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Canadian Government Is Wrong to Muzzle Its Scientists

Science & Tech  (tags: science, scientists, Canada, Harper, censorship, propaganda, research, politics, muzzling, environment, ozone )

- 1962 days ago -
It is dismaying that the present Conservative government in Ottawa is so insecure that it is afraid to let scientists in its employ speak freely about their findings.

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Michael O (176)
Tuesday January 8, 2013, 8:40 pm
Less than two years after the government under Stephen Harper took power in 2006, federally employed scientists were ordered to direct all media inquiries to national headquarters of the departments for which they work, and not to respond to requests for interviews without permission.

When such permission is granted, it is under stringent controls. Departmental communications officers and ministerial staffers vet media requests and demand to know the questions reporters propose to ask before deciding whether interviews can proceed. If leave is granted, the scientists are in some cases fed “media lines” that they are instructed to repeat during the interviews. To ensure compliance, media officers typically tape record the interviews.

Cases of scientists being muzzled under the policy have abounded of late.

In the past year, Environment Canada scientists were discouraged from speaking to reporters about findings showing accumulating contaminants in snow near oilsands operations. A government researcher was stopped from talking to journalists about an unprecedented Arctic ozone hole that had recently been discovered. An Environment Canada assistant deputy minister was ordered not to participate in a panel discussion at a Vancouver science conference on the subject of the government’s policy of restricting the right of scientists to discuss their work.

The year before, a leading fisheries scientist who had published a groundbreaking study on the depletion of West Coast salmon stocks in the prestigious research journal Science was ordered not to speak about her findings to journalists who wanted them put in plainer language. And in 2010, a Natural Resources Canada scientist was obliged to get permission from political staff in the minister’s office before speaking to journalists about research into a northern flood 13 centuries ago. Permission was ultimately granted, but only after the reporters’ deadlines for the story had passed.

Environment Minister Peter Kent has brushed off concerns about the communications clamps on government scientists, saying they are driven by a small number of impatient Canadian journalists. In fact, alarm over the Canadian government’s restrictive policy with respect to its scientists has been sounded by such authoritative international scientific journals as Science and Nature.

Nor is Yolande Grisé a mere impatient journalist. She is president of the Royal Society of Canada, the country’s senior body of distinguished scholars, scientists and artists. In an open letter published this new year, she also took the government to task for what she called unreasonable limits being placed on the ability of government-employed scientists to communicate their findings.

Grisé notes that the restrictions fly in the face of the government’s declared policy of basing policy decisions on the best available science, and go against positions taken by other countries, including the U.S. and Britain, where scientists are expected to speak freely, whether or not they are in government employ.

Justifications offered by the government have a spurious ring to them. Concerns have been expressed that the government needs to control what those in its employ say publicly, since it could be construed as representing the views of the government. The more likely worry is that government scientists might say something, backed by scientific evidence, that would contradict government policy, notably in environmental matters where government policy has been sharply criticized by independent scientific authorities.

There is the argument that since they are employed by the government, federal scientists should be subject to government rules. But their ultimate employers are the taxpayers of this country, in whose higher interest it is to be fully informed of their findings, and what they make of them.

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

John B (185)
Tuesday January 8, 2013, 9:16 pm
Thanks Michael for the post. The Harper Government seems to be getting more and more repressive at every turn. Read and noted.

Fran F (118)
Tuesday January 8, 2013, 10:02 pm
Michael, thanks for the update on this issue, which hasn't been enough in the news. It would also be interesting to know the dealings between the Harper Government and the Koch brothers.

Rose Becke (141)
Wednesday January 9, 2013, 1:06 am

Suzanne L (99)
Wednesday January 9, 2013, 8:30 am
TY Michael. This seems to be Harper's style.

Vicky P (476)
Wednesday January 9, 2013, 1:36 pm
of course..but Harper doesn't want to hear opposing facts/opinions

David Menard (43)
Wednesday January 9, 2013, 2:01 pm
Seems to me that Harper is taking a page from the US GOP playbook. GOP climate science denial has spread like plague.

Heidi Aubrey (16)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 12:08 am
Wow! I have had some suggestive censorship at work(gays(men) are at 600 fold risk for HIV- the gay population wanted that muzzled-fortunately it wasn't me to announce it), but merely suggestive that it wouldn't make the company look good.

Ultimately scientists are truth seekers in whatever their respective field. Yeah there are flakes and extremists and biased idiot as well, but the larger majority are not and quickly recognize and pounce on unsound research methodolgies as proof for anything. So this group doesn't last long in the media.

They cannot be censored(morally). This is a crime against humanity in that it does a great disservice to humanity to only be allowed to bring to light what is politically correct or good for the current(temporary)cash flow. Ignorance is not bliss. Knowledge helps uncover the tools for real solutions to real problems.

Robert O (12)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 12:11 am
Like it or not the truth has a way of coming out somehow or another and try as he might Harper won't be able to stop it. Thanks Michael.

Past Member (0)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 8:56 pm
Thanks for sharing this article.

Mitchell D (87)
Friday January 11, 2013, 9:23 am
This is just what G.W.Bush did here, in the U SA, and it was not good.

Holly Lawrence (430)
Saturday January 12, 2013, 2:25 pm
Canada just keeps taking backward steps ...
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