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In Depth

Society
| 06/25/15

More scientists claim gagging on climate

TCE

New Zealand has joined a select group of nations, also including Canada and Australia, that stand accused by their scientific communities of government gagging of researchers over climate change and other environmental issues.

The New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) on Monday said that state-owned research institutions and university-affiliated scientists have been shut out of the conservative government’s recent public consultation on climate change, which had been rushed through in just four weeks.

“Climate change will have a profound influence on New Zealanders, and there are many complex issues that need to be dealt with,” said Nicola Gaston, the president of the NZAS in a statement. “Yet, there is a marked lack of publicly available information and analysis which would help New Zealanders decide on the best course of action.”

NZAS has surveyed its members on the subject and found that 40 percent feel that they are prevented from speaking publicly on a controversial issue due to gag orders or fear of losing research funding.

The criticism follows Wellington’s enactment in 2014 of a Code of Conduct on Public Engagement, a set of guidelines for scientists prescribing how they are to speak to the press and the wider public, a move that was criticized by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Neighbouring Australia has also been denounced by researchers for alleged gagging policies and slashing climate research whilebankrolling climate contrarians. Meanwhile, the Canadian government has for years been accused of gagging federal scientists and imposing sharp cuts to climate change, water quality, food inspection and other environmental and public health research. Theprocess has radicalized many researchers, leading to the founding of the Evidence for Democracy pressure group, and the Canadian Association of University Teachers to launch a dedicated campaign, Get Science Right to fight what it calls science under attack. The union representing scientists and other professionals in the federal public service has also set aside its traditional political neutrality and announced it is to campaign actively in the upcoming federal election against Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Tories.

Earlier this year during a visit to Victoria hosted by PICS, NASA’s chief climate scientist Gavin Schmidt spoke out against Ottawa’s stance, calling it a “betrayal of science”.

“We’ve had situations here in Canada where even to tweet how much sea ice there was, it took like 50 pages of emails, and approved by the minister and by the time they got around to doing that, it was already the next year, you know, what’s the point?” he said.

“When a government agency puts out a press release but then that same agency then says they can’t find the scientists? It’s ridiculous. It’s a fundamental betrayal of what it is to be a scientist.”

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