Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


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This discussion has been archived.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 @03:04PM (#33564242)
    Green Party of Canada []
  • no surprise (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:09PM (#33564312)

    I spent much of my youth - including 2 different highschools - in Canada and it has to be one of the most government controlled propaganda using places ever - honestly you would think that they single handedly won WW2, that the bush pilot is a significant figure in world history and *everything* was invented in Canada.

  • by Alain Williams ( 2972 ) <> on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:15PM (#33564394) Homepage
    Is this control of them being able to speak to the media, or control of what they say once they can speak ? I suppose that it is probably moot since a scientist who says something that differs from what the govt wants them to say will never get permission to speak again.

    When, years ago, the soviets did this they were, rightly, lambasted.

  • by Genwil ( 943858 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:22PM (#33564516)
    It isn't the same at all if the scientists are heaping scorn on things because the methods, conclusions, etc., aren't supported by the evidence.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:31PM (#33564636)

    Green Party of Canada []

    Or how about Liberal Party of Canada []?

    Seriously. The people behind the sponsorship scandal are gone, and they at least have a chance at winning.

    How does that saying go? Something like "a vote for Green is a vote for the Conservatives"?

    Let's get the Cons out, then worry about keeping the Libs in line. It shouldn't be hard to do after they saw how quickly and decisively we kicked their asses over AdScam.

  • by FlyingOrca ( 747207 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:31PM (#33564638) Journal

    My parents are retired scientists of world-class standing, previously employed by the Canadian federal government, with extensive networks of colleagues around the world as well as here in Canada. The current government's efforts to muzzle and control what scientists say is widely viewed as completely unacceptable by the scientists themselves, but the highest levels of the departments which employ them have long been taken over by bureacrats.

    I would not be concerned with bias toward government goals on the part of the scientists, though. The government's attempts to vet and spin their public communications speaks quite eloquently to the scientists' integrity... and to this government's perfidy.

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

    by Kitkoan ( 1719118 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:36PM (#33564712)
    Having lived and gone to school in both the US and Canada, I have to call complete BS on this. I've also worked for the Canadian government in and around historical monuments and sites and it is nothing like what your trying to declare. Canada always declares that "the Allies" not "Canada" helped win WW2, that the Bush plane (not pilot...) [] while is a well known plane is not the be all end all of anything in history, nor do they declare "everything" was invented in Canada. While in the US though, I found that things like the Vietnam war are altered and edited (my history text books enter listing of that war was "The US entered Vietnam, fought the rebels, then the war protests happened, and then in the 80s..." completely removing any mentioning of the end of the Vietnam war, the removal of troops, the fact that the US lost that war (the teachers aren't to mention this)). The US also always wants to declare that WW2 only started after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, and not in 1939 (since the US was supplying both sides with weapons and supplies) and that the US single handedly ended the war. That they are the center of the world, ect...
  • Re:Eh? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by FlyingOrca ( 747207 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:37PM (#33564736) Journal

    Er, no. The publication process hasn't been muzzled as far as I know (and I'd probably know, see my comment further down). But this does point to some interesting challenges for the current generation of scientists.

    Take a guy like Dave Schindler [] - when he ran ELA for the feds, he published and publicised ground-breaking work on nutrient loading and acid rain (to cite a couple of examples) that resulted in improved regulation. Today he's not employed by the feds, so he can and does tackle the oil sands issue, but those scientists who are employed by the feds are the ones who are told to vet their public comments.

  • Re:No surprise (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kenshin ( 43036 ) <kenshin&lunarworks,ca> on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:41PM (#33564800) Homepage

    The whole census fiasco was an custom-engineered crisis. Who knows what the hell Harper was trying to accomplish with it, but he likely succeeded. As a bonus for him, it's in the public mind now, so it's a can of worms that can't easily be closed. Even if a new government comes in and tries to undo it, the right wing rabble will still foul the census in protest.

  • by Neil Watson ( 60859 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:46PM (#33564876) Homepage

    Alas, while the conservatives did a 'Unite the right' and gained votes from the old conservative party and the reform party, the left has become increasingly fragmented. The Liberals, the NDP, the Green party. Even the Pirate party has a Canadian segment now. So if you lean conservative you have little choice. If you lean liberal you have so many choices. Thus the current stead of Canadian parliament.

  • by radtea ( 464814 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:49PM (#33564904)

    Forget that, they ran on a platform of transparency.

    I'm advising a friend who is running for office (city council in a smallish town) and she's been hit with a lot of questions about what her platform is, whereas she's really a pragamatic problem solver with a great record of listening to people and using the best factual information available to fix stuff.

