Monday was a great day for science in Canada. The siege was lifted. Evidence-based thought was freed of its shackles. The Guardian celebrates Canada's return to rational thought.
Harper’s assault on science was extensive: with government scientists censored, budgets chopped, data monitoring programs eliminated, scientific libraries shuttered and the contents thrown into dumpsters. The long form census was axed, depriving decision makers of vital information about their citizens.
The cumulative consequences for government scientists were profound. “You don’t become a biologist to get rich or powerful,” says Jay Fitzsimmons, a biologist with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. “You become a biologist because you love nature and science. To work under a government that tries to silence scientists is pretty demoralizing.”
The issue that received the most attention was the so-called “muzzling” of government scientists. This week, Liberal MP Marc Garneau said that these restrictions would be eliminated “right away.”
...“We’ll reverse the $40 million cut that Harper made to our federal ocean science and monitoring programs,” said Liberal leader Justin Trudeau at a September campaign stop. “The war on science ends with the liberal government.” In tweet after tweet aftertweet, opposition candidates argued that they were best positioned to defend scientific integrity.
Now that it’s been elected with a healthy majority, the Liberal Party says it will make data openly available, unmuzzle scientists, bring back the long form census, appoint a chief science officer, and make the agency Statistics Canada fully independent.
Of course, more is required to make this agenda complete. Fortunately, Canada now has a Scientific Integrity Project, which has put a lot of thought into these issues, and the new government would be wise to consult them.
Appointing a science adviser and removing speech restrictions should be pretty straightforward. Cultural change will come more slowly. And there’s not a moment to lose. “To maintain the status quo would be to leave the festering wound to rot, leaving no option but to cut off the limb,” says freshwater ecologistMichael Rennie of Ontario’s Lakehead University. He calls for immediate reinvestment in government-based research, as well as the scrapping of bureaucratic rules that make it difficult for departments to hire scientists and for scientists to travel to scientific conferences.
In the context of science, evidence-based decision making, even rational thought, Harper was Canada's Khmer Rouge. It was this, more than anything else, that fueled a fierce public opposition that the rightwing media and even some fair weather Liberals derided as "Harper Derangement Syndrome." Yes, we were deranged, not Shifty Steve and the denizens of his 'faith based' edifice.