Tag Archives: public consultation

We have a national science and technology museum in Canada, don’t we? A national public consultation

Before dashing off to participate in the consultation, here’s a little background information. At this moment in time, Canada’s national museum for science and technology is a truck, ‘Museum on the go‘. There was a museum building but that was closed in Sept. 2014 due to health and safety issues. (Btw, the ‘Museum on the go’ truck is a regular summer programme which staff are presenting in difficult circumstances.)

For those unfamiliar with the setup, Canada has three interlinked science and technology museum institutions (a) Canada Aviation and Space Museum (b) Canada Agriculture and Food Museum and (c) Canada Science and Technology Museum. The other two institutions are still open.

If memory serves, 2008 was when I first heard there was a problem with the Canada Science and Technology Museum. The details escape me but it had something to do with an unsuccessful attempt to get a new building or move to a new building. Presumably they were having health and safety problems dating from 2008 at least. That’s a long to time to wait for a solution but after closing in Sept. 2014, the federal government announced funds to repair and upgrade the current museum building. From a Nov. 17, 2014 announcement on the Canada Science and Technology Museum (CSTM) website,

The Government of Canada announced today an $80.5 million investment to repair and upgrade the Canada Science and Technology Museum. The work will be completed during the next two years and the Museum will re-open in 2017.

This funding is essential to address the health and safety issues that are of immediate concern, and to support the Museum’s work promoting Canada’s long history of scientific and technological achievement.

Specifically, the funds announced today will go toward:

  • Removing the mould and replacing the Museum’s roof, which will stop leaks. A new roof will ensure that artifacts and exhibitions are no longer in danger of damage;
  • Retrofitting and upgrading the Museum’s exhibition spaces and floor space;
  • Upgrading the building’s fire-suppression systems and its seismic structural strength; and,
  • Bringing the Museum’s exterior façade up to date to match the new, modern interior. …

$80M is not a lot of money for the repairs and there is no mention of any upgrades for technology used to display exhibits e.g., VR (or virtual reality is becoming popular) or ICT (information and communications technology such as mobile applications and perhaps even webcasting facilities so people living outside the Ottawa region might have chance to attend virtually).

It seems ironic that while the Canadian federal government wants to promote science culture and innovation, it refuses to adequately fund our national showcase. Where culture is concerned, the federal government can commission a report on science culture (my Dec. 31, 2014 post: Science Culture: Where Canada Stands; an expert assessment, Part 1 of 3: Canadians are doing pretty well) but it’s not inclined to support culture as can be seen in an April 17, 2015 article by Jeff Lee for the Vancouver Sun concerning the funding for arts museums,

There is also no indication that the Stephen Harper government would be willing to contribute such a large amount for cultural projects, given that it hasn’t done so elsewhere in Canada, with only two exceptions.

Both of those fulfilled commitments made by the previous federal Liberal government. One is the now federally owned Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, to which Ottawa contributed $100 million and then took over as the cost soared to $351 million. The other is the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton, first envisioned in 2003 at a cost of $200 million and now under construction at a new estimate of $340 million.

The feds, under Paul Martin, pledged $122 million — and the Harper government tried to back out of the deal. Last year [2014] it agreed to pay the remaining $92 million.

If the federal government is contributing to museum and art gallery projects, it is doing so in smaller amounts, such as $13 million for Saskatoon’s Remai Modern, once estimated to cost $55 million and now approaching $100 million. Or the $13 million for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ $33-million conversion of the Erskine and American Church into the Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion of Quebec and Canadian Art, incorporating a concert hall.

The interest in culture seems grudging. Even for an aspect of culture, science and technology, for which the federal government has expressed some enthusiasm. They are very interested in promoting innovation (code for commercializing science research) but, although they want science culture so all those young’uns will study science, engineering, technology, and mathematics, they aren’t willing to dedicate enough money so the museum has some chance of delivering on its mandate.

So please, do participate in the public consultation. Yes, it’s very Ottawa-centric and also Ontario- and Québec-centric, which is understandable. They are dependent on the people who are most likely to visit multiple time but it’s still irritating to those of us (me) who live outside those regions to be lumped into a category of ‘everybody else’.

As to why the consultation has such a depressive quality, the drawings are gray and faded and the written descriptions are somewhat flat, I can’t tell if that’s a problem with time, depressed staff, something I have failed to imagine, or some combination.

