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Council of Canadian Academies: Another progress(?) update

BY DAVID KENT | SEP 02 2011

Quick Hit:
The Lane Anderson Award for the best science writing in Canada has announced its finalists and a decision is expected on September 14, 2011.  Until then, consider browsing through the finalists for a glimpse at great Canadian science writing.

Council of Canadian Academies:  Another Progress(?) Update
In previous entries  I speculated on the future of a promising source of Canadian-relevant credible scientific information(The Council of Canadian Academies – Thriving, Surviving, or Doomed to Fail? and Bold New Toppings: A closer look at the Council of Canadian Academies 3 year plan).  In July, in its latest annual report entitled Evidence First, the Canadian Council of Academies (CCA) shows signs of finally trying to brand itself – and the product is encouraging.  To me, this report drives home the main message of why we need the CCA to exist following the 10 year seed funding – Canadians need to make decisions based on evidence, and the (predominantly) volunteer energies of its broad panels of scientists are a great place to source such information.

Following Beth’s entries on Science in the federal government and Federal Government Scrapping The Census Long-Form: What Will It Mean for Evidence-Based Policy? which highlight some concerns about how Canada marries policy with evidence, I think that the CCA’s most recent report will resonate with our readers.  It pitches the CCA as a viable entity to channel the energy and enthusiasm for improving the accrual of scientific evidence in the public interest.  The CCA taps into a substantial amount of volunteer energy from experts across the country and provides balanced and defined assessments around some of the most complicated problems in our country.

The difficulty I have, from which the title of the post is born, is that the annual report appears to be plagued with many of the same problems as the Strategic Plan 2011-2014 entitled “INSIGHT & IMPACT” – lots of waffle, a lack of exposure, and no clear source of funding for 2015 and beyond.  The annual report could easily be ~20% of its current 67 pages and descriptive metrics like “The number of visits to the Council’s website on the day of the report release was three-to-four times higher than average… 67 per cent of visitors were new” and “references to both the nanotechnology report and the Arctic research report were made at the October 2010 Canadian Science Policy Conference” are a difficult sell.  Furthermore, while printing and distributing reports is an effective means of communication, we have yet to see any bold moves by the council to actually “call out” for something that their reports recommend.  If the CCA wants to be a known quantity in the Canadian public or with media and policy makers, it needs to be much more active in its messaging and public engagement.

The biggest issue at hand is clearly going to be, how can Canada support the CCA’s existence beyond the 10 year government seed money – does the case for more government funding need to be made?  Do industrial partners need to be approached?  Should private donations be solicited?

In my last post on the CCA, I called for the creation of a national science endowment that would help fund the CCA (and perhaps other entities/projects around science in Canada like the Science Media Centre of Canada) and I remain hopeful that one will be started.  If people feel that science is a powerful tool and scientists a good resource for helping our country map out plans for sectors like natural resource extraction and technology development, then they should be prepared to put their money where their mouths are and support such initiatives more openly.

ABOUT DAVID KENT
David Kent
Dr. David Kent is a principal investigator at the York Biomedical Research Institute at the University of York, York, UK. He trained at Western University and the University of British Columbia before spending 10 years at the University of Cambridge, UK where he ran his research group until 2019. His laboratory's research focuses on the fundamental biology of blood stem cells and how changes in their regulation lead to cancers. David has a long history of public engagement and outreach including the creation of The Black Hole in 2009.
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