Following Canada's Bad Example, Now UK Wants To Muzzle Scientists And Their Inconvenient Truths

from the non-appliance-of-science dept

Techdirt has been following for a while Canada's moves to stop scientists from speaking out about areas where the facts of the situation don't sit well with the Canadian government's dogma-based policies. Sadly, it looks like the UK is taking the same route. It concerns a new code for the country's civil servants, which will also apply to thousands of publicly-funded scientists. As the Guardian reports:
Under the new code, scientists and engineers employed at government expense must get ministerial approval before they can talk to the media about any of their research, whether it involves GM crops, flu vaccines, the impact of pesticides on bees, or the famously obscure Higgs boson.
The fear -- quite naturally -- is that ministers could take days before replying to requests, by which time news outlets will probably have lost interest. As a result of this change, science organizations have sent a letter to the UK government, expressing their "deep concern" about the code. A well-known British neurobiologist, Sir Colin Blakemore, told the Guardian:
"The real losers here are the public and the government. The public lose access to what they consider to be an important source of scientific evidence, and the government loses the trust of the public," Blakemore said.
Not only that, by following Canada's example, the British government also makes it more likely that other countries will do the same, which will weaken science's ability to participate in policy discussions around the world -- just when we need to hear its voice most.

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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 31 Mar 2015 @ 11:44pm

    To lose something, you must first have it

    "The real losers here are the public and the government. The public lose access to what they consider to be an important source of scientific evidence, and the government loses the trust of the public," Blakemore said.

    To lose the trust of the public, one would first be required to have the trust of the public, so the government doesn't seem to be 'losing' anything here.

    The fear -- quite naturally -- is that ministers could take days before replying to requests, by which time news outlets will probably have lost interest.

    A slight delay and easily distracted press should be the least of their worries regarding this change. Instead, what they should be concerned about is, 'What happens when a bit of research happens to contradict the position of the one you need to get approval from? Or contradicts the statements or position of one of his 'friends'? Or claims made by a high ranking politician?

    If a government official says X is true, and research into the matter produces evidence that shows that claim to be false, how eager do you believe they'll be to have that research being made public?

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

    • icon
      Paul Renault (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 4:48am

      Re: To lose something, you must first have it

      It depends who you consider to be a 'government official', eh.

      For decades, many Canadian government (and government-funded) scientist and 'officials' had the respect of the Canadian public, and their occasional forays into the newspaper headlines were usually stories of them speaking out against politicians' lies. The smarter politicians just knew it was best to not interfere.

      Witness Sheila Fraser, Jennifer Stoddard, and many, many scientists (do you remember the fight they led against rBST?. They proudly wore the label of Public Service Employee. Nope, I'm not one of them.

      The Harper government considers publicly-funded science to be 1) counter-productive to their world view; 2) the property of the Conservative Party (AKA "Canada's Government" in so many of their TV ads). So they don't permit them to speak. Just what are they afraid of?

      rBST, approved in USA, not in Canada:
      http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/vet/faq/growth_hormones_promoters_croissance_hormonaux_stimula teurs-eng.php
      Of course, the Harper Government claims to be open and transparent, but...
      http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/home-accueil/rto-tor/index-eng.php
      ..a whole bunch of Canadian Scientists beg to differ:
      http://scientistsfortherighttoknow.wildapricot.org/timeline

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 1:22am

    the legal equivalent of children sticking their fingers in their ears going " La, La, La, La! I'm not listening! La, La, La, La!"

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

  • icon
    Richard (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 2:16am

    Fortunately

    Fortuantely scientists employed by Universities should not be directly affected by this (all UK Universities are private institutions although they do receive the bulk of their funding from government) - and thus there should remain a good sized group of experts who can speak out unfettered.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 2:48am

      Re: Fortunately

      First they came for those directly employed. Then they came for those funded. ...

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 3:05am

      Re: Fortunately

      In a perfect world, what you said might be true but all sorts of scientists these days are denied funding and peer reviews for researching things that defy the political dialog.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 2:42am

    Scientific advances and truths are sacrificed at the altar of the almighty businesses. God forbid these scientists say something to endanger our profits!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 2:51am

      Re:

      "God forbid these scientists say something to endanger our profits!"

