Ending science?

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It’s a sobering report: the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada’s http://www.pipsc.ca/vanishingscience outlines how the federal government seems intent on erasing the nuisance of scientists and fact-based decision making. Since 2008, federal budget cuts have seen more than 2,000 federal science jobs simply disappear — a raft of cuts seem designed to make sure facts don’t get in the way of government dogma.

How does it feel for scientists inside the federal government? Morale is plunging, and many are looking to escape to places where scientists are valued.

Here’s what a few of them said.

• “In 31 years on the job, never have I witnessed such systematic destruction of the scientific capability of the federal public service.”

• “Science has been cut to the bone; there is no way to reduce further without just stopping.”

• “Cuts to staff have severely reduced the quality of service that DFO is able to provide to industry and the public.”

• “The face of DFO is now virtually gone from communities and especially in the North where all the development is occurring. We are becoming a ‘Banana Republic’ when it comes to environmental legislation and regulations. These wholesale changes are being led by ideology and not cost savings or common sense. The list of threatened and endangered species continues to grow. Salmon stocks are struggling all along the west coast of North America. The number of contaminated sites continues to grow and clean up efforts are tied up in politicized bureaucracy.”

And here, straight from the report, are descriptions of some of Canada’s most senior scientists who have simply been declared redundant.

Dr. Michael Arts, an international authority at Environment Canada on the health of aquatic ecosystems.

Dr. Kenneth C. Johnson, a senior epidemiologist at the Public Health Agency of Canada and the only remaining scientist at PHAC or Health Canada whose work focused on the study of tobacco and cancer, specifically the connection between second-hand smoke and breast cancer.

Dr. Phil Burton, a research scientist and manager of Northern Projects for the Pacific Forestry Centre of the Canadian Forest Service, who played a vital role in assessing the impact of the mountain pine beetle and, before his departure in 2012, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.

Jean-Pierre Gagnon, an engineer with the federal government for 32 years — 23 of them spent at Transport Canada — and one of North America’s leading experts on train cars carrying dangerous goods, including the DOT-111 rail tank cars at the centre of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy on July 6, 2013. Over a year earlier, in April 2012, he received notice that his position would be affected by workforce adjustment. At the time, he was working on a project reviewing the security and integrity of non-pressurized rail tank cars such as the DOT-111. Shortly before he retired from the public service in March 2013, he had convened a meeting with industry on the safety of the DOT-111 cars.

Dr. Kenneth Lee, who before receiving an “affected” notice in May 2012 enjoyed a 30-year career with DFO, was director of the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research and the country’s foremost oil spill expert. He spent four months in the Gulf of Mexico providing scientific expertise to efforts at containing the 2010 oil spill. Today, he directs ocean research at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia.

Canada had a reputation for world-class science, like it had a reputation for peacekeeping, like it had a reputation for international aid. Stop and ask yourself: what kind of reputation do we have now?

Organizations: Public Health Agency of Canada, DOT, Pacific Forestry Centre Environment Canada Health Canada Canadian Forest Service Enbridge Transport Canada Energy Research Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

Geographic location: North America, Banana Republic, Canada Lac-Mégantic Gulf of Mexico

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Recent comments

  • Irene Richer
    February 24, 2014 - 17:59

    Wow, they did a report!!!! Ouf! we shall applause!!!! that is ONLY what they did since this government has began to apply its belief of a numb national public service. They have done absolutely NOTHING. Have you seen demonstrations? Did you hear except for an occasional radio interview any of their high managers stating that they will defend their members rights? I tell you, they are not there to defend the rights of their members. They are there to cash in on the monthly union contributions that Canadian Public Service Professionals are making unwillingly to their cash register. But, as the Harper government is getting more and more succesful in letting the professionals go out the doors, I guess that PIPSC will suddenly wake up from its well known and well practiced sleepy strategy as to try to save what is left .... as revenues for their own staff and their own self well being....

  • Jim
    February 19, 2014 - 11:36

    The Conservative government dramatically increased the size of the public service after coming to power. It has significantly increased spending on science, according to Statistics Canada. In case you haven't noticed, recent cuts to the public service have affected most, if not all, departments across the board, not just science, in an effort to rein in that spending and cut the deficit, and that's a good thing. Better late than never. An entirely separate issue is the so-called "muzzling" of government scientists. You may or may not agree with it, but as far as I know it has been thus since at least the 70's when I was a federal employee in a scientific/technical field. We ALL signed confidentiality agreements. Federal scientists continue to publish their work and present it at conferences as they always have, and media is free to report it. Why is the media exercised that it is not free to shove microphones in the face of scientists demanding comments on work that may or may not be completed or peer-reviewed yet? As for those scientists who do wish to do so, the motive appears, more often than not, to publicly air a grievance - either personal or political, against the government. How many employers do you know that allow their employees carte blanche to speak out publicly against their bosses? Are Telegram editorialists free to do that? I doubt it.

