Monthly Archive for March, 2013

War on Science: Canada

While Political Science has had its major funding source cut for the remainder of this fiscal year [see synopsis] and Congressional Republicans want to tinker with the American Community Survey (ACS) or completely cut its funding [see synopsis], Canada’s experience with governmental interference into scientific research is more drastic. The trend has been to fund “applied” research – sort of like funding MRI machines and not the science that developed the technology. Likewise, government scientists and even librarians are muzzled – not able to speak to the press without clearance.

Some of this has been covered in Nature and Science Insider, but most of the details require reading some Canadian news.

[Muzzling Scientists]
Harper government’s muzzling of scientists a mark of shame for Canada
Jeffrey Hutchins | thestar.coom
March 15, 2013
Notable Quotations
Since 2006 the federal government has been shortening the leash on its scientists. In some departments researchers are now not allowed to speak about their studies without ministerial (meaning political) permission. And in several documented instances that permission has been refused. In February, Fisheries and Oceans Canada raised additional non-science barriers to the publication of scientific research.

Let’s be clear. When you inhibit the communication of science, you inhibit science. The legitimacy of scientific findings depends crucially on unfettered engagement, review, and discussion among interested individuals, including members of the public.

Refreshingly, a Scandinavian with impeccable credentials provides an enlightened perspective. Gro Harlem Brundtland, three times Prime Minister of Norway and chair of the renowned Brundtland Commission on sustainable development, argues that:

“If we compromise on scientific facts and evidence, repairing nature will be enormously costly – if possible at all. Politics that disregard science and knowledge will not stand the test of time.”
If politics that diminish and devalue science should not stand the test of time, then neither should politically motivated barriers to the communication of science.

The Canadian government’s current communication controls are clearly not the hallmark of a confident, mature, and progressive society. We can and should do much, much better.

[Political Interference]
Canada puts commercialization ahead of blue-sky research
Brian Owens | Nature
March 22, 2013
Notable Quotations
But the government’s relentless focus on business innovation does not represent a coherent science strategy, says Paul Dufour, director of Paulicy Works, a science-and-technology consultancy in Gatineau, Quebec. He notes that the budget makes no reference to a national science-and-technology strategy that Harper released in 2007. “We have to assume that it’s dead, and that the government has no strategy,” Dufour says.

Instead, Dufour says, there is a piecemeal approach, with the government “picking winners” and providing new money to the automotive, aerospace, forestry and aquaculture sectors. “It’s very short-term thinking,” he says.

Canadian Budget Targets Industrial Applications
Wayne Kondro | Science Insider
March 22, 2013
Notable Quotations
The new budget promises stiffer competition for a smaller pool of research grants. What little new money is made available will again be funneled into targeted “industry-academic” partnerships.

Program after program [within the councils] is becoming company specific,” he says. “This is all money that’s being squeezed out of what should be going for discovery research. Previous budgets had signaled a shift of priorities from basic research to various collaborations with industry. This budget confirms that.”

The budget reaffirms plans by Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear to revamp the National Research Council, the government’s primary in-house research arm. The goal is to create a “concierge” service that provides one-stop shopping and solutions for industrial needs

The Canadian war on public science, basic research and the free and open exchange of scientific information
John Dupuis | Science Blogs
March 22, 2013
This blog entry provides a synopsis of a resolution voted on by the Canadian Parliament:

That, in the opinion of the House: (a) public science, basic research and the free and open exchange of scientific information are essential to evidence-based policy-making; (b) federal government scientists must be enabled to discuss openly their findings with their colleagues and the public; and (c) the federal government should maintain support for its basic scientific capacity across Canada, including immediately extending funding, until a new operator is found, to the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area Research Facility to pursue its unique research program.

Which was defeated 157 to 137 – every conservative voted Nay, including Prime Minister Harper.

Closure of Experimental Lakes Area part of assault on science
Stephen Scharper | the star.com
March 29, 2013
Notable Quotations
Last May, scientists were told that the federal government intended to stop funding the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) research facility, a site encompassing 58 lakes which, for more than 40 years, has provided cutting-edge findings on myriad ecological issues, including phosphate and mercury pollution, acid rain and aquatic effects of climate change. They were also told, according to some sources, not to talk about it with the media or other colleagues.

The government claims the move will save $2 million annually, and says it is willing to allow another operator to take over. As of now, no alternative agency has come forward to assume operation of the facility.

According to Cynthia Gilmour, senior scientist with the Smithsonian Institution, the ELA is “the only place in the world” where you can do controlled experiments within a lake ecosystem.

Research and Politics

The field of Political Science has been hit hard by an amendment to the Continuing Approriations Act of 2013, which pretty much axes the NSF political science funding mechanism. The money remains with NSF rather than being shifted to the National Cancer Institute and political science research can still be funded, but only if their research is useful for “national security” or “the economic interests” of the United States.

