Tag: science politics

A brief (scientific) history of weapons. (Also brilliant)










By Zach Weinersmith, from Medium.

Brilliant BRILLIANT Doonesbury on climate change.


By Garry Trudeau, via Washington Post

Scientists say the Joint Review Panel Report that approves the Northern Gateway Project is flawed and ignores science.


It would appear that our (Canadian) Government is poised to once again abhor evidence based decision making. Here, scientists have looked over the Joint Review Panel Report that is being used to push forward the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project. In essence, they conclude (and for full disclosure, I am one of the signatories) that it “has so many systemic errors and omissions, we – the 300 signatories – can only consider it a failure.”

What are these flaws you ask? Well, the core problems have been outlined in a press release (see below for full press release), and are as follows:

1. The JRP failed to consider important impacts, such as the increased greenhouse gas emissions that could result from oils sands development and burning Northern Gateway oil products in Asia

2. The JRP reached conclusions contradicting the government’s own scientific evidence, including risks to large whales and other marine species.

3. The JRP unjustifiably dismissed the uncertain risks posed by diluted bitumen spills at sea as unimportant risks.

4. The JRP relied on an oil spill response plan that is not yet developed

5. The JRP relied on information from the proponent, without external evaluation.

6. The JRP failed to adequately articulate the rationale for its findings.

The open letter sent to the Prime Minister and asking him to reject the JRP panels can be viewed in full here. The report for the JRP can be downloaded here.

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I have to say that this continued anti-science behaviour from the Canadian Government is so devastating that I feel like the Harper Government now deserves its own meme: hence the silly meme above that is not only animated, but depicts the seriousness of the situation with an elevated facepalm category- the MEGAFACEPALM. Please share widely. (Note: a high quality animated gif can be found here).

– – –

The full press release (June 3rd):


300 Scientists Denounce the Joint Review Panel Report
Their letter asks Prime Minister to reject JRP findings

Vancouver, BC (Tuesday, June 3, 2014) – Scientists from across Canada are asking Prime Minister Harper to reject the findings of the Joint Review Panel (JRP) in the federal decision to approve or reject the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project.

In a letter to the Prime Minister signed by 300 scientists from several nations, including fellows of the Royal Society and Order of Canada holders, they say the JRP’s recommendation to approve the oil sands pipeline was based on a “flawed analysis of the risks and benefits to B.C.’s environment and society.”

“The JRP report has so many systemic errors and omissions, we—the 300 signatories—can only consider it a failure,” says UBC associate professor Kai Chan, who led the initiative with SFU assistant professor Anne Salomon and UBC professor Eric Taylor.

“The report does not provide the guidance the federal government needs to make a sound decision for Canadians about the Northern Gateway Project,” Chan says.

The scientists express concerns the Panel omitted important impacts and considered unbalanced, and in some cases, biased evidence that led to a faulty conclusion in its recommendation that Northern Gateway be approved. The JRP assessment, they say:

· Failed to consider important impacts, such as the increased greenhouse gas emissions that could result from oils sands development and burning Northern Gateway oil products in Asia

· Reached conclusions contradicting the government’s own scientific evidence, including risks to large whales and other marine species.

· Unjustifiably dismissed the uncertain risks posed by diluted bitumen spills at sea as unimportant risks.

· Relied on an oil spill response plan that is not yet developed

· Relied on information from the proponent, without external evaluation.

· Failed to adequately articulate the rationale for its findings.

The scientists also point to the Panel’s failure to provide an explanation of how it had reached its conclusions, especially the central one, that the project’s benefits justify its risks and costs.

Download the full letter here: http://chanslab.ires.ubc.ca/?attachment_id=2632 (English) http://chanslab.ires.ubc.ca/?attachment_id=2633 (French)

For More Information, Please Contact:

Kai Chan, Associate Professor, Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, UBC: 778-839-9820, kai.chan@ubc.ca

Anne Salomon, SFU Assistant Professor, Resource & Environmental Management, SFU

Rick Taylor, Professor, Zoology, UBC: 604-822-9152, etaylor@zoology.ubc.ca

This is bloody brilliant. “What will climate deniers say after environmental catastrophe strikes?”

Sad, but brilliant, because I fear it’s spot on.

Tom the Dancing Bug

By Rubin Bolling, via Boing Boing.

Brilliant cartoon commentary on climate change issues by Kudelka

The top one, in particular, is brilliant.





By Jon Kuldelka (you can also buy prints of these at the link).

I suspect the I.P.C.C. report might be more effective if it went with acronyms that were more narrative in nature.


