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Canada Censorship Government Science Politics

Scientists Fight Back In Canada 277

Posted by Soulskill
from the five-minute-major-but-no-instigator-penalty dept.
Trufagus writes "The current Canadian government is widely regarded as 'anti-science,' and this year they have stepped up their efforts to undermine scientists and control their contact with the media. But now the federal scientists are fighting back and have just launched their own website. Gary Corbett, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said, 'If science isn't supported then you're going to find that decisions are going to be made more at the political level,' on Monday as the union launched their website."
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Scientists Fight Back In Canada

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  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @07:15AM (#33944744) Homepage

    "The union said in a release the recent decision to end the mandatory long-form census is the latest step in a worrying trend away from evidence-based policy making."

    Well, see, there's your problem. You silly scientists, insisting that demonstrable facts are used to guide public policy. Don't you know that the truth is whatever the Party says it is?

  • by digitaldc (879047) * on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @07:33AM (#33944844)
    If you can prove that a business is ruining the environment and economy through sound scientific methods, OF COURSE big businesses will try to stifle research, innovation and facts in order to continue their relentless pursuit of money. Unabashed greed and facts do not mix well.

    The worst-case scenario is never knowing the truth about anything because businesses have completely obscured reality in order to continue their pursuit of massive profits.
  • Go figure (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nimey (114278) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @07:36AM (#33944862) Homepage Journal

    that a conservative government is anti-science.

  • by memnock (466995) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @07:39AM (#33944884)

    conservatives hate: scientists and unions. i imagine there will be some kind of counter-campaign to smear the Public Science members at some point. another CRU incident maybe?

    of course what i just wrote is based on politics too. it's hard to see how rationality can trump ignorance when the ignorant have the bully pulpit to shout down the rationalists.

  • by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @07:39AM (#33944886) Homepage Journal
    Conservatives in Canada rise to power, and start squelching science funding. Anyone who didn't see this coming hasn't been paying attention ... anywhere. Many scientists in Canada saw this coming a while ago and have been working on diversifying their funding to insulate themselves from the inevitable cuts.

    Fortunately, the conservatives in Canada are at least smart enough to know better than to screw with the health care system (at least too much).
  • Re:statement (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheCycoONE (913189) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @07:47AM (#33944926)

    The article backs him up. If Canadians were aware that their government was anti-science then it wouldn't be newsworthy that a science union put up a website raising awareness about the way the Canadian government is treating scientists.

    I'm a Canadian and I didn't know - now I do. I knew that the Conservative government is against public services in general, but I certainly didn't know they're regulating what public scientists are allowed to say.

  • Re:Coming soon--- (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JackieBrown (987087) <dbroome@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @07:57AM (#33945002)

    They made the toys with money provide by the government.

    People need to remember who they work for and look for a new employer if they don't like the conditions.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @07:59AM (#33945030) Journal
    Outside of a few backwards hellholes, I'm pretty sure that communism as a threat to empiricism is dead and buried. I'm sure that North Korea thinks that crops evolve because Dear Leader wishes them to; but that isn't exactly a problem for canadian scientists.

    Depending on your region, businesses that absolutely hate any environmental, product safety, or occupational health regulations; Jesus freaks/ Allah enthusiasts/ Torah bashers with major hang-ups on biology, cosmology, and sex; or the occasional ultra-green who insists that any human activity is a threat to mother gaia(outside of a few pockets of Europe, these guys are playing a distant third), are really the present threats of note.

    There are also the jackbooted drug warriors, who could really use a course in comparative risk assessment; but precisely their weakness in that area makes them a very single-issue threat to scientific policymaking.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @08:03AM (#33945076)

    I was a public servant and research scientist in Canada for several years. I moved on to other things eventually, but I understand why there is friction between scientists and the government of the day. It's normal, and at some level it isn't peculiar to the current government.

    Here's why: on one hand, the government wishes to set and completely control the agenda, and the public service is supposed to be setting its goals at the direction of the political level. That's the job of a public servant: to do the job you are directed to do by the government.

    But on the other hand, public servants have a broader commitment to the public-at-large, and scientists especially have an ethical responsibility to pursue the science regardless of whether the specific results of a study will support what the government wishes or not. If a measurement has inconvenient implications for political policy, well, too bad. Deal with the data or admit you don't care about reality. An ethical scientist is not going to cover it up or alter the data to fit political policy. Policy can and should dictate to some degree what should be studied in the first place (i.e. policy determines what is important enough to study -- in which field or topic to invest limited money), but it should have no influence on the actual results or the need to communicate them to other scientists and the broader public. Putting a barrier between scientists and the public is counterproductive to scientists doing their job. It's also a waste of money, because what's the point of doing science on behalf of the public and for the sake of important public concerns like health, safety, resources, etc. if you can't in the end communicate with the public, or if doing so is dependent on whether the results align with the politics of the day? Scientists have to be able to talk about the "bad news" as well as "good news".

