Canadian government caught secretly smearing scientist who published research on tar-sands


#1

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#2

So fucking God damned sick of Harper's filthy bullshit.


#3

No, I don't get it. A top secret internal memo is not the same thing as a smear campaign which, by definition, involves talking to the public. If they privately describe the guy as biased, well they're probably wrong, but it's not like they have footage of him robbing a convenience store and smoking.


#4

The oil sands have always hit me in a weird way. Just looking at them is disquieting.

But then you talk to the working class Joes who rely on the good wages they get working there, coming from economically impoverished regions of Canada in order to feed their families, breaking their backs in the middle of nowhere to do a job they know is harmful to the environment because they can't make ends meet otherwise, and things just get complicated.

It's hard to know what to feel, or what to think, because you've got this just awful thing that is literally allowing people to scrape together a living who otherwise would suffer greatly.

That said, I don't think anyone seriously believes that these sorts of sites aren't horribly destructive to the environment, so I don't understand why the idiots who run the places would try to suppress scientific studies everyone already knows the conclusions of.

All this does is invoke the Streisand Effect - by getting caught trying to quash this study, they give it far more exposure and impact than it ever would have if they had done nothing. Plenty of people are already inclined to accept the environmental impact in exchange for the economic one knowing full well what they're giving up, as sad as that is. I seriously doubt any of them would be swayed very much by the study on it's own, without the enhancing effect of opponents trying to discredit it.

I guess it's a good thing that the people ruining the world aren't smart enough to know how to handle this more in their favor?

But then there's an old french saying I am reminded of - "Rogues are preferable to imbeciles, because they sometimes take a rest" - and I start to second guess that thought...


Huffing Boing Boing
#5

Maybe the headline can use some editing for clarity...but the fact that government ministers are sending memos around looking for ways to publicly question or diminish the findings of studies that they commissioned...man...that's troubling no matter what you call it.


#6

Politicians spin facts to suit their agenda. News at 11.


#7

I agree. But it makes more sense if you look at it from the conservative point of view - everything is political, and you're either for us or against us. That would pretty much put all scientists on the enemies list, except maybe there's a metallurgist somewhere who hasn't got around to contradicting them yet.


#8

To those who are saying this is politics as usual: it's really not. Never before in Canada, not counting wartime, have government scientists had to get Ministry approval before speaking to the public.

Harpo and his government wouldn't let a Canadian artist (Franke James) participate in an international exhibit because her work criticises environmental destruction. The suppression and "chill effect" is like nothing seen before. I'm trying to think of a government that was so ready to destroy the Canadian environmental resources, and all I can think of is Mulroney and logging in the 80s.

The difference is that back then more people were publicly speaking it about it, more news outlets could publish critical articles without worrying about repercussions.

This government harasses non-profits, even ones without a focus on the environment, just because it knows there's likely to be political opposition to their policies in non-profits.

It's petty, and it's mean, but it's also staggering and scary.


#9

I think this is a key for people who are thinking this is no big deal. This is a data point in a very large set. And yes it was internal, but why was that internal memo even written? Canada's current government is really big into suppressing science.

A memo that can be accessed through an information request isn't very secret. In fact, if it is related to the oil sands it is destined to come out at some point as environmental groups send requests all the time. I wouldn't be sure this isn't a calculated smear.

Yes, the ultimate problem is that we have to ask rich people permission for everything, like eating. We've got billions of dollars of repairs that need to be made to infrastructure that are not being done and lots of people willing to, as you put it, break their backs in the middle of nowhere but we can't seem to match the two things together because no already rich person would be getting more rich off of infrastructure repairs (or at least not fast enough). And when we talk about "infrastructure projects" we are talking about roads and water pipes literally falling to pieces. Instead the labour is going to things like extracting a limited resource from the ground to temporarily boost the economy.


#10

Yes they would. That's the part that makes no sense.

If food stamps are expanded, WalMart makes more money. Yet WalMart lobbies against food stamps. If our infrastructure got the attention it needs, construction firms would earn billions, and some of them are big business indeed. So why aren't they lobbying for the spending that is desperately needed? Are they afraid of creating good union jobs?

I sometimes think the GOP is actually industry's way of punishing itself.


#11

That guy would make just as much, and probably be happier, if he were employed in the wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, or nuclear industries - or in the mining/processing.manufacturing sectors that supply them. Oil sands are one choice among many (not mutually exclusive) options.

Also, it is not the purpose of industries to provide employment to their workers. It is their purpose to provide useful, valuable goods and services, and if society decides an industry is doing a sufficiently bad job at that, this is why we invented representative governments, Too bad that ship seems to have sailed in most places.


#12

It's true, the reality of infrastructure spending is that some rich people would get their cut because they always get their cut. So I guess it's not a question of what will actually make people rich, it is a question of whims. It's not like rich people got rich by being smart.


#13

Stupid plan. I don't care how carefully you sneak up on someone, when tar sands folks "secretly" smear anybody it's bound to get noticed pretty quickly.


