Tag Archives: Preston Manning

Does the new Minister of State for Science and Technology Greg*** Rickford really need research experience?

Gary Goodyear,  Canada’s Minister of State for Science and Technology since 2008, was shuffled away and Greg*** Rickford, fell into his place as of July 15, 2013 in the Harper government’s latest cabinet shuffle (largely viewed as a diversionary tactic in the wake of a Senate expense scandal).

Sadly, the Goodyear/Rickford change didn’t make many waves here in Canada.The mainstream media has barely mentioned it and the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC), where one would expect something, has no mention of it (as of 10:30 am PDT July 17, 2013) on their website homepage. As the CSPC is volunteer-run, I imagine this is an issue of not having enough time during the summer while being in the preparatory stages of the fall 2013 conference. Still, that particular omission does seem a bit odd.

There was, however, a mainstream media plea before the shuffle was announced. Jordan Himelfarb made his plea  in a July 12, 2013 opinion piece for the Toronto Star,

A wise next step: get rid of Gary Goodyear.

For fans of science, this will be an uncontroversial suggestion. Goodyear, the minister of state for science and technology, has presided over the most retrograde federal S&T policy in memory.

During his tenure, the government shuttered the office of the National Science Adviser, blocked asbestos from a UN hazardous chemicals list on which it clearly belongs, gutted the Fisheries Act, gutted the Navigable Waters Protection Act, set out to weaken the Species at Risk Act, killed the long-form census, eroded Environment Canada’s ability to monitor climate change, earned an international reputation for muzzling scientists and, at a great potential cost, defunded the world’s leading freshwater research centre [Experimental Lakes Ares]. (I stop there arbitrarily. The list really does go on and on.)

A change has been made but whether there will be any change is a bit of a mystery. I’ve found some coverage  and commentary about the change in the US and by Canadian science blogger, Eight Crayon Science. As the US coverage is more neutral (relatively) and general in tone, I’ll start there. Wayne Kondro in a July 15, 2013 article for Science Insider notes,

Former lawyer and nurse Greg Rickford has become Canada’s science minister as Prime Minister Stephen Harper shuffled his Cabinet on Monday. The move is an attempt to deflect attention from an expenses scandal that has rocked Harper’s Conservative government and left pundits calling for a reboot prior to the expected national elections in 2015. It has left science associations scrambling to learn a bit about the new junior minister.

…  The position reports to Industry Minister James Moore, who was promoted from the Canadian Heritage Ministry and whose new portfolio oversees all of Canada’s science agencies with the exception of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research …

David Bruggeman in his July 16, 2013 posting on the Pasco Phronesis blog put this news into an international context (Note: Links have been removed),

While the possibility of a new U.K. science minister is only rumor at the moment, the Canadian government has just reshuffled its Cabinet.  Minister for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear is out, and replacing him is Greg Rickford. Minister Rickford has previously served in ministerial positions responsible for development in northern Canada.  While he does have experience as a nurse, like his predecessor Minister Rickford does not have much research experience.

Mention of Rickford’s lack of research experience is made in Kondro’s article and by Canadian science blogger Eight Crayon Science in a July 16, 2013 posting which also details changes in other science portfolios,

We here in Canada had quite a major cabinet shuffle yesterday, precipitated in part due to the departure of a few major cabinet ministers. So, the five positions with the most sciency-ness are now held by:

  • Minister of State for Science and Technology: Greg Rickford (Kenora) replaces Gary Goodyear (Cambridge)
  • Minister of the Environment: Leona Aglukkaq (Nunavut) replaces Peter Kent (Thornhill)
  • Minister of Fisheries and Oceans: Gail Shea (Egmont) replaces Keith Ashfield (Fredericton)
  • Minister of Natural Resources: Joe Oliver (Eglington-Lawrence) remains in the position
  • Minister of Health: Rona Ambrose (Edmonton-Spruce Grove) replaces Leona Aglukkaq (Nunavut)

Let’s go one by one. I’m pleased that Goodyear is gone, because having a science minister who dances around the question of whether or not he believes in evolution is frankly embarrassing. Rickford has worked previously as a nurse (though his law degrees are more emphasized in the bios I’ve seen), which is a step in the right direction. But he’s the MP for Kenora, the riding of the Experimental Lakes Area, and he was previously a vocal proponent for closing the site. So, we’re not exactly off to a flying start.

