Thursday, January 31, 2008

We Hardly Knew Ye

Arthur Carty has been dismissed and he won't be replaced when he leaves on March 31.

I'll let that shocking news sink in for a minute or two ....

♪♪ ...musical interlude ..... ♪♪♪

So, are you properly outraged? No?

If you're like 99.99% 0f Canadians you probably didn't know that Arthur Carty is Canada's National Science Advisor. Probably 99% of Canadians didn't even know we had a National Science Advisor.

It really doesn't matter 'cause soon we won't have one. Stephan Harper is eliminating the office of National Science Advisor. Good riddance, I say. I've seen no evidence that our science advisor ever did anything so I'm not going to get too upset about this. Check out the website for the Office of the National Science Advisor. Boooooring ....

Does Canada need a National Science Advisor? No. We already have people who are well-placed to advise the government about science. The heads of the granting councils, for example (Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council).

Of course, they haven't done a very good job either. The head of CIHR recently resigned after a couple of devastating grant competitions where the level of funding was far below what was necessary. Nevertheless, in an ideal world those are the people who should be advising the government on science policy.1 It's not helpful to have a third party who has no chips on the table.

Lots of people disagree with me (). Over on Canadian Cynic LuLu thinks this is just a reflection of the science illiteracy of the Conservatives [Science? We don't need science.]. That's true but it's not going to be fixed by having a science advisor who hides out in the Department of Industry.

PZ Myers runs a little blog on the edge of Minnesota, near North Dakota, and a few miles south of Canada. He's secretly delighted that our Canadian Prime Minister is behaving as badly as George Bush [Congratulations Canada!]. I don't care. Our science advisor has only been around for three years but that's long enough to demonstrate that it's a useless job. I understand that Americans are upset about the demotion of their Presidential Science Adviser. I guess he was much more successful that Arthur Carty was in Canada. I dunno.

1. Along with Presidents of scientific societies, Presidents of leading universities, prominent scientists and teachers, and taxi drivers.

[The title of this posting is from an old Irish anti-war song called Johnny I Hardly Knew ye. Check out this version on YouTube.]


  1. That's true but it's not going to be fixed by having a science advisor who hides out in the Department of Industry.

    He had a position in the Privy Council Office, where he arguably had more influence and a direct line to the Prime Minister before Harper moved him to Industry (where he only had the ear of that minister) shortly after taking office.

    I'm not sure when he was appointed by Martin, but given that it was 2004 that gave him less than 6 months - at a time when parliament was not in session (for the most part) due to the impending election - before Harper took charge and castrated the position by moving it to Industry.

    Carty may or may not have been the best man for the job, but I don't think the position was really given a chance to succeed, and *removing* science voices from the government doesn't really seem like a movement in the right direction.

  2. In technocratic societies science should be a separate and equal branch of government.

  3. I wouldn't look to the NRC as supplying science advice. In fact, I wonder where the 'R' went.

  4. I'm really sorry to see that our right-wing war on science is spreading northward. Let's hope it's a very temporary phenomenon in both the US and Canada.

  5. More than just a war on science, these things seem to me part of a larger war on the instruments of democracy and public institutions. I'm waiting for the day Harper tries to abolish science funding and universities altogether. Make no mistake about it, these people want to quietly and systematically dismantle our governments in any way possible. The mayor here in Canada's capital city has the same modus operandi. And he's still in office after allegedly bribing his way through the election.

    It's scary stuff.