      Especially under some ISDS regime like they're trying to get passed now.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 2:59am

    So basically they're prepping to quell any kind of scientific debate about anything that doesn't follow the political agenda of those in power.

    AGW extremism is a disease plaguing the masses so it appears.

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

    • identicon
      Rich Kulawiec, 1 Apr 2015 @ 4:11am

      Re:

      True. It's a pity we live on a planet with inferior primates so miserably stupid and so horribly uneducated that they think creationism is real and human-driven global warming isn't. It gives me a headache just trying to think down to their level.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 3:22am

    This is where totalitarianism leads, you have to believe what the leaders tell you; or at least pretend to to.

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

  • identicon
    Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously, 1 Apr 2015 @ 3:55am

    Including...

    Do not forget the publicly funded BBC. The Beeb not only has good science reporting but also good news reporting. Both are imperiled by the way `modern' politicians implement these badly (if at all) thought through policies.

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

  • icon
    cypherspace (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 4:08am

    Harmful - Both Politically and Economically

    Uhh, has anyone in the UK considered the possibility this policy will result in a MASSIVE brain-drain in the UK?

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

  • identicon
    Asaka, 1 Apr 2015 @ 4:36am

    April Fools' Day?

    If it wouldn't be Britain I would have considered it an April Fools' Day prank. But in a consitutionless monarchy where press freedom is a joke and Corporatocracy ('corporate interest above public interest') rules the waves this sad news might even be true.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 5:21am

    Ignoring the data and creating their own made up world is but one of many idiotic things these morons do in the name of protecting their ill gotten gains. So go ahead and blow your stash on that uber sweet tropical island, do send us postcards of your incredible shrinking investment.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 6:31am

    Loophole?

    "Hey! We told you not to talk to the press!"

    "Yeah, but you've repeatedly said that bloggers aren't *really* the press."

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

  • icon
    got_runs? (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 7:27am

    The Dark Ages v2.0.

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

  • icon
    gorehound (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 8:34am

    If you want us to get back to doing real science we have to Vote these Conservatives out.Wherever there is a Conservative Gov there is going to be problems with science and many problems just to exist.

    Remember all the actions of the extremist GOP come 2016 ............they have made a mockery of our US Science.

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

    • identicon
      Ismail, 1 Apr 2015 @ 9:24am

      Re:

      The so-called Conservatives or Republicans don't have a corner on the censorship market. Any institution is capable of squelching any new information that threatens its own agenda.

      The "Conservative/Liberal" or "Republican/Democrat" dichotomy is a false one. In real issues that affect real people, there are seldom any differences between the two camps.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2015 @ 6:20am

        Re: Re:

        I think that if Clinton or McCain had been president, we'd all be dead now from the domino effect of attacking Iran for non-existing reasons.

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

  • identicon
    bob, 1 Apr 2015 @ 8:55am

    we are all edward snowden

    and if govt denies the ability to speak on facts uncovered by scientists, news stories will read "a source close to the investigating scientists report that"....
    followed by scientists and others being targeted at airport checkpoints.

    world looks more and more like V for vendetta every day.

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

  • identicon
    Ismail, 1 Apr 2015 @ 9:20am

    One word:

    Censorship.

    "A rose by any other name....."

    Yet another reason why academic/scientific research should remain outside the realm of the policy-wonks.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 10:07am

    We're going backwards

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

  • identicon
    Kronomex, 1 Apr 2015 @ 2:21pm

    It's all about an absence of light, mushrooms and bullshit.

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

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 1 Apr 2015 @ 2:56pm

    The Gods Must Be Crazy

    We can't let fact get in the way of government propaganda.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 5:54pm

    Damn, my history books said the Allies won World War 2. Guess you can't believe everything you read.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2015 @ 7:50am

      Re:

      Remember, the Soviets were on that side.

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

    • identicon
      peter, 11 Apr 2015 @ 10:39pm

      Re: who won war?

      Yes,likely west won but Hitler never intended to win so he sent poorly clothed soldiers to fight in Russia as did Napoleon.Hitler allowed his army in stalingrad to be surrounded and cut off from help so lost complete army.He escaped to Argentina with Eva.He was jewish related to Rothchilds.Holocaust-what holocaust-in Ukraine by Stalin.millions starved on purpose.Stalin was jewish-100%.

