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Changing the Channel

May 3, 2011

How are political parties like cable television packages?

This blog is generally about science and  related ephemera. This morning, in the wake of the Conservative Party’s victory in Canada, my thoughts were about  how people make their voting decisions on the basis of a selective subset of what each party stands for. Which may not sound much like talking about science, but I assure you that it is related.

When people vote for a political party, they generally home in on the part of the platform that   most interests them, whether it is taxation, health care, or a moral issue such as abortion. In so doing, they ignore (or may actually be ignorant of) the party’s stand on other issues. In this sense, choosing a party is much like purchasing cable TV. Cable companies often offer channels in “packages,” where to get what you want  you also must receive a lot of other things.  You know why you are buying the package, but you probably never even look at the parts of it that are at some remove from your areas of interest.

In voting for a Conservative government, it seems that Canadians have selected the package that has the family channels, sports, and economic news channels that they want, but unfortunately they have made this decision for all of us.  Did we all really want that 24-hour channel of nonstop monster trucks and tractor pulls? Why does this package have no arts channels other than country music?

From my perspective, a real concern is that the scientific channels now seem to feature a mix of “intelligent design” justification, gee whiz pieces on new entertainment devices, and climate change denial advertisements funded by big oil.

Canadians have long been envied by scientists in some other countries because our government provided solid funding for both applied science and pure, inquiry-driven research. When the Conservatives had a minority, they indicated that they were only interested in the former, and that the latter far too often opposed the economic or religious beliefs of some of their bedrock supporters. Now that they have a majority, will this be a body blow to Canadian scientific research?  I sincerely hope that I am wrong, and that our new cable package will still have room for the Discovery Channel and the CBC.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Sean Robson permalink
    May 3, 2011 10:14 am

    Well said, Graham. The channel analogy is most apt, especially considering that we will now have Harper’s propaganda channel, SunTV forced down our throats.

  2. Dave Rudkin permalink
    May 3, 2011 6:30 pm

    Just when you thought television couldn’t get any worse ….

    • Graham permalink*
      May 3, 2011 7:25 pm

      Hey Dave and Sean, cheer up. Things can always get worse!

  3. May 5, 2011 9:01 pm

    Graham, I left Australia in 2004 to escape just that fate under Harper’s mentor, conservative Australian PM John Howard. Government research funding over the period of Howard’s conservative government shifted progressively to ‘applied science’, and paleontology in particular suffered greatly. There was a brain drain, of which I was part of. A few years of centrist government has seen some reversal of that in Australia, but metrics now rule – every aspect of research output is counted and weighed and judged. I fear this too will be part of the Conservative Government’s approach in Canada. In the past 2 years, as a consequence of changed priorities by the Canadian Federal science research funding agency NSERC, there has been a dramatic decline in the success of NSERC applications in small and medium sized Canadian universities. But maybe paleontology will not suffer.

    Despite the ‘young earth’ beliefs of some members of that party, among its supporters are the oil and gas companies, who fund and support some aspects of paleontological research, as R & D, student support, and also donations to museums and universities. Perhaps cold comfort, but some good may come of this. But I’m not banking on it.

  4. February 26, 2012 1:14 pm

    Well put Graham, the current cable package is most depressing.
    Interesting today considering the vote suppressing tactics being discussed in the news and the narrow margin of the “majority”.

    • Graham permalink*
      February 26, 2012 9:44 pm

      Thanks Karen. Yes, it is all very saddening, especially since there will probably be no resolution on that issue.

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