Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Don't muzzle scientists

Draconian restrictions on scientists' freedom to speak about their science is antithetical to a free democracy.
Muzzling scientists only makes sense as a government if they wish to champion policies that are at odds with the science.
Let's connect some dots:
1. Governments rise and fall on the strength of the economy.
2. Cleaning up our environmental messes, like dealing with climate change, is a drag on the short term economy and established interests.
3. If scientists tell Canadians about how bad it really is, Canadians will insist that we fix the problems. 
4. Which could chill the economy and bring down the government.
5. Therefore muzzling scientists is good for the economy and the government.
Maybe there's another way:
Unmuzzle the scientists, admit there's a problem, and rally the country to solve it. With a little creativity and a willingness to change things that matter the economy would find a way to thrive that doesn't involve ecocide.
The universe doesn't flinch, cheat, or negotiate. Science is what lets us understand the world we live in.
The publicly funded science we've paid for should not be kept hidden. Responsible policies in a liberal democracy have nothing to fear from science.
The science that the government wants to hide would, obviously, make their policies look bad. If  science backed their play they'd shout it from the mountaintops.
Watch out, the hidden science might even make the case for (gasp) taking care of the environment. Politically, of course, the safer ground is the status quo, with a side of economic growth and another four years.
Unfortunately, if the science makes you uncomfortable, the solution doesn't involve shutting up the scientists. Shooting the messenger might prolong the hallucination that everything's alright. It won't fix anything real though.
Let the facts out. Anyone who's not willing to accept the best science available doesn't deserve a cell phone, electricity, or any of the other fruits science has brought our way.
Rick Mercer sided with the scientists in a recent rant: Silence Science, Feb 26, pointing out that Canadian scientists took the deal because they want to eat.
Just this week the second of four carbon capture and storage projects was shelved. CCS is little more than a way of convincing ourselves that a carbon economy is still ok. It's not. Moreover, if you're using CCS to enhance fossil fuel recovery you're not really solving the problem.
An economy based on truth will, in the long run, outperform an economy based on lies. In the short run, muzzling the truth might keep you in power.
Don't muzzle the messenger. Embrace reality all the way, then craft your strategies based on that. Anything else is indefensible.
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1 comment:

  1. Got this from Democracywatch.ca today. (after the article went up.)

    While the United States government under President Obama has new policies that not only allow government scientists to speak with journalists, but allow them to call journalists and discuss their work, Canada’s federal Conservative government led by Prime Minister Harper has established new policies that hide government research and valuable information Canadians have paid for – policies that are the same as those George W. Bush put in place when he was U.S. President.

    Though the Conservatives deny muzzling Canadian government scientists, Democracy Watch and the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Victoria recently highlighted the following clear examples of muzzling:

    Scientist Kristi Miller was blocked from speaking to the media about her research into sockeye salmon for months;
    Scientist Scott Dallimore and his team were told they needed to get approval from the Minister before they could talk to journalists about their study of a flood that occurred in Northern Canada almost 13,000 years ago -- this approval was eventually granted after journalists' deadlines had passed;
    After an extensive beef recall in 2012 George DaPont, president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, was interrupted during a live interview by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and taken off stage;
    Tom Spears, a journalist with the Ottawa Citizen, called the National Research Council for some basic information about a joint Canada/U.S. study on snowfall patterns. While he was able to speak with a NASA scientist and get the information he needed in 15 minutes, the response from Canada came a day after his deadline because it was delayed by 11 employees sending over 50 emails discussing whether they should give him an interview and what the "tone" of his request was;
    Canadian scientists at the International Polar Year 2012 conference were told, if approached by journalists, to "ask them for their business card and tell them you will get back to them with a time for [an] interview." Media relations employees also followed Canadian government scientists to monitor and record their conversations;
    David Tarasick was prevented from speaking about his research titled "Unprecedented Arctic ozone loss in 2011" for two weeks after the report was released;
    Scientists attending the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 32nd annual meeting were given a "Q&A Package" containing 20 expected questions and the answers to be given by designated spokespersons as well as directions to respond to some questions with "I am a scientist. I'm not in a position to answer that question, but I'd be happy to refer you to the appropriate spokesperson."