    I told her to reply to questions about her platform by saying, "Platforms are what politicians say before they're elected, and we know how that works out. The Harper government ran on a platform of greater transparency. So I'm not going to make you any grand promises, except to say that I'll listen to the voices of my constituents and do my best to find practical, affordable, sustainable solutions to their problems."

    The number one issue in the district where she's running--based on talking to the people there door-to-door--is quality of roads and sidewalks, which are not mentioned in anyone's platform.

    The whole media circus of political platforms is old and tired and will hopefully be dead soon. We've all seen how it ends far too often. Time to stop listening to politicians lies and start asking them, "Why should we think you're going to respresent us rather than your party after we vote for you?"

  • by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:50PM (#33564924) Homepage Journal

    Scientists very rarely drive out dissenting views. Science is based on the idea that if a theory is any good, the bulk of it will survive being stress-tested and the bits that do fail needed replacing anyway. When practiced in this fashion, the good views will get stronger. Maybe a mistaken belief is accepted for a while (such as the aether), but eventually the more correct theory will become strong enough that it will supplant all others. Eliminate the weakest links and replace them with links as strong as the remainder.

    True, sometimes you do get fanaticism. The Anti-Global Warming scientists (none of whom are climatologists or environmental chemists) demonstrate fanaticism over and above the tried-and-tested method outlined above. They do not test their own beliefs to the breaking point, nor are they concerned with establishing whether global warming is indeed the stronger theory or not. Such people drive themselves out. Science is not the people, nor is it the end result, science is the method. The method is all that matters, nothing else. If you renounce that method, you have stepped from science to religion, regardless of what you say, because that is how these terms are defined.

  • by SilasMortimer ( 1612867 ) <> on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:53PM (#33564958) Journal
    ...I thought they were actually muzzling the scientists. But like the feedbag type. You know, like horses.

    I was thinking, DAMN, you're working them to death! They're only human, for the love of god!!!

    Frankly, it would have been a much less frustrating story. And I wonder what they're going to do when they realize that the vast majority of stuff they will get will be on stuff like the peculiarities of the reproduction of a certain type of fungus, or some standard survey of fluctuations in the luminosity of a group of stars that the suits won't understand even if it's spelled out to them Dick and Jane style. They don't know what they're getting into. In fact, expect a jump in mundane research that makes no sense to the public as pissed off scientists decide to give the government what for.
  • Re:Eh? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dishevel ( 1105119 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:59PM (#33565016)
    There was a study on cell phone use while driving. The study cam to the conclusion that talking on the cell phone while driving was dangerous. It also stated that there was no difference in the danger level if you were holding the phone or using a hands free device. The politicians where I live used this study to pass a law requiring a hands free device to be used.
    How stupid are people that the politicians can believe them to be that stupid?
  • Re:no surprise (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @04:01PM (#33565036)
    No thanks, we don't want to join your turd of a country. The USA is going down the tubes.
  • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @04:05PM (#33565098)
    That's not really the same thing. Bush scared the crap out of a substantial number of Americans. I'm not sure that McCain or anybody else would've been able to do anything else. Regardless of what he does he's screwed. If he fixes all of it then he loses the independent vote that's necessary to keep his party in power and if he doesn't he gets idiot conservatives claiming that he's as bad as his predecessor.

    But at the end of the day, Bush fucked things up to the point where there isn't really any good way of fixing a lot of this. If he doesn't keep it secret, it's just going to embolden the terrorists, and if he does he's going to face well justified criticism for being secretive.

    I can't blame him for playing it safe a terrorist attack now would keep the Presidency out of democratic hands for a long time.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @04:06PM (#33565112)

    Exactly. Here in the States it's the same crap. I really really wish I could remember what the first hot topic was that Obama said would be more transparent when running for office. I just remember that a month or two after he said, "It's going to remain private, but for different reasons than Bush cited." As if that were somehow any better.

    It's like Futurama, "Your 3% tax goes too far!" "Your 3% tax doesn't go far enough!"

  • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @04:46PM (#33565580) Journal

    I think you have that backwards. Most people start "pro government" in school, but then as they advance towards middle age they tends towards anti-government, because they see how many things the government screws up.

  • by epine ( 68316 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @05:26PM (#33565994)

    Scientists very rarely drive out dissenting views.

    The Andrew Weaver complaining about the Harper government is the same guy who sued the National Post for not covering his science the way he wished them to.

