Flying Blind and Canadian Environmental Health Research: An Interview with Former Federal Scientist Michael Arts
I recently interviewed environmental scientist and Ryerson University professor, Michael Arts. Arts has been the subject of considerable media attention for his experience with the Harper government’s cuts, restrictions on the communications of his findings, and, finally, the loss of his job at Environment Canada. Much of the media hype around Arts, however, has largely focused on what happened to Arts in the last few years at Environment Canada. Amid much of this media coverage, what seems to have gotten lost is the specific nature of Arts’s research on fatty acids, why his findings are important to Canadians’ well-being, and what kind of message it sends when the Harper Government shuts down this work.
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.
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.