In Blog

What’s in a Name?

by Dr. Margrit Eichler

As many of you will know, Our Right to Know (until recently, Scientists for the Right to Know) began over two years ago when a number of us realized that the Canadian federal government was waging a systematic assault on science as the basis of relevant information for policy making.

The list of information we no longer have free access to is long and ever-growing. We have seen whole research institutions closed down or de-funded, we’ve witnessed a stacking of research funding bodies with government supporters, we’ve heard journalists lament how difficult it has become to interview government scientists, and we’ve read with great concern the pleas of foreign scientists that Canadian researchers be unmuzzled.

Regrettably, we have also noticed a disturbing lack of public concern over the increased stifling of free inquiry and the suppression of access to information in Canada. It is much easier – it seems – to be alarmed at what we are hearing than what we are no longer hearing.

10151424_854509427926493_2910258236823345579_nSince the inception of Scientists for the Right to Know – now Our Right to Know – I have spoken with countless Canadians about the arguably unprecedented extent of the current federal government’s assault on public knowledge and science. We would talk about the abolition of the mandatory long-form census. We would decry the closures of celebrated research institutions, unable to continue operating due to dramatic cuts in public funding. We would speculate at the potential consequences of allowing research funding to be dictated by industry priorities. We would shake our heads in disbelief at the literal destruction of scientific resources once housed in now-shuttered research libraries.

All too often, however, when our conversation would turn to Scientists for the Right to Know, my comrades would express misgivings—quickly pointing out that they were not, themselves, scientists. Gradually, it became clear: our name was holding us back. Science was absolutely central to our work, but our members and potential members were so much more than scientists. They were students, journalists, activists, indigenous leaders, academics, peace researchers, parents, teachers, entrepreneurs, and environmentalists. Some of them were social scientists who, despite their own commitments to research, did not identify with the lab coat imagery conjured by the word scientist.

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All these people and more are concerned about increasing infringements on their Right to Know.  And they ought to be. As the timeline featured on our website reveals in disturbing detail, the assault on public knowledge is unrelenting and comes from an ever-growing number of fronts.

Many of these have straightforward connections to science. The 2013 closure of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans ocean contaminants and toxicology program, for instance, has very real consequences for food safety. The demise of the National Aboriginal Health Organization means critical research on indigenous health is no longer taking place. The introduction of new media relations protocols means government researchers are prevented from communicating important findings on ozone deterioration or water pollution.

Increasingly, however, the assault on public knowledge is also about more than science. Whether through the shackling of advocacy work by Canadian charities or the strong-arm tactics being used to promote Bill C-51, our collective ability to freely debate public policy decisions and make informed choices based on the best available evidence is being undermined in myriad ways.

Science matters. It matters tremendously. Effective science policy is essential. But public knowledge is also about more than science. And science is important to more than just the scientists among us. For these reasons and more, we have decided to begin operating as Our Right to Know, effective immediately. (Please note that Scientists for the Right to Know remains one of our legal names, and receipts will continue to be issued in that name.) We hope that you will join us as members of our newly-named organization, and as members of the fight for the preservation of free inquiry, public interest science, and an evidence-based approach to governance!

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