More government organizations join the Chief Science Advisor’s growing network

Mark Mann
October 3, 2018

By Mark Mann

In a string of recent announcements, the new external science advisory network initiated by Dr. Mona Nemer, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, has begun to take shape.

On September 12, the Canadian Space Agency announced Dr. Sarah Gallagher as its first Science Advisor. Two weeks later, on September 25, the National Research Council named Dr. Danial Wayner to the same role, followed quickly by an announcement on September 27 that Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada are each creating Departmental Science Advisor positions to support the network.

“What is developing is a strengthening of the science advice system within government,” says Dr. Nemer, in an interview with RE$EARCH MONEY. The network is designed to address the fact that most legislation requires bringing together science advice from various departments and from diverse fields. “Most decision-making and legislation in government now involves different scientific areas of expertise,” she says.

Dr. Nemer offers an example from her experience leading an expert panel to create recommendations on the use of science in aquaculture, to be published this fall. The work has included contributions from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and others. “In something as confined as aquaculture, it involves coordination with numerous departments,” she points out. “If you were to develop an integrated research vision, it would require different scientists from all these departments.”

In developing the concept of the network, Dr. Nemer studied similar models in the UK and New Zealand, where external science advisor networks include members from nearly all government departments and agencies, whether science-based or not.

In a science-based department, the external science advisor position complements the role held by the Deputy Minister, who has much to do already in the management of the science itself. “People fundamentally want to collaborate, but it’s difficult to do, because the mechanisms aren’t in place,” says Dr. Nemer. The science advisor will have responsibilities within the department, but they will also be able to work on building links with other departments and with the external science community.

Dr. Nemer hopes the external science advisor position will also be created within departments that aren’t traditionally science-based, such as Transport Canada, which is preparing for the arrival of autonomous vehicles and smart cities, or even Global Affairs. She points out that the U.S. State Department has had a science advisor for a long time.

In her discussions with different departments and agencies, Dr. Nemer has found widespread recognition that scientific collaborations and activities are going to be increasing. “The departments are realizing that they may not be in a position to maximize the opportunities,” she says. “Some have embraced [the network], and others are convinced of it, so hopefully we’ll see more,” she says.

The NRC joins the science advisor network

Shortly after the CSA announced its participation in the network by appointing Dr Sarah Gallagher to the science advisor position, the NRC named Dr. Danial Wayner its first Science Advisor and Chief Science Officer. Dr. Wayner has had a distinguished career at the NRC, where he started as a scientist and advanced into several executive positions, most recently as Vice President of Emerging Technologies.

Dr. Wayner, who is returning from retirement to take this new position, will hold two roles, one internal and one external. As Chief Science Officer, he will support the NRC president Iain Stewart by advising on issues related to sustaining the level of science and research excellence at the organization. As Science Advisor, he’ll support Dr. Nemer and the Office of the Chief Science Advisor to develop broad approaches to evidence-based public policy.

In his commitment to the NRC, Dr. Wayner will help coordinate the short-term and long-term outlook of the organization.  “We can change a program in a meeting, but you can’t change what you’re good at in less than 5-10 years, depending on what it is,” he explained recently in an interview with RE$EARCH MONEY. “In my eyes, the challenge for the organization has always been to make sure we are capitalizing on the capabilities we have today to support the government… while at the same time, trying to understand what’s coming over the horizon.”

While making the caveat that he hasn’t been part of the organization for two and half years and still hasn’t officially started in the position, Dr. Wayner identifies the NRC’s current strengths in the areas of advanced materials, laser physics, optical device technologies, aspects of Big Data analytics and AI, astronomy, biologics, and aerospace, among others.

What does he see on the horizon?  “If we look back at the 20th century, competitiveness was founded on our capabilities in engineering, among other things,” says Dr. Wayner. “But as we look forward into the 21st century, Canada’s competitiveness is going to be founded, to a great extent, on our capabilities in mathematics and physics.”

From a public policy perspective, adapting to a rapidly changing world poses many challenges, says Dr. Wayner, and collaborative strategies like Dr. Nemer’s science advisor network will play an important role in navigating complex issues.

“The problems and challenges that we need to deal with are increasingly beyond the scope of any single department,” says Dr. Wayner. “My view is that it is only through working together that we can approach these complex challenges and solve them, without unnecessary duplication.”


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