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Article written by: Amanda Hunter & Tracey P. Lauriault

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently published a policy response to COVID-19 in which they suggest that open science, and the policies & standards that support it, can accelerate the health, social, and economic responses to the virus as barriers to information access are eliminated.

As the first in a series of blog posts about Open Science (OS) and FAIR principles in Canada, here we highlight the key role open science plays in communicating and disseminating official COVID-19 research and public health data before assessing if official COVID-19 reporting in Canada adheres to OS principles.

In a next post, we will analyze official COVID-19 reporting in Canada to assess whether or not these follow Open Science, FAIR principles, and the Open Data Charter in the sharing of COVID-19 data.

What is Open Science?

The OECD Open Science program states that the benefits of open science is that it promotes a more accurate verification of scientific results, reduces duplication, increases productivity, and promotes trust in science.

https://www.oecd.org/science/inno/open-science.htm

Open science (OS) is a movement, a practice and a policy toward transparent, accessible, reliable, trusted and reproducible science. This is achieved by sharing how research and data collection are done so as to make research results accessible and standardized, created once and reused by many. This includes techniques, tools, technologies, and platforms should also be open source wherever possible.

In OS the outputs of the scientific process are considered to be a public good, thus wherever possible articles are published in open access (OA) journals, and research data are shared with the public and other scientists who may want to re-purpose those data in new work, or by people who want to verify the veracity of research results. Reporting COVID-19 Cases by normalizing an open by default approaches means that health scientists, population health experts and government officials make this part of their workflow (maintaining individual privacy of course), and by doing so decision makers beyond government, can scrutinize the results, leading to trust the results while also increasing data sharing.

What role does open science play in combating COVID-19?

In the early stages of the pandemic, knowing the genome provided crucial information to help scientists and researchers identify the origin of the outbreak, treat the infection, develop a diagnostic test and work on the vaccine. In other words, the easier—and quicker—researchers can produce, share and access scientific data, the quicker and the more informed is the collaborative response to the virus.

During the 2002-03 SARS outbreak it took five months to publish a full genome of the virus largely due to information blackouts and lack of data sharing. In contrast, the full genome of COVID-19 was published to an open-access platform nearly a month after the first patient was admitted to the hospital in Wuhan. This provided researchers around the world with a head start. Since OS policies have been operationalized during the pandemic, the resulting free flow of ideas in terms of biomedical research has accelerated (OECD).

The implementation of OS standards during COVID-19 has indeed been largely successful. OECD described how collaborative research and  thee global sharing of information reached unprecedented levels, for example:

  • In March 2020, 12 countries (including Canada) launched the Public Health Emergency COVID-19 Initiative at the level of Chief Science advisors, calling for open access to publications and machine-readable access to data related to COVID-19.
  • Open online platform Vivli offers an easy way to request anonymized data from clinical trials.
  • A COVID-19 Open Research Dataset [CORD-19] was developed that hosts 157,000 + scholarly articles about COVID-19 and related coronaviruses; 75,000 of which are full-text machine-readable data that can be used for AI and natural language processing.

These online, open-source platforms have supported rapid scientific COVID-19 research. OS, facilitated by standards, shared infrastructure and techniques, policies and licences, has been instrumental in the global fight against the pandemic.

Yet, despite the numerous successes, many challenges remain. For example, not all COVID-19 related health research and data adhere to the FAIR principles. FAIR principles are a standards approach which support the application of open science by making data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable. Failure to adhere to FAIR principles has led to an overall lack of communication and coordination during the pandemic. In Canada, data should also adhere to CARE principles, which address issues of Indigenous data governance with respect to Indigenous knowledge along with the OCAP Principles of the First Nation Information Governance Centre (FNIGC). More on this in the following section.

The reporting COVID-19 demographic data and reports in Canada to date falls short on standardized classifications in terms of demographics, as we discussed in an earlier blog post, which makes doing a comparative analysis difficult or impossible: for example, many countries define “recoveries” differently, and in Canada, since health is the jurisdictional responsibility of the provinces and territories, each report in their own way. Even though numerous official organizations publish COVID-19 and health related data, as open data databases or in open data portals, there remains an overall lack of interoperability, comparability and standards.

Where does Canada stand on Open Science?

Canada was implementing an open science framework before the pandemic as follows.

National Action Plan on Open Government

The Government of Canada recently published Canada’s 2018-2020 National Action Plan on Open Government, listing ten commitments to furthering the open government initiative. The plan asserts five commitments to implementing OS in Canada by the end of 2020, as seen below:

A screenshot showing a portion of Canada's 2018-2020 National Action Plan on  Open Government. The main issue addressed here is the difficulty for Canadians to access scientific research outputs: thus the commitments focus on making federal science, scientific data, and scientists themselves more accessible.

