Monthly Archives: March 2012

PetroChina investing in BC’s wild salmon… (NOT)

inspired by good 'ol Far Side

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If this isn’t worrisome to Canadian sovereignty, aboriginal rights & title, and unsettled BC treaties… well… maybe we might as well shed the maple leaf and the white parts of the flag, and scuttle the BC Treaty Process (maybe a self-fulfilling prophecy), and why bother with any court cases about aboriginal rights and title…?

Some headlines from today and yesterday:

PetroChina bids to help build $5.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline

CALGARY — Chinese investment in Canada’s energy sector could move to a new level if PetroChina wins a bid to build the controversial Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline.

The largest of China’s three state-controlled oil companies has expressed an interest in building the $5.5-billion project across the northern Canadian Rockies and is considering purchasing an equity stake, said Pat Daniel, president and CEO of proponent Enbridge Inc.

“They have made the point to us that they are very qualified in building pipelines, and we will take that into consideration when we are looking for contractors,” Mr. Daniel said in an interview. “It’s an open bid process. They are a very big organization, they build a lot of pipelines, and they would love to be involved from what they have told me.”

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PetroChina produced more oil than industry giant Exxon Mobil in 2011

NEW YORK — A big shift is happening in Big Oil: an American giant now ranks behind a Chinese upstart.

Exxon Mobil is no longer the world’s biggest publicly traded producer of oil. For the first time, that distinction belongs to a 13-year-old Chinese company called PetroChina. The Beijing company was created by the Chinese government to secure more oil for that nation’s booming economy.

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Canada’s ‘Cushing moment’: A northern pipeline crisis looms

CALGARY – Oil traders still grappling with an unprecedented pipeline bottleneck in the U.S. Midwest that roiled global energy markets last year should beware: Canada may be next.

The pipelines that carry crude from Alberta’s oil sands and the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota to U.S. refiners may run out of capacity as soon as 2015, some analysts now warn.

Fears that the export of Canadian crude will be constrained have risen recently as a result of pipeline project delays and the unyielding growth of North Dakota output. Any resulting glut could weaken Canadian oil prices, depress profits for producers like Suncor Energy Inc and Cenovus Energy Inc and choke growth in the largest source of U.S. imports.

A crisis could be avoided, though. Major pipeline operators like Enbridge Inc say they’re confident that an estimated 1 million barrels per day (bpd) of idle capacity on existing Canada-to-U.S. lines is more than enough for up to five years, sufficient time to complete new lines or add pumps.

That view is by no means unanimous.

The government is also taking action. Canada is set to push forward new measures to cut approval times for major pipeline projects in order to speed the completion of proposed routes to the Pacific Ocean and refiners in Asia.

“At a certain point there will be an issue (with capacity),” Joe Oliver, Canada’s natural resources minister, said in an interview this week. “We remain optimistic that pipelines can be built in time to avoid … the kind of problem they have in Cushing.”

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Ottawa to eases pipeline rules in bid to boost oil exports to Asia

The federal government gave a boost to oil sands exports to Asia by streamlining the environmental review process and making it more difficult for environmental groups to mount an opposition.

[ummm... yeah... it doesn't seem to just be "environmental groups mounting opposition... there's this finnicky thing called: 'average Canadians'... that are in opposition]

In its budget brought down Thursday, Ottawa said it will propose legislation aimed at having “one project, one review” that establishes clear timelines for approval of big resource and industrial projects, reduces duplication and regulatory burdens, and focuses resources on the largest projects with the biggest environmental impacts.

Most of Canada’s oil is now exported to the United States, where it is heavily discounted because of pipeline bottlenecks.

Canadian governments and industry have been pushing for market diversification in Asia by way of new pipelines to the West Coast, but have run into opposition from the environmental movement and First Nations that are targeting regulatory reviews to delay the projects…

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If Enbridge gets turned down in the current process surrounding the Northern Exit-way pipeline then folks in B.C. better be ready for an onslaught of pipeline proposals, that will be guided by the new Harper “one project, one review” process.

And PetroChina, now bigger than Exxon (which carried the title of world’s biggest money-maker until Apple recently unseeded it) will not take “NO” for an answer.

Especially when the tar sands oil in Alberta essentially becomes theirs… through straight up buying up whatever they want. There’s already some $20 billion or so (on the low end) invested by PetroChina and other Chinese firms in Alberta’s tar sands operations.

When the world’s biggest oil company, which is trying to feed an insatiable beast…

well, Houston… and B.C. … we have a problem.

Can I get that with a side of bullshit please…

do you see a problem?

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Driving home today and listening to CBC Radio I caught a curious and severely conflicting story, which highlights the out-of-touch(esness) of politics and otherwise in the current Canadian political and business climate.

This seems to have been a rather steady flow the past little while.

One segment discussed the release of poll results by the ‘respected’ firm Angus-Reid: Canadians Want Budget to Help the Jobless, Ease Pain at the Pump.

Apparently, according to a poll of 1000 Canadians (I’m sure it was representative of all homes…):

Respondents across the country prefer balancing the budget to increasing spending by a 3-to-1 margin.

Many Canadian adults think the federal government is right to reduce spending, but more than two thirds are calling for measures that would help the unemployed and reduce the price of gas across the country, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll conducted in partnership with the Toronto Star has found.

In the online survey of a representative national sample of 1,007 Canadian adults, half of respondents (51%) expect the budget that will be tabled by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty this week to focus primarily on spending cuts and fiscal restraint.

Three-in-five Canadians (61%) believe the federal government should try to balance the budget, even if it means reduced spending on services, while 21 per cent would opt to increase spending, even if it means continued budget deficits.

So… if there is apparently 60% of Canadians that believe the federal government should “balance the budget”… how many actually know what it means to “balance the budget”?

… let alone what a ‘balanced budget’ is?

(and I don’t mean this rudely to those who assume a balanced budget is a GREAT thing…)

(that’s that old marketing is everything, everything is marketing…thing).

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Well…a balanced budget is not really all that different than a household budget.

A ‘balanced budget’ simply means there is no surplus or deficit at year end.

It’s “balanced”.

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But what about the overall debt that Canada carries?

Well… a balanced budget means there’s $0 left over at the end of the year. That means $0 to pay down the massive debt load that we already carry.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation suggests yours and my share is a good solid $17,000 each… or so.

For a grand total debt of a little under $600 billion or so… (if i’m counting the zeros right?)

So how much of that debt gets paid down within a ‘balanced’ budget?

Well… the same amount that your credit card debt gets paid down if you have $0 left over at the end of the month…

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And what’s getting snuck in at the back-end of tomorrow’s federal “Harper Government” budget is a potential gutting of the Environmental Assessment legislation and the Fisheries Act.

Is this in line with federal NDP suggestions that these guttings of environmental legislation are for: “Stephen Harper’s friends”?

Please show us how gutting environmental legislation, meaning delaying the costs of things like climate change, habitat destruction and so on, to mine and your kids’ generations — makes sense in the long run?

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And come on polling companies… and politicians… let’s not fog over the tough reality in Canada right now.

We have a serious issue with literacy and numeracy.

Wonder why there’s such an issue with voter turn-out…?

Well, one is that politicians generally spew little more than platitudes and B.S. simply to appease a fickle ‘voting’ public, which is quickly approaching less than 50% of the Canadian population. (worse in Provincial elections)

The other half of the population is struggling to read recommended doses of cough syrup medication required for their children’s cold…

….and figuring out how they can improve their numeracy to deal with day-to-day realities of mortgages, credit card debt, and whatever ‘low-interest’ (high penalty) credit deal Canadian banks and otherwise have been handing out…

(those same institutions then bitching about the high Canadian household debt load… See Bank of Montreal economist headlines today)

(… those same institutions who handed them – Canadian households – that debt in the first place… you two-faced, talk out of all sides of your mouth, rolling in profit institutions…)

Now unfortunately, Canadians largely have a menu that consists of a main dish of bullshit (farmed GMO), with a hefty side order of green salad bullshit (sponsored by Monsanto), and a fine drink sponsored by your ‘multi-national’, transnational, conglomerate, (once Canadian, but now foreign bought out company) (not to mention, once Canadian, but now foreign-owned grown in Canada hops and wheat, in turn fermented in a once-owned Canadian beverage).

Yes… I’m sure the budget coming tomorrow is all about “middle-class Canadians”…

“Modernization”… more: monoculture monologue masquerading as conversation…

Conformity seems like an easier, more realistic choice...

. (a shorter post than more recent posts)

B.C. writer F.S. Michaels begins her book Monoculture with a quote from Nigerian writer and poet Ben Okri:

It’s easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories are. They do their work in silence, invisibly. They work with all the internal materials of the mind and self. They become part of you while changing you. Beware the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.

Michaels’ book “Monoculture: How one story is changing everything” is a good little read. Essentially, it lays out how the ‘economic’ story is the master narrative of our time.

The governing pattern that a culture obeys is a master story — one narrative in society that takes over the others, shrinking diversity and forming a monoculture. When you’re inside a master story at a particular time in history, you tend to accept its definition of reality. You unconsciously believe and act on certain things, and disbelieve and fail to act on other things. That’s the power of the monoculture; it’s able to direct us without us knowing too much about it.

Over time, the monoculture evolves into a nearly invisible foundation that structures and shapes our lives, giving us our sense of how the world works. It shapes our ideas about what’s normal and what we can expect from life. It channels our lives in a certain direction, setting out strict boundaries that we unconsciously learn to live inside. It teaches us to fear and distrust other stories; other stories challenge the monoculture simply by existing, by representing alternate possibilities…

… Monocultures and their master stories rise and fall with the times…

Michaels, in a well-researched, tightly woven narrative explains how the “economic story” has largely come to dominate in six areas of our world: work, relationships with others and the environment, your community, your physical and spiritual health, your education, and your creativity.

The diversity of values and stories that once sustained us in different parts of life are giving way. That loss puts us at risk. Once you lose the diversity of stories that sustained you in different parts or your life, shaping who you are and how you live, it’s hard to even think beyond the economic story, harder still to recognize how a monoculture constrains you. You struggle to make decisions that go against its tenets. Conformity seems like an easier, more realistic choice.

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The pervasiveness of this ‘economic story’ really is quite remarkable.

Several posts over the last few weeks on this site have alluded to it, or just got right into it.

