Newest Medals Of Science And Technology Winners Include AAAS Head

Earlier this week the White House announced the latest recipients of the National Medal of Science and The National Medal of Technology and Innovation.  The National Medal of Science has been around since 1959 and is administered by the National Science Foundation.  The National Medal of Technology and Innovation was first awarded in 1980 and is administered for the White House by the Patent and Trademark Office.  The recipients will be recognized early next year in a White House ceremony.

As is often the case, most, if not all of those recognized are not household names.  The closest that come are still not recognizable by the general public.  Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and current member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), and Dr. Geraldine Richmond, who is the current President of AAAS, a member of the National Science Board, and has served as a Science Envoy at the Department of State.

Here is the full list of this year’s recipients.  Congratulations.

National Medal of Science

  • Dr. Armand Paul Alivisatos, University of California and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, CA
  • Dr. Michael Artin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MA
  • Dr. Albert Bandura, Stanford University, CA
  • Dr. Stanley Falkow, Stanford University School of Medicine, CA
  • Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, NY
  • Dr. Rakesh K. Jain, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, MA
  • Dr. Mary-Claire King, University of Washington, WA
  • Dr. Simon Levin, Princeton University, NJ
  • Dr. Geraldine Richmond, University of Oregon, OR

National Medal of Technology and Innovation

  • Dr. Joseph DeSimone, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, and Carbon3D, CA
  • Dr. Robert Fischell, University of Maryland at College Park, MD
  • Dr. Arthur Gossard, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA
  • Dr. Nancy Ho, Green Tech America, Inc. and Purdue University, IN
  • Dr. Chenming Hu, University of California, Berkeley, CA
  • Dr. Mark Humayun, University of Southern California, CA
  • Dr. Cato T. Laurencin, University of Connecticut, CT
  • Dr. Jonathan Rothberg, 4catalyzer Corporation and Yale School of Medicine, CT

Second International Conference On Science Advice To Government Announced

The International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA), formalized after an August 2014 conference on that subject, announced it will hold another one.  Co-hosted by INGSA and the European Commission, the conference will take place September 29 and 30 of 2016 in Brussels.

More information will be forthcoming, but the 2014 conference may be instructive in what might take place next September.  The speakers came from a number of countries around the world, and included several top-level government science advisers.  While the new location will likely influence the speakers at the next conference, I’m confidant that the interests of countries around the world will be represented.

In related INGSA news, Sir Peter Gluckman, science adviser to the New Zealand Prime Minister, and James Wilsdon, Professor of Science and Democracy at SPRU, are working on a collected edition of science advice articles for Palgrave Communications.  The articles will be open access, peer-reviewed, and available around April.

An Immodest Proposal For Biological (And University) Lab Safety

Nature has posted a commentary from a biomedical security consultant suggesting a way forward in light of recent problems with hazardous sample security.  In short, the author suggests that facilities dealing with other hazardous materials (or processes) are worth emulating.  The goal of this imitation is to instill a culture of safety not present in facilities that handle dangerous biomedical specimens like anthrax.

So while the specific practices and materials involved in the nuclear industry are not transferable to biosecurity, the author thinks that it would be useful to imitate the perspective the industry has of safety.  This includes expanding responsibility for safety from just designated officers to everyone at the facility.  Also important is encouraging a focus on reliability and an awareness of when things deviate from normal, even just a little.

I found the argument persuasive, but not just for biomedical security.  Given the horrible track record of lab safety in universities, it seems that a lot of research facilities could benefit from a culture of safety instead of just a lab safety officer.

Ministerial Mandate Letters Help Detail Expectations For Canadian Government

New Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, has released the Ministerial Mandate Letters he submitted to his Cabinet Ministers (H/T The Frogheart Daily).  They outline PM Trudeau’s expectations for his ministers, which focus a great deal on collegiality with members of Parliament outside of the Liberal Party and being open and transparent in their dealings.

But the letters also outline priorities and goals for the ministries.  As Science is part of the job title for two different Ministers, these letters help define which areas of science and science policy will fall under which Minister.  Other Ministers have science and technology responsibilities (I’ve described these in a separate post) and you can check out their letters as well.

The new Science Minister, Kirsty Duncan, was given the following priorities in her letter:

  • Create a Chief Science Officer mandated to ensure that government science is fully available to the public, that scientists are able to speak freely about their work, and that scientific analyses are considered when the government makes decisions.
  • Support your colleagues in the review and reform of Canada’s environmental assessment processes to ensure that environmental assessment decisions are based on science, facts, and evidence.
  • Support the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour in efforts to help employers create more co-op placements for students in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and business programs.
  • Support your Ministerial colleagues as they re-insert scientific considerations into the heart of our decision-making and investment choices.
  • Lead the establishment of new Canada Research Chairs in sustainable technologies, working with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.
  • Work in collaboration with the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to examine the implications of climate change on Arctic marine ecosystems.
  • Examine options to strengthen the recognition of, and support for, fundamental research to support new discoveries.

The following paragraph from the letter outlines Trudeau’s philosophy with respect to the role of science in this government.

