News

1. Science at Dal

Yesterday, I wrote about how part of a $16 million provincial loan to Cooke Aquaculture was forgiven. Specifically, Cooke was able to write down an amount equal to the money the company had paid to establish the Cooke Industrial Research Chair in Sustainable Aquaculture at Dalhousie University. The portion of the $16 million loan was a $4 million tranche; as I wrote:

In short, Cooke contributed $800,000 to the establishment of a Chair named in its honour and which is held by an industry-friendly researcher. Now, it looks like at least that $800,000 will in effect be paid by Nova Scotia Business Inc. via the loan forgiveness. (Because the documents are so heavily redacted, we don’t know if more of the $4 million eligible for loan forgiveness is related to the research chair.)

Today, Paul Withers at the CBC reports that the total forgiven is $2 million:

An initial $800,000 payment from the loan established the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council – Cooke Aquaculture industrial research chair in sustainable aquaculture in 2014.

[Chair Jon] Grant said in 2016 he received $1.2 million more from the Cooke loan as part of a three-year extension on his council research program.

Grant said the money was used to hire a professor, assist graduate students and carry out more advanced study on the operational impacts and management of salmon farming.

Today, 10 people are working on the project.

The Cooke loan also leveraged other sources of funding.

“So of the $2 million we’ve been able to match that into $1.5 million of net federal dollars into Dalhousie, most of which is used in salaries,” Grant said.

There’s a lot in this story that should concern us, but for me the biggest issue is how the university is being used to prop up private industry. I know this is an old story and now accepted as regular university practice, but there are two levels to it.

First, Cooke sponsors a research chair named in honour of the company (what tax write-offs did the company get for that?). “Grant said the company does not ‘dictate’ the research projects worked on by he and the team at Dalhousie,” reports Withers, but when the company is providing the “boat and diver costs” and even the “employment opportunities in the short term (co-op, summer) and in the longer term for graduates as they complete their research programs,” who are we kidding? The relationship between the company and the university research chair is simply too intertwined for true independence for the researchers to be possible.

Tara Tapics. Photo: McGill University

We got a glimpse of how industry can and does dictate research terms when Oceanography graduate student Tara Tapics had to leave the university because her leatherback turtle (LBTs) project angered “‘industry partners’ … [who] were worried about the possible effect on their fishery, i.e., whether it might be shut down to protect LBTs.”

But these aren’t one-offs or limited to the Oceanography Department. As I reported last year, down the road at the Sexton campus, the Engineering school signed onto an agreement that spelled out that Earth Science department profs and administrators now work directly for and under the direction of Shell Canada:

A committee, the Earth Sciences Shell SELF Committee (ESSSC) to be formed within the Earth Sciences department to steer and allocate funds across the department. The committee will consist of the Department Chair (currently R. Jamieson), one of the Associate Chairs (currently J. Gosse or M. Gibling), one additional faculty member decided upon by the department (position would rotate yearly (Sept-Aug); initially G. Wach for continuity with present system), and department Administrator (A. Bannon). The committee will invite, receive, review, and rank proposals 3 times a year, solicited from across the entire department, including student societies. Recommendations for funding will be made in advance of the academic term for which the funds are requested. All projects recommended by the committee must be within the criteria identified above, and be sent to Shell’s Science CAP team members for approval.

As with Cooke getting the research chair named after itself, Shell got to splash its corporate logo on course material, classroom walls, and even on the hard hats the student researchers were wearing in the field.

Real science depends on true independence; researchers must explore where their instincts and training take them, and question basic assumptions and biases. But when industry is funding the entire operation and dictating the parameters of research — including what is off-limits, so far as getting the work of too-inquisitive grad students shut down — we’re a very long way from independent science.

As I say, these practices are now simply accepted as the way things are done. University administrators, politicians, business execs, the public generally, and the scientists themselves long ago set aside whatever reservations they initially may have had and decided to chase the corporate funding model. At every turn, when independence was weighed against more funding, the dollars, no matter how problematic, tipped the scale, and here we are.

My preference is that university research be entirely separated from corporate money. But that would require such a radical reformation of how universities are financed, administered, and managed that for most people it is unthinkable. It’s like prison abolition, or legalizing heroin, or taxing churches — so far out of the mainstream thought that it’s beyond ridiculous; it’s literally inconceivable.

So I get that; my dream of the corporate-free university won’t happen. But where’s the oversight on these corporate funding arrangements? Hello, Senate?