The IPCC report1
The YIACCAYII report4
The SCTINFSC report13

– – –

1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

2. Specifically, this would be the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fifth Assessment Report Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis

3. Or we could go with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change For Realz

4. Yes, it’s about climate change, and yes, it’s important.

5. O.K. So it’s like this report is where several hundred academics get together and try to summarize all available evidence on the science of climate change.

6. Basically the evidence says: climate change is real, it’s not a good thing; and also, it’s partly our fault.

7. O.K. Technically, it’s a 95% likelihood that it’s our fault, but that’s because 100% is the kind of assessment that isn’t possible in the scientific realm.

8. In other words: scientists are as certain as scientists can be about this.

9. Maybe you can say things with 100% certainty in the political realm, but we all know how those kinds of statements tend to turn out.

10. Seriously, it’s all there in the report. Because, you know… Science, it WORKS.

11. For fuck’s sake, just read the goddam report! Or at least try to read a credible news piece on it.

12. And by credible, I don’t mean outlets, lobbyists, political commentary or advocacy groups where funding directly or even indirectly comes from folks invested in fossil fuels and the like.

13. Scientific conspiracy? There is no fucking scientific conspiracy.

14. Also, ask yourself: who would most likely be guilty of that kind of spin? Messaging that is influenced by oil lobbyists with lots of marketing money? Or thousands of academics conspiring in secret faculty meetings and organizing grand exchanges of covert information?

15. Anyway, screw this. The question is, are you on board with what the IPCC is saying?

16. Because if yes, then wonderful! The future just got a little bit better…

17. If no? Well then, that’s a real shame. Isn’t it funny how scientific laws can help us make climatology predictions, but they’re less useful in predicting human behavior? Still, we’re going to go with a 95% certainty that your children and your children’s children are going to be more than a little disappointed with you.

(Originally published at the Science Creative Quarterly)

Students Try to Speak to a Federal Scientist. They Fail. On the Muzzling of Canadian Science.

What if there was a non-political research project that involved a collaboration between NASA scientists and Environment Canada scientists? How easy would it be for a journalist to talk to the scientists involved?

It turns out it would take only 15 minutes for something to be arranged with NASA. With Environment Canada, however, it would take the activities of 11 media relations people, sending over 50 pages of internal emails, before a list of irrelevant information was finally sent back – all of this long after the deadline had passed. This is what happened to journalist Tom Spears in April 2012.

With this, this Terry Podcast episode asks a simple question: If it was this difficult to get interviews for a positive science story, what would happen if a journalist needed to actually ask some tough questions? Please take a listen as this episode of the Terry Podcast examines the relationship between media and Canadian Government scientists, and questions whether the Harper government has politicized science.

Please listen and share:

RSS | MP3 | iTunes | Smartphone App 
CiTR 101.9FM: Every Other Wednesday, 1PM |

Via The Terry Project

Science things that are awesome…

(Also, all of these goofy pics are now being archived at a tumblr I just set up – scienceisawesomethatisall.tumblr.com)


O.K. Yesterday was our provincial elections (in British Columbia), and in the end, the Liberal party came out winning. There’s quite a few environmental issues that are in the forefront in my neck of the woods, not the least of which concerns the Northern Gateway pipeline.

The Liberals didn’t actually have the greatest platform on this (at least from an environmental or science policy standpoint), but here’s hoping the public continues to pressure them to do the “best” (re: what scientific expert peer review suggests) thing for the province, and indeed the planet at large.


Last Saturday, my lab opened up the entire ground floor of the Michael Smith Building to the public. This was in conjunction with Science Rendezvous, a cross Canada science festival, and in the case of UBC, organized by the Faculty of Science. In the house (so to speak) were folks from the Beaty Museum, Civil Engineering, Pathology, Physics and Astronomy, as well as the Engineering Physics Robotics lab (who also brought in their 3D printers). We also used the building as ground zero for a number of tours throughout campus.

All in all, a great day (and busy too!). In my space, I actually brought out about a dozen or dissecting scopes and collected a nice jar of pond scum. Kids (and their parents), with some basic instructions, were let loose to find whatever they could find in the pond water. Lots of cooties were found, protozoa and algae abound, but my favourite was this Hydra that I managed to get a decent picture of on my iPhone.


The scientific method – it’s not perfect, but it’s pretty much the best way out there on collecting your thoughts and information to make sound decisions. All the more so, if the decision is high stakes IMHO.

