Thursday, February 21, 2013

Canada's Harper Govt Accused Of Silencing Scientists

Science & Democracy

Canada's Harper government has been accused of trying to "muzzle" scientists, notably in how they disseminate and share information to the media, says an article, by Margaret Munro, in the Ottawa Citizen:
Federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault has been asked to investigate the way the Harper government has been “muzzling” federal scientists.The request, accompanied by a report on the government’s “systematic efforts” to obstruct access to researchers, was made jointly on Wednesday by the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria and Democracy Watch, a national non-profit group.
“There are few issues more fundamental to democracy than the ability of the public to access scientific information produced by government scientists – information that their tax dollars have paid for,” they say. “We as a society cannot make informed choices about critical issues if we are not fully informed about the facts.”
The request for an investigation comes after years of controversy over the silencing of federal scientists who used to be encouraged to speak about their research on everything from melting permafrost to pesticide pollution. The evidence is collected in “Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy?” a 128-page report also sent to Legault. 
The report notes the Harper government has generated national and international headlines for stopping government researchers from talking about their studies on prehistoric floods, the unprecedented 2011 Arctic Ozone hole, and snow research in Ontario. It argues the government has implemented policies that now “routinely require political approval before scientists can speak to the media about their scientific findings.”
Government scientists are “routinely instructed to not speak publicly – or to respond with pre-scripted ‘approved lines,’ ” it says.
This is a serious charge, and I trust that the opposition parties will understand it as so and investigate thoroughly as to its veracity. Such tactics are reminiscent of authoritarian regimes and not of democracies; and if this is indeed proven true it's a black mark for Canada, and for its democratic institutions.

It bears reminding and repeating that one of the fundamental ideas of liberal democracy is that scientists are independent of the government and its authority. Ultimately, governments are servants of the people, and in accordance with such thinking, the people, through the media, have every right to expect truthful and transparent scientific information to receive the light of day.

Except for cases of national security, which are rare, scientists have every right to speak and share their important research findings to the media without any government interference or threats—whether such be implicit or explicit. Politics has no place in science. All in all, I would expect that the governing party of a nation like Canada has more important things to do than to meddle in areas they little understand.

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You can read Environmental Law Clinic's report here & the rest of the article at [Ottawa Citizen]