Canadian government continues valiant fight in the war against science
December 4, 2014 1:47 PM   Subscribe

"It’s absurd to be forced to make an argument in 2014 about why a country needs to invest in long term basic science"

Canadian scientists are protesting major changes to public research funding which will considerably increase their reliance on industry partners and decrease funding for basic scientific research.

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Canada's main funding source for health science research, has announced plans to slash baseline funding of all research institutes in half, with the slashed funds diverted to a common pool available to any area of health research. To access these funds, researchers will need to obtain additional funding from external sources such as industry. "At least eight" of the 13 CIHR institute boards, as well as individual researchers, have written to CIHR to protest the upcoming changes. The CIHR governing council is appointed by the federal government in 3-year unpaid terms. Its 18 members include politicians, academic researchers, directors of healthcare institutes, and industry representatives.

Scientists have raised concerns about how this will affect research of topics that aren't closely linked with industry, such as aboriginal health, and warn that funding by industry has the potential to bias research findings. These funding changes will also dramatically cut funding for basic research, which is very difficult to get funded by industry. Basic research may not directly generate new medical treatments, but it is nevertheless critical for laying the foundation to allow future innovative research, according to many scientists (1,2,3,4, and many others).

These funding changes follow a long series of cutbacks to publicly funded scientific research, which have already made research funding far more difficult to get than in the past. Fewer than 15% of scientists who applied for CIHR core operating grants in 2013-2014 were successful; of 2862 applications, just 400 grants were approved. Once the newest CIHR funding changes are implemented, these top-tier scientists will be competing for half the current funding, unless they're able to obtain support from industry sources. Since the current federal government was first elected in 2006, CIHR's grant approval rates have been steadily declining, falling from 33% in 2005-06 to 23% in 2010-11 to 18% in 2014-2015 (however, much of this is due to sharply increased application numbers, a predictable response to funding scarcity). By comparison, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) lists an overall research project grant success rate of 18.1% for 2014, down from 22.3% in 2005.

The Harper government has a long-standing and well-deserved reputation for hostility towards science (previously: 1, 2). Funding cutbacks as well as "muzzling" of government scientists (1, 2, and previously 1, 2) have led to protests by both Canadian and international scientists. In 2012, scientists and members of the public rallied on Parliament Hill to protest the government's attitude towards scientific research. "The Harper government is shaming Canadians in the eyes of the world," said Maude Barlow, head of the Council of Canadians. Despite this extensive and ongoing criticism from Canadians and the international scientific community, Stephen Harper and his government show no intention of a ceasefire in their "war against science".
posted by randomnity (48 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
I will be the first to say it and it can't be said enough Fuck Harper!
posted by kanata at 1:53 PM on December 4, 2014 [23 favorites]


Too easy, but still true:

"You won't recognize Canada when I'm through with it." – Stephen Harper (2006)
posted by quiet earth at 1:56 PM on December 4, 2014 [22 favorites]


Still not as fucked up as the US healthcare wise, but damned if they're not doing their best.
posted by triage_lazarus at 2:07 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Kate Beaten had Harper pegged a long time ago.
posted by delfin at 2:07 PM on December 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


MeFi's own gompa wrote an entire, and very good, book about this. God, it's depressing what Harper and his party are doing to this once-great nation.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:09 PM on December 4, 2014 [8 favorites]


ABC in 2015!
posted by sety at 2:22 PM on December 4, 2014


for fucks sake harper
posted by Hoopo at 2:28 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Why stop this? Why not just embrace it, go with it, see Canada once again as Rupert's Land? A buffet of resources, a warm dinner tin of rolls, a feeding frenzy of trapping and damming and mining and chewing, a claw moving to lop off a mountain and eat the coal inside. This is a nation made by colonization, and now we must colon/cannibal/ize ourselves. Canada, where to hurt ourselves is the definition of patriotism.
posted by smasuch at 2:48 PM on December 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


On the social sciences side, it cannot be overstated how much damage has been done by the Conservative government replacing the mandatory long-form census* with the voluntary Household Survey. This is a government that hates data.

The data collected in the long form census is used by municipalities, provinces, the federal government itself, but also countless research organizations and community groups to understand demographic and socio-economic trends. The previous data was so detailed it could be analyzed down to the block level. The voluntary survey in 2011, as you'd expect, produced essentially useless data.