The OS portion of Canada’s 2018-2020 National Action Plan on Open Government. It aims to address the difficulty for Canadians to access scientific research: thus the commitments on making federal science, scientific data, and scientists themselves more accessible (Government of Canada, 2018).

The Action Plan addresses issues of accessibility and transparency of scientific research and outlines 5 commitments to amending these issues. These commitments include:

  1. Development of an OS roadmap,
  2. Providing an open access platform for publications,
  3. Raising awareness of federal scientists’ work,
  4. Promoting OS and soliciting feedback on stakeholder needs, and
  5. Measuring progress & benefits of the OS implementation.

Despite the comprehensiveness of the Roadmap (see below), Canada has not yet moved past the Action Plan’s second commitment—to provide a platform for Canadians to find and access open access (OA) publications from federal scientists—despite the projected March 2020 deadline. Also, at the time of writing, there is no federal open science platform or portal for users to access open science data in Canada even though there is an open data portal. The New Digital Research Infrastructure Organization (NDRIO) does show promise.

There are however some open data initiatives, such as the Federal Open Government and COVID-19 section on the Open Government Canada Portal.  Here Epidemiological and economic research data, with mathematical modeling reports, a map of cases and deaths by province, daily and weekly detailed epidemiological reports, and an ongoing dataset of COVID-19 cases, deaths, recoveries, and testing rates in Canada’s provinces and territories are made available. This is a significant improvement from the early days of reporting, as data journalist Kenyon Wallace discovered that on a daily basis, the Province of Ontario published new data but each time they did they overrode the previous day’s reports. His article and some work by Lauriault with the Ontario Open Government team resulted in changing that practice and raw data are now updated daily and reported. Open data is but one part of the OS process as we will see when we look at the FAIR principles.

Open Science Roadmap

The plan’s first commitment, to “develop a Canada Open Science Roadmap…” was completed and published in February 2020. The document provides ten recommendations made by Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer, to advance Canada’s OS initiatives. Like the policy brief by OECD, the roadmap is driven by the importance of trust among collaborators, inclusiveness of varying perspectives, and transparent processes throughout.

A screenshot of the cover of Canada’s Roadmap for Open Science (Government of Canada, 2020)

Canada’s Roadmap for Open Science (Government of Canada, 2020)

Most importantly, the Roadmap describes a commitment to developing an OS framework, including adopting the FAIR principles and “open by design and by default” specifications. The roadmap asserts Canada’s commitment to upholding these standards and policies via 10 recommendations:

10 recommendations made in the Roadmap for Open Science. Key points include the adoption of an OS framework in Canada, making federal scientific research outputs ‘open by default’, and implementing FAIR principles. (Government of Canada, 2020).

10 recommendations in the Roadmap for Open Science. Key points include the adoption of an OS framework, making federal scientific research outputs ‘open by default’, and implementing FAIR principles (Government of Canada, 2020).

Model Science Integrity Policy

Canada also has a Model Science Integrity Policy (MSIP) for the public service. The MSIP represents an internal commitment to integrity and accountability in science. Various mandates in the MSIP state that their purpose is to increase public trust in the credibility and reliability of government research and scientific activities, and ensure that research and scientific information are made available in keeping with the Government of Canada’s Directive on Open Government. The MSIP echoes Canada’s commitment to OS.

Indigenous Data Governance 

Finally, Canada has some commitment to supporting Indigenous rights to self-determination and data governance, but does not incorporate standards such as CARE principles which support OS  nor the OCAP Principles when it comes to Indigenous data governance. These extend the FAIR principles.

The Global Indigenous Data Alliance (GIDA) introduced the CARE principles to complement the FAIR principles in 2019. The CARE principles for Indigenous data governance were developed to address a lack of engagement between the open science movement and Indigenous rights and interests (GIDA, 2019).

The FAIR principles focus on data accessibility of data and sharing but fail to address power differences and the impact of colonialism experienced by Indigenous peoples and their right to exercise control and ownership of data about them and local and traditional knowledge. The CARE principles are crucial for the recognition and advancement of these rights as they encourage open science (and other ‘open’ movements) to “consider both people and purpose in their advocacy and pursuits” (GIDA, 2019). The CARE principles are contrasted with the FAIR principles in the below image from the GIDA website:

The CARE principles, which are “collective benefit, authority to control, responsibility, and ethics”, contrasted with the FAIR principles, which are “findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable” (GIDA, 2019)

The CARE principles are “collective benefit, authority to control, responsibility, and ethics”, contrasted with the FAIR principles, which are “findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable” (GIDA, 2019)

