Scientists vs. Harper

Science-ish looks at the evidence on the claim that the Tory government is anti-science

by Julia Belluz

A protestor wearing a Grim Reaper costume stands on Parliament Hill during a rally on Tuesday July 10, 2012 in Ottawa to protest the federal government's cuts to science programs. (Fred Chartrand/CP)

When Science-ish heard about the “Death of Evidence” protest in Ottawa today, her first instinct was to jump on a plane and join the good fight. After all, Science-ish has spent the last year carefully documenting a number of incursions and abuses on science by governments—federal, provincial, and otherwise.

Over the phone, the University of Ottawa conference organizers told Science-ish that they are disturbed by what they believe is the government’s disdain for evidence. They also provided an impressive media backgrounder, obviously prepared by science nerds with a zest for evidence and footnoting. The alleged crimes included the scrapping of the mandatory long-form census, cutting the federal funding for Canada’s Ozone Network, closing the Experimental Lakes Area, as well as the elimination of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy and the position of National Science Advisor.

Such examples demonstrated “an erosion of the capacity of the federal government to actually collect evidence, and the capacity of civil society to bring evidence forward into public debate,” conference co-organizer Dr. Scott Findlay, said. This protest about the federal government’s anti-science stance seemed right on point.

But before creating nerdy “citation needed” placards and running to the Hill, Science-ish decided to take a breath and call scientists across the country to better understand what was happening. Did they really feel this government is systematically working against them, or was there a more nuanced story to be told?

They all pointed to some very questionable uses and abuses of evidence and the closure of key programs over the last six years of Tory power. Take the example of the Insite safe-injection site, where government-funded evidence has been systematically ignored. As Dr. Jim DunneMcMaster University professor and Chair in Applied Public Health, put it, “I’ve thought a lot about Insite, and to my mind, there’s overwhelming evidence of benefit, and virtually no evidence whatsoever of any harm at all. And so what do we do with that? Governments have been falling over themselves to distance themselves from it.”

At Maclean’s John Geddes—who has meticulously documented the government’s strained relationship with the scientific community over the years—even discovered RCMP-backed efforts to create science that contradicted the body of peer-reviewed research. An attack on science indeed.

But while rational, evidence-based decision making may be the ideal, one would be hard pressed to find governments that rely solely on science, and we probably wouldn’t want our politicians to operate that way anyway. As this recent comment in the British Medical Journal points out, “Although it may frustrate scientists when politicians are swayed by the possible electoral consequences of various policy options, few scientists (including us) would want to live in a society in which politicians completely ignored the views of those who have elected them as their representatives.” 

Besides, at least one episode in the series “scientists vs. Harper” seems to have been an invention of the media. To make sense of the census controversy, Science-ish called Philip Cross, former chief economic analyst at Statistics Canada. His departure was reported in much the same way as his predecessor’s, Munir Sheikh, was: an act of protest over the scrapping of the mandatory long-form census. But Cross maintains he was plugged into a pre-constructed narrative. “I had no opinion about the government and census. That was Munir’s problem,” he said. “My job was quality control and communications inside [Statscan].”

He went on to say he actually stepped down because he had been at the agency for 36 years, and felt it was time to go. “No one asked me about that, though. . . People said, ‘this Statscan guy left right after Munir, so it’s gotta be census-related.’ What I did say was that I did not agree with Statscan’s communications strategy, but that got grafted on to anti-census stuff.” He also added that a key factor in deciding to scrap the census—privacy issues that governments around the world are reexamining— got lost in some of the political debates. “I think it’s gotten to the point where we can’t have a rational debate about the census.” Maybe so.

Still, what about the alleged government slashing and burning of science spending? Some scientists had an interesting take on that, too, saying this discussion has become unnecessarily polarized, and that it glosses over some fundamental questions the Canadian public needs to address. For these scientists, it’s more about where the money is going than how much of it is being spent. In fact, as the chart below shows, more money is being spent than ever before on research, and research budgets are bigger than they were pre-Harper. (Although, there are now more scientists working in Canada—a 23 per cent increase between 2002 and 2007—so competition for dollars is now more intense.)