A sort of secondary (or at least a more chronic issue than a Thing That Needs Attending To Immediately) is the continual lack of MPs with strong science backgrounds. *Lawyers and bankers and business folk of all stripes are a dime a dozen in Parliament, but doctors are rare, and scientists and engineers are even rarer. This isn’t to say that a *lawyer cannot be an excellent Minister of State for Science and Technology, but an MP with a more direct background in science — whether that’s industrial science, academic science, theoretical or applied science — will bring a more relevant perspective to the portfolio. Having worked as a scientist will likely give a Minister of Science a more tangible view of how policy set forth by their portfolio affects Canadian science, scientists, and citizens than a working as an attorney would, and I think that perspective is important.

I’m not entirely in agreement with this notion that a Science and Technology Minister needs direct experience of research as something will have to be sacrificed.  Which skill set do you want to sacrifice: research, administrative, political maneuvering, and/or social? It’s rare to get someone who’s equally good at all of these. Also, someone from outside the research community is less likely to have enemies within that community.

Personally, I’d like to see more science awareness in Parliament as per Preston Manning’s suggestion about the science community reaching out to politicians (Part 1 of an interview with Manning in a Sept. 10, 2009 posting and Part 2 of the Manning interview in a Sept. 11, 2009 posting). There are, for example, UK programmes that address this issue including one where young scientists shadow politicians (my Nov. 26, 2010 posting).

The appointment I find a bit more disturbing, at this point,  is James Moore’s to Industry Canada [ETA July 17, 2013 at 3:55 pm PDT: Science and Technology is a junior ministry included with the senior and important Industry ministry]. Moore once characterized Cory Doctorow, a science fiction writer, and others as ‘extremist radicals’ for 0pposing his (Moore’s) maximalist approach to a then upcoming piece of  copyright legislation (my June 25, 2010 posting) at a public event and later lied about the comment. Unfortunately for Moore, there was video evidence. Given the emphasis on patents in the innovation discussion, Moore’s previous comments on maximizing copyright are not comforting if one feels that even current patent regimes are hindering innovation and by extension the pursuit of science.

During Moore’s tenure as Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages he expressed his displeasure with an exhibition about sex at  the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa (from my June 13, 2012 posting),

It’s time now to add sex to the mix. Canada’s Science and Technology Museum is currently hosting SEX: A Tell-all Exhibition, which has caused some consternation in our country’s capital (Ottawa), from the May 16, 2012 article by Althia Raj for the **Huffington Post (Canada),

Canada’s Science and Technology Museum has abruptly raised the age limit for a controversial sex exhibit after Heritage Minister James Moore’s office raised concerns and more than 50 individuals complained.

Moore’s office called museum president Denise Amyot to complain that Sex: A Tell-All Exhibition [sic] is completely inappropriate.

“The purpose of the Museum of Science and Technology is to foster scientific and technological literacy throughout Canada,” said Moore’s spokesperson James Maunder.

“It is clear this exhibit does not fit within that mandate. This content cannot be defended, and is insulting to taxpayers,” he said.

This show had already been run in Montréal (where it was developed by the Montréal Science Centre for children 12 years and older) and in Regina (Saskatachewan), without significant distress or insult.

Rickford is going be dealing with a boss who has some very definite ideas, is not afraid to intervene whether it’s appropriate or not, and lies under pressure.

Getting back to Goodyear, while there are many criticisms  Canadian science blogger and well known mathematician,  Nassif Ghoussoub, had good things to say about Goodyear’s ministership in a Nov. 16, 2011 posting and about Goodyear’s attitude to science in a May 17, 2012 posting on his Piece of Mind blog.

For a more extensive view and explanation of some of the concerns regarding Goodyear’s and the Harper government’s science activities, there’s this May 3, 2011 posting by David Ng (science literacy academic at the Michael Smith Laboratories of the University of British Columbia) on the Discover magazine website. H/T to Phil Plait at Slate.com for the Ng article.

* A minor typo was corrected, laywer to lawyer.

** An amusing type  was corrected, Huggington to Huffington.

*** An embarrassing mistake was corrected, Gary Rickford to Greg Rickford on Feb. 2, 2015.

ETA July 18, 2013: Earlier today, I found this July 15, 2013 article analyzing the situation with the news that the cabinet shuffle involved the ministers for Industry Canada and its junior portfolio Science and Technology written by Ivan Semeniuk for the Globe and Mail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 Canadian Science Policy Conference and thinking big about Canadian science culture and policy

The 2012 Canadian Science Policy Conference is coming up in Calgary, Alberta on Nov. 5-7, 2012. and FrogHeart will be there moderating the Thinking Big: Science Culture and Policy in Canada panel. More about that in a minute but first, here’s the announcement, which I received at about  12:30 pm PDT, Oct. 1, 2012 (so this is pretty fresh off the email) :

Minister of State for Science and Technology, the Hon. Gary Goodyear, and Alberta Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education, the Hon. Stephen Khan, will be speaking at the CSPC 2012

Calgary, Alberta November 5th – 7th

TORONTO, ONTARIO–(Marketwire – Sept. 28, 2012) – CSPC 2012 is pleased to announce that the Hon. Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology will provide the opening keynote address on Monday, November 5th at 8:45 AM.

