Tag Archives: Rémi Quirion

2017 proceedings for the Canadian Science Policy Conference

I received (via email) a December 11, 2017 notice from the Canadian Science Policy Centre that the 2017 Proceedings for the ninth annual conference (Nov. 1 – 3, 2017 in Ottawa, Canada) can now be accessed,

The Canadian Science Policy Centre is pleased to present you the Proceedings of CSPC 2017. Check out the reports and takeaways for each panel session, which have been carefully drafted by a group of professional writers. You can also listen to the audio recordings and watch the available videos. The proceedings page will provide you with the opportunity to immerse yourself in all of the discussions at the conference. Feel free to share the ones you like! Also, check out the CSPC 2017 reports, analyses, and stats in the proceedings.

Click here for the CSPC 2017 Proceedings

CSPC 2017 Interviews

Take a look at the 70+ one-on-one interviews with prominent figures of science policy. The interviews were conducted by the great team of CSPC 2017 volunteers. The interviews feature in-depth perspectives about the conference, panels, and new up and coming projects.

Click here for the CSPC 2017 interviews

Amongst many others, you can find a video of Governor General Julie Payette’s notorious remarks made at the opening ceremonies and which I highlighted in my November 3, 2017 posting about this year’s conference.

The proceedings are organized by day with links to individual pages for each session held that day. Here’s a sample of what is offered on Day 1: Artificial Intelligence and Discovery Science: Playing to Canada’s Strengths,

Artificial Intelligence and Discovery Science: Playing to Canada’s Strengths

Conference Day:
Day 1 – November 1st 2017

Organized by: Friends of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research

Keynote: Alan Bernstein, President and CEO, CIFAR, 2017 Henry G. Friesen International Prizewinner

Speakers: Brenda Andrews, Director, Andrew’s Lab, University of Toronto; Doina Precup, Associate Professor, McGill University; Dr Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist of Quebec; Linda Rabeneck, Vice President, Prevention and Cancer Control, Cancer Care Ontario; Peter Zandstra, Director, School of Biomedical Engineering, University of British Columbia

Discussants: Henry Friesen, Professor Emeritus, University of Manitoba; Roderick McInnes, Acting President, Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Director, Lady Davis Institute, Jewish General Hospital, McGill University; Duncan J. Stewart, CEO and Scientific Director, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute; Vivek Goel, Vice President, Research and Innovation, University of Toronto

Moderators: Eric Meslin, President & CEO, Council of Canadian Academies; André Picard, Health Reporter and Columnist, The Globe and Mail

Takeaways and recommendations:

The opportunity for Canada

  • The potential impact of artificial intelligence (AI) could be as significant as the industrial revolution of the 19th century.
  • Canada’s global advantage in deep learning (a subset of machine learning) stems from the pioneering work of Geoffrey Hinton and early support from CIFAR and NSERC.
  • AI could mark a turning point in Canada’s innovation performance, fueled by the highest levels of venture capital financing in nearly a decade, and underpinned by publicly funded research at the federal, provincial and institutional levels.
  • The Canadian AI advantage can only be fully realized by developing and importing skilled talent, accessible markets, capital and companies willing to adopt new technologies into existing industries.
  • Canada leads in the combination of functional genomics and machine learning which is proving effective for predicting the functional variation in genomes.
  • AI promises advances in biomedical engineering by connecting chronic diseases – the largest health burden in Canada – to gene regulatory networks by understanding how stem cells make decisions.
  • AI can be effectively deployed to evaluate health and health systems in the general population.

The challenges

  • AI brings potential ethical and economic perils and requires a watchdog to oversee standards, engage in fact-based debate and prepare for the potential backlash over job losses to robots.
  • The ethical, environmental, economic, legal and social (GEL3S) aspects of genomics have been largely marginalized and it’s important not to make the same mistake with AI.
  • AI’s rapid scientific development makes it difficult to keep pace with safeguards and standards.
  • The fields of AI’s and pattern recognition are strongly connected but here is room for improvement.
  • Self-learning algorithms such as Alphaville could lead to the invention of new things that humans currently don’t know how to do. The field is developing rapidly, leading to some concern over the deployment of such systems.

Training future AI professionals

  • Young researchers must be given the oxygen to excel at AI if its potential is to be realized.
  • Students appreciate the breadth of training and additional resources they receive from researchers with ties to both academia and industry.
  • The importance of continuing fundamental research in AI is being challenged by companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon which are hiring away key talent.
  • The explosion of AI is a powerful illustration of how the importance of fundamental research may only be recognized and exploited after 20 or 30 years. As a result, support for fundamental research, and the students working in areas related to AI, must continue.

A couple comments

To my knowledge, this is the first year the proceedings have been made so easily accessible. In fact, I can’t remember another year where they have been open access. Thank you!

Of course, I have to make a comment about the Day 2 session titled: Does Canada have a Science Culture? The answer is yes and it’s in the province of Ontario. Just take a look at the panel,

Organized by: Kirsten Vanstone, Royal Canadian Institute for Science and Reinhart Reithmeier, Professor, University of Toronto [in Ontario]

Speakers: Chantal Barriault, Director, Science Communication Graduate Program, Laurentian University [in Ontario] and Science North [in Ontario]; Maurice Bitran, CEO, Ontario Science Centre [take a wild guess as to where this institution is located?]; Kelly Bronson, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ottawa [in Ontario]; Marc LePage, President and CEO, Genome Canada [in Ontario]

Moderator: Ivan Semeniuk, Science Reporter, The Globe and Mail [in Ontario]

In fact, all of the institutions are in southern Ontario, even, the oddly named Science North.

I know from bitter experience it’s hard to put together panels but couldn’t someone from another province have participated?

Ah well, here’s hoping for 2018 and for a new location. After Ottawa as the CSPC site for three years in a row, please don’t make it a fourth year in a row.

INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research (Review of fundamental research final report): 1 of 3

This sucker (INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research, also known as, Canada’s Fundamental Science Review 2017 or the Naylor report) is a 280 pp. (PDF) and was released on Monday, April 10, 2017. I didn’t intend that this commentary should stretch out into three parts (sigh). Them’s the breaks. This first part provides an introduction to the panel and the report as well as some ‘first thoughts’. Part 2 offers more detailed thoughts and Part 3 offers ‘special cases’ and sums up some of the ideas first introduced in part 1.

I first wrote about this review in a June 15, 2017 posting where amongst other comments I made this one,

Getting back to the review and more specifically, the panel, it’s good to see that four of the nine participants are women but other than that there doesn’t seem to be much diversity, i.e.,the majority (five) spring from the Ontario/Québec nexus of power and all the Canadians are from the southern part of country. Back to diversity, there is one business man, Mike Laziridis known primarily as the founder of Research in Motion (RIM or more popularly as the Blackberry company) making the panel not a wholly ivory tower affair. Still, I hope one day these panels will have members from the Canadian North and international members who come from somewhere other than the US, Great Britain, and/or if they’re having a particularly wild day, Germany. Here are some candidate countries for other places to look for panel members: Japan, Israel, China, South Korea, and India. Other possibilities include one of the South American countries, African countries, and/or the Middle Eastern countries.

Take the continent of Africa for example, where many countries seem to have successfully tackled one of the issues as we face. Specifically, the problem of encouraging young researchers. …

Here’s a quick summary about the newly released report from the April 10, 2017 federal government news release on Canada’s Public Policy Forum,

Today [April 10, 2017], the Government of Canada published the final report of the expert panel on Canada’s Fundamental Science Review. Commissioned by the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, the report by the blue-ribbon panel offers a comprehensive review of the mechanisms for federal funding that supports research undertaken at academic institutions and research institutes across Canada, as well as the levels of that funding. It provides a multi-year blueprint for improving the oversight and governance of what the panelists call the “research ecosystem.” The report also recommends making major new investments to restore support for front-line research and strengthen the foundations of Canadian science and research at this pivotal point in global history.

The review is the first of its type in more than 40 years. While it focused most closely on the four major federal agencies that support science and scholarly inquiry across all disciplines, the report also takes a wide-angle view of governance mechanisms ranging from smaller agencies to big science facilities. Another issue closely examined by the panel was the effect of the current configuration of funding on the prospects of early career researchers—a group that includes a higher proportion of women and is more diverse than previous generations of scientists and scholars.

