Archive for the 'Canada' category

Julie Payette: Engineer, Astronaut, Governor General of Canada, Defender of Reality

Julie Payette is about as ridiculously accomplished as you could ever imagine any person could be.

I like this short passage as a quick summary of awesomeness:

In her career and public life, Julie Payette has proven her mettle, intelligence and integrity time after time. An engineer, computer scientist and astronaut, she has flown commercial and military jets, been certified as a deep sea diver, operated the Canadarm, participated in two missions to the International Space Station, served as the chief astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency, has had international academic posts and has sat on both corporate and non-profit boards. (For what it’s worth: Payette also speaks six languages and is a gifted singer and pianist.)

This article from back in the summer when Payette's appointment was announced gives a fantastic overview of why she was a great choice for governor general.

Which brings us to this most recent tempest in a teapot.

As governor general, Payette represents the Canadian head of state, Queen Elizabeth and effectively functions as the head of state in Canada. For example, it is the GG who formally dissolves parliament before an election and asks the leader of the party with the most seats to form a government after an election. Usually, these are deeds without controversy as the GG is unelected (appointed by the prime minister for five year terms) and follows a fairly well-defined tradition. But not always.

At the Canadian Science Policy Conference in Ottawa in the first week of November, Payette gave a talk where she addressed some scientific "controversies" around such topics as climate change denialism, the validity of horoscopes and, horror of horror, whether or not divine intervention played a role in the story of life on this planet.

Some selected quotes here:

"Can you believe that still today in learned society, in houses of government, unfortunately, we're still debating and still questioning whether humans have a role in the Earth warming up or whether even the Earth is warming up, period," she asked, her voice incredulous.

"And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process."

She generated giggles and even some guffaws from the audience when she said too many people still believe "taking a sugar pill will cure cancer if you will it good enough and that your future and every single one of the people here's personalities can be determined by looking at planets coming in front of invented constellations."

Overall, pretty mild stuff. Science is real; pseudoscience, denialism and religion aren't.

Not a particularly nuanced approach to be sure, and perhaps she could have phrased the bit about evolution a bit more circumspectly, but at the end of the day I can't find fault with what she said. Yes, we have freedom of religion. People can worship as they please and hold the tenets of their faith as literally or as metaphorically as they please. Payette never implied otherwise. But the government's (and the state's) only requirement is that they not interfere with that worship or require any particular set of beliefs to participate in public life. The government and the state don't support any one religion over any other religion. They also don't promote belief over non-belief (at least in practice; separation of church and state in Canada is a bit complicated). They certainly don't have the burden to reassure believers about the literal truth of their beliefs.

As The Beaverton put it, making fun of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer's criticisms,

“There are millions of Canadians who were offended by Julie Payette’s scientific proselytizing,” explained Scheer to reporters about the Vice-Regal’s support of Newton’s law of universal gravitation. “We should be more inclusive to those who believe that gravity does not exist, or who believe in many gravities. We can’t conclusively claim that what goes up must come down; I mean why are mountains still standing?”


“What’s next? Governments advocating for people to get flu shots?” Scheer asked rhetorically, shrugging his shoulders.

Scheer clarified that he wasn’t anti-science, rather trying to accommodate the sacred views that the scientific method is the work of the devil.

In matters of public policy, the government and the state do need to take seriously what the best evidence (demographic, sociological, scientific, historical) and the scientific consensus is on important issues.

Governor General Julie Payette should be congratulated on speaking her mind, on being honest and on putting the emphasis on facts and evidence.

I have to admit, the thing about this whole issue that has surprised me the most is the legs that it's had. If I'd initially thought that it would blow over after a few days, I was certainly wrong about that. Two weeks later and still commentary is trickling in, though at this point it's mostly the disgruntled. I'm always a bit surprised at how defensive people can be, even (or perhaps especially) in the face of how dominant their world view is in society and the media. I will also note that this whole controversy received very little press and commentary in Quebec where official secularism is the norm, perhaps to a fault.


As is my wont in these things, I've collected a fair bit of commentary around this issue both critical and supportive of Payette's remarks. Enjoy!

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Science in Canada: Save PEARL, The Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory

Sep 26 2017 Published by under Canada, climate change, Politics, Science in Canada

Deja vu all over again. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

Canadian science under the Harper government from 2006 to 2015 was a horrific era of cuts and closures and muzzling and a whole lot of other attack on science.

One of the most egregious was the threat to close the PEARL arctic research station. (PEARL website) Fortunately, the outcry was so fierce that the Harper government extended PEARL's funding for five years. Well, guess what? The five years is up and PEARL is threatened with closure once more.

Canadian science under the Justin Trudeau Liberals has shown signs of improvement, but has a ways to go.

One way for them to show their commitment to science (and to the environment and fighting climate change) would be to restore funding to PEARL and establish it as a permanent laboratory.

The fine folks at Evidence for Democracy have a campaign running whereby you can send a letter toScience Minister Kirsty Duncan asking to restore that funding.

The link is here.

The descriptive text from the E4D campaign site is here, including a great description of the importance of PEARL:

Canada’s high Arctic research station, The Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) will be closed in 2018 because its funding is being cut.

