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.

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