The panel’s deliberations were informed by a broad consultative process. The panel received 1,275 written submissions [emphasis mine] from individuals, associations and organizations. It also held a dozen round tables in five cities, engaging some 230 researchers [emphasis mine] at different career stages.

Among the findings:

  • Basic research worldwide has led to most of the technological, medical and social advances that make our quality of life today so much better than a century ago. Canadian scientists and scholars have contributed meaningfully to these advances through the decades; however, by various measures, Canada’s research competitiveness has eroded in recent years.
  • This trend emerged during a period when there was a drop of more than 30 percent in real per capita funding for independent or investigator-led research by front-line scientists and scholars in universities, colleges, institutes and research hospitals. This drop occurred as a result of caps on federal funding to the granting councils and a dramatic change in the balance of funding toward priority-driven and partnership-oriented research.
  • Canada is an international outlier in that funding from federal government sources accounts for less than 25 percent of total spending on research and development in the higher education sector. While governments sometimes highlight that, relative to GDP, Canada leads the G7 in total spending by this sector, institutions themselves now underwrite 50 percent of these costs—with adverse effects on both research and education.
  • Coordination and collaboration among the four key federal research agencies [Canada Foundation for Innovation {CFI}; Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council {SSHRC}; Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council {NSERC}; Canadian Institutes of Health Research {CIHR}] is suboptimal, with poor alignment of supports for different aspects of research such as infrastructure, operating costs and personnel awards. Governance and administrative practices vary inexplicably, and support for areas such as international partnerships or multidisciplinary research is uneven.
  • Early career researchers are struggling in some disciplines, and Canada lacks a career-spanning strategy for supporting both research operations and staff.
  • Flagship personnel programs such as the Canada Research Chairs have had the same value since 2000. Levels of funding and numbers of awards for students and post-doctoral fellows have not kept pace with inflation, peer nations or the size of applicant pools.

The report also outlines a comprehensive agenda to strengthen the foundations of Canadian extramural research. Recommended improvements in oversight include:

  • legislation to create an independent National Advisory Council on Research and Innovation (NACRI) that would work closely with Canada’s new Chief Science Advisor (CSA) to raise the bar in terms of ongoing evaluations of all research programming;
  • wide-ranging improvements to oversight and governance of the four agencies, including the appointment of a coordinating board chaired by the CSA; and
  • lifecycle governance of national-scale research facilities as well as improved methods for overseeing and containing the growth in ad-hoc funding of smaller non-profit research entities.

With regard to funding, the panel recommends a major multi-year reinvestment in front-line research, targeting several areas of identified need. Each recommendation is benchmarked and is focused on making long-term improvements in Canada’s research capacity. The panel’s recommendations, to be phased in over four years, would raise annual spending across the four major federal agencies and other key entities from approximately $3.5 billion today to $4.8 billion in 2022. The goal is to ensure that Canada benefits from an outsized concentration of world-leading scientists and scholars who can make exciting discoveries and generate novel insights while educating and inspiring the next generation of researchers, innovators and leaders.

Given global competition, the current conditions in the ecosystem, the role of research in underpinning innovation and educating innovators, and the need for research to inform evidence-based policy-making, the panel concludes that this is among the highest-yield investments in Canada’s future that any government could make.

The full report is posted on www.sciencereview.ca.

Quotes

“In response to the request from Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Duncan, the Science Review panel has put together a comprehensive roadmap for Canadian pre-eminence in science and innovation far into the future. The report provides creative pathways for optimizing Canada’s investments in fundamental research in the physical, life and social sciences as well as the humanities in a cost effective way. Implementation of the panel’s recommendations will make Canada the destination of choice for the world’s best talent. It will also guarantee that young Canadian researchers can fulfill their dreams in their own country, bringing both Nobel Prizes and a thriving economy to Canada. American scientists will look north with envy.”

– Robert J. Birgeneau, Silverman Professor of Physics and Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley

“We have paid close attention not only to hard data on performance and funding but also to the many issues raised by the science community in our consultations. I sincerely hope the report will serve as a useful guide to policy-makers for years to come.”

– Martha Crago, Vice-President, Research and Professor of Human Communication Disorders, Dalhousie University

“Science is the bedrock of modern civilization. Our report’s recommendations to increase and optimize government investments in fundamental scientific research will help ensure that Canada’s world-class researchers can continue to make their critically important contributions to science, industry and society in Canada while educating and inspiring future generations. At the same time, such investments will enable Canada to attract top researchers from around the world. Canada must strategically build critical density in our researcher communities to elevate its global competitiveness. This is the path to new technologies, new businesses, new jobs and new value creation for Canada.”

– Mike Lazaridis, Founder and Managing Partner, Quantum Valley Investments

“This was a very comprehensive review. We heard from a wide range of researchers—from the newest to those with ambitious, established and far-reaching research careers. At all these levels, researchers spoke of their gratitude for federal funding, but they also described enormous barriers to their success. These ranged from personal career issues like gaps in parental leave to a failure to take gender, age, geographic location and ethnicity into account. They also included mechanical and economic issues like gaps between provincial and federal granting timelines and priorities, as well as a lack of money for operating and maintaining critical equipment.”

– Claudia Malacrida, Associate Vice-President, Research and Professor of Sociology, University of Lethbridge

“We would like to thank the community for its extensive participation in this review. We reflect that community perspective in recommending improvements to funding and governance for fundamental science programs to restore the balance with recent industry-oriented programs and improve both science and innovation in Canada.”

– Arthur B. McDonald, Professor Emeritus, Queen’s University

“This report sets out a multi-year agenda that, if implemented, could transform Canadian research capacity and have enormous long-term impacts across the nation. It proffers a legacy-building opportunity for a new government that has boldly nailed its colours to the mast of science and evidence-informed policy-making. I urge the Prime Minister to act decisively on our recommendations.”

– C. David Naylor, Professor of Medicine, University of Toronto (Chair)

“This report outlines all the necessary ingredients to advance basic research, thereby positioning Canada as a leading ‘knowledge’ nation. Rarely does a country have such a unique opportunity to transform the research landscape and lay the foundation for a future of innovation, prosperity and well-being.”

– Martha C. Piper, President Emeritus, University of British Columbia

“Our report shows a clear path forward. Now it is up to the government to make sure that Canada truly becomes a world leader in how it both organizes and financially supports fundamental research.”

– Rémi Quirion, Le scientifique en chef du Québec

“The government’s decision to initiate this review reflected a welcome commitment to fundamental research. I am hopeful that the release of our report will energize the government and research community to take the next steps needed to strengthen Canada’s capacity for discovery and research excellence. A research ecosystem that supports a diversity of scholars at every career stage conducting research in every discipline will best serve Canada and the next generation of students and citizens as we move forward to meet social, technological, economic and ecological challenges.”

– Anne Wilson, Professor of Psychology, Wilfrid Laurier University

Quick facts

  • The Fundamental Science Review Advisory Panel is an independent and non-partisan body whose mandate was to provide advice and recommendations to the Minister of Science on how to improve federal science programs and initiatives.
  • The panel was asked to consider whether there are gaps in the federal system of support for fundamental research and recommend how to address them.
  • The scope of the review included the federal granting councils along with some federally funded organizations such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

First thoughts

Getting to the report itself, I have quickly skimmed through it  but before getting to that and for full disclosure purposes, please note, I made a submission to the panel. That said, I’m a little disappointed. I would have liked to have seen a little more imagination in the recommendations which set forth future directions. Albeit the questions themselves would not seem to encourage any creativity,

Our mandate was summarized in two broad questions:

1. Are there any overall program gaps in Canada’s fundamental research funding ecosystem that need to be addressed?

2. Are there elements or programming features in other countries that could provide a useful example for the Government of Canada in addressing these gaps? (p. 1 print; p. 35 PDF)

A new agency to replace the STIC (Science, Technology and Innovation Council)

There are no big surprises. Of course they’ve recommended another organization, NACRI [National Advisory Council on Research and Innovation], most likely to replace the Conservative government’s advisory group, the Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC) which seems to have died as of Nov. 2015, one month after the Liberals won. There was no Chief Science Advisor under the Conservatives. As I recall, the STIC replaced a previous Liberal government’s advisory group and Chief Science Advisor (Arthur Carty, now the executive director of the Waterloo [as in University of Waterloo] Institute of Nanotechnology).

