R21: Harper’s Use of Science

I’ve written about how our PM Harper relies more on tradition, preconceptions and, in fact, fully outdated theories when he comes to his conclusions (Bowles, 2015). But many of us do that to some degree: we remember learning something as a child, and never imagine that as we grow, understanding and consensus changes. A great example is my brain injury. After my accident and my six-week coma, after I woke and was told I had “brain damage”, I assumed I would never get better. I was taught as a child that nerve cells do not reproduce nor repair: so when you injure your brain, there is no going back. Turns out I was wrong, and now I am a great example of how scientific understanding and application changes over time.

Our PM, however, does not seem to agree: or at least does not think that changing science should impact what goes on in government affairs. This in spite of Canada’s position in the global economy as a major producer of extracted materials, for which science and technology are essential. And yet over the years Harper has been in power positions were cut, budgets slashed, departments privatized and decisions made to ignore the scientific community. Early in his tenure (and several times since) Canada was recognized as a “Fossil of the Year”: one of the countries that did the most to block climate change negotiations. A timeline of his first few years degrading science in Canada is available at Tiki-Toki (2013).

So what does Mr. Harper think is important in this realm? What affects his approach to legislation, what guides him in making decisions? In a nutshell, what forms the basis of his worldview? We can be fairly sure it is not science: in 2008 (at the beginning of Mr. Harper’s reign), the office of science adviser to the Prime Minister was eliminated (CBC, 2008). Now, the position may not have been around for a long time (The Star, 2008), but in a world that shifts as rapidly as ours does, and from many scientific perspectives at once, the PM should have input from scientists better trained than he is. But he refuses such input. Yet, interestingly, when Harper flew to Israel last year, he included ten religious advisers from a number of fundamentalist and conservative groups. I hope they’re not the ones advising him on the scientific front: but I wouldn’t put it past them.

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