Tag Archives: research

Ignorance on the rise

Posters and flyers in Moncton recently depicted two women in politics as tethered to the whims of men. This is, of course, absurd in a putatively enlightened and generally progressive society.

Still, stupidity appears to be on the rise in this democracy of ours. What did the late, great Prime Minister of England, Winston Churchill once say, presciently? “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe,” he once reflected. “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Naturally, no one is perfect, least of all those who, last week, deposited handmade paper missives against New Brunswick Finance Minister Cathy Rogers and Liberal candidate for Moncton Northwest, Courtney Pringle-Carver. According to a report by Brunswick News Inc., “The message carried by hundreds of posters strewn about Moncton, insinuating two female provincial politicians are controlled by their male colleagues is insulting, says one of the victims of the caricature.”

To be clear, the report continues, the caricature displayed both women under the direct sway of the political boys of summer. All of which is broadly offensive and lamentably emblematic of an uptick in harsh and ill-informed speech. Is this the way we are suddenly leaning in this province?

Let us hope we are not. But, I fear, we might be turning that way. After all, we can’t seem to resist the western world’s latent lust for demagoguery, intolerance, outrage and sheer imbecility.

The evidence of a new enlightenment is sketchy.

Trumpism south of the border has galvanized, if not created, a seething disbelief in everything that is empirically provable. Consider these excerpts from a report a year ago by Canada’s public: “A study co-authored by University of Montreal researchers suggests that while 79 per cent of Canadians do not doubt the reality of climate change, 39 per cent don’t believe it is caused by human activity. . . Survey respondents seemed to be deeply divided on what is causing climate change. For example, only 33 per cent of people living in the Fort-McMurray – Cold-Lake riding in Alberta believe climate change is partly or mostly caused by humans. That compares to 78 per cent in the Quebec riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, where the rate is the highest.”

Meanwhile, another study conducted by the Ontario Science Centre over the summer concludes, and I quote, “Nearly half of Canadians believe science is a matter of opinion”. Specifically, “Canadians are hungry to learn about new science but their trust in science news has declined to alarming levels. . .While Canadians understand the basics and have a desire to deepen their knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes, their mistrust in the way science is covered in the news has serious implications for society.

“This breakdown in trust has serious consequences for Canada because our future health, prosperity and security all depend on making important, sometimes difficult, decisions based on scientific findings,” said Dr. Maurice Bitran, CEO and Chief Science Officer, Ontario Science Centre. “If we don’t trust the sources, or don’t understand the information we are receiving, we can’t make informed decisions. The findings of this 2017 survey demonstrate a vital role for authentic scientific voices in public education on critical issues that affect public policy and human health and wellbeing.”

Good luck with that. Stupidity and intolerance tends to stick like fly paper, even here, even now.

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We are all connected


It should surprise exactly no one that not one Canadian municipality makes the World Economic Forum’s list of most successful cities – not Toronto, not Montreal, not Vancouver, and certainly not any of New Brunswick’s three major urban areas.

We are, after all, in this province mere cartographic postscripts comporting ourselves in much the same way we always have: with one toe tentatively dipped in the future and one foot firmly planted in the past. I sometimes think we like it that way. In fact, there’s nothing particularly wrong with it.

Armies of retirees, fresh from their career conquests in other more economically vigorous parts of the world, have chosen communities like Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John to settle into their sanguine senescence. Here, crime rates are low, house prices are stunningly reasonable, and the natural environment is, by every comparison, downright pristine.

But, ultimately, no region can survive its own sleepy traditions and predilections by insulating itself from the rest of the world. What is virtuous about a place can eventually become disadvantageous. Whether we like it or not, we are all connected on this planet.

Over the years, the urgent conversation among those here who recognize this simple fact of life in the 21st Century has concerned the character of progress. How far can we go without compromising that which makes this part of the world unique and efficacious? We’ve not settled on a definitive answer, but we have found some enlivening clues.

The World Economic Forum offers some insight. “Forces of globalization, urbanization and technological advancement are transforming the definition of a ‘successful’ city and reshaping the global urban hierarchy in the process,” it recently posted on its website. “Success can no longer be measured simply by considering a city’s size and historical attributes. Today it is more likely to revolve around innovation, ‘liveability’ and the ability to transform and adapt.”

