Canada's Government Won't Let Its Own Climate Scientists Speak to the Press


mentalfloss
#1
Canada's Government Won't Let Its Own Climate Scientists Speak to the Press

Two years ago, scientists with the Canada Ice Service agency wanted to give a press conference about the Arctic’s sea ice, which had shrunk 70,000 square miles below its last record in 2007. The scientists needed federal approval from nine different levels, including the director of the Ice Service and the environment minister’s office. The event never happened. As new documents obtained by Canada’s Postmedia News show, it was cancelled by "ministerial services," the sixth level of approval. No explanation was given.

“Why is it that we need nine levels of approval for this sort of thing, what’s the justification,” biologist and Evidence for Democracy co-founder Scott Findlay said.

This is just the latest example in a years-long effort by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s administration to silence climate scientists within its own government. Since taking office in 2006, Harper has tightened control over what scientists tell the press, and when. A leaked internal analysis from Environment Canada in 2010 found that media coverage and requests on climate change fell sharply over three years. "Media coverage of climate change science, our most high-profile issue, has been reduced by over 80 per cent," the document said. Critics note that government communications staff has grown 15 percent under his watch. Meanwhile, Harper has phased out science positions, like the National Science Advisor in 2008.

The restrictions affect scientists across all subjects. In 2011, the head of molecular genetics for the Department for Fisheries and Oceans published research on the declining salmon population, but the Privy Council Office, which advises the prime minister, refused to let him to talk to the press about it. In 2012, Ottawa Citizen’s Tom Spears contacted both NASA and Canada’s National Research Council in 2012 to request information for a story about snowfall. A report from the Environmental Law Center documents how NASA responded within 15 minutes, but it took eleven Canadian federal employees 50 emails to decide whether the journalist’s story would be “positive/informative.” Eventually, the reporter received “approved lines." And earlier this year, federal meteorologists were ordered not to discuss climate change in their coverage of extreme weather. The reason, an Environment Canada spokesman told journalist Mike De Souza in May, is that meteorologists are only experts in “their field of severe weather,” so “climate change or long-term trends would be directed to a climatologist or other applicable authority.”

A survey commissioned by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada last year found only 10 percent of federally employed scientists felt they could speak freely about their agency work. And the muzzling has succeeded: Federal scientists are rarely quoted in the Canadian media's coverage of climate change, forcing reporters to rely on quotes and information from watchdog groups and U.S. scientists. Whether that changes may depend on the outcome a complaint filed last year by the Environmental Law Center and Democracy Watch alleging that the "federal government is preventing the media and the Canadian public from speaking to government scientists for news stories—especially when the scientists' research or point of view runs counter to current Government policies on matters such as environmental protection, oil sands development, and climate change." The Information Commissioner, the office that oversees access to government information, is evaluating the complaint.

Harper's antagonism toward climate-change experts in his government may sound familiar to Americans. In 2006, a long list of media outlets found President George W. Bush’s administration was suppressing U.S. climate scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA by requiring media requests to go through the White House's Council on Environmental Quality for approval. An eventual House Oversight and Reform Committee report accused his administration of controlling the “dissemination of scientific views that could conflict with Administration policies.” This prompted an investigation from NASA's inspector general that found political appointees in NASA's public affairs were "reduced, marginalized, or mischaracterized climate change science made available to the general public."

Bush's replacement has reversed course. President Barack Obama directed the National Science Foundation and NOAA to develop its own internal standards, allowing scientists to speak freely to the press. Whether such a reversal is imminent in Canada depends largely on whether Harper stays or steps down before next year's federal elections.

Canada's Stephen Harper Government Muzzles Climate Scientists | New Republic
 
Walter
+1 / -1
#2
Guess you'll have to move to the US to listen to scientists.
 
skookumchuck
Free Thinker
#3
So, climate change (used to be global warming) did not occur during any time that the liberals were governing? There were no errors made during their reign? Turdeau was a hero? Ok
 
captain morgan
Bloc Québécois
#4
This another duplicate thread.

