Will the War on Science Become an Election Issue?

Death of Evidence Rally

The number of anti-science decisions the federal government has made in recent years is staggering: axing the long-form census, trying to shut down the Experimental Lakes Area, sending media relations personnel to accompany scientists at international conferences.

There are so many mindboggling instances, in fact, that the non-profit organization Evidence for Democracy has decided to create an interactive website to chronicle them all.

Even for those of us who are following the issue closely, it’s still hard to keep track of it all,” says executive director Katie Gibbs.

We were a little worried that if people hadn’t been following this from the get-go, they might think it’s just too complex or overwhelming of an issue to learn about this late in the game. We wanted this site to really be that entry point for people who haven’t been following it all along and see what has happened and why it matters.”

True North Smart and Free

The site, titled True North Smart and Free, divides the issues into three broad categories: funding cuts, communication restrictions and policy decisions that overtly disregard evidence. In addition, the site promotes Evidence for Democracy’s “Science Pledge,” which serves as a petition of sorts to reprioritize science and evidence-based decision making.

Gibbs notes more than 50 federal election candidates have signed it, including Elizabeth May, Marc Garneau and Kennedy Stewart. In addition to raising the public profile of the pledge, Gibbs says such commitments will help voters keep candidates accountable after the election.

Despite science not emerging as a priority in previous elections, Gibbs is hopeful that will change in the coming federal election. She says she’s heard from quite a few candidates who have noted the issue of muzzling scientists often comes up while door knocking.

Evidence for the Death of Evidence grows

In 2012, Gibbs helped lead the Death of Evidence rally, which famously drew hundreds of scientists to the streets.

That was followed in 2013 by the publication of Chris Turner’s The War on Science and in 2014 The Fifth Estate’s ominous documentary Silence of the Labs. The New Republic reported on the issue later in 2014, concluding: “Our northern neighbors are taking a page from George W. Bush's playbook.”

Just over two months ago, Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientist Steven Campana loudly quit due to alleged muzzling. Evidence for Democracy’s initiative may just push the matter into critical mass territory.

I think the issue has got big enough,” Gibbs concludes. “It’s not just the science community that’s upset, it has reached that next level of awareness.”

Photo: Richard Webster