Saturday, February 02, 2008

War On Science Continues

The Conservatives latest salvo in their co-ordinated effort to undermine scientific discourse comes with contradictions. Earlier this week, we learned that the government would now censor scientific findings, now we find out the National Science Advisor was pushed out, not voluntarily as Jim Prentice first offered. This is what Minister Prentice's office offered on Wednesday, in response to criticism of eliminating the Advisor role:
But Prentice's office suggested its critics should check the facts, noting that the government's decision was in response to a letter sent by Carty in October when he announced his retirement.

According to Carty, the facts suggest he actually retired, when he realized his position would be eliminated:
Dr. Carty told The Globe and Mail yesterday he decided to retire from the public service after being told his nearly four-year-old position would be phased out.


“I was particularly disappointed about the office disappearing as my hopes had been that I would, as a national science adviser, help make this a permanent institution in the government of Canada at the centre of government as it is in a number of countries,” he said yesterday.

Dr. Carty said he didn't want to wade into partisan politics, but did offer this opinion of the Conservative government: “It does on the surface seem to suggest they want less advice, not more.”

The federal union representing 55,000 scientists, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, issued a statement yesterday describing Ottawa's recent decision to terminate the position as “deeply disturbing.”

The rising concern over the decision comes as several science experts warn that the Conservative government's new approach to science is too focused on making money, leaving questions of ethics and the public good behind in the rush to discover new products.

When this government first took office, the record shows an almost immediate distancing from environmental groups, and a quick slash and burn of many programs. These quick reactions suggested a pre-conceived posture, rather than a thoughtful review of direction. At every turn, with numerous examples, there is an effort by this government to stifle scientific opinion, shut people out of the process and gut programs which were deemed effective(according to the AG).

Given the body of evidence, propaganda aside, it is now clear- our government is actively engaged in a war on independent scientific inquiry. It's not hype, or fear mongering, these people really are scary.


Anonymous said...

Yes. But a word of advice to the Liberals - or NDP - or Bloc.

It's time to start putting together a strategy to explain specifically why the moves are scary, otherwise many people will simply dismiss the notion.

* Science muzzled into subservience to politics
* Judicial system stripped of its independence
* Continual campaigning trumping sound government
* Attacking / stripping independent commissions
* Draining taxes from system to cripple government

On the latter, republicans to the south have for years taken a strategy of crippling the government coffers to "choke" the system so that good government structures and systems fail. Then they use that failure to cut back even further, claiming "the bureaucracy doesn't work" (except for the military, that is). I rarely see that discussed here as Canada has operated in surplus recently. But its going to be a bigger theme going forward, mark my words. From having no funds to support existing government agencies - despite having already cut many including environmental staff - to planting fears that Liberals can't be trusted with tax dollars (despite the fact that they erased the debt, improved government, and grew the economy while in power).

Incrementalism is the word they use to describe their efforts, if I remember correctly. And it is scary.

They have their lines and packaging down-pat. The opposition parties had better learn to respond with a bit more finesse and savvy or the message will never get out.

Steve V said...


I agree, you can't just throw out "scary" without specifics, and using Bushisms won't do. The problem will be getting people to pay attention beyond the soundbites, fighting against retail politics.

wilson said...

More scary facts:

'...Industry Minister Jim Prentice explained that much of Dr. Carty's advisory work will be taken up by a new,
17-member Science and Technology Council,
chaired by Howard Alper, a chemist and former president of the Royal Society of Canada.

The panel includes a mix of scientists, federal deputy ministers, business leaders and university presidents. Mr. Prentice said the council will be the main source of independent advice to the government.

The council will provide a yearly report card on whether federal spending is turning “ideas into innovations,” as called for in Industry's science and technology strategy...'

the Govt creates a 17 member panel of 'experts' to advise them, making the one man advisory obsolete, thusly eliminated.

Anonymous said...