I know that sounds uninviting but let them know you care and you want to see a dynamic Science and Technology Museum that reaches out nationally.

Finally, here’s a June 4, 2015 CSTM announcement (with a link to the consultation),

Want to learn more about plans for a renewed
Canada Science and Technology Museum? 

As a friend of the Museum, this is your chance to get a sneak peek and provide feedback on the proposed concept plan.

Renewal of the Museum is underway, with many new exhibits, programs, and a striking redesigned façade on tap for its reopening in 2017. Staff, architects, and consultants have been hard at work on a new master plan for the interior — which, we are happy to confirm, will include the Museum’s ever-popular locomotives and Crazy Kitchen.

Here’s how you can participate:

Fill out the online survey below to see early sketches and concepts, and offer your thoughts on these potential new offerings. You can participate in this national survey until June 20.

Survey link: http://cstmc-smstc.fluidsurveys.com/s/CSTM_MSTC_2017/  

Visit the Museum team at a series of Open House events
  • St. Laurent Shopping Centre in Ottawa, June 6 from 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and June 7 from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  •  Canada Agriculture and Food Museum on June 13, and Canada Aviation and Space Museum on June 14 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

As the renewal project unfolds, additional opportunities for feedback on exhibitions will be shared via the Museum’s website. Stay tuned for updates!

I have filled it out and, as far as I can tell, you have to complete the survey in one session and the questions require open-ended answers (no multiple choice) .

Public access to publicly funded research; a consultation in the US

There are two requests from the US White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) for information about public access to publicly funded research. From the Nov.4, 2011 posting by David Bruggeman on his Pasco Phronesis blog,

In today’s Federal Register there are two requests for comment on the topic of public access to federally funded research.  They come from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).  One focuses on the digital data produced by that research, the other concerns the publications that result from this research.  … part of the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act.  The report is focused on determining standards and policies to help ensure long-term preservation and access to digital data and research publications produced from federally funded research.

So one request for information (RFI) is about open access to scientific data and the other is about open access to published research. The RFI for open access to scientific data is more detailed. Some 13 questions are asked, responders may choose to address their own open data access issues rather answering the questions. The questions are  split into two categories: (1) Preservation, Discoverability, and (2) Access and Standards for Interoperability, Re-Use and Re-Purposing. The deadline for responses on this request is January 12, 2012.

The RFI for public access to peer-reviewed, publicly funded research in scholarly publications is less detailed with eight questions being asked.  There’s this one for example,

(1) Are there steps that agencies could take to grow existing and new markets related to the access and analysis of peer-reviewed publications that result from federally funded scientific research? How can policies for archiving publications and making them publically accessible be used to grow the economy and improve the productivity of the scientific enterprise? What are the relative costs and benefits of such policies? What type of access to these publications is required to maximize U.S. economic growth and improve the productivity of the American scientific enterprise?

For this RFI, respondents need to meet a January 2, 2012 deadline.

Both of the RFIs ask questions about how open access can grow the economy. Although I didn’t see any reference to the economy when I was checking out a Canadian government pilot project ( Open Data Pilot Project) I expect we are just as interested in possible economic benefits as our US neighbour. (I mentioned the Canadian project in my March 13, 2011 posting.)

US NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety) nano consultation mystery

I am mystified by the NIOSH public consultation on its nanotechnology strategic plan (Approaches to Safe Nanotechnology; Managing the Health and Safety Concerns Associated with Engineered Nanomaterials).

Here are the clues in the order in which I found them:

(a) An April 14, 2011 posting on EnvironmentalExpert.com. (Apparently these people are lawyers so my attempt to cut and paste the first paragraph of their posting resulted in a notice that I don’t have permission. I gather the text these lawyers have provided about the announcement and NIOSH’s history regarding its nanotechnology plans is considered proprietary. Accordingly, I’ve removed the paragraph and, in an excess of caution, I have removed the link I would have provided to their site. I trust it’s acceptable to refer to the website by name.) According to this posting, NIOSH announced their nanotechnology public consultation on March 7, 2011. (Note: This consultation is separate from the NIOSH consultation on carbon nanotubes and nanofibers mentioned in my Dec. 9, 2010 posting.)

(b) It took me a while to get to the notice as I had to click down a couple levels into the NIOSH site to find the March 7, 2011 notice of the public consultation on the US Federal Register. From the notice,

SUMMARY: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) seeks comment on the types of hazard identification and risk management research that should be considered for updating the NIOSH 2009 nanotechnology strategic plan.
Public Comment Period: Comments must be received by April 15, 2011.