You're way late on posting this MF
 
petros
#5
Do you need to see the non-disclosure agreement posted for fagro?
 
mentalfloss
#6
Who?
 
petros
#7
You.

Non-Disclosure Agreement

I, ___________ , recognize that in the course of my work as an employee or subcontractor of ___________ , I may be given access to information by or on behalf of Canada in connection with the Work, pursuant to Contract Serial No. _______ between Her Majesty the Queen in right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Public Works and Government Services and ________ , including any information that is confidential or proprietary to third parties, and information conceived, developed or produced by the Contractor as part of the Work. For the purposes of this agreement, information includes but not limited to: any documents, instructions, guidelines, data, material, advice or any other information whether received orally, in printed form, recorded electronically, or otherwise and whether or not labeled as proprietary or sensitive, that is disclosed to a person or that a person becomes aware of during the performance of the Contract.

I agree that I will not reproduce, copy, use, divulge, release or disclose, in whole or in part, in whatever way or form any information described above to any person other than a person employed by Canada on a need to know basis. I undertake to safeguard the same and take all necessary and appropriate measures, including those set out in any written or oral instructions issued by Canada, to prevent the disclosure of or access to such information in contravention of this agreement.

I also acknowledge that any information provided to the Contractor by or on behalf of Canada must be used solely for the purpose of the Contract and must remain the property of Canada or a third party, as the case may be.

I agree that the obligation of this agreement will survive the completion of the Contract Serial No.: _________________

_________________

Signature

________________

Date
__________________________
 
DaSleeper
#8
buyandsell.gc.ca/policy-and-g...l/5/A/A9126C/4 (external - login to view)
 
captain morgan
Bloc Québécois
#9
Quote: Originally Posted by mentalflossView Post

Who?


How much time and effort do you spend posting duplicate threads?
 
Tecumsehsbones
+2
#10  Top Rated Post
Who takes the King's Shilling does the king's bidding.
 
mentalfloss
#11
Un-muzzle the scientists? Not so fast.

Every so often, something happens that renews calls in this country for scientists within the federal government to have more unfettered rights to speak to media. This past week, it was the nearly comical number of layers of bureaucracy through which a request to hold a media briefing on the extent of Arctic ice erosion needed to pass. Previously, we’ve seen similar calls motivated by differences between Canadian and U.S. standards with respect to publication of research results or the presence of so-called minders at scientific conferences. I’ve hesitated to write on this despite often engaging in heated discussions on the subject, both on Twitter and in less virtual environments, because it’s not my area of expertise. It’s still not an area in which I have any formal training, and my experience is limited, but I feel that I can comment on some aspects of the debate based on the time I spent on sabbatical at Environment Canada, a department frequently attacked for the so-called muzzling of scientists.

The basic arguments in favour of loosening the controls on government scientists to speak to media often follow from one of two points: either that the research is publicly funded, and so should be accessible to the public; or, that making researchers available to the media would show that the government is hiding evidence that might otherwise undermine its policy agenda. For example, when interviewed at a protest by scientists on Parliament Hill last year, University of Ottawa professor Jeremy Kerr stated that, “the facts do not change just because the Harper government has chosen ignorance over evidence and ideology over honesty.” That’s certainly accurate, at least insofar as the facts being generally invariant to the will of the Prime Minister, but the government of Canada has no monopoly over the facts—there are plenty of entities, government-funded and otherwise, that can do a fine job of holding the government to account externally, as professor Kerr’s comments to the Star illustrate.


Getty Images

Every so often, something happens that renews calls in this country for scientists within the federal government to have more unfettered rights to speak to media. This past week, it was the nearly comical number of layers of bureaucracy through which a request to hold a media briefing on the extent of Arctic ice erosion needed to pass. Previously, we’ve seen similar calls motivated by differences between Canadian and U.S. standards with respect to publication of research results or the presence of so-called minders at scientific conferences. I’ve hesitated to write on this despite often engaging in heated discussions on the subject, both on Twitter and in less virtual environments, because it’s not my area of expertise. It’s still not an area in which I have any formal training, and my experience is limited, but I feel that I can comment on some aspects of the debate based on the time I spent on sabbatical at Environment Canada, a department frequently attacked for the so-called muzzling of scientists.