Surprised? So are we.

The federal government has made it clear that science and climate change are two of their top priorities, so why are they closing this key research station?

With the impacts of our changing climate already being felt in Canada and around the world, investing in climate science is a necessary part of ensuring that our decisions and actions around climate change mitigation and adaptation are based on up-to-date science and evidence.

PEARL is one of only a handful of high Arctic research stations in the world. From its scientifically strategic location in Canada’s high arctic, PEARL is able to investigate crucial environmental issues like ozone depletion, airborne spread of pollutants and monitor high Arctic climate changes.

After over a decade of internationally recognized scientific research, PEARL is at risk of closing.

PEARL, along with six other climate change and atmospheric research projects were all funded by the Climate Change and Atmospheric Research Program (CCAR). Money for the CCAR program runs out this year and the federal government did not announce any new funds in the 2017 budget. Without immediate new funding, all of these research programs are expected to end.

But it’s not too late to save PEARL and Canadian atmospheric climate science! Join us in asking the government to:

  • Invest $1.5 million per year to make PEARL a national laboratory
  • Provide a well supported and stable funding environment for climate research in Canada by reinstating a funding model for climate science similar to the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS) that was cut by the Harper government.

Given the Government’s commitment to addressing climate change, investing in climate and atmospheric science should be at the forefront of funding priorities.

With climate science under attack in the US, Canada has an opportunity and a responsibility to be international leaders on climate science. This starts by making sure PEARL and the other CCAR-funded projects aren’t shuttered.

The government has supported a new northern research center, the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS), which is a valuable asset to Canadian polar knowledge. But there is no indication that any atmospheric or climate change research will be untaken at CHARS. Also CHARS is located 1200 km south of PEARL, so it simply can’t replace the high arctic data collected at PEARL.

Shutdown preparations at PEARL have already begun, we need urgent action to save this essential research station.

Send a message to the Minister of Science today.

The text of the letter to Minister Duncan:

Dear Minister Duncan,

Thank you for making science and climate change priorities for your government.

I am concerned that Canada’s high arctic research station, The Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) is set to close at the end of this year unless its funding is renewed.

PEARL, along with the other projects funded by the Climate Change and Atmospheric Research program, conduct crucial research into important issues like ozone depletion, airborne spread of pollutants and changes to our climate.

Without new funding, we risk losing these facilities in the Arctic. This will jeopardize data continuity, productive collaborations between academic and government scientists, and recruitment of new researchers into the field.

I urge you to ensure that Canada continues to be a global leader in climate science by:
- Investing $1.5 million per year to make PEARL a national laboratory that could be overseen by Polar Knowledge Canada or Environment and Climate Change Canada; and
- Providing a well supported and stable funding environment for climate research in Canada by reinstating a funding model for climate science similar to the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS) that was cut by the Harper government.

These investments are a necessary complement to the other arctic and climate change research your government is investing in. While the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) is a valuable asset to Canadian stewardship of polar science, there is no indication that any atmospheric or climate change research will be undertaken there, nor does its location (1200 km south of PEARL) allow for the same high arctic data collection currently taking place at PEARL.

The funding of PEARL and the other CCAR projects are an essential part of ensuring that our decisions and actions around climate change mitigation and adaptation are based on up-to-date science and evidence.

I'm working on a readings list post about PEARL and hope to have that up within the next few days.

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Around the Web: Celebrating the Tanenbaum Open Science Institute at The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital

I don't have the time right now to do this justice, so I'll just lay out the story over the last year or so and let you, faithful reader, follow the thread. This is an amazing story.

This is an amazing initiative at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University in Montreal.

From the press release:

McGill University announces a transformative $20 million donation to the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital

Tanenbaum Open Science Institute to open new horizons and accelerate discovery in neuroscience

The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, was present today at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (MNI) for the announcement of an important donation of $20 million by the Larry and Judy Tanenbaum family. This transformative gift will help to establish the Tanenbaum Open Science Institute, a bold initiative that will facilitate the sharing of neuroscience findings worldwide to accelerate the discovery of leading edge therapeutics to treat patients suffering from neurological diseases.

‟Today, we take an important step forward in opening up new horizons in neuroscience research and discovery,” said Mr. Larry Tanenbaum. ‟Our digital world provides for unprecedented opportunities to leverage advances in technology to the benefit of science. That is what we are celebrating here today: the transformation of research, the removal of barriers, the breaking of silos and, most of all, the courage of researchers to put patients and progress ahead of all other considerations.”

Neuroscience has reached a new frontier, and advances in technology now allow scientists to better understand the brain and all its complexities in ways that were previously deemed impossible. The sharing of research findings amongst scientists is critical, not only due to the sheer scale of data involved, but also because diseases of the brain and the nervous system are amongst the most compelling unmet medical needs of our time.

Neurological diseases, mental illnesses, addictions, and brain and spinal cord injuries directly impact 1 in 3 Canadians, representing approximately 11 million people across the country.

