Quebec’s chief scientist, Rémi Quirion, was named president of the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA) earlier this summer. Its main mission: to increase the role of science in decision-making in administrations of all stripes, from suburban mayors to SMEs in search of sustainable growth.
If they had to take scientific advice into account, more than one suburban mayor would prefer to protect the famous “little frog” to the detriment of more than one major real estate development, one might say. “We must be able to adapt the scientific message to all new governments,” explains the To have to Remi Quirion. We cannot say the same things at the national or international level as at the regional or municipal level. And the action, often, is more in the governments of proximity. At the municipal level, scientific presence is rare, if not absent. “
The benefits of scientific research are sometimes also underestimated by economic decision-makers. The virtual disappearance of the manufacturing capacity of the Canadian pharmaceutical sector in recent years is one example: the benefits of investing in research and development activities are not always tangible in the short term.
We cannot say the same things at the national or international level as at the regional or municipal level. And the action, often, is more in the governments of proximity.
Managers of small and medium-sized businesses often make the same calculation, adds Rémi Quirion. An SME that wishes to land a large contract while minimizing its costs might see scientific research as an unnecessary expense. The SME which has under-invested to reduce its costs could lose its advantage of the low price to a competitor who will have bet enough on R&D to reduce its own costs by improving its productivity, he says.
There are therefore lessons to be learned from the past year to achieve a better use of science in concrete applications. Whether it is a pandemic or a flood, we must be able to act quickly to minimize the negative effects. Scientific research must be able to proceed quickly, when conditions require it.
Advancing science in the Francophonie
The chief scientist of Quebec inherits a two-year mandate at the head of the INGSA, an organization born over the past decade and in which representatives from dozens of countries and transnational organizations participate, such as the UN. And if scientific information circulates rather well in these high-level groups where we are not afraid to debate wide-ranging subjects, such as climate, health and the economy, he intends to spend the next few months bringing together the leaders and more regional scientific information communities.
Because sometimes, when science goes too fast, the public struggles to follow. The accelerated development of vaccines to fight COVID-19 has illustrated the difficulty of a certain segment of the population to understand that the scientific method is made of trial and error. Sometimes his conclusions can contradict each other. The ideal time between two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine has evolved over time, which has stunned more than one …
“The scientific method is still a little misunderstood. It is always a challenge to explain it better, ”says Rémi Quirion. He adds that making more room for non-Anglo-Saxon cultures and languages is part of the solution.
“Scientific literature and culture today has a very Anglo-Saxon approach that is not necessarily as well understood in other cultures or languages. This will therefore be one of my main objectives: to make more room in science for the countries of the Francophonie, among others, ”explains Mr. Quirion.
A role of influence for Quebec
The new president of INSA says he has received many congratulations since his appointment from Africa and Europe. He also observed a certain surprise at the fact that it was the representative of a regional government – provincial rather than national – who had landed this post.
According to him, this is an opportunity for Quebec to seize, not only within the Francophonie, but through international diplomatic and scientific networks in the broad sense. “Quebec, its universities and colleges can play an important role thanks to their relations with French-speaking scientific networks and English-speaking networks,” he concludes.
In other words, like the chief scientist, it is up to Quebec to position itself as a world leader in scientific research.