Chart by: NSERC

“The money is still there but priorities have changed,” said Alberta-based Tim Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health, Law and Policy, who has written extensively about commercialization in genetics and stem cell research. The government seems to be moving away from an emphasis on basic research and toward applied research and commercialization. Of course, “scientific inquiry has never been ‘pure’ ” and governments have always tried to nudge researchers in various directions, he added. But he has also found that “commercialization and links with industry have never been more intense.”

This raises issues about the research that’s coming out, said Caulfield. “There are documented harms [associated with industry-funded research], including the potential for data withholding, reduced collaborations, premature implementation of technologies and exaggerated claims of benefit.” There’s the question of public trust, too. “We know that the public trusts research that is truly independent. The closer the ties to industry, the less trust.” Plus, the private sector already focuses on applied research, and if the public sector doesn’t fund pure research, who will? “What if we really gut basic inquiry in a way that has long term consequences?” he asked.

In B.C., Dr. Gavin Stuart, dean of UBC’s school of medicine, also felt it’s not so much about the government’s anti-science tactics but shifting mores. When asked about Harper’s perceived hostility toward the scientific community, he said, “Scientists are passionate about what they do, and any change is seen as a threat and will invoke a reaction.” He added: “I think we are seeing some changes that scientists need to be thoughtful about—some changes may require some reaction, and some changes may require some adaptation.”

But that’s if scientists have a say at all. According to one of the protest organizers, Katie Gibbs: “There has been a general muzzling of scientists or trying to reduce the flow of science that gets to the public. For example, they [the federal government] didn’t renew the science advisor, and they send media people with scientists to conferences.” Her claim is born out by plenty of evidence. But is that a sign of the federal Conservatives’ anti-science stance, or part of an intense effort by this government to control the message—whether it be on science or immigration or anything else?

We need to keep a close eye on Harper and make sure his government doesn’t gut the research that voters and policymakers alike need to make informed decisions. But scientists who call the government anti-science are hardly helping their own cause: they risk polarizing the discussion and losing the trust of the public. That’s just as bad as a government that willfully ignores the evidence, and it glosses over a number of more nuanced questions that need addressing—in the spirit of scientific inquiry, and with an open mind.

Science-ish is a joint project of Maclean’s, the Medical Post and the McMaster Health Forum. Julia Belluz is the associate editor at the Medical Post. Got a tip? Seen something that’s Science-ish? Message her at julia.belluz@medicalpost.rogers.com or on Twitter @juliaoftoronto




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Scientists vs. Harper

  1. This is an interesting article. I like your detailed approach and the way you dig a little deeper into the issue. However, I think in bending over backwards to be balanced, we run the risk of allowing people who are not quite so balanced to control everything, including the message. My question is this: if the government does not deny that information and evidence are good things, then why go to such lengths to control the message (which is clearly what they are doing)? What are they afraid of? Seriously, why are they so paranoid and controlling? It’s a good question. In my experience, people who are secure in what they are doing generally are not phased by counterpoint and constructive criticism. This should be part of how things work in an open society. When you conduct business with someone, who are you more comfortable with, the person who is shifty and cunning or the person who is open? At this point in time, I do not feel as though I am living in an open society. Quite frankly, I even worry that someone is watching these online comments and keeping tabs. Am I paranoid? Is that the kind of country we want? The concept of a slippery slope comes to mind. I sincerely hope I am dead wrong.

    • “However, I think in bending over backwards to be balanced, we run the risk of allowing people who are not quite so balanced to control everything” Agreed! This is exactly how I felt the article was framed as well. The opinions of “scientists” in this article are all administrative heads of scientific bodies– all of whom, while in favour of science, are politically inclined themselves. Moreover, scientists are not only members of the citizenry, and have perfect rights to cry out against government actions, but they are also a crucial part of our society in maintaining checks against industry take-over. Unlike the non-academic public, the specialized body of science is able to perceive commercial fallacies better than we can.

      • Well put

      • I agree. A government needs to work with the scientific community which knows much more about what kind of research should be done than politicians.

        Harper’s Soviet-style approach to governing — top-down bureaucratic micromanaging — is inefficient and ineffective. It’s no wonder Harper is spending more on R&D while Canada’s productivity plummets (we now rank #17 among OECD countries.)

