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Should scientific information flow more freely in Canada?

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One of the world's most prestigious scientific journals has released an editorial blasting the federal government for freezing out Canadian scientists.

The journal Nature argues that Canada's publicly funded scientists are finding it harder to speak openly about their research, especially with members of the media.

The editorial also argues that the U.S. has adopted more open practices since the end of George W. Bush's presidency, while Canada has gone in the opposite direction.

 Nature says Canada is headed in the wrong direction in not letting its scientists speak out freely. (iStock) "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," the journal claimed. Nature has criticized the government's approach to openness in the past and argues now that the situation has not improved.

"Researchers who once would have felt comfortable responding freely and promptly to journalists are now required to direct inquiries to a media-relations office, which demands written questions in advance, and might not permit scientists to speak."

The editorial goes on to call the government's policy directives "confused and Byzantine," and accuses the government of "prioritizing message control" and "showing little understanding of the importance of the free flow of scientific knowledge."

The article follows this week's announcement that Canada's northernmost research laboratory is shutting down, largely due to a discontinuation of government funding.

The Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) in Nunavut has been tracking ozone depletion, air quality and climate change in the High Arctic since 2005.

"Shutting it down causes a big gap in the measurements," Jim Drummond, a Dalhousie University researcher who is the principal investigator for PEARL, said Tuesday. "We're losing the ability to know what's going on up there."

The editorial also comes on the heels of an open letter from groups representing both journalists and federal scientists - such as the Canadian Science Writers' Association and the World Federation of Science Journalists.

The letter alleged that scientists are being hampered from talking to the media about their taxpayer-funded research, to the detriment of the public.

When we asked the CBC Community in an informal survey if federal scientists and journalists should have more open lines of communication, 92 per cent of respondents chose, "Yes, more or all research must be made public."

Do you think Canada's reputation for advancing scientific research is suffering? Why or why not? What role should the government play in allowing scientists to speak about their findings?

(This survey is not scientific. Results are based on readers' responses.)

Tags: Community Reaction, Politics, POV, Science & Technology

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