Look at this for example… an invite from a respected Canadian University, in which I just received this in an email, inviting Graduate-level students to a ‘connection’ conference:

The focus of the conference is Connecting Research to Industry. Graduate students attending the conference will have the ability to present their research to representatives from a variety of industries. This is a great chance to showcase your research and connect with industries that may be interested in your work—you may even land a new job!

What about policy-neutral research and science as heavily advocated by Dr. Robert Lackey and others?

This type of ‘connecting research to industry’ goes down some slippery slopes, such as having major oil companies sponsoring University Research Chair positions into things like water sustainability and ecosystem reclamation. That’s a problem.

A slope lubed with tar sands bitumen… one might say…

It’s also part of the ever-growing, pervasive “economic story”. So deeply buried in society and culture now, that it’s largely unquestioned and simply accepted ‘as the norm’…

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There has also been the fine work of the Conservative/Reform Party of Canada in their most recent efforts to apparently “modernize” many of Canada’s federal legislation and Ministries.

Here’s just a few recent stories running the media, discussing this great ‘modernization’ occurring in Canada.

Environmental assessment report slammed as ‘fictitious’

A report from the Commons environment committee has government MPs calling for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to be “modernized” and the opposition dismissing the committee’s work as a fiction.

Ashfield talks fisheries modernization in Halifax

Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield tried to reassure Nova Scotia’s nervous inshore fishery Friday when he met with his regional counterparts to discuss the modernization of the commercial fishery.

Ashfield said Ottawa’s upcoming modernization of the commercial fishery is not imminent.

But the fate of policies that have protected inshore fisheries from corporate takeover remains uncertain.

“I’m in listening mode. That’s what I’ll be doing for quite some time now to see where we should go in the course of time,” Ashfield said.

His department has touched off widespread fears in coastal communities.

Its discussion paper on modernizing the fishery omits policies that have protected inshore fisheries from corporate takeover, in particular the owner-operator policy, which requires a licence holder to catch the fish.

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Yea… uh huh… “I’m in listening mode…”

If you’re in it now… then what the hell were you (and your colleagues) doing in the six years previous…?

What’s going on in Ottawa these days from:

  • “modernizing” the Criminal Code (e.g. get tough on crime… even though crime rates have been falling nationally for years), and yet, also, decisions like today:

Judges must consider history when sentencing aboriginals: Supreme Court

.(that pesky Supreme court thing, just keeps getting in the way of the Reformers…and their ‘modernization plans’)

  • “modernizing” Environmental Assessment processes (e.g. ‘streamlining’),
  • “modernizing” the Fisheries Act and Canada’s ‘commercial fisheries’,
  • “modernizing” our trade with Communist, human-rights questionable China,
  • “modernizing” our free-trade agreements (e.g. sending job somewhere cheaper), and
  • even “modernizing” how we do elections such as the insidious robo-calling (e.g. what us? no… we don’t do those dirty U.S.-style election tactics…).

Suppose it just has to wait until next election until Canada’s federal government gets “modernized”. For example, putting the “Canada” or “Canadian government” back in where it belongs and ripping out the “Harper”.

As pointed out before, the current regime is little more than a name-change of the old “Reform” party… a.k.a. ‘modernize’ to our reform version of the economic story…. they say.

Otherwise known as the ‘invisible hand of the market’…

Suppose the message might be clear when the very visible hand of the Canadian public slaps this ‘modernizing regime’ right off their ‘modernized’ perch…

change is afoot and maybe ‘the story’ will change with it…

“Monologue masquerading as conversation, masturbation posing as productive interaction”… sounds like any government processes (or university lectures) you know?

to "manage"...

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… the real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the working of institutions which appear to be both neutral and independent; violence which has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that we can fight fear.”

.             – Michel Foucault, French philosopher, thinker, and social theorist 1974.

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This might be a little heavy of a quote to start this post, however, it also fits and melds well with the quotes that finish this post…

This post, follows up on the last couple of posts on this site: Keeping science free of policy advocacy? …Hogwash! (and irresponsible?)Science Inc. — don’t worry though… our language is “policy-neutral”…

And this idea of ‘power as knowledge’ and ‘knowledge as power’ — an oft un-analyzed assumption and relationship — especially in this time of apparently living in a “knowledge society.”

‘Knowledge’ does not necessarily reflect power relations, nor does ‘power’ necessarily reflect knowledge relationships. However, the two certainly dance together like the split — in banana split…  A ‘split’ without being a split… a split banana is not very exciting, but a banana-split… ooohh boy….

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There is this ongoing issue with “scientists”  — which generally implies some sort of credentialed individual that has undergone a series of exams and tests of ‘knowledge’ within certain specializations, critiqued by a body of their peers, largely immersed in a body of knowledge and power relations that in-turn remains more-or-less un-questioned, un-analyzed, and un-critiqued.

The ‘body of knowledge’ taught within these institutions, given the ‘power’ to hand out the credentials, can often be so laden with normative values, unexamined assumptions, and often a prickliness to being questioned… at an institutional and individual level.

With that in mind…

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Last night I attended another ‘forum’ at the University of Northern BC (UNBC).

It was hosted by the University’s Fish and Wildlife Student Chapter of the Wildlife Society and was titled ‘Fisheries presentation and Discussion’ with the purpose of “discussing current fisheries issues pertaining to diseases, aquaculture and management.”

Two professors from UNBC — Drs. Allan Costello and Mark Shrimpton — gave presentations, which essentially comprised of a ‘pros and cons’ type presentation.

Dr. Shrimpton essentially advocating for salmon farms and aquaculture with the argument of: ‘near everything else we eat is farmed — with his example largely based on a photo of a hamburger in a bun — so why not farm salmon?’

Dr. Costello advocating that there are many risks and factors to consider when farming salmon, as is permitted on the BC south and mid-coasts. For example: that we need to feed farmed salmon other wild fish, that there are diseases and parasites, antibiotics-used, and issues of pollution and farmed salmon escaping. (Essentially many of the common arguments against open-pen salmon farming).

Both good Dr.’s presented well, and there was some decent discussion amongst students in the audience — which from a rough guess appeared to be largely undergraduate students, however I could be wrong.

Curiously, both of the good dr’s also more or less capitulated to the idea that salmon farming on the BC coast really is not a discussion of ‘either-or’ — it’s more an issue of where and how much?

It’s inevitable… basically… they say.

Humans like to eat fish, the ocean’s fisheries are dwindling, the human population is growing, we need to farm fish, just like we do crops, cattle, pigs and whatever else… they say.

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On some accounts, I can agree with this notion — however, salmon are not becoming vegetarians anytime soon (like carp, for example, which was raised as an example of farming fish in freshwater) and we will need to continue to feed farmed salmon… well… other fish.

Unless we also start farming feed fish to feed farmed salmon…

…we will need to get that feed fish from somewhere. Which means we will be taking those “feed” fish from the mouths of other wild fish.

And so on, we go down the chain…

Eventually, the gig’s going to be up…

Eventually, good ‘ol mother earth is going to call this bluff… this “anthropogenic bluff” the academics might call it.

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We are already so far down the food chain when it comes to fish we now catch and eat, as say… compared to 20 or 30 years ago — that an argument will be fronted soon enough that suggests may be we shouldn’t be feeding wild feed fish to farmed salmon. Which in turn are essentially only for well-off, wealthy consumers that can afford to buy salmon of any kind — either at the supermarket or in a restaurant.

We don’t exactly see farmed salmon being served in homeless shelters and soup kitchens…

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Thus, these arguments — and granted there was limited time to present — fronted another simplified view of the world and  the issues, which seems to be a theme with ‘scientists’ over the past couple of weeks.

For whatever reason, and I’m sure some practitioner of the ‘hard’ sciences can set me straight on this, refuse to — or don’t want to — look at the larger social, economic, cultural, issues — let alone the larger biological picture.

(‘not our department… or area of special-tease’ most suggest…)

Both of these presenters alluded to human choices — as in: we can choose not to purchase these products at the supermarket. Well… unfortunately, this is a nice thought in theory, but unfortunately, the bulk of the open-pen farmed salmon produced in BC are exported to the U.S. or to Japan or otherwise.

Thus leaving local consumers with little ‘market-pressure’ options. Sure there’s a bit of a market at Jimmy Pattison’s Save-on Foods and otherwise, however, this is a small slice — with little impact by ‘boycotts’.

The companies that are farming these salmon are highly integrated, globalized, transnational companies — largely based out of Norway (e.g. Marine Harvest, Cermaq, etc. — all related to the same parent). If consumers in BC assert market pressure the companies will simply find a market for their product somewhere else.

… like China… where the discerning consumer is maybe a little more limited.

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This notion of a certain inevitable-ness, just leaves me feeling a little dirty, cheap… and… well… power-less…

and, in the logic-sense of the arguments presented, begging many questions.

Which, I should point out is not necessarily a criticism of these two presenters… they appeared to fill their ‘mandate’ for the presentation, and may very well be indoctrinated doctors…

(i don’t know them, so hard to say… and most of this post is more directed towards the establishment… as opposed to these individuals.)

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However, it’s too simplistic…. these arguments.

Similar to Dr. Lackey’s arguments at a UNBC presentation last week advocating for not advocating… with ‘scientific results’ that is.

It’s akin to the classic parental line of: “because I said so”

As in: ‘Well, why…?’

‘because I said so… I say it’s inevitable…so just accept it…’

Again, not necessarily the position of the two good Dr.’s last night but an implied feeling of ‘power’-less-ness…

Something, these days, definitely not akin to Nessie the Loch-ness…  ‘power-less-ness’ is a serious affliction in our ‘globalized’ society…ever-present…  especially with those not holding the power… (like those not learning via institutionalized-knowledge avenues… electric avenue…)

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I asked a few questions, and made a few comments, last night — related to past posts on this site regarding salmon farming — about whether people in BC are willing to accept the risk of having multinational, transnational companies utilizing our coastlines to farm, grow and process an invasive species, to in turn export it wherever they like.

What happens when diseases like infectious salmon anemia (ISA) wipe out both farmed salmon — as it did in Chile, taking thousands of jobs with it — and when the various inlets and island-shorelines adjacent to farms can no longer take the constant influx of food waste, antibiotics, sea lice, and whatever else comes with ‘farming’ carnivores?