Also, the Hon. Stephen Khan, Alberta Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education will provide a luncheon keynote speech on Tuesday, November 6th.

CSPC 2012 will feature an impressive program with more than 90 speakers – leaders of science and innovation – from industry, academia, the media and government. These include:

  • Hon. Moira Stilwell,  MLA, Minister of Social Development, BC
  • Bob Fessenden, Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy, Government of Alberta
  • Dan Wicklum, CEO, Canada Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, (COSIA)
  • Antonia Maioni, Incoming President, Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Jeffrey Simpson, National Affairs Columnist, The Globe and Mail
  • Jay Ingram, Founder, Beakerhead, Science Journalist
  • Rory McAlpine, Vice President, Maple Leaf Foods
  • Mike Herrington, Executive Director, Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM)
  • Richard Hawkins, Canada Research Chair, Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, University of Calgary

Keynote session: Pulling Together: “What is the appropriate division of labour between business, government, and the academy in advancing science-based innovation in Canada?” a dialogue with the three Honourary Co-Chairs:

  • The Hon. Preston Manning C.C., President & CEO, Manning Centre for Building Democracy
  • Dr. Eric Newell, Chancellor Emeritus, University of Alberta, Former Chair and CEO, Syncrude Canada Ltd.
  • M. Elizabeth Cannon, PhD, FCAE, FRSC, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Calgary

Twenty-one panel sessions, reflecting the four conference themes, submitted from across the country and internationally, including:

  • Innovation, R&D, and Productivity in the Oil and Gas Sector
  • Dissecting Canada’s Science & Technology Landscape
  • Innovation and Agriculture and the Role of Policy
  • Next Generation e-Health: Integrating Research, Policy, Industry
  • Entrepreneurship as a vehicle for innovation
  • “Science Policy 101” workshop

For the complete agenda please go to http://www.cspc2012.ca/glance.php and for descriptions of all the panel discussions see http://www.cspc2012.ca/paneldescriptions.php.

Don’t miss Canada’s premiere science policy conference as it brings a spotlight to Western Canada!

Follow us on Twitter @sciencepolicy, Facebook, and LinkedIn for the latest in science policy news and conference updates.

Register Now!

Register today at https://www.verney.ca/cspc2012/registration/index.php to benefit from the Early Bird rate (ends October 1, 2012).

The Canadian conference has a major fan in David Bruggeman of the Pasco Phronesis blog as per his Aug. 28, 2012 posting titled ‘Where Canada Might Lead The World – The Fourth Canadian Science Policy Conference‘,

Later this year the fourth Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) will take place in Alberta, Calgary.  I attended the first conference in 2009, when it was held in Toronto.  I found it quite valuable, and not being Canadian, I think that says something.  In the three years since the first conference, the number of presenters and panels has grown consistently, and I think the conference provides an important convening function for the nation’s researchers and practitioners interested in science policy.

I wish we had something like it in the United States. …

As for the Thinking big panel, here’s the description,

Science culture is more than encouraging kids to become scientists to insure our economic future; more than having people visit a science museum or centre and having fun; more than reading an interesting article in a newspaper or magazine about the latest whizbang breakthrough; more than educating people so they become scientifically literate and encourage ‘good’ science policies; it is a comprehensive approach to community- and society-building.

We live in a grand (in English, magnificent and en francais, big) country, the 2nd largest in the world and it behooves us all to be engaged in developing a vibrant science culture which includes

  • artists (performing and visual),
  • writers,
  • scientists,
  • children,
  • seniors,
  • games developers,
  • doctors,
  • business people,
  • elected officials,
  • philosophers,
  • government bureaucrats,
  • educators,
  • social scientists,
  • and others

as we grapple with 21st century scientific and technical developments.

As scientists work on prosthetic neurons for repair in people with Parkinsons and other neurological diseases, techniques for tissue engineering, self-cleaning windows, exponentially increased tracking capabilities for devices and goods tagged with RFID devices, engineered bacteria that produce petroleum and other products (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Living Foundries project), and more, Canadians will be challenged to understand and adapt to a future that can be only dimly imagined.

