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Media Release: Survey sheds light on risks to BC government scientific integrity

New report based on a survey of BC’s government scientific professionals indicates a need for changes to protect science in the BC public sector.

Victoria (June 25, 2020). With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe, the importance of scientific research and the use of robust evidence to inform government decisions is clearer than ever. In order for this process to work, science must be conducted, communicated, and implemented with integrity, transparency, and independence from political interference.

However, a recent study based on a survey of BC public servants, indicates scientific integrity in the province is at risk. 

“Government scientific professionals are at the forefront of protecting natural resources, public health, and the economy”, says Kimberly Girling, Interim Executive Director of Evidence for Democracy (E4D). However, in E4D’s recent report Spotlight on Integrity, in collaboration with the Professional Employers Association of BC (PEA), it was shown that scientific professionals in the BC public service lack sufficient resources to meet their scientific mandates and barriers limit the effective use of science and evidence in government decision-making.

Based on a survey of BC’s government scientific professionals:

  • 48% feel they lack the capacity required to adequately carry out their professional mandate.
  • 55% believe the public service over-relies on external professionals, rather than building internal capacity.
  • 42% feel advances in their field are occurring at training and conferences they are not able to attend.
  • 43% believe political interference compromises their Ministry’s ability to develop policies based on the best available evidence. 
  • 93% believe the public would benefit from greater professional capacity in the BC public service.

“Our members provide critical in-house scientific oversight of public health, the environment, and public safety yet the number of government scientists remains below where they were 20 years ago,” said Melissa Moroz, Labour Relations Officer with the PEA. “The BC government needs to stop relying so heavily on external contractors and invest in their own scientific professionals.”

While these barriers are troubling, the report outlines clear and tangible recommendations towards building on scientific capacity and integrity in the BC public sector, including: 

  • Supporting mechanisms for increasing the number of qualified scientific professionals and improving research capacity in the BC public service, such as a framework for succession planning and more competitive practices to attract qualified individuals.
  • Increased time off and funding to attend conferences and professional development. 
  • Development of provincial scientific integrity policies that improve transparency, help ensure scientists can speak freely about their work, and minimize political interference in evidence-based decision-making. 

“Public sector scientific professionals play a critical role in protecting the public. Their ability to carry out this work with integrity must be prioritized during this period of crisis and recovery,” says Tej Heer, E4D report author. “With strong mechanisms in place to protect scientific integrity, governments will be best equipped to make decisions that benefit us all, strengthen our resilience, and safeguard our futures.”

As British Columbia begins to rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic, E4D and PEA hope that the results of this report will help with the strengthening of scientific integrity in the BC government, to allow scientific professionals to best serve the BC public.

The full report can be found at https://bit.ly/reportspotlightonintegrity

Media contact:

Kimberly Girling, Interim Executive 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.

Jordana Whetter, Communications Officer, Professional Employees Association
Email: jwhetter@pea.org
Phone: 1-250-516-5552

The Professional Employees Association (PEA) is BC’s union for professionals. The PEA was formed in 1974 to represent licensed professionals employed in the BC Public Service. Since then, the PEA has grown to support a wide range of professionals in the education, legal and health care sectors.

END

 

Kimberly Girling

Interim Executive 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. Kimberly was Research and Policy Director for E4D before taking on the role of interim Executive Director.