Stuff Michelle Rempel says

Environment Secretary Michelle Rempel has been defending the Harper government against charges that it is muzzling scientists. She does not deny the allegations, but instead makes a variety of spurious assertions while claiming to be "optimistic" about the investigation's outcome.

For example, Ms. Rempel makes her oft-repeated claim that "1000 interviews" were granted by Environment Canada in 2011. That big number is meant to impress you. It almost certainly includes media inquiries about EC's weather forecasts, which form the vast majority of the stories involving EC on any given day. What's more, it is clear from earlier leaks that the bulk number of interviews on scientific topics -- notably climate -- has been dramatically reduced.

Ms. Rempel trots out the fact that EC scientists are still able to publish in the peer-reviewed literature. Never mind for now that DFO's official policy allows them to suppress publishing they don't like. What she avoids saying is that peer-reviewed journals are primarily for communications between specialists, and can never replace communications with the lay public. As the former Director of the University of Calgary’s Institutional Programs Division, Ms. Rempel surely understands the distinction.

On the public front, Ms. Rempel notes that the government maintains many Web sites to communicate science to the public. What she doesn't say is that it is the government's media relations machine that is in control of those Web sites. What's more, Tony Clement has been tasked with reducing the number of government Web sites from thousands down to "six or fewer". This will be a great way for the government to control the message, as Ms. Rempel well knows.

Finally, Ms. Rempel conflates the muzzling of scientists with spending on science. She claims -- as many before her have done -- that the Harper government has invested more than $8 billion in science and technology since 2006. Again, this is meant to sound like a big scary number, and much has been written about Canada's declining investment in basic science. Talk to any scientist (they probably need a hug!) and they will tell you that the reality on the ground is pretty grim. Ms. Rempel knows that scientists are very unhappy with the state of science in Canada; she was the MP sent out to defend the Harper government following last summer's "Death of Evidence" rally on Parliament Hill.

Understand this: By disrupting the normal communications channels between scientists and the public, the Harper government is denying Canadians the information they need to make informed decisions about our shared future. Transparency demands that scientists be able to speak for themselves without fear of suppression or intimidation. By preventing scientists from speaking freely with the public, the Harper government is effectively depriving Canadians the ability to exercise their democratic rights.


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