The study, commissioned by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), also found that 86 percent of scientists feel they would face retaliation for speaking to the media about a departmental decision that could harm public health, safety or the environment.
The government recently introduced a policy requiring federal scientists to seek approval before being interviewed by journalists.
The survey’s findings are collected in a new report titled The Big Chill. According to PIPSC:
“The survey also found that nearly one-quarter (24%) of respondents had been directly asked to exclude or alter information for non-scientific reasons and that over one-third (37%) had been prevented in the past five years from responding to questions from the public and media.
In addition, the survey found that nearly three out of every four federal scientists (74%) believe the sharing of scientific findings has become too restricted in the past five years and that nearly the same number (71%) believe political interference has compromised Canada’s ability to develop policy, law and programs based on scientific evidence. According to the survey, nearly half (48%) are aware of actual cases in which their department or agency suppressed information, leading to incomplete, inaccurate, or misleading impressions by the public, industry and/or other government officials.”
Francesca Grifo, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists in the United States, shared her thoughts on the matter. “Documenting the problem is the essential first step toward solving it. You can’t hope to solve the issues until you fully understand them.”
“Federal scientists are facing a climate of fear,” said PIPSC president Gary Corbett, “a chill brought on by government policies that serve no one’s interests, least of all those of the Canadian public. The safety of our food, air, water, of hundreds of consumer and industrial products, and our environment depends on the ability of federal scientists to provide complete, unbiased, timely and accurate information to Canadians. Current policies must change to ensure these objectives are met.”
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