“As internationally-recognized leaders in the field of brain research, we are uniquely placed to deliver on this ambitious initiative and reinforce our reputation as an institution that drives innovation, discovery and advanced patient care,” said Dr. Guy Rouleau, Director of the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital and Chair of McGill University’s Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery. “Part of the Tanenbaum family’s donation will be used to incentivize other Canadian researchers and institutions to adopt an Open Science model, thus strengthening the network of like-minded institutes working in this field.”

‟We thank the Tanenbaum family for this generous investment, which allows us to further accelerate progress to meet the needs of patients,ˮ said Professor Suzanne Fortier, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University. ‟The Open Science movement is gaining momentum, with global initiatives underway in the European Union, Japan and the United States. The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital will become the first academic institute worldwide to fully embrace Open Science. The Tanenbaum Open Science Institute will set the global standard for this movement and position McGill, Montreal, Quebec and Canada at the forefront of scientific progress.ˮ

The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital

The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital – The Neuro – is a world-leading destination for brain research and advanced patient care. Since its founding in 1934 by renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Wilder Penfield, The Neuro has grown to be the largest specialized neuroscience research and clinical center in Canada, and one of the largest in the world. The seamless integration of research, patient care, and training of the world’s top minds make The Neuro uniquely positioned to have a significant impact on the understanding and treatment of nervous system disorders. The Montreal Neurological Institute is a McGill University research and teaching institute. The Montreal Neurological Hospital is part of the Neuroscience Mission of the McGill University Health Centre. For more information, please visit

About McGill University

McGill University is one of Canada’s top institutions of higher learning and one of the leading universities in the world. With students coming to McGill from some 150 countries, its student body is the most internationally diverse of any research-intensive university in the country. Its 11 faculties and 11 professional schools offer more than 300 programs of study to some 40,000 graduate, undergraduate and continuing studies students. McGill ranks 1st in Canada among medical-doctoral universities (Maclean’s) and 24th in the world (QS World University Rankings).

Source: The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, McGill University

Contact Information
Contact: Shawn Hayward
Organization: Montreal Neurological Institute
Office Phone: 514-398-3376

Secondary Contact Information
Contact: Cynthia Lee
Organization: McGill University
Secondary Email:
Office Phone: 514-398-6754


And their commitment to open science is described here. While it doesn't focus so much on research outputs such as articles (Which I guess will mostly be covered under the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications), I'm very pleased to see code, data sharing and no IP protection emphasized. On the other hand, item number five in the list below is a partial escape clause for researchers (and others) at the Neuro who aren't quite on board. Which is understandable. Let's just hope that over time they are able to shift their culture such that researchers at least won't feel the need to decline participation in open science initiatives.

A Ten-Year Mission
Within the next ten years, we aim to transform many brain disorders from chronic or terminal to treatable, or even curable, conditions. The main objective of the Tanenbaum Open Science Institute is to accelerate the discovery of novel therapeutics to treat patients suffering from neurological disease.

We want to reduce the human and socio-economic burden of psychiatric and neurological illnesses, and improve the mental health, quality of life, and productivity of people around the world.

Our Principles
Open Science at the Montreal Neurological Institute is based on five guiding principles:

1. Share scientific data and resources
MNI researchers will render all positive and negative numerical data, models used, data sources, reagents, algorithms, software and other scientific resources publicly available no later than the publication date of the first article that relies on this data or resource.

2. Open external research partnerships
All data and scientific resources generated through research partnerships – whether with commercial, philanthropic, or public sectors – are to be released on the same basis as set out in Principle 1.

3. Share research participants' contributions and protect their rights

The Neuro Open Science Clinical, Biological, Imaging, and Genetic data (NeurO CBIG) Repository will maximize the long-term value of contributions made by research participants and the scientific resources created by MNI researchers and their collaborators. In the conduct of the NeurO CBIG, the MNI recognizes the primacy of safeguarding the dignity and privacy of patient-participants, and respecting the rights and duties owed them through the informed consent process.

4. Do not file patents
Subject to patient confidentiality and informed consent given, neither the MNI nor its researchers in their capacity as employees or consultants of the McGill- MNI unit will obtain patent protection or assert data protection rights in respect of any of their research.

5. Respect academic autonomy
The MNI supports the autonomy of its stakeholders, including but not limited to researchers, staff, trainees and patients, through recognizing their right to decline to participate in research and associated activities under an OS framework. However, the MNI will not support activities that compromise the previously outlined OS principles.


Andre Picard puts it nicely in context in today's Globe and Mail, In Montreal, a wee opening in the closed world of science research.

Is the accepted way of doing science bad for science?

That question is the driving force behind the bold new “Open Science” initiative at the Montreal Neurological Institute.

Currently, governments invest a lot of money in health research, almost all of it at universities and labs associated with teaching hospitals.

We expect scientists to discover stuff such as drugs and technology and then commercialize those findings so there is a return on investment on the public funds invested. In recent years, there has been tremendous pressure on scientists to demonstrate immediate and lucrative results, and enormous scorn when they don’t.


The Open Science philosophy holds that it is the latter. Open Science has four fundamental goals: 1) Transparency in experimental methodology and collection of data, 2) Public availability of scientific data, 3) Public accessibility and transparency and scientific communication, and 4) Using Web-based tools to facilitate collaboration.


