Canadian Government votes against… Science

Our fearless leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, voting "No" to science in this country.

Our fearless leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, voting “No” to science in this country.

It’s one of those things that you wish you hadn’t seen- like a terrible car crash that you drive past.

Today, our members of parliament debated a motion put forward by NDP Science and Technology critic, Kennedy Stewart. The motion reads as follows:

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;

c) the 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.

The governing conservative party cheered as they defeated the motion, 157 against to 137 for. That’s right- a majority of our parliamentarians, every single one of them conservative, voted against this motion. Want to see how your MP voted? You can find out here. Maybe they would like to explain to you why they voted the way they did.

So let’s review exactly what it is that our government does not support.

A. They do NOT support scientific evidence to inform government policy. Perhaps not surprising, seeing as how the recent changes to environmental legislation in this country were clearly made without seeking out scientific advice.

B. They do NOT support federal government scientists (people like me) discussing our scientific research with the public or our colleagues. We’re already forced to go through enourmous rigamarole (I believe that’s the technical term) to talk to the media, or present our work at a scientific conference. Clearly, that wasn’t enough, so they made publishing our scientific work more difficult: we now need to seek approval from a Division Manager to first submit the paper, as well as to sign off on copyright release.

C. This is a bit of a two-parter. First, they do NOT believe in maintaining support for basic scientific capacity across Canada. All government departments have seen a reduction in their science capacity with the cutbacks that have rolled out over the past two years, though the government still hasn’t admitted it publicly. Gary Goodyear claims that investments in science and technology have increased over their time in power, but there seems to be some debate about those numbers. According to Kennedy Stewart, Stats Canada numbers that suggest that investment in Science and Technology has actually fallen by about 1 Billion dollars annually since the 2010-2011 fiscal year (I’d love to post the numbers if Kennedy reads this and can point me to them- I can be reached on my comment page).

The second part, is that the government does NOT support extending funding for the Experimental Lakes Area until a new operator has been found. Again, not surprising, given that they started tearing cabins apart last week and informed non-government scientists this week that they would not be allowed on-site to conduct their research- federally funded research.

This government says it invests in science, but makes it crystal clear in its actions that it’s not the least bit concerned with it. As they say, actions speak louder than words.

UPDATE (21 March 2013): In response to Burinsmith and Ivankaram that my title is over the top… it’s based on the picture. The topic of the vote, according to CPAC which broadcast it yesterday, was “Science”. The following tweet inspired the post:tim_chu

I was always told, even in the science world, that you want a catchy title. Looks like I’m getting alot of traffic on this post, from folks with a variety of viewpoints. Hopefully my post can contribute to constructive discussions around the issue outside of my choice of title.

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145 thoughts on “Canadian Government votes against… Science

  1. Thank you for sharing this! I don’t always follow politics as much as I should, but this is something I am definitely concerned about. I am going to work on writing a letter to my MP (a conservative) to ask what the reasoning behind this is. It seems quite “fishy” to me that every single conservative voted nay, yet everyone else voted yea. There is an obvious disconnect between what the Conservative governments is pushing and what the rest of Canada wants. I knew from day 1 that a majority government was going to wreak havoc on Canada.

    • The reason all conservative members voted nay is because of a practice called party solidarity. Nothing ‘fishy’ about it. Every member of a party will vote the same way, no matter their personal views. You can look at how each party voted on this and see the same trend.

      • If the vote was to throw yourself off a bridge, I bet the solidarity factor would drop quite a bit, so why isn’t it fishy with something else that I consider important? Sounds to me like there is money being made somewhere somehow (there always is with these people…). Solidarity is one thing when you have to stand in unison for something that makes sense, but I guess the bettering of human kind doesn’t to the bloody canadian-Bush administration.

      • Only under harper (intentionally not capitalized) has it been policy to ALWAYS vote party lines! Throughout Canada’s history, voting party line has only been a requirement for budgets or potential Confidence Issues! All parliamentarians are supposed to be able to vote their conscience (supposedly their constituents) on all other issues! harper has changed that and therefore proves once again that he has STOLLEN OUR DEMOCRACY!

      • i understand party solidarity, though these memberes were elected by the memberes of there community, there choices are to repersent them, as we the people see fit, not an agenda by its political party, that is what a dictatorship is, the people of this great nation are the bosses of the governing body, what happened to transparicy, and honesty to the people of this great nation, a platfourm promised to the people,

      • This is exactly whats wrong with politics. When did the people we elect stop supporting the people and instead support the party. The party is there to work for an overall goal but when the certain issue is something your people want or dont you have to represent them

      • it should not mater how your party votes. it’s all about what the people in the members riding want that is how it is supposed to work

    • Make sure you DEMAND a response. Every time I have e-mailed my conservative MP, I got the politicians response; dodging the answer.

      • This aggressive ignorance policy that neocons seem to revel in is getting beyond just creating political wreckage, but it is also the exact worst thing that could be happening at a time like this in history, an inflection point between whether we adopt a harmonious relationship with the biosphere, or whether we go over the edge to possible catastrophe. We should get national public interest networks like Common Causes to engage on this – and to be available locally. Block by block organizing is needed if we hope to replace this mindless autocracy with democratic common sense.

  2. It’s like a gang initiation rite. To join the gang the leader ask the initiate to do something very bad to their own family, and only by doing it can you prove the required loyalty.

    • Welcome to the Canadian Parliament. Parties literally always vote with their leader because if one of them didn’t, just one, he would be kicked out of caucus and banned from running under that party’s banner every again. Ask Bill Casey, former conservative MP that tried to vote against a budget bill in 2007.

      CBC News. “Tory MP ejected from caucus after budget vote” CBC News. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/story/2007/06/05/budget-casey.html Retrieved: March 16, 2013

      • While it is standard to ‘toe the party line’ and vote how the party whip tells you to, not everyone who votes against the party is automatically kicked out. This would have not been a confidence issue, and so the fall out SHOULD have been minimal for someone voting against their party. A Budget vote IS a Confidence vote and could instigate an election if enough MPs voted against the government. While I applaud MP Casey for standing up for his beliefs and not blindly following the party, the Party’s reaction is not really unexpected.

      • Give me a f***king break. Seriously. THIS is the reason the Regressive Konservatives are getting a free ride as they transform Kanada into a police state. A f***ing petition isn’t going to do a f***ing thing. Sweet christ. Some of us have been out there in the streets for a long f***ing time getting beaten, gassed, sprayed, bitten, and arrested to try and stop the march of tyranny in this country… and you’re going to help by donating 15 seconds of your time to create a petition no one cares about and no one will ever read.

        Good job. F***.

    • I just left that page, filled in my form, added my 2¢ and submitted it. Thanks for the link, Heather. Now, if all you’s reading Heather’s post, take the time and click the link. The more clickers, the more letters are submitted.

      • Thank you. If any of you are (or know) investigative journalists, here’s a question to figure out. Who benefits after they shutter this facility? Is there a mining company waiting to start exploiting the region? If so, which Conservative Politician is getting campaign contributions from such mining corporation? Some wise TV detective once said ‘always follow the money.

    • I got this from the Prime Ministers Office today; “Please know that your e-mail message has been received in the Prime Minister’s Office and that your comments have been noted. Our office always welcomes hearing from correspondents and being made aware of their views.
      Thank you for writing. ”
      Meanwhile, I sent the following email to: the CBC’s 5th estate, CTV’s W5, the Globe&Mail newsroom, Toronto Star, HuffPost and RickMercerReport (just for fun)
      It would be easy to divert enough money from the “Canada’s Economic Action Plan” propaganda campaign to save the Experimental Lakes Area in northern Ontario, but the Harper government refuses to do so.
      What happens to the land once those pesky scientists are gone? What mineral resources are under those lakes and who has claims on them? Which federal politicians are receiving campaign contributions from mining corporations? Which Fisheries & Oceans public servants are going to end up with cushy jobs in said mining corporations?
      Would someone please follow the money and tell Canadians where it leads?
      – followed by my contact info and links to this site as well as my petition on Change.org.
      Keeping up the pressure – easier than getting pepper-sprayed, beaten and arrested.

  3. You are making a logical leap to assume rejecting the motion means rejecting every single part. Surely that is alarmist, and something we are frequently hearing from the new science religion. As for the motion…as a package deal it looks like a trick…all these lofty values, when the real agenda was in the last section…to get the government to continue one specific project. The government may or may not have good reasons for stopping that project. But you cannot assume rejection of all points when a motion is rejected. You are over-reacting when you suggest the government rejects science. It’s a totally integrated part of our everyday lives.

