A friend of mine phoned to tell me about Mark Hume’s Jan. 23, 2012 column (for the Globe and Mail) about science writers and the Canadian government’s policy of not allowing the writers to communicate directly with their scientists. I searched for the piece since I wondered if I’d missed any news about the situation since last summer.
I agree with a great deal of what Hume has to say about it all. He discusses some of the problems writers have encountered since these policies have been instituted and mentions Kathryn O’Hara’s 2010 letter protesting the situation on behalf of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association (CSWA). From the Jan. 23, 2012 column by Hume,
The CSWA represents more than 500 science journalists, publicists and authors in Canada. Ms. O’Hara recounted a series of incidents that occurred during the year leading up to her letter in which requests for interviews with researchers had been bluntly refused by public affairs handlers, or thwarted by them through endless bureaucratic delays.
The most egregious incident that I’ve come across was the one with Kristina (Kristi) Miller, a Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) scientist. From Hume’s Jan. 23, 2012 column,
The government’s stifling of Dr. Miller was so extreme that she was even told by DFO officials not to attend workshops at which experts were discussing salmon issues, out of fear media might attend and hear what she had to say.
I did mention the incident with Miller in an Aug. 19, 2011 posting (scroll down approximately 2/3 of the way) where I was giving an overview of scientific integrity policies in the US.
Briefly, Miller’s work was being read in that month’s issue of Science magazine, which is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and she was getting interview requests which were declined by the Privy Council Office. (For anyone unfamiliar with Privy Council Office, it supports the Prime Minister’s Office, in this case, Stephen Harper’s office.)
That big kerfuffle was six months ago (July 2011 was when Margaret Munro broke the story) and O’Hara’s letter was first published in Nature, Sept. 29, 2010. Why is Hume writing about this situation now?
There is no fresh incident to set off further discussion. Naturally, one expects that science writers are still upset given they deal with these policies on a daily basis but frustrations of this order are usually not considered worthy of news or column space.
I wonder if this is the beginning of a campaign by the CSWA being timed to coincide with the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) 2012 meeting.