Hacker News new | more | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Nine years of censorship (nature.com)
302 points by michaelmachine on May 4, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 125 comments

Personally when I read about this kind of censorship it reminds me that these types of people - those craving power, and willing to go to great lengths to achieve it as an ends unto itself, with apparently little regard for the notion of serving the general public - also want access to every citizen's communications, whereabouts, and under the auspices of security, safety...peace...

Well, in a world where information wants to be free - good information and exposes, and even bad information like debunked anti-vaccine hoopla - those who seek to control it should be viewed suspiciously. In the case of the Harper government actions, suspicion can easily be revised to "clear agenda and manipulation to those ends" which, you know, sounds a lot worse on paper. What a horrible way to treat scientists, really, just a terribly pig-headed and shamlessly pandering approach by the Harper government to please who they felt needed pleasing.

At one point, a brawny ‘minder’ had actually accompanied her to a public hearing to make sure that she didn’t break the rules This kind of thing should NEVER be allowed to happen. The scientists are paid from public funds. That information is our right. This should upset anyone reading it.

I find it sad that from the title alone "Nine years of censorship", I was able to say to myself "oh, that's my country they are talking about! Canada!"

how does something like this happen in a "free" western country like Canada? And why isn't there more outrage about it? This is appalling to say the least. I knew I didn't like Harper but I didn't realize he was so totalitarian.

There was plenty of outrage - alas, the Conservatives could secure a majority government with only 38% of the vote.

That 38% of the population doesn't care, or endorse this kind of behavior.

Because 'free' is not a binary state in the real world. It's a multipolar concept with a great variety of greys in it.

I read about it in the news at the time. I think the question is, how did so many overlook the story?

Maybe one day Springer, the publisher who owns Nature, will also stop suppressing scientific research.

I had friends who supported the muzzling. "They are just trying to spark propaganda and brainwash our society" was what one in particular said.

I just dropped the subject from there on out :|

Its crazy that people think that throwing out documented statistics and facts is brainwashing.

I hate tinfoil hat conspiracies. Its starting to plague society and get people disconnected from problems that need immediate attention.

Its good you dropped the subject, there's just no reasoning with them.

It would be good to remember that a vast majority of people don't respond to reason. They respond to emotion. If you make someone feel good about your argument, they will agree with your argument.

It seem the more likely one is to want to help society, the less likely that person understands this fundamental aspect of human nature.

And so somehow the ones who really GET IT are the ones in power, and the ones who don't want to make anything better.

It's so refreshing when you find a persuader in charge of everything who also wants to make everything better, like say Duterte in the Philippines, for example.

The ones who get it are also the ones who stick with the concept of doing good long enough, to learn the facts you mentioned.

Dropping the subject isn't always the best idea. It's only a good idea if they're unreasonable individuals. You can often have very interesting conversations with well-reasoned but poorly-informed people.

It seems the internet is rewarding more and more those who can manufacture outrage, with clicks, likes, karma, affirmation, etc.

It's no wonder then that it pervades into peoples lives, shaping their world view and even their presidential candidate selection.

It seems papers were still published, but government scientists were not allowed to say whatever they wanted to the media outside of what they said in their scientific papers.

I don't presume to speak for the organization I work for or the industry I work in.

This was a government worker's union issue that got absurdly bent out of proportion.

The government demanded that government employees get approval for any direct communications with media, etc. This all began when a researcher seriously impacted the salmon industry by releasing extremely preliminary results (that turned out to be wrong), making a name for herself and setting up a PR circuit. The media loves apocalyptic outcomes ("So would you say this means that we're all going to die?"), so of course it made headlines with the most dire of predictions.

This was not an independent researcher. This was not the private sector. This was someone directly employed by the government. It's like a Microsoft employee wrote about vulnerabilities in Windows on their private blog, offering to sell solutions.

So the government put a process in place not unlike much of the Western world, doing nothing to control the science (papers were published, research was released, etc. The scientific world understands that preliminary results are preliminary), but having everything to do with the message relayed to the media. Of course this was met with a conspiratorial narrative that continues to this day: That they were hiding dire greenhouse gas/global warming information, for instance.

But the shackles have come off. Where are all of these dramatic scientific findings that were suppressed?


The single example constantly floated is about a guy who got called by a reporter about a paper he released about ~~slime mold~~ rock snot (the exampled floated in literally hundreds of articles about the muzzling of scientists). This government scientist was outraged that he couldn't get approval within 24 hours, and the reporter lost interest. Apparently rock snot is a real timely issue in media circles.

There was a lot wrong with the prior government. An enormous amount. By this particular story is about some freelancing employees who don't want anyone telling them what to do.

> But the shackles have come off. Where are all of these dramatic scientific findings that were suppressed?

The very article you're responding to mentions 3 specific examples of politically sensitive research that were affected by the policy, including the article's featured example about salmon.

> The single example constantly floated is about a guy who got called by a reporter about a paper he released about slime mold.

Of the 4 examples mentioned in the original article (3 specific examples, 1 shark scientist mentioned in passing), none of them are this "constantly floated" example, it isn't even mentioned in passing. Nor is it mentioned in either of the articles that my sibling comment linked to.

