t tend to print (by a wide margin) studies that have negative or inconclusive results. As for the vaunted evidence-based training process, doctors are learning to do less and less and becoming clerks who fill out referral forms and requests for tests that other professionals perform and interpret.
The loathing expressed towards hunches and anecdotes seems ironic since science is based on those two pillars. Is there a single story about a scientific breakthrough that doesn’t come down to a hunch or whatever you want to call that moment which sparked someone’s curiosity and suspicion? And, the reason for conferences is less about learned papers and more about informal conversations and meetings where people trade anecdotes.
Evidence-based science is a tool. It can be very powerful but it has to be used wisely and, in the case of those teachers who might want to withdraw students from a trial they thought was doing harm, that would be a very wise use of the evidence they’ve observed, wouldn’t it?
In the US, they’re also talking about science and politics but taking a very different perspective. Daniel Sarewitz, co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University based in Washington DC, has written a Jan. 2, 2013 article for Nature where he opines that scientists should not show political bias,
To prevent science from continuing its worrying slide towards politicization, here’s a New Year’s resolution for scientists, especially in the United States: gain the confidence of people and politicians across the political spectrum by demonstrating that science is bipartisan.
That President Barack Obama chose to mention “technology, discovery and innovation” in his passionate victory speech in November shows just how strongly science has come, over the past decade or so, to be a part of the identity of one political party, the Democrats, in the United States. The highest-profile voices in the scientific community have avidly pursued this embrace. For the third presidential election in a row, dozens of Nobel prizewinners in physics, chemistry and medicine signed a letter endorsing the Democratic candidate.
The 2012 letter argued that Obama would ensure progress on the economy, health and the environment by continuing “America’s proud legacy of discovery and invention”, and that his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, would “devastate a long tradition of support for public research and investment in science”. The signatories wrote “as winners of the Nobel Prizes in Science”, thus cleansing their endorsement of the taint of partisanship by invoking their authority as pre-eminent scientists.
I think science groups/associations should follow the same policy a lot of business groups/organizations do, support/donate to all the viable parties and candidates but give more to your favourites. After all, you never know who’s going to be forming the next government so you want to keep in everyone’s good books.
It’s this suggestion which gives me pause,
If scientists want to claim that their recommendations are independent of their political beliefs, they ought to be able to show that those recommendations have the support of scientists with conflicting beliefs. Expert panels advising the government on politically divisive issues could strengthen their authority by demonstrating political diversity.
This rests on the notion that one’s affiliations are easily categorized. Not all Democrats are the same, nor are Republicans. While the parties are broadly Democrat and Republican within these parties there are subdivisions within subdivisions. It would likely cause more divisiveness than is worthwhile given the proposed benefit to attempt bipartisan panels, etc.
Daniel Lende in a Jan. 21, 2013 posting on the Neuroanthropology blog (member of the PLoS [Public Library of Science] blog network) comments at more length on the problems with Sarewitz’s thesis. For example,
… In Sarewitz’s world, politicians will naturally listen better to bipartisan endorsements. Take a recent example, the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan for “Financial Responsibility and Reform.” Politicians just fell over themselves to enact that bipartisan approach to dealing with a major social problem, didn’t they?
An even better example is smoking. If the model is somehow that by inserting better, more independent information into the political process, more rational and scientific decisions will be made, then that’s the wrong kind of scientific flow chart. Tobacco companies had major profits at stake, and major money to spend. They spent it on politicians and scientists alike. It wasn’t on a search for “the truth” about tobacco.
I’m not familiar enough with US politics to understand that reference to the ‘Simpson-Bowles plan’ but I take it that the bipartisan approach was a big failure in that instance. Lende also mounts an interesting discussion about social science and science as per some of Sarewitz’s comments about how the science community does not want to be perceived in the same light as the social science community (from Nature),
Conservatives in the US government have long been hostile to social science, which they believe tilts towards liberal political agendas. Consequently, the social sciences have remained poorly funded and politically vulnerable, and every so often Republicans threaten to eliminate the entire National Science Foundation budget for social science.
As scientists seek to provide policy-relevant knowledge on complex, interdisciplinary problems ranging from fisheries depletion and carbon emissions to obesity and natural hazards, the boundary between the natural and the social sciences has blurred more than many scientists want to acknowledge. With Republicans generally sceptical [sic] of government’s ability and authority to direct social and economic change, the enthusiasm with which leading scientists align themselves with the Democratic party can only reinforce conservative suspicions that for contentious issues such as climate change, natural-resource management and policies around reproduction, all science is social science.
Lende’s response echoes some of my own feelings on the topic still Sarewitz does have a point of sorts. Sarewitz dances between referring to scientists as individuals and in groups. As an individual, I think scientists should follow their own conscience with regard to whom and what they support but a science association or group should focus as much as possible on their pursuit of science irrespective of the politics. In short, you praise or condemn any and all governments according to what’s best for science.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of Canada’s Conservative party but this Conservative-led government has made some good choices, as well as, bad ones and I reserve the right to ‘praise them or bury them’ accordingly.
Bill McDonald brings to our attention the U.S. Congressional campaign of Mike Stopa, a Harvard nanotechnologist and physicist.
This is probably the first time that a nanotechnologist has run for Congress.
