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PMO Pest Control: Scientists

Posted on 6 March 2012 by robert way, Albatross, Andy Skuce, climatesight

All four authors of this article are Canadian scientists and/or science students.

Recently on the comedic Canadian television program The Mercer Report, a satirical look is taken at the state of science in Canada since the Harper GovernmentTM came into power in 2006. 

The video is below:
PMO = Office of the Prime Minister (Stephen Harper)


Although depicted with humor in this video  the current state of science in Canada is no laughing matter. For example:

  • In 2006, an Environment Canada scientist in Ottawa was blocked from speaking about his novel on climate change at the National Press Club by the Environment Ministry as discussed here.
  • In 2008, The Harper GovernmentTM abolished the National Science Advisor position, read more about it here.
  • Again in 2008, the head of the Canadian Nuclear Comission was fired by the Federal Natural Resources Minister for closing down a nuclear reactor used for medical isotopes after it failed established safety protocols. Discussed at CBC here.
  • In 2010, team of British and Canadian researchers published a paper in Nature on the outburst flood path of Lake Agassiz in the Younger Dryas 13,000 years ago. This study has relevance to the factors that influenced the sudden paleoclimate shifts observed at this time. Journalists were unable to interview one of the co-authors of the study, Scott Dallimore, an employee of Natural Resources Canada, without first getting a minister's approval, a lengthy process requiring the scientist to submit the questions and answers to Ottawa for approval. This incident was covered by two Nature articles here and here.
  • Last year, the Canadian Government announced that hundreds of science and staff positions at Environment Canada would be eliminated; for example, see this article by Stephen Leahy in the Guardian. These cuts will severely limit Canada's ability to monitor ozone depletion in the stratosphere and pollution in the troposphere, as recently highlighted in a recent letter to Eos by American scientists.
  • These cuts also reached deep inside Environment Canada's different climate change working groups with Nobel winning IPCC scientists being retasked or having their jobs cut as discussed here by a student at one of these labs.
  • In addition to job cuts, the Harper GovernmentTM cut funding to the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS) after six years of adding no new federal funding, see a CFCAS statement here.
  • Over the last year an ongoing controversy has emerged where Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) glaciologists were told that due to budget cuts and changing priorities they would be forced to destroy Canada's collection of ice cores from the Canadian Arctic as discussed in Macleans Magazine. Also discussed by Nature here.
  • The Harper GovernmentTM recently labelled those who oppose its proposed Northern Gateway pipeline as "radicals" backed by foreign money. Internal government memos related to the topic refer to pipeline opponents as "enemies of Canada". Discussed by Reuters here
  • In the past few days, news reports have revealed that the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) in Eureka, Nunavut will be closing due to lack of funds. PEARL had received three quarters of its funding from CFCAS which recently had its federal funding discontinued.

The government's  attack on environmental research is taking place in the political context of Canada's having reneged on its commitments to the Kyoto Protocol late in 2011, which has drawn international outrage; as well as the government's aggressive promotion of new pipelines that will allow the expansion of bitumen production in Alberta, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's home province.

Eminent environmental economist Mark Jaccard recently wrote a scathing article published in the Vancouver Sun, contrasting Canada's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65% by 2050 with its actions to expand bitumen production and exports. Jaccard concludes:

"The facts are simple. Our political leaders are lying to us if they aid and abet the expansion of tarsands while promising to take action to prevent the imminent climate catastrophe. If you love this planet and your children, and are humble and objective in considering the findings of science, you have no choice but to battle hard to stop Gateway and other tarsands pipelines. It is time to face up to this challenge with honesty and courage."

At Skeptical Science we consider the findings of science to be an indispensable part of the foundation upon which public policy should be based. Sadly, the Harper Government evidently sees science as an obstacle to its wider political agenda.

This stance is especially unfortunate given Canada's reputation as the home of many brilliant world-class scientists. In 2006, 90 of these respected climate scientists signed an open letter to The Harper Government urging it to commit to action on climate change. Since that time there has been no reduction in Canadian Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

We wish to express our support for our fellow scientists in the Federal government, scientists whose valuable research is being suppressed.

