Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Censorship Canada Government Science

Canadian Government Muzzling Scientists 352

IllogicalStudent writes with this excerpt from The Vancouver Sun: "The Harper government has tightened the muzzle on federal scientists, going so far as to control when and what they can say about floods at the end of the last ice age. Natural Resources Canada scientists were told this spring they need 'pre-approval' from Minister Christian Paradis' office to speak with journalists. Their 'media lines' also need ministerial approval, say documents obtained by Postmedia News through access-to-information legislation. The documents say the 'new' rules went into force in March and reveal how they apply not only to contentious issues, including the oilsands, but benign subjects such as floods that occurred 13,000 years ago. They also give a glimpse of how Canadians are being cut off from scientists whose work is financed by taxpayers, critics say, and is often of significant public interest — be it about fish stocks, genetically modified crops or mercury pollution in the Athabasca River."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Canadian Government Muzzling Scientists

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:55PM (#33564122)
  • by kawabago ( 551139 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:06PM (#33564262)
    They criticize the Chinese about freedom of the press and then do everything they can to prevent truth escaping into the wild in Canada. Unfortunately by trying to hide the truth they highlight that this is good area to look for whatever they are trying to hide. Which highlights another Conservative trait, they aren't very bright.
  • Re:Eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:06PM (#33564266)

    What I read it as is that you will never hear anything from a government scientist that doesn't support the government agenda. It means that government scientists cannot realistically be treated as unbiased sources, the same way you wouldn't trust a tobacco funded study on the effects of cigarets. Would you really trust a government funded scientist's on the possible ecological damage caused by harvesting the oil sands if the current government's agenda had that as item number one? Most people would question that relationship anyway, but this new requirement makes it all but official; if you take government grant money, you will only publish results that agree with the government's stances.

  • Re:Eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mevets ( 322601 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:09PM (#33564318)

    The concept is that these scientists work for the Canadian people, not for the zealot of the day.

    "The time for study is over, it is time for action" - John Baird, then Minister of Environment, before gutting the climate scientists budgets.

  • Shame (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Capt.DrumkenBum ( 1173011 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:12PM (#33564348)
    I have never in my life been ashamed to be Canadian. Until today. Thanks Stephen, you stupid ass!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:13PM (#33564360)
    Remember when all the scientists were in consensus w/the politicians that the Earth was flat.
    We are heading into that age of society again. And of course, there will be another age of enlightenment after if history proves true.
  • The Name (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bsDaemon ( 87307 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:14PM (#33564374)

    In Christian Paradis's Canada, science is under the inquisition? Irony and whatnot...

  • Re:Eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:16PM (#33564408) Journal

    Any scientist who doesn't work for the government works for industry. They're even more controlled in what they can say.

    No scientist should have to check with the government before talking to the media. The only duty of a scientist is to advance knowledge. To promote truth. If you trust them to do that, you should have no problem with them talking to the media. If you can't trust them to do that, then why are you giving them grants?

  • Re:Eh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wealthychef ( 584778 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:16PM (#33564410)
    What's missing for me here is the government's claimed reason for doing this. National security?
  • by mevets ( 322601 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:16PM (#33564422)

    but they make up for it in viciousness.

    "Slower traffic keep right" - Canadian road sign or political joke?

  • by oldspewey ( 1303305 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:18PM (#33564434)

    The core of the problem is that the conservative party currently in government is insanely partisan. Their entire MO is about "message management," with actual governing coming in a distant second or third. So of course they are going to try to muzzle scientists, and the actual research they are muzzling doesn't even need to make sense - it's done more as a Pavlovian reflex without taking the time to analyze whether the information is even sensitive or not.

    The hypocrisy of it all is astounding considering this same party campaigned on the promise of "transparency and accountability" during the 2006 election.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:19PM (#33564460)

    How is this different than scientists themselves driving out dissenting views? Would you say scientists who scornfully denounce other scientists putting forth contrary views are as dim as Canada's Conservative party?

  • by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:21PM (#33564476) Journal

    If you only let the scientists who agree with you say what they want to say, it's the same thing.

  • Re:Eh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by iamhigh ( 1252742 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:21PM (#33564486)
    But you made my point for me in your post...

    What I read it as is that you will never hear anything from a government scientist that doesn't support the government agenda

    if the current government's agenda had that as item number one

    *CURRENT* being the key word. "The Government" has no agenda. It is a group of people intended to lay down and enforce some common rules; not a dictator. If you can't convince your countrymen that the government is going the wrong direction, and get them to vote it a different way, maybe you are the one in the wrong.