In Canada, After Any International Climate Change Conference: I Fear Correspondence of this Sort will be Sent


“In stark contrast to its cuddly international image, Canada is the dirty old man of the climate world – missing its Kyoto emissions reduction target by a country mile (by 2007, it was 34% above its target) and showing no signs of reigning in its profligacy.” The Guardian, November 30, 2009



What the hell is going on? That conference was a freaking fiasco! What happened? And how is Mr. Environment Minister going to do to fix it?

Stevie (The PM).


Steve buddy!

O.K. We have a plan. A couple of things actually. Most of them revolving around science and stuff, since we keep getting hammered on our stance with what the climatologists are telling us (you know, the IPCC reports and such). Anyway, the plan is multifaceted, and we’re still bouncing off ideas (FYI: if you got any Prime Ministery input, just pass it on), but here is what we have so far:

1. To get the scientific community off our back, we’re going to challenge them to perform definitive, but basically impossible, climate science experiments. Doesn’t that sound great? I wrote that myself. And here’s one just off the top of my head, which I’m calling the TRI-EARTH experiment (also, wrote that myself). Here, we’ll ask scientists to create two other planet Earths, and populate them with identical geology, biodiversity and anthropogenic infrastructure, and then do a compare and comparison. Our current Earth could be the test subject, whereas the other two could represent “controls” (ooh actual science lingo). These would be conditions with (a) zero fossil fuel emissions, and (b) intensive fossil fuel emissions. Scientists would then be asked to collect data for 100 years, and then reconvene with their conclusions. Brilliant right? Oh man, our tech guys are gonna love making that website.

2. To get the environmental community off our backs, we’re thinking of asking the HR Departments of all tar sand companies to actively hire members of the biodiversity community. And we’re not talking scientists here, but actual animals – the cuter and the furrier the better!  Anyway, the idea is that this would be an excellent way to create tension between all those environmentalists. Imagine the debates! I can hear them already: “You can’t shut down the tar sands! Think of the livelihood of our friends, the [insert name of cute furry mammal]. How will they maintain their way of life?” Basically, with the right amount of nuts, we could get a squirrel or two to say anything.  As an added bonus, the irony alone just might get Suzuki’s brain to explode.

3. This one is a biggie! We’re looking into actually creating new scientific laws! Wouldn’t that be great? I mean a good chunk of the data out there is based on rigorous climate modeling, which is powered by scientific laws and mathematical equations (bla bla bla). So we say: why not take matters into our own hands, and create something like a new addition to the Laws of Thermodynamics. I mean, these laws are well known, they come up a lot in climate studies (the first law with its overbearing “energy cannot be created or destroyed” mantra is especially annoying), and as a bonus, they even have too many syllables which we know is always good for added confusion. If we’re smart, we can even make the new law a little “magical” (seriously, maybe something about unicorns – you like unicorns right?). This might make the whole creationism angle a little easier to swallow scientifically (and you know me, I’m always looking for ways to widen our support base).

4. Advertising: and lots of it. Maybe go with either a “Canada is a Climate Change Free Zone” angle (wouldn’t that look great on a t-shirt?); or maybe just a straight up promotion of things to do in a hotter climate. I think the “Hot Canada” idea could sell itself. I’m thinking five words: beach volleyball and umbrella drinks. Hmmm… let me write that down. Could work as a possible slogan.

O.K enough writing… I’m going to send this memo off right now. These are just a few ideas we’re ready to act on. Add on a good old general marketing blitz, and I think we got something that should do the trick. Anyway, just say the word boss and we’ll get on it pronto.




Sounds great. Make it so (I love saying that). Oh and how about this for a slogan, “No more sweater vests!”


In case you’re wondering how an oil spill can turn into a theme park.


Ever since the Keystone XL Pipeline (originally slated to transport Tar Sand bitumen from Alberta to Nebraska) was stalled, the attention on finding a new route has focused around my own neck of the woods – namely through British Columbia which is currently viewed as a portal for shipping to China. And it seems like every time I open the paper, there’s some new story about big oil shenanigans. Here, Enbridge is the company, and the varying reports of spinning include allegely censoring a newspaper cartoonist, producing a promo video that conveniently leaving out islands in the challenging shipping routes, being quiet on the omission of particularly nasty environmental reports in certain due processes, the somewhat positive downplaying of a spill that happened only a few weeks ago, and finding out that the required “scientific review” won’t really happen because the government recently gutted the department that would have been responsible for that job..

All of this, of course, makes you wonder what a meeting in an oil company’s PR division is really like, and here, I thought I’d have a little fun with this: Seriously, though, at the rate we’re going, I wouldn’t be surprised if memos like the fictitious one below are being passed around:

– – –

Memo: Turning pipeline leaks into something positive!