    • Thanks for the comment, Burinsmith.

      I would not agree that allowing federal scientists to speak with media about their research is a “lofty value”. Similarly, I would respectfully disagree that the use of science in policy-making, and the support of research that informs policy is a “lofty goal”, simply what we expect governments to do- form the basis of their policy on unbiased scientific information, not the lobbying of private companies. You can look at some of my other posts if you require any additional evidence.

      As far as the Experimental Lakes Area goes, if you can find a good reason the government has provided for ending it, I would invite you to list some of them; most I’ve heard have been pretty weak and don’t stand any real scrutiny. There’s plenty of reasons not to end the program over here: http://www.saveela.org.

      I would also disagree that my post is alarmist- I’ve provided concrete examples of the manner in which the government has shown through it’s actions it is doing exactly what intends to by voting against this motion. What I find alarming (vs. alarmist) is the changes to federal science programs that have been reported in the media and on this blog. I agree that science is an integrated part of our everyday lives, but the problem is that our current government chooses to ignore it when shaping policy.

      Thanks again for the comment.

      • The primary goal of the motion was to obtain additional funding for the Experimental Lakes Area Research Facility. Note that this was placed at the end of the motion and after all of the basic scientific rights.

        The majority of the MPs who voted against this motion did so in order to avoid increasing government funding in a political era dominated by spending restraint. The vote was anti-spending and not anti-science.

        The inclusion of items such as “federal government scientists must be enabled to discuss openly their findings with their colleagues and the public” was only included in the motion so that when it failed to pass because of the spending issue the opposition could accuse the government of being anti-science.

        I would suggest that the “one good reason” at this specific juncture in time is 100% to do with budgetary constraints. Unfortunately we are living in a period of international economic struggle. The long and the short of it is that balancing a nations budget means money has to get cut somewhere. Arts funding had its cuts a few years ago and there was outcry from the arts community. Now science is taking its turn and there will be outcry from the science community. This is to be expected.

        Now, as far as opposing the government’s actions, it is not fair to suggest that simply because they voted to cut funding that they are also all opposed to science. There is no mechanism in Westminster-style government to vote “yes to one part, no to the other”. This is where in theory, the opposition needs to be willing to cooperate with the ruling party. Instead of both sides putting forward motions that they know the other side will vote against, they are SUPPOSED to offer constructive suggestions to modify motions before they are voted on.

      • Now what I find amusing is a comment made by anonymous in response to unmuzsci that the primary goal of the bill was to obtain additional funding for the experimental lakes project (quite possibly true), however anonymous goes on to say that “The majority of the MPs who voted against this motion did so in order to avoid increasing government funding in a political era dominated by spending restraint. The vote was anti-spending and not anti-science.” The problem is the numbers don’t add up. Bill C-38 removed 2 million in funding for the ELA project, so the cost of the project was 2 million dollars. Now here’s where the numbers don’t add up, according to the huffingtonpost, it’s going to cost around $50 million dollars to fully shut the site down? How is that being fiscally responsible?

      • Thank you for posting this and for speaking out. If you are a government scientist then we know you are likely putting your job/career at risk for the public benefit.

        That being said, I agree with the criticism implied in the comment about how not supporting this bill could be about disagreeing with any specific part of it. The easiest part to vote against is the one about immediately extending funding to something. It sounds like that funding was set to run out for a while and it was a known issue that the government didn’t want to keep funding it (or at least not the same way). I say it sounds like and am being vague because I don’t know the issues about the history leading up to this bill, about the funding of the project, or about the project itself.

        The current government has a REALLY bad reputation for censoring scientists (and other government employees) and doing other stuff that limits the amount of knowledge that both the public and itself has about important issues. I think the most well known was how Canada worked actively to stop any useful work being done on climate change at the last international meeting. This was shameful. I plan on voting against the Conservative party, even though I would much rather vote for a local candidate whom I come to respect through the next campaign.

        The issue I have with this motion is that it seems like it was designed so that no Conservatives could possible vote for it. The last clause about funding a project they have decided to stop funding forcing them to vote against a motion that says all kinds of other great things, making them look really bad for not supporting science. Since the Conservatives have a majority and can’t possible vote for this, all other parties are free to vote for it (making themselves look “good”) without risk of it passing or of the project funding being extended.

        With this vote the NDP is guilty of doing what the Conservatives have been doing with the Omnibus bills; putting many things together so that politicians can’t openly debate one thing without it being tied to the others. It would be far more useful for a bill to be presented that declared scientists objectivity and independence to be necessary for good science without ties to any specific policy or project (especially not funding). The issue of funding this project should have been debated on it’s own, solely on the merit of the project and the efficacy of the funding method vs. budget constraints. To me this seems like an unfortunately lazy publicity stunt by the NDP that may get some headlines, but fails to make any difference to how the Conservatives use their majority in the governing of our country.

    • One more quick comment- you say “as a package deal, it looks like a trick”. I don’t really think there’s anything in there that anyone who spends a little bit of time thinking about these issues would disagree with. Further, this government is all about the package deals- Bill C-38 and C-45 show that clearly.

      Had the government wished to clarify the motion, they could have moved to have it split, vote on the part they agree with, and vote against the other part, but that wasn’t done. I would have welcomed even that as some kind of recognition of the importance of science in guiding decision making, but, alas, no dice.

      Thanks again for your comment.

      • Is it a foregone conclusion that government scientists should be free to disseminate their information whenever and to whomever they wish? This is not the case in any other area of government, why is science different? Certainly in corporate science the idea would be laughed at.

        The parliamentary motion rejection is all part of the parry-thrust of political life, not an attack on science. Governments never want to agree to anything that opponents will later use to beat them over the head. It’s not limited to science. The motion was wide-ranging and woolly-headed, an attempt to blackmail the government by shaming them on a larger issue to force them to act on a smaller one.

        I don’t doubt the ELARF did good work. It is a pity scientists will lose their jobs. It’s a pity unemployment is rampant globally at the moment. The current worldwide economic shambles means even more increasingly funding for science is being driven toward corporate sponsors, and science is losing any “purity” it once laid claim to. Obviously scientists everywhere are concerned for their research and/or livelihoods. I don’t blame them. However, to raise science to a holy imperative is ridiculous as science is itself partly to blame for the problem. The world we are living in is a direct product of scientific thought and it will carry on in an inevitable fashion. Science dispenses good and evil just as religion did before it.

        Lol to the puppy comments. My advice to all puppies is: “If you see a scientist in a white coat headed your way, RUN”.

      • US government scientists are permitted to speak with media on the work they report with the proviso that they indicate that the work does not necessarily reflect the views of the government. So yes, it is better in other countries.

        I’m unclear on how science is part of the problem when it comes to forming policy. I’d be interested on your views if you care to expand.

      • Burinsmith, you’re right, scientific research done under a corporation get withheld all the time for various reasons. That said however, we the tax paying people of Canada paid for this research that is being done by scientists in the employ of our government. Personally, i’d like to read what they find out, afterall, I helped pay for it.

    • I have to agree. This motion was for a specific reason and that is the project. If they want a change in the bill vote eliminate the project.

  4. Also, the current govt has been I progress to cut sscience based funds that support first nations involvement in fisheries. … our elders ask us to learn to be scientists to understand how canada woks with our Sacred natural resources. …

  5. It’s nice to see that there are some Canadians that are as foolishly, disingenuous as Americans. I’m speaking about the “unmuzzled science” person, (you don’t deserve to be called scientist) what with your faulty understanding or misrepresentation of the facts. Either way, you’re as dangerous, or more-so, than the people you decry.

    A. Let’s all agree that puppies are great
    B. Let’s all agree that it would be nice if everyone could have a puppy.
    C. So, we now propose a tax increase to pay for puppies for everyone.

    If you don’t support section C then that means you hate puppies AND people!!

    Of course, i’m the sucker that clicked on the link after reading your BS headline.

    Don’t do us anymore favors! Please change professions!! A non-science related field please. Maybe journalism, maybe Fox news!? You seem to like to present your opinion as fact!? Why not!?

    To better prop up your argument next time, try injecting words like bigotry, hatred, or Hitler. Then people have no choice but to believe you.

    And thanks do go out to Burinsmith for trying to politely & respectfully point out your errors. Apparently, something more is needed than a polite prodding when the “un-scientific person needing to be muzzled” then completely misunderstands/misrepresents what she is trying to say. Frankly, her well-worded critique of everything that is wrong with this post is to be lauded.

