Sunday, February 24, 2008

Science: Canada vs the U.S.

This is a repost of an article from the science journal, Nature. The web reference is


Nature 451, 866 (21 February 2008) | doi:10.1038/451866a; Published online 20 February 2008

Science in retreat

Canada has been scientifically healthy. Not so its government.

Comparisons of nations' scientific outputs over the years have shown that Canada's researchers have plenty to be proud of, consistently maintaining their country's position among the world's top ten (see, for example, Nature 430, 311–316; 2004). Alas, their government's track record is dismal by comparison.

When the Canadian government announced earlier this year that it was closing the office of the national science adviser, few in the country's science community were surprised. Science has long faced an uphill battle for recognition in Canada, but the slope became steeper when the Conservative government was elected in 2006.

The decision in 2004 by the then prime minister Paul Martin to appoint a scientist for independent, non-partisan advice on science and technology was a good one — in principle. Arthur Carty, the chemist who secured the position, duly relinquished his post as president of the National Research Council Canada, which he had revitalized.

But his new office was destined to fail. The budget was abysmal and the mandate was vague at best. After winning power from the Liberals, the Conservatives moved Carty's office away from the prime minister's offices to Industry Canada. In 2007, the government formed the 18-member Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC). Told that the government would no longer need a science adviser, Carty offered his resignation. From March, the STIC will provide policy advice and report on Canada's science and technology performance. It can be expected to be markedly less independent: although it is stocked with first-class scientists and entrepreneurs, several government administrators also hold seats.

Concerns can only be enhanced by the government's manifest disregard for science. Since prime minister Stephen Harper came to power, his government has been sceptical of the science on climate change and has backed away from Canada's Kyoto commitment. In January, it muzzled Environment Canada's scientists, ordering them to route all media enquires through Ottawa to control the agency's media message. Last week, the prime minister and members of the cabinet failed to attend a ceremony to honour the Canadian scientists who contributed to the international climate-change report that won a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

Harper sees himself as the leader of a 'global energy powerhouse' and is committing Canada to a fossil-fuel economy. More than 40 companies have a stake in mining and upgrading the bitumen from the oil sands in Alberta and churning out 1.2 million barrels a day. This activity generates three times as much greenhouse gas as conventional oil drilling. Emissions from Canada's oil and gas industry have risen by 42% since 1990.

There are deeper and more chronic problems for Canadian science. On the surface, funding for university-based research seems strong. The annual budgets for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council tripled and doubled, respectively, between 2000 and 2005. The government has also supported new science projects through government-created corporations such as Genome Canada and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and has recruited and retained promising young scientists through the Canada Research Chairs programme.

But Genome Canada funds only half of the cost of a research project — scientists must seek the remaining cash from elsewhere. Last year, the CIHR was able to fund only 16% of the applications it received, and cut the budgets of successful applicants by a quarter, on average. And earlier this month, the country's top scientists and university officials warned that they were short of funds to operate multimillion-dollar big-science projects such as the Canadian Light Source synchrotron.

What's to be done? Canada has made good investments in its science infrastructure and its future research leaders. The present government might be dissolved after a vote of confidence next month, which could in itself lead to a change for the better. But in any circumstances, Canada's leading scientists can be public advocates, pointing to the examples of other countries in urging the government of the day to boost their country into a position of leadership rather than reluctant follower.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

My Cat Died

Sadly, last night, my cat died. His brother was eaten by some beastie almost two years ago.

It's hard to see a loved family member depart, but the dignity with which they handle death is inspiring.

We can learn from that dignity both in life and in death. Our agenda must not be self-gain, but all-gain, and we have to pursue this agenda with humility and determination. It isn't the fight that is fun, but the hope that we can make a better world that must form the core of our dignity.

"Courage, my friends; 'tis not too late to build a better world." - Tommy Douglas.

Indeed, c
ourage, my friend, you helped to make this a better world. Thanks for the lesson.