Alright everyone, it’s time for some major spin control. We managed to plug that pipeline up, but now we seem to be losing the public relations fight what with the freaking amount of bitumen that spilled out. Seriously, the bad press is everywhere, and we are, quite frankly, getting crucified out there. So what can we do about this? How can we turn this PR nightmare into a PR fairytale?

Well, we in the spin department think that we’ve got an idea that can’t lose. Let me explain. Basically, when we thought about the idea of a PR fairytale, we thought about castles. And when we thought about castles (stay with me here), as vanguards of the capitalist world, of course we didn’t think about real historic castles – no, we thought about pink stucco creations, like the kind you might associate with movie studios and animated versions of Cinderella. And then (like magic, we did this all at once, I swear) we said to ourselves, “THEME PARK!” And then we wondered, how much energy is in this leaked tar sand product anyway?

Well, it turns out (with some very speedy back of the envelope calculations) that the amount of energy we can get from it might be good enough to explore the running of our own magic kingdom! Well, at least if we can count on a few more leaks along the way. But how cool would that be? Anyway, here’s the gist. We just pull that energy from our happy accident(s), redirect it, and then run this baby! It’ll be like the leaks happened on purpose! Awesome!

But we digress. Let’s not bore you with talk of energy and leaks, let’s talk THEME PARK!

Now this is just preliminary brainstorming, but we’re thinking a great name would be something like “Slick City!” Nice, right? Maybe even add to that a catchy tagline – something like The Family Friendly Pipeline Spill! We can even have animal characters wandering around the park, with maybe some kind of funky gel-like oil in their fur and feathers so it looks all cool and shiny like. There will be a Fossil Fuel Palace, made out of shiny coal! I can even envision a theatre area where an oiled down animal mascot version of the musical Grease is performed. Is it just me, or are people going to pay some serious coin to see that?

And the rides? How about a ride like “Shutting down the science!” You can have these carts that go around a track, and the riders have these light guns that shoot at things for points. For instance, they can shoot at all the nasty scientists who want to report on their work, or shoot at research centers that might be making inconvenient discoveries. Ha ha, just kidding – I’m just throwing ideas out there, but you get the picture right?

We also need a giant slide ride of somesort. What if we design the slide so that it followed the same curve as the hockey stick graph? And what if we call it the Carbonator or something cool like that?

And the big ticket item? Obviously, this will be an epic roller coaster. Perhaps one made to look like a big old pipeline. We could even make it from real pipeline parts! Don’t we get discounts for those kinds of things? As well, this ride is going to be amazing: it’s going to be the future of log rides. Instead of logs, the folks could sit in oil barrels, and instead of traveling through water, maybe those barrels would even go faster in a petroleum based fluid. Extra bonus if we get to light it on fire!

This is totally a goldmine of an opportunity. It’s like the ideas are just flowing and the theme park is creating itself! FRIED FOOD! Whoa. That one came out of nowhere! Seriously folks, we’ve hit oil here and it’s a gusher!

(Image by D.Ng, text originally published at Boing Boing)

Our sliver of perception: a great image to segue on the importance of perspective in science issues.

As well as the fine art of observation in the scientific method.

By Abstruse Goose.

Revisiting the Nagoya (Biodiversity) Conference: With References to Star Wars

(Originally published at Boingboing.net in 2010, a few months before the actual Nagoya COP10 conference.  It’s also a general primer on how the United Nations do these sorts of things)


Image: Nagoya Congress Center plus Millenium Falcon reworked from original photo byPaula Pedrosalink.

So what is up with this Nagoya thing? Well, it’s a big international meeting that is happening in Nagoya’s Congress Centre (see the picture above), starting on October 18th and lasting until the 29th. No doubt, you weren’t necessarily lured into finding out more by the conference’s bouncy theme song. You certainly weren’t intrigued by the reams ofofficial documents, frequently released, yet all stoically written.

The problem is, is that there is a lot of jargon in how all these meetings go down. You have a “Conference of the Parties” (or COP), you have “Conventions,” and you have “Secretariats.” I chose not to mention the “Subsidiary Body” part, because I believe that would have formally made the previous sentence the most boring in the universe. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, a lot of these documents have been written in a painful policy speak/legalese type of language, seemingly in an effort to make readers endorse the extinction of the writers responsible. Worse still, Nagoya isn’t getting a ton of media coverage, and that means you don’t tend to have needed public commentary like you did with similar recent outings (for instance, Copenhagen comes to mind).