    • Hi Ivankaram,

      Thanks for your comment, though I’d appreciate keeping the tone a little more respectful, if that’s okay.

      I assume from your comment that you don’t think that the examples I am providing support the conclusions? The government is putting in place policies that are making it more difficult to do our jobs- new regulations on publication, communicating our work to the public through the media or scientific conferences, regulations on what external funding sources we can apply for, since internal funding is limited. Plenty of examples on my blog.

      Take the NDP motion for what you want, but I think I present enough concrete examples on this blog that demonstrate that this government is not terribly interested in providing the necessary support for it’s science programs to allow them to inform the policies they put forward.

      If you’d like to provide a constructive rebuttal, I’d invite you to provide examples of government support for science and the clear use of scientific advice in recent policies- something we can have an informed discussion about.

      • What you’ve written implies a certain logic, so either you have bad logic, or bad writing.

      • I’ll ask you to take a look at some of my replies to each of the points, and please consider the fact that I am trying to draw attention to an issue, rather than draw some hard-and-fast philosophical conclusion. I’ve provided more extensive replies along these lines elsewhere in this thread that I’d encourage you to read.

    • I think your analogy needs a little tweaking. How about….

      A. Let’s all agree that puppies are great
      B. Let’s all agree that it would be nice if everyone liked puppies
      C. So, we now propose that the government should stop stepping on puppies, but instead continue with what they’re already doing to support the puppies instead of spending even more money making plans to step on even more puppies.

      Basic research into important things that affect not just Canadian well-being but the globe as a whole is not a waste of taxpayers money. It is supposed to be common sense that the experts provide evidence for the people and the government, and that that evidence will be used to draw up policies/take action.

      Silencing the experts so they can’t even tell the public about the evidence is what this government is doing, and when the government is actively doing the opposite of what the evidence tells them they should do, then it becomes very important to take that message to the people to let them know that their elected officials are being irresponsible and short-sighted.

      I contacted my MP, asked him specifically why he voted against it, what portion of it he didn’t like (I told him I recognize that good Motions can sometimes have bad ideas attached and it may be necessary to vote against a good Motion). I then asked him what Motion would he and his party propose to end the muzzling of scientists.

      And I told him in bluntly not to tell me “We’re not muzzling scientists”, because I work in the sciences, most of my friends work in the sciences, my colleagues work in the sciences, and we have first-hand experience with what is happening. I suspect I’ll still get a form letter telling me “We’re not muzzling scientists”. Sigh.

    • If this motion was analogous to your puppy example, there is no way there would be a clear divide between conservatives and NDP/liberals on the matter. If this motion was simply to blow some cash haphazardly, there would’ve been some level-headed NDP/liberals who would’ve voted against the motion. In fact, if the motion was such a waste, it would’ve been taken down so hard it wouldn’t be worth a thought. This was a 157 vs 137 divide, clearly the 137 thought all three points were worth passing. Clearly the third point had merit in the eyes of almost half of the house. The 157 conservative votes against the motion (that being all the points, or just the last) is a representation of how this majority government is treating science, since it reflects what appears to be their opinion on the matter overall. I, as a Canadian scientist, think that this article serves it’s purpose well: to draw the public’s attention to how the harper government is cutting down science.

      You could simply ask Canadian scientists what they think of the harper government, and they’ll give you the heat. But, seeing as to you’re into the whole logical fallacy spewing deal, you wouldn’t have that now, since it’s an appeal to authority. So instead, if you sincerely think this government is supporting science, I’ll refer you to the evidence. There is an abundance of it, this government sucks for science, and if you’re a scientific thinking person, there is no way you could conclude otherwise. The government is trying to make fundamental research a 1-800 number away from industry, it’s muzzling our ability to communicate, and it’s cutting us down financially and intellectually. unmuzzledscience is not alone in his/her opinions. What happened today is yet another outrage, this government does not represent how we want to conduct science in Canada.

      • On the other hand the opposition probably voted in mass just as the government side did. In other words a whipped vote. Mulcair does not appreciate his MPs voting opposite to himself.

    • Hi Ivankaran

      Never was there a more unscientific berating of being unscientific. Now I’m going to stop using the word unscientific. Now.
      I find the rhetoric you use both blatantly disrespectful and, to use burinsmith’s word, alarmist in itself. It’s not doing whatever you have to say any favors. Also, that analogy makes some fairly illogical assumptions. (Thank you, Dan Andrews. Although that still needs some tweaking).
      As for misrepresentation of facts, maybe try presenting some of your own before you start misrepresenting yourself as someone with an argument based on nothing but partisan harrumphing and calling yourself a sucker.
      Oh. Too late.
      That was even more questionable than burinsmith’s use of “science religion”, but she had an argument, and it was reasonable.
      I assume by your mention of Fox News (and your disparaging and unnecessary generalization of Americans) that you find Unmuzzled’s argument partisan? I would urge you to look at the examples she (he?) gives. This is definitely a conclusion based on observation, not on heavy handed fact spinning. It is their (your?) job, please fight to do it. I will too, although Im not a scientist.
      I wish a) and b) had been in a separate motion, but I see how if they were passed it would be a contradiction not to include c). (there’s nothing about tax hikes and puppies here).

  6. It’s hard to imagine that a government that restricts scientists and other knowledge-holders (librarians, archivists) from freely speaking to the public and the media, teaching, publishing, and presenting at conferences was really trapped into any sort of misrepresentative statement by this motion. And if their policies aren’t enough to confirm it, the fact that they cheered as the motion was defeated certainly indicates that there was little concern about the inclusion of points a) and b) in the resounding rejection.

  7. And as we all know, voting no because of opposition to any ONE PART of the motion defeats the WHOLE motion. Concluding that the “no” votes were against EVERYTHING in the motion is incorrect and it’s dishonest to assert that invalid conclusion.

    • They could have split the motion, passed the part that doesn’t have budget implications and rejected the other. They didn’t.

      • The opposition could have also split the motion into parts that had a more reasonable chance of being accepted by a majority of the members of the HOC. They didn’t. It’s not one side of the House’s responsibility to make effective motions and the other side’s job to sit back in judgement.

        The argument is weak, but also moot. No arrangement of these three points was ever going to pass in the HOC, and everyone knows this. This was just an exercise to fill up a 30 second ad in 2015.

      • Hi BlakeC,

        I agree, the opposition could have split the motion. Similarly, the government could have split bills C-38 and C-45 into something that could be meaningfully debated in parliament instead of forcing it through as a single monster-bill.

        The folks in parliament are supposed to work together to provide functional debate around issues. If you’ve ever participated on any kind of governing board, you’d know that motions get split all the time. It helps show a sign of good faith when you want to pass some of something, but can’t, for whatever reason, pass all of it. Splitting the motion would have been a good way for the government to save face and say “look, we really do support science, just not that program we want to axe”. Seems to me like it would have been a simple way for the government to diffuse the issue, but they didn’t.

        Thanks for the comment.

    • oh really? And what part of the motion do you think the Tories might have supported? And were you among those calling for the omnibus bills to be split? Probably not huh?

      The Experimental Lakes thing to me is a hot-button for the anti-environmental right, it’s the emblem of the acid rain crisis which once gripped the country; no mistaking that “acid rain denial” goes hand-in-hand with “climate denial”.

      • Strangely enough, I can remember that back in the 1988 election, the up-and-coming reform party was actually highly critical of the Mulroney conservatives for a lack of action on acid rain issues. Strange because that’s the party that bred the current brand of conservatives in power currently. Also, Preston Manning is a major supporter of science as a means of forming sound policy. Clearly, those values didn’t pass on to those from that same party that followed him (i.e., Harper).

  8. I think there is some validity behind the criticism of what you have written here. Although I am truly uneducated on C, and I feel that it’s a complicated debate, I will take your word for it that it is important and should continue to be funded. However, there is a problem with the setup of this argument, and the setup of this policy. To propose three very separate (and honestly seemingly unrelated) motions seems like a cheap policy tactic in this context.

    If you can make the point that all of these Conservatives would have voted down each motion specifically, and have good reason to think that, then the title and content of this post would be far more impactful. Instead, when I read this I wonder if the question needs to be begged as to how you can justify criticizing people who voted against this entire policy when really they may have been voting against a single issue within it?