Letter Exchange

I won't publish the whole sordid story here, but the essence is that after nuclear-apologist and paid consultant, Patrick Moore, came to NB to spread some questionable advice/propaganda about nuclear power, I wrote a letter to the editor. I basically pointed out that Patrick Moore lacks credibility. At one point I said he does little to reconcile his figure of 60 dead with stats suggesting that the numbers may be in the hundreds of thousands. This was published in all of the 3 major Irving papers and the Irving-owned Kings County Record.

A Dr. Lowe (physicist from Etobicoke, ON) sent a reply to my letter which was published on Feb 19 in the Kings County Record. He (and the letter's headline) claimed Moore was right and Moir was wrong. Given this letter could almost be considered libelous - he's attacking my research credibility - I sent in a reply. We'll see if they publish it, but I include it below, because it has some links to data (sources that are pointed to) that discredit the argument that only 60 people died.

Moir replies (Published in the Kings County Record on February 26)

On Feb. 19, the Kings County Record presented a reply to a letter I wrote questioning one of the controversial statistics presented by pro-nuclear activist, Patrick Moore - that just 60 people died in the Chernobyl accident. At the risk of prolonging the debate, I felt it important that I should be allowed to reply as my credibility as a researcher has been brought to question.

As Dr. Lowe points out, the initial UN report claimed around 60 deaths. However, a 2005 report by the International Atomic Energy Association and the World Health Organization, both of which are UN organizations, increased that number officially to 4,000, and suggested there might be an additional 5,000 estimated deaths. Moreover, as reported in the April 2006 New Scientist, “Zhanat Carr, a radiation scientist with the WHO in Geneva, says the 5,000 deaths were omitted [from the 2005 report] because the report was a ‘political communications tool’.” In 2006, the WHO officially reported that there may be “up to 9,000 excess cancer deaths due to Chernobyl.”

Various groups criticize even this number of 9,000 because the WHO report only considered “Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.” Indeed, significant parts of Europe also suffered from fallout.

Perhaps more convincing is the work of Dr. Richard L. Garwin, Philip D. Reed Senior Fellow for Science and Technology and IBM Fellow Emeritus, who has published more than 500 papers and been granted 45 U.S. patents. He has been involved in the design of nuclear weapons and is a reasoned proponent of the expansion of nuclear power. He certainly cannot be accused of being anti-nuclear power.

In the Letters section of Physics and Society (Jan. 1999) he explains that “even for low-level radiation, deaths due to cancer occur at a rate of … 400 per million person-rem” and with relatively unanimous agreement of an exposure of 600,000 persons, this amounts to early cancer deaths of about 24,000. He repeated this calculation in a speech to the Nuclear Control Institute, Washington DC in 2001.

It is also true that Greenpeace and scientists within Russia place the death toll due to early cancer and other illnesses between 100,000 and 500,000.

In my initial letter, I pointed out that it is difficult to ‘reconcile’ the claims of Patrick Moore with other research. I did not claim that other research is in fact correct as it is very difficult to tabulate death tolls in this situation. However, I still stand by my claim that Patrick Moore’s figure of 60 deaths (as stated in 2008) is difficult to reconcile with other evidence.

I absolutely disagree with Dr. Lowe’s assertion that “Dr. Moore is correct.” Even he claims to accept that there may be an additional 9,000 early cancer deaths. Under the new math, 9,000 is still significantly greater than 60. Indeed, given he is on the pro-nuclear side, one would reasonably have to accept Dr. Garwin’s calculation of 24,000 early cancer deaths as at least a minimum.

I may be an economist, but I am fundamentally a researcher. The data both cited and presented here was found and read in perhaps an hour and a half.

Finally, if I may be so bold, have people thought to question why a scientist in Etobicoke, ON finds it necessary to reply to a letter in the Kings County Record, published in Sussex, NB? While I welcome his attempt at criticism, I find it strange that “experts from away” need to come to New Brunswick’s aid.

Carbon Taxes

Saw the piece in the Telegraph Journal yesterday (Feb 20) highlight the announcement of carbon taxes in BC. This is awesome news, not just because a government in Canada finally took the economist's advice, but because the BC government implemented tax-shifting as part of the program.