        In fact, the Harper Government is famous for spending vast amounts of taxpayer dollars and getting poor results ($100B/yr increase in spending since coming to power and Canadians have little to show for it.)

        • ‘Harper’s Soviet-style approach to governing’?
          And you talk of logic and science?
          Oh, the irony!

    • I agree. I think the worst example of that in this article is the comments about statscan. Let’s not forget that the government (contrary to every mathematical law) claimed to the public that their changes will not affect the quality of the collected data. In this article, all the complaints that statisticians and industries around Canada made about that is balanced by the fact that one person left statscan, not because he found these changes just terrible, but because he was just tired of his job.

      And, btw, it is worth remembering how successful the government was in bringing people to defend government’s position.

    • No, you aren’t paranoid.

      But, just because you aren’t paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t watching you.

  2. ‘But while rational, evidence-based decision making may be the ideal, one
    would be hard pressed to find governments that rely solely on science,
    and we probably wouldn’t want our
    politicians to operate that way
    anyways. ‘

    Say what??

    • Perhaps an example that may trigger a enlightenment?

      Science has pretty much proven that nuclear energy is safe, clean and efficient. Therefore in an ‘evidence based government’ they would put it everywhere regardless of public opinion.

      I don’t know if you would agree with that or not, which is moot to my point. Plenty from the left sphere of politics don’t if the Sask nuclear hearings were any indication.

      Balanced column, PW, thank you.

      • KINDLY KEEP LEFT AND RIGHT CRAP OUT OF SCIENCE

        ….ahem….and no, 3 mile island, Chernobyl, Japan….and hundreds of nuclear incidents around the world have NOT ‘proven that nuclear energy is safe, clean and efficient.

        • …and the antithesis is: “kindly keep science out of left and right crap”, which of course, is politics. Thank you for supporting PM Harper in this.

          • I don’t support Harper in anything….especially dotty remarks like that.

          • “In anything”? Why, that sounds almost…’partisan’. Maybe even ‘ideological’, but, it couldn’t be, you remember? “left and right crap”

            I’m very sure though you don’t ignore the evidence in the article.

            Doing that might be hypocritical.

          • I said keep left and right crap out of science….and you need to check on the meaning of ‘science’ rather than trying to play games with me.

          • Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima don’t belong in the same discussion. At Fukushima, even when overwhelmed by an event totally outside the scope of what engineers could have foreseen, the facility survived, and no one died, nor will likely die, as a result of containment failure. At Three Mile Island, the system actually worked as designed and redundant systems prevented a more serious accident. No one was injured, and there isn’t even a hint of evidence that the radiation release had any impact on the environment beyond the containment. It was literally a non-event.
            Now, Chernobyl, that’s another story. Here we had a society that collectively was unable to build a decent automobile, or even a decent bicycle (Quick- how many Soviet-era bicycles were exported to the West between 1970 and 1991? Any answer other than “0″ probably takes you out of the running.) or even grow enough grain to feed themselves, were trying to play with nuclear power plants. This is “walk before you run” stuff, here kids. Thus, some drunken buffoons, no doubt nephews and sons-in-laws of high-priced Communist Party apparatchiks, managed to blow the roof off the place. In spite of the tremendous fall-out plume, there were only a relatively small number of illnesses and deaths. With the exception of some very heroic individuals who put their lives at risk to quench the fire and smother the exposed reactor core, the only actual victoims of Chernobyl were those who lived within a very tightly defined region downwind from the initial blast. They were less victimized by the explosion than the Soviet refusal to acknowledge the disaster and carry out an evacuation. Even then, most of those victims would have been aided immensely by even half-assed decontamination and post contamination medical care with the focus on thyroid diseases brought on by (IIRC) cesium exposure. Those who bring up Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Three Mile Island as similes are exposing their own ignorance. They were similar in the same vein that a Ford, a Toyota, and a Lada are all cars.

          • This thread isn’t about nuclear plants…..however, rationalize and cheer all you want,….. we aren’t moving to them

          • The emily one is excellent in at exposing her ignorance and thereby contaminating this board with her radioactive waste.

          • Again, you can’t manage to keep politics out of science.

