Stand Up for Science – Backgrounder

120710-OttawaDeathofEvidence-PSACM-05We are concerned about the state of science in Canada. Our concern stems from three recent trends:

  1. Significant and ongoing cuts to many important public scientific institutions that provide the data critical to keeping Canadians informed about their health and welfare.
  2. Evidence that the increased investment in applied research and technological innovation has come at the expense of investment in basic research, the core from which innovation grows.
  3. The increasing constraints on the ability of government scientists to communicate their research to the public.

Basic research and the open communication of science to the public are crucial elements of evidence-based decision making.

Samples of the evidence that supports each of these concerns are shown here.

1. Cuts to many important public scientific institutions that provide the data critical to keeping Canadians informed about their health and welfare.

Below is a list of some of the most substantial cuts. A running list by science historian John Dupuis offers additional examples: http://scienceblogs.com/confessions/2013/05/20/the- canadian-war-on-science-a-long-unexaggerated-devastating-chronological-indictment/

June 2010. The long-form mandatory census is scrapped and replaced with a “voluntary” version. StatsCan Chief Statistician Dr. Munir Sheikh resigns in light of the government’s assertion that the voluntary survey is an adequate substitute. The voluntary census is already damaging the reliability of statistics impacting all Canadians but mostly those living in small towns and rural areas. http://www.hilltimes.com/news/news/2013/08/26/voluntary-census-already-damaging-reliability- of-statistics-harm-is/35690

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2010/06/29/census-longform-scrapped.html

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/statistics-canada-chief-falls-on-sword-over- census/article1320915/

September 2011. Federal funding for Canada’s Ozone Network, the set of 17 stations distributed across the country designed to collect data on ozone levels, is cut, reducing our knowledge of this natural shield against cancer causing UV rays. http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110912/full/477257a.html

http://www.canada.com/technology/Senior+bureaucrat+cast+doubt+about+ozone+monitoring+c uts/5740883/story.html

May 2012. The Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), Canada’s premier research facility on aquatic ecology – and arguably the top such facility in the entire world – was de-funded. The ELA has made many health and policy contributions including identifying the harmful effects of acid rain and phosphorous-based fertilizers. After much public pressure, the federal government agreed to transfer the facility to a third party operator but they have yet to reach a final deal. The Ontario and Manitoba provincial governments stepped in to provide funding to keep the ELA open. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/story/2012/05/18/mb-research-facility-experimental- lakes-reaction-winnipeg.html

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2013/09/02/ela-ontario-funding.html

May 2012. Federal cuts result in closure of the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL), a facility designed to provide data on high-arctic climate and air quality. The facility was later given minimal funding to remain open. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/02/28/science-pearl-arctic-research.html

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2013/05/17/technology-pearl-high-arctic-research- station-funding.html

May 2012. The National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, an independent advisory panel that provided independent advice on environmental sustainability and economic development, was closed because the government didn’t like its advice. http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1178373–national-roundtable-on- environment-and-economy-eliminated-for-pushing-a-carbon-tax-conservative-government-says

May 2012. The national contaminants program of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is closed. This program was responsible for monitoring and assessing pollution in Canada’s marine environments, directly impacting knowledge of issues that could impact human and aquatic health. http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/05/20/killer-whale-expert-out-of-work-as-ottawa-cuts-ocean- pollution-monitoring-positions/

May 2012. Environment Canada’s research and monitoring group charged with working with and assessing industrial air pollution is disbanded. http://www2.canada.com/nanaimodailynews/news/story.html?id=0d0b03ba-17a4-43ce-89e5- cbb3dc038446

2. The transformation of government research from basic and/or regulatory driven science to applied research and technological innovation.

July 2013. Federal funding for science and technology has fallen by 12% over the last four years and 3.3% in the current fiscal year. The cuts have hit basic science particularly hard while funding for industry research has remained stable or even increased.

http://o.canada.com/2013/07/30/science-and-technology-sectors-face-funding-cuts-while- business-expects-boost/

May 2013. National Research Council (NRC) shifts focus from basic research to industry driven research. http://news.sciencemag.org/2013/05/canada-convert-nrc-toolbox- industry?ref=em#.UYrz9vfaC2g.email

http://business.financialpost.com/2013/05/14/how-should-science-research-funding-be- determined/?__lsa=d510-1ed6