Do we just inevitably accept that our backyards are there to be utilized by multinational companies?

…companies that will essentially come to BC for dinner, eat-and-run, and leave the toilet unflushed, not to mention your toilet paper supply diminished, and probably a couple of unpaid phone bills…

An “economy” is simply a system of exchange.

In this case BC, is basically accepting a few jobs (fewer that pay well), and a few tax dollars, yet offering up our coastlines, inlets, bays and other areas to produce a product that is being shipped elsewhere for the benefit of well-off consumers, far, far, away…

This being said, without getting in to the issue of un-settled treaties with First Nations in BC.

Yet another complexity… a political element… yet a biological element, yet a knowledge element… yet a power element… yet an institutional element that is difficult to institutionalize…

…First Nations have an entire set of knowledge, values, and science that is not accepted and respected in the mainstream science world, in the hallowed towers of academia and ‘hard’ science departments. In the institutionalized institution that people pay big bucks to attend to become institutionalized power-holders, knowledge-holders…

Even Dr. Shrimpton said it last night: “there is no proof of any wild fishery actually being sustainable”…

Yowsers, I was caught off guard by the comment.

How does the good dr. think the more than 1 million+ indigenous people of coastal western (and eastern and northern) North America survived off of, for thousands and thousands of years?

Oh right… fish… and other marine critters.

Must have had an element of sustainability to it, because there’s a variety of ‘proof’ or evidence of villages that have been in coastal areas for a long, long, long time.

Not to mention the immense ‘fishery’ that occurred up and down the Fraser River – for thousands and thousands and thousands of years.

Must have been sustainable in some form… and probably larger than the average commercial salmon catch throughout the 20th century…

(OK, academia-ized assumptions aside… more on this below)

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What about this notion of ‘sustainability’ in an ancient sense?

Or this idea that … indigenous people have an entire set of knowledge, values, and science that is not accepted and respected in the mainstream science world, in the hallowed towers of academia and ‘hard’ science departments.

Is this not a knowledge-power schism…?

Or, at least if it is discussed in academia, it’s generally a matter of jamming, ‘integrating’, and the old round pegs, square holes cliche, etc. etc. With academia doing much of the ‘jamming’ and ‘mashing’ of pegs… such as in the plethora of Chairs of First Nations departments at Universities around the country… who… aren’t in fact First Nations themselves.

Where does the power lie in that relationship…?

(How would the University Fisheries Management program feel if they had a Chair that was not a ‘fisheries scientist’…? Or an English Department with a Chair that doesn’t speak English…?)

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Here are a couple of quotes that I’d like to share that provide a certain round-up of some ideas discussed on the last few posts.

Here is an old quote, found on a shelf at the UNBC library, from a book published in 1972, – Science and Politics in Canada. G. Bruce Doern, 1972 McGill University Press

 The more one attempts to examine the growing interrelationships between science and politics, the more one becomes addicted to the reality that everything depends on everything else. The science and politics relationship is critically influenced by the role of universities; it will become increasingly a factor in the central aspect of Canadian politics, federal-provincial relations. It will alter and blur the conventional distinctions between the private and public sectors.

[don't have to look much further then my last post and corporate sponsorship of Canadian University Research Chair positions to see that prediction came true...]

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1972…

…Essentially, discussing system theory. Everything is connected to everything else.

What a thought…

Do you think Universities, government, and otherwise will be forming: “Departments of Everything is connected to Everything Else”… anytime soon.

You know, like the implicit idea behind that of an “ecosystem”…

Coming from the Greek word for ‘home’ oikos… eco… our ‘home’system…

Try and wire your home stereo system without a few key components. Or take one out… don’t work so well…

If you take something out, it has an impact throughout the system. Or if you put something in that wasn’t originally there…

Impacts.

Throw in a woofer and bass your soul away… toss in a tweeter and shrill your hearing away…

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We, society, can’t go around accepting scientists spouting off about ‘policy neutral’ science (and I’m not necessarily referring to the two scientists that spoke last night) when we know darn well that “science” is laden and laced with values.

Plus, if you look at the webpage of these two scientists that spoke last night, the preeminent scientist Dr. Lackey would shudder at the ‘normative’, non-policy-neutral language present on their websites:

things like Dr. Costello suggesting: “My interests lie in the application of science-based research to the management and conservation of native fishes in Canada”

Dr. Lackey argues, this idea of “native” vs. “invasive” implies a policy preference.

Bad….in the good Dr’s eyes…

Dr. Shrimpton suggesting: “My long term research goal is to develop methods to mitigate deleterious changes to the environment that impacts fish and implement management…”

Oh, oh… not policy-neutral according to Dr. Lackey.

This suggests a bias towards ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ changes to the environment (e.g. like a dam)… must say “changes”… not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘degradation’ or ‘improvement’ or ‘deleterious’… just “changes”…

Again, not a criticism of these two, at least they’re real, and have an opinion, and don’t hide behind some ‘normative’ curtain of true-object-ivi-ty…. and they certainly aren’t “transparent”… I could see them really well… right up front… and walking around a lot in the case of Dr. Shrimpton… no, not ‘transparent’…

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‘Science’ comes from the Western, predominately ‘white’, reductionist view of the world. Trace it back far enough and it comes from the crazies that were trying to turn lead into gold.

This is not to say that it doesn’t have a place and a purpose. Often that place is even an important one.

The current form of institutionalized education also comes from Western, predominately white-European roots.

The problem is that ‘science’ and “scientists” (whatever exactly that is…?) seem to generally want to have their cake and eat it too… just as we all do to a certain degree.

The common assertions:

“We’re ‘independent’… we’re ‘transparent’ (which I’m not so sure about, because generally I can see them…) and our work is ‘reproducible’…”

Science, of course, is not value-free because it is a human enterprise, but this fact does not make all science normative…

[ Dr. Lackey: "information that is developed, presented, or interpreted based on an assumed, usually unstated, preference for a particular policy or class of policy choices."].

…Policy-neutral science is a way of learning about the world and it is characterized by transparency, reproducibility, and independence.

          -Dr. Robert Lackey, fisheries scientist.

The practice of, the institutionalization of, the credentialing of, and practice of… ‘science’…  who can do it, how, where, when, and why… how to communicate it, where, when, why, etc. etc.

Who’s science is better, who’s is more neutral… best-est neutral-est.

… misses the point, really.

…And so does forgetting that knowledge is essentially power, and power is knowledge. Even more-so when these are institutionalized, concentrated, espoused to young minds and thus proliferated eternally as the ‘right approach’…

knowledge-power squared…or cubed… (as the “to the power of” saying goes with exponents).

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I came across a very fitting quote in a paper out of Australia, Bruce Rose suggesting in relation to this idea that humans can ‘manage’ the ecosystem and the critters in it — through the practice of ‘science’ of ‘management’:

This is monologue masquerading as conversation, masturbation posing as productive interaction; it is a narcissism so profound that it purports to provide a universal knowledge when in fact its practices of erasure are universalizing its own singular and powerful isolation.

This is the danger that ‘scientists’ walk… on the tightrope stretching across their ivory towers… some definitely engaged in a hot and heavy monologue, and others in a good, hot & …errr…  solid ego-masturbation…

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Everything is connected…

…to start suggesting that there is an ability to become separated from the politics, from one’s own cultural assumptions that fed theories and scientific data in the first place, from data that needs to be interpreted through some lens (even if it’s one’s own eyeball lens), data that then needs to be given voice (e.g. advocated — see previous post for etymology/roots of the word), etc., etc.

The problem with taking the high moral ground, is it means the eventual ‘fall from grace’ is that much further down to the mere commoners sense… or the flood that floats one off that high ground is all the more devastating.

Even the simple term “management” comes imbued, laced, water-logged, and full of various assumptions (oh, oh, that same indicator of normative science).

In previous posts I have traced the etymology/roots of this word in English, which relate to the Latin word: manus or, hands.

It also traces back to Italian maneggiare “to handle,” especially “to control a horse.”

And so in the scientific sense, this idea of ‘controlling’ something is the implicit assumption ever-present in the term “management” — no matter whether that is ‘fisheries management’ (which is more about managing fisheries than it is ‘the fish’)

fish 'management'

or wildlife management, or ‘human resource management’… or [insert other field here]

(“human resource”… resource defined as: “An available supply that can be drawn on when needed”… ain’t that the truth… how’s your job security…?)

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Another fitting quote:

In the case of wildlife management, the dominant management discourse often assumes that both ‘wildlife’ and ‘management’ are universal concepts and practices, and consequently renders the privileging of management as the foundational concept for organizing social and environmental relationships on the ground invisible as an exercise of power over local indigenous systems of thinking and being-in-the-world.

This silences, ignores and devalues the multiple knowledges of the peoples whose existing relationships and discourses become the objects of management. With these knowledges made invisible, the assumption that management is universal is legitimated.

Thus, even when wildlife management is conceived of with the best of intentions and implemented as effectively as possible, fundamental and generally hidden assumptions reinforce colonizing power relationships.

“Rethinking the building blocks: ontological pluralism and the idea of management.” Richard Howitt and Sandra Suchet-Pearson, Geografiska Annaler 88(3): 323-335.

Or, to even go a little more obscure… one of my favorite BC manipulator of words (who comes with no shortage of controversy in his work):

Home is alive, like a tree, not skinned and dressed or cut and dried like the quarried stone and milled wood houses are made of, nor masticated and spat out like the particleboard and plywood used for packaging prefabricated lives.

A house is not a home the way a mask is not a face. But a mask is not a mask if it can’t be read as a metaphor for the face, nor a house a house if it can’t be seen as the mask of home.

Home is the whole earth, everywhere and nowhere, but it always wears the masks of particular places, no matter how often it changes or moves.

Robert Bringhurst, ONE SMALL ISLAND A CASE STUDY IN THE CONTEST BETWEEN HISTORY AND LITERATURE

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With powerless-ness comes fear. With power exertion comes masks…

Science is a mask (e.g. ‘hide behind the science’), which would not be a mask if it did not have the institutions to provide an anchor for its shape, for its assumptions, and its purported value-less practice.

It is practiced (and credentialed) for the very fact that it has a value, just as does a mask (especially if you’re a hockey goalie).

In turn, the institutions – with the power – provide it a house, which is not a home.

The institutionalized continue to wear the mask, as if it is a face.

