Nature Magazine: Canadian scientists, silenced by government

Media interactions with government scientists have undergone a reversal across North America during the past six years. In the United States, President Barack Obama’s administration has directed federal science agencies to develop integrity policies with clear guidelines for scientists who are approached by journalists.

In December, agencies including the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued guidelines that promote openness with the press. For instance, NOAA and NSF-funded scientists and staff are free to speak to journalists without first seeking the approval of a public-affairs officer. The NSF’s policy states that researchers are free to express their personal views as long as they make clear that they are not speaking on behalf of the agency. And scientists also have right of review over agency publications and press releases that claim to represent their expert opinions. Such policies may not be implemented successfully in all cases, but they show that attitudes have evolved encouragingly since 2006, when charges that then-president George W. Bush’s administration had silenced US government researchers made front-page news.

Over the same period, Canada has moved in the opposite direction. Since Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party won power in 2006, there has been a gradual tightening of media protocols for federal scientists and other government workers. Read more …