Canadian government censoring scientists from media?

By Phil Plait | September 17, 2010 7:27 am

I’m very surprised to see from two sources (The Montreal Gazette and The Ottawa Citizen) that scientists with Natural Resources Canada — the government department that deals with natural resources — need to get permission from their Minister’s office before going to the media with their scientific results… and that the office has say over whether they can talk to the media or not.

What? I mean really, WHAT?

OK, first: I understand that the government funds scientific research, and there are caveats that must apply when that happens. I also understand that the government should have some say in how scientific results are released. Whether you’re a scientist at a university, a private company, or a government lab, you shouldn’t just go to the media with results when you get them; there are proper channels in announcing them.

However, this is a very dangerous precipice upon which to balance. There is a big difference between the government following rules to make sure results are released correctly, versus deciding whether to release them or not at all. In the end, any and all scientific findings should be public and can be discussed with the media. The government should never have any censorship over that. They might have a hand in how the results are announced, but not if they are announced!

This is chilling news. In the US we saw the previous Administration interfere with science over and again, from stem cells to global warming to the incredibly embarrassing George Deutsch affair at NASA. I’d hate to see that sort of political hackery in other countries as well.

The bottom line: politicians shouldn’t decide what science is worth releasing and what isn’t. Their job is to make sure the flow of research is unimpeded, and not to dam it up. I’m not sure where this Canadian policy is headed, but I hope the citizens up there make sure their politicians know what they think about it.

Tip o’ the toque to Glen Shearlaw

MORE ABOUT: Canada

Comments (80)

  1. Here’s the thing: Our current government (Harper) doesn’t let ANYONE in government say ANYTHING to any media without permission. Period. It is a disgrace.

  2. R2K

    A great deal of research is done for corporations, in that case the data never have to be released. It makes sense for governments to regulate who says what, that is how it works for every other job that people have. If you are paid to do a job, there are always going to be limitations on what you can say to the media. Can just anyone at NASA come out and make a statement to the press about internal research in progress? Would they lose their job?

  3. John Childress

    @ R2K….

    It’s not the limitations that is the issue, it’s that they have the final say about if it will be released period that is the issue.

    We already had multiple issues in this country Re: Bush II censoring and refusing to let science reports be released. This is never a good situation when science is censored by the government.

  4. Michel Rogers-Vallée

    @R2K

    Natural Resources Canada is not NASA and they mostly do government or academic research. The situation mentioned in the article is in the case when academic or internal researchers are doing public studies and the government (Harper) stop them from publishing their finding because it does not fit with their views.
    The existence of those research are known to the public since they have to publish where they distribute the money, but the result are never published (even if a reporter ask for it) or put in dark corner of a website without announcement. In some instance it was recorded that a reporter asked for a document and did not received it, she then called posing as a citizen for the same document and received it 3 days later.
    Even CBC journalist are complaining the restriction.

  5. IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE

    Well, what do you expect from a country that speaks two languages?! ;-)

  6. JohnK

    As an employee for a United States company that does contract work for NASA, I can tell you that there are plenty of rules before you can release any data to the public. It is an easy (and sometimes long – several months) process. For example, is the work unclassified? Is there a patent to come? Unlike Canada, the process is not controlled by the politicians, but by the local government agency.

  7. R2K is right. Scientists are employees like anyone else, and the primary goal of the employee is to do what he’s told.

    “The Public” doesn’t pay these scientists, the government does. If Joe Schmoe down the street wants to get valid data about the climate, he can damned well hire his own scientist.

    It’s this ridiculous sense of entitlement that’s destroying the Western world. People think they deserve to know the results of science without doing the science themselves! Hah. Maybe if the process becomes a bit more Capitalistic, then people will get up off their asses and hire their own team of researchers.

    Anything else is Communism, plain and simple.

  8. HM

    I could understand this if it was military research but this is a civilian government agency. It sounds suspiciously like a policy set in place by government spin doctors who fear science might go “off-message”.

  9. Ryan

    Unfortunately that is how our government has been working in Canada since the Conservatives came to power in 2006. They campaigned on better accountability but have tried to turn everything that happens in Ottawa into a national secret. They don’t want any scientific results that might make their policies look bad to reach the public.

