April 18, 2008
House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology Committees Directorate
Sixth Floor, 131 Queen Street
House of Commons
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6
Re: Study on Canadian Science and Technology Briefs
Dear Committee Members;
Thank you for the opportunity to submit a brief to this committee. As a citizen there are few opportunities to be actively engaged, participate and be consulted on matters pertaining to the direction of science and technology decisions in Canada. While this INDU process is not dialogical, nor engaging it is a start and I hope that there will be far more open and publicly accessible means for citizens to do citizenship on matters pertaining to science and technology in Canada (e.g. The Danish Board of Technology public consultations process and the UK Select Committee on Science and Technology). Also, in future I hope this committee will includes the term society in its title and not just industry as commerce only represents one aspect of our Canadian society. Technology and science decisions are inherently social and political (e.g. nanotechnology, Radarsat-2, nuclear power, access to scientific data, etc.), and the sociotechnological implications of our decisions ought not simply to be based on economic and efficiency reasoning, but also on how we want our society to be and the material artifacts resulting from S&T we want and choose to live with.
The following is a list of 4 issues I would like INDU to consider, in no particular order of preference:
The creation of a Society, Science and Technology Foundation for Canada analogous to the US National Science Foundation (NSF).
- Rational: Currently in Canada we have NSERC whose focus is to fund research related to the creation of science and engineering products but does not provide S&T research direction. There is SSHRC which funds social science research but rarely funds research that is at the intersection of science, technology and society. The SSHRC now expired Innovation on the New Economy thrust was the exception. There is the National Research Council (NRC) which does Canadian science, and there is Natural Resources Canada which pursues the issue driven science of the ‘New’ government, Environment Canada and Health Canada and a number of regulatory organizations who do science, but there is no institution that investigates big science issues in Canada, that can bring cross disciplinary teams of scientists together on important issues, that can call upon the government agencies that do science to collaborate on specific projects or that can bridge private, academic, government and civil society expertise on particular science and technology directions. There are also some quasi independent organizations such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) but it does not do research. And there are a few provincial R&D institutions however none of these are coordinated at a national scale. Canada does not have an organization for non science and technology producing agencies to defer to if assistance is required on big national scale technology projects, and so these rely and fund large consulting firm to direct technology projects instead –this is not a good scenario but it is a typical one. The NSF in the US has the resources and authority to mobilize scientists, specialists, engineers and experts on myriad critical science issues and to fund big and small projects alike, it could benefit from more public consultation processes as discussed above. The NSF free online publications are stupendous and are the result of working groups comprising top US thinkers assembled to focus on one or two key issues, visions or problem areas. The current US Cyberinfrastructure project, Super Computing Centres, GRID computing, and distributed repository systems for data storage, and transdisplinary R&S&D are the result of NSF research. As a Canadian I would like to have a Canadian more consultative version of an NSF as our current ad hoc un-coordinated system fails us as a Nation. We work to meet local, particular and often immediate needs but do not build or think collectively as a nation on society, science and technology at the moment.
Formulation of national policy on free and open access to public natural, physical and social scientific data and research data.
- Rational: Currently the government of Canada has a monopoly on publicly funded social, science and technological data. The public funds scientific research which collects data, the government also collects and maintains public data for governance purposes (e.g. Census, social surveys, geomatics data, land parcels data, education, agriculture data, environmental monitoring data, climate data, elections data, environmental data, genetic data, contaminated site data, health data, transportation data, hydrographic data, manufacturing data, nanotechnology data, data on fisheries, mapping data at myriad scales, data on recycling, etc.). SSHRC has a policy on making research data accessible but has neither incentive structures in place nor an infrastructure to make their publicly funded research results and their associated data accessible to the public. It is the same for ENSERC. There is no National mandate, policy or mechanism – as in infrastructure – in Canada to make public data freely - as in no cost - and easily accessible - as in useable - to the public. There is a Byzantine cost recovery policy rigidly adhered to by Statistics Canada and other government agencies, and restrictive use licenses which impede citizen’s access and use of these data. This is odd since citizens by law must provide these data yet are subsequently asked to pay for them a second time over and above taxation! A cost recovery policy also means that municipalities, provinces and federal departments each have to pay for these data, and at times many times over as there is no coordination of data acquisitions within these organizations. The public purse is therefore dipped into multiple times for a non-rivalrous good. Further, restrictive use licenses impede multiple uses of public data that could be put to public good and to stimulate innovation. Numerous economic studies conducted in the EU, UN and US demonstrate that free public data with liberal use licensing regimes lead to private and social sector entrepreneurship. Value is added by private sector knowledge intensive enterprises (e.g. development of new software applications to disseminate and render these data, knowledge consulting firms do value added work, social sector organizations conduct research and develop products on social, economic and environmental issues that government and the private sectors may not pursue). Publicly funded scientific data are not made available in Canada as there is neither infrastructure nor incentive to do so. The following initiatives have interesting policies:
· International Polar Year (IPY) grant recipients are mandated to share their data and IPY is building and infrastructure to enable them to do so,
· The US National Institute for Health (NIH) policies on open access to health data and journals
· The GeoConnections GeoBase Unrestricted Use Licence Agreement
· US Executive Order on the Coordination of Government Data and Access.
· Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR)-funded Research Outputs
· UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Sustainable Development, Agenda 21, Information For Decision Making
Free, open access and useable public data are both good for the economy and for society. It is very hard for citizens to do citizenship on social, science and technological matters when the data they require to do so are not accessible to them.
Creation of a national digital data infrastructure to discover, disseminate, and archive Canada’s social, physical and natural scientific data assets and research.
- Rational: As discussed access to data and scientific research results are impeded due to cost recovery and restrictive use licensing regimes, but also because there is no technological infrastructure in place to make these accessible. Further, there are no means to make these available to future generations. There are currently some excellent discipline specific programs in place such as the GeoConnections program, there have been ongoing consultations on the preservation of Canada’s Scientific Data, and there is in circulation a draft that primarily focuses on cultural content regarding a national digital information strategy however, there is no organization that is responsible for the development and creation of a Canadian Digital Scientific Data and Information Infrastructure. The NSF funded and fueled Cyberinfratructure project is an example. Canada requires a multidisplinary institution with authority and resources, a working group or a NSF like organization or a cross federal departmental entity like GeoConnections that can be tasked with the creation and maintenance of such an Infrastructure. This would include policies, technologies, programs, institutions and standards - the key elements of any infrastructure - developed and designed with specialist and non-specialist audiences in mind and in consultation with the public. It would be a one stop location to discover, store, retrieve, archive, and disseminate Canada’s data assets and research outcomes. It would be easy to use, it would have tools to render these data, and it would have the means to access and retrieve studies, reports and data. It would be a repository and an archive and it would be freely accessible to the public. With our current technological expertise in Canada these high level specifications are easy to achieve. The Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure for instance has come along way but does not include archiving, also distributed data repositories exist, GRID and Super Computing has been sporadically funded by CANARIE and some broadband initiatives are in place. There have also been some organizations doing some thinking in this area such as the National Research Council, CODATA, Library and Archives Canada, but these are disparate. A Canadian NSF like organization that can bring together Canada’s scientists, engineers, developers, new media experts, lawyers, civil society experts, citizens and key innovative governmental institutions that have done a great deal of this work to draft and implement such a plan would be most welcome. I would urge INDU to do so and to make Canada the leader in this area.
Support access to spectrum and the ability of municipalities and community groups to develop local non commercial wireless community communication infrastructures.
- Across Canada numerous community wireless networks (CWNs) or infrastructures (CWIs) have sprouted in the past 4-5 years. The largest and most influential is Ile Sans Fil in Montreal, but other community initiatives of note are the Fred-E Zone, Wireless Toronto, Alliance Communauté Sans fill which brings together approximately 20 Québec and Outaouais CWNs, BC Wireless, and K-Net. CWNs are citizen led non profit volunteer organizations which aim to make wireless Internet accessible in their communities, particularly in areas where the market has been slow to provide such services or where people choose a different delivery and access model. These groups are small and local and are not well represented or considered in CRTC negations on spectrum allocation and are not necessarily supported or acknowledged by large private sector Telcos. CWNs are however very innovative and entrepreneurial entities that volunteer their S&T expertise to their communities. I hope that Canada can make some space for and think of these types of small but not insignificant organizations when implementing S&T policies. CWNs have many contributions to make in the shaping of telecommunications in Canada, research and decision making processes on community based technologies. Research in this area has been conducted by the Community Wireless Infrastructure Research Infrastructure Project and the Canadian Research Alliance for Community Innovation and Networking (CRACIN).
The Value of Spatial Information (Exec. Sum, Full Report) report commissioned by the Australian Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI).
U.S. CODATA Reports published by the National Science Foundation (Accessible for Free!)
- Strategies for Preservation of and Open Access to Scientific Data in China
- Open Access and the Public Domain in Digital Data and Information for Science: Proceedings of an International Symposium
- Data for Science and Society: Proceedings of the Second National Conference on Scientific and Technical Data
- Bits of Power: Issues in Global Access to Scientific Data
- Finding the Forest in the Trees: The Challenge of Combining Diverse Environmental Data
The European Commission GI and GIS, Documents.
Preserving Scientific Data on Our Physical Universe: A New Strategy for Archiving the Nation's Scientific Information Resources.
Final Report, National Data Archive Consultation, Building Infrastructure for Access to and Preservation of Research Data (June 2002). Submitted by the NDAC Working Group to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the National Archivist of Canada.
Final Report of the National Consultation on Access to Scientific Research Data (NCASRD) (June 2005). The National Research Council Canada (NRC).
Draft Policy on Access to CIHR-funded Research Outputs. Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR)
On Scientific Information in the Digital Age: Access, Dissemination and Preservation (2007). Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council and the European Economic and Social Committee
Revolutionizing Science and Engineering Through Cyberinfrastructure: Report of the National Science Foundation (2003).
Digital Broadband Content: Public Sector Information and Content (March 2006). OECD Working party on the Information Economy
UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Sustainable Development, Agenda 21, Chapter 40, Information for Decision Making