Describing the NACRI as peopled by volunteers doesn’t exactly describe the situation. This is the sort of ‘volunteer opportunity’ a dedicated careerist salivates over because it’s a career builder where you rub shoulders with movers and shakers in other academic institutions, in government, and in business. BTW, flights to meetings will be paid for along with per diems (accommodations and meals). These volunteers will also have a staff. Admittedly, it will be unpaid extra time for the ‘volunteer’ but the payoff promises to be considerable.

Canada’s eroding science position

There is considerable concern evinced over Canada’s eroding position although we still have bragging rights in some areas (regenerative medicine, artificial intelligence for two areas). As for erosion, the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) dates the erosion back to 2001 (from my June 2, 2014 posting),

Interestingly, the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2013 dates the decline to 2001. From my Oct. 30, 2013 posting (excerpted from the scorecard),

Canada is among the few OECD countries where R&D expenditure declined between 2000 and 2011 (Figure 1). This decline was mainly due to reduced business spending on R&D. It occurred despite relatively generous public support for business R&D, primarily through tax incentives. In 2011, Canada was amongst the OECD countries with the most generous tax support for R&D and the country with the largest share of government funding for business R&D being accounted for by tax credits (Figure 2). …

It should be noted, the Liberals have introduced another budget with flat funding for science (if you want to see a scathing review see Nassif Ghoussoub’s (professor of mathematics at the University of British Columbia April 10, 2017 posting) on his Piece of Mind blog). Although the funding isn’t quite so flat as it might seem at first glance (see my March 24, 2017 posting about the 2017 budget). The government explained that the science funding agencies didn’t receive increased funding as the government was waiting on this report which was released only weeks later (couldn’t they have a sneak preview?). In any event, it seems it will be at least a year before the funding issues described in the report can be addressed through another budget unless there’s some ‘surprise’ funding ahead.

Again, here’s a link to the other parts:

INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research (Review of fundamental research final report) Commentaries

Part 2

Part 3

Canada and its review of fundamental science

Big thanks to David Bruggeman’s June 14, 2016 post (on his Pasco Phronesis blog) for news of Canada’s Fundamental Science Review, which was launched on June 13, 2016 (Note: Links have been removed),

The panel’s mandate focuses on support for fundamental research, research facilities, and platform technologies.  This will include the three granting councils as well as other research organisations such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation. But it does not preclude the panel from considering and providing advice and recommendations on research matters outside of the mandate.  The plan is to make the panel’s work and recommendations readily accessible to the public, either online or through any report or reports the panel produces.  The panel’s recommendations to Minister Duncan are non-binding. …

As Ivan Semeniuk notes at The Globe and Mail [Canadian ‘national’ newspaper], the recent Nurse Review in the U.K., which led to the notable changes underway in the organization of that country’s research councils, seems comparable to this effort.  But I think it worth noting the differences in the research systems of the two countries, and the different political pressures in play.  It is not at all obvious to this writer that the Canadian review would necessarily lead to similar recommendations for a streamlining and reorganization of the Canadian research councils.

Longtime observers of the Canadian science funding scene may recall an earlier review held under the auspices of the Steven Harper Conservative government known as the ‘Review of Federal Support to R&D’. In fact it was focused on streamlining government funding for innovation and commercialization of science. The result was the 2011 report, ‘Innovation Canada: A Call to Action’, known popularly as the ‘Jenkins report’ after the panel chair, Tom Jenkins. (More about the report and responses to it can be found in my Oct. 21, 2011 post).

It’s nice to see that fundamental science is being given its turn for attention.

A June 13, 2016 Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada news release provides more detail about the review and the panel guiding the review,

The Government of Canada understands the role of science in maintaining a thriving, clean economy and in providing the evidence for sound policy decisions. To deliver on this role however, federal programs that support Canada’s research efforts must be aligned in such a way as to ensure they are strategic, effective and focused on meeting the needs of scientists first.

That is why the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, today launched an independent review of federal funding for fundamental science. The review will assess the program machinery that is currently in place to support science and scientists in Canada. The scope of the review includes the three granting councils [Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council {SSHRC}, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council {NSERC}, Canadian Institutes of Health Research {CIHR}] along with certain federally funded organizations such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation [CFI].

The review will be led by an independent panel of distinguished research leaders and innovators including Dr. David Naylor, former president of the University of Toronto and chair of the panel. Other panelists include:

  • Dr. Robert Birgeneau, former chancellor, University of California, Berkeley
  • Dr. Martha Crago, Vice-President, Research, Dalhousie University
  • Mike Lazaridis, co-founder, Quantum Valley Investments
  • Dr. Claudia Malacrida, Associate Vice-President, Research, University of Lethbridge
  • Dr. Art McDonald, former director of the Sudbury Neutrino Laboratory, Nobel Laureate
  • Dr. Martha Piper, interim president, University of British Columbia
  • Dr. Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist, Quebec
  • Dr. Anne Wilson, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Successful Societies Fellow and professor of psychology, Wilfrid Laurier University

The panel will spend the next six months seeking input from the research community and Canadians on how to optimize support for fundamental science in Canada. The panel will also survey international best practices for funding science and examine whether emerging researchers face barriers that prevent them from achieving career goals. It will look at what must be done to address these barriers and what more can be done to encourage Canada’s scientists to take on bold new research challenges. In addition to collecting input from the research community, the panel will also invite Canadians to participate in the review [emphasis mine] through an online consultation.

Ivan Semeniuk in his June 13, 2016 article for The Globe and Mail provides some interesting commentary about the possible outcomes of this review,

Depending on how its recommendations are taken on board, the panel could trigger anything from minor tweaks to a major rebuild of Ottawa’s science-funding apparatus, which this year is expected to funnel more than $3-billion to Canadian researchers and their labs.

Asked what she most wanted the panel to address, Ms. Duncan cited, as an example, the plight of younger researchers who, in many cases, must wait until they are in their 40s to get federal support.

Another is the risk of losing the benefits of previous investments when funding rules become restrictive, such as a 14-year limit on how long the government can support one of its existing networks of centres of excellence, or the dependence of research projects that are in the national interest on funding streams that require support from provincial governments or private sources.

The current system for proposing and reviewing research grants has been criticized as cumbersome and fraught with biases that mean the best science is not always supported.

In a paper published on Friday in the research journal PLOS One, Trent University biologist Dennis Murray and colleagues combed through 13,526 grant proposals to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council between 2011 and 2014 and found significant evidence that researchers at smaller universities have consistently lower success rates.

Dr. Murray advocates for a more quantitative and impartial system of review to keep such biases at bay.

“There are too many opportunities for human impressions — conscious or unconscious — to make their way into the current evaluation process,” Dr. Murray said.

More broadly, researchers say the time is right for a look at a system that has grown convoluted and less suited to a world in which science is increasingly cross-disciplinary, and international research collaborations are more important.

If you have time, I encourage you to take a look at Semeniuk’s entire article as for the paper he mentions, here’s a link to and a citation for it,

Bias in Research Grant Evaluation Has Dire Consequences for Small Universities by Dennis L. Murray, Douglas Morris, Claude Lavoie, Peter R. Leavitt, Hugh MacIsaac,  Michael E. J. Masson, & Marc-Andre Villard. PLOS http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0155876  Published: June 3, 2016

This paper is open access.

Getting back to the review and more specifically, the panel, it’s good to see that four of the nine participants are women but other than that there doesn’t seem to be much diversity, i.e.,the majority (five) spring from the Ontario/Québec nexus of power and all the Canadians are from the southern part of country. Back to diversity, there is one business man, Mike Laziridis known primarily as the founder of Research in Motion (RIM or more popularly as the Blackberry company) making the panel not a wholly ivory tower affair. Still, I hope one day these panels will have members from the Canadian North and international members who come from somewhere other than the US, Great Britain, and/or if they’re having a particularly wild day, Germany. Here are some candidate countries for other places to look for panel members: Japan, Israel, China, South Korea, and India. Other possibilities include one of the South American countries, African countries, and/or the Middle Eastern countries.

