Michael Halpern

About the author: Michael Halpern is an expert on political interference in science and solutions to reduce suppression, manipulation, and distortion of government science. See Michael's full bio.

800+ Scientists Urge Greater Freedoms for Canadian Government Experts

New restrictions have made it difficult for scientists around the globe to collaborate with Canadian government scientists. In response, more than 800 scientists from 32 countries have signed a letter urging Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper to “remove excessive and burdensome restrictions and barriers to scientific communication and collaboration faced by Canadian government scientists.” The letter was published as an advertisement today in the Ottawa Citizen as part of the Government of Canada’s Science and Technology Week.

“Meeting today’s complex environmental and public health challenges requires the full participation of scientists around the globe,” wrote the scientists. “But recent reports highlight a rapid decline in freedoms and funding extended to Canadian government scientists, which make it more difficult for them to continue research, communicate scientific information and expertise, and collaborate internationally.”

In signing the letter, a number of scientists outlined specific problems they had collaborating with Canadian colleagues. “We have had difficulty in the past with [the Department of Fisheries and Oceans] trying to organize joint studies with their scientists as they did not have funds to carry out full scale collaborative studies,” wrote Ken Bergen, a senior scientist with Norway’s Institute of Marine Research.

“My colleagues have been severely limited in their ability to travel to meetings and conferences outside of Canada, which has limited communication on projects,” wrote Jennifer Sieracki, a graduate student at the University of Toledo.

The letter comes on the heels of an analysis by Simon Fraser University and Evidence for Democracy showing that many Canadian government media policies hinder “open and timely communication between scientists and reporters.

Further, 73% of government scientists who responded to a survey conducted by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) said that new government policies made it difficult to publish their research and collaborate with international colleagues and that new bureaucratic obstacles make it difficult for the scientists to attend important scientific meetings.

“Travel to conferences has been cut to the point where I don’t even bother applying,” said one scientist who responded to the PIPSC survey. “The approval process has become so bogged down with bureaucracy that almost every move has to be approved by the deputy minister…it has come to the point where co-workers often pay their own way to conferences in order to network with long-term colleagues, and maintain their professional level on an international scale.”

Last week, I spoke at the Canadian Science Policy Conference, outlining different steps the U.S. government has taken to improve its scientists’ ability to communicate and collaborate. Several agencies have improved the ability of their scientists to communicate and publish research through scientific integrity and other policies, and Congress has recognized the importance of scientists participating in professional society meetings.

Canadian government scientists have made many critical contributions to our understanding of environmental, security, and public health challenges. Canadian agencies should create conditions that foster and encourage collaboration with scientists around the world.

The letter is still open for signature here.

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Remembering Rick Piltz, Scientific Integrity Advocate

Rick Piltz, founder of Climate Science Watch and revered whistleblower who exposed political interference in climate science, succumbed to cancer over the weekend. He took a brave and unusual path from civil servant to scientific integrity advocate and climate activist that inspired many of us. His memory will continue to motivate me and many others to work tirelessly for a better world where science more freely informs public policy. Read More

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Want to Talk to a Scientist in Canada? Don’t Look to the Federal Government

If you want to talk to a scientist in Canada who works for the government, you might be in for a long wait. That’s the takeaway from a new report that grades the communications policies of 12 Canadian government agencies, which found that many current policies hinder “open and timely communication” between government scientists and reporters, and do little to protect scientists’ free speech rights. Read More

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How Can Conservation Scientists Make Their Expertise More Resonant? Apply for the New Wilburforce Fellowship

Conservation scientists take note: there’s a new, exciting fellowship program for scientists who want to develop the skills and connections necessary to help local communities develop solutions to current conservation challenges in the western United States and Canada. The application deadline is September 30, 2014. Read More

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Science Diplomacy and Subtle Ways of Discouraging International Collaboration

Yellow fever killed hundreds of thousands of people and sickened many more throughout the 19th Century, and nobody knew for sure how it was spread or how to contain it. It was the most dreaded disease in the Americas, creating mass panic and destroying commerce. Read More

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Update: EPA Will Review Troublesome Communications Policy for Independent Science Advisory Board

Last week, UCS joined other science and journalism organizations in a letter to the EPA expressing concern about how a new policy might limit the ability of independent scientists who advise the agency to speak publicly about their scientific research and opinions in a personal capacity, particularly the scientists who serve on its Science Advisory Board. Read More

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GOP State Senator Defends Marijuana Researcher Fired by the University of Arizona

Arizona State Senator Ethan Orr (R-Tucson) is defending Suzanne Sisley, a University of Arizona marijuana researcher who was abruptly fired on Friday. Dr. Sisley claims that although no reason was given for her dismissal, university administrators confronted her earlier this year after she was highly critical of other state legislators who had blocked state funding of her research. Read More

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The World Cup and Concussions: Allowing Medical Evidence to Keep Soccer Players Safe

In the wake of the terrible decision to allow Uruguayan footballer Alvaro Pereria to continue playing after being knocked out by a knee to his head, a chorus is growing to empower independent doctors to determine whether a player is fit to return to the game. Read More

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Uruguay Wins, Science Loses in the World Cup as Pereria Concussion Is Ignored

Uruguay beat England yesterday in the World Cup and most of the headlines were about the late go-ahead goal that sent the British players packing. Barely mentioned in the initial coverage were the grave mistakes made by everyone involved in the game when faced with a potentially significant brain injury. Read More

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More High Profile FOIA Requests at the University of Virginia

The University of Virginia is facing another high-profile open records request, this time from LGBT rights organizers on the political left. Fortunately, UVa has set a highly visible precedent in terms of how it should respond to a Freedom of Information Act request, and has a Virginia Supreme Court decision to back it up. Read More

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