This amendment only applies until the end of this fiscal year, but NSF funding for political science has been on Tom Coburn’s radar for years. Expect more of the same and perhaps even for the rest of the softer sciences.

The links are in presented in order of publication – oldest first:

First, the prequel
New Attempt to Cut NSF Funding for Political Science
March 15, 2013

NSF’s political science program siphons valuable resources away from higher priority research that will yield greater applied benefits and potential to stir further innovation. This amendment does not aim to hinder science, but rather to allocate more support for research that will save lives.
Tom Coburn’s Fact Sheet

The amendment sets up a false dichotomy between medical research and research in
the social sciences that we emphatically reject
Hunter R. Rawlings III, president of the Association of American Universities

Senate Delivers a Devastating Blow to the Integrity of the Scientific Process at the National Science Foundation
PRNewswire
March 20, 2013
Notable Quotes
Adoption of this amendment is a gross intrusion into the widely-respected, independent scholarly agenda setting process at NSF that has supported our world-class national science enterprise for over sixty years.

The amendment creates an exceptionally dangerous slippery slope. While political science research is most immediately affected, at risk is any and all research in any and all disciplines funded by the NSF. The amendment makes all scientific research vulnerable to the whims of political pressure.

Adoption of this amendment demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of the breadth and importance of political science research for the national interest and its integral place on the nation’s interdisciplinary scientific research agenda.

Singling out any one field of science is short-sighted and misguided, and poses a serious threat to the independence and integrity of the National Science Foundation.

And shackling political science within the national science agenda is a remarkable embarrassment for the world’s exemplary democracy.

Money for Military, Not Poli Sci
Libbie A. Nelson | Inside Higher Education
March 21, 2013
Notable Quotes
The amendment defunding political science was adopted in a voice vote that surprised many observers. Ending federal funding for political science research has been a longtime cause for some Republicans in Congress, including the measure’s sponsor, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, and the effort has failed many times in the past.

Senate Moves to Limit NSF Spending on Political Science
Paul Basken | Chronicle of Higher Education
March 21, 2013
Notable Quotes
The amendment was proposed by Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican of Oklahoma who has sharply criticized the foundation’s spending priorities.

Mr. Coburn sent a letter last week to the NSF’s director, Subra Suresh, listing a series of agency-financed projects he considered a waste of taxpayer money. His list included several involving political science, including studies of voter attitudes toward the Senate filibuster and of the cooperation between the president and Congress.

Projects likely to be affected, he said, include the American National Election Studies, a landmark series of studies and polls dating to 1948. Its current principal investigators are at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and Stanford University.

Political Science Research: Singled Out
R.D.N. | The Economist
March 21, 2013

Tom Coburn Doesn’t Like Political Science
Henry Farrell | Chronicle of Higher Education
March 22, 2013
Notable Quotes
The NSF pays for 61 percent of basic research in the social sciences. Publicly supported academic research is, and should be, democratically accountable. Yet politicians have wisely delegated the particulars of funding lines to the scientific community. Politicians are not scientists, and do not have the expertise to judge which research areas and questions are promising and which are not.

The Coburn amendment changes that. It imposes crude political criteria on scientific grant making, arbitrarily decreeing that social scientists cannot get funds for studying key aspects of politics. It is clear that Coburn’s ambitions stretch far beyond the social sciences. In previous reports he has attacked the NSF for purportedly useless research in robotics, biology, and other areas of the natural sciences.

If this precedent is not reversed, it will probably be expanded in unhappy ways. Politicians will attach ever-more-onerous conditions to NSF funds, in order to make sure that research they like gets money, while research that they dislike does not. Politicians should not micromanage the grant-making process. They are likely to not only misunderstand the science but use their influence to mischaracterize good research in attempts to score political points.

In the worst-case scenario, Coburn’s amendment could also set a dangerous precedent for academic research in general. Introducing political micromanagement into a system that should be governed by scientific criteria would essentially politicize science. The NSF finances important research in politically controversial areas such as climate science, biology, and evolutionary science. To date, the NSF has been able to shield grant-making decisions in those areas from broader political acrimony. Politicians who deny global warming and evolution have not wanted to seem overtly anti-science, and have refrained from direct attack.

That delicate balance may be upset, as it becomes more acceptable to interfere with the inner workings of decision making at the NSF. Research on global warming, evolution, and biology may become fair game. The Coburn amendment is a tragedy for both political science and public debate. Its broader legacy may be a tragedy for the basic process of scientific discovery, if it is not swiftly reversed. Tom Coburn may not like political science. It’s important to remember that many of his colleagues don’t like science at all.

What We Need to Know about the NSF Funding Vote
Seth Masket | Mischiefs of Faction Blog
March 26, 2013
This blog entry is mostly a call to action among political scientists. He starts out by commenting on some of the technical details of the legislation from his history as a Congressional staffer.

