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Can Scientists Speak? Grading communication policies for federal government scientists

October 8, 2014 Simon Fraser University (SFU) and Evidence 4 Democracy (E4D) released a report that grades science-based federal departments’ communication policies for openness of communication, protection against political interference, right to free speech and protection for whistleblowers. The report, Can Scientists Speak? Grading communication policies for federal government scientists, gives departments a “C-” average for the policies that govern science communication with the media. Each individual department is also graded, with grades ranging from “F” to “B”.

E4D and SFU’s report finds that government media policies do not support open and timely communication, nor do they protect scientists’ right to free speech. This corroborates findings from a PIPSC survey released in a report, The Big Chill, last fall that found 90% of federal scientists are not allowed to speak freely to the media about the work they do.

The report further indicates that government media policies do not protect against political interference, aligning with findings from The Big Chill that nearly one-quarter (24%) of federal scientists have been directly asked to exclude or alter information for non-scientific reasons.

Key Findings:

  • Science-based departments attained a C- average for the policies that govern science communication with the media.
  • These grades are significantly lower than federal agencies in the United States in 2008 and 2013.
  • Government media policies do not support open and timely communication between scientists and journalists nor do they protect scientists’ right to free speech.
  • Government media policies do not protect against political interference in science communication.

Key Recommendations:

  1. Make policies easily available online for scientists, journalists and the public.
  2. Make it explicit that scientists can speak freely about their research to facilitate clear and timely communication between scientists and journalists.
  3. Give scientists the right to have the final review of the scientific content of media products (e.g. press releases) that make substantial use of their work to protect against political interference.
  4. Include a ‘personal views exception’ to allow scientists to express their personal opinions in a professional and respectful manner as long as they make clear they are not representing the views of their department.
  5. Include provisions to protect whistleblowers and effectively resolve disputes.

The report not only offers these overarching recommendations, but also offers departmental-specific recommendations. These recommendations are very workable and, if implemented, could be first steps in improving government transparency and open communication.

You can read the full report here: www.evidencefordemocracy.ca/canscientistsspeak


Publish Date: 08-OCT-2014 03:17 PM