    • Peter Jackson
      February 19, 2014 - 13:11

      Jim: you have learned the government talking points well. Heard the same from Tim Powers not too long ago. First, scientists HAVE actually been prevented from bringing their findings to conferences, and those that do are often given federal minders to intervene where necessary. Second, the increased funding argument is shallow, since the increases are in policy neutral or industry-focused sectors. Pure science, particularly environmental science, has been seriously gutted. It's all quite thoroughly documented in Chris Turner's book "The War on Science." Finally, people who work in private companies are beholden to their employers. People who work in government are beholden to us, the public. Apart from a reasonable degree of protection for cabinet secrets and such, there is no reason why a government-employed expert should be muzzled. And no, I did not write this editorial.

    • Jim
      February 19, 2014 - 16:03

      Peter, why is it when someone espouses a difference of opinion to your own it is a "government talking point"? As if two people - myself and Tim Powers - cannot independently come to the same conclusions. For the record I didn't hear Tim's opinion on this and I have no connection whatsoever to the Conservatives. I expect put-downs like that from the usual suspects on the comment boards. We deserve better from a professional journalist for our only daily newspaper. You say federal scientists are "often" given professional minders at conferences. I don't believe it. I have been to my share of scientific conferences. They don't work that way. And, by the way, federal employees are beholden to the government in power. The government in power is beholden to the public and is held to account every four years.

    • Angus
      February 20, 2014 - 01:28

      So your saying Nestle should do all research on the state of ground water without independent review from these pesky bureaucrats despite having an interest in releasing only the information it deems favourable to promote it's water bottling business? This is a typical case foe a scientific review by an independent body.

  • david
    February 19, 2014 - 09:04

    Culling the ever-growing government bureaucracy is a good thing. Does anyone actually think that the vague, catch-all concept of "science" is being endangered by letting go a few empty suits ? And any science and facts sourced by industry is regularly rejected or dismissed...what makes the government brand of science so much more "holy"? Is it because it is so pure, so free of 'commercial contamination'? News flash: The dozens of concrete bunkers in Ottawa are full of people who long ago traded in their science credentials for pensions. They spend their careers increasing their head counts, their budgets, protecting their pet projects, and building empires....no matter what they even are and what potential purpose they serve. They're just like any other bureaucrats......entitled to their entitlements. Yay science!

    • Con Job
      February 19, 2014 - 10:56

      Tell that to lac megantic. There is a perfect example of deregulation directly leading to a TOWN EXPLODING. Your comment is exactly what is wrong with this country. With no oversight you get anarchy and misery. If that's what you want go live in Somalia or some other pirate infested backwater. You'll see how sweet it is.

    • david
      February 19, 2014 - 11:54

      What a perfect post to prove my point....Lac Megantic had NOTHING to do with science, or research or knowledge or deregulation. That is complete and utter BS. It was caused by human error that went completely unchecked by the government bureaucracy that was there to do so. Transport Canada is now the defendant oin a class-action lawsuit over this event, and will quite likely be found complicit and guilty of gross negligence -- specifically, not adequately enforcing the existing (albeit archaic) regulations by ignoring numerous warnings it issued to that very company on numerous occasions for the same EXACT offense. Taxpayers will pay millions for this ...... and not one bureaucrat---- "scientist" or otherwise --- will lose a day's pay or a night's sleep. So keep enjoying the stories your fed and the complete ignorance it breeds. You couldn't handle the depressing, expensive truth. (PS: "With no oversight you get anarchy and misery"..... That's exactly what we have, Einstein, despite paying through the nose for much better).

    • david
      February 19, 2014 - 12:06

      ".....lead lawyer Daniel Larochelle alleges Transport Canada did not sufficiently sanction the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, even though the department was aware of the company's repeated violations, including train drivers allegedly failing to apply a sufficient number of brakes. The motion alleges Transport Canada was "grossly negligent" in its oversight role related to the MMA. The document also says Ottawa's Transportation Safety Board found the MMA has been involved in at least 129 accidents in Canada since 2003, allegedly making the railroad the worst offender on the continent." ---------- So, "Con Job" (perfect name, BTW) go ahead and keep enjoying your smug, expensive, ingorant delusions.

  • Joe
    February 19, 2014 - 08:41

    It is the benefit of having a captive media and a population that doesn't want to have anything to do with running the country. How often do you hear the Cons telling people the opposition are going to send them to the polls again. My answer would be bring it on as I want to have a say in the decisions made and not have Cons tell me they can make the TOUGH decisions. Why are the media afraid and I am not specifically referring to this one in particular, to present the Cons 's favorite tactic? This tactic is reduce taxes, create a deficit and then reduce services. The end result will be loss of services that we will find we need in the future. The Liberal Cons did this in the 1990's and now we have a shortage of Doctors. And on it goes.

  • Tony Rockel
    February 19, 2014 - 08:36

    Stevie and his friends aren't worried. They're expecting at any moment to be carried up to Heaven in the great Rapture, so that they'll be able to spend eternity with such luminaries as Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Ted Cruz.

  • Chantal
    February 19, 2014 - 07:24

    Yeah, but I don't gotta register my gun!