        • 3 mile island and Chernobyl are both examples of how it was unsafe. Chernobyl prompted major reforms within the nuclear science community as to how to make it safer, such as more thorough inspection occurring more regularly and by outside agents. You honestly can’t think we haven’t made any advances in safety since 1979/1986.

          As for Japan, their nuclear meltdown was caused by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake combined with a tsunami. Do you really think that’s going to happen here, when taking into account the fact that Japan lies on numerous fault lines. Wanna know how we don’t become a Japan? Don’t build the reactors on fault lines or near large bodies of water.

          • Sorry….nuclear power isn’t safe, so don’t try to pretend it is

          • Well, if you said so, you must be right. I’m glad you’ve using facts and a convincing argument to prove otherwise.

          • And not a single one of those is Canadian, despite there being multiple reactors in Canada.

            In addition, there are multiple of those listed which were simply, “equipment malfunction caused shutdown” or something similar, which is hardly a disaster considering they managed to shut down the plant before any harm occurred (and this was 20+ years ago). Take a look at the death count, too. The figures are incredibly low considering the possible consequences due to safety measures. The people running these plants know what they’re doing and are highly-trained, believe it or not.

            For somebody who wants a society run based on science, your approach to arguments is highly unscientific.

            More on nuclear safety: http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf06.html
            >It has long been asserted that nuclear reactor accidents are the epitome of low-probability but high-consequence risks. Understandably, with this in mind, some people were disinclined to accept the risk, however low the probability. However, the physics and chemistry of a reactor core, coupled with but not wholly depending on the engineering, mean that the consequences of an accident are likely in fact be much less severe than those from other industrial and energy sources. Experience, including Fukushima, bears this out.

          • No deaths, no serious or permanent damage to humans or the environment. You’re only enforcing the point that it’s not dangerous.

            This is relevant because you implied a country should be run based solely on science/scientific data, and data shows that not only is nuclear power the cleanest source of energy, it’s the least dangerous. Now you’re back-tracking and saying that it should be run on what you believe, not scientific data.

          • Actually, I’m not discussing nuclear plants at all. You are.

          • Clearly, because you’re stuck with the misinformed notion that they’re dangerous, so you dropped the argument because you don’t want to change your opinion to support the facts.

          • No, because I’m discussing another topic. So is everyone else.

            Let us know when you’re through playing with red herrings, and trying to distract everyone from the fact scientists are protesting Harper.

            You think nobody has ever pulled this gambit on here before? LOL

          • Meh. No power is “safe” given certain specific conditions. If a massive earthquake were to take out Hoover Dam, for example, Las Vegas would be rendered uninhabitable due to lack of fresh water, and probably some 40,000 people in towns downstream of the dam would be wiped out. Is hydro unsafe?

            The questions to ask are “How likely are those certain specific conditions” and “What is the potential for damage if they occur?”

            With modern technology and multiple redundant safeguards, safeguards that are in place specifically because of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the likelihood of the specific conditions to make nuclear power dangerous these days are actually more remote than a bitumen pipeline leak, and would likely cause less damage.

            Thus, government by science would suggest we start moving to nuclear power immediately, at least as a stop-gap until we get better alternative energy systems up and running on a larger scale.

            If you’re good with that, then you’re good with government by science. If not, then you prove Cody’s point: The actual science often says things that are unpalatable to people.

          • ‘Thus, government by science would suggest we start moving to nuclear
            power immediately, at least as a stop-gap until we get better
            alternative energy systems up and running on a larger scale’

            ….and if we do that we’ll never ‘get better alternative energy systems’

            Laziness….not science, just laziness.

          • Japan you address, Chernobyl is hardly the example of manufacturers recommended usage, deliberately breaking something oddly enough kinda broke something.

            And the casualty rate of 3-Mile Island was so staggering it’s surprising the east coast is still inhabited.

            Like I said, safe, efficient and clean.

