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How the Harper Government Committed a Knowledge Massacre

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Scientists are calling it "libricide." Seven of the nine world-famous Department of Fisheries and Oceans [DFO] libraries were closed by autumn 2013, ostensibly to digitize the materials and reduce costs. But sources told the independent Tyee in December that a fraction of the 600,000-volume collection had been digitized. And, a secret federal document notes that a paltry $443,000 a year will be saved. The massacre was done quickly, with no record keeping and no attempt to preserve the material in universities. Scientists said precious collections were consigned to dumpsters, were burned or went to landfills.

Probably the most famous facility to get the axe is the library of the venerable St. Andrews Biological Station in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, which environmental scientist Rachel Carson used extensively to research her seminal book on toxins, Silent Spring. The government just spent millions modernizing the facility.

Also closed were the Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John's, Newfoundland, both world-class collections. Hundreds of years of carefully compiled research into aquatic systems, fish stocks and fisheries from the 1800s and early 1900s went into the bin or up in smoke.

Irreplaceable documents like the 50 volumes produced by the H.M.S. Challenger expedition of the late 1800s that discovered thousands of new sea creatures, are now moldering in landfills.

Renowned Dalhousie University biologist Jeff Hutchings calls the closures "an assault on civil society."

"It is always unnerving from a research and scientist perspective to watch a government undermine basic research. Losing libraries is not a neutral act," Hutchings says. He blames political convictions for the knowledge massacre.

"It must be about ideology. Nothing else fits," said Hutchings. "What that ideology is, is not clear. Does it reflect that part of the Harper government that doesn't think government should be involved in the very things that affect our lives? Or is it that the role of government is not to collect books or fund science?" Hutchings said the closures fit into a larger pattern of "fear and insecurity" within the Harper government, "about how to deal with science and knowledge."

Many scientists have compared the war on environmental science to the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe. Hutchings muses, "you look at the rise of certain political parties in the 1930s and have to ask how could that happen and how did they adopt such extreme ideologies so quickly, and how could that happen in a democracy today?"

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