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Manipulation of science for political ends

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Manipulation of science for political ends
Manipulation of science for political ends
Manipulation of science for political ends
Manipulation of science for political ends

U.S. congressman demands that scientific papers be approved by politicians

120710-OttawaDeathofEvidence-PSACM-05THE politicizing of science and the negation of the scientific method are features of the neo-liberal, anti-social offensive in Canada, as is evident from the systematic attempts by the government to muzzle scientists and force them to toe the Harper agenda.

“Down South” – where the main goal of scholarship in the humanities as in all fields of academic research cannot be said to uncover truth or advance knowledge, but to do something completely different – a U.S. congressman, Lamar Smith of Texas, has made this offensive clearly visible.

He has submitted a bill titled the “High Quality Research Act,” which would in effect add a politician into scientific studies. According to the Addicting Info website, the bill says that any research done using federal funds (which is the majority of research done in the United States) must have its results and finding approved by the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology of the House of Representatives. If the politically desired findings are not agreed to, the research is taken from the researchers and disposed of by Congress as it sees fit. 

The anti-science misanthrope from Texas is a member of the congressional committee of the U.S. state. Smith “had already landed himself in scientific hot water over his April 25th Letter to the National Science Foundation where he demanded that this body conduct an investigaton into five research programs which contradict policies his donors want passed,” the website reports.

I am sure that everybody with common sense understands the absurdity of the anti-science measure and the reactionary motives behind it, which accompany the resurrection of the most savage, outworn theories of pagan times and the Middle Ages such as “divine right,” and “might is right.” American pragmatism and its credo “the truth is what works” and “any means to the end” is derived from such medieval themes. The purge of scientists will follow and the stakes of Salem, Mass. re-erected. Far from being a bizarre example of the “right wing” and its “disconnect” with reality, the resolution is a microcosm of what is occurring in the USA and Canada at large.

Photos courtesy TML Daily and the Public Service Alliance of Canada

For the information of readers, I am appending a recent article by Philip Fernandez on the program of the Harper Government to muzzle scientists and force them to toe ts anti-social agenda.

* * *

Scientists resist program to silence them

PHILIP FERNANDEZ* on the attempts to muzzle scientists and deny the right of the public to getting factual and scientific information in a timely manner. The Harper Government’s anti-social agenda has a political aim: to “marginalize Canadians from participating in more fully debating and discussing issues that concern them.”

Scientists rally on Parliament Hill, July 10, 2012, against Harper government’s attacks  on their research and natural environment.

Scientists rally on Parliament Hill, July 10, 2012, against Harper government’s attacks
on their research and natural environment.

THE Harper government is particularly intent on silencing scientists and researchers from speaking to the media “especially when the scientists’ research or point of view runs counter to current Government policies on matters such a environmental protection, oil sands development, and climate change.” So says a letter to the Information Commissioner of Canada sent by the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Victoria, together with Democracy Watch. 

On February 20, these organizations sent a joint letter to Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault requesting that she undertake an investigation under s. 30(1)(f) of the Access to Information Act “into the systematic efforts by the Government of Canada to obstruct the right for the media – and through them, the Canadian public – to timely access to government scientists.”

They enclosed a 128-page report, Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy, which provides stark evidence drawn from the experience of scientists and investigators working in various government departments which shows the systematic campaign by the Harper government to censor information that would be important and useful to Canadians. In preparing the report, the two organizations relied on access to information requests, evidence gathered from current and former civil servants, as well as communications with not-for-profit organizations. The letter underscores the point that depriving people of scientific information by preventing scientists and others from giving their views in interviews, articles and other forms violates the right of the public to getting factual and scientific information in a timely manner and marginalizes Canadians from participating in more fully debating and discussing issues that concern them.

