Scientists stand up across Canada

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Christine McKenna Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

The sequel to last year’s Death of Evidence funeral procession took place on Monday as Canadian scientists rallied in 18 cities across the country to Stand Up for Science and its place in public policy. Hundreds arrived on Parliament Hill and (in the most orderly mob I’ve ever seen) gathered at the foot of the Peace Tower, many donning white lab coats and holding science-pun protest signs in the air. Dr. Katie Gibbs of Evidence for Democracy (E4D), the advocacy group behind the event, welcomed attendees and led a rendition of the scientists’ “nerdy chant,” which went:

                What do we want? 

                Evidence-based decision making!

                When do we want it?

                After peer review!

This message is one of the key concepts behind the Stand Up for Science rallies, which were organized in response to federal funding cuts to scientific research programs and the suspected “muzzling” of government scientists.  According to E4D, Canada’s science community is troubled by a recent trend in federal policy which prioritizes industry-focused scientific endeavours and disqualifies the value of basic science research. Though they don’t question the importance of targeted research and development, the scientists believe that innovation should not be pursued “to the detriment of basic research”, and that it is important to promote “evidence-based policy over policy-based evidence”. 

Seven different speakers took to the podium at the Ottawa rally to air their concerns and encourage further political action, and Dr. John Stone (of Carleton University’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) expressed his hope that “we won’t have to make this an annual event”. Stone also recalled a “golden age” of science in Canada, when many “world leading institutions” were established and led by scientists, and when “ministers used to regularly consult the people at the head of those institutions.” He also called on Canadians “of all political stripes” to lobby for science-based policy formation. 

Dr. Kapil Khatter, a family physician and former Executive Director of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, referred to the impact of studies of asbestos, tobacco, and lead in gasoline as examples of how basic scientific research contributes to the public good. Co-founder of Evidence for Democracy Dr. Scott Findlay also addressed the crowd, suggesting that “science can help to sustain the values embraced by Canadians”. He encouraged Canada’s scientific community to become more proactive, but also to “consider the limitations of science, as there are challenges that Canadian society will need to address, for which science is necessary – but not sufficient.” To the Canadian public he urged, “Embrace your inner scientist… be skeptical, demand evidence, and when it’s given to you: consider it carefully.”

Other speakers at the rally included Dr. Béla Joós, associate professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Ottawa; Gary Corbett, president of The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada; Jeremy Kerr, associate professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Ottawa; and Jessica McCormick, National Deputy Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students.


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