Facts, or lies. There is no “alternative”.

I thought I was done with this blog, but a white house press secretary spewing lies that are so easily discredited being defended by Kelly Conway this past weekend just about made me throw up. You can watch the whole disaster of a train-wreck here, and you should, just to appreciate the scope of what the next four years will be like for our southern neighbors and biggest trading partner in Canada.

It’s also worth a reminder that I am a refugee Government Research Scientist (Canadian) from the Harper days- I was lucky enough to find another opportunity and quit while I could, having now moved on to greener pastures (and yes, things are better on the inside now), but when the press secretary under Harper is coming down on you for having lost your credibility, you know it’s bad.

I know this is as crazy to read as it is for me to write it, but to my friends in the US, your government is lying to you. Which is how crack-pot conspiracy theory posts start, but this time it’s verifiably true, the representatives of the government of the United States of America are actually lying to the public. After a single day in office.

There are two responses I’ve seen today from this mess that I’d like to share, both via Phil Plait (@badastronomer; one is his, the other he shared). First is one that not just scientists but EVERYONE needs to keep in mind:

Indeed. We can argue about which policy decision makes the most sense, and have a good, heated debate over how much money we should be spending on this vs. that. But 2 + 2 = 4, not 5. If Sean Spicer and Kelly Conway wants to get up and tell us all that 0 + 2 = 1, as an “alternative fact”, we need everyone, EVERYONE to call this for the bullshit that it is. Otherwise we’re living 1984 in 2014.

The second was this, outlining what looks like facebook post from Dan Rather:

Emphasizing that it’s everyone’s job, including the people in power, to be able to call bullshit when they see it. This is not a small matter.

We all need to be concerned about this- not because anyone really cares how big an inaugural crowd is, but if you’ll lie about that, what will you do when it’s something of actual importance?

In Canada, when the Prime Minister loses the confidence of the House of Commons, we have another election. I don’t know much about how US government works, but I’d say there’s a general lack of confidence in this white house at the moment. Or there should be.

Look, I’m a scientist, and as such somewhat invested in making sure that we can agree on objective truths- there are four oranges in this basket, not five, or three. Because that’s how science works- we can all look at an experiment, or an observation, and repeat it, and say “Yes, I get the same answer”. What I hear now sounds like an attack on objectivism, which is far more dangerous than simply waging war against your government research into climate change. It means you aren’t just willing to deny climate change, but much simpler things like “I see this many people” or “Donald Trump never said that”. Denying the truth moving forward and trying to rewrite history is something I would rather get freaked out about reading dystopian novels, not something I want to encounter in real life for the next four years.

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How muzzled are government scientists now?

A recent flurry of articles from Sun Media have appeared in the news over the past few days to question (a) whether muzzling has changed under the new Liberal government, (b) whether it was just made up in the first place by disgruntled scientists, or (c) it was all hype, or worse yet that the scientists had some alternative agenda in mind.

Let’s look at each of these and see what we can conclude on our own.

A. Muzzling hasn’t changed under the new government. The main evidence for this argument in this article is that PIPSC (the union representing government scientists) has indicated that not all departments are equally open, and a quote from Catherine McKenna indicating the official policy that’s in place around scientists communicating to the media, and how it hasn’t changed since the liberals took power.

First, I’ll agree that not all departments are equally open; after the instructions from the newly elected government to better facilitate communication, some departments have been better than others at lifting access to scientists. Some of the better among them (much to my surprise) has been DFO. I think we’ve heard a lot more news stories from scientists in Fisheries and Oceans, including stories about the barriers they faced previously to communicating