    UVic's Andrew Weaver sues National Post []

    Any scientist who disregards Stephen McIntyre because he's unqualified to offer an opinion is a douche bag. Not sure if Weaver himself crossed this line, but he seems sorely tempted.

    Portrait of a local climate skeptic []

    Stephen's criticism of the statistics behind the original hockey stick graph have been upheld by eminent statisticians. The original peer review of the hockey stick study failed to encompass statistical competence, so it was a failed process. The adhesive on the gold star dried up, the sticker fell off. If you ask guys with only average competence in statistics to performed the peer review, they fail to spot subtle errors. An error is an error is an error. No amount of groupthink will spare your conclusion.

    Yes, scientists can be plenty good at driving out dissenting views.

    1) You have no scientific training.
    2) Why don't you publish a paper in a peer reviewed journal if you think you have something to say? (Our anonymous review process will soon send you straight to hell and you'll have hardly any recourse.)

    Much less often:
    3) That's an excellence point. I'll fix my paper immediately. I disappointed this error made it through peer review. We should fix that, too.

    No, the usual argument is that peer review is good because it's the best we have. Sadly, the conclusion does not follow the argument. Peer review has an acceptable track record in coming to long term consensus. For climate change, another century of study would restore my faith in the consensus of peer review. Peer review is a low pass filter. Science is deeply, deeply, deeply wrong for decades at a time. Many of our greatest theories had to first outgrow the pimply teenage years (where peer review is at its most intense).

    Back to Harper, I'm beginning to get the feeling that liberalism is the politics of oil surplus. When it's all about grabbing a giant share of a shrinking pie and holding on for dear life, fear and conservatism seems to rule the day.

    Scientists resent having their work misconstrued as the ignorant (but powerful) race to the bottom. Sometimes they get a little too worked up and put the boots to Stephen McIntyre in defense of science, when in fact their doing the exact opposite: immunizing science against criticism that points out loose ends in a cherished conviction.

    The whole enterprise of science is based on the premise that the smallest valid criticism is worth more than the largest flawed conviction. But I don't have to earn my living as a scientist, so it's cheap for me to espouse lofty views, and I'm able to actually express my views because I'm not a minion of the Harper government.

    Wikipedia JSF edits traced to Defence computers in Alberta []

    Harper really needs to brush up on his Mandarin. Tanks are better for suppressing dissent, and cheaper, too. I wonder, however, if his ideological nose bone will make it hard for him to master tonal pronunciation.

  • by Altrag ( 195300 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @05:31PM (#33566044)

    I don't know where you live. Around here its pretty much the opposite. They start off in school believing in "authority" without any consideration about where that authority comes from (most 5 years olds don't care what political party is in power).

    By the time they start hitting high school (mid-teens), they're usually anti-authority of any kind, but still without much consideration.. they just want to do whatever they feel like and think they should have that freedom.

    Once they start hitting their early to mid 20s (especially if they go to college/university where actually thinking about things is encouraged), they start putting some real thought into why they like (or dislike) what they do. They actually are able to vote so they start actually considering what they're voting for (as much as the propaganda allows.. we're all well aware that what the parties say they'll do often gets ignored or even 180'd).

    By the time they've hit their 30s they've pretty much figured out where they lie on the political spectrum. Sure they'll differ slightly from year to year, but short of some massive bullocks on the part of their chosen party (such as the liberal scandal that got Harper elected in the first place), its pretty rare for people to do much of a party swap beyond a certain age.. they've already become set in their ways.. and they've got real responsibilities (work, family) and less time to think about their choices, and so on.

    Obviously I'm generalizing and I'm sure there's loads of counter-examples but that's sort of a general flow of things.

  • by superluminique ( 1567063 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:01PM (#33566368)
    The answer is actually almost more simple than that.

    I'm Canadian by the way and I'm really ashamed and pissed off by my government...

    First of all, the Conservative Party of Canada is much more like the former Reform Party than the Conservative Party of the old days. There is a very strong base of religious nuts and redneck in the party who would do anything to deny actual scientific fact about too many things. Be it of religious reasons when it comes certain topics like geology/archeology/astronomy etc., and/or if it doesn't suit their own agenda such as for the global warming, pollution, geology, and that kind of things.

    So far, we've got several nice demonstration of that. There was John Goodyear (I think I've got the name right), the science advisor to the minister, who turns out to be a conservative christian creationist who clearly doesn't believe in evolution. We've got John Baird, who as the Minister of Natural Ressources went to a big after-Kyoto conference and said that he never realized that global warming was an issue (clearly the government denies any environmental problems on taking place on this planet). One more for the road? No prob! The government pushing the purchase of replacement fighter jets for our old CF18 and pretty much buying new fighter jets them without asking anyone. A few days later, press conference with the Minister of Defense about the fact that two of our CF-18 escorted a Russian reconnaissance bomber away from the Canadian land. The plane was actually in the far away buffer and/or international zone and such kind of things happens a couple of times a year with not a single mention in the medias...

