Thursday, 16 April 2009

Cuts to Science and Education Are As Short-sighted As...Well, As Short-sighted as Science Ministers Who Don't Believe in Science

According to figures compiled by Le Devoir, over the last three years the Harper govenment has cut $162 million in scientific reserach funds. The latest bad news came Wednesday when the National Research Council announced that 30 of its employees would be laid of June 9. The number seems not that great—not when thousands of jobs have disappeared in other industries during the last year—but the no-nothingness the job losses represent is breath taking. Or maybe even heart breaking.

I had the good fortune to grow up in San Diego at a time when concern about Russian scientific advances was sending waves through education circles in the U.S. A lot of money was pumped into space and nuclear research at the time, much of which may have been partly a pact with the devil, but also leaders on all levels believed that education would be important to win whatever fights lay ahead. Therefore, the state university sysstem was greatly expanded and public schools were enthusiastically funded. We had the chance to take Spanish, French and Russian, calculus, advanced English, and challenging science and history courses in public high schools. After that, like thousands of others, I got a really top quality BA at UC Berkeley, emerging without any student loan debts and with a broad base of knowledge and skills that have served me extremely well ever since.

That kind of educational system along with the money spent on scientific research paved the way for the information age. What will follow is not clear, particularly since California has cut public spending on education drastically, I understand. The motor for innovation is going to run out of fuel—and social inequalities will increase as the gulf in educational opportunities be the rich and the rest grows wider.

Canada expanded its research and education systems in the 1960s and 1970s along Californian lines, and the country has greatly benefited. To cut into scientific research funds at this point is short-sighted, even stupid.

But what do you expect from a government where the science minister doesn’t even accept evolution as the most valid paradigm for biological investigationi?

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