Date published: October 11, 2010
Journal code: NEAM
Canadian scientists are learning the truth of the old maxim, "He who pays the piper calls the tune." While the general public and most scientists believe that science should be a search for truth, government ministers in Ottawa have a different notion. Since March, the role of Canadian Minister of Natural Resources Christian Paradis has become that of scientific gatekeeper.
In September the Vancouver Sun reported:
The Harper government has tightened the muzzle on federal scientists, going so far as to control when and what they can say about floods at the end of the last ice age.
Natural Resources Canada (NRC) scientists were told this spring they need "pre- approval" from Minister Christian Paradis' office to speak with journalists. Their "media lines" also need ministerial approval, say documents obtained by Postmedia News through access- io-informati on legislation.
The documents say the "new" rules went into force in March and reveal how they apply to not only contentious issues including the oilsands, but benign subjects such as floods that occurred 13.000 years ago.
They also give a glimpse of how Canadians are being cut off from scientists whose work is financed by taxpayers, critics say, and is often of significant public interest - be it about fish stocks, genetically modified crops or mercury pollution in the Athabasca River.
In light of the recent Climategate scandal, news that a Western government is allegedly attempting to turn scientists into little more than shills for a party line - right down to "media lines" they would be expected to present to the public - threatens to further undermine the credibility of the entire scientific community.
According to the Vancouver Sun:
"We have new media interview procedures that require preapproval of certain types of interview requests by the minister's office," wrote Judy Samoil, NRC's western regional communications manager, in a March 24 e-mail to colleagues....
The documents show the new rules being so broadly applied that one scientist was not permitted to discuss a study in a major research journal without "pre-approval" from political staff in Paradis' office.
The alarming development in the Canadian government is that it has established a means by which scientists would be effectively muzzled, literally unable to speak out against what they believe to be bad science. Such a policy threatens the credibility of the entire scientific process.