Take the continent of Africa for example, where many countries seem to have successfully tackled one of the issues as we face. Specifically, the problem of encouraging young researchers. James Wilsdon notes some success in his April 9, 2016 post about Africa and science advice for the Guardian science blogs (Note: Links have been removed),

… some of the brightest talents and most exciting advances in African science were on display at the Next Einstein Forum. This landmark meeting, initiated by the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and held in Senegal, brought together almost 1000 researchers, entrepreneurs, businesses and policymakers from across Africa to celebrate and support the continent’s most promising early-career researchers.

A new cadre of fifteen Next Einstein Fellows and fifty-four ambassadors was announced, and the forum ended with an upbeat declaration of commitment to Africa’s role in world-leading, locally-relevant science. …

… UNESCO’s latest global audit of science, published at the end of 2015, concludes that African science is firmly on the rise. The number of journal articles published on the continent rose by sixty per cent from 2008 to 2014. Research investment rose from $12.9 billion in 2007 to $19.9 billion (US dollars) in 2013. Over the same period, R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP nudged upwards from 0.36 per cent to 0.45 per cent, and the population of active researchers expanded from 150,000 to 190,000.

If you have the time, do read Wilsdon’s piece which covers some of the more difficult aspects facing the science communities in Africa and more.

In any event, it’s a bit late to bemoan the panel’s makeup but hopefully the government will take note for the future as I’m planning to include some of my critique in my comments to the panel in answer to their request for public comments.

You can find out more about Canada’s Fundamental Science Review here and you can easily participate here and/or go here to subscribe for updates.

Science advice conference in Brussels, Belgium, Sept. 29 – 30, 2016 and a call for speakers

This is the second such conference and they are issuing a call for speakers; the first was held in New Zealand in 2014 (my April 8, 2014 post offers an overview of the then proposed science advice conference). Thanks to David Bruggeman and his Feb. 23, 2016 posting (on the Pasco Phronesis blog) for the information about this latest one (Note: A link has been removed),

The International Network for Global Science Advice (INGSA) is holding its second global conference in Brussels this September 29 and 30, in conjunction with the European Commission. The organizers have the following goals for the conference:

  • Identify core principles and best practices, common to structures providing scientific advice for governments worldwide.
  • Identify practical ways to improve the interaction of the demand and supply side of scientific advice.
  • Describe, by means of practical examples, the impact of effective science advisory processes.

Here’s a little more about the conference from its webpage on the INGSA website,

Science and Policy-Making: towards a new dialogue

29th – 30th September 2016, Brussels, Belgium

Call for suggestions for speakers for the parallel sessions

BACKGROUND:

“Science advice has never been in greater demand; nor has it been more contested.”[1] The most complex and sensitive policy issues of our time are those for which the available scientific evidence is ever growing and multi-disciplined, but still has uncertainties. Yet these are the very issues for which scientific input is needed most. In this environment, the usefulness and legitimacy of expertise seems obvious to scientists, but is this view shared by policy-makers?

OBJECTIVES:

A two-day conference will take place in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday 29th and Friday 30th September 2016. Jointly organised by the European Commission and the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA), the conference will bring together users and providers of scientific advice on critical, global issues. Policy-makers, leading practitioners and scholars in the field of science advice to governments, as well as other stakeholders, will explore principles and practices in a variety of current and challenging policy contexts. It will also present the new Scientific Advice Mechanism [SAM] of the European Commission [emphasis mine; I have more about SAM further down in the post] to the international community. Through keynote lectures and plenary discussions and topical parallel sessions, the conference aims to take a major step towards responding to the challenge best articulated by the World Science Forum Declaration of 2015:

“The need to define the principles, processes and application of science advice and to address the theoretical and practical questions regarding the independence, transparency, visibility and accountability of those who receive and provide advice has never been more important. We call for concerted action of scientists and policy-makers to define and promulgate universal principles for developing and communicating science to inform and evaluate policy based on responsibility, integrity, independence, and accountability.”

The conference seeks to:

Identify core principles and best practices, common to structures providing scientific advice for governments worldwide.
Identify practical ways to improve the interaction of the demand and supply side of scientific advice.
Describe, by means of practical examples, the impact of effective science advisory processes.

The Programme Committee comprises:

Eva Alisic, Co-Chair of the Global Young Academy

Tateo Arimoto, Director of Science, Technology and Innovation Programme; The Japanese National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies

Peter Gluckman, Chair of INGSA and Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, New Zealand (co-chair)

Robin Grimes, UK Foreign Office Chief Scientific Adviser

Heide Hackmann, International Council for Science (ICSU)

Theodoros Karapiperis, European Parliament – Head of Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA), European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) – Science and Technology Options Assessment Panel

Johannes Klumpers, European Commission, Head of Unit – Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) (co-chair)

Martin Kowarsch, Head of the Working Group Scientific assessments, Ethics and Public Policy, Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change

David Mair, European Commission – Joint Research Centre (JRC)

Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist,  Province of Québec, Canada

Flavia Schlegel, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for the Natural Sciences

Henrik Wegener, Executive Vice President, Chief Academic Officer, Provost at Technical University of Denmark, Chair of the EU High Level Group of Scientific Advisors

James Wilsdon, Chair of INGSA, Professor of Research Policy, Director of Impact & Engagement, University of Sheffield
Format

The conference will be a combination of plenary lectures and topical panels in parallel (concurrent) sessions outlined below. Each session will include three speakers (15 minute address with 5 minute Q & A each) plus a 30 minute moderated discussion.

Parallel Session I: Scientific advice for global policy

The pathways of science advice are a product of a country’s own cultural history and will necessarily differ across jurisdictions. Yet, there is an increasing number of global issues that require science advice. Can scientific advice help to address issues requiring action at international level? What are the considerations for providing science advice in these contexts? What are the examples from which we can learn what works and what does not work in informing policy-making through scientific advice?

Topics to be addressed include:

Climate Change – Science for the Paris Agreement: Did it work?
Migration: How can science advice help?
Zika fever, dementia, obesity etc.; how can science advice help policy to address the global health challenges?

Parallel Session II: Getting equipped – developing the practice of providing scientific advice for policy

The practice of science advice to public policy requires a new set of skills that are neither strictly scientific nor policy-oriented, but a hybrid of both. Negotiating the interface between science and policy requires translational and navigational skills that are often not acquired through formal training and education. What are the considerations in developing these unique capacities, both in general and for particular contexts? In order to be best prepared for informing policy-making, up-coming needs for scientific advice should ideally be anticipated. Apart from scientific evidence sensu stricto, can other sources such as the arts, humanities, foresight and horizon scanning provide useful insights for scientific advice? How can scientific advice make best use of such tools and methods?

Topics to be addressed include:

How to close the gap between the need and the capacity for science advice in developing countries with limited or emerging science systems?
What skills do scientists and policymakers need for a better dialogue?
Foresight and science advice: can foresight and horizon scanning help inform the policy agenda?

Parallel Session III: Scientific advice for and with society

In many ways, the practice of science advice has become a key pillar in what has been called the ‘new social contract for science[2]’. Science advice translates knowledge, making it relevant to society through both better informed policy and by helping communities and their elected representatives to make better informed decisions about the impacts of technology. Yet providing science advice is often a distributed and disconnected practice in which academies, formal advisors, journalists, stakeholder organisations and individual scientists play an important role. The resulting mix of information can be complex and even contradictory, particularly as advocate voices and social media join the open discourse. What considerations are there in an increasingly open practice of science advice?

Topics to be addressed include:

Science advice and the media: Lost in translation?
Beyond the ivory tower: How can academies best contribute to science advice for policy?
What is the role of other stakeholders in science advice?

Parallel Session IV: Science advice crossing borders

Science advisors and advisory mechanisms are called upon not just for nationally-relevant advice, but also for issues that increasingly cross borders. In this, the importance of international alignment and collaborative possibilities may be obvious, but there may be inherent tensions. In addition, there may be legal and administrative obstacles to transnational scientific advice. What are these hurdles and how can they be overcome? To what extent are science advisory systems also necessarily diplomatic and what are the implications of this in practice?

