Posted on behalf of Nicola Jones
A news story in the Ottawa Citizen this week raises the ugly spectre of government “muzzling” of scientists in Canada – a problem that received much attention in the United States under George Bush’s presidency (see this Nature editorial from 2006). The story adds to a growing feeling of discontent amongst Canadian scientists about federal policies regarding science (see this Nature editorial spurred by the government’s decision to scrap part of the country’s census).
Scott Dallimore, a geoscientist working for National Resources Canada (NRCan) in Sidney British Columbia, co-authored a paper in Nature this April about a 13,000-year-old flood. Canadian reporter Margaret Munro found it surprisingly difficult to get an interview with Dallimore, prompting her to investigate. This turned up “new media interview procedures that require pre-approval of certain types of interview requests by the minister’s office”, she writes this week. NRCan says they don’t have any new policies – just the same, years-old old rule that researchers consult with the minister’s office before interviews (which is not unusual for government-funded scientists, in Canada or elsewhere).
But Munro shows that some scientists certainly felt the process had become more obstructive. The upshot was a bureaucratic paper trail and delay that prevented Dallimore – who has had frequent contact with the media in the past – from speaking to journalists in time to meet their deadlines.
The story still got told, using other sources (see the Nature News story, for example). But previous articles in the Canadian press (Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald, The Tyee) have highlighted similar troubles for Canadian federal scientists. Munro says it is becoming increasingly difficult to get interviews. “It’s definitely spreading,” she says. Scientists worry things might become a more problematic for research with tight links to climate change or other politically sensitive issues. But access isn’t always difficult. NRCan gave this reporter permission to speak to Dallimore (about his scientific work) within an hour of my request.