Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Canada shows how a government clamps down on scientific information

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Governments often do not like scientists, who in general deal in reality and not in ideology, so governments take steps to stop scientific communication. We’ve seen it in the Soviet Union, in Red China, in Florida (state officials doing planning cannot discuss global warming or climate change), in North Carolina (state laws restrict the amount of increase in sea level that can be used), and now in Canada. Stephen Buranyi writes at Motheboard:

A coalition of journalists and academics is urging Canadians to write letters to government scientists, asking for data on pollution, global warming, and other federal research. They may not get much in response—but that’s precisely the point.

The week-long letter writing campaign, which bega​n on Monday and is called Write2Know, is a protest of the government’s controversial practice of controlling access to both science and scientists—a policy that has never been officially codified, but has been enforced by government agencies fo​r the past half-decade.

Typically, requests sent to federal scientists by members of the public are instead directed to a media relations officer who determines how much access will be allowed. Sometimes interviews will be granted, while in other cases, the officer determines that a number of questions will be approved and passed on to the scientist via email. Scientists may have their responses cut and edited before being released.

The government’s media strategy isn’t clearly defined, and the extent of these muzzling tactics have mainly been pieced together from leaked repor​ts and scores of denied or stalled information requests. But it appears that anyone, inside or outside Canada, attempting to communicate with a Canadian federal scientist for anything other than a scientific project, is subject to this oversight.

“If a journalist or academic writes to a scientist to ask for information they encounter these barriers. We want to walk people through the steps of inquiry to get the same response or non-response we would get,” said Dr. Natasha Myers, director of York University’s Institute for Science and Technology Studies, and one of the primary organizers of the Write2Know c​ampaign.

From March 23-27, those who write letters will get to experience the frustration of dealing with a government intent on keeping its own research and data under wraps—when it isn’t doing everything it can to shut down the production and storage of data by cutting jobs and research fundi​ng, and closing libraries and ar​chives across the country.

Journalists first noticed the walls that had been erected around federal scientists when media officers began limiting access in 2008. A pair of hi​gh pr​ofile incidents a few years later, in which climate change and fisheries data was withheld, sparked widespread outrage, and outraged letters: journalists wrote a​n open letteracademics ​wrote an open letterforeign scientists wro​te an open letter; and yet nothing about the policy has changed.

Writing a letter to the Harper government is like writing a letter to Santa: it’s unlikely it’ll ever get read and you just have to hope you get what you want. They’re also both really into ar​ctic industri​alization.

But the organizers of the Write2Know campaign say that their campaign differs from previous appeals launched by professional bodies in a very important way. “For us it begins with a public,” Dr. Myers said. “The reason we’re doing this as a letter writing campaign is precisely because we want to generate a public that is interested and informed enough to engage with research.” . . .

Continue reading.

Information control of this sort is a hallmark of authoritarian government.

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2015 at 9:23 pm

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