Election issue: Canada’s war on science

End the Assault on Science! STEVE RUTCHINSKI

Science – natural and social – is what distinguishes a society on the high road of civilization from a society that is retrogressive, turning its back on truth and scientific pursuit, imposing instead irrationalism arising from prejudice. Today that would be neo-liberal prejudice or narrow self-interest of the rich at the expense of the rights of people by virtue of being human and interests of society itself.

Steve Rutchinski is the MLPC Candidate in University-Rosedale.

Steve Rutchinski is the MLPC Candidate in University-Rosedale.

The assault on science today comes from several sources. One is the pressure against theory with the “end of science” approach. This presumes among other things that the end all and be all of the scientific and technological revolution is precision instruments which permit keener observation and recording of data. Far from it, the power which this revolution has created is as revolutionary as the invention of fire or the steam engine. If this is not harnessed and theoretical work is underestimated, then its destructive ability is beyond comprehension.

Then there is the destructive obscurantist activity of neo-liberal governments such as the Harper government. Instead of basing government policy on warranted conclusions drawn from scientific inquiry, obscurantism is imposed. This is the case in the economic, social and other spheres, as well as with respect to our natural environment. To this end the Harper government has been as deliberate as it has been relentless in its attack on the scientific community, especially in the public sector. It shows clearly that the so called austerity agenda being imposed on society is not only about robbing the public treasury to profit the rich minority. To achieve this it must impose retrogression on society, arbitrariness, rule by decree and contempt for the need for scientific justification. Prejudice takes precedence and rational, verifiable conclusions are denigrated — all to push the narrow self-interest of a privileged minority. It must be stopped.

All the major parties adhere to the austerity agenda being imposed on society under the guise that there is “no alternative.” That is itself an unscientific conclusion. Smashing the role of science is part and parcel of imposing this view that there is no alternative. Modern communism, contrary to the cold war anti-communist stereotype, bases itself on scientific summation of human activity and sets its program based on the best knowledge, the highest achievements of humankind in the social and natural arenas, for the advancement of society, humankind and the natural environment itself.

For society to take the high road of civilization, science, the scientific method and approach must prevail. This is how the public interest is also served. In that respect, the immediate need is to defeat the Harper government, which prides itself for pushing obscurantism.

Cuts, insults, muzzlings and cancellations

Photo: Z. Embree

The scope of the Harper government’s war on science was brought to light in a blog first published in 2013 by Canadian science librarian Jean Dupuis. It is an incredibly long list. Dupuis documented no less than 298 measures taken by the Harper government from 2006-2013 and he freely acknowledged even then that the list was no doubt incomplete – and no longer up to date.

It is a chronology of all the various cuts, insults, muzzlings and cancellations that Dupuis personally compiled. Each represents a single shot in the Canadian Conservative war on science. Dupuis pointed out that taken alone, not every item in this chronology is necessarily the end of the world. It’s the accumulated evidence that is so damning.

Mr. Dupuis described his blog as a brief chronology of the current Conservative Canadian government’s long campaign to undermine evidence-based scientific, environmental and technical decision-making. “It is a government that is beholden to big business, particularly big oil and the grain oligopolies and it shapes policy to that end. It is a government that fundamentally doesn’t believe in science. It is a government that is more interested in keeping its corporate masters happy than in protecting the environment,” he says.

Related: Jean Dupuis, The Canadian war on science: A chronological indictment 

Seven departments being investigated for suppressing public service science

Seven federal government bodies are currently under investigation by Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault for interfering with the release of publicly-funded research by federally employed scientists. The institutions being investigated are: Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Department of the Environment, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Department of National Defence, Department of Natural Resources, National Research Council of Canada and the Treasury Board Secretariat.

The Federal Information Commissioner agreed to investigate following a formal complaint filed by the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre and Democracy Watch. The complaint was initially filed in February 2013. It has been two-and-a-half years and still no outcome, likely due to the Harper government’s refusal to release documents, as it has done with other investigations, such as into the Senate Scandal.

University of Victoria law professor Calvin Sanborn recently said, “Voters need to know what the result of that investigation has been. I think the public needs to know the extent of the muzzling… Our submission is that it runs very deep in government.”

The Canadian Association of Journalists is not surprised by the delay. Sean Holman, a board member of the Association and journalism professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary said, “The Harper government has increased information control – both in terms of its control over the bureaucracy, the rules of engagement with the public and journalists.”

For example, under the protocol established for Environment Canada about a year after Harper became Prime Minister, any questions by reporters about “climate change, wildlife, water quality and supply,” etc., have to be vetted first by the Privy Council Office for approval and the Minister has authority to deny any request to speak with a federal scientist.

Source: Democratic Renewal, October 10, 2015 • No. 187

The war on science


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