Thinkers' conference

At a time when we may be witnessing a key moment in the reworking of the global higher education and research landscape, now would be a good time for some national leadership on Canada’s place in the competitive global knowledge economy. Unfortunately, some people are preoccupied with what a bunch of country lawyers wrote in a constitution 36 years before the Wright Brothers’ first flight. (UPDATE: That’s badly phrased. It should have said, “Unfortunately, some people want to duck their responsibilities based on a culpably sloppy misreading of a constitution a bunch of country lawyers wrote 36 years before the Wright Brothers’ first flight.” Fun exercise: Find the paragraph in the constitution that would ever limit the federal government’s role in science, research, commercialization, promoting entrepreneurship, marketing Canadian educational products abroad, promoting greater use of information and communications technology, and so on. Cite jurisprudence.) So it falls to the good folks at Perimeter Institute to provide the national leadership with what promises to be an ambitious conference on all this stuff — in spring, 2011. From the news release:

The global gathering will see international researchers, business leaders and public policy decision-makers help identify actions in the science and technology arena that must be taken in order to seize opportunities in the decades ahead and monitor progress against those actions.

The WGSI will focus on the role that science and technology can play in addressing the world’s most fundamental social, environmental and economic challenges.  The conference will provide leading thinkers with a forum in which to view the long term and identify clear actions.  Areas of provincial, national and global concern may include energy, quantum information and water resources.

There are such attempts to get a handle on the policy choices that would best help Canada thrive in the 21st century. One of the most prominent — and laudable because it was the brainchild of a few young researchers who’ve managed to draw a blue-chip guest list for their event — is this conference in Toronto later this week (I’ll be moderating a panel discussion at that one, but I’m thinking of real blue chips like the presidents of major universities). Perimeter’s project has the ring of something more authoritative, though, given its long lead time, broad ambit, emphasis on scientific practitioners, and the clout Perimeter already has as a place where serious work gets done.