First they fought the issue of climate change. Now they fight the cost battle - it would be too much for us to deal with climate change, let your governments deal with the consequences.

I wrote a letter to the Irving papers highlighting the importance of tax-shifting. We'll see if it gets published.

Don't let them tell you it can't be done!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Our latest media release...

Rob Moir calls for action on NB 'Connecting the Dots' report

17 February 2008

Hampton, New Brunswick

The Fundy Royal NDP sees great promise in the recommendations made in "Connecting the Dots," a report by Child and Youth Advocate in New Brunswick, Bernard Richard. This report outlines strategies to help New Brunswick better assist both the families and the children who are considered to be at risk or dealing with complex needs.

"It is refreshing to see such a sensible plan put together in a non-partisan way," comments Rob Moir, NDP candidate for Fundy Royal, "I am very happy that Mr. Richard stresses the importance of community-based solutions."

"On CBC, I heard my friends, Donna and Greg Marquis, talk about the problems they have experienced finding services in our system for their mentally ill son, and I shake my head," says Moir. "It is unfair to so many families left alone to deal with such complex and costly problems. " Richard's report notes that some New Brunswick youth are sent to facilities in Maine at a price-tag in excess of $500,000 a year for behavioural health and educational services. While New Brunswick taxpayers pay for their care, the families of these youth are left to pay for any visits to the children.

The 48 recommendations of the report are broad and include: increasing political direction and accountability; the integration and improvement of services; the de-criminalization of certain conduct by youths with mental health disorders; providing tailor-made educational services and support for families and youths with complex needs; and closing the gap in services for youth aged 16 to 19.

The importance of this report was highlighted by the October 2007 death of a mentally ill New Brunswick teen, Ashley Smith, who died in a segregation cell of a federal prison in Kitchener, Ontario. The length of her journey in the criminal justice system was subsequently attributed in part to her mental health issues. "We see the horrors of mentally-ill people imprisoned in Bosnia, Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan and we think it barbaric; yet here in Canada, we have the same problem," notes Dr. Moir. A 2003 Human Rights Watch report noted that, at the time, there were three times as many mentally ill people in United States' prisons as there were patients in their mental hospitals.

Marianna Stack, President of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Saint John, NB, is also pleased with the publishing of this report, and states that her organization "has lobbied the Government of New Brunswick for over a decade to make changes, but as yet have not seen significant differences. We know prisons are not the answer."

"While I hope this report changes the way things happen in New Brunswick, I really think it should be acted upon in Ottawa. Ashley died in a federal prison in Ontario after being housed at a variety of institutions across the country. It is time for the Canadian government to show leadership and invest in fair treatment of our at-risk youth and those with mental health issues," concludes Moir.

- 30 -

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Goin' Wood

I sent this in as an Opinion Piece to the TJ.

Like many, I’ve been thinking of the Graham government’s devotion to phrases such as “self-sufficiency,” “transformational change,” and a non-optional status quo. How can I help it, when I hear them repeated so often?

Unlike most, I had these thoughts in the back of my mind while supervising my son’s birthday party with a dozen of his closest friends. Sam, my son, has reached the ripe-old age of eight and I’m sure many of you can just imagine the energy of those kids as we celebrated at the New Brunswick Museum.


The energy hub concept is itself a hub of Graham’s self-sufficiency agenda.

I leaned over to my friend, who just happens to work at Lepreau, and jokingly said, “Perhaps NB Power should harvest all this energy instead of building Lepreau 2.” We talked of giant hamster wheels and rebuilding the sugar refinery so we’d have a source of fuel. Alternatively, we could direct our business to Ganongs. Such a scheme could increase the birth rate and contribute to the government’s population growth agenda.

Then we realized that pesky child labour laws and the fact that NB Power would likely charge parents for babysitting or providing an exercise facility caused us to scrap the idea.

As silly an idea as this is, it reflects some of the values our government says it cares about – think of new ways to get the job done without relying on outside resources.