    The fundamental problem with this philosophy is that 50% of voters are dumber than average (median).

  • by oldspewey ( 1303305 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:21PM (#33564490)
    Yup, that's basically the conservative talking point: scientists are just a bunch of academic elitists, and we don't need facts or research to tell us what Canadians - deep down inside - really know to be true.
  • Re:Eh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by quietwalker ( 969769 ) <pdughi@gmail.com> on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:23PM (#33564532)

    It may be different in Canada, but in the US, the professors in the field of education tend to be some of the greatest contributors to the various scientific fields. They generally don't work for the government or the industry.

  • No surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dskoll ( 99328 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:24PM (#33564542) Homepage

    This is the same government that has destroyed the accuracy of the Census [theglobeandmail.com] under the smokescreen of "privacy rights." (We all know why the Conservatives don't like accurate census data; it makes it harder to spend money based on ideology rather than on real need.)

    The Canadian government has always been notoriously non-transparent; even the Liberals have muzzled a scientist [wikipedia.org] in the past.

  • Re:no surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MachDelta ( 704883 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:33PM (#33564666)

    It's not propaganda. Canadian schools simply have a strong focus on Canadian content, especially because most Canadians are bombarded with American culture/news/history on a daily basis. If we didn't give a shit about the things we've done ourselves as a country, we may as well just roll over and officially become the 51st state.

  • Re:Eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:36PM (#33564704)

    That's great, so whoever is in charge at the moment gets to decide which results get published. Why, they should fund a study to see which political party's policy will be best for the economy. That way everyone in the country will know for sure which party they should vote for... as long as it happens to be the one in charge, otherwise no one will ever see the results.

    How are you supposed to convince others that the people in charge are wrong when the people in charge decide what information is available? You need access to information that shows them to be wrong, something that this law appears on the face to be designed to prevent. We've always been at war with Eastasia, and here's a historian that will corroborate that statement if you don't believe me.

  • by OutSourcingIsTreason ( 734571 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:38PM (#33564744)
    It's obviously a cover-up of climate change data, ordered by lobbyists for the planet-raping carbon industry. Those other restricted topics are only there to make the climate change cover-up a bit less flagrant.
  • Re:Eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:38PM (#33564750)
    All governments share two common agendas, one is to maintain the power of its rule. This is particularly evident in all of the "qualifiers" to what should be basic rights. You have freedom of speech (so long as you don't offend us), freedom from torture (unless you are a "terrorist"), the right to know what you are charged for (unless you are a "terrorist"), etc.

    The second agenda is to maintain the basic structure of the political environment. It is not advantageous for the democrats/republicans in the US to introduce an amendment that would bring proportional representation or otherwise disrupt their power balance. Neither side really wants reforms in tax structure, debate over currency, etc.

    If the two major parties can distract the masses with issues that don't really matter they can share the power for the future.

    If you can't convince your countrymen that the government is going the wrong direction, and get them to vote it a different way, maybe you are the one in the wrong.

    Good luck getting most people to even vote, let alone go beyond their general apathy.

    And that reasoning is laughable, the main point of freedom in a democracy is limited government first, that is the real pillar of freedom, democracy is second. Democracy without limited government is nothing more than mob justice. Your reasoning falls apart when you try to use it in a case. For example, is lynching justified? After all, everyone agrees with it!

    A free government depends on limited government more than it depends on democracy .

  • by mevets ( 322601 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:43PM (#33564822)

    I think they fit in kindergarten. Most move on once they can read.

    "I was a teenage anarchist; But the politics were too convenient" - Against Me!

  • Free Speech (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:45PM (#33564858)

    Harper, in his attempts to create a "Fox News" in Canada blasts those opposed to it using "Free Speech" arguments.

    Harper is a hypocritical creep who has NO interest in the good of the people. He is interested in dumbing them down, propagandizing at them and limiting knowledge.

    Propaganda is not an attempt to communicate. Rather, it regards people not as people but as little machines which can be programmed using the right strings of words and images calculated to illicit desired behavior. The moment somebody intends to manipulate, the act of communication has ended and the act of programming has begun. Freedom of speech laws were designed with the idea in mind that people fundamentally respected the humanness of their peers. They didn't have to respect one another's opinions, but the underlying assumption is that we are appealing to the soul and intelligence on a personal level and not a cynical machine-programming level. Put another way, humans must treat each other as humans and not as lab rats.