  10. AC

    This Prime Minister is a bit of a control freak. No government employee can talk to the media without permission. I’m working for the Department Fisheries and Oceans and I see a ton of misinformation coming from local media and activists but I’m not allowed to say anything

  11. IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE
  12. Michel

    They must have found free energy.
    [/conspiracy]

  13. Collin

    In soviet Canada, research censors you!

  14. Messier Tidy Upper

    @5. IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE Says:

    Well, what do you expect from a country that speaks two languages?! ;-)

    Better? ;-)

    Ideally, science should be as free and as widely shared and as open to unfettered scrutiny and investigation by everybody as possible in my view.

    Now, okay, I accept that that’s not always realistically going to happen in practice and I can see some reasons why that may not be desirable even in real life.

    (Eg. one scientific team has gathered the data and wants to have first crack at problem X and getting their papers out first rather than risk being scooped by others uing their data, observation Y has such frightening implications yet is based on evidence with such large error bars that its far better not to cause a needless panic by releasing it publicly too early, technology Z used to obtain the results of study Q is classified top secret military tech and releasing it will give that away & severely disadvantage the national security interests of the nation in question, etc ..)

    But still, yeah, this story Canada~wise ain’t sounding too good. :-(

  15. TerryS.

    Phil,

    This is SOP for right-wing Conservatives: If it doesn’t fit with the plan, it doesn’t exist.

    I have an acquaintance that works for another Canadian ministry, and the scientists must clear almost everything through the deputy minister, including simple media telephone interviews (because the government doesn’t want the general public hearing any factual information.)

    It’s incredibly frustrating, but we elected them in the first place. Now we suffer.

  16. KiltBear

    Godwinian comment all the way: During WWII in fighting the NAZIS and the first AXIS of Evil, you wouldn’t have wanted ALL research publicly available. (Sorry, couldn’t resist, I went there.)

  17. Grizzly

    As a Canadian I was going to offer a nuanced and balanced critique. But… oh never mind. Go ahead, get your girdles in knots over this. It’s not that it isn’t warranted, it’s just that on the List of Things To Complain About ™ this ranks about middle of the pile.

    Our politics is getting just as polarized as yours. Used to be (back when I was a lad and everything was in Black and White) that the leader of the oppostion, while perhaps not to your taste, was considered an honourable chap who wouldn’t do (much) harm to the country should he form the government.

    Now horrible invective dominates and people hate, froth at the mouth over the other side. It’s just, not Canadian.

    And this government, well, it’s just not to my taste.

    That said, he’s slightly to the left of your Democrats on some issues.

  18. @ shadmere:

    “The Public” doesn’t pay these scientists, the government does.

    Um…who, exactly, pays “the government”?

    That being said, Bad Canadians! Bad! No donut, eh?!

    Sorry. Had to be said.

  19. Chris S

    Roll back a few months, and you’ll see the same tendencies in a plan to stop doing a mandatory Long Form Census. If they hold on to power long enough to follow through with this, it becomes a long-term data issue, because it can be demonstrated that – among other things – some minority groups under-report to a voluntary Long Form Census. Many subsequent statistics depend on the underlying counting from the Census to validate (or re-weight) their own stats gathering.

    It’s hard to escape the idea that cutting back on the Long Form Census allows a government to substitute ideology in place of no-longer-available factual information. And that looks a lot like the same effect going on in this case.

    The final step is to try and discredit the source of information if you can’t control the release. This resulted in a Conservative MP’s press release describing the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police as “a cult that is led by organizations of police chiefs who pretend the registry helps them do their jobs”, when the Association released a report supporting the retention of our long gun registry. Someone did get fired over that, but it wasn’t the MP, it was one of his staff.

  20. @ #7. Shadmere:
    you wrote “The Public” doesn’t pay these scientists, the government does”<br.
    But…where do you think the government gets the money from? Exactly: from tax payed by citizens, i.e. “The Public”.

    So: contrary to your statement “The Public” does pay scientists in public institutions (including government agencies).

    This is not a “ridiculous sense of entitlement”. Science findings (as opposed to commercial patents) do belong to everyone.

    And when it comes to your remark that “Anything else is Communism, plain and simple”: Keeping the public stupid and ill-informed and only feeding them things in line with the ideology, exactly what is happening here, was a tried communist method.

