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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Canada Opens the Door for Science Once Again

By Phil Plait

I have some very good news about the War on Science: The recent Canadian election has kicked out a regressive government and put one in place that, all signs indicate, will be much more welcoming of reality.

The election of progressive Justin Trudeau appears to be a huge win for science. For one, it means Stephen Harper is out, and his oppressive anti-science tactics along with him. Under his rule a lot of research funding was cut, for example. Worse was the fact that scientists were muzzled; they literally were not allowed to talk to the press about any research results without a governmental say-so.

This is not a repeat from Soviet Russia. This was Canada, in the 21st century.

But it was true, emphasis on the word “was.” One of the first acts of the new Trudeau government was to allow scientists to speak freely to the press. This is an extremely important event! A government that controls what scientists say can also control the science being done, which can have dramatic and profound effects.

For example, imagine if climate scientists in the U.S. were muzzled, only allowing climate change deniers access to the media. This is essentially what the previous Canadian government was doing.

But no longer. And that’s a very, very good thing.

And it gets better. Trudeau announced his new Cabinet, and (besides it having male-female parity, as well as a diversity that far better matches that of the population) it includes a minister of science!

Wow. This is fantastic news. Harper had banished science oversight to a junior minister in the industry department (part of an overarching plot to relegate science to the services of industry, a shameful act I’ve written about before–twice in fact, since I got an earful of trivial propaganda from the Canadian government after my first article about it).

But no more. Science now has its own ministry, and not only that, the minister is a bona fide actual scientist. Her name is Kirsty Duncan, and she is a medical geographer—she worked on tracing physical remains of the Spanish influenza epidemic that (almost literally) decimated the planet in 1918.

While Duncan will oversee the government’s role in pure science, there will also be a minister of innovation, science, and economic development, Navdeep Bains, who will oversee the coordination of science and industry.

This is a very positive development. Science is a way of finding knowledge that gets ever-closer to truth. It must be, by its very nature, an exploration of the Universe unfettered by political ideology or blinders installed by narrow-minded desires. If the research naturally goes that way, that’s fine, but science must inform politics, not vice-versa. Once politics starts interfering with science, well, that way disaster lies.

I’m glad the new Canadian government understands this. If only my own country’s majority party did.

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