    Propaganda doesn't respect fundamental humanity and therefore should not be brought under the protection of freedom of speech. Same with advertising.


  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:46PM (#33564868) Homepage Journal

    They're corporate anarchists like every other libertarian. No amount of government is ever small enough. Especially when it's reduced to military and police, the usual "reasonable libertarian" utopia, where the rest of the government that can keep those forces from being nothing but private armies/security is missing.

  • Re:No surprise (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ubergrendle ( 531719 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:49PM (#33564914) Journal
    I'm going to call BS on this one. The story is pretty straight forward -- ~200,000 citizens did not fill out the long form of the census during the last approach. According to the current laws, this was punishable by substantial fines and mandatory imprisonment. The census bureau *never* pursue these fines or penalties. On the basis that a) the law was never enforced, and b) a strong libertarian minority within their supporters were railing against oppressive government, they removed the law.

    While all the complaints around the accuracy of the data, the importance of the census, are valid.... this is still about simplifying the reach and authority of government -- something the slashdot community normally endorses. Had this been about liberalisation of pot laws, or eliminating government enforcement of copyright, etc... we've be hailing them as heros.
  • by JMZero ( 449047 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:51PM (#33564934) Homepage

    This isn't just Canada by any stretch - it's everywhere. And scientists are just the newest people being affected.

    The problem is media. Not left-wing media, not right-wing media, but scandal happy media. From my perspective (in Canada), media have lost all desire to fill people in on what's happening, all they want is a scandal - something they can sell right now. They want to catch a politician (or a scientist) making a mistake or saying anything that a significant number of people will disagree with. And it's been getting worse for decades.

    Now, sure, it makes sense that - to a certain extent - the media needs to maintain a bit of an adversarial role toward government. Media is an important check on the power of government. But that needs to be balanced by a desire to be informative rather than sensational and a desire to inform people with both sides of an issue.

    How it is now, we've reached the point that, to be safe, politicians just don't say anything of any interest - and the only information we'll get will be vacuous and committee-written. Nobody wins in this situation.

    To me, politicians and media share the blame on this one. Politicians need to be open, but media needs to ease off the trigger a bit so that being open isn't quite so suicidal. The best summary I've seen of this is here [youtube.com] (David Mitchell).

  • by BergZ ( 1680594 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:51PM (#33564936)
    The Harper government must still be stinging from the contents of the RCMP Long-Gun Registry report that they tried to suppress.
  • Re:Eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:52PM (#33564942)

    Or perhaps the suppression of data that supports a contrarian opinion or action.

    The facts are, what they are. Peer review is vital. Yet trusting politicians to use information neutrally is suspect.

  • by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:56PM (#33564994) Journal

    ...if you take government grant money, you will only publish results that agree with the government's stances.

    Hang on that is NOT what the article says. The scientists in question are EMPLOYED by the government. They are not university-based faculty who also apply for grants, are employed by a university and have tenured positions. While this is certainly very disturbing and worrying it is not as far reaching as applying to everyone who gets government research grants, only to those employed directly by the government.

    Of course the irony is that, since I am someone getting a research grant from the Canadian government, but not employed by them, the government policy might make you doubt that what I just wrote is true.... which is why it is a really stupid policy to muzzle scientists whether they are government employed or not. It makes it hard to believe scientists if they come up with evidence that actually supports a government policy yet everyone will still believe them if they announce evidence against a policy....and so far university scientists can still do that.

  • Censorship (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jaysyn ( 203771 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @04:05PM (#33565094) Homepage Journal

    Hey a Slashdot censorship article that is actually about government censorship!

  • Re:Eh? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Defenestrar ( 1773808 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @04:17PM (#33565258)
    I've worked with a number of great scientists I wouldn't want to talk to media - probably none without coaching. Do you have any idea what kind of damage a 10 second soundbite can do to the objective truth? (Likely taken from several hours of video and interview footage). PR people make their money by not getting excited or passionate about their work and making a comment which can be misunderstood, misinterpreted, or misused - and they never ever forget that that camera is rolling and audio recording even if it's pointed somewhere else.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @04:19PM (#33565276)

    We didn't have a two party problem until the entire right wing merged to form one party... the left is still much bigger than the right, the right just got rid of their fanatical parties and now they're all happy that they might scrap the gun registry which would be Harper's claim to fame in all his years... what a ridiculous government we have... honestly Harper's done nothing but raise the debt with his fiscal responsibility bs, the kid is a clown and needs to have a pie thrown in his face... too bad that's considered assault now, it used to be every PM would get one in the face

    why so serious?

