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The next step forward in government science integrity

Objective, sound, and robust science, evidence, and data are needed to inform policy. When government decisions are made on the best available evidence, our health, environment, economy, and communities benefit

Science Integrity Policies (SIPs) are policies aimed to ensure government science follows the protocols of objectivity, openness, replicability, transparency, and freedom from undue influence.

Canada’s SIPs have been years in the making. In 2017, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) secured the right of their members to speak about their research included in their collective agreements. The union has been co-developing science integrity policies to take safeguards like those in their collective agreements even further.

The government released a model science integrity policy on July 30, 2018. The document is an impressive feat of three-party negotiation between the union, the Treasury Board Secretariat of the Government of Canada, and the office of the Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer.

The Liberal government promised back in 2015 to increase the transparency and accessibility of government science by “unmuzzling” scientists previously confined to strict message and communication controls. Establishing science integrity policies is one of the most concrete ways to protect science integrity and make sure that muzzling doesn’t happen again.

The model science integrity policy is comprehensive and includes progressive features such as:

  • Scientists’ right of last review of public communication materials that include their work (section 7.4.7)
  • No pre-approval needed for scientists to speak about their research with the media (section 7.4)
  • Recognition of the need to resource scientists’ participation in scientific societies and conferences (section 7.6)

Overall, the model science integrity policy is strong and robust, but there are a few areas that could benefit from further clarification. For example, section 7.5 dealing with the dissemination of research states that research containing explicit comments or discussion about federal statutory, regulatory or policy matters would require approval from managers before being submitted for publication. The policy doesn’t clarify if this is only applicable if the government researchers is the lead author of the study, or would still apply if the government researcher was a collaborator on the study.

It’s important to note that this is a model policy, a template departments can work from in shaping their own science integrity policies by the end of December 2018. What will actually come out in the final policies remains to be seen…and we sincerely hope that the public can see them. The model policy notes that final departmental policies “may” be posted online.

In the spirit of transparency and openness which the SIPs are meant to embody, we hope the policies themselves will be publicly available.

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