Composed of provocative thinkers from the worlds of science writing, science education, art/science work, and scientific endeavour, during this panel discussion they will offer their ideas and visions for a Canadian science culture and invite you to share yours. In addition to answering questions, each panelist will prepare their own question for audience members to answer.

The panelists are:

Marie-Claire Shanahan

Marie-Claire Shanahan is a professor of science education and science communication at the University of Alberta. She is interested in how and why students make decisions to pursue their interests science, in high schools, post-secondary education and informal science education. She also conducts research on interactions between readers and writers in online science communications.

Stephen Strauss

Stephen Strauss, Canadian Science Writers’ Association president, has been writing about science for 30 years. After receiving a B.A. (history) from the University of Colorado, he worked as an English teacher, a social worker, an editor before joining the Globe and Mail in 1979. He began writing about science there.

Since leaving the newspaper in 2004 he has written for the CBC.ca, Nature, New Scientist, The Canadian Medical Association Journal as well as authored books and book chapters. He has written for organizations such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Government of Ontario and has won numerous awards.

Amber Didow

Amber Didow is the Executive Director for the Canadian Association of Science Centres. She has over 20 years experience in the non-profit sector and advancing informal education. She has worked within the Science Centre field for many years including the Saskatchewan Science Centre and Science World British Columbia.  Amber’s background includes new business development; educational outreach; programming with at-risk youth; creating community based science events; melding science with art and overseeing the creation and development of both permanent and travelling exhibitions. Amber has a strong passion for community development within the sector.

Maryse de la Giroday (moderator)

Maryse de la Giroday currently runs one of the largest and longest running Canadian science blogs (frogheart.ca) where she writes commentary on  nanotechnology, science policy, science communication, society, and the arts. With a BA in Communication (Simon Fraser University, Canada) and an MA in Creative Writing and New Media (De Montfort University, UK), she combines education and training in the social sciences and humanities with her commitment as an informed member of the science public. An independent scholar, she has presented at international conferences on topics of nanotechnology, storytelling, and memristors.

Dr. Moira Stilwell, MLA

Dr. Moira Stilwell was appointed Minister of Social Development  for the province of British Columbia in September 2012. Elected MLA for Vancouver-Langara in the 2009 provincial general election. She previously served as Parliamentary Secretary for Industry, Research and Innovation to the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health with a focus on Health Innovation. She also served as Vice Chair of the Cabinet Committee on Jobs and Economic Growth. In her first cabinet appointment, she served as Minister of Advanced Education and Labour Market Development from June 2009 to October 2010.

Prior to her political career, Stilwell graduated from the University of Calgary Medical School. She received further training in nuclear medicine at the University of British Columbia and in radiology at the University of Toronto after that. She served for several years as the Head of Nuclear Medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver, Surrey Memorial Hospital, and Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Clinic but left all those positions in 2009 to run for public office.

The driving force behind the province’s Year of Science in BC (2010-11) initiative for schools, Stilwell has a passionate interest and commitment to integrating science awareness and culture in government, education, and society.

Rob Annan

Rob is the Director of Policy, Research and Evaluation at Mitacs, a leading Canadian not-for-profit that supports innovation through skills development, research, and collaboration between students, researchers, and industry. Mitacs supports research across sciences, humanities and social sciences and understands that innovation often occurs at the intersection of science and culture. Mitacs’ approach to innovation is reflected in our outreach activities, most notably Math Out Loud – a theatre musical designed to inspire Canadian students to understand and appreciate the mathematics that surround them. Inspired by Laval University’s renowned Professor of Mathematics Jean-Marie De Koninck and produced by Academy Award winner Dale Hartleben, Math Out Loud explores the relationships between math and culture as an effective outreach tool.

Prior to joining Mitacs, Rob worked as a consultant to universities, researchers and non-profit agencies for strategic planning and policy, and was active as a blogger on science policy issues in Canada. Rob embodies the intersection of arts and science, with a PhD in Biochemistry from McGill University, a BSc in Biology from UVic and a BA in English from Queen’s University.

Hope to see you at the conference!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Science and politics

I was gobsmacked by a link I followed from a Foresight Institute posting about a nanotechnologist running for the US Congress. From the Foresight posting (which was kept rigidly nonpartisan),

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.

That’s it for today.

