state of the environment, responsible resource development, PR spin, government officials raising doubt about scientists' integrity
An internal memo from Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), released to the public following an Access to Information request, accuses the co-author of a study on oil sands pollution of bias.
The peer-reviewed study, authored by scientists at Environment Canada and Queen’s University researcher John Smol, found levels of harmful contaminants in lakes near oil sands development that were 2.5 to 23 times higher than pre-development levels. The study also noted the worst contamination level was similar to that in lakes in urban areas and that the level of zooplankton had not declined.
After the article came out, Smol said in an interview, "We have, in some ways, a smoking gun here…We can show that the amount of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, only one of the many contaminants that are out there, are increasing in lockstep with the tar sands developments starting in the 1960s…We’re not saying these lakes are poisonous, but it’s going to get worse.”
The memo from NRCan’s deputy minister Serge Dupont concluded that Smol’s comments to reporters “indicate a lack of neutrality in the study participants and are not in line with the study findings.”
Smol said he became a spokesman for the study partly because the government has clamped down on any of its own researchers speaking with media. “This is my job. This research was funded by taxpayers. It’s my job to report to the people of Canada and the scientific community on what the data show.”