Muzzling Canadian scientists: Comparing US and Canadian routine scientific secrecy

Canada's Conservative government has become notorious for muzzling government scientists, requiring them to speak through political minders (often callow twentysomethings with no science background who received government jobs in exchange for their work on election campaigns). Government scientists are not allowed to speak to the press alone no matter how trivial the subject, and the default position when reporters seek interviews is to turn them down. (Much of Canada's state-funded science pertains to the climate and the environment; Canada's Tories were elected with strong backing from the dirty tar sands and other polluting industries)

A group of University of British Columbia students decided to measure just how extraordinarily secretive science has become in Stephen Harper's Canada. Dave Ng writes:

What if there was a non-political research project that involved a collaboration between NASA scientists and Environment Canada scientists? How easy would it be for a journalist to talk to the scientists involved? It turns out it would take only 15 minutes for something to be arranged with NASA. With Environment Canada, however, it would take the activities of 11 media relations people, sending over 50 pages of internal emails, before a list of irrelevant information was finally sent back - all of this long after the deadline had passed. This is what happened to journalist Tom Spears in April 2012. With this, this Terry Podcast episode asks a simple question: If it was this difficult to get interviews for a positive science story, what would happen if a journalist needed to actually ask some tough questions? Please take a listen as this episode of the Terry Podcast examines the relationship between media and Canadian Government scientists, and questions whether the Harper government has politicized science.

The Terry Project on CiTR #27: Silencing the Scientists

Podcast feed

MP3 link

(Image: Talal Al Salem/Terry Project)

Notable Replies

  1. Lesson:

    Oil wealth can turn the nicest people into assholes.

  2. Drew_G says:

    $5 says it'll be someone who's 'calculated' that CO2 has a much lower effect on the atmosphere than previously thought.

  3. Surely the names of the Principal Investigators are public record? Did the reporter contact the PI in canada and get redirected to a press office, or did the reporter just ask the wrong person? It's possible that all the intellectual work is done in the USA and that the Canadians are just vassals in the project.

    • Which Canadian scientists were directly involved in designing the study?
    • Did the reporter try to contact those scientists, or did he contact the funding body?
    • Are Canadians actually involved in the science, or is Canada just providing logistical and technical support?
  4. It amazes me how many similarities exist between Australia and Canada. Similar sized land masses, similar sized populations, both populated almost exclusively along one border (Australia's east coast, Canada's border with the US), both are colonies of the Commonwealth that have slowly become more independent. In most instances the similarities are part of each nations charm.

    Conversely, in terms of our political-economies unfortunately we seem to be bent on digging dirty, inefficient fossil fuels from the ground and selling them to other nations; and the only way that can happen on a scale large enough to keep money hungry corporations happy is by damning science to hell and keeping plenty of the population ignorant. Hence shitty conservative governments and a muzzle on scientists in both countries.

    Tony Abbott and Stephen Harper are a pair of immoral lunatics who will help damn millions of people to a similar fate of poor victims of the recent typhoon in the Philippines.

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