It seems like a relatively short period to allow for responses but, more puzzlingly, the notice doesn’t seem to have been well publicized. I can’t find mention of it on the Nanowerk website (my usual source for this kind of thing), the University of Michigan’s Risk Science Blog, or on Andrew Maynard’s 2020 Science Blog. (Note: Andrew is also involved with the Risk Science Blog but he is not its sole author.)

(c) I found the public consultation docket about what is now referred to as the NRTC Strategic Plan on the NIOSH website and, as they promise, the responses to the consultation are available for viewing. All two of them, that is.

Canada’s innovation consultation

The official title for the Canadian government public consultation which ended Feb. 18, 2011 is Review of Federal Support to Research and Development. I had some issues with this consultation as I noted at length in my Feb. 18, 2011 posting and contrary to what I stated at the time (I reasoned that no one would pay much attention to what I had to say as it didn’t fit the terms of reference) but on reflection I decided to make the submission anyway, which is now posted on the government’s website here. My largest bone of contention with this process is the way the discussion is framed, i.e., the terms of reference for the consultation and that’s basically what I tried to say in the submission.

Meanwhile, some 250 others also made submissions and according to Rob Annan at the Researcher Forum; Don’t leave Canada behind blog (excerpted from his March 9, 2011 posting),

Just… wow.

Earlier this year, the R&D Review Panel issued a call for submissions from interested parties regarding government support for business- and industry-related R&D. Today the submission papers have been made public.

What a treasure trove of special pleading. [emphasis mine]

There are more than 250 submissions from industry, academia and government. I sympathize with Tom Jenkins and his fellow panelists who will have to sift through these not-even-thinly-veiled self-interested calls for support.

Major industry players have made submissions, including JD Irving, Pratt & Whitney, and Bombardier. These international industry leaders will no doubt be able to provide a global sense of how to nurture innovation and strengthen our economy. What are their suggestions? Well, Irving would like rules to be changed so it can get IRAP funding and access collaborative R&D grants without university collaboration. [emphasis mine]

I left a few juicy bits behind but I think you get the idea. At least some of this was suggested/predicted by Nassif Ghoussoub on his Piece of Mind blog in a Jan. 14, 2011 posting,

Do you really think that anyone of the heads/directors/presidents (the shopkeepers!) of these programs (the shops!) are going to testify that their programs are deficient and need less funding? What about those individuals that are getting serious funding from these programs (the clients!)?

No, a lot of these people asked for more. (I’m hoping at least a few people tried to address the spirit of the consultation which is why I said “a lot of these people” instead of the all encompassing “these people.)

As far as I’m concerned changing the rules of the game so the players stop gaming the system will last about as long as it takes for the players to figure how to game the new system. We need to look at the game and ask ourselves if we need to change it.

Bravo to the team who posted these submissions online and opened access to the rest of us.

Crowdsourcing science funding cuts in the US

There’s a variation of an old political game being played out in the US these days. I can’t remember exactly the last time Canadians played it but here’s the setup, a politician looks up the grant information for a funding organization such as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council in Canada, scans the titles for the research papers, picks out a few at random, holds them up for ridicule and as an example of poor government investment, then asks the public to speak out or protest this waste of money.

Recently in the US, the Republican party decided to create a website titled, YouCut (I appreciate the word play on the YouTube brand), featuring a video of a very personable politician holding up a few recent research grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) as examples of ridiculous research and a waste of money. The site also features instructions for how citizens can look up NSF research grants for themselves and nominate their choices to be included in a YouCut report.

Pasco Phronesis (David Bruggeman) outlined concerns about the program’s execution (he notes that the US politician spearheading is looking at a wide range of government programmes, not just NSF funding)  in a Dec. 3, 2010 posting,

The execution of this project is pretty lousy, targeted at political outcomes much, much more than making meaningful policy changes. Looking at the targeted programs in the YouCut program, most of them are relatively small in terms of funding (this week’s candidates are all under $50 million – a tiny fraction of a percentage point of the federal budget), and many seem to be targets more for political purposes than actual fraud, waste, unnecessary duplication or abuse. The reporting mechanism is particularly lousy as it won’t be able to collect any meaningful data about grants or programs. It’s more about what people don’t like, without room for any explanation. Finally, a program like this, placed on the website of a political operation, makes it really easy to politicize the whole thing, and roll it into some pale imitation of Senator William Proxmire’s grandstanding back in the 1980s. ‘Great soundbites’ lousy policies.