The OCAP Principles of Ownership, Control, Access and Possession are another set of important principles, that are a better fit in the Canadian Context.  Members of our project currently taking the Fundamentals of OCAP course and we hope to better incorporate these approaches in our work and in how we assess official reporting. Though Indigenous data governance and handling of Indigenous knowledge are not addressed in the Open Science Roadmap, the Data Strategy Roadmap for the Federal Public Service does demonstrate a federal approach to supporting Indigenous data strategies (see below):

Recommendation #8 from the Data Strategy Roadmap for the Federal Public Service which states Canada’s recognition of the Indigenous right to self-determination and data governance (Government of Canada, 2019)

Recommendation #8 from the Data Strategy Roadmap for the Federal Public Service which states Canada’s recognition of the Indigenous right to self-determination and data governance (Government of Canada, 2019)

Next Steps

Much progress has been made in terms of publishing, reporting and communicating data in the short time since COVID-19 began (though not without pressure from the media!). Open access to scientific research and public health reports have been helpful to facilitate the rapid response to the virus and keeping the public informed on how science informs governments actions. There is, however, much left to be done.

  1. Open Science should consider bias in data as well as invisibilities for example interdisciplinary work that helps paint the fuller picture of the impact of the virus. For example, interdisciplinary and intersectional approaches to data categories, including research based in critical race theory (CRT), Indigenous perspectives, socio-demographics and gig labour groups for example.
  2. Second, as suggested by the OECD, making COVID-19 data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable is critical for a more effective rapid response. Lack of adherence to FAIR principles currently presents challenges to open science research.
  3. Finally, a meaningful Canadian OS framework should also incorporate standards for Indigenous Data Governance such as CARE Principles and OCAP Principles ensure respectful data practices are followed.

The Tracing COVID-19 Data team is in the process of developing a framework to assess official COVID-19 reporting in Canada to see if they comply with OS, FAIR, CARE, OCAP, and open-by-default at all levels of government. We will draw on Canada’s commitments OS and FAIR in – Canada’s 2018-2020 National Action Plan on Open Government, Open Science Roadmap, the Model Science Integrity Policy and the Open Data Charter.

Is Canada FAIR?

Stay tuned!

Recommendation

All official Federal, Provincial/Territorial and City public COVID-19 data reporting should be open data, open by design and by default, research should be published in open access (OA) Journals and should adhere to open science (OS) such as the FAIR principles , CARE Principles, OCAP Principles and the Open Data Charter.

References

Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic. Open Data, Open Citizens? https://cippic.ca/en/open_governance/open_data_and_privacy

Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). SARS- Associated Coronavirus (SARS-CoV) Sequencing. https://www.cdc.gov/sars/lab/sequence.html

CTVNews. (2020). Project Pandemic: Reporting on COVID-19 in Canada. 
https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/project-pandemic

Federated Research Data Repository. (2018). FAIR Principles. 
https://www.frdr-dfdr.ca/docs/en/fair_principles/

Global Indigenous Data Alliance. (2019). CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance. 
https://www.gida-global.org/care

Government of Canada. (2014). Directive on open government. 
https://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/pol/doc-eng.aspx?id=28108

Government of Canada. (May, 2016). Open by default and modern, easy to use formats. 
https://open.canada.ca/en/content/open-default-and-modern-easy-use-formats

Government of Canada. (2017). Model policy on scientific integrity.
https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/063.nsf/eng/h_97643.html

Government of Canada. (2018). Canada’s 2018-2020 National Action Plan on Open Government. https://open.canada.ca/en/content/canadas-2018-2020-national-action-plan-open-government#toc8

Government of Canada. (2018). Report to the Clerk of the Privy Council: A Data Strategy Roadmap for the Federal Public Service. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/pco-bcp/documents/clk/Data_Strategy_Roadmap_ENG.pdf

Government of Canada. (2020). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Outbreak update.
https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19.html?utm_campaign=not-applicable&utm_medium=vanity-url&utm_source=canada-ca_coronavirus

Government of Canada. (2020). Office of the Chief Science Advisorhttps://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/063.nsf/eng/h_97646.html

Government of Canada. (2020). Open Government Portal.
https://open.canada.ca/data/en/dataset

Lauriault, T. (2020, April 17). Tracing COVID-19 Data: COVID-19 Demographic Reporting. Datalibre.
http://datalibre.ca/2020/04/17/covid-19-demographic-reporting/

National Centre for Biotechnology Information. (2020). Public Health Emergency COVID-19 Initiative.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/about/covid-19/?cmp=1

Open Data Charter. (n.d.). The International Open Data Charter.
https://opendatacharter.net

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2020, May 12). OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19): Why open science is critical to combatting COVID-19.
http://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/why-open-science-is-critical-to-combatting-covid-19-cd6ab2f9/

Ford & Airhihenbuwa. (2010). The public health critical race methodology: Praxis for antiracism research. Science Direct.
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0277953610005800#!

