August 2015

Message from the President

The Willet G. Miller Medal of the Royal Society of Canada - Michael Dence, FRSC, National Research Council and Lawrence Mysak, FRSC, McGill University

Recognizing Deserving Francophone and Female Colleagues - Jacques Derome, FRSC, McGill University and Keith Hipel, FRSC, University of Waterloo

Who Speaks for Science and Engineering in Canada? The PAGSE Experience - Rees Kassen, University of Ottawa

Message from the President

Keith HipelDear Colleagues,

I trust that you have taken time to relax and enjoy the short Canadian summer with your family and friends, and have recharged your “psychological batteries”. Each of us has various professional and personal challenges that we can proactively resolve as time unfolds this fall. One issue that confronts all of us is for which political party to vote in the Federal election to be held on October 19th, 2015. I urge you to consider voting for the party which can best help us to fulfill the mission of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) in a way that will benefit Canadian Society. 

Three key mandates of the RSC are to Recognize (Reconnaître) academic and artistic excellence, to Promote (Promouvoir) research and learning, and to Advise (Conseiller) all sectors of Canadian Society on matters of public concern. I am pleased to report that your Academy continues to make progress on all of these fronts thanks to the dedicated work of many of our fine colleagues.

With respect to Recognize, being elected Fellow of the RSC is clearly one of the most prestigious awards that a Canadian scientist can receive during her or his career. I am delighted to report to you that the number of female and Francophone Fellows elected this year has significantly increased.  As explained by Jacques Derome, our Academy Secretary, and me in an article published in this Newlsletter, this marked increase is a result of proactive action taken by our Academy coupled with the hard work of individuals and Institutional Members who nominated highly deserving candidates including females and Francophones. I would like to thank each one of you who took of your valuable time to nominate excellent candidates. I encourage you to do likewise this year. Merci bien. 

Also connected to our mission to Recognize our colleagues, the RSC awards a range of major medals overlapping with the interests of our Academy. I am glad to inform you that the prestigious Willet G. Miller Medal has been reinstated with a broader mandate covering all of the areas falling under our Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences Division within our Academy. Michael Dence and Lawrence Mysak describe the history, importance and purpose of the Miller Medal in an article contained in this Newsletter. I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Michael and Lawrence for spearheading this timely initiative, as well as Jacques Derome, our representative on the RSC Awards and Recognition Committee, for his sage advice and support. I hope that you will seriously consider nominating deserving people to receive the Miller and other RSC medals. 

Under the mandate of Promote, our Academy is making progress. I am glad to report that the Partnership Group for Science and Engineering (PAGSE) is now based within our Academy of Science. As explained in this Newsletter report on PAGSE, over the years the members of PAGSE have worked “collectively to represent the Canadian science and engineering community to the Government of Canada and to advance research and innovation to the benefit of Canadians”. Through its various activities, PAGSE does a superb job in its outreach activities in Canada. On April 23rd this year, I attended the “Bacon and Eggheads Breakfast” held on Parliament  Hill in which our colleague Gerry Wright delivered an inspiring presentation on “The Crisis in Antibiotics” to a full house including many members of Parliament and Senators. I would like to congratulate Rees Kassen on becoming the new Chair of PAGSE and I wish to thank Martha Guy, the previous Chair for her exemplary work, as well as Donna Boag, the PAGSE manager, and the many PAGSE members for their fine contributions in advancing the mandate of PAGSE over many years.

PAGSE is one of the means by which the Academy of Science is attempting to strengthen its ties with government so that Canadians can more directly benefit from the expertise of RSC Fellows. As noted in my 2014 Summer Newsletter article on “ Scientific Academies in Japan and China: Lessons Learned and Opportunities for Cooperation”, the academies in Japan have strong direct linkages with the centres of political power, are very well funded for tackling problems of national concern, and are highly respected by society. On February 26th this year, I paid a courtesy visit to the Royal Society housed in Carlton House Terrace in central London. The Royal Society is very well funded for addressing problems of national interest, publishes the oldest continuously published journal in the world (Philosophical Transactions, since 1665), and is highly regarded both in Britain and around the globe. Its archives contain the original documents of many famous scientists such as Principia Mathematica by Sir Isaac Newton. 

