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When Scientists Turn Political

Disgusted with budget cuts, job cuts, and being muzzled from talking about their work in some cases, researchers in Canada are making science a campaign issue in the upcoming elections, CBC News reports.

"Science has always been apolitical by its nature, but in recent years because of the dramatic changes that we're seeing in the way science is being done, and science is being conducted, it's increasingly a political issue," Jules Blais, a biology professor at the University of Ottawa says. 

At issue is a series of actions by the Canadian government that has incensed scientists, including the slashing of about 5,000 science-related jobs, the ending of several environmental and pollution research projects, and the silencing of federal scientists from speaking publicly about their research. 

Also, seven years ago, the role of the national science advisor was eliminated. "This is ridiculous, we're the only G7 country that doesn't have one," Scott Findlay, another biology professor at the University of Ottawa says. 

Some researchers are not just voicing their anger, either. Following budget cuts that slashed the staff in her program by more than half, pollution scientist Nancy Tremblay is running as a candidate for the New Democratic Party in the Ottawa suburb of Orleans. 

Canada's Election Day is Oct. 19, but some say that even if a new government is voted in, undoing the damage that's been done won't be easy. Ted Hsu, a former federal scientist who is leaving his post as a Member of Parliament, tells CBC News that many scientists have departed their government roles, taking with them expertise that won't be easily replaced.  

"You'll have to build confidence in the scientific community. It'll take many years to rebuild the scientific capacity of the federal government," he says.