Michael Riordon

the view from where I live


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Good news: The ELA is saved!

In April 2012, the government of Canada announced that it would close the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) in northwest Ontario.  Since 1968 the world-renowned research station has hosted a unique whole-ecosystem approach to studying how lake ecosystems and fish respond to human and natural disturbances.  The resulting data, unattainable anywhere else, is essential for objective, evidence-based decision-making.

Save ELAWithin hours of the closure announcement, marine biology PhD candidate Diane Orihel launched an international campaign to save the ELA.

Two years later, victory!  Today the grassroots Canadian organization Evidence for Democracy announced that a final agreement has just been reached to transfer operation of the ELA to the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), based in Manitoba.  It will be backed by the governments of Ontario and Manitoba, which appear to be less hostile to evidence-based decisions and policies.

For more on the vital connections between science, evidence and democracy, Evidence for Democracy offers two public events:

5 pm, Thursday April 3, Dr. Munir Sheikh, former Chief Statistician of Canada, on why public policy needs to be informed by evidence.  The event will be live streamed. Details here.

Governing in the Dark, a recent public talk by Canadian biologist Scott Findlay can be seen or read online, here.

In dark times, signs of hope.

Follow the Save ELA story in Bold Scientists: dispatches from the battle for honest science, coming from Between the Lines, autumn 2014.


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The Nazis burned books. Under the current regime in Canada…

…they are dumped in landfill.

Save science librariesCanada’s Science Library Closures Mirror Bush’s Playbook.   Details here.   More detail in The Tyee’s follow-up story, here.

This is the next step in an escalating right-wing war on honest science and public knowledge, both of which the authorities fear and despise.

Their target, says Canadian paleolimnologist John Smol, is “pesky data” that challenges the government’s corporate agenda.  They’ve already gutted a long hit list of vital research programs in Canada, including the world famous Experimental Lakes Area research facility.

John Smol: “The ELA has been a jewel in Canada’s crown – go to any water conference in the world, you just have to say ELA and everyone knows what you’re talking about.  And it costs nothing to maintain.  $2 million, what’s that, a penny per Canadian, so we don’t get toxic algae blooms, acid rain?  It’s like claiming to save medical costs by not letting people have tests and checkups, the long-term data you need to maintain health. The ELA is exactly the kind of thing responsible government should be doing.  So why are they closing the ELA?  Because it provided pesky data, that’s why.”

(Follow this story in Pesky Data: unspun science for dangerous times.  Coming in 2014 from Between the Lines.)

Scientists and other citizens who value public knowledge are resisting the destruction.  At a public protest in Ottawa, thousands of scientists carried banners declaring:  No Science, No Evidence; No Truth, No Democracy.  The stakes are that high.

I have no illusions about the real impact of petitions.  But at least the current leaders need to know that some of us are opposed.  Here is an opportunity to say so.

Evidence for Democracy is a Canadian organization of scientists and citizens “who care passionately about the role that evidence needs to play in decision-making.”  Recently they sent out this urgent appeal:

Irreplaceable scientific information is disappearing due to the recent closure of seven libraries run by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and a number of Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada libraries.

Scientists are saying that many of the books, reports and data at these libraries have already been discarded or destroyed without being properly digitized.

This priceless information is essential for the protection and security of Canada’s waterways.  In particular, historical data and information provides the only baseline by which changes in the state of Canada’s aquatic ecosystems and fisheries resources can be evaluated.  Without such trend data, assessing the impacts of policy and management decisions is impossible.

Please send a message to the federal party leaders and your member of parliament calling on them to stop closing our science libraries, and to ensure that the remaining information from the closed libraries is made available in a timely fashion.

Please add your voice and help stop this erosion of vital public knowledge.

Thank you,
Katie Gibbs (conservation biologist), Executive Director, Evidence for Democracy

P.S. The CBC’s Fifth Estate episode, Silence of the Labs, is now available online. You can watch it here.


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The war on science

“History tells us that the suppression of knowledge is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes.”  Save ELA

–  from an eloquent open letter to Yukon Member of Parliament Ryan Leef from Linda Leon, an artist, writer and stage designer living in Whitehorse.

She calls out the wrecking crew in Ottawa on its needless, heedless destruction of the internationally respected Experimental Lakes Area, and other vital environmental research programs.

A compelling argument for resistance.  At the stake for the ruling elites: power and profit.  At stake for the rest of us: life.


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Experimental Lakes Area: science, an endangered species?

ELA, phosporusSince 1968, the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) has generated unique, whole-ecosystem science to protect freshwater in Canada and other countries.

In May 2012 the government of Canada announced that the world-renowned research station will be closed.  Several other federal water protection initiatives have also been cancelled.

Within hours, marine biologist Diane Orihel launched the coalition to save ELA , and to defend scientific integrity in Canada.  (Recently she took up her PhD studies again, but the Coalition continues to fight for safe water and honest science.)

Diane Orihel talked with me between events on the road.  While some scientists have openly protested the government’s assault, many remain silent.   Why?

“Fear.  The amount of fear I’ve encountered is incredible.  Government scientists are afraid that they’ll lose their jobs if they speak out.  University professors are afraid to speak out because they could get blacklisted by the government and not get their grants renewed.  Environmental NGOs with charitable status are afraid they’ll lose it if they speak out too much.  Some scientists and ENGOs have actually told me they’re under investigation by the government due to public stands they’ve taken.   Even students are afraid, I’ve been astounded by how many are frightened to participate in the campaign, even to sign a petition, because it might affect their ability to get a job in the future.

“Science can’t function, our democracy can’t function under this kind of fear.  It’s clear that the vast majority of Canadians don’t support the agenda of this government.  That’s why I’m trying to inspire people to stand up, to speak out for what they believe.  It’s the only way we can take back our country, and return it to where it should be going.”

Read/see more:

Research on oil-sands impact cost centre its funding, scientists say.  The Globe and Mail, June 2012.

New video from the Coalition to Save ELA: Stop the war on science.

Rick Mercer’s Rant, on government threats to the ELA, science and freshwater.