At The Neuro, all findings will be patent-free and freely accessible to other scientists worldwide – making it the first academic institute in the world to fully embrace open science. The Neuro can afford this experiment thanks to a $20-million (Canadian) donation from the family of Larry Tanenbaum, the philanthropist and chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. As a savvy businessman, he is convinced that openness will accelerate research and discovery. “What we are celebrating here today is the transformation of research, the removal of barriers, the breaking of silos and, most of all, the courage of researchers to put patients and progress ahead of all other considerations,” Mr. Tanenbaum said at Friday’s announcement.


Bravo. Let's hope this isn't the last Canadian research institute to make such a public commitment to open science. In fact, I'd like to challenge all of us to help our own institutions travel along this path. Different disciplines and different institutions (and even different units with different institutions) will have their own path, but it's important to start the journey and make the commitment to find that path.

And, as promised, here's a bit of background reading on the Neuro's journey to open science over the last year or so.


As usual, if I've missed anything significant, let me know in the comments.

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Presentation: The Conservative War on Science: What's a Librarian to Do?

Just a quick post to get a recent set of presentation slides up here on the blog.

Earlier this week a colleague in the Science and Technologies Studies program here at York hosted me in her fourth year undergraduate seminar class. Rather than my accustomed and normal role of librarian (I happen to be the STS liaison librarian at the moment), I was invited to appear as seminar subject. In other words, she wanted me to talk about my long history of science policy advocacy and activism and a little about how I feel about the current Canadian government.

Which I sort of did, I guess. I also ended up talking about how I view activism in an academic research context, which of course, lead me to talk a little about the implications of altmetrics in a "publish or perish" academic environment.

Of course, there's a surprise ending, but I'll leave that to you to discover in the slides. By the way, it might seem that there are a lot of slides, but most of them are really quite brief.


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Documenting the Donald Trump War on Science: Pre-Inauguration Edition

Update 2017.01.31: First post-inauguration chronology post is done, covering the first week of the Trump administration.

From the point of view of someone sitting North of the Canadian/US border, the results of this week's US Federal election are somewhat terrifying. And honestly and truly as a Canadian and a Torontonian, I say this without a bit of smugness. Been there, done that, if not quite on the same scale.

And by done that, I mean that I've often seen my mission to document important stories in the world. In the past, mostly Canadian or mostly in the library world and all basically about science.

This time around, I'm going to start a project about science in the new Donald Trump administration. I believe Trump will be terrible for science, technology, the environment and public health. And I intend to document that here. Of course, Trump won't be terrible for science in exactly the same way that Harper was in Canada. For example, he may not target research funding in the same way. On the other hand, the environment may fare much worse and ultimately muzzling may also prove to be a problem. It's only over the course of the next couple of years that we'll really and truly get a sense of the implications.

But why wait until we see the share of how exactly Trump is bad for science to start keeping track?

I like what David Kipen said today in the LA Times.

If all these experiences have taught me anything, it’s that librarians may be the only first responders holding the line between America and a raging national pandemic of absolutism. More desperately than ever, we need our libraries now, and all three of their traditional pillars: 1) education, 2) good reading and 3) the convivial refuge of a place apart. In other words, libraries may be the last coal we have left to blow on.

First Responder -- Information Division is a role I can live with.

Like Anil Dash says, "Forget “Why?”, it’s time to get to work."

Don’t waste a single moment listening to the hand-wringing of the pundit class about Why This Happened, or people on TV talking about What This Means. The most important thing is that we focus on the work that needs to be done now. While so many have been doing what it takes to protect the marginalized and to make society more just, we must increase our urgency on those efforts, even while we grieve over this formidable defeat.

It is completely understandable, and completely human, to be depressed, demoralized or overwhelmed by the enormity of this broad embrace of hateful rhetoric and divisive policy. These are battles that have always taken decades to fight, and progress has never been smooth and steady — we’ve always faced devastating setbacks. If you need to take time to mourn, then do. But it’s imperative that we use our anger, our despair, our disbelief to fuel an intense, focused and effective campaign to protect and support the marginalized.

And it has to start now.

My small contribution is focusing on the effects the Trump administration will have on science, technology, the environment and public health. (As with my Canadian project, I consider healthcare funding models outside of my scope.)

So let's get started. I have a few sections to this post. The first will focus on documenting what happened before November 8, 2016. What he said about science and the environment. The second section will focus on commentary in the past few days since the election. The third section will be similar, but focusing on the implications for Canada. The final section will begin documenting actual anti-science actions and policies (yay, we already have a couple!)

Wish me luck. As usual, everyone should feel free to suggest things I've missed, either in the comments or privately at I'm not attempting to be comprehensive or complete in the commentary I'm picking up, but I do want to attempt to be fairly representative.


Pre-Election Commentary


Post-Election Commentary


Post-Election Commentary Added November 21, 2016


Post-Election Commentary Related to Implications for Canada


And finally, the beginning of the tally of cuts, etc.


Some Meta-Commentary Related More to Activism than Directly to Science


To repeat. This initial list is quick and very preliminary. Please let me know if there's anything you think I should include, either in the comments or at I'm not attempting to be comprehensive or complete in the commentary I'm picking up, but I do want to attempt to be fairly representative.

