2016 Canadian Science Policy Conference Returns To Ottawa

The 2016 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC), the eighth such event, will return to the nation’s capital from November 8-10.  This is the third year the Conference will take place in Ottawa, and the first time it has been held in the same city in consecutive years.  I attended the first conference in 2009, and the event has grown in size and stature every year since.  I’d encourage anyone interested in Canadian science policy, or even in how interested researchers and practitioners form and grow a community, to review previous conferences and consider attending the event.

The conference themes have been announced, and conference organizers are looking for panel proposals.  The deadline for submitting them is June 17th.  Most of the conference themes reflect the change in Canadian government (which took place just before the last CSPC) and the statements that government has made regarding science, technology and innovation policies for the country.  These new policies include the establishment of a science adviser of some kind (distinct from the government’s Minister of Science, Kristy Duncan, who spoke at the 2015 conference) and a spending review for fundamental science research.

More information on the 2016 conference should trickle in over the summer.

First Arctic Science Ministerial Will Take Place In Washington This Fall

Last week Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren announced that the United States will host the first Arctic Science Ministerial on September 28, 2016 in Washington, D.C.  Representatives will attend from many countries as well as indigenous groups.

It’s not clear from the announcement which countries and native groups will be participating.  However, the Arctic Council, which the United States is chairing this year, has as its members the Arctic States (the Kingdom of Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Canada, Norway and the United States) and six international groups representing indigenous people in the Arctic States.  I don’t know enough to guess at what other countries and groups might participate.  Perhaps there will be some representation of countries and people affected by Antarctic science.

The White House announcement named four themes for the Ministerial meeting,

  1. Arctic Science Challenges and their Regional and Global Implications.
  2. Strengthening and Integrating Arctic Observations and Data Sharing.
  3. Applying Expanded Scientific Understanding of the Arctic to Build Regional Resilience and Shape Global Responses.
  4. Arctic Science as a Vehicle for STEM Education and Citizen Empowerment. 

The overarching goal of the meeting is to expand collaborative efforts in Arctic science, including but not limited to: data sharing, research, monitoring, and observations.  With an increasing interest in the region, this first meeting has the capacity to address how new activities in the Arctic can add to the climatic changes already taking place.

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.