This is a bizarre response.

The very article you're responding to mentions 3 specific examples of politically sensitive research

But all three demonstrate nothing being suppressed. It points to two people who claim to have left their jobs (moved elsewhere/retired) because of these restrictions (although unburdened they apparently had no big reveal, or even an anecdote about anything being suppressed. But polar bears or something -- the casual allusion being entirely manipulative and intentional), and a salmon researcher who released all of their science, including publication in Science, but couldn't give soundbites as an official representative of the government of Canada. Exactly as I stated, this is a union/workplace issue, and people having grievances about workplace policies, with shockingly little to say about how it actually impacted science.

including its featured example about salmon.

That was the beginning (it was literally the first example of communications policies interfering in someone's feeling of being a freelancer). The salmon industry was already sensitive, and with great fanfare the PR circus began for a paper in Science. The government was sensitive about the misrepresentation of science, not about the science. Again, the paper was published. The science was documented. The same person was presenting at a Salmon inquiry. But they couldn't provide soundbites without it being considered and controlled.

EDIT: Two hours in, and for the many, many down arrows I've gotten by people showing how strongly they feel about this, it's notable that the combined examples of suppressed science catalogued thus far: ZERO.

It's sad to me that there are actual voters out there that think a democratic government should be carefully PR managed like a secretive corporation. Personally I'd rather hear from the scientists that my tax dollars pay for then from a media-trained PR flak that I wish my tax dollars did not pay for.

If I'm hearing via reporters, I'd rather hear from someone who knows how to avoid being misquoted / misunderstood by those reporters.

The point of having PR-people in this case was not to ensure that the science was communicated in a clear way. It was rather to make sure that scientific findings that conflicted with government policies was never communicated to the press at all.

I'd rather the reporter heard it from someone who truly understood the science.

You seem to rather delusionally believe that a modern reporter would know the difference.

I'm not following. The difference between what?

Modern science reporters have repeatedly shown themselves incapable of recognizing good science from bad science, so why would they start now and be able to recognize good scientific sources from PR-seeking frauds?

Is preventing the media from talking to researchers repressing science? I'd say yes, even if papers are available to read. You've been provided plenty of evidence of this happening.

Some more cited here: http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/when-science-goes-silent/

People are down voting you because they disagree with you that the government should deny access to publicly funded scientists.

> The government was sensitive about the misrepresentation of science, not about the science.

What, it was worried that the scientist would misrepresent their own research? That's ridiculous!

In a scientific paper, a theory is hypothesised, an experiment designed, data and observations conducted and a conclusion is formed. That conclusion, based on the observations and data collected by the scientist, is analysis.

What you are saying is that the scientist will misrepresent their own conclusions.

Let's put that another way: you are saying that the scientist will misrepresent science by contradicting their own conclusions.

Another way of putting it, just to be clear: the scientist will publish their conclusions in a paper, then tell the media the exact opposite of their conclusions. Either by mistake or because they are lying.

You seem to be surprised by the incredulity your post is generating. There's why!

To suggest that scientists would never misrepresent their work because "science!" is naive at best.

Scientists are human. They are not above human motivations - both good and bad - related to their work, their stature, and their jobs. Funding can be based on certain results. Getting published can be based on certain results.

This is why making experiments and studies that are reproducible is so important.

Reproducibility is important, but not to check that what a scientist says about their own work is accurate. To verify the accuracy of what a scientist says about their own work you merely have to read their work.

That said, however, I am actually saying that it's unlikely that a scientist would misrepresent their own published findings. Perhaps it may occur - but if that happened then the government of the day could discipline the scientist who misrepresented their work. They would have to prove it.

What I find more naive is that a media relations person, employed by the government to portray them in the best light, would not misrepresent the work of the scientist.

Who would you want the reporter to speak to: the person employed to protect the reputation of the government of the day, or the scientist who did the actual work?

Let's say you're worried that a scientist might misrepresent their work. So you force them to communicate through a PR staff person. Now you have 2 people who might misrepresent the work.

>What, it was worried that the scientist would misrepresent their own research? That's ridiculous!

Why? Just look at that study about sexism on github that came out a couple of months ago, the authors were lying through their teeth. They (correctly) surmised that reporters wouldn't bother looking at the actual results, and so managed to generate tons of media coverage.

No, the worry is that reporters will misrepresent what they hear from the scientist.

Cue relevant xkcd: https://xkcd.com/882/

Is it the government's job to prevent mis-reporting of science?

If so, why not just manage the reporters directly? Every science news story could be reviewed by a central government office prior to publication, to make sure it's accurate. Of course, the reviews would be done by political appointees and their staff, not the scientists themselves since they have a conflict of interest, it being their research and all.

This would never fly, of course. Canada has at least some semblance of freedom of the press. But for some reason the exact same system, applied to the scientists themselves, was OK?

> Is it the government's job to prevent mis-reporting of science?

I would say it is certainly part of the government's job to see to it that the public (including the media, who are simply members of the public who happen to exercise the freedom of the press) receives, when receiving information directly from the government, accurate information about things that the government does, including science.

> If so, why not just manage the reporters directly?