Aftershocks from the May 2010 public science conference in Gatineau, Québec

The first of this year’s two policy conferences on science in Canada (described on this blog here) has resulted in some after-the-fact media coverage. An article by Elizabeth Church, Presto, change-o: A Reformer, reinvented in the print edition (or Preston Manning: Proselytizer of science in the online edition) of the May 15, 2010 Globe and Mail focused on Preston Manning, one of the conference’s keynote speakers. (Manning has been interviewed for this blog, part 1 and part 2). From Church’s article,

…  Mr. Manning shared the stage with broadcaster and environmental icon David Suzuki at a conference in Gatineau, Que., organized by the union representing professional federal workers. He and Dr. Suzuki were paired up to show different perspectives on science policy, a spokeswoman for the event said, and to see how the two sides might meet.

“There are a lot of things that we agree on,” Dr. Suzuki said. “Our big disagreement is he thinks the free market is going to solve everything, which is total bullshit.”

Asked about his deep Christian convictions, Mr. Manning said they do not put him offside with scientific thought. One can think that genetic mutations and natural selection have something to do with the development of life, he explains, and also believe there is a direction to things that comes from God.

“Science explains what is going on,” he said.

Church’s article suggests a more lively interaction than Léo Charbonneau’s article (Bringing science to bear on policy) about the talk, written for University Affairs,

Mr. Manning was the founder of the Reform Party and a Member of Parliament from 1993 to 2001. David Suzuki is a scientist, well-known environmentalist and popular broadcaster.

The two were appearing in the opening keynote session at the second Science Policy Symposium organized by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada and being held in Gatineau, Quebec, across the river from Ottawa, until tomorrow. The symposium has as its aim to strengthen science policy in Canada, an extremely important issue that deserves greater attention by the public, policy makers and government.

I admit I was hoping for perhaps a bit of fireworks between the two speakers, but they addressed each other politely, if somewhat formally, and mostly avoided any overt provocation.

Amongst other nuggets in Charbonneau’s article, Manning is calling for a national science communication conference.

It’s encouraging to see the coverage of the first of this year’s two Canadian science policy conferences and I hope the organizers of the second conference (taking place this October) experience as much or more success.

Dem bones at McGill; innovation from the Canadian business community?; the archiving frontier; linking and copyright

I have a number of bits today amongst them, Canadian nanotechnology, Canadian business innovation, digital archiving, and copyrights and linking.

A Quebec biotech company, Enobia Pharma is working with Dr. Marc McKee on treatments for genetic bone diseases. From the news item on Nanowerk,

The field is known as biomineralization and it involves cutting-edge, nanotech investigation into the proteins, enzymes and other molecules that control the coupling of mineral ions (calcium and phosphate) to form nano-crystals within the bone structure. The treatment, enzyme replacement therapy to treat hypophosphatasia, is currently undergoing clinical testing in several countries including Canada. Hypophosphatasia is a rare and severe disorder resulting in poor bone mineralization. In infants, symptoms include respiratory insufficiency, failure to thrive and rickets.

This research in biomineralization (coupling of mineral ions to form nano-crystals) could lead to better treatments for other conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, and kidney stones.

McKee’s research is being funded in part by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research  From the Nanowerk news item,

McKee’s research program is a concrete example of how university researchers are working with private sector partners as an integral part of Canada’s innovative knowledge economy, and the positive outcomes their collaborations can offer.

I don’t think that businesses partnering with academic institutions in research collaborations is precisely what they mean when they talk about business innovation (research and development). From a March 2, 2010 article about innovation by Preston Manning in the Globe & Mail,

Government competition policy and support for science, technology, and innovation (STI) can complement business leadership on the innovation front, but it is not a substitute for such leadership. Action to increase innovation in the economy is first and foremost a business responsibility.

Manning goes on to describe what he’s done on this matter and asks for suggestions on how to encourage Canadian business to be more innovative. (Thanks to Pasco Phronesis for pointing me to Manning’s article.) I guess the problem is that what we’ve been doing has worked well enough and so there’s no great incentive to change.

I’ve been on an archiving kick lately and so here’s some more. The British Library recently (Feb.25.10) announced public access to their UK Web Archive, a project where they have been saving online materials. From the news release,

British Library Chief Executive, Dame Lynne Brindley said:

“Since 2004 the British Library has led the UK Web Archive in its mission to archive a record of the major cultural and social issues being discussed online. Throughout the project the Library has worked directly with copyright holders to capture and preserve over 6,000 carefully selected websites, helping to avoid the creation of a ‘digital black hole’ in the nation’s memory.

“Limited by the existing legal position, at the current rate it will be feasible to collect just 1% of all free UK websites by 2011. We hope the current DCMS consultation will enact the 2003 Legal Deposit Libraries Act and extend the provision of legal deposit through regulationto cover freely available UK websites, providingregular snapshots ofthe free UK web domain for the benefit of future research.”