Lucky for us, there seems to be a lot of similarities between these United Nations’ affairs and how planetary politics appear to be run in the world of Star Wars. In any event, the similarities are good enough to warrant having a go at bridging the two. This might be simplifying things a bit, but the analogy would basically work a little like this…

Convention (and specifically the Convention on Biological Diversity): I’ll write more on this later, but the CBD is what all the fuss in Nagoya will be about. It’s essentially an international agreement currently supported by a whole bunch of countries, which is basically up for review as well as a reboot. Also, because it’s classified as a “Convention” this agreement is bound by international law. It’s not like participating in a vote where the majority wins – you’re either in or you’re out. The goal, of course, is to come up with a document that everyone, or at least, almost everyone, is good with – understandably, not an easy thing to do. In Star Wars, this would be analogous to some sort of galactic treaty being mulled over (except that obviously the words galactic treaty are way cooler thanconvention).

Conference of the Parties (COP): This is a collective term for all the countries who are technically already “on board” with the Convention – this has a variety of meanings including the act of signing the convention, and then managing to get your national governments to back it up (this would technically be called “ratifying” the convention). In all, there are currently 193 countries who are in the Conference of the Parties.” In Star Wars terms, the COP would be analogous to all of the members of the Galactic Republic who have agreed to follow the laws bound to said galactic treaty.

Secretariat: In UN affairs, the term Secretariat more or less refers to a smaller group of individuals who comprise the administrative core of a particular department or convention. This sounds very close in structure to the role of the Galactic Senate. You might also remember that in Star wars, there was a Supreme Chancellor, who headed this Secretariat. In the CBD’s case, this would be the Executive-Secretary, a fellow by the name of Ahmed Djoghlaf.

Nagoya-COP10? In Star Wars, the movies anyway, a lot of the political stuff happens in that great big black room with all of the fancy floating balconies. This was the Senate Building on the planet Coruscant, which to me, is a little like the General Assembly hall in the United Nations New York headquarters. However, for these sorts of Convention meetings, (this being the tenth one for this particular COP – hence it being called “COP10”), they tend to get held in big conference centers, and in suspiciously nice locales. In other words, for our Star Wars analogy, the members of the Galactic Republic involved in the treaty probably wouldn’t meet in Coruscant: instead, they would find another host planet. As well, it would be unlikely for such an analogous meeting to be held at a place like Hoth(too cold) or Tatooine (too dusty), but rather a planet like Alderaan (before it was destroyed anyway) or Naboo, since both are apparently beautiful.

SBSTTA: Of course, throughout all of this, you’re probably wondering where the Jedi fit in. In Star Wars, members of the Jedi Order were essentially “keepers of the peace in the Republic.” Furthermore, the Jedi Council was often key in providing objective information and advice. This means that they were valued for being a source of knowledge and wisdom, and also a sort of a police force to ensure that folks follow the laws of the treaty. In our Convention on Biological Diversity context, there is something known as the SBSTTA (which unfortunately is not a droid name but a busy mess of an acronym for “Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice.”) This, I guess, can be thought of as a group of “Jedi except without lightsabers plus no cool special powers.” In other words, while this SBSTTA aims to play an objective advisory role, in particular, helping the COP on the scientific and technological nuances of biodiversity, they have no part what-so-ever in enforcing the convention itself. Kind of like a bunch of Jedi’s who will tell you their expert opinion on the issues being discussed, but are unfortunately incapable of kicking ass on members who choose to disregard intergalactic law. This is actually one of the big problems in these international environmental treaties – there isn’t really a decent mechanism in getting COP members to follow through.

It’s also worth noting that the SBSTTA is analogous to what the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) does in Climate Change matters, except in a much smaller and some say slighter way (more on this later).

The Emperor? In Star Wars, this was of note, being the bit about the Senator and then Supreme Chancellor Palpatine managing to scheme his way into creating the Galactic Empire. In the CBD world, there really isn’t such a person or country member in the COP, but there are factors where different countries have different influences. Probably the best example is to think of something like the Trade Federation in Star Wars. This was an alliance based on economical clout – somewhat similar to how one might view the countries of the G8 or G20 these days. As well, you can imagine that countries in less fortuitous economic standings (i.e. developing countries) have an interest in making decisions together, which is what does happen in these affairs. As a side bar, I should note that, ironically, the Nagoya conference does “technically” have an Emperor involved – this would be Emperor Akihito, the head of the Japanese Imperial Family and monarch of the host country.

Anyway, this should set the scene a bit. Later on, I’ll write a primer on what the actual Convention on Biological Diversity is all about, how it currently kind of sucks, and why this meeting in Nagoya in particular is very very important.

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