Pasco Phronesis goes on to support the principle of asking for feedback,

That said, I see no reason why the public shouldn’t provide feedback to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and its grantees about grant proposals that they think are duplicative or wasteful. It is public money being spent, and if grantees can’t explain their work to the public, I don’t think they’ve earned the right to it. There is the matter of how such feedback is conducted.

Dan Vergano in his USA Today article about politicians and science funding, How some politicians stumble on science, gives a little more detail about the ‘ridiculous’ research cited in the YouCut video,

So, as you might expect, when we asked the National Science Foundation about the two grants that Smith [Republican politician] mentioned, we learned a little more about them.

For example, the soccer study turns out to be computer scientists studying how remotely connected teams form to conduct “nanoscience, environmental engineering, earthquake engineering, chemical sciences, media research and tobacco research.”

And the “breaking things” study turns out to be acoustics experts ” pursuing fundamental advances in computational methods while solving several particularly challenging sound rendering problems,” so that the U.S. military, among others, can create more realistic combat simulators for troops.

“These aren’t about soccer research,” says the NSF’s Maria Zacharias. “All of these projects go through our very rigorous peer-review process,” she adds, part of what made the NSF the only one of 26 federal agencies to receive a “green” rating from the Bush administration in its initial rating of government management practices.

Vergano concludes his article by noting that history behind some of these tensions in the US,

Since 1950, when NSF was founded, a tension has existed between the decision made then that peer review — scientists scoring each other’s work to fund the most worthy efforts — would be the way to fund research, rather than doling it out as earmarks from politicians, which was the other big idea favored by some then. “Experts are in a better position to know what’s worth the money and what isn’t,” Teich [Al Teich, science budget expert for the American Association for the Advancement of Science] says.

Zacharias suggests that researchers need to work harder to let the public know “lab mice, soccer players, other critters” are just tools for scientists trying to answer complex questions, not an end in themselves.

“In the laboratory there are no fustian ranks, no brummagem aristocracies,” wrote Twain, putting it a bit more elegantly. “The domain of Science is a republic, and all its citizens are brothers and equals.”

From a science communication perspective, the YouCut website/video, the discussion on the Pasco Phronesis blog, and the article by Dan Vergano provide some useful insight.

Transparent aluminum and copyright gone crazy

Happy BC Day! This will be a shortish posting. Transparent aluminum (or aluminium as the Brits say), an imaginary metal seen in Star Trek movie no. 4, became a reality for 40 femtoseconds (femto = quadrillionth)  in an experiment run at Oxford University. From the media release on the Nanowerk website,

“For a brief period the sample looks and behaves in every way like a new form of matter. In certain respects, the way it reacts is as though we had changed every aluminium atom into silicon: it’s almost as surprising as finding that you can turn lead into gold with light!’ [according to Professor Justin Wark]

Note the reference to alchemy. For more technical details, do visit Nanowerks.

I came across a maddening item on copyright about 10 days ago where a music professor tried to get permission from the original authors to quote sentences in a book about music.

I’ve been trying to get permission simply to refer to Fluxus pieces like La Monte Young’s “This piece is little whirlpools in the middle of the ocean,” and Yoko Ono’s “Listen to the sound of the earth turning.” And of course, Yoko (whom I used to know) isn’t responding, and La Monte is imposing so many requirements and restrictions that I would have to add a new chapter to the book, and so in frustration well past the eleventh hour, I’ve excised the pieces from the text.

The rest of the article is here on Techdirt. This piece hit home because when I was teaching about five years ago, I was told that giving attribution for every article I was using in my handouts wasn’t enough, I would have to get permission to use them. I had been teaching the course for a few years and suddenly I had  a new requirement. Why? One of the instructors had a lawyer as a guest lecturer and the lawyer raised all kinds of concerns scaring the programme admin staff who in turn insisted that instructors get permission for handouts. It was an exercise in frustration and futility. I gather from this article in Techdirt that the situation is getting worse.  So if  you have opinions on copyright and want to make yourself heard to the Canadian government, this is the time to do it. There is a consultation which is being run until Sept. 13, 2009 online as well as round table meetings and town hall meetings. Details are here.