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Muzzling of scientists should bring public outcry

Jeffrey Hutchings, professor at Dalhousie University and president of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution. - Judie Steeves/Capital News
Jeffrey Hutchings, professor at Dalhousie University and president of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution.
— image credit: Judie Steeves/Capital News

The muzzling of scientists in the employ of the federal government is of serious concern to the scientific community and even scholarly societies such as the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution, which is meeting in Kelowna this week.

President Jeffrey Hutchings, Killam professor in science at Dalhousie University in Halifax, says they have written letters expressing their concerns to the prime minister about the cuts to government’s research capacity and also about the remaining scientists’ orders not to speak to the public without pre-approval.

“It’s a disconcerting example of control,” he adds.

In fact, it began when this government took office and got rid of the national science advisor position. “That was symbolic and indicated that science is not deemed relevant to decision-making and policy development,” he comments.

Personally, he said he believes that society is well-served by having unfettered access to high quality scientific advice from government scientists, as the basis for making decisions.

As it is now, release of scientific data is being manipulated by government, so that only that which presents the view the politicians prefer, is released to the public.

“There have been instances before this, but the extent of the current muzzling of scientists is greater than it’s ever been before,” he warns, adding, “Other countries look at us aghast, because we were viewed as a progressive, enlightened democracy.”

He points to countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as Australia and New Zealand, who all depend on science advisors, if not a panel of them to provide the science on which to base decisions.

And, it’s important that advice is transparent so that society knows what information decisions are based on. “Discussion is healthy,” he adds.

Science can also provide savings—it’s not always a cost, he says.

The community does appear to value science, he notes, and he believes it’s up to the community now to make its views known if it is concerned about receiving only ‘filtered science.”

Delegates discussed the issue at a session Monday afternoon at the UBCO campus where the conference is being held, called Science and Credible Biodiversity Policy.

 

jsteeves@kelownacapnews.com

 

 

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