        • I am not advocating or not advocating nuclear power, but lets be fair. These accidents have little to do with nuclear science. Japan, for example and I will leave it for others to check out details of others, failed not because of flawed nuclear science, but because history of Tsunamis was ignored by power company, breakwater was too short, back up generators and fuel supplies were at too low an elevation, etc., etc.
          The reactor shut itself down into safe configuration, and when cooling water ran out … due to poor decisions mentioned above … nuclear science did its thing.
          Shortly after the tsunami friends asked me what to expect. I predicted the sequence in detail … the nuclear science was virtually perfect introductory nuclear engineering exercise. The power company”s short sighted savings on safety features was a comedy of errors.

          • Yes, which is why you don’t use something when the danger of human error has such devastating consequences.

            Homer Simpson is amusing, but in real life the errors aren’t comedic.

          • Actually, Fukashima was a fairly localized disaster similar to an earth quake. Few of the people blogging were substantially or directly effected. Using power from and driving around with fossil fuels is an ongoing activity that, even without human error per sec, has devastating global consequences. Just with fewer dramatic photo ops, and with little peaked media coverage.

          • Fukashima is now being considered as a China syndrome possibility.

            This is NOT good.

            Fossil AND nuclear are both unacceptable

    • Well, Emily, would you like it if Canada Health looked at the evidence around coma patients and said “very few wake up after X weeks/months/years and so it is now mandated that life support be discontinued at X weeks” to save healthcare funds that could be better spent on someone with a chance of survival? That would be a political decision based on science. I doubt very much it would be popular, though, and would likely be a huge issue in any upcoming election.

      • No, that’s not science….that’s Kenney pinching pennies again

    • Of course Em is baffled by this. In her black and white world, everything is so simple and so obvious. I used to think like that too. Then I grew up.

      • No, that you never did.

    • Healthcare decisions are sometimes not based soley on science. If they were, there would not be heroic attempts made to save very premature babies, people with terrible traumatic injuries and those with terminal illnesses. We are still a society that very much wants to believe in “miracles”. We often puts aside what research tells us to be true in an effort to be offer people and their loved ones hope. We very much believe in being empathetic and humane over being “scientific” when it comes to end of life issues. Would we want a government that would change that?

      • I don’t understand why people are so confused about science.

        Science is where ‘miracles’ come from.

        • Maybe you read the statistics that tell us that the most money in healthcare is spent during the last year of a person’s life. That is what the research tell us. The truth is that there are very few miracles and yet we continue to dish out the money for the treatments. Obviously these decisions to keep throwing good money after bad outcomes are not based on any “science” that tells us it’s a worthwhile idea. There is no confusion about what science is. We know what the science tells us. We chose to disregard it in favor of making patients and families feel hope.

          • That you, of all people, would be this ignorant about science is stunning.

            What would the ‘last year’ of life have been in the Paleolithic age? In the Middle Ages?

            Even 50 years ago…..

            And in the meantime, how many people in those eras would have had pacemakers, transplants, prosthetics etc?

          • Emily, you talk about science as though stunning discoveries are made one day and put into practical use the next when you know this is never the case. People sit on life-support “brain dead” when even a miracle scientific discovery couldn’t reverse what has happened to them. People linger full of cancer, the families unwilliing to let them go even when a cure for cancer would be unable to unable to save them. Do not admonish me and tell me how ignorant I am when the truth of the matter is that every scientific discovery in medicine requires at least 2 years of rigourous studies before it EVER gets to the point where it is being used on humans. Therefore, the money we spent everyday prolonging lives where there is no hope of cure and we have difficulty even making people comfortable has NOTHING to do with the promotion of science and everything to do with being understanding of the needs of families.
            As for your great knowledge of the science of medicine and its prolonging of human life. The truth of the matter is that the discoveries you mention have not had much impact on the prolonging of human life. The truly significant discovery that greatly impacted how long we now live is the realization of the importance of HYGIENE. Many people died worldwide from diarrhea and continue to do so in third world countries. Many illness are caused by dirty water and bacterial infections…all things that can be avoided with proper hygiene. Surgeons learned the importance of hygiene during and after surgery. Even now, many nosocomial (hospital infections) rage due to poor hygiene.
            This is the true essence of science. It’s findings can be simple, fairly cost effective and quite easy to put into effect if you are motivated to do so. What it really requires though is an open mind and sometimes it isn’t only the Conservative government that is closed minded about what science shows us.