    The whole game is very clear: they have their secret agenda and they're trying to sneak it in while the opposition parties are so weak, disorganized and without strong leadership that they aren't afraid that the opposition will make the government fall, unless they come with something big and blatant. So what they do is bringing a few big and controversial stuff along with a bunch of little sneaky things related to censorship for instance. They know opposition parties won't let go the big things so they play the arguing game a bit and give it up in a "package deal" that is like "ok, we're giving up the big piece but let's just not argue the little details".

  • Re:no surprise (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:17PM (#33566558) Homepage

    I'm not sure about weapons, but there's clear evidence that IBM supplied the Nazis with a sophisticated punch card system to keep track of their prisoners. Clear evidence as in: The punch card records say "International Business Machines" on them, and contracts with the signature of Thomas J Watson Sr.

  • by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <mashiki@ g m a> on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:20PM (#33566588) Homepage

    Canada hasn't been right-wing since the 1920's, even more-so since the '70s(lookin' at you libs). It's always leaned left, the only question is, where is the right and to what point is it leaning. The reality is during the 20's we got the start of institutionalized left-leaning "we care for you" programs. During the 70's this accelerated, with things like CPP and medicalcare. It won't ever shift back, because people are stuck on the tit of government entitlements.

    However things like having money for kids? Yeah that's a good idea, without a question. Especially if they're natural born, or immigrant who want to integrate fully into society. It means that your country is less reliant on external forces to maintain population(like immigration) and more reliant on those that want the country to move forward based on natural population.

  • by theaveng ( 1243528 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:33PM (#33566716)

    Some libertarians are anti-corporation too. They fear centralization of power either in government or quasi-governments (large corporations) as dangerous to individuals.

    Some libertarians are also pro-life/anti-abortion, although they are a distinct minority in the LP.

  • by shugah ( 881805 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:55PM (#33566970)
    This is not surprising from a federal government that has cabinet ministers (Stockwell Day) who believe that humans and dinosaurs co-existed.

    My wife is a university based, grant funded, tenured faculty in a major Canadian university who does health policy research. A memo was distributed to her department saying that they would all be required to register as lobbyists with the Provincial government.
  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @07:30PM (#33567294) Homepage Journal

    Libertarians are all just wannabe mayors of Sim City, so there's no actual reality to what would be an acceptable final result to a libertarian. There is no end to "less government" except "no government". Which is anarchy, which is always a brief period before it's replaced by warlords. That's why a lot of libertarians will tell you the acceptable amount of government would be "military and police only", because they're really just authoritarians. But "military and police only" is just a way to skip right to warlordism, or rather totalitarianism by the warlord running the police and military without the rest of the government to keep it in check.

    Your particular version of moderation includes funding hospitals, schools etc. The libertarian next to you doesn't want public funding of schools. The one next to them wants to stop paying for hospitals. The libertarian next to them wants to stop paying for either of them.

    Yes, there are efficiencies to be had. If libertarians actually cared about efficiency, they'd run for election to their local school board, find whether there are merger efficiencies, and convince a majority to merge. That never happens. Because there's no glory in it, and libertarians don't want to work - they want to be mayor of Sim City.

    Harper is a "Conservative". "Conservatism" is one step away from corporate anarchy: state corporatism. The state funds the corporations, but is run by them (or a select few of them). When that's enforced by terrorism, like violence and its credible threat, it's identifiable as fascism (and usually comes with nationalism, mass murder, military attack of other countries, etc). State corporatism isn't as prosperous for the corporate owners as is corporate anarchy, but it's a lot more likely to include any one corporate owner in those who get to survive and own the corporation; stability of wealth vs greater wealth but risk of none.

  • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @07:31PM (#33567304)

    So... have looney Creationists actually gained enough hold on the Canadian government to silence scientific knowledge?

    TFA mentions something about oil sands and mercury pollution in the Athabasca river, so it's most probably work of the oil industry.

    As a bonus, they get silence about floods at the end of the ice age. Any paper about climate is bad for the oil industry, they need ignorance in order to enforce their truth that there is no climate change and if it existed it would not have been caused by CO2 in the atmosphere.

Someone is unenthusiastic about your work.