The Harper Government's war on science is continuing apace, with their most recent target being the National Research Council of Canada. In his announcement of major restructuring at NRC, president John MacDougall uttered this jaw-dropper: “Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value." It is one of several statements in recent weeks that shows how the Harper Conservatives just don't get science.
MacDougall has been roundly criticized for his remarks by The Star, Slate, StarPhoenix and others. StarPhoenix also notes that the 700 positions being eliminated from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada labs and farms only compounds the problem.
The idea is to move NRC away from basic research and instead to focus on the needs of industry. The transformation began in earnest last year when Minister of State for Science and Technology (and creationist) Gary Goodyear expressed his vision of NRC as a "concierge" service for business. He said "It will be hopefully a one-stop, 1-800, 'I have a solution for your business problem.'" No joke. It is a sad state of affairs for the agency that invented canola oil, the atomic clock, portable bomb sniffers and key-frame computer animation.
In case you were wondering, MacDougall is a Harper appointee. In 2011, after announcing that NRC would be undergoing a drastic makeover, he noted "Surely to God, in a world that has an insatiable appetite for (oil and other natural resources), that should be a natural hook to hang at least some of this innovation agenda on... And it’s very hard to break it away because it’s tied to something here in the ground." Every notice how it always comes back to oil for these guys?
MacDougall's disparagement of basic science adds to a steady stream of anti-science and anti-scientist sentiment from Harper Government MPs in recent weeks. Consider:
Environment Minister Peter Kent said that Canada's string of Fossil Awards are "worn with honour". The Fossil Awards are given out to the nation(s) that most impede progress on climate change.
Yukon MP Ryan Leef sent materials from climate deniers to a school teacher to bolster his claim that “the global polar bear population has quadrupled over the last 40 years,” despite the evidence from science that their numbers are decreasing and that they are threatened by climate change.
Nunavut MP and Heath Minister Leona Aglukkaq, the new chair of the Arctic Council, said "It’s time to make sure science is relevant … to improve the well-being and the prosperity of people who live in the Arctic." The implication here is that Minister Aglukkaq doesn't think much of the basic science being done in the Arctic on topics like climate change.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver attacked famous climate scientist James Hansen. When asked about Hansen's concerns that full development of Canada's oil sands would be "game over for climate", Oliver replied "Well, this is exaggerated rhetoric. It's frankly nonsense. I don't know why he said it but he should be ashamed of having said it." As the Guardian notes, "Hansen is known as the scientist who raised public awareness of climate change 25 years ago with his testimony to Congress." Oliver's oil sands boosterism led a dozen prominent Canadian scientists to write to him about it, with one commenting that the Harper government should "grow up" on climate change. Hansen further explains his remarks here.
Environment Minister Peter Kent claimed that the ability of the oil and gas sector to absorb tough government controls on their greenhouse gas emissions depends on Canada getting a better price for its oil. Tim Kalinowski calls Kent a "rare dinosaur" for that one, noting
Oil companies are already making hundreds of billions of dollars worldwide. Oil was more than $100 a barrel for more than a decade. The provincial government and other leading oil economies were rolling in it. Over that period of time emissions skyrocketed.
The Harper Government's war on science fairly well known by now. An excellent account was recently given by Melissa Mancini in a series of articles for HuffPo about "Stifling Science". You can find them here, here, here and here.