The basic arguments in favour of loosening the controls on government scientists to speak to media often follow from one of two points: either that the research is publicly funded, and so should be accessible to the public; or, that making researchers available to the media would show that the government is hiding evidence that might otherwise undermine its policy agenda. For example, when interviewed at a protest by scientists on Parliament Hill last year, University of Ottawa professor Jeremy Kerr stated that, “the facts do not change just because the Harper government has chosen ignorance over evidence and ideology over honesty.” That’s certainly accurate, at least insofar as the facts being generally invariant to the will of the Prime Minister, but the government of Canada has no monopoly over the facts—there are plenty of entities, government-funded and otherwise, that can do a fine job of holding the government to account externally, as professor Kerr’s comments to the Star illustrate.

Related:
Un-muzzle the scientists: Liberal science critic Ted Hsu responds
When science goes silent

For me, the key questions are whether government researchers should, themselves, be able to speak out when they feel a government policy does not align with the evidence and, if so, why we would only restrict that to a particular class of government researchers? To speak out publicly against government policy is, by the current definition, fundamentally at odds with the role of a public servant in our democracy. Public servants are expected to provide impartial advice to the policy development process and loyal implementation of government policies once decisions are taken. They are not supposed to critique that policy publicly when it doesn’t align with their interpretation of the evidence or their beliefs with respect to how that evidence should be weighed. Allowing public servants to be openly critical of government decisions – whether based on scientific evidence or any other criteria – turns the relationship between the bureaucracy and their democratically elected masters on its head, undermining the trust essential to an effective working relationship.

Many would like to have you believe that there are issues for which we could live in a technocracy—where the science speaks so clearly as to the correct policy that there is no role for any other factors. I can’t think of a single instance where that would be so. Often-cited in debates on the muzzling of scientists is my University of Alberta colleague David Schindler and his ground-breaking work at the Experimental Lakes Area. What did that research tell us? It made clear, for the first time, the link between human activity, in particular industrial sulphur emissions and nutrient effluent from agriculture, and the health of lake ecosystems. It told us about the damages from pollution and was some of the most important and policy-relevant pieces of scientific work in this country’s history. What Dr. Schindler’s research alone could not tell us is what we should do about it. It did not tell us what costs we should be willing to impose on industry to prevent these damages, it did not tell us how Canadian economic activity, trade, and employment would react if certain policies were imposed, nor did it tell us how Canadians would prioritize expenses to defray these damages versus other potential uses of government and private sector resources. In other words, it gave us an important piece of the policy puzzle, but not the entire picture. You can’t prove, with science alone, what the policy should be—science isn’t normative—but only what is and what will be if you take a particular action.

In a policy department like Environment Canada, policy decisions are made through a process that involves bureaucrats from different disciplines including scientists, engineers and economists. Senior bureaucrats interact with the minister’s office, with central agencies like the Department of Finance, and with the Privy Council Office, which acts as the bureaucratic liaison to the Prime Minister’s Office. When a policy proposal is on the table, there are different opportunities for arguments to be made, decisions to be challenged, and evidence to be presented. As an economist visiting Environment Canada for the year, I was fortunate to participate in briefings at every level and to be given the opportunity to present evidence on occasion. Sometimes, that evidence carried the day. Sometimes, I came out of a briefing feeling that I’d lost—that economic evidence as to the best policy option, data on the cost of taking one action over another, or predictions of the likely outcome had been ignored in favour of evidence presented by others. In most cases, it hadn’t been ignored, but it just hadn’t been given the weight I thought it should. You might imagine that it was always those with the lab coats pushing stronger action, while the economists pushed for weaker action. It wasn’t. At the end of the day, senior public servants and elected officials did what they were paid to do: they weighed the evidence and made decisions.