    You make a good case for all of these points, and I’m largely inclined to agree with you on all of them. However, to vote against the funding of a single scientific project does not necessarily imply a vote against science as whole- and the fact that there is legislation, A and B, tied to C and that happens to support science as whole, does not take away from the fact that these nay votes may have been intended for a single proposition.

    While I agree with these policies in content, I do not agree with the political tactic of packaging them together in order to be able to point fingers upon it being voted down.

    • Thanks Kevin.

      I still think the governing party could have shown their support for science and not the ELA by splitting the motion into separate votes- they have the majority, and could have done it easily. So, while the NDP may have structured the vote strategically, the government could have responded by splitting the issues, but they didn’t. I can’t say why, I’m not in the conservative caucus. All I can do is provide examples for ways in which this government has acted to show they are not supportive of points A and B.

      Thanks for the comment.

  9. Considering the fact that I am pursuing a environmental science avenue to promote healthy life styles and green energy. I am almost outraged that conservatives are raping the very foundation of humanity. The seeking of knowledge and betterment of humanity. I am still going into environmental sciences because we need urban farming, we need to take better care of our environment. Someone need to impeach this pro-business at our expense fool.

  10. You referred to yourself as a Federal Government Scientist, someone who would obviously write scientific papers et cetera. Yet, I find the diction and writing style you used not to be suited to someone who normally writes papers, scientific or otherwise. Although I do agree that science is needed to aid in the decision in policy making, I get this impression that this article is fairly one-sided and does not present all the facts quite clearly.

    • Sorry you don’t like my writing style. I will admit I am presenting the side of things that, as a government-employed scientist, I get the clear impression from recent changes I’ve seen (outlined elsewhere on my blog) that this government has made a number of decisions that do not consider science in the formation of their policies, and is putting less emphasis on that information. If you’re looking for the other side of the argument, please see the speaking points that our MPs provide in response to most of the media stories published on this topic.

  11. WTF Canada! you’re supposed to USA’s Smarter sibling, the one that isn’t missing most of its teeth and demand ing the Earth is 6000 years old.

    • I would change that to fascist, communism has some strengths, Harper’s government has none!

      • Implying that Harper is a communist is like implying that a teapot is a whale. Completely different.

        Harper is a corporate puppet. Plain and simple.

    • Comments like those above goes a long way in destroying the validly of the scientist’s side of the argument. That is really too bad.

      • I’d just like to say that there are a number of comments (like this one) that I have debated just not approving, as they aren’t really advancing the discussion at all. However, I am not rejecting posts (at the moment), as I don’t want anyone to say “oh, this person is just allowing through what they want to”. People can wear their own posts (even those made anonymously) that, for whatever reason, this entry has made them feel necessary to make. Though I tend to agree that this isn’t really enhancing the debate here, so maybe I will be more discriminating next time around.

  12. unmuzsci, I was going to reply directly to you above, but the reply button was missing for some reason. My comment on science being partly to blame is a reference to the evolution of modern thought. Science is not a neutral outside force, but a full participant in the problem of our present, in fact at the core of our society. The destruction of our environment is a direct result of scientific ingenuity. All the bad decisions were based on evidence, as well as the good ones. Is it not clear that evidence-based science is not the holy grail we think it is? All we are offered is a constantly changing snapshot, a version of what scientists are able to surmise right now. This is the nature of our ephemeral reality. So now you are thinking, aha, a Luddite in our midst! No, I use a computer, as you can see. But I reject any idea that science is somehow above the fray. It is a method, for some an ideology, for a growing number, a religion, as I stated above. And every time something is done to disrupt the growing non-democratic demands of scientists to be considered above the legislative process we hear a cry of victimisation. In any case you will eventually have a different government to make the same complaints about.

    • Hi Burinsmith,

      You make some good points- I don’t think anyone would argue that the industrial revolution and many of the environmental headaches we experience today are a result of science-based technological advance. And, in government decision-making, there are always other considerations besides science.

      In my recent post on the paper written by Jake Rice, he makes the argument that the cost of ignoring science advice in the case of fisheries management should be high enough to make sure it’s considered- case presented in support is the collapse of atlantic cod stocks on the east coast of Canada. This risk is still there, it will just be a number of years- perhaps time beyond when the current government moves on- that we’ll see the environmental consequences of those decisions.

      Thanks again for the insightful comments.

    • It was the misuse of technologies that lead to the degradation of the environment. And even so, we didn’t yet have the understanding of how it would impact our environment. Now that science is shedding some light on this, we can try to understand how to compensate, or perhaps how to reverse, or at least how to cope with what is happening. To blame the destruction of the environment on science is like blaming Macbeth’s mother for all the murders Macbeth committed. Macbeth’s mother gave birth to Macbeth, just as science gives birth to technology, and Macbeth’s mother wasn’t in control of his killing spree, just as science is not directly responsible for our destructive use of such technologies. Sure, it’s indirectly responsible, but WE should be the ones to blame, not science. In fact, it’s typically the scientists which alert us when we’re screwing up… instead of blaming this situation on them, we should give them some credit.

      Science is not a religion nor an ideology. Religion is based on faith, the willingness to believe in something in the complete absence of evidence. Science is based on the critical analysis of evidence, not faith. We use logic, mathematics, and theoretical tools to develop a hypothesis, and then we test that hypothesis against reality and the evidence that we can collect (subject to statistical uncertainties and thorough debate). A hypothesis implies predictions, and if those predictions are found to be false, then by the law of contraposition (and some sincere honesty), we reject that hypothesis. If a hypothesis stands against the scrutiny of evidence, reality, and the community, then it becomes a theory worth analyzing. Science is above the fray, and it is for a good reason. Science gives us the ability to predict how the universe works, and without that ability, you can’t make technology and you can’t cure diseases (unless you might get lucky sometimes). When was the last time religion/faith made a new TV or iPod or put a person on the Moon? When was the last time religion gave us a rigorous understanding of how to cure an illness? Never, because it is not evidence based. That is why science has made its way to the core of our society, because science works.

      And now, with this government, science is getting the shaft. The reason you hear cries of victimization, is because science IS a victim of this government.

      • *sigh*- are we really going to drag David Hume into this? If you don’t believe in some form of induction, then you must never get out of bed because instead of just rolling out, going down the hall and brushing your teeth you might be crushed by a meteor- you never can tell! If you are going to be a philosophical skeptic to it’s most extreme, then you likely have bigger issues than trusting that there’s a reason your cellphone will work when you press “send”.

      • Okay sure, if you want to invoke the incompleteness theorem, then since we admit science mustn’t be inconsistent, it must be incomplete (unprovable) on some level. This is the point where the problem of induction comes in. At some level, we have to define axioms for any system of formal logic. Both religion and science are subject to needing axioms if they want to remain consistent (non-contradictory). So to be more precise, besides the trivial case of induction, science is based on the application of the scientific method, and religions are based on taking their propositions by faith. What’s harder to accept, an axiom of induction or that masturbation makes your palm get hairy? I don’t think it takes the rigour of a philosopher nor a logician to realize that religion and science are two different things overall. Wait… what article am I commenting on again? :S

      • unmuz, your post has evolved into a painful but interesting discussion. I have respect for the way you respond to arguments on both sides.

        Anonymous, above, has been kind enough to come forward and offer him/herself as a living example of scientific fundamentalism. It is helpful to us all. Throughout s/he writhes like an infected salmon on a rusty hook, but the point is clear. Scientific fundamentalists believe that science is not responsible for outcomes.

        Scientific fundamentalists equivocate on science. I reiterate, science is simply a method. It has no inherent morality. It is a method whose highest offering is a theory. Attacking non-scientific religion does not distract us from the fact that “believing in” science, having faith that science can predict the future and resolve our problems, is a bizarre idea. Theories change over time as new evidence is revealed, as old evidence is shown to be flawed. Science is simply a method of enquiry employed by frail human beings who are as capable as any other subset of the human race of incompetence, ignorance, lying, fabricating and any other flaw you can think of. I reject utterly the suggestion that we should put our trust in scientists above the law, above the government. You see, the beauty of politicians is that we can vote against them. Though they are often stupid and have agendas we don’t like we can eventually get rid of them. And this means that they are to some extent accountable to us. They are held responsible.

        Does this mean science has no place? Of course not. A method of enquiry is a useful thing. When it is used as a basis for morality it is a hopeless failure.

      • Thanks Bruinsmith. There has indeed been some evolution/drift from where this all started.