#14

The difference is that oil-sands employ a lot more people, and a larger proprotion of the labor is unskilled.

Solar and wind are small scale, high-tech job fields - very, very few openings, and they require you to be very skilled. Not a solution.

Geothermal and hydro are more mid range, but also are pretty few and far between in terms of plants themselves - you can only build geothermal and hydro plants in the proper geography, and such areas are typically controlled by national governments, not private companies and markets.

And nuclear? Mid range in terms of numbers of job openings, but supremely skilled labor, and unimaginably NIMBY. People are too stupidly freaked out by nuclear to allow new plants to be built, despite the fact that all the old plants are completely obsolete and are becoming huge hazards because they are being forced to operate beyond their intended lifespans. We can't close them down because then we'd have a power deficit that would be unfilled by other types of power plants, and we can't replace them because people are scared and hysterical about technology they don't properly understand.

In theory, cleaner fuel sources would be great. But realistically, the industry currently is not in a position where oil-sands workers can simply up and transfer to cleaner jobs, because by and large those jobs do not exist. In theory, you're right - we have other energy production options. But in reality, you're wrong - the average Joes who work the oil-sands do NOT have other options, because those other types of energy production don't exist in sufficient quantities to make up the difference in jobs.


#15

First, I admit off the bat my analogy is misguided because electricity and oil are not directly comparable in the way they are used. We are a long, long way from a world where any electricity makes for a viable transportation fuel.

But ignoring that for the moment, wind and solar require more jobs per MW than coal, oil, or gas. And installing, maintaining, and operating PV systems is about as much skilled labor as is required for modern construction work. You can learn that skillset in a very short time. Ditto for at least some aspects of wind. The project engineers have to be highly skilled, but they are a minority.

Wind is now >2% of world electricity production. Doesn't sound like much, but still growing 10% to 30% per year (less recently due to recession/slower demand growth). Solar is still smaller, but not by very much anymore: Panel costs have fallen tremendously (in some parts of the world the unsubsidized LCOE for solar power is below $0.20/kWh) and continue to do so, and the world installed almost 40 GWp of new solar modules (10 GW average output, or about 0.4% of world electricity demand) in 2013 alone. In the long run storage will become an obstacle, but with proper grid management and the kinds of infrastructure upgrades we should be doing anyway, we can get to 20-50% penetration before that gets serious.

Totally agreed on the political issues with nuclear. The physicist in me cringes every time I encounter NIMBYism where people guarantee increased personal exposure to the very dangers they claim to oppose, but that is the world we live in.

And let's not forget that a lot of the economic benefits of fossil fuels (for the producing regions, not the companies or the users) are illusory. For example, after accounting for health, pollution cleanup, loss of tourism and recreation, etc., coal mining is a net loss for West Virginia http://www.downstreamstrategies.com/documents/reports_publication/DownstreamStrategies-coalWV.pdf


#16

Did anyone here bother to read the actual memo?

It sums up Smol's research, which didn't find what it expected to find - a decrease in zooplankton levels over time where contamination from wind-blown contaminants could cause that. Instead, according to the memo, the result of his study was that zooplankton population levels had remained relatively constant. That was true even though he was testing lakes with contaminant levels 2.5 to 23 times higher than pre-development levels.

He decided to explain this failure of result away through global warming and said that without global warming we'd have seen a reduction in population. (The water got warmer, so there were more zooplankton, but there'd be even more if there wasn't an toxin.") You can't make a claim about a result you didn't see. He didn't compare those lakes to pristine lakes at the same time. He was only checking the levels in the contaminated lakes.

Queen's University supplied the report (un-allowed) to media outlets, with a technical explanation from Smol. He then went on to do interviews and made claims that there was "a smoking gun" result when his results, if represented truthful fully by this memo, don't show that at all.

Their only direct statement about Smol's behavior was this:

The advance briefing by Queen's University and the statements would indicate a lack of neutrality in the study participants and are not in line with the study findings.

If they correctly represented what occurred in this internal memo, then they're not making any outrageous claims against him. He did make statements that don't match his findings, and do require further study before any claim could have or should have been made. He certainly didn't get a "smoking gun" result.

Their own "conclusion" after reviewing all the information about Smol's research, and other similar research conducted at the same time was to: perform further studies.


#17

Wal-Mart lobbies against food stamps? I don't know why it would since it benefits from food stamps, which it accepts as payment and many of its employees rely on.

And construction firms probably don't engage in infrastructure lobbying because of the dearth of national construction firms and the higher efficacy of local bribery: infrastructure is heavily reliant on funding from federal and state funding while bidding is done at the local level.


#18

My point exactly. I don't know why either, but sometimes punishing the poor is just more satisfying than mere profits.


#19

Because they've been told ad infinitum that the only way the economy gets better is if taxes go down. They don't understand basic supply and demand because they've been taught the opposite.


#20

a "better video" can be found here. It's the sort of thing that tends to discredit the National Geographic Society, though. Looks like hell on earth.