11/04/2012 10:59 EST | Updated 02/27/2013 01:00 EST

Harper Doesn't Care About Science, Just Profits


Think about your own decision-making process. How do you make a decision? I don't mean a decision like choosing between Home Depot or Rona, but an important decision like renting a house or buying into a mortgage. Do you take in all the evidence, examine the market, talk to your realtor, your family and your loved ones and then make a decision or do you just jump right in and willfully ignore any and all evidence that doesn't support a predetermined conclusion?

The way the Conservative government of Stephen Harper operates these days reminds me of the latter. Decisions are being made these days with few nods to actual evidence-based thinking.

This should not be a surprise to those who have paid attention of course, as the government has been consistently cutting funding to scientific research and development and shifting its focus instead to "industry based," private sector research and development. Essentially, the government is investing in outcomes instead of investing in possibilities.

To put it another way, when you can control and manipulate the research, you control and manipulate the outcomes. In cancelling, shutting down and defunding research though, the government's short sighted money saving tactics are guaranteed to result in long term harm; not only to our fundamental understanding of our environment but also our place in it.

Harper and his cabinet could do well to remember how science and scientists work. They start with a set of ideas and hypotheses and work to develop conclusions from those hypotheses without predetermined assumptions. When that science results in criticism it isn't politically motivated, it's because that's where the evidence has led them. Unlike the Harper government which is in constant and perpetual campaign mode, scientists aren't the bogymen or bogeywomen out to get them. They operate to provide detail, evidence and analysis of real life situations so that we can make informed and rational decisions. Many times however, this works out to be politically inconvenient for the ruling government. Enter that same government to muzzle and shuffle away the critics.

Nothing to see here!

Ergo, when science flies in the face of ideology, ideology wins out. This has happened numerous times with this government and the evidence is mounting; we have the very recent shut down of the Experimental Lakes Area, the monitoring and controlling of utterances from Canadian scientists (and outright muzzling of them), elimination of Arctic research after promoting Arctic sovereignty as a cornerstone in several elections, 700 jobs cut from Environment Canada, cancelling the Long Form Census and recent cuts to the National Research Council, to name a few.

For an excellent read on the numerous cuts I highly recommend the article feed by Maclean's columnist Aaron Wherry called "Quiet Cuts."

This is no longer a country run by reason and science but by partisanship and a need to control information. This approach, the Harper approach, is a parallel one that has been used before by our neighbours to the south during the government of George W. Bush and that experience provides an interesting prologue to what we currently face.

The eight-year government of Bush Jr. had a systematic policy of ignoring science and evidence in favor of censorship and manipulation (sound familiar?). Reports on charter schools, terrorism, mass layoffs in the manufacturing sector, the Bureau of Labour Statistics and of course climate change reports, were all pushed aside, cut back or completely eliminated because they were embarrassing.

The Harper government in its years since 2006 has followed a similar path in its relation to evidence, science and research. Don't forget either that much of the funds, especially at the National Research Council, have been shifted in favour of an industry focus.

Take as an example Jim Flaherty's 2012 Budget that earmarked a onetime fund of $67-million dollars for "business-driven, industry-relevant, applied research." In other words, the focus isn't on science, but on profit.


Death Of Evidence Rally

In the same budget the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) received zero dollars of funding. These followed previous leftovers like Genome Canada, which in 2009 had been left out of the budget for the first time ever, and the resulting cuts to research saw a massive exodus from Canada of scientists and researchers, including top minds in Canadian AIDS research.

To top it all off, the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy was eliminated and, as previously mentioned, the Experimental Lakes Area (a savings of $2 million a year) is being closed. Rick Mercer had a recent rant on this very issue that should wake everyone up to how serious (and silly in terms of savings versus value lost) eliminating this program is.

Science and research tells us about the world that surrounds us. Everything we do from driving cars, using Blackberries, using medicine and operating complex machinery happens because of scientific discovery. It's the findings of science that enable us to develop and create. Continue to eliminate the free hand of scientific discovery and we will edge closer to what Andrew Nikiforuk calls an "Arab winter."

In short, we will become a shadow of our former self, a petro-state whose mere existence is meant only to suck out oil from the ground and ship it elsewhere. Creativity, science, free thinking and curiosity need not apply.