Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Politicisation of Science

One of the main problems with society is the political system. It was while I was watching an interview with John Howard many years ago that it struck me how politics had taken a new turn. Howard said in an interview that the most important issue in Australia was the liberal party winning the upcoming election and they needed to focus all their efforts on achieving that win. Although it’s probably true for most politicians, I had never publicly heard this before. It had always been Australia’s future or the like that was a precursor for winning an election, not simply the need to win. By being able to openly say this in public, is it any surprise that more and more fundamentals of society would become political fodder in the quest to win an election? Those days are gone where politicians needed to appear logical. No longer did they take directions from facts, public needs or science. Basic freedoms were replaced by national security and the politics of fear. Common sense was replaced with idealism and patriotism. Science and medicine were replaced with religion and so called ‘family values’. Howard went on as PM for 3 terms over 11 and a half years. One of his profound contributions to science was silencing NGOs and government research organisations that had conflicting views to the official government spin. Research and facts became secondary to government policy and those who dared release conflicting data were faced with losing government funding. This led to the rise of groups like Drug Free Australia (DFA) whose sole purpose was to push the government’s own agenda that would normally be criticised by proper research groups. DFA were supporters of the US model that wouldn’t allow federal funding for programs that conflicted with modern christian ideology like safe sex education and needle exchanges. With most opponents now silenced in Australia, Howard had the opportunity to completely remove conflicting science from drug policy and the next step was to produce his own “research” which came via the Bishop Report - “The Winnable War on Drugs”. Luckily Howard was booted from office and the Bishop Report was doomed to bottom of the rubbish bin. Scarily, Howard had came so close to achieving the unthinkable and nearly implemented a non medical solution to a medical problem based on politics and moral/religious ideology. In the US, healthcare is an example of how medicine has become so politicised that it’s actual purpose has been overlooked and instead has become a political hot potato about socialism vs. right wing ideology. But science/medicine has been heavily politicised in nearly every country - abortion, nuclear power, alternative energy, mental health, creationism in science class etc. The two prime examples that stand out are climate change and drug policy. Both issues have been taken out of the scientific arena by the right because a pragmatic solution might upset their corporate interests or encroach on their safe, pseudo religious ‘family values’ ideology. Taking advantage of an upcoming election, a group of renown professors in Canada decided that they should write a letter to the major political parties and voice their concern. The politicisation of science had cost millions of lives worldwide and was risking the future of our planet. But can a group of experts actually get through to the decision makers? The letter is a real eye opener when you look at the content and you may start to realise how backward mankind has slipped considering how far we have progress scientifically.
Dear Sirs and Madam: We are a group of concerned scientists writing to call for the end to the politicization of science and related due processes in Canada. Below we highlight some recent examples of the mistreatment of science in Canada: • The closing of the Office of the National Science Advisor 1 • The misrepresentation of climate change science 1, 2 • The muzzling of Environment Canada scientists 3 4 • The cuts to and reorganizing of the Canadian Wildlife Service 5 • The political appointments to the board of Assisted Human Reproduction Canada 6 • The halting of the Prison Tattoo Pilot Study and the suppression of the results of this study 7 • The firing of the Head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission 8 • The suppression and misrepresentation of research related to Vancouver’s Supervised Injection Site 9-11 The above represent blatant examples of instances when: • Systems developed to provide non-partisan scientific advice were undermined, interfered with, or dismantled for political reasons; • Science was interrupted, suppressed and distorted for political reasons; • Scientific uncertainty was manufactured in instances where none existed; • Reputable scientists were attacked because the results of their work were unpopular or inconsistent with the views of political parties; While science is not the only factor to be considered in political decision-making, ignoring and subverting science and scientific processes is unacceptable. In light of these concerns, we are calling on all political leaders to articulate how they will work to improve Canada’s track record with respect to the treatment of science and related due processes. Yours truly, Canadian Scientists Against the Politicization of Science Encl.: Name List of Signatories References: 1. Science in retreat. Nature 2008;451(7181):866. 2. Smith C. Climate scientist claims Stephen Harper's government has muzzled experts. The Georgia Straight 2008 September 25th, 2008. 