Radio Freethinker

Vancouver's Number 1 Skeptical Podcast and Radio Show

Posts Tagged ‘conservative government’

RFT Ep 243 – Canadian Citizenship Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on February 18, 2014

Download the episode here! 


Don’s Rant:


As the Conservative party announces it latest budget, this weeks rant is about how the budget is not really a budget…where you would expect details on where and how the government is spending our tax dollars and not justification for what the government plans to do.

Find out more:

America’s first First Nations


A long running debate has been over who were the real first people of the Americas. The strongest argument holds to a migration from Asia via a ‘thawed valley’ at the end of the last ice age. However, the Clovis Culture…defined by their distinct arrow heads, points to a french origin.

Recent sequencing of DNA from a child who died around 12,400 yrs ago and thought to be a member of the Clovis people, shows a shared ancestry with the vast majority of Native Americans, thus supporting the Asian migration theory. However, DNA artifacts complicate a simple answer by showing some, as yet unknown, genetic mixing with Europeans.

Find out more:

A Head of the Curve

Neurotoxisity fear-mongering


In a paper published in The Lancet, “Neuro-behavioural effects of developmental toxicity”, we take a quick look at what the article reports, what’s wrong with the study and put out the warning that this will likely be water-cooler talk soon – better knowledge-up.

Find out more:

The birth of Canadian Citizenship


In the wake of the debate of the soon to be release reform of the Canadian Citizenship act, we take  nostalgic look back and how and when a Canadian actually became a Canadian Citizen…you would be surprised.

Find out more:

Classic RFT

Lance Armstrong and professional doping


Ethan give a summary of the “Lance Armstrong Scandal” and the state of doping in sports. Then we have a spirited debate about the ethics of doping and the implications it has to both amateur sport and to “sport-u-tainment”

Find out more:

a classic final treat!

and of course, how to get free beer….


Posted in Show notes | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Best of RFT – the 200s

Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 30, 2013

dewar cartoon july 24 2013 col.jpg

This week a recasting our some of our best bits from episodes past:

  • Librarians and loyalties,
  • Panda Politics,
  • Suing for information
  • The Parliamentary Budget Office – pillar of democracy

Download the episode here!

Librarians and loyalties

Ottawa,fonction publique,Mix & Remix,pastiche,Elizabeth II,Stephen HarperDon reviews changes to the Code of Conduct for Library and Archives of Canada. The insistence of a ‘duty of loyalty’ to the government as opposed to the nation of Canada strikes as tones of totalitarianism. In the light of many other policies, decisions and legislation  one can not help but get the feeling Harper things HE is the nation, civil servants can’t be trusted and the less the people know the better for the government.

Find out more:

Panda Politics

547676_584686418216612_1260358425_nPandas has been an intricate part of Chinese diplomacy for centuries. Since the 1970’s the People Republic has used them to open the doors to the non-communist world.

Two of the bi-coloured fur balls are not in Canada; what does it mean, why did we get them and what did we give up? Could our Prime Minster spend his time doing something more important than pimping Pandas?

Find out more:

The Parliamentary Budget Office – pillar of democracy

Direction,budget,ParlementCanada’s first Parliamentary Budget Officer has recently stepped down. It is likely that his office will be “wound down” because it proved to be too embarrassing for the Harper Government even though it was the Conservative Governments own creation. We discuss what it did, why it did it and  why you should care.

Find out more:

Suing for information.

101007InformationcWe discuss the efforts of Canada’s Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault to investigating whether the Harper government is living up to the law of the land. Legault is currently suing the DOD over a 1100 day extension on a 30 day Access to Information Request which she claims is deliberately obstructive and violating the principles of the Access to Information act.

We talk about how the Harper government has systematically restricted our access to information and the people who make it. As well as the push back by Legault as well as Democracy Watch and U of Vic’s Environmental Law Clinic.

