Free speech vs… The Canadian Government

As I said yesterday, the best way to cement your tyranny under the guise of legitimate government is to silence the opposition. Without an effective opposition, you won’t have to worry about people hearing any positions other than those that you agree with. Without the ability to hear/voice dissenting opinions, people will be largely ignorant of anything other that your sanitized version of “the Truth”.

So what do you do when your opposition is reality itself?

Easy, you pervert the scientific process:

The federal government engages in “unacceptable political interference” in the communication of government science, says the head of a group that represents both government press officers and science journalists. “Openness is being held ransom to media messages that serve the government’s political agenda,” wrote Kathryn O’Hara, president of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association, in an opinion published online Wednesday in the international scientific journal Nature.

It’s a deviously effective stratagem to ensure that conservative governments will be elected in perpetuity – make sure that nobody can access unbiased information. Pretty soon, scientists will be government appointees. After all, the current federal minister of science is a chiropractor who thinks that evolution is a “religious question”; it’s fairly obvious that if Stephen Harper even understands science he doesn’t particularly like it.

Now far be it from me to suggest that politicians outside the Conservative party aren’t just as corrupt and willing to clamp down on science they don’t agree with, but according to the complaint previous governments have not done this. As with the gun registry and the census, the current government seems particularly eager to ignore whatever evidence doesn’t support its agenda. The danger with picking and choosing which evidence to follow – aside from the fact that it will result in bad policy – is that people become inherently less trusting of scientific results. We then get anti-vaccine lunatics, creationists, 9/11 “Truthers” and their ilk looking more and more plausible, as we begin to trust the evidence less and less.

The other danger is that, and I cannot stress this enough, politicians are not scientists (particularly, paradoxically, the minister of science). As I’ve said countless times before, science requires specific training in the meth0dology. Understanding science is not simply a question of being smart, any more than fixing the engine of a car or performing heart surgery is. All of these things require dedicated study, an underlying knowledge of the theory, and a great deal of experience. Politicians do not have this at their disposal. To suggest that science reporting should be filtered by the inexperienced brains of politicians is as ridiculous as saying that you need a doctor’s note for an oil change.

This is particularly true when the politicians in question are not simply ignorant of science, but opposed to it. There was a huge public outcry back in November when a former Pfizer executive was appointed to a position on the board of the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR). The fear was that the presence of someone with such close ties to the pharmaceutical industry on the board of a federal health board would be biased against preventive and non-medical intervention, in favour of the industry of his origin. Whatever your feelings on this – Leona Aglukkaq addressed my concerns to my satisfaction in her reply to my indignant e-mail – the concern is just as legitimate in this case. We have a group who has revealed itself to be opposed to the use of science in policy becoming the sole arbiter of what science is worth reporting. Like putting Big Pharma in charge of health care research or letting the oil companies decide energy policy, letting this anti-science government strangle the lines of communication between scientists and the public is a horrendously stupid idea.

Here’s a picture of an otter:

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *