“Get Science Right” campaign comes to Queen’s

Queen's professors speak on current issues in scientific policy in Canada

Queen’s professor John Smol spoke Thursday at the “Get Science Right” conference.
Queen’s professor John Smol spoke Thursday at the “Get Science Right” conference. The event was co-hosted by QUFA and CAUT.
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“There is a war on science in Canada,” Professor John Smol said, as he addressed a packed room of over 100 local researchers, professors and graduate students at Botterell Hall, Thursday afternoon.
 
Smol’s keynote lecture was part of the “Get Science Right” conference co-hosted by Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) and the Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA). 
 
According to the organizers, the event aimed to expose “short-sighted” federal policy, which they say is diverting resources away from innovative research and directing it toward business-related programs that commercialize research instead.  
 
Smol — a professor in Queen’s department of biology and an Officer of the Order of Canada, which he received for his work on lake ecology — cited the recent shutdown of Experimental Lakes Area (ELA),  a unique environmental laboratory consisting of 58 lakes in northwestern Ontario. Due to this shutdown, Smol said, Canadians have lost an invaluable source of climate research data.
 
The yearly cost to maintain the ELA was two million dollars, or roughly five cents from every Canadian, according to Smol. He said the onus doesn’t fall just on politicians — scientists also share the blame.
 
“We as scientists need to stop this cycle of self-censorship,” Smol said. “We cannot continue to live with the fear of repercussions for speaking our minds. We need to be more vocal in the media and communicate with the general public, no matter the policy in place.”
 
Annette Burfoot , a professor in Queen’s department of sociology, said the issues regarding scientific policy run deeper than funding. She also spoke at the event on Thursday.
 
Burfoot cited a 2014 study that surveyed Canadian federal scientists. The study found that 86 per cent both felt they couldn’t speak freely and feared they’d face censorship if they tried to publish research that undermined government policy.
 
She also said funding for research and development is declining, and that Canada, once a world leader in scientific research, is falling behind its contemporaries. 
 
The problem lies in the lack of scientists on the committees tasked with delegating research funding, Burfoot said. These committees are instead run by private companies and federally employed engineers, she added.
 
“We need to fund research on the basis of scholarly importance, not political preference, and that starts by putting the right people in the right jobs.”
 
The event, co-hosted by CAUT, is part of the association’s “Get Science Right” campaign aimed at scientists and the general public. The purpose of the campaign is to end what they call the era of “Scientific Stifling”. 
 
The organization is urging political candidates in the upcoming Canadian elections to throw their support behind the cause and make it a prominent election issue.
 
The “Scientific Pledge”, which is part of their campaign, is an oath to uphold scientific research. It can be found online and at the information desk at the ARC.

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