Canadian scientists set for protests

FIGHTING BACK::The federal government has been accused of burying or delaying publication of science reports thought to contain politically damaging data

The Guardian, LONDON

Thu, Sep 19, 2013 - Page 7

The Canadian government in recent years has banned government scientists from talking about a growing list of research topics, including snowflakes, the ozone layer, salmon and previously published work about a 13,000-year-old flood.

Now it seems the scientists are talking back.

Researchers in 16 Canadian cities have called for protests on Monday against science policies introduced under the government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which include rules barring government researchers from talking about their own work with journalists and, in some cases, even fellow researchers.

“There is a lot of concern in Canada right now about government scientists not being allowed to speak about their research to the public because of the new communications policies being put into place,” said Katie Gibbs, director of a new group, Evidence for Democracy, which is organizing the protests.

The rallies to be held on university campuses and central locations in the cities of Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver, as well as other places, will be the second set of protests in a year by government scientists against the Harper government’s science policies.

Like last year, protesters have been asked to wear white laboratory coats on Monday.

Critics say the policies run counter to the open-access policies in place for government scientists in the US and Europe.

“It isn’t the way science is supposed to be. It’s not the way science used to be, the way I remember it in the federal government,” said John Stone, a retired Environment Canada scientist now working as a vice chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This year, Canada’s department of fisheries and oceans released a new set of rules barring scientists from discussing their findings with the public or publishing in academic journals.

The new guidelines require all scientists to submit papers to a departmental manager for review — even after they had been accepted for publication by an academic journal.

The proposed rules became public earlier this year after US scientists on a joint US-Canadian project in the eastern Arctic took exception to them.

Last year, National Research Council scientists were barred from discussing their work with NASA on snowflakes with journalists. Other government scientists have been barred from giving interviews on work published in leading academic journals.

In other instances, the federal government has been accused of burying or delaying publication of government science reports thought to contain politically damaging data.