This got me to thinking, what is wrong with wood?

We have seen a solid argument for wood energy put together in these pages by Roy MacMullin and Carl Duivenvoorden. We even have New Brunswick forestry research scientists like Peter Salonius and George Jenkins who can help us develop an in-house solution. I just thought I’d add an additional economic argument to the mix.

According to Statistics Canada, New Brunswick has approximately 300,000 residences. Approximately 50%, or 150,000 residences are heated primarily by electric heat.

Suppose the New Brunswick government purchased and installed a woodstove heating system for each of these residences. At a cost of approximately $3,000 per installation the cost to the government would be $450 million.

Because woodstove heat production takes place onsite, there is little energy loss due to transmission, thus contributing to high efficiency. As Rick Roth has mentioned (Jan. 25), pellet stoves or using briquettes limits emissions.

We could re-employ some of our forestry workers and help private woodlot owners. Maybe we would construct or expand pellet and briquette plants and develop woodstove manufacturing. Perhaps we could use some of Mr. Harper’s $30 million to begin the projects. Reducing our reliance on some of our fossil fuel-burning generation plants would also contribute to the government’s Climate Change Action Plan.

Now $450 million is not chump change, but it pales in comparison to the projected $6-7 billion cost of building Lepreau 2 and is likely significantly less than the cost of the risk assurance that the Graham government says it is willing to bear to see the project through. It is less than a third of the projected refurbishment cost of the existing Lepreau facility.

I am not saying that wood heat is the only solution; energy conservation must be at the heart of any solution. Nor do I think that direct government investment is the only method of delivery. Roy MacMullin has presented an interesting scheme (“Build a wood-fired energy market,” Jan. 19).

However, I think that the Graham government has blinded itself to anything but large-scale energy projects like LNG terminals, a new refinery, and new nuclear reactors. Indeed, both the Lord and Graham governments have completely overlooked the possibility of a natural gas co-generation plant near Sussex which would use New Brunswick gas and provide high-paying jobs to people already in the province. As far as we know, Corridor Resources is still open to the idea.

The government should take its own advice and develop a plan that is truly different from the status quo and that embraces change that truly develops the self-sufficiency of all New Brunswickers rather than the corporate few.

Rob Moir is an economics professor at UNBSJ. In 2005-06, he ran as an NDP candidate in the federal riding of Fundy Royal. He lives on the Kingston Peninsula with his wife, Megan and their two children, Sam and Gwyneth.

A Powerful Harper

This was submitted to the Irving papers this weekend. (Published in the Daily Gleaner Feb. 20)

When we read that U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, thinks that the Canadian Prime Minister is the most powerful person in the world, as we did on the front page of the Telegraph Journal (15 Feb.), I think we are meant to believe that this is a good thing.

I, for one, am not as impressed by such a statement. Exceptional power requires exceptional responsibility. Given our failings as human beings, it is irresponsible and irrational to invest so much power in one person.

Mr. Harper received his mandate because ordinary Canadians no longer trusted the Liberals and their abuse of power. He ran a campaign that promised accountability and a more transparent government. Now, Mr. Harper carefully manages his party in order to limit government communication to the free press and to ensure that most government media relations are handled through the PMO.

Mr. Harper runs his government with a fear-and-intimidation management style - the firing of the president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Ms. Keen, and the absurd threat to mandate the speed with which Senate deals with the omnibus crime bill are but two recent examples. Non-partisan groups like Democracy Watch have repeatedly pointed out Mr. Harper’s failing record on accountability.

Mr. Wilkins may be correct in stating that Mr. Harper is the most powerful person in the world, but many Canadians would agree that this is not good for the Canadian public. Indeed, it is distinctly un-Canadian!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Peering into Afghanistan

I submitted this to the 4 Irving papers. Let's see what happens. Hey - it was published on Feb 14, 15 and 16 in the various papers.

Moore's Afghan history is faulty

Afghanistan is a complex country and we are involved in a complex war. Charles Moore’s partisan attacks (‘Layton’s Afghan history is faulty,’ 7 Feb.) do very little to clarify the situation. ** I was prompted to this reply because of a letter to the editor on 12 February. ** He attacks Jack Layton’s position with vitriol but little research.