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Comments 1 to 28:

  1. From robo-calling to stymie democracy, to censoring scientific research, the Harper government is the worst thing that has happened to Canada recently. I for one, think it's time we start electing scientists to office. Instead of these goons with a cheer-leading degree in free-market economics, and a penchant for profits before people.
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  2. It's a sign of the times when there's a sense of gratitude here for not publishing the authors' names (there's too much downside). The Conservative Party is a relabelled tea-party revolt called The Alliance. It sabotaged the Canadian response to Kyoto - and turned the pollution problem first into 'we don't need a tax or a foreign solution', and then into 'Green Shift is just expensive, job-costing greenwash'. Add: 2009 - 500 Scientists submit a protest document to the PM. Scientists Protest 2012 - Tar Sand players form an environmental response common front - Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance. COSIAll 2009-29011 - The teaching of the pro-pollutionist case at Carlton U is the latest inroad by anti-Science Syndrome. CASS Report-1.7meg PDF (special notes - p.7 connection to Heartland; and a very disturbing note about fast-food science - pp. 10ff Student Feedback). To any American that wants to consider what a Tea Party in power could do to the USA ... look north, and add tar.
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  3. "Environment" Minister Peter Kent responded to critical questioning about the decisions to close down PEARL by saying "I don't have a million and a half dollars in my back pocket." However, it appears possible that ordinary Canadians of good will just might: It should be noted that this is not due to extreme financial pressure; Canada's net debt ratio is lowest in the G-7, and the last deficit was a very manageable $33 billion. Sadly, the video does seem to accurately encapsulate the true attitude of the Harper government toward science--and especially science that is in some way environment-related.
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  4. "It's a sign of the times when there's a sense of gratitude here for not publishing the authors' names (there's too much downside)." Certainly that is true. There was discussion about publishing any of our full names because of potential ramifications. However I felt obliged to share mine since right from the beginning on SKS I have shared my name, and also I have already criticized the Harper Government vigorously in the past, so it's nothing new. I suppose my applications for government funding may complicate things from time to time though.
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  5. Rob Way - sounds very much like a totalitarian government regime. The only thing missing is the use of violence to control the masses. Hard to believe we live in the 21st century. And a big pat on the back for having the courage to stand up to these bullies. Sadly we know that the Harper government cannot bully the physical laws of nature - there are inevitable consequences for delusional thinking.
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  6. The oddest thing is that Peter Kent (Minister of the Environment) was the one who hosted a documentary on the dangers of global warming and the science behind it back in the early 1980s...
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  7. On anonymity: My full name can be found on the Team Page. If I were embarking on a scientific career in Canada, I would probably prefer to maintain anonymity on matters like this. I tip my hat to people like Robert who are willing to stand up and speak out on important issues such as this one.
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  8. The cdn joke-of-the-day - "How do you get (Environment Minister) Peter Kent to shut up?" "Ask him to explain 'ozone'." Kent Oh-knows Ozone @Rob Painting - re: armed force - there's a simmering leftover controversy about the Billion-dollar 'ring-of-steel' showdown at the 2011 G8 in Toronto. The role of the undercover agents who infiltrated the demonstrator ranks was never explained (security reasons). The threat to the democratic laws is now on the table with the "Robocall" elections scandal. It's starting to read like the 'what went wrong' chapter in a sci-fi paperback.
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  9. Brilliant video in Mercer's fashion, but it honestly shows the pitiful trend Canada is on Rob Painting @5, between Harper's seeming war on science, the hush-hush extensive role of the military during the G8 (a friend of mine was a member of the unknown-to-public sniper teams on the roofs) & his proposed omnibus crime bill, Canada honestly seems to be taking steps towards a more fascist state, something that saddens me greatly. I am pleased to see the number of Canadians donating money to CFCAS to keep PEARL open (I donated this morning) P.S. owl905, I burst out laughing at that joke. I loved when Trudeau threw that in his face. Kent as minister of environment is likely the single most embarassing aspect of Canadian politics today
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  10. Excellent video. In the US, of course, we have had the not so humorous real world situation where the Attorney General of Virginia went on a witchhunt against Michael Mann. Ken Cucinelli never offered a shred of evidence for his investigation beyond the talking points of the deniers. Thankfully, on Friday the state Supreme Court threw his action out.
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  11. Cuts at the provincial level are also taking their toll. For example, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources is mandated by law to monitor wildlife (aside from the ones monitored for hunting purposes). These include various forest birds, salamanders, small mammals, as well as larger mammals such as lynx. These are supposed to be monitored, by law, by the Wildlife Assessment Unit. However, they've not have any money to actually monitor* wildlife since the mid-2000s. Currently the biologists discuss what they could do if they were actually given money (they're using multiple species inventory and monitoring protocols, or MSIM for short). So nobody is actually monitoring these species, and as a result no-one really knows what is happening in vast areas of Ontario despite large-scale logging efforts in which MSIM is supposed to bring in information so forestry companies can more closely mimic 'natural' disturbances. *Thunder Bay