  • Re:Eh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by digitig ( 1056110 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @04:32PM (#33565420)

    But peer review is still going on here.

    What has peer review got to do with this? Peer review is to ensure that what does get published is valid, but this story is about what doesn't get published. Nobody peer reviews a paper that is never released.

  • Re:Eh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Znork ( 31774 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @04:32PM (#33565430)

    stated that there was no difference in the danger level if you were holding the phone or using a hands free device.

    Trouble is, if you open up that can of worms you'll get studies noting there's no difference between hands free phone chatting and talking to passengers, and that kids in the car are much more dangerous than even using a chat client on a smart phone while driving and eventually you'll get the conclusion that drivers should be isolated and on uppers, while passengers should be in a separate compartment.

    And that just won't be politically manageable. Which is why you get not entirely scientifically supported regulations instead, that may or may not do much good, but that perhaps make it appear that someone's doing something about something so the can of worms can be shoved under the carpet until we have computer driven cars instead.

  • Re:No surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ArtDent ( 83554 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @04:43PM (#33565534)

    Hundreds of businesses, governments, and organizations have now testified that they rely on the data produced by the long form census. It is useful and important information.

    The intrusion of the census is minimal. It's a minor inconvenience at worst.

    If the government wanted to eliminate the threat of imprisonment, they could have done that. They didn't. They opted, instead, to corrupt the data.

  • by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <mashikiNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday September 13, 2010 @05:03PM (#33565752) Homepage

    You mean the RCMP manufactured report where all the information was based on police requests, and not public opinion? Yes, very stinging.

  • by Batmunk2000 ( 1878016 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @05:08PM (#33565812)

    The "Core of the problem" is government, not who is in control. When a government has grown to a point of such abuse it is inevitable that someone will abuse it. Government corruption exists because it has the power to do corrupt things. Lobbyists exist because we allow government to grow powerful enough to be lobbied. Reducing centralized power is the answer.

  • Re:Eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Haffner ( 1349071 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @05:08PM (#33565822)

    you'll get studies noting there's no difference between hands free phone chatting and talking to passengers

    Wrong. Talking to passengers is very different than talking on the phone. I can't recall the study off the top of my head, but this has been tested. A passenger is far more likely to take the driver's state into account before speaking, and is also aware of what is going on outside the car. Talking to a person on the other end of a cell phone has none of these advantages.

  • by Jesus_666 ( 702802 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @05:25PM (#33565990)
    The question is: When does it become safe to say things again? When terrorists no longer target the United States? That could be a very long time indeed and at that point people may be accustomed to a government that operates on a "need to know" policy.
  • Re:Eh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RJHelms ( 1554807 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:41PM (#33566840)

    Thankfully I exaggerate, but that element of Canadian society definitely has it's home in the CPC - look at Stockwell Day, cabinet minister and young earth creationist.

    The Conservative base, like it seems to be in many countries, is split between the social conservative religious wackos and the fiscal conservative "yay oil, boo climate" wackos. This move is brilliant (in a very cynical way) because it plays to both - but like most of Cabinet's actions these days, doesn't appeal to anyone else.

  • Re:Eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Thangodin ( 177516 ) <.ac.ocitapmys. .ta. .ratnele.> on Monday September 13, 2010 @09:37PM (#33568234) Homepage

    You probably don't understand the current situation in Canadian politics. The Harper government got in on 35% of the popular vote, and probably less. How? Four other parties split the left of center vote: the Liberals, the NDP, the Green Party, and the Block Quebecois. Two thirds of the country did not want and did not vote for the Conservatives, and voter apathy is at an all time high.

    This story hits right to the crux of the matter. The Conservatives beat the Liberals by campaigning on the issue of--wait for it--transparency! They then immediately proceeded to shut down all avenues of public information from the government except official channels, and Conservative ministers usually refuse to talk to the press at all, sending party spin doctors instead when they can no longer avoid talking to the press. Government access is now funneled entirely through Access to Information, which can take months or years (effectively making it useless to the media), and National Security is invoked on the merest wisp of an excuse. So this story is part of a longstanding practice, not just a reasonable approach to the media.

