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