Canadian Government Sacks Science Advisor

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Mainstream Media Ignore the Story

The Canadian government is closing the Office of the National Science Advisor (ONSA) and sacking its principal, Dr. Arthur Carty, a move that has garnered virtually no attention from the mainstream press.

Credit must go to the Discovery Channel, to the UK-based Nature News and to CBC‘s excellent Quirks and Quarks host Bob McDonald for reporting the story.

The Harper government’s hostility to science seems to match that of the Bush administration, at least. Canada has been boldly out of step internationally on climate policy and Harper’s Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn recently fired the head of Canada’s Nuclear Safety Commission because she had refused to let political and commercial considerations trump safety concerns.

Now the Harper Conservatives have opted to shut the ONSA – perhaps thinking that, since they weren’t listening to the advice anyway, they should save the money. The Harperites also suggest that they have replaced the ONSA with the Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC), a group that is veritably festooned with blue ribbons. But STIC‘s mandate is to promote Canada’s international competitiveness, and to respond “on issues, referred to it by government.”

The record shows, again, that Prime Minister Harper is not inclined to “refer” issues like climate change or nuclear safety. The government bias is toward using technology to make money – safety and environmental degradation be damned.

Once again, the ultimate responsibility for this decision may rest at the feet of the media – even the public – rather than the government itself. Political self-interest will always mitigate against troublesome public officials who might give inconvenient – and heavily fact-based – advice. But it’s the media’s job to hold politicians to account, to ensure that political expediency does not supersede sound public policy. It’s a job, in this instance, that has been largely left undone.

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