If I've missed anything or if anything I've included probably shouldn't be included, let me know and I'll take a look and evaluate.

I will be updating this master list as time goes by.


Update 2016.11.21. Quite a bit of commentary added, as well as some general info related to activism and resistance. One incident added, related to Steve Bannon. I'm treading a fine line between "what might happen and it would be bad" and "this is a thing that we know is actually happening." Probably the announcement of the actual cabinet will bring more information on the what the Trump presidency will mean for science, the environment and public health.
Update 2016.12.06. Quite a bit added again, lots of commentary and "meta" items. In particular, as the cabinet and other appointments are fleshed out, there's more to identify as issues.

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2015 Lane Anderson Award Shortlist: Celebrating the Best Science Writing in Canada

Aug 30 2016 Published by under Canada, science books

One of the real highlights for me every year is the late-summer announcement of the Lane Anderson Awards short list. Celebrating science books is a good thing. Celebrating Canadian writers is a good thing. Somehow in 2016, sunny ways and all, celebrating Canadian science writers seems like the best thing of all.

Some info on the award:

The Lane Anderson Award — created by the Fitzhenry Family Foundation — honours the very best science writing in Canada today, both in the adult and young reader categories. The winner in each category receives $10,000.

And the shortlist from their website here:

We’re excited to announce the finalists for the best Canadian science books written in 2015!

Adult Category

Frances Backhouse
Once They Were Hats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver
Publisher: ECW Press

Alanna Mitchell
Malignant Metaphor: Confronting Cancer Myths
Publisher: ECW Press

Andrew Nikiforuk
Slick Water: Fracking and One Insider’s Stand Against the World’s Most Powerful Industry
Publisher: Greystone Books

Michael Runtz
Dam Builders: The Natural History of Beavers and their Ponds
Publisher: Fitzhenry & Whiteside


Young Reader

Paula Ayer
Foodprints: The Story of What We Eat
Publisher: Annick Press

Elise Gravel
Head Lice: The Disgusting Critters Series
Publisher: Tundra Books

Merrie-Ellen Wilcox
What’s the Buzz?: Keeping Bees in Flight
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers

Cybèle Young
The Queen’s Shadow: A Story About How Animals See
Publisher: Kids Can Press


Winners will be announced at a dinner in Toronto in late September.

No responses yet

Around the Climate Web: Are We Feeling Collective Grief Over Climate Change? and more on the science and politics of climate change

Aug 21 2016 Published by under around the web, Canada, climate change, environment

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Am I the only one who wants to see a review of Canadian Federal Science Library infrastructure?

Aug 02 2016 Published by under Canada, Politics, Science in Canada, Uncategorized

I'm afraid the answer to that might be "Yes." Perhaps I'm the only one who's still interested and perhaps not, but there seems to be little movement towards launching a review of Canadian Science Library infrastructure.

Why do I think such a review is a good idea?

First of all, I've documented the devastation wrought on that infrastructure under the Conservatives. Not only do I chronicle the destruction, but at the same time you can clearly see from the assembled articles I link to in that post how much the various opposition parties -- including the now-in-government Liberals -- used those cuts to attack the science record of the Conservatives.

Clearly, damage was done those critical of the situation demanded something be done to fix it. At least some of people are in government now.

Second of all, the current Liberal government is certainly in a reviewing mood. They've currently launched a review of Federal Support for Fundamental Science as well as concurrent and related reviews of their Innovation Agenda and Environmental Assessment Review processes. Both are areas savaged by the Conservatives. And clearly the government sees and understands when that so much long term damage is done to government program capacity and capability, you have to be thoughtful and deliberate about how you go about repairing that damage. Band aids aren't the solution.

I would argue that the same is true with Federal Science Library infrastructure. That a transparent and independent review process needs to be established. But that doesn't seem to be happening.

Rather we are getting an internally developed Federal Science Library project.

Which in and of itself isn't a bad idea. The aim of the FSL project is to build a shared capacity across all the science-related departments that would effectively replace all that was cut and destroyed. Of course, this project was initiated by the Conservatives and seems to be proceeding apace without any external oversight or meaningful input. Unlike what is happening with the various reviews, where the government is clearly seeking external input. Is a review of science library capacity included in those other reviews? We just don't know.

Some more info on the FSL project from these links: Rethinking Federal Library Services - A Collaborative Model CLA 2015 presentation and mentions in the Royal Society Expert Panel on Canada's Libraries, Archives and Public Memory and the Canada's Action Plan on Open Government 2014-16 document.

Which brings me to what prompted this post in the first place. The Feds have posted a job ad for the head of the FSL. I've reproduced most of it below; it has some relevant descriptions of what the FSL project is all about.

In a sense, I'm happy to see that the government is proceeding with the project and that they're taking seriously the need to support research and policy making in their science-based departments and beyond.

But as I say, we really do need to step back and evaluate what happened under the Conservatives and plan a way forward, with the Federal Science Library project openly and transparently working with the broader science, library and science library communities in Canada to make sure that new infrastructure meets the needs of government and, by extension, all the citizens of Canada. I hope that this will be the first task of the new chief of the Federal Science Library project.