Topics to be addressed include:

How is science advice applied across national boundaries in practice?
What support do policymakers need from science advice to implement the Sustainable Development Goals in their countries?
Science Diplomacy/Can Scientists extend the reach of diplomats?

Call for Speakers

The European Commission and INGSA are now in the process of identifying speakers for the above conference sessions. As part of this process we invite those interested in speaking to submit their ideas. Interested policy-makers, scientists and scholars in the field of scientific advice, as well as business and civil-society stakeholders are warmly encouraged to submit proposals. Alternatively, you may propose an appropriate speaker.

The conference webpage includes a form should you wish to submit yourself or someone else as a speaker.

New Scientific Advice Mechanism of the European Commission

For anyone unfamiliar with the Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) mentioned in the conference’s notes, once Anne Glover’s, chief science adviser for the European Commission (EC), term of office was completed in 2014 the EC president, Jean-Claude Juncker, obliterated the position. Glover, the first and only science adviser for the EC, was to replaced by an advisory council and a new science advice mechanism.

David Bruggemen describes the then situation in a May 14, 2015 posting (Note: A link has been removed),

Earlier this week European Commission President Juncker met with several scientists along with Commission Vice President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness [Jyrki] Katainen and the Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation ]Carlos] Moedas. …

What details are publicly available are currently limited to this slide deck.  It lists two main mechanisms for science advice, a high-level group of eminent scientists (numbering seven), staffing and resource support from the Commission, and a structured relationship with the science academies of EU member states.  The deck gives a deadline of this fall for the high-level group to be identified and stood up.

… The Commission may use this high-level group more as a conduit than a source for policy advice.  A reasonable question to ask is whether or not the high-level group can meet the Commission’s expectations, and those of the scientific community with which it is expected to work.

David updated the information in a January 29,2016 posting (Note: Links have been removed),

Today the High Level Group of the newly constituted Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) of the European Union held its first meeting.  The seven members of the group met with Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas and Andrus Ansip, the Commission’s Vice-President with responsibility for the Digital Single Market (a Commission initiative focused on making a Europe-wide digital market and improving support and infrastructure for digital networks and services).

Given it’s early days, there’s little more to discuss than the membership of this advisory committee (from the SAM High Level Group webpage),

Janusz Bujnicki

Professor, Head of the Laboratory of Bioinformatics and Protein Engineering, International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Warsaw

Janusz Bujnicki

Professor of Biology, and head of a research group at IIMCB in Warsaw and at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland. Janusz Bujnicki graduated from the Faculty of Biology, University of Warsaw in 1998, defended his PhD in 2001, was awarded with habilitation in 2005 and with the professor title in 2009.

Bujnicki’s research combines bioinformatics, structural biology and synthetic biology. His scientific achievements include the development of methods for computational modeling of protein and RNA 3D structures, discovery and characterization of enzymes involved in RNA metabolism, and engineering of proteins with new functions. He is an author of more than 290 publications, which have been cited by other researchers more than 5400 times (as of October 2015). Bujnicki received numerous awards, prizes, fellowships, and grants including EMBO/HHMI Young Investigator Programme award, ERC Starting Grant, award of the Polish Ministry of Science and award of the Polish Prime Minister, and was decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta by the President of the Republic of Poland. In 2013 he won the national plebiscite “Poles with Verve” in the Science category.

Bujnicki has been involved in various scientific organizations and advisory bodies, including the Polish Young Academy, civic movement Citizens of Science, Life, Environmental and Geo Sciences panel of the Science Europe organization, and Scientific Policy Committee – an advisory body of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education in Poland. He is also an executive editor of the scientific journal Nucleic Acids Research.

Curriculum vitae  PDF icon 206 KB

Pearl Dykstra

Professor of Sociology, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Pearl Dykstra

Professor Dykstra has a chair in Empirical Sociology and is Director of Research of the Department of Public Administration and Sociology at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Previously, she had a chair in Kinship Demography at Utrecht University (2002-2009) and was a senior scientist at the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI) in The Hague (1990-2009).

Her publications focus on intergenerational solidarity, aging societies, family change, aging and the life course, and late-life well-being. She is an elected member of the Netherlands Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW, 2004) and Vice-President of the KNAW as of 2011, elected Member of the Dutch Social Sciences Council (SWR, 2006), and elected Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America (2010). In 2012 she received an ERC Advanced Investigator Grant for the research project “Families in context”, which will focus on the ways in which policy, economic, and cultural contexts structure interdependence in families.

Curriculum vitae  PDF icon 391 KB

Elvira Fortunato

Deputy Chair

Professor, Materials Science Department of the Faculty of Science and Technology, NOVA University, Lisbon

Elvira Fortunato

Professor Fortunato is a full professor in the Materials Science Department of the Faculty of Science and Technology of the New University of Lisbon, a Fellow of the Portuguese Engineering Academy since 2009 and decorated as a Grand Officer of the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator by the President of the Republic in 2010, due to her scientific achievements worldwide. In 2015 she was appointed by the Portuguese President Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the Celebrations of the National Day of Portugal, Camões and the Portuguese Communities.

She was also a member of the Portuguese National Scientific & Technological Council between 2012 and 2015 and a member of the advisory board of DG CONNECT (2014-15).

Currently she is the director of the Institute of Nanomaterials, Nanofabrication and Nanomodeling and of CENIMAT. She is member of the board of trustees of Luso-American Foundation (Portugal/USA, 2013-2020).

Fortunato pioneered European research on transparent electronics, namely thin-film transistors based on oxide semiconductors, demonstrating that oxide materials can be used as true semiconductors. In 2008, she received in the 1st ERC edition an Advanced Grant for the project “Invisible”, considered a success story. In the same year she demonstrated with her colleagues the possibility to make the first paper transistor, starting a new field in the area of paper electronics.

Fortunato published over 500 papers and during the last 10 years received more than 16 International prizes and distinctions for her work (e.g: IDTechEx USA 2009 (paper transistor); European Woman Innovation prize, Finland 2011).

Curriculum vitae  PDF icon 339 KB

Rolf-Dieter Heuer

Director-General of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)

Rolf-Dieter Heuer

Professor Heuer is an experimental particle physicist and has been CERN Director-General since January 2009. His mandate, ending December 2015, is characterised by the start of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) 2009 as well as its energy increase 2015, the discovery of the H-Boson and the geographical enlargement of CERN Membership. He also actively engaged CERN in promoting the importance of science and STEM education for the sustainable development of the society. From 2004 to 2008, Prof. Heuer was research director for particle and astroparticle physics at the DESY laboratory, Germany where he oriented the particle physics groups towards LHC by joining both large experiments, ATLAS and CMS. He has initiated restructuring and focusing of German high energy physics at the energy frontier with particular emphasis on LHC (Helmholtz Alliance “Physics at the Terascale”). In April 2016 he will become President of the German Physical Society. He is designated President of the Council of SESAME (Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East).

Prof. Heuer has published over 500 scientific papers and holds many Honorary Degrees from universities in Europe, Asia, Australia and Canada. He is Member of several Academies of Sciences in Europe, in particular of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, and Honorary Member of the European Physical Society. In 2015 he received the Grand Cross 1st class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Curriculum vitae  PDF icon

Julia Slingo

Chief Scientist, Met Office, Exeter

Julia Slingo

Dame Julia Slingo became Met Office Chief Scientist in February 2009 where she leads a team of over 500 scientists working on a very broad portfolio of research that underpins weather forecasting, climate prediction and climate change projections. During her time as Chief Scientist she has fostered much stronger scientific partnerships across UK academia and international research organisations, recognising the multi-disciplinary and grand challenge nature of weather and climate science and services. She works closely with UK Government Chief Scientific Advisors and is regularly called to give evidence on weather and climate related issues.

Before joining the Met Office she was the Director of Climate Research in NERC’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science, at the University of Reading. In 2006 she founded the Walker Institute for Climate System Research at Reading, aimed at addressing the cross disciplinary challenges of climate change and its impacts. Julia has had a long-term career in atmospheric physics, climate modelling and tropical climate variability, working at the Met Office, ECMWF and NCAR in the USA.

