The assault on knowledge: more on anti-science policymaking in Canada


canada-flag“Scientists across the country are expressing growing alarm that federal cutbacks to research programs monitoring areas that range from climate change and ocean habitats to public health will deprive Canadians of crucial information,” reports CBC-TV’s fifth estate (video below). “What we have done in Canada is turn off the radar”, says the country’s only marine mammal toxicologist. How can this be happening? Where is Canadian civil society on this?

Canadian TV’s investigative journalism program fifth estate aired a documentary, Silence of the Labs, on January 10. The online video is viewable in Canada, geoblocked in the U.S., but also posted on YouTube:

From a CBC News post:

Research cutbacks by government alarm scientists

By Julia Sisler, CBC News Posted: Jan 10, 2014

“What’s important is the scale of the assault on knowledge, and on our ability to know about ourselves and to advance our understanding of our world,” said James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

In the past five years the federal government has dismissed more than 2,000 scientists, and hundreds of programs and world-renowned research facilities have lost their funding. Programs that monitored things such as smoke stack emissions, food inspections, oil spills, water quality and climate change have been drastically cut or shut down. …

Stop studying ocean degradation, of course:

Peter Ross, Canada’s only marine mammal toxicologist, spent 15 years studying the increasing levels of toxins in oceans and in animals like the killer whale. But in the spring of 2012, the federal government closed the Department of Fisheries contaminants program, dismissing Ross and 55 of his colleagues across the country.

“What we have done in Canada is turn off the radar,” Ross told the fifth estate’s Linden MacIntyre. “We are flying along in an airplane, and we’ve put curtains over the windshield of those pilots, of that flight-crew, and we’ve turned off the instruments. We don’t know what is coming tomorrow, let alone next year in terms of some of these potentially catastrophic incidents in our oceans.” …

And climate change, of course:

It is the lack of climate change research and monitoring in the High Arctic that worries Tom Duck. He is a professor of Atmospheric Science at Dalhousie University, who helped found the world-renowned Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory, or PEARL.

Located just 1,000 kilometres from the North Pole, the research station was a one-of-a-kind facility that provided scientific data on ozone depletion and climate change for scientists around the world. Then in 2012, its budget was drastically cut. Duck had to stop his research, and most of his colleagues left the country to find other work.

Duck fears that the Harper government’s pursuit of valuable oil and gas resources in the Arctic, as they become increasingly accessible due to climate change, led to the cuts at PEARL.

“We know that climate change is an enormous problem. It is the problem for the next century, so if you want to get out your oil, you have to get it out now,” he told the fifth estate. “If you want to get it out now, you make sure the scientists aren’t causing any problems. If you want to make sure the scientists aren’t causing any problems, you take away all their funding.” …

Ah yes, the tar sands of course:

Resource development in the oil sands of Alberta has also turned a number of Canadian scientists into critics of the Harper government, raising alarms about the long-term environmental and health consequences of oil extraction.

Before he retired in the fall of 2013, for example, David Schindler was a professor of ecology at the University of Alberta, where his research raised concerns about pollution from the oil sands. His research team found that the resource project was contaminating the Athabasca watershed, and many fish living there were developing deformities. When his findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Schindler was criticized by both the Alberta and federal governments. …

“It’s like they don’t want to hear about science anymore,” he said. “They want politics to reflect economics 100 per cent – economics being only what you can sell, not what you can save.”

An ongoing scientific and political disaster, waiting for Canadian citizens to show some ability to push back effectively.

Earlier posts:

“Libricide”: Harper government closing and junking environmental libraries (December 27, 2013)

Canadian parliament seeks to impose lifetime gag order on employees (December 13, 2013)

“Obama and Harper — Modes of Support for Fossil Fuel Development” (October 8, 2013)

New report on Harper government interference with science communication in Canada (March 20, 2013)

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4 Responses to The assault on knowledge: more on anti-science policymaking in Canada

  1. Michael Craig says:

    You seem to forget the other government departments going through the same process. And frankly, I think there are quite a few more important tasks (i.e. higher priority) than climate science and deformities in fish.

    One more thing, I realize everyone has a right to fight for their job but be aware that citizens (I know) are “alarmed-out”. If you say your job is needed to save the penguins or the polar bears or avert future climate armageddon, you’ll fall on deaf ears.

    Signed – a DND employee who lost his position last year

  2. bobarl says:

    Dear Mr. Craig, I’m sure there are a lot of other important concerns facing us then just climate change but this one is certainly big enough. You must have not read some of the concerns from climatologists who spend considerable time researching this potentially disastrous problem. And if you think concern about saving penguins and polar bears is not much of a turn on, how about saving humans too because we will surely suffer if what the science tells us is true.

  3. John Irving says:

    Three points.

    1) Silence of the Labs can be viewed on YouTube (not geoblocked). Several videos exist as I write. Try Google if this disappears.

    2) The peculiar comment provided by Mr. Craig above dramatically contradicts the opinions of Canadian scientists I know (I am a Canadian), who are shocked, alarmed and even afraid of our present Government and their radical and irrational actions. It is well known that the Harper Government employs legions of astrofturfers – just saying…

    3) For further reading on the subject I highly recommend the excellent journalism of Andrew Nikiforuk. See articles under his bio here:

    • Rick - Climate Science Watch says:

      Thanks, John, in particular for calling attention to the availability of the Silence of the Labs video. Much appreciated.
      I’ll embed it in a revised version of this post.

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