district has had money to run a small pilot project for the past three or four years with the idea that this project would be expanded to all Ontario. Last year it became apparent they never would be given money so they proposed a team of four contract staff who, aided by summer students, would set up monitoring in just one region. The following year they'd move to another region. And so on. About as cheap as you can get (don't have to pay contract staff benefits, you lay them off for 2 or more months when not needed, you bring in university students who may or may not be trained well enough). Preliminary word this year is that there won't be funds for this either despite the mandate pushed by the government (who can tell everyone how forward thinking and environmentally friendly they are for mandating monitoring of non-game species). Politics. Sigh. It seems the bottom line is that if you work in any field where you may have to tell the politicians bad news from the nature, your funding is cut.
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  12. Pardon the grammar errors. I'm multi-tasking and as usual, doing it badly.
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  13. If James Powell does an updated edition of his book “The Inquisition of Science”, the Harper Government would fill a whole new chapter. When are politicians going to realise you can’t keep putting the national interest ahead of the interests of the planet? Climate change is a disaster without borders and we’re all in this together.
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  14. My speculation is that this is sensible long term planning on Harpur's part. Canada is going to do ok out of global warming. Whilst the USA will expect to struggle with large internal migration and potentially huge migration from Latin America, Canada can use the USA as a buffer with its oil, water and agricultural land as diplomatic bargaining chips. There's a good chance that other nations will be seeing their agriculture fail and when you decide whose population does or doesn't starve you have a lot of bargaining power. In the same way that oil and gas revenue supported Putin's government and diplomacy, Canada could become a hugely important breadbasket. This would be consistent with the actions of the Harpur government, which is showing a very intolerant streak.
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  15. How does the Canadian media handle all this?
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  16. @ Mark R, I certainly grok the logic of your speculation, but if there is one thing that the financial crisis of 2008-???? reinforced for me is that it not so easy to isolate "yourself" (be it an individual, corporation, nation) from global forces. Some dodgy mortgages go into default in Arkansas, and the next thing you know Google stock is down by 70% and Gordon Brown is suggesting that Britain take equity stakes in its banks. I am not so sure it plays out as neatly as our intuitions suggest. But if that were indeed the "planning" on The Harper Government(tm)'s part, it would be beyond cynical. The muzzling of our scientists is truly odious behaviour. This from a Harper who said while in opposition: "Information is the lifeblood of a democracy. Without adequate access to key information about Government policies and programs citizens and Parliamentarians cannot make informed decisions and an incompetent or corrupt Government can be hidden under a cloak of secrecy." Putz.
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  17. Mark R@14, If indeed Canada does much better than the USA, there will be the same problem as in California during the depression, millions of Climate Refugees that, given the balance of power, Canada will have to accept.
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  18. Pay no attention to the systematic shutting down and defunding of good science in Canada... look, a panda!
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  19. It's not just the Harper Conservatives; the provincial Gov't of Alberta (aka the Oil Patch of Canuckistan) has been right-wing for a long time and there's a rising force, with whom the radical Tea Partites would strongly identify, called the Wildrose Alliance. Needless to say, they ascribe to the same conspiracy theories about climate scientists as the Republicans
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  20. Globe & Mail Editorial Free Canada’s scientists to communicate with the public "... Ottawa should respond to the growing controversy – outlined in the prestigious journal Nature – by freeing its scientists. The magazine is calling on the government to show that it will live up to its promise to embrace public access to publicly funded scientific expertise... "...Federal scientists must be able to speak not only with their professional peers, but also with the public and with journalists, without vetting and preapproval from communications staff. This is the essence of the scientific process, in which experts exchange information and hold their work up for scrutiny. "If the U.S. can take this approach, surely the Canadian government is capable of the same level of openness."
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  21. Brian Purdue @ 13 "When are politicians going to realise you can’t keep putting the national interest ahead of the interests of the planet?" It isn't even in the national interest to combat climate change. Pity that politicians just don't get it. It isn't like any other political issue when bullying and shouting will win the day. Old Mother Nature is a wily old bird who will have her way, regardless of what the politicians decide the laws of nature should be.
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  22. Just based on current and recent past events, I would assert that it is in every human's individual interest to avert future rapid human-generated warming. That said, individuals can have competing interests which may overwhelm their interest in averting warming (e.g. financial or ideological interests). However, as you examine aggregate interests of larger and larger numbers of people, countervailing interests against averting warming IMO fall away fairly quickly. Certainly I can think of no nation-state which actually has a rational interest in propagating warming. Not even Canada.
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  23. This sounds a lot like the George W. Bush administration. I know nothing about Canadian politics, but it would appear that they are are a few years behind the U.S., in political trends.