The way the unmuzzlers would have you believe that the system should work is that, when senior public servants or elected officials take a decision with which the scientists in the room do not agree, these scientists should — and it is largely those in the “hard” sciences that the unmuzzlers are talking about — because they are on the side of the evidence, be free to speak up and to contest that decision in the public arena. The problem with that, as I see it, is that those with the lab coats do not have a monopoly on evidence: across the federal government, there are a variety of public servants collecting and compiling data, conducting experiments, testing hypotheses, developing numerical models, and the like. Some are scientists in the conventional sense of the word (i.e. they wear lab coats) while some are economists, sociologists, statisticians, and engineers. It’s impossible to draw clear lines between what is “scientific evidence” presented to senior decision makers and what is not.

Let’s imagine the government is considering a regulation on an industrial sector and, based on the evidence presented, senior decision-makers conclude that the costs in terms of reduced output, employment, and value-added of enacting stringent regulation are justified based on the benefits to the ecosystem and/or to human health presented by the scientists (in this caricature, you can imagine the scientists wearing their lab coats in the briefing if you prefer). Now suppose that one of the experts involved—an economist in a central agency, for the sake of this caricature—decides that this decision is simply inconsistent with the evidence he or she presented. Suppose he or she decided that, if only the Canadian people were made aware of this economic evidence, they too would side with a “weaker” policy response. Clearly, it’s in the public interest to drop a brown envelope on someone’s doorstep so that the headlines the next morning might read something like, “Government considering regulation that would halt oil sands development, cost thousands of jobs,” with the story crediting an anonymous government economist privy to the discussions, right? That would push the government to make the right decision.

In the caricature I’ve presented, the evidence would all be accurate, but it would be one-sided: the article in the newspaper would show you all of the costs of the policy and none of the benefits. The implication would be clear: that the government had ignored all these costs in reaching its decision, and Canadians should be outraged. The implication would also be entirely false. All that heroic economist would have done with his or her actions would have been to tilt the decision-making process toward their preferred weighing of the evidence. Would it be any different if the decision had gone the other way, toward the less stringent policy, and it were the scientist, clad as ever in his or her lab coat, dropping off the brown envelopes? I think not.

Should we have more open government science? Perhaps. I think the better question is to what degree government-supported research should take place in arms-length agencies (the U.S. model for agencies like NASA and the Energy Information Administration come to mind) or outsourced to universities via government granting agencies as opposed to being housed in policy departments. Research housed outside of government departments would allow elected and bureaucratic offices to determine which questions are being asked by researchers or which subject areas are being explored without having influence over the answers or controlling the message. It would also mean that researchers were not privy to the policy discussions of the day and would not necessarily be involved when their research is used to support a decision. There are also options within the public service: perhaps Statistics Canada could broaden its role to collect and publish more environmental statistics such as the sea ice coverage, which was the subject of so much consternation this week, perhaps absorbing some of the functions now performed within Environment Canada. In the same way in which no one would ask a Statistics Canada official what government should do to combat youth unemployment or to raise median incomes when those data are published, no one would ask whether the extent of sea ice coverage should influence our climate change policy choices. When you’re asking officials from the department with jurisdiction over both our domestic climate change policies and our intervention in international climate change negotiations about sea ice coverage, the implications are very different. The questions to the scientist might even be policy-neutral, but I expect most of the resulting articles would not be.

If you want to take the muzzle off government researchers, that’s fine if you want it for the right reasons. I’m all in favour of increasing the quality of information available both to our decision-makers and to the general public. However, we must do it without skewing the policy process. The only way to make sure that’s true if you want open access to researchers is to disconnect those undertaking primary and policy-relevant research from that process and from those departments. Whether that’s best done through arms-length institutions, through universities, or through agencies such as Statistics Canada is a topic for debate. Of course, there are some topics of current government research not suited to open inquiry, for a variety of reasons. Maybe you’re willing to sacrifice some of those topics for access to information? You might also find that some of our government’s best researchers prefer their seat at the policy table to the front pages of the newspaper. Maybe that’s a sacrifice you’re willing to make? Unfortunately, I doubt you’ll be able to rely on anyone in a lab coat to tell you with certainty which is best for the country.

