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New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog.

Fri, 2014-02-14 12:40SHARON KELLY

Sharon Kelly's picture

Just how bad is natural gas for the climate?

A lot worse than previously thought, new research on methane leaks concludes.

Far more natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere nationwide than the Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates, researchers concluded after reviewing more than 200 different studies of natural gas leaks across North America.

The ground-breaking study, published today in the prestigious journal Science, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has understated how much methane leaks into the atmosphere nationwide by between 25 and 75 percent — meaning that the fuel is far more dangerous for the climate than the Obama administration asserts.

The study, titled “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” was conducted by a team of 16 researchers from institutions including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is making headlines because it finally and definitively shows that natural gas production and development can make natural gas worse than other fossil fuels for the climate.

The research, which was reported in The Washington PostBloomberg and The New York Times, was funded by a foundation created by the late George P. Mitchell, the wildcatter who first successfully drilled shale gas, so it would be hard to dismiss it as the work of environmentalists hell-bent on discrediting the oil and gas industry.

The debate over the natural gas industry’s climate change effects has raged for several years, ever since researchers from Cornell University stunned policy-makers and environmentalists by warning that if enough methane seeps out between the gas well and the burner, relying on natural gas could be even more dangerous for the climate than burning coal.

Natural gas is mostly comprised of methane, an extraordinarily powerful greenhouse gas, which traps heat 86 times more effectively than carbon dioxide during the two decades after it enters the atmosphere, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so even small leaks can have major climate impacts.

The team of researchers echoed many of the findings of the Cornell researchers and described how the federal government’s official estimate proved far too low.

“Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Adam Brandt, the lead author of the new report and an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”

The new paper drew some praise from Dr. Robert Howarth, one of the Cornell scientists.

“This study is one of many that confirms that EPA has been underestimating the extent of methane leakage from the natural gas industry, and substantially so,” Dr. Howarth wrote, adding that the estimates for methane leaks in his 2011 paper and the new report are “in excellent agreement.”

In November, research led by Harvard University found that the leaks from the natural gas industry have been especially under-estimated. That study, published inthe Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reported that methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction and oil refineries in some regions are nearly five times higher than previous estimates, and was one of the 200 included in Thursday’s Science study.

EPA Estimes Far Off-Target

So how did the EPA miss the mark by such a high margin?

The EPA’s estimate depends in large part on calculations — take the amount of methane released by an average cow, and multiply it by the number of cattle nationwide. Make a similar guess for how much methane leaks from an average gas well. But this leaves out a broad variety of sources — leaking abandoned natural gas wells, broken valves and the like.

Their numbers never jibed with findings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy, which approached the problem by taking measurements of methane and other gas levels from research flights and the tops of telecommunications towers.

But while these types of measurements show how much methane is in the atmosphere, they don’t explain where that methane came from. So it was still difficult to figure out how much of that methane originated from the oil and gas industry.

At times, EPA researchers went to oil and gas drilling sites to take measurements. But they relied on driller’s voluntary participation. For instance, one EPA study requested cooperation from 30 gas companies so they could measure emissions, but only six companies allowed the EPA on site.

“It’s impossible to take direct measurements of emissions from sources without site access,” said Garvin Heath, a senior scientist with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a co-author of the new analysis in a press release. “Self-selection bias may be contributing to why inventories suggest emission levels that are systematically lower than what we sense in the atmosphere.” (DeSmog haspreviously reported on the problem of industry-selected well sites in similar research funded by the Environmental Defense Fund.)

Worse than Coal?

There was, however, one important point that the news coverage so far missed and that deserves attention — a crucial point that could undermine entirely the notion that natural gas can serve as a “bridge fuel” to help the nation transition away from other, dirtier fossil fuels.

In their press release, the team of researchers compared the climate effects of different fuels, like diesel and coal, against those of natural gas.

They found that powering trucks or busses with natural gas made things worse.

“Switching from diesel to natural gas, that’s not a good policy from a climate perspective” explained the study’s lead author, Adam R. Brandt, an assistant professor in the Department of Energy Resources at Stanford, calling into question a policy backed by President Obama in his recent State of the Union address.

The researchers also described the effects of switching from coal to natural gas for electricity — concluding that coal is worse for the climate in some cases. “Even though the gas system is almost certainly leakier than previously thought, generating electricity by burning gas rather than coal still reduces the total greenhouse effect over 100 years, the new analysis shows,” the team wrote in a press release.