When the issues at the DFO and other libraries became apparent, everyone made a big deal of it. It was a crisis, it was a disaster, it was the destruction of our heritage and an attack on knowledge and science and evidence. It was an embarrassment. It was a travesty that all those collections were dispersed and destroyed so cavalierly and that staff with so much expertise were let go. All of those statements were true at the time and resonated greatly beyond the usual echo chambers. The anger around the destruction of Canada's science libraries contributed in some small way to the downfall of the Conservatives. But now it's time to follow through and make sure that what gets built on the ashes of that infrastructure is what's needed. We're not relying on purely internal government processes to make sure that fundamental science is rebuilt properly. No, we're having a public review process. Same with the innovation agenda and environmental review processes.

Let's do the same for science libraries.

To finish, I'll include a couple of snippets from some previous posts where I cover some of the same territory.


Your Feedback Needed: Government of Canada Launches Review of Federal Support for Fundamental Science

Library infrastructure is another Platform technology that needs to be properly funded. Science and other libraries were devastated under the Conservatives, as was Library and Archives Canada. Yes, I know we have the Federal Science Library project in progress and yes, we have a new head of LAC. I know that we already have three (!) reviews on going (see below). But given the devastation of the Conservative years, I think a review of Federal government library infrastructure is sorely needed.


Science in Canada: Some advice for a new Chief Science Officer

What hasn’t really appeared on any of the lists I’ve seen is fixing the damage that the previous Conservative government did to the science library infrastructure in Canada, most prominently to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans library system but also to the systems at Environment Canada and others.

While those libraries were being closed and consolidated, we were assured that the collections were properly merged and weeded, that new scanning and document delivery procedures were being implemented that would effectively replace the local staff and collections and that researchers would see no difference in the level of service. The Federal government did announce an extensive re-visioning of it’s science library infrastructure. Which looks good on paper.

But it’s safe to say that basically no one believed the Conservatives were up to the challenge of doing a good job of this. All the evidence that we were able to see indicated that the merging and consolidation of collections was rushed, haphazard and devoid of planning at best and willfully destructive at worst. As far as I can tell, we have nothing but the previous government’s word that the scanning and document delivery services that were rushed into the breach are anywhere near sufficient. Nor did we see real evidence that they were truly committed to the revisioning.

One of the things that the Liberals promised in their platform was to appoint a Chief Science Officer.

We will value science and treat scientists with respect.

We will appoint a Chief Science Officer who will 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

The CSO hasn’t been appointed yet, but I see no reason why we should all start thinking about what that new person should set their sights on when they start.

I propose that the new Chief Science Officer, in collaboration with the Minister of Science, the Minister of Heritage and all the rest of the science-related Ministers convene a special advisory panel to take a look at what’s left of Canada’s science library infrastructure and make any recommendations that are necessary to restore the collections and service levels to what Canada’s Federal government scientists (and all Canadians) need and deserve while the proposed revisioning takes place. At least fifty percent of the membership of this panel should probably consist of librarians and other stakeholders that currently employed by the Federal Government in any capacity. I also believe that this advisory panel should remain in place as a steering committee for the revisioning of the new Federal Science Library.

At the end of the day, the collections have been dispersed, the staff laid off and the physical spaces repurposed. So much of the damage that was done cannot be repaired.

I should be clear that I don’t think the function of this group should be to point fingers or assign blame or rehash past mistakes. It should be forward-looking and patron-focused, with a mission to make sure patrons have the services and collections they need in the short, medium and long term.


Comment and Response in Comments Section of above post

November 7, 2015

I like and applaud your efforts here to bring attention to the challenges in federal science and departmental libraries. In this case you are misrepresenting facts. The Federal Science Library (FSL) is nothing to do with past government and everything to do with library directors and their enlightened directors general working to preserve and create a more sustainable model for the future…together. FSL is being built entirely from current library operating budgets…creating scale and economy and sharing investment in new technology that none of us could realize separately – through what is a unique partnership built on years of collaboration. We need support for what we have built largely through our determination NOT to have our libraries thrown under the bus in efforts to reduce costs in departments. We invite shining a light on our efforts of the last three years designing and finding a way to gain endorsement in our departments and as an Open Government Open Information core commitment.


John Dupuis
November 7, 2015

Hi ScienceLibrarianToo, I’m glad to here I’m wrong here and that the FSL project represents a sincere effort to design and build a better federal science library infrastructure. But you have to admit, for people on the outside looking in, it’s really hard to tell if that is the case. Especially given that the old infrastructure seems to have been dismantled before the new one is put into place.

So maybe an interesting way to shine that light and build that support and endorsement is by engaging a steering committee or advisory committee or something that includes external stakeholders. (If there’s already such a thing and I just don’t know about it, that’s great too and I’m happy that’s in place.)

I really do wish you well. I want to reiterate that my post wasn’t at all meant as criticism or finger-pointing at the librarians and library staff at the various federal science-related ministries (and LAC as well, to be honest) who have no doubt laboured under difficult circumstances over the past few years.



Chief, Federal Science Library
Knowledge Management
Ottawa - Ontario


This is a 2 year term position from the date of reporting.
Assignments and secondments may be considered according to NRC's policies. Interested applicants seeking an assignment or secondment opportunity must seek approval from their supervisor before submitting their application.