A metaphor is “something used, or regarded as being used, to represent something else”…

…just as science is often used as a mask for knowledge…

and yet it is… when institutions say it is… And thus,  it can be used to objectify, marginalize, and reduce… other knowledge.

Knowledge that has a home. Knowledge that is everywhere and yet nowhere. Ever-moving and shape-shifting and powerful.

Never universal. Never in isolation.

Times need to change… everything is connected, and our common sense and our uncommon sense and our ‘scientific’ sense, must operate from that reality.

As much as some religions might suggest so, the earth and its systems were not put here to be ‘managed’ just for our benefit… nor can this blind faith of ‘management’ so institutionalized throughout society, continue to operate un-questioned…

how’s it done so far, for example, in ‘managing’ the fish and the ‘fisheries’ of the oceans over the last 150 years or so…?

Stop the mask-erading… stop the masturbation…

Start the questioning of old assumptions, start the process of removing masks, start the process of respecting all knowledges… and shape-shift the power, power up the shape-shifting, and shift the shape. Current institutionalized knowledge is far too square. Show me a square in a natural system… any ‘system’…

New bumper sticker: “Don’t be a squarehead…”

.

(… especially if you have a round hat…)

Science Inc. — don’t worry though… our language is “policy-neutral”…

Language isn’t neutral.

F.S. Michaels, “Monoculture: how one story is changing everything” (winner of NCTE George Orwell Award for outstanding contributions to the critical analysis of public discourse)

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Many of us who provide scientific information to decision-makers and the public should become more vigilant, more precise, more demanding, and more rigorous… Be clear, be candid, be brutally frank, but be policy-neutral.

Dr. Robert Lackey, well-known fisheries biologist based in Oregon. “Normative Science” (Fisheries 29:7)

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This is a follow-up to the post on Friday: Keeping science free of policy advocacy? …Hogwash! (and irresponsible?)

An epilogue of sorts, some after thoughts to the presentation of Friday afternoon by preeminent fisheries scientist Dr. Lackey.

how circular do you like your arguments?

.

The purpose here is not to disrespect, or slander, or belittle — simply to look at things critically; to look at things from a little different angle; to ask some question of the ‘wisdom‘ being imparted to university students (and others).

A little reflection balanced with action… a little… ‘rather than complain about it, do something about it’… a little… assumption-analysis.

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The role of science, the role of policy advocacy, the role of scientists is an important issue (at least in my humble little opinion)… especially in many current governing regimes that purport to be ‘democratic democracies’…

…and in Universities and academic establishments that continue to grow there base of corporate donations and sponsorships.

As such, when preeminent individuals/academics speak, many listen.

When these individuals come with distinguished credentials, long lists of ‘peer’ reviewed articles, government awards, and so on… many listen… may even be impacted… may even be influenced.

Added to this is when certain individuals engage in heavy-advocacy on a certain issue — made all the more bizarre when the entire point of a presentation is heavy-advocacy saying: “advocacy is bad“…

(ahhh, the power of contradictions in life… of opposing ideals…)

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And thus… these sorts of things — advocacy sans advocacy, academic preaching, and espousing heavy assumptions — come with a certain level of responsibility… as in the various definitions of the word:

1. answerable or accountable, as for something within one’s power, control, or management.

2. involving accountability or responsibility.

3. having a capacity for moral decisions and therefore accountable; capable of rational thought or action.

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Trace this word far enough back — responsibility — and we get to the Latin root word sponde: “solemn libation”, and spondere: “to engage oneself, promise”.

The roots of “re” meaning: “back”, and spondere which essentially means “to pledge.”

As well as the Latin respondere: “respond, answer to, promise in return.”

Eventually we get to French responsible, from Latin responsus, which is the past participle of respondere “to respond.”

In the late 1500s the term came to mean: “morally accountable for one’s actions”, which suggests it retains the sense of “obligation” from the Latin roots.

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That little spin down word-memory lane, is to provide some basis for what is discussed here.

We’re in the ‘realm of responsibility’ that comes from certain positions occupied in society; about responsibility for reflection; and responsibility for being accountable to one’s ‘arguments’, especially if those are being espoused to young minds — and there is certainly a very large responsibility in our North American society that comes with being white, and being male…

Furthermore, the ‘influenced’, the ‘spoken to’, the ‘listeners’ also have responsibility… responsibility to ask questions, to peer at things from critical angles, to reflect, to ask some more questions, make choices, and so on.

Be ‘vigilant, precise, demanding, and rigorous’…

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Unfortunately… at this particular presentation I attended on Friday — the classic scenario…

‘this presentation will take approximately 50 minutes, and there will be time for about 5 minutes of questions…’

I’ve attended enough talks, and given enough talks myself, that the classic “5 minutes of questions” means about two questions will get asked of the presenter because, the presenter will still be amped up from talking for 50-minutes… thus any question will garner a continued flow of verbiage…

And… if the topic is one that might be somewhat controversial, critical questioners will be cut short with the all-to-familiar: “well… we have lots of other people wanting to ask questions”…

…and thus what is essentially being said is: ‘we are after quantity here, not quality…’

(and ghad forbid anyone ask some ‘critical’ questions and our esteemed presenter get put in an awkward position to actually have to respond — as in take responsibility for — what was stated, what was advocated for…)

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With that 600-word, preface… what does my analysis reveal within this presentation, and position, that suggests: ‘Scientists must be policy-neutral in their language…‘?

This particular presentation started with the preface, and I paraphrase: ‘this is about science, I’m not talking about all that other stuff, those other sciences…’

The classic elitist position of ‘hard science’ vs. ‘soft science’… the classic ‘us’ vs. ‘them’… which was prevalent throughout the presentation: ‘scientists’ vs ‘general public’, ‘skeptics’ vs. ‘believers’, ‘normative science’ vs. ‘policy-neutral science’ (which was the heart of the argument).

Here is a quote from one of Dr. Lackey’s papers from 2004 “Normative Science” which appears to be the central tenet of Friday’s presentation:

I am concerned that we are heading down a path in fisheries science that risks marginalizing science, if not much of our scientific enterprise.

Many of us who provide scientific information to decision-makers and the public should become more vigilant, more precise, more demanding, and more rigorous in distinguishing between policy-neutral and policy-inculcated scientific information. (my emphasis)

Let me be explicit about two key points concerning the role of scientists in fisheries policy.

First, fisheries scientists should contribute to policy analysis. Not only is it the right thing to do, we are obligated to do so. I do not hold with the notion that it is sufficient for scientists to publish their findings solely as scholarly reports.

Second, when scientists contribute to policy analysis, they need to exercise great care to play an appropriate and clearly defined role. Here is where the interface between science and policy gets muddled for many fisheries scientists.

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The issue that I have, is that this argument presented on Friday, came packaged in what appears to be a remarkably naïve position… and immensely simplistic, with a good solid colorful bow of assumptions tied up in a nasty knot.

Naïve as in:

1. having or showing unaffected simplicity of nature or absence of artificiality; unsophisticated; ingenuous. 2. having or showing a lack of experience, judgment, or information; credulous.

Credulous, referring to believing a little too easily; and, ingenuous: somewhat obsolete… as I don’t think this particular speaker has a ‘lack of experience, judgment or information…’

A wealth of experience, in fact, just a surprisingly simplistic, and naive argument in this particular case. A problem, even to Mr. Lackey, as quoted in his 2004 paper:

…developing sound fisheries policy, science is important, helpful, even essential, but involvement with policy issues by a naive scientist can lead to loss of credibility and perceived independence unless the proper roles of both science and policy are understood and followed.

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As suggested in my previous post, the first questions that come to mind are: ‘what is science?’ and ‘what is policy?’…

I won’t get into that for now, however, if one has these two terms — ‘science’ and ‘policy’ at the centre of their argument — they should be clear about what they mean…

…or at least provide some glimmer or glint of where on the spectrum one is referring, as these terms exist on a very elastic continuum that stretches from here to the sun.

Even the UN struggles with the term, as do many, suggesting in an old Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) document:

… the word “policy”… is a very elastic term and we need some working definition of it from which we can all start together even if we choose to amend it thereafter.

A “policy” is very much like a decision or a set of decisions, and we “make”, “implement” or “carry out” a policy just as we do with decisions.

Like a decision a ‘policy’ is not itself a statement, nor is it only a set of actions, although, as with decisions, we can infer what a person’s or organisation’s policy is either from the statement he makes about it, or, if he makes no statement or we don’t believe his statement from the way he acts.

But, equally, we can claim that a statement or set of actions is misleading and does not faithfully reflect the “true” policy.

Ah yes… the ‘elasticity’ of policy, and in difficulties of laying a good concrete foundational definition… makes me think of the “bike helmet” law in BC. All those folks not respecting the ‘true policy’… or those speeders on the highway…

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Dr. Lackey does provide a certain definition of what ‘normative science’ is, at least in his mind:

By normative science, I mean “information that is developed, presented, or interpreted based on an assumed, usually unstated, preference for a particular policy or class of policy choices.”

In his Friday presentation, Dr. Lackey made some quip about going back to Philosophy 101 to understand that ‘true science’ is done in such methods that are: “rational, systematic, and reproducible.”

I’m not so sure how long it’s been since Dr. Lackey has taken a look at a PHIL 101 syllabus… however, I’m pretty sure it does not contain some ‘all-knowing’ definition of science.

However to be fair, Dr. Lackey did say in his presentation and in his 2004 paper that:

Science, of course, is not value-free because it is a human enterprise, but this fact does not make all science normative. Policy-neutral science is a way of learning about the world and it is characterized by transparency, reproducibility, and independence.

…”transparency, reproducibility, and independence”… important terms to keep in mind…

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The heart of Dr. Lackey’s argument largely centres on two fundamental points: Credibility (as in scientists providing information to policy-makers… who ever that is?)

and Language (or words).

Words are important…

…says he.

Yes, they are.

The classic example for Dr. Lackey surrounds the use of words such as ecosystem “degradation” or ecosystem “improvement” or even the ever-value-laced, dirty, nasty, non-policy-neutral: “ecosystem health”…

That is normative science, says the good Dr.

What one should say instead — or at least the good scientist (as opposed to the bad scientist) should say:

Often I hear or read words like “degradation.” Or words like “improvement.” Or “good” or “poor.” Do not use these in conveying scientific information. Using such words implies a preferred ecological state, a desired condition, a benchmark, a preferred class of policy options.

