Radio Freethinker

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Posts Tagged ‘Experimental Lakes Area’

RFT Rant – Ep 239 – Book Burning and Harper’s war on science

Posted by Don McLenaghen on January 20, 2014

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This week my rant is about yet another front on Harper’s war on science. 7 of 9 of our world-famous Department of Fisheries and Oceans [DFO] libraries were closed in the autumn of 2013. This was ostensibly to reduce cost. The government pledged to digitize the contents of these libraries to ensure no intellectual property was lost.

In the modern information age, buildings holding books with information does seem a tad out dated. Digitalizing information not only makes it easier to store, allows more to be stored but also makes it more accessible. In theory.

If this were where the story ended, you my loyal readers may ask what’s the rant?

Well, it is coming to light that only a fraction of the contents of these libraries have been electronically copied. It seems that only 1 in 20 books were converted. Some have been transferred to other libraries, most were given away for free to anyone who walked in and took them from the shelves and a large number are or were burnt or sent to landfills. I have yet to confirm the book burning but it does add a touch of historical resonance.

The government claimed the libraries were not used but based this conclusion on the number of people who asked for help. Let us remember these are largely academic resources used by people who know their way around a library…not likely to need much help. I suspect is was the only measure they could find that seemed low enough to support their political agenda.

Okay…that was a little partisan and I want to make a clarification. Much of this rant is centered on a report from the Tyee…a center-left publication and based on interviews with scientist working for or with the DFO. I have collaborated the central themes, closure and dispersal of books, but I have yet to be able to confirm it in its entirety. That said, Harper’s government has a history of this kind of stuff, so I am willing to give the report the benefit of the doubt.

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The report stated that a number of the scientist interviewed could not understand why the libraries were being closed at all. The cost savings would only be in the order of $400,000 a year in a budget of almost $2 billion. And that, to quote “Most saw in the actions a political agenda by the Harper government to reduce the role of government in Canadian society, as well as the use of scientific evidence in making policy.”

One interviewee explained how the system works. The library itself is not actually run by DFO but by Information Management and Technology Services (IMTS). This takeover occurred in 2009.

IMTS operates under a corporate business model. Under this model, one sector of government sells its services to another sector of government with the objective of providing the least amount of service for the largest possible service fee. This would seem to be a very bad business model for running a government department that has the prime objective of long-term public good — giving the public the best return possible on their tax dollar across all sectors of government through working co-operatively.

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Getting back to the Harper agenda, in isolation this would be conjecture and perhaps conspiracy thinking, but couple that with the fact that the government has shut down a number of research groups related to this content, most infamously the Experimental Lakes Area, the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission and the DFO’s entire contaminates research program. There has also be much reduced funding for the Freshwater Institute and the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research.

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To bring it home, the last one, also known as COOGER, is the group that would do research into things like offshore oil spills and environmental impact of oil shipping…you know, that thing that they are planning to do in Northern BC to ship Alberta oil to the Asia…Northern Gateway…the one where they promise a ‘quote’ world class response to any oil spill. Hard to have any kind of response when you cut the funding to one of the main research entities focused on that oil-spill issue.

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And those works that are transferred to other libraries, access becomes much more difficult. Scientist or the public will no longer be able to walk into a local DFO library, scan the shelves for a pertinent book and grab it. No, now they will have to know what they want ahead of time, make an inter-library loan…time and effort many will not likely go to thus making scientific research that much more difficult.

To quote acclaimed Dalhousie University biologist Jeff Hutchings…”It is always unnerving from a research and scientist perspective to watch a government undermine basic research. There are many materials online but just as many books and materials that are not. The idea that you can send an email to Ottawa and get a book somewhere down the road is a myth. The idea that all requests will be honored also won’t happen.”

He goes on to say “From a science and research perspective these closures will have no positive impact on the quality of research but they will have a negative impact. Losing libraries is not a neutral act.”

Hutchings saw the library closures fitting a larger pattern of “fear and insecurity” within the Harper government, “about how to deal with science and knowledge.”

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He sees a pattern, the closing of research groups, cutting of funding for environmental research, the muzzling of scientists which we have talked about many times before here on Radio Free Thinker. The near abandonment of climate change research and although Harper is not as bad as Australia’s new Prime Minister who in a 2010 rally stated “The climate change argument is absolute crap, however the politics are tough for us because 80 per cent of people believe climate change is a real and present danger”.

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Harper said last year that “Canada applauds the decision by Prime Minister Abbott to introduce legislation to repeal Australia’s carbon tax,”

Australian business are also lobbying the government to loosen or at least not tighten greenhouse gas regulations to ensure maximum fossil fuel extraction…they have dirty coal, we have tar sands. In this they both state that nothing major needs to be done. Harper is just ensuring there is NOT the science to contradict his policies.

Infamously Harper abandoned the Kyoto Protocols which called for a 6% reduction of CO2 based on 1990 numbers and pulled out of his arse a 17% reduction based on 2005. That translates into a level over 20% higher…assuming my math is correct…higher than 1990 levels.

