Stephen Harper's Science

July 17, 2012

Brit Trogen

Stephen Harper is facing off with Canadian science. 


Stephen Harper: loves kittens. Hates science.


Depending on who you ask, this could be "the death of evidence," or simply a question of fiscal responsibility. One thing is clear: it is a battle of ideology


This is only the latest round of fire in a long standing tension between Harper and scientists. In 2008 he declined to renew the position of national science advisor. In 2010 he came under fire for "muzzling" Canada's environmental researchers. Now, through changes to the federal budget and the C-38 omnibus bill, many scientists are having the plug pulled on decades of work.


Here's a list of the few of the major projects getting the axe. The lowlights: Nunavut's PEARL research station, Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, NSERC, and countless others.


How will I finish my thesis on zooplankton ecosystems???


The research areas being cut are hugely important and successful enterprises, providing ground-breaking research on issues ranging from the environment and ecology to sustainability. To put these cuts in perspective, ELA (a decades-long study into lake ecosystems) costs about $2 million dollars a year — about a nickel per Canadian per year.


But Harper is not removing support from all science; he's increasing budgets in areas including health research, forestry and other areas of applied research. Essentially, the Harper government is making an executive decision: Canadian science is going to start making money. 


This is the fundamental difference between Harper's ideology and a science-based view. He doesn't care about science in the way most of us understand it, as an enterprise that should help us understand and improve our world. Applied science is an enormously important area of research, and one that should receive federal funding. There's nothing wrong with science making a profit. But in Harper's view, profit is the only thing that matters. This is abundantly evident in his zeal to exploit the oilsands and build pipelines, regardless of the long-term environmental consequences. 


Harper is also making a huge mistake in his quest for commercially-viable science. The history of science is riddled with examples of advances in basic science resulting, almost by fluke, in enormous profit (penicillin and the internet, to name two.) But any innovations that do arise from these funding changes (which may be significant) will have been gained at the price of firm grounding in other equallly important areas. 


And that is a price which, for Canadian science, is far too high.



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