Of course, it also provides for the ability to use data to demonstrate the need for investment in countless social programs, and we can't have that. The change essentially neutered anyone's ability to show factually that socio-economic problems need to be addressed, or that the government is not doing things right.

The best case scenario to recover from this is that the Conservatives lose the election, in early 2015, and a new government reinstates the long-form census in time for Spring 2016, but that will be tight. If that doesn't all play out as hoped, it will mean an enormous gap in the information available to Canadians about Canadians. Even if the long-form census is reinstated for 2016, significant damage has already been done.


*In Canada, most households get a very simple census form: name, date of birth, place of birth. When the long-form census was in place, every fifth household would get a census form asking for MUCH more detailed information, such as ethnicity, languages spoken, household income, dwelling size, commute patterns. And residents were required by law to complete it (one of the arguments made against it was that we shouldn't be locking people up for wanting to keep their information private; of course in practice, VERY few people were ever prosecuted for failing to complete it).
posted by dry white toast at 2:53 PM on December 4, 2014 [10 favorites]


This is a government that hates data

Not just a government, a populace. Science and data are suspect because they tend to contradict our deeply-held common sense beliefs. I know lots of non-Conservatives who become anti-evidence when their perceptions are challenged.
posted by rocket88 at 3:29 PM on December 4, 2014 [6 favorites]


I just assumed this was about Australia until I clicked the link.
posted by retrograde at 3:33 PM on December 4, 2014 [7 favorites]


I assumed it was about America!
posted by clockzero at 3:37 PM on December 4, 2014


The Anglo countries are all quite neoliberal by now, of course, having incubated the damn thing in the first place. In some ways, it's a distinctively Anglo-American ideology.
posted by clockzero at 3:39 PM on December 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


Not just a government, a populace. Science and data are suspect because they tend to contradict our deeply-held common sense beliefs. I know lots of non-Conservatives who become anti-evidence when their perceptions are challenged.

American here. Man, oh man, can I sympathize. It's like modern conservatives are subsisting on a diet of stupid pills. Most are painfully, willfully ignorant, happy to consume and regurgitate simple aphorisms like "taxes bad" but totally unwilling to do one bit of thinking on their own. They are satisfied with "common sense" truthiness, but can't be bothered to see all the ACTUAL HISTORY that puts the lie to most of it. It feels like a tidal wave of morons that won't be satisfied until we are all dragged back into the Dark Ages.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:41 PM on December 4, 2014 [6 favorites]


From an article in The Chronicle Herald on child-poverty in Cape Breton.
Frank lamented that the loss of the long-form census makes it difficult to track social problems in Canada, noting that there is now no recent data on child poverty rates specifically among aboriginal and immigrant families and different racial groups.

Four years ago, Munir Sheikh resigned as Canada's chief statistician over this matter. At the time of his resignation, he wrote:
I want to take this opportunity to comment on a technical statistical issue which has become the subject of media discussion. This relates to the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census. It cannot.
posted by RobotHero at 4:13 PM on December 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Canada's main funding source for health science research, has announced plans to slash baseline funding of all research institutes in half

Oh my God. The next election cannot get here fast enough. For a while I'd thought it things got bad enough here I'd just take advantage of my UK citizenship and hop across the pond. Nope. NZ is looking good.

Minor quibble about the post itself: until Harper's election (some years after actually), governments in Canada were rarely referred to as the (PM name) government. That was a thing introduced by memo to gov't agencies in recent years--was discussed here I think. Not arguing with you, just odd to see how a deliberate Conservative ploy has infested everyone. The Government belongs to Her Majesty, not the Prime Minister.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:14 PM on December 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


"You won't recognize Canada when I'm through with it." – Stephen Harper

If Harper would come out of whatever hole he resides in we might be able to recognize him. He's got to be the most anoymous Prime Minister we've ever had.

Still not as fucked up as the US healthcare wise, but damned if they're not doing their best.

Some of our politicians and some of our citizens seem to be very fond of Tea Party style politicians and spokespeople from the States and are doing their best to Americanize the country. It's like they saw the Wire and said we need to implement that!
posted by juiceCake at 4:14 PM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh my God. The next election cannot get here fast enough.