But they failed to address the climate impacts of natural gas over a shorter period — the decades when the effects of methane are at their most potent.

“What is strange about this paper is how they interpret methane emissions:  they only look at electricity, and they only consider the global warming potential of methane at the 100-year time frame,” said Dr. Howarth. Howarth’s 2011 Cornell study reviewed all uses of gas, noting that electricity is only roughly 30% of use in the US, and describing both a 20- and a 100-year time frame.

The choice of time-frame is vital because methane does not last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, so impact shifts over time. “The new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report from last fall — their first update on the global situation since 2007 — clearly states that looking only at the 100 year time frame is arbitrary, and one should also consider shorter time frames, including a 10-year time frame,” Dr. Howarth pointed out.

Another paper, published in Science in 2012, explains why it’s so important to look at the shorter time frames.

Unless methane is controlled, the planet will warm by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius over the next 17 to 35 years, and that’s even if carbon dioxide emissions are controlled. That kind of a temperature rise could potentially shift the climate of our planet into runaway feedback of further global warming.

“[B]y only looking at the 100 year time frame and only looking at electricity production, this new paper is biasing the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions between natural gas and coal in favor of natural gas being low,” said Dr. Howarth, “and by a huge amount, three to four to perhaps five fold.”

Dr. Howarth’s colleague, Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, raised a similar complaint.

“Once again, there is a stubborn use of the 100-year impact of methane on global warming, a factor about 30 times that of CO2,” Dr. Ingraffea told Climate Central, adding that there is no scientific justification to use the 100-year time window.

“That is a policy decision, perhaps based on faulty understanding of the climate change situation in which we find ourselves, perhaps based on wishful thinking,” he said.

For its part, the oil and gas industry seems very aware of the policy implications of this major new research and is already pushing back against any increased oversight of its operations.

“Given that producers are voluntarily reducing methane emissions,” Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, told The New York Times in an interview about the new study, “additional regulations are not necessary.”
Photo Credit: “White Smoke from Coal-Fired Power Plant,” via Shutterstock.

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog.

Fri, 2014-02-14 12:40SHARON KELLY

Sharon Kelly's picture

Just how bad is natural gas for the climate?

A lot worse than previously thought, new research on methane leaks concludes.

Far more natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere nationwide than the Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates, researchers concluded after reviewing more than 200 different studies of natural gas leaks across North America.

The ground-breaking study, published today in the prestigious journal Science, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has understated how much methane leaks into the atmosphere nationwide by between 25 and 75 percent — meaning that the fuel is far more dangerous for the climate than the Obama administration asserts.

The study, titled “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” was conducted by a team of 16 researchers from institutions including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is making headlines because it finally and definitively shows that natural gas production and development can make natural gas worse than other fossil fuels for the climate.

The research, which was reported in The Washington PostBloomberg and The New York Times, was funded by a foundation created by the late George P. Mitchell, the wildcatter who first successfully drilled shale gas, so it would be hard to dismiss it as the work of environmentalists hell-bent on discrediting the oil and gas industry.

The debate over the natural gas industry’s climate change effects has raged for several years, ever since researchers from Cornell University stunned policy-makers and environmentalists by warning that if enough methane seeps out between the gas well and the burner, relying on natural gas could be even more dangerous for the climate than burning coal.

Natural gas is mostly comprised of methane, an extraordinarily powerful greenhouse gas, which traps heat 86 times more effectively than carbon dioxide during the two decades after it enters the atmosphere, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so even small leaks can have major climate impacts.

The team of researchers echoed many of the findings of the Cornell researchers and described how the federal government’s official estimate proved far too low.

“Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Adam Brandt, the lead author of the new report and an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”

The new paper drew some praise from Dr. Robert Howarth, one of the Cornell scientists.

“This study is one of many that confirms that EPA has been underestimating the extent of methane leakage from the natural gas industry, and substantially so,” Dr. Howarth wrote, adding that the estimates for methane leaks in his 2011 paper and the new report are “in excellent agreement.”

In November, research led by Harvard University found that the leaks from the natural gas industry have been especially under-estimated. That study, published inthe Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reported that methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction and oil refineries in some regions are nearly five times higher than previous estimates, and was one of the 200 included in Thursday’s Science study.