3. Munro M. Environment Canada scientist told to toe the line. National Post 2008 January 31, 2008. 4. CBC News. Minister stops book talk by Environment Canada Scientist. 2006 April 6, 2006. 5. Reuters. Canada slashes spending on wildlife protection: CBC. 2007 September 19th, 2007. 6. Hebert PC, Attaran A. A plea for transparency in Canada's "new government". CMAJ 2007;176(5):601, 603. 7. Kondro W. Prison tattoo program wasn't given enough time. CMAJ 2007;176(3):307-8. 8. Curry B. Fired watchdog quits nuclear board. Globe and Mail 2008 September 23, 2008. 9. Wood E, Kerr T, Tyndall MW, Montaner JS. The Canadian government's treatment of scientific process and evidence: inside the evaluation of North America's first supervised injecting facility. Int J Drug Policy 2008;19(3):220-5. 10. Wodak A. Going soft on evidence and due process: Canada adopts US style harm maximization. Int J Drug Policy 2008;19(3):226-8; discussion 233-4. 11. Kerr T, Wood E. Misrepresentation of science undermines HIV prevention. CMAJ 2008;178(7):964. Sent to: The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, PC, MP Prime Minister of Canada The Honourable Stéphane Dion, PC, MP Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition Mr. Gilles Duceppe, MP Leader of the Bloc Québécois Mr. Jack Layton, MP Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada Ms. Elizabeth May Leader of the Green Party of Canada
Below is an article from Canadian Medicine. Canadian Medicine is the editors' news blog of Parkhurst Exchange, a monthly medical magazine based in Montreal, Canada.
Canadian researchers demand end to political interference Canadian Medicine Two can play at this game, it seems. Medical researchers and scientists upset by the "politicization of science" in Canada have decided to turn the tables by interjecting themselves into the political scene as the October 14 federal election draws near. A petition protesting the "recent mistreatment" of scientific research will be sent to all major federal political party leaders in the coming days, Canadian Medicine has learned. The petition was drafted by a group of doctors and researchers that has routinely butted heads with Stephen Harper's Conservative government over the last two and a half years: Julio Montaner (above), Thomas Kerr and Evan Wood. Dr Montaner has become an academic of worldwide renown as the recently appointed president of the International AIDS Society. The three men are all professors of medicine at the University of British Columbia, but they are best known for their roles at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, which under their leadership has produced some of the world's top medical research on supervised-injection sites, focusing largely on the downtown Vancouver facility Insite. Insite has served as a flashpoint for the conflict between the Conservative government and scientists. Despite overwhelming evidence of Insite's benefits, the government withdrew funding and then fought a battle in court earlier this year to attempt to establish jurisdiction over the project so that it could shut it down. The attempt failed when a BC judge ruled that the federal government was not within its rights. Soon after that, Health Minister Tony Clement -- who asked the attorney general to appeal the BC decision -- went on the offensive, drawing considerable opposition from the medical community when he questioned the ethics of physicians who support supervised-injection. The conflict over Insite is not the only complaint the petition mentions. Others include: "the closing of the office of the National Science Advisor" "the misrepresentation of climate change science" "the muzzling of Environment Canada scientists" "the political appointments to the Board of Assisted Human Reproduction Canada" "the cuts to and reorganizing of the Canadian Wildlife Service" "the halting of the Prison-based Tattoo Pilot Study" In a letter dated October 6, addressed to "friends and colleagues," Drs Montaner, Kerr and Wood write: In light of our concerns we have prepared a letter addressed to the leaders of the federal political parties and have asked them to make clear the action they are prepared to take to end the politicization of science in Canada. We are inviting you to become a signatory to this letter. We will send this letter to all major media outlets in the coming days.


David said...

It's a better society than when the clerics were in power. When the Roman Catholic church ruled, scientific knowledge and research was not even allowed.

And I prefer our political system than those backward Muslim regions with Sharia law.

I take issue with your claim of scientific progress. That is complete nonsense when you think that in spite of the billions of dollars in research, the following has not been achieved:

the manufactur of life from inanimate matter;

a cheaply available, unlimited supply of energy;

a method of attaining healthy and meaningful indefinte life-spans;

the solution to all pollution and environmental problems;

economic nirvana;

the answer to the most basic philosophical question 'Why is there something rather than nothing?';

convincing proof that no god exists.

Scientific progress? Bullshit.

Terry Wright said...


epicne said...

"Common sense was replaced with idealism and patriotism" Terry, did you not mean IDEOLOGY rather than "idealism"?
Hoo or wot is DavidSaid and why was it invented?

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Epicne

Yes, you're right, my mistake.

I'm not sure who or what "davidsaid" is but it sure is angry. Maybe a spambot from A Western Fart?

Anonymous said...

David is quite simply a poorly informed dickhead!