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Number 11

Volume 31 November 16 2017

Editorial

What steps must be taken for Canada to get its act together on digital research infrastructure (DRI)? It’s a perennial question that’s been bandied about in research and policy circles for years with little progress, while the demand for digitization and its transmission, storage and analysis continues to soar.

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Opinion Leader:
Kelly Nolan

Organizational bias is killing opportunities for diversity — some institutions are changing that

We process information all day long.  If we had to think about each tiny decision carefully we would not be productive, so we make quick assumptions, often, to get through the day. These assumptions are often riddled with our individual “bias” and cause us to see the people around us through that lens.

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Supercluster contenders must include strategies for confronting the risks in managing diverse interests

Managing different organizations with varying interests and different sizes of financial commitment will require a change in culture for the companies and institutions engaged in the Innovation Supercluster Initiative (ISI) competition. Governance and managing millions of dollars in government funds matched by industry are among the key challenges and risks ISI contenders will face, according to panelists at the recent Canadian Science Policy Conference

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Liberals enact new measures pushing for greater diversity in science

The Liberal government is pushing for more diversity and inclusion in science and engineering, even to the point of threatening to cancel some funding to universities that don’t support the agenda. At the recent Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) held in Ottawa, Science minister Kirsty Duncan announced a number of initiatives to encourage equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

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NRC announces sweeping changes as part of Stewart-led renewal strategy

The National Research Council (NRC) will appoint a Chief Science Advisor and establish a President’s Research Excellence Advisory Committee as part of sweeping, comprehensive changes planned over the next four years. In August, the 101-year-old research institution launched several short-term actions as part of a renewal strategy undertaken by NRC president Iain Stewart, stemming from his mandate to assess and reinvigorate the organization and establish its future direction. Those actions will be followed by more initiatives in the medium term (two years) and longer term (four years).

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Opinion Leader:
Dr Richard Hawkins

Let’s stop talking about innovation and start talking about what really matters

Following some 30 years of investigating “innovation” as a social and economic phenomenon, it is time for me to admit that I am getting fed up with this term. In the conversation about public policy for science, technology, industry, higher education or what have you, I fear that it is now far adrift in a sea of mythology that has lost all touch with reality.

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Government banks on supercluster initiative to boost economy through innovation

Almost a billion dollars in taxpayers’ funds are the carrot that the federal government hopes will bring industry and other stakeholders together to talk to each other and tap into each other’s resources to boost the Canadian economy through innovation. That’s the logic behind the $950-million Innovation Supercluster Initiative (ISI) which is heading into the final stretch of the two-phase selection process for between three and five winners.

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News Bites

News Briefs

PEARL climate change facility receives a $1.6-million, one-year lifeline

After extensive lobbying from the scientific community, an Arctic climate change research facility has received $1.6 million in federal funding, just enough to maintain operations for one year after its funds expire in 2018. Science minister Kirsty Duncan and Environment minister Catherine McKenna on November 8 announced the stop-gap funding for the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) located in Nunavut. The re-allocated funding from Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council will allow researchers to continue operations, including data collection, until fall 2019. Researchers are working on projects related to air quality, the ozone layer, and climate change. Government said it’s important to fund the research project to understand what’s happening in the region, which is showing signs of heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world. The research community has been struggling to maintain the facility in Eureka, Nunavut. Researchers at the facility had been preparing to scale down operations for fear of closing it down altogether. The permanent facility has been operational since 2005. It was last funded in 2013 when it was one of seven projects funded through an allocation of $32 million to the Climate Change and Atmospheric Research Initiative, allowing researchers to continue with their work until 2018. The research community has been lobbying for continued funding after it was not included in the 2017 Budget 2017, says Evidence for Democracy, an Ottawa-based not-for-profit group promoting use of evidence in government decision-making. The group is urging for long-term commitment to fund the facility.

Vector Institute boosts AI faculty roster, gets $30M funding to get more master’s students to go into AI

The Vector Institute in Toronto is doubling its team of experts in artificial intelligence with 10 new faculty members joining its roster. The not-for-profit group — launched by the Univ of Toronto and an impressive group of AI companies — also announced that it is managing new funds from the Ontario government that will help boost more talent to advance Canada’s lead in AI. The 10 new faculty members to be joining Vector Institute for 2017-18 are mostly PhD graduates with mutli-disciplinary expertise and experience in Canada and beyond the borders. They are experts in deep learning, machine learning, natural language processing, machine vision, quantum computing research, health care and music. Vector Institute, which was set up this year and has received plenty of support from government and industry, says it is attracting some top talent because of opportunities to collaborate to do research and launch a startup. The new faculty members are: Jimmy Ba; Juan Felipe Carrasquilla; Murat  Erdogdu; David J Fleet; Marzyeh Ghassemi; Anna Goldenberg; Alireza Makhzani; Sageev Oore; Pascal Poupart; and Frank Rudzicz. Vector Institute is also using the new $30 million in funding it is managing from the Ontario government to help get new master’s students into AI and related disciplines. The funds are intended to graduate 1,000 Applied Master’s students in AI and related fields per year within five years. Details on funding for master’s students will be available soon.

New science committee set up to coordinate funding agencies

Ottawa has announced a new committee that will coordinate and support the efforts of research funding agencies to make sure that researchers get the most from the government. The new Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC) will coordinate among three federal granting agencies—the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)—and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). In a joint open letter  to the new committee, Science minister Kirsty Duncan and Health minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor say CRCC will address the needs of current and future scientists, scholars and students by harmonizing and coordinating the efforts of the granting councils and CFI. The work of the CRCC will address some of the recommendations in the Canada’s Fundamental Science Review, commonly known as the Naylor report released this spring. Aside from improving collaboration among the research-granting agencies, the report also recommends improving access to funds; strengthening equity, diversity and capacity of Indigenous communities to conduct research and work with the broader academic community; and, providing more flexibility to allow researchers to conduct research with minimal administrative costs. The heads of the three granting agencies will chair the CRCC on a rotating basis with SSHRC president Ted Hewitt as the inaugural chair. The council heads will also work with the deputy ministers of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Health on the committee. The president of the CFI will attend all CRCC meetings, held at least once quarterly to bring valuable perspective on the research infrastructure needs of scientists and scholars. The president of the National Research Council and Canada’s Chief Science Advisor will be invited to participate in CRCC meetings. Other ad-hoc sub-committees or working groups will be created as needed.

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