November 7, 2015
Our new prime minister has taken to social media like a duck to water.
Soon after winning the election, Justin Trudeau posted on Facebook an answer to a woman’s list of hopes and dreams that she had also posted on Facebook.
Within hours of being sworn in, he was using Google Hangouts to chat with young students at five schools across Canada.
Reddit users have submitted several requests for him to take part in a question-and-answer session known as Ask Me Anything. U.S. President Barack Obama once did it, so this is not a stretch for heads of state.
Facebook struck again when the mother of a scientist with Fisheries and Oceans shared his great relief at again being allowed to speak publicly about science without asking for permission.
The mother, Jody Patterson, described it in a blog post as being “like the fall of our own little Berlin Wall. I could practically feel everyone running into the streets and calling from the rooftops: ‘The scientists are unmuzzled! We’re free! We’re free!’”
Despite being a jaded former journalist, she has been inspired to write a letter of thanks to the prime minister. I wouldn’t be surprised if he answers.
It’s almost impossible to image Trudeau’s predecessor, Stephen Harper, being so open with Canadians. I still remember that picture of him shaking hands with his son after dropping him off at school. Compare this with the image of Trudeau having a free-wheeling discussion with a whole bunch of kids from all over the country.
For many Canadians, the great unmuzzling of scientists is symbolic of hope that the new government will turn out to be more open, even after the honeymoon period.
But the science is also important. For the most part, people tend to trust scientists because they make statements based on measurable evidence supported by their peers. That’s a far cry from politicians who make statements based on whatever will get them elected.
There is always the fear, though, that science can be tainted by politics. We see it here in Kamloops where some opponents to the proposed Ajax mine don’t trust the environmental review process. Government scientists might tell us that everything is fine, but will they be telling the truth or will they be saying what they’ve been told to say by their political masters?
It’s true that ultimately politicians decide, and it’s hard to know how much of a role science played. For example, both sides in the Keystone XL pipeline debate claimed to have science on their side, but it was left to Obama to determine which science he believed to be in his country’s best interest.
Still, if scientists are allowed to speak freely, there is always hope that if there is corruption involved, then they will have the option of speaking up about it. Freedom of speech has alway been about holding politicians accountable. Fewer restrictions almost always work out to be for the greater good.