Second, and yes this is a small point, but if we’re paying back to Cooke all the money it spent on the research chair, why the hell is the chair still named after the company?

2. Divestment

Um, the giant Univ of California system, already divested from coal and tar sands, now plans to stop investing in all fossil fuels. This is large. https://t.co/6h7ky4qtjH

— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) April 3, 2018

Speaking of corporate and university relationships (and Shell and Dalhousie), the entire University of California system is divesting from fossil fuel industries, reports Arleen Jacobius for Profits & Investments:

Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Singh Bachher, speaking at the March 13 investment subcommittee meeting in Los Angeles, said that in the long term, the $66.6 billion pension fund and $11.5 billion endowment are going to move out of fossil fuel investments.

[I]n the long-term “fossil fuels … is a financial risk we do not want to take in the context of real assets. We will fundamentally reduce those holdings,” he said.

Instead, the pension plans and endowments will invest in cash-flowing assets such as infrastructure including investment in transmission lines and utilities, he said.

“We can fill the gap with good assets if we are creative in what we buy,” he noted. “It’s not a project that is finished.”

In comparison to UC, Dalhousie’s fossil fuel investments sit at a comparatively tiny $20 million, but the Dal Board of Governors is resisting calls for the university to follow suit and divest from companies with high carbon intensities.

Divest Dal demonstrated outside a Board of Governors meeting in October. Photo: Halifax Examiner

That’s not to say the BOD isn’t being budged. I’ve seen a lot of student activist groups in my time, but none as effective, smart, and on-purpose as Divest Dal, which has been making great strides in bringing the public and academics on board the cause. The group has gotten the Senate to endorse their efforts, and is making headway at the BOD. The UC announcement only bolsters their case.

3. Cannabis

The McNeil government yesterday introduced the Cannabis Control Act.

“Proposed Nova Scotia legislation would see fines as high as $10,000 for illegal marijuana sales or distribution to a person under 19, while impaired drivers will also face stiff penalties,” reports Keith Doucette for the Canadian Press:

Anyone under 19 found with less than five grams will face seizure of the drug and a fine of no more than $150. Those who buy cannabis from anyone other than the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC) could be fined up to $250.

[Justice Minister Mark] Furey said those convicted of impaired driving will lose their licence, pay a fine, and — combined with federal laws — could do jail time. Police will have the power to seize vehicles and could demand a saliva swab or blood sample in order to determine the level of impairment.

Those convicted under Criminal Code of Canada provisions face a fine of no less than $1,000 and a one-year licence suspension for a first offence, and up to 30 days in jail and a three-year licence suspension for a second offence.

Furey said the new law is also clear about the status of illegal dispensaries, which could face fines of no less than $10,000 and up to $25,000.

Unless that dope in the NSLCs is good and inexpensive, the black market is going to explode.

4. Minimum wage

“Premier Stephen McNeil says he hopes the Atlantic provinces can have a harmonized minimum wage as early as April 2019,” reports Michael Gorman for the CBC:

Nova Scotia’s minimum wage went up by 15 cents to $11 an hour this week. The rate in Newfoundland and Labrador is $11.15. The minimum wage is $11.25 in New Brunswick and $11.55 on P.E.I.

McNeil said the Atlantic premiers would discuss the subject again at their next meeting in June and they’re hoping to have some recommendations from staff at that time. The goal, he said, is finding a common number everyone can reach at the same time.

The only thing McNeil could say for certain is that common number will not be $15 an hour.

Although the NDP again introduced a bill that would require a three-year staged increase to get to a $15 minimum wage, the premier argued such a move can actually have a negative effect by seeing hours reduced for workers.

There is ZERO evidence for that last claim. None.

5. We’re the best worst!

Back in January, I complained about reporters uncritically writing about “best of” lists that include Halifax, as if the lists mean anything at all:

Companies looking for free advertising have long ago learned the trick: produce a ranking, or a top ten list, or some such, issue a press release, and local media will bite — they’ll rewrite your press release as a news article and cite your company. Voilà! Free advertising.

We’ve seen this time and again. Real estate firms rank cities for livability or happiness or “best place to live” or whatever. A sex toy company produces a list of online sales by city. Now an online review site produces a list of “tourist destinations on the rise,” whatever the hell “on the rise” means. And editors assign reporters stories, and reporters waste their valuable time rewriting press releases. I’m looking at you, Metro and Global.