Find out more:

Posted in Best of RFT | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Suing for Access

Posted by Don McLenaghen on April 17, 2013

The making information inaccessible


While it is too early to say things may be getting better in our government…in the arena of providing information to its citizens about what it is doing…or at least funding to have done. There may be a light at the end of the stone-walling tunnel.

PBO-department-responsesI have often talked about the shutting down of the flow of material/information by government agencies and employees to the public. Information essential for the operation of a rational democratic nation. Be it the suppression of our scientist, the delaying tactics used by House committees or even Harper’s own created Parliamentary Budget Office (who is currently in the course demanding documents to allow it to do the job it was set up to do).

Well, in a response to a complaint filed jointly by Democracy Watch and University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic, Canada’s Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault, announced her office will be investigating whether the Harper government is living up to the law of the land.

In this case, The Access to Information Act, states that an access to information request must be answered within 30 days but allows departments to grant themselves extensions.

acco_repparl_2011accessinformationact_image_2_1347596657712_engEarlier this year Legault publicly complained that even with generous terms given the Government, they were still exceeding their own ‘extended’ deadlines. She noted that the response times have increased notably since the Conservatives gained a majority.

Just to give context, the law states that all requests MUST be fulfilled within 30 days, however it does provide each department a ‘get out of jail free card’ in allowing them to extend that deadline (for really any reason). SO, when they don’t meet a deadline, that is the arbitrary deadline they themselves created.

Government officials complain the nature of the requests and complexities of government make requests harder to fulfill.

Legault dismisses this stating that there’s no clear evidence that requests are becoming more complex to process. It should be noted that improvements in digital records should actually increase efficiency and reduce response times[1].

acco_repparl_2011accessinformationact_image_3_1347596726196_engBesides this complaint, The Information Commissioner is taking the Department of Defense to court over an information request which the department slapped with a 1,100 day extension…so, the 30 day deadline was extended to over 3 years.

An extension that is being argued as deliberately obstructive and violating the principles of the Access to Information act. You must wonder what they are hiding.

In an interview on CBC, it was pointed out that by 2011, less than 20 percent of access to information requests made to federal departments and agencies were met with a full disclosure of the information requested.

RedactedLet’s put that into context. So you may have seen online ‘information request responses’ where there are large parts blacked out…for security reasons I am sure <not!>…what this is saying that even when they do provide you the requested document, 80% of the time it is edited (and often heavily edited). We are all familiar with the word ‘redacted’ by now.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that an international survey last year ranked Canada 55th out of 93 countries in terms of its access to information laws.

A press release by Reporters Without Borders, in a ranking of countries on its media freedom survey dropped Canada 10 positions from the previous survey to No. 20 out of 90. This group cites as the reason for the drop was due to obstruction of journalists during the so-called ‘Maple Spring’ student protests and to continuing threats to the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and internet users’ personal data, in particular, from the C-30 Bill on cyber-crime.”

Torstar Redaction ComicRemember C-30 where Harper’s parrot stated “your either with us or the terr…er, pedophiles! Damn commies” <sorry parts are editorial; he did compare those who believe in privacy as supporters of pedophilia>.

Our access to information law was created in 1983 and has not been updated since. When first promulgated it was the envy of the world, now we are the old man in the corner saying inappropriate things at the international conferences. I.e. most nations have far surpassed our standards, most notably updates because of the information technology revolution.

According to a report card issued by Legault last year on the timeliness that requests that were fulfilled, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the department of Northern and Indian Affairs, and Transport Canada were given “F” grades.

downloadIn response to the many loopholes that exist in the Access to Information Laws across Canada, the lack of enforcement and lack of audits to ensure people are following the law in some jurisdictions, in their entirety to the Information Commissioner, Democracy Watch and the Open Government Coalition call for the following 8 key changes:

