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A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Canada provides a good example of government authoritarianism in how it treats government scientists

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In Motherboard Stephen Buranyi describes the struggle to enable Canada’s government scientists to communicate with the public:

As a scientist employed by the Canadian government, every question Janet receives from a journalist or member of the public must be screened by a media officer. These officers decide what questions reach her, and have the final say on what answers come back.

“They have a list of ‘hot-button’ issues that can’t be mentioned, like climate change, or the oil sands. They say ‘Don’t use that phrase’ or ‘Don’t connect it to industry X,’” said Janet, an Environment Canada researcher who agreed to speak about her experience on the condition we use a pseudonym. She fears she may lose her job for speaking openly about policies that she feels have led to her scientific work being repeatedly censored and misrepresented.

“They’ve told me: ‘Say you don’t know the answer to that question,’ even if I do,” she said. “They make me look like an idiot.”

While it is certainly not unusual for government departments to have a media office, the way the Canadian government has systematically used them to restrict the public’s access to researchers and their data has sparked outrage from scientists around the world.

The media officers usually request that questions be sent to scientists by email. Phone and in-person interviews are rarely granted, and it’s not always clear to journalists which questions will be answered, or even who is doing the answering. Instead, the media office may remove the original scientist’s name and return answers attributed to an unnamed group.

From the inside, the system is equally faceless. Janet said that correspondence is carried out through a single departmental email address. She said there are clearly multiple people using the account, but they never identify themselves. They just filter and edit and tinker with the information, in total anonymity.

Canadian journalists were the first to raise the alarm about the practice, what is now known as “muzzling,” around 2008. It was then they realized that the rules had changed, and media officers were preventing them from talking to scientists they previously had no trouble contacting. Since 2012 there have also been significant cuts to scientific programs, with thousands of jobs lost at government research departments. The cuts are projected to continue, and research centered on the hot buttons—climate, energy, and environment—will be taking the biggest hits.

Despite regular media coverage, none of it kind, little about the situation has changed. Like many Canadian scientists, Janet feels that her work is being disrespected and devalued by a government that cares more about message control than the research she was hired to do.

“From here, it really does seem like they hate science,” Janet said.

This has put Canadian scientists in a very uncomfortable place. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 August 2015 at 8:57 am

Posted in Government, Media, Science

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