Bad Astronomy

Canadian government censoring scientists from media?

I’m very surprised to see from two sources (The Montreal Gazette and The Ottawa Citizen) that scientists with Natural Resources Canada – the government department that deals with natural resources – need to get permission from their Minister’s office before going to the media with their scientific results… and that the office has say over whether they can talk to the media or not.

What? I mean really, WHAT?

OK, first: I understand that the government funds scientific research, and there are caveats that must apply when that happens. I also understand that the government should have some say in how scientific results are released. Whether you’re a scientist at a university, a private company, or a government lab, you shouldn’t just go to the media with results when you get them; there are proper channels in announcing them.

However, this is a very dangerous precipice upon which to balance. There is a big difference between the government following rules to make sure results are released correctly, versus deciding whether to release them or not at all. In the end, any and all scientific findings should be public and can be discussed with the media. The government should never have any censorship over that. They might have a hand in how the results are announced, but not if they are announced!

This is chilling news. In the US we saw the previous Administration interfere with science over and again, from stem cells to global warming to the incredibly embarrassing George Deutsch affair at NASA. I’d hate to see that sort of political hackery in other countries as well.

The bottom line: politicians shouldn’t decide what science is worth releasing and what isn’t. Their job is to make sure the flow of research is unimpeded, and not to dam it up. I’m not sure where this Canadian policy is headed, but I hope the citizens up there make sure their politicians know what they think about it.

Tip o’ the toque to Glen Shearlaw