Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Science cuts and general news

From the news:
  • Interesting article on anti-aging drugs from Wired, where scientists think that this new class of drugs might be the key to fighting cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and just about everything else under the sun.
  • A great piece in CBC suggesting that forward-facing strollers are bad for a child's social and verbal development. This makes a lot of sense: kids of stroller age have brains that are designed for learning about faces and language.
From the InterWeb:
  • Wired's 10 favourite biology videos. Just awesome (except the PCR song - man, I hate the PCR song). I'll be commenting on at least one or two over the next while.
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According to this CBC article, Statistics Canada reported Thursday that federal spending in science and technology is about to drop for the first time in 5 years, which is about the same time we elected Paul Martin to a minority government. Now admittedly these cuts seem small - about 3% - but this represents hundreds of millions of dollars lost for funding science and innovation in this country.

I don't think this is a good idea, but I'll declare a conflict of interest being a scientist who would like to be employed in Canada. Even still, it seems natural that investment in alternative energy production will create domestic skilled jobs desperately needed by Canadians. Of course, it would cost money now, and it will be years before we see any real return from this investment. But unlike investing in shady debt trading - asset-backed commercial papers, or subprime mortgages - this economic activity would create real wealth, and by that I mean jobs, clean energy, and Canadian businesses with a head start in a globally important industry.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Garneau vs. Goodyear

The Opposition Liberals have named their new Science critic, and it is former astronaut and generally awesome guy Marc Garneau. This is a good move by the Libs, as Garneau actually has a Doctorate in engineering and therefore knows something about science. Oh yeah, and he was the first Canadian in space, with almost 678 hours over three trips total. That's mad geek cred right there.

Gary Goodyear may not be as well-known as Marc Garneau, but is our newly-appointed Minister of State - Science and Technology (I know, what kind of title is that?). Wikipedia lists him as a physiotherapist and doctor of chiropractic, having graduated from an established college that engages in multidisciplinary research and involves about 4500 hours of coursework. However, I couldn't find him in PubMed so I don't think that he's ever actually performed research.

I'd like to see some more Ph.D.s in our legislature's ranks. People that actually understand the cutting edge of their science and can talk about research in a meaningful way. Harper's treatment of science hasn't been cruel, but it hasn't been kind, either. But I'd like to see someone that can actually sell the importance of research through their experiences to the Prime Minister and the Canadian people. It will be interesting to hear Garneau defend the Canadian Space Agency from further budget cuts.

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Economics rant. Feel free to skip.

Bush was at the G20 summit last week talking about how free markets need to remain free, and that this is how global economic progress will be made.

Let me point out three perfectly obvious things. First of all, the U.S. is not interested in free markets. That's why we have things like NAFTA, to make sure that American economic interests get certain advantages. This is not necessarily a bad thing (for the US, at least), but it is definitely not a free market. Secondly, the government is spending up to $700 billion to bail banks out of bad business practices. The very definition of capitalism and free markets demands that governments not engage in massive market manipulation. Thirdly, the only way to have prevented the current economic meltdown would have been to actually regulate the banks and what they were doing, which is also not a free market approach.

Alan Greenspan, former head of the Federal Reserve (and by extension the US economy) said he made a key error during his tenure - "I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others... were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms." In other words, he assumed that the banks would follow base capitalist economic assumptions: turn profits, perform due diligence, cover their asses. But they only got one out of three on that quiz, and a suddenly socialist US government is now paying them truckloads of money - skyscrapers full, actually - for this colossal failure to do their jobs.

This is not a free market approach, which just goes to show that capitalism and free markets don't work, and never have. Not that socialism does, but I'm sick of hearing about the power of free markets when 1) there aren't any, and 2) the closer we go towards a free market, i.e. the less closely government regulates, the worse things get.