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Canadian Government protects Its Citizens from Scientific Misinformation

Concerned that the citizens of Canada are having their heads filled with alarmist pseudo-science about climate change and pollution from the tar sands industry, the Minister of Natural Resources, Christian Paradis, has decreed that all contact between Natural Resources Canada (NRC) scientists and journalists has to be “pre-approved” by the Minister.

mildred

Such a policy would prevent, for example, a government scientist inadvertently failing to dismiss the recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which reported the detection of the release of toxic heavy metals to the Athabasca watershed from tar sands developments. The public might well become confused if government employees strayed from the official message that such pollution is “naturally occurring”. Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice is reported to have said that “his federal scientists told him that any contaminants such as lead or mercury appearing in the Athabasca River all come from Mother Nature and not from the oil sands industry”. If the public did not get a consistent message from government scientists then they might easily conclude that projects like the Mildred Lake development (photograph) could have some far-fetched causal linkage with the observed increased pollution levels in the river, based on an entirely fortuitous geographical and temporal coincidence.

agassiz

Another recent paper studying the Athabasca River Valley argues that Lake Agassiz (a huge glacial lake that flooded the Canadian Prairies during the last ice age) drained catastrophically through the Athabasca-McKenzie River system into the Arctic Ocean, possibly forcing Arctic sea ice out into the North Atlantic, affecting ocean circulation and causing—gasp—climate change in the Younger Dryas. It’s bad enough if the public were to imagine linkages between the tar sands and pollution, but preventing a possible Athabasca-flooding catastrophe-climate change meme from going viral requires expert media handling on the part of the government.

Canada’s Conservative Government believes that the people of this country will adapt quite readily to a change in the actual climate. On the other hand, because the party lacks a majority in Parliament, even a slight change in the climate of public opinion could prove catastrophic to it and the risk of this happening must be mitigated at all costs. Adaptation of the ruling party’s policy is simply not an option because the Prime Minister comes from Alberta.

When contacted, NRC scientists refused to comment substantively but someone did mutter something barely coherent about the need to pass through purgatory to reach Christian Paradis. A media consultant contacted by FoGT was more helpful. She advised that the best way for Canadian scientists to guarantee maximum exposure for their work is not to make official press releases—which few read and fewer believe—but instead to confine their thoughts to private emails that will later be released by hackers or FOIA requests and then be broadcast throughout the blogosphere and eventually appear on
Fox News North.