Because while it is the government's obligation to insure that the information it (through its officers and employees) provides to the public (including the media) is accurate and presented appropriately considering the direct audience, it has a different role with regard to information shared about government by members of the public, including the media.

I agree that the government should try to provide accurate information. Who better to do that than the scientist who actually conducted the research? That's what made this muzzle rule so egregious: it so obviously broke the process that would provide the most accurate information.

Which assumes scientists are utterly incapable of communicating with anyone other than other scientists.

I think it instead assumes that journalists will do anything to sell more papers. Regardless of what the scientists actually say.

So a media officer won't do any good then.

Actually it can, because if the media officer becomes the gateway then the reporters are forced into an iterated game with someone who knows them compared to ranging the herd of scientists looking for PR and hoping to pick off the weak and inexperienced.

If they are that interested in reporting a slanted story, a media officer isn't going to help.

It's not really that simple. Even if you do have a problem with premature disclosure and bad quality journalism, you really can't ethically run this through the PR branch of a sitting government.

The purpose of federally funded scientific research is not and cannot be to support the policy objectives of the currently sitting government.

So a real answer to the putative problem might be to have an arms length communications office review communication for accuracy, but one that does not directly answer to the PMs office or federal PR. What Harper did was far more draconian than that. At the same time he initiated other damaging actions to federal science, so you can hardly fault people for not trusting the motives. He could have solved this easily by making things arms length, and chose not to, as well as choosing to be very opaque about the whole process. If for no other reason than that, his government deserves all the criticism it has had on this account.

I don't disagree with this at all. The implementation was imperfect. It had the signature of political meddling (of the "we know better" type). It seemed poorly defined and inconsistent.

It should have been done in a very different way. It should have been more cooperative (e.g. "clarity officers" who have a masters in English or French, and who pour over statements and responses to ensure that it cannot be misinterpreted or misrepresented, without changing the core meaning).

The purpose of federally funded scientific research is not and cannot be to support the policy objectives of the currently sitting government.

There hasn't been a single example that had anything to do with the sitting government's policies or agenda. The government had no particular agenda regarding factory farming salmon or rock snot. Though from an overall government perspective for the health of an industry such as salmon (a cross-party industry), they want the message coherent.

The last thing they had was clarity of message though.

This would have been easily achieved by transparency in the process.

They were also, rightly or wrongly, seen as actively de-funding work that could be seen to challenge policy objectives. They had ample opportunities to resolve such impressions but chose instead to present an arrogant face. I can't have a lot of sympathy for that.

Even if you aren't actually meddling, if you have the perception that you are, you have a problem.

"clarity officers". Seriously?

You've clearly established that you're a troll. While I applaud your desperate fishing for partisan upvotes, hang your nonsensical queries and comments off of other people's posts. Thanks.

> The government demanded that government employees get approval for any direct communications with media, etc.

FUCK that.

If my tax money is going to pay for your research work, and you want to speak to the public, I'm part of the public and I have a right to hear it. I will be the judge of whether your work is my money well spent, and I will be the judge of whether your public communications are time well spent, not some dipshit party hack.

Do you feel this way about defense contractors as well? Lets publish all of our top secret weapons and how to build nukes...

I think it's debatable whether the government actually needs to classify everything it classifies in the name of national security. See this story for example:


That said, most folks would agree that there is some national security information that should remain classified.

But this science was not classified at all! It was just being forced through a political PR filter. It was public science done on the public's dime, which is just not analogous to nuclear weapons.

No, I don't. But I feel very strongly that when my tax money goes to scientists to get them to do science, their results should be presented to the public regardless of whether they support the platform of the party in charge, and that no policy be put in place that might hinder that.

If some government egghead is working to asses whether there's lead in the water in Flint, for example, I don't want a GOP party hack to have a yea or nay on whether he talks to the press.

> It's like a Microsoft employee wrote about vulnerabilities in Windows on their private blog, offering to sell solutions.

A company controlling its employees' contact with the media in order to serve its business interests is not the same as publicly-funded government employees being gagged to serve some specific political party's interest and disserve the public interest.

Except the entire point of the OP was that in fact after nine years it turns out that there was no suppression and no shadowy cabal subverting the public interest.

I remember speaking to my partner's cousin about this, a phd working in Ottawa for the federal government. No love lost between her and our previous federal government, so I figured I'd hear a great rant.

However, she figured it was turned into an issue by the media, and roughly supported the ban; her opinion - adjusted for brevity - being that scientists without media training shouldn't necessarily have carte blanche to speak to press.

Media training is a specific thing that thousands of people go through every year--business leaders, nonprofit leaders, lawyers, activists, etc. Usually, following the training, those people then go talk directly to reporters.

If the Canadian rule had been shaped like that, probably no one would have objected much. Media training costs a bit of money and takes a day or two, usually--no big deal. But that's not what the rule was.

There is another post in this thread arguing that I'm speaking "partisan propaganda" (another a "mouthpiece of evil". How very theatrical) for my position. Which is a bit incredible given that I despised the Harper government, and personally lean to being a libertarian.

