The politicization of science in Canada
On Oct 14, Canadians went to the polls to vote in an election where science policy had largely been a non-issue (see “Researchers wonder: What’s the plan for R&D?”). That our political parties did not see it as worthwhile to articulate clear policies on science and technology is hardly surprising – science is not an issue that has historically resonated with the electorate, and our politicians know it. However, in this campaign, we witnessed an unprecedented phenomenon: scientists – who typically shy away from politics – spoke up and made science policy an issue.
On Oct 6, more than 120 of Canada’s top climate scientists released an open letter criticizing the current federal government’s policy on global warming and urging the electorate to vote “strategically” for the environment (see “Scientists urge Canadians to vote for the environment“). Two days later, another open letter – signed by 85 Canadian scientists from a range of disciplines – condemned the current government’s “mistreatment” of science and due processes (see “Canadian researchers call for end to ‘politicization’ of science“). This group, collectively called Canadian Scientists Against the Politicization of Science, cited numerous other examples (in addition to climate change) in which:
- Systems developed to provide non-partisan scientific advice were undermined, interfered with, or dismantled for political reasons;
- Science was interrupted, suppressed and distorted for political reasons;
- Scientific uncertainty was manufactured in instances where none existed;
- Reputable scientists were attacked because the results of their work were unpopular or inconsistent with the views of political parties.
The full letter can be read at http://media3.marketwire.com/docs/openletter.pdf.
Now that Canadians have essentially returned the same parliament to Ottawa, we must re-double our efforts to ensure that science regains its position as a critical source of unbiased information for our policy- and decision-makers. Scientific advice must be independent and arms-length from the government’s partisan political apparatus, because – politics aside – we can all agree on one thing: the suppression and distortion of science by political ideology does all Canadians a disservice.
“Scientists of all disciplines have been faced with examples where the government has chosen ideology over scientific process. Science is meant to inform policy; it should not be muzzled by ideology.”
– Dr. Andrew Weaver, Professor, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC.
“I strongly oppose the distortion of scientific evidence as has been the policy of the current federal government, and we can no longer stand idle while ideology trumps scientific proof.”
– Dr. Stephen Hwang, Research Scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and Associate Professor at the University of Toronto.
Jeff Sharom is a PhD student in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the UofT. He co-founded the Canadian Science Policy Blog, which tracks science policy in Canada's political arena and media and is Senior Policy Editor at Hypothesis, a volunteer-run journal discussing the philosophical, ethical, social, political, legal and economic issues of scientific enterprise. See more…