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Message from Gary Corbett

Gary Corbett

Government science is living through tough times and we anticipate more challenges on the horizon




Unmuzzling Government Scientists

This week the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) the world’s largest scientific society is holding its annual conference in Vancouver.

We are particularly pleased to be able to provide a webcast presenting a Canadian view in a session entitled "Unmuzzling Government Scientists: How to Re-Open the Discourse" being held on Friday, February 17 at the AAAS.

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Session - Unmuzzling Government Scientists: How To Re-Open the Discourse

Across Canada, journalists are being denied access to publicly funded scientists and the research community is frustrated with the way government scientists are being muzzled. Some observe that it is part of a trend that has seen the Canadian government tighten control over how and when federal scientists interact with the media. As a result, media inquiries are delayed, and scientists are less present in coverage of research in Canada.

In 2008, Environment Canada ordered its scientists to refer all media queries to Ottawa, where communications officers and strategists would decide if the scientist could respond and help craft "approved media lines".

Stories written for the CBC, Postmedia news, the journal Nature and others have then revealed how these communication restrictions had spread to other government departments.

And the situation is somewhat similar in the United States. A recent article in the Columbia Journalism Review details how restrictive practices established by George W. Bush’s administration still hold under the current government.

This panel will be an occasion to better understand the friction between the media and the governments.

Are the tightened communication strategies symptomatic of a worldwide trend in public and private sectors? Are they justified?

How do obstructions in communications with scientists compromise science research progression and undermine democracy? And in the end, what can be done to improve the situation?

Organizer: Binh An Vu Van, Association des Communicateurs Scientifiques (ACS)

Moderator: Kathryn O'Hara, Carleton University