Harper, Trump & Science a la Carte: A Warning From Canada

Stephen Harper and cat.
Stephen Harper and cats.

Canadian science writer Graham Templeton says the election of Donald Trump and a Republican controlled Congress threatens a repeat of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s nine-year war on science.

Though Americans might be surprised to hear it, Canada offers a good example of why there is a very real need to worry, and of how the coming anti-science administration could realistically affect all of national research. My home and native land has been a fair ways down the road America is just now preparing to travel and, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the endpoint is absolutely disastrous….

In 2006, Canada elected the Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper to the position of Prime Minister, and formed a new national government that would endure in some form until the end of 2015. During this time, the Harper Government carried out what has come to be widely known as the War on Science. The target wasn’t merely climate change research, but fisheries, forestry, air quality — anything with an environmental focus, it would appear. Perhaps it’s just a big coincidence, but these also seem to be the areas of science that most often produced findings contrary to the interests of Canada’s enormous mining and petroleum industries. They also produced recommendations contrary to the Harper government’s attempts to withdraw from international climate accords….

The government used a variety of methods to carry out its attacks on earth sciences experts and experiments. First, of course, there was the defunding of certain sorts of research, and the public questioning or demeaning of much of the rest. Thousands of scientists lost their jobs. Canada lost its importance within some international research collaborations, simply because it could no longer pitch in as effectively. Due to a deep dependence of government-supported grants, the campaign rippled outward to similar research at universities and private facilities. Scientific libraries were closed, and their contents simply destroyed or thrown in the trash.

But there was also a much more insidious mode of attack, in a project that would become known as “muzzling.” Muzzling was literally the practice of telling government researchers that they may not discuss their research, period. The stated goal was a more coherent, curated face for government research, leaving the media stuff to real media professionals and thus making sure that government communication is effective and efficient — and doesn’t that all sound nice?

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

This does sound disturbingly familiar. Trump has claimed that global warming was a hoax invented by the Chinese to destroy American industry. Trump now says he has an open mind on the subject. What that means given his tendency to flip flop is anybody’s guess.

Attitudes in Congress are no better.  Consider these claims made by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who is vice chairman of the House Science Committee.

Just so you know, global warming is a total fraud and it is being designed by—what you’ve got is you’ve got liberals who get elected at the local level want state government to do the work and let them make the decisions. Then, at the state level, they want the federal government to do it. And at the federal government, they want to create global government to control all of our lives. That’s what the game plan is. It’s step by step by step, more and bigger control over our lives by higher levels of government. And global warming is that strategy in spades.… Our freedom to make our choices on transportation and everything else? No, that’s gotta be done by a government official who, by the way, probably comes from Nigeria because he’s a UN government official, not a US government official.

Pretty paranoid stuff, huh? But, it’s par for the course among Republicans in Washington.

The Republican members who control the House and Senate science committees deny global warming is a serious threat. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has run one-sided hearings that have included Canadian jazz musician and conservative pundit Mark Steyn — a man with no scientific expertise — as an expert witness. Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), a leading candidate for NASA administrator, attacked  the Obama Administration’s spending over climate change using grossly misleading budget numbers.

Nobody’s saying that Trump and Congressional Republicans reject all science. There are clearly basic scientific tenants and theories they accept. But, with global warming and other issues that threaten the vested interests that support them, their acceptance of science is strictly a la carte.

It’s a worrisome time. The Trump Administration has promised to cut the budget for NASA Earth science research, with a particular focus on climate research. What is left is likely to be transferred to NOAA. Republicans say this will be a more efficient way to conduct the research and that it will “depoliticize” the science.

However, they’re not proposing these changes because they want healthy, well-funded programs to study the Earth and climate change. There are no indications that NASA is doing a poor job with Earth science research. Or that the current division of labor between NASA and NOAA is causing any serious problems. Earth science researchers are not advocating a transfer to NOAA, much less budget cuts, as a solution to some problems that exist.

The popular argument among Republicans is that shifting Earth science to NOAA will allow the space agency to focus on exploration is a red herring. The United States’ inability to send astronauts beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) for the past 44 years cannot be attributed to the agency’s study of the home planet. NASA can walk and chew gum at the same time. Gutting the Earth science program and moving it to another agency will not solve any of the problems that have left us stuck in LEO.

We’re an advanced technological society that increasingly relies upon scientific research for our well being.  Our national interest is not served by a government that is hostile to scientists, and that believes it can pick and choose what scientific results it does and doesn’t believe. I fear we could be going down the same path as Canada with the Trump Administration. It’s scary.


  • No problem, I understand space colonization isn’t for everyone.

