Canadians To Prime Minister: Don't Censor Our Scientists

from the policy-based-evidence dept

One of the most fundamentally insane things about government and politics is the fact that evidence-based policy is frequently not the norm. It should be common sense that you don't create new laws and regulations without actual evidence that they will work, or even clear evidence on the scope of the problem they aim to solve. But as we know, things don't really work that way—it's a lot easier for politicians and legislators to make their push based on emotion and public perception.

As with any governmental problem, real change has to start with the citizens. We need to demand evidence, and try not to let ourselves or our peers rely on rhetoric when we discuss and debate important issues and participate in the political process. But governments are not blameless: too often, politicians treat evidence as an obstacle to their political goals, when it should be the motivator of them. Here in Canada, this issue has been slowly gaining attention over the past year with growing complaints that the current government requires scientists it employs to vet their results through a media office before releasing them, to ensure that they are politically on-message. The Globe & Mail recently published a firmly-worded editorial calling on the government to end this practice, and citing the many people who want the same:

Ottawa should respond to the growing controversy – outlined in the prestigious journal Nature – by freeing its scientists. The magazine is calling on the government to show that it will live up to its promise to embrace public access to publicly funded scientific expertise. The issue is serious enough that it was the subject of a panel at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held last month in Vancouver.

The Canadian Science Writers Association and the World Federation of Science Journalists have also sent an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, citing examples of researchers being prevented from sharing details about their published work on climate change, natural resources, health, and fisheries and oceans. In the case of studies involving collaborators from other countries, Canada often gets “scooped” by foreign media who are not subject to the same level of bureaucratic interference. That hardly qualifies as celebrating success in science.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has drawn criticism before for exerting tight control over the media and all communications coming from his government, but this situation goes a step further. To censor scientists in this way neuters them and turns them into glorified copywriters, because the objective reporting of all evidence is the crux of the scientific pursuit. If this is how the government treats its scientists, then the government is not employing scientists at all.

This is a betrayal of Canadian citizens. A portion of our tax dollars goes to funding public scientific research, because it is supposed to benefit us by informing smart, effective policy, and that money is being squandered. We must call on the government to put scientists in their proper role: as shapers of the political agenda, not slaves to it. Until that happens, Canada bears the shame of being a country without public science.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Rich (profile), Mar 8th, 2012 @ 1:16pm

    Politically on-message science.
    *sigh*
    I thought you were better than this, Canada.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    weneedhelp (profile), Mar 8th, 2012 @ 1:22pm

    put scientists in their proper role: as shapers of the political agenda, not slaves to it.

    They are not shapers of the political agenda either. They are seekers of truth.

    Scientific theories should be judged solely on their factual accuracy and analytical precision rather than the political correctness or emotional palatability of their conclusions.

    Just sayin.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    TheBigH (profile), Mar 8th, 2012 @ 1:23pm

    If the facts don't agree with your political ideology, then too bad for your political ideology.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    icon
    Leigh Beadon (profile), Mar 8th, 2012 @ 1:24pm

    Re: put scientists in their proper role: as shapers of the political agenda, not slaves to it.

    Well, that's what I mean. I guess it would be more accurate to say that scientists' results should shape the government's political agenda - I am certainly not saying that scientists should worry about the political ramifications of their work.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    A Dan (profile), Mar 8th, 2012 @ 1:29pm

    Evidence-based law

    Evidence-based law, or even auditing law after the fact for efficacy, is the sort of thing that would be brought about with the creation of an "economist party". A party that makes decisions based on effects, rather than principle. I strongly suspect that such a party will never succeed in a representative system. People are too irrational to collectively agree to be rational.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    icon
    :Lobo Santo (profile), Mar 8th, 2012 @ 1:38pm

    Re: Evidence-based law

    This comes back around to education--most people never truly internalize mechanisms of logic, spotting fallacies, and reasoning.

    If there were an well educated populace, then such a party would likely be the forerunner.

    Hmm, I think I've just reasoned out why the educational system sucks AND why it's not going to improve.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Richard Lalonde, Mar 8th, 2012 @ 1:41pm

    Harper is Canada's Bush

    Don't blame Canada for the crap Harper and the Conservatives are doing. Canadians hate Harper, and he didn't win the election, he stole it. He used the same tactics that Bush used to steal an election. He is Canada's version of Bush.