EPA Estimes Far Off-Target

So how did the EPA miss the mark by such a high margin?

The EPA’s estimate depends in large part on calculations — take the amount of methane released by an average cow, and multiply it by the number of cattle nationwide. Make a similar guess for how much methane leaks from an average gas well. But this leaves out a broad variety of sources — leaking abandoned natural gas wells, broken valves and the like.

Their numbers never jibed with findings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy, which approached the problem by taking measurements of methane and other gas levels from research flights and the tops of telecommunications towers.

But while these types of measurements show how much methane is in the atmosphere, they don’t explain where that methane came from. So it was still difficult to figure out how much of that methane originated from the oil and gas industry.

At times, EPA researchers went to oil and gas drilling sites to take measurements. But they relied on driller’s voluntary participation. For instance, one EPA study requested cooperation from 30 gas companies so they could measure emissions, but only six companies allowed the EPA on site.

“It’s impossible to take direct measurements of emissions from sources without site access,” said Garvin Heath, a senior scientist with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a co-author of the new analysis in a press release. “Self-selection bias may be contributing to why inventories suggest emission levels that are systematically lower than what we sense in the atmosphere.” (DeSmog haspreviously reported on the problem of industry-selected well sites in similar research funded by the Environmental Defense Fund.)

Worse than Coal?

There was, however, one important point that the news coverage so far missed and that deserves attention — a crucial point that could undermine entirely the notion that natural gas can serve as a “bridge fuel” to help the nation transition away from other, dirtier fossil fuels.

In their press release, the team of researchers compared the climate effects of different fuels, like diesel and coal, against those of natural gas.

They found that powering trucks or busses with natural gas made things worse.

“Switching from diesel to natural gas, that’s not a good policy from a climate perspective” explained the study’s lead author, Adam R. Brandt, an assistant professor in the Department of Energy Resources at Stanford, calling into question a policy backed by President Obama in his recent State of the Union address.

The researchers also described the effects of switching from coal to natural gas for electricity — concluding that coal is worse for the climate in some cases. “Even though the gas system is almost certainly leakier than previously thought, generating electricity by burning gas rather than coal still reduces the total greenhouse effect over 100 years, the new analysis shows,” the team wrote in a press release.

But they failed to address the climate impacts of natural gas over a shorter period — the decades when the effects of methane are at their most potent.

“What is strange about this paper is how they interpret methane emissions:  they only look at electricity, and they only consider the global warming potential of methane at the 100-year time frame,” said Dr. Howarth. Howarth’s 2011 Cornell study reviewed all uses of gas, noting that electricity is only roughly 30% of use in the US, and describing both a 20- and a 100-year time frame.

The choice of time-frame is vital because methane does not last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, so impact shifts over time. “The new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report from last fall — their first update on the global situation since 2007 — clearly states that looking only at the 100 year time frame is arbitrary, and one should also consider shorter time frames, including a 10-year time frame,” Dr. Howarth pointed out.

Another paper, published in Science in 2012, explains why it’s so important to look at the shorter time frames.

Unless methane is controlled, the planet will warm by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius over the next 17 to 35 years, and that’s even if carbon dioxide emissions are controlled. That kind of a temperature rise could potentially shift the climate of our planet into runaway feedback of further global warming.

“[B]y only looking at the 100 year time frame and only looking at electricity production, this new paper is biasing the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions between natural gas and coal in favor of natural gas being low,” said Dr. Howarth, “and by a huge amount, three to four to perhaps five fold.”

Dr. Howarth’s colleague, Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, raised a similar complaint.

“Once again, there is a stubborn use of the 100-year impact of methane on global warming, a factor about 30 times that of CO2,” Dr. Ingraffea told Climate Central, adding that there is no scientific justification to use the 100-year time window.

“That is a policy decision, perhaps based on faulty understanding of the climate change situation in which we find ourselves, perhaps based on wishful thinking,” he said.

For its part, the oil and gas industry seems very aware of the policy implications of this major new research and is already pushing back against any increased oversight of its operations.

“Given that producers are voluntarily reducing methane emissions,” Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, told The New York Times in an interview about the new study, “additional regulations are not necessary.”
Photo Credit: “White Smoke from Coal-Fired Power Plant,” via Shutterstock.

Dispute Over The Future Of Basic Research In Canada

Dispute Over The Future Of Basic Research In Canada.

