Tag Archives: Science for the People

Happy Thanksgiving! Oct. 12, 2015, my last mention of science debates in the Canadian 2015 federal election, and my 4001st posting

Two things for me to celebrate today: Thanksgiving (in Canada, we celebrate on the 2nd Monday of October) and my 4001st posting (this one).

Science for the people

Plus, there’s much to celebrate about science discussion during the 2015 Canadian federal election. I stumbled across Science for the People, which is a weekly radio show based in Canada (from the About page),

Science for the People is a syndicated radio show and podcast that broadcasts weekly across North America. We are a long-format interview show that explores the connections between science, popular culture, history, and public policy, to help listeners understand the evidence and arguments behind what’s in the news and on the shelves.

Every week, our hosts sit down with science researchers, writers, authors, journalists, and experts to discuss science from the past, the science that affects our lives today, and how science might change our future.

Contact

If you have comments, show ideas, or questions about Science for the People, email feedback@scienceforthepeople.ca.

Theme Song

Our theme song music comes from the song “Binary Consequence” by the band Fractal Pattern. You can find the full version of it on their album No Hope But Mt. Hope.

License & Copyright

All Science for the People episodes are under the Creative Commons license. You are free to distribute unedited versions of the episodes for non-commercial purposes. If you would like to edit the episode please contact us.

Episode #338 (2015 Canadian federal election and science) was originally broadcast on Oct. 9,  2015 and features,

This week, we’re talking about politics, and the prospects for pro-science politicians, parties and voters in Canada. We’ll spend the hour with panelists Katie Gibbs, Executive Director of Evidence for Democracy, science librarian John Dupuis, journalist Mike De Souza, and former Canadian government scientist Steven Campana, for an in-depth discussion about the treatment of science by the current Canadian government, and what’s at stake for science in the upcoming federal election.

The podcast is approximately one hour long and Désirée Schell (sp?) hosts/moderates an interesting discussion where one of the participants notes that issues about science and science muzzles predate Harper. The speaker dates the issues back to the Chrétien/Martin years. Note: Jean Chrétien was Prime Minister from 1993 to 2003 and Paul Martin, his successor, was Prime Minister from 2003 to 2006 when he was succeeded by current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. (I attended a Philosophers’ Cafe event on Oct. 1, 2015 where the moderator dated the issues back to the Mulroney years. Note: Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister from 1984 – 1993.) So, it’s been 10, 20, or 30 years depending on your viewpoint and when you started noticing (assuming you’re of an age to have noticed something happening 30 years ago).

The participants also spent some time discussing why Canadians would care about science. Interestingly, one of the speakers claimed the current Syrian refugee crisis has its roots in climate change, a science issue, and he noted the US Dept. of Defense views climate change as a threat multiplier. For anyone who doesn’t know, the US Dept. of Defense funds a lot of science research.

It’s a far ranging discussion, which doesn’t really touch on science as an election issue until some 40 mins. into the podcast.

One day later on Oct. 10, 2015 (where you’ll find the podcast), the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Quirks & Quarks radio programme broadcast and made available its podcast of a 2015 Canadian election science debate/panel,

There is just over a week to go before Canadians head to the polls to elect a new government. But one topic that hasn’t received much attention on the campaign trail is science.

So we thought we’d gather together candidates from each of the major federal parties to talk about science and environmental issues in this election.

We asked each of them where they and their parties stood on federal funding of science; basic vs. applied research; the controversy around federal scientists being permitted to speak about their research, and how to cut greenhouse gas emissions while protecting jobs and the economy.

Our panel of candidates were:

– Lynne Quarmby, The Green Party candidate [and Green Party Science critic] in Burnaby North-Seymour, and  professor and Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Simon Fraser University

– Gary Goodyear, Conservative Party candidate in Cambridge, Ontario, and former Minister of State for Science and Technology

– Marc Garneau, Liberal Party candidate in NDG-Westmount, and a former Canadian astronaut

– Megan Leslie, NDP candidate in Halifax and her party’s environment critic

It was a crackling debate. Gary Goodyear was the biggest surprise in that he was quite vigorous and informed in his defence of the government’s track record. Unfortunately, he was also quite patronizing.

The others didn’t seem to have as much information and data at their fingertips. Goodyear quote OECD reports of Canada doing well in the sciences and they didn’t have any statistics of their own to provide a counter argument. Quarmby, Garneau, and Leslie did at one time or another come back strongly on one point or another but none of them seriously damaged Goodyear’s defense. I can’t help wondering if Kennedy Stewart, NDP science critic, or Laurin Liu, NDP deputy science critic, and Ted Hsu, Liberal science critic might have been better choices for this debate.

The Quirks & Quarks debate was approximately 40 or 45 mins. with the remainder of the broadcast devoted to Canadian 2015 Nobel Prize winner in Physics, Arthur B. McDonald (Takaaki Kajita of the University of Tokyo shared the prize) for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, i.e., neutrinos have mass.

Kate Allen writing an Oct. 9, 2015 article for thestar.com got a preview of the pretaped debate and excerpted a few of the exchanges,

On science funding

Gary Goodyear: Currently, we spend more than twice what the Liberals spent in their last year. We have not cut science, and in fact our science budget this year is over $10 billion. But the strategy is rather simple. We are very strong in Canada on basic research. Where we fall down sometimes as compared to other countries is moving the knowledge that we discover in our laboratories out of the laboratory onto our factory floors where we can create jobs, and then off to the hospitals and living rooms of the world — which is how we make that home run. No longer is publishing an article the home run, as it once was.

Lynne Quarmby: I would take issue with the statement that science funding is robust in this country … The fact is that basic scientific research is at starvation levels. Truly fundamental research, without an obvious immediate application, is starving. And that is the research that is feeding the creativity — it’s the source of new ideas, and new understanding about the world, that ultimately feeds innovation.

If you’re looking for a good representation of the discussion and you don’t have time to listen to the podcast, Allen’s article is a good choice.

Finally, Research2Reality, a science outreach and communication project I profiled earlier in 2015 has produced an Oct. 9, 2015 election blog posting by Karyn Ho, which in addition to the usual ‘science is dying in Canada’ talk includes links to more information and to the official party platforms, as well as, an exhortation to get out there and vote.

Something seems to be in the air as voter turnout for the advance polls is somewhere from 24% to 34% higher than usual.

Happy Thanksgiving!

ETA Oct. 14, 2015:  There’s been some commentary about the Quirks & Quarks debate elsewhere. First, there’s David Bruggeman’s Oct. 13, 2015 post on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),

Chalk it up to being a Yank who doesn’t give Canadian science policy his full attention, but one thing (among several) I learned from the recent Canadian cross-party science debate concerns open access policy.

As I haven’t posted anything on Canadian open access policies since 2010, clearly I need to catch up.  I am assuming Goodyear is referring to the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy, introduced in February by his successor as Minister of State for Science and Technology.  It applies to all grants issued from May 1, 2015 and forward (unless the work was already applicable to preexisting government open access policy), and applies most of the open access policy of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) to the other major granting agencies (the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada).

The policy establishes that grantees must make research articles coming from their grants available free to the public within 12 months of publication. …

Then, there’s Michael Rennie, an Assistant Professor at Lakehead University and a former Canadian government scientist whose Oct. 14, 2015 posting on his unmuzzled science blog notes this,

This [Gary Goodyear’s debate presentation] pissed me off so much it made me come out of retirement on this blog.

Listening to Gary Goodyear (Conservative representative, and MP in Cambridge and former Minister of State for Science and Technology), I became furious with the level of misinformation given. …

Rennie went ahead and Storified the twitter responses to the Goodyear’s comments (Note: Links have been removed),

Here’s my Storify of tweets that help clarify a good deal of the misinformation Gary Goodyear presented during the debate, as well as some rebuttals from folks who are in the know: I was a Canadian Government Scientist with DFO [Department of Fisheries and Oceans] from 2010-2014, and was a Research Scientist at the Experimental Lakes Area [ELA], who heard about the announcement regarding the intention of the government to close the facility first-hand on the telephone at ELA.

Goodyear: “I was involved in that decision. With respect to the Experimental Lakes, we never said we would shut it down. We said that we wanted to transfer it to a facility that was better suited to operate it. And that’s exactly what we’ve done. Right now, DFO is up there undertaking some significant remediation effects to clean up those lakes that are contaminated by the science that’s been going on up there. We all hope these lakes will recover soon so that science and experimentation can continue but not under the federal envelope. So it’s secure and it’s misleading to suggest that we were trying to stop science there.”
There’s so many inaccuracies in here, it’s hard to know where to start. First, Goodyear’s assertion that there are “contaminated lakes” at ELA is nonsense. Experiments conducted there are done using environmentally-relevant exposures; in other words, what you’d see going on somewhere else on earth, and in every case, each lake has recovered to it’s natural state, simply by stopping the experiment.

Second, there ARE experiments going on at ELA currently, many of which I am involved in; the many tours, classes and researchers on site this year can attest to this.

Third, this “cleanup” that is ongoing is to clean up all the crap that was left behind by DFO staff during 40 years of experiments- wood debris, old gear, concrete, basically junk that was left on the shorelines of lakes. No “lake remediation” to speak of.

Fourth, the conservative government DID stop science at ELA- no new experiments were permitted to begin, even ones that were already funded and on the books like the nanosilver experiment which was halted until 2014, jeopardizing the futures the futures of many students involved. Only basic monitoring occurred between 2012-2014.

Last, the current government deserves very little credit for the transfer of ELA to another operator; the successful move was conceived and implemented largely by other people and organizations, and the attempts made by the government to try and move the facility to a university were met with incredulity by the deans and vice presidents invited to the discussion.

There’s a lot more and I strongly recommend reading Rennie’s Storify piece.

It was unfortunate that the representatives from the other parties were not able to seriously question Goodyear’s points.

Perhaps next time (fingers crossed), the representatives from the various parties will be better prepared. I’d also like to suggest that there be some commentary from experts afterwards in the same way the leaders’ debates are followed by commentary. And while I’m dreaming, maybe there could be an opportunity for phone-in or Twitter questions.

Sing a song of science literacy

Let’s applaud the American Educational Research Association for its plan to livestream part of its 2014 conference being held April 3 – 6, 2014 for free (you do have to register; pause for applause). Unfortunately, the one session I’d really like to hear is not one of the chosen ones. It’s the “Sing about Science: Leveraging the Power of Music to Improve Science Education” session being delivered by two researchers from the University of Washington (UW; state). From the April 2, 2014 UW news release (also on EurekAlert),

As the United States puts ever-greater emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics education to keep competitive in the global economy, schools are trying to figure out how to improve student learning in science.

University of Washington researchers Katie Davis and Greg Crowther think music may be the answer for some kids. They studied the ability of music videos to enhance students’ understanding of scientific concepts.

Davis will present “Sing about Science: Leveraging the Power of Music to Improve Science Education” on Friday (April 4) at the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference.

Davis and Crowther aren’t just talking about music as a mnemonic device to help students memorize facts. Previous research has shown that music can reduce stress and increase student engagement in the learning process, so the researchers theorized that music videos could help some students process and retain information better.

“It makes sense that we shouldn’t teach all kids in the same way; we should individualize,” said Davis, an assistant professor in the UW’s Information School. “We need to provide multiple entry points in all subject matters. Music is a different entry point into scientific concepts.”

Crowther is a biologist but is so interested in music that 10 years ago he created a website with a database of songs about science and math; SingAboutScience.org now has links to more than 7,000 of them (the majority do not have video). Teachers can type in a topic and find music relevant to what they are teaching.

For their current research, they set up laptop computers at five science-related outreach events in Washington state. Most targeted students in K-12, but adults also participated. Participants in the study ranged from 3 to 76 years old, with a median age of 12. Each person sat in front of a laptop and selected a science-based music video to watch.

For instance, one video is titled “Fossil Rock Anthem,” and is a parody of the hip-hop song “Party Rock Anthem.” It shows a dancing archaeologist, graphics of fossils and ground striations and continental plates drifting. It’s a catchy tune with fun, colorful graphics.

Participants took a pre-video quiz of four questions related to information in the video, plus a bonus question not covered by the video. They were also asked to rate their confidence in their answers. They were randomly assigned to watch either a visually-rich music video or a music video that showed only the lyrics on screen. Then they took a post-video quiz that included the same content and confidence questions.

In two-thirds of the music videos (10 out of 15), participants had more correct answers after watching the videos. Quiz scores rose by an average of one more correct answer after watching the videos. The lyrics-only music videos were as beneficial to improving quiz scores as the visually-rich videos.

Participants improved their scores not only on factoid-type questions, but also the more complex comprehension questions, which shows that the videos improved people’s scientific understanding and not just memorization.

Pre- and post-quiz scores were no different for the bonus questions, which did not cover material from the videos. This finding suggests that the boost in quiz scores was due to watching the video, and not by some other variable.

The researchers say everyone learns in different ways, and past research has shown that students learn best with hands-on, personally relevant tools that utilize powers of observation and audio-visuals. They also note that a person’s memories can change based on an emotionally charged atmosphere. Since music is an emotional medium, it makes sense that our educational memory could be enhanced by it.

“We’re not saying this is the only way you should teach science, it’s just a different way,” Davis said. “We’re hoping it can engage a broader array of students, to help them find success and create identities as science learners.”

Added Crowther, “There wasn’t a teacher breathing down students’ necks telling them they had to learn this for a test. People voluntarily watched these videos for fun. This is exactly the type of opportunity we should be creating more of. Students will seek it out just because it’s fun and interesting.”

I went to Crowther’s website, Sing About Science (be careful, you may spend more time on the website than you planned), and picked this video from the listing,

It makes me think of protest songs from the 1960s. Here’s more about the video from its YouTube home,

Uploaded on Feb 25, 2011

NIMBioS Songwriter-in-Residence RB Morris performs his song “Science for the People.” For more information about the Songwriter-in-Residence program at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), visit http://www.nimbios.org/songwriter

I most recently mentioned NIMBioS in a November 1, 2013 interview with Canadian rapper and science afficionado, Baba Brinkman who has also been one of their artists-in-residence.