Your challenge

Help shape and build the Federal Science Library (FSL). FSL is a collaborative initiative between seven science-based departments, including the NRC. FSL is an integrated library model which provides expanded library services to members of participating departments. NRC is the technical lead for the FSL initiative and is the named employer of the FSL support team.

We are looking for a vibrant and dynamic Chief to support FSL. The Chief would be someone who shares our core values of impact, accountability, leadership, integrity and collaboration.

Working closely with library teams across seven departments and agencies, you will be responsible for the innovation, direction and management of FSL. This includes management of the FSL operations support team, the scientific knowledge base/systems, and the provision of expert strategic advice to senior management and external authorities.

Screening criteria

Applicants must demonstrate within the content of their application that they meet the following screening criteria in order to be given further consideration as candidates:


Graduation from a recognized post-secondary institution with a master's degree in library science or in library and information science.


Significant experience in the creation and/or implementation of strategic or operational plans.

Significant experience in the management, design and delivery of library and information services in a federal government setting.

Significant experience managing a team.

Significant experience managing a budget.

Experience leading collaborative projects involving multiple stakeholders.

Experience providing strategic advice to senior management.

Condition of employment
Reliability Status

Language requirements

Bilingual imperative CBC/CBC
Information on language requirements and self-assessment tests

Assessment criteria

Candidates will be assessed on the basis of the following criteria:

Technical competencies:

Expert knowledge of issues, trends, best practices and solutions supporting the delivery of library services.

Knowledge of the legislative and policy framework related to the management of information and library services in the Government of Canada.

Knowledge of library/information science theories and principles, practices and processes including integrated on-line systems and electronic database management.

Knowledge of program management and framework planning and development.

Behavioural competencies:

Conceptual and analytic ability (Level 3)
Initiative (Level 3)
Partnering (Level 3)
Teamwork (Level 3)
Communication (Level 3)

For this position, NRC will evaluate candidates using the following competency profile(s): | Management Services

View all competency profiles.


Update 2016.08.08.
A couple of grammar issues fixed. Thanks Ziad!

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Around the Web: How climate change may be fueling Canada’s fire season and more on the science and politics of climate change

Jul 25 2016 Published by under around the web, Canada, climate change

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Your Feedback Needed: Government of Canada Launches Review of Federal Support for Fundamental Science

Jun 22 2016 Published by under Canada, environment, Politics, Science in Canada

One of the key faults of the Harper Conservatives' science policy was their emphasis on applied research to the detriment of basic, curiosity driven research. Obviously there needs to be a balance between any government's approach to those two kinds of research, neither polar opposite is appropriate. But the Conservatives were way out of wack with their policy, significantly favouring commercially-driven, industrial-partnership-focused, applied research. The signature policy in that vein was their transformation of the National Research Council into a Concierge to Industry.

Thankfully the new Liberal government under Justin Trudeau looks to be addressing some of the issues with the NRC transformation.

And Science Minister Kirsty Duncan is launching a very significant review of federal government support of basic research! And part of that review is seeking input from interested parties, including me, you and all the other stakeholders in Canadian society.

They're set up a "panel of experts" to launch the review as well as a website with all the various relevant information about the review. The deadline for feedback is a bit nebulous but it appears that the review will continue at least into the fall.

A description of the review process from the press releaase:

There's the list of members of the panel. More information on the members at the link.

Robert Birgeneau, Chancellor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley, California
Martha Crago, Vice President (Research) and Professor, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Mike Lazaridis, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Quantum Valley Investments, Waterloo, Ontario
Claudia Malacrida, Associate Vice-President, Research, University of Lethbridge
Arthur (Art) McDonald, Nobel Laureate and Professor Emeritus, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario
David Naylor (Chair), Professor of Medicine and President Emeritus, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario
Martha C. Piper, Interim President and Vice Chancellor, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia
Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist Officer, Quebec Government, Montreal, Quebec
Anne Wilson, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Successful Societies Fellow and professor of psychology, Wilfrid Laurier University

And a description of the mandate of the review.

The panel has been provided with the following overall questions to consider as part of its review:

  1. Are there any overall program gaps in Canada's fundamental research funding ecosystem that need to be addressed?
  2. Are there elements or programming features in other countries that could provide a useful example for the Government of Canada in addressing these gaps?

Funding of fundamental research

The central question regarding the effectiveness and impact of the granting councils in supporting excellence in fundamental research is whether their approach, governance and operations have kept pace with an ever-changing domestic and global research landscape. Key questions for the review:

  1. Are granting councils optimally structured and aligned to meet the needs of the current research community in Canada? Are the current programs the most effective means of delivering the objectives of these organizations? And are they keeping pace internationally? The review should take into account the several reviews and evaluations that were performed in recent years on the councils and on science and scholarly inquiry in Canada.
  2. Are students, trainees and emerging researchers, including those from diverse backgrounds, facing unique barriers within the current system and, if so, what can be done to address those barriers?
  3. Is there an appropriate balance between funding elements across the research system, i.e. between elements involving people and other direct research costs, operating costs, infrastructure and indirect costs? What are best practices for assessing and adjusting balances over time?
  4. Are existing review processes rigorous, fair and effective in supporting excellence across all disciplines? Are they rigorous, fair and effective in supporting riskier research and proposals in novel or emerging research areas or multidisciplinary/multinational areas?
  5. Are granting council programs and structures sufficiently flexible to reflect and accommodate the growing internationalization of research? Are granting council programs and structures accommodating the full range of research areas; multidisciplinary research; and new approaches ranging from traditional knowledge, including indigenous research, to more open, collaborative forms of research? If not, what steps could be taken?

