Canada

Review of Canadian science calls for better oversight, coordination—and more money

To reinvigorate its science base, Canada needs to “reinvest” almost CAD$500 million in basic, investigator-led research over the next 4 years, according to a long-awaited review of the country’s science and innovation landscape released today.

“A crucial shortcoming in the system is the level of support for independent investigator-initiated research,” David Naylor, a former president of the University of Toronto in Canada who led the nine-person review panel, told ScienceInsider. “That support has been squeezed for about a decade.” Read more in Science.

Canada Foundation for Innovation awards $18 million to Amundsen

CFI aims to secure ongoing operation and maintenance funds for research facilities including Canada’s only research icebreaker.

Laval University has received more than $18 million for the research icebreaker CCGS Amundsen in the latest round of funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s Major Science Initiatives Fund.

Over the next five years, the funding will mainly be used to maintain and deploy the coast guard ship’s scientific equipment and to pay the specialised engineers who operate the Arctic research vessel, says Louis Fortier, the Amundsen’s scientific director. But the money will also be used to subsidize some scientific projects that need a little extra cash. Read more in University Affairs.

Canada’s government scientists get anti-muzzling clause in contract

Scientists working for the Canadian government have successfully negotiated a clause in their new contract that guarantees their right to speak to the public and the media about science and their research, without needing approval from their managers.

“Employees shall have the right to express themselves on science and their research, while respecting the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector … without being designated as an official media spokesperson,” the new clause states. Read more in Science.

‘Ransomware’ cyberattack highlights vulnerability of universities

Staff at Canadian university given little guidance on how to mitigate future problems.

The first Patrick Feng knew about a cyberattack on his university was when one of his colleagues told him that her computer had been infected by hackers and rendered unusable.

Feng, who studies technology and sustainability policy at the University of Calgary in Canada, immediately checked the Dropbox folder that he was sharing with that colleague — and found that it, too, had been compromised.

“The hackers had created encrypted copies of all my Dropbox files and deleted the originals,” he says. “And there was a ransom note demanding bitcoin to unlock them.” Read more in Nature.

Drugs are going missing, but why?

Dr. Jacalyn Duffin, a hematologist and medical historian at Queen’s University in Kingston, first became aware that certain drugs were sometimes getting hard to find in 2010, when her patient at a cancer clinic wanted to stop chemotherapy because she couldn’t get prochlorperazine, a common anti-nausea drug.

Duffin was shocked. “I just couldn’t believe that it was gone. It is a very old, reliable drug that has been around for a long time and it was the only one that worked for her.”

Duffin started investigating and quickly discovered the problem went far beyond an old anti-nausea drug. Read more in CMAJ.

Canadian researchers do more with less

Growing participation in large international research projects may explain the drop in Canada’s index performance.

Researchers at Canadian institutions are publishing more papers in top journals, but make up a smaller part of the collaborative teams that publish them, according to the latest data from Nature Index.

Between 2012 and 2015, the number of publications in the 68 high-profile journals tracked by the index that featured Canadian institutions rose from 3,211 to 3,319. But the total weighted fractional count (WFC) of the country’s institutions — a metric that measures the proportional contribution to each publication — fell by 2.8%, from 1521.05 to 1478.29. Read more in Nature Index.

Evolution in models of primary care

British Columbia has jettisoned its ambitious 2013 election promise to match everyone in the province with a family doctor. It’s yet another sign that governments are beginning to recognise an evolution in the provision of primary medical care — an evolution that’s supported by the College of Family Physicians of Canada.

The GP for Me program had aimed to match every BC resident with a family physician (FP) by the end of 2015. That didn’t happen, despite the fact that BC has 125 FPs per 100 000 population — higher than the national average of 114. Instead of individual FPs, BC will match people with a primary care team that includes doctors as well as nurse practitioners, mental health counsellors, physiotherapists and others. Read more in CMAJ.

Online tools improve mental health in primary care

Mental health issues make up a big part of the workload for primary care physicians. In Ontario, about 20% of patient visits to primary care practitioners are related to mental health, and in many more visits, mental health issues underlie physical symptoms.

But most frontline health care workers often don’t get much training in mental health, says Dr. Peter Selby, director of medical education at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto. “We know that most people with mental health problems are seen in primary care. How do we make sure that doctors have access to this information that may have been missed during med school?” Read more in CMAJ.

Montreal institute going ‘open’ to accelerate science

Experiment aims to show whether forgoing patents and freeing up data can boost neuroscience research.

Guy Rouleau, the director of McGill University’s Montreal Neuro logical Institute (MNI) and Hospital in Canada, is frustrated with how slowly neuroscience research translates into treatments. “We’re doing a really shitty job,” he says. “It’s not because we’re not trying; it has to do with the complexity of the problem.”

So he and his colleagues at the renowned institute decided to try a radical solution. Starting this year, any work done there will conform to the principles of the “open-science” movement—all results and data will be made freely available at the time of publication, for example, and the institute will not pursue patents on any of its discoveries. Read more in Science.

Calls for more independence for government medical officers

Physicians are calling for Canada’s chief medical officers of health to be given greater independence from provincial governments following the recent firing of New Brunswick’s medical officer, Dr. Eilish Cleary, for reasons that remain unknown.

“The position is too important to allow people to be arbitrarily dismissed,” says Dr. James Talbot, the former chief medical officer of health for Alberta. “We need to be sure they can speak out.” Read more in CMAJ.