The two organizations call on the Commissioner to exercise her mandate to bring to light the Harper government’s abuse of power in this regard and its efforts to withhold research information funded by the public purse, and to continually violate Section 2 of the Access to Information Act which states that the “explicit statutory purpose” of the Act is that the public has the right of access to government information and only in “limited and specific” circumstances can this right be denied. The writers of the letter also cite the Supreme Court case of R. v. National Post 2010 SCC 16, in which the Supreme Court noted:

“Parliament and the public cannot hope to call the Government to account without an adequate knowledge of what is going on; nor can they hope to participate in the decision-making process and contribute their talents to the formation of policy and legislation if that process is hidden from view.”

Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy begins by discussing how, after coming to power in 2006, the Harper government put in place a “new communications policy” whose objective was “to ensure that communications across the Government of Canada are well co-ordinated, effectively managed and responsive to the diverse information needs of the public.” This meant in practice that the Harper government would require that “information needs of the public” would be vetted and approved first, i.e., censored, by the “media relations department” of various government institutions.

The reports dissects what has been the experience of this “muzzling” in Environment Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Resources Canada, the National Research Council and other cases.

For example, a 2011 study led by University of Alberta scientists Erin Kelly and David Schindler commissioned by Environment Canada, concluded that “contrary to claims made by industry and government in the popular press, the oil sands industry substantially increases loadings of toxic pollutants to the Athabasca River and its tributaries via air and water pathways.” The results of the study were to be presented by Environment Canada at a conference in Boston later on. Prior to the conference, the Director of Communications for Environment Canada send the scientists who had done the study a “Q and A package” outlining 20 “expected questions” and a “script” of how they are to be answer concerning this study. If pressed, the scientists were to respond: “I am a scientist. I’m not in a position to answer that question, but I’d be happy to refer you to an appropriate spokesperson.” David Schindler is quoted in Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy criticizing the government for preventing the scientists from presenting information based on their own research and humiliating them. 

In another case, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientist Kristi Miller published a report entitled Suffering Salmon in 2011 in which she examined why the sockeye salmon populations in the Fraser River in British Columbia were rapidly declining in recent years, especially the role that the commercial salmon farms have played in this decline. The article was published in the scientific journal Nature and was brought to the attention of the international community. However, Ms. Miller was prevented from speaking to the media for months because the Privy Council Office, which works directly with the Prime Minister’s Office, forbid the scientist from speaking to the media, citing that the Harper Government’s own inquiry into the decline of the Fraser River salmon population, the Cohen Commission, was still conducting its business. At that time, the Harper government’s silencing of Kristi Miller was roundly criticized. The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada issued a statement in July 2011 noting among other things:

“Denying media access to this information under the guise of the Cohen Commission is simply a convenient excuse”

and, further:

“In the past year, media have reported that key federal science-based departments and agencies including Natural Resources Canada and Environment Canada, have implemented new communications policies that have resulted in an incapacity to communicate sound independent scientific information in a timely fashion.”

In August 2011, months after her study was published, Kristi Miller was herself able to make a deputation to the Cohen Commission. She pointed out that it would have been appropriate and responsible to have given timely information about her study to the media and that she found it “frustrating to see the direction some news stories went” – referring to the spin that the government’s media relations staff had on her research. It is noteworthy that over the course of her testimony, there were security guards present to prevent the media from speaking to her. These and other examples in the Report give clear evidence of the Harper government’s program to systematically restructure Canada in the service of the ruling elites. Such a government spreads disinformation to depoliticize the people and politicize private interests. The authors of Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy call on the Information Commissioner to undertake the investigation as she is mandated by law to do, and if their claims in the report are found to be valid, to issue a “strong public ruling, finding these policies and actions to be in violation” of the Access to Information Act, and to hold the Harper government to account. To view the full report, click here.(Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy, Democracy Canada)

 *Source: TML Daily, February 28, 2013, No. 26
Longtime Halifax activist Tony Seed is a journalist, author and publisher and maintains a weblog at http://tonyseed.wordpress.com

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