Dinos, villians, bats, space & tourism: #cdnsci Lunchtime, 29 Oct 2015

Alberta researcher finds fossilized feathers, skin on ostrich-like dinosaur | Metro News

Memorial University called 'real villain' as BMJ ditches Chandra research - Newfoundland & Labrador - CBC News

Thirteen spooky facts about Canadian bats

McGill launches centre for space research | Channels - McGill University

National park would attract tourists from around the world to our region - Osoyoos Times - Osoyoos Times

Cod, Oxygen, Failure, the "I-word", politics and the death star: Good Morning #cdnsci

Dal Mice, YWG Mussels, Waterloo to Mars, fewer texting teens & unmuzzled science: #cdnsci morning

Well, I'm back - kind of.

G'day everyone. I'm back. Did you miss me?

Now that the election is over I can return, from the morass that is a political campaign, back to what rocks my boat - Canadian science. But a few caveats are in order for those of you who might care.

First off - I'm going to be re-entering this blog/Facebook/Twitter account/mailing list slowly. The effort I was putting in before the election was amazingly time consuming and I don;'t think I can go back exactly to that. So don't expect a lot of activity right away.

On the other hand, I still want to make sure that people get as much Canadian science news as possible. I think that was a large part of my contribution to the community.

So that brings me to the Second point - I will be looking to change up how I do business. I do not know what form that will take at the moment, but something will have to change. Stay tuned.

And Third - related to the first two - is that I might be looking for some increased input from the community. Once again, I do not know what form that might take, and it may not happen at all, but if you are at all interested in helping to contribute to my mandate of championing and helping protect Canadian Science then keep your eyes open for a future call for assistance.

Finally, and this is probably implicit in the previous statements, I still see a role for this blog/etc in the post-Harper era. I expect that Canada will still be doing great science and - if Trudeau follows through with his promises - I hope that there will be even more that can be talked about. But that caveat - "if Trudeau follows through with his promises" - is an important one. The science community in Canada has been badly burnt by the Harper Conservatives and we need to make sure that the new government helps fix the wounds. So the community needs to watch what the new Canadian Government does and hold them to their promises.

I hope to help with that, and I trust that all of you will also.

So - watch this space. And if you have any thoughts/ideas/criticisms, please send them my way.

Dear god no - not a federal "innovation" ministry

As you may have noticed from past posts, I have a very jaded view of the term "innovation." It is a term used by industry to mean "lets introduce something new to make money" which, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that when business talks to government, "innovation" swings to "focus government R&D efforts towards to subsidized short-term industrial efforts to create something we can monetize." If that is too long for you, it simply means science loses.

Which is why I am somewhat horrified to read the Globe and Mail article entitled "Tech alliance pushes for federal innovation ministry."

Don't get me wrong - there is some good stuff in there. Revamp Industry Canada to better reflect a move towards fast moving high-tech industries? Right with you. Move the Science, Tech and Innovation work under a full top-level minister? I'm totally good with that. Focus the ministry exclusively on "innovation?"

Not so much.

The article as written, and what I have seen about the proposal, both suggest a focus on business innovation in Canada which, as we all know, is horribly broken by the Conservative's misguided and ill-informed attempts to reform it. The problem is - as the article notes - that the Conservative efforts disincentivized business R&D by trying to force government and academia to do R&D for business. Since government and academic researchers are largelyill-equipped to dobusiness R&D, this was doomed to fail. Worse, while failing, the effort would take down Canada's extremely successful public interest and basic science efforts.

So, as written, it is a bad idea. Good goals, and some good, realistic, ideas, but - shall we say - incomplete. So I'll put forward my $0.05 (since we got rid of the penny, adding my two cents would be less than useful).

By all means elevate innovation to a full minister, but realize that innovation does not stand alone. It needs basic, curiosity-based, and applied science at its base. So....