Dame Julia has published over 100 peer reviewed papers and has received numerous awards including the prestigious IMO Prize of the World Meteorological Organization for her outstanding work in meteorology, climatology, hydrology and related sciences. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Physics.

Curriculum vitae  PDF icon 239 KB

Cédric Villani

Director, Henri Poincaré Institute, Paris

Cédric Villani

Born in 1973 in France, Cédric Villani is a mathematician, director of the Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris (from 2009), and professor at the Université Claude Bernard of Lyon (from 2010). In December 2013 he was elected to the French Academy of Sciences.

He has worked on the theory of partial differential equations involved in statistical mechanics, specifically the Boltzmann equation, and on nonlinear Landau damping. He was awarded the Fields Medal in 2010 for his works.

Since then he has been playing an informal role of ambassador for the French mathematical community to media (press, radio, television) and society in general. His books for non-specialists, in particular Théorème vivant (2012, translated in a dozen of languages), La Maison des mathématiques (2014, with J.-Ph. Uzan and V. Moncorgé) and Les Rêveurs lunaires (2015, with E. Baudoin) have all found a wide audience. He has also given hundreds of lectures for all kinds of audiences around the world.

He participates actively in the administration of science, through the Institut Henri Poincaré, but also by sitting in a number of panels and committees, including the higher council of research and the strategic council of Paris. Since 2010 he has been involved in fostering mathematics in Africa, through programs by the Next Einstein Initiative and the World Bank.

Believing in the commitment of scientists in society, Villani is also President of the Association Musaïques, a European federalist and a father of two.

Website

Henrik C. Wegener

Chair

Executive Vice President, Chief Academic Officer and Provost, Technical University of Denmark

Henrik C. Wegener

Henrik C. Wegener is Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer at Technical University of Denmark since 2011. He received his M.Sc. in food science and technology at the University of Copenhagen in 1988, his Ph.D. in microbiology at University of Copenhagen in 1992, and his Master in Public Administration (MPA) form Copenhagen Business School in 2005.

Henrik C. Wegener was director of the National Food Institute, DTU from 2006-2011 and before that head of the Department of Epidemiology and Risk Assessment at National Food and Veterinary Research Institute, Denmark (2004-2006). From 1994-1999, he was director of the Danish Zoonosis Centre, and from 1999-2004 professor of zoonosis epidemiology at Danish Veterinary Institute. He was stationed at World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva from 1999-2000. With more than 3.700 citations (h-index 34), he is the author of over 150 scientific papers in journals, research monographs and proceedings, on food safety, zoonoses, antimicrobial resistance and emerging infectious diseases.

He has served as advisor and reviewer to national and international authorities & governments, international organizations and private companies, universities and research foundations, and he has served, and is presently serving, on several national and international committees and boards on food safety, veterinary public health and research policy.

Henrik C. Wegener has received several awards, including the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics International Leadership Award in 2003.

That’s quite a mix of sciences and I’m happy to see a social scientist has been included.

Conference submissions

Getting back to the conference and its call for speakers, the deadline for submissions is March 25, 2016. Interestingly, there’s also this (from conference webpage),

The deadline for submissions is 25th March 2016. The conference programme committee with session chairs will review all proposals and select those that best fit the aim of each session while also representing a diverse range of perspectives. We aim to inform selected speakers within 4 weeks of the deadline to enable travel planning to Brussels.

To make the conference as accessible as possible, there is no registration fee. [emphasis mine] The European Commission will cover travel accommodation costs only for confirmed speakers for whom the travel and accommodation arrangements will be made by the Commission itself, on the basis of the speakers’ indication.

Good luck!

*Head for conference submissions added on Feb. 29, 2016 at 1155 hundred hours.

7th (2015) Canadian Science Policy Conference line-up

The Seventh Canadian Science Policy Conference, being held in Ottawa, Ontario from Nov. 25 – 27, 2015 at the Delta Ottawa City Centre Hotel, has announced its programme and speakers in a July 16, 2015 Canadian Science Policy Centre newsletter,

Presentations

Theme 1: Transformative and Converging Technologies on
Private Sector Innovation and Productivity

New technologies, from 3D printing to quantum computing, present risks and opportunities for Canadian industries and the economy. Join CSPC 2015 in a discussion of how Canada’s mining industry and digital economy can best take advantage of these technological innovations.

Challenges Associated with Transferring New Technologies to the Mining Industry,
Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation

Creating Digital Opportunity for Canada: challenges and emerging trends,
Munk School of Global Affairs

Disruptive Technologies,
Ryerson University

Theme 2: Big Science in Canada – Realizing the Benefits

ENCode, the LHC, the Very Large Array: Big Science is reshaping modern research and with it, Canada’s scientific landscape. Join the conversation at CSPC 2015 on how Canada navigates those vast new waters.

Science Without Boundaries,
TRIUMF

Are we Jupiters in the celestial field of science? How ‘Big Science’ and major facilities influence Canadian Science Culture,
SNOLAB

Theme 3: Transformation of Science, Society and Research
in the Digital Age: Open science, participation, security and
confidentiality

The digital age has brought important changes to the Canadian scientific landscape. Come discuss and think about the effects of those changes on our society.

The Role of Innovation in Addressing Antimicrobial Resistance,
Industry Canada

Digital Literacy: What is going to make the real difference?,
Actua

Science Blogging: The Next Generation,
Science Borealis

Proposals for Advancing Canadian Open Science Policy,
Environment Canada

Theme 4: Science and Innovation for Development

Innovation and sciences are among the key driver of development. Come and find out how Canadian creativity creates unique opportunities.

Role of Open Science in Innovation for Development,
International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

Learning Creativity in STEM Education,
University of Calgary

Theme 5: Evidence-Based Decision Making: The challenge
of connecting science and policy making

GMOs, climate change, energy: Many of the big major issues facing Canada fall at the nexus of science and policymaking. Join CSPC 2015 in a discussion of the role of big data and evidence-based decision-making in government.

Beating Superbugs: Innovative Genomics and Policies to Tackle AMR,
Genome Canada

Addressing Concerns Over GMOs – Striking the Right Balance,
Agriculture and Agri-food Canada

Who Should be the Voice for Science Within Government?,
Evidence for Democracy

Data Driven Decisions: Putting IoT, Big Data and Analytics to Work For Better Public Policy,
Cybera

The future of university support for Canada’s Science, Technology & Innovation Strategy,
York University

Please note, there will be more panels announced soon.

Keynote Session

Science Advice to Governments
Innovation, science and technologies never had a more critical role in decision making than today. CSPC 2015 keynote session will address the importance and role of the input from the scientific world to decision making in political affairs.

Speakers:

Sir Peter Gluckman,
Chief Science Adviser to New Zealand Government

Rémi Quirion,
Chief Scientist, Quebec

Arthur Carty,
Executive Director, Inst. Nanotechnology U Waterloo, Former science adviser to PM Paul Martin [emphasis mine]

I have a few comments. First, I’m glad to see the balance between the “money, money, money” attitude and more scholarly/policy interests has been evened out somewhat as compared to last year’s conference in Halifax (Nova Scotia). Second, I see there aren’t any politicians listed as speakers in the website’s banner as is the usual case (Ted Hsu, Member of Parliament and current science critic for the Liberal Party, is on the speaker list but will not be running in the 2015 election). This makes some sense since there is a federal election coming up in October 2015 and changes are likely. Especially, since it seems to be a three-horse race at this point. (For anyone unfamiliar with the term, it means that any one of the three main political parties could win and lead should they possess a majority of the votes in the House of Commons. There are other possibilities such as a minority government led by one party (the Harper Conservatives have been in that situation). Or, should two parties, with enough combined votes to outnumber the third party, be able to agree, there could be a coalition government of some kind.) As for other politicians at the provincial and municipal levels, perhaps it’s too early to commit? Third, Arthur Carty, as he notes, was a science advisor to Prime Minister Paul Martin. Martin was the leader of the country for approximately two years from Dec. 2003 – Nov. 2005 when a motion of non confidence was passed in Parliament (more about Paul Martin and his political career in his Wikipedia entry) an election was called for January 2006 when Stephen Harper and the conservatives were voted in to form a minority government. Arthur Carty’s tenure as Canada’s first science advisor began in 2004 and ended in 2008, according to Carty’s Wikipedia entry. It seems Carty is not claiming to have been Stephen Harper’s science advisor although arguably he was the Harper government’s science advisor for the same amount of time. This excerpt from a March 6, 2008 Canada.com news item seems to shed some light on why the Harper sojourn is not mentioned in Cary’s conference biography,

The need for a national science adviser has never been greater and the government is risking damage to Canada’s international reputation as a science leader by cutting the position, according to the man who holds the job until the end of the month.

