A deadly disdain for science

In fact, members never discussed safe use since it was beyond the panel’s mandate. But by claiming there were irreconcilable differences, Paradis generated skepticism about the report’s conclusions, including the finding that there is a “strong relationship” between chrysotile exposure and lung cancer.

Given Paradis’s false and irresponsible claims, panel chair Trevor Ogden and panel member Lesley Stayner both spoke out about the “gross misuse and misinterpretation” of the report, and once again called for its publication.

The government repeated its promise to make the report public, yet seven months (October 2008) after the 4,000-word report was submitted, the feds claimed they were still reviewing it — a claim Ogden described as “so obviously untrue as to be insulting.”

It’s more likely the feds were simply sitting on the report, since the 2008 Rotterdam Convention conference was held in October, and the report’s damning conclusions were certainly no help to Canada and its continued opposition to the listing of chrysotile.

The report was finally released in April 2009, but not in the usual way or for the usual reason. Rather than being voluntarily published on Health Canada’s website, it was released in response to a journalist’s access-to-information request. And, as is evidenced by Canada’s behaviour at the 2011 Rotterdam Convention conference, the feds have still learned nothing from the report.

Yet this wilful ignorance is not by any means the most troubling aspect of the affair. Rather, the feds clearly sought to mislead the public — and thereby create skepticism about the risks of chrysotile — by misrepresenting the contents of the report at a time when no one could verify the claims being made.

As egregious as this behaviour is, it is not an aberration. It is almost identical to the behaviour of former health minister Tony Clement, who routinely misrepresented the science of harm reduction in his crusade against Insite, Vancouver’s supervised injection site.

As a result of Clement’s campaign, 130 physicians and scientists published an editorial in the journal Open Medicine accusing him of engaging in an effort “to misrepresent or suppress scientific findings for ideological purposes.”

But that’s not the worst of it. Unwilling to accept the evidence of more than two dozen published peer-reviewed studies, Clement convened his own panel of hand-picked experts to assess the value of Insite. Yet shortly after their report was submitted, at least two panel members lamented that Clement misrepresented their findings.

Clement’s behaviour on the Insite file was identical to Paradis’s conduct on asbestos, and both were evidently attempting to create skepticism about the scientific evidence in a given area. But even that’s not the worst of it: Clement went further by attempting to create skepticism about science itself.

In a desperate attempt to discredit Insite, Clement presented an essay critical of the facility as the equivalent of the aforementioned peer-reviewed studies.

In so doing, he essentially suggested there is nothing special about scientific studies — that scientists are not in a privileged position to discover truth about the natural world. Rather, any individual’s opinion on a scientific topic is just as good as a scientist’s, whether it is informed by science or not.