Few of us would deny that science matters. It can be a contested set of practices, but we nonetheless rely on the work of many physical and social scientists to sustain public policy covering our environment, public health, transportation, social welfare, and so much more. As a society we have come to expect that knowledge-based decision-making is essential for our collective well-being, that public agencies should be in place to sustain independent scientific research, and that the professionals in these agencies should be free to share their findings with the rest of us. At least, that’s the way it used to be.
About two years ago, a group of concerned citizens from many backgrounds decided that the Canadian federal government has been waging a systematic assault on science as the basis of relevant information for policy making, and for knowing ourselves as a country and a society. They looked at the curtailing or outright closing of government agencies and programs – from fresh-water research to the long-form census – and the muzzling of scientific researchers, and decided to organize against this process. They created a new organization known as Scientists for the Right to Know (SRK). This spring, in an effort to make clear that membership is not restricted to scientists, the name has been changed to Our Right to Know (ORK).
The group began by documenting what had been attacked, undermined, and eliminated along a shockingly dense timeline starting in 2006 (see their website at http://scientistsfortherighttoknow.wildapricot.org). They have posted a short list of some of the things we no longer know:
• Accurate detailed information about recent immigrants, people with disabilities, Aboriginal people, people with lower levels of education, and post-secondary students because of the abolition of the mandatory long census form.
• Information about the environmental effects of almost 3,000 projects -- information collection which was cancelled by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency after passing of the Omnibus Bill.
• The number of Aboriginal women gone missing or murdered through the cutting of the Sisters in Spirit database.
• Detailed information on the lives of low-income Canadians through the abolition of the National Council of Welfare.
The group set out to raise public awareness of these issues and held a series of well-attended public events featuring high-profile, articulate critical voices. In the fall of 2013 YUFA agreed to support these efforts, and, as VP External, I joined the group’s Organizing Committee. Since then, Natasha Myers and Christianne Stephens from Anthropology have also joined the committee.
Last fall, the group set its sights on the upcoming federal election, and reached out to more than twenty other groups with a shared concern about “the right to know” in order to create a Right2Know Network, including CAUT, Canadian Science Writers’ Association, Centre for Policy Alternatives, Council of Canadians, Democracy Watch, Evidence for Democracy, and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. These organizations come together every couple of months to discuss individual groups’ programs or campaigns that other member groups could support. They also consider common action. The most successful to date was a major social-media blitz in February, spearheaded by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, in support of a private member’s bill to bring back the long-form census. Even though the Conservatives used their majority to defeat the bill, the national media gave this issue an astonishing level of publicity and critical analysis. Our campaign was credited with giving it that higher public profile. Stay tuned for more such co-operation aimed at making science an issue in the federal election.
YOU CAN GET INVOLVED
• Join Our Right to Know (ORK) ($50 for regular members, $10 for students).
• Follow the blogs on the ORK website.
• Sign onto the listserv through the website.
• Attend the events listed on the website.
• Check out the other campaigns being run by partners in the R2K Network.