Appearing before a Commons committee on Thursday, Arthur Carty told MPs that he is “dismayed and disappointed” that the Conservative government decided last fall to discontinue the office of the national science adviser.

“There are, I think, negative consequences of eliminating the position,” said Carty. He said his international counterparts have expressed support for him and that Canada eliminating the position has the “potential to tarnish our image,” as a world leader in science and innovation.

Carty was head of the National Research Council in 2004 when former prime minister Paul Martin asked him to be his science adviser.

In October 2006, [months] after Prime Minister Stephen Harper was elected, Carty’s office was shifted to Industry Canada. After that move, he and his staff were “increasingly marginalized,” Carty told the industry, science and technology committee, and they had little input in crafting the government’s new science and technology strategy.

But Conservative members of the committee questioned whether taxpayers got their money’s worth from the national adviser and asked Carty to explain travel and meal expenses he had claimed during his time in the public service, including lunch and dinner meetings that cost around $1,000 each. Some of the figures they cited were from when Carty was head of the National Research Council.

The suggestions that Carty took advantage of the public purse prompted Liberal MP Scott Brison to accuse the Tories of launching a “smear campaign” against Carty, whom he described as a “great public servant.”

“I have never overcharged the government for anything,” Carty said in his own defence.

The keynote has the potential for some liveliness based on Carty’s history as a science advisor but one never knows.  It would have been nice if the organizers had been able to include someone from South Korea, Japan, India, China, etc. to be a keynote speaker on the topic of science advice. After all, those countries have all invested heavily in science and made some significant social and economic progress based on those investments. If you’re going to talk about the global science enterprise perhaps you could attract a few new people (and let’s not forget Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East) to the table, so to speak.

You can find out more about the conference and register (there’s a 30% supersaver discount at the moment) here.

Synthetic Aesthetics update and an informal Canadian synthetic biology roundup

Amanda Ruggeri has written a very good introduction to synthetic biology for nonexperts in her May 20, 2015 Globe and Mail article about ‘Designing for the Sixth Extinction’, an exhibit showcasing designs and thought experiments focused on synthetic biology ,

In a corner of Istanbul’s Design Biennial late last year [2014], photographs of bizarre creatures sat alongside more conventional displays of product design and typefaces. Diaphanous globes, like transparent balloons, clung to the mossy trunk of an oak tree. Rust-coloured patterns ran across green leaves, as if the foliage had been decorated with henna. On the forest floor, a slug-like creature slithered, its back dotted with gold markings; in another photograph, what looked like a porcupine without a head crawled over the dirt, its quills tipped blood-red.

But as strange as the creatures looked, what they actually are is even stranger. Not quite living things, not quite machines, these imagined prototypes inhabit a dystopic, future world – a world in which they had been created to solve the problems of the living. The porcupine, for example, is an Autonomous Seed Disperser, described as a device that would collect and disperse seeds to increase biodiversity. The slug would be programmed to seek out acidic soils and neutralize them by dispersing an alkali hygroscopic fluid.

They are the designs – and thought experiments – of London-based Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, designer, artist and lead author of the book Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology’s Designs on Nature. In her project Designing for the Sixth Extinction, which after Istanbul is now on display at the Design Museum in London, Ginsberg imagines what a synthetic biology-designed world would look like – and whether it’s desirable. “

I have a couple of comments. First, the ‘Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology’s Designs on Nature’ book launch last year was covered here in a May 5, 2014 post. where you’ll notice a number of the academics included in Ruggeri’s article are contributors to the book (but not mentioned as such). Second, I cannot find ‘Design for the Sixth Extinction’ listed as an exhibition on London’s Design Museum website.

Getting back to the matter at hand, not all of the projects mentioned in Ruggeri’s article are ‘art’ projects, there is also this rather practical and controversial initiative,

Designing even more complex organisms is the inevitable, and controversial, next step. And those designs have already begun. The British company Oxitec has designed a sterile male mosquito. When the bugs are released into nature and mate, no offspring result, reducing the population or eliminating it altogether. This could be a solution to dengue fever, a mosquito-carried disease that infects more than 50 million people each year: In field trials in Cayman, Panama and Brazil, the wild population of the dengue-carrying mosquito species was reduced by 90 per cent. Yet, as a genetically engineered solution, it also makes some skittish. The consequences of such manipulations remain unforeseen, they say. Proponents counter that the solution is more elegant, and safer, than the current practice of spraying chemicals.

Even so, the engineered mosquito leads to overarching questions: What are the dangers of tinkering with life? Could this cause a slide toward eugenics? Currently, the field doesn’t have an established ethics oversight process, something some critics are pushing to change.

It’s a surprising piece for the Globe and Mail newspaper to run since it doesn’t have a Canadian angle to it and the Globe and Mail doesn’t specialize in science (not withstanding Ivan Semeniuk’s science articles) or art/science or synthetic biology writing, for that matter. Perhaps it bodes an interest and more pieces on emerging science and technology and on art/science projects?

In any event, it seems like a good time to review some of the synthetic biology work or the centres of activity in Canada.  I believe the last time I tackled this particular topic was in a May 24, 2010 post titled, Canada and synthetic biology in the wake of the first ‘synthetic’ bacteria.

After a brief search, I found three centres for research:

Concordia [University] Centre for Applied Synthetic Biology (CASB)

[University of Toronto] The Synthetic Biology and Cellular Control Lab

[University of British Columbia] Centre for High-Throughput Biology (CHiBi)

Following an Oct. 27 – 28, 2014 UK-Canada Synthetic Biology Workshop held at Concordia University, Rémi Quirion, Vincent Martin, Pierre Meulien and Marc LePage co-wrote a Nov. 4, 2014 Concordia University post titled, How Canada is poised to revolutionize synthetic biology,

Rémi Quirion is the Chief Scientist of Québec, Fonds de recherche du Québec. Vincent Martin is Canada Research Chair in Microbial Genomics and Engineering and a professor in the Department of Biology at Concordia University in Montreal. Pierre Meulien is President and CEO of Genome Canada. Marc LePage is the President and CEO of Génome Québec.

Canada’s research and business communities have an opportunity to become world leaders in a burgeoning field that is fast shaping how we deal with everything from climate change to global food security and the production of lifesaving medications. The science of synthetic biology has the transformative capacity to equip us with novel technology tools and products to build a more sustainable society, while creating new business and employment opportunities for the economy of tomorrow.

We can now decipher the code of life for any organism faster and less expensively than ever before. Canadian scientists are producing anti-malarial drugs from organic materials that increase the availability and decrease the cost of lifesaving medicines. They are also developing energy efficient biofuels to dramatically reduce environmental and manufacturing costs, helping Canadian industry to thrive in the global marketplace.

The groundwork has also been laid for a Canadian revolution in the field. Canada’s scientific community is internationally recognized for its leadership in genomics research and strong partnerships with key industries. Since 2000, Genome Canada and partners have invested more than $2.3 billion in deciphering the genomes of economically important plants, animals and microbes in order to understand how they function. A significant proportion of these funds has been invested in building the technological toolkits that can be applied to synthetic biology.

But science cannot do it alone. Innovation on this scale requires multiple forms of expertise in order to be successful. Research in law, business, social sciences and humanities is vital to addressing questions of ethics, supply chain management, social innovation and cultural adaptation to new technologies. Industry knowledge and investments, as well as the capacity to incentivize entrepreneurship, are key to devising business models that will enable new products to thrive. Governments and funding agencies also need to do their part by supporting multidisciplinary research, training and infrastructure.

It’s a bit ‘hype happy’ for my taste but it does provide some fascinating insight in what seems to be a male activity in Canada.

