At the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy, Evidence for Democracy hosted a special screening of the CBC documentary, Silence of the Labs, followed by a panel discussion. The event is part of current efforts to raise public awareness of the Harper Government’s “war on science.” The film and the panel discussion drew attention to the Harper Government’s unprecedented slashing of scientific research programs, mass dismissals of federal scientists who do not fit Harper’s economic and corporate agenda, curtailment of scientists’ freedom to speak to the public, and systematic dismantling of institutions, laboratories, and information databases that are crucial to our knowledge of Canadian society, environment, and public health.
The panel consisted of University of Toronto academics:
Dr. Margrit Eichler (Social Justice Education, and president of Scientists for the Right to Know)
Dr. Steve Easterbrook (Computer Science and School of the Environment)
Dan Weaver (physics graduate student and Evidence of Democracy Board of Directors)
Three salient themes emerged across the panelists’ commentaries on the film and the current political situation confronting Canadian scientists with dire implications for future public and environmental health.
- The Creation of Public Ignorance
First, speakers emphasized the Harper Government’s production of public ignorance by shutting down scientific projects which have been generating vital data on environmental, social, and health conditions. Margrit Eichler, in particular, referred to the Harper Government’s agenda as one of systematic ignorance based on a three-pronged attack on science across the environment, human rights, and international development. Dan Weaver referred to how the Harper Government has impeded public scientific literacy, imposing scientific illiteracy by muzzling scientists who must seek ministry permission to speak to the media and the public. Weaver importantly noted that Canadians cannot understand the impact of policy decisions if scientists cannot freely speak to the public about their research results.
- Dismantling Canada’s Infrastructure for Generating Knowledge
Second, the panelists shared concerns about the dismantling of Canada’s epistemological infrastructures such as the closures of long-standing research laboratories, public libraries, and important repositories of information that it has taken decades to build. Dan Weaver used the example of the government’s decision to shut down the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) in 2012, only one year after researchers discovered a hole in the ozone layer which required greater, not fewer, resources for environmental monitoring. Although PEARL was restored in 2013, it has been operating at reduced funding and personnel capacities. Easterbrook highlighted the particular importance of federally funded science which needs to provide institutional support for lines of scientific inquiry specifically directed toward assessing the particular risks of government policy. According to Easterbrook, the erosion of federal support for environmental science involves the loss of key functions performed by federally funded research institutions to conduct scientific work relevant to guiding policy decisions. Easterbrook notes that this function cannot be simply appropriated by universities or corporate industries which have different objectives.
- Irrecoverable Loss of Data
Third, panelists expressed grave concern over the irrecoverable loss of data amid cuts which have disrupted ongoing long-term scientific studies which have been gathering data over several years. Steve Easterbrook emphasized the loss of data as the bigger picture of long-range implications of the federal government’s dismissal of scientists and the end to scientific research programs and institutions. Easterbrook explained that government cuts have disrupted long-range studies that have been monitoring environmental risks to assess and anticipate levels of risk before they escalate to catastrophic proportions. Government cuts have consequently caused a gap in that data which can never be restored. Eichler, who stressed that the war on science includes social scientists, emphasized this loss of data in the context of the eradication of the long-form census. Eichler indicated that one of the implications is that the data from the 2011 census is consequently unuseable, forcing researchers to rely on data from 2006.
In the recently held Technoscience Salon on Evidencing Disaster, Max Liboiron and Kim Fortun provoked a lively discussion around how we ‘narrate’ disaster, disaster’s temporalities, and politicized modes of collecting disaster data. Liboiron provided a compelling example of her experience in data activism in the wake of ‘Hurricane Sandy,’ showing how the configuration of disaster changed depending on whether Sandy was considered a short-term crisis or the exacerbated effect of a slower, long-term disaster of chronic poverty. Liboiron presented salon attendees with startling discrepancies in disaster data, comparing the mass data collected from interviews with ‘official’ disaster data that eliminated individuals who were not counted as ‘representative’ populations according to ‘census’ criteria. Ironically, this eliminated vulnerable populations residing in disaster zones such as low-income black single mothers. Liboiron provoked salon attendees to re-conceptualize disaster’s temporalities and the making of evidence based on what or whom counts as data. Kim Fortun raised the issue of narrative capacity in framing data collection. Fortun emphasized the roles of ethnographers and critical theorists in grappling with the complexity of disaster, what Fortun called “kaleidoscopic insight.” Discussant Christianne Stephens urged the salon to consider how to approach the problem of incoherent evidence, scientific uncertainty, and the problems this raises for communicating with the wider public. Our own Michelle Murphy, another discussant,urged salon participants to reflect on the geo-politics of generating disaster data in neoliberal and neo-conservative capitalist regimes. Murphy highlighted the global asymmetries in what counts as disaster, where, and what form the response takes.
TRU is excited to be one of the partners collaborating with the new Politics of Evidence Working Group organized by Natasha Myers. The Politics of Evidence Working Group is a coalition of academics, scientists, and activists working together to challenge the fraught politics of evidence in Canada today, troubling the obstacles that interfere with our “right to know” about the health and well-being of our bodies, communities, and environments. The group is concerned with the current Canadian government’s “war on science,” across the natural and social sciences. This includes the defunding of scientific research and environmental monitoring, the cancellation of the long form census, the closure of research stations, libraries, and archives, and the muzzling of federal scientists. The goal of the group is to raise public awareness and to challenge existing barriers to research and the dissemination of research findings, whether such barriers come from the public or private sector. By interrogating the uses and abuses of evidence, we seek to highlight where science and technology in Canada intersect with issues of social and environmental justice.