Semantic Scholar. (2020). CORD-19: COVID-19 Open Research Dataset.
shorturl.at/wETZ5 

The Lancet. (January, 2020). Genomic characterization and epidemiology of 2019 novel coronavirus: implications for virus origins and receptor binding.
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30251-8/fulltext

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, Medicine. (2018). Open Science by Design: Realizing a Vision for 21st Century Research. Chapter 1, Front Matter. 
https://www.nap.edu/read/25116/chapter/1

The Star. (2020). Coronavirus & COVID-19 Data. https://www.thestar.com/coronavirus/data.html

Vivli. (2020).
https://vivli.org/about/overview-2/

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TracingCOVIDbanners-08The following data and information were collected and analyzed by Tracey P. Lauriault, and Sam Shields a recent Carleton University Critical Data Studies graduate.

We set out to answer a very simple question inspired by a Twitter stream calling for COVID-19 reporting to include Indigenous, Black and Racialized characteristics. The following guided our activities:

  • What kind of demographic data are reported in official COVID19 reports?

On Thursday April 16, 2020 we spent the day searching the content of official government COVID-19 reporting sites. We compiled our data into a Google Spreadsheet, conferred over Skype, chatted in FB, and verified each other’s work. Official COVID-19 reporting dynamically changes as the pandemic evolves, and as institutions collect more data and build the capacity to report, they report more and they do so in a better way. I also consult experts in my network who comment and suggest resources. We will take another look next week to see if anything has changed. The following were our data sources

  1. British Columbia: COVID Dashboard & BCCCD PHSA Surveillance Report (15/04/2020)
  2. Yukon: Information about COVID-19
  3. Alberta: COVID-19 in Alberta
  4. North West Territories: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)
  5. Saskatchewan: Cases and Risk of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan
  6. Manitoba: COVID-19 Updates
  7. Nunavut: COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus)
  8. Ontario: The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Status of cases in Ontario & Daily Epidemiologic Summary (15/04/2020)
  9. Québec: Données COVID-19 au Québec & Situation du coronavirus (COVID-19) au Québec
  10. New Brunswick: COVID-19 Testing by the Numbers
  11. Prince Edward Island: PEI COVID-19 Testing Data
  12. Nova Scotia: Novel coronaviris (COVID-19) cases in Nova Scotia: data visualization
  13. Newfoundland: Newfoundland and Labrador Pandemic Update Data Hub
  14. Federal: PHAC Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Outbreak update & Full Daily Epidemiology Update (April 16, 2020)

We found an incredible amount of information and overall, each province, territory and the Federal government make their data readily available and these are disseminated in charts, tables, maps, and dynamic dashboards and in daily surveillance reports. The data and indicators are explained, and data sources are generally provided.

In terms official COVID-19 reporting, there was very little reporting cases and outcomes with demographic variables and when there was, it is not standardized, making it difficult to do any national comparative analysis.  Below is what we found.

1. Age

  • COVID-19 Cases by Age were reported by all provinces and the Federal Government. Age was not reported by all 3 Territories.
  • Those who did report, provided case counts and some percentages.
  • Only British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec reported Deaths by age groups.
  • Quebec reports age in 4 different ways.
  • There are no Age Range Reporting standards, and this impedes comparability.

The following is how COVID-19 Age data are reported, we ordered the results by similar reporting styles.

  • British Columbia: <10, 10-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70-79, 80-89, 90+, Unknown
  • New Brunswick: <10, 10-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70-79, 80-80, 90+
  • Manitoba: 0-9, 10-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70-79, 80-89, 90-99, 100+
  • Quebec: 0-9, 10-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70-79, 80-89, 90+, Unknown
  •                 0-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70-79, 80-89, 90+
  •                 30-49, 50-69, 70-79, 80-89, 90+
  •                 <30, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70-79, 80-89, 90, Unknown
  • Alberta: <1, 1-4, 5-9, 10-19, 20-29, 30-39 ,40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70-79, 80+
  • Saskatchewan: <19, 20-44, 45-65, 65+
  • Ontario: <19, 20-39, 40-59, 60-79, 80+
  • Federal: 19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70-79, 80+
  • Nova Scotia: 0-19, 20-44, 45-64, 65+
  • PEI: <20, 20-39, 40-59, 60-79, 80+
  • Newfoundland: <20, 20-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70+
  • Yukon:  No Reporting by Age
  • North West Territories: No Reporting By Age
  • Nunavut: No Reporting By Age

Age range variable reporting recommendations:

a) Standardize age ranges reporting systems across jurisdictions to enable comparison.

b) Social-determinant of health variables, such as occupation, income, the type of dwelling a person lives in, where one lives, are variables being reported as being related to COVID-19. The Census reports age by quintile although it start at 0-14, in Canada vital statistics are reported by age quintile and the World Health Organization (WHO) also reports by quintile. Linking to other aggregated demographic, health and vital statistical data can inform the planning, and the managing of health outcomes.