  • Create a "Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation," where science is explicitly included and appreciated.
  • Put basic science - and science that is either too risky or too expensive for business to be able to do - back into NRC's mandate.
  • By all means, let us keep a dedicated cadre of scientists and engineers at NRC to help transition this basic science work to industry, but reduce its footprint while increasing its focus.
  • Remove the requirements for industry involvement in NSERC, CIHR, and SSHRC grants.
  • Create specific, separate, programs (i.e. money pots) for industry-affiliated R&D. Make this money in addition to existing NSREC/CIHR/SSHRC money, and make sure that industry has skin in the game by making it 50/50 government/industry funded.
  • Don't try to pick winners/losers in technologies. By all means invest in some strategic areas, but allow the scientists and opportunity to look in other areas as well - you never know what will happen.
  • Ensure that government scientists/engineers are able to transition their ideas from the lab to market through an incubator of sorts. Details will be tricky, but the scientists doing the work may see potential that external industry may not see, and we should allow these scientists/engineers an opportunity to run with the idea.
  • Recognize that other science-based departments need to thrive, but need to focus on science for the social good. So fund them appropriately, and give them back the mandates that were removed by the Conservatives.

These are just a few ideas, and they are presented not to replace the CATA proposal, but to refine and augment it. And honestly, the specifics may not even be good. But I feel strongly that a top-level ministry cannot be focused on Innovation, and only have science as a subordinate focus. Science, by its nature, is about the future while Innovation, by *its* nature, is about the now. The every-moving fuzzy region in between is where opportunity exists, and we must be sure that this fuzzy region exists by nurturing both the science and the innovation that border it.

Canada didn't endorse Trudeau, it condemned Harper

Last night I had the honour to be a "scrutineer" at a polling station near my house. When it came near time to count the votes a young supporter of the Conservatives came in and we had an opportunity to talk. His point of view was that there were no real big issues in the election - it was really only about tweaking. I, of course, disagreed, stating that there was at least one big issue - his boss. 

He could not see it.

I think that the results bear out my view - that whatever the other issues were, they were either overshadowed, or stemmed from, Stephen Harper and his actions as a PM. In the lead up to this election I saw more people talking politics than ever before, and their level of engagement was far greater.  

And "strategic voting" came to dominate my newsfeed, spurred by the niqab and other fear-filled issues that arose during the election. The result we saw yesterday was, I am convinced, at result of massive strategic voting across the country.

I could point to the polls, where the race was tight until the Liberals started to pull ahead and NDP support waned at an equal rate. Or I could point to the large number of youth who came out to vote - a constituency who traditionally votes left - because of what Harper has done. But that is not what convinces me that strategic voting won the day. It was my personal interactions with other citizens.

I was on the "sign team" for my local Green Party candidate. One of our first actions was to drop by the houses of people who supported the Green Party in the past. Easily half of these supporters - ones who had lawn signs in the past - stated that they would not be voting Green this election. Several stated outright that they would be voting strategically.

Further, while at the polls I had friends who saw me there apologetically state that their heart was Green, but they voted Liberal because they felt such a need to get rid of Harper. I was even approached by a Liberal campaign worker who stated that he has supported Green in the past, and would support Green in the future, but that he had to work to get rid of Harper as he was the biggest threat to his ideals.

So, Mr. Trudeau, congratulations on your victory. But do not make the mistake of assuming that the results reflect peoples support for you and your policies - they do not. You are a means to an end. If you wish to keep your support there are a multitude of things to do, from unmuzzling scientists to enacting electoral reform to bringing back Canada's reputation internationally. 

Always keep in mind that your support is weak. You are not "Justin Trudeau." You are "Not Stephen Harper." Canada is watching you. The voters who swung to support you are watching you. And they can easily throw their support behind another "Not Stephen Harper."



It's the ELA again, but for agriculture. And it's wrong.

This one strikes close to home for me - close enough that I need to come out of hibernation.

I am but one generation away from the farm. My father grew up on a farm, and his first degree is in agriculture. The first time he came to visit me after I moved to Ottawa he expressed the importance of the work done on the experimental farm. His main point was that there are very very few places in the world where you have the decades of data on what was done to soil, and how the chemical makeup changed. The data traces not only the man-made inputs, but also the environmental ones.

