Canada’s science minister, the man at the centre of the controversy over federal funding cuts to researchers, won’t say if he believes in evolution.
“I’m not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don’t think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate,” Gary Goodyear, the federal Minister of State for Science and Technology, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
A funding crunch, exacerbated by cuts in the January budget, has left many senior researchers across the county scrambling to find the money to continue their experiments.
Some have expressed concern that Mr. Goodyear, a chiropractor from Cambridge, Ont., is suspicious of science, perhaps because he is a creationist.
Sure enough, that response got him in hot water. Here he tries to walk it back:
“We are evolving every year, every decade,” Mr. Goodyear said on the television program. “That’s a fact, whether it is to the intensity of the sun, whether it is to, as a chiropractor, walking on cement versus anything else, whether it is running shoes or high heels – of course we are evolving to our environment.”
Actually, if that’s the type of evolution we’re talking about, then here’s a better example, courtesy of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for the worst opening sentence of an imaginary novel.
As she watched the small form swing backwards and forth from the crystal chandelier – hands on hips, sniffing the air and squeaking inaudibly – it suddenly became clear to Madame de Pompomme that she had done the wrong thing asking Jacques to find and bring back her long-lost sister: for, whilst her coterie would doubtless be enchanted for a short while, the novelty of Janine having been raised by bats since the age of two in caves of the North-west Congo would soon wear off in seventeenth-century France.
Do click on that link and read the other winning entries. I’m happy to wait.
Here’s CBC reporting on further developments. No, not women swinging from chandeliers in high heels. The Goodyear story.
On Wednesday, following a speech at the Economic Club of Toronto outlining the government’s incentives and funding for science and technology, Goodyear refused to clarify further, insisting his personal views aren’t important.
When asked whether there was a conflict with someone with his portfolio being a creationist, he responded: “Absolutely not. How ridiculous. It’s absolutely ridiculous. That’s why I didn’t answer the question — because it has no relevance.”
As a teacher with 15 years of experience, I would very much like to tell you, Minister, what happens when a professor tells students that their questions are irrelevant and ridiculous. On second thought, there’s no need for me to explain it, really. Just go to the RateMyProfessor website and browse through it at random. And you thought, Minister, that we were tough on you?
Back to CBC:
He added that decisions about what areas of science should be funded are mostly made by scientists themselves through organizations such as granting councils, not by him.
Goodyear again, in the Globe and Mail:
“My view isn’t important. My personal beliefs are not important. What’s important is that this government is doing the right thing for science and technology – to support science as we have in every single budget,” he said during a brief scrum after a speech to the Economic Club of Canada.
Ah, but the government is not doing the right thing. The Globe and Mail articles mention the cuts to research funding that will leave many of us scrambling. I wrote about it here at length. This government’s science policies were not designed by scientists. Had scientists been involved and given more than a token voice, they would have pointed out that the best equipped labs are useless without top quality personnel. That graduate school is not just like undergraduate college, only with more advanced classes. That basic curiosity-driven research – even though it can produce extremely high returns in the long run – isn’t likely to attract industrial funding and must be supported by the government. From the Discover Magazine some time ago:
So who knows what else we’re working on that might well be in everybody’s back pocket one day? This puts me in mind of one of my favourite quotes from the great Michael Faraday, one of the giants that helped shape our modern understanding of electricity and magnetism (see a nice BBC History website about him here). He was asked by the British Chancellor (Gladstone at the time) about what was the use of this electricity he was working on. His reply was “I do not know sir, but I wager that one day you will put a tax on it”.
There, Mr. Goodyear. You do believe in taxes, don’t you?