          • The fact there is often a time lapse between a discovery and it’s implementation is irrelevant.

            The fact that human beings have empathy, and show compassion to other people is also irrelevant.

            The fact that engineers, along with water and sewage plants have saved more people than doctors is also irrelevant.

            The only point here is that the Harper govt is shutting down important scientific research, and scientists are protesting.

            Something that has never happened in this country before…..indeed I don’t know of any leader in the world who has been denounced by scientists for shutting down the search for knowledge.

          • The point was that “while rational evidence-based decision making may be the ideal….we probably wouldn’t want our politicians to operate that way”….in end of life care this is true.

          • Of course we’d want our politicians to operate rationally at all times. Empathy is both scientific and universal…not to mention helpful to health.

          • It’d be nice if the bastards would start to listen to the people for a change as well…but we all know how likely that is…

        • No…science helps to explain some miracles. Miracles come from God. And, contrary to some beliefs, Harper is not God.

          • There is no god.

          • Everyone has a god. Money, power, time, etc. Your denying it doesn’t make it so. It sounds like yours is science.

          • Religious types tried that angle a long time ago, and got trashed for stupidity….so don’t waste your time on any more fantasies.

  3. “Besides, at least one episode in the series “scientists vs. Harper” seems to have been an invention of the media.”

    Oh good.

  4. The decision to cancel the fresh water lakes experiment is mind-bogglingly stupid and short-sighted. Mind you, I’m biased with an intense interest in fresh water ecology, a subject that has been almost entirely ignored in the deafening din of global warming alarmism. Surely they could have found a few climate change fluff programs to cancel and keep the lakes experimental zone operational? And while they’re at it, cancel the ethanol boondoggle.

  5. I think Common_Loon brings the voice of sanity here, because it does read like you are bending over backwards to deny Harper’s ‘war’ on Science. I mean, “Plus, the private sector already focuses on applied research, and if the public sector doesn’t fund pure research, who will?” That’s it, right there. Of course, both sides are going to go over the top with the spin, but you seem to think that’s a problem of PR on only one side. I notice you chastise scientists but didn’t bring up the oldy but goody of “we don’t need statistics to tell us violent crime is up” or whatever that quote was. Nevertheless, it is helpful to realize there is some spin on the side of the scientists. I just would have thought everyone could figure that out already. But okay, I get it. Scientists are scientists and therefore must deal in precise, measured, peer-reviewed sentence structure while discovery for the common good or discovery’s sake is sold to the almighty dollar.

  6. “But scientists who call the government anti-science are hardly helping their own cause: they risk polarizing the discussion and losing the trust of the public.”

    That’s bunk. Just because Harper is pouring more money into R&D that doesn’t mean he isn’t gutting core scientific research and muzzling scientists (which he is.) Harper’s high-handed and ideological approach to governing is what’s actually polarizing and (rightfully) losing the trust of the public.

    It’s absurd to suggest that scientists don’t have an open mind because hundreds of them were driven to the unprecedented action of marching on Parliament Hill to protest the Harper Government’s deplorable actions. Harper’s anti-science agenda has even earned him condemnation in one of the world’s leading scientific journals, Nature.

  7. One comment regarding: “But is that a sign of the federal Conservatives’ anti-science stance, or
    part of an intense effort by this government to control the
    message—whether it be on science or immigration of anything else?”
    I have to say that I don’t see the difference between the two. I expect science to be brutally honest with us, and for most part, they have been (think how people felt when scientists pointed out to them that they are not centre of the universe, or how we feel when scientists tell us that our driving habits will destroy us one day). When some entity tries to control their message, then, by definition they are muzzling them. Period.

  8. “Wanna know how we don’t become a Japan? Don’t build the reactors on fault lines or near large bodies of water.” I wish Harp would remember that when he gives a green light to the oil pipeline to the B.C coast…

  9. Ted Hsu explained what is wrong with the Harper Conservatives’ changes to research funding:

    “…the current government has focused on funding research that supports private businesses. It has steadily decreased funding for scientific research to monitor the environment, the health and safety of Canadians, and to conduct basic, curiosity-driven research – work that directly results in a public good…”

    http://www.ipolitics.ca/2012/07/09/ted-hsu-public-loses-when-politicians-focus-on-scoring-political-points/

    Much like CIDA money is now going to mining corporations instead of to people in need.