        For fear of actually bringing us slightly back on topic…

        Science as a method of inquiry is indeed useful. While it is only one tool in the policy-making toolkit, there are some that would say that when shaping government policy around, say, the exploitation of natural resources, taking heed the science advice is something that policy makers may wish to do, with perhaps greater weight than other issues.

        I’ll raise again the point about the atlantic cod fishery on the east coast of Canada. Policy makers ignored warnings of an impending stock collapse in order to satisfy economic demands. I think there would be little debate that the collapse of the fishery has done far more harm long-term, particularly to local economies, than any short-term economic benefit prior to the closure of the fishery.

        But there are success stories, too. Relevant to the current post, work done at the Experimental Lakes Area in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s demonstrated clearly that it was Phosphorous (and not Carbon or Nitrogen, as the detergent lobby at the time was arguing) that was causing algal blooms in lakes, turning them green, depriving them of oxygen and killing the fish that lived in them (Lake Erie in the Great Lakes was a particular problem). In that case, the science provided to policy makers led to a targeted reduction in phosphates in detergents- as a consequence, Lake Erie cleaned up substantially, as did many other lakes around the world where similar policies were implemented. Had the science in that case been ignored for the lobbying of detergent companies, the problems of algal blooms would have continued.

        So yes, science advice is but one piece that requires consideration in shaping the policy of governments. But, as I think the atlantic cod example shows, choosing to ignore the scientific information at hand can have severe consequences.

        PS- I think this blog only allows 4-level replies, so you may have to start a new thread again if we’re there already…

      • You’ve extrapolated that I’m a scientific fundamentalist – however I never said I wasn’t religious or some other kind of fundamentalist, I just said they are two different things. All I said was that having religious faith never built successful technologies, whereas science has.

        On the statement: “[s]cientific fundamentalists believe that science is not responsible for outcomes.”, let’s take an example. All I suggest is that you can indeed blame something such as the atom bomb’s existence on science, but you must blame the use of the atom bomb on humanity. Another analogy, do we blame a death from gun violence on the designer of the gun, or the shooter? So you are correct, I don’t think you can reasonably blame the scientific community for how humanity uses technologies, you must blame the users. Nonetheless, this is only my opinion, and to generalize that to all scientific fundamentalists is indeed a logical leap.

        I think that how I described science was unambiguous, although on some points I admit I was far from using layperson’s terms. I never suggested that a current scientific theory is permanent, and I also didn’t suggest that a scientific theory is a good basis of morality. Morality is inherently human. What I meant by “science is above the fray” is that science is the best method to describe how the laws of the universe work. I didn’t mean it was a method of constructing morals, I now see how my statement could have been mistaken. That said, when we are making decisions that involve how the universe physically works, for example with environmental concerns, I’d suggest it’s a good idea to appeal to the evidence. In this sense, I think we’re certainly in agreement that science and morality is in some way disjoint. I wouldn’t indorse the idea of having scientists run politics or something (although they should work together), I think we’ve run into some communication breakdown on that point. For this unclarity I apologize.

        Anyways… I think the point is that science is a successful method for understanding and predicting nature, and it’s not a religion. To quote Neil deGrasse Tyson, “[t]he good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” And when it comes to supporting science as a method of understanding nature, and guiding our political decisions when we need to consult scientific evidence on issues such as the environment, our current government is doing poorly. I think that will be my last contribution, thanks for reading!

  13. *****THIS WEBPAGE IS NOT THOUGHT THROUGH*****

    Hey, so I know you all believe Harper is an idiot and they believe science is a sham blah blah blah, I think you fail to take one sentence in particular into consideration that could royally screw you in terms of taxes and budget usage. Yes, I mean you, the person reading this can be effected negatively by this if it was just passed without actually reading it, like going line by line and seeing how this is a trick to get extra funding.

    Harper is not against science, he is against further funding the program until a new head scientist can be established. It says it in clear English:

    “the government should maintain support for its basic scientific capacity across Canada, including IMMEDIATE EXTENDED FUNDING, until a NEW OPERATOR is FOUND, to the world-renowned EXPERIMENTAL LAKES AREA RESEARCH FACILITY to pursue its UNIQUE research program.”

    I’m sorry did you miss that part, or were you too hung up on the first two lines like everyone else? Now I support Science and Technologies 100%, but before I go funding places like Experimental Lakes Area Research Facility for “unique” research, I would like to be a little more informed as to what this research facility is, and what this “unique” research is before saying yes to funding anything!

    I think Harper made a well informed decision instead of just reading the first two lines. Just because he denies extra funding to a company that can’t get their stuff together and require government help in to form of funding to get a new boss does not mean he does not advocate for the concept of science itself. This is totally an opinion piece, please start thinking for yourselves.
    Thank-you for your time.

    • Hi Reasonable person,

      If you’re looking for more information on ELA, I would encourage you to visit this site: saveela.org. They are not looking for a new head scientist, they are closing the program *unless* a suitable 3rd party operator can be found (e.g., another organization that is not the federal government).

      As I’ve said a couple of times, I see no reason why the government couldn’t have split the motion and voted on each piece separately, to show their support for science but not for ELA. Further, if you get a chance to watch the debate around the motion, not one person on the government side had anything to say about their decision to close ELA- something you might expect as part of an informed debate.

      • Right, the point is, the company tried to sneak in a bill asking for more funding by the addition of two sentences that would make the decision seemingly against science. I am against the wording of this bill, as it puts Harper in an awkward situation if they say no.

        If they had just asked for funding and not added the science part I would be all for this bill and the funding of the Facility, but since they added that nasty trick, I see no reason to support a facility that lacks that type of morality. If they are alright with sending out a targeted bill like this, then how much farther will they go? I’m asking for honesty and upfront-ness, not this political side-stepping.

      • Thanks Reasonable Person,

        I think you make a fair point- perhaps just ask to continue the funding, and vote on that. However, I still think they could have split the motion into separate pieces and voted on each separately.

        As MZ pointed out, ELA isn’t a company, rather a government-run research program (to this point anyway). The proposal came from the NDP party, not the ELA.

        Thanks again.

      • The ELA is a low cost research facility at approx. $600 thousand per year to operate for invaluable scientific research involving fresh water lakes and rivers. Fresh water is the most important element, without no life can exist, understanding how various chemicals and environmental factors affect our fresh water supplies is critical as various types of pollution make increasing amounts of fresh water unsafe for human consumption.

        Considering that fresh water is essential to all life on this planet what do you think is more important, funding this one of a kind research facility for about 30-35 years or just 1 year of the Harper Cons Action Plan ads? Our tax money spent to promote the Harper gov’t for just 1 year is $21 million, admittedly I didn’t do an exact calculation but for that much money we could fund this vital research on fresh water that costs us $600 thousand per year for about 30-35 years.

        If you’re seriously concerned about gov’t spending we should stop funding expensive ads promoting the Harper gov’t, as well as the planned permanent Canadian military bases around the world instead of research on safe, clean, fresh water without which nothing else, including life, is possible anyways.

    • It’s not difficult to inform yourself on what ELA is or does (for starters, it’s not a “company”). If the government was making an educated decision on the merits of its scientific output, and deciding that there simply wasn’t value for money, that would be a worthwhile debate to have and plenty of people would be willing and able to speak to that issue.

      But we’ve seen no evidence from this government that this is the case. There is plenty of evidence that says that the program’s scientific merit makes it worth pursuing, and that financially it doesn’t make sense to close it (at a far greater expense, actually, than keeping it open). But Harper isn’t interested in hearing that evidence. If he were, this scenario would be very different.

    • I would argue that your comment is not well thought through.

      Harper and the CPC have shown through their actions while in government that they have no respect for science or the Canadian people in general. Let me explain to you why.

      Harper has closed many programs (such as many women’s programs) that gave support to the Canadian people. He changed all the official documentation that the government produces to be under the “Harper Government” rather than the “Government of Canada” which it had been under since the formation of the county.

      The motion was to extend an important government research program to find a new operator, as the Harper Government is going to shut it down. The ELA program is world renowned for its fresh water research, as it’s the only place where entire lake ecosystems are set aside for research. It’s behind research to combat algal blooms, how to regulate air pollution to combat acid rain. It is the only facility that can do this research on an entire lake ecosystem in the world.

      The motion was so that they could at least save the facility by finding someone who would fund it. I may not agree entirely with having three parts to the motion, but I see no issues with any of the parts that they could not be voted on together or separately. The CPC decided that they would rather shut the facility down completely than even try to find another avenue of funding it.