  1. If the government partly pays for it, is involved in it, it’s a result of government legislation or it significantly impacts public interests, then a record of actions must be created by said entity.
  2. The default position is ALL documents should be publicly available unless it fails a “harms test” and even then, if public interest is paramount, should be made available in their entirety.
  3. All entities, previously defined, are compelled to create a detailed record of all decisions, actions, transactions, factual research, policy research and correspondence. That such a record should be efficiently and promptly indexed. There should be nameable individuals responsible for the creation of the records and the index.
  4. The database created by point 3, should be accessible by anyone without restriction for those who undertaking “authorized” reporting or research, and only a token fee (to prevent frivolous use applied to individual citizens.
  5. Anyone who does research, factual or policy, should have unfettered and free access to discuss their research to the media and public.
  6. Responsible individuals who fail to create records, indexes or accessible database should be subject to severe penalties. Individuals responsible for unjustifiable redaction or delays should also be subject to severe penalties.
  7. The Information Commissioner should be given power commiserate to their positions. This would include the ability to levy penalties of individuals, departments or entities who fail to uphold the Access to Information Acts. They should also have the power to order the immediate release of information that has been deemed unjustifiably classified, redacted, or delayed. The Commissioner should also be empowered to compel departments to enact procedures to ensure compliance to the law.
  8. The funding to ensure compliance with Access to Information requests (including the necessary documentation and indexing) be a priority in all budgeting.
  9. Parliament must be required to review the ATI Act every 5 years to ensure that problem areas are corrected.”

This gets even more convoluted when we factor in the perhaps intentional collateral blocks. Legault, who has been at her job for three years, says her office — which suffered an 8 per cent budget cut — has dealt with about 7,000 complaints with another 2,000 left to go.

14059_562029463815641_1642093719_nFirst, that works out to over 6 complaints a day. The government itself states that information requests have doubled over the last decade. This is because what was once publicly available information has now been put behind the “Great FireWall of Harper” of information, data that would have previously been readily available on government/institution/academic websites is now considered “government secrets” and thus is only available IF someone makes an information request. Of course, because this is new to the Canadian political landscape, the number of requests for information request has also increased.

Legault says that in the last six months, she’s seen a sharp rise in the number of complaints about departments that improperly delay responses to access-to-information requests. Which she attributes to budget cuts…which leads to staff cuts…which leads to reduction of service, in this instance the information you are requesting.

MAC2083-1024x866And here is where we end, the circle complete. Harper wants to shut down the flow of information about what government is doing for/to the people. The Conservative government can use its soft power by rewriting loyalty oaths directing departments to ‘shut up’. This will inevitably run up against the ‘loyal to Canada and not Harper’ bureaucracy (yes, I still have faith that some public servants what to do a good job) who are providing push back against these oaths. So to help nursemaid the process…the silencing of the information…the Harper government continues to cut funding to departments, which results in a reduction of staffing. Less people to do the work means an increase to response time to information requests…at least until the next election or parliamentary vote has passed…or so I imagine Harper thinking.


[1] Unless, of course, the Harper government is worried that something might slip out that is either negative to his conservative agenda or may run contrary to the Harper line. Therefore, EVERYTHING sent out must first be reviewed (by politicos) to ensure the purity of the message.

Posted in Don's Blogs | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Loyal to whom?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on April 15, 2013

The librarians dilemma


I have talked before about a fundamental difference between our current government and all previous governments. That Conservatives have systematically and methodically attempted to shut down science research, silence public employees in the private lives.

There were the changes to Stats Canada, removing our ability to effectively gauge what is going on in the nation. There is an assumption of secrecy where public documents are either censored out rightly, experience delayed release or are just ‘lost in the mail’.

The next front in the battle for Canada is occurring in the libraries and archives of Canada. A new code of conduct has been decreed and disseminated to all employees of the Library and Archives of Canada.

“Federal librarians and archivists who set foot in classrooms, attend conferences or speak up at public meetings on their own time are engaging in ‘high risk’ activities, according to the new”


The code, which stresses federal employees’ “duty of loyalty” to the “duly elected government,

harper-dollarIt states that “as public servants, our duty of loyalty to the Government of Canada and its elected officials extends beyond our workplace to our personal activities,”

So, employees have to be extra careful that if they say something that may be critical, contradictory or just inconvenient to the official government line, they may face disciplinary action or termination.