By KAREN BIRCHARD and JENNIFER LEWINGTON | THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATIONFEB. 16, 2014

CHARLOTTETOWN, Prince Edward Island — Canada’s National Research Council is the country’s premier scientific institution, helping to produce such inventions as the pacemaker and the robotic arm used on the American space shuttle. But last year, its mission changed.

The Canadian government announced a transformation of the 98-year-old agency, formerly focused largely on basic research, into a one-stop “concierge service” to bolster technological innovation by industry — historically weak — and generate high-quality jobs.

This has set off a dispute over the future of Canada’s capacity to carry out fundamental research, with university scientists and academic organizations uncharacteristically vocal about the government’s blunt preference for commercially applicable science.

“We are not sure the government appreciates the role that basic research plays,” said Kenneth Ragan, a McGill University physicist and president of the Canadian Association of Physicists: “The real question is, How does it view not-directed, nonindustrial, curiosity-driven blue-sky research? I worry the view is that it is irrelevant at best and that in many cases they actually dislike it.”

The remodeling of the research council is one in a series of policy changes that have generated fierce pushback by Canadian academics in recent years. The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is also under fire for closing research libraries, shutting down research facilities and restricting when government scientists can speak publicly about their work. Last year the Canadian Association of University Teachers began a national campaign, “Get Science Right,” with town-hall meetings across the country to mobilize public opposition to the policies. Scientists have even taken to the streets of several Canadian cities in protest.

While the transformation of the National Research Council has been criticized, the government as well as some science-policy analysts say that better connecting businesses with research is an important step for Canada.

Having examined models in other countries, the National Research Council chose to streamline its operations to act as “the pivot between the two worlds” of industry and academics, with an eye toward new products and innovations, said Charles Drouin, a spokesman for the council. He said the agency had not moved away from support for fundamental research but wanted to focus such efforts better. “There is basic research, but it is directed, as opposed to undirected as you would find it in universities.”

Another battleground for the future of basic research has been the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, a federal granting agency that serves as the first stop for financing fundamental research by Canadian scientists.

In 2011-12, the latest year for which data are available, the council’s “discovery” grants for fundamental research accounted for 38.4 percent of its budget, down from 50.1 percent in 2001-2. Its “innovation” grants, which encourage the transfer of university-developed technology to industry, rose to 31.4 percent in 2011-12, up from 25.3 percent a decade earlier. (The council also directs part of its roughly $1-billion budget to postdoctoral fellowships and other awards for young researchers.)

“The government has invested proportionately more on the innovation side, where it was seen that we had more challenges,” said Pierre J. Charest, vice president of research grants and scholarships at the government agency. He noted that the council was “on track” to double the number of scientists forming partnerships with industry.

Mr. Charest said criticism about a smaller percentage of funds for discovery grants missed a larger point — that the budget had grown over the past decade to almost $325 million in 2012-13. However, much of that increase comes from a special supplement for a select group of researchers to explore potentially transformative concepts.

One who has felt the pinch is Norman Hüner, an internationally recognized plant biochemist and physiologist at the University of Western Ontario, who holds a prestigious Canada Research Chair in environmental-stress biology. A longtime recipient of discovery grants, he and his research collaborators are exploring a potential breakthrough in the use of photosynthesis to trick plants to grow in suboptimal conditions — relevant research in Mr. Hüner’s view, given concerns about climate change.

But in 2012, after applying for a new grant to continue his research, the professor received $50,000 a year for five years — a sharp drop from the previous award of $132,000 a year over five years. “I was shocked, absolutely,” he recalled. “I am disillusioned beyond words.”

The cut has led to the departures of some senior scientists from his lab. And save for one new postdoctoral student with her own funds, Mr. Hüner is not replenishing his stable of young researchers. At 67, Mr. Hüner now plans to retire several years ahead of schedule.

Launch media viewer
Norman Hüner, an environmental scientist, has had his funding reduced by more than half. Dave Chidley

Even those involved in commercialization efforts question the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s new approach.

“If you have ideas that are going to lead to commercialization opportunities, you should absolutely get seed-stage funding,” said James E. Colliander, a mathematician at the University of Toronto. He acknowledged that funding for applied research was “crucially important” but said he was “not sure that the principal vehicle for funding basic research should be the path to get those dollars.” Mr. Colliander has received several major discovery grants and is also involved in an effort to bring to market a web application for large-scale academic exam assessment.