      That speaks of both intellectual dishonesty and a disregard for important scientific achievement.

      • It actually costs much less than $2 million per year, that’s how much it costs to run it if no one else but the federal gov’t uses it, but when the fees paid by other researchers from universities and research institutes from across Canada and around the world to use the ELA are figured in the actual cost per year to the federal gov’t is approx. $600 thousand per year. That can fluctuate according to how many outside groups use the ELA per year but in recent years the demand by outside researchers to use the ELA has been very high and with the increasing loss of fresh water to pollution the demand will surely stay very high for a long time to come.

  14. This government is totally insane and does NOT care about human life or the environment!

  15. The whole debate here is missing an important point – government scientists are employees of the Canadian people. We, through our taxes, pay their salaries and at least a portion of the funding for their research. Therefore, the results of that research belong to the people of Canada – not the Conservative party, not the politicians.
    (Who, by the way, are also our employees, though they don’t act like it and we seem to have a hard time firing them when they behave unprofessionally.)

    Government scientists have not only a right but an obligation to disseminate their findings to the people that support their research, and that’s us. And politicians don’t have the right to change their job descriptions and make them answerable to an ideologically-driven – and, remember, temporary – Cabinet instead of to the Canadian public.

    Whatever you think about the role of science in shaping policy, or even about the funding of specific research programs, you can’t deny that (to use a business analogy) a mid-level manager can’t tell lower-level employees not to report results to the boss.

    It’s significant that the copyright on government publications is held by the Crown – the personification of the nation of Canada – NOT by the government. It’s not their decision to make, and it’s arrogance and insubordination to pretend otherwise.

  16. Harper and the Conservatives have again shown they’re anti-knowledge…. that should make us ALL anti-Harper and anti-Conservative!!!

  17. They must be doing some really dandy things if they don’t want to tell anyone what they are. I’m sure when the big surprise finally comes around we’ll all be that much happier we didn’t see it coming. I’m very concerned about Math, though, and I’m hoping we’re going to be able to ban that in the near future. It’ll make balancing the budget so much easier.

  18. This motion by Steven Harper is in direct contradiction to his words and expressions to Col. Chris Hadfield when they chatted recently. During his chat to Col. Hadfield, Harper stated that an emphasis on science, research and innovation is important to Canada, and important to him. I’m completely dumbfounded at this hypocrisy.

  19. The article ‘Canadian Government votes against… Science’ speaks for itself quite clearly. The actions, policies, legislation, muzzling, obstruction & malice of the Harper Government speak clearly as well. Context & validation is provided in previous articles here as well by respected biologists, scientists, journalists, exemplars and previous federal conservative Ministers.

    If in doubt, examine the vote and watch on Youtube as the trained Harper MP seals clap clap clap and bark approval. The behavior is stunning & ludicrous.. and painful to watch, all the while realizing these are MP’s supposedly representing the wishes of their electorate! Better still, journey to Fort McMurray and drink from any of the monumental tailings ponds, visible from space. Joe Oliver, that noted scientific expert, stockbroker and lawyer says its safe & tasty. When Harper and Peter Kent are through with biological experiments on the boreal caribou and poisoning wolves, they can move on with really attacking wild salmon to save farmed salmon.. and ensure the collapse of all related wild species of the Pacific marine ecosystems.

    I’m sorry .. Its tiresome to read frowsy, dogmatic, subjective, partisan defenses of a government that does not stand for democracy, decency, environment, responsibility, honesty or common sense. If you’re a hired PMO troll, I understand.. if not .. well your opinion is yours.. and you’re welcome to it.. Amen ..

    Let’s put it this way .. You’re sitting in front of a plate of sushi.. and Gerry Ritz from CFIA and Keith Ashfield’s DFO spokeswoman says its wonderful salmon & disease free. Marine biologist Alexandra Morton and molecular geneticist Kristi Miller having tested the fish for various viruses, say it is infected with ISA. Who to trust or believe ?

    The unfortunate salmon was malformed & missing part of its upper jaw and forehead, had flabby heart tissue and telltale adhesions on its gills.. but you don’t get to see that unless you bought the fish in the supermarket. If you don’t know who these people are, or what ISA is.. or where that salmon came from, whether wild or farmed… uh .. on what basis would you defend any of them.. or argue against them ? Or eat the salmon !! ??

  20. [Unmuzsci]: Someone has re-posted Rick Mercer’s rant in the thread here, without any text. It’s elsewhere on my blog, but always a good view.

  21. If you really cared about science you wouldn’t butcher the logic by assuming voting against a bill means you’re against ALL of its proposals. Just because the government does not support the combination of A, B, and C in the specific way they are formulated for this bill does not mean they do not support A, or B, or C.

    • Hi Anonymous,

      Please take the time to look at some of the points I raise to each of A, B and C. It seems necessary to explain this point: I am trying to use the theater of parliament to draw attention to what I as a government scientist am currently experiencing, and the ways in which the current government is acting in a manner that dilutes the importance of science in decision making. I think everyone’s getting a little too worked up over the title, and my inspiration for choosing it.

      Thanks for the post, and forcing me to provide some (needed?) clarity.

  22. Perhaps the NCC will donate some of that 20 million they were given by the federal government to the ELA ?! Since the fed’s have decided that 2 million is just to much to give for real science.

    • Exactly, and yet they can afford 100’s of Millions of $$$’s every year for advertising, so they can tell us what a bang-up job they’re doing.

  23. Pretty clear Cons are muzzling science. Here in BC we are inundated with pipeline commercials telling us how good for the economy it will be with 500 ful time jobs. I think some scientist leaked the fact bitumen sinks in water and any clean up of the eventual spill, futile. Well Harpo doesn’t need this so no doubt he wants to close down cutting edge study of effects of chemicals on lakes. Its a no brainer for him. Us common uneducated people are not stupid. We all see the shills on this page. Defend the Cons if you need the money but most Canadians are done. 2015 can’t come fast enough

  24. First of all. The NDP here are playing games and wasting time of the house. He put forth 3 question with three variables. Well we all know that in science when looking into a situation/problem, we have to isolate the variable that we are trying to get an answer for.

    Therefore instead of the NDP critic being cocky, why does he not bring up the three different question one at a time. We know that the gov’t will turn down part “C” because it goes against what they already decided.

    Therefore I believe the NDP critic is just trying to get attention in the media and being a smart ass by putting in A and B.

    • If your mp isn’t on your side, there is another way to make your voice heard. Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper. The bigger, the better. I fired off letters to the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail today.

  25. Pingback: Voices against change | Pearltrees

  26. If I vote in favour of an omnibus motion containing three propositions I must support or at least be accommodated to all three. The converse is not true. Voting against the motion does not imply that against I am against all three propositions. Pity the scientists if that is the best motion that can be mounted in their defence. I certainly won’t be supporting the NDP in support of scientists if that is the best they can do.

  27. Pingback: How embarrassing: Canadian Government closes Exper… | Brent Kearney

  28. does that mean David Suzuki cant produce any boring shows or preach his global warming BS woohoo

  29. I think that every canadian scientist should now anonymously post their findings to wikileaks first. As a supporter of freedom of speech, its disgusting to see what is going on in my country. I encourage every canadian scientist who reads this to talk with their colleagues and get as many of us as we can to leak everything. That way there is no longer any reason to deny a transparency law

    • Interesting point- I’ve had people in my circle suggest posting everything to something like ArXiv, or publish only on open-source journals like PLOS that don’t require copyright release. While this gets around copyright release, it doesn’t get around pre-approval prior to submission- but, might, if you can say (accurately) that ArXiv isn’t a journal, but a repository…

      Also, I’m happy to receive any stories or experiences from public servants on my “contact me” page- of the 5 or 6 I’ve heard from so far, only one has been keen to have their story shared here. It’s nice though to hear other people share my experience and disappointment at the current direction of the way science is being managed within the government.

  30. Here in Alberta, the provincial government is remodelling post-secondary education under a single super administration – a strategy that decimated healthcare not long ago. Is this the intended result? Run the public-funded institutions into the ground and privatize. In announcing lethal cuts and government-directed reorganization of post-secondary, the Alberta Deputy Premier and Minister of Advanced Education announced that “curiosity-based research” isn’t needed when we can promote corporate-funded applied research. A science colleague was told by a funding agency that he wouldn’t get funds unless he knew the outcome of his research. Curiosity and critical thinking lead to unexpected conclusions and inconvenient facts. Propaganda appears preferable.