For example, I work for the library. On my Facebook page, which I have limited access to family only…I post an entry stating that reduction of funding to the library may result is longer response time to Access to Information Requests (future post). Someone in my group shares that with the ‘public’…well then I am in violation of my loyalty Harper…er, I mean the GOVERNMENT of Canada. I could expect disciplinary action or even termination.

Should not my loyally be to the Nation of Canada, the citizens of Canada?

Now this notion that civil servants owe a loyalty to the government smacks of totalitarianism. They do NOT owe loyalty to the government but to the nation. They do not serve Harper and his Conservatives, but CANADA!

Historically, a major turning point in 1930’s Germany was the altering of the army ‘oath’ from allegiance to Germany to allegiance to Hitler…change a word here add a word there just saying.

When public servants see or believe the current government is causing harm to the nation….lying to the people it is NOT their duty, it is NOT their duty to be loyal to the government and shut up about it. No, it IS their duty to stand up, speak out and express their loyalty to the nation they serve.

One of the most important counter balances to power in this nation, and its abuses, are the whistle-blowers (currently under severe attack south of the border).  If we intimidate PUBLIC servants into silence we create a situation where a government can not only do ‘wrong’ but can create the conditions to ‘perpetual dominance’.

harper_brutalism01a688pxThe code is already having a “chilling” effect on federal archivists and librarians, who in more open times, were encouraged to actively engage and interact with groups interested in everything from genealogy to preserving historical documents. This was a time when the government (and its agents) were seen to serve the people of Canada and not primarily its government or corporations.

Now however, government employees have to ask themselves is the risk of an accidental slip of the tongue worth their careers?

“It is very disturbing and disconcerting to have included speaking at conferences and teaching as so-called ‘high risk’ activities,” says Loryl MacDonald archivist at the University of Toronto.

The code says to employees they may accept such invitations “as personal activities” if six conditions are met:

      1. The subject of the activity is not related to the LAC’s mandate or activities;
      2. The employee is not presented as speaking for or being an expert of LAC or the Government of Canada;
      3. The third party that made the invitation is not a potential or current supplier or collaborator with LAC;
      4. The third party does not lobby or advocate with LAC
      5. The third party does not receive grants, funding or payments from LAC; and
      6. The employee has discussed the invitation with his or her manager “who has documented confirmation that the activity does not conflict with the employee’s duties at LAC or present other risks to LAC.”

So to summarize the requirements, you cannot talk about things the government doesn’t what you to, you cannot talk to people the government doesn’t want you too and MOST importantly, if you do speak as a private citizen, you must first get permission from your government overlord.

HarperHitlerSieg Heil!                                                                              (pardon my Godwin)

It appears to rule out federal librarians or archivists interacting on their own time with academics or heritage or genealogy groups and associations, as they may lobby, collaborate and receive funding from the LAC. Including such things as going to their child’s elementary school and telling them what you do for a living.

It seems like a progressive, in the bad sense, attempt to isolate all government employees from engaging the public. What does Harper fear?

John Smart, a retiree who worked for the LAC for almost 20 years believes “the new code reflects a ‘generalized suspicion of public servants’ by the Harper government.

And he says LAC managers are likely not keen to have staff fielding questions about funding cuts and changes at LAC, which are eliminating several specialist archive positions; moving to digitize materials; and reducing public access to archival collections.

There is a pattern here. It’s just not some Alex Jones conspiracy theory. The recent “revolt of the backbenchers’ exemplifies that Harper believes that one tool in his war chest to win the next election is to insure the ‘ignorance’ of the people of Canada about what the Harper government has done, is doing, and plans to do…that ignorance is electoral success for this government.

“First they came for the scientist…
and I said nothing.

