Science journal Nature to Canadian govt: Set your scientists free!

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Science journal Nature to Canadian govt: Set your scientists free!



Just in case you thought the world didn't know how dark the kingdom in Ottawa is, here's an editorial from Nature:

[url=]Frozen Out: Canada's government should free its scientists to speak to the press, as its US counterpart has.[/url]

Since Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative Party won power in 2006, there has been a gradual tightening of media protocols for federal scientists and other government workers. Researchers who once would have felt comfortable responding freely and promptly to journalists are now required to direct inquiries to a media-relations office, which demands written questions in advance, and might not permit scientists to speak. Canadian journalists have documented several instances in which prominent researchers have been prevented from discussing published, peer-reviewed literature. Policy directives and e-mails obtained from the government through freedom of information reveal a confused and Byzantine approach to the press, prioritizing message control and showing little understanding of the importance of the free flow of scientific knowledge. [...]

If the Harper government truly embraces public access to publicly funded scientific expertise, then it should do what the Canadian Science Writers' Association and several other organizations have called for in a letter sent to the prime minister on 16 February: “implement a policy of timely and transparent communication” like those used by NOAA and the NSF.

The letter coincided with a symposium, 'Unmuzzling Government Scientists: How to Re-open the Debate', which was held last week at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, Canada. With the country taking centre stage as the meeting's host, the Harper government found its media policies in the international spotlight. Scientists and other visitors from around the globe discovered, to their surprise, that Canada's generally positive foreign reputation as a progressive, scientific nation masks some startlingly poor behaviour. The way forward is clear: it is time for the Canadian government to set its scientists free.



[url= 16: Prime Minister, please unmuzzle the scientists[/url]

Signed by:

Association des communicateurs scientifiques du Québec (ACS)
– Mathieu Robert-Sauvé, President

Association science et bien commun (ASBC)
– Florence Pilon, President

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
– Arnold Amber, President

Canadian Science Writers’ Association (CSWA)
– Peter McMahon, President

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC)
– Gary Corbett, President

World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ)
– Jean-Marc Fleury, Executive Director


Thanks for starting this thread, Unionist. This is an important topic of discussion. The future is our's if we want it to be. There is global political awakening happening, and scientific and technological renaissance is just around the corner. The past has been shaped by imperialism and power. Our aspirations are their fears. And our worst nightmares are their only hope.

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

Good discussion tonight on P&P on how the Conservative government is muzzling federal scientists - federal scientists are now not allowed to speak to the media about anything without a minder (censor) present.


Boom Boom wrote:

Good discussion tonight on P&P on how the Conservative government is muzzling federal scientists - federal scientists are now not allowed to speak to the media about anything without a minder (censor) present.


Kent defends muzzling as "established practice"

"While we can accept that some members of the Conservative cabinet might not agree with our stand on the muzzling of government scientists, we are shocked that you with your long and distinguished career in journalism would not just appreciate why we have taken a stand, but vigorously support it," wrote a group of science writers and the head of a labour union in an open letter addressed to Kent, published April 4 in Embassy magazine.

The letter also noted that a younger Kent had left his job as anchorman of the National on the CBC in 1978 after petitioning the CRTC not to renew the broadcaster's licence until its management "created procedures and protocols to prevent political interference in editorial decision-making."

It's a national disgrace.


It's actually shameful that the so-called opposition parties lunge from one media opportunity to another, and every crime of the Harper regime gets forgotten. It means others have to take the lead:

[url= file complaint with Federal Information Commissioner over muzzling of scientists[/url]


Today, Democracy Watch, in partnership with the Environmental Law Clinic of the University of Victoria, filed a complaint with the federal Information Commissioner and called for a full investigation following the release of a report on the lack of freedom of federal government scientists to speak with the public and journalists.

The complaint is being filed as a new federal government policy that attempts to muzzle other scientists who do research with federal government scientists recently came to light.

As the report details, in contrast to President Obama who issued a policy that says government scientists can speak freely about the results of their research, the federal Conservatives have muzzled government scientists in the same way former U.S. President George W. Bush did.

“In sharp contrast to past Canadian practice and current U.S. Government practice, the federal government has recently made efforts to prevent the media and the general public from speaking to government scientists,” said Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Open Government Coalition.  “This is research that taxpayers have paid for and without it society cannot make informed choices about critical issues.”

The full 126-page report (which I haven't read yet) is [url=]her....

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

Thanks for the link - I will bookmark it for later. I've been following this issue - it has a very real impact on our work, many of our docs are science based. I'd rather use expert contributors from Canada than seek them elsewhere - it hasn't been a big problem yet, but it has the potential to be.


What are actual examples of this? The articles linked are short on specific information.

Here's one:

  Ottawa silences scientist over West Coast salmon study


ETA: sorry - the Democracy Watch report itemizes several.