January 13, 2014

The book burnings – “Ottawa is not quite 15th-century Florence or Nazi-era Berlin”

Filed under: Books, Cancon, Government, Science — Tags: — Nicholas @ 09:46

Even the Toronto Star — never a friend of Stephen Harper or his government — expresses some skepticism about the widely discussed “book burnings”:

Rumours of book burnings in Ottawa have been greatly exaggerated. And the unfortunate effect has been to distract from real concerns about the preservation of our scientific heritage.

The hyperbole seems to have grown out of early reports on the ongoing closure of seven of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ 11 libraries. At least one scientist, concerned that rare and valuable literature would be lost, likened the move to the book-burnings of totalitarian European governments of the 1930s. This comparison was literalized in later stories, which had DFO employees actually burning manuscripts from the dismantled collections.

But the government denies that any books have been incinerated; there are no eye-witness accounts; and, frankly, the story lacks the ring of truth. What government with a modicum of sense would choose to dispose of books in such a cartoonishly fascistic manner?

Yet while Ottawa is not quite 15th-century Florence or Nazi-era Berlin, the government’s approach to the closures does raise disquieting questions.

The decision to shut the libraries may make sense. The physical collections in question received an average of 5 to 12 in-person visits last year, and the department says consolidation will save roughly $440,000. But many scientists are rightly concerned that some of the hundreds of thousands of documents in DFO’s collection – many of them rare, some one-of-a-kind – will not be preserved. “It’s not clear what will be kept and what will be lost,” Jeff Hutchings, a renowned marine biologist, told the CBC.

H/T to Colby Cosh, who commented:


  1. This exaggeration, if that is truly what it is, does not bode well for scientific and journalistic credibility. While the panic is understandable, and there does seem to be an air of malice about the closing of science departments and fields of study (particularly in environmental science), they should all try a little harder to maintain their composure and just stick to the facts (the volumes of scientific data sent to the dump seems more believable).

    Kudos to the Star for this article.

    P.S. Did you see the Fifth Estate on Friday?

    Comment by Danny Melvin — January 13, 2014 @ 13:25

  2. Sorry I missed this comment at first, Danny … no, I don’t normally watch TV, so I missed the Fifth Estate show in question.

    As to “sticking to the facts”, environmental science is one area that has become so highly politicized that it’s hard to depend on anything being accurately represented these days. I’m not a scientist and I don’t have the time or expertise to go through the original reports, so I have to depend on the science journalism being objective and not twisted/distorted to match political agendas.

    Comment by Nicholas — January 14, 2014 @ 18:03

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