Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bringing Science Back


The Harper government declared war on science and scientists. Jeremy Kerr and Isabelle Cote write that science and scientists must be given a seat at the policy making table, because a lot of damage has been done:

Whether it was measuring contaminants in our streams and rivers, poisons in the air, or patterns of glacier melt, no fact was too small or technical to escape Orwellian scrutiny. Scientists, whether in public or on the phone, have been watched by communications staffers to ensure that no one said anything unscripted. Meanwhile, regulations and laws that helped avoid unnecessary and expensive environmental and health impacts following industrial development are in ruins or no longer exist.

There are several ways to restore science in Ottawa:

Draconian protocols that prevent Canadians from learning about federal scientists' discoveries should be discarded, except in clearly stated cases where sensitive information needs to remain confidential. In a mature democracy, communicating factual information from publicly funded science should never be misconstrued as meddling in politics. Federal scientists, like researchers in general, need the freedom to publish their findings without political interference, attend scientific meetings and interact with other experts, and speak about their research to the media and public

Whether it was through the Fisheries Act, Environmental Assessment Act, Environmental Protection Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, or Energy Board Act, federal environmental legislation has been gutted or repealed. The Species at Risk Act, the last safety net for Canada’s treasured wildlife, has been undermined through systemic inaction for several years. We need these laws back and we need them to function as they were intended.

Canada’s ability to detect environmental problems as they arise, let alone to predict them in advance, has been smothered. Experts in federal departments, like Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada, have been silenced and starved of support. Rebuilding capacity, morale, and a sense of mission for the public service is essential to knowing how Canadians' health and environments will be affected by economic activities and global changes.

And, finally, when  they were in opposition, the Liberals proposed restoring the position of Chief Scientific Officer:

As one of their final efforts in the 41st Parliament, the Liberals proposed a formidable Motion on Scientific Integrity, which was defeated on May 26 this year. That motion proposed the restoration of a Chief Scientific Officer. Our closest allies, like the UK and the U.S., have asked their best scientists to serve in such roles for decades. Why? Because facts matter when making policy to grow economies, create jobs, or to manage fast-moving emergencies. The UK government, for example, uses a kind of scientific SWAT team so that nation's research leaders can bring the best science to manage crises, like the Fukushima meltdown. Canadian scientists have the expertise. The new government should use it.

These suggestions are not new. They merely restore science to its former position in policy making. The Harperites proudly burnished their know nothing credentials. A week ago, Canadians passed judgement on those credentials.


thwap said...

It's astonishing that such common sense notions were rejected by the harpercons and that we have to rejoice at their return.

Owen Gray said...

I agree, thwap. For people who said they cherished common sense, they were astonishingly ignorant -- by choice.

Anonymous said...

"The Harper government declared war on science and scientists."

I don't get this. We are seeing it from the Republicans in the US too.

WHY? What is it about science that they are so afraid of?

Is it as simple as being afraid of the obvious contradictions with their fundamentalist christian fantasies, or is there something deeper?

Owen Gray said...

Some people prefer the world as they wish it to be, Anon, not the world as it is.

lungta said...

i have been having fun here in alberta ....:)
i greet my old conservative friends with "how's your ankle?"
they reply "it's fine ...why do you ask?
"now that we all have one foot in the grave and we are under a red roof federally and an orange roof provincially please be careful as yours will have a tendency to roll over in the grave"

i think that the destruction of science was done by the fundamentalist "god knows all" section of the conservatives
and well under the radar of most of them...

Owen Gray said...

Why worry about science, lungta, if God is on your side?

Raven Corvoid said...

Not only the 'fundamentalist' side but the money side follow the money. Spewing carbon into the atmosphere brings in a pile of it. Then there's plain old fashioned human denial "Oh no it wasn't us we are not the cause of global warming, hey look over there there is a hockey game on got your beer yet?"

Owen Gray said...

It's easy to take your eye off the ball, Raven. Particularly when you know what's coming down the pike. But closing your eyes to a problem never makes it go away.