“We are a government that believes in science – and a government that believes that good scientific knowledge should inform decision-making.  We believe that investments in scientific research, including an appropriate balance between fundamental research to support new discoveries and the commercialization of ideas, will lead to good jobs and sustainable economic growth. As Minister of Science, your overarching goal will be to support scientific research and the integration of scientific considerations in our investment and policy choices.  Support for science is an essential pillar in our strategy to create sustainable economic growth and support and grow the middle class.”
It’s worth noting – because it often gets lost – that this philosophy sees scientific knowledge and scientific considerations are but one input into policy and decision making.  Inform, not dictate.
It’s also worth noting that the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (MP Navdeep Bains) is mentioned just once in the Minister of Science letter.  Looking at the letter sent to Minister Bains, it would seem that PM Trudeau sees science in this portfolio in service to economic development and innovation.  The role as outlined in the letter:

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European Science And Technology Ethics Group To Continue In New Government

Most of the fuss raised by the science advocacy community over the changes in European Commission structure focused on the discontinued position of Chief Scientific Adviser.  By the end of this year a seven member science advisory board should be in place.

However, the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE) was in a similar state of limbo following the change in Commission Presidents.  It was recently announced that the group will continue as part of the research department, where the science advisory board will also sit.

The EGE has been around since 1991, and currently has five theologians, five lawyers and five scientists as members.  Its closest U.S. equivalent appears to be the various bioethical commissions that advised presidential administrations.  The work product of the EGE has focused on matters connected to biotechnology, but it is not limited to that area.  Recently the EGE has also conducted ethics reviews of grant applications under the Framework Programmes (and presumably their successor, Horizon 2020).

Let’s Not Get Too Excited, But There’s A New Canadian Cabinet

Yesterday Justin Trudeau was sworn in as the Prime Minister of Canada following the Liberal Party’s performance in last month’s election.  He also announced his cabinet, and his government announced that it would restore the mandatory long-form census.  I’ll focus on the cabinet, but the census decision is a big deal, especially with the next one scheduled for 2016. The official list of the top tier Cabinet appointments is online.

The census decision was announced by the new Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, MP Navdeep Bains.  Minister Bains was returned to Parliament in this year’s election, having served previously in Parliament from 2004-2011.  His training is in finance and his non-Parliamentary experience has been in financial analysis.  Like the new UK Minister with responsibility for science, Jo Johnson, Bains is considered a rising figure in his party.

Prime Minister Trudeau also appointed a Minister of Science, MP Kirsty Duncan.  In a rarity for such a position, Duncan is a trained scientist, a medical geographer.  This ministerial post is at a higher level in the cabinet than it was in the Harper Government (some would argue that it didn’t exist in that government, but I consider that a semantic argument).  Duncan has served in Parliament since 2008, and was a professor at the University of Windsor and the University of Toronto before this.  Details of her portfolio, and how things might differ now that this ministry is on a higher cabinet level, aren’t clear at the moment.

There are, of course, other appointments to the cabinet that will deal with science and/or technology matters.

MP Marc Garneau, retired astronaut and former head of the Canadian Space Agency, will be Minster of Transport.  Garneau represented the Liberal Party in the national cross-party science debate.

MP Jim Carr will be the Minister of Natural Resources.  This is his first term in Parliament, but has served in the Manitoba legislative assembly.  His background is particularly varied, having (among other things) formed the Business Council of Manitoba, worked as a reporter on the Winnipeg Free Press, and played oboe for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

MP Catherine McKenna is the new Minister for Environment and Climate Change (climate change has been added to the job title).  She is a lawyer and also in her first term in Parliament.

MP Dr. Jane Philpott is the new Health Minister, and also a first-termer in Parliament.  She has years of experience in the health care industry and is a medical doctor of note.

MP Hunter Tootoo is the new Minister for Oceans and Fisheries and the Canadian Coast Guard.  He is also a first-term federal MP, though he has experience in local and territorial government in Nunavut (go ahead, look it up).  He has stated that Trudeau appointed him to the ministry in part because Trudeau wanted to remind Canadians they have three oceans.  Tootoo is not the first Inuk nor the first MP from Nunavut to serve in a Canadian cabinet.  His predecessor, Leona Aglukkaq, served as Minister of Health and then Minister of Environment during the Harper Government.  Canada continues to take the Arctic seriously.

U.S. Releases Third Open Government National Action Plan

In connection with the Open Government Partnership (OGP) meetings this week in Mexico City, the U.S. released its third Open Government National Action Plan.  The government releases these plans every two years as part of its membership in the Partnership.  (It is also distinct from any commitments OGP members make during the current meetings.)

The third plan includes new commitments, many of which build on previous commitments to make government information more usable and accessible to the public that it serves.  New commitments that are of particular interest to me are the efforts to set up web design standards, as well as an effort to make publicly available every address in the U.S.  Science and technology do not have a large role as a subject in this plan, but technology is an important tool in implementing many, if not all, of the commitments to open government.

Unfortunately, the most recent progress report on how the government has been implementing its plan(s) is for 2011-2013.  There is a more current self-assessment available.  The Open Government Partnership summit continues through tomorrow, the 29th.