This is not science, it is policy advocacy. Subtle, perhaps unintentional, but still policy advocacy.

The appropriate “science” words are ones such as “alteration” or “change” or “increase” or “decrease.” These words describe the scientific information in ways that are policy-neutral. In short, they convey no policy preference and convey science in a policy-neutral manner. Be clear, be candid, be brutally frank, but be policy-neutral.

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So picture this… my children are the policy-makers…

I’m speaking to them about their behavior. They are screaming around the house. However, if I want to be “policy-neutral”, I need to simply tell them that their behavior might need to “alter” not that their behavior is ‘degrading’ the quiet enjoyment of the household…(or even improving it because I can no longer hear the neighbor’s snowblower)

That some certain acts occurring in the household require behavior ‘alteration’… NOT… (ghad forbid)… telling them that screaming at the top of their lungs is resulting in household ‘degradation’…

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This was the analogy that immediately came to mind as I listened to Dr. Lackey’s advocacy lecture about ‘NOT’ being an advocate… (at least if you’re a scientist)

And then I started to think this analogy might be quite fitting… as, how many ‘policy-makers’ are politicians, and how many people find politicians to be quite child-like at times?

But, nope, if we’re to be policy-neutral we simply just stick to the facts, “just the facts mam” (or sir)…

As Dr. Lackey suggests:

One person’s “damaged” ecosystem is another person’s “improved” ecosystem [salmonguy note: does this include the lungs of a smoker?].

A “healthy” ecosystem can be either a malarial infested swamp or the same land converted to an intensively managed rice paddy. Neither condition can be seen as “healthy” except through the lens of an individual’s values and policy preferences.

That’s exactly the point.

This is an endlessly circular argument.

Everything in life is viewed through the lens of an individual… to think that scientists can ‘interpret’ data and information in such a way that is ‘neutral’ and then in turn communicate this information as ‘policy-neutral’ to ‘policy makers’ or the general public…

…is naive, and lacks any view towards social sciences and even fundamental basic cultural or social analysis…

…But… those are the ‘soft’ sciences…

“that other stuff” as suggested by Dr. Lackey in his presentation…

…this despite the fact that he apparently also teaches ‘political science’… one of those classic “soft” sciences as viewed from the lens of the “hard” scientists…

Further… Dr. Lackey’s analysis, and rather rigorous analysis of language… is in fact essentially “discourse analysis” an immensely liberal, ‘soft’ science that explores people’s use of language…

“But I understand there’s these various ‘integrated’ courses now being offered, these ‘social science’ type degrees… I don’t really have much time for those…”

…says he, following certain questions at the presentation…

…the teacher of political science, which the American Political Science Association defines as:

…the study of governments, public policies and political processes, systems, and political behavior.  Political science subfields include political theory, political philosophy, political ideology,  political economy, policy studies and analysis, comparative politics, international relations, and a host of related fields.

(Sounds pretty subjective and soft-sciencey to me…)

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Dr. Lackey’s simplistic argument continued with quoting stats from a Washington, DC newspaper that surveyed ‘Americans trust of science’ and apparently 40% of those surveyed suggested: “they don’t trust science”.

In his eyes, this is one of the fundamental issues facing scientists (at least the ‘hard’ science practitioners such as ‘fisheries scientists), TRUST in the public realm, as well as TRUST amongst policy makers.

(I’m still unsure of what exactly a “policy-maker” is in his argument…).

I mentioned in my comments to Dr. Lackey (and other ‘hard’ scientists in the audience), that there’s this tricky issue out there that few seem to ponder… an issue I’ve mentioned in several recent posts:

Almost 50% of Canadians do not have the literacy they require to participate in day-to-day life including work. This is based on the intensive work done through the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS).

So if almost 50% of Canadians don’t have the literacy requirements, what is it in the U.S.?

So, if say, near 50% of the participants in this apparent survey have low literacy how many respondents were simply unable to answer the survey questions?

How many answered: ‘I don’t really give a shit…’?

Again, this apparent 40% of untrusting folks, is a simplistic argument. Suggesting that part of the reason for ‘advocating’ for not advocating in science (e.g. fisheries science) is this issue of public trust… and relating it back to the apparent fact that it’s because too many ‘bad’ scientists have been engaging in policy-advocacy… too simplistic, poor analysis, and plain bad logic.

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Dr. Lackey continued to carry on several times suggesting:

“leave that policy advocacy stuff to the Canadian Petroleum Producers association and the Sierra Club…”

Which left me wondering, and wanting to ask (but cut off in question time), how he feels about positions such as the EnCana Research Chair in Water Resources Sciences at the University of Alberta…

Or, EnCana Chair in Canadian Plains Mitigation and Reclamation at the University of Calgary?

Does the “science” coming from this position get communicated in a “policy-neutral” manner?

Or how about the Cenovus Chair in Environmental Engineering at the University of Alberta as well…?

(Cenovus and Encana are both major Canadian oil companies, operating significantly in the Alberta tar sands…).

Or the Suncor-supported Research Chair in Forest Land Reclamation also at the University of Alberta, or the Enbridge Research Chair in Phsycological Oncology at the University of Calgary.

I might gently suggest that, private and corporate “sponsorship” of University-research and otherwise fundamentally alters the landscape of “policy-neutral” science…

(no matter how ‘neutral’ – or neutered – and independent certain scientists purport to be)

Or, the Oregon Dairy Farmers Assoc. Faculty Scholar in Dairy Production and Management? at Dr. Lackey’s esteemed university in Oregon. Must be tough sometimes for a salmon scientist to see this sort of blatant cattle industry support, as, often, the cattle industry and salmon don’t mix very well… (some might suggest this is changing…)

Coincidentally, Oregon State U also has the ambitious goal of raising over $1 billion from private and corporate donations.

Hmmmm, I don’t smell any potential manure in the science coming from that institution?

(but if it’s policy-neutral manure… does it still smell the same?)

I’m sure that many of these donations come with complete independence and zero strings attached… (at least very good intentions)…

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.

Fair or not, it is true that scientists, at least as perceived by many people, are just another political advocacy group arguing for, or against, ratifying Kyoto, the Biodiversity Convention, or arguing in favor of, or against, marine protected areas.

Just another political advocacy group signing petitions to remove, or preserve, a particular salmon-killing dam, and all for reasons that sound like science, read like science, are presented by people who cloak themselves in the accouterments of science, but who are actually offering nothing but policy or political advocacy masquerading as science.

says, he…

And so, what does that make corporately-sponsored “hard” science research positions at various Universities in Canada, and the U.S.?

Go look at the list of sponsors even at the University of Northern BC where Dr. Lackey was speaking… some of the top donors in the $1 million+ range are: Canfor Corporation, West Fraser, Northwood (all preeminent forestry companies), in the $500,000+ range include: RioTinto Alcan, RBC Bank, Bank of Montreal, Telus, Spectra Energy, Weldwood, etc. …

… and the list goes on…

Maybe the influence is small… but… maybe it’s large…?

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The point here is not necessarily to suggest that corporate sponsorship of academic institutions is good or bad…(as that would most certainly not be policy-neutral) it simply further highlights the simplicity of fronting arguments in simple polarities such as: good policy-neutral science vs. bad-policy-advocacy science.

These types of simplistic arguments, really do beg a few questions (more than 5-minutes worth…)

Where’s the line… (and how deep a hue to you like your gray…?)

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Isn’t the central component of this argument about: PERCEPTION, and TRUST and LANGUAGE.

Those sound like pretty fuzzy, ‘soft’ science things.

If science, as Dr. Lackey stated (and many other ‘hard’ scientists espouse), is all about “rational, systematic, reproducible” methods…

…is it still the same reproducible results if Enbridge sponsors one study and Encana another? And what if Greenpeace sponsors the rebuttal…?

Or… if one study is ‘independent’ and the other is ‘sponsored’?

How about if the decision-maker, the policy-maker, (the candlestick maker) that is ‘interpreting’ the policy-neutral science (fisheries or otherwise) is also ‘sponsored’ by Cenovus, or the Royal Bank, or Canfor (e.g. through political contributions)?

Or simply used to run Canfor?  –as was the case, for example, in a previous federal Liberal MP that was a highly ranked Minister?

Or, how tricky does it get when there are things such as the NSERC/TransCanada Industrial Research Chair in Welding for Energy Infrastructure (tenure-track and tenured faculty position) at the University of Waterloo?

TransCanada is an energy company and builds pipelines, like the proposed and controversial Keystone Pipeline through the U.S…

NSERC is the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada — federal-government funded and operated:

We are committed to continuous improvement through leadership, teamwork and open communication. We conduct our business with integrity, transparency, flexibility and accountability because these values are important to us and to the people with whom we interact. The ethical and performance standards that we apply to ourselves are as high as those that we require of researchers.

Yes, but can those researchers remain “independent” if their position is corporately-sponsored?

How would people feel (the ‘general public’ Lackey calls ‘us’… errr… them… errr… me… errr…you… ) if we had the Greenpeace Research Chair in Energy sustainability? Or the Sierra Club Research Chair in National Park Management?

Were there any Enron Research Chairs of some science in the U.S. when the company went down in a flaming mess of bad accounting practices and corruption?

Would this not be akin to Nike running “just as fast as I can” away from Tiger and his sponsorship following the Caddie-Gate window smashing episode of falling in flames…?

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One of the fundamental notions of Dr. Lackey’s arguments was the confused notion between “public trust” of science and the “credibility” of scientists relaying their information to ‘policy-makers’… and that “language is important”…

We should develop within our profession [or towers] a clear understanding of the interface between science and policy, as well as an understanding of the appropriate roles for science, scientists, and public and personal values and policy preferences.

Yes, please do that… give it your best go… a ‘clear interface between science and policy‘… just as highlighted above in the corporate sponsorship of academic institutions and ‘science’…

…or, for example “rocket science” such as that employed by NASA and the US government and races to the moon or Mars, or infinity and beyond…  to send an ego-message to other countries that ‘we don’t mess around’…

Or how about that ‘policy-neutral’ science employed in the great search for a ‘cure for Cancer’…

…or that other ‘policy-neutral’ field of figuring out how the hell we’re going to have enough water to feed the thirst of an ever-growing world population…

…or, “agricultural science” and the immensely neutral-science engaged in by Canadian and US universities with Research Chairs and departments and wings of buildings, and ‘Centres’ sponsored by Viterra, Agrium, Monsanto, or Dow Chemicals…

To policy makers, I say: be alert. Scientific information is too important to the successful resolution of important, divisive, and controversial fisheries issues to allow some scientists to marginalize science through its misuse. Do not allow the overzealous among us to corrupt the entire scientific enterprise.