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  24. Kent overlooked calls for 'transparency' on climate science research: memos Environment Minister Peter Kent overlooked calls from his department in 2011 to show more "transparency" and he delayed the release of a scientific paper on Canada's climate change challenges — prepared several months before the May 2 federal election — until late July, newly released internal memorandums reveal. The memos referred to an analysis of Canadian trends in greenhouse gas emissions that projected a sharp rise in emissions from the energy-intensive oilsands industry.... "Public release of this detailed paper (and associated tables) would permit the government to proactively frame Canada's current progress and challenges in managing greenhouse (GHG) emissions, while maintaining the commitment to transparency and informed public dialogue consistent with Environment Canada's status as a world class regulator," wrote the department's deputy minister, Paul Boothe, in a May 30, 2011, memo to Kent, released through access to information legislation.... . . . But instead of signing off on Boothe's request that the research be released in response to another access to information request that was due on June 10, Kent waited until he received a second memorandum requesting that the material be released in late July. A spokesman for Kent said the minister was too busy in early June to respond to the department's request, but followed up on it in the summer after getting a reminder from Boothe.. . . ... The date of the first memo coincided with intensive international media coverage about Environment Canada's decision to exclude data showing a substantial rise in pollution from the oilsands in a mandatory inventory report on emissions to the United Nations. The missing data revealed that the oilsands industry's annual emissions were greater than annual pollution from all cars on Canadian roads and almost as much pollution in a year as all light-duty trucks in the country.. . . ... Environment Canada recently has declined to release a separate discussion paper that estimates emissions per barrel from the oilsands sector, arguing that it contains information that may harm Canada's national security and foreign relations. The department also said, in response to an access to information request, that this discussion paper includes privileged advice to the government on a matter under consultation. . . . ... Kent has recently indicated he will introduce a plan to regulate emissions from the oilsands in the coming months. But questions about whether the industry is actually reducing its emissions per barrel have become controversial in recent months, with industry stakeholders suggesting they are making progress, while the most recent government statistics show that oilsands companies are no longer collectively achieving reductions...
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  25. Rust @24, No surprises there. He and his conservative counterparts are continuing to be disingenuous to this day. This story on the muzzling on canadian federal scientists has just been posted on CBC. The narticle also contains these examples: "A group representing 500 science journalists and communicators across Canada has documented instances where they say federal scientists have been barred from talking about research funded by taxpayers. In addition to DFO scientist Kristi Miller, they cite: An Environment Canada team published a paper on April 5, 2011, in Geophysical Research Letters concluding that a 2 C increase in global temperatures may be unavoidable by 2100. No interviews were granted by Environment Canada's media office. Following the March 2011 Japanese earthquake and nuclear plant problems, Postmedia science reporter Margaret Munro requested data from radiation monitors run by Health Canada. Munro said Health Canada would not allow an interview with an expert responsible for the detectors. An Austrian team released data from the global network of radiation monitors, including stations in Canada. Other examples include: The 2010 case of Scott Dallimore, a Natural Resources Canada scientist who could not talk about research into a flood in northern Canada 13,000 years ago without getting pre-approval from political staff in the office of then-Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis. Approval came after reporters' deadlines passed, according to Postmedia News. The 2011 case of David Tarasick, an Environment Canada scientist whose research showed an "unprecedented" loss of protective ozone over the Arctic. He was not available to talk with reporters when the research was published, and was interviewed three weeks later. "I’m available when media relations says I’m available," he told Postmedia News." Canadians need to take note of this abuse of science and scientists by the conservative government, it is their reputation and their tax dollars and potentially their safety that are being threatened.
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  26. "A behind-the-scenes look at a federal scientist 'muzzling' incident" is a must read/listen for anyone following this disturbing situation in Canada.
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  27. This thread has been quiet for quite a while. Oddly enough, so have Canadian government scientists - largely due to continued silencing by the Harper government. Latest news story on the issue: Federal Bureaucrats Stayed Mum During Discussion About Silencing of Scientists [h/t on the story to a source within Environment Canada, who shall remain anonymous] The story begins:
    "At first, a top Environment Canada official seemed game to discuss “unmuzzling” government scientists during an international science conference earlier this year. ... Instead, she sat in the audience as a spectator during the session at the Vancouver conference, and was informed she should refer questions about the government’s strict communication policy to Ottawa, where a government “tactics” committee was working on a response...
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  28. There is an excellent recent article in the Globe and Mail Censorship is alive and well in Canada – just ask government scientists ("Oh wait, you can’t ask them, because they’ve got duct tape over their mouths...." )

    The newspaper article refers to a thorough, documented study done by University of Victoria lawyers PDF

    The study is preceded by a letter asking Suzanne Legault, Information Commissioner of Canada to investigate the federal government's actions

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