cswa_muzzling_video_vancouver_aaas_2012

FEB 17, 2012: CSWA board member Margaret Munro and others outline how they feel the Harper government is preventing them from interviewing government scientists in a timely manner

From a letter submitted by the CSWA and others Feb 16, 2012 to the Prime Minister’s office…

MEDIA REQUESTS: please email office@sciencewriters.ca

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

Over the past four years, journalists and scientists alike have exposed the disturbing practices of the Canadian government in denying journalists timely access to government scientists. Open letters to your government from concerned journalists have been followed by editorials and public lectures calling for improved access. Still, cases of government muzzling of publicly funded scientists continue.

Last fall, Environment Canada prevented Dr. David Tarasick from speaking to journalists about his ozone layer research, work which had been published in the journal Nature. And earlier, the Privy Council Office stopped Kristina Miller, a researcher at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, from granting interviews about her work—findings that had been published in the journal Science on the causes of sockeye salmon decline in British Columbia.

Despite promises that your majority government would follow principles of accountability and transparency, federal scientists in Canada are still not allowed to speak to reporters without the “consent” of media relations officers. Delays in obtaining interviews are often unacceptable and journalists are routinely denied interviews. Increasingly, journalists have simply given up trying to access federal scientists, while scientists at work in federal departments are under undue pressure in an atmosphere dominated by political messaging.

After several unsuccessful attempts to resolve this issue, our organizations—which represent science journalists and communicators and scientists across Canada and around the world —have agreed to a joint campaign to push for timely and open access to federally funded scientists. Our campaign will use a variety of tools to draw public attention for this issue and to spur your government to tear down the wall that separates scientists, journalists, and the public.

We urge your government to implement a policy of transparent and timely communication, one similar to that introduced in the U.S. recently by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This policy now encourages scientists to speak to the media without any intermediary. It even encourages scientists to express their own opinions, provided they indicate that they are speaking personally and not on behalf of the employer.

Many federal scientists are world-renowned experts in areas such as climatology, agriculture, environment, energy solutions, infectious disease, nanotechnology, engineering, and health care. Their important research in support of public health and security, environmental protection, and economic development costs taxpayers billions of dollars, and is valuable to scientists worldwide. Clearly Canadians have the right to learn more about the science they support and to have unfettered access to the expertise of publicly funded scientists.

Prime Minister, we want freedom of speech for federal scientists because we believe it makes for better journalism, for a more informed public, for a healthier democracy, and it makes it more likely that Canadians will reap the maximum benefit from the research they fund.

 

Sincerely,

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

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22 Responses to Prime Minister, please unmuzzle the scientists

  1. [...] week saw a flurry of new activity on the file. Both CSWA and my hero Bob repeated their calls for an end to the muzzling, but these were just the [...]

  2. Nick Fillmore says:

    This is an excellent letter. Unfortunately, we can expect much more of the same from Stephen Harper now that he has a majority. We need to be worried. Harper is a man with man dark thoughts:
    http://nickfillmore.blogspot.com/2012/02/is-stephen-harper-displaying-fascist.html

  3. Stephanie says:

    I want to thank you sincerely for continuing to raise this issue with Canadians, it must reach many more. It is deeply troubling because we see this government ignoring evidence in a wide range of public policy areas including census data collection, correctional policy, privacy & internet surveillance, the gun registry, tar sands expansion, to name just a few. Canadians have taken for granted the place of public science in our policy making, and need to understand there is a deliberate campaign underway to keep this from us. This is a deeply troubling development. Thanks for your work.

  4. [...] on this story: Canadian Science Writers Association, CBC News, Montreal [...]

  5. [...] The Canadian policies are a blight on intellectual freedom, and seriously undermine the rights and abilities of the public to make informed choices, whether about their governance, or even their own health. In 2011, the Canadian Science Writers’ Association published an open letter to the government to draw attention to the issue; this letter went unheeded. On February 16, the CSWA sent another letter to the Prime Minister’s Office. You can read the letter here. [...]

  6. [...] A few weeks ago, CSWA members participated in a panel discussion on the muzzling of government scientists, including what journalists perceive as the muzzling of government-funded scientists in Canada (full video of the panel here.) [...]

  7. [...] Open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper from representatives of journalists and federal scienti… Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPinterestLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]

  8. [...] from the BBC to the journal Nature • the CSWA contributed two important panels at AAAS (Government science muzzling and Children’s Writing in the current market) as well as wildly successful networking party for [...]

  9. [...] Prompted The Canadian Association of Science Writers and others to push back Dear Prime Minister Harper, [...]

