Gary Goodyear is a chiropractor, family man, and a Christian. He doesn’t believe in evolution. He is not a scientist, and has never published a scientific article. He does have some strong opinions on science, however: this week, his approach to science (as laid out in his statement last week) was elucidated when his colleague*, National Research Council president John R. McDougall said that “Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value.”
This is not a rare opinion to hold; lots of people don’t understand the basic premises of scientific research, insofar as some of its most important discoveries, commercial and otherwise, are discovered by accident over the course of “noncommercial” research. And more importantly, some important scientific fields, like conservation biology or deep-space physics, just don’t have a commercial application. So why should we care what some chiropractor thinks about science?
Because Gary Goodyear is in charge of Canadian science – and he was appointed not by other scientists or even by the public. He is an MP, who was appointed by Stephen Harper as the Minister of State (Science and Technology.) This puts him at the head of science for Industry Canada; as you might have guessed, Industry Canada is responsible for our biggest science funding agency, NSERC. And as you might have also guessed, scientific funding in Canada is in big, big trouble.
This week’s comments are just the latest attack on science from this government. In fact, they essentially sum up what many people have been saying all along, which is that this government doesn’t know what science is, or what it does. It’s just annoying witchcraft that keeps buzzing around Harper’s head saying things like “bad idea,” and “environmental destruction,” and “responsible resource development,” and otherwise getting in the way of getting the oil out, now, for cheap. Right now.
Gary Goodyear is only now the most prominent example of why Canada needs to reform how we assign cabinet posts. Why should a chiropractor be able to drop basic science research in favour of what the Toronto Star has called, fittingly, a $900-million subsidy to business? Why should a journalist be in charge of the environment, an accident and injury lawyer in charge of finance, and career politicians be in charge of both national defence and international relations?
Aren’t these jobs better suited to people who know what the consequences of their transparent, politically-driven, shortsighted, and downright stupid actions are?
*Correction: the statement was made by John McDougall, the NRC president, not by Gary Goodyear. McDougall was, however, reiterating what Goodyear said last week, albeit in a much more quotable form.