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The CSRC is dead!: The Leveller says fare thee well

By: Ajay Parasram

The CSRC’s Wake.

The CSRC’s Wake.

Friends, Ravens, activists! Lend me your eyes. I come to praise the Critical Social Research Collaborative, not to bury it!

It is with a heavy heart that I must report that as of fall 2013, the infamous Critical Social Research Collaborative (CSRC) has formally disbanded. It was not too long ago, between the harvests of 2008 and 2009, that this ambitious group took shape under the spectre of a Marxist reading group. The founding vanguard included Gulden Ozcan, Aaron Henry, Ryan Katz-Rosene, Priscillia Lefebvre, and Carlo Fanelli. The group was largely affiliated with Carleton’s Institute of Political Economy, which thirstily attracts the intellectual left of this campus like the gravitational pull of a black hole sucking the very photons from its celestial sister.

Built on the conviction that critical social research ought to bring together activists, scholars, and students to be meaningful in the hostile political economic environment of contemporary Ottawa, the CSRC organized the first of five annual conferences in critical social research in 2009. As a pilot project aimed at testing the waters amongst the left-leaning Ottawa audiences, the first conference, entitled “Dialectics in Question: Revisiting ‘Capital’ &/in Crises,” was held at Carleton University. The gathering brought together activists, students, and professors across Carleton, as well as from the headquarters of Marxist academic research, York University.

But nay!

It was not enough to satiate the appetites of the hungry Ottawa masses, starved and deprived as they were, supping upon a cruel diet of Harper-esque platitudes! The people demanded more, and the CSRC grew. What was once a reading group hath now become a veritable organization, hosting seminars and workshops and assisting with critical film festivals across the polis!

Like the magicians of old, the CSRC resurrected the defunct journal, Alternate Routes, adding the subheading “a journal of critical social research.” As a founding CSRC member, Fanelli was made editor of the journal and published the first revived edition in 2011.

The CSRC’s mandate was a simple one: to be a graduate student-led research collective bringing together faculty, trade unionists, and community activists to promote, support, and create a platform for the sharing of critical perspectives and research conducted on the defining social issues of our time.

And oh, how they did!

Hosting seminars on feminist methodology, launching books such as The Ugly Canadian by Yves Engler and The AKP Years in Turkey by Simten Coşar, and allying themselves with the Ontario Public Research Interest Group (OPIRG), the CSRC had become a hub and sanctuary for those swimming against the currents of austerity, colonialism, and intellectual boredom. Scholars and students looked forward to the group’s annual conference, coming from Central and Western Canada, the northeast of the United States, the Middle East, and South Asia. To the delight of the masses, the CSRC’s fourth annual conference was held in 2012, entitled “Fault Lines of Revolution!”

With a membership continually growing, representing an increasing number of undergraduate students, the venerable CSRC became a Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) club – at least until the beginning of the end in 2012. Plagued by technocratic thugs who had commandeered the normally progressive undergraduate union, the CSRC was forced to spend a ridiculous amount of time haggling, fighting, and hoop-jumping to satisfy the ideologically driven new CUSA executive, arguing that, yes, even left-wing student groups deserve the same treatment as the gun club and the anti-abortionists they preferred to support. The CSRC joined with other working groups of OPIRG to defend the organization against the callous attack and attempted defunding of the PIRG, celebrating with the progressive left when undergraduate students voted to continue supporting OPIRG, with over 70 per cent in favour of keeping the progressive hub on campus. That year, the CSRC hosted its fifth and final annual conference, entitled “Eulogies for the Public: Capitalism, Warfare, and the Conservative Turn.”

While many new members have been attracted to the CSRC’s executive board over the years, and some old stalwarts remained active unto the end, its members are plagued by the torrential downpour of doctoral dissertation demands. It is perhaps fitting, then, that as they rounded out half a decade with a “Eulogy for the Public,” we offer this public eulogy in the left-wing space of thy sacred Leveller parchment! As this generation of the CSRC departs and the project lays dormant, cast thee no tear! For the foundations lie waiting for the next generation of graduate students to take up the torch and burn a fire bright enough to be worthy of remembrance!

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 6, No. 3 (Nov/Dec 2013).

 

 

Support for Science Lives On: Scientists speak out in rally

By: Elizabeth Robson Gordon Robson Gordon Science Rally

What began as mock funeral for evidence-based decision making last year spawned an organization, Evidence 4 Democracy, whose Stand Up For Science Rally attracted hundreds of people on Sept. 16  who oppose the Harper government’s muzzling of scientists.

Parliament Hill was swamped by protesters clad in lab coats as similar events were held in 17 different cities across Canada, according to the Facebook page.

Evidence for Democracy’s demands include, “funding scientific research from basic science through to applied, using the best available science and evidence to make the best decisions, [and] supporting the open communication of publicly funded science to the public,” the Facebook page stated.

These demands were supported by the attendees, many of whom held signs saying, “What do we want? Science! When do we want it? After peer review!”

The rally’s informative and entertaining speakers demonstrated that people with scientific minds can analyze, critique, get angry, and speak out over unjust practices and processes and yet remain rational and civil.

Dr. Jeremy Kerr, professor of biology at University of Ottawa, outlined this federal government’s “Orwellian four-point plan” of muzzling scientists, shifting funding, shutting down research departments and organization, and shooting the messenger.

Although many of the speakers agreed that all domains of science should be studied, there was concern that government funding is being downsized at the expense of basic – or fundamental – research.

Gary Corbett, president of Professional Institute of Public Service of Canada compared the lack of research to a three-legged stool with one leg shortened – it can’t balance and will fall.

Corbett, who represents over 15,000 scientists, engineers and researchers, emphasizes that the cuts are not just affecting back-office jobs, but “have undermined our scientists’ ability to serve the public good.”

These concerns are grounded in government attitudes as revealed by funding priorities. In 2009, for example, the Harper Government added $17.5 million in new funding to the budget of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), demanding in the budget that “scholarships granted by the [SSHRC] will be focused on business-related degrees” in an official statement.

Dr. Kapil Khatter, associate editor at Open Medicine, spoke to the importance of using the best available scientific evidence as a family physician to bring the best possible care to his patients. He also highlighted the fact that new discoveries that vastly improve health care and other areas, such as the MRI machine, often come out of disinterested scientific research which is not driven by desire to create a product.

Some scientists and public employees have noted that a culture of fear exists among managers and scientists as an indirect form of political pressure.

Publicly-funded scientists are concerned about repercussions and their job security if they speak out. There can also be pressure to label reports and correspondence “for internal use only” to circumvent Access to Information and Privacy requests.

Other barriers from communicating with the public include communication policies that require Privy Council approval or a communications officer for interviews.

Excessive paperwork, underfunding, intellectual property issues limiting collaboration, and challenges in attending or speaking at scientific conferences all limit scientists’ ability to work and communicate efficiently.

Corbett explained an unfortunate side effect: the media’s policies of secrecy “have led to a reduction in the number of reporters who even bother contacting federal scientists. This is not the kind of democracy that I want to live in. Public science must be accessible to the public.”

“We are grateful to those scientists who have risked their careers to speak out about muzzling,” he said.
“And we are thankful to the many Canadians who are speaking out about the state of science in their country.”

To follow up on this rally, Evidence for Democracy will be hosting a panel discussion on science and democracy in Canada on Oct. 10, 2013 from 7 p.m.- 9 p.m. at the University of Ottawa.

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 6, No. 2 (Oct/Nov 2013).

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