This violates everything taught in journalism school. The companies producing the lists are self-interested, so at the very least the claims in the lists should be independently verified. Better yet, find a second, contrary opinion. Even better: don’t run the story in the first place. It’s a disservice to your readers and viewers. This is not journalism.

Look, if your business model relies on selling advertising, why are you giving away free advertising? It makes no sense. Advertising revenues are going down the toilet, declining year after year, and media companies respond by giving the stuff away. No wonder they’re going out of business.

And news consumers should see these “stories” for what they are: advertising. There’s no point in getting excited about your city being named in a “top tourist designation” list because some other company is going to name the city down the road in their list. The goal isn’t to promote or reward or recognize your city; the goal is to get you to go to their website. It’s all just marketing, i.e., bullshit.

There’s a new twist on this, however: the worst of list. It’s still just marketing bullshit, but now the way to lure eyes and clicks to the site is to name the worst of this or that, in this case, “The 7 Worst Cruise Ports for a Repeat Visit,” and Halifax scores the big time. I’m not linking to it because that’s the entire point of the exercise. It’s certainly not journalism or science or a reflection of polling or anything else; it’s just some bullshit to get you to click over and get mad or laugh or whatever and then share it on Facebook so all your friends will also click and then share so their friends… and so forth.

And sure enough, local reporters are playing along, giving the company free advertising in the form of highlighting the bullshit list.

For myself, if I want to get people to stupidly click on stuff, it’s going to be cat videos:

6. Don’t criticize the Big Money

Last week, Paul Withers and I both wrote about the Clearwater lobster monopoly. This was the impetus for a smart and insightful woman who described herself on Twitter as “by day a corporate lawyer, but the tweets are all mine” to write a seven- or eight-tweet thread exploring the issue; she was quite critical of the Clearwater monopoly and had pointed things to say about Clearwater founder John Risley. It was shared around a lot. People liked it.

Alas, she may have thought the “tweets are all mine,” but it appears people with power decided otherwise, and now the corporate lawyer’s Twitter account has been deleted.


Government

City

Wednesday

North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm, four pad arena named for a fucking bank, 61 Gary Martin Dr., Bedford) — Kevin Riles is moving forward with his “Union Courtyard” development. I wrote about it here.

Thursday

Centre Plan – Discuss Package “A” (Thursday, 1pm and again at 6pm, Dartmouth North Community Centre) —  Info here.

Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — agenda here.

Harbour East marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm, HEMDCC Meeting Room, Alderney Gate) — here’s the agenda.

Province

Wednesday

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Auditor General Michael Pickup will talk about the reception and implementation of his 2014 and 2015 recommendations.

Legislature sits (Wednesday, 1pm–midnight, Province House)

Thursday

No public meetings for the rest of the week.


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Newfangled Rounds: Seeing Through the Eardrum: a New Microscope for Middle Ear Visualization (Wednesday, 8am, Weather Watch Room, 5th Floor Dickson Building, VG) — Rob Adamson will speak.

Self-publishing Workshop (Wednesday, 11:30am, Room 1007, Rowe Building) — Toronto poet and performer Dwayne Morgan will address his experiences with self-publishing, the challenges self-published writers face, and the changing landscape of publishing and book consumption in Canada.

Brass and Percussion Recital (Wednesday, 11:45am, Room 406, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — students of Eric Mathis, David Parker, Richard Simoneau, and D’Arcy Gray will perform.

Effective Tax Strategies (Wednesday, 12pm, Room 5001, Rowe Building) — Register here.

Discovery of Novel Kinesin Spindle Protein [KSP] Inhibitors (Wednesday, 1:30pm, Room 226, Chemistry Building) — M. Arshad Siddiqui, president and CEO of Paraza Pharma Inc., Montreal, will speak.

Shakespeare in Performance (Wednesday, 3pm, Studio Two, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — the second-year acting class presents a studio workshop of scenes they have been preparing.

Strings and Improvisation Workshop (Wednesday, 4pm, Dunn Theatre, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — Regina Carter will perform.

Mining Antimicrobial-Resistance Genes from Metagenomic Data (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — Robert Beiko will speak.

The Business of Art (Wednesday, 5:30pm, Dalhousie Art Gallery) — Dwayne Morgan will discuss his career.

