New York Times Editorial Board: Harper Conservatives Aim To 'Guarantee Public Ignorance'

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The New York Times editorial board has accused the Harper government of seeking to 'guarantee public ignorance' by muzzling federal scientists. (CP)
The New York Times editorial board has accused the Harper government of seeking to 'guarantee public ignorance' by muzzling federal scientists. (CP)

The New York Times editorial board has accused the Harper government of seeking to "guarantee public ignorance" by muzzling federal scientists.

In a scathing piece published Sunday, the newspaper argues Harper Conservatives have tried to restrict publicly financed scientists from sharing information with the public, particularly research into climate change and "anything to do with Alberta tar sands — source of the diluted bitumen that would flow through the controversial Keystone XL pipeline."

The Times suggests Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants to ensure the controversial Keystone project proceeds with no red flags from federal scientists.

"This is more than an attack on academic freedom. It is an attempt to guarantee public ignorance.

"It is also designed to make sure that nothing gets in the way of the northern resource rush — the feverish effort to mine the earth and the ocean with little regard for environmental consequences. The Harper policy seems designed to make sure that the tar sands project proceeds quietly, with no surprises, no bad news, no alarms from government scientists. To all the other kinds of pollution the tar sands will yield, we must now add another: the degradation of vital streams of research and information."

But Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver told Postmedia's Michael Woods that the editorial is off-base.

"Neither I nor any member of my political staff have ever directed scientists not communicate with each other or with the public, nor, to my knowledge, has any member of my ministry," he said.

Oliver also told Postmedia that while Americans are free to oppose projects like Keystone, "it would be refreshing if they confined themselves to the facts and the science."

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau both tweeted links to the article on Monday.

The editorial comes just days after hundreds of frustrated scientists rallied on Parliament Hill and in cities across Canada to demand the Harper government stop muzzling scientists and cutting research funding.

The "Stand Up for Science" protests were organized by advocacy group, Evidence for Democracy, which maintains the Harper government is basing decisions on ideology, not evidence.

"The facts do not change just because the Harper government has chosen ignorance over evidence and ideology over honesty," said Jeremy Kerr, a biology professor at the University of Ottawa, to a crowd in the nation's capital.

There have been multiple reports — many of which are documented in HuffPost Canada's "Stifling Science" feature — of the Tory government attempting to restrict what scientists and other civil servants can say to the media.

The Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria and the ethics advocacy group Democracy Watch has cited multiple examples of taxpayer-funded science being suppressed or limited to pre-packaged media lines across six different government departments and agencies.

The Conservatives also sparked chatter this spring when Gary Goodyear, then-minister of state for science and technology, ordered the National Research Council to focus more on commercial science and less on fundamental science that may not have obvious business applications.

Council president John McDougall said the shift in focus away from basic research and discovery to a more targeted approach to research and development will make the NRC a more attractive partner for business.

"A new idea or discovery may in fact be interesting, but it doesn't qualify as innovation until it's been developed into something that has commercial or societal value," he said.

With files from The Canadian Press

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