I sincerely hope that we will be able to develop much stronger links with our Federal and Provincial Governments in Canada in order to better fund Expert Panels as one of our various mechanisms to Advise in order to enhance the lives of Canadians. The productivity of Canadian researchers is among the highest around the globe but these fine academic contributions are not being translated into economic benefits for Canadians, partially due to relatively weak links with government and other sectors of society. Nonetheless, I am glad to report that under the leadership of David Layzell, Chair of the RSC Committee on Expert Panels, we are making headway within the RSC to produce high quality Expert Panel Reports. For example, the RSC report on “The Behaviour and Environmental Impacts of Crude Oil Released into the Aqueous Environment” is due to be released this autumn. The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), for which the RSC is one of the three member organizations, is scheduled to release this fall the Expert Panel Report funded by Magna International on “Transitioning to a Low-Emission Energy System in Canada: A Synthesis of Technology and Policy Choices”, for which I am a Co-Chair. 

Canada is at an important crossroads in its history and wise decisions need to be made in order to ensure long-term prosperity and sustainability. Through its Expert Panels and other mechanisms, Canadians have direct access to expert advice from people such as you who are glad to freely devote of their time, expertise and experience to help improve our great country. I urge you to personally inform your politicians who are running for office about the great import of science and engineering for producing real wealth and employment for Canadians and the associated wonderful opportunity to harness the brain power of our best researchers to help make this a reality.

I am very much looking forward to personally meeting many of you at our general annual meeting which will take place in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia, from November 26th to 29th. The theme of Symposium 2015 is “Canadian Marine Biodiversity: Indispensable Resources, Unprecedented Opportunities, Unequivocal Responsibilities”. Jeff Hutchings, who chaired an expert panel on a similar topic, is Chair of this symposium with assistance from Amelia Zaglul in the RSC Secretariat and me. 

In closing, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to everyone in our Academy who generously devoted of their time in contributing to its many on-going activities as well as for pursuing new initiatives. If you cross paths with these people in Victoria, you may wish to personally pass on your thanks to individuals such as the Directors of our four Divisions, the Academy Secretary and the Academy Editor. 

As you are aware, our Academy Editor, Andrew Miall, has done an outstanding job in providing us with a sequence of Newsletters containing a rich range of highly interesting research articles. Because Andrew was travelling extensively during the 2015 summer season, he invited me to be the Guest Editor of this special issue of our Newsletter. I am grateful to Mr. Russel MacDonald, at Walter House, who kindly handled the publication process. I trust that you will enjoy reading the articles written by your colleagues about three important initiatives of the Academy of Science. 

After I step down as President in late November, 2015, I look forward to continuing to serve you as Past President under the fine leadership of our President-Elect, Jamal Deen.

With my very best wishes for continued contentment and success in all of your endeavours,

Keith Hipel, President of the Academy of Science, August 2015

 

The Willet G. Miller Medal of the Royal Society of Canada - Michael Dence, FRSC, National Research Council and Lawrence Mysak, FRSC, McGill University

Michael DenceLawrence MysakThe Academy of Science of the Royal Society of Canada is pleased to announce that the historic Willet G. Miller Medal has been restored to active status after a short hiatus, partly due to budgetary pressures.  In reinstating the award the Society has recognized that Earth Science has changed considerably in recent years.  When the Miller Medal was first awarded there was an emphasis on mapping, understanding and utilizing the solid earth.  Now much research is also being done in the fluid domain of the earth sciences and in various areas of planetary science.  The changes are reflected in the disciplines practised by recent inductees into the Fellowship.  It has thus been agreed that the scope of the Miller Medal be extended and that henceforth it shall be given "...for outstanding research in all fields within the mandate of the Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences Division of the Academy of Science of the RSC". 

The Miller Medal was created in 1941 with funds subscribed by twelve friends in honour of Willet G. Miller (1867-1925), a distinguished geologist and a guiding force in the development of the Ontario mining industry.  It has been given every two years since 1943 for outstanding research in any branch of the earth sciences and has been regarded as honouring long term achievements in the field.  Not surprisingly recipients have generally been or have become Fellows of the RSC and form a cross section of the most influential Canadian earth scientists of the last 70 years including Norman L. Bowen, J. Tuzo Wilson, Robert E. Folinsbee, J. Ross Mackay and William S. Fyfe.  