Economization of Life :: A Conversation with Léopold Lambert and Michelle Murphy: Archipelago Podcast Series
Archipelago is a project created by Léopold Lambert as the podcast platform of The Funambulist. It publishes two podcasts a week of conversations recorded with various interdisciplinary thinkers/creators of the world. Léopold Lambert is a French architect[e] who has been successively a Parisian, a Hong Konger, a Mumbaikar and a New Yorker. He is the author of Weaponized Architecture: The Impossibility of Innocence (dpr-barcelona 2012) that examines (and acts on) the inherent characteristics of architecture that systematically makes it a political weapon in general, and also more specifically in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Léopold and Michelle had this conversation in June of 2014.
The TTRU is thrilled to welcome Carla Hustak as a 2014-15 Research Fellow. Carla is a historian of gender, sex, race, science and environment. She is the author of Radical Intimacies: Affective Potential and the Politics of Love in the Transatlantic Sex Reform Movement, 1900-1930, which is a forthcoming book with Duke University Press. As a Research Fellow, Carla will be organizing a Biopolitics and Ecology Project, so stay tuned!
Carla’s current research is focused on the politics of plants and plant eugenics. In this work, she investigates the entanglement of masculinity, reproduction, science, race, and colonialism at the sites of transnational agricultural experiment stations between 1900 and 1930. This project entitled, Manly Reproductions: The Sexual Politics of Botanists, 1900 to 1930, explores how male scientists configured and performed reproductive roles in relation to plants; thus, forging masculine roles in birthing through heightened attention to plant ‘progeny,’ the ‘placenta’ of the plant, and ‘abortive’ pollen. In their appropriation of a birthing process, male scientists situated the perfectibility of reproduction in terms of capitalist productivity and eugenic mate selection. This project considers how male botanists’ work with plants involved four sites of reconfigured masculinities. First, botanists studying horticultural plants drew on and redefined relations between food and masculinity, specifically in traditional associations of men and meat. Second, by breeding for qualities such as color, height, size, and hardiness, botanists introduced a manly aesthetics in their affinities for creating marketable and eugenically perfect flowers. Third, male botanists’ shifted the dominant model of frontier manliness in the labor of taming ‘wild’ terrain to an attention to creating eugenically disciplined reproductive terrains involving maneuvering competing agencies of insects, plants, animals and atmospheric affects in a vegetable politics of life and death. Fourth, botanists’ new attention to the kinship of plants as studies of plant origins and biogeography led to shaping a botanical family album linked to plant eugenics. Overall, this research is in conversation with new scholarly turns in gender studies, affect theory, environmental history, the history of science, the history of gender and sexuality, and science studies.
November 14 :: Citizen Science
Placing “civic engagement” at the center of evidentiary regimes, the Citizen Science Salon invites participants to explore how collaborations between scientists and citizens engage, disturb or subvert such regimes. Curious about how such collaborations draw upon and challenge the rhetorical conventions and temporal rhythms of evidentiary regimes, we ask: How do citizen science projects (re)orient the goals and (re)purpose the tools of science? How are alternate forms of expertise taken up, valued or rendered (im)permissible? How might these collaborations matter and for whom? Presenters are encouraged to draw on their experiences as we open up a discussion about the grounds that make collaborations possible, and in some instances necessary; the labours involved; the limitations and possibilities of citizen science projects; and the ways in which they can activate differences in the world.
Organizers :: Stephanie Creighton (Anthropology, YorkU), Emily Simmonds (STS, YorkU), and Kira Turner (Anthropology, YorkU)
Discussants :: Kelly Ladd (STS, YorkU) & Emily Simmonds (STS, YorkU)
Location | Time :: Artscape Youngplace, Room 106, 4-6, p.m.
Stephanie Creighton, Emily Simmonds & Kira Turner
This year’s Technoscience Salon explores the mobilization of evidence at the nexus of science, activism, and policy. Evidence is the ground for taking action in government, laboratories and research institutes, in social movements, and in daily life. We begin from the premise that evidence is activated in contested fields of power, and that it can be mobilized to do very different kinds of work to very different ends. We also acknowledge that just as it takes serious work to constitute and reconstitute evidence, evidence can also be ignored or concealed. This year we invite participants to attend to the precarious life of evidence: those erasures, elisions, deceptions, calibrations and fabulations that blur the boundaries between fact and fiction, and between official accounts and lived realities.
The Salon will explore the messy and multiple lives of evidence and the historical, epistemic, and material contingencies of evidentiary regimes. We ask: How do different evidentiary regimes secure evidence? What modes of attention and forms of expertise do these regimes demand? Which phenomena are rendered sensible? Which remain imperceptible, indeterminate, and immaterial? Which bodies of evidence are valued? Which are permissible? Which are impermissible?
How might we excavate the pervasive “self-evidences” that take shape around scientific authority and expertise? How can we deepen our analyses of the craft of persuasion in scientific storytelling, and the animation of evidence in the performance and performativity of truth?
As we explore the vagaries of expertise, authority and advocacy in multiple contexts where evidence is at stake, the aim of this year’s Salon is to explore new ways to activate evidence. How might we expand what counts as evidence? How might we repurpose and reconfigure bodies of evidence it to tell new kinds of stories and make new kinds of interventions in this changing world?
:: Fall Schedule ::
All events to take place at ARTSCAPE YOUNGPLACE, 180 Shaw Street, 4-6 p.m.
Friday September 26 :: Opening Party
Friday October 10 :: Erasures and Fabulations
Friday November 14 :: Citizen Science
Friday November 28 :: Queering Evidence