2. Sex

  •  Sex is Not reported as a COVID-19 attribute, by 4 Canadian jurisdictions, namely the Territories and  Newfoundland and Labrador.
  • For jurisdictions that do report COVID-19 data by sex, only binary classifications are used, Female and Male.
  • Only British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba report Sex and Age as attributes.
  • Only Quebec and The Federal Government report Sex and Death.

Sex Variable Reporting Recommendations:

a) It is advisable to report COVID-19 indicators by sex such as Female, Male and Gender Diverse.

b) Sex disaggregated data are important in terms of informing testing; health interventions and it is associated with health outcomes. Knowing can inform planning.

c) Reporting age and sex is important as these are distinguishing characteristics in vital statistics, health, wellbeing, for longevity and death rates.  Also, reports suggest that the virus affects men more negatively than it does women, especially older men. In terms of the labour force and COVID-19, nurses, doctors, elder care and home care professionals, those who work with people who live in group homes for the disabled and provide home care for these people, and people who clean these places tend to be women. Higher numbers of women are becoming afflicted by COVID-19 in Canada and this may be associated with their occupations. Age and sex are standard labour force statistical variables and reporting these attributes with COVID-19 will inform if health outcomes are related to those attributes.

3. Labour Classification

  • In official COVID-19 reporting, only the Provinces of Saskatchewan and Quebec reported any labour category and respectively they reported Case Counts for Health Care Workers for Saskatchewan and Cases Count and Death Count of Staff in hospitals and long-term care homes for Quebec.

Labour Force Reporting Recommendations:

a) Canadian Labour Forces Characteristics such as employed full or part-time, and the North American Industry Classification System and National Occupation Classification (NOC) system are standardized. For example, see the NAICS Health Care and Social Services or the classification and search for cleaner in NOCS.

b) The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) health workforce database includes standardized job classifications and data tables by job classification. They also have methodological guides comparing provincial systems. Harmonizing classifications across the provinces and the territories would go a long way to facilitating comparable analysis.

4. Indigenous, Black and Racialized People

  • No official government COVID-19 sites report data by any of these groups.
  • Race and ethnicity may or may not biologically predispose people to COVID-19 health outcomes.  We are assuming that these data are being tracked but are not reported as there is a concern about how to report these data.
  • Indigenous, Black and Racialized people may also have preexisting health conditions that are socially and economically determined, and these preexisting conditions may disproportionally affect this group more than others. Furthermore, reports suggest that Indigenous, Black and Racialized People have been infected more than others, and their health outcomes are more dire. Evidence informed decisions can lead to better outcomes for some groups, reporting the numbers can advance better and more targeted practices in community, hospital and in our cities.

Recommendation on the Reporting with Indigenous, Black and Racialized People categories:

a) The Province of Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate publishes a Data Standards for the Identification and Monitoring of Systemic Racism that includes

“guidance for race-based data collection for government and other public sector organizations, including steps to follow for data collection, management and use”.

Table 1. Valid Values for Race Categories on P.26 provides a useful classification system.  The Standard also includes protocols for the collection of self reported or observed data.

b) First Nation, Metis and Inuit in Canada may be collecting these data in their communities.  I will consult to see if that is the case and report back.

Final Remarks:

Health outcomes are intersectional, and age, sex, workforce and equity data provided additional insight about who is being affected, and knowing who and where can inform decisions about determinants of health, testing, improvement of health outcomes and planning. We have provided some insight in this post, about what is being reported and provided some recommendations. We will provide updates as more information is collected. We hope you find this useful and we welcome your comments and suggestions by email: tracey.lauriault@carleton.ca or on Twitter @TraceyLauriault.

 

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Watching this is a great New Years morning activity, and for Sep Kamvar I fell that data and statistics are the new black!  This is worth the 1 hour of your time!  dam, most online TV shows are 42 minutes and you learn way less…I should know 🙁

Merci Karl!

It looks like a biased toward industry monitoring agency Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program (RAMP) has left the public in the dark about fish abnormalities in waters in and around the oil sands sites.  It is also a case where the monitoring agency is aggregating the data into annual reports and not providing the raw data for others to scrutinize.

