Michael Riordon

the view from where I live


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The future of science in Canada: your input is requested

The federal government is asking Canadians to share our thoughts on how to shape the future of science policy in this country. Death of Evidence

Photo: pencanada.ca

Frankly, given the current regime’s dismal record on public science, I doubt they want to know what we think unless it agrees with their corporate agenda, but why not at least give it a try?  After all, it’s still a free country.  In which, by the way, silence is taken for consent.

The stakes are enormous, really a matter of life and death.  Think of the tar-sands, climate chaos, fracking, GMOs….

Evidence for Democracy offers thoughtful recommendations on how to restore public-interest science and evidence-based policy development in Canada.  They request our input:

This is a chance to add your voice to the new science and technology strategy.

The existing strategy only focuses on science and innovation related to business. It completely ignores all the other science that is necessary for the long-term well-being and prosperity of Canadians.  Federal government science capacity is crucial for the support of evidence-informed public policy.

The current strategy is also entirely silent about federal support for basic research.  Amazingly, supporting basic research is not identified as a priority for Canadian science.  Yet such research lies at the heart of all innovation.  No basic research, no innovation: it’s that simple.

We’ve written a draft response, and created a tool on our website for you to submit a response in seconds.

Comments must be submitted by February 7th!  Please add your voice today, and pass this message on.


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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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Science is objective: true or false?

After teaching plant agriculture for 32 years at Guelph University, Associate Professor Ann Clark ‘retired’ in 2010 to a farm in eastern Ontario.  It would be her refuge and her lab.

Clark designed the farm to be “post-oil.”  Here she can try out experiments for which research Monsanto Business Incubatorfunding always eluded her.  Since neither of her teaching specialties, grasses and organic agriculture, tends to generate proprietary profits, the corporate funders that increasingly dominate research funding were not interested.

From the late 1990s on, Ann Clark became an eloquent critic of the impacts that GMOs (genetically modified organisms) can have on livestock, farm survival and the environment.  Unsought by her and unpaid, this new public role did not foster Clark’s career.  “Academic suicide, some of my colleagues called it,” she says.  “By their standards I’m not a very good scientist.”

By what standards can they judge as ‘not good’ a scientist who has inspired countless students, farmers and citizens with her knowledge and integrity?  “The problem is,” she replied, “I can’t accept one of the central tenets of their dogma: that science is objective.  When I got my PhD I fully believed that it is.  But then one of my PhD examiners backed me into a corner where I had to acknowledge that personal values will inevitably determine what questions you ask as a scientist, and the questions you ask will inevitably pre-determine the range of answers you’ll get.”

This view is powerfully confirmed by the ongoing battle over a study by French scientist Gilles-Eric Séralini & his co-researchers, on impacts of Monsanto’s genetically modified maize and its associated herbicide Roundup.

Hours after the study was published in 2012, a vicious, well-orchestrated assault erupted against Séralini.  “This is so disturbing,” says Ann Clark.  “Very often industry research doesn’t ask the right questions.  He  asked some of the right questions, and for that he’s under attack.”

In response, Clark joined with eight other scientists to publish an open letter supporting Séralini, and to “raise the profile of fundamental challenges faced by science in a world increasingly dominated by corporate influence.”  Signed by an impressive roster of scientists in many countries, the October 2012 letter cites other researchers who’ve been attacked for studies questioning GMOs and Monsanto.

Read more:

Ann Clark’s vision of post-carbon farming and food production is here:  The future is organic: But it’s more than organic!

Corporate Push for GMO Food Puts Independent Science in Jeopardy.  Vandana Shiva, The Asian Age, December 2012.

Growing Maize Disaster (in Mexico).  ETC Group, December 2012.

FDA [Food and Drug Administration, US] Quietly Pushes Through Genetically Modified Salmon.  Anthony Gucciardi, Natural Society, December 2012.