The current regime in Ottawa acts on the premise that the less we citizens know, the easier we are to manage. They don’t need objective evidence to make policy with impact on every aspect of life, only guile and brute force.
The resulting assault on the public right to know, here and internationally, takes many devious forms, detailed here.
Scientists for the Right to Know arises in direct response to this ominous assault. “Please join us,” they invite, “in the fight to maintain Canada as a country in which policies are based on scientific knowledge, not uninformed ideology.”
The new SRK blog is here. Full disclosure: Recently they published a piece by me, Questions need to be asked. In any case, judging by the several posts they’ve put up so far, this looks to be a valuable voice – collection of voices – in defence of knowledge and democracy.
“A recent New York Times editorial, referencing the rapid development of the Alberta oil sands, went so far as to describe new communications restrictions on government scientists as ‘an attempt to guarantee public ignorance.’” – from an open letter to the current Canadian government, signed by more than 800 scientists from 32 countries.
Image: Steve Nease, The Toronto Star
The international roster of scientists called on the Harper government to end “burdensome restrictions on scientific communication and collaboration faced by Canadian government scientists.” More detail on the story here.
The call was made in an open letter drafted by the Cambridge, Mass.-based Union of Concerned Scientists. UCS represents U.S. scientists, and fosters “rigorous science to build a healthier planet and a safer world.”
The need for this unusual intervention is strongly reinforced in a new report from the Canadian organization Evidence for Democracy. It assesses the communication and media policies of 16 Canadian federal government departments.
For more on the fight for open science and democracy, see chapters 9 and 12 in Bold Scientists. Read an excerpt here.
In April 2012, the government of Canada announced that it would close the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) in northwest Ontario. Since 1968 the world-renowned research station has hosted a unique whole-ecosystem approach to studying how lake ecosystems and fish respond to human and natural disturbances. The resulting data, unattainable anywhere else, is essential for objective, evidence-based decision-making.
Within hours of the closure announcement, marine biology PhD candidate Diane Orihel launched an international campaign to save the ELA.
The federal government is asking Canadians to share our thoughts on how to shape the future of science policy in this country.
Frankly, given the current regime’s dismal record on public science, I doubt they want to know what we think unless it agrees with their corporate agenda, but why not at least give it a try? After all, it’s still a free country. In which, by the way, silence is taken for consent.
The stakes are enormous, really a matter of life and death. Think of the tar-sands, climate chaos, fracking, GMOs….
Evidence for Democracy offers thoughtful recommendations on how to restore public-interest science and evidence-based policy development in Canada. They request our input:
The existing strategy only focuses on science and innovation related to business. It completely ignores all the other science that is necessary for the long-term well-being and prosperity of Canadians. Federal government science capacity is crucial for the support of evidence-informed public policy.
The current strategy is also entirely silent about federal support for basic research. Amazingly, supporting basic research is not identified as a priority for Canadian science. Yet such research lies at the heart of all innovation. No basic research, no innovation: it’s that simple.
Canada’s Science Library Closures Mirror Bush’s Playbook. Details here. More detail in The Tyee’s follow-up story, here.
This is the next step in an escalating right-wing war on honest science and public knowledge, both of which the authorities fear and despise.
Their target, says Canadian paleolimnologist John Smol, is “pesky data” that challenges the government’s corporate agenda. They’ve already gutted a long hit list of vital research programs in Canada, including the world famous Experimental Lakes Area research facility.
John Smol: “The ELA has been a jewel in Canada’s crown – go to any water conference in the world, you just have to say ELA and everyone knows what you’re talking about. And it costs nothing to maintain. $2 million, what’s that, a penny per Canadian, so we don’t get toxic algae blooms, acid rain? It’s like claiming to save medical costs by not letting people have tests and checkups, the long-term data you need to maintain health. The ELA is exactly the kind of thing responsible government should be doing. So why are they closing the ELA? Because it provided pesky data, that’s why.”
(Follow this story in Pesky Data: unspun science for dangerous times. Coming in 2014 from Between the Lines.)
Scientists and other citizens who value public knowledge are resisting the destruction. At a public protest in Ottawa, thousands of scientists carried banners declaring: No Science, No Evidence; No Truth, No Democracy. The stakes are that high.
I have no illusions about the real impact of petitions. But at least the current leaders need to know that some of us are opposed. Here is an opportunity to say so.
Evidence for Democracy is a Canadian organization of scientists and citizens “who care passionately about the role that evidence needs to play in decision-making.” Recently they sent out this urgent appeal:
Irreplaceable scientific information is disappearing due to the recent closure of seven libraries run by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and a number of Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada libraries.
Scientists are saying that many of the books, reports and data at these libraries have already been discarded or destroyed without being properly digitized.
This priceless information is essential for the protection and security of Canada’s waterways. In particular, historical data and information provides the only baseline by which changes in the state of Canada’s aquatic ecosystems and fisheries resources can be evaluated. Without such trend data, assessing the impacts of policy and management decisions is impossible.
Please send a message to the federal party leaders and your member of parliament calling on them to stop closing our science libraries, and to ensure that the remaining information from the closed libraries is made available in a timely fashion.