Canada to science: Drop dead

Not long ago, Cory told you about how the Canadian government has been muzzling scientists—refusing to let them speak freely with the press and, thus, controlling what research the public gets to know about. Not surprisingly, it's research on topics that are politically inconvenient to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government—climate change, for instance—that end up getting frozen.

This issue was the topic of a panel at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Vancouver. And although the Canadian government did schedule a free press breakfast in the same time slot, word of this issue got out to a lot of journalists from around the world who hadn't heard about it before. That means we're likely to start seeing more attention being drawn to this issue.

Case in point: The Harper government and its opposition to the open distribution of scientific information was the subject of a Feb. 29th editorial in Nature—one of the biggest and most-read scientific journals in the world.

Since Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative Party won power in 2006, there has been a gradual tightening of media protocols for federal scientists and other government workers. Researchers who once would have felt comfortable responding freely and promptly to journalists are now required to direct inquiries to a media-relations office, which demands written questions in advance, and might not permit scientists to speak. Canadian journalists have documented several instances in which prominent researchers have been prevented from discussing published, peer-reviewed literature. Policy directives and e-mails obtained from the government through freedom of information reveal a confused and Byzantine approach to the press, prioritizing message control and showing little understanding of the importance of the free flow of scientific knowledge.

... The way forward is clear: it is time for the Canadian government to set its scientists free.


  1. Of course the conservative government want’s to block science.  Science is concerned with facts and facts are notoriously liberally biased.

  2. It might be notable to consider that Canada has no “1st Amendment” protections.  (yes yes, it’s not a super well protected or clearly interpreted law in the U.S. either)   A case in point occurred in southern British Columbia a couple years ago.  It seems that some Pakistani born folks had leased a radio station in the states just south of the Canadian border from which they were broadcasting some fairly annoying and probable lies about the British Columbian government.  “Why can’t you just shut them down?!”, demanded a British Columbia M.P. to the Washington State officials.  “Well, they’re protected under the 1st Amendment”, said the Olympia bureaucrats.   “That’s ridiculous! freedom of speech doesn’t mean the freedom to lie, in Canada!“, was the response.  So there are still some significant differences between; and it isn’t always the case that it’s worse to the south  ;)

    1. From the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (emphasis is mine):

      Fundamental freedoms

      2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:(a) freedom of conscience and religion;


      (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

      (d) freedom of association.

      1. yes of course, straight from the constitution act of 1982, but its application is far more easily abridged – and that was the point of the British-Columbia story.  for instance:   …this “freedom of speech” issue, which is required to be tolerated in the states is fairly easily halted in Canada as “hate speech”.  mind you, i dislike this particular church even more than you do; but as they say, sometimes you have to let the nazis march, or someday you won’t be allowed to.

  3.  Unfortunately, the Harpocrats have a clear field to do whatever they want until the next election.  I kind of miss the days when Canada had an effective opposition…

  4. The solution is stop government sponsored scientific research.

    The government should not be doing science for precisely this reason. Politicians should not control scientists. They should not determine what they research, how the research it, and who they tell about it. Politicians control the government therefore science should not be done by the government.

    Scientific research should be done by (private) universities, think tanks, research institutions, and corporations, but not the government.

    Whatever Canada spends on government research should be deducted by the government and sent back to the tax payers as tax refunds, they can donate the money to a research institution if they so choose. That is freedom.

    1.  There wouldn’t even be an internet for you to have written this if we depended purely on private research.

    2.  Nice idea, but who pays?  Hint: Privately funded research ~= short term concentration on things that show immediate profit potential.

      Wide-ranging research is like transport: a public good that can never get enough funding in the right places from private donations alone.

    3. And while we’re at it, stop govt. funding of armies, naives and other military forces. And police. And no more govt. funded govt.! It’s *just wrong*!

  5. I find it disgusting that they would schedule a free feed to conflict with the Panel.
    That sort of blatant subterfuge paints a very poor picture of the government.

  6. “Ack   ack  ack! ,  we come in peace!”    Sigh…  Canadians are collectively such idiots.

  7. Harper has to go.  Let this be a fortaste of what the US govt. will be like if the republicans take control. 

  8. Let me get this straight, they are attempting to curtail and control the one characteristic that allows humans to be human, for better or worse.

    And what is that characteristic?

    The single most important characteristic of humans is cumulative culture, our ability to learn, share knowledge, and build on the lessons of others.

    In other words stop being human.


    Imagine a world where every newly minted human had to rediscover fire.

  9. Like politicians at several points in history tried to pass laws making π = 3, which just doesn’t work. (See the Incomplete Book Of Failures by Stephen Pile ISBN: 978-0525475897)

    Sorry politicians but science strives to describe how things actually work, not what would be more convenient for your party.

    To politicians and lawyers it often seems like science is always hedging its bets because they never come out and say something is absolute and unquestionable.

    That’s because nothing is absolute and unquestionable.

    Engineering is also a question of precision to within certain tolerances.

    Politicians and other lawyers demand Euclidian precision when the world is fractal and the length of a beach depends on the size of the ruler used to measure it.

  10. Is there any law to prevent a scientist from making a quick trip south and talking to the press here? Except, you know, potentially sabatoging their ability to get finding in the future.

  11. So, not a big fan of Harper, the Conservatives, or “muzzling” scientists however:

    “Canadian journalists have documented several instances in which prominent researchers have been prevented from discussing published, peer-reviewed literature.”

    So apparently they are still publishing and having literature peer reviewed, etc… I am sure they are not the first scientist that had their government clamp down on information.

    Anyway it is deplorable,  and Harpar has to go etc.. yadda yadda yadda, but I don’t think this one is as big as it is being made out to be.

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