April 20, 2009
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Canadian scientists, dismayed by cuts of $113 million to the three primary granting agencies in this year’s federal budget, sent an open letter of protest to PM Harper last week that collected 2,000 signatures.
The response, from Minister of Industry Tony Clement, was certainly better pitched than the response at budget time from the government’s initial spokes-o-practor, Gary Goodyear. Mr. Goodyear also responded to the protest letter — penning a letter to Nature — and succeeded in not igniting any additional controversy.
I have three points in reaction to the budget and the protest letter:
- The federal government clearly chose an investment in infrastructure and training at the expense of basic research, but is clearly embarrassed to say so in light of peer country decisions. The U.S. has prominently featured major increases in research funding, and the UK has pledged not to let science be a victim of the economy (though we will see Wednesday if they put their money, or their foot, where PM Brown’s mouth is).
- The Ontario government has done significant work to close the gap in research funding and infrastructure matching funds left by the federal budget.
- We are starting to see local impacts of the funding decisions generate pressure on individual MPs. For example, the federal minister of public works, Christian Paradis, was “angry” and said he will do everything he can to ensure that the famous Mont Mégantic Observatory, which is in his riding of Mégantic-L’Érable east of Montreal, receives funding to remain open. The NSERC, which decided to drop the observatory’s funding, has cut a number of projects to cope with a $70-million drop in its budget.
March 30, 2009
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A couple of particularly well-turned phrases in response to the Gary Goodyear evolution flap from an excellent piece in the Globe and Mail by T. Ryan Gregory (author of the Genomicron blog, which has continued to follow the story) explaining facts, theories and everything in between:
Darwin had two objectives: first, to establish that modern species are related through descent from common ancestors; second, to propose natural selection as the primary cause of this “descent with modification.” As scientists put it, he sought simultaneously to establish both the fact of evolution and a theory of evolution. But how can something be both a fact and a theory? The controversy over science minister Gary Goodyear’s comments about evolution shows the need for clarification….
Evolution is not “just a theory,” any more than germs, atoms or gravity are “just a theory.” The common ancestry shared by all life is the unifying principle of biology, making sense of an otherwise bewildering array of diversity and complexity. Our understanding of how this has occurred is, itself, constantly evolving.
March 20, 2009
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Gary Goodyear, Canada’s minister of state for science and technology, has drawn international attention this week for his highly defensive, arguably obfuscatory, chronologically incorrect and possibly creationist statements about evolution.
Tuesday, March 17, the Globe and Mail reports Goodyear responding to a question about evolution by saying “I’m not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don’t think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate.” (er, that was a science question!) Later Tuesday, appearing on a CTV News show, he said “Well, of course, I do, but it’s an irrelevant question” and went on to say “We are evolving every year, every decade.” (speed-volution!) Wednesday Morning, and since, he has stuck to the position that his view on the matter “has no relevance.” (keep evolving that position, Mr. Goodyear!)
There are now several schools of thought:
- Mr. Goodyear is a creationist whose beliefs are influencing science funding decisions;
- Mr. Goodyear has compounded a bad gaffe with a worse strategy, but the science funding decisions have nothing to do with his beliefs;
- His failure to properly articulate examples of evolution show that he lacks understanding requisite to do his job;
- His failure to properly articulate examples of evolution were a further attempt to prevaricate — he claims to believe in evolution, but doesn’t mean the same kind of evolution that scientists refer to; plus a special bonus…
- The whole thing is a librul witch hunt and it would be perfectly okay to have a creationist minister of state for science (sic) and technology.
I have been unable to locate a description of the minister of state’s mandate, so I can’t judge whether he’s effectively meeting those expectations. I can say that his behaviour, between this episode and his shouting match with professors a couple of weeks ago, has done nothing constructive to address the urgent problems facing our research, development and commercialization industries.
Is that irrelevant? Well, Mr. Goodyear…