Mike Masnick at Techdirt notes (here) that the British Library has to get permission (the legal position Dame Brindley refers to) to archive these materials and this would seem to be an instance where ‘fair use’ should be made to apply.

On the subject of losing data, I read an article by Mike Roberts for the Vancouver Province, January 22, 2006, p. B5 (digital copy here) that posed this question, What if the world lost its memory? It was essentially an interview with Luciana Duranti (chair of the Master of Archival Studies programme and professor at the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia, Canada) where she commented about the memories we had already lost. From the article,

Alas, she says, every day something else is irretrievably lost.

The research records of the U.S. Marines for the past 25 years? Gone.

East German land-survey records vital to the reunification of Germany? Toast.

A piece of digital interactive music recorded by Canadian composer Keith Hamel just eight years ago?

“Inaccessible, over, finito,” says Duranti, educated in her native Italy and a UBC prof since 1987.

Duranti, director of InterPARES (International Research on Permanent Authentic Records in Electronic Systems), an international cyber-preservation project comprising 20 countries and 60 global archivists, says original documentation is a thing of the past.

I was shocked by how much ‘important’ information had been lost and I assume still is. (Getting back to the UK Web Archives, if they can only save 1% of the UK’s online material then a lot has got to be missing.)

For anyone curious about InterPARES, I got my link for the Roberts article from this page on the InterPARES 1 website.

Back to Techdirt and Mike Masnick who has educated me as to a practice I had noted but not realized is ‘the way things are done amongst journalists’. If you spend enough time on the web, you’ll notice stories that make their way to newspapers without any acknowledgment of  their web or writerly origins and I’m not talking about news releases which are designed for immediate placement in the media or rewritten/reworked before placement. From the post on Techdirt,

We recently wrote about how the NY Post was caught taking a blogger’s story and rewriting it for itself — noting the hypocrisy of a News Corp. newspaper copying from someone else, after Rupert Murdoch and his top execs have been going around decrying various news aggregators (and Google especially) for “stealing” from News Corp. newspapers. It’s even more ridiculous when you think about it — because the “stealing” that Rupert is upset about is Google linking to the original story — a step that his NY Post writer couldn’t even be bothered to do.

Of course, as a few people pointed out in the comments, this sort of “re-reporting” is quite common in the traditional news business. You see it all the time in newspapers, magazines and broadcast TV. They take a story that was found somewhere else and just “re-report” it, so that they have their own version of it.

That’s right, it’s ‘re-reporting’ without attributions or links. Masnick’s post (he’s bringing in Felix Salmon’s comments) attributes this to a ‘print’ mentality where reporters are accustomed to claiming first place and see acknowledgments and links as failure while ‘digital natives’ acknowledge and link regularly since they view these as signs of respect. I’m not going to disagree but I would like to point out that citing sources is pretty standard for academics or anyone trained in that field. I imagine most reporters have one university or college degree, surely they learned the importance of citing one’s sources. So does training as a journalist erode that understanding?

And, getting back to this morning’s archival subtheme, at the end of Clark Hoyt’s (blogger for NY Times) commentary about the plagiarism he had this to say,

Finally, The Times owes readers a full accounting. I asked [Philip] Corbett [standards editor] for the examples of Kouwe’s plagiarism and suggested that editors’ notes be appended to those articles on the Web site and in The Times’s electronic archives. Corbett would not provide the examples and said the paper was not inclined to flag them, partly because there were some clear-cut cases and others that were less clear. “Where do you draw the line?” he asked.

I’d draw it at those he regards as clear. To do otherwise is to leave a corrupted record within the archives of The Times. It is not the way to close the case.

One last thing, Heather Haley is one of the guests appearing tonight in Rock Against Prisons.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

7:00pm – 11:55pm

Little Mountain Gallery

195 east 26th Ave [Vancouver, Canada]

More details from my previous announcement about this event here.

Cookie cutters; agility vs. rigidity; 2010 Canadian Science Policy Conference; Kate Pullinger GG 2009 award winner for fiction

Ever wonder about all that talk about critical thinking? Supposedly that’s what education does for you, i.e. encourages critical thinking. I mention it because there’s a great little essay on The Black Hole blog about critical thinking in higher education. It’s called, Science is like Baking: The Rise of the Cookie Cutter PhD. I did have one minor quibble,

Together, these forces do what I think we should be very very scared of… they apply pressure to churn out PhDs faster, with more papers, with less flexibility in ideas and more rigid (read publishable) research project designs. So, in the end, little effort goes into helping the PhD students think critically about their field – and while I don’t believe this style of training is as far gone in the Humanities… I think it’s coming, so get yourself ready!

