Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Anti-Science Harper: Because Ignoring It Will Make It All Go Away

(Updated below)

After consistently ignoring the federal panel that advises the government on the environmental impact of new economic development, Harper and his Harpies keep on showing their true colors regarding the (non)funding of the understanding of climate change (and consequently getting an inkling on its impact and how to better fight it - emphasis added):

'Long-term it looks quite scary in Canada'
Scientists quit as climate funding dries up

Katrin Meissner is determined to be on the forefront of understanding the climate change affecting everything from permafrost to bird migrations.

The celebrated young scientist at the University of Victoria had planned to build her career in Canada. But Meissner is packing up her young family and heading for Australia.

The University of New South Wales made her an offer she couldn't refuse — a position as a senior lecturer, research opportunities and guaranteed daycare for her one-year-old son, which was the perk that sealed the deal.

"I didn't really want to leave," says Meissner, who is walking away from a coveted tenure-track position in Victoria. But she says the opportunities in Australia seem much more promising. "Long-term it looks quite scary in Canada," says Meissner.

It is a refrain heard across Canada as funding dries up at the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS), a prime source of funding for university-based projects underway from the Arctic to B.C. mountaintops.

Projects involving hundreds of scientists have entered their final phase and will shut down by March 2010. "They're dead as of next spring," says atmospheric physicist Richard Peltier of University of Toronto, noting that there is no new federal money in sight for new projects or to build on existing ones.

"It's a shame to see it go down the tubes," says Richard Lawford, at the University of Manitoba, who manages the four-year-old Drought Research Initiative funded by the foundation. The project is aimed at preparing for the country's next water crisis. The last drought, from 1999 to 2004, cost an estimated $6 billion and 41,000 jobs.

Lawford says the team is keen to build on the project in a bid to ensure there is enough water for farmers and cities. But with CFCAS running out of cash, so is the project.

Young scientists and technical staff will be hardest hit. "That's were the real pain comes in," says Lawford, who fears many highly educated young scientists working on the drought project will head to the U.S. where science is expected to undergo a renaissance under President Barack Obama.

"We may have just trained them for the U.S.," says Lawford. And expertise, which Canada will need to prevent rivers and reservoirs from running dry when the next drought hits, will be lost with them, he says.

Scientists across the country echo the concern and say there are signs the exodus has begun.

"In my lab, I have three going to Australia," says Andrew Weaver, who leads a climate modelling team at the University of Victoria. Meissner, along with a PhD student and master students with newly minted Canadian degrees, is heading for a new climate change research centre in Australia.

Young scientists have always tended to move between labs. But with the foundation projects all coming to an end, senior researchers say Canada will have trouble attracting bright young climate scientists and keeping the ones it now has.

Atmospheric scientist James Drummond, who directs a remote polar lab on Ellesmere Island that is fast running out of money, says he has already lost a post-doctoral student to a NASA contractor in the U.S. He fears more will follow given Obama's plan to spend more than $400 million on climate change research at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Drummond notes that Obama's approach to science stands in sharp contrast to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's. His stimulus package disappointed many in Canada's research community. It provided no funding increases for key science funding agencies and did not renew funding for others.

The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, which got nothing in the budget, had been looking for a $25-million-a-year lifeline.

The foundation was set up by the federal government in 2000 and took over funding of climate and atmospheric research at Canadian universities from several federal programs that were phased out. The foundation, which received $60 million in 2000 and another $50 million in 2004, has financed 160 projects and 24 research networks.

"We've built up a number of very powerful research groups which are doing the country proud," says Peltier, at the University of Toronto. He heads the Polar Climate Stability Network, which received just over $5 million. The scientists have been assessing different components in the climate system — from the glaciers in Western Canada to the frigid waters flowing out of the Arctic.

"It really is a huge concern that the country's investment in climate science is diminishing just at the time when we need it more than ever," says Peltier, noting how climate change will impact everything from permafrost to extreme weather events.

He and his colleagues say a smooth and efficient transition to the next phase of climate projects would have required new funding in last month's budget.

The foundation asked the Harper government for $250 million over 10 years in 2007 and pleaded its case with several parliamentary committees last year. Foundation Chair Gordon McBean met with new Environment Minister Jim Prentice late last fall and walked away hopeful the minister would fight for foundation funding at the budget table.

Prentice's press officer Frederic Basil told Canwest News Service that "the government has not received a formal proposal for additional funding from the foundation." CFCAS executive director Dawn Conway describes that as a "little bit ingenuous" given the repeated requests put forward through various channels. But if Prentice wants another proposal, she and her colleagues say they are happy to provide one. "We are already working it," she says.

The minister's office also says the foundation has been funded until 2011. This is correct in that the foundation office, which has six full-time staff, must keep the lights on until all research reports are in before closing its books in 2011, says Conway.