  21. Georg

    IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE Says:
    Well, what do you expect from a country that speaks two languages?! ;-)

    Well, I’d say, they need double microphones everywhere.

    Georg

  22. Is this really new for Canada? I’d always had the impression that the US is pretty well unique in that government scientists are scientists first and civil servants second.

    In the UK, at least, as far as I know, what Phil is describing is SOP whatever the political complexion of the government, and has been for as long as there have been government scientists (effectively back to about WWII).

  23. Big Al

    As far as speaking two languages goes, good on ‘em. The more languages you speak, the better, I’d think. Never understodd the “You’re in Transylvania, speak Transylvanian!” attitude. If people don’t speak your favorite language, then they just put themselves at a disadvantage if they need something from you. If you want to increase your business, ldearn to speak to whoever it is you want to do business with. OK, that’s my “rant for the day”, sorry it was kinda off the main subject, but there you go.

  24. Messier Tidy Upper

    If public government agencies getting taxpayers money disclosing information to the public is communism .. then I’m a communist.

    & I’m so NOT! ;-)

    But I do love seeing all the images from the Hubble space observatory, the Cassini spaceprobe, the Lunar Reconnaissence Orbiter, the Voyager spaceprobes, the Space Shuttles, the Apollo missions, the WISE observatory, Hayabusa, Spitzer, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, COROT, Kepler, Giotto, Fermi, New Horizons, the Mars rovers .. & so very many more.

    Which we don’t have to pay for – except in taxes.

    All those are missions, spacecraft, programs and observatories that are provided by public, national space agencies. All are generous with sharing their taxpayer funded info. All are much appreciated by me & millions even billions of other individuals.

    Our lives would be so much poorer without them.

    Besides it’s not like we all independently discovered Pythagora’s theorem, the value of pi or have tried Ben Franklin’s kite in a thunderstorm experiment for ourselves.

    “We stand on the shoulders of giants.”

    (As Isaac Newton – or was it Einstein – said?)

    Giants who published and shared their heights with the world.

  25. Astrofiend

    7. Shadmere Says:
    September 17th, 2010 at 8:06 am

    Oooh – a subtle jibe! Well played sir.

  26. rfguy

    I assumed Shadmere’s comment to be sarcasm…otherwise whew! What a nutcase!

    ” That being said, Bad Canadians! Bad! No donut, eh?!”

    Does that mean no Timbits either! Cruel and unusual!

    And yes, our Conservative government is known for this sort of carp.

    -mark.

  27. Solius

    Canada has a very long history of censoring published material. Google “censorship in canada”.

  28. 18. kuhnigget
    20. Marco Langbroek

    It hurts me that the internet is such a place where that thing I typed could be mistaken for someone’s actual opinion. :(

    25. Astrofiend

    I was being subtle!?

  29. Segno

    A couple of things should be kept in mind:

    – While the rules do prevent scientists from talking to the media, it does not appear as if they are prevented from publishing their results in forums such as peer-reviewed journals. As such, their results aren’t exactly being ‘censored'; anyone with an interest in the subject can get the information

    – The article suggests that the government is trying to censor information about a ‘13,000 year old flood’. I do have to question whether the government is trying to specifically censor [b]that[/b] information, or whether the permission for media access rather fell through the cracks

    It may be a negative move by the government to set up the rules to talk to the media, but so far everything we’ve seen has been very one-sided. Perhaps we should actually try to determine the reasoning for the government actions before condemning them.

  30. 24601

    @27 Shadmere
    If you don’t want your words to be taken seriously on the internet, Use A Smiley ^_^

  31. uudale

    @BigAl:

    “Never understood the “You’re in Transylvania, speak Transylvanian!” attitude.”

    OK, if I’m in Transylvania, what language should I speak, if not Transylvanian?

    I travel to Europe occasionally for business, and even though most people I do business with speak English, I do make an attempt to learn enough of the native tongue to get by.

    What I don’t understand is why Americans are vilified for expecting immigrants to learn English.

    The gate swings both ways, sometimes.

  32. amphiox

    “The Public” doesn’t pay these scientists, the government does

    Did you Poe yourself back there, Shadmere?

    And here I was in the middle of typing up my own snarky response when your #27 popped up….

  33. amphiox

    That said, he’s slightly to the left of your Democrats on some issues.

