Friday, July 20, 2012

A Brit Rallies Support for Canadian Science

Harper's war on science is the subject of an op-ed piece in today's Guardian calling for international support for Canadian scientists and warning Harper's funding cuts could have global impacts.

[Protesting Canadian scientists] were sticking up for the right to ask difficult questions and provide uncomfortable knowledge, in particular when it comes to the Arctic. They were sticking up for the things they research as well as the right to keep doing their research. They were sticking up for the planet.

...In May, many were shocked to hear the Canadian government had cancelled its funding for the Experimental Lakes Area, a laboratory complex over 58 remote lakes in north-west Ontario that has been running since the 1960s. As one scientist told Nature magazine, it's like turning off the world's best telescope.

...Canada's natural resources minister might complain about foreign campaigners and "jet-setting celebrities" trying to hijack their country with their opposition to local environmental policy, but there are reasons why there was international outcry about the Experimental Lakes Area. Scientists from all over the world studied there for generations: it's where the first evidence for acid rain came from. There are also reasons Canada won Fossil of the Year at the Durban talks last December, why the Daily Mail mentions Canadian people appealing to the Queen over Alberta oil sands and why, despite having passed an austerity budget in April, the Canadian government still found money to invest in Arctic drones. We can't pretend Canadian science is simply a Canadian matter any more than we can pretend we can separate the natural world from our political decisions.

...It's easy to see scientists as dogmatic, passing on rarefied expertise from on high. Some are. But at its best, scientific evidence can play a liberating role in political discourse and is worth standing up for. Yesterday's message of "No science, no truth, no evidence, no democracy" is an idealistic view of science in society, but if it really is said in thoughtful co-operation with the public at large, it's a beautiful thing to behold.

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