  10. Bad move harpo. No research = water polution,

    Algae issues.

    • Motor boats = polution. Algae caused by imbalances related to numbers of fish/run off in water from fields with livestock around lakes/# of oxygenating plant life in lake/ amount of sunlight.
      First step: BAN ALL MOTOR BOATS……Oops not a popular choice with cottagers so instead keep researching!

      • ” Algae caused by imbalances related to numbers of fish/run off in water
        from fields with livestock around lakes/# of oxygenating plant life in
        lake/ amount of sunlight.”

        Of course, you know this because somebody researched it.

        • Yes exactly!!! This is common knowledge. Researching it over and over won’t change the result. If you add too much fertilizer and too much light, you will have algae overgrowth. If you have gasoline motors running in these lakes, there will be polution. What we are really trying to do with these lakes is the same thing we do in healthcare. We all agree that humans are living in ways that are detrimental but we try to come up with ways that they don’t have to really make BIG changes or sacrifice anything so that they can carrying on with how they like to do things. In the meantime we are “all over” businesses about how they contribute to illness and polution. What is the point of research is we ignore the results and refuse to take real personal responsibility.
          BAN THE MOTORBOATS. BAN THE FERTIZILERS THAT ARE LEACHING INTO THE LAKES. If you are unwilling to take the actions that will make the difference, why spend the money doing research that just confirms what you already know?

  11. ” the University of Ottawa conference organizers told Science-ish that they are disturbed by what they believe is the government’s disdain for evidence” — Actually I think the reverse is true — where scientific evidence contradicts the government’s current position they are afraid some backlash will ensue. Much better that we mushrooms be kept in the dark –

    Any bets that the study just announced into wind generated power (which is in competition with Alberta’s resources) will conclude that those big fans are dangerous to human life?

    • Given that the city of Calgary uses wind power to run the grid for their subway and office buildings, I don’t think the complaints are “Alberta” driven. Those wind farms in southern Alberta are quite a distance from any homes so likely they aren’t generating any complaints. If you believe in the importance of research-based findings then you have to accept those findings even when they do not support your pre-conceived notions. Wind farms might be making some people’s lives miserable. It doesn’t mean they need to be taken out of commision everywhere. They are obviously working well in southern Alberta. The same with solar panels. A whole community in Okotoks, Alberta is using them as its main power source. Alberta is a perfect place for solar, given the amount of sunshine the province gets.

  12. The incident that bothered me was the case with the fishery researcher out in BC who wasn’t allowed to discuss her scientifically-published research in the media generally. That is plain nuts.

  13. Government employees who are scientists need to accept that they are EMPLOYEES and need to abide by what common law has determined. The reality is that ANY employee has limited rights to talk about their work – that is the responsibility of the EMPLOYER! If these government scientists want to talk about their work, then they need to stop being a government employee (and let go of the salary and benefits) and go out and do their own research. What, you mean that is expensive or they might have to work in the private sector – the horrors!!!

    As for government sponsored research in universities – again any taxpayer’s money given to a university for research MUST come with strings attached including who owns the research and it is usually NOT the individual scientist.

    I’m a researcher who works on contract for various clients and it is upsetting when clients don’t follow your recommendations that your have collected data to support. But at the end of the day, it is NOT MY DATA – I was paid to do a job and I did it – from time to time I will remind a client what I actually told them, but that is all. I would never dream of going public to contradict my client for the simple reason that I’M NOT IN THE ROOM WHEN THE FINAL DECISIONS ARE BEING MADE AND I DON’T HAVE THE FULL PICTURE – I have provided one slice of information and that’s all. As scientists – these individuals should know that – so there is more than a little bias and dishonesty going on here and a lot of it is coming from the scientists themselves.

    • You may be fine with your ethics being for sale.

      Others are not so cavalier.