    Harper hates Canada, Canadians, and only cares about lining the pockets of the corporations that support him. He is everything Canadians hate about politics and politicians. He is turning Canada into the same horrible thing America has become.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    Leigh Beadon (profile), Mar 8th, 2012 @ 2:01pm

    Re: Re: Evidence-based law

    This comes back around to education--most people never truly internalize mechanisms of logic, spotting fallacies, and reasoning.

    If there were an well educated populace, then such a party would likely be the forerunner.


    A million times this. There is not enough focus on critical thinking in education; kids are not taught to want evidence, they are taught to accept facts. They are taught mathematical rules as though they are handed down from on high, rather than seeing demonstrations of why those rules are inevitable and sensible. They are taught history without being told that virtually every historical fact is in some level of dispute. It's a pervasive problem and it drives me nuts.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    PRMan, Mar 8th, 2012 @ 2:56pm

    Ha

    "the objective reporting of all evidence is the crux of the scientific pursuit"

    I understand your innocent sentiment, but the same thing happens in the US. If you had seen Expelled, you would know this, but it appears you didn't: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20080424/192027941.shtml

    In America, we just never fund your projects ever again if you are found to be off-message on one of them. Because the censorship happens after the fact, nobody realizes that it's happening.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    icon
    Leigh Beadon (profile), Mar 8th, 2012 @ 3:15pm

    Re: Ha

    Firstly, I never said this doesn't happen in the U.S.

    Secondly, are you seriously touting Expelled as an example of scientists getting censored?

    I hate to burst your bubble, but none of the anti-evolution idiots in that movie are scientists. Not real ones, anyway.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 8th, 2012 @ 3:16pm

    Re: Re: Re: Evidence-based law

    My wife's a graduate assistant for a University-level history course. She tells her students that she's even willing to accept that Tutankhamun is an alien (like 1 student argued) IF they have the evidence to back it up.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 8th, 2012 @ 3:50pm

    This has a long history with the Harper government. Back in 2004 the Harper government saw fit to fire some scientists that dared to go off message (read contradict what the drug companies had lobbied government to say on their behalf).

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2004/07/15/whistleblower_scientists040715.html

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    icon
    TtfnJohn (profile), Mar 8th, 2012 @ 6:48pm

    Re: Harper is Canada's Bush

    Thing is not all Canadians hate Harper, a significant number of us seem to like him and what he's doing. (I'm not one of those who like what he's doing but I'm not going to waste my time hating him either as that colours what I can do to oppose the worst of what his government is up to.)

    All that said, Harper isn't the first PM to gag scientists working for the government, particularly the Department of Fisheries and Oceans which seems a favourite. Chretien did it, too. They only want good news getting out about the collapsed cod fishery out east and the collapsing salmon fishery here in the west coast, at least some of which is caused or made worse by open net fish farms.

    Sadly, people like you didn't get the message in the last federal election that the more "we hate Harper" just because he's Harper goes out the more chance the Tories have of winning because it energizes his base and the fence sitters read and hear this and just dismiss it now.

    And yes, as a Canadian I DO blame Canada for this. The Americans didn't do it to us, the Americans didn't call up Harper and say "you gotta do this" and hold a gun to his head, Harper was through a series of minority governments where to combined opposition could have stopped this stupidity but didn't and the media hasn't made all that much of a deal of it till now.

    So before blaming the Americans or even Bush, though he is convenient, take a good long look in the mirror. We let this happen ourselves.

    Instead of posting hate filled messages why don't you go out and do the real HARD work of working on an election campaign for which ever other party you support and get the Conservatives ditched?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    ProudCanadian, Mar 8th, 2012 @ 7:31pm

    Yup Harper is a piece of shit AND a christian and I think that it is those who are also cloth brainwashed that vote for scum like him... Can`t see things getting any better anytime soon.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    TtfnJohn (profile), Mar 8th, 2012 @ 7:41pm

    Just in case someone misunderstands a comment I made, the whole business of the Canadian Federal Government not allowing the scientists employed by them to speak freely has to end.

    Harper has been by far the most obvious about this, the most sweeping and the most arrogant even if he's not the only PM to silence individual scientists. And he's the only one who has enforced it as a more or less constant thing by directing everything through the Prime Minister's Office for vetting before it can go out.

    He's also the most PR oriented in that almost no one can speak off message most of the time.

    Recently some of his MPs have spoken out against the "Internet Spy Bill" brought forward which speaks volumes about how unpopular it is and the level of concern by his MPs about losing their job in the next election.

    Perhaps this will increase the level of concern by his MPs to the extent that the PMO will listen to them. Not that I expect so.

    Canadians DO have long memories and we DO have a record of "throwing the bastards out" and decimating governments and parties that have offended us. And this one is offending me, and many others, more and more.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    icon
    Beam (profile), Mar 8th, 2012 @ 8:48pm

    I smell a rat

    G'day cousins,

    I'm betting that the 'N'WO types have used their considerable muscle (media and CIA funding) to have their lackeys i.e. the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Sweden's prime minister John Fredrik Reinfeldt and your Stephen Harper, head up a more 'friendly' government for them.

    We managed finally to rid ourselves of John Howard... unfortunately it took too long and it seems he managed to infect our ABC, who now comment on rather than report the news, and the non government media is rampantly rabid and totally full of BS.

    I have a saying... "When your snout's in the trough, the rim's your horizon."

    The 'N'WO and Co. is soooo obsessed with greed, they are incapable of understanding that the biosphere is not a bottomless tip, and that economic growth and productivity increases have there limits.

    Duh!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Harms, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 4:16am

    Re: Re: Re: Evidence-based law

    Reminds me of post on Failblog where a kid got detention for protesting when the teacher claimed that a mile was shorter than a kilometer. She/he bemoaned that all the other students just accepted his/her teaching. She admitted that she was wrong but she didn't like the way he protested...
    Made my die a little on the inside...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 5:28am

    Re:

    You would think people would remember what happened to the Catholic Church/Roman Government censoring Galieo. It discredited the Church.

    The facts and observations of science must be freely published and debated. Deciding you don't like something because it is written elsewhere can make you look like an idiot in the course of history.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    dcee (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 5:50am

    Re:

    This is now Harper's Canada. Mini-US in progress. Or 53rd state, who knows.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    icon
    dcee (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 5:57am

    Re: Harper is Canada's Bush

    Well, hélas, lots of people like him. The world is going to the right, thanks to the extreme right the US is having and the global economy.

    Quebec, which was known for a left wing province, is getting it's own provincial conservative party... wow. The new party CAC is fighting to the right, the CP of Quebec too. Next elections will be quite a shock for Quebec.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Cowardly Anon, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 7:02am

    Re: Re:

    I like to say that Harper acts like he is the President of the United States of Canada.

    It's rather sickening how he acts much of the time.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Christopher, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 8:26am

    Re: Re: Re: Evidence-based law

    Saying that we need to teach our kids critical thinking is all fine and good, but then don't bitch and moan when your taxes go up because the teachers are asking for more pay and smaller class sizes. Walking kids through WHY math rules work the way they do and teaching them how to spot fallacies requires more time than teachers currently have to teach a course, and with 30-40 students in most mainstream highschool courses, rote memorization is going to be the way things are taught.

    You want a smarter, more rational populace? You have to pay for it, like everything else.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Alex, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 10:17am

    Hep!

    Scientific theories should be judged solely on their factual accuracy and analytical precision rather than the political correctness or emotional palatability of their conclusions.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    icon
    mememine69 (profile), May 24th, 2012 @ 9:22am

    Condemning the voter's children to a CO2 death? Why?

    Canadians voted in a climate change denying (accused by us) prime minister to a majority. Where do you think these conservative votes came from? They were Liberals voting against the Fear Machine of climate change crisis. That is us; the Fear Machine. Condemning the voter's children won't get us elected and the people have spoken so let’s respect the voter and admit that the effects of Human CO2 are not "deadly", they are minimal and 26 years of warnings proves it. Let’s all at least be a real planet lovers now and rejoice at avoiding a crisis.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This