    On the normal political spectrum of most normal countries, your average Democrat slots comfortably rightward of the “frothing lunatic fundamentalist fringe” on those particular issues.

    “Left”, as a political term, doesn’t actually mean what your average US politico thinks (or pretends to think?) it means….

    Overton isn’t a window in America, it’s a gaping chasm with an event horizon.

  34. Steve Metzler

    Shadmere, hi,

    It was a perfect Poe, i.e. a parody of a Fundamentalist is indistinguishable from the real thing.

    (look it up in the Urban Dictionary)

    Good one, you caught a lot of us out :-

  35. Dr.Sid

    Should we blame the government ?
    Or blame society?
    Or should we blame the images on TV ?
    No ! Blame Canada !

  36. Grizzly

    Just to be clear, the chair of the board that regulates Atomic Energy research in Canada was sacked because she dared to suggest that the reactors at Chalk River were not up to snuff and would require a massive overhaul, thus endangering medical isotope supply worldwide.

    A year after she was sacked by this government the inevitable happened and guess what, with the reactors down she WAS BLAMED by the government for not acting sooner.

    Gah.

    While I would love to say that this is a government that does not favour thought, independent or otherwise, I wonder if there is a government anywhere that does.

  37. Rob G.

    We would let our politicians know what we think of it but they’ve proven time and again that they don’t care what we think. They’re more concerned with lining their pockets and deceiving the voters so they can get re-elected and continue scamming the public.

    In case you haven’t figured out my political views: All politicians are crooks… ’nuff said.

  38. Floyd

    12. Michel Says:
    September 17th, 2010 at 8:32 am

    “They must have found free energy.”

    Would that be Gibbs free energy or Helmholtz free energy?

    Just sayin’, in a thermodynamic way.

    Floyd.

  39. mkgreevey

    “As an employee for a United States company that does contract work for NASA, I can tell you that there are plenty of rules before you can release any data to the public. It is an easy (and sometimes long – several months) process. For example, is the work unclassified? Is there a patent to come? Unlike Canada, the process is not controlled by the politicians, but by the local government agency.”

    This is absolutely true, especially in fields that tend to overlap somewhat with defense applications, such as space technology and robotics. A lot of it falls under restrictions established by International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). If you work on research that may be subject to ITAR, then you absolutely can’t just release data to the public willy-nilly, and there is certain data that you may not ever be able to release to the general public.

    And these regulations don’t just apply to classified technology, there are a large umbrella of non-classified technologies which fall under it. And some of the regulations are a bit funny: e.g. I can discuss the internal geometry of a satellite thruster with my friend from Detroit, but not with a visiting scientist from Toronto. It’s all in the spirit of “protecting U.S. interests”, but can definitely get in the way of conducting open dialogue with scientists from other countries.

  40. I was going to call Poe on Shadmere, but he already outed himself. Me too slow.

  41. Jeff

    “OK, first: I understand that the government funds scientific research, and there are caveats that must apply when that happens. I also understand that the government should have some say in how scientific results are released. Whether you’re a scientist at a university, a private company, or a government lab, you shouldn’t just go to the media with results when you get them; there are proper channels in announcing them.”

    my two cents from someone who’s been there for 30 years: the govt. defacto censors scientists implicitly the minute they fund science. To me, it is a no-brainer: whether people acknowledge it or not, the minute they are paid by someone, something, some entity, govt. or whatever, they are its slaves, pure and simple, and to me that is the bottom line truth and has been all through human history.

    Take a big view of human history and society like you would from a satellite picture of earth: it’ll give you a better perspective on how the heirarchy is setup.

    The only way history could have eluded this straightjacket would have been an alternative history where all scientists were independently financially wealthy: then they wouldn’t have been owned. It would be really interesting to see what kind of world that one would have been.

  42. RMcbride

    @ shadowmere what exactly is the difference between the government money and public money. By definition they are the same. Also, I don’t know what the law states but thought that research conducted with public money is open source. Why should the government spend money directly into advances that will then be used for some private (eg profit making) money?

  43. I’ve never heard that term before. Heh.

  44. HvP

    Rob G.

    As the late great Douglas Adams said, “Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”

  45. One man’s Poe is another man’s tactic for saying what he really means…but with an escape clause if someone calls him on it.