But at the same time I've considered the actual facts, coupled with the reality that mainstream media, when generalizing science, tends to do a really, really horrible job. The notion that the government wants to ensure the message is clear and coherent -- especially when it's given the weight of the government behind it -- given a free range of employees with their own quirks and communications issues, seems entirely rational.

Scientists paid by tax money need to be co-conspirators in formulating political messages by either self-censoring or being censored?

What other categories of people working for the government should lose their speech rights (I do realize this is Canada)? If a tax collector disagrees with $politician_of_the_month about tax policy, does that count? What about a park ranger on tax policy? Can a trash collector talk to the press about anything without asking Daddy Censor first?

In a different direction,

> The notion that the government wants to ensure the message is clear and coherent [...] seems entirely rational.

Sure, to someone whose goal is presenting a "governmental viewpoint". Which is going to inherently be a political message. In democratic places, we assume an electorate capable of deciding between competing explanations of reality. And given the weight of decisions about things like climate change, don't we want to hear from more, rather than fewer experts? Especially ones paid for by the electorate's taxes?

Just my opinion, but I don't care what the government party line is. Politicizing science is wrong, and governments that attempt to manipulate our knowledge of the world is wrong. I mean both of those in the moral sense. In the practical sense, arguing with reality is not a long term strategy, and is bad for both governments and parties. (There's a certain party to Canada's south that seems to be learning that lesson as I type this.)

I would think that someone leaning libertarian would think something similar.

you have a very strange format to your communication. many times you stick the tail end of one sentence into parenthesis, only to close them after entering another sentence.

where did you learn this? It is quite intriguing ( and a unique thing. But really not ) for people who notice such things.

It's a weird argument anyway. He is arguing that the mainstream media do a terrible job of reporting science and this occurs when a scientist is allowed to freely speak to the media about their own work - ergo only a media officer should be able to give information to the media.


I don't agree with your stance, but I don't think that it should be downvoted so heavily.

What I'd like is for you to provide some links that support your position.

Right now I'm literally seeing nothing via Googling that supports your idea that the science consultation was merely a response to a rogue salmon researcher and other hype PR and the like.

In addition to the Nature article, on the other hand, plenty of other articles tend to support the position that most of the "muzzling" was political, in key industries that were either afoul of political ideology, or ran contrary to business policy, or both. Here's the first page of Googling on the Harper science issue.

http://www.academicmatters.ca/2013/05/harpers-attack-on-scie... http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/when-science-goes-silent/ http://www.nationalobserver.com/2015/11/09/news/harper%E2%80... https://news.vice.com/article/canadian-scientists-say-the-go... https://newrepublic.com/article/119153/canadas-stephen-harpe... http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-16861468

That's a large amount of links that are saying this.

I will note that only a few specific examples of suppression came up repeatedly, so there could be some "political inflation" going on. But showing up with zero counterpoint links isn't doing anyone any favors. At this point, I'd have to think the other side is more correct.

Instinctively I personally think that it is naive to think that "government ensuring the message is clear and coherent" will actually produce better results than a free independent press generalizing science. Bias is natural, but a free and independent press often consists of many biases, not just one, with less power to manipulate public opinion in most cases. (In other words, so what if some mainstream media reports science wrong? After all, some might report it right. Either is a much better situation than science not being reported at all.)

>The government demanded that government employees get approval for any direct communications with media, etc. This all began when a researcher seriously impacted the salmon industry by releasing extremely preliminary results (that turned out to be wrong), on her own accord, making a name for herself. The media loves apocalyptic outcomes ("So would you say this means that we're all going to die?"), so of course it made headlines with the most dire of predictions.

Why should "the government" have any control over what "employees" say?

Everyone has the right to speak their mind and governments, in particular, should be defending that right, not attempting to suppress it.

You mention the media hyping what a particular person said, but that is a failure of that media and their readers to not jump to unsubstantiated conclusions. The real work that needs to be done is in the understanding of media, not in preventing the production of media.

That's an extremely heterodox spin.

I notice you don't cite a single article, but here's one: http://www.salon.com/2014/08/19/canadas_despicable_climate_c...

"In 2010, three years after Harper first introduced the new communications policy, Environment Canada reported that media coverage of climate change had dropped by more than 80 percent. Meanwhile, the Canadian government’s continued to wage war on science, often at the expense of the environment. In 2013, when NSIDC again reported that summer sea ice was melting, Leona Aglukkaq, Harper’s environment minister, downplayed the findings, explaining in a follow-up conversation that it was “debatable” whether the Arctic was warming. Without free access to the facts, one could argue, that’s a pretty difficult debate to have."

And here's a University of Victoria report: http://www.elc.uvic.ca/2013-muzzlingscientists/

"Yet research done by ELC student Clayton Greenwood demonstrates that the federal government is preventing the media and the Canadian public from speaking to government scientists for news stories – especially when the scientists’ research or point of view runs counter to current Government policies on matters such as environmental protection, oil sands development, and climate change. In sharp contrast to past Canadian practice and current US government practice, the federal government has recently made concerted efforts to prevent the media – and through them, the general public – from speaking to government scientists, and this, in turn, impoverishes the public debate on issues of significant national concern. "

I did some googling and couldn't find a slime mold story, but surely you have a link handy?

