Science Policy For All

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Science Policy Around the Web – June 11, 2018

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By: Roger Mullins, Ph.D.

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source: pixabay

Gender Equality

Minister looks for signs of gender bias in federal science departments

After previously acting to alleviate the gender gap among university researchers, Canada’s minister of science is now taking active measures to do the same with gender inequity in the federal government. Of note is her evidence-based approach to addressing this problem.

The present course of these actions is currently at the information-gathering stage. An earlier 2017 survey by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) revealed a troubling under-representation of women in science, with a key note of concern being the “diminishing proportion of women to men” in higher level positions. Based on this prior information, Duncan has requisitioned surveys from science-based departments in the federal government to collect more comprehensive and useful demographic data about their staff. This data will then be used to inform any impending policy changes.

Duncan has fought for diversity in research for decades and firmly espouses the idea that “diversity and research excellence go hand in hand.” This is by no means empty rhetoric, as an overly homogeneous or male-dominated field will suffer from limitations in their perspectives on topics that involve gender, which are more common than assumed. For example, she notes deficiencies in the design of early airbags, artificial heart valves, and voice recognition software, which were originally calibrated with male users and recipients in mind. There is no apparent benefit from “halving the potential field of innovation.” Aside from the obvious issues of fairness, researchers may provide better service to society if they actively seek to maintain a diverse set of colleagues and employees.

The results of her actions here will go a long way toward informing actions taken in other countries to alleviate gender bias in their respective science communities. When the information is made available, it will also be interesting to see how other nations science departments compare in their efforts to promote diversity and gender equity.

(Emily Chung, CBC News)

International Research

Here’s how China is challenging the U.S. and European brain initiatives

The ongoing development of the China Brain Project is a major feature of China’s new focus on neuroscience and brain research, as delineated by their government’s latest 5-year plan. Of interest to other leading nations is how their approach to neuroscience will challenge and inform their own research, as well as the impact it will have on national standing in the sciences. The latest step, and perhaps an unexpected one, has been the rapid launch of the Shanghai Research Center for Brain Science and Brain-Inspired Intelligence.

By their own account, the preparation for the national CBP center “was taking a long time,” which spurred Shanghai and Beijing to take the initiative to launch their own center. In line with the latest 5-year plan, the CBP is primarily focused on neural mechanisms underlying cognition, translational studies of neurological diseases, and artificial intelligence. The scientists heading the Shanghai & Beijing center are however also interested in brain changes at the mesoscopic (brain cell circuitry) connectome level and how education affects neural development. China faces the same brain health challenges as other countries with an aging population and many see advances in neuroscience as a means to alleviate the burden to public health systems and caregivers.

The U.S. and European Commission both have their own brain and neuroscience related initiatives and research focus, and the world will be watching and waiting to see how they compare and how researchers integrate their findings. Following at the heels of a large influx of national focus and investment in the sciences, China has also taken steps to attract scientists from across the globe for their research laboratories. This is itself not without complications. While not insurmountable, foreign researchers report feeling constricted by language difficulties and state-limited access to online resources. This step to acquire outside researchers places China in direct competition with other nations in the search for crucial scientific minds.

Time will tell how an emerging major player will affect the science policy of other leading scientific nations, but the well-defined topical focus, high priority, generous funding, and open recruitment of overseas talent all suggest that we will be seeing a great deal of brain research from China in the future.

(Dennis Normile, Science)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

June 12, 2018 at 10:30 pm

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