…says, Lackey.

If that is not a statement of ‘elitism’, ‘ivory tower-ism’ and ‘us vs. them’ then dress me up and call me debbie…

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I’m also searching for the “proof”… one of those fundamental foundations of science (and well… pudding)…

Dr. Lackey suggested, in his Friday presentation, that many years ago, he started to doubt his evangelical policy-neutral position when some public ‘stakeholder’ at a public meetings asked him where was his proof of ‘policy advocacy’…

He and colleagues then set out on a rigorous review of various ‘peer-reviewed’ academic journals and found them laced with policy advocacy-like words (e.g. discourse analysis); things like “ecosystem health” and “ecosystem degradation” and so on, and so on.

My word… the “scientific enterprise” under attack from zealot-advocates… let’s get out of here, Scotty…

“I’m given ‘er all she’s got Cap-ain…

… but this Enterprise is full of dirty advocacy fuel…”

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The proof I’m curious about, is show me where these esteemed “policy-makers” have actually been affected by these overzealous, advocacy-laced, scientific statements and lobbying efforts.

Sure, we have the proof that certain sorts of language are used in already value-laden academic journals called things like: “Conservation Biology“… but someone show me the proof of its impact.

Unfortunately, this component of Dr. Lackey’s theory is lacking some substance and some… well… proof. That doesn’t sound very ‘scientific’ to me…

… This theory seems to be built on a foundation of assumptions… assumptions that using value-laden, advocacy-type language has an impact on ‘policy-makers’… and that, in turn, this ‘bad’ language must be eradicated like invasive rats infesting sea-bird colonies…

(oh wait… that’s advocacy-language… shame on me…)

This theory is on shaky ground. There’s proof that there might be a ‘reactant’ in the pudding… however, there’s no proof of the actual reaction in the pudding…

And thus the pudding has no proof.

Shame, shame…  maybe it’s back to the drawing board on this one…

The good doctor advocating this position of ‘no advocacy’ — and the many others that suggest the same — might want to take a look at their own medication-prescriptions and the ingredients therein.

When engaging in advocacy… and the dangerous act of ‘advocating’ against ‘advocacy’… there needs to be a solid argument, and good logic, and sound proof.

The foundation of this ‘house of cards’ argument is a little shaky, and I think I feel the wind is picking up…

 

Keeping science free of policy advocacy? …Hogwash! (and irresponsible?)

how circular do you like your arguments?

.

I have been ‘tweeting’ some comments today in relation to this idea… this endlessly circular and apparently misguided idea that ‘scientists’ should not engage in advocacy — when it comes to advocating for one policy option or another — at least in relation to their own data:

“our science”, they say.

‘Scientists’ should instead, in their great Objectivity, gently speak to the numbers, to the data, to the ‘information’, to the ‘science’…

If conservation biologists are to be valued by decision makers and society as the source of information on conservation, we must be perceived as neutral in the conduct and communication of our science…

...says he (Dr. Robert Lackey and others), in a 2007 paper in the ‘neutrally’ named academic journal ‘Conservation Biology’.

Now before you tune out… words like scientists, advocacy, policy… enough to garner a solid pounding of the “SNOOZE” button for many… or… in this case a gentle mouse click ‘navigating’ your way to much more interesting seas…

Yet, this a pretty important issue (oops, is that: advocating?)… and… flawed method of thinking that pollutes the towers of academia…

…worse then a school of dead spawned out humpies (pink salmon) rotting on a riverbank in the noon-day August sun.

This also relates directly to recent posts, such as fisheries biologist Otto Langer sounding the whistle on Conservative/Reform government plans to potentially sneak in far-ranging changes to the Fisheries Act.

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I must preface these comments with a gentle warning that it must be challenging at times to read these posts in such a way as to understand when some things are said ‘tongue-in-cheek’ (what a curious expression…) and some are meant in more seriousness…

Furthermore, in as much as I highlight one specific ‘scientist’ in this post, this particular issue of ‘academic’ highfalutin, narrow-sighted, elitism… well… (my advocacy in itself) … is a seriously misguided enterprise.

Maybe, right up there with Columbus’ arrival on the shores of the ‘Americas’ thinking he had arrived in ‘India’…

I do, though, attempt to highlight this issue meaning no disrespect to individuals that have spent a good part of their adult lives living with this perspective, including Dr. Lackey.

Try to be hard on the problem, not on the people…

The intention is to highlight an issue, instigate discussion, debate, commentary, as well as take a rather ‘critical’ opposite perspective.

…well… maybe not even an opposite perspective, as I tend to try and operate in a both/and atmosphere… the ‘on this hand’ argument, yet ‘on this hand’ counter-argument…

through that, maybe getting to something in the middle, or somewhere between the hands… like… closer to the heart maybe?…

….that resonates and sits well with my own intuition, socialization, culture, values, etc.

…and the sheer ambiguity and fluffiness, and even danger, that those four terms (and related terms) embody — implicitly and explicitly.

(warning: this might also take several posts – if not a book – to shine a light way up to the top of some of those ‘towers’…)

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At the University of Northern BC (UNBC) this afternoon, distinguished fisheries scientist Dr. Robert Lackey is giving a presentation as part of the UNBC Research Colloquium Series.

Here is the poster for the presentation and a summary of his argument to be presented (as sent to me by Dr. Lackey himself):

sorry for the fuzziness, however, it fits the argument...

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As I read this summary and then started to dive into the wide variety of academic papers that Dr. Lackey (and others) have produced on this topic, I became unsure of where to start…

As in:

‘hey salmonguy what issues do you foresee with this argument (thesis)?’

“uggggh… where do i start…?”

Not that these types of things are necessarily bad things or negative… they should just be stated and put right up front.

Nothing is certain. Certainty is nothing.

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So, let me take you on this little exploration journey, of the issues, contradictions, and circularity of this argument…

First, let’s start with the immediate questions that come to mind:

What is ‘advocacy‘?

What is ‘policy‘?

What is a ‘value‘?

What is ‘policy advocacy‘?

And, ummm, isn’t stating:

… values that reflect forms of policy advocacy should not be permitted to prejudice scientific information…

Isn’t that ‘advocacy’?

… advocating a position?

But then… maybe… the audience for this little summary is not ‘policy-makers’, decision-makers… and the like…

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There are a variety of definitions for ‘advocate‘ … one can probably safely assume that in this context, it is referring to the verb: “to advocate” which has dictionary definitions such as:

to speak or write in favor of; support or urge by argument; recommend publicly.

In the noun sense:

one that defends or maintains a cause or proposal.

Hmmm…?

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The etymology (the roots) of the word: advocate… as one might guess… has similar roots as vocal, and voice, and so on. There’s a convoluted history, however, the Latin word vocem is the common root which means: “voice, sound, utterance, cry, call, speech, sentence, language, word.”

Put the “ad” on the front, which means: “to” and essentially, to advocate means to give voice‘ .

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So, now we have the beginning of a circular argument (can you hear the dog chasing its tail… or is the tail chasing the dog…?),

how is salmon escape-ment to happen?

… as the act of simply saying ‘scientists should not‘ do this or do that, is in essence advocating one position over another.

But then maybe other scientists… or young University students (or old for that fact)… are also not “policy makers” or ‘decision-makers’…

But they might be one day…?

(and really, what is a policy-maker? are they related to the boiler-maker? or the candlestick maker? Or, was it Colonel Mustard in the kitchen…?)

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Let’s add a little further philosophical pondering into this… (pontificate… some might suggest…)

Dr. Lackey suggests that ‘scientific information’ should not be ‘prejudiced‘…

…or more precisely that: “values that reflect forms of policy advocacy should not be permitted to prejudice scientific information.”

Aside from the whole slew of questions that surface for me: ‘what values?, who’s values?, what’s a value?’ and:

‘how do we separate values that reflect forms of policy advocacy from the ones that don’t?

(is this like separating the wheat from the chaff… the men from the boys… the good from the bad… let alone the ugly… where does beauty lie again?…)

And “prejudice scientific information”… this makes it sound like ‘scientific information’ is some sort of holy grail that should not be soiled by the hands of mortal men… or women… or children… and most definitely not dying rotting humpies…

Or that ‘scientific information‘ exists on its own, like some entity… like a ‘corporation’, which is essentially a person, without being a person…

It is said as if ‘scientific’ information, exists different as ‘information’ in the National Enquirer, or other tabloid…?

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Prejudice: 1. an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.

2. any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable.

Yet what is “information”?

(please stick with me, i recognize we’re caught in a bit of a worm hole here… just take the red pill and hold on a bit longer…)

Information:
1. knowledge communicated or received concerning a particular fact or circumstance; news: information concerning a crime.
2. knowledge gained through study, communication, research, instruction, etc.; factual data: His wealth of general information is amazing.
3. the act or fact of informing.

What is knowledge?

Well… as the old saying goes: “knowledge is power”.

And that’s what essentially we are dealing with here:

POWER.

Now we’re getting closer to the heart of the issue.

Information can be: “the act or fact of informing.”

And just as Dr. Lackey suggests in his summary: “the scientific enterprise is not free of values…”

Thus, values influence the information that is produced by science, and the ‘scientific enterprise’, which means that the information has been affected by “any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable.

Right… that’s the definition of prejudice…

Someone had to decide what “information” was going to be collected in the first place…

(an issue to be discussed in future posts… when companies like Enbridge, Cenovus, RioTinto Alcan and others can “sponsor” University Research Chair positions… such as the Encana Research Chair in Water, Resources and Sustainability at the University of Alberta).

Even if that ‘information’ was collected by the ‘scientist’ themselves… it was still tainted by ‘values’… let alone the simple fact that a scientist speaks, or writes a language — such as English — for example, means that they communicate information in such a way that is laced by social, cultural, economic, and multiple other factors.

Lastly… for now… information is a noun, a thing.

