Last summer, a rare but telling event occurred, when scientists left their labs to vent their frustration on Parliament Hill. They marched in a mock funeral procession, mourning "The Death of Evidence." More and more, Canadian scientists employed by the federal government say they are being muzzled by Ottawa. They are being told when, if, and how to speak to the public about their research.
For journalists, the ability to speak directly to researchers is
essential to correctly convey complex ideas to the public. The
federal government rejects the accusation that it is muzzling
Now the Information Commissioner of Canada has been asked to
investigate. The request was made by the Environment Law Clinic at the
University of Victoria last week. It alleges the government is
systemically obstructing the right of the public and the media to speak
to government scientists.
In contrast to Canada, the United States government is moving faster and further on public disclosure. The Adminstration's top science adviser said last week: "Americans should have easy access to the results of the research they support; the logic behind enhanced access is plain." Many federal agencies not only allow government scientists to speak freely to the media, but actively encourage such interaction.
Michael Enright talks with Canadian climatologist Gordon McBean, who
has just returned from an international meeting in Brazil, where he was
quizzed by bewildered scientists about what on earth is happening in
Dr. McBean is a professor at Western University in London, Ontario,
and chair for policy in the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction.
From 1994 to 2000, he was assistant deputy minister at Environment
He is also president-elect of the International Council for Science, a major non-governmental organization that brings scientists together from around the world.
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