    A month ago, the Conservatives triggered a shit storm by attempting to shut down the long form census, claiming that the questions were intrusive. The question they cited was, "How many beds do you have in your house?" I will explain why this seemed significant to their base in a moment (hint: they equate beds with sex.) The Conservatives claimed they could get the data by other means. This means your bank, credit cards, air miles, browsing habits, etc--all of which have your name attached to the data, are quite expensive, and all of which come with non-disclosure agreements. But the census does not associate names with data (these get separated upon receipt), and gives statistical data on the state of the nation. In other words, it serves as a report card on government policy, and is open source. The other data is spotty, not much good for statistical analysis, not available for public view, but gives the government unprecedented access to personal information. In other words, our government wants more information about us, but doesn't want us to know anything about it.

    And yes, they will know how many beds we have, and will have a pretty good idea of what we do in them.

    How do they get away with it? The 35% comprises two groups: mainly social conservatives (the religious right and immigrants from third world countries), and "economic conservatives"-- the Canadian equivalent to the Tea Partiers. The former I can understand, but those alone would make the Conservatives a political backwater. The latter are a mystery. The Liberals paid down the debt for fourteen years, and Paul Martin could have steered through the current economic crisis with his eyes closed. We threw away the best economic manager we've ever had on a whim. It isn't like our federal government was out of control--Americans would have killed to have a guy like Martin. The Conservatives are now taking credit for Canada's remarkably stable banking system, yet in their first throne speech, they tried to dismantle it, pressuring the banks into allowing subprime mortgages; forty and even fifty years long. Fortunately, the financial institutions imported from the U.S. to foster this insanity were not yet too big to fail, and collapsed without much of an impact. But what if Harper had gotten power in 2000? We would have conditions that mirrored Bush's America, with huge military expenses in Iraq, a housing bubble, and failing banks. And their pet project? Twenty Billion for prisons, to build an American style prison industry/lobby. Conrad Black (hardly a bleeding heart liberal) has discovered for himself [slashdot.org] the obscenity of this proposal. No one in favour of this has any right to call himself a libertarian. And so, as under the last Conservative government, we have record deficits, a failing economy, and the largest trade deficit in our history.

    The majority of Canadians are socially liberal

  • Re:Eh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tbannist ( 230135 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:38PM (#33569116)

    Sorry, but that's not really it. The Prime Minister is silencing them because they might talk to the media about things he doesn't want them talking about. It's part of a pattern of hamfisted control freak behaviour. I mean most of the ministers that Harper has appointed aren't allowed to talk to the media without his direct approval of what they're to talk about and when they are allowed, they're given a script to memorize before hand. Only 1 or 2 of his most favoured cronies are allowed the freedom to speak the media without heavy censorship.

  • Re:Eh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tbannist ( 230135 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:45PM (#33569182)

    Doubtful, it's part of a patten of tightly controlling information. After all if you were going to dictate what these scientists were allowed to publish, first you would have to make sure they're not allowed to talk about that to the media. Frankly the Conservative Party of Canada is a lot like the Republican party. They've become an anti-fact, anti-truth party that likes to drive wedge issues to convince dumb or apathetic voters to vote against their actual interests over some inflammatory issue of the moment. They're slowly ripping the mechanism of government apart to appease their anti-tax, anti-government supporters and trying to stomp out opposition and free thought wherever they can within the government services.

    They're even trying to set up their own Canadian version of Fox News.

  • by internettoughguy ( 1478741 ) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @01:40AM (#33569918)

    What about Noam Chomsky, Philippe Van Parijs, Mike Gravel ect?. Left-Libertarian is not an oxymoron.
    Sure I find the far-Left Libertarian Communism and mutualism a bit hard to follow, but Georgism and Geolibertarianism have a fairly consistent center-Left ideology.

  • by internettoughguy ( 1478741 ) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @01:57AM (#33570000)

    The question is: When does it become safe to say things again? When terrorists no longer target the United States? That could be a very long time indeed and at that point people may be accustomed to a government that operates on a "need to know" policy.

    In terms of actual danger, terrorism in the US is at the bottom of the list, and it certainly does not justify the decrease in Govt. transparency (almost nothing would) that has occurred. I mean even here in New Zealand we got our own terrorism act, and exactly how much domestic terrorism have we had? None. It's just an excuse to make life easier for the Police and the Intelligence service, at the expense of justice.

Usage: fortune -P [] -a [xsz] [Q: [file]] [rKe9] -v6[+] dataspec ... inputdir