EDIT: It is outrageous that it is impossible to discuss the facts of this without everyone immediately veering to their partisan sides.

Sorry, it was "rock snot".

I don't cite an article because this is really about the absence of something, not the existence of something. What is there to cite? Supposedly during the period in question the scientific world was suppressed. They've now had more than 6 months to drop all of the science bombs that were pent up. Literally nothing. Nothing was suppressed.

>media coverage of climate change had dropped by more than 80 percent

This is an utterly outrageous claim, as if climate science is dependent upon media access to government scientists (particularly Canadian government scientists). There is an enormous non-government group of scientists in Canada, any of whom will freely talk (within the confines and agenda of their own employer, of course). And indeed, the science was as unrestricted as it always was, so they have all of the data and findings to talk to. This is the sort of "find the agenda" noise that just perverts the discussion -- remarkably the media still barely ever talks about global warming, nor do they reference government scientists. It just turns out that the story no longer brought the clicks and the viewers.

Your other link, "research" from a student at the Environment Law Center, begins by saying - "There are few issues more fundamental to democracy than the ability of the public to access scientific information produced by government scientists". But again, absolutely nothing changed about the science that government scientists produced, or its accessibility. The single and only change that happened was media access to government employees, which generally meant "try to get a soundbite that can be presented as we're all gonna die!".

Private sector employees are not the same as public servants. The very nature of parliamentary democracies and republics requires a level of transparency from those in power that does not apply to private organizations, which can only operate with security, stability, and privacy because of the nature of the modern state. Governments require some level of secrecy in order to protect economic competitiveness, defend their borders, and conduct intelligence activities but that is not what we're talking about here. Not only is the published science a public service, but the scientists are public servants whose purpose is to inform the public and policy makers. Unless you expect the public to read and understand every scientific paper, reporters' access to the scientists is absolutely necessary for the public to understand the consequences and potential of the resarch. Making scientific papers available to the public is not sufficient without allowing experts unfettered ability to provide nuance and explanation to that research.

You argue that there haven't been any bombshells after the restrictions were lifed but TFA literally talks about how reporters lost interest within twenty four hours because of administrative delays. Do you really expect a sensationalist, profit-driven media to go over years of backlogged information, to talk to thousands of people, when a few days delay was enough to have a massive chilling effect?

Everything you describe is a problem with the Canadian media, not government scientists. Would you support a law that requires journalists to submit all of their articles to majority coalition PR flacks for editing or do they get a special pass because they're "private"? (Which due to the weird nature of the CBC, they're not)

> This was not an independent researcher. This was not the private sector. This was someone directly employed by the government. It's like a Microsoft employee wrote about vulnerabilities in Windows on their private blog, offering to sell solutions.

Bad analogy, IMO. Microsoft is a private corporation. The government is a public entity, responsive directly to the people. A democratic government is supposed to be, IMO must be, transparent to be effective.

As to whether this impacted science, you only need to ask the scientists themselves. They say "yes."

But maybe you don't believe the scientists? If so, that would explain why you don't seem to have a problem with censoring them.

The interesting thing about the didymo ("rock snot") paper isn't just that the government refused to allow the researcher to speak to the press, it's the massive amount of effort the government expended on what you -- quite rightly -- describe as a relatively trivial issue: "What [the interview request] did produce was 110 pages of emails to and from 16 different federal government communications operatives, according to documents obtained using access to information legislation."

When sixteen political minders exchange dozens or even hundreds of emails over a single media request, it tells me more about the political system than the scientific research.

That sounds like utter garbage. The article itself gives plenty of examples of the convoluted processes and restrictions that were applied on scientists.

Kristi Miller-Saunders, who was the principle author of the paper on Salmon death, wasn't allowed to speak to the media, but her non-government co-authors were.

And there is the giant hole in your argument. It's so large I could fly a jumbo jet through it. Scientists in universities are free to speak to the media! These scientists are employees of the university. They are not controlled by media departments. That is truly gagging debate!

It's funny how the government was happy for political media officers to control the message, officers who didn't understand the research as well as the lead author or researchers if scientific studies. Yet that is what you consider unbiased? I mean, your entire argument is that the government must protect the general public from misinformation yet it is the government who is deciding what the scientists can and cannot say... If they stop a scientist from speaking because they believe they are inaccurately explaining their own work, well that's absurd.

If the government is concerned that scientists can't communicate to the media, then I wonder when they might decide that scientists published papers might be potentially misleading and require a media officer to vet them. Peer review by public relations, if you will.

As for the slime mild story, could you tell us more? I don't see any mention of that in the story.

"That sounds like utter garbage" - this will surely be a rational discourse...

"These scientists are employees of the university." - Ignoring that the relationship of university professors and so on are the result of a long process of give and take, that sample is irrelevant.

The government's concern are media reports quoting Government of Canada scientists. These tend to have more authority. And indeed the media was free to contact any other author of the Science research, and they could talk to industry scientists, and university professors. Exactly as I said (not sure how you think what I said is a "hole" in my own argument). But they didn't want anyone representing the government, with the weight of the government, being misrepresented.

"Some guy at some university says we're all going to die!" is decidedly less convincing, to most, than "Government of Canada environmental scientist says we're all going to die!".

