I think itâ€™s fair to say that political conservatives have long had a rocky relationship with science. While they approve of the chain from basic science to technology to economic growth, science has also repeatedly brought to light facts that undermine conservative ideologies and religious perspectives. With that in mind, this is an interesting development:
Today, the union that represents federal government scientists launches a campaign to put the spotlight on science for the public good.
“Federal government scientists work hard to protect Canadians, preserve their environment and ensure our countryâ€™s prosperity but they face dwindling resources and confusing policy decisions,” says Gary Corbett, president of the Institute.
The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada is a national union. Among its 59,000 federal and provincial members are 23,000 professionals who deliver, among other knowledge products, scientific research, testing and advice for sound policy-making.
The recent decision to end the mandatory long form census is the latest step in a worrying trend away from evidence-based policy making. Restrictive rules are curtailing media and public access to scientists, while cutbacks to research and monitoring limit Canadaâ€™s ability to deal with serious threats and potential opportunities.
Concerns can only be enhanced by the government’s manifest disregard for science. Since prime minister Stephen Harper came to power, his government has been sceptical of the science on climate change and has backed away from Canada’s Kyoto commitment. In January, it muzzled Environment Canada’s scientists, ordering them to route all media enquires through Ottawa to control the agency’s media message. Last week, the prime minister and members of the cabinet failed to attend a ceremony to honour the Canadian scientists who contributed to the international climate-change report that won a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
While factual claims about the nature of the universe do have political ramifications – think of the reality of climate change, or evolution – that doesn’t mean that the expression of factual information is a political act. Further, society has an enormous interest in the dissemination of accurate information, and the formulation of policy on the basis of such information. As such, it is encouraging to see scientists asserting their right to express their expert opinions, even when doing so is politically challenging for the government.