    • I’d seen this announcement recently, and have colleagues in Alberta that are (understandably) concerned with the proposed restructuring. In government, we don’t have the luxury of curiosity-driven research- we are always tasked with the problems at hand (even though we are left to our own to find the funding to address it); Universities were always the places where there was a mix of applied and basic research- there’s an interesting speech that David Naylor, outgoing president of U of T recently gave to the Empire Club of Canada (http://www.president.utoronto.ca/speeches/zombie-vs-zombies); Zombie ideas in academia. If you can get past the shameless self-promotion of U of T, there are some valid concerns there regarding the dwindling funding for curiosity-based research- where our true innovations have always come out of. Definitely worth a read if you have the time.

  31. With only a cursory review of the text presented, I’d have to agree with voting down the motion. The statements are far too vague and generalizing to be appropriate.

    W/R to the quoted motion’s paragraphs:

    (a) This paragraph implies that “public research”, not “peer reviewed, published research”. It’s poorly worded without indicating how to consider “research” valid or not. It also uses the word “essential”, which implies importance with no indication on how it may be treated to other priorities, such as national security, risk of life, cost, practicality, and so-on. Poorly worded and a reason to be voted down. The way (a) is worded, I could write a research paper and make it public stating we should build a bridge to drive to Europe to save costs on shipping, and the government would need to consider it as “essential”!

    (b) There are times where findings of a government scientist cannot openly discuss their findings with the public. Think national security. Now, for the ELA, that may not be the case, but the main statement doesn’t consider national security. That’s poorly worded, and a reason to vote it down. Do you really want that government scientist who (hypothetically) discovers (through research) that our submarines’ sonar has 50% less range in sub-0 temperatures than we thought while patrolling our north? Making that public has national security risks but this clause says he can make that public!

    (b) (again) Anyone speaking while representing the government has to be very careful. Hence why there are complete parts of the government to represent the guys who do the work. Sometimes it’s better to leave public statements to those who are trained to make public statements – or expect the media (or blogs like this) to twist the meaning of poorly worded statements. The motion doesn’t consider current policy impacting many (all?) branches of the government and thus should be voted down.

    (c) Why should this facility be placed above all other government funded research (still funded or otherwise)? Answer: it shouldn’t, or at least not without careful review of all priorities. The motion links “basic scientific capacity” with a specific facility with very, very dangerous implications, and thus should be voted down.

    I think the intent may be fine and valid. But the approach and delivery is poor if not dangerous. So voting down this motion makes complete sense. Let the opposition (or anyone) reword and regroup into “good” motions without unexpected implications and there could be support…at least from me.

    (Yes, I believe in science, am active in research, and hold a Ph.D.)

    • Hi Rob,

      Thanks for your comment. I think you make some valid points regarding the wording being a bit too vague. Great on intentions, poor on delivery, is the criticism. However, I don’t recall any of the parliamentary debate addressing that specifically as a reason for voting it down. Further, like I’ve suggested above, re-crafting motions to be acceptable is something that governing bodies often do in order to show a commitment to making the process work, and that didn’t happen either. Perhaps they will re-craft a motion that takes a more carefully thought out approach. I will however add a few points:

      1. You may be surprised to find out that there is plenty of “public research” that is not peer-reviewed, in the traditional sense (e.g., journals seeking review from arms-length reviewers at different institutions). Government reports (i.e., “grey literature”) often only gets internal review, which, depending on who it goes to, may be very thorough, or may get a signature saying “OK”. Despite this, many grey literature reports hold critical data that is often used by both academics and governments, past and present, in shaping policy. Regardless, the point of this part of the motion (as I read it) is that the ability of the government to make good policy is dependent on the ability to conduct publicly-funded scientific research to inform policies, and the ability to seek consultation among scientists both inside and outside the government to help inform it.

      2. There are mechanisms to safeguard communication of science that is truly in the interests of national security to control. I seem to recall something in the news in the past year regarding whether or not scientists should be publishing about deadly viruses- arguably, the same concerns apply to research at universities.

      If you’ve had a chance to read the news lately, I think you’ll understand that this part of the motion is not meant to target the communication of science in the interest of public security. Instead, scientists publishing research in Nature on the presence of viral infections on the west coast are being told they can’t communicate with the media. Ironically, government scientists are offered (and take) media training to assist with communicating their work, even if we aren’t given the chance to do so. How many science shows do you know that interview the public relations person from a university on a scientific study? Answer: none. They talk to the scientists, who are the most knowledgeable about the topic.

      3. I won’t defend the importance of ELA at length here, as others have (extensively) elsewhere. 4 out of 5 nights on CBC’s As It Happens (www.cbc.ca/aih) this week covered the Experimental Lakes Area and the importance of this program. Is it more important than other government programs, either in existence or not? Guess that depends on your perspective, however, I would argue that there is nowhere else in the world able to conduct the type of research in freshwaters that you can do at the ELA, and given the impact it has already had on environmental policy, it seems ill-conceived to let it go in a country that has such a large proportion of the world’s freshwater stores.

      Last, you seem concerned with the fact that I am “twisting the meaning poorly-worded statements”. I would encourage you to look at some of the above links regarding the examples I provide. There are plenty of things wrong with how this government views science, and the increasingly numerous layers of bureaucracy that government scientists are facing that in fact impede our ability to do our jobs. If you would like to expand on how you feel that the concerns I am raising are somehow twisting reality, I would be happy to address those concerns.

      So, perhaps the wording was too vague, but I didn’t get any sense from the government side that this was the problem during the debate of the motion.

      Thanks again for the comment.

      • I had a response that I spent a lot of time on, but why would I do you that favour, when this is the kind of product that such an act would support? I was referred here by a friend’s FB post; I won’t be back.

        Short version: your “catchy” title, an alarmist one reminiscent of the helpfully attention-grabbing Fox News (who came up with that on-screen, anyways?), makes it unlikely that anyone who does not already support your point of view would take the time to read the article and join the discussion. This is directly at odds with your statement concerning “constructive discussion”. Poor logic and over-the-top headlines, however well intended, will do little to improve the situation. I worry about the effect this will have on policy in the future.

      • Thanks, Uncaged.

        I can’t speak for CPAC, and I’m not sure how they come up with their on-screen titles. There seem to have been a number of posts from folks who see things from the other side of the pond in this comment thread, which I think have been constructive. I’m sorry you don’t feel more inclined to participate.

        I’m assuming from your post that you don’t think the examples I’ve provided raise any concern for the state of government-based science in Canada, either?

        I’d also be interested in your view that this post/blog will somehow have a negative effect on policy in the future, given that the current government does not seem interested in consulting science before proceeding with decisions regarding the exploitation of natural resources.

  32. I think that government scientists forget sometimes that they are public servants first and that no federal government , Liberal or Conservative has ever aloud their employees to speak freely with the public execept for the departmental public affairs officers and even then it was controlled by their resective minister’s office. I personally see no reason the government scientists should be treated any differently. This is based upon my federal public service experience going back to 1960 thru 1994 and I don’t see that changing even if he NDP were luckily enough to lucky enough to form government because it would be political disaster if any government gave their employees free reign to speak with the public. Its just not done.

    • THanks Van,

      Actually, it’s done in the US. Since Obama has taken over, many government agencies are improving the ability of their scientists to speak on the record with the media about the research they conduct, just like academic scientists who publish their research (this report shows that some agencies have improved, but some have a ways to go: http://fcw.com/articles/2013/03/15/scientist-media-policies.aspx). Further, things have indeed been better- there’s nothing wrong with having the communications department involved in arranging the interview, but why should the department be so worried? Scientists are the last ones to overstate their findings- we go through the peer review process, and our peers keep us in check. For one to get up and say something well beyond the findings of a particular study will be called out by their peers- recent case in point, the AGU reporting on Voyager II leaving the solar system- NASA came back right away and said “ahem, no. Not yet.”

      Further, in a recent interview on CBC’s as it happens (www.cbc.ca/aih) former ADM at Environment Canada Gordon McBean indicated that things were never this bad under his watch.

      Yes, we’re public servants, but what does that have to do with why I can publish my work in a peer-reviewed journal, but can’t speak with the media to explain it to the public? Worse yet, it’s possible I might not even get the work published without approval, even as a junior author on a paper written by external researchers, given recent policy changes outlined elsewhere on my blog.