The medal is co-fourth in seniority among the RSC awards, having been preceded by the Flavelle Medal for Biological Sciences (1924), The Lorne Pierce Medal for Literature in English or French (1926) and the Joseph B. Tyrrell Medal for History (1927).  The H. Marshall Tory Medal for Mathematical and Physical Sciences was also created in 1941 and since then two additional medals, the Pierre Chaveau Medal for Humanities other than Literature (1951) and the Innis-Gérin Medal for the Social Sciences (1966) were established by the Society.  These seven medals became known as the Grouped Awards and have been given every two years when there are suitable candidates.     

While the Miller Medal remains the Society’s senior award for Earth Sciences, other awards cover some aspects of this field.  The Bancroft Award was endowed in 1968 by Mrs J. A. Bancroft to honour her late husband and is given for conspicuous contributions to public understanding and appreciation of the Earth Sciences.  In 1994 the growing awareness of global environmental issues was recognized by the creation of the Miroslaw Romanowski Medal and lecture series from a bequest of the Romanowski estate.

The Miller Medal, like the other Grouped Awards, had a modest initial endowment that has been supplemented over the years by transfers from the Society’s General Fund for operations to the Awards Trust Fund usually by vote at the Annual General Meeting.  According to the Hon. Treasurer the portion currently available for the Miller Medal is approximately $43,000.  Administrative and other costs for making the award every two years are estimated to be approximately $2,000-3,000 per year, including the cost of having the Royal Mint strike the medal in the years when an award is made.  To ensure that the endowment for the award remains solvent, it is desirable that the fund be augmented.  To this end discussions have been in progress with other organizations.   The Canadian Federation of Earth Sciences has been particularly supportive and Dr Scott Swinden as President of the CFES, has been of great assistance in facilitating a grant of $1,000 from the operating fund of CFES.  A further $2,000 has been received from the Canada Prize Awards Foundation. Additional possible sources are under consideration.

It is hoped that, with the inclusion of these additional funds this year, the Society will agree to inaugurate the revival of the Medal and its broader mandate in 2016 by, for one year only, honouring two scientists, one in the solid and a second in the fluid domains of the Earth Sciences. Of course, this will only be possible if a substantial pool of nominations is created.  The success of any award is dependent on the enthusiasm and dedication of those responsible for nominating meritorious candidates.  Too often there has been a less than adequate response, so the Academy is looking for an increased number of nominations for this prestigious award in the future.   

In the near future the Society will once more include the Miller Medal in its Web site instructions for nominations.  The procedure will be similar to those for other medals and will include the usual short citation, a longer summary of the nominee’s accomplishments, a detailed C.V. and letters from knowledgeable supporters.  The principal nominator should be a Fellow or an RSC Institutional Member.   The nomination period is October 1 to March 1.   Further details will be available on the RSC Web site but work on nominations should not delay if a successful launch is to be accomplished.

 

Recognizing Deserving Francophone and Female Colleagues - Jacques Derome, FRSC, McGill University and Keith Hipel, FRSC, University of Waterloo

Jacques DeromeDear Fellows of the Academy of Science:

Francophone and female scientists are under-represented in the Academy of Science, an imbalance that we would very much like to see corrected. The statistics point to the low number of nominations, and not the success rate of the nominations, as the root cause. We are therefore asking for your help in making sure that more francophone and female scientists are proposed as new Fellows of our Academy. Last year we made a similar appeal to you through an email message, and we are happy to report that we saw a substantial increase last fall in the number of female and Francophone nominations. Correspondingly, the percentage of new female Fellows this year rose to 15% (from 7% last year) and the percentage of new Francophone Fellows to 17% (from 5% last year), so we should all be encouraged to continue our efforts. 

We therefore invite all Fellows of the Academy of Science to consider nominating colleagues whose accomplishments deserve to be recognized, and to ensure that francophone and females scientists are not inadvertently overlooked. Of course, we invite all candidacies of high scientific merit, independently of all other considerations.

Finally, our invitation to submit more nominations, in particular of Francophones and women, applies also to the medals and awards of the Academy. You probably have colleagues who would be first-rate candidates for an award – how about nominating them?

The procedures to follow in submitting nominations are available on the Society’s web site.

We trust we can count on your collaboration and thank you for it.

