Spotlight on Integrity: An update on the state of science in British Columbia

Science integrity is at risk in British Columbia. Send an email to your MLA today to remind them of the important role scientists play in protecting public health, preserving natural resources, contributing to our economy, and ensuring the safety and prosperity of the people of British Columbia.

In 2017, Evidence for Democracy published Oversight at Risk, investigating the state of science in the British Columbia public sector. The report found that BC scientific professionals had concerns about transparency and reductions in research capacity at their Ministries, and made several recommendations to strengthen research capability, communication, and scientific integrity in BC. To update this work, the current survey was distributed to 1237 scientific professionals in the BC public service. It aimed to evaluate changes to science integrity and capacity in BC over the past three years, and understand where improvements can be made.

Key Findings

  • We received survey responses from 323 scientific professionals from 10 ministries that were members of the Professional Employees Association (PEA) on 33 questions related to communication, independence, and capacity for scientific research. 
  • Since 2017, 38% of scientific professionals feel there has been a moderate or substantial reduction in research capacity, with 25% seeing no change in capacity and 27% an increase in capacity. Overall, 93% of scientists surveyed still believe that the public would benefit from greater professional capacity in the BC public service.
  • While the majority of scientific professionals (79%) feel their Ministry has a clear mandate, 49% feel like they lack the capacity required to adequately carry out this profesional mandate in their own role. Scientists identified hiring delays, lack of succession planning, and over reliance on professionals outside the government as core barriers to research capacity. 
  • Over half of respondents believe that the public service over-relies on external professionals and 49% believe this compromises the ability to use the best available evidence in policy-making. 
  • Largely (75%) scientific professionals feel that they are able to communicate their science with the public and with other academics, mostly (59%) with permission from their ministries. 62% feel supported to attend conferences, however many (70%) feel limited from attending international conferences due to funding restraints. Most also feel they have the ability to attend some professional development and training, but 42% feel that advances in their field are occurring at training and conferences that they are not able to attend. Scientific professionals (71%) are in favour of increased time off and funding to attend professional development.
  • 60% of scientific professionals feel their expertise is sought out by the relevant policy makers and 43% feel that they are properly credited in their work; however, 43% believe Ministries ability to develop policies based on the best available evidence has been compromised by political interference. As well, there are some concerns from professionals about a lack of clear processes around how science and evidence are integrated into policy.

Recommendations

Research Capacity:

  • Support mechanisms for increasing the number of qualified scientific professionals and improving research capacity in the BC public service. We recommend that Ministries:
    • Improve hiring practices and invest resources for personnel to fill outstanding vacancies and to increase support and technical staff for Ministries;
    • Develop a framework for succession planning that includes measures for training of new employees and reduces hiring delays;
    • Improve the competitiveness of hiring practices to attract qualified professionals, including by providing competitive wages;
    • Explore career laddering options to allow qualified scientific professionals to advance in their positions.   

Communications and Training:

  • Ensure that qualified professionals can build the skills, knowledge, and connections they need to meet their mandates through increased time off and funding to attend conferences and professional development activities.
  • Create clear science communication policies that ensure public sector professionals can  speak freely to the media and public in a timely manner.

Scientific Integrity and Independence:

  • Develop provincial scientific integrity policies that improve transparency of how science is used in policy, minimize political interference in policy-making, and protect scientific professionals that speak out.
  • Implement effective policies that ensure transparency and oversight of external professionals contracted to work for the public service.