It is a created thing.

A thing embodied and brought into creation by the mind that thought it, ‘found’ it, created it. Or simply read it off the Excel spreadsheet, or data-graphing program, or interpreted the way a salmon swam through the ‘counting gate’… etc.

It was interpreted.

Both in the sense that one does when they translate another language — e.g. interpret — and as in the dictionary, literal meaning: “explain the meaning of (information, words, or actions): ‘interpret the evidence‘.”

Interpreting, is never value-free.

And in ‘science’ — especially as practiced in the Western tradition — interpretation has everything to do with POWER.

And a lot of Power come from those that hold the ‘information’ AND those that create the information in the first place. And especially those that decide what to do with information.

‘Information’ comes to hold value in various ways and multiple ways in which one can define the word value… including cultural values… (more to come on that).

A wonderful quote from the other day in reference to archaeology and criticism of some ‘status-quo’ thinking in that ‘field’ especially the deep “Western-think” roots of that field:

“the past is thought up, not dug up”…

so is scientific information — which means it too, is Subjective… just as much as deciding what color tie one should wear to grandma’s birthday…

‘Scientific objectivity’ is just one more of those terms related to: marketing is everything and everything is marketing…

More to come… welcome to the worm hole…

DFO Shitshow planning on going sneaky… Some folks seem to forget: ‘NO HABITAT, NO FISH!’

one might wrongly assume that "deterrence" is the reason...

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It has been a little while since I’ve had to do two posts in one day… however the news on the wire today regarding the Harper Government assault on fish, fisheries, coastal communities and so on — is impressive.

The graph above comes from information presented at the Cohen Commission into Declines of Fraser River sockeye.

It also comes from a press release put out today by Otto Langer an over 30-year DFO staffer, and even longer-time award-winning, fish biologist.

The full press release can be downloaded here: Otto Langer Press Release on Harper gutting Fisheries Act

Here are some lowlights of the apparent Harper Conservative plan to sneak a gutting of the Fisheries Act on to the back of the upcoming Budget Ombnibus Bill.

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Langer's Fisheries Act historical summary

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Here’s the current reading of Section 35 of the Fisheries Act — pretty clear and to the point, yet still challenging to prove in court…:

current Section 35 of Canada's Fisheries Act.

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Here’s the new weasel-word, bumpf-filled, ambiguity-laced — giving Ministerial fettering to everything — language that is trying to be sneaked in without consultation with anyone:

New Reform... ahhh... i mean Conservative government weasel words proposed for Fisheries Act.

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As Langer points out in his press release:

The newly drafted provision [35(1) above that takes out 'habitat' and adds 'fish']  legislation is not intended to protect fish habitat in any matter whatsoever.

Langer’s anecdote to this is great… he remembers a time when DFO used to hand out pens at conferences and such that said:

NO HABITAT, NO FISH!

Fitting close to the press release:

nothing like a 'neutering' to ruin your day...

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In closing this pathetic state of affairs and ongoing shitshow at DFO… (and other areas of Canada)…

One could look at the graph above and suggest to Mr. “tough-on-crime” Harper that it seems crimes are going down everywhere… even in the destruction of fisheries habitat.

Look at this wonderful graph proving the ever effective crime-fighting tactic of: DETERRENCE.

Must be that Fisheries Act violations have just got so nasty and onerous for polluters that the need for investigations is dwindling, and deterrence is working….

…hmmmm….

Somehow I doubt it.

48 convictions in 1998 down to 1 conviction in 2008.

This is called a gutting of staff, balls, and teeth — and most sadly, destruction of fish habitat, especially wild salmon’s, at an alarming rate.

This also means an enforcement and compliance division within DFO that probably feels about as proud of their job as a child labourer putting together those blue jeans you’re wearing…

Nothing like job security, meaningfulness, and pride to really make a Ministry sing with glee…

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Goal for Harper and his Reform buddies… 0 [zero] convictions, under the Fisheries Act.

Let’s get tough on crime, everybody…

(or fish, i suppose, depending on which way you look at it).

Plus, I was just wondering (in reference to the ‘proposed’ amendments) … ummm…

…which “fish” does not have an “ecological value“?

And could somebody please show me the legal definition of “ecological value” or even ‘economic’ or ‘cultural value’ for that reason.

That’s the point.

This is about as gray, fuzzy, and blurry as that Hawiian highway was for Gordon Campbell back in the early 2000s. [oh right, it was his personal holiday... not government business]

Translation…. 0 convictions.

(and tarsands expansion, and pipelines rammed down BC’ers throats, and more fracking, and so on and so on.)

Hold on to your hats, here comes George W. Bush Canadian-style. (sans the required apology… “oh sorry, excuse me new NDP leader” says PM-bully Harper…)

(NOT).

Think the Fisheries Act is going to get neutered… well… this ain’t nothing yet (under this ‘majority)… going to be a whole lot of current legislation losing their balls… going to be an all out choir fest.

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And just to really ruin your fishy day… take a look at most recent post at Alex Morton’s website:

ISA virus in BC Supermarkets and Vedder River

She had Atlantic salmon tested that she bought at 3 B.C. supermarkets (most likely Vancouver Is.)

Five of them tested positive for ISA [infectious salmon anemia].

Yet, the Feds, DFO, the Province and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency continue to deny that ISA exists on the BC coast.

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Oh wait… I can hear the response from Harpers PMO office…

“ohhhh…. you mean thatISA… we thought you were talking about a different ISA…(like the cartoon character from Dora the Explorer… or something..)”

ISA from Dora the Explorer

…oh yeah, we’ve actually known that that ISA… that nasty salmon thingy…has actually been here for decades… probably since the last Conservative majority (the real Conservatives… think Mulroney, and Clarke and stuff…) …sorry for the confusion, everyone…”

[Harper (whispering): "hey Ashfield, somebody go muzzle a scientist or audit an enviro-terrorist organization or something..."]

 

department of fisheries and oceans… (DFO)… rhymes with ‘shitshow’…

 

latest page on site...

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Quite entertainingly… if you do a web search of the term “shitshow” there are some similarities in definitions, mainly:

n. A messy situation, especially involving drunkenness and partying.

There’s another good one that provides the use of the term in a sentence:

Things can’t possibly be so bad at work that you’d volunteer for another trip to this shitshow.

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I actually had intentions of doing a post on the apparent Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO/shitshow)  ‘modernization plan for Canada’s commercial fisheries.’

This was intended to be a follow-up to two previous posts on this disaster of a document:  The future of Canada’s schizophrenic Fisheries Ministry… called into question. (And DFO gets another new name.) which ended out being quite a popular post after looking at stats for this website.

The other: The future of Canada’s schizophrenic Fisheries Ministry… Politicians of Canada: time to get a frigging grip.

The last post commenting on:

Who’s responsible for this mess?

Producing hundreds upon hundreds of pages of documents and then labeling them nice boutique-y names like a “suite of policies” — does not a plan make…

Last thought… of which future posts will delve into…

At the moment, research and statistics suggest that just under 50% of Canadians do not have the literacy required to meet day-to-day life demands.

This means, 50% of Canadians have literacy levels below the International Adult Literacy rate survey rating of Level 3 — which is approximately the level that someone graduating from high school reads at.

Yet, Minister Ashfield carries on about:

It is estimated that 80,000 Canadians make their living or a portion of their living directly from fishing and fishing-related activities. But current practices and regulations, along with a challenging global market, are increasingly restricting the ability of Canada’s fisheries to contribute to Canadian prosperity in a changing economic climate.

Well… if close to 40,000 of those Canadians do not possess the literacy skills required to meet day-to-day demands of life — then how the hell are they going to wade through the hundreds and hundreds of pages, PowerPoint slides, pathetic YouTube videos of PowerPoint slides, and webpages to adequately “comment” and be adequately “consulted” on an issue that affects Canadians from coast to coast to coast?

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

And as mentioned in that post, I was going to expand on this issue of low literacy in Canada, and true democracy.

You know that ‘democracy’ espoused by so many ‘western’ politicians these days that has its roots in the ancient Greek meaning of the word:

from Greek demokratia “popular government,” from demos “common people,” originally “district” + kratos “rule, strength”.

Good ‘ol, government rule for the people, by the people and so on and so on…

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I was then going to do a little map for the sheer number of documents that one would need to read in relation to this apparent ‘modernization’ plan, simply to be able to adequately comment on how all the pieces apparently fit together…

… in other words, translate the ‘bumpf’ and bureaucratic-speak…

BUTTTT…

When I went back to the DFO website to try and find all of these documents, I found this:

Ooops... how embarassing... "not found"...

Gee… is the DFO website in this area crashed because of the sheer number of people visiting the day before the apparent… slash that… the second try at a deadline for comments, which is apparently tomorrow, March. 14, 2012??

Oddly, this is still at the DFO website (this is another screenshot):

still there... no links to actual document...

But there’s no documents available anymore, no links…

… other than links to the “consultation” page.

One can still go provide their comments on the ‘modernization plan’, which isn’t actually on the website anymore, in the little defined, limited boxes:

consultation on a non-existent document...?

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So I guess DFO subversively blocked my webpost today…

I was going to ask the question: how does consultation occur with the ‘people’ that comprise ‘democracy’ if close to 50% of them do not have the literacy they require for day-to-day life and jobs — let alone commenting adequately on hundreds if not thousands of pages of DFO documents and proposals?

_ _ _ _ _ _

But… today, a day before the deadline for comments… ummm… literacy is not the issue…

… as there’s no document to read.

It’s gone.

… slipped into the electronic ether… or just pulled off the site by DFO?

Oooops.

I’ve provided an edited cover though…

do a web search with the title of this document in it: “the future of Canada’s commercial fisheries”…

from east to west on Canada’s coast, people are pissed off.

Hmmm… wonder if that has anything to do with the mysterious document disappearance?

the DFO shitshow

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maybe the songwriters or poets out there can gets started on a catchy diddy on this one:

Hey, ho… we’re DFO… we don’t know,cuz we’re a shitshow. Hey ho, what do you know,about the DFO shitshow.consultation… blaahhh.modernization… yeehaaah.

(or something like that…)

‘absence of evidence must be evidence of absence’… when it comes to ancient knowledge of fisheries?