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All these things indicate that the Harper government strongly regards environmental science as a threat to unfettered resource exploitation.

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A recent Sunday editorial in the New York Times said “This is more than an attack on academic freedom. It is an attempt to guarantee public ignorance,”

“It is also designed to make sure that nothing gets in the way of the northern resource rush — the feverish effort to mine the earth and the ocean with little regard for environmental consequences.”

One last note, a number of interviewed scientists spoke anonymously because they feared that their funding or other government support could be hurt if their names were connected with the concerns they were eager to share.

Remember our reporting on loyalty oaths to the government and not to the nation? Here you see it come home to roost.

Thanks to our electoral system we cannot stop Harper’s dismantling of the government…of sciences, but we sure as hell can raise a stink about it…make sure everyone knows what he is doing.

The sadist part of my research into this is the absence of coverage by the mainstream media. Even the CBC barely covered the story of the closures let alone the impacts and follow up on trashing government funded research.

As Harper’s arrogance grows, his disrespect for Canada and Canadians…beyond the business class and moneyed elites… has become blatant and stark. But cracks are showing and if and when criminal charges are laid regarding the Duffy Scandal, mayhaps the mighty Harper maybe kicked out by his own party.

Regardless, never forget…2015!

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RFT Ep 239 – Pope Francis Gambit Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on January 7, 2014

Download the episode here! 

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Don’s Rant:

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Don’s Rant is all about the closure of almost all of the DFO’s libraries. The contents of the libraries were either given away or tossed in the trash. Scientist complain that the government did not live up to it’s promise to digitize the libraries contents and that this is just another front Harper has opened on his war on science.

Find out more:

Blast from the past – 

New Pope with baggage

dewar cartoon march 17 2013 col.jpgThe Catholic Church has a new Pope, who is he? Does he come with come darker baggage? Is he the right person to rescue the church form its current troubles. Poster Pope or A Pope on a Poster?

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The Pope Francis Gambit

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We also discuss the charm offensive of Time Person of the Year, Pope Francis. Does this pope spark real change or is it just a new ploy dreamt up by former Fox News reporter now head of the Vatican public relations. Is there a ‘real’ Pope Frankie who has masterminded the smoke and mirrors that is Pope Francis while Pope Frankie continues the condemnation of church doctrine? Does the actions match the rhetoric? Atheist should be very afraid of this pope, the easy battles with the cartoon caricature Pope Benedict presented are gone; the church has launched a new offensive. Are we up to the challenge?

Find out more:

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It’s a Bad Time to be a Scientist in Canada

Posted by Ethan Clow on May 24, 2012

My ability to stay politically neutral when it comes to skepticism is getting very difficult. It’s made worse when horrible decisions like this happen, if you’re a  a marine biologist in Canada, you might want to look for work elsewhere. That’s because a program called the Experimental Lakes Area, a world renown research facility in Northern Ontario is being shut down by budget cuts from the Government of Canada.

The Experimental Lakes Area, a region of 58 lakes near Kenora, Ont., that scientists have used for groundbreaking experiments and it will be shut down as a result of budget cuts by March 2013, in addition there will be about 400 layoffs in Winnipeg’s regional Fisheries and Oceans Canada office.

The closure of the ELA has provoked some harsh criticism for the government.

To quote Harvard University aquatic sciences Prof. Elsie Sunderland:

“I was pretty shocked, This is one of the foremost research projects and places to do research in the world. To have it shut down is just appalling. It’s just embarrassing.”

To quote Cynthia Gilmour, a senior scientist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland:

“I was stunned, The ELA has contributed to environmental policy for 40 years, and the long-term records alone on temperature and ice cover are absolutely invaluable.”

At the ELA scientists test a verity of different environmental focused research issues. They monitor long term ecological impact of various pollutants, human impact on fresh water, and how to develop successful strategies for dealing with these dangers to fresh water and the ecosystem. The big difference between what was happening at the ELA compared to other research facilities is that the ELA is doing long running experiments, in some cases, decade long research. There isn’t another place like that in the world.

The effect that research at the ELA has had is far reaching. Before moving to Harvard, Sunderland, originally from Nova Scotia, worked for years creating policy at the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Research done at the experimental lakes on the effects of mercury on fish and waterways was discussed at the highest levels of the EPA and helped form the basis of new regulations on coal-fired power plant emissions. Those new rules became official in December.

Work on the lakes has also led to continent-wide policy shifts on acid rain, changes to the way hydro dams are built, a ban on phosphorus in detergents and huge advancements in the battle against the green algae that fouls Lake Winnipeg beaches every summer.

This summer, ELA staff and researchers from Trent University were slated to begin a new long-term project on the effects of nanoparticles, an emerging multi-billion-dollar technology, on waterways and fish.

Federal officials say the ELA no longer “aligned with the department’s mandate and is not responding to our research priorities.” Ottawa hopes a university or the provinces will take over funding the project.

“It makes more sense to allow it to be owned and operated by those who will benefit from this unique research facility,” said Erin Filliter, spokeswoman for federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield.