  • JamesG

    Yes, the most distressing thing is that all sides are perceiving and accepting that the world as a zero-sum or even shrinking resource pie with limited options delineated by political motivation. Which I think is the saddest commentary on our civilization (and likely to be our epitaph).

  • Douglas Messier

    Without publicly funded science doctors would still be recommending smoking to their patients and the asbestos industry would still be able to claim their products don’t kill people.

    The blanket claim you’ve just made about the superiority of science “funded by the “rest of society” is the mark of ignorance.The rest of your remarks are a sign of the paranoia that has crept into the right.

  • Douglas Messier

    I agree they’re not climate deniers. That’s a totally incorrect word.

    Dana Rohrabacher thinks it’s a plot to put us under UN control. Trump said it’s a hoax invested by the Chinese government to destroy America.

    That’s paranoia. That’s engaging in conspiracy theories. That’s delusional.

    >And the “climate changers” have done a very poor job of presenting the issue other than producing a bunch of numbers (that they produced) or anecdotal evidence and extrapolating ridiculous predictions from them.

    Uh huh. Riiiight. It doesn’t matter how much evidence piles up, or how many examples or given or what form they’re given in…..you’ve got paradelusional conspiracy theoryists who will never accept reality because it threatens their way of making a living or their political beliefs.

  • Are you claiming that baryon availability on planet Earth is infinite? I do understand that baryons are conserved, but I think rather the problem is with the entropy, not the baryons.

  • Richard Malcolm

    “Well, climate change is real, but we have decided that we need to prioritize wealth over the safety of future generations.”

    Except quite often, “wealth” is simply a minimal standard of living for many people in the developing world – which is where most emissions growth has been over the past few decades. (China and India, for example, now account for more than double the carbon emissions of the U.S. and Canada put together.)

    Perhaps it’s possible to continue lifting hundreds of millions of Chinese, Indians, and Brazilians into something approaching developed world standards – access to electricity, safe running water, simple consumer goods – while still meeting the aggressive targets of the Paris accords. But in too much of the First World discourse, it doesn’t seem like this is even a concern. Which might one reason why the governments of the countries in question seem chilly to embracing these policies.

  • JamesG

    Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you…

    “…you’ve got paradelusional conspiracy theoryists who will never accept
    reality because it threatens their way of making a living or their
    political beliefs. ”

    Wait. Who are are referring to here? The Climate Change deniers or the believers? Its hard to tell them a part sometimes. 😉

  • Douglas Messier

    The Rohrabacher and Trump examples were kind of a test how readers would respond.

    Recoil in horror: Sane, avoids false equivalencies, coherent thought processes

    Laugh it off: FAIL

    Congratulations. You’re fully qualified for a high-level position in the incoming administration. Please contact the Trump transition team as soon as possible. Call now. Positions are running out.

  • JamesG

    I have thought about submitting my CV…

    And after the past year I am numb to the horror that the American political and social landscape has become. I think your test does not pass non-partisan bias muster either.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    You do realize that for the Arctic & Sub-Arctic to be like Prairie grassland . Then the Sub-Tropics will became the Tropics and the current Tropics will be uninhabitable in the future for most of the world’s current major population centers.

  • JamesG

    Last I checked people still have feet. And these things called cars and aeroplanes. We can move, we can build new and better cities in different places. We can adapt just like our ancestors did during the last great bout of “Climate Change”.

    Also no place on Earth is going to be “uninhabitable” just because of its lattitude. 2 degrees average temp isn’t going to “boil the seas”, it will just change weather patterns. Currently arid places will become wet and vice versa. See the above paragraph. Take a pill and stop drinking Al Gore’s koolaide.

  • Flatley

    How well did Al Gore’s hockey stick fall out?

    Extremely well? Here’s a 2008 summary of reconstructions; keep in mind that this is 8 years old already and the anomolies have increased further since then. (See here for a NASA source from Goddard.)

    Real climate scientists MUST very clearly distance themselves from anti-industry environmentalists…

    Real climate scientists must also distance themselves from pro-industry…industry.

    …and state that their historic and current research has no political implications of any kind whatsoever

    Of course their research has political implications. It’s up to us as a society to act on those implications; scientists’ only obligation is to tell the truth as best as their observations allow.

    Greedy personal money profits talk instead.

    I wasn’t going to bring this up, but you did, so…you do realize that the energy industry pays much better than academia, don’t you? Money talks, indeed.

    Isn’t Arctic ice cover dominated by the sweet water outflows…

    I don’t know, I don’t study the Arctic. When people who do study the Arctic are worried about ice levels, I’m worried too. For example, this NASA paper from 2014 demonstrates that warmer river water (not colder) is contributing to the larger rates of sea ice melt.