“That is the problem. To get the actual data, you need the raw data,” not just annual reports, said Kevin Timoney, an Alberta ecologist and oil sands researcher. “They release just enough so they can say that they did, but they don’t give you enough to see what’s really going on.”

Pembina Institute: “An essential component of any credible monitoring program is that all the data should be available to the public,

Hundreds of deformed fish found in rivers running through the Alberta oil sands have been collected and documented by an industry-led monitoring body, The Globe and Mail has learned, but the findings were not shared with the public or key decision makers in government.

That body, the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program (RAMP), has been criticized in scientific quarters as secretive and is under the scrutiny of three reviews. Former environment minister Jim Prentice ordered one of those reviews after being shown photos this fall of a few malformed fish, and it was delivered Thursday to Environment Canada.

The Monitoring agencie’s Steering Committee is mixed between Oil industry, public health agencies, First Nations and government with very heavy emphasis on big oil industry:

Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (formerly Alberta Energy and Utilities Board Health Canada
Alberta Environment Husky Energy
Alberta Sustainable Resource Development Imperial Oil Resources
Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. MEG Energy Corp.
ConocoPhillips Canada Nexen  Inc.
Devon Canada Corporation Northern Lights Health Region
Environment Canada Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo
Fort McMurray First Nation Shell Albian Sands
Fisheries and Oceans Canada Suncor Energy Inc.
Fort McKay First Nation Syncrude Canada Ltd.
Hammerstone Corporation Total E&P Canada Ltd.

I tried to find out who the members of the technical committee are but only found the following org chart which illustrates that the 3 non government stakeholders are First Nations or Metis Groups and these are dwarfed between industry and government. On the Government side you also see an Energy and Utilities Board, while on the industry side, by the largest number representatives,  is the petroleum & energy industry:
The following are the labs RAMP states it subs it’s work to.  I do not know enough the science to assess them.  I do wonder if they would have the raw data in their shops and if they would release these to the public.  A lab that is sub-contracted may or may not be the owners of the data and may or may not have given up the rights to publish them.  This is often the issue with the procurement of data, for instance, survey engineers claim IP on their data and share them with a city only for city assessments, but the city has to send citizens back to the survey engineer to view those data and the city cannot share these with citizens openly.  In this case, it would be more trustworthy to acquire the raw data from the labs directly.  However, it also depends who owns these labs.  They could very well be owned by the industries that need tests done, or they could be biased toward those industries as they would be their major source of revenue.

  • ALS Environmental – most water and sediment quality analyses
  • Alberta Research Council – some ultratrace metal analyses
  • AXYS Laboratories – sediment concentrations of PAHs
  • HydroQual – water and sediment toxicity analyses
  • Flett Research – mercury analysis in non-lethal fish tissue samples
  • Jack Zloty – benthic invertebrate taxonomy

RAMP shares its information only in annual monitoring reports.  There is an interactive web map of their monitoring sites.  The legend indicates fish tissue monitoring site, and I only found 2 fish tissue sampling sites that do not provide much data except that a sample was taken. According the the G&M article:

Much of the raw data collected by RAMP is kept private, deemed proprietary because of the industry funding. But even among its members, it has faced pressure to open up. Syncrude, which did much of the testing before RAMP’s inception, has called for data to be released, spokeswoman Cheryl Robb said.

In RAMP’s news section there is reference to an article indicating that they would make their database available to the public.  I could not find this database on their site and have sent them an email requesting to see it.  The email I recceived regarding this request is as follows:

Good morning Tracey,

Thank you for your e-mail.

As indicated by the media post you pointed out, the database will be available to the public by the end of the year and that is still our intention. Please check back next week.

Best regards,
Hailey
RAMP Communications

This is a classic lack of transparency situation and a seeming stacked deck leaning heavily toward meeting industry interests. It is very reminiscent of the Environment Canada refusal to share Mine Pollutant Data, a government agency supposedly overseeing the public interest not sharing key data.

Access to public data is one of the most popular VOTE topics in the submissions on the Digital Economy Consultation site. Here are the VOTING submissions that ask for open data, open access and open government.

1. Open Access to Canada’s Public Sector Information and Data is looking for some votes.

2. Improved access to publicly-funded data associated with research data Require open access to results of research funded by the Canadian taxpayer

3. Open Access to Canadian research

4. National Archives Content Online

5. Créer une licence « Creative Commons » du Canada

6. Protect and enhance digital freedoms for education

There has also been some writing about the consultation:

Michael Geist: Opening Up Canada’s Digital Economy Strategy

David Eaves: Canada’s Digital Economy Strategy: Two quick actions you can take

Take a few minutes to login and vote! If you can, provide a comment about how access to data has improved or will improve your work.