 

Who Speaks for Science and Engineering in Canada? The PAGSE Experience - Rees Kassen, University of Ottawa

Rees KassenOf all the national anxieties that emerge before an election, front and center this year among Fellows of the Academy of Science is no doubt the state of science and engineering in Canada.  There is a palpable sense among many, in the RSC and beyond, that our elected representatives have little regard for the research community in this country. 

Many will point to a lack of training in science and engineering among our elected representatives as the problem.  Indeed, the numbers here are not encouraging. Of 308 Members in the Parliament just ended, 17 had first degrees in the natural sciences, engineering, or health sciences . If national graduation rates in these fields can be used as a guide, there should be many more (98, to be precise).

It is tempting, especially in an election year, to try and fix the problem by getting more scientists and engineers to stand for office.  But there is no guarantee this would help. The reason is simple: time. I have heard it said that many MPs spend up to half their time dealing with just a single constituency issue – immigration appeals – on top of regular parliamentary duties.  Adding in travel to and from Ottawa leaves little time for the intricacies of any issue, scientific or otherwise. 

An alternative approach is needed.  As a start, we need to recognize that most decision-makers, while they may not have a background in science or engineering, are smart people whose time is limited. Our job must be to help them see the value of science and engineering research for the economic, social, and environmental health of our country. 

The Partnership Group for Science and Engineering (PAGSE; www.pagse.org) has been aiming to do just this since its inception, under the auspices of the RSC, in 1995. PAGSE is an association of Canadian science and engineering societies representing approximately 50-60,000 researchers from academia, government, and industry. Its mission is to provide the consensus opinion of this research community directly to the Canadian federal government.  

PAGSE works to improve the dialogue between the research community and federal decision-makers in a number of ways. Perhaps our most important activity is a Brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. Our aim is not to lobby on behalf of any particular group or issue, but rather to explain to lawmakers what investments in research would best serve the country as a whole. To do this we solicit input from member societies and engage with leaders in the research and innovation community, such as the Tri-Council presidents and others, from across the country. 

We also run two education projects. One is Bacon & Eggheads, a seminar series where top-flight researchers address Parliamentarians, their staff, the media, and bureaucrats on science and engineering issues in their field.  We work hard to identify excellent researchers who are also outstanding communicators on topics that are relevant to the political and legislative agenda of the day.  Presentations are made over breakfast – before work begins in earnest for most MPs – and there is ample time for informal discussion before and after the presentation. Bacon & Eggheads thus provides a space for parliamentarians and researchers to interact, face-to-face in an apolitical atmosphere. 

The other is SciencePages, four-page briefing notes that aim to increase discussion on topical issues having science and engineering at their core. Each issue is prepared by a team of three interns – one each from science, policy, and communications – and peer-reviewed by technical and policy experts.  The publication is distributed to all MPs and Senators, and is freely available to the public from our website at www.sciencepages.ca

PAGSE has had an impact on the research landscape in this country. Although it is rarely possible to know the inner workings of government decisions, many of PAGSE’s recommendations have been in tune with government actions. Examples include the creation of the Canada Foundation for Innovation in 1997, the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship program in 2010, and increased support to the granting councils in 2014. 

A key ingredient in PAGSE’s success is that the different member societies come together to speak with one voice. That this voice is backed by a community tens of thousands strong helps build credibility with decision-makers. Our credibility is also helped by a non-advocative approach. Our aim is to help government improve the climate, on behalf of Canadians, for research, innovation, and evidence-based decision making.  Consequently, we do not lobby and we do not criticize. Though there is a fine line between providing a consensus opinion and lobbying, PAGSE works hard not to cross it.

Another contributor to success is the work of PAGSE’s manager, Donna Boag. Donna coordinates all our activities, and in particular Bacon and Eggheads. She knows all the MPs, can tell you who and how many times an MP has attended Bacon and Eggheads, and understands the inner workings of the Parliamentary administration.  PAGSE would be far less effective without her experience, knowledge, and professionalism.  Thank you, Donna, for all you do.

I would also like to thank Martha Guy, who led PAGSE for the past three years. Thank you, Martha, for your commitment to science and engineering in this country.  Having served as Chair from 2009-12, I will act as interim Chair until a new one is identified. 

PAGSE operates in a political environment that includes a more engaged and, at times, activist research community than ever before.  This is good. My priority as Chair is to ensure that PAGSE continues to be a trusted voice for the science and engineering community to decision-makers. The challenge for the community will be to strike the right balance between the two.