    Beyond all that, though, your hypothesis about a colder climate leading to reduced Arctic ice levels is difficult to support, since the climate is not getting colder. (See 2nd link in my first paragraph.)

  • Flatley

    The skepticism that is the basis of “climate deniers” (as they are so biased labeled), is the core of the scientific method, if you still recall that.

    I’m not a scientist so I don’t care too much about the “scientific method,” but I do know quite a bit about peer review. It involves people who actually know what they’re talking about examining your work and determining if its fit to publish. It doesn’t involve an army of right-wing bloggers and commenters making the same tired old argument over and over again, ignoring refutation after refutation. The scientific method, if I recal

    n entire industry has popped up to push for, politicize, and make a profit off of climate change fear, THAT is what “climate deniers” deny.

    So you admit, then, that your denial is not based on scientific fact, but instead on the bad behavior of environmental lobbyists? The scientific method, if I recall from high school, doesn’t involve much in the way of claiming the opposing theory the work of paid shills.

    Meanwhile, deforestation, over population, and the pollution of the land and oceans with garbage and chemicals, receives a fraction of the attention and resources as GW/CC, yet are much more real and immediate threat

    Okay, so we should probably focus on those problems too, then. We probably shouldn’t oppose things like more efficient cars, a pivot to renewable/nuclear energy, and emissions regulations just because deforestation etc. happens to be a problem as well.

    the planet will STILL get warmer

    Not as warm.

    everyone is STILL going to have to adapt

    Not as painfully.

    the conceited lie that Man can control the Earth

    Can we control it? No. Can we destroy it? Look around. Can we stop ourselves? I sure hope so.

  • JamesG

    I’m not a scientist so I don’t care too much about the “scientific


    but I do know quite a bit about peer review. It involves people
    who actually know what they’re talking about examining your work and
    determining if its fit to publish.

    Members of the “Eugenics Movement”, of which the Nazi Party in Germany derived much of its ideas about “racial purity”, examined and determined that ideas and plans about mass sterilization of “undesireable” populations was fit to publish too.

    “Peer review” is just consensus and acceptance. It does not make it fact or reality. You can write a nasty paper about how bad all black (or white, or whatever) people are, and I’m sure it could get it accepted by some hate group’s publication somewhere.

    Food for thought; the same logic, smug arrogance, and excessive confidence in data that is subject to interpretation and manipulation that is used to support climate change, also predicted Hillary Clinton’s “land slide” victory in the past election.

  • TheBrett

    That graph should scare people. It looks like the trend has been consistently above the worst-case projections on warming for said 31 years.

  • Flatley

    Okay, so you’ve decided to argue by analogy (always a poor choice) and now taken the position that the world’s climate science community is ethically equivalent to Nazi eugenicists. Alright.

    To your second point (another poor analogy),

    (1) Climate scientists and pollsters aren’t the same people. Pollsters aren’t even scientists. You’ve just created an arbitrary group of “People you disagree with” with the hope that Group A’s failure is correlated to Group B’s (statistics tip: It’s not).

    (2): A year’s worth of polls doesn’t really contend with decades worth of climate data, particularly since polling data is much less statistically significant than climate measurements.

    (3) The person taking the most scientific approach to the matter, Nate Silver, predicted a 30% chance of Trump winning, which is not at all infinitesimal.

  • JamesG

    You’ve completely missed and/or misinterpreted my point. Please (re?) read, think some, and then edit or delete your post. Or, don’t. Have a nice day.

  • Kirk

    Shouldn’t the caption read “Stephen Harper and cats.”?

  • Flatley

    Your point was expressed poorly, using a bad analogy that doesn’t withstand scrutiny. Don’t try and hold me accountable for that.

  • JamesG

    Those were not analogies at all. At least not the ones you think they were. Stay in school kid.

  • Kapitalist

    Hey, I went to school in 1981, and then the new global ICE AGE was the big climate threat in marxist politruk propaganda media and school indoctrination! This is Orwellian.

  • Paul451

    This is Orwellian.

    Just so we’re clear, you believe that at the behest of the… Al Gore, I suppose?… the owners and editors of the journal Science have edited it’s archives of its 1981 edition to insert a phony paper, and every academic and science library with a copy has gone along with the change and replaced their own copies?

    Or were you just using a word you don’t understand?

  • Kapitalist

    It’s not at all representative of the projections made then. Climate change forecasts have failed miserable. They are not mature enough to have any value whatsoever for political decisions.

  • Snofru Chufu

    Yes, I recall.

  • mlc449

    Global warming denialists really are the worst form of pondlife. They’re right down there with the likes of Holocaust deniers.