However, his profession may not get much attention, as his campaign is focusing on other issues.
I too am going to be rigidly nonpartisan as my interest here is in a kind of thought experiment: What happens if you read the campaign literature and realize that the scientist running for political office can’t manage a logical thought process or argument outside her or his own specialty?
I think there’s an assumption that because someone is a scientist that the individual will be able to present logical arguments and come to thoughtful decisions. I’m not saying that one has to agree with the scientist just that the thinking and decisionmaking process should be cohesive but that’s not fair. Humans are messy. We can hold competing and incompatible opinions and we rationalize them when challenged. Since scientists are human (for the near future anyway), then they too are prey to both the messiness of the human condition and, by extension, the democratic process.
I’m going to continue ruminating on science and politics as I am increasingly struck by a sense that there is a trend toward incorporating more and more voices into processes (public consultation on science issues, on housing issues, on cultural issues, etc.) that were the domain of experts or policymakers simultaneous with attempts to either suppress that participation by arranging consultations in situations that are already decided or to suggest that too much participation is taking us into a state of chaos and rendering democracy as per public consultations untenable. Well, that was a mouthful.
As scientists and politics in other countries, do take a look at this Pasco Phronesis posting,
The Conservative Party [UK], when it was still shadowing the Brown government, indicated that it would require all new Members of Parliament in the party to take some training in basic science concepts [emphases mine] as part of their new member training. This was back in 2008, and would take place after the next election (which was to happen at some unspecified point in the future when the announcement was made).
While there is a new person responsible for science for the Conservatives, the plan will be put into action…and expanded.
This notion is along the lines that Preston Manning (founder of the Reform Party and the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance Party [now absorbed by the Conservative Party] in Canada and opposition science critic) has been suggesting. Since leaving the political life, Manning has founded the Manning Centre and continues with his commentary on science and other issues.
Most science public relations (pr) and marketing efforts (including public engagement) in Canada are made by government agencies. There is a communications officer (actually, it’s usually a team of communications officers) in every government-funded science-oriented agency (e.g. National Research Council, the National of Institute of Nanotechnology, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, etc.)
In part 3 of this series (Sept. 21, 2009), I mentioned the impact a gag order placed on Environment Canada scientists in January 2008 has had on Canadian science journalism. It’s fair to assume that the gag order also has had an impact on people whose government agency job is science pr.
My guess is that an already cautious science pr and marketing community has become more controlling and more worried. Take for example the nanomaterials inventory (mentioned in earlier postings) that was announced not by Environment Canada but, in February 2009, by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies based in Washington, DC. It’s somewhat disconcerting to have a Canadian government initiative announced in the US first. It’s possible that there’s no connection to the gag order but I cannot recall any Canadian government initiative being announced in another country first.
I have another example of a science pr oddity but it’s based on memory because I didn’t think to save the article and I can’t find it online. As memory serves, months after the 2008 federal election there was an article in a paper that I read stating that an important Canadian science advance done in conjunction with (US) NASA had been suppressed during the election campaign. The information was announced later in the US (again). The article noted this was the first time that information about an advance attributable to Canadian scientists was suppressed during an election campaign, apparently, due to concerns that the announcement would be prejudicial.
In what universe does someone read about a scientific advance and immediately praise or condemn (depending on how you view the advance) a political party? I cannot recall the last time a local candidate got a boost or fell in the polls when the government announced a scientific advance. Even a biotechnology advance (with biotech being one of the most contentious science sectors in terms of public perception) would not be likely to have that kind of impact. Note that I said unlikely not impossible and that is where the problem lies. There are risks associated with science pr and marketing.
Whether it’s a government, a business, or a non-for-profit agency, there’s always the risk of embarrassment (your data is incorrect), the risk that popular opinion will rise against you, and/or the risk that someone more persuasive will slant your data to prove the case against you. These risks don’t pertain to science alone but there is a specific problem associated with science. Most of us are intimidated by it and, if you’re not, it’s hard to get information that is slanted for an adult who doesn’t have a science background. (Tomorrow’s installment will feature some current science pr initiatives and it will be last of this series.)
Now for a couple of quick announcements. Chris Orfescu’s NanoArt 2009 competition is calling for submissions (from the Azonano news item),
The artists can participate with up to 5 images (artworks). All submitted works will be exhibited on the nanoart21.org site until March 31, 2010, together with artist’s name, a short description of the artistic process, and artist’s web site and e-mail. The top 10 artists will be exhibited on nanoart21.org site for one full year and will be invited to exhibit at the 3rd edition of The International Festival of NanoArt. The previous editions of the festival were held in Finland and Germany.
There are more details on the Azonano website.
Michael Berger (Nanowerk Spotlight) has an article on future nanoelectronics which contradicts much that you may have learned about electricity and electronics in high school. From the article on Nanowerk,
Nanotechnology-enabled electronics of the future will be invisible, i.e. transparent (see “Invisible electronics made with carbon nanotubes”), or flexible, or both. One of the areas [John Rogers’ group at the University of Illlinois] focus on is creating materials and processes that will allow high-performance electronics that are flexible and stretchable (see our previous Spotlight “Gutenberg + nanotechnology = printable electronics”)