Mr. Moore notes that the Afghan defeat of the Soviets (1979-1989) was assisted by significant funding from the United States. This is indeed very true.

However, he fails to mention that the CIA used Kissinger-like tactics when it called upon Afghanis to engage in jihad against Soviet invaders, and so began the mujaheddin or ‘warriors of the Lord.’ This is documented in a 27 March 1995 article by Robert Friedman in New York Magazine (‘The CIA’s jihad’). This article draws a direct connection between the CIA’s tactics during the Soviet invasion and the presence of between 100 to 125 potential Islamic terrorists operating in the New York area in 1995 according to the district attorney’s office.

Mr. Moore ignores the fact that during the Soviet invasion, the U.S. supplied Afghanistan with violence-laden textbooks including primers “filled with talk of jihad and featur[ing] drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines.” This story was reported in 23 March 2002 in The Washington Post (‘From U.S., the ABC's of Jihad; Violent Soviet-Era Textbooks Complicate Afghan Education Efforts’). Some of these texts were still in use in 2002 and may still be in use today.

I cite these articles so that people can look them up. Neither the New York Magazine (often mistakenly referred to as the New Yorker in web references) nor the Washington Post is tremendously left-wing or particularly peacenik. However both of these sources present carefully researched articles.

Afghanistan is a truly complex country with a complex history. Likewise, the rise of current radical Islam is a complex issue created, in part, by past U.S. policy.

Poverty, political strife, human rights abuses, tribal conflict, war, drug exports, and a history of past political interference have built the Afghanistan of today. If our decision to enter into a war in Afghanistan was built on flimsy research like that provided by Mr. Moore, then we should have never gone in the first place.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Working both sides of the border

My parents-in-law live in Raleigh, NC. Big NDP supporters in Canada but have to default to the radical wing of the Democrats in the US. Seems John has been busy there getting this letter into The News & Observer.

Reading “ID Rules to tighten Canadian border”, Jan. 18, I wonder if Mr. Chertoff is spending too much time worrying about what he'll be doing next year instead of thinking about his job.

Have any of his planners ever seen the Canadian border? It's impressively long and famously undefended. I don't understand why a terrorist who wanted to come from Canada would wait in line at an official crossing. I doubt if a terrorist would be upset to know that he was here illegally. Why would a terrorist bother to come through Canada, apart from the fact that it's a nice place to visit? The 911 terrorists came straight to America from overseas.

We're misusing resources tightening up the Canadian border. Osama and his friends must be amazed at all the stupid, expensive things he's scared us into doing. Of course we should be taking precautions. For example, we should be using every Arabic-speaking intelligence specialist we can find, not firing any who happen to be gay. And we should put resources into securing our ports, which are much more vulnerable to people trying to smuggle weapons.

If Mr. Chertoff is worried about what he'll be doing this time next year, he has a better grasp on reality than I give him credit for. Or if not, he may understand very well that reality is different if you have the right connections.

John Mainwaring,

Right on!

A good friend wrote to me today about a new documentary, "Jesus Camp" which highlights the growth of fundamentalism in the US. What follows is my reply.

Hi John;

I've seen part of the movie and some documentaries on the topic. Pretty scary stuff.

I find it odd that we freak out about Islamic madras schools and claim they are a threat to the world when we foster the same thing in North America.

"You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye. Then you will see clearly to remove the piece of sawdust from another believer's eye." - Matthew 7:5.

The Oklahoma City bombing and the Unabomber clearly show the reality of homegrown, non-Islamic terrorism in the US.

Indeed, it seems lost to America that they invoked the concept of jihad, thereby creating the very thing they now feel called to destroy.

