Reading Diary: The War on Science: Muzzled Scientists and Wilful Blindness in Stephen Harper's Canada by Chris Turner

Chris Turner's The War on Science: Muzzled Scientists and Wilful Blindness in Stephen Harper's Canada (website) is a book that absolutely must be read by every Canadian interested in the future of science and science policy in the country.

And the Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government is wagering that that's a pretty low percentage of the population. If Susan Delacourt and Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson are to be believed, the strategy that the Prime Minister is using focuses on an emerging coalition of western Canadians and new Canadians and suburbanites in eastern Canada, assuming that they don't see science or the environment as priorities at all. In fact, the broader strategy sees Canadians solely as consumers, obsessed with their pocket books and the economy and not willing to look much beyond those concerns. Micromarketing to those constituencies is the laser-like focus and playing up those consumer concerns while attacking the opposition as the antithesis of those concerns is the obsession. The recent speech from the throne is the perfect example.

Which brings us to Turner's recent book.

Faithful readers will note that I'm no stranger to chronicling the Harper government's war on science but recently I've concentrated on chronologically documenting what's been happening, without too much narrative or context around the various cuts and controversies. That's been a fairly easy decision for me to make as the chronology is work enough without adding all the rest. And of course it does play to my strengths and obsessions as a librarian.

What Turner's book does is add all the narrative and historical detail around Harper and company's actions since they took power in 2006 and especially since they won a majority in 2011. It does add the context and tell the individual stories about many of the controversial decisions, like the attempted closing of the Experimental Lakes Area, like the refocusing at the NRC, like the devastation at Environment Canada, like recounting some of the numerous cases of scientists being muzzled, like kowtowing to the oil & gas industry while fetishizing the oil sands. With detailed citations at the end, too, just in case you were wondering what the sources were for the stories.

Buy a copy for yourself. Buy a copy for your Canadian academic, public or high school library. Buy a copy for your conservative friends, buy a copy for your liberal friends. Buy a copy for your Member of Parliament. Make no mistake. This is a manifesto and a call to action. It's time for the scientific community to get engaged.

I'll leave you with a quote, stitched together from the end of the book (bits from p 125-132).

The Harper agenda's wager is predicated on the idea that a lie repeated often enough becomes its own kind of truth, that a talking point recited with enough frequency will eventually obscure every contradictory fact and reasoned counterargument. The clear signals of the nation's best evidence will be erased entirely by the white noise of spin...There is not climate crisis, only job killing carbon taxes. There is no gutted National Research Council, only a sleek concierge desk overflowing with new gadgets for the nation's industries. Regulations are shackles on economic growth and nothing more.


This is what Canada gets if the Harper agenda wins its bet. This is the payoff: a diminished Canada; a narrow, mean place; a country afraid of open-ended questions and speculative science...A country standing firmly against progress on the twenty-first century's defining issue, the great existential challenge of our age -- the question of how to reconcile our voracious appetite for energy with the unsustainable toll it is taking on the earth's climate and the natural world.


I'd like to bet against the Harper agenda's wager. My money is on another grand Canadian narrative, one that puts openness and uncertainty and constant analysis and revision at its very core...I'm confident in my wager because it's the one I've known best my whole life -- not because pf any particular inclination or bias, but because it's the story Canadians were telling each other for a century until the Harper Agenda interrupted us. And because it's the best story we have to tell. Because it's true.

Turner, Chris. The War on Science: Muzzled Scientists and Wilful Blindness in Stephen Harper's Canada. Vancouver: Greystone, 2013. 170pp. ISBN-13: 978-1771004312

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