I agree. And it is a challenge. But more than anything I think they need to learn to speak the language often and repeatedly. That's how the cons and repubs do it, and it does work. And they don't even have facts to support their statements in many cases!

Just be willing to say:

"Destroying the independence of the judiciary is bad for society."

"Muzzling scientific discussion destroys our ability to lead innovation and address the challenges that face our nation."

"Attacking the independence of our institutions puts people at risk."

"Crippling governmental agencies hurts families."

"Harper knows how to campaign but has proven time and again that he cannot govern"

I'd encourage a few opposition leaders (and their spokespeople and leading MPs) to practice wrapping their vocal chords around those phrases and others like them.

Yes, be prepared to provide the details. But you have to start by being willing to state the bottom line. I have yet to see that in any concerted and consistent fashion, even though Dion has said he thinks the next election will be about the direction of the country.

Steve V said...


The art of repetition :)



Anonymous said...

Wilson, I actually agree with you that if the committee is everything it's now being presented as actually happens - and not a loaded 9-8 vote for whatever Harper happens to want on any given topic - it sounds like a good idea.

But it sounds a bit more like after-the-event posturing in how it all came out. Especially just days after the filtering of scientific discussion through the "central politburo" came out.

Why didn't they just announce the intention as a complete package, instead of the whole phasing out behind the scenes and dissing the current advisor approach?

I suppose months down the road we might get the full picture . . . that seems to be the emerging pattern.

wilson said...

'...Why didn't they just announce the intention as a complete package, instead of the whole phasing out behind the scenes and dissing the current advisor approach?...'

It was announced on Oct 18, 2007.
Dr Alper's appointment as Chair was announced on June 15, 2007.

But the announcement could not be twisted into a scandal, so msm ignored it.

reported here:



also reported here:

and here:

and here:


wilson said...

Carty knew his job in a single advisory position would be phased out, as reported on June 15, 2007.

'...The Strategy committed the government to consolidate external advisory bodies and launch the new Science, Technology and Innovation Council...'

Steve V said...


So Prentice's office "misspoke" when they said their response was in lieu of Carty's resignation?

BTW, anyone want to lay odds that one of the "experts" appointed will be an oil exec?? I'll give you 5/1 ;)

Anonymous said...

Wilson, you're grasping at straws here. Having a panel aimed at technology and competitiveness is not the same as having a science advisor. Carty is a well-respected scientist. I'm surprised to hear him say anything critical, but Harper does have a way of polarizing things. Harper sidelined the position of science advisor shortly after assuming office.

Wake up -- look at the muzzling of government scientists, the firing of the nuclear watchdog, sitting on scientific reports which show the urgency of climate change, and now this.

Harper recently gave a speech where he talked about people's perception of crime being what is important (since the data does not support Harper's claim that crime has increased). It all fits a consistent picture, a Prime Minister who likely pays more attention to what his psychic says than what his science advisor says.

Joseph, I agree. The Liberals and other parties need to find a way to convey what has changed in a way which is effective.

wilson said...

17 members bio can be found here:

Very confusing, as reported, isn't it!
From your posted article:

****Carty announced plans to retire March 31, 2007.

Howard Alper appointed head of a proposed new science council, June 2007.

Members to the new science council announced Oct 18,2007.

Next day, Oct 19,2007 Carty sends letter to Prentice, confirming that he had already discussed his position with the deputy minister.
Media report

No where is Carty "quoted" that he quit because of the phase out of the job.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Carty told The Globe and Mail yesterday he decided to retire from the public service after being told his nearly four-year-old position would be phased out.

and Nature is reporting exactly the same thing. There is no ambiquity in this statement. As I said, I'm surprised Carty is speaking out. He likely planned to go quietly at first, but eventually may have had too many concerns with how things are going to stay quiet.

Harper is a perfect polarizer. Even his fundraising friend, Burns, couldn't keep quiet when Harper decided to try to make political gain by misrepresenting the reasons for him leaving AECL. Harper has shown himself to be a man lacking principles in how he treats people and the misinformation he spreads.