Tag Archives: muzzle

Silence of the Labs (exposé) a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) television event scheduled for January 10, 2014

I’ve perhaps overstated the case by calling the upcoming telecast ‘Silence of the Labs’ an event,. For many people in the Canadian science community, it will be an event but for most of the television audience it’s simply the first new episode of the Fifth Estate’s 2014 schedule. (For anyone unfamiliar with the Fifth Estate, it’s the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s [CBC] longest running, 39th season, and most prestigious investigative journalism television programme.)

Assuming there are some people who haven’t been following this story about the ‘silencing’ of Canada’s scientists or censorship as it has been called, here’s a précis (and if you’ve been following it more closely than I have and note any errors or have any additions, please do use the commenting option (Note: Due to spam issues, I moderate comments so it may take a few hours or more [I don’t usually check the blog on the weekends]  before your comments appear.)

I think my earliest mention of the topic was in 2009 (Sept. 21, 2009; scroll down to the last paragraph). At this point, the Conservative government  had put a ‘muzzle’ on government scientists working for Environment Canada not allowing them to speak directly to media representatives about their work. All questions were to be directed to ministry communications officers. In fact, the muzzle was first discussed in a National Post Jan. 31, 200-8 article by Margaret Munro (which predates this blog’s existence by a few months). In a Sept. 16, 2013 posting, I featured the then recent muzzling of Natural Resources Canada, a story which was first covered by Margaret Munro. My understanding is that Health Canada had also been ‘muzzled’ but that was done earlier by the Liberal government when it was in power.

My colleague, David Bruggemen (Pasco Phronesis blog) disagrees with the contention by many in the Canadian science community that these ‘muzzles’ constitute a form of censorship. In addition to the postings he has made on his blog he also commented on my March 7, 2012 posting (I linked to one of David’s postings on the topic and included an excerpt from it) where I discussed my failure to get answers to questions from an institution located on the University of British Columbia lands and linked it to the ‘muzzle’. In that context,, I mused about censorship.

Since 2012 the focus seems to have shifted from media representatives being able to get direct and uninhibited access to scientists to the public’s right to know and attempts to ‘shut down’ scientific inquiry. In July 2012, there was a rally in Ottawa called Death of Evidence (discussed in both my July 10, 2012 posting and my July 13, 2012 posting followed by a 2013 cross Canada event, Stand up for Science described in my Oct. 4, 2013 posting. As I noted in that posting, most of the science being ‘censored’ or ‘attacked’ is environmental. Institutions such as the Perimeter Institute (theoretical physics)  in Ontario and TRIUMF, Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics in British Columbia have done very well under the Conservative government.

with all that, here’s a preview (51 seconds) of the Silence of the Labs,

You can find out more about the episode here and, if you should miss the telecast, you’ll probably be able to watch later on the Fifth Estate’s CBC  Player webpage. As for the ‘Silence of the Labs” (hat off for the pun), I believe it will be broadcast at 9 pm regardless of timezone on the local CBC channel across most of the country; I assume that as usual Newfoundland will enjoy the telecast at 9:30 pm.

Social and/or scientific unrest in Spain, Canada, the UK, Egypt, and Turkey

The latest scientist protest took place in Spain on Friday, June 14, 2013 according to Michele Catanzaro’s June 14, 2013 article for Nature magazine,

Scientists gathered in public meetings in 19 Spanish cities this morning under the slogan ‘Let’s save research’. The gatherings were called by the Letter for Science movement, a coalition that includes the main scientific organizations of the country.

According to the movement, 5,000 scientists in Madrid marched …

Scientists, after seeing Spain’s investment in science double from the late 1990s to 2009, have watched as budgets have been cut and the science ministry has been eliminated (2011). Earlier this year, the government announced that science funding would not be increased until 2014. A recent June 4,2013 announcement that science projects would receive some additional funding does not appear to have appeased scientists.

While Spanish scientists are the latest to protest, they are not alone.

In Canada, there was a July 10, 2012 protest, the Death of Evidence Rally, which attracted either 1,500 or several hundred protestors (as is often the case, police estimates were considerably lower than organizers’ estimates). I have coverage from the day of the event in my July 10, 2013 posting and a roundup of  post-event commentary in my July 13, 2013 posting. Again, the issue was funding but the situation seems to have been exacerbated by the ‘muzzle’ put on Canadian government scientists.

For anyone not familiar with the situation, scientists working for various government departments have been informed over a period of years (muzzle edicts have been handed out in a staggered fashion to various departments; there’s a brief description in my Sept. 16, 2010 posting; and, there’s an update about the current legal action regarding the ‘muzzle’ in my April 8, 2013 posting [scroll down about 75% of the way])  that they could no longer speak directly to media. Since this is often a Canadian scientist’s primary form of public outreach, having to to hand all requests to the communications section of their department means that someone not familiar with the science may be crafting the messages or simply refusing to answer any or all questions for reasons that may not be clear to the scientist or the person asking the questions.

Getting back to last year’s Canadian rally, it seems to have been modeled on a UK protest where scientists gathered in London and staged a mock funeral to protest science funding policies, according to Adam Smith in a May 15, 2012 article for the Guardian newspaper.

Egyptian scientists too have expressed their displeasure. In 2011, they contributed to the ‘Arab Spring’ uprising against Hosni Mubarak as I noted in my Feb. 4, 2011 posting. For an insider’s perspective, you may want to check out, Eyptian journalist and Nature Middle East editor, Mohammed Yahia’s Feb. 2, 2011 article for Nature Middle East,

Anti-Mubarak protests continued into their eighth day across Egypt yesterday culminating in mass demonstrations in Egypt’s three main cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. While the academic community did not kick-start the popular uprising, academics joined the ranks of protesters on the streets to demand political reform and an end to President Mubarak’s three decades in power.

Several senior academics took to the streets of Cairo to have their voices heard. Nature Middle East was on the ground to hear what they had to say on the state of science under Mubarak’s regime and what hopes they have for science under any new government.

Also in 2011, there was a situation with scientists in Turkey. According to my Sept. 9, 2011 posting, Turkish scientists were threatening to “resign en masse” from the Turkish Academy of Sciences when the government stripped the academy of its autonomy. The current protests in Turkey do not feature scientists and are focused on other issues (according to a June 17, 2013 article by Graham E. Fuller for the Christian Science Monitor). In Egypt, they were protesting a dictatorship; in Turkey, they are protesting an arrogant prime minister’s actions.  Although I have to wonder how Turkey’s Prime Minister and/or its military are going to react as the protests are continuing; I can’t be the only person concerned that a coup may be in Turkey’s near future.

Getting to my point and eliminating the segues, it seems that over the last two years scientists in various countries have been taking political action of one kind or another and my impression is that this represents a substantive shift in how scientists view their role in society.