    But then I’m a fan of smiley faces. :P

  46. OmegaBaby

    Shadmere: I’m usually pretty good at detecting sarcasm, but your quote was a little too accurate. I thought you were serious too.

    What’s destroying our countries is that nobody makes the association that “The Public” and “The Government” are the same thing. Instead, the government is seen as an enemy at every turn. Conservatives don’t really care about deficits (except when useful as a rallying cry). They want tax cuts “to starve the beast”. It’s a shame they don’t see that they’re destroying themselves.

  47. 47. OmegaBaby

    I was really hoping the lines about how average Joes should hire their own scientists would give it away.

    Liberals do it too. I consider myself a liberal, but I’ve heard more than a few of my friends go on rants about how the purpose of a government is to control an otherwise stupid populace. :/

  48. amphiox

    We would let our politicians know what we think of it but they’ve proven time and again that they don’t care what we think.

    They might care a little more if we grew a spine and actually voted them out. Yet for some unfathomable reason a plurality of Canadian voters seem to prefer the conservative complete monster over the liberal ineffectual milquetoast and the “socialist” eco-nut.

    (“socialist” in quotes because he’s not actually really one.)

  49. Segno

    49. amphiox:

    “a plurality of Canadian voters seem to prefer the conservative complete monster over the liberal ineffectual milquetoast and the “socialist” eco-nut.”

    I’m not happy about some of the conservative actions with respect to science. Sadly though, it seems like no party has the monopoly on scientific ignorance. For example, the Liberals themselves appointed a former chiropractor as health critic, and if I remember correctly in the last election the NDP was calling for increased use of “Alternative Health Care”.

  50. Grizzly

    Completely off the topic, but isn’t anyone else even the tiniest bit aggravated to hear politicians described with the label “Liberal” as if it were an epithet?

    If one were to look at classical liberalism, it is clear that most of the politicians labelled “Conservative” are, in fact, liberals.

    What to do? What to do?

  51. Daniel J. Andrews

    This is nothing really new. When I worked for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (provincial government) in the mid to late 1990s, we were told that we could not speak to the media, and if we had an ‘accidental’ meeting with the media, to write down what was said and pass it on up the ladder. At first it was rather voluntary (don’t speak, but if you do…), but by the late 90s it was “Don’t speak. Our public relations officer will do that for you”.

    This year I was involved in a controversial project dealing with mining claims in the far north (a ministry contract position). I was again told not to discuss results, but they said once my contract was finished they couldn’t ask me not to talk about the project. Instead they asked that I credit the funding agencies and partners, and not go into the politics of the matter…which is what I’d do anyway since I have no idea what the political answers/solutions might be. My first talk on the preliminary data analysis will be mid-October for a provincial environmental watchdog group, and I’m going to have to tread carefully because even if the government can’t censor me, they can refuse to hire me for further contracts.

    I should point out that the full-time permanent ministry workers want me to do these talks because they are too censored, and if I create a bit of a controversy, they’d still hire me for contracts as I’ll have said what they wish they were free to say. Funding approval comes before they announce who they’ll hire, so as long as the money is there I can be hired by these good people and working for about two weeks before the political beancounters find out I’ve been hired back–and then it is too late for them to do anything.

    And I have to agree with other Canuck commenters. Our PM has control issues. Comedian Rick Mercer has more than one entertaining rant about his dictatorial qualities (e.g. tells the cabinet members what parties they cannot go to even though they’d go on their own time).

  52. NorthLeft12

    As other Canadians have noted, the current Prime Minister is a right wing control freak. All information has to be vetted by his stooges. If it does not portray the government in a good light or does not fit the Conservative model of the universe, it will be delayed or buried.

    Hooray for democracy!

    Oh, and by the way, the Conservatives did not receive a plurality of votes or seats. They are a minority government kept in by the cowardice and financial condition of his opponents.

  53. Tribeca Mike

    Why are conservative governments such hosers?

  54. amphiox

    I’m not happy about some of the conservative actions with respect to science. Sadly though, it seems like no party has the monopoly on scientific ignorance.

    This is true, but the buck stops with the party in power, as they are the ones responsible for policy. You hold them accountable by voting them out. Sure, the replacement options might have also expressed some questionable ideas, but they haven’t actually done harm by turning their woo into policy. (Yet.)

