Ottawa, ON – Over 800 scientists worldwide have signed an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper calling on the federal government to restore funding cut from its science programs and to remove barriers to the ability of Canadian government scientists to collaborate internationally.
The letter and list of signatories was released on October 21 by the Cambridge, MA-based Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which has fought similar cuts and restrictions against U.S. government science, and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), which represents over 15,000 scientists employed in 40 federal departments and agencies.
The letter, which continues to draw signatories from around the world, states: “Meeting today’s complex environmental and public health challenges requires the full participation of scientists around the globe. But recent reports highlight a rapid decline in freedoms and funding extended to Canadian government scientists, which make it more difficult for them to continue research, communicate scientific information and expertise, and collaborate internationally.”
The letter, which can be read in full at www.ucsusa.org/scienceneedsyou, includes scientists affiliated with institutions as varied as Harvard Medical School, Google, the Norwegian Institute for Water Research, and the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
A New York Times editorial last year accused the Harper government of attempting to “guarantee public ignorance” about the impact of Alberta oil sands development on climate change through its silencing of federal scientists.
The growing consensus that the Harper government’s cuts and restrictions to federal government science and scientists are hurting Canada’s science capacity and reputation has been documented in two PIPSC reports that detailed the results of a survey of over 4,000 federal government scientists. The survey found that 90% of federal scientists do not feel they can speak freely to the media about the work they do and that 91% believe recent cuts are having a detrimental effect on the government’s ability to serve the public interest. It also found that only 36% of federal scientists, including leading experts in their field, are approved to attend international conferences and events.
“Whether by design or by accident, ongoing budget cuts to federal science and excessive control of communications are hurting Canada’s obligations to its own citizens and to the international scientific community,” said Debi Daviau, PIPSC’s president.
The PIPSC adds that the federal government is continuing to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the budgets of science-based departments. And, it says, an investigation by the federal Information Commissioner into possible violation of the Access to Information Act is ongoing.