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Will It Be Good or Bad for Science?

Canada's elections this week delivered a major victory for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party. As Harper rejoices in his majority status, researchers in Canada wonder what will happen to the country's scientific endeavors. The Chronicle of Higher Education's Karen Birchard says the Conservative "triumph" may lead to increased investment in research. With the majority in his corner, Harper can now reintroduce his federal budget proposal, which was abandoned when elections were called in March, Birchard says. That budget included a provision for C$10 million to attract foreign student to Canada and allocates money to various research institutions, like C$12 million to the Canada-India Research Centre and C$50 million to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.

At the Intersection, however, guest blogger David Ng, a science literacy academic at the University of British Columbia, says the opposite — that a Conservative majority "is a step back for science" in Canada. There have been many examples that would demonstrate that the Harper government shows a lack of understanding of science culture as well as "actions that often undermine the very notion of scientific literacy," Ng says. For example, Harper's Minister of Industry, Science and Technology, Gary Goodyear, has been know to "waffle on the science of evolution." Also, Ng adds, Harper's government has made climate change science an ideological issue, and has demonstrated a "willingness to 'muzzle' science" by introducing new media rules of when federal scientists may talk to journalists, among other examples. "It's important to note that science culture isn't the only thing that drives a civil society. However, as a conduit for reasoned discourse and relevant information that affects local and global concerns, it's obvious that science must not be taken for granted," Ng says. "The Harper government has consistently ignored whatever sound utility the scientific endeavor can provide, and by doing so, has put the future of Canadian science at risk, as well as the elements of society that would have otherwise benefited from it."

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