But there is no new money for science projects and hasn't been since 2008, when the last round of grants were given out.

"Money is drying up without new money coming after," says Meissner, who was one of the young scientists funded by the Canadian foundation.
So - Harper and his Harpies have actually shut down the CFCAS, all the while spinning about keeping it funded and even going as far as lying about what they are actually doing.

Sounds familiar?

Here's one more example (emphasis added):
Last year’s budget focused on undergraduate support; this year’s budget announced a temporary two-year, $87.5 million increase in the support available to graduate students through the Canada Graduate Scholarships program which is administered by the granting councils. This money will be split among the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) at a ratio of 2:2:1, respectively (which represents the current overall split in funding between the three councils. The new money is meant to pay for 500 doctoral scholarships valued at $35,000 annually over 3 years and 1,000 one-time scholarships for students at the Master’s level valued at $ 17,500 each. Scholarships in science and medicine are unrestricted in terms of subject area; SSHRC scholarships, on the other hand, will be restricted to students in programs related to business studies. This, again, is consistent with earlier Conservative policies, which have specifically avoided providing SSHRC with new funds for areas apart from business and economics.

However, the granting councils will not see an overall budget increase as a result of these scholarships. This is because the three councils, as a result of regular Program Review, will see a cumulative decrease in their funding over the next three years of $87.2 million. Thus, the new graduate scholarships are effectively being paid for as-yet unspecified reductions in other areas of research spending. Moreover, while the increase in scholarships is temporary (after two years, spending is supposed to revert back to present levels), the cut in budgets is meant to be permanent. Moreover, it is not yet clear if the cuts, like the funding increases, are distributed on a 2:2:1 basis – if they are not, then some councils will be net losers even in the short term. Given this, despite the good news headlines, there is likely to be friction between the government and the scientific community over the coming weeks.

This funding announcement is hard to credit as stimulative, since it is really just one pot of money replacing another.
Indeed - ever since Harper and Co. took power in early 2006, science funding has been drying up all across the board in Canada. No shit. Really.

Hell - even a creationist is currently our Minister of ... Science and Technology! What else did you expect?

Results? Here's one.

Here's another one.

And another one.

And another one.

Infrastructure for science research and institutions, you say? Puh-leeze! Allow me to reiterate as further enlightenment regarding such a shallow hypocritical gesture on the part of Harper and his anti-science Harpies:
But here's the problem: without basic research, there can be no new ideas, findings, discoveries to fuel applied sciences - whether technological or medical.

Also, investing in infrastructure alone does not help scientific research - because you spend more on reagents and salaries (grad -M.Sc./Ph.D.- students, research personnel) when scientific research is being done. No money for these means no research done. You end up with shiny new/renovated research buildings with no one to work there - not even scientists.

Because typically, if you are a scientist at a university (and thus a professor), no research grants means no graduate students (professor-scientists have an obligation to train grad students - it is part of their job description) and, in short order, likewise means that said scientist-professor is fired.

No basic research therefore means, in the end, a massive loss of working highly skilled folks, a lack of formation of the next generations of highly skilled folks, a loss of novel ideas/findings/discoveries to fuel applied sciences, and therefore a stagnation - if not degeneration - of Canada's position among other industrialized nations with regards to advanced scientific developments.

It is indeed as simple as 1+1=2 or, rather in the present case, 1-1=0.
In other words: what are brand, shiny new science centers good for without scientists being paid, research personnel being paid, and no expendables (biological tools, chemicals, etc.) being bought to actually do research because ... there is a growing attrition of science research funding?

Whether it is about climate change, biomedical sciences, physics, chemistry, astronomy, astrophysics, et al. - Harper and his Theocons are effectively killing scientific research in our country.

And guess what? They ain't done yet (emphasis added):
HARPER: (...) But we do have to cast our minds in terms of the economy, in terms of our budget, to tackling the deficit. That will obviously be the next phase to ensure that the extraordinary measures we’ve had to undertake don’t result in a permanent deficits. Right now we do have, we still have the lowest deficit in major industrialized countries; we have the lowest debt ratio but those assets have to be protecting through prudent management and our focus will start to be on exit strategies from the extraordinary fiscal measures we’ve undertaken.

(...) I won’t speculate on what will be in the budget but I will say — and you’ll hear me say this both nationally and internationally because as you know I’m chairing the G8 and co-chairing the G20 — that we’ll be talking about, both nationally and internationally, the necessity of continuing the stimulus measures in the short-term but beginning to think in the medium term about serious exit strategies from some of these economic measures. And also how to continue to advance key economic priorities in a period of constrained spending growth which we will need to see in the next few years. We still have to be able to advance key files that will continue to build the strength of the Canadian economy.