In reality this sort of project is well out of the reach of a university.  For one, this is decade-long research, and based on how research is done at the ELA – where scientists will deliberately pollute an area and run tests on the ecosystem, would not be feasible for a university which would have to cut through a lot of bureaucratic red tape to do something like that.

Unfortunately this has fallen on deaf ears. The MP for Kenora, Conservative Greg Rickford claims he used to “brag” about the ELA but apparently the affection he once felt is gone now. He also echoed the sentiment that a university should take over the research at the ELA.

But even university departments are reacting with skepticism at this idea that a massive project like the ELA could be realistically continued by a university.

“The federal government is expecting universities to step up… It’s a very different kind of commitment to do the work that Experimental Lakes has done and continues to do. I’m not sure how we’re going to fill that void.” – John Gunn,  Director of the Vale Living with Lakes Centre at Laurentian University in Sudbury. (empathasis mine)

Okay, so this all sounds fine but I bet your saying “listen, I’m all for science but we need to be careful with money right now right? We can’t afford to go spending billions on lake science.” The annual budget for the ELA is 2 million.

To compare, the cost per year of the Harper governments new fleet of fighter jets is about 1.2 billion.

Note, the ELA apparently does tours of their facility. If you’re in the area I suggest you give them a shout and see about seeing what they do there first hand while you still can.

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Radio Freethinker Episode 167 – Global Austerity Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 22, 2012

This week:

– Space X launch,
– Dangers of overselling vaccination ,
– Canada’s endangered scientist,
– Austerity: does it work (Part 1 of 3 interview with Seth Klein).

Download the episode here!

Topics:
Space X Launch

Space X successfully launched the Falcon 1 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo capsule to restock the International Space Station. 

Find out more:

Dangers of overselling vaccination

New research shows that overselling vaccination causes people to be less likely to get their children vaccinated.

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Canada’s endangered scientist

We discuss the Harper governments budget cuts and the extreme harm they are having on Canada’s scientific community and research. We focus on the Experimental Lakes Area.

Find out more:

Austerity: does it work

Don’s sits down with Seth Klein in the Radio Free Thinker virtual studio and discusses austerity: what it is, does it work and is our governments following the austerity bandwagon.

Seth Klein is director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives for BC.

Find out more:

Skeptical Highlights:

2012 Best Illusion of the Year Contest

The contest is a celebration of the ingenuity and creativity of the world’s premier visual illusion research community. Visual illusions are those perceptual experiences that do not match the physical reality. Our perception of the outside world is generated indirectly by brain mechanisms, and so all visual perception is illusory to some extent. The study of visual illusions is therefore of critical importance to the understanding of the basic mechanisms of sensory perception, as well as to cure many diseases of the visual system. The visual illusion community includes visual scientists, ophthalmologists, neurologists, and visual artists that use a variety of methods to help discover the neural underpinnings of visual illusory perception.

Illusions of note:

Floating Star – Where when you look at a static image of a ‘blotty’ star on a blotty background, the star appears to be moving.

TBA – When you look at two moving dots directly they move in straight lines but when you look at them with your peripheral vision, they appear to be moving an arch.

The Flashed Face Distortion Effect – When you are looking at two images of faces with a small space between them. You are to focus on the central point while the images on each side are exchanged with other faces. All the images are normal people…however the effect is ‘horrific’.

2012 Best Illusion of the Year Contest

In Search of a Better World: The Utopian Imagination

Another Philosphers’ Cafe forum where Tiffany Werth of SFU asks if what we imagine can shape what is possible.

When: May 23 at 7pm

Where: Waves coffee shop at 900 Howe

Cost: Free

Canadian Copyright Law for Composers

MusicBC’s Bob D’Eith will give a workshop on navigating Canadian copyright laws.

When: May 25 from 2-4pm

Where: CMC BC Creative Hub – 837 Davie

Cost: Free

E-volving Democracy: Online Voting Public Dialogue

This is the first in the “E-volving Democracy” dialogue series highlighting current issues related to technology, democracy, and the theory and practice of collective decision-making.  This event is designed for anyone who wants to make change happen – including democracy and social justice activists, open source coders and hackers, philosophers and academics, facilitators, convenors and skeptics.

The session will include a panel discussion featuring Andrew MacLeod (legislative reporter, The Tyee); Steve Wolfman (Computer Science, SFU) and Fathima Cadre (UBC Law and anti-online voting advocate). In small group discussions, participants will identify and prioritize conditions they believe a proposed online voting system would have to satisfy before it could be used in good conscience in a public election.

When: May 26 from 2-5pm

Where: The Hive Vancouver – 128 W. Hastings

Cost: by donation

slutTALK: The (Un)Conference

In-depth conversations about rape culture, victim-blaming, and sexual stigma. Speakers will include representatives from Women Against Violence Against Women, the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities, and the F Word Media Collective.

When: May 26 from 1-4pm

Where: WISE Hall – 1882 Adanac

Cost: by donation


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