For those who did not catch this excellent piece in the Toronto Star I encourage you to take a look.
During the Bush era the Canadian war on science was an embarrassing side show to that of its more wildly offensive southern neighbour which regularly silenced scientists, withheld reports, or simply appointed “expert” panels whose credentials were dubious but whose members could be counted on to produce the “right” answer. Indeed, these sad events are well chronicled in Politics And Science In The Bush Administration drafted for Representative Henry Waxman. (This, as an aside, is what happens when you give elected representatives real research budgets – they look into all sorts of issues to keep the government of the day honest. A similar study by a Canadian MP would have stretched their resources beyond their limit).
But just in case you think the Canadian context is radically different, remember that our government has installed unqualified dependents of the oil industry to government scientific bodies. It has censored government scientists, preventing them from talking about their research at scientific conferences. It has barred officials from talking about climate change or harm reduction strategies for drug users. (It even banned one public servant from talking about a fictional book he”d written on climate change). It also disingenuously claims “more research is needed” on issues and then either cuts research programs that look into these questions or attempt to manipulate the process to produce outcomes that align with what they already believe (see the above Toronto Star piece).
This is the sad state of science and policy development in Canada. We alone in the world retain a government that is not interested in uncovering what is actually happening, but in fabricating a reality that conforms to an ideologically pre-determined world view. Our government’s two great allies, the Bush administration in the United States and the John Howard’s government in Australia, have moved on.
Today science is regaining its rightful place in the policy development process as evidenced by Obama’s inauguration speech:
The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act—not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.
The mention is short and quick, but it was a powerful signal that, for scientists, the Bush era was over. Suddenly science mattered again in the United States. For the Canadian government this line is still more ominous. Their war on science can no longer hide in the shadow of Bush. And none to soon. As a believer in the power of effective public policy the undermining of science has been an attack on the effectiveness of good government. If our government doesn’t believe in science, how are we then to measure success, on what basis are we to decide which policies are more effective?
Oh, and don’t think the world isn’t noticing. You really have to work extra hard to prompt the world’s preeminent scientific journal – Nature – to write a special oped about how your government has become anti-science.
A couple of other fun links regarding our government’s war on science:
Tony Clement, who happily is not longer the Canadian Minister of Health received a swift rebuke for accusing doctors that work at Insite of being unethical.
Gary Goodyear Canada’s Scientific Minister is a creationist. Best response to this sad state of affairs is the incredulous Brian Alters, founder and director of the Evolution Education Research Centre at McGill University in Montreal. He noted this is akin to asking someone “‘Do you believe the world is flat?’ and he doesn’t answer on religious grounds…”