I’ve given my cabinet ministers — all of my cabinet ministers now — comprehensive mandate letters to re-examine their priorities in terms of this major direction. We’ll also review all government legislation. We’ll decide what we’re going to proceed with. We’ll decide what we may combine. We’ll decide what we’ll drop and, of course, we’ll be taking a look at what new measures we might be able to introduce going forward.
"Security" expenditures and generous (free) money to banking institutions aside (of course), wanna bet where there will be further budgetary cuts to reduce Teh Deficit?

I won't give the obvious answer. Instead, I'll let our Prime Poseur say the closing words (emphasis added):
So look: I’m convinced that the country, this country, will be a positive contributor to a realistic fight against climate change. But ultimately, this government, the national government, will make those decisions and it will make those decisions in a way that treats all parts of the country fairly.
How reassuring, n'est-ce pas?

Update 01/14/2010: here are some further notes added in proof (h/t):
'Muzzle' Placed On Federal Scientists;

Tories muzzle environmental scientist;

Minister stops book talk by Environment Canada scientist;

Feds keep lid on Atomic Energy Canada sale report;

Feds tried to order nuclear regulator to bend rules;

Nuclear safety watchdog head fired;

Ousted regulator just doing her job;

Clement slams CMA doctors for supporting drug-injection site;

Scientific data backs Insite;

Ottawa is cutting off public input into climate-change policy.
Here are yet more, including from past posts of yours truly:
Difficult times for research (via here);

Canada puts the squeeze on science (via here);

Researchers fear 'stagnation' under Tories (via here);

PM urged to restore science funds (via here);

Proposed bill could cut federal environmental assessments (via here);

Prentice confirms cuts planned to environment reviews (via here);

Lakes across Canada face being turned into mine dump sites;

Harper government slammed for burying negative (climate change policy) reports (via here).
And to these, I add the following (emphasis added):
Scientists blast Tories for 'mistreatment'

Prominent Canadian scientists are calling on the country's political leaders to end what they describe as the "politicization" and "mistreatment" of science.

Prominent Canadian scientists are calling on the country's political leaders to end what they describe as the "politicization" and "mistreatment" of science.

A letter, released Thursday and signed by 85 researchers, points to "blatant" examples where the Harper government has undermined, suppressed and distorted science for political reasons. The list includes the "muzzling" of Environment Canada scientists, the firing of the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and misrepresentation of studies done on Insite, a Vancouver-based facility that allows drug users to inject heroin under medical supervision.

"While science is not the only factor to be considered in political decision-making, ignoring and subverting science and scientific processes is unacceptable," the scientists write.

It is the second missive from the country's researchers this week. On Tuesday, 124 leading climate scientists criticized the Harper government and urged Canadians to vote "strategically" for the environment in the federal election.

Twenty of those scientists also signed Thursday's letter, including climate change researchers Richard Peltier, Christopher Furgal, Gordon McBean, John Stone and Andrew Weaver, who contributed to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Most of the other signatories of Thursday's letter are from the medical community and many of them have been at odds with the Harper government over the Vancouver injection site and the halting of a pilot project that gave prisoners a safe way to obtain tattoos.

"When faced with scientific evidence that was contrary to its ideological position, the Harper government has adopted the deceptive strategy of suggesting that there was scientific uncertainty when in fact, there was none," said Dr. Stephen Hwang of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and associate professor at the University of Toronto.

"These are the kind of tactics used by the tobacco lobby to delay policies to protect people from second-hand smoke."

"Ideology cannot control what is found through the due diligence of scientific process," says signatory Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, and president of the International AIDS Society.

"The Harper government's suppression and misrepresentation of research does a great disservice to Canadians in terms of our personal health and safety."
Doesn't it all make you think of another bunch of anti-science Christian fundamentalists? Yes indeed:
On top of all of this, the Bush administration established and enacted a policy of systematic censorship, re-writing, controlling, falsifying, fund cutting, hiding, lying, distorting and spinning the de facto science underlying the reality of Climate Change.
In fact, the Bush administration remains notorious for its general religious, primitive minded-driven, ignorant anti-science bias (one more example here, along with a telling testimony here).

Not coincidentally, just like Harper and his Harpies.

Why am I not surprised?

The prosecution rests.


  1. Scientists across the country echo the concern and say there are signs the exodus has begun.

    Really, so terrible!

  2. Very nice blog you have here. I like reading political blogs for some reason. Anyway, I have a site myself where people from around the world come and debate on popular issues. I feel as if this will give citizens some form of power, letting their voices be heard.

    I'd like to exchange links with you to help spread some traffic around between each other. If you'd like to, please leave a comment under our "Compadres" page when you've added our link and we'll return the favor.

    Until then, keep up the good work.


  3. Bush and the GOP did the same thing in the US for eight years. They closed EPA libraries, destroyed evidence collected over a decade, and empowered political appointees to edit government scientists' positions before they were published.

  4. Aye TC - you commented as I was finishing updating this post ... making the same point!

    ("Great minds ...", eh?) ;-)


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