RSC President

Chad Gaffield - President (2017-2019)

Chad Gaffield

Dear RSC colleagues,

I hope that your spring has gone well, and that you are looking forward to a productive and enjoyable summer.

Before sharing a number of highlights from recent activities, let me again encourage you to nominate individuals for the position of RSC President or to become President of one of the academies. All that is necessary is to submit the name of the proposed individual(s). As you know, the RSC President is expected to have overall leadership experience relevant to an organization like ours, especially the goals of our Strategic Plan. For their part, each academy President’s responsibilities include leadership of the selection process for new Fellows as well as active contributions to Council’s strategic and governance deliberations. 

As you know, the nominating committee, chaired by past-President Maryse Lassonde, is looking forward to receiving submissions, no later than July 15. Fellows and College Members will be invited to vote this fall with a view toward our announcing results at our annual meeting in Halifax where those chosen will begin their mandates as President-Elect. 

In terms of recent steps forward at the RSC, it has been so encouraging to see the successful completion of another year of nominations and selections thanks to the hard work of more than 100 colleagues who reviewed all the submissions. Many thanks as well to all the nominators who took the initiative to help strengthen the RSC by proposing outstanding candidates for the College and academies. 

In anticipation of the next cohort, we will soon be posting an updated Guide for the nomination process, and please circulate it widely to help tap the entire pool of talent across all scientific, scholarly and artistic fields.  

As our major strategic effort to cultivate informed discussion and public policy debate, the RSC G7 initiative has been wonderfully successful, if we judge by partner engagement, attendance at events and feedback within and beyond government. Entitled “The Global Arctic: the sustainability of communities in the context of changing ocean systems,” and “Realizing our digital future and shaping its impact on knowledge, industry and the workforce,” the final texts of the two G7 Science Statements were formally presented in Canada on April 26 to Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan as well as to Canada’s Sherpa, Peter Boehm. 

The statements were similarly shared by the other G7 Science Academies in time for the deliberations of the Summit of Leaders on June 8-9 as well as the ministerial meetings that continue this year.

Moreover, the statements provided compelling frameworks for our first two G7 Research Summits on Our Digital Future and on The Global Arctic. Together with provincial, federal and international partners, these summits brought together experts from across Canada and internationally to share knowledge and insights across fields and sectors. 

The first summit was held on April 26 in Ottawa together with the National Research Council Canada and in collaboration with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). Under the leadership of Marie D’Iorio, RSC International Secretary, and Catherine Middleton, RSC College Member who led our statement drafting team, this summit examined key issues at the heart of digital transformations across society.

In keeping with the G7 Science statement, speakers at the summit examined urgent policy challenges such how accessibility gaps and forms of polarization are intensifying existing stratification between ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ economic sectors, businesses, social groups, and even societies. As digital technologies are enabling entirely new industries based upon machine learning and artificial intelligence, research results emphasize the importance of lowering barriers to participation in and access to data, education, and communication tools for citizens around the world. 

Moreover, this G7 Research Summit emphasized that the shift from analogue to digital life demands new ethical frameworks to address new fundamental questions regarding the reconciliation of digital technologies to human values, the consequences of human interactions with intelligent machines, and the meaning of responsible innovation. Discussion focused on the urgent need for international cooperation in key areas of security, accessibility, and regulation to secure a digital future that is inclusive, democratically governed and ethically minded. 

In order to similarly pursue the G7 focus on Arctic Sustainability, a second G7 Research Summit was held at the Palais des congrès in Montreal, thanks to the partnership of the Fonds de recherche du Québec under Rémi Quirion’s leadership, Chief Scientist of Quebec. The summit program was also developed in collaboration with the four federal research granting agencies as well as with significant input from Jackie Dawson, the RSC lead for the statement drafting team; Ashlee Cunsolo, key drafting team member, and Jeremy McNeil, former RSC Foreign Secretary. 

The opening keynote by Natan Obed, the President of ITK, emphasized the central importance of Indigenous knowledge to both understanding current changes and working toward enhanced quality of life. Overall, the summit explored how climate change in the Arctic anticipates expected global transformations. Speakers included Mona Nemer, Canada’s Chief Science Adviser, as well as G7 Science colleague, Eric Wolff of the Royal Society of London, who compared and contrasted changes in the Arctic and Antarctic. 

One consistent theme of this G7 Research Summit echoed the statement’s call for a shared scientific vision to protect and adapt these vital ecosystems as best we can while informing local and global evidence-based decision-making and collaborative scientific investigations to support policy formulation.

Moreover, the speakers agreed on the need for broad international collaboration that integrates natural, social, and health sciences, engineering, humanities, and Indigenous knowledge. Toward this end, both the statement and the summit emphasized the need to update the development of expertise including research on locally-driven science questions as well as the development of circumpolar research infrastructure. In the same way, a session that featured current graduate students involved in arctic research projects pointed out the extent to which graduate training is not keeping up with the changing character of research especially with respect to engaging Indigenous knowledge.

The G7 Research Summit on the Global Arctic concluded with a compelling presentation by Governor General Julie Payette who connected her previous experience in viewing the Arctic from space with her recent visits to Canada’s North to illustrate how engaged science can help confront the global challenges of our era.

The next summit will examine the potential and complexity of moving from “Data Into Insights” as part of our focus on Our Digital Future. In partnership with Statistics Canada, this G7 Research Summit will be held on September 24-25 and the program will be posted shortly.

Taken together, the G7 Research Summits are effectively showing how the path to a better future runs through increased knowledge and understanding of the deep complexity of the past and present. By distilling current insights and evidence into key challenges, recommendations and principles for action, this initiative is contributing meaningfully to current public policy debate. Both summits attracted full-house attendance of two hundred delegates. Although he could not attend the summit on the Global Arctic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent a video message to warmly thank the RSC for this year’s timely G7 Science Academies’ initiative.

At the same time, the headlines make clear every day that societies around the world are facing serious threats to evidence-based decision-making. Participants in the G7 Research Summits often made reference to the extent to which science and society seem disconnected these days. While this disconnect is more pronounced in some jurisdictions than others, no one suggested that we can continue to assume a linear transition from scientifically-agreed upon evidence and insights to effective policies and practices. 

In this context, we must increasingly focus on updating the ways in which we mobilize knowledge and engage debate in the larger society. Fortunately, the recent RSC Task Force on Intervention under the leadership of Pekka Sinervo provides an excellent point of departure for reviewing our established approaches as well as developing new ways to fulfill our advisory role on topics such arctic sustainability and digital transformations. This work is now beginning as the Committee on Intervention, with Monica Heller as Chair, plans their work for the coming year. 

In closing, let me emphasize that the concerted work to implement our new strategic plan would not be possible without the talent and determination of the secretariat at Walter House. It has been a great privilege for me to collaborate with them and I look forward to joining with you in thanking them in person at our Celebration of Excellence and Engagement in Halifax during November 15-18. All the best for a productive and enjoyable summer.


Yours in RSC,

Chad Gaffield OC FRSC

June 2018