One more muzzle for Canadian government scientists

It’s a wee bit puzzling as to why government scientist (Natural Resources Canada), Scott Dallimore had to get permission from the minister before talking to journalists about his co-authored study featuring a flood in northern Canada that took place 13,000 years ago. From the article by Margaret Munro for PostMedia News on (ETA Jan. 6, 2014: Munro’s article seems to have been removed for all the news sites but it  can be found on her own blog here.)

NRCan [Natural Resources Canada] scientist Scott Dallimore co-authored the study, published in the journal Nature on April 1, about a colossal flood that swept across northern Canada 13,000 years ago, when massive ice dams gave way at the end of the last ice age.

The study was considered so newsworthy that two British universities issued releases to alert the international media.

It was, however, deemed so sensitive in Ottawa that Dallimore, who works at NRCan’s laboratories outside Victoria, was told he had to wait for clearance from the minister’s office.

Dallimore tried to tell the department’s communications managers the flood study was anything but politically sensitive. “This is a blue sky science paper,” he said in one email, noting: “There are no anticipated links to minerals, energy or anthropogenic climate change.”

But the bureaucrats in Ottawa insisted. “We will have to get the minister’s office approval before going ahead with this interview,” Patti Robson, the department’s media relations manager, wrote in an email after a reporter from Postmedia News (then Canwest News Service) approached Dallimore.

Robson asked Dallimore to provide the reporter’s questions and “the proposed responses,” saying: “We will send it up to MO (minister’s office) for approval.” Robson said interviews about the flood study needed ministerial approval for two reasons: the inquiring reporter represented a “national news outlet” and the “subject has wide-ranging implications.”

At this point Environment Canada and Health Canada have similar rules in place for their scientists and any potential media interviews. I have commented on a similar situation previously in my Sept. 21 2009 posting, which includes a link to an earlier story by Margaret Munro about Environment Canada and its gag order.

I gather the scientists can discuss the gag order without recourse to the ‘Minister’s Office’, they just can’t discuss their own work. That seems rather odd especially in light of a government that loves to trumpet its investment in science. If the public never gets to hear about the exciting discoveries that our publicly funded scientists are making, how can the government expect to get support for its science spending policies?

2 thoughts on “One more muzzle for Canadian government scientists

  1. Pingback: Canadian federal scientists (or their union) have launched a media campaign and website « FrogHeart

  2. Pingback: Scientists: freedom and responsibility « FrogHeart

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