Scientists in white lab coats protest federal government muzzling, funding cuts


OTTAWA – Hundreds of frustrated scientists clad in their telltale white lab coats descended Monday on Parliament Hill to demand that the Harper government stop muzzling scientists and cutting research funding.

“What do we want? Evidence-based decision-making!” chanted the protesters as they gathered in the shadow of the Peace Tower, complaining about what they see as the government’s efforts to commercialize research.

The very fact that such a typically apolitical group felt the need to make their voices heard speaks volumes, said Jeremy Kerr, a biology professor at the University of Ottawa.

“As a commentary on the state of affairs, when people like me start showing up wearing their lab coats having come from their laboratories, things are pretty bleak,” Kerr told the crowd.

The fundamental message is “simplicity itself,” Kerr said: “Sound policy needs sound science.”

“The facts do not change just because the Harper government has chosen ignorance over evidence and ideology over honesty.”

The Ottawa rally was part of a national series of “Stand Up for Science” protests taking place across the country, organized by Ottawa-based science advocacy group Evidence for Democracy.

The group argues that evidence-based decision-making must inform governmental funding decisions on science. They say current funding has instead shifted towards commercialization of research.

“They want us to put aside what we’re doing and shift our efforts towards industry and to force us to do that they shift their money towards earmarked projects,” said Bela Joos, a University of Ottawa physics professor.

One protester attached a telescope to a bike helmet and carried a sign that read, “Desperately seeking intelligent life on Parliament Hill!”

Greg Rickford, minister of state for science and technology, defended the government in an emailed statement that did not directly acknowledge the protest nor the specific concerns raised by the scientists.

“Our government is committed to science, technology and innovation and taking ideas to the marketplace,” Rickford said. “Canada is ranked number one in the G7 for our higher education research and development.”

Scientists also argue that government cuts have reduced public science projects aimed at helping average Canadians in sectors like health and the environment.

They’re also upset about reports that the Conservative government has taken steps to restrict what scientists and other civil servants are allowed to 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.

“Cuts to essential scientific programs and services have undermined our society’s scientists’ ability to serve the public good,” said Gary Corbett, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.

New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair said the concept of fact-based decision-making goes “completely against the grain” for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government.

“The use of scientific information is something that bolsters our ability to protect the public,” Mulcair said.

“Stephen Harper’s shutting down of scientists — of firing them, or of muzzling the ones he hasn’t fired — is for us an approach that goes completely against the nature of a Parliament where things have to be debated openly.”

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Scientists in white lab coats protest federal government muzzling, funding cuts

  1. We are apparently going to have to add the ‘search for knowledge is protected’ to our constitution.

    Any govt that’s trying to remove it….should itself be removed.

    • It’s more that the search for tenure, grants, and a rich pension plan that are at stake here.

      • Yes, since none of that occurs.

        • Heh heh heh… you are being more obstreperous tonight than usual.

          • No….heh heh heh….just fed up with deliberate, wilful ignorance.

            So knock it off.

          • Tenure guarantees a prosperous income and a similarly prosperous pension. Research grants for dubious and inscrutable efforts mean more prestige, a higher head count of assistants, and eventually more salary.

            It is the ‘ne plus ultra’ goal of university professors and those who aspire to become professors but are mere lecturers and such.

          • Tenure occurs in universities…..and it’s to protect professors when they come up with something that’s not popular.

            You do realize that none of it occurs without peer review….as in proof?

            Naturally professors want to eat. Don’t you?

          • Eating with no accountability is the question; nobody should have a free and guaranteed access to the public teat.

            BYW, peer review applies to some published papers, but tenure is a university administration decision.

          • a) they don’t

            b) you don’t get tenure without published, peer reviewed papers.

          • You get tenure at the whim of the administration. If published work is valued by the administration, then that will enter into the decision making process. But no ones tenure is ever ‘peer reviewed’ by anyone other than the administrators.

          • LOL no you don’t.

            Tenure isn’t ‘peer reviewed’ you nit…papers are.

          • Twas your suggestion, not mine.

            Not my fault if you write unclearly.

          • No it wasn’t.

            You don’t know how the system works, or you’d have understood what I said.

          • I’m not going to reinterpret everything you write to what it ‘should have been’, because it’s impossible to tell whether your errors are due to poor understanding, poor writing, deliberate misdirection, or some other cause.

            Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

          • LOL your ignorance is your problem, not mine.

          • You misunderstood;

            it matters not what I know and do not know.

            I respond to what you write under the reasonable assumption that you must have intended to write what you wrote.

            With the exception of some obvious typo, I cannot guess whether you intended something different from what you wrote.

            Worse, even if I believe you to have written something you did not intend to write, it would be presumptuous of me to guess at what you actually intended, and in the absence of other information the effort would be so fraught with risk of misconstrual that it’s not worth the time to even try.

          • You simply write ignorance….from ignorance

            And it annoys hell out of you when others point that out.

            As the Russians say….tough shitsky.

          • Nice try Emily, but that ploy has failed before, and it fails this time.

            Empty insults are not productive of anything.

          • It’s neither an insult nor empty.

            It’s a statement of fact.

            You’re ignorant.

          • Emily, your post was poorly worded. Don’t sulk because someone calls you out for bad writing.

          • LOL cute….but stupid.

            Anyone ever involved with universities knows how it works….obviously you and your BF are speaking from ignorance.

      • Hint: Government is not a university.

        • Hint: Universities get money from governments

          • Hint: Article is about scientists employed directly by the government – NOT university profs. Go back & read again.

          • It’s about protesters, some of whom may well be primarily unemployed, and thus have plenty of free time to show up at the ‘manifestation du jour’

          • Which has precisely what to do with scientists on the government payroll?

  2. Well, I guess we now know where the next round of budget savings will come from… one round of pink slips – coming up!

    • It’s more the search for tenure and a rich pension plan that are at stake here.

      • Um….govt and universities are two different things.

        But gawd knows we wouldn’t want anyone to earn money after spending ten or more years gaining a PhD, and far more years after that in R&D

        Let em starve on street corners I say.

      • These are government scientists seeking to have their CPC-created muzzles removed and to again be allow to directly report their findings to the Canadians who pay for them, rather than having them hidden or “translated” through CPC mouthpieces.

  3. Rather than just looking at what federal scientists can do, try to ask an Ontario government scientist – anything. It’s impossible without going through a communications person, who will ensure the scientist has all the questions – and answers – approved before the discussion occurs.

    • Yea, but the Ontario government is run by Liberals, so professional protesters ignore it. This protest isn’t against anything the government is doing, it’s simply against Conservative’s. These protesters would have us spending nothing on healthcare, education, and would put it all into “research” so they can pollute lakes on the government dime, just to see what would happen.

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