January 25, 2014 – In a cost-saving exercise more about balancing budgets than good science the Canadian government under its current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has been closing dozens of libraries run by Environment Canada and Canada’s department of Fisheries and Oceans. The libraries have been shuttered with most closing by last fall, but few were aware that the closings would be followed by the dumping of so much of the legacy science archived in these facilities. Pictures like the one below started appearing in the newspaper showing dumpsters filled with books, journals and research papers, all thrown out by our federal government.
In one case a just refurbished library at St. Andrews Biological Station in New Brunswick, housing hundreds of fisheries and aquatic records including fish counts and water quality analysis was closed and archival material sent to the rubbish heap.
These closures have saved the government a whopping $443,000. This is a government that has spent billions on cost overruns for defense projects but nonetheless found its savings in a science library.
So is Canada losing its legacy science? When confronted with the dumpster evidence, the Minister of Fisheries for the federal government stated that few people outside the department used these libraries and that most people were seeking data online. The Minister stated further that much of the information was to be digitized and made freely accessible and that it was only the irrelevant material that was being discarded. Who defined relevance? That was not disclosed. Yet in some cases conference proceedings were disposed of even though the notes and presentations created for these events appeared in no formal publications. In one case an aboriginal band in British Columbia rescued some of the material being thrown away. Hopefully others have stepped forward to grab more of this legacy science before trashing.
An assault on science is consistent with the policies of the current federal government in Canada. The government has been accused of muzzling scientists serving on the federal payroll.
Is this a trend happening elsewhere? Certainly the new federal government in Australia is likely to exhibit similar behaviour towards the scientific community within its ranks. Shortly after being elected it shut down funding to climate science with a crowdfunding initiative by the Australian public rescuing the program and turning it into a NGO.
It is interesting that both federal governments, the one in Canada and the other in Australia, are conservative and both dispute climate change science or drag their feet about initiating greenhouse gas emission mitigation strategies.