OTTAWA (October 8, 2014) –
A report released today by Evidence for Democracy (E4D) – a national non-partisan, non-profit organization promoting evidence-based public policy – and Simon Fraser University (SFU) shows that most federal departments fail to adequately support open communication between their researchers and the public.
The report, the first of its kind in Canada, graded media policies for 16 federal departments for openness of communication, protection against political interference, rights to free speech, and protection for whistleblowers. Over 85% of departments assessed received a grade of C or lower. When compared to grades for U.S. departments (scored by the Union of Concerned Scientists), all but one Canadian department performed worse than the U.S. average.
“Overwhelmingly, current media policies do not meet the basic requirements for supporting open communication between federal scientists and the media,” says E4D’s Executive Director Dr. Katie Gibbs, an author on the report. “These policies could prevent taxpayer-funded scientists from sharing their expertise with the public on important issues from drug safety to climate change.”
Departments differed greatly in their media policies. A few departments performed well — the Department of National Defense received top grades for supporting open communication. However, four departments received failed grades: the Canadian Space Agency, Public Works and Government Services, Industry Canada, and Natural Resources Canada.
These results come in the wake of allegations that government scientists are being muzzled and support a recent survey of federal scientists themselves, who feel severe restrictions on their ability to speak freely. In the report, E4D provides several key recommendations that departments can implement to improve communication between federal scientists and the Canadian public.
“Federal scientists are important public servants with critical expertise,” says Dr. Arne Mooers, a professor of biodiversity at Simon Fraser University and an advisor for the report. “They should be encouraged to inform the public in their areas of expertise because only an informed public can evaluate what governments are doing on their behalf. Strengthening communication between scientists and the public strengthens our democracy.”
You can find more information and a copy of the report complete with full methodology at www.evidencefordemocracy.ca/canscientistsspeak