    So you send clear messages:

    To the (former) incumbent – “We are holding you accountable for you actions and we have determined that you have failed. Goodbye. Go do your penance and demonstrate that you have learned the error of your ways and perhaps you can get back in our good graces next election cycle.”

    To the replacement – “We give you the opportunity to do better, though we are aware that your track record is also not pristine. Take your predecessor’s fate as a lesson and be mindful of your choices going forward. We will be watching you.”

  55. MadScientist

    It’s bass-ackwards. As in the USA, the government is funded by public money and the public have the right to demand that all research done with taxpayers’ money be made public (as is the case in the USA). I can’t imagine why a government would want to suppress research results unless they have an agenda which is not in the interest of the public at large.

  56. Crudely Wrott

    Behold those poor humans who, having been created by reality (fundamental rules that are inherent in our region of space and are well enough known and measured) seek to restrict even the mere mention of the notion that humans, like plants and lizards and meteors are perfectly natural. Perfectly real. Perfectly subject to the limitations of reality, too.

    Pity them as they slog upon their sad courses . . .

  57. Darth Robo

    >>>”Anything else is Communism, plain and simple.”

    Oh noes! BEWEAR TEH COMMIES!

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_6mGHoKxDQK8/SGOqtvbtK2I/AAAAAAAAAQQ/FBksW2oI2m0/s400/lolcat1476702.jpg

  58. Taiga

    Someone upthread already mentioned Linda Keen, president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. There’s also David Healy, a researcher let go by the University of Toronto for criticizing a drug manufactured by its financial supporters, and many scientists subjected to smear campaigns by government officials for publishing research critical of oilsands mining.
    I’m Canadian and I hate how Harper is running the country. He’s a dictator, not a prime minister.

  59. PJE

    Assuming many Americans don’t know, we have a party called the “Liberal” party and it doesn’t have the same negative connotation as it seems to have in the US.

    If someone can correct me, I think “Liberal” in the US has a sort of hippie anarchist sort of connotation?

    Our Liberal party is still conservative in many respects. Our more socialist party is called the NDP, the New Democrat Party and typically get around 15% of the vote. They are all about social programs and are very pro union.

    I can’t really offer more details so I apologise for that. I’m sure there are many more Canadian posters here that can offer a better explanation

    Pete

  60. Old Grey Geologist

    Just for the record, The Beaver, a magazine published by Canada’s National History Society conducted an online survey in 2007 to find Canada’s Worst Canadian. Here are the results of the top 10 (with info for non-Canadians):

    · Pierre Trudeau (Former “Liberal” prime minister)
    · Propagandhi punk rocker Chris Hannah
    · Abortion activist Dr. Henry Morgentaler
    · Former prime minister Brian Mulroney
    · Schoolgirl killers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka
    · Prime Minister Stephen Harper
    · Pop-singer Celine Dion
    · Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien
    · Serial killer Clifford Olson
    · Former media baron Conrad Black

    Trudeau won by a wide margin. The only surprise was that politicians only made up 40% of the top ten.

  61. Paul in Sweden

    There are books to be promoted, parties to go to, interviews to attend, photo ops, demonstrations to be seen at and headlines to make. To hell with the institutions’ or co-workers’ credibility!

    Regarding this particular post the science in question was published in Nature. The public was not shielded from the science but perhaps Canada’s science institutions are trying to shield themselves from headline seeking activists.

    “NRCan scientist Scott Dallimore co-authored the study, published in the journal Nature on April 1, about a colossal flood that swept across northern Canada 13,000 years ago, when massive ice dams gave way at the end of the last ice age.”
    -http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Ottawa+tightens+muzzle/3514943/story.HTML

    The science has not been censored.

    Many remember the embarrassment of NASA GISS when James Hansen claimed he was being censored by the Bush administration and it was revealed that he had done hundreds of TV interviews in the previous months. He was asked how he had time to actually work on “science”.

    Headlines are fun but they do not help science institutions. The BBC came within a hair’s width of not renewing it’s contract with the UK Met Office because the Met Office activists were more interested in making headlines than doing the drudgery of actual science.

    What institution wants to suffer the fate of the University of East Anglia, NASA GISS or the IPCC?