And to your other comment, no one is saying the scientist will misrepresent their own work. But, and this may surprise you if you have utterly no knowledge of how media works, the media will if you aren't extremely careful with your statements and responses. The mainstream media has a surprising ability to misrepresent findings and research, and they just love to attach an authoritative name to it.

This whole discussion is exactly why it's impossible to touch anything remotely "political" on HN. No one has offered a single fact or counterpoint, but instead I've been attacked repeatedly, every benign comment is rapidly moderated down. Get a grip, partisans, and if you find it impossible to discuss something on your partisan talking radar without emotionally gravitating to a side, grow up.

The problem is that your comments have become increasingly uncivil. We ban accounts that do this, so please don't do it. Instead, please reread the HN guidelines and either keep your comments civil and substantive, or don't post any.



My comments are uncivil to uncivil discourse. I assume you've also measured this out to chris_wot, who has even stalked ancient posts of mine to drop their trolls.

Ok, we've banned this account. If you don't want it to be banned, you're welcome to email hn@ycombinator.com. We're happy to unban people when there's reason to believe that they'll only post civil, substantive comments in the future.

Well that makes no sense. To stop the media from misrepresenting science, government scientists should not be allowed to speak to the media directly but scientists they collaborate with outside of government - perfectly fine to speak with them directly.

And the reason that a scientist cannot speak directly to the media is because the media will always misreport their science. Thats not true. Unfortunately, reporters often misreport science. It is often the case that they do so because the read the abstract of a paper and misunderstand it. Or they may have an agenda. So it's great when they follow up with the scientist directly.

What you are then saying is that all scientists don't know how to communicate clearly with the media. Only someone skilled in the media should do so. What, pray tell, makes a media officer more qualified than the scientist to talk about the complex scientific work that the scientist has been doing?

Now an aside. Firstly, I don't know you. You assume that you know how the media truly works and I do not. You may well have inside information on this. But it seems unlikely.

Secondly, when I say that something sounds like garbage, I'm arguing forcefully that your substantial points are dubious. I probably should have said that, but in your case they really are so ridiculous that I used the word "garbage" because I actually do think what you are arguing has no redeeming qualities. However, I am not trying to censor you, and in fact I am only directly responding to your specific points. I make absolutely no assumptions about your person whatsoever. There is not one comment I have made about your political stance or your view on anything other than what you have said in your post.

You, on the other hand, have now stated that all those who have responded to you are partisan commentators who have "not offered a single fact or counterpoint", "find it impossible to discuss something on [their] partisan talking radar without emotionally gravitating to a side", and who should "grow up".

I'll let that speak for itself.

So no facts or counterpoint, then? And you continue to fail to grasp even the basics of my original comment, yet are scatter-commenting throughout this thread, seemingly boastful about your own misunderstandings.

I'll let that speak for itself.

I don't think you understand what "counterpoint" means...

Please stop.


> There was a lot wrong with the prior government. An enormous amount.

What are some examples?

Cancelling the long form census for starters. It didn't even save any money, it just made it more difficult to make informed policy decisions.

The Census had been abused in the past with Japanese Internment camps. Why should I be forced to disclose very personal information like my religion under penalty of law?

It was never about the money.

I wish those down voting would provide a response, though I suppose this is the nature of political conversations.

You can disagree with the conservatives position on this. But to pretend it was an economic motive is disingenuous.

I agree the stated reasoning for cancelling the census is because of privacy-related complaints. Of course, out of approximately 12 million forms only 166 complaints were known to be received directly or indirectly.

I'm not sure this is best forum for political conversations (or really anywhere online) and, at best, we can only make assumptions about motivations and reasoning beyond what we are told. My assumption is that is that census data makes it more difficult to govern based on opinion and therefore was less desirable to the Conservative government. But that is a pretty inflammatory opinion. However the reality is that the lack of census data over this period has caused significant damage to understanding of the country[1]. And cancelling it has gives very little benefit in comparison.

[1] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/cities-footing-...

You're not required to disclose your religion on the census. You can leave the field blank if you get the long form, and it isn't asked on the short form.

You are required to according to the law. The fact that it's rarely enforced does not change this.

Further if fields really were optional then it's not really "mandatory".

The form no longer contains a question on religion.

It doesn't this year, but they say it will every 10 years.

>There was a lot wrong

People seem to have a hard time distinguishing between "I disagree" and "is wrong".

Politics, by their very nature, are partisan. I disagreed with many of the previous policies (and agreed with others), but it's hard to point to things that were out and out wrong.

What's the semantic difference between "I disagree with X" and "I assert X is wrong", other than the former having a softer tone?

The semantic difference lies in whether one has doubts or qualifications on ones opinions, at the very least. Equating "I disagree" with "is wrong" presupposes that you are not mistaken and cannot possibly be mistaken, therefore if you disagree with something the problem must be with the something, not with your opinion.

Along similar lines, consider the difference between "I don't want to do X" (or even "I won't do X") and "I don't think anyone should do X".

Or the difference between "I don't think anyone should do X" and "X should be illegal".

From my point of view, all three situations are analogous and the difference in each case is not just a matter of tone.