Please vote – Open Access to Canada’s Public Sector Information and Data. This is part of the Industry Canada Digital Economy Consultation.

Please take some time to vote and distribute within your networks and institutions! It just takes a few seconds.

We are at a tipping point on this issue in Canada and your few seconds of your time could open up our data resources. You will also see a complimentary Research Data and improved access to publicly-funded data submissions that could also use some votes while you are at it!

Below is the text. If you have ideas that can be added for a formal submission, I would be really glad to hear from you!

Create a data.gc.ca for Canada’s public sector information (PSI) and data in parallel with the excellent NRCan GeoConnections model (e.g. GeoGratis, GeoBase, Discovery Portal).

These PSI & data should be shared at no cost with citizens, be in accessible and open formats, searchable with standard metadata, wrapped in public domain or unrestricted user licenses, delivered within an an open architecture infrastructure based on open standards, specifications and be interoperable. It should be governed with open government principles whereby data & PSI are shared first and arguments to restrict are made only for legitimate privacy and security reasons which should also be disclosed. It should have a permanent home and include both the right combination of multi-departmental (e.g. CIC, INAC, HRSDC, NRC, NRCan, etc.) inputs, trans-disciplinary human resources (e.g. Librarians, archivists, scientists) along with IT specialists & engineers. It should be built in consultation with Canadians to ensure it is designed with user needs and useability in mind. (This is how the GeoConnections program built the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure).

The Government of Canada produces administrative data for the purpose of program delivery (e.g. Canada Student Loan, location where new Canadians land, the number and location of homeless shelters, etc.), and it produces data for the purpose of governing for example: the data collected by Statistics Canada (e.g. Census & Surveys, National Accounts); Environment Canada (e.g. air & water quality, location of brown sites); Canada Centre for Remote Sensing (e.g. satellite and radar imagery); Industry Canada (e.g. corporate registry); Canada Revenue Agency (e.g. Charities dbase); National Research Council (e.g. Scientific data); SSHRC (e.g., social science research data) and more. These data have already been paid for by Canadians via taxation, and the cost of selling these data back to citizens on a cost recovery basis is marginal or more expensive (e.g. Cost of government to government procurement, management of licences, royalties, government accounting and etc.) relative to the benefits & reduced overhead of delivering these data at no cost. Furthermore, Canadians often pay multiple times for the same data, since each level of government also purchases the same data, federal departments purchase these data from each other and there are examples where municipalities purchase the same data multiple times from Statistics Canada. This is not only a waste of taxpayer money it goes against the principle of create once and use many times and of avoiding the duplication of effort.

Data & PSI are non rivalrous goods where sharing and open access to these does not impede other from doing so. Open access stimulates research and IT sectors who will have the resources they need for the creation of new data R&D products (e.g. Applications) and services (e.g., web mapping), evidence based decision making (e.g. Population health), and informing public policy on a number of key Canadian issues (e.g. Homelessness, housing, education). In addition, evidence from Canadian City Open Data Initiatives (e.g., Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, and Ottawa) have demonstrated that the cost and time to find and access data & PSI within government have been greatly reduced since finding these are easier and negotiating access becomes a non issue, which in turn brings savings to citizens and greater efficiencies within these institutions. Finally, participatory and deliberative democracies include the active engagement and inputs from citizens, civil society organizations, the private sector, and NGOs along with their government. Making these data available increases the collective knowledge base of Canadians and stimulates public engagement, improves efficiencies, and fuels innovation.

These are already our (citizen’s) data & PSI, why not share share them with us and enable citizens and the government to work together to stimulate Canada’s economy, create innovative industries and formulate evidence based public policy.

This, I love:

The Open Dinosaur Project was founded to involve scientists and the public alike in developing a comprehensive database of dinosaur limb bone measurements, to investigate questions of dinosaur function and evolution. We have three major goals:1) do good science; 2) do this science in the most open way possible; and 3) allow anyone who is interested to participate. And by anyone, we mean anyone! We do not care about your education, geographic location, age, or previous background with paleontology. The only requirement for joining us is that you share the goals of our project and are willing to help out in the efforts.

Want to sign up? Email project head Andy Farke (andrew.farke@gmail.com), and welcome aboard!

[via datalibre]

It is quite surprising that this was not the norm, to manage the public good!

the Federal Court of Canada released late yesterday that it will force the federal government to stop withholding data on one of Canada’s largest sources of pollution – millions of tonnes of toxic mine tailings and waste rock from mining operations throughout the country.