    A government that fails to recognize this balance between political loyalty and the broader loyalty of federal government scientists to the public and to science is a government that is no friend to anyone -- the scientists or the public. Like I said, the friction has always been there and always will be, but it's true that the current government has gone significantly further than previous ones to try to control communication. In my opinion, they're a bunch of control freaks more interested in determining the message than having an informed political debate. I'm glad that scientists fed up with the situation are doing something about it, because what the government is doing is wrong.

    In my experience federal government scientists are some of the most highly-dedicated public servants I've ever met, and they're usually working at about two-thirds to half the pay they could get if they moved to equivalent industry jobs. Where I worked, it was the scientists who were often there until 6pm or later, doing their job because they enjoyed it. The administrators and bureaucrats would be out of there 4pm sharp.

  • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @08:13AM (#33945188)

    Ya, that whole science thing is a waste of time.
    The "scientists" just make things up so that the "data" says whatever they want it to say.
    And they have an agenda!
    A scary agenda! ...of some kind...

    The very idea that it could be a good thing if policies at a national level were influenced by such nonsense as "evidence" or "data" or "reality" is absurd!

    If the sceientists want to disrupt the orderly running of the country by publicly talking about how their "data" (made up of course) and "conclusions"(nefarious no doubt) contradict the decisons made by our good and godfearing leaders then they should be silenced!

  • Re:Coming soon--- (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @08:23AM (#33945272)

    Public sector scientists certainly do remember that. At least, I sure did when I was a government scientist, before I moved on to other opportunities. While I worked in that job I took my commitment to the public very seriously and treated any money I received for my research as if it was my own -- I pay taxes too, you know.

    That's why public sector scientists get particularly frustrated when they are told by their government masters that they can't speak to the public who are paying the bills, and it's why the public should feel justifiably angry with any government that sets serious restrictions on scientific communication. You the public are our bosses, not merely the government-of-the-day who might not like the scientific results and decides to stifle open communication.

    A government that prevents scientists from speaking to the public is denying the public the right to hear the scientific results they paid for, and for issues that everyone agrees are important to the public (e.g., things like public safety, health, resource development and preservation, etc.). Government scientists provide what is needed to have informed political discussion and decisions. It's grossly irresponsible on all sorts of levels to restrict their communication with the public, but it sure isn't the fault of the scientists trying to do their job.

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @08:24AM (#33945276) Homepage

    Science itself is valueless. It cannot be used to set policy.

    Whoa, what? Are you seriously suggesting that humanity is worse off knowing how to form various iron compounds, or how to treat leukemia, or how freshwater mussels affect trout? As far as whether it can be used to set policy, are you suggesting that we set policy with no understanding whatsoever about what the probable effects of that policy are?

    It really is like religion

    ... except that science produces testable, verifiable, repeatable results. Unlike religion, there's absolutely nothing science tells you to accept simply because an authority says so. If you don't think a scientific result is accurate, you can look through the data and methodology, you could set up a lab and try to repeat the result, you could look at what other scientists have to say about it, and so forth.

  • by smidget2k4 (847334) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @08:37AM (#33945402)
    I'm sorry, but what do you mean by "follow the money"? How do you think scientists get paid? They get a salary from their university. There, I followed the money for you. Grants can only cover lab equipment, grad students (lab equipment), and experiments. You are not allowed to spend grant money on anything else.

    Please provide some evidence to back up your insinuation that "Scientists" are... what? Bought by someone? Have some sort of political agenda? Please also cite evidence for the "growing philosophy of post-normal science", because, being a scientist, I have not encountered it in any of the fields that I work in.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @08:40AM (#33945444)

    "Apparently it is 'scientific' that government use force against its citizens to collect data for scientists to use. It would not be mandatory otherwise."

    What you miss is the fact that the data isn't being collected for scientists, it is being collected by scientists who are tasked by the government to provide the information to make informed political decisions, rather than wild-assed guesses.

    This is not some ivory-tower statistical exercise, it's providing the necessary ingredients to make a useful decision by politicians elected by us to make those decisions. The alternative is, of course, to not base decisions on useful or detailed information.

    Then there's the straw argument about "jail time" for failure to fill in the forms. As far as I can remember, nobody has ever been jailed. So, yeah, strike that nonsense off there because it is both extreme and unused anyway.

