Michael Riordon

the view from where I live


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The right to know

A new blog from Scientists for the Right to Know confronts an insidious threat to Canadian democracy.Scientists for the Right to Know, protest

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.

Others: Evidence for Democracy, and Write2Know.


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Bees and honest scientists: under attack

Honey bee, WesternHoney bee, Western.  Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

Bees keep us alive.  They and other insects pollinate two-thirds of all food crops.  No pollination, no food crops.

Bees and other pollinators are in great peril, their populations in sharp decline worldwide. A growing body of evidence identifies neonicotinoids, chemical pesticides that impair the neurological systems of insects, as a key factor in the decline.

Some of these chemicals are already banned or restricted in several European countries.  Yet neonicotinoids remain the most widely used pesticides on earth, generating enormous profits.

Scientists gather and interpret data to make the necessary links between neonicotinoids and bee collapse.  But in Canada and the USA scientists whose findings conflict with the corporate agenda are under escalating attack.  Currently in the US:

“Your words are changed, your papers are censored or edited, or you are not allowed to submit them at all.” – a senior scientist at the US Department of Agriculture Research Service.

“Censorship and harassment poison good science and good policy.” – Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Details here.

Follow the Honey, a report from Friends of the Earth, exposes how agrochemical corporations obscure links between their chemicals and pollinator decline, and block government regulation.  Read it here.

For more on the battle for honest science, have a look inside Bold Scientists.


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Bold Scientists in Kingston, Ontario: November 6

cropped-bold-scientists-front-cover8.jpgAuthor Michael Riordon in dialogue: Whole food for free range minds.

Thursday November 6, 1 – 2:30 pm. Room D214, Mackintosh Corry Hall, Queen’s University.
Map: http://www.queensu.ca/campusmap/main?mapquery=mackintosh.

Everyone is welcome.  Bring your own mind.

Co-sponsors: Studies in National and International Development (SNID), and the School of Environmental Studies.


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“An attempt to guarantee public ignorance”

“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.

ed-nease12

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.

 


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“They cannot stop me from talking.”

Scientists Biased, Talk Too Much: Confidential government memo.

Details here, in Blacklock’s Reporter: minding Ottawa’s business, August 11, 2014.

Tar sands 2Tar sands, Alberta, Canada.  Photo: The Nation.

The primary target of the confidential memo, John Smol, is a professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, a widely acclaimed paleolimnologist (fathoming the life stories of lakes), and Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change.

Why does the Harper government want to silence John Smol and his co-researchers?  Because they know too much.  The current regime in Ottawa is an aggressive booster of the enormously destructive tar sands colossus, and is determined to keep Canadians strictly on message: tar sands = good for Canada, with minimal harm.  Period.  Trouble is, their message keeps getting shredded by the findings of honest science.

Why won’t John Smol shut up?  He knows too much:

“The huge problem is that many environmental problems are long scale.  They can take years, decades to show up – or longer, sometimes I work in centuries, even millennia.  But politicians think in terms of four years, at best.  Look at the tar sands – go ahead, pump it out as fast as you can, we’ll be out of here in four years, what do we care?  Industry is even worse, they think in quarters, 90-day intervals.  Costs for the future are horrendous, but they’re not in this fiscal cycle.  When things go extinct, they’re extinct forever.  You destroy a river system, it’s gone. Destroy a fish population, it’s gone.  How do you gauge what that’s worth?”

Delve into John Smol’s research, paleolimnology, and why he speaks out, in Bold Scientists: dispatches from the battle for honest science.  Available September 4, 2014, in print and e-book from Between the Lines.


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The future of science in Canada: your input is requested

The federal government is asking Canadians to share our thoughts on how to shape the future of science policy in this country. Death of Evidence

Photo: pencanada.ca

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:

This is a chance to add your voice to the new science and technology strategy.

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.

We’ve written a draft response, and created a tool on our website for you to submit a response in seconds.

Comments must be submitted by February 7th!  Please add your voice today, and pass this message on.


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The Nazis burned books. Under the current regime in Canada…

…they are dumped in landfill.

Save science librariesCanada’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.

Please add your voice and help stop this erosion of vital public knowledge.

Thank you,
Katie Gibbs (conservation biologist), Executive Director, Evidence for Democracy

P.S. The CBC’s Fifth Estate episode, Silence of the Labs, is now available online. You can watch it here.