That Time Where Tom Coburn Didn’t Believe in Micro-Managing Scientific Research
John Sides | The Monkey Cage Blog
March 27, 2013
In this post, Sides finds a time when Tom Coburn argues against micromanaging scientific research:

Coburn told Nature Medicine that he will continue to oppose any disease-specific legislation because he doesn’t think Congress should micromanage the leaders of the NIH. “If you’re going to do a disease-specific bill, you ought to tell them what mass spectrometer to buy,” he quips.

Tom Coburn Flip-Flops on NSF Funding of Political Science Research
John Sides | The Monkey Cage Blog
December 20, 2011
This piece gives some nice examples of Coburn deriding political science research and then using some NSF-funded political science research to support a point he was making about the decline in Congressional oversight.

Demographic Potential: revisiting an old technique/methodology

The potential demography: a tool for evaluating differences among countries in the European Union
Gian Carlo Blangiardo and Stefania M. L. Rimoldi
Genus: Journal of Population Sciences*
Spring 2013

*This journal has just become an open access journal: http://www.genus-journal.org/

The ACS Faces More Battles

The source for this entry comes from “The Option of Ignorance: Gutting the ACS Puts Democracy at Risk” from The Census Project Blog. http://bit.ly/YGHp86

The funding for the American Community Survey (ACS) will be covered by the 2013 Continuing Resolution, H.R. 933. However, two bills have been introduced in the House (H.R. 1078) and the Senate (S.530) to make the ACS voluntary.

The House Bill provides a Constitutional Statement of Authority, e.g., Fourth Amendment. Note that one of the co-sponsors of this bill is Tim Walburg from the 7th Congressional District, e.g., just west of Ann Arbor.

We have multiple links in this blog on the shortsighted reasoning of this proposition. And, the Census Bureau has researched the issue. A voluntary ACS will be more expensive and will produce less reliable data.

The links are highlighted below:

SENATE: The Census Bureau has already written the reports; read them.
Oh Canada! Look Before you Leap
More on the Idea of a Voluntary ACS
Small Government Folks and the Federal Statistical System

SENATE: The Census Bureau has already written the reports; read them.

New Congress, Old Attacks on the Census
By Jason Jordan | APA Director of Policy and Government Affairs
March 15, 2013

The House and Senate are working in earnest now to pass a new Continuing Resolution to provide funding for the rest of the fiscal year and avoid a potential government shutdown. Fortunately, neither the House nor the Senate versions of the extension include language on ACS. However, the Senate version does ask the Census Bureau to submit a report on ACS, including an analysis of the costs and benefits of a voluntary ACS.

The Census Bureau has evaluated a voluntary American Community Survey (ACS). This was done at the behest of Congress back in 2003. New reports were posted on the Census Bureau website in 2011. The Senate (and House) needs to read them.

Comparison of the American Community Survey Voluntary versus Mandatory Estimates
Alfredo Navarro, Karen King, and Michael Starsinic | Census Bureau
September 2011

Quality Measures Associated with a Voluntary American Community Survey
Deborah H. Griffin and David Raglin | Census Bureau
August 2011

Cost and Workload Implications of a Voluntary American Community Survey
Deborah Griffin | Census Bureau
June 2011

Intrade is no more, but we have some of its data

The popular election website Intrade has ceased operations, but below are links to archives of Intrade trades as well as a few articles discussing the site and its history. Intrade was on shaky legs when US residents were prohibited from placing bets after the Commodity Futures Trading Commission accused the company of offering contracts outside of traditional exchanges with no regulatory oversight.

Archived Trades via Twitter
Intrade Archive via Panos Ipeirotis (@ipeirotis) [stopped collecting Financials in 2012]
Intrade Archive Archive Team at Internet Archive via
@textfiles

Online Betting Site Intrade Is Shut After Audit Queries
Mark Scott | NY Times
March 12, 2013

RIP Intrade: The last, best hope for pundit accountability
Neil Irwin | Wonkblog, Washington Post
March 11, 2013

Even without Intrade, Billions will be Bet on 2016 Race
Nate Silver | FiveThirtyEight Blog, NY Times
March 11, 2013

Living Apart Together

Canada has led the way in North America on gathering data on non-traditional living arrangements. The following is a report based on the Canadian General Social Survey on the living apart together population. Unlike the US, the Canadian GSS is collected by a federal entity, Statistics Canada.

Living Apart Together
Martin Turcotte | Statistics Canada
March 2013

Short version | Full report

Synopsis: A number of people are in a stable relationship but do not live together, and are known as non-cohabiting or ‘living apart together’ (LAT) couples. How many people are in such a situation? Are they transitioning towards a different kind of life together or making a deliberate lifestyle choice?

Questions
The following is a link to the items in the questionnaire that are used to determine LAT status. Warning, the link is pretty slow:

[LAT items from GSS (Canadian) questionnaire]