June 2015

The Anti-scientific Revolution in Canada

I wanted to draw your attention to the recent radio series on Canadian CBC Radio with Paul Kennedy – The Ideas. The Ideas in my view is one of the best radio shows out there. I love how they chose topics and how they explore them always making you to want more. This special 3-part series talks about what is happening to science in Canada. It touched me as I just came back from China where the government is investing a lot in science and science education; last month I happened to listen to the talk on the topic by a French Nobel Laureate Serge Haroche speaking about the same thing – funding “blue sky research”. I can only add funding science education to it. This just doesn’t make sense to me that we are relying to our natural resources without making a significant investment into our science education. We all (or many of us) keep complaining that science (and science education for that matter) are under attack in Canada – but what do we do about it?

I think Paul Kennedy is doing it by raising the problem openly in the media. But what is our role at universities and research institutions in Canada? Are we going to see how our country’s scientific and science education achievements are going to slip and not do anything about it? I think recent PISA results speak for themselves… I also think it is important to take a look at how scientifically educated Members of Parliament we have in Canada. As one of leading UBC scientists Prof. Bill Unruh recently told me (I am paraphrasing) –  we have to realize that having scientists in our government is a necessity. Bill mentioned that in the past we did have some scientific representation amongst our MPs but not any more… This is a problem!

Let me quote here how Paul Kennedy and his team described it and you decide if you want to listen. I have made my choice.

Wednesday June 03, 2015

Science Under Siege, Part 1

(Robert Short/CBC)


Are we living through an Anti-Scientific Revolution? Scientists around the world are increasingly restricted in what they can research, publish and say — constrained by belief and ideology from all sides.  Historically, science has always had a thorny relationship with institutions of power. But what happens to societies which turn their backs on curiosity-driven research? And how can science lift the siege?  CBC Radio producer Mary Lynk looks for some answers in this three-part series.
Science Under Siege, Part 1:  Dangers of Ignorance – airs Wednesday, June 3
Explores the historical tension between science and political power and the sometimes fraught relationship between the two over the centuries. But what happens when science gets sidelined? What happens to societies which turn their backs on curiosity-driven research?

Science Under Siege, Part 2: The Great Divide – airs Thursday, June 4
Explores the state of science in the modern world, and the expanding — and dangerous — gulf between scientists and the rest of society.  Many policy makers, politicians and members of the public are giving belief and ideology the same standing as scientific evidence. Are we now seeing an Anti-Scientific revolution?  A look at how evidence-based decision making has been sidelined.

Science Under Siege, Part 3: Fighting Back – airs Friday, June 5
Focuses on the culture war being waged on science, and possible solutions for reintegrating science and society. The attack on science is coming from all sides, both the left and right of the political spectrum. How can the principle of direct observation of the world, free of any influence from corporate or any other influence, reassert itself? The final episode of this series looks at how science can withstand the attack against it and overcome ideology and belief.

Ed Holder, The Minister of State ( Science and Technology) was unavailable for an interview for this documentary series (the bold font is mine – MMB). A statement from the ministry was given instead – “highlighting some of the federal government’s programs and policies on communicating federal science and our support for scientific research.”

“Our Government has made record investments in science, technology and innovation. In fact, Canada is ranked number one in the G-7 in terms of our support for research and development at our colleges, universities and other research institutes. Last year, our government made a significant commitment to world leading Canadian discovery and applied research through the creation of the legacy $1.5 billion Canada First Research Excellence Fund- the primary request of Canada’s universities last year. This year’s budget continues our strong commitment to Canadian universities, colleges and research institutes by making the single largest investment in research infrastructure, laboratories and equipment in Canadian history through the Canada Foundation for Innovation. At the same time, our government is looking to continue to build bridges between Canadian universities, colleges and businesses, as demonstrated by our increased support for MITACs, an organization creating new career paths for highly talented Canadian students through R&D focused internships and fellowships at Canadian businesses.

In terms of communicating the results of federal science, Ministers are the primary spokespersons for government departments; scientists have, and are readily available to share their research with Canadians. For instance, Canadian federal departments and agencies produce over 4,000 science publications per year in areas important to the health, safety, and economic prosperity of Canadians. Additionally, in order to share the results of federally funded research more widely with Canadians, the new Open Access Policy will ensure that the results of research funded by the federal granting councils are freely available online within 12 months of publication in a peer reviewed journal. The policy will make the results of federally funded research more freely available to Canadians, providing greater opportunity for researchers, entrepreneurs and the wider Canadian public to develop new ideas and innovations that benefit Canadians.”

Scott French, spokesperson for the Minister of State (Science and Technology)…


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