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NEWS: Harper’s clampdown on science and the Experimental Lakes Area

Michael Harris writes in iPolitics today, “Good science is what saves us from disastrous policy and the astronomical costs associated with getting it wrong. After the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) denied that there had been any change in publication policy, I contacted Professor Jeff Hutchings (the former head of the Royal Society of Canada). ‘What a load of crap,’ he said.”

“Here, precisely, are the changes that the new policy denied by DFO usher in. Review procedures now apply to any paper with a DFO scientist as an author, instead of just those papers where a DFO scientist was first author. Secondly, the author of a paper no longer signs off on the copyright on behalf of the Crown. That means that a bureaucrat who did not contribute to the work in question, and did not have a hand in the science undertaken for the paper, now has the power to stop publication by refusing to sign off on the copyright. …Under the new system, DFO can prevent publication by withholding copyright sign-off even if a DFO scientist played only the slightest role in the production of the paper.”

“On the heels of DFO’s new publication approval policy (which took effect on February 1), another new policy landed in the in-boxes of government scientists on February 7. This new policy, which comes into effect immediately, requires DFO scientists to seek approval from the Regional Director of Science in order to even apply for any researching funding.”

The article highlights, “‘This change in funding policy is a big deal … the Experimental Lakes Area would not have been able to do much of the acid rain research we did, all of the reservoir research we did, and the ongoing METALLICUS experiment. On the other hand, isn’t this what Harper wants? When I was at the Freshwater Institute, DFO was giving me awards for getting this outside funding,’ one non-DFO scientist told me. The big worry among scientists is that the new policies could be used to make it impossible for government scientists to do any ‘unmanaged’ research in the future. That’s because whatever they do now will be tightly controlled from the onset — from funding applications through to the final step of communicating research findings to the scientific community and the general public.”

“With the rapid development of the Alberta oilsands a key priority of the Harper government, the need for independent science has never been greater. Under the new DFO policies, government could stop publication of studies like the one recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in the United States. That federally-funded study linked oilsands activity to the deposit of toxic hydrocarbons in Alberta wilderness lakes, closing the door on the claim by industry and government that the pollution could be coming from natural sources.”

Harris concludes, “During the uproar caused by the Harper government’s closure of the ELA, some of Canada’s top scientists exchanged e-mails, opining that the shuttering was not about saving a measly $2 million a year. It was about making sure that one of the world’s leading freshwater research facilities didn’t come up with any inconvenient science that might get in the way of the Bitumen Express currently roaring down the tracks.”

His full column can be read at http://www.ipolitics.ca/2013/02/12/the-dfo-and-science-a-fish-story/. To read about Council of Canadians campaign efforts to save the Experimental Lakes Area, go to http://canadians.org/blog/?s=%22experimental+lakes+area%22.