Then they came for the librarians…
again I said nothing.

Then they came for the teachers, journalist and activists…
and yet again I said nothing…
it was for the greater good we were told.

Then they came for me…
and I was alone
and too ignorant to know it.”


Posted in Don's Blogs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Radio Freethinker Episode 204 – Panda Politics Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on March 26, 2013


This week:
– New Pope old problems,
– Creationist’s $10,000 challenge,

– Librarians and loyalties, and
– Panda Politics

Download the episode here!


New Pope old problems

76228_600We originally thought the new pope, although having his own baggage, was not tainted by the ‘hiding pedophile priest’ scandal. Well, new report shows that even this humble friar had his role in covering up and moving around disgraced clergy.

Find out more:

Creationist’s $10,000 challenge

edgeDr. Joseph Mastropaolo is offering $10,000 to any individual (who is willing to put up their own $10,000)  who can “prove that science contradicts the literal reading of Genesis”. If you win, you get the $20,000. If on the other hand, they prove “proves that science indicates the literal reading of Genesis” they win.

Find out more:

Librarians and loyalties

Fullscreen capture 02072012 25803 PM-001Don reviews changes to the Code of Conduct for Library and Archives of Canada. The insistence of a ‘duty of loyalty’ to the government as opposed to the nation of Canada strikes as tones of totalitarianism. In the light of many other policies, decisions and legislation  one can not help but get the feeling Harper things HE is the nation, civil servants can’t be trusted and the less the people know the better for the government.

Find out more:

Panda Politics

DEA3795sq-1024x1024Pandas has been an intricate part of Chinese diplomacy for centuries. Since the 1970’s the People Republic has used them to open the doors to the non-communist world.

Two of the bi-coloured fur balls are not in Canada; what does it mean, why did we get them and what did we give up? Could our Prime Minster spend his time doing something more important than pimping Pandas?

Find out more:


Skeptical Highlights:

Medicines from the Ivory Tower


The Istituto teams up once again with ARPICO, the Society of Italian Researchers and Professionals of Western Canada, to present a fascinating talk celebrating the 50th anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Prize to Italian scientist Giulio Natta. Organic chemistry, the branch of chemical science that focuses on carbon-based materials, permits the conversion of basic resources, such as petroleum and coal, into valuable end-products that are the hallmark of technologically advanced societies. Organic chemistry enabled Giulio Natta to usher in the era of advanced plastics. Today, researchers rely on organic chemistry to create the medicines of the future. This talk by UBC’s Prof. Marco Ciufolini will briefly highlight the work of Giulio Natta, before illustrating how advances in organic chemistry are spawning the therapies of the 21st Century.


Istituto Italiano Di Cultura – 500W. Hastings, Vancover


Wednesday, MAR 27, 2013, 6:15 PM



Posted in Show notes | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Department of Science

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 13, 2012

Well, it looks like we’ve finally done it. It’s a high bar to clear but we made it. What, you may ask? Well, at least in one regard, Canada is more  screwed up than the USA.

I was reading in the Ottawa Herald about the difficulty one reporter had to get a simple interview with a Canadian scientist in the employ of government…well-funded by the National Research Council.

Apparently the reporter Tom Spears heard of some research NASA was doing to measure snow fall. He had learned that NASA had teamed up with Environment Canada, the NRC and several universities to fly through and over falling snow in southern Ontario this winter. It used specialized equipment to analyse falling snow in different weather conditions.

He contacted NASA and was talking to one of the research scientist in “15 min”. Now being a proud Canadian, Spears wanted to get the Canadian angles which he though would be interesting considering the large contribution we had made to the project.

In the USA, he could just contact the scientist directly and conduct an informative interview…Harper put an end to that tom foolery. To talk to a government related scientist (employed by or funded via research grants from agencies like the NRC) in Canada, you have to put in a request with a federal department; which he did. After waiting about 2 days, Spears had to publish without his interview or the information he was hoping to include. He did receive some bland generic talking points and an inventory of the plane.