    We still seriously need the data. And, yes, it's a duty of all citizens to provide it, so I have no problem with providing some kind of strong incentive to get on with it. Rather than listening to government speaking points, sit down and think how you would manage a country of ~30 million people without decent, reasonably comprehensive data to help decide where you were going to efficiently and effectively invest your limited financial resources over the next several years, rather than wastefully overallocating them where they aren't needed, and underallocating for places it is needed. I mean, ye gods, government is already short-sighted enough, now you want them to be blind?

    Or is it your political plan to just wing it on gut instinct on the basis that "science is infected by politics" anyway? Science isn't perfect, but the alternative isn't exactly effective.

  • by Nimey (114278) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @08:46AM (#33945496) Homepage Journal

    Except that in China, unlike Canada, you can and probably will go to prison for saying something the government doesn't like.

    Also, there's far less oversight of food and drug safety over there.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @08:48AM (#33945504)

    Science itself is valueless. It cannot be used to set policy.

    So when science says that fibrous asbestos causes cancer, we shouldn't do anything about it? When science says BPA is toxic, we shouldn't do anything about it? When science says certain levels of alcohol lead to slower response times when operating automobiles, we shouldn't do anything about it?

    Generally speaking, we should minimize laws and regulations. But, when science gives us facts and trends that point to something "bad" or undesirable happening, we should ignore it?

    Science gives us data about what is happening. Once policy makers know what is happening, they can decide whether it is good or bad (or neutral), and whether something needs to be done about it.

    It's like the F-35: do we need new jets? Yes. Do we need a 5G fighter? Maybe (what criteria are we using to judge? unknown). Could we have gotten a better deal or more industrial concessions with a more open process? Previous experience implies yes. The Cons came in on a promise of greater transparency and openness, but they're no different than the last bunch of yahoos.

    In the case of the mandatory long form census, do I think it is worth threatening my fellow citizen with jail time and fines for not filling in a form on how many hours of unpaid housework they did?

    Canada doesn't ask much of its citizens. Basically you're (1) attend jury service semi-regularly, and (2) fill out said form every few years.

    While the jail time is excessive, I don't think a fine is. By filling it out you're allowing municipalities, counties, provinces, and Ottawa to make decisions on policy and resource deployment based on facts on the ground. And personally, I trust Statistics Canada a lot more with this data than I would private corporations having it and then the Feds collating it from them.

    Politicians and bureaucrats are a lot more accountable than most private corporations, especially if they're multi-national.

    And this goes back to my earlier point: the long-form census gives policy makers a snapshot of how society is organized. And going back to previous censuses it is possible to spot trends. Various levels of government can then plan for the needs of the citizens and allocate various resources more efficiently in areas where they are needed.

    Scientists have long crossed the line of just being object truth seekers and are well into politics and political movements.

    Overgeneralizing much?

  • by royallthefourth (1564389) <royallthefourth@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @08:52AM (#33945576)

    Why would they need to buy our surplus? They're capable of making plenty of good scientists on their own. They're even willing to give them jobs!

  • by bluie- (1172769) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @08:55AM (#33945598)
    Science is far too diverse to categorize all scientists as one thing or another. The scientific process is our best (and really only tool) for determining what is physically true. Yes, scientists can abuse the process, or choose to disregard some evidence, but this kind of science won't stand up to peer review.

    Good public policy should involve decisions based on fact, and that means a system where politicians, who make our decisions, are well informed by the scientific community, and the public understands through the media not only the facts but the reasons behind implementing them as policy. Of course this isn't really what we have today.
  • by Jawnn (445279) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @08:58AM (#33945644)
    And your argument conveniently fails (yet again) to produce any credible reason as to why scientists would fabricate results. Yes, we all know about "scientists" whose livelihood is tied to, for example, the fossil fuel industry. We'd rather expect such shenanigans from them, and of course, history has proven that expectation to be well founded, but we don't have anything anywhere near such a relationship between some funding entity and the huge majority of climate scientists (for example) who are raising the alarm about what they are finding.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @09:00AM (#33945672)

    "The problem with your argument is that it assumes scientists are always right"

    Bollocks. Even scientists don't say they are always right. With politicians however, more often than not it does not even seem to matter whether they are right or wrong.

    "These days I see Scientists pretty much in the same was as I see politicians: I always want to follow the money."

    Which explains why there are no scientists on the Fortune 500 list?

    Btw, how do you see corporate leaders? Or do they just not factor into your worldview?