May 2012. Federal funding cuts result in a moratorium on the Major Research Support Program of the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada. The program is the major source of funding for major environmental research field facilities across the country; as a result, many important science programs that explore environmental issues that can affect human health will be unable to continue. http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/Professors-Professeurs/RTII-OIRI/MRS-ARM_eng.asp

http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/05/19/four_scientists_tally_the_cost_of_scien ce_funding_cuts.html

March 2011. NSERC reduces funding for basic research. http://nghoussoub.com/2011/03/08/who-is-standing-up-for-canadas-basic-research/

July 2011. Funding for NSERC Discovery Grants, the backbone of academic science and the main component of graduate student support, was reduced and changes were made to how the grants are allocated. This has directly impacted the ability of academics to train the next generation of scientists and high tech workers that Canada needs for the future. http://nghoussoub.com/2011/07/28/the-decline-in-discovery-grants-budgets-also-begs-for-an- explanation/

http://www.cautbulletin.ca/en_article.asp?articleid=3385

Increasing constraints on the ability of government scientists to communicate directly with the public.

February 2013: DFO proposed unprecedented strict new confidentiality rules on a Canada-U.S. Arctic Science project. The U.S. scientist involved refused to sign saying that the new rules went against academic freedom and could result in muzzling. http://o.canada.com/2013/02/13/feds-new-confidentiality-rules-on-arctic-project-called-chilling/

April 2013: The Information Commissioner begins investigating whether government policies on science-communication are legal under the Access to Information Act after a request was submitted by Democracy Watch and the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre. http://www.elc.uvic.ca/press/documents/2012-03-04-Democracy-Watch_OIPLtr…

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2013/04/01/technology-scientist-muzzling-information- commissioner.html

February 2013: New rules came into effect making it more difficult for DFO scientists to collaborate with non-government scientists while giving new powers to the department managers to stop taxpayer-funded research from being published, even when it has already been peer-reviewed and accepted by a scientific journal, for potentially political reasons.

http://www.ipolitics.ca/2013/02/07/new-policy-gives-government-power-to-…

January 2013: The Royal Society of Canada calls for government scientists to be unshackled. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/unshackle-government-scientist…

April 2012: Scientists attending the Polar Year conference in Montreal were shadowed by media relations officers instead if being allowed to speak freely to the media as in the past. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2012/04/24/scientists-muzzl…

March 2012: Ottawa Citizen reporter Tom Spears submitted a Freedom of Information request to find out why he didn’t receive an answer to his simple questions about a joint National Research Council and NASA study on snowfall patterns, questions that the NASA scientists were able to answer freely. http://www.ottawacitizen.com/technology/Canadian+bureaucracy+joint+study… http://www.scribd.com/doc/89708162/A-simple-question-a-blizzard-of-burea…

March 2012: The prestigious international science journal Nature published an editorial criticizing Canada’s muzzling of scientists. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v483/n7387/full/483006a.html

February 2012: Many organizations representing scientists and science journalists signed a letter to Prime Minister Harper asking that government scientists be unmuzzled. http://www.ipolitics.ca/2012/02/16/prime-minister-please-stop-muzzling-s…

Fall 2011: Environment Canada environmental scientist David Tarasick was prevented from speaking publicly about his research on the ozone layer that was published in the journal Nature; normally scientists who are published in this respected journal are encouraged to speak to the media.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2012/04/24/scientists-muzzl…

January 2011: Kristi Miller, a scientist at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had her work on salmon published in the prestigious journal Science but was not allowed to discuss her research publicly. Documents released to Canwest News (now Postmedia News) under the Access To Information Act in July 2011 showed the Privy Council Office had intervened to prevent from Miller from discussing her work with the media when the study had been published.

http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Ottawa+silences+scientist+over+We…

April 2010: Documents released to Canwest News (now Postmedia News) under the Access To Information Act in September 2010 showed that Scott Dallimore, a geoscientist at Natural Resources Canada was prevented from doing media interviews about his research on a 13,000-year-old flood published in Nature in April 2010. http://blogs.nature.com/news/2010/09/canadian_government_muzzling_s.html

November 2007: Environment Canada implemented new guidelines stating that the department would speak with one voice, and that voice would come from the communications people. These new rules meant that all media requests to speak to scientists had to go through the media relations people. http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=55e49c18-cb8d-45d…

To access the pdf version of this paper, please click here

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One response to “Stand Up for Science – Backgrounder

  1. Pingback: Judge advises government on how to criminalize dissent | Tony Seed's Weblog

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