  10. [...] disturbing. It has been reported by both Science and Nature journals, and discussed by the Canadian Science Writers’ Association and at the recent AAAS conference. There are also concerns of a “brain drain” due to [...]

  11. [...] Harper hasn’t helped his cause by muzzling government scientists who have been conducting research on everything from permafrost to polar bears. Timely access to these scientists has been the subject of several newspaper articles and editorials. Hoping to resolve the long-standing problem, the Canadian Science Writers Association sent a letter to the Prime Minister in February calling on him to “tear down the wall that separates scientists, journalists, and the public.” [...]

  12. [...] Harper hasn’t helped his cause by muzzling government scientists who have been conducting research on everything from permafrost to polar bears. Timely access to these scientists has been the subject of several newspaper articles and editorials. Hoping to resolve the long-standing problem, the Canadian Science Writers Association sent a letter to the Prime Minister in February calling on him to “tear down the wall that separates scientists, journalists, and the public.” [...]

  13. [...] Ross McMillan, president and CEO of Tides Canada, denies that his charity is involved in political activity. The decision to go public, he says, was designed to “send a clear message to our critics that we have nothing to hide in our work. Harper hasn’t helped his cause by muzzling government scientists who have been conducting research on everything from permafrost to polar bears. Timely access to these scientists has been the subject of several newspaper articles and editorials. Hoping to resolve the long-standing problem, the Canadian Science Writers Association sent a letter to the Prime Minister in February calling on him to “tear down the wall that separates scientists, journalists, and the public.” [...]

  14. [...] science journalists and writers in Canada, but science in national newsrooms has been gutted and concerns raised by organizations like the Canadian Science Writers Association have gained little [...]

  15. [...] issues (Canada’s “muzzling” of publicly-funded scientists, for example, has gotten a lot of media coverage). And if they’re not going to let their scientists talk, there is no reason to train their [...]

  16. [...] Edit: This is from nearly a year ago, and yet still entirely relevant – Prime Minister, please unmuzzle the scientists [...]

  17. [...] and investigation follow numerous similar charges from scientists and organizations such as the Canadian Science Writers’ Association and the World Federation of Science Journalists, and publications such as the science journal [...]

  18. [...] various media organisations including the World Federation of Science Journalists wrote in an open letter to Harper. The letter noted that efforts to resolve the issue have been ignored and now the only recourse is [...]

  19. Vanessa Hartmann says:

    The muzzling of Canadian scientists in recent years has become an issue of great concern for Canadian citizens such as myself. Not only does this impede scientists’ abilities to fully carry forth their studies, but this sort of political interference also creates barriers between federal scientists and the media in terms of communicating their research findings to the public. Although these scientists are not always fully prevented from sharing all information, the likelihood of crucial details being omitted from these public discussions are the ones that, at the end of the day, are likely to be the most crucial and of greatest importance to Canadian citizens and their well-being. When taxpaying citizens’ dollars are being spent on scientific projects of this nature that are meant to improve their lives and the lives of those that surround them, it would seem counter-intuitive to have the findings concealed and only shared and distributed at the discretion of the government.

    In a country that is supposed to be comprised of free citizens, freedom of expression, and freedom of speech, it would seem that this constraining and controlling of Canadian federal scientists and their findings would be in direct conflict with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, notably Section 2 of this document respectfully. Despite the fact that Section 1 does allow for certain constraints to be placed on Section 2 of the Charter, the constraints being carried out in regards to the federal scientists seem to be unjust and unnecessary. As a result, this policy of federal scientists silence and censorship needs to be abolished in order to allow for absolute satisfaction and benefit of Canadian citizens surrounding their scientific research and findings. To have the government acting in direct conflict with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a matter that needs to be addressed and altered in order to yield proper conduct and effective governance within the country.

    Federal scientists themselves take great issue with the policy of their prevention from speaking publicly about their research and research findings, which brings into question why they are being paid to carry forth these studies in the first place. It would seem any scientific findings from their research should be communicated to Canadian citizens who are in fact funding these studies through their taxation, and are the ones who are meant to benefit from the research findings. Research regarding everything from the environment to the healthcare system in Canada is carried out every year, and key stories and findings often go untold as a result of the federal government’s muzzling of Canadian federal scientists. The policies that have been implemented by the Conservative government which place tight and unnecessary constraints on Canadian federal scientists thus need to be re-examined and reworked, or abolished all together.

  20. [...] institutions like the Canadian Association of University Teachers, media associations like the Canadian Science Writers Association, professional organizations like [...]

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