The President of the Royal Society of Canada, Yolande Grise, warns that the relationship between public policy and science is broken within the Harper regime.
Policy and science are in a mutual relationship based on the
importance given by government to scientific advice in policy
development, and the recognition by scientists that government decisions
are made democratically and must take into account evidence beyond that
provided by the scientific community.
For this relationship to
work, scientists have a responsibility to act ethically and to
communicate their findings to the broader community. Science works only
when discoveries made in the lab or in the field are communicated and
debated, not only to other researchers but to all stakeholders.
Governments, in turn, have to respect scientific advice and not impede
the dissemination of scientific knowledge.
Scientists and the
federal government can be at odds when government policy does not appear
to be well-aligned with the best scientific advice. That tension is
often constructive: For example, a 2010 report by scientists providing
evidence that oil sands activity was polluting the Athabaska River led
to several levels of government taking a fresh look at the monitoring
practices and activity of the industry in the region.
relationship is now at risk in Canada. Unreasonable limits are being
placed on the ability of government-employed scientists to communicate
their findings, whether through publication of their research results or
attendance at scientific meetings. These restrictions seem particularly
severe in topics related to the environment, where several government
scientists have been denied the opportunity to discuss their work.
Canada will only succeed as a country if it’s able to harness the best
scientific advice to make decisions. The federal government should
immediately unshackle government scientists and let them do their jobs.
The integrity of evidence-based public policy development is at stake.