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What’s Up With Canadian Science?

January 13, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 2

The most significant aspect of “Acrimony in Canadian Science” is not the budgetary adjustments for science (C&EN, Oct. 28, 2013, page 24). Arguably, Canadians voted Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s party a majority in the House of Commons to do such things; those who want something else will have to wait for the next election.

More significant is that government-employed scientists are afflicted by minders with on-the-spot censorship to an unreasonable extent. The prime minister was not elected for that purpose. After the election, however, most voters, regrettably, likely don’t much care. But it is wrong in concept both for government science policy and for science itself.

Even more regrettable science policy exists in another context. In my experience in criminal law defense, the Controlled Drugs & Substances Act, S. 51, provides for conviction and imprisonment without a proper scientific report. (I am also a chemist and an ACS member.) As the Canadian law allows, the national health agency and the Department of Justice effectively shroud how criminally forbidden molecules are identified. Science-based inquiry and argument are stifled.

That questions of analytical chemistry go unanswered is wrong in concept for both science and justice. That Canada’s national standards agency is insufficiently proactive makes matters worse. And the negative ethics of the national health agency being involved in criminal law enforcement makes matters even worse. (In the U.S., the Food & Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Administration are separate agencies.)

Canadian science has an impressive past and present. The government should take better care not to damage the future of Canadian science. What I am concerned with here is not so much about budgetary allocation but about proper cultures in which science and justice are attempted.

Michael Grossman



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