politics

Trump’s border-wall pledge threatens delicate desert ecosystems

Ecologists fear plan to seal off the United States from Mexico would put wildlife at risk.

With Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talking about walling off the United States from Mexico, ecologists fear for the future of the delicate and surprisingly diverse ecosystems that span Mexico’s border with the southwestern United States.

“The southwestern US and northwestern Mexico share their weather, rivers and wildlife,” says Sergio Avila-Villegas, a conservation scientist from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson. “The infrastructure on the border cuts through all that and divides a shared landscape in two.” Read more in Nature.

Israel’s botanical gardens face funding crisis

Israel’s 11 botanical gardens are scrambling to cope with deep cuts in funding from the government’s agricultural ministry. Government spending on the gardens, which host research and education programs and are often associated with universities, is down by more than 50% this year. That’s a reprieve from a 98% cut that the ministry announced last year, but still a major blow for the gardens, which rely heavily on government funds to pay for basic operations.

“There were times this year when we couldn’t afford potting soil, or even printer paper,” says Tal Levanony, curator of Tel Aviv University’ in Israel’s botanical garden. “I’m not sure how the researchers will cope without support.” Read more in Science.

A scientist elected to Canada’s Parliament shares his hopes as Trudeau prepares to take power

One scientist will be among the new faces in the 338-member House of Commons: Richard Cannings, a bird biologist, author, and former curator of the vertebrate museum at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Cannings, a member of Canada’s left-of-center New Democratic Party (NDP), will represent British Columbia’s (BC’s) South Okanagan—West Kootenay riding, or district. The NDP now holds the third-largest number of seats in Parliament, behind the Liberals and the Conservatives.

Cannings recently took a break from a Sunday afternoon mayonnaise-making session to talk with ScienceInsider about how he hopes to improve the lot of science and environmental issues during his time in Ottawa. Read more in Science.

In Canada, election results cheer scientists

Many Canadian scientists are celebrating the result of yesterday’s federal election, which saw Stephen Harper’s Conservative government defeated after nearly 10 years in power.

The center-left Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau won an unexpected majority government, taking 184 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons. The Conservatives will form the opposition with 99 seats, while the left-leaning New Democratic Party fell to third place with just 44 seats.

“Many scientists will be pleased with the outcome,” says Jim Woodgett, director of research at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. “The Liberal party has a strong record in supporting science.” Read more in Science.

In Canada, science campaigns for attention from voters

Opponents of Prime Minister Stephen Harper try to make his record on research an issue in election.

Science is making a rare appearance in Canada’s election. As candidates make their last push before Election Day on 19 October, the nation’s leading opposition parties have taken aim at Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s science policies, which have alienated large segments of the nation’s scientific community.

Science policy isn’t a top concern for most voters in the election, which could send new members of Parliament and a new prime minister to Ottawa. But some research advocates hope the issue could move enough ballots to sway what appears to be a tight three-way race between Harper’s Conservatives, the New Democratic Party (NDP) led by Tom Mulcair, and the Liberal Party led by Justin Trudeau. “Science could be the sleeper issue,” says Kennedy Stewart, the NDP’s spokesman on science issues and a member of Parliament. Read more in Science (if you have a subscription).

Fish fight

In Maine, indigenous tribes have severed ties with the state.

There are no border guards when you cross the bridge from the tiny village of Princeton, Maine, to the Indian Township Reservation, but according to the Passamaquoddy Tribe who live there, you have entered sovereign territory.

Last week, the Passamaquoddy and the nearby Penobscot Nation both withdrew their representatives from the Maine State Legislature, citing a breakdown in relations with the state government. Read more in Hakai.

Scientists are citizens, too

One of the common themes at last week’s Canadian Science Policy Conference in Halifax was the role of scientific evidence in policymaking, and specifically how scientists should go about providing it.

I was disappointed to hear several of the politicians and policymakers – and no small number of scientists – repeat the same tired mantra that researchers should just provide data, and keep their nose out of the politics. Read more on Science Borealis.

Don’t let my failure put you off, Ignatieff tells academics

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Photo by Brian Owens.

Michael Ignatieff’s failed bid for Canada’s highest office must not put off other intellectuals from trying, he tells Research Canada editor Brian Owens.

The first thing Michael Ignatieff wants people to know, when discussing his thwarted political career, is that he is not bitter about the way it turned out. “I’m glad I did it, I have no regrets, it’s the way it is,” he says. “It would be stupid to get on the ice in a professional hockey game and complain when you get checked into the boards.”

There is no denying, though, that the Harvard academic, author and public intellectual had a particularly rough ride in his brief time leading Canada’s Liberal party, facing off against one of the most intensely partisan and tactically minded prime ministers in recent memory—Stephen Harper. And for portions of Fire and Ashes, a memoir reflecting on his political experiment, it is clear that the relentlessly personal attacks on his character and his motives in running for office left almost physical scars, a sense reinforced by the very physical metaphors, such as the hockey talk, he uses when describing his experiences. Read more in Research Canada.

Canadian government accused of destroying environmental archives

Courtesy of Save Ocean Science.

Courtesy of Save Ocean Science.

Researchers fear that valuable documents will disappear as libraries close and merge.

Scientists in Canada are up in arms over the recent closure of more than a dozen federal science libraries run by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Environment Canada.

The closures were mostly completed by last autumn, but hit the headlines last week when pictures of dumpsters full of scientific journals and books began circulating online. Some of facilities that have been closed include the library at the century-old St. Andrews Biological Station in New Brunswick, which had just completed a multi-million-dollar refurbishment a year earlier, and the library at the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The libraries housed hundred of thousands of documents on fisheries and aquatic science, such as historical fish counts and water-quality analyses. Read more in Nature.

Magic trick transforms conservatives into liberals

‘Choice blindness’ can induce voters to reverse their party loyalty.

When US presidential candidate Mitt Romney said last year that he was not even going to try to reach 47% of the US electorate, and that he would focus on the 5–10% thought to be floating voters, he was articulating a commonly held opinion: that most voters are locked in to their ideological party loyalty.

But Lars Hall, a cognitive scientist at Lund University in Sweden, knew better. Read more in Nature.