  • Re:statement (Score:5, Insightful)

    by erroneus (253617) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @09:17AM (#33945842) Homepage

    It is long established that belief is more powerful than fact. Facts often interfere with our beliefs to the point that you have to get rid of one in favor of the other. The problem is simply that one's own identity is tied very closely to belief where facts are rarely, if ever, claimed as a part of one's identity. Political affiliations and sports teams are also often components of identity for some people to the point of being violently defensive of them.

    It may seem nonsensical to ignore new information in order to maintain one's beliefs, but we see it all the time. We see it in diet, religion, relative mathematics, and pretty much every aspect of life. It is all part of how the brain works. We break down, simplify and symbolically represent things in our minds. It serves to help remember, categorize and index what we keep in there. To change our beliefs means to change our long-term neural pathways. This is no trivial matter. For example, I am atheist, but I was raised Christian and so various aspects of Christian thinking still runs through my brain with no sign of ever going away.

    Beliefs are comforting. To challenge belief is to make someone uncomfortable.

  • by easterberry (1826250) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @09:20AM (#33945874)

    "Least soviet" yes. Dissolving government twice, once to prevent a vote and the other to avoid discussing a controversial issue. Cutting a deal with Google to allow the Speech From the Throne to be publicly broadcast but NOT the opposition's response. The G20 debacle.

    You stay open and fair Harper.

  • by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @09:23AM (#33945928) Homepage Journal

    Screw with it? It's not like it's particularly good or anything.

    The US system? Indeed it isn't particularly good at anything.

    My daughter attended a Canadian university. For three years she (we) had to pay extra for the university health plan because she (obviously) wasn't on the provincial health plan. This was despite the fact that she was covered by my US-based health insurance -- my insurance that covers her anywhere in the world

    The Canadian health care system is intelligent enough to realize that most likely your insurance plan that claims to "cover her anywhere in the world" would either refuse payment or jerk them around to the point of them giving up on trying to obtain payment. In other words, the Canadians didn't want your health insurance plan to treat them the same way your plan treats American health care providers.

    (And if, by some chance there was something that couldn't/wouldn't be covered in Canada, she was only a few hours away by car and could be brought home for treatment.)

    That sounds easy but if you are talking about a true emergency situation bringing someone across the US/Canada border is not trivial. And if you have a disease that you want treated down here, good luck talking US CBP into letting you cross back in to the US.

    Why? Because my plan doesn't have unlimited mental health coverage. A college student? For three years? Needs unlimited mental heath? She'd never had a need for mental health treatment before that.

    If you were to read the data on mental health situations, you would find that young adults are particularly susceptible to mental health issues and mental health crises. They are standing on solid ground insisting that all students have unlimited mental health coverage, regardless of their past. Just because your little Johnny or Sue had a spotless record as a teenager does not mean he or she will do so well as a young adult.

    And any time she actually needed health care, getting to see a doctor was a three-plus hour ordeal. No appointments -- walk-in only.

    It is not the fault of the system that your daughter did not know how to use it. Someone unfamiliar with the US system would face the same situation their first time through as well.

    Oh, and the stories her friends told a general shortages of doctors because every Canadian that earns an MD leaves. I used to laugh at the billboards on the I81 leading to Canada advertising (begging) for MDs to come work in Canada.

    I have driven various parts of I81 - including near the NY/Ontario border - a few times over the past several years and have not seen the billboards you refer to. Where abouts did you see these begging billboards?

  • by daem0n1x (748565) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @09:30AM (#33946018)

    It's rather sweet that you hold all of science in so high a regard. I used to. These days I see Scientists pretty much in the same was as I see politicians: I always want to follow the money.

    Even if that was true, I'd take scientists over politicians any day of the week. To be a scientist, you have to be, at the very least, above-average intelligent. But not to be a politician, being a lying, greedy pig is just enough.

  • by Gadget_Guy (627405) * on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @10:11AM (#33946544)

    It's rather sweet that you hold all of science in so high a regard. I used to. These days I see Scientists pretty much in the same was as I see politicians: I always want to follow the money.

    Why is it that you only want to follow the money of the scientists. The last time we discussed this [slashdot.org], you completely disregarded the financial interests of industry as a motive for taking sides in this debate while coming up with complicated backstories to justify financial (and political) interest being a motive for the scientific community. Why don't hold you hold scientists, politicians and industry executives to the same standards?

    Why do you consider scientists to be more political than politicians and more financially motivated than industry executives? If they really are like that, then maybe they should be running the country! By your accounts, they would be more qualified to do so.

  • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @10:30AM (#33946970) Homepage

    Are you seriously suggesting that results are never fabricated?

