No science, no evidence, no truth, no democracy: Canada’s science community speaks out

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Milena Stanoeva
Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

Around a thousand members of Canada’s science community held a memorial service today for evidence-based decision-making on Parliament Hill.  Supported by the Council of Canadians, the “Death of Evidence” protest, which included a procession through downtown Ottawa and “eulogies” delivered by scientists from across the country, was in response to cuts to important research programs, like the Experimental Lakes Area, the end of the mandatory long-form census, as well as the Harper government’s policy of limiting government-funded researchers’ ability to speak publicly about their research.

Many of the speakers emphasized the importance of scientific research to sound policy-making and democracy. They argued that policy developed without scientific evidence is short-sighted, subject to the influence of political ideology or market demands, and ultimately bad for the country and its residents. Additionally, speakers pointed out that democracy requires informed citizenship – Canadians need access to scientific research in order to make informed decisions about our policy-makers. “An iron curtain has been drawn between science and Canadian society,” said Dalhousie University professor of biology Jeff Hutchings.

While speakers acknowledged the government’s support for applied research, they argued that it should not come at the expense of fundamental research, which provides the underpinnings for applied research. The crowd, many of whom were clad in lab coats, applauded when Hutchings called the new policies a “prioritization of economic development at all costs.”

“With fear and trembling, we enter a 2+2=5 universe,” said Diane Orihel, founder of the Coalition to Save ELA, who was dressed like a mourner.

However, not all the speakers mourned science. Liberal critic of Science and Technology Ted Hsu said that science is powerful because it accepts criticism. He argued that a government that can accept criticism and embrace inconvenient facts is stronger and able to make better decisions for its citizens. He encouraged the crowd to support politicians committed to evidence-based decision-making and scientific inquiry.

Although the government did not directly address the protesters’ concerns, it issued a press release earlier today stating its commitment to scientific research, which includes an additional $1.1B in research funding over the next five years.

The memorial service ended with a call for action to all scientists, including social scientists, that evidence may be dead, but it can rise again. This transformation, argued the speaker, will require evidence and incentive, not inertia and indifference. “But we are, after all, Homo sapiens–thinking men and women,” he said. “We have brains. Let’s use them.”


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