As part of the 5th Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC), a group of dedicated science bloggers is launching a Canadian science blogging portal. Science Borealis will go public tomorrow afternoon (Friday) in connection with a panel on science blogging in Canada (the panel is scheduled to start at 1:30 Eastern. That the panel includes a member of the Canadian Parliament suggests there has been serious effort in developing this network.
The bloggers have partnered with Canadian Science Publishing and Genome Alberta to develop its web presence (which includes a Twitter feed – @ScienceBorealis). The website will aggregate (reblog rather than host) Canadian science blogging content and serve as a central location for information on Canadian science communication. Interested Canadian science bloggers can submit their blogs for inclusion, which will be determined by the Science Borealis editorial team. There are already over 30 blogs in the network, which should grow considerably over the next few months. Organizers would like to see 150 blogs on the network, which would equal or surpass blog networks affiliated with large science magazines.
With Canadian scientists increasingly concerned about their country’s science policy and scientific resources, a website like Science Borealis could serve needed roles in the community as both information source and meeting place for interested scientists, policymakers and the public. You need to register if you plan to comment on or submit a blog for consideration, but otherwise you should feel free to take Science Borealis out for a spin and see how you like it.
The fifth Canadian Science Policy Conference starts tomorrow in Toronto. I attended the first conference, also in Toronto, and a quick review of the website demonstrates that the event has grown quite a bit since 2009. I’ll leave it to those more intimately involved in the event (and the Canadian science policy community) to speak about how well that growth has been managed.
But observing U.S. events like this (which are too few for my liking), it is reasonable to ask if an event can grow so big that broader science policy issues get subsumed to more field-specific interests, or to interests more connected to the organizations sponsoring such activities. As Canada is still growing its national science policy capacity, to diversify too quickly could affect capacity building efforts.
But that’s just one interested Yank’s opinion.
There’s a draft resolution at the United Nations General Assembly concerning space (reports indicate it may have been approved, but I cannot find a final version on the UN website as of this posting). This isn’t unusual, as the U.N. Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) has been around almost as long as the U.N. itself. What a lot of writers picked up on is in paragraph 8:
“Welcomes with satisfaction the recommendations for an international response to the near-Earth object impact threat, endorsed by the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee at its fiftieth session and endorsed by the Committee at its fifty-sixth session;”
The recommendations by the committee were augmented by a recent presentation
at the Association of Space Explorers. Members of the B612 Foundation were out in force at the presentation, but it’s too early to say whether or not its Sentinel mission
will play a part in a U.N. effort to coordinate asteroid detection and deflection efforts.
Details on what these coordination efforts might look at can be found in the Scientific and Technical Committee’s latest report to COPOUS
, specifically Section X starting on page 29 and Annex III starting on page 45. The main recommendations are to develop two groups – an international warning network (which might have the components outlined in this presentation
from February) and a space mission planning group. The recommendations reflect the end of a six-year process by the Working Group on Near-Earth Objects
, but the United Nations has been active on the matter of near-Earth objects since 1995
In the November 8 edition of Science Dr. Takashi Kadowaki, Director of the University of Tokyo Hospital, writes about the efforts to establish a new medical science agency in Japan. Dr. Kadowaki is also Director of the Translational Research Initiative at the University.
The agency would model itself after the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and serve as a major component of Prime MInister Abe’s strategy for health and medical research. Even though this strategy reflects a concerted effort to increase health and medical research in Japan, the total budget for this new agency is less than one tenth of the U.S. NIH budget.
The overall research and development budget will not change, meaning that other areas of research will likely face budget cuts. Dr. Kadowaki is concerned that other fields of life science could suffer in this new budget environment, something he considers counterproductive to improving the ability of Japan to translate biomedical research to clinical and pharmaceutical applications.
Another aspect of this new agency is that its strategy arm will be headed by the Prime Minister. While this level of political ownership is unprecedented – certainly in the United States – I can identify at least two downsides. One is the possibility of political micromanagement. The strategy arm of the new agency is separate for an incorporated entity charged with disbursing research funds. Hopefully that can serve to mitigate the risks of micromanagement (and conflicts of interest). Another concern is that this reform effort may stand a decreased chance of surviving after the Prime Minister steps down. (No, he’s not likely to step down any time soon, but he won’t be in the office forever.) Initiatives strongly identified with a particular politician often fall out of favor once the politician falls out of power, and it’s tough to be more strongly identified with a reform effort if that person is in charge of one large part of it.
Dr. Kadowaki’s column suggests the conversation around what the Japanese version of NIH will be is just beginning. I wish Japan all the luck in what seems a daunting task of administrative renewal and reform.
The Armed With Science blog rightly crows about the resuscitation of U.S. domestic beryllium production. In an era where nuclear isotopes, light gases and other elements have all undergone bouts of scarcity, it’s nice to see a case where the corner has turned.
Beryllium has thermal conductivity properties that make it ideal for shedding a lot of heat. This has clear applicability for defense applications. A major U.S. production facility closed in 2000. But thanks to federal legislation focused on defense production, the Defense Department in connection with industry was able to establish a reliable domestic supplier of beryllium.
Perhaps such production assistance could be legislated for other critical elements, but that presupposes an interest in passing legislation that seems absent in Washington of late. Or legislators could become more savvy in terms of linking other elements to defense uses. While the situation with helium is different – the country is attempting to get out of the business of maintaining a reservoir – it does serve as an example that, eventually, domestic critical element production can be better managed to mitigate hiccups in other parts of the supply chain.
ScienceInsider is reporting that the next head of the European Research Council may be a French mathematician. The Council is currently led by sociologist Helga Novotny, who will be stepping down at the end of the year.
While the European Commission has not made the announcement, ScienceInsider is confident in its sourcing that Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, until earlier this year the long-time president of the Institutes of Advanced Scientific Studies in France, will become the next President of the Council. Bourguignon’s tenure at the institute was notable for, among other things, the growth of the institute in both size and scope of activities. Comments from Novotny in the ScienceInsider piece make me think that the European Commission is looking for someone with the kind of experience Bourguignon has. The European Research Council will expand in budget and obligations, without concurrent increases in human resources. They may well need someone who can grown and expand an agency.
Earlier this month many raised a ruckus over the barring of Chinese scientists from an upcoming astronomy conference scheduled for a NASA facility. It was originally explained away as connected to a recent federal law – which the law’s author strenuously rejected. The NASA Administrator responded by chalking it up to overenthusiastic staff at NASA Ames.
Of course, since the government was officially shut down while this issue commanded attention, an ‘official response’ was still pending. But the agency made it official via a spokesman. A ban on access of Chinese officials to NASA facilities was set up in March, but was removed in July. Clearly that message was not well communicated throughout NASA. That moratorium was prompted by concerns over security at NASA facilities, and the agency is working with the National Administration on Public Administration to determine how to address the problems.
No word yet from Representative Wolf about NASA’s response to his letter about mischaracterizing his law. Whether or not the erroneously banned scientists attend the conference remains to be seen..
Ending the beginning of a process that has been at least a year in the making, the United Nation named the first members of the Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board (H/T ScienceInsider). Of the 26 members named, three have U.S. ties. One member of the board is a national science adviser two others serve as president for their respective national science academies, and another serves on the U.S. President’s Council of Advisers for Science and Technology. No chair has been named, though that may take place at the first meeting, anticipated in the beginning of 2014.
Per the announcement, the Board:
“aims to ensure that up-to-date and rigorous science is appropriately reflected in high-level policy discussions within the UN system, offering recommendations on priorities related to science for sustainable development that should be supported or encouraged; providing advice on up-to-date scientific issues relevant to sustainable development; identifying knowledge gaps that could be addressed outside the UN system by either national or international research programs; identifying specific needs that could be addressed by on-going assessments (e.g., IPCC or the IPBES); and advising on issues related to the public visibility and understanding of science”
More is forthcoming, though it may take until 2014 for it to come.
The day after my last post on execution drugs, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon postponed the October 23 execution of a death row inmate. It was to be the first execution using propofol, a commonly used anesthetic produced mainly in Europe. Consistent with manufacturers of other drugs that can be used in executions, European manufacturers of propofol have taken steps to make sure their supplies of the drug are not used to execute prisoners. The U.S. subsidiary of Fresenius Kabi, the company that banned shipments of the drug to a U.S. distributor after it had mistakenly sent propofol to the Missouri Department of Corrections, applauded the move.
While not specifically mentioned in the announcement, presumably the threats of suspended shipments has prompted Governor Nixon to postpone the execution and to find alternative methods to using propofol. The European Union has indicated that it would subject propofol to serious export control if it is used in executions – regardless of where the drug is produced. Certainly this would only effect European supplies of the drug, but they represent the largest share of the U.S. market.
Additionally, there appear to be problems with the new distributor the State of Missouri was using to obtain its propofol. The distributor claims that the drug was obtained domestically, but the manufacturer disputes that it provided the distributor with the drug. The State Department of Corrections apparently has 100 vials of the drug that it can not definitively source. With severe consequences depending on it, finding a different drug seems the only way out for a state not looking to end its death penalty any time soon. I suspect other states considering propofol will also take the kind of pause implemented in the Show Me State.
Mid-day today NASA Administrator Charles Bolden responded to the complaints about Chinese nationals being prevented from attending the upcoming Kepler II conference (H/T ScienceInsider). In an email the Administrator blamed the denials on NASA Ames staff being overcautious and acting without consulting with agency headquarters. He has offered to reconsider any applicants who would meet the regular security clearance requirements. Given the time involved in obtaining clearance (which would likely increase given the current government shutdown), it’s uncertain if the Chinese researchers could be cleared in time to attend the November 4 conference. If the shutdown continues into November (which, oddly enough, is more likely if the short-term debt ceiling deadline is extended), the conference may not take place.
Administrator Bolden did not directly address the concerns raised by Representative Wolf in his letter about mischaracterizing the legal restrictions on how Chinese nationals can interact with NASA events and facilities. He does reference a period from earlier in the year when there was extra Congressional scrutiny on foreign access to NASA facilities. At the time NASA had established a moratorium on Chinese participation, which the Administrator described as temporary. It would appear that moratorium has ended, but that’s not clear. The Administrator has promised a more complete response to the Congressman once the government has re-opened. We’ll see how patient he is (I suspect not much).
There’s been new activity in connection with execution drugs. A German company has suspended shipments of propofol, a widely used drug, because of erroneous shipments. Propofol is produced primarily in Europe, and is used over 50 million times a year in the United States as an anesthetic. A suspension will likely prompt delays of some procedures as alternative supplies (or drugs) are obtained. But with European drug manufacturers promising to bar export to the United States if ‘their’ propofol is used to kill, the suspension is likely preferable.
The problem that prompted the suspension is the inadvertent distribution of the drug to the State of Missouri for use in executions. Continue reading