I'm not getting my hopes up. I'm sure Harper knows exactly (to three decimal points) what percentage of the votes he needs, and more importantly where he needs those votes, for another 39.6% "majority." He'll soon announce a bunch of tax cuts paid for by all the departments and programs he's been decimating, and a lot of people will forget (if they ever even knew) about all the terrible things his government has done to undermine this country.

If he's still short a vote or two here and there, expect a bunch of mysterious robocalls.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:25 PM on December 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


My fellow Canadians elected and re-elected Stephen Harper. Fuck him, of course, that goes without saying, but you know: I love 'em, but to hell with them, too. They're getting what they signed up for -- it's not like this Harperite shit was ever stealthy.

Me, bitter? Only sometimes. Today: yes.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:28 PM on December 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


Oh Card Cheat don't say these things I'm supposed to avoid triggers that make me want to drink and drink and drink and drink and drink.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:34 PM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Sounds like Australia under Tony Abbott.

Not surprising Abbott and Harper seem to get along like a house on fire. Both complete twits.

Under the Abbott Government, research org the CSIRO has been slashed dramatically, with losses of some 15-20% of its staff.

At least the Canadians get to cast their vote on Harper soon. We've still got years stuck with Abbott before another Federal Election.
posted by chris88 at 4:41 PM on December 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


Thanks for this, I will be reading through in detail.

It just so happens that I attended my university's update on research this afternoon... and they shared the just-announced new federal research granting plan: the Canada First Research Excellence Fund. The details are still sketchy but what we were told is that it will be major grants for institution wide initiatives.

In his presentation at my university, the VP Research also said there was no secret the program is based on Waterloo's Perimeter Institute, which seems like a cool initiative to me.

However, when the announcement says they aim
"to create the Canada First Research Excellence Fund with $1.5 billion in funding over the next decade to help Canadian post-secondary institutions excel globally in research areas that create long-term economic advantages for Canada."

We can see the feds, even when they do massively fund research, think it is a business. They think that somehow they can just direct researchers to "make a breakthrough discovery" and have output that is "worth the investment" and that research will benefit all canadians by partnering with industry. ... sigh. It's like the trickle down of research funding economics.
posted by chapps at 4:46 PM on December 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


Sounds like P3 applied to science. What could go wrong? I mean the free market would surely fund things like Ebola vaccines before there is any profit to be made, right?
posted by benzenedream at 4:46 PM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


"You’re a good Canadian.
You let that new law slip right in.
Now you’re smoking in the parking lot."
posted by Poldo at 4:56 PM on December 4, 2014


He'll soon announce a bunch of tax cuts

He's already started trying to buy votes. He's gonna be sending us parents of young kids a cheque for like $320 in July for the backdated child care benefit payments. Also he gets to help really rich people cheat on taxes at the same time by allowing income splitting!
posted by Hoopo at 5:00 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Government belongs to Her Majesty, not the Prime Minister.

Interesting point, I hadn't thought about that. In this context, I'm still happy calling it "the Harper government", since it's certainly not Her Majesty's fault that any of this is happening!

It just so happens that I attended my university's update on research this afternoon... and they shared the just-announced new federal research granting plan: the Canada First Research Excellence Fund. The details are still sketchy but what we were told is that it will be major grants for institution wide initiatives.

Thanks for the info - I hadn't heard about this yet. It makes an important counterpoint to the general trend. It will be very interesting to see how the details shake out, but it's encouraging to see an increase in funding for any kind of research from this government (optimistically assuming the funds aren't simply being leeched from other research areas). That said, I'm a bit cynical about what research areas will be deemed worthy of funding as "areas that create long-term economic advantages for Canada". Doesn't sound very promising for things like basic science, anything environmental/climate-related, or aboriginal health, which have already been disproportionately targeted for funding cuts.
posted by randomnity at 5:09 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't have kids, but getting a cheque for $320 to ostensibly help pay for child care seems like it would be insulting, given what I hear childcare costs. But I suppose a lot of people think "At least I'm getting $320! Better than nothing, right?"
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:10 PM on December 4, 2014


I wonder if the launch if the Research Excellence Fund got moved up after a bad news day on science funding. I know they had said it was coming in the last budget, but the announcement's timing is interesting.
posted by chapps at 6:18 PM on December 4, 2014


Sounds like Australia under Tony Abbott.

