funding cuts

Evangeline Lilly: It’s My Job To Stand Up For Canadian Scientists

evangeline lilly desmog canada, war on science

You may know the Canadian actress for her tough-girl roles in Lost or The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. But Evangeline Lilly has a battle – besides those with orcs and island smoke monsters – to fight: the battle for Canada’s scientists.

Lilly first heard about the defunding and muzzling of Canada’s federal scientists when she was reading DeSmog Canada just over a year ago. In a spate of funding cuts, the federal government eliminated some of Canada’s most prestigious scientific institutions, to the dismay of scientists and Canadians across the country. And since the Harper government has been in power, strict communications protocols have prevented scientists from speaking with the public about their research, limiting public awareness of taxpayer-funded science.

Lilly, who now lives in the U.S., said she keeps an eye out for stories about her homeland. And it always concerns her when she stumbles across something so disheartening.

I think it’s always a little bit scary and astounding when as a citizen of what you consider to be a free nation you discover one day for various reasons…that something awful has been going on under your nose and you didn’t know,” she told DeSmog Canada. “And that happens to me a little more often than I’m comfortable with nowadays.”

Lilly was dismayed to learn that “all over Canada right now scientists are having all their funding pulled,” she said, “especially scientists who are speaking about climate change.”

Government Cuts Leaving Forests Unwatched, Say Former Federal Scientists

federal cuts to science, forestry, desmog canada

This is Part 1 of the series “Science on the Chopping Block,” an in-depth look at federal cuts to science programs in Canada and what they mean for some of the country's most important researchers.

As cuts to science budgets and programs continue by the federal government, former scientists and academics who’ve lost their funding say the cuts have upended their careers, compromised knowledge about Canada’s environment and undercut development of the next generation of scientists.

Since the cuts began about five years ago, the federal government has either reduced funding or shut down more than 150 science-related programs and research centres and dismissed more than 2,000 scientists.

With the recently announced cuts to Environment Canada, by 2017 the department will be operating with close to 30 per cent fewer dollars than it had in 2012.  

As the impacts of the cuts grow, DeSmog Canada has reached out to former government and university scientists to hear their stories.

The Big Chill: "Scientists Can't Do the Job They Were Hired to Do"

The Big Chill report highlights the muzzling of scientists in Canada

A new survey of federal researchers and scientists reveals the startling degree to which they are limited in their ability to share their research findings with the public, including in cases of the public good, and for the first time gives a clear view of the degree to which scientists feel political interference determines how their work presented.

The study, called The Big Chill, reveals that 86 percent feel they would be reprimanded if they spoke out to the media in a situation where a decision by their department goes against what their research finds to be in the public interest.  A full 90 percent also said they are simply not allowed to freely speak to the media about their work.

In more concrete terms, 37 percent say that, within the last five years, they have been directly stopped from sharing their expertise in response to a question from the media or the public, and nearly one quarter have been forced by government officials to modify conclusions of their research for non-scientific reasons.

In the Soviet Era as in Canada: Science Suffers Under Authoritarian Rule

Stand up for science rally by Zack Embree

This is a guest post by Richard Kool, Associate Professor in the School of Environment and Sustainability at Royal Roads University in Victoria.

Back in the 1930s, the Soviet ruler Josef Stalin had a problem with genetics; as a result, geneticists were branded traitors (“Trotskyite agents of international fascism”), stripped of their positions at government laboratories and universities, sent to prison, or even executed. Soviet biological sciences were hindered for more than a generation. The story of the Soviet geneticists has a distant resonance to the story of what is happening to government-sponsored environmental science in Canada today.

David Schindler: Unmuzzle Government Scientists

muzzling of scientists, stand up for science event vancouver zack embree

This is a guest post by David Schindler, Killam Memorial Professor of Ecology emeritus at the University of Alberta. His 50-year scientific career has included 22 years as a federal government scientist. 

Most scientists are by nature introverts, happiest in the field or the laboratory, willing to talk about their work if asked but not inclined to be self-promoters. But on Monday, they demonstrated in public in several Canadian cities to protest the muzzling of government scientists and the de-emphasis of government environmental science.

That scientists would take the time and effort to demonstrate publicly should be deeply disturbing to Canadians. It indicates some dramatic and important changes in the purpose of government science departments.