    The IPCC earlier this year told it’s own associates to put a muzzle on it. There is only so much embarrassment that an institution, organization or a “science” can take before it is marginalized. Some would say that the ship has sailed for “climate science” already. Pity the actual scientists and researchers that work in the field, the labs and at their workstations pouring over data only to be tarred with the same brush that the headline seekers bring upon the entire body of science.

    Some people like to see their scientists on the cover of “Rolling Stone”, but I respect the ones that I have never seen their faces but have read their research in the journals.

  62. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Paul in Sweden :

    I agree it is problematic when, as in your example, Jim Hansen calls press conferences to talk about how he’s supposedly being censored. :roll:

    I do agree that it is a bit of a concern for the reputation of science when the line between scientist and actvist gets as blurred as it is in hansen’s case and a few others.

    On the other hand, scientists do also remain human beings with their own political views and the usual rights of freedom of expression and so forth as all of us. Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan and Edward Teller (“the father of the Hydrogen bomb”) are examples of prominent scientists who have engaged in advocacy for various causes over their careers.

    So I can see both sides of this. Perhaps we need to be clearer about what is scientist Xs scientific opinion and what is sci. X’s personal opinions? If sci. X is letting personal political opinion bias scientific results – or even creating a reasonably widespread impression of that happening – then science generally does fall into disprepute. Scientists shouldn’t be lobbyists or activists, they shouldn’t play partisan politics in my view. That (as you noted) leads to all science losing credibility and trustworthiness.

    Still, I do very much believe in everyone’s right to freedom of speech incl. scientists. I very much dislike the ideas of politicians telling scientists what they can and can’t say. If they’re going to do that then they need to have really good valid reasons not just “oh it looks bad for us.”

    How do we balance these out? I’m not sure. There are gray areas here. :-(

    @7. & 28. Shadmere : Okay, you got me. Nice Poe – but, yeah, a ;-) emoticon there would’ve been handy. As the problem goes parody and real extreme opinion are oft confused.

    @ 60. PJE : In Australian politics the conservative side is called the Liberal party! ;-)

    (It really is, no kidding.)

    The word “liberal” seems to have altered its meaning and taken on a much more negative connotation of late esp. in the US of A. Politics everywhere seems to be more and more polarised and depressing.

  63. Messier Tidy Upper

    Here’s the conservative liberal party of Australia page via Wikipedia :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_Party_of_Australia

    For more on Edward Teller here’s his wiki-page :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Teller

    and it’s worth mentioning that Robert Oppenheimer who Teller clashed with was also an opposing political scientific advocate.

    Plus for the meaning(s), forms and things “Liberal” generally see here :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal

    Curious and perhaps somewhat ironic to note that Liberal is a city in Missouri – & Kansas & a community in Oregon.

    PS. Liberal Missouri was founded by an athiest as a type of atheist utopia & apparently specifically tried to bar Christians from living there! This must be true – it says so on Wikipedia! ;-)

    (Note folks take *anything* you see on the internet with a large sample of halite! ;-) )

  64. Messier Tidy Upper

    Halite : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halite

    And the new thing I learned today; there are actually glaciers of salt on our planet :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_glacier

    Now if only there were pepper trees (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schinus_molle) or pepper vines growing alongside these salt glaciers … ;-)

  65. Robb

    Note that the policy relates to talking to the media. The scientists in question were not prevented from publishing in scientific journals. As someone else noted, if you work for NASA you can’t just go giving interviews either.

  66. We’re probably just holding it back to make sure it’s released *politely*…

  67. Taiga

    #61 Old Grey Geologist, it’s worth noting that Trudeaus was also voted one of the BEST Canadians of all time.
    Doctor Robert Banting was near the top too. Not only did he discover insulin, but instead of profiting from the discovery he sold the patent for $1 so that diabetics across the world could have access to this lifesaving medication. When he was awarded the Nobel Prize he shared the prize money with his partner Best. That’s what a scientist should be.

  68. GeeMiester

    Shadmere Says:

    “The Public” doesn’t pay these scientists, the government does. If Joe Schmoe down the street wants to get valid data about the climate, he can damned well hire his own scientist.

    Hey Shadwere, where do you think the government gets its money? Could it be taxes, from Joe Schmoe perhaps?

  69. Blizno

    GeeMiester, you beat me to it.

