Government scientists feel muzzled, advice ignored, according to union survey

OTTAWA – A new survey of science professionals in the federal public service finds nearly one in four say they’ve been directly asked to exclude or alter information for non-scientific reasons.

The survey, entitled “The Big Chill,” was commissioned by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, and paints a picture of government scientists who feel they are being muzzled.

Fully 90 per cent of respondents say they don’t feel they’re allowed to speak freely in the media about their work, while 86 per cent believe they would face retaliation if they went public with information about harm to public health, safety or the environment.

Some 71 per cent of respondents said political interference is compromising policy development based on scientific evidence, and almost half were aware of cases in which their department or agency suppressed information.

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault is already studying how communications policy changes under the Conservative government have affected the sharing of government science with the public.

More than 4,000 federal scientists — out of more than 15,000 who were invited — responded to the union-commissioned, online survey handled by the polling firm Environics.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.