Commentary: Totally Tubular - Northern Science's Most Excellent Adventure


  • N. Alexander Easton



Traditional knowledge, Logistics, Native peoples, Research, Research funding, Research personnel, Science, Canadian Arctic


... The second day of our meetings revisited [the] theme of northern science "going down the tubes." One of us, ... cautioned against too dim a view of the state of our interest. "While it's undeniable that northern science is going down the tubes, as my colleagues suggests," he said, "I think it is also important to realize that some of those tubes are directing us towards some pretty interesting places - increased interdisciplinary work and greater relevance to the northern community itself are two trends which the current funding levels are forcing us to consider as we seek to legitimate our proposed research. These are not, I think, such bad directions to see our activities descend to" .... My goal here ... is to discuss more fully some of the current trajectories of the journey of northern science and suggest that in thinking "tubular" about the trip we can find ourselves in a most excellent adventure. Northern research, primarily due to its geographic isolation and associated costs, has long relied on a multidisciplinary approach. ... The second feature of northern research that has been sustained to some degree over the years has been the extent to which local populations have been involved as critical participants in the research. In the early years of poor communications and logistical staging, native northerners often made the difference in the success or failure of a project - at times their guidance, food, habitations and local knowledge quite literally made a difference between life and death. As state intervention in the North increased, aboriginal people became more marginalized in their participation, but the symbiotic heritage remained. It is partly for this reason that the current recognition of the potential for traditional knowledge to contribute to scientific research has been taken most seriously in the North. ... A good many northern scientists look back on the 1960s and '70s as the halcyon days of northern research, a time when there was seemingly inexhaustible funding and access to logistical support. ... That the reports of public inquiries, along with a downturn in world petroleum prices, effectively ended the grand schemes of these interests and their associated research should demonstrate pretty clearly the relationship between science and the business community. This is a relationship that many of us assume without a second thought; why then the trepidation displayed at the prospect of greater involvement of wider local community interest in research? These are not just academic issues of informed debate for this journal and our conference libations; they are critical to the emergence of a legitimate indigenous northern scholarly tradition and that role that northern-oriented academics are going to play in it. ...