On the other hand, if your reason for removing the muzzle is because you think policy decisions need to be skewed or the government needs to be challenged, then there’s a better process for that that doesn’t involve sacrificing our public service. Rumour has it it will happen next October, if not sooner.

Un-muzzle the scientists? Not so fast. - Macleans.ca (external - login to view)
 
taxslave
No Party Affiliation
+1
#12
Quote: Originally Posted by captain morganView Post

How much time and effort do you spend posting duplicate threads?

Its not like he has anything else to do.

Government employees, like private industry employees are never permitted to speak on their own about their work. I had to sign a confidentiality agreement and pass a security check just to fix firetrucks for the air farce.
 
petros
#13
Fear of the pokey keeps me very quiet. If only I could invest in what I've worked on, I'd be fully retired and living in Belize.
 
Zipperfish
No Party Affiliation
#14
The thing is that these scientists, ultimately, work for Canadians. It is not appropriate for government scientists--or any govcernment employee--to criticize public policy as determined by the government. You carry out your order without subversiona dn to the best of your abilities. The problem is that these sce=ientists are not necesarily criticizing policy. They are trying to publish papers in journals, they are trying to present at conferences, they are trying to meet with colleagues at international or provinical forums.
 
mentalfloss
#15
Stephen Harper’s blatant hypocrisy on science
 
Cliffy
Free Thinker
+2
#16
 
taxslave
No Party Affiliation
+2
#17
Quote: Originally Posted by CliffyView Post

You forgot supplier of free money to the terminally lazy.
 
petros
#18
Cliffy celebrates Madri Gras 12-13 times a year and nobody has tried to clear cut or drill that happy day from under his feet. If you have the skills and talent to write a book for retail sale you can work for a living.
 
Grievous
No Party Affiliation
#19
16 Government Officials Involved In One Request To Interview Scientist Max Bothwell (external - login to view)
 
Tonington
+1
#20
Quote: Originally Posted by petrosView Post

You.
Non-Disclosure Agreement
I, ___________ , recognize that in the course of my work as an employee or subcontractor of ___________ , I may be given access to information by or on behalf of Canada in connection with the Work, pursuant to Contract Serial No. _______ between Her Majesty the Queen in right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Public Works and Government Services and ________ , including any information that is confidential or proprietary to third parties, and information conceived, developed or produced by the Contractor as part of the Work. For the purposes of this agreement, information includes but not limited to: any documents, instructions, guidelines, data, material, advice or any other information whether received orally, in printed form, recorded electronically, or otherwise and whether or not labeled as proprietary or sensitive, that is disclosed to a person or that a person becomes aware of during the performance of the Contract.
I agree that I will not reproduce, copy, use, divulge, release or disclose, in whole or in part, in whatever way or form any information described above to any person other than a person employed by Canada on a need to know basis. I undertake to safeguard the same and take all necessary and appropriate measures, including those set out in any written or oral instructions issued by Canada, to prevent the disclosure of or access to such information in contravention of this...

Quote has been trimmed, See full post: View Post

Where did you find that? We work with scientists from DFO on collaborative projects, and we do not sign anything like that. In fact it's the other way around. They are our "sub-contractors."
 
Grievous
No Party Affiliation
+1
#21
Quote: Originally Posted by ToningtonView Post

Where did you find that? We work with scientists from DFO on collaborative projects, and we do not sign anything like that. In fact it's the other way around. They are our "sub-contractors."



Uh oh....busted.
 
Tonington
+1
#22
Quote: Originally Posted by GrievousView Post

Uh oh....busted.

The direction of those agreements depends on lots of things. Like whose funding to use. Whose project it is. Who provides the study materials, etc.