Ancient 'British' rock fish trap dating to approx. 1000

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Over the last two days I’ve had the good fortune to listen to Dr. Charles Menzies (Associate Professor in Anthropology at UBC) speak in Prince George on two different topics – yet intimately related…

On the UBC website it lists Charles research interests as such:

My primary research interests are the production of anthropological films, natural resource management (primarily fisheries related), political economy, contemporary First Nations’ issues, maritime anthropology and the archaeology of north coast BC.

I have conducted field research in, and have produced films concerning, north coastal BC, Canada (including archaeological research); Brittany, France; and Donegal, Ireland.

Last night, at Art Space within Prince George’s independent book store Books & Company, Menzies delivered a presentation called:

Abalone, Pipelines, and Aboriginal Rights – Making Sense of Coastal Opposition to the Northern Gateway Project.

Found it to be quite a fascinating subject, quite enjoyed Menzies taking some pointed shots at academia and some ‘status-quo’ theories of some academics. Stirring the pot a little… (wooden spoon anyone?)

Namely, taking shots at some archaeologists that have adopted some rather faulty views of what folks on the coast may, or may not have been doing pre-contact.

You know at the apparent “discovery” of North America… and especially coastal northwestern North America.

In the research that informed Menzies’ presentation he visited ancient (and contemporary) Gitxaała village sites.

Gitxaała (Kitkatla) territory is south down the coast from Prince Rupert, BC and in the general vicinity south of the Skeena River mouth. As I understand it, Dr. Menzies’ family comes from that area, and he himself grew up in Prince Rupert.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

He explained that his research was quite purposely directed to do some investigation of community-known ancient village sites (and still contemporary used areas) which are along the proposed Enbridge oil super-tanker route, which would be used if Enbridge and Harper get their way in ramming a TarSands oil pipeline (Northern Exit-way) down the throats of north-central, north-coastal BC people’s throat.

(that last bit being my editorializing…).

He explained that the ‘status-quo’ archaeological ‘investigations’ and theories of this particular area suggest that people of this area did not harvest many abalone.

Community members most clearly say otherwise…

But archaeological theory continued to deny otherwise… look at our evidence, they say…

good old: ‘absence of evidence must be evidence of absence’…

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Dr. Menzies and his crew, through low impact archaeological investigation and community elder direction to sites, sort of blew that proverbial misguided boat out of the water.

Or… i suppose… put the bilhaa (abalone) back in the water… one might say…

Menzies’ and crew found, what one might characterize, as no shortage of evidence of abalone use by ancients. Some dating back further than 4,000 years.

Menzies has an interesting paper at his publications page documenting the ancient Gitxaała connection to abalone  — bilhaa.

Menzies_ Abalone_2010

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There’s a fitting quote early in the paper, which also relates to recent posts on this site regarding the federal government’s apparent ‘modernization of Canada’s commercial fisheries’:

The future of Canada’s schizophrenic Fisheries Ministry… called into question. (And DFO gets another new name.)

Menzies suggests:

The development of the non-aboriginal commercial dive fishery in British Columbia is a classic example of competitive greed combining with ineffectual resource management to decimate a resource.

The story of the collapse of abalone (bilhaa ) up and down the coast, is a common story, caught quite well by Menzies:

Bilhaa is one of a set of Gitxaała cultural keystone species. Cultural keystone species are species that “play a unique role in shaping and characterizing the identity of the people who rely on them.

These are species that become embedded in a people’s cultural traditions and narratives, their ceremonies, dances, songs, and discourse”. Until the late 20th century, Gitxaała people were unhindered in the harvesting of bilhaa within the traditional territory and in accord with longstanding systems of indigenous authority and jurisdiction.

However, the rapid expansion of a non-aboriginal commercial dive fishery through the 1970s-1980s brought bilhaa stocks perilously close to extinction. The DFO responded to this non-aboriginal induced crisis by closing the total bilhaa fishery. DFO made no apparent effort to accommodate indigenous interests.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Abalone (bilhaa), was most certainly not just limited to the BC coast.

In a recent research project I’ve been involved in… here is an image from old Father Morice’s journals (e.g. namesake for Moricetown, Morice Lake, etc.) from Dakelh (Carrier) people in the now Ft. St. James area in late 1800s.

abalone ornament from Dakelh people of BC interior

These types of ornaments would have traveled in on the oolichan grease trails and other various trade routes including dentalia shells, and other items, with prized hides of various sorts and soapberry traveling to the coast.

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In today’s presentation at UNBC Charles spoke about his research into artisanal fisheries on the coast of France — in other words small family, or community owned fisheries…

…and the impact of globalization on these fisheries and fisherfolks.

The story is remarkably similar to the story of agriculture throughout Canada, and other areas. The move from family-owned plots of land and specialized crops, to monoculture, highly centralized and controlled institutions and corporations that control much of the flow.

As Menzies suggested, when fish prices change in Brazil it affects fisherfolks in Canada… the impact of globalization (and maybe one might suggest: ‘systems theory’…)

Similar with wheat, barley, rye, and so on…

The fish market of the globe is largely controlled by only a handful of organizations. Fishing gear is largely down to only two or three companies.

Gee, does this sound like Monsanto or other mega multinational corporations controlling agriculture worldwide…?

The benefits of this, largely benefiting only a few, and the implications and drawbacks having devastating consequences on the small players of the world — you know… the little players like community members and families.

… those same “families” that all politicians seem to be soooo concerned about…

…from BC’s current un-elected premier Clark to the highest fed levels in Canada and even current Republican blather flooding Canadian airways these days as they try and select a presidential candidate.

(gee… one might almost feel bad for all those “singles” out there… hey?)

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

The great thing about sitting at the ‘back’ during presentations such as Dr. Menzies’ is that one can watch the various academics squirm and frown with mere mention of ideas that might challenge the status-quo economic theories or otherwise that are currently being jammed down the whole medley of ‘students’ out there.

All the more sad as they riddle themselves with debt (students that is) the size of a small European nation and learning tired and worn out theories — such as the “invisible hand of the market” and other ‘strength of privatization’-bumpf flying around like the old passenger pigeon of old

(or running around like a dodo bird with its head cut off).

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Not unlike the current Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ bumpf-filled, fluffy, blather around ‘modernizing’ Canada’s fisheries.

(yeah, sure… go for it… modernize the ‘fishery’… but I think i can safely say that the fish themselves are not all that interested in ‘modernizing’

… think it’s called barely surviving…

…fish populations around the world are on death-row, which means the fleet can be as modern as it wants to be, but an empty fish net, is an empty fish net

…even if it’s the latest carbon-fiber, titanium-lined, indestructible twine net, with GPS-spotter plane, fuel efficient, carbon credit, carbon neutral, double-hulled, long-distance trawl, Marine Stewardship Council-certified, boat and fairly-paid, union-represented crew.

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empty is empty…

(net… river… ocean… shoreline that once had abalone…)

or we… simply… just keep fishing down the food chain until bullheads start looking pretty tasty at the latest and greatest restaurants…

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Great finish to this, from Menzies (and colleague Caroline Butler) paper: “Returning to Selective Fishing through Indigenous Fisheries Knowledge”:

The historical abundance of salmon along the west coast of North America has been significantly reduced during the last two centuries of industrial harvest. Commercial fisheries from California to Alaska and points in between have faced clearly documented restrictions on fishing effort and collapse of specific salmon runs.

Even while salmon runs on some large river systems remain (i.e., the Fraser and Skeena rivers), many smaller runs have all but disappeared. The life histories of many twentieth-century fisheries have been depressingly similar: initial coexistence with indigenous fisheries; emergence of large-scale industrial expansion followed by resource collapse; introduction of limited restrictions on fishing effort, which become increasingly severe, making it hard for fishing communities to survive and to reproduce themselves.

Yet for nearly two millennia prior to the industrial extraction of salmon, indigenous peoples maintained active harvests of salmon, which are estimated to have been at or near median industrial harvests during the twentieth century.

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Menzies raised this point in the discussion part of his presentation today at UNBC.

It’s one of my favorite points, which I’ve used in many presentations over the years.

In simple terms…

…the level of pre-contact salmon fisheries is estimated to actually be higher than the average annual industrial harvest of salmon over the last century.

Wow, I think I felt the flinch in the room today from a few academics…

And then the excuses and questions and qualifiers start flying when some folks realize that the pedestal that academic keeps trying to stand on is jussssst a little bit shaky.

Maybe not even shaky… it’s simply an imagined pedestal.

Just picture the classic Wiley Coyote running off the cliff chasing Road Runner then realizing there’s nothing under him…

Menzies and Butler conclude their paper on selective harvesting:

Scant attention has been paid to traditional fishing techniques and technologies and the ways in which they might contribute to sustainable harvesting and species conservation, and indeed, provide an alternative to current practices.

Traditional knowledge of salmon production may be of significant value in the current search for successful selective fishing techniques for the British Columbian salmon fisheries.

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See that anywhere in DFO’s plans…?

The image at the beginning of this post is from a British newspaper story:

Google Earth reveals fish trap made from rocks 1,000 years ago off British coast

For a millennium it has lain undisturbed beneath the waves a stone’s throw from one of Britain’s best-loved beaches.

But now modern technology has revealed this ancient fish trap, used at the time of the Norman Conquest.

Stretching more than 280 yards along the sea bed, the V-shaped structure was used to catch fish without the need for a boat or rod. Scientists believe it is one of the biggest of its kind. [Menzies might argue this as he's found kilometres of these along the northwest BC coast]

The trap close to Poppit Sands on the Teifi Estuary in Dyfed was discovered by archaeologists studying aerial photographs of the West Wales coast. [love that term "discovered"]

It was designed to act like a rock pool, trapping fish behind its stone walls as the tide flowed out.

At its point is a gap where fisherman would have placed nets to catch fish. They could also have blocked up the gap, and then scooped up fish trapped in the shallows.

ancient British fish trap

What a concept… so my ancestors in Wales and other areas were using similar selective fishing community-based technology… hmmm.

Pop this into the old search engine ‘ancient rock fish traps’ and you will find examples from around the world: the Arctic, Australia, Hawaii, Indonesia, Mediterranean, and so on…

What a concept, local knowledge being put to use to ‘manage’ a local resource. (and ensuring that resource survives for many human generations…)

I think they call that ‘rocket science’… or is it ‘not’…

science that is… it’s just knowledge… and… ummmm… COMMON SENSE.