In the 1960s and 1970s, government scientists were encouraged to speak publicly about their work. The resulting science-based policies were the envy of scientists and policy-makers around the world. Canada was the first country to regulate phosphorus in sewage and detergents, leading to the recovery of many lakes from algal blooms. Much of the science behind that decision was done by government scientists. It was welcomed by policy-makers eager to anchor their policies in solid science. Canada also led global efforts to decrease emissions of ozone-depleting chemicals, resulting in the Montreal Protocol.

'Stand Up for Science' Rallies to Gather Lab Nerds, Defenders of Democracy

death of evidence rally by richard webster

Last year, Canadian scientists and their supporters mourned the “Death of Evidence” in Ottawa. This year, though, they are being asked to stand up and be heard.

On Monday, “Stand Up for Science” rallies will be held in 14 cities across Canada, calling on the federal government to better support science done in the public interest.

Many of the problems that were impetus of the Death of Evidence rally last year are still there, and if anything, things have continued to get worse,” said Dr. Katie Gibbs, one of the organizers of both Monday's rally and last year's Death of Evidence protest, in an interview with DeSmog. “This rally, we're focusing more on making suggestions for how the government could start to restore public science.”

Those suggestions include: supporting the open communication of publicly funded science to the public; using the best available science and evidence to make the best decisions; and funding scientific research from basic science through to applied.

Harper’s Attack on Science: "No Science, No Evidence, No Truth, No Democracy"

This is a DeSmog Canada post originally commissioned for the Academic Matters: The Journal of Higher Education May edition “The War on Knowledge.”

Science—and the culture of evidence and inquiry it supports—has a long relationship with democracy. Widely available facts have long served as a check on political power. Attacks on science, and on the ability of scientists to communicate freely, are ultimately attacks on democratic governance.

It’s no secret the Harper government has a problem with science. In fact, Canada’s scientists are so frustrated with this government’s recent overhaul of scientific communications policies and cuts to research programs they took to the streets, marching on Parliament Hill last summer to decry the “Death of Evidence.” Their concerns— expressed on their protest banners—followed a precise logic: “no science, no evidence, no truth, no democracy.”

No Science”

Since 2006, the Harper government has made bold moves to control or prevent the free flow of scientific information across Canada, particularly when that information highlights the undesirable consequences of industrial development. The free flow of information is controlled in two ways: through the muzzling of scientists who might communicate scientific information, and through the elimination of research programs that might participate in the creation of scientific information or evidence.

Science in Canada

Prime Minister Stephen Harper wasn't kidding when he said Canada would be unrecognizable when he was done with it. 

Since its beginnings in 2006, the Harper administration has not only systematically transformed the legal framework of the country to benefit industrial interests, but has also undermined Canada's public reputation for excellence and openness in science around the world. Its actions have made international headlines.

The prestigious scientific journal, Nature, has criticized the government for its media communications protocol, describing it as a “cumbersome approval process that stalls or prevents meaningful contact with Canada's publicly funded scientists.” 

The international community has also taken notice of the country's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, designed to fight global warming at the international level, as well as Canada's obstructionist role in international climate talks in Rio, Cancun, and most recently Durban

This turn of the tide has environmental leader David Suzuki wondering if Canada is entering a new Dark Age. Internationally acclaimed climate scientist Andrew Weaver told the BBC that Canada's scientific information is “so tightly controlled that the public is left in the dark.”

When DeSmog asked Weaver what he thought of the steady erosion of Canada's environmental standing, he replied: “I would not use the word erosion…I would use the word elimination. Erosion implies slow and steady. This is fast. We're cutting down institutions that have been around for decades. And we're eliminating them overnight.”

Here is a partial list of recent funding cuts to Canadian scientific institutions and research programs:

Canadian Scientists Must Speak Out Despite Consequence, Says Andrew Weaver

If people don’t speak out there will never be any change,” says the University of Victoria’s award-winning climate scientist Andrew Weaver. 

And the need for change in Canada, says Weaver, has never been more pressing.

“We have a crisis in Canada. That crisis is in terms of the development of information and the need for science to inform decision-making. We have replaced that with an ideological approach to decision-making, the selective use of whatever can be found to justify [policy decisions], and the suppression of scientific voices and science itself in terms of informing the development of that policy.”
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