Statistical science is everywhere

By Professor Nancy Reid, OC, FRSC

On Saturday, April 7, The Globe and Mail published a long article on advances in counselling and therapy around mental health—Rethinking therapy: how 45 questions can revolutionize mental health. The punch line? A new emphasis on data collection and analysis is helping therapists to track patients’ progress, alert them to troubling trends, give patients affirmation with their progress, and more. The use of these data collection efforts have been validated by clinical trials. Data collection and clinical trials have informed medical practice for chronic and acute diseases for more than seventy years.

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Did you say, Father’s day?

Last Monday, I wasn’t feeling great, so I asked a good friend of mine to come over and give me company, which he promptly did. Yes, this may be uncommon in this part of the world, but both he and I hail from cultures where this is done.

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The Problem with Naylor’s Panel Report

The report of Naylor’s panel reviewing Canadian Science is out. It is an incredibly eloquent “plaidoyer” for basic research both in terms of its role, past and present, in the advancement of society. It is of course music to the ears of Canada’s university researchers as well as administrators, though for different reasons. Government officials have not yet made any substantial comment and expectations raised by the report must be weighing heavy. The commitment of the Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan, to basic research is beyond reproach, but she has to contend with “another minister of (applicable?) science,” and 29 of her colleagues around the cabinet table all with other priorities. This is seen in Budget 2017, which was not kind to her ministerial mandate –at least according to Canada’s rank-and-file researchers. The Naylor report made the job that much tougher by not making the required bold moves in re-prioritizing and re-allocating some of the current government’s expenditures on university research.

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Berdahl vs. Potter: The Tale of Two “Globe and Mail” Editorials

Oct. 22, 2015, Globe and Mail Editorial re: Jennifer Berdahl: “It’s far from clear, though, that her blog post was an exercise in academic freedom. Her post was one remark about one unexplained kerfuffle in a university’s administration, not a piece of data in a social research program.”

Mar. 23, 2017, Globe and Mail Editorial re: Andrew Potter: “The right of university professors to speak their minds without fear of sanction is critical in a free society. It matters not a whit that the online Maclean’s column that got Mr. Potter in trouble was poorly thought out.”

There are many similarities between the case of Jennifer Berdahl at UBC, and the Andrew Potter affair at McGill. Both faculty members made statements that caused displeasure to the powers in their respective universities and provinces. Both had their rights to academic freedom usurped and challenged. Both paid a heavy price for exercising this right. Much remains to be uncovered, but there is one glaring difference between the two cases. The establishment, at least outside Quebec, rallied around Andrew Potter, defending his right to academic freedom, and publicly chastising Suzanne Fortier, the Principal of McGill. Jennifer Berdahl didn’t have that luxury. No pundit/public figure questioned the role and attitude of Martha Piper, then acting president of UBC, of John Montalbano, then Chair of the Board, and of Lindsay Gordon, who is astonishingly still vying for a reappointment as Chancellor. What gives?

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Budget 2017, Naylor’s review, and the Mathematical Sciences in Canada

James Colliander, Director of the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences (PIMS) 
Nassif Ghoussoub, Director of the Banff International Research Station (BIRS)
Ian Hambleton, Director of the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences (Fields)
Luc Vinet, Directeur du Centre de Recherches Mathématiques (CRM)

The direct funding of research initiatives on artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing via Budget 2017, and the release of the report of Canada’s Fundamental Science Review present an opportunity to reflect on the role of mathematical sciences within Canada’s scientific heritage and future, but also on our country’s ways of funding research. The importance of the mathematical sciences (mathematics, statistics and computer science) is deepening in almost all areas of knowledge. Mathematical sciences provide a conceptual infrastructure underpinning advances in biology, engineering, humanities, medicine, social sciences and beyond. Progress in our understanding in all these fields depends upon advanced research and high-level training in the mathematical sciences.

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Open Letter to the UBC Chancellor Reappointment Committee

That the Board of Governors is considering the re-appointment of Lindsay Gordon as UBC Chancellor is mystifying to say the least. To those of you asking why, here is the only explanation I can think of: Some people connected to the Board -political hacks or otherwise- want to show the faculty that their collective action after the ouster of President Gupta was totally useless and irrelevant. That was the gist of Faye Wightman’s presentation to the Board then, and it may be causing a deliberate delay of governance reform that was promised a year ago. They may think that there is no better way to discourage future actions, but this should only strengthen the faculty’s resolve to take their university back.

I am therefore signing this letter.



This letter will have more impact if it comes from a group of faculty.  I will submit it to the committee with the names of all signatories on 24 April. I will in the interim periodically update the signature list.—AR

Open Letter to the UBC Chancellor Reappointment Committee

“There is no investment that is more critical to the university than our investment in the faculty. Our standing as a research university and our attractiveness as a destination for the best and brightest students all rest with the quality of our faculty.” – President Santa J. Ono

Dear Committee:

Thank you for your service to UBC.  While it is true that the reappointment of a one-term Chancellor is consistent with the BC University Act, it is disheartening that Lindsay Gordon is being considered for reappointment.  Gordon was deeply immersed in all the activities that led the UBC faculty to…

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Canada has two ministers of Science, yet Budget 2017 barely mentions Science

University researchers across Canada are stunned and puzzled. What happened to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals promises to undo the damage that the Harper years inflicted on the nation’s research capacity? The Liberals campaigned to end the “war on Science,” yet they seem to be governing by the very same playbook as their predecessors. Yes, they got “Science” into the title of two ministerial positions: The Minister of Industry is now the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED). The Minister of State for Science & Technology is now a senior Minister of Science. But not much else seems to have changed. Actually, Budget 2017 hardly mentions Science (once you remove generic titles such as ISED, the Science review, and the Science Advisor!). University presidents may be satisfied –or told to be—by their infrastructure funds, a couple of researchers seem to hit the jackpot, but to Canada’s rank and file researchers, Budget 2017 looks pretty much like a repeat of Harper’s 2009 Budget.

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