The unscientific methods of Canada’s politicos


Despite claims of mounting evidence to the contrary, Canadians are, indeed, a scientifically minded folk after all. Or perhaps we only wish we were in the face the awful truth about our patently dunderheaded ways.

In either case, a special panel of the Council of Canadian Academies is trenchant in its most recent findings on the subject. Having interviewed hundreds of people and reviewed trunk loads of data and “peer-reviewed literature”, the organization has produced what it boasts is the “clearest picture of Canada’s science culture and science culture support system in 25 years.”

In response to the question, “What is the state of Canada’s science culture?”, the panel concluded, that “Canadians have positive attitudes towards science and technology and low levels of reservations about science compared with citizens of other countries.”

What’s more, “Canadians exhibit a high level of engagement with science and technology relative to citizens of other countries; the level of science knowledge (in Canada) is on a par with or above citizens of other countries for which data are available” and “Canada’s performance on indicators of science and technology skills development is variable compared with other OECD countries.”

All of this may come as a nasty surprise to certain Conservative MPs who have made much mischief in recent years propagating the fiction that all science is, in fact, just a matter of opinion (the corollary being that one opinion is just as valid as any other, because, gosh darn it, we live in a democracy and in a democracy that’s how we roll thank you very much).

Still, if we appear hopefully and outwardly rationale to the trained eyes of the nation, dutifully respectful of logic and the scientific method, how do we explain this report, which appeared on the front page of the Globe and Mail last week: “The fate of one of the federal government’s toughest crime bills is in doubt after the House of Commons sent the wrong version on to the Senate, which debated that version and sent it on to a committee for further study.”

Apparently, the errors in the Senate’s iteration of the bill are so egregious they compromise the very purpose of the proposed legislation, which is to strengthen the rights and representation of victims of major crimes.

How’d this happen? Conservative MP David Sweet, who sponsored the bill, was darned if he knew, but trusted all would be well in the end. “There has been an administrative error that I found out about between the House of Commons and the Senate administration,” the Globe quotes him as saying. “So the legislation that was in the hands of the Senate was not the legislation that passed the House of Commons. Measures are being taken.”

Of course, even in science, mistakes happen. But they don’t generally occur at the most mundane, routine levels of research – activities that are, in this case, analogous to the clerical work that House of Commons staffers undertake to move federal bills forward.

The real outrage against logic, here, may be the assumption that across-the-board job cuts in the public service necessarily results in better efficiency for less cost.

To be fair, though, money is tight everywhere. Just ask Canada’s premiers and territorial leaders, who were meeting in Charlottetown last week to decide, among other things, which menu to order lunch off of, as the subject of interprovincial trade barriers was likely to cause a collective bought of severe indigestion.

Fortunately, taxpayers won’t be on the hook. . .not entirely. As has been widely reported, mostly by the Ottawa Citizen, the premiers have managed to secure a total of $450,000 in private-sector sponsorships from such Canadian corporate heavyweights as the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada ($150,000) and Manulife ($50,000).

Even Unifor and the Canadian Union of Public Employees are in on the act.

The wholly unscientific assumption at the centre of this cogitation is that Canadians will not view the practice of branding with private logos a political meeting convened to pursue the public interest as utterly rank and quite likely undemocratic.

Heck no, said conference host Prince Edward Island Premier Joe Ghiz.

“In my opinion it’s about supporting democracy, it helps save taxpayers’ money,” he told the Charlottetown Guardian last week. “If we’re bringing in people from all over the country, I want to show them a good time.”

Behold, dear reader: critical thinking so very hard at work.


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