Counterbalancing that impression is an Oct. 6, 2013 article by Ivan Semeniuk for the Globe and Mail about a University of Lethbridge team winning the top prize in a synthetic biology contest,

If you want to succeed in the scientific revolution of the future, it helps to think about life as a computer program.

That strategy helped University of Lethbridge students walk away with the top prize in a synthetic biology competition Sunday. Often touted as the genetic equivalent of the personal computer revolution, synthetic biology involves thinking about cells as programmable machines that can be designed and built to suit a particular need – whether it’s mass producing a vaccine or breaking down a hazardous chemical in the environment.

The five member Lethbridge team came up with a way to modify how cells translate genetic information into proteins. Rather than one bit of DNA carrying the information to make one protein – the usual way cells go about their business – the method involves inserting a genetic command that jiggles a cell’s translational machinery while it’s in mid-operation, coaxing it to produce two proteins out of the same DNA input.

“We started off with a computer analogy – kind of like zipping your files together – so you’d zip two protein sequences together and therefore save space,” said Jenna Friedt, a graduate student in biochemistry at Lethbridge. [emphasis mine]

There are concerns other than gender issues, chief amongst them, ethics. The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network maintains an information page on Synthetic Biology which boasts this as its latest update,

October 2014: In a unanimous decision of 194 countries, the United Nation’s Convention on Biological Diversity formally urged countries to regulate synthetic biology, a new extreme form of genetic engineering. The landmark decision follows ten days of hard-fought negotiations between developing countries and a small group of wealthy biotech-friendly economies. Until now, synthetic organisms have been developed and commercialized without international regulations. …

Finally, there’s a June 2014 synthetic biology timeline from the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society, and Policy (ISSP) which contextualizes Canadian research, policy and regulation with Australia, the European Union, the UK, and the US.

(On a closely related note, there’s my May 14, 2015 post about genetic engineering and newly raised concerns.)

Science Advice to Government; a global conference in August 2014

There’s a big science advice conference on the horizon for August 28 – 29, 2014 to be held in New Zealand according to David Bruggeman’s March 19, 2014 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),

… It [the global science advice conference] will take place in Auckland, New Zealand August 28 and 29 [2014].  It will be hosted by the New Zealand Chief Science Adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman.

(If you’re not following Sir Peter’s work and writings on science advice and science policy, you’re missing out.)

The announced panelists and speakers include chief scientists and/or chief science advisers from several countries and the European Union.  It’s a very impressive roster.  The conference is organised around five challenges:

  • The process and systems for procuring evidence and developing/delivering scientific      advice for government
  • Science advice in dealing with crisis
  • Science advice in the context of opposing political/ideological positions
  • Developing an approach to international science advice
  • The modalities of science advice: accumulated wisdom

The 2014 Science Advice to Governments; a global conference for leading practitioners is being organized by the International Council for Science. Here’s a list of the confirmed speakers and panellists (Note: Links have been removed),

We are delighted that the following distinguished scientists have confirmed their participation in the formal programme:

Prof. Shaukat Abdulrazak, CEO National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation, Kenya

Dr. Ian Boyd, Chief Science Advisor, Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) UK

Dr. Phil Campbell, Editor-in-Chief, Nature

Dr. Raja Chidambaram, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, and Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet, India

Prof. Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist for Australia

Prof. Brian Collins, University College London’s Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (UCL STEaPP)

Dr. Lourdes J Cruz, President of the National Research Council of the Philippines and National Scientist

Prof. Heather Douglas, Chair in Science & Society, Balsillie School of International Affairs, U. of Waterloo Canada

Prof. Mark Ferguson, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, and Director General, Science Foundation Ireland

Prof. Anne Glover, Chief Science Adviser to the President of the European Commission

Sir Peter Gluckman, Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, New Zealand

Dr. Jörg Hacker, President of the German Academy of Sciences – Leopoldina; Member of UN Secretary General’s Scientific Advisory Board

Dr. Yuko Harayama, Executive member of Council for Science and Technology Policy, Cabinet Office of Japan; Member of UN Secretary General’s Scientific Advisory Board; former Deputy Director OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry

Prof. Andreas Hensel, President of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Germany

Prof. Gordon McBean, President-elect, International Council for Science (ICSU)

Prof. Romain Murenzi, Executive Director of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS)

Dr. Mary Okane, Chief Scientist and Engineer, New South Wales Australia

Prof. Remi Quirion, Chief Scientist, Province of Quebec, Canada

Chancellor Emeritus Kari Raivio, Council of Finnish Academies, Finland

Prof. Nils Chr. Stenseth, President of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and President of the International Biological Union (IUBS)

Dr. Chris Tyler, Director of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) in UK

Sir Mark Walport, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government of the UK

Dr. James Wilsdon, Professor of Science and Democracy, University of Sussex, UK

Dr. Steven Wilson, Executive Director, International Council for Science (ICSU)

Dr. Hamid Zakri, Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia; Member of UN Secretary General’s Scientific Advisory Board

I noticed a couple of Canadian representatives (Heather Douglas, Chair in Science & Society at the University of Waterloo, and Remi Quirion, Chief Scientist, province of Québec) on the list. We don’t have any science advisors for the Canadian federal government but it seems they’ve instituted some such position for the province of Québec. In lieu of a science advisor, there is the Council of Canadian Academies, which “is an independent, not-for-profit organization that supports independent, authoritative, and evidence-based expert assessments that inform public policy development in Canada” (from their About page).

One other person should be noted (within the Canadian context), James Wilsdon is a member of the Expert Panel for the Council of Canadian Academies’ still-in-progress assessment, The State of State of Canada’s Science Culture. (My Feb. 22, 2013 posting about the assessments provides a lengthy discourse about the assessment and my concerns about both it and the panel.)

Getting back to this meeting in New Zealand, the organizers have added a pre-conference symposium on science diplomacy (from the Science and Diplomacy webpage), Note: A link has been removed,

We are pleased to announce the addition of a pre-conference symposium to our programme of events. Co-chaired by Dr. Vaughan Turekian, Editor-in-Chief of the AAAS Journal Science and Diplomacy, and the CE of New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, this symposium will explore ‘the place of science in foreign ministries’.

Overview of the symposium

The past decade has seen unprecedented interested in the interface between science and diplomacy from a number of perspectives including:

– Diplomacy for Science – building international relationships to foster robust collaborative scientific networks and shared expertise and infrastructure;
– Science for Diplomacy – the science enterprise as a doorway to relationship building between nations with shared goals and values;
– Science in Diplomacy – the role of science in various diplomatic endeavours (e.g.: verification of agreements on climate change, nuclear treaties etc; in support of aid projects; in promoting economic and trade relationships; and in various international agreements and instruments such as phyto-sanitary regulations, free trade agreements, biodiversity agreements etc.).

Yet, despite the growing interest in this intersection, there has been little discussion of the practical realities of fostering the rapprochement between two very distinct professional cultures and practices, particularly with specific reference to the classical pillars of foreign policy: diplomacy; trade/economic; and aid. Thus, this pre-conference symposium will be focusing on the essential question:

How should scientists have input into the operation of foreign ministries and in particular into three pillars of foreign affairs (diplomacy, trade/economics and foreign aid)?

The discussion will focus on questions such as: What are the mechanisms and methods that can bring scientists and policy makers in science and technology in closer alignment with ministries or departments of foreign affairs and vice versa? What is the role of public scientists in assisting countries’ foreign policy positions and how can this be optimised? What are the challenges and opportunities in enhancing the role of science in international affairs? How does the perception of science in diplomacy vary between large and small countries and between developed and developing countries?

To ensure vibrant discussion the workshop will be limited to 70 participants. Anyone interested is invited to write to info@globalscienceadvice.org with a request to be considered for this event.

The conference with this newly added symposium looks to be even more interesting than before. As for anyone wishing to attend the science diplomacy symposium, the notice has been up since March 6, 2014 so you may wish to get your request sent off while there’s still space (I assume they’ll put a notice on the webpage once the spaces are spoken for). One final observation, it’s surprising in a science conference of this size that there’s no representation from a US institution (e.g., the National Academy of Sciences, Harvard University, etc.) other than the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) organizer of the pre-conference symposium.