Beyond the changes in the two councils, some wonder if Canadian industry is prepared to step up its role in research innovation. In Canada’s largely foreign-owned industrial sector, research is often carried out at corporate headquarters abroad, while home-grown businesses lack the appetite or budget.

Some liken the federal strategy to pushing on a string.

The current policy appears to be trying to “push” technology from universities to industry, but what is needed to increase the level of innovation is for industry to get better at investing in new ideas and well-qualified researchers, said Arthur Carty, a former science adviser to the prime minister and a former head of the National Research Council. “Companies have to have innovation in their philosophical strategies, and they don’t have it,” said Mr. Carty, now executive director of the University of Waterloo’s Institute for Nanotechnology.

Uncertainty over the response of industry is a common refrain even among those who see merit in the federal strategy.

“Canada has had most of its eggs in the basic-research basket for quite a long time,” said Richard W. Hawkins, Canada research chair in science, technology and innovation policy at the University of Calgary. He has also spent years outside Canada as an adviser to governments and international agencies on innovation policy. “Governments want to invest in science and technology because they think it will lead to growth and innovation,” he said. “Governments all over the world have the same rationale.”

What’s missing in Canada, he said, is a deep understanding about how sectors of the economy could exploit knowledge to diversify and create new industries. “In Canada we know relatively less about our situation than most of our competitor countries,” he said.

But some senior scientists warn of risks to Canada’s higher-education system if pure, scholarly research is perceived as unimportant.

“One of the major contradictions of the Conservative government at the moment is that no one in Canada will question the need to have the best universities in the world,” said Daniel E. Guitton, a professor of neuroscience at McGill University. “Now how do you get them? You’re not going to get them by having people focus on an industry-related problem.”

Science policy analysts say it is too early to judge the impact of the government’s current strategy. But on one point, there is little debate. “To be honest, I’ve not seen this level of advocacy from the scientific community before,” said Paul Dufour, a fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society, and Policy. “That’s new in this country, and I think that’s a healthy thing.”

A version of this article appears in print on February 17, 2014, in The International New York Times.

Scientists speak out against Canada’s ‘war on science’

Scientists speak out against Canada’s ‘war on science’.

by Peter Rugh, originally published by Waging Nonviolence  | TODAY

Dr. Katie Gibbs speaks at a Stand Up for Science rally at Parliament Hill in Ottowa last September. (Evidence for Democracy / Kevin O'Donnell)

Dr. Katie Gibbs speaks at a Stand Up for Science rally at Parliament Hill in Ottowa last September. (Evidence for Democracy / Kevin O’Donnell)

Seven of Canada’s most prized scientific libraries are being shut down and some of their contents have already been burned, thrown away or carted off by fossil fuel consultancy firms. This development is part of a Harper administration plan to slash more than $160 million in the coming years from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, or DFO — an agency charged with protecting the country’s vast waterways.

The Harper government has portrayed the move as necessary in order to reduce the country’s deficit and provide Canadians with greater access to scientific information through the Internet. But alongside the cuts, the Harper administration has doled out billions in subsidies to the fossil fuel-dominated energy sector — $26 billion in 2011, according to a recent International Monetary Fund report. As for accessing the information at the shuttered libraries, an internal DFO document labeled “secret” obtained by Postmedia News in late December, along with the scientists who utilize the research facilities, tell a different story.

The once-secret DFO document speaks of “culling” materials in the libraries, a term that critics believe to be far more devastating than it sounds. Much like its original meaning — the killing of animals with undesired genetic traits — they see the budget cuts as a way to do away with undesirable science.

“The Harper government is not simply influenced by the fossil fuel industry, it isthe fossil fuel industry,” said Brad Hornick, a lead organizer with of the Vancouver Ecosocialist Group.

The Harper administration has long been known for its anti-environment stance. Harper’s environment minister, for instance, has publicly cast doubt on research documenting Arctic sea ice melt. Observers have also complained of a revolving door between the government and industry that has effectively placed Canada’s natural resources at the disposal of fossil fuel corporations supporting hydraulic fracturing, carbon-rich tar sands extraction and pipeline projects. In the process, a host of conservation laws and sovereignty treaties with Canada’s First Nations population have been unwound at the behest of oil and gas lobby groups. The Center for Global Development ranks Canada last among wealthy nations in terms of environmental protection.

