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Media Release: In an age of misinformation, where do Members of Parliament get information?

New report based on interviews with MPs looks at evidence use in practice. 

Ottawa (13 November, 2019). Not utilizing science can come at great peril. From the climate crisis to the Walkerton tragedy, Canadians suffer when decision-makers can’t access and use rigorous scientific information.

But with growing concerns over the prevalence of misinformation, how do Members of Parliament find and evaluate evidence to inform their decisions? 

In the report “Evidence in Action: An Analysis of Information Gathering and Use by Canadian Parliamentarians,” Evidence for Democracy finds that, while MPs have a wealth of information sources at their disposal, knowing what information to trust can be challenging. The report shows that MPs value science and evidence and want to use it in their work, but many barriers can get in the way.   

Based on interviews with Members of Parliament:

  • only 41% of MPs reported using scientific literature directly in their work
  • 59% of MPs described that it was difficult to find information that wasn’t biased, or spun to influence their thinking. 
  • 59% start their information search with Google.
  • Common challenges to using science include information overload (47%), conflicts between science and the needs of their constituents (35%), political priorities (29%) and difficulties in accessing science.
  • 59% go to trusted sources like friends and family to help find or interpret information.
  • 88% turn to external organizations like lobby groups or non-profits as information brokers.
  • 94% of MPs described the Library of Parliament was a go-to source for information that is relevant, unbiased, and delivered quickly.

“As an MP, people are trying to convince you to make decisions in a certain way all the time, whether that your constituents, lobby organizations, or even your party.” says Dr. Kimberly Girling, Research and Policy Director from E4D. “Deciphering what information is free from bias or spin can be a challenge and can influence whether or not information is used in an MP’s work.”

MPs identified several recommendations to help bridge the gaps between scientists and parliamentarians, including: 

  • improved databases for MPs to find and connect with scientists.
  • training for researchers on how to communicate their work more effectively. 
  • better connection points for researchers to connect with parliamentary processes, like standing committees.

With the 43rd Parliament being sworn in in the coming weeks, E4D hopes that the results of this study can help improve the evidence-based decision-making practice, by setting up new MPs with tools to help them more effectively find and use science, as well as equipping researchers to connect their science with elected officials. 

“We think this work will be useful to researchers who want to more effectively link their work to decision-makers, but also to MPs. We learned that most parliamentarians really care about making their work as evidence-based as possible, but that can be really difficult. We hope this report can help build new connections between these two worlds”. 

The full report can be found at: http://bit.ly/evidenceinaction

Media contact:

Kimberly Girling
Research and Policy Director
Evidence for Democracy
Email: kimberly@evidencefordemocracy.ca
Phone: 1-613-866-7787

Evidence for Democracy is the leading fact-driven, non-partisan, not-for-profit organization promoting the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making in Canada. Through research, education and issue campaigns, Evidence for Democracy engages and empowers the science community while cultivating public and political demand for evidence-based decision-making.

The Canadian Climate Forum is a national, non-partisan, registered charity based in Ottawa with a Canadian focus. It has a mission to broker, disseminate, and apply best evidence-based climate knowledge to advance decision making for a safer, more resilient, and sustainable Canada.

END

Kimberly Girling

Research and Policy Director

Kimberly Girling completed a PhD in Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia. During her work as a scientist, she developed a passion for science policy, and has participated in a number of initiatives relating to global and public health, drug policy and harm reduction. In 2016, Kimberly was a member of the inaugural cohort of the Mitacs Canadian Science Policy Fellowship, a program linking scientists with government policy. During her time in government, she worked as a Science Policy Analyst with Defence Research and Development Canada, and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada on a wide range of topics including ethics of emerging disruptive technologies and fundamental research funding. For several years, Kimberly also served as the President of the Student Biotechnology Network, a BC-wide organization that helps students develop career paths in life science and biotechnology.