  33. What the hell is going on here!? I can’t believe there are such out of touch individuals posting that the Cons might or might not be down with science, and that if they had only left the third part off then it’s possible the Cons would have been on board. ARE YOU CRAZY? No sane person would even consider that these Cons are looking out for what’s best for the environment, and because I have something called common sense, am taking it a step further to link “the” environment with OUR environment- you know, the one that we require to have clean air, water, soil, etc. in order to STAY ALIVE. I’m sorry for being so blunt, but this is absurd! If people like Burinsmith, Ivankaram and the harperCons were playing chess instead of checkers, we would all live in a better environment.

  34. Unmuz, sorry I co-opted your discussion for a rather more philosophical one.

    I’m no stranger to the collapse of the cod fishery. I was born in NL and was still living there when that dramatic event happened. My family was affected by it, as were all NLers. NL was originally settled for the fishery and the culture and settlement patterns, even the linguistic diversity is due to it. Of course it would have been for the best if the government listened to what the scientists said back then. That would have been a very hard decision to make at the time. Back then NL was the “have-not” province. Employment was always a struggle. My father, along with many of the men of the family, had to go away to work most of my childhood. It was a tricky issue. I’m sure there was a degree of resentment on the mainland to the drain on resources we represented. ( an aside: I remember driving on the mainland and someone seeing the license plate and shouting “Newfie go home!”) So in that scenario, even though it was inevitable the stocks would fail, the government didn’t have the stomach for reducing the fishery. It would have brought hardship, that would have been unpopular.

    Are you familiar with the orange roughy problem? The major fishery issue in this corner of the world. Lack of understanding of the lifecycle and irregular reproduction has meant sudden and dramatic overfishing. New Zealand still has a big OR fishery, though it obviously won’t last. I’m sure it will be a big problem there when that happens.

    Here we have had the closure of forestry industries, in an area that desperately needed those jobs. I don’t know what the answer to all of this is. Science is sometimes able to predict negative outcomes, sometimes scientists don’t agree on what is best to do.

    The problems in this are so complex it is difficult to comment on them properly in a short space.

    A major problem in Canada since Mulroney seems to be the very long terms of governments. Parties stay in power long enough to alienate nearly everyone and generate real hatred. Then there is a pendulum swing, another long government and the problem repeats itself.

    • So you’re saying that the government screwed the East coast because they didn’t properly regulate fishing quotas because they didn’t want to damage the economy out there. And yet, knowing full well the implications this could have down the road, still allowed over-fishing to occur. “A major problem in Canada” is people like you who can’t put the pieces together to realize what the government is suppressing. “You are over-reacting when you suggest the government rejects science”, is just ignorant considering how much information there is available for you to read pertaining to this issue. Wake up!

    • Thanks for the ongoing discussion, Bruinsmith.

      Didn’t realize you were off the Rock- you clearly have a first-hand perspective on the atlantic cod issue. I agree these kinds of issues are complex. I can imagine had the government throttled the fishery to reduce harvest or close the fishery earlier to allow for recovery, surely the outcry would have been boisterous, and the story today would be how the drop in catch those years was devastating to local economies and largely viewed as pointless, since there’s still an effective fishery in place; no way to know the collapse *would* have happened if it didn’t. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, but only one outcome keeps the fishery going. But either way, a sensitive issue with peoples lives being affected either way. I can’t say I’m familiar with the specifics of the orange roughy fishery (though I know many sustainable seafood watch-type organizations recommend against eating it).

      I’d like to make what I think is a critical point in your reply above, that’s relevant to another post on my blog and some of our thread- it’s not the scientists that are deciding what’s “best to do”. Action regarding government policy is not up to scientists- rather, the scientists provide the best objective understanding of how that particular problem works. If there’s disagreement between scientists or groups, the best thing is to stick them all in a room together, and you’ll often find that what might at first appear as disagreement might not be so far off once each gets a chance to figure out what the other has done.

      Point being, the scientists provide the “best” state of understanding regarding how some part of the world works, but it’s someone entirely different deciding what plan of action to take based on that understanding.

  35. Since an earlier post indicates you are open to copy edicts, it’s means “it is”. It is not the possessive; its is.
    Enjoying most of the discussion.

  36. It seems to me as the whole lot of you are looking to run your own gravy train, if you can’t get a job you like in the private sector try to con your way into getting government funds to take care of your personal needs, on the backs of all !! the majority gets to decide, that’s the way it is, deal with it !! remember that scientist that said the world was flat !!! ha ha

    • The gravy train of government science? You mean the one that takes 13 years of post-secondary education, working 60 hour weeks to maintain a publication record outside of the administrative drole that takes up our work day, to be paid less than our peers in academia and provincial programs, all the while doing work that benefits society as a whole? That gravy train? You’re right, we have it too good.

      We do this job because we are trying to do what we love, and what we were trained for 13 years to do- scientific inquiry. We earn a fixed salary, the research dollars we bring in pay for research.

    • yo .. troll .. its one thing to strike out swinging at good pitches
      but in your case I advise you to try to at least get to the plate
      before swinging and missing so badly ..
      You’re not impressing anyone .. except yourself ..
      Hope that’s satisfactory ..

  37. Reblogged this on travelling carrs and commented:
    My apologies for the political side tangent… We’ll get back to regular travel programming soon. Well…
    No, I’m not sorry. This is really important, and it makes us rather nauseous. Once you’re feeling better, maybe share it or write to your MP. At the very least, let’s talk about what’s going on. Changing our acceptance baselines and forgetting what used to be ‘Canadian values’ is not okay.

  38. Pingback: Canadian Government votes against… Science | rileyhaas

  39. Dear sir,

    Gary Goodyear is plently interested in science. If you to ask him where all the money was going, he would telll you personally that his favourite project (don’t tell anyone else) is an electronic ultrasound machine for finding valuable resources buried in the earth! This is a much better investment in our economic future than whatever science these so called Experimental Lakes Researchers can possibly be doing.

    • Your economic future won’t be so bright without clean water to drink- right- you’ll need that too, besides money.

      Awfully presumptuous of you to call me sir.

    • Quick question: If you don’t know what they’re doing, then why do you think you can declare that it’s not worthwhile science?

      Follow-up: Really? ALL the money for scientific research in Canada is going to an ultrasound machine for finding mineral resources?

  40. The problem with this proposal is that it is easy to see what others have already said, that the real target of the bill is the 3rd clause. the first 2 clauses are essentially fluff added in to make it seem more appealing. when you read closely the first 2 clauses you will notice that voting in favor of them would do the same as voting against them: absolutely nothing. they are fluff made for talking points later. they do not lay out anywhere how they want to make science an important part of policy making or if they even want to make it a bigger part, it simply says the house thinks it is important vote yes or no. that is absolutely pointless and would have no impact if it were passed. part 2 is the same thing, how do they want to make it easier for scientists to share their findings? no answer again…. the house thinks it is important yes or no… no impact. and the third clause… a call for money, here is where we get to the heart of the issue… why would a government pull a 180 and fund a project it was responsible for cancelling? its a little something called consistency. if they lost the debate on the motion to cancel the project then why would they think they would win the debate on this one? party solidarity is not a new thing and no one sees it as a problem when the losing side votes all together, but because the winners did, its seen as forced. it is a classic double standard. for those who are complaining that the government isnt representing canada, what you need to realize is that you arent canada, just because it isnt representing your interest doesnt mean that its not representing the majority’s. they won an election with the majority of seats, they can vote and legislate as they so choose. you can complain but complain truthfully, and constructively, if its a bad policy say why, dont claim its bad because it isnt what the country wants, thats not only wrong, it is also no help to anyone.

    • I would have thought that research that ensures clean drinking water for Canadians (the third clause) would be something that is in the interest of the majority.

      Also, I disagree that a support for the motion of something that was just the first two points would have no impact- support for those two points would be something that others could turn to and say “hey guys, you just said that you support science in informing evidence-based policy, and the ability of your government scientists to report on their findings. So why aren’t you”? These may not have budget lines associated with them, but are certainly not “fluff” issues.

  41. [Unmuzsci]:I had a visitor send me an e-mail, which she’s graciously allowed me to post as a comment here. See below:

    After reading your article on the conservative vote against the motion to support science and scientist, I was moved to write a letter to my MP.

    A copy of the letter is at http://www.okanaganscience.com.

    You are doing a great job by informing people about what’s being done with our science and scientists.

    Thanks,
    Johanna Faccini

  42. I would like to see this posted to the Brights Society so that those in tune with this tragedy can make it undeniably clear how bad this is for our shifting economy and our young and soon to (hopefully) be educated.

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