      • I am aware that with out nuclear power a large part of the world would do with out modren convienence such as micowave ovens…this invention alone could make cooking …sanitizing water….heating …available at very low cost . It would allow women freedom of hours of back breaking labor that could improve living conditions beyond belief….I grew up before electricity reached the farms of Alberta….people got electric lights …water was pumped …food was preserved by freezing instead of canning…………how many of you writing about this have gone from an era where no one had electricity to the freedom electricty brings……its a god send….think about it and realize a large part of your way of life depends on electricty and the only way it can be delivered to the masses at a reasonable cost is with nuclear power…………….make it as safe as possible ….but make it available so everyone can afford it.

    • By your logic, Stephen Harper should bear in mind that he is an EMPLOYEE of the Canadian people. He should not work against/contradict what is in the public interest (including scientists who also work for the Canadian people, NOT Harper). The Harper govt is just a temporary custodian of the Canadian people’s interests. Mr Harper seems to have lost sight of that entirely.

    • What you describe is the difference between PRIVATEly funded research, which is there to make money, and PUBLICly (government) funded research, which [is/should be] agenda-less and report its findings honestly. The trick being, of course, that you can’t report your findings honestly if you have someone telling you what to and what not to say about your research. Do recall that when you’re on contract you’re funded by an individual or company; as an academic or government scientist (ideally, those are the same thing), you are funded by the Canadian citizenry. Your client gets to read your results, why shouldn’t the Canadian citizenry get to read the results of the scientists we fund?

  14. Why the anti-democratic muzzling of scientists? Every government scientist in Canada who gets a media request has to run it by Stephen Harper’s PMO. That’s ridiculous.
    This article doesn’t seem to take this seriously, therefore it’s hard to take this article too seriously.

  15. It is utterly mind-boggling that the biggest criticism most of you have of this article is that it “bends over backwards to be balanced.” Harper has made some bad decisions (eg. eliminating the long-form census), but their effect on Canadian research output is negligible.

    Lets look at citations of research by country, a fair measure of research output, weighted by quality (ie. better work gets cited more often). The data I’ve seen is done through 5-year rolling averages: http://www.sciencewatch.com/dr/cou/2012/12janALLgraphs/

    Output in the US? Stalled since 2005/6. Ditto Germany. Japanese research output is falling, while English and French output increased only slightly. Canada, on the other hand, has had consistent increases throughout the same period (we’ve gone up less than China, admittedly). Canadian researchers continue to produce more/better work.

    And lets think more deeply about why we fund innovation in Canada. A big part of that is for its contribution to our economy. Did RIM rise because of advances in basic research? Did it fall because of a lack of basic research? The reality is that basic/pure research is a public good, which does not benefit the innovator nation. It’s published in academic journals and freely available. Basic research does not make healthy economies, applied research does. This is a story as old as time. Synthetic dyes – the precursor to the chemical industry – were a British invention, but the Germans perfected it. The automobile was not an American invention, but Americans perfected its production.

    All is not rotten in the state of Denmark.

    • Yes, didn’t some researchers in BC develop a vaccine for HIV that is now in human trials?

    • excellent post.

    • Well said.

  16. Yet another move by this gov against the popular will of the people. But apathetically polite Canadians just drink their Tim Horton’s and wave it all goodbye. eh?

  17. Harper is a member of the Alliance Church. It is part of the doctrine of that faith that the earth will be restored with the second coming of Jesus Christ. Is it any wonder that he riles against those who know we are devastating our environment through things expediting the exploitation of the oil sands at royalty rates that are the lowest in North America. Is it any wonder that he required the use of an omnibus bill disguised as a budget to jam through reductions to environmental science funding, elimination of the protection of fish and wildlife habitat and expedite things like the building of pipe lines. Canadians are getting what they deserved by electing this government.

  18. Balance isn’t really important here because there fundamentally isn’t any. The shifting of science funding priorities by the government is a bald representation of ideology — the very thing that the process of scientific inquiry has evolved to obviate. The fact is that the Harper Government (formerly know as the Government of Canada) is shutting down or limiting science that generates results around which they can’t control the message. http://www.piquenewsmagazine.com/whistler/the-age-of-infocide/Content?oid=2307970

  19. If this article is backe by arguments as crappy as your issue on corruption in Quebec it isnt worth much

  20. The left should have spent more time in science class and less time in drama class.

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