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'If the science isn't supported ... then you're going to find that decisions are going to be made more at the political level,' says Gary Corbett, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. ((Courtesy of Professional Institute of the Public Service))

A union representing federal scientists has launched a campaign targeting what it calls the government's "worrying trend away from evidence-based policy-making."

"If the science isn't supported … then you're going to find that decisions are going to be made more at the political level," Gary Corbett, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said Monday as the union launched a website called publicscience.ca.

The site aims to highlight science done for the public good — much of it taxpayer-funded and carried out by government scientists  — and to "mobilize" scientists and the public to pressure politicians to support it. It features interviews with federal scientists about their work, along with interviews with science policy experts.

The union cited the example of the mandatory long-form census, which Stephen Harper's Conservative government decided in June to make voluntary despite opposition from statisticians, opposition politicians and many members of the public.

"The recent decision to end the mandatory long-form census is the latest step in a worrying trend away from evidence-based policy-making," said the union in a news release announcing the campaign. "Restrictive rules are curtailing media and public access to scientists, while cutbacks to research and monitoring limit Canada's ability to deal with serious threats and potential opportunities."

Corbett said what happened to the long-form census despite evidence provided by Statistics Canada scientists is also happening in other departments. He worked as a scientist at Natural Resources Canada for more than two decades before taking a leave to do union work.

When asked to respond to the union's accusations, the office of Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science and technology, said Natural Resources Canada was responsible for responding about this topic.

Natural Resources Canada said it could not comment on references to Statistics Canada and the alleged trend away from evidence-based policy-making. Nor did it respond to the allegations of cutbacks to research and monitoring.

However, it said it adheres to the federal government's communications policy and shares its research findings by publishing articles and by conducting interviews with science reporters.

The union said it is preparing a platform of proposals to support science that it will ask the public to email to MPs through its website. Corbett said scientists need more resources to be able to do their work and communicate their results by attending conferences.

Also aiming to boost scientists' profile

The other goal of the campaign is to create a more positive public image of federal scientists by highlighting their work, Corbett said.

He said what the public hears about civil servants these days is mainly criticism of their pensions and salaries.

The union represents 59,000 federal and provincial public servants, including 23,000 involved in scientific research, testing advice and other "knowledge products."