And it's about to be lost.

Topp, who continued to work on his experiments without pay for several years after retiring, said his work involved measuring the impact of low tilling or no tilling methods on carbon, water and other aspects of the soil as a means of improving its quality, something that is crucial to feed a growing population. Carbon, which is vital to feed plants, is depleted when the soil is repeatedly tilled.

Please understand. Like the the loss of the Experimental Lakes Area, the loss of this part of the Experimental Farm is irreplaceable. This data spans decades - you can't just start it up elsewhere and expect the same value. The value is not in what happens one year to the next. The value is the changes over decades.

This is not simply  "heritage site." It's more than that. It is a working experiment that has economic, environmental, and social benefits that belie it's size. 

We can't afford to lose it.

So long, and thanks for all the science

Dear Friends,

I am going on hiatus. I may pop in from time to time, but it will be in the form of an isolated post or tweet. I am - at least for now - suspending my almost-daily posting of Canadian science stories. 

It has been a little more than 3 years now. I started the "@speakup4sci" Twitter handle - which has since grown to include a blog and a Facebook page - because I was increasingly dismayed at the attacks that science - and specifically Canadian Science - was taking. Whether it was the anti-vax movement, the "useful idiots" supporting the Koch-bros oil empire, or the decision-based fact-making of the Federal Conservatives, I saw the voice of science - of reason, of facts, of reality - being drowned out by the dull roar of ignorance and self-interest.

I decided to start my Twitter account to share the excellent science that I saw every day in the world around me. And it's been fun. Almost 13,000 tweets later - most of which were postings of science stories in the news - I have learned so much about science, Canadian scientists and universities, and about science policy that I am amazed that my head can hold it.

It has, however, became clear to me that kibbitzing on the Internet is not how you effect real change. To do that you need to get involved with the political process, because that is where decisions are being made. To stand up for science, you first have to get off your ass. And that is what I am doing.

This year I will be working with a candidate in my local riding - a candidate that I think is the best choice and who I think can help effect change. This will require time and effort, and something has to give so I can make the time and give the effort - in this case it is @speakup4sci and the associated properties.

While there is some sadness, I recognize that the world of Canadian Science has changed. Numerous people and organizations have sprung up to defend Canadian science. Whether it is Evidence for Democracy, Science Borealis, Our Right to Know (@sci4knowing) , John Dupuis, Diane Orihel, or any of a host of others (the list is too long to try to be complete), I step aside knowing that Canadian Science advocacy is alive and well. The gap I saw when I started? It is well and truly filled.

So I step aside knowing that there are others who are doing the job that I saw needed doing, and are doing it much better than I ever could.

Like I said above - I will return from time to time,  but the almost-daily listing of Canadian Science stories will (at least for now) have to stop. I must get off my ass and enter the world of politics for the next few months. 

Thank you providing me with an audience. And thank you for caring about Canadian Science. And thank you for caring about the future of Canada and Canadian democracy. You are all beautiful people.

And so, as the title says - So long, and thanks for all the science.

And don't forget to vote!

Your friend, @speakup4sci

Technology used in hunt of a different kind for North Atlantic right whales

Part of the question is "where have they gone." The other part of the question (which I don't see addressed here) is "why have they left?" Is it shipping? Over-fishing? Pollution? Warming waters? This is important information also!

Davies said similar work last summer in the Roseway Basin, a known right whale habitat, left scientists shaking their heads when they recorded 93 sightings in August and then found they had all left just two weeks later.

”The fact that there were so many whales and they just deserted the whole area was shocking,” she said.

S. Korea, Canada ink deal on science cooperation

Based on this quote I can only assume that South Korea has not been reading Canadian newspapers lately. That said, I am hoping that Canada will soon get back to appreciating basic science.

Canada is advanced in the basic science field and South Korea is an information-technology powerhouse, the ministry noted, adding a lot of synergy is expected between the two countries on top of their existing free trade agreement.