Why is this at the top? Why would you ever need or want to suppress scientific evidence, to suppress the truth, unless you had an agenda? This comment feels like astroturfing.


> Sigh. Always someone willing to be the mouthpiece of evil.

Whoa. That's a personal attack and you can't do it here.

Please post civilly and substantively, or not at all. Calling someone a "mouthpiece of evil" is obviously uncivil no matter how wrong they are, and the rest of the comment calls names ("Your narrative is laughable") and adds little of substance.

We detached this comment from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11629209 and marked it off-topic.

well, the same thing happens when people would like to discuss alternative theories to the causes of climate change. The BBC, for instance, outright bans anyone that talks about it (and so do many other forums), which is outright censorship.

We should be fighting for the freedom to discuss any topic, not just a select few that matches up with the current narrative.

That's funny, because in 2014 the BBC was admonished by independent reviewers for giving too much airtime to climate change deniers under their 'too rigid' impartiality guidelines [1].

From the Telegraph [2]

> The BBC’s determination to give a balanced view has seen it pit scientists arguing for climate change against far less qualified opponents such as Lord Lawson who heads a campaign group lobbying against the government’s climate change policies. Andrew Montford, who runs the Bishop Hill climate sceptic blog, former children’s television presenter Johnny Ball and Bob Carter, a retired Australian geologist, are among the other climate sceptics that have appeared on the BBC.

I think I agree with the BBC's own comedian's take on this, which is to give each side time proportional to the amount of support they have from experts in the field. In other words, for every ten minutes of airtime for climate experts on climate change caused by humans, we can have 18 seconds, or 3% of climate skeptics speaking.

[1]: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/07/0...

[2]: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/bbc/10944629/B...

Asimov summed it up nicely:

Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'

Except anti-intellectualism is hard to define. Not too long ago saying anything critical of communism got you put in re-education work camps for life, jailed, tortured, or killed in many countries. Now it just gets you downvotes from true believers. Afterall, communism was run by the intellectual class quoting Marx, and if you disagreed with Marx then you were an uneducated person.

Everyone thinks they're the intellectuals. Even the people prescribing thalidomide to pregnant women. A strong sense of skepticism should be encouraged, not mocked, and appeals to authority should be seen as invalid on their face.

It actually is not that complicated, at least on the "everyone thinks they are intellectuals". The moment you think you are so right you should be suppressing other peoples right to speak on the matter, you are immediately not the intellectual, you are just a tyrant.

I'd second the appeals to authority argument, if only on the grounds that science (the institution) is exactly that: an institution. It is also a game:


Publication has brought information to the masses; without providing a metric for its value.

To be fair, experts in a field that's whole existence is being criticized (e.g. saying modeling isn't accurate/whatever) shouldn't be given more weight in that regard.

Consider how many 'experts' there are in numerology. Should we restrict a person from speaking out against them because he/she isn't an expert?

Some might compare that to allowing atheists only a few micro-seconds to make the case for the non-existence of deities due to the overwhelming number of experts in the field of religion.

Well, considering the scope of the world's religions and that it's a matter of opinion, it would be difficult to give anyone the floor for very long if we were using that metric (least of all atheists and anti-theists).

That's why I don't like the popularity metric. But that's what you get when you democratize too many things.

I would think you're too quick to dismiss the number of philosophers of religion, humanists and naturalists, many of whom are experts in the 'field' of religion, as you call it.

Against the numbers of bishops, swamis, gurus and imams?

climate change is a fact, not a theory. just like earth is round as irregularly shaped ellipsoid, not flat. if you want to have an irrational theory against a fact, at least you should work on your evidences and experiments about your crazy theory to proof it, otherwise you're just lazy and crazy.

I've always taken the position that the totality of climatic conditions on this planet are not a designed systemic whole, so there is no teleological purpose to it. If this were not so, then we might best be aimed at setting it back to a past condition (such as the Hadean, right after the heavy bombardment stopped and the crust solidified); since anything else is an alteration to its factory default setting.

Yes--the Earth's climate does not have an objectively "correct setting" that the universe prefers.

However, we prefer the settings we have now. We like our cities where they are, we like the sea level where it is, we like polar bears and the Great Barrier Reef the way they are.

Selfish? Yes! But it is relevant because we are the ones who are changing the climate right now! So we are entitled to have an opinion about the changes we are causing.

There aren't settings, only observable conditions. The drivers are non-linearly correlated. My suggestion there is that even if you managed to return the size of the human population to pre-industrial levels in roughly the same geographic distribution as the 18th century (good luck with the eugenics programs on that) you'd still not get the results of that time frame, and you'd probably have to live with pre-industrial technology (no lithium ion batteries that destroy various foreign countrysides, and no cheap power apart from maybe localized hydro-electric). I believe if more people understood that trying to control climate change by political means is a sure-fire way to yield political control, or gain it, they masses might stop preferring any of it and would let cities on alluvial planes (such as Venice and New Orleans and Galveston) sink locally rather than try and convince India and China to undergo environmental austerity measures.

You're the one who introduced the concept of settings, above.

If you think it's not fair that China and India have to deal with climate change, I agree with you. But life is not fair. As you point out above, there's no greater purpose to the universe, it just is.