Local Struggles for Justice, SOSA, and the Marshall Commission (Wednesday, 6pm, Halifax Central Public Library) — from the event listing:

This panel discussion will trace from the Marshall Commission (1988-9), on which retired Sociology & Social Anthropology (SOSA) professor Don Clairmont served, to work that academics and community activists at Dalhousie and beyond are doing in the area of Black and Indigenous justice. Panelists will reflect on the university and department’s entanglements with social justice issues, the impacts these have had on Black and Mi’kmaq Nova Scotians, as citizens and students, and the past and present state of relations between dominant Nova Scotia institutions (education, justice) and Black and Mi’kmaq communities.

Speakers include:
Afua Cooper, Sheila Francis, Lynn Jones, Diana Lewis, Jane Mcmillan, and Michelle Williams.

Spoken Word + Storytelling (6:30pm, Dalhousie Art Gallery) — hosted by Dwayne Morgan. From the event listing:

This event will feature a walkabout of the Dalhousie Art Gallery, and students of CRWR 3200 will give poetic responses to visual artist Marlene Creates’ exhibition “Places, Paths, and Pauses,” on display at the gallery through May 6.

Thursday

Number-Theoretic Methods in Quantum Computing (Thursday, 2:30pm, Room 319, Chase Building) — Peter Selinger will speak.

ESS Student Showcase (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Theatre, Marion McCain Building) — highlights from the Environment, Sustainability & Society program.

Regina Carter. Photo: Christopher Drukker via reginacarter.com

Spring Swings with Strings (Thursday, 7:30pm, Dunn Theatre, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — Regina Carter performs with the Fountain of Youth Jazz Orchestra. The orchestra consists of members of the Dalhousie Jazz Ensemble as well as string players from the Fountain School. Dal string alumni and members of the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra will also perform.

King’s

Wednesday

Making Up Minds: Thinking With, About, and For Humans (Wednesday, 7pm, Alumni Hall) — Stephanie Dick, a King’s grad and author of Of Models and Machines,will talk about the development of Artificial Intelligence.


In the harbour

11am: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from National Gypsum for sea
11:15am: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at anchorage from Saint-Pierre
Noon: Asian Sun, container ship, moves from Pier 42 to Pier 9
3:30pm: Don Carlos, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
5pm: Scotian Sea, supply vessel, moves from Pier 9 to Dartmouth Cove
8:30pm: Selfoss, container ship, arrives at HalTerm from Argentia, Newfoundland


Footnotes

I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.

Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Who wants to bet McNeil will push for $11.60 an hour minimum wage? People won’t work for low wages if they can avoid it. There are plenty of unfilled, low-wage positions all over the province. McNeil has no pride in the province and is happy to let wages languish below that of PEI.

    Also with pot sales, there is no way to prove your pot was purchased legally once you don’t have the receipt… How on earth will this be enforced?

  2. Well, Bousquet (if that is your *real* name), still in the pocket of Big Cat, I see.

  3. It is 2 years since Dalhousie University announced a ‘Scholarly Panel to consider Lord Dalhousie’s history on slavery and race’.
    Ten months later on January19 2017 Dal announced ‘Scholarly panel led by Dr Afua Cooper, expected to report by August.’
    In February 2018 Dr Cooper told a King’s College student the report ‘ would be available next month’.

    Does anyone know why the report has been delayed ?

    https://www.dal.ca/news/2016/03/31/scholarly-panel-set-to-consider-lord-dalhousie-s-history-on-slav.html

    https://www.dal.ca/news/2017/01/19/considering-lord-dalhousie-s-legacy-on-race.html

  4. Tim,
    I’d just like to comment on the corporate money funding issue. Yes, I agree it can get murky and conflict-of-interesty, but funding from industry is not in itself a bad thing.

    My research group has funding from an industry source. They were a logical choice to approach since they licensed some tech we developed. Yes, they give us money based on a research proposal we developed and sent to them. It just so happens that my group’s research interests and the industry partner’s interests align. But we are still independent. They have no say on how we conduct the research we want to do. They review papers and presentations we present, but only for potential IP protection claims. We have a legal agreement with them to spell out what they can and cannot do. I can'[t comment on the Tara Tapics story as I don’t know the details of her or her supervisor’s research agreement.

    So, it’s cheap labour for them and actual research funding for us. The fact of the matter is that scientific research funding in this country is woefully inadequate and so competitive it’s ridiculous.

    Chris

    p.s.-the Cooke thing does sound … wait for it … fishy.