    No, he's saying that it is absurd to think that every scientist in the employ of the Canadian government is systematically corrupt.

    We're not talking about one or two scientists in isolation. We're talking about "Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada" ... so the union of Canadian Federal employees with professional designation. Like, Lawyers, Accountants, Scientists, and Engineers.

    The current Harper government has basically told them that they can't speak publicly about the science that they're subject matters in -- unless they ask in advance for permission and their points are vetted by the government. Hell, there was an example this summer where a scientist was barred from talking about historical results.

    This has absolutely nothing to do with corrupt scientists, and everything to do with a government that is completely muzzling everybody lest scientific facts (and, yes, theories) that they don't agree with be spoken.

    Nobody is saying that all scientists are 100% of the time ethical. But, this government is saying that 100% of the time, scientists can't say anything on public record unless it's been vetted by the government. This is about controlling information and facts to be sure the ones they don't like aren't used.

    Stop talking about why a hypothetical scientist may fudge his work, and understand that this is being applied to every single scientist employed by, or funded by, the Federal Government of Canada -- and a Government which currently doesn't want their agenda to be derailed by actual facts.

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @10:42AM (#33947228) Homepage Journal

    You're confusing science with engineering. Scientists discover principles, engineers put them to work in the real world,

  • by danmart1 (1839394) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @11:26AM (#33948044)

    Except that for the most part science is "controlled" by a self-selected elite. Not too much evidence of a difference between that an other human hierarchies where the folk at the top dominate everything whether they are in the right or the wrong. If you don't think one of their theories is correct good luck to you in getting anything together to challenge it, unless you have access to a powerful rival to support you.

    Unless you're independently wealthy/resourced then you don't get to do what isn't "approved" and even that has its problems as if you're outside the circled wagons you won't be treated seriously, even if you are right!

    Except that it's not. Science isn't some book that can't be questioned. It, mostly, changes with time. Usually, if a theory is wrong, someone will eventually refine it, but it takes time, effort, and a willingness to defend your hypothesis with more than just name calling. It also requires an education. In many cases, to be accepted in a particular field of study one must have axially studied it. This is not always the case, but the two have a strong correlation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @11:57AM (#33948584)

    You're missing the point. You can do whatever you want with the facts but by all means start with the facts. The issue here is the political agenda that happens "before" the facts not after. Just because we get the science right doesn't mean we're going to make the right choices but if we get it wrong we will almost always make the wrong choices.

  • by Sprouticus (1503545) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @12:30PM (#33949056)

    So you are saying that the current government did NOT try to prevent genverment scientists from public communications on their work?

  • by sarhjinian (94086) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @01:17PM (#33949780)
    The Rockefellers? Buffett? Gates? Really?!

    I don't think you understand what left-wing economic policies actually are, never mind that you're forgetting what people like Rockefeller did to get their fortune in the first place. even Buffett is only coming to this realization very, very late in his career, as is Gates.

    I mean, Rockefeller? Mr. Standard Oil Monopoly?

    Soros is about the only one who comes even close to left-wing economic policy.

    You're operating from a very American perspective: that all social liberalism and leftist economic policy are in lockstep. This is very, very wrong: you can be a rampant capitalist without being a social conservative. Heck, you can even do it while being a philathropist. What you can't do is start talking about upper-to-lower-class income redistribution and cradle-to-grave social programs.

    I'll give you hint: when any of these guys are start seriously proposing a return to 1950s income taxation levels, or when they start pushing for a Scandinavian-style social safety net, I'll believe we dealing with leftists. Right now, there's thousands of people making millions of dollars who very much do not want either of those (and especially the former) to happen.
  • by easterberry (1826250) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @03:05PM (#33951902)

    Cute. But people were detained without a reason given, for hours at a time without any charges brought against them and without being allowed to even know the rule they were being accused of breaking (which turned out not to exist).
     
    For those of us living downtown, near the perimeter it was genuinely frightening. I would come out of the subway to see groups of 3 or 4 cops putting random people up against the wall and doing everything short of strip searching them. Some people would get arrested. They didn't tell them why, they just put them in the holding areas for hours on end, in the rain. They claimed that the law prevented any testimony from going over a police officer's word. The security team they hired were not even legally registered to work in Ontario.
     
    I was physically manhandled while walking down the street to my home and told that I couldn't go that way and when I asked how far the blockade went (because it was kind of directly between me and my home) the cop, or rentacop or whatever he was told me to go around NOW or be arrested. I had to wander 15 minutes south to finally get around the damn thing because I was afraid to approach any of the police.
     
    For that weekend there was no due process, no rights, no recourse. It WAS totalitarianism.

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