Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dangerous Drift

This type of story rarely resonates with anyone, other than die hard political observers. I believe the Conservatives also know "suppressing science" stories rarely resonates with anyone, which explains why they continually do it and largely get away with this behaviour. However, this salmon story provides the quintessential example of why many of us fear and loathe this government, why we are continually alarmed by their mandate, why we worry about the damage they do to our institutions, operating more like a totalitarian regime than a modern democratic entity:

Kristi Miller, who heads a salmon-genetics project at the federal Pacific Biological Station on Vancouver Island, has linked plummeting salmon stocks in British Columbia's Fraser River to a virus that is found in farmed salmon. She has complained about being kept from a workshop because her managers feared not being able to control the way the disease issue was "construed in the press." She has also been prevented from talking to reporters about her findings, even after her work was published in the prestigious journal Science earlier this year.

The federal government does itself no favours, nor does it help the iconic West Coast salmon stocks, with this kind of political meddling around important work done by taxpayer funded scientists. It is also demoralizing to other scientists and researchers on whose work numerous government departments depend.

It is not the job of government to stifle debate and evidence because of optical concerns. "Construed" by the press equates to preventing the PUBLIC from getting information, understanding the facts at hand, grasping the situation. Miller's findings have potentially enormous consequences, a full airing is not only required but essential. That the Conservatives are once again micro-managing scientific inquiry is unprecedented and downright alarming. Unfortunately, this practice is now so commonplace- the air of intimidation and "over the shoulder" paranoia- that with each successive example, the reaction is less surprising, we are actually incorporating this outlandish behaviour as somehow NORMAL standard operating procedure.

The DRIFT is now almost accepted, stories about evidence suppression solicit a few responses, but largely rendered to the "oh this is how the Conservatives do it" file and we all move on. Public servants have learned the new reality, only a fool dares to pop their head up for fear of reprisal, the "chill" now fully understood and largely incorporated. Now operating like a dysfunctional family, only a detached perspective can see the unhealthy environment.

Conservatives have politicized science, amazingly how one views empirical evidence is now a subjective exercise, dependent on political bent. We once embraced a fact based society, now formerly accepted objectivity has been tainted and bastardized by those with political agendas. An incredible development, even moreso when one understands the decay largely lead by completely unqualified, ignorant voices.

In an open society, all evidence is decimated and debated, decisions are then made after a full airing. When a government unilaterally decides what seemingly objective information can be discussed openly, it is in a sense playing god, it is arbitrarily and selectively manipulating the public. This new reality betrays core tenets of our society, effectively "spinning" scientific inquiry. Outrageous, offensive, offside, but sadly, par for the course in today's Canada.


Tof KW said...

"The Thatcher Tories, unlike their forebears, weren’t anti-intellectual: her cabinet contained some of Britain’s most fertile social and political minds. Ronald Reagan, though hardly an intellectual, did not demonize expert opinion, or pit the educated classes against the rest. Even today’s Republican party, as know-nothing as it sometimes appears, relies heavily on a network of think tanks to provide it with intellectual heft. Only in Canada have expertise and ideas been so brutally cast aside."

"A know-nothing strain of conservatism"
Andrew Coyne - Macleans - 17 August 2010

Steve V said...

Good grab.