Meanwhile, 2,000 government scientists have been fired over the past five years and hundreds of environmental programs that monitor food, water and air quality, study and prevent oil spills, as well as track atmospheric changes have been shut down for lack of funds.

Dr. Katie Gibbs with Evidence for Democracy, a grassroots organization composed of scientists mobilizing against the culling, said it is only the latest development in a “long trend.”

“Over the past few years we’ve seen huge cuts in funding for science, layoffs for scientists who work for the government and reduced funding for academic scientists,” Gibbs said. “Some are calling it a war on science.”

British Columbia’s independent online news magazine The Tyee detailed the scope of the latest assault, citing several research hubs where scientific literature has been trashed, burned or picked apart. According to The Tyee, they include, “[The] Maurice-Lamontagne Institute, which housed 61,000 French language documents on Quebec’s waterways, as well as the newly renovated $62-million library serving the historic St. Andrews Biological Station in St. Andrews, New Brunswick.” Also shut down, were “the famous Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and one of the world’s finest ocean collections at the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland.”

In a fitting addendum to this assault on science, the magazine noted that Rachel Carson — a founder of the modern environmental movement — corresponded with researchers at St. Andrews while writing her pioneering book on environmental contamination, Silent Spring, half a century ago.

According to Gibbs, whose group is circulating a petition against the cuts, “There’s no way this information was digitized. Many scientists have spoken out and said that everything is being done in a huge rush, completely disorganized. Private companies came and picked up truck loads of this material. They saw the value in it.”

The gas and dam powered-utility, Manitoba Hydro, plus North/South Consultants — a firm that counts oil and gas corporations among its clients in the heavily-frackedManitoba province — obtained troves of research documents pertaining to water treatment and aquatic habitats from Winnipeg’s Freshwater Institute. Scientists have also reported witnessing the incineration of literature at DFO libraries and one researcher at the Maurice Lamontagne Institute in Mont Joli, Quebec posted a photo online of a dumpster full of discarded books and journals. Although, scientists have done their best to salvage the research, more federal libraries are slated for culling.

Like the indigenous-led Idle No More movement and the climate activists who raised a sign that read “climate justice” over the prime minister’s head at a Vancouver Board of Trade meeting earlier this month, scientists are increasingly standing up to Harper, though doing so comes with great risk to their careers.

Last fall, Evidence for Democracy staged “Stand Up for Science” rallies in 17 Canadian cities against legal restrictions to their ability to share research and communicate with the public — one of the first steps in the so-called war on science taken by the Harper administration upon its ascent to power in 2006.

“The restrictions play into the library closures,” said Gibbs. “When scientists have spoken out they’ve had to do so anonymously because they fear for their jobs.”

According to critics of the Harper administration, such attacks on science are part of the prime minister’s small government, big business ideology, which assigns a negative value to any science that adversely impacts the production of fossil fuels.

“If you are going to be in favor of fossil fuel expansion, and tar sands in particular, and you are going to try to sell that to the Canadian public — part of doing that means dulling the awareness and importance of science,” said Rodger Annis, a Vancouver-based environmental activist and writer. “Science tells us in stark terms that if we want to prevent the very serious consequences of climate changethen we have to leave the tar sands in the ground.”

While the Harper administration may be able to dull, or even subvert the science behind such a message, it’s the scientists who are proving difficult to silence. And perhaps that’s just what’s needed. After all, science is only as strong as the scientists behind it.

Tar Heel Scandal and the Myth of the University » The Epoch Times

Tar Heel Scandal and the Myth of the University » The Epoch Times.

The great lie of American higher education is the idea of the university.

We all believe these places exist. Not just in the physical sense–there they are–but as coherent organizations that operate with something resembling identifiable cultures, values, systems, and ideas of themselves. Our whole system of rationing, financing, and credentialing higher education depends on this notion. Yet, it is largely a myth. The American university does not actually exist as we believe it does. For evidence of this, see the academic scandal consuming the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Raleigh News & Observer has the most comprehensive coverage of the scandal, which first came to light in 2011, when a suspended UNC football player sued to have his eligibility restored. His court documents included a paper he had submitted for a Swahili class allegedly taught by the chairman of the UNC African and Afro-American Studies Department, Julius Nyang’oro. Fans of rival NC State quickly determined that the paper had been plagiarized.

