Federal scientists push for protection from political interference – The Globe and Mail

Posted: May 18, 2015 in Canadian Politics, Media, Science

Government scientists have always been vulnerable to those who hold the reins of power, but tensions have grown under the Conservatives. After the Tories enacted a wave of research program and facility cancellations in 2012, stories began to emerge of researchers who were blocked from responding to media requests about their work.

Proposed sections for a new collective agreement put forward by the union include a provision that members have a right to express themselves on matters pertaining to science and their own research as long as they make it clear “that they are speaking in their personal capacity and not on behalf of the Government of Canada.”

Stephanie Rea, spokesperson for the Treasury Board, said the government could not comment on the substance of the proposals under negotiation.

In recent years, journalists have observed a marked change in their ability to access federal scientists in Canada. The restrictions upend the customary protocol for speaking to scientists about their published research.

Whenever a scientific study appears in a major peer-reviewed journal, it is common practice for the journal to identify a corresponding author who can speak to the media about the results of the study. But should a corresponding author happen to work for the Canadian government, the scientist is compelled to direct all inquires to media relations specialists in Ottawa who may or may not grant the scientist permission to speak.

The process complicates and delays interactions between journalists and federal researchers to a degree that is entirely unlike what happens with university researchers or, for the most part, with scientists who work for the U.S. government.

For example, last year the federal government declined to allow The Globe and Mail to speak to any Environment Canada researchers who were listed as authors on the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th Assessment Report. In contrast, the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research sent out a general release with the names, phone numbers and e-mails of its scientist authors.

via Federal scientists push for protection from political interference – The Globe and Mail.


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