On this score, it elaborates, “Many of the top 20 cities in the 2016 City Momentum Index – including London, San Francisco and Sydney – are home to vibrant mixed-used districts which create and amplify opportunities to conceive and commercialize new ideas. This reinforces the idea that city momentum involves much more than GDP growth. It also requires building an innovation-oriented economy through technology. It means creating cutting-edge new businesses. And it involves attracting talent and nurturing a diverse and inclusive workforce.”

Are we, in New Brunswick, doing enough of this? If the size of a place no longer matters as a determinant of economic and social health, where are the large and small innovations that really do make a difference? The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation insists they’re out there. “With over $70 million invested, plus $380 million more leveraged from other sources, NBIF has helped to create over 90 companies and fund 400 applied research projects since its inception in 2003, with a current portfolio of 42 companies,” its website declares. “All of NBIF’s investment returns go back into the Foundation to be re-invested in other new startup companies and research initiatives.”

Fair enough, but we need more of this. The fact that I can count the number of business incubators in this province that regularly garner mainstream media attention on one hand suggests that we haven’t truly leveraged the global innovation agenda to our full advantage.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, Silicon Valley was a craggy patch of earth on California’s west coast. Shall we, in New Brunswick continue to consign ourselves to a similar condition, or shall we make our success stories convincingly and finally resonate?

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Open Ottawa’s closed door to science


The Canadian government’s relationship with the scientific community is, at best, fractious – the inevitable result of frequent dueling over the meaning of the word ‘evidence’ and, more to the point, its value in the so-called real world.

Members of the Conservative caucus routinely poke academics and researchers, who they suspect harbour left-of-liberal sentiments, sometimes for nothing more than the sheer joy of getting a rise out of them. Careful, Dr. Egghead, your shell might crack.

This, at least, appears to the operating principle behind two recent decisions of the Tory regime – both of which are driving environmentalists and biologist bonkers.

Last year, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced that it would shutter more than half of its regional marine research libraries. The government justified its action – will save a total of $430,000 – on the grounds that taxpayers should not have to shoulder the annual cost of maintaining 11 facilities when six will do.

But, as Gloria Galloway reported in the Globe and Mail on Wednesday, “it was not until (scientists) saw the shelves being cleared, the books and journals being scooped up for free by private companies, and the scientific reports being hauled off to the dumpster that the magnitude of the purge hit home.”

Indeed, former DFO regional director Burton Ayles called it a “loss of historic material.” His peer, Peter Wells, a professor at Dalhousie University, went further.

“I see this situation as a national tragedy, done under the pretext of cost savings, which, when examined closely, will prove to be a false motive,” the Globe quoted him. “A modern democratic society should value its information resources, not reduce, or worse, trash them.”

One letter writer to the Globe carried the flag the following day: “This government says Canadians cannot afford the $430,000 per year required to maintain taxpayer-funded irreplaceable scientific research,” wrote Chris Marriott of Chelsea, Que.

“On the other hand, we find that it was quite willing to spend $20-million a year on the Prime Minister’s personal security (we’ve seen this week how that’s worked out), and tens of millions promoting itself through the Economic Action Plan and Canada Job Grant advertising campaigns. The public money spent on just a handful of Action Plan ads aired during last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs would have more than covered the $430,000 the government says it can’t find to preserve critical scientific research.”

Meanwhile, we learn from the Globe’s Shawn McCarthy that the federal government has told the United Nations that unless Big Oil in Canada curbs its emissions, there’s virtually no chance that this country will come close to meeting its 2009 commitments made at the Copenhagen climate summit.

Instead, according to the article, the report to the UN “talks vaguely about new regulations in its sector-by-sector approach, while adding provinces, businesses and consumers also have a responsibility to address climate change.”

Given that the U.S. government, under the leadership of President Barack Obama, has articulated a thorough plan for reducing emissions in that country – and that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has consistently tied this country’s progress on the issue to that of our neighbour to the south – the disingenuousness in Ottawa these days   fills the air so thickly, it’s hard to breath.

What this crew has against against science or, indeed, any sort of learned discipline is hard to divine. But, it is abundantly clear, from many public pronouncements of many Tory MPs over the years that healthy, vigorous debate in caucus or in the Commons is roundly anathematic to good, representative government – a supposition that is genuinely absurd.

Still, evidence and deliberation, a knowledge of history and an appreciation of nuance, are enemies of political agendas regardless of the ideological underpinnings. No party in this, or any other democratic nation, has a patent on open-mindedness. Sadly, a demonstrable ability to think critically on any given subject long ago dropped off the list of worthy qualifications for a life in public office.

We, the electorate, must either do without or reinvent it in the so-called real world of politics as usual.

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