Curious about how the agency handled his request, he filed a Freedom of Information Request and received over 50 pages dealing with his simple request. The long and the short of it, the lower government agents wanted to arrange an interview promptly but were shot down by more senior management who thought it not appropriate and simply wanted to give a paragraph or 4 about the technical details…i.e. what type of plane, the instruments, etc.

Junior agents pointed out that was not really what the reporter wanted, which it was not, but followed orders. Spear just wanted to ask “So why study snow? Is Ontario snow special? do we have special knowledge on this, what is the state of Canadian snow science?” That sort of thing; he was hoping to place a spot light on our scientists and their work. Spear wrote his story with only a perfunctory nod to the NRC participation and not the human interest or nationalist angle he was hoping for.

In an ironic twist, the document he received mentioned the departments reaction to the published article commenting on how the NRC was only mentioned in passing once and the absence of any mention about the Canadian scientific contribution to the project…but that was okay, the journalist didn’t really want anything more than confirmation of the NRC involvement…which was NOT what he wanted.

As a good skeptic I was both dismayed and alarmed by this story. It seems the default position of our government is to provide as little information as possible. There was no political agenda here, no sensitive or controversial material…it just seemed the bureaucrats, taking their lead from their ruler Harper, thought that the less the people know what the government is doing the better.

This leads to a bigger question…why are we muzzling Canadian scientist?

This is not an isolated event, there have been a number of incidences where the Harper government has directly told scientist to NOT speak to reporters. In fact at a recent Montreal conference, Harper added intimidation to the list of ways to NOT inform the people. Attendees were told NOT to grant interviews and to pass along any request to a ‘press agent’ of the NRC who would arrange things. Also, the NRC ‘press agents’ would record everything said…‘for clarification and reference in case there is a discrepancy between the news story and the official line’.

Since the Conservative government won its majority there has been a constant attack on environmental and regulatory entities both in and out of government. Our scientist are some of the best in the world and have been doing great research into many important areas including a number inconvenient to the Harper agenda – climate change, fish farms, environmental health, etc.

Now there is a great political argument to be made against this erosion of our access to OUR OWN science and scientists…that the Harper government is more secretive than the North Korean politburo but I will put that aside for the moment.

What makes this important for the skeptical community is that to be a good skeptic one must be informed. Scientific skepticism is based on empirical evidence and when that is denied to us we can no longer be assured that the answers we derive or support are authentically rational. The free and open flow of information is (almost?) always the best way to run society ESPECIALLY scientific information. An election is 3 years away…there is little we can do now to reverse this governmental trend but we can ensure people know what Harper et al are doing. We can and must ensure that when Elections 2015 rolls around; WE DO NOT FORGET!

<notes found in Ep 163>

Posted in Blogs, Don's Blogs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Are Canadian scientists for sale?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on March 28, 2012

This blog is about both an unexpected win as well as a possible warning.

First it turns out in raw science Canada punched well above its weight class. Although only producing about 1/10 the papers in science as the USA or UK, our papers are cited more. We have the most influential scientist in the world based on citations…and that is everything in the world of academia.

Now you may ask what a ‘citation’ is and why is it so important. Well, simply put a citation is a footnote. When I write an article and I make some factual claim, it should be supported by some research…I use a footnote pointing to the proof of my claim.

In our context, when a researcher publishes a paper, it depends on the work of others to provide a starting point for their ‘advancement’. It also depends on the work of others to re-enforce their interpretation of their claims and results.

It is here that Canada seems to, at the moment at least, be riding high. We can claim that our research is the most important because if seems to be the foundations of so much other work…that if it was not done, all other research would not exist or at least be on weakened ground.


On the list of “things to keep our eyes on”, word has come out of Ottawa about an ongoing effort to transform the National Research Council’s directions. The NRC is a government agency that funds the majority of research in Canada.


