Friday, September 20, 2013

A Scientist Speaks Out

By now, the plight of government scientists is reasonably well-known. Despite the Harper propaganda machine's vehement campaign to deny the practice, more and more Canadians have become aware that the regime has been systematically muzzling its scientists, whose research and hard data frequently contradict and expose as lies the ideology that passes as truth in our debased democracy.

Because we have a collectively short memory, every so often we need to be reminded of some harsh realities, as was done on September 16 when scientists rallied against government efforts to suppress much-needed information.

David Schindler, described as the Killam Memorial Professor of Ecology emeritus at the University of Alberta, has a well-written piece in today's Star reminding all of us of the government's odious practices.

Entitled Remove the muzzle from government scientists, the article begins by reminding us of the proud and often pivotal role Canadian science, much of it governmental, has played in some far-reaching environmental initiatives, including the fact that

Canada was the first country to regulate phosphorus in sewage and detergents, leading to the recovery of many lakes from algal blooms.

Canada also led global efforts to decrease emissions of ozone-depleting chemicals, resulting in the Montreal Protocol.

...policies to control acid rain, based largely on science from government departments, were implemented.

Shindler himself left government science when things began to change. The first changes were somewhat subtle, beginning in the 1990s:

Scientists ... were warned to avoid directly criticizing government policies, even environmentally harmful ones. Rebukes were mild for a scientist who challenged his political masters. At worst, a scolding letter was “put on your file.”

Things steadily deteriorated, with restrictions reaching their nadir once the Harper regime became ensconced:

Shortly after it took office, scientists were told they must have permission from bureaucrats to speak publicly. Bureaucrats and communications officers issued “speaking lines” that must be used to avoid criticism of policies. The permitted lines were often so inane that most scientists chose to remain silent rather be embarrassed by using them.

This weakening of the scientific voice had dire consequences, including the collapse of the cod industry, but much worse was to come:

The government divested itself of the Experimental Lakes Project, government contaminants programs, climate projects and the Arctic PEARL project. The Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Act were changed to provide less protection, while expediting large industrial developments.

And now, of course, we have the almost daily spectacle of government ministers defending the indefensible, with lies about subjects ranging from greenhouse gas emissions to oilsands and protection of fisheries.

Shindler ends his piece with the following sobering thoughts:

We must take government science back from politicians who would twist or hide science that reveals flaws in their policies. We deserve to know the truth about the impacts of proposed developments on our environment, in order to avoid mistakes that will be costly to future generations.

Government science once provided this information, and it must be changed to do so again. The health of not only our environment, but of Canadian democracy, depends on it.

We can expect the Harper cabal to continue to fight any such ideas vigorously, as is the wont of repressive regimes everywhere.


  1. Straight out of the annals of the Soviet Union, Lorne.

    1. Indeed, the Harperites do seem well-instructed in repression techniques, Owen.

  2. Al Gore: We can't sell our cars in China today because we don't meet the Chinese environmental standards.

    Truth and politics don't mix. I was once asked to run for a political office (MP) and I turned it down. I knew my conscience will kill me. Not for me. It is sad, Lorne.

    In U.S you can speak against your own party and against president from the same political party. In Canada you're kicked out of the caucus. Latest example is a P.Q MLA speaking against 'Charter of Values'. She was kicked on the butts and out she went from the P.Q caucus.

    Even in Britain, which is also parliamentary system, MPs can criticise their own party and Prime Minister.

    1. It is a very sad commentary on our democracy, LeDaro, that conscience and politics have such an uneasy relationship. The only thing that I think we can realistically do is remind as many people as possible of the dangerous drift that has occurred under the current regime. Democracy, and Canadians, deserve much, much better than the Harperites.

  3. A few years ago during the Bush regime, NASA's then-chief environmental scientist, James Hansen, was interviewed on 60 Minutes by Lesley Stahl and they showed that Hansen had been issued a government minder by Dubya's Big Oil junta to try to keep him on the straight and ideological narrow, which Hansen by and large ignored as well as openly complained about. Hansen retired earlier this year so I don't think Bush's cronies did too much to stifle him, maybe because most Americans saw what a lie the Bush term was in its final years. Or maybe, with mandatory end coming, they just didn't care..

    What burns me most about science policy in Canada is not just the blatant and brazen muzzling of our best, most committed and concerned minds in Canada so that only the corrupt, Harpercon "fuck 'em all" corporatist line is toed, but also the virtual abandonment of core, basic scientific research. It was bad enough when Harper put a creationist in charge of Canada's science efforts in the form of an anti-intellectual know-nothing named Gary Goodyear, but now, under another unqualified Con stooge, Greg Rickford, the mantra is now "If it don't make Big Business money, then we ain't funding it". Canada used to be a world leader in astronomy, physics, geology, chemistry, biology, genetics, climate and environment studies, but now, if it pisses off the Suits in Calgary or on Bay Street or if they can't see the value in it and you are persona non grata...

    As a lifelong amateur astronomer and science enthusiast it makes me weep and gnash my teeth in frustration.


    1. This is truly a regime that knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing, Neil. Like its disdain for truth, the Harperites see no value in basic scientific research; if it doesn't produced tangible results (i.e., can't be commercialized,) it has no value to this gang of barbarians.

  4. I remember that the old COR Party used to refer to our variant of the Westminster system as a “constitutional dictatorship”. Unlike most of our previous dictators Mr. Harper recognizes no necessity to explain the reasons for his decisions or to offer any attempt to account for his party’s involvement in questionable activities. He has calculated that, by ignoring questions or by hiding from the press and the public when necessary, he can outlast any demands that he do so. These calculations seem to have served him well politically.

    The scientific method would not be compatible with his chosen model of governance.

    1. Well-said, John. Truly, his contempt for real democracy and accountability is egregious.