"The Soviet invasion of Kabul in December 1979, attracted the US towards the orthodox Islamic militia's role in forwarding the US policy, and which attracted considerable international attention and coverage in the popular press and academic circles of the time, in projecting what appeared then to be an American love affair with Islamism. It was, as the author points out, consummated in an alliance with the Islamist military dictator of Pakistan. In cooperation with Zia-ul-Haq's military intelligence services, with Saudi finance as well as with Pakistani logistical support, the CIA, managed in raising, training, equipping, paying and sending into battle a mercenary army of Islamist volunteers, against the Red Army in Afghanistan, terming it a 'jihad' or 'holy' war against the Soviets." (

"When will we ever learn?" - Pete Seeger.

For a good reflection on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "peace speech on Vietnam" (, see I think it is quite appropriate.


PS. Did I ever send you Harper's connections to the US religious right? If not, here are two links: and

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Submitted to TJ

Hi all - another one, I'm not sure will be published. It was published 9 Feb. in the TJ and 12 Feb. in the King's County Record.

Equal coverage on nuclear debate

On Feb. 5, the Telegraph Journal wrote a long front page article on Dr. Patrick Moore and his support for the nuclear industry. Given the provincial interest in nuclear power and uranium mining, I attended his talk to see what he might have to say.

While he provides an interesting case and is quite obviously a polished speaker, a number of people were taken aback by his attack on climate change science. I found his stance interesting because if climate change is untrue then why don’t we continue to generate power using fossil fuel technology which is, by Dr. Moore’s admission, cheaper than nuclear? (For the record, I am convinced that current climate change is accelerated by human activity and I conduct research studying how economic methods can be used to reduce emissions and enhance cooperation.)

I was taken aback when he claimed that only 60 people died in the Chernobyl nuclear disaster when Russian scientists and officials claim the number is in the hundreds of thousands.

Perhaps most disturbing was the emphasis of his academic credentials and the “credentialization” of his current stance on nuclear power. Dr. Moore has absolutely zero peer-reviewed - the hallmark of scientific credibility - papers on the subject of nuclear power. After extensive research, I found that, including his thesis, Dr. Moore has exactly one peer-reviewed publication at all – his thesis!

To show fairness to the hardworking taxpayers of New Brunswick, all of our weekly newspapers should give equal coverage to an expert like Dr. Helen Caldicott (who visited New Brunswick recently) who opposes expansion of the nuclear industry. That way the taxpaying and rate-paying public is informed and can enter into meaningful debate.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Afghanistan - Mission?

Shortly after the Manley report was released, a US report on Afghanistan painted a pretty grim picture of a nation teetering on the precipice of failed statehood and an American military machine that has given little attention to the mission.

People, and indeed the Manley report, have made much of this being a UN-approved mission, but professor of International Law, Francis Boyle points out that the UN security council permits actions to bring 9/11 criminals to justice preferably through extradition and the judicial system. Osgoode Hall law professor Michael Mandel says the mission has "a veneer of UN authority." (see Linda McQuaig, "Keep Pearson out of it" Toronto Star, 5 Feb 2008).

We have all read of the corruption in Hamid Karzai's government and the fact that there's been no decline in the abuse of women in Afghanistan. Today's news points to another failure of Harper's government to stand up for human, let alone Canadian, morals:

"It was only after weeks of international outrage that Canada's House of Commons, in response to a motion sponsored by NDP leader Jack Layton, unanimously voted on Monday to condemn a death sentence faced by an Afghan journalist.

About time, too, although the Harper government still hasn't had much to say about the case, at least not for the record." (see , "Afghan evils ignored at our peril" Toronto Star, 6 Feb 2008).

Harper's government doesn't know what it is doing in Afghanistan. It has covered-up and obfuscated our treatment of detainees. Harper's government has blamed the military for its own mistakes (e.g., Sandra Buckler). Worse, Harper has dragged Canada's good name around the world through the mud.

I don't think much of Manley's pre-conceived report, but I think a lot of Canadians are saying, on the "spectrum between utility and futility," Harper's government seems to be shifting things toward the futility end.

Let's stop listening to Harper's (or "lil' dubya's") rhetoric and spin, and instead stop fighting and create a truly Canadian mission for Afghanistan.