Canada's Scientists Muzzled To The Point of Fear

It’s a sad day when scientists are muzzled by politicians who don’t want to hear what their research shows.

In the US, Florida’s right wing governor Rick Scott made the news when he banned people who work in environmental agencies from using the phrases, "sea level rise", "global warming" and "climate change. Governor Walker in Wisconsin did the same.

In Canada, it’s gotten to the point where scientists want language included in union contracts that protects them from this abuse.

Since Prime Minister Harper took office, he’s demolished environmental laws, shut down important labs, and warned scientists not to respond to requests from the media. 

Canada Harper

By 2017, over $2.6 billion and 7,500 positions will have been eliminated from the top 10 science-based departments, says the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), a union that represents 55,000 public sector professionals.  Science libraries have been closed and their contents have sometimes been thrown into dumpsters, they add.

Researchers employed by the government want "scientific integrity" language in contracts that gives them the right to speak openly about their work, publish results without fear of censorship and collaborate with peers, reports Globe and Mail.

Last year, for example, the federal government wouldn’t allow Globe and Mail to speak to Environment Canada researchers who were listed as authors on the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report. In contrast, the US National Center for Atmospheric Research sent a press release with the names, phone numbers and emails of scientist authors.

"This government has no respect whatsoever for Canada’s public scientists," says Debi Daviau of PIPSC. "Right now our scientists are constrained in their ability to share their research and collaborate with their peers. They’re frequently ‘missing in action’ at international conferences. They can’t speak freely to the media and the public about their work. These are all essential elements of performing science in the public interest and that’s how you protect our country’s environment and the health and safety of Canadians."

"It is now so ingrained that in addition to outright censorship, we’re also seeing self-censorship," and it will take a "bold step" for government scientists to feel they can speak freely again, regardless of which party holds power in Parliament," Katie Gibbs, Executive Director of Evidence for Democracy, told Globe and Mail. That’s why explicit protections are necessary in contracts, she says. Many scientists, however, have resigned from these jobs.

Unions will begin bargaining for these rights this week.

Read our articles, Canada Leads the World … On Forest Degradation and In An Unusual Move, Scientists Take to the Streets to Protest Canada’s Environmental Cuts.

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