Are the Sciences Doomed in Canada?

Canada always had very good policies of governmental support for research. However, the assault on learning, knowledge, and research in Canada continues.

Here is what a Canadian scientist has to say about this:

Today, scientists in this country got out and did what has needed to be done for years now: hundreds of them, clad in white lab coats, ventured to Parliament Hill in Ottawa to protest the Harper Regime’s policies on scientific issues–policies which, in sum total, amount to nothing short of an ongoing, insane crusade against the very idea of objectively verifiable facts.

I feel very sad about what is going on in Canada. What a shame!

What was it that possessed the Canadians to vote for Harper? The guy is so dumb that his head must be completely hollow.

From Freshmen to Seniors

I will be coordinating the research projects of our graduating Seniors next year (for the first time ever! Yes, yes, yes!) and the students have started writing in already because they want to start working on their projects as soon as possible.

It always fascinates me to observe how our students change in the four (or five, or sometimes six) years they spend getting a university education. They come in as listless, indifferent, ignorant Freshmen who have no knowledge about the world and no interest in learning about it. Politics bores them, literature terrifies them, traveling does not excite them.

By the time they are ready to leave, our students become curious, engaged, intelligent people who have traveled, who have learned to speak a foreign language, who have opinions, who care about politics, and who maybe even like to read. This is especially obvious during the Senior Assignment presentations. You look at a student and think, “Gosh, I remember her when she couldn’t say a word of Spanish and just sat there looking all petulant in class. And now she is sharing the results of her analysis of a novel (a film, a work of philosophy, a social issue, etc.)  in beautifully fluent Spanish!”

What we do for our students is hugely important. We give them the tools they need to start caring about the world and engaging with it. It feels like we put a battery in them. Where there used to be indifference and listlessness, we create excitement and enthusiasm. This is an extremely rewarding job, people.

Wild Capitalism in Action

My mother’s friend, let’s call her Arina, is from St. Petersburg. Arina is over sixty and is very interested in everything health-related. She kept noticing TV and radio commercials that advertised the services of a branch of an Israeli clinic in Russia. The commercials offered a free medical check-up to anybody interested in the clinic’s services.

Arina called the clinic and scheduled a phone interview. The next day she called my mother in Montreal.

“I have horrible news,” Arina said, crying. “I had a medical examination at this clinic and they say that I’m very sick. I have this huge blood clot located between the two hemispheres of my brain. It can burst at any moment and I will die instantly! The doctors say I need to get operated immediately because I’m on the brink of death!”

My mother was  horrified. She had no idea her friend was this sick.

“Just make sure you seek a second opinion, OK?” she told Arina.

Several days later, Arina told her friend that everything was good.

“I should have suspected that there was something fishy about this so-called Israeli clinic from the start!” she chirped happily.

“What do you mean?” my mother asked.

“Well, it’s the way they conducted the medical examination,” Arina explained. “They did it over the phone.”

“How did they discover a blood clot over the phone?”

“They called me, asked me to sit by the window and breathe in deep. Then they kept asking questions over the phone. After that, they told me I had a clot and needed to give them $4,000 to have it removed.”

Unfortunately for us and our curiosity and fortunately for her wallet, Arina realized this was a scam before she had a chance to find out whether the blood clot was going to be removed over the phone as well.

One of the hardest lessons for us to learn when the wild capitalism stage began in 1990 was that we now needed to think for ourselves, make choices, be responsible for our lives all the time. That was a harsh burden. In the Soviet Union, we pretty much had our lives charted out for us and the variations were minimal. Now we had all these choices coming at us from every direction. That seemed cool at first. But then we realized that every choice came with responsibility attached. Before, we could just sit there and blame the government for everything that went wrong. And now, if we messed up, we only had ourselves to blame.

I guess we could use this true story to define our political stances according to who we see as the guilty party here: the woman who believes that a blood clot can be diagnosed over the phone, the fake clinic that preys on the ignorance and fears of customers, or the government that doesn’t step in to manage their relationship.

P.S. Before you start condemning Arina as silly, you need to know that she used to be a Chair of a department at one of Russia’s prestigious universities.