Sometimes events expand beyond their intended scope. Take the International Polar Year 2012 conference taking place in Montreal April 22-27. The event’s sub-title “from knowledge to action” may take on unexpected irony, because of long-simmering allegations that government scientists here are feeling “muzzled”. More about that in a moment.
The starting point for this post was my wish to update a story heard previously on NCPR. Kevin Nikkel’s “Treasures of the Far Fur Country” showed in Ottawa earlier this month. At the time Nikkel was still working on a Montreal screening. The good news is Far Fur Country will be part of a two night free film festival this Tuesday and Wednesday (that film will screen Wednesday, April 25, 9:15 pm).
Quoting from the website:
The Canadian Film Institute is proud to present the International Polar Film Festival in Montreal, running April 24th and 25th at the Cinéma Impérial (Centre Sandra & Leo Kolber, Salle Lucie et André Chagnon). Featuring two nights of extraordinary films, the festival will present complex, fascinating and stunning visions of the Arctic and Antarctic worlds.
Fourteen different films will be screened, with eight Canadian entries highlighting the festival’s programming line-up. Entries from the United Kingdom, Norway and Sweden will also be presented. All films will be screened free of charge and in their original languages with English subtitles.
Various themes will be explored throughout the festival including: The politics of global warming, the impact of climate change on the polar regions of the earth and the natural beauty of these extreme landscapes.
Free films, nice! Global warming, new research, how topical! It all sounds good, right?
But since Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party came into power, there’s been simmering controversy in Canada about what government scientists are allowed to do or say when it comes to talking about their work. That struggle may be part and parcel of this polar event. Postmedia news is reporting scientists have instructions on how to interact with media and will be under observation as well.
“Until now such a crude heavy-handed approach to muzzle Canadian scientists, prior to a significant international Arctic science conference hosted by Canada, would have been unthinkable,” says a senior scientist, who has worked for Environment Canada for decades. He asked not to be identified due to the possibility of repercussions from Ottawa.
“The memo is clearly designed to intimidate government scientists from Environment Canada,” he says. “Why they would do such an unethical thing, I can’t even begin to imagine, but it is enormously embarrassing to us in the international world of science.”
This topic didn’t spring up overnight. It’s been a concern for scientists for some years now – and a source of vexation for journalists like Tom Spears who just want to file interesting, accurate science stories.
Believers would assert that science serves pure knowledge unbounded by politics and national boundaries. Skeptics maintain that science only claims impartiality, but is actually subject to a great deal of pressure, from politicians, from funders…even peer pressure.
So, do scientists answer to anyone besides the scientific community? When their salaries and research are paid for by tax dollars, who’s the boss? The head of government? The scientific community? The citizen taxpayer?
Is this another example of how the politics of global warming seem to crop up in odd places with disproportional impact?
I started out just wanting to call attention to a nice film forum. But there’s more going on in Montreal this week than free films.