Canadian Unions to Bargain for Scientific Integrity Reform

December 3, 2014 | 10:31 am
Michael Halpern
Former contributor

As Canadian government scientists start bargaining for their next contract, they aren’t asking for more sick days or a sizable raise—they’re asking for scientific integrity protections, such as the ability to share their research regardless of the results. To put it simply, Canadian scientists are prioritizing the public interest over their own self-interest. 

On the table will be the right to speak publicly about their work, collaborate with peers, access scientific literature, and have adequate funding to carry out their responsibilities. The unions are also asking for federal departments to be required to develop enforceable policies that would protect researchers and hold those who manipulate or suppress science accountable.

It’s an amazing demonstration of how committed these scientists are to public service and to using their expertise to protect public health, safety, and the environment.

The idea of unions pushing for scientific integrity standards is not without precedent, as the union that represents U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientists worked with the Clinton administration to develop scientific integrity principles. But agency leaders were not held to these principles, which is partially why we’ve pushed for scientific integrity protections through more formal policies.

And to my knowledge, scientific integrity has never taken center stage during contract negotiations.

“To our members, this is about much more than their salaries,” said Debi Daviau, President of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), which represents thousands of federal government scientists and engineers. “It’s about preserving the standards on which both Canadian public policy and public services are maintained.”

The government should take these demands seriously if it wants to continue to attract the best and brightest Canadians to public service. Hopefully, the negotiations will bring new rules that protect scientists from political pressures, regardless of who is prime minister.