Oh come on... this is amateur stuff compared to Abbott. Call me when Canada diverts the funds to train priests.

I am joking. Please don't tell me that. It would make me sad.
posted by pompomtom at 6:33 PM on December 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


They're clobbering us all over the place because they don't have the good sense to realize their view of the world is too absurd to take seriously.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:52 PM on December 4, 2014




Paul Wells: Why Stephen Harper's science announcement [the Research Excellence Fund] was great optics, lousy policy.

As a scientist at a Canadian institution in the thick of all this, I should say that is the best summary I have read of the frustrating problems with the way the Canadian research enterprise is headed. This is the situation in a nutshell:
private-sector research in this country is broken, and the Conservatives’ best answer is to break university research.
posted by grouse at 7:34 PM on December 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't have kids, but getting a cheque for $320 to ostensibly help pay for child care seems like it would be insulting

Didn't the younger President Bush do something like this too? I remember a broad payout of around this amount during his administration.
posted by zippy at 8:00 PM on December 4, 2014


Here it is, the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008
posted by zippy at 8:04 PM on December 4, 2014


Yeah it's pretty naked vote-buying. $320 will be noticeable only to the lower income families, people less likely to vote PC (as far as I can tell, anyway). And it's only even noticeable because it's coming all at once--maybe it'll cover a new pair of glasses, or groceries for a couple of weeks. Cheap at twice the price, from Harper's POV.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:14 PM on December 4, 2014


this is amateur stuff compared to Abbott

Yes, especially now that the weasels are back in charge.

Mind you, I think we do at present have a small window of opportunity to spread the Captain Barnacle moniker.

Tony Abbott: A one-man pirate pantomime show featuring comedy, music, puppets and mayhem. Table-top puppetry and over-acting at its best. Performances inside or out, full amplification if required.
posted by flabdablet at 9:53 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Anecdata: I have asked exactly two Conservative voters why they did it.
The first (wealthy West Coast suburbanite) said, "[candidate x] is a nice guy!"
The second (lower middle-class prairie farmer) said, "Harper drives a Ford like me!"

Harper sucks, but what can you do with voters like that? Vote Conservative but, Jesus Christ, at least do it on some kind of principle.
posted by klanawa at 9:55 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Jesus Christ, at least do it on some kind of principle

A lifetime's political observation has allowed me to derive the following principles:

1. Politics for most people is a team spectator sport, and the major league has room for only two teams. As in other spectator sports, most people identify strongly with the same team as their parents and/or local community, and as a matter of team loyalty one is required to declare one's own team the exemplar of all goodness and rightness and ascribe all badness and wrongness to the other.

2. The outcome of most political contests is determined by a minority of voters without a sworn allegiance to either team, and these people will switch sides once any given administration has been in power long enough to draw a veil of nostalgia over what a pack of vicious weasels the other mob actually turns out to be every time they do get a chance to run the joint. This principle applies regardless of which party's stated platform best aligns with the values and interests of such swinging voters.

3. In particular, if an incumbent has failed to deliver satisfactorily on any of the stated planks in its platform, the correct response is to vote in a party that promises to amplify and extend that very same failure as a matter of deliberate policy, and then to get all shocked and outraged and astonished when they do exactly that.

4. Actual political change requires sustained and noisy support for extreme positions; moderate, sensible, well-considered reasoning is a clear sign of weakness.
posted by flabdablet at 11:27 PM on December 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


Our major league has three. Four if you count the PQ.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:54 PM on December 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


Anecdata: I have asked exactly two Conservative voters why they did it.

My mother-in-law, lifetime Liberal voter, told us "I just thought it was time for a change".