  • mlc449

    Ban and limit? Rather like abortion, women’s rights, minority rights, immigration, etc….

  • mlc449

    Still peddling this same crap eh? Despite concepts you consider utterly alien like facts, research and statistics you’re STILL wibbling around claiming climate change isn’t real. Give it a rest you enemy of reason and logic.

  • mlc449

    Pfft, you and your liberal, leftist “facts”.

  • mlc449

    Jesus Christ, I’m actually embarrassed for you!

  • mlc449

    And that is the core of the political problem, namely the “limits to growth” element of the environmental movement has made climate change their core issue to downsize the economy.

    This is a f***ing lie! Environmental sustainability ALLOWS for economic growth. In fact future growth is now almost entirely reliant on a world going greener and switching away from unsustainable, low-efficiency fossil fuels. It’s like you lot WANT to live in a world of pollution and everything that goes along with it.

  • JamesG

    I’m not sure what Jesus has to do with your problem, but whatever..

  • Snofru Chufu

    Your colleague Robert Zimmerman (http://www.behindtheblack.com), a very honest and trustable
    man, displays just the opposite view to yours in respect to climate topic.

    I think, he is right.

  • Paul451

    It’s not at all representative of the projections made then.

    You have some vague memory of a dumb/hysterical article in the popular media about the next ice age (there was, and continues to be, research into the cycles and causes of ice ages, with attempts to work out if/when the next one will happen.) And so you assume that mainstream climate research was also dominated by that same thing; even though you had no other knowledge of actual climate research, and still don’t.

    And so when someone points out something that contradicts your childhood memory, you scream conspiracy.

    In reality, papers about global warming were dominating atmospheric research throughout the 1960s and ’70s. By the late 1970’s, atmospheric scientists around the world were concerned enough to put together dedicated conventions on global warming so they could compare notes. The first World Climate Conference was held in 1979, leading to the ongoing World Climate Program. That let to IPCC in 1988, and then UNFCCC in ’92, and Kyoto Protocol in ’97.

    The global conferences in the ’80s also led to the beginnings of professional opposition to climate research, I believe the first was funded by the American Petroleum Institute.

    The paper by Hanson&co that I referred to was the major work in climate research in the early ’80s. It pulled together all the separate threads of climate research from the late ’70s and set the standard for subsequent research. In other words, the basic science of “global warming” was done and settled by 1981. Since then, climate research has been about the details (and dealing with paid professional deniers, corrupt politicians, and idiots like you.)

    Scientists were debating the role of CO2 in the 1890s and speculating about global warming caused by human activity.

    In the 1950, U.S. atmospheric scientists set up stations to measure carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere at the South Pole and at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, specifically to collect evidence of rising CO2 levels.

    In 1965, Lyndon Johnson told Congress: “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through … a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”

    In 1988, UK Prime Minister Thatcher said: “The problem of global climate change is one that affects us all and action will only be effective if it is taken at the international level.”

  • Douglas Messier

    A bit more evidence of the climate crisis we’re facing. Not that it will convince any skeptics; nothing seems to do so.


    Trump’s chief of staff announced today that global warming paradelusionalism will be the official policy of the new administration. So, don’t expect him to do anything about the problem.

    Meanwhile, Trump took to Twitter to threaten a year in jail or revoked citizenship for anyone burning the American flag. So, while the planet’s ice caps melt, Trump will be jailing people and expelling them from the country for a symbolic act of protest. At least we know where his priorities lie.

    The government can’t revoke the citizenship of native born Americans. They can do so for naturalized citizens if they used fraud to receive citizenship or committed serious felonies. But, give Trump time; I’m sure he’ll find a way to threaten us all.

    It seems Hillary Clinton tried to get a similar law passed in 2005. It was a stupid idea then. It’s stupid now. That they’re taking this idea from a woman who they threatened to jail is pretty amusing — or it would be, if not the stupidity of what Trump wants to do..

  • Flatley

    No, they were certainly analogies. Go back to school, perhaps? As far as your kind advice, I’m going to go ahead and ignore it; too much going on in aerospace to sit around earning a PhD.

  • camping

    That seems silly to do, though the russians and most of the eastern european countries (and communist countries) will throw you in prison for 5 to 10 years for it. But we have freedom here.

    Though, if someone here illegally, or legally but not as a citizen, is caught burning the flag, they should be tarred and feathered and permanently booted from the country. Entering OUR country and then complaining and raising hell about OUR country is pretty pathetic, and a sad state of affairs concerning what people get away with nowadays. In my insignificant opinion, of course. And hopefully bosses will have the freedom to layoff idiots burning the flag and posting it on social media.