Canadian scientists and academics are helping to secure endangered data in the United States.
Using lessons learned under Stephen Harper and the Conservative party’s administration—which saw the vast suppression of scientific communication and the destruction of data archives—Canadian scientists and academics are helping their neighbours to the south.
The new threat to information comes from Donald Trump and the Republican party’s administration in the United States. In an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canadian scientists and academics write that “all life on earth now depends on maintaining efforts in environmental and related sciences.”
The Foreign Situation
University of Victoria environmental law professor, Chris Tollefson, says that the Trump administration poses a real risk the open scientific communication and is actively deleting scientific data, which “will undermine years of research in various areas.”
On President Trump’s Inauguration Day, the White House’s information page on climate change was deleted from the web and replaced with a statement about eliminating “harmful and unnecessary policies.”
The Canadian Context
This isn’t so different than what happened in Canada under Harper. The term libricide was invented to describe the destruction of invaluable data archives. Scientists were also unable to freely speak about their research without approval from government communication personnel.
A 2013 report called The Big Chill, reported the results of a survey that illustrated to the extreme nature of censorship under the Harper administration. According to Hakai magazine, nearly nine out of ten federal scientists said “that they couldn’t share their concerns about public safety or the environment without censure or retaliation.”
Gizmodo calls the situation in the United States “eerily reminiscent of attempts to suppress science in Canada during Stephen Harper’s tenure as Prime Minister.”
The the major concerns facing science in the United States are:
- Donald Trump’s anti-vaccination views
- Donald Trump denial of climate change (and temporarily banning all Environmental Protection Agency staff from talking with the media)
- And Donald Trump’s further measures to control scientific research and communications
Scott Dallimore, a Natural Resources Canada research scientists, says that the persistence of the Canadian media reporting on the issue of the muzzling of scientists in Canada helped to turn the tide in the 2015 Federal Election, which Harper’s Conservatives lost by a significant margin to Trudeau’s Liberals.
Michael Rennie, a former Canadian government scientist and current professor, has a blog called UnmuzzledScience that offers advice to scientists in the United States.
His major tips:
- Continue to educate the public, even if you need to do so anonymously
- Engage in collaborations across universities and preserve copies of data
- And get a personal email address
Encouragingly, a lot of this work has already begun. Check out Katie’s blog post about how Canadian academics are using a tactic called guerrilla archiving to preserve scientific data.
What do you think?
Do you see a threat to science in these examples of government intervention? How might the impact extend beyond science?
Let us know in the comments below.