Let scientists speak, Canada

Frozen out : Nature : Nature Publishing Group.

Media interactions with government scientists have undergone a reversal across North America during the past six years. In the United States, President Barack Obama’s administration has directed federal science agencies to develop integrity policies with clear guidelines for scientists who are approached by journalists.

Over the same period, Canada has moved in the opposite direction. 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.

Tip: @CFICASS on Twitter

This is bad, bad, bad. It is good to see Nature calling out the Canadian government for this. But, not sure what go it will do. While the U.S. policies apply to federally employed scientists, state government scientists are frequently shushed, only allowed to talk through press people who OFTEN get things wrong or at least not exactly right.

On the other hand, there still remains an issue of scientists in general not doing a good job talking to the public because they were never shown how. This is changing. I hope we see across the continent changes soon.