If China and India don't want massive civil unrest, they better work on the problem. If you think moving billions of people away from the coast is easier than reducing fossil fuel emissions, fine, we can examine that idea with data. But political control is not a useful yardstick. Government is an important tool no matter what the plan is.

I also put the concept of settings on the opposing end of non-teleologic identification.

I have no expressed opinion on whether the attempt to make China or India conform to green western politics is fair or not; but those two nations probably do, and that's what's really relevant. They'll most likely experience bouts of massive civil unrest without regard to local atmospheric quality.

Could you simplify that a little? Apologies, the issue is not with you but with me, but I just don't understand :-(

Teleology is the idea that something has a purpose. I don't see climate as having a purpose (in that it wasn't designed with a goal in mind). I also don't see climate as a system (mainly because I don't see it having a teleologic character), it is the simplification and summarization of somewhat cyclically driven (though definitely non-linear) phenomena.

After that, the Hadean is a period about 4 billion years ago named mainly because (to life) it was hellish, but otherwise relatively self-contained (in comparison to the epoch immediately preceding it when space debris continued to pummel the planet).

Thank you :-)

Although my middle of the night crisis was that I meant the Archean, not the Hadean. sorry, was shooting from the geologic hip, and I'm more of a geographer than a geologist.

Ha! Hey, I always appreciate it when someone explains things clearly - thanks for doing so :-)


Nor in the early Archean. Kind of my point. If someone wants to undo or revert bad influences on the planet's supposed homeostasis, why just roll back mankind? why not roll back all life? then the earth will be truly pristine. I chose the boundary where the geologic mass stabilized because it makes an identifiable thermodynamic boundary (the system is relatively closed)

Climate change is a fact. The causes are just theories based on computer models.

To say that it's a fact and needs no further study is not only anti-intellectual, it’s criminal.

I worked in academia for over a decade. Knowing what I know about the process and how much ego, money, and politics are involved, it really makes it difricult for me to believe any study isn't biased.

Thw entire system needs to be scrapped and started over.

> "Climate change is a fact. The causes are just theories based on computer models."

That's not what you said in your now flagged statement. You specifically said "Climate change is a theory." Your statements are just not consistent. 97% climate scientists agree that climate warming in the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. Numerous conferences have similar conclusions of that. There is even a Wikipedia page for that.

> "To say that it's a fact and needs no further study is not only anti-intellectual, it’s criminal."

I never said no more further study. Do not put your words in me. I specifically said bring your own data, your own evidence, your experiments. Where is your data???

> "I worked in academia for over a decade."

So where is the data? Maybe you're just lazy with a crazy theory.

> "Thw entire system needs to be scrapped and started over."

Hahahahaha, good luck with that. Just like a 5 yo crying for the system not fair. It's just another inconsistent statement. First you said you're in academia, which is part the whole system, right? Then you said the entire system need to be scrapped, that includes you. You're still part of that system even you're a system-reject. You're simply anti-social.

We should be fighting for the freedom to discuss any topic, not just a select few that matches up with the current narrative.

You have the freedom to discuss any topic. This has nothing to do with freedom of speech, it's purely a policy issue. If you don't like how government policy affects research, then stop advocating for the government to be doing so much of the research.

Private-sector scientists were not muzzled; this wasn't a censorship issue at all. If you're speaking on your own dime, or that of an employer who's willing to have their name on it, then there's no problem.

But the Canadian government decided that they weren't willing to let the scientists that they employed speak in that capacity. That's purely a matter of employer-employee relationship.

I'm not saying it was the right thing to do. I'm saying that we know that government is politics. When we bring government into any enterprise, we also bring in the politics. If you dislike politics, then you should be advocating to keep the government and their politics out of other affairs as much as possible.

Those who live by the sword, die by the sword. In this case, the sword is State power.

Researchers are perfectly happy for the might of the State to underpin coercive taxation, because it directly funds their jobs. But they complain loudly enough when a fraction of that might is used to constrain their freedom of expression.

I think the move to un-muzzle State scientists is a good thing. But I have little sympathy for their complaints, either, given the way they're funded.

Hopefully some day US scientists will be granted the same freedom to discuss their research.

The US Government, directly or indirectly via funding, publishes more open scientific research than nearly the entire rest of the planet combined. That spans segments ranging from space to medical to habitat to energy.

Uh what is Obama suppressing exactly here? If anything, the US has one of the most, if not the most open and prolific science publishing in history.

Does every HN political post need a highly upvoted 'But the US is worse' cite-less snarking?

Much of this stuff is not visible. Back in the No Child left behind days some people relatively high up in the administration where harassing a researcher based on her research. I found this out from one of her graduate students not the news.

I don't recall all the details, but a large part of the push was centered around a politically connected company selling some education materials. And the research suggested that approach was not useful.

Now extend that to issues people actually care about and I suspect a lot of this stays under the radar.

It's no Obama or any one person. It is an institutional thing. Certainly people, especially presidents, can change the institutions. That's what we're witnessing in Canada. I'm not snarking nor saying the US is worse. But it's a fact that unless your title includes "spokesperson" then you are not fully at liberty to speak.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact