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Recent Roundup

May 7, 2010

Hello all,

It’s been a long time. Life got in the way of blogging, but things have sorted themselves and I’m back in the science policy saddle. Lots has piled up while I was away. Today I’m going to list highlights from the last couple of weeks of science and research policy, and then next week we’ll get back into the regular routine. Perhaps we’ll check back in with the NRC and see how things are progressing there. Without further ado, and in no particular order:

  • The Lancet, one of the most respected and widely-read medical journals in the w0rld, published an editorial today slamming the Conservative Government as “hypocritical and unjust” for proposing a maternal health plan for G8 adoption that does not include safe abortion services. It suggests that 70,000 women die from unsafe abortions every year, and depriving women abroad the same services available in Canada suggests the Canadian plan is based on prejudice and not sound scientific evidence. This issue is not going away. Not necessarily research-related, but when the Lancet speaks, the medical community listens.
  • Yesterday, the journal Science published a letter by 255 members of the US National Academy of Sciences (including 11 Nobel laureates) in which they fight back against increasing attacks on climate change researchers. Citing “McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution… based on innuendo and guilt by association”, the group calls for politicians to stop spreading “outright lies”. The group also declares that: “all citizens should understand some basic scientific facts”. Neither of these two demands are likely to be met. These obviously pie in the sky scientists conclude, “Society has two choices: we can ignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope we are lucky, or we can act in the public interest to reduce the threat of global climate change quickly and substantively”. If I were a betting man, I know which choice I’d lay some pretty serious coin on…
  • Across the pond, the UK election has resulted in utter chaos and confusion, and at the time of writing no one seems sure who will form the government. The New Scientist, though, has declared a loser: science. Despite having figured prominently in the lead-up to voting day, several “science-friendly” candidates lost their seats. The article quotes Mark Henderson of The Times, who says: “This election looks to have had a truly dreadful outcome for science, regardless of which party or parties ultimately go on to form the Government. It has denuded the House of Commons of science’s strongest advocates, and significantly eroded its scientific expertise.” Of course, some countries simply dream of having science advocates to denude and scientific expertise to erode from their houses of commons…
  • The only body in Canada that oversees research ethics boards – the National Council on Ethics in Human Research (NCEHR) has had its funding terminated by Health Canada and CIHR. Unlike other nations, Canada now has no body that audits or oversees the research ethics boards across the country. Mind you, even when funded, the NCEHR had a staff of three that would conduct only 6-12 site visits annually, had no authority to mandate reviews or recommendations, and didn’t even report findings to government. As the CMAJ points out, we used to be considered a wasteland in research ethics oversight, now we’re a wasteland. Nice.
  • These have been big days at CFI. First, international auditing heavyweights KPMG released a glowing report, concluding: “the evaluation of the CFI and its impacts was overwhelmingly positive. Although some minor operational refinements are suggested, the CFI’s model and program delivery are both outstanding, and the CFI remains a critical foundation for Canadian research”. The CFI also put together a panel of seven “experts” who looked at CFI and KPMG’s report and concurred: “In summary, the Panel concludes that the CFI has been remarkably successful in helping Canada to attract, retain and develop research talent.” Indeed, the panel concludes that CFI’s design and delivery processes can be considered “world’s best practice”. Both reports hope that the CFI mandate will deliver increasing innovation in the future.
  • CFI also announced the appointment of Dr. Gilles G. Patry as the new President and CEO of the CFI. Dr. Patry is Professor of Civil Engineering at UofOttawa, was President and Vice-Chancellor of UofO (2001-2008), and has held appointments at École Polytechnique de Montréal and McMaster. Dr. Patry also founded a successful company specializing in wastewater software (no, really. software that models wastewater solutions. who knew?). He thus possesses the magical combination of experience in both academia and industry so sought after in this innovation age. I was going to write something snarky about experience modeling sewage management as an asset for heading a government funding agency, but then I remembered that CFI is considered world’s best practice, so decided to show some deference.
  • Like CFI, Genome Canada is apparently looking to hire a new President and CEO, and is now advertising the position widely through headhunting agency Odgers Berndtson. Considering Dr. Martin Godbout announced he’d be stepping down from the position in October, doesn’t it seem a bit weird that they’re still looking – and planning to interview candidates in June? Maybe no one expected GC to be around for this much longer, or perhaps qualified candidates were looking for more than a six-month kamikaze mission overseeing the slow death of the agency.
  • Of course, the NRC already chose its new President. An underwhelming news release was issued by NRC to demonstrate the government’s commitment to the agency. Industry Minister Tony Clement and his Science Sidekick Gary Goodyear attended an NRC Council meeting to welcome the new guy, and pledge their vociferous, enthusiastic support. “NRC is going to play a vital role in the government’s plans” Minister Clement is reported to have said. Minister Goodyear “pledged his support as NRC moves forward to maximize its contributions to Canada”. Really? Do these guys actually know what NRC does? Did anyone even bother to brief them on the way to the meeting? Wow. They don’t even pretend to care.
  • Ontario has announced a new Life Sciences Commercialization Strategy, with an injection of $161-million. The announcement was met with less controversy than the Ontario government’s new sex ed strategy.
  • Nice article in support of the Canadian Council of Academies, which just underwent its midterm assessment. The author (Dave @ The Black Hole, a blog that keeps impressing me) worries that the CCA will wither on the vine, like so many other Canadian initiatives. The assessment was generally positive, but as Dave points out, the future of the CCA is tenuous.
  • Maryse at Frogheart has been blogging up a storm – mostly nanotechnology-related tidbits, but some policy too. She also has some very pointed comments about the CCA, suggesting it is far too focused on experts and policy makers and not nearly interested enough in communicating with the public – a situation she contrasts with the US and UK.
  • The CMAJ has an interesting series on how to divide the research funding pie. I’ll look at this in more depth later, but wanted to bring it to your attention now. Here are parts one and two.
  • As always, lots of talk about innovation. Not much new, to be honest – mostly just recycling existing thoughts and ideas and selling them without any value added. Wait, are we suffering from an innovation gap in journalism, too? Recent reports suggest we lack commerce skills, are at risk of falling behind other nations if we don’t do something, etc. Personally, I think we really need some innovative thinking on innovation.

Ok, that’s it for now. Next week I’m back in the game, dissecting the good, the bad, and the ugly (especially the ugly) of Canadian science policy.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 14, 2010 14:33

    Welcome back Rob. You’ve inspired me to do some more thinking about innovation as per your final comments in this posting. On other fronts, thanks for the roundup (and shout out).

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