    Shadmere, government gets ALL of its funds from taxes or from sales or management of lands and resources that are the property of the citizens. The citizens own the nation and the citizens own the government. All elected officials and their appointees are nothing but paid employees of the citizens, hired to manage property that belongs to the citizens.

    Every one of the results of all taxpayer-funded research is the property of the citizens.

  70. Thanks for the heads-up Phil.
    Muzzling science and burying the truth are synonymous. My Canadian government does not have the right to do either.
    We CAN handle the truth.

  71. mike burkhart

    It seems we have forgoten history .In Nazi Germany the Nazis controled science ,and any one who did not go along with there racest agenda would be sent to a concentration camp .as I have said no nation preverted science worse then Nazi Germany .

  72. Tribeca Mike

    Old Grey Geologist — I doubt my cousin Rob of Prince Edward Island would agree with that online survey, since it was Pierre Trudeau’s government which so graciously welcomed him in 1967, when he left the USA after being informed by the Selective Service that he had been invited to participate in that obscenity called the Vietnam War. It’s quite possible that in doing so Prime Minister Trudeau saved my cousin’s life.

  73. JMW

    As another Canadian, I can echo the general sentiments expressed here by many. We currently have 4 major parties in our legislature; the Conservative party governs by virtue of being the party with the most seats, but is in a “minority” situation, i.e., they have less than half the seats in Parliament, and so need help from another party to pass legislation.

    Prime Minister Harper is a control freak. He’s been in office for 4 years now, and in all that time even government ministers (our version of American cabinet secretaries) cannot speak in public without their comments being vetted by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to make sure they stay on message.

    Harper has governed as slightly left of the conservative wing of the Democratic party. Overall, I generally approve of the major steps he’s taken, even though my perception is that he’s governing that way to stay in government, not because it’s what he believes is correct, i.e., he’s being political. But he has also shown disturbing tendencies consistent with the worst of the “New Right” whenever he thinks he can get away with it – being hyperpartisan, preferring ideology to science, etc. Our minister of science technology, Gary Goodyear, was asked by the Toronto Globe and Mail if he “believed” in evolution, and replied that he was a christian and it wasn’t appropriate to ask questions about his religion. Of course, later that same day he was asked on TV news and said that “We are evolving, etc”, but that was just spin doctoring. And he still didn’t categorically say he accepted the Theory of Evolution.

    @18 kunigget: …Bad Canadians! Bad! No donut, eh?! Be careful what you say. Don’t mess with our Timmie’s (Tim Horton’s, for those of you unfamiliar with that piece of Canadiana).

    @22 vagueofgodalming: Is this really new for Canada? Sadly, no. It’s been a fine tradition since the government of the day, the Liberal Party, muzzled scientists who were trying warn that cod fisheries were going to collapse if there weren’t restrictions on the size of catches. Of course, the government couldn’t have scientists warning about that – it would cause debate, and maybe the government would have to limit catches, which would cost it votes in Newfoundland. But of course, then the cod fishery did collapse, proving once again that reality doesn’t care what you think.

    @7, 28, etc. Shadmere: I think you forgot the <sarcasm> html tags…

  74. Steve Metzler

    GeeMiester (#69), Blizno (#70):

    Way to not read the thread before posting. Shadmere’s original post at #7 was a Poe (look it up in the Urban Dictionary if you are unfamiliar with the term). He was called out on it multiple times.

  75. mike burkhart

    In other words politics and Science don’t mix and as for the sciencetist working for the goverment of Canada. well Dr Josef Menglia worked for the Nazi party this is the best example of Goverment run science . Its moto : tow the party line or else . If any scientist dared question Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party they were sent to a concentration camp . Maybe this is what Canada is planing

  76. Tribeca Mike

    mike burkhart — comparing politicians to der Führer is easy; employing correct grammer and spelling is hard. As for “planing,” I’d have to ask my old high school woodworking teacher, who doubled as our history teacher, about that.

  77. Gary Ansorge

    42. Jeff

    Hmmm, independently wealthy? How about Lord Rutherford or that pesky kid, Darwin? At one time, scientists were considered sellouts if they were paid for doing science and most of those we consider the Greats had independent means.

    THAT universe actually existed for a while, when science could be done in your basement. These days, it takes enormous resources to do cutting edge science, thus governments, universities and large corporations have to foot the bill.

    Gary 7

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