The Harper government would like to see the agency focus less on “blue sky” projects and develop a ‘concierge’ or “1-800 number” service for businesses. The aim of this more ‘business friendly’ initiative is to encourage technological innovation in Canada with, I will assume, the aim of increasing industry in Canada.

On the positive side, it seems that the current government does not intend on reducing the investment we make into blue-sky research but hopes to make our top-notch scientist available to industry to help them move projects forward.

It also seems, I think, that they hope to make this a bi-lateral relationship; that is as businesses make requests for our scientific expertise they will be obligated to kick in at least a percentage of the funding. In this way, the ‘seed money’ of the NRC will be amplified by the investment by the private corporations

On the neutral side, I am not sure that the win-fall that government may expect will come. Industry already employs a large number of scientists and don’t see why they would ‘out-source’ the very patents they rely upon for their livelihood (as we all know now, making things is not where the money is but the royalties you get others to pay when they make things…usually in China).

In the old days, Industry would have private think-tanks where research; both technological and deep science would be done. However, less and less money is being spent by business, who prefer to use government funded universities to do the expensive ‘blue sky’ research and then ‘appropriate’ the research just prior to patent-ability.

This leads to the negative side; first it seems fair and appropriate that if 90% of the funding and work of research into discovery “X” was public sources, then 90% of the ensuing patents should also be held by the public (i.e. the state or state institution…like a university). But this could be me just quibbling over details…and my usual pro-society bias.

The other, and I think the biggest concern by scientists, is the time loss. I should explain that there are really two kinds of research – scientific and technological. Scientific research, or blue sky research, is done to discover something about the universe; be that the properties of anti-hydrogen, the genetics of stem-cells or how small a motor can be. They progress our understanding of the universe but don’t, in themselves, result in THINGS.

Things are what technological research is all about. It often, builds upon the scientific research and asks the question “I know the world works this way, what can I do with that?” This research creates the iPad, the new power cell, the new drug to treat impotency. This is where the money is; however this would not be possible without the first part.

In fact, one of the growing problems (most notable in the antibiotics) is that much technological research is based or re-working previous technology, resulting in an absents of ‘new things coming down the pike’.

Now, the negative is first, there are only so many hours in a day. If our scientists are directed to perform the ‘concierge’ service, that is time working on (mainly) technological issues at the expense of scientific research.

Another related issue scientists have proffered is that these ‘joint’ projects or ‘services’ the NRC will provide will be contract based. That means the research scientist will not be able to pursue unexpected avenues of research if they arise.

An example I heard about is one researcher was doing transplant study on mice, during their work they noticed some unusual nodules. They dropped their current research and investigated these nodules that turned out to be Nobel Prize winning research into stem cells.

This could not have happened if they were under contract to some company to develop a mechanism for bone-marrow transplantation; they would be contractually obligated to continue on the transplant research while the ‘unexpected’ discovery may be left on some shelf to be forgotten.

Along with this possible loss of academic freedom, they will also be losing research time because the work most likely to be requisitioned will be technological and thus less time for science research. Some fear that if we do less science research, we will lose our high standing in the science community.

Okay, to be fair, this is still more an idea…a future plan, than anything specific the Harper government is doing. The NRC has already done advertising to promote this new role as can be seen in this promotional video.


I also question the assumption that if we provide services and funding to private corporations they will first spend more research money here and second it will improve our economy. It seems if we already have top-rated scientists, they should be spending here already and if they are not it is for other geo-economic issues. Also, even if discoveries are made here, the companies benefiting will more than likely be trans-nationals who will take the research and run…probably to China for production and the Cayman Islands for profits.

It is something that may not be a negative…maybe it will be; regardless it is something we should keep our eyes on so as to ensure our science remains top-notch.

Learn more:
Biblio-metric evaluation and international benchmarking of the UK’s physics research
The Current – National Research Council changes driven by business needs
Public science takes another hit at the NRC when will the cuts end?

Posted in Blogs, Don's Blogs | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »