Science Fair Roundup: White House, Intel And Google

If you weren’t able to be at the last White House Science Fair, the White House has some video for you.  As is now custom (one I hope will continue), the White House has a video where staff talk with some of the kids exhibiting at the Fair.

There is also video of the President’s remarks.

If it’s not already clear, the White House Science Fair is effectively the tip of a policy iceberg for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.  While it certainly raises the public profile of science, the acceptance and encouragement it provides students in these fields is likely more important.  The numbers in this piece from the Harvard Political Review give some shape to the growth of the fair and the multiple STEM education policies the Obama Administration has implemented.

The White House Science Fair has often recognized top performers in the Intel Science Talent Search (STS), the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) and the Google Science Fair.  The Intel Science Talent Search announced its finalists in March, and the ISEF will announce its 2016 finalists in May.  The Google Science Fair will close its 2016 competition cycle in May as well.  Finalists will be announced in late summer.

UK Government Creates Position Of National Technology Adviser

Liam Maxwell, until recently the Chief Technology Officer for the U.K. government, has been named to the newly created post of National Technology Adviser.  Maxwell has served as CTO since 2012, and was also the first person to serve in that position.  Prior to his service for the national government, Maxwell performed similar information technology functions for local governments

It’s important to note that the role of the U.K. CTO is not the same as that for the U.S. CTO  (though I think both countries are still figuring out a lot about positions like these).  The U.K. position is focused more on the procurement, management and implementation of information technology in government.  The new position of National Technology Adviser appears to have a strong emphasis on the digital economy.  The announcement of the new position suggests that Maxwell will do more to promote the U.K. as a place to do business involving digital services.  He will be working with the U.K. digital sector as well as continuing to improve the digital provision of government services to U.K. citizens.

I think that this integration of business promotion and service improvement is distinct from any comparable U.S. position.  So while the U.K. National Technology Adviser is probably closer in job description to the U.S. CTO, than the U.K. CTO is, it still defies an easy parallel.

Congratulations to Mr. Maxwell.

Ebola Outbreak Finally Over Except For The Clusters

On March 27 Guinea reported completing the required 42 day observation period and 90 day enhanced surveillance period since the country’s last reported case of Ebola (linked to the initial transmission) tested negative twice.

In short, now all three countries involved in the West Africa Ebola outbreak have cleared these hurdles (H/T ScienceInsider).  This contributed to the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring on Tuesday that the West Africa epidemic is no longer a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.  Any travel and trade restrictions placed on Sierra Leone, Liberia or Guinea in connection with this outbreak should be lifted.

This does not mean that the disease has been eliminated.  Clusters of the disease continue as it is cleared from the surviving population.  Twelve such clusters have been reported, as detailed in the latest WHO Situation Report.  There is one such cluster currently active in Guinea and the WHO anticipates clusters to emerge periodically over the next few months.

While the disease is not as prevalent as it’s been for the last two years, the affected countries, and really the world as a whole, can do much to ensure that we are better prepared for the next instance of Ebola striking out.  The Situation Report details the efforts made to date.

In the two years and change since this epidemic started (the longest outbreak of the disease to date) there were over 28 thousand cases and more than 11 thousand deaths.  All but a few of these were in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, seriously affecting the public health infrastructure and other institutions in these countries.  Absent continued assistance and support, I think these countries will be more susceptible to future outbreaks.

European Commission Seeking Ideas On Possible European Innovation Council

The European Commission, led by the Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas, continues to explore a possible European Innovation Council (EIC).  Last month the Commission released a Call for Ideas, a (relatively) informal survey where stakeholders can provide input on what they see as the challenges facing Europe with respect to supporting innovation.  Participants may simply answer the survey questions, or they can also upload a white paper or similar document outlining their ideas for what an EIC might resemble.

As Commissioner Moedas notes in this question and answer session at this year’s Science|Business Horizon 2020 Conference, the idea of an EIC has been circulating for some time.  I suspect the levels of risk involved in the kind of investment an EIC may support pose the biggest challenges in forming such a venture, but without a formalised conversation around what an EIC might be, identifying and articulating those risks won’t happen to the extent that would be required for a government to make a decision on how it would be involved.

Personally, while the language around the initial discussions of an EIC suggest parallels to the European Research Council, I think it unlikely that there will be much overlap between the two.  Commissioner Moedas has emphasized the need for collaboration and better coordination of existing support mechanisms in generating startups and market-creating kinds of innovation.  With fundamentally different kinds of output, different organizations seem likely.

Submissions to the Call for Ideas are being accepted until April 29.  Submissions may be posted on the call’s webpage, and the material submitted will generate a response from the Commissioner (or his staff) in June.

InterAcademy Partnership Releases Responsible Research Guide

Earlier this month the InterAcademy Partnership, a coalition of world science academies, released a guidebook on conducting responsible research.  This report follows the IAP’s 2012 report (released with the InterAcademy Council) on responsible research and was written by the same committee.

(In March, the InterAcademy Partnership will be relaunched as a combination of the InterAcademy Council, the present InterAcademy Partnership, and two other international science advisory bodies.  It’s likely to happen during the InterAcademy Partnership international conference going on now in South Africa.)

This new report builds on the general principles for responsible research outlined in the 2012 report, as well as that report’s recommendations on how scientists, students, funders, policymakers and other stakeholders can provide the foundation for responsible research.  This new report is more of a practice-oriented, day-to-day guidebook on how to conduct responsible research (including public engagement) in ways consistent with the principles outlined in the 2012 report.  It is not intended to be *the* resource on conducting responsible research, but a resource, especially for training and educational purposes.

Policy-oriented readers may wish to give additional attention to Chapter 10, which covers communicating with policymakers and the public.  It takes care to note the different kinds of advice that scientists may be called to provide policymakers, noting the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the L’Aquila earthquake in explaining the different and sometimes competing pressures scientists face when presenting work in the public sphere.

INGSA Seeks Speaker Suggestions For Second Global Conference

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.

Part of the conference involves parallel sessions, and the conference organizers are open to suggestions for speakers.  These sessions will have three speakers each, and are organized around the following topics:

  • Parallel Session I: Scientific advice for global policy
  • Parallel Session II: Getting equipped – developing the practice of providing scientific advice for policy
  • Parallel Session III: Scientific advice for and with society
  • Parallel Session IV: Science advice crossing borders

More details on each of the sessions, including specific topics the organizers are looking to cover, are found at the INGSA website.  The organizers are open to individuals submitting their own name (with a proposal), or others suggesting speakers (without a proposal).  Researchers, policymakers, and other stakeholders in the development and/or application of science advice are all possible speakers.

Submissions will close on March 25th, and organizers intend to review the submissions and notify all accepted speakers within four weeks of that date.  Plenary speakers for the conference will be announced at a later date.

New European Commission Scientific Advice Mechanism Meets

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).

The High Level Group selected officers and determined subjects for its first advice to the Commission.  The chair is Professor Henrik C. Wegener, Executive Vice-President and Chief Academic Officer of the Technical University of Denmark.  Professor Elvira Fortunato, Professor of Materials Science, New University of Lisbon, was selected as deputy chair of SAM.  At the request of Commissioner Moedas and Vice-President Ansip, the Group will focus on cybersecurity (linked to the Digital Single Market) and vehicle emissions of carbon dioxide.

Minutes and background documents are supposed to be made available on the SAM website, so check that link in a week or so.  They may provide information on when the advice on those topics is expected and when the next meeting of the High Level Group will take place.