Simply working with a government scientist does not mean the government owns it all. That's stupid. Nobody would ever work with them if that were the case. We wouldn't. I suspect many in academia wouldn't either.
 
Grievous
No Party Affiliation
#23
Quote: Originally Posted by ToningtonView Post

The direction of those agreements depends on lots of things. Like whose funding to use. Whose project it is. Who provides the study materials, etc.

Simply working with a government scientist does not mean the government owns it all. That's stupid. Nobody would ever work with them if that were the case. We wouldn't. I suspect many in academia wouldn't either.



Petros does apparently....some secret work.


Can't even tell his wife.
 
darkbeaver
Republican
#24
Quote: Originally Posted by ToningtonView Post

The direction of those agreements depends on lots of things. Like whose funding to use. Whose project it is. Who provides the study materials, etc.

Simply working with a government scientist does not mean the government owns it all. That's stupid. Nobody would ever work with them if that were the case. We wouldn't. I suspect many in academia wouldn't either.

Your insane, money rules, if you don't get the message how will you afford three more children?
 
Tonington
#25
Quote: Originally Posted by GrievousView Post

Petros does apparently....some secret work.


Can't even tell his wife.

Well if he's doing the work for the government then he's going to have to sign whatever they want, or not do any work for them. Like I said, the context matters a great deal. We don't give away a thing. We pay for services and they sign our agreements.

Lots of universities have project managers overseeing funds, and they wouldn't sign that just because a biologist at Environment Canada contributed to their data collection. That's retarded.

Quote: Originally Posted by darkbeaverView Post

Your insane, money rules

Yes, that's what I said. Take your time and read slower/more carefully dim rodent.
 
Grievous
No Party Affiliation
#26
Quote: Originally Posted by ToningtonView Post

Well if he's doing the work for the government then he's going to have to sign whatever they want, or not do any work for them. Like I said, the context matters a great deal. We don't give away a thing. We pay for services and they sign our agreements.

Lots of universities have project managers overseeing funds, and they wouldn't sign that just because a biologist at Environment Canada contributed to their data collection. That's retarded.


You're right, that is retarded.
 
captain morgan
Bloc Québécois
#27
Quote: Originally Posted by taxslaveView Post

You forgot supplier of free money to the terminally lazy.

Funny how that works, isn't it?

Then again, for those that feel they are perpeutally entitled to any and everything, that reality is not convenient

Quote: Originally Posted by ToningtonView Post

The direction of those agreements depends on lots of things. Like whose funding to use. Whose project it is. Who provides the study materials, etc.

You just described the ownership issue.

Quote: Originally Posted by ToningtonView Post

Simply working with a government scientist does not mean the government owns it all. That's stupid. Nobody would ever work with them if that were the case. We wouldn't. I suspect many in academia wouldn't either.

In the situation that the OP is based upon, the gvt does own this intellectual property and it is not the decision or at the discretion of an employee (researcher/scientist) to release this info.
 
Tecumsehsbones
#28
Quote: Originally Posted by captain morganView Post

In the situation that the OP is based upon, the gvt does own this intellectual property and it is not the decision or at the discretion of an employee (researcher/scientist) to release this info.

Seriously? The government can own IP in Canada?
 
captain morgan
Bloc Québécois
#29
IP that is a direct result of a gvt research program
 
Zipperfish
No Party Affiliation
+1
#30
Quote: Originally Posted by captain morganView Post

Funny how that works, isn't it?

Then again, for those that feel they are perpeutally entitled to any and everything, that reality is not convenient



You just described the ownership issue.



In the situation that the OP is based upon, the gvt does own this intellectual property and it is not the decision or at the discretion of an employee (researcher/scientist) to release this info.

The government isn't a private company though. It's purpose is not profit. It is supposed to work in the best interests of the people of Canada. If scentists are told to withhold knowledge that would allow Canadians to make better decisions, then the government is not acting in the best interests of Canadians.

Candian are paying for that science. It shouldn't be considered proprietary information for the Conservative Party.
 
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