That pulled string unraveled what appears to be a major credit mill fraud operation being run with total impunity inside one of America’s premiere public research universities. Multiple independent investigations suggest that hundreds of African and Afro-American Studies Department courses offered over more than a decade, many “taught” by Nyang’oro, simply did not exist. No syllabi were created, no lectures delivered, no grading standards imposed. Hundreds of additional courses grades were changed and hundreds more “independent study” grades awarded. A large and disproportionate number of students involved were male football and basketball players. As a result, UNC’s chancellor and football coach both lost their jobs, and Nyang’oro was indicted on felony charges last week.

This is, to say the least, awkward for UNC Chapel Hill. Like all universities, particularly those with prestige, it depends on the idea that it actually exists, in the sense that a UNC Chapel Hill degree means something that is common to all other UNC Chapel Hill degrees and distinct from all degrees awarded by other universities. The elaborate marketing schemes and high-stakes admissions tournaments run by elite universities suppose that admission means something other than the act of selection itself, that the experience of going to school in Chapel Hill is tangible, identifiable, and in some way real.

In fact, none of this is true. UNC Chapel Hill is not a coherent undergraduate institution. It’s a holding company that provides shared marketing, finance, and physical plant services for a group of autonomous departments, which are in turn holding companies for autonomous scholars who teach as they please. This is the only possible explanation for the years-long, wholly undetected operation of the African and Afro-American Studies Department credit fraud scam. Or, rather, it’s the only possible explanation other than a huge, organization-wide conspiracy in which the university administration, department, and football team colluded to hand out fake grades to hundreds of athletes.

The university, of course, vehemently denies that anything resembling the latter scenario is true. Despite damning emails between Nyang’oro and the athletic department, UNC is desperately selling the story that the entire credit fraud operation was the work of just two people–Nyang’oro and an assistant–and involved no athletic department wrongdoing of any kind. That’s because while academic misconduct gets you nothing more than a wrist-slap from your accreditor and year of sad/absurd “monitoring” in which the university administration randomly checks classes to make sure they actually exist, athletic misconduct can cost the university things it actually cares about, like money, bowl appearances, and athletic scholarships.

In other words, the only way for UNC administrators to avoid blame for gross academic misconduct is to admit that academic conduct was never their concern.

Meanwhile, the football team must be saved because the intense tribal loyalty generated by big-time sports is one of the chief mechanisms employed by universities to create the illusion that they exist. I’ve lived in Chapel Hill and experienced the closest thing to full-scale Dionysian revelry one is likely to find in modern America, on Franklin Street after the men’s basketball team won it all. It was thrilling. It felt like we were one people, all of us, conquerors. But it was also an illusion (I wasn’t a student at the time), a false consciousness manufactured by the university to conceal its non-existence as an academic institution.

The cynicism and dishonesty inherent to that seep into the cracks of university life, occasionally as outright criminality but far more often as mediocrity and simple indifference. If Julius Nyang’oro had simply bothered to show up in a room on campus from time to time, say something–anything–to some “student” athletes, and hand out a bunch of A-minuses, he never would have been caught. In the modern non-university, he wouldn’t even have been doing something wrong.

This article was first published on the New America Foundation website. Read the original. 

The New America Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute that invests in new thinkers, breakthrough research, and policy innovation to address the most important challenges facing the United States.

Ontario’s Universities and Student Unions Flunk Freedom of Speech Test | Daniel Dickin

Ontario’s Universities and Student Unions Flunk Freedom of Speech Test | Daniel Dickin.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom’s 2013 Campus Freedom Index highlights a disturbing trend that has been observed for many years: Canada’s universities and student unions are abysmally poor at promoting free speech and expression on campus.

The index looks at the policies and practices of universities and student unions across Canada to determine their affinity for free speech, which, unfortunately, continues to be incredibly low. The grading criteria are straightforward:

University policies:
• Is there a clear and unequivocal commitment to free speech?
• Is the university’s anti-discrimination policy used to censor unpopular, controversial, or politically incorrect speech?
• Are security fees used as an indirect method to stifle free speech?
• Does the anti-distruption policy make it clear that the university will not condone students blocking, obstructing, suppressing, or interrupting other students sharing ideas with which they disagree?

 

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