....I mean, OK, sure. A change is fine. But did you have to go and vote for Darth Vader just because Ignatieff was sorta boring?
posted by Hoopo at 8:22 AM on December 5, 2014


On the positive side, funds will be freed up for the new dinosaur petting zoo.
posted by PickeringPete at 8:51 AM on December 5, 2014


In contrast to his perceived opponent Justin Trudeau, Harper likes to bill himself as a regular middle-class guy. The son of a humble accountant (for Imperial Oil) whose first job was working in a mail room (for Imperial Oil).
As an Economics student in Calgary (home of Imperial Oil) he was a member of University of Calgary's Young Liberals (!!!) Club. He later switched his political allegiance in opposition to the Pierre Trudeau Liberals' National Energy Program (and its impact on corporate oil interests, like Imperial Oil) and joined the Progressive Conservatives. When Brian Mulroney's PC government failed to completely scrap the National Energy Program, Harper left the PCs for the right-wing populist Reform Party, believing their policies would better protect the interests of oil producers like Imperial Oil.

Everything this man and his government does can be traced back to his ties with Imperial Oil. This decision is no different. Health Science research has been uncovering links between oil production/consumption and public health, especially among indigenous populations. The potential for this research to sway public opinion on energy issues means it must be shut down.

There is little doubt whose interests this government serves.
posted by rocket88 at 9:42 AM on December 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


My mother-in-law, lifetime Liberal voter, told us "I just thought it was time for a change".

That's exactly the kind of facile, childish thinking that's killing us. It's never "just time for a change" in such broad terms. It's dodging responsibility to make decisions and act on such lazy, vague reasoning. Kills me.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:21 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


(It's like we actually think and reason in marketing slogans now.)
posted by saulgoodman at 10:24 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I told both of my parents that I didn't care if they voted or not but if they wanted their scientist daughter (me) to have a chance at a job before I turn 40, they could not vote Conservative and they needed to share that with all their friends. The Conservatives' cuts to science have been a total embarrassment and disappointment to me.

I used to want a government research scientist job, and it's what I've spent the last mumble-years training for but the way that Harper's gov't* (I'm really glad I can use this to differentiate now) is treating science has prevented that. Not to mention cuts to universities that mean they're not hiring either. And my mother keeps sending me links to articles saying Canada needs more foreign workers because we have all these STEM jobs. Funny. I would come back in a second for a job. Check out category 4011 here.

I just thought it was time for a change

But that used to work as a voting strategy. Conservatives (old-style) in power too long, vote Liberal. Liberals in power too long, vote Conservative. That's the Canadian way of voting.

What's happening now is that there is no good Liberal party to vote for (combined with politics shifting) so the votes go to the NDP/Green which means Conservatives can sweep in and get the seats. They're winning majority governments with less than half of voters voting for them (~40%!). They're not actually as popular as they are acting like they are.
posted by hydrobatidae at 10:26 AM on December 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Fuck that guy!
posted by Meatbomb at 2:12 PM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Harper's hostility to science is so extreme that I don't think it can be explained by simple political ideology. The only logical explanation is that he is a Soviet mole, who, without guidance from the now defunct USSR, has taken it upon himself to destroy Canada by undermining its relationship with reality itself. I wouldn't be surprised if he was actually trained by Trofim Lysenko.
posted by homunculus at 9:06 PM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you asked me, about five or six years ago, how Canadians felt about their taxes funding the "hard" sciences, I would have replied that the overwhelming majority are in favour. There may be hostility among some minor factions towards specific fields like Climate or Stem Cell research, but medical research in general is surely uncontroversial. I also would have said that while the two main parties are pretty pro-business, dismantling the Crown's research infrastructure wholesale would not be considered by either Centre or Right, as we quite like our national institutions. I would argue that Canadians, while seeming pretty open and liberal, are also quite often pretty conservative* and moderate and would regard this sort of radicalism and be distasteful and frankly, a bit too American (sorry) to fly.

Today, I'm not so sure. I hope it's just widespread apathy as suggested above and the petty, know-nothing populism that seems to have entirely subsumed the old Tories and 30-40% of the population here (and apparently the UK in 6 months) will just fade away with the unemployment rate instead of, as I fear, becoming the dominant voice of politics for the next forever.

This is really getting to me. There is a lot more I want to incoherently ramble write about; mostly this country and my place in it but I probably should get a blog or whatever for that.

*small-c, as in inclined towards tradition & incremental change. Not as in reactionary.
posted by Seiten Taisei at 10:24 PM on December 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


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