Funding of facilities/equipment

  1. Is the Canada Foundation for Innovation optimally structured to meet the needs of the current research community in Canada? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current model in delivering the objectives of this organization, including its ability to work complementarily with the granting councils? What is the appropriate federal role in supporting infrastructure operating costs and how effective are current mechanisms in fulfilling that role?
  2. What are best practices (internationally/domestically) for supporting big science (including, inter alia, international facilities and international collaboration)?
  3. Many requests for government support for research are not tied to the cycles of the four major research agencies, but they have economic or competitive relevance nationally or regionally, or major non-governmental financial support, or implications for Canada's international standing as an active participant in big science projects or major multi-institutional projects. How can we ensure that the Government has access to the best advice about funding these types of projects in the future?

Funding of platform technologies

  1. What types of criteria and considerations should inform decisions regarding whether the Government should create a separate funding mechanism for emerging platform technologies and research areas of broad strategic interest and societal application? Are there any technologies that would appear to meet such criteria in the immediate term? When there is a rationale for separate funding, how to ensure alignment of funding approaches?
  2. Today's emerging platform technology may rapidly become a standard tool used tomorrow by a wide variety of researchers. If such technologies are initially given stand-alone support via a dedicated program or agency, what factors should inform decisions on when it would be appropriate to "mainstream" such funding back into the granting councils?

Additional advice

The panel will be expected to consult widely with the research community and to solicit input from relevant stakeholders—including universities, colleges and polytechnics, research hospitals, research institutes, industry, civil society—and the general public representing the diversity of views from across Canada. Those consultations and submissions may lead the panel to raise additional questions and offer additional advice to the Government. Such input will be welcomed.

There's also a Questions and Answers page and a feedback form. The Q&A page is where they discuss how the panel was formed and, in particular, that it will run through the fall but with no as yet no defined end date for the consultations.

Minister Duncan and the government have quite a job ahead of them. I haven't had a chance to really formulate my own feedback yet to either of those initiatives, but here are a few initial thoughts. I wish them all the luck and wisdom in tackling the review.

  • Open access and open data are important. The Tri-Agencies have an established Open Access Policy for Publications and a brand new Statement of Principles on Digital Data Management to frame the review of fundamental science. But one main criticism of these initiatives is that they place burdens on the research enterprise to publish more openly but without actually putting any resources into helping make that happen. I suggest that funding infrastructure for openness be considered one of the Platform Technologies that gets funded during the review. How should support for open access and digital data management plans get funded? Good question and I'm sure lots of people have lots of answers. Let's get working on it!
  • Library infrastructure is another Platform technology that needs to be properly funded. Science and other libraries were devastated under the Conservatives, as was Library and Archives Canada. Yes, I know we have the Federal Science Library project in progress and yes, we have a new head of LAC. I know that we already have three (!) reviews on going (see below). But given the devastation of the Conservative years, I think a review of Federal government library infrastructure is sorely needed.
  • The panel as constituted heavily leans towards established researchers with fancy titles and lots of experience. The review needs to make sure the voices of early career researchers are heard listened to, researchers who've come to Canada from other countries, women and other under-represented groups in STEM research. The panel also would benefit from perhaps some voices from outside Canada, like from National Science Foundation in the US, Max Planck Institutes in Germany. The Tri-Agencies could also be better represented. In other words, diversity across all axes needs to be baked into this process.
  • A detail, but the self-description fields in the feedback form are woefully inadequate to capture the feedback from all the various stakeholder groups who might wish to be heard. Sure Academic Administrator, Academic Faculty, Grad Student, Other Researcher and Other Interested Person (especially combined with sector affiliation) are a start, but I can't understand why fields such as Undergraduate Student, K-12 teacher, librarian, business person and at least a few other possibilities. I'm sure people will end up embedding it all into their comments anyway, but why not give more options in the form?


Here's the links again for the Fundamental Science Review:


And of course, the Fundamental Science review isn't the only review happening. What with a decade of Conservative mismanagement (i.e. torching) of everything even vaguely science and environment, the feds are also launching a consultation/review of their "innovation agenda," which is the flip side of the fundamental science coin. In other words, how to commercialise research and spur economic activity and jobs. That's a process that's also worth watching and you can check that out here. As we can see from the list of topic areas below, this exercise will be related to the fundamental science review. As well, we could also see this consultation as the beginning of a comprehensive national digital strategy for the new government. The topic areas have an awful lot of overlap with the Conservative's Digital Canada 150. We shall see.


And, finally, information on the various Environmental Assessment Review processes being launched.

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