Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

The Age of Infocide

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A shocking 43 per cent of the recently passed "budget bill," C-38, was dedicated to gutting this country's environmental protection laws and legislating procedural hurdles that will ensure any dissent is further silenced in the future. Not surprising for a government that officially lists environmentalists alongside Islamic extremists and white supremacists as a "terrorist threat." But there was also a terse message to be distilled from a 400-page Trojan Horse that truly puts the "mock" in democracy at the hands of the hypocritical NeoCons and it is this: science in the service of industry and short-term gain — good; science in the service of sustainability and long-term health of ecosystems — bad. Though the answer seems painfully obvious, history will now decide the question of which approach was best for humanity.

Harper's escalating War on Science is nothing new. After the NeoCons won a second minority in 2008, the government instituted a new media protocol for all its scientists: they would no longer be allowed to talk to the media without previous permission: i.e., NeoCon PR flacks (who know nothing of science but everything about spin and damage control) would now decide what scientists could and couldn't say: "Just as we have one department, we should have one voice... This should include asking the [scientist] to respond with approved lines."

That would be why a Department for Fisheries and Oceans geneticist in B.C. couldn't comment about her research linking a cancer-related virus to the crash of salmon populations. Her findings, published in Science, one of the world's most prestigious scientific journals, didn't fit with the NeoCons' pro-industry agenda, and would make Harper look bad. This is why some scientists are now prevented from attending conferences, or only allowed to go with a government handler who makes sure they don't say too much. Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin labels this "...the type of thing I used to see when, back in the 1980s, I reported from the Soviet Union."

With the passing of C38, the Cons are now firing scientists and shutting down research at a dizzying pace. A partial hit list: 1) hundreds of scientists let go from Environment Canada (easy to imagine the ramifications); 2) the complete shutdown of Canadian research into the thinning of the ozone layer (a network of 17 research stations that provide a third of all of the world's ozone readings) which is worsening significantly; 3) an end to storage of one-of-a-kind ice core samples that demonstrate increasing CO2 in the atmosphere (Harpo already cancelled support for the main organization that funds climate-related science at Canadian universities); 4) closure of the Experimental Lakes Area, since the 1960s the world's best-known freshwater research facility (some of its work shows that chemicals released by polluters like the Alberta tar sands are harmful). Because most academic scientists in this country work for government or receive funding from NSERC (National Science and Engineering Research Council), they are necessarily mute on the topic. Not so foreigners. Regarding the Experimental Lakes shutdown a Harvard professor told the Winnipeg Free Press "[It's] just appalling... [and] embarrassing." Another American academic called the decision unthinkable. "This is the kind of act one expects from the Taliban in Afghanistan," a Stockholm professor wrote to Canadian politicians, "not from the government of a civilized and educated nation."

Indeed a truly civilized nation would never shut down a nationwide conversation like the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, a body that even reviled ex-PM Myron Baloney felt brought balance.

So who's minding the state's scientific interests? More buffoon than rocket scientist, Minister for Science & Technology Gary Goodyear claims that his belief or non-belief in biological evolution is "irrelevant." True, but only because he doesn't understand what process the term refers to. "We are evolving every year, every decade," he told reporters who had to bite their tongues while scribbling the rest down, "whether it's... walking on cement versus anything else, whether it's running shoes or high heels, of course we are evolving to our environment."

It's now clear that science which doesn't mesh with Harper's narrow industrial agenda or backward Christian beliefs is being all but outlawed, and proponents, in a manner of speaking, summarily executed. Scientific knowledge previously shared with the public and policy makers is now spun as an extension of the official PR message. The world's most respected scientific journal, Nature, called Harper's infocide campaign "unacceptable political interference... openness is being held ransom to media messages that serve the government's political agenda."

Access to scientific evidence that informs policy is an essential part of the public's right to know. Furthermore, any attack on the free-flow of scientific information is an attack on democracy's very foundations. Before he was elected Harper himself claimed "Information is power. The less control the government has over the flow of information, the less control it can exert over its citizens... ." Once elected, however, he changed his tune about who should hold the balance of power in a society. Since 2006 Harper has aptly demonstrated the verity of the old adage that power corrupts; and since gaining his (possibly illegal) majority, that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Happy Canada Day!

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