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

  • icon
    BernardoVerda (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 9:34pm

    As a Canadian...

    ... I used to be proud that Canada was a "world leader". I'm ashamed that this practice hasn't been brought to heel long ago (or at least, by the last election).

    I don't care what your natural political affiliations happen to be... no voter with a lick of common sense should be voting for a government that has clearly demonstrated a pronounced willingness to brush aside verifiable facts it doesn't like, implemented policies to suppress those facts (and credible sources of the same) -- and confirmed its unwavering commitment to continue such a strategy.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2015 @ 6:25am

      Re: As a Canadian...

      In October the tide could reverse massively. I'm not a Trudeaumaniac, I'd rather have Mulcair as PM, but that'd be more difficult. But just the thought of Conservatives going back to minority where Harper will likely get a stroke from being denied over and over like from 2006 to 2011, but say Trudeau as PM and Mulcair still as Official Opposition, even the hidden centre-right ideas of Trudeau couldn't be hidden for long.

      Also, whether you like it or not, it's better when the BQ has more than 4 seats and more like 54 (the usual), keeps any federal gov in check.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2015 @ 6:00am

    We should thank Politics and Business for clouding our minds once more.

    Although I'm sure that some religious fundamentalists will also benefit from the decrease in science coverage in the media:
    After all how can humanity be destroyed in Ragnarok and the end time prophecies fulfilled if humans leave the Earth. /s

    Yeah, tried to make a joke without being insensitive to any current religion.

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

  • icon
    GEMont (profile), 2 Apr 2015 @ 3:40pm

    The Fascist's Handbook

    The Corporation
    ===============
    Rule #3002344
    =============

    A wise and well informed public is the most dangerous thing a corporate government can face, and must be prevented at all costs - using the tax-payer's money of course.

    1.(a) - Science is far too dangerous to be allowed to fall into the hands of the paying public and must by all means possible, be prevented.

    Few things are as important as preventing the paying public from becoming aware of the means and methods that science affords the Corporation to exploit the paying public.

    Science also has the distinct potential to enable the paying public's ability to perceive ways of throwing off the yoke of corporate control and enacting legal and technical means of preventing the mass exploitation we enjoy currently - as they have in the past - and thus ranks first among the many aspects of civilization that must be stringently kept from their grasp by any and all means possible.

    Science must serve the state only, as the state must serve the Corporation only.

    ---

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2015 @ 6:29am

      Re: The Fascist's Handbook

      I'd like to see the entirety of this fictive work, although I could likely write it by using reverse psychology against myself, not sure I could 3 million+ rules.

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

      • icon
        GEMont (profile), 12 Apr 2015 @ 10:58am

        Re: Re: The Fascist's Handbook

        Actually, because the entire construct is nothing more than an exercise in:

        "What would I do if I were a billionaire asshole and had hold of the reigns of power and was immune to prosecution for my misdeeds?"

        ... there is almost an unlimited number of situations that can be covered, like:

        Section 332
        Chapter 12
        Rule # 665889

        Medication: the practice of manufacturing sick people by selling them poisons that shut down body functions that react to disease, rather then eradicate the actual disease, or of prescribing a drug which includes a counter agent that actually creates the problem the "drug" is supposed to cure.

        In this manner, we can make them "feel" fewer symptoms while at the same time, destroying bodily functions that prevent other maladies, or insuring their lifelong need for the drug by counteracting the drug as a side effect, or by including in the drug, compounds that create entirely new side effects that can be then treated using even more "medication"

        Example.

        For those with C.O.P.D., prescribe inhalants that contain a mucus antagonist that will shut down their body's mucus manufacture - leading to myriad future dysfunctions - but make the inert carrier of the antagonist, that the victim breathes deeply into their lungs, a mucus-making sugar like lactose.

        The I-Ching calls it the Advantages of Adversity.

        ---

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2015 @ 7:31am

    White papers could simply *leak* to p2p networks and ensure not only their preservation but also their massively wide distribution.. js

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


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