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It turns out that “electric green” wasn’t the only colour of blacklight glowing fish that aquarium owners might want to have.
About a year ago, I wrote (a little sarcastically) about the scientific hoops that importers had to jump through in order to introduce the genetically modified GloFish® Electric Green® Tetra and the GloFish® Long-fin Electric Green® Tetra to Canadian pet stores.
Now, a new round of glowing ornamental fish is on the way, after federal scientists examined whether or not it would be safe to allow the introduction of five more GloFish® offerings — I’m taking a deep breath here — the Sunburst Orange® Tetra, the Moonrise Pink® Tetra, the Starfire Red® Tetra, the Cosmic Blue® Tetra, and the Galactic Purple® Tetra.”
It’s a veritable rainbow of glowing aquarium fish.
But before the Popsicle-like palette of fish could be allowed across the border, questions had to be answered. Could the fish escape, breed on their own and displace native species? (No, because generally, Canadian lakes and rivers are too cold in the winter.) Could there be threats because of human contact? (Well, neither the original tetras nor the genetic material comes from species that pose risks to humans, so the generalized belief is that the fish are safe enough.)
Could they mutate into giant glowing intelligent fish overlords that would enslave us into doing their scaly bidding, each of us classed into respective slave armies wearing Galactic Purple or Moonrise Pink uniforms? (I’m kidding.)
And those questions, by and large, were answered in a scientific report prepared by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Just wait — there’s a point to this eventually.
What this means is that, somewhere in the DFO scientific establishment, there’s someone who knows a whole bunch of information about transgenic glowing aquarium fish.
Say you wanted to know more the little wriggly lightshows.
Who would you get in touch with?
One of the scientists who did that work, or a communications staffer who wouldn’t know a Starfire Red® Tetra from a Red Multi-Coat Tesla®?
Obviously, the scientists.
Now, as part of their new tentative agreement with the federal government, unionized federal scientists will once again enshrine the right to talk about their work without first getting political approval, even if their work is politically uncomfortable for whoever happens to be in government.
It’s a huge step, in its own way; the public sector scientists and engineers first landed the so-called “integrity clause” in 2017, but every time it’s enshrined in a contract, the better it is.
Now, the people who actually do the science can point out whether that’s what their research says or not.
Letting scientists talk might not matter much in the limited world of tetra science, but think about this: a federal government, trying to satisfy everything from conservationists to fish harvesters to fish plant workers, sets a quota for caplin. The government says it’s being responsible and is basing its decision on science.
Now, the people who actually do the science can point out whether that’s what their research says or not. And it’s part of their contract with the government.
The government had already accepted in written departmental guidelines that “all scientific research, products and their communication are free from political, commercial and stakeholder interference.”
But guidelines are as easily changed as governments.
The renewed protection is good for public discourse; it helps to limit the politicization of science, something Canadians know full well about from the Harper years, when scientists whose work didn’t align with government policies were simply not allowed to speak.
From glowing tetras to climate science, we’ll be better off letting the people who know what they are talking about actually do some of the talking.
Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @wangersky.
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