05 March 2012

Conservative war on truth escalates

The Conservative government made another assault on the gathering of facts with its announcement that it is closing the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Lab (PEARL) in Canada's High Arctic.

Its timing was impeccable. A climate scientist, Dr. Richard Peltier, has just been announced this year's winner of the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal, our country's highest scientific award. PEARL is one of the sources Dr. Peltier relies on for his data and one of only three stations in the world that keep track of activities in the atmosphere around the Pole, that part of the world where changes are happening more quickly than anywhere else on the planet. Now one-third of the data from the High Arctic will be gone and models of climate change built by scientists such as Dr. Peltier will be less precise, a development that will make climate change denial a little easier.

The Conservatives have done well in their war on the truth, perhaps their greatest victory being the termination of the mandatory long form census, but opposition is growing. A few weeks ago, the Canadian Science Writers' Association, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada and the World Federation of Science Journalists and several other groups sent Prime Minister Harper an open letter calling on him to unmuzzle federal scientists. Now Nature, one of the world's leading scientific journals, has stated in an editorial that it's time for the Canadian government to set its scientists free. It pointed out the role reversal that has taken place between this country and the United States—as scientists in the U.S. free themselves from the repressive regime of George W. Bush, Canadian scientists are gagged by the Harper regime.

PEARL and Dr. Peltier, working as they do with climate science, are perhaps particularly dangerous in Harper's view. Canadian scientists were, after all, part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change team that shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007.

It is sad indeed, in this day and age and at time when climate change makes science more important than ever, that scientists in the free world have to beg a government to allow their colleagues to speak freely.

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