The Federal Court sided with the groups and issued an Order demanding that the federal government immediately begin publicly reporting mining pollution data from 2006 onward to the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). The strongly worded decision describes the government’s pace as “glacial” and chastises the government for turning a “blind eye” to the issue and dragging its feet for “more than 16 years”.

I look forward to reading the court order. According to Ecojustice (Formerly the Sierra Legal Defence Fund) the ruling includes the following strong wording:

* It calls the federal government’s pace “glacial”[paragraph 145];
* It says the government’s approach has been simply to turn a “blind eye”[207];
* It notes that the frustration felt by advocates trying to uncover this information “after more than 16 years of consultation” is “perfectly understandable” [124];
* It states that not reporting “denies the Canadian public its rights to know how it is threatened by a major source of pollution”[127];
* It highlights that the minister has chosen not to publish the pollution data “in deference to” the mining industry[220];
* It used unusually simple language even I understand when it said that the government was simply “wrong”[177].

The advocates were: Justin Duncan and Marlene Cashin and their dedicated clients at Great Lakes United and Mining Watch Canada who launched the case in 2007.

It is uncertain how these data will be released. Currently, these types of pollutant data are released on the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) which is:

The National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) is Canada’s legislated, publicly accessible inventory of pollutant releases (to air, water and land), disposals and transfers for recycling. (Mining Watch)

The NPRI is fairly usable & accessible, includes georeferencing and some mapping services. I tried to use their library and it was however not working!

The Mining Association of Canada wants to read the ruling “carefully” to assess how Environment Canada should release these data. I find this confusing, since I thought the Government got to decide how these data are to be released and what is to be included, and that decision was based on ensuring the public good and the public right to know. The fight is not yet quite over. It will be important to ensure the data are not watered down for public consumption.

It is another wonderful example of creating an infrastructure – NPRI + law – to distribute public data. This also teaches us something about gouvernementalité, and who the government thinks with, in this case the mineral and mining industry and not citizens. Citizens should not have to lobby for 16 years and expend incredible resources to get the courts to get the government to ensure the public good!

Articles:

  • Court orders pollution data from mining made public, By Juliet O’Neill, Canwest News ServiceApril 24, 2009
  • Environment Canada forced to reveal full extent of pollution from mines
    Court ruling considered major victory for green organizations
    , MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT, Saturday’s Globe and Mail, April 24, 2009
  • Great Lakes United Press Release, Court victory forces Canada to report pollution data for mines, April 24, 2009 – 11:16am — Brent Gibson
  • Mining Watch Press Release: Court Victory Forces Canada to Report Pollution Data for Mines, Friday April 24, 2009 11:31 AM

    [via Boing Boing]

    Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI) is

    Canada’s national science library and leading scientific publisher, provides Canada’s research and innovation community with tools and services for accelerated discovery, innovation and commercialization.

    CISTI delvers science data and information to Canadians online, in the Depository Service and as paper delivery service to researchers in Universities.  But its days of doing that are numbered…

    CISTI has just suffered very serious budget cuts – 70% cut – that affects scientific innovation, access to scientific data, the dissemination of Canadian Science and open access publishing.

    The Government of Canada and the National Research Council of Canada have decided that the journals and services of NRC Research Press will be transferred to the private sector.

    Privatization? In a sense they are a victim of their own success.  The NRC frames it as follows in a letter to their clients (e.g. Depository Service Program):

    this transformation is not the development of a “new business” but the movement of a successful program into a new legal and business environment. It is our belief that this new environment will afford us more flexibility to manage our publishing activities.

    More flexibility to reduce services to Canadians more like it since the Depository Services Program (DSP) and the delivery of online access to journals to Canadians cannot be funded by an entity outside of the Federal government, and it is expected that the termination date to journals delivered in this way will be sometime in 2010.

    This means less access to scientific journals to Canadians. Research Canadians have paid for!  CISTI journals deposited in the DSP were important, since the DSP’s:

    primary objective is to ensure that Canadians have ready and equal access to federal government information. The DSP achieves this objective by supplying these materials to a network of more than 790 libraries in Canada and to another 147 institutions around the world holding collections of Canadian government publications.

    In addition, hundreds of government jobs – scientists, librarians and researchers are expected to be lost.  The budget cut is $35 million in annual expenditures.

    This plan includes a reduction in NRC’s a-base funding totalling $16.8 million per year by 2011-2012 (announced in Budget 2009) as well as reductions in revenue-generating activities.

    Hmm! Wonder what our current Federal Minister of State for Science and Technology’s thoughts are about science?

    Here are a couple of articles:

    Actions:

    Here are a few articles:

  • NRC cuts could affect 300 positions, The Ottawa Citizen
  • Access to CISTI Source to End
  • Action:

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