Sadly, I believe that the process is already gaining momentum in the humanities.

Rob Annan at Don’t Leave Canada Behind has a very pointed (scathing) analysis of a pre-budget submission from the SSHRC/NSERC/CIHR tri-council to the House of Commons Standing Committee.  [SSHRC = Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council; NSERC = Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council; CHIR = Canadian Health Institutes Research] From his posting,

… What does this mean? Sounds to me like stable, long-term funding is to be sacrificed at the altar of increased flexibility. And what exactly is a “dynamic approach” to funding research? This bureaucratic nonsense speak could have real consequences for researchers. Does agility, dynamism, and responsiveness mean that the agencies will be rapidly changing funding priorities from year to year? Will the agencies just start chasing the hottest trends?

Annan’s concern about “agility, dynamism and responsiveness” as a funding agency priority would seem to contradict The Black Hole’s essayist’s concern “with more papers, with less flexibility in ideas and more rigid (read more publishable) research project designs.”

In fact, we could end up with a situation where both apply. Imagine this. (1) A researcher applies for a ‘trendy’ area of research thereby fulfilling the funding agency’s dynamic, responsive funding requirement. (2) The researcher or PhD student’s academic institution or employer constrains the researcher to pump out multiple papers from a rigid research design under the funding agency’s the rubric of being responsive and agile.

Frankly, I’d like to see a little more agility and dynamism but I’d like it see it applied effectively. Sadly, I believe that my little scenario is more likely than not. The funding agencies are scrambling for money and, with the best of intentions, will do what it takes to get more so they can fulfill their mandate of supporting research. Meanwhile, the academic institutions will pay lip service to agility and dynamism while they apply the principles of rigidity and conformity used in production lines to pump out more product (publishable papers, awards, etc.) so they can maintain themselves and provide (their raison d’etre) education.

On other notes: there is a 2010 Public Science in Canada | Strengthening Science and Policy to Protect Canadians conference coming up in May. The keynote speakers are Stephen Lewis in an as yet untitled talk and [David] Suzuki and [Preston] Manning on Science: A Public Dialogue.  (Is there a Canadian science conference or science event where Preston Manning isn’t giving a keynote address?) More details can be found here.

On a personal note, congratulations to the Governor General’s latest fiction award winner, Kate Pullinger for the Mistress of Nothing. She was one of the leaders and teachers in my master’s programme (Creative Writing and New Media) at De Montfort University in the UK. I’m grateful that I had a chance to study in the programme (which was canceled after its 3rd year). I was able to experiment with creative writing techniques and science writing and that was a privilege.

Selling science; policy founded on evidence-based research

There’s more from the 2009 Canadian Science Policy conference in Toronto last week. Preston Manning (part 1 and part 2 of his interview for this blog) was Day 2’s keynote speaker and Rob Annan covers Manning’s suggestions for Canadian science policy here. In reading over Rob’s comments for all three days, the speakers’ focus seemed to be on encouraging scientists to learn how to better communicate to politicians, to organize themselves with the purpose of communicating more effectively, and to engage directly in politics, policymaking, and society.

I have commented previously here on how much more effective scientists in the US (and elsewhere) have been with their communication efforts. There is much room for improvement in Canada although I have to admit to choking on this suggestion of Manning’s,

c) create a working group who can work on the application of the science of communication to the communication of science (he liked that phrase – it’s pretty good). Basically, figure out new and innovative ways to get the message out.

The ‘science of communication’ … hmmm … is this like the science of marketing? or the science of advertising? …  It sounds as if Manning believes that there’s a formula. Well, advertisers have an old formula/saying, “50% of your advertising works but nobody knows which 50%. ”

Take the ‘frankenfoods’ or GM (genetically modified) foods debacle for an example of a wildly successful communications campaign. That was a lightning strike. As I noted here in my posting, ‘The unpredictability of ‘frankenfoods’, the activist groups got lucky. There was also another element, most successful campaigns, activist or otherwise, are based on persistence and hard work. In other words, you keep pitching. Add to or change your techniques and  your tools, tweak your messages, etc. but above all, keep pitching.

Selling science is a complicated affair (what follows is a simplified list) because those messages are competing with many others; reciprocity and respect  (i.e. listening to what your recipient has to say) is not always included in the equation especially when it seems uninformed or downright foolish by your standards; and/or your recipients may never be able to accept your message regardless of the evidence supporting your position.

Andrew Maynard has posted about a situation in the UK where the recipients (government officials) are unable or unwilling to consider a new position despite extensive evidence.  Professor David Nutt was until recently the senior scientific advisor to the UK government on the misuse of drugs. He was sacked after a paper he authored was released this last month (October 2009). I found a newspaper (The Guardian) account by Mark Tran of the situation here.

Andrew’s analysis points to something that we’ve all observed, people will choose to disbelieve something against all reason. In fact, we’ve all done it. You just don’t want to change your mind about something that’s usually a deeply held belief linking to your basic worldview. I call it the triumph of orthodoxy over fact.

Bravo to Professor Nutt for his thoughtful paper and his courage (I suspect he was well aware that there might be a reprisal.)

I hope Canadian scientists do become more involved and communicate more effectively while realizing that there are no guarantees that they will achieve their dearly hoped-for outcomes. In the shorter term.

Over the longer term, things change. The concept of universal literacy, democracy; women having the right to vote; ubiquitous electricity; etc. All of these things were bitterly fought against over decades or more.

Storytelling for scientists only; self-erasing paper/ink; library news

I checked out the (Canada) National Science and Technology Week (October 16-25, 2009) website yesterday and found more events (in BC) than the last time I checked in late July/early August. Oddly, one of the events, Storytelling for scientists, is not open to the public. I’m quite disappointed that I’m not allowed to attend as I think it’s a very promising sign of what I hope will be better outreach. ( I got my refusal from someone at the Geological Survey of Canada, which is quite a coincidence since the Survey was recently mentioned here by Preston Manning while discussing his recent speech about science and innovation  in Canada.)

After scanning the science (nanotechnology) news for the last three years, it seems to me that Canadian scientists have been lamentably slow to find ways and means to discuss their work in ways that are engaging and meaningful to people who don’t have a vested interest in the sciences. Yes, there are events for children but I haven’t seen anything much for adults.

Michael Berger over at Nanowerk has written up a very good description of a new technique for creating self-erasing pictures. It caught me eye because of the pop culture reference to Mission Impossible and then there was this,

“While writing with light can be both rapid and accurate, photochromic ‘inks’ are not necessarily optimal for transforming light-intensity patterns into color variations, because they have relatively low extinction coefficients, are prone to photobleaching, and usually offer only two colors corresponding to the two states of photoisomerizing molecules,” explains Bartosz A. Grzybowski, a Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and W. Burgess Chair in Physical Chemistry and Systems Engineering at Northwestern University.

I love the idea of ‘writing with light’ and, even better, the explanation of the technology has great clarity. (couldn’t resist the word play)

I have a longstanding interest and fascination with libraries and in light of the recent cuts to the library system here in BC (Canada) and my recent experiences at ISEA (International Symposium on Electronic Art), this item on the Shifted Librarian blog about the mobile devices, libraries, and policy session at the American Library Association (annual meeting?) caught my attention,

Question for Eli: when we talk about mobile devices, we mean digital content. is it a given we’re moving towards this licensing model for digital content, when libraries have traditionally purchased “things” and lending them under first sale doctrine? how do libraries maintain their rights under these threats of DMCA, etc.

Eli: this is really THE question for libraries in the 21st century; holding something of a copy that exists in 10,000 places in the world is worthless – that’s not the value; you have the whole world in your pocket
the rest of the world has skipped the 20th century and gone straight to the 21st; we no longer provide value by providing a copy of something that exists elsewhere
it’s what doesn’t exist anywhere else, which means creating it, which is usually letting your patrons create that
no longer bringing the world to your community, but bringing your community to the world and making it accessible
you’re (the library) the only one that cares about that content being out there
possible future where DRM triumphs & RIAA, etc. get everything they ever wanted and there’s no room for libraries
but could have an uprising against copyright and everything being free to everyone, although this is equally dangerous to libraries
will come down to digital ownership of rights
important not to forget that a major role of the library is to aggregate the buying power of the community and provide access
best thing we can do is produce and assist in the creation of new knowledge
don’t want to get involved in the DRM nightmare and find a value proposition that is meaningful to users in the networked 21st century

If you’re not familiar with the acronyms (I don’t know all of them either), DRM is Digital Rights Management, RIAA is Recording Industry Association of America, and (US) DMCA is Digital Millennium Copyright Act (I had to look up the last two).

This discussion provides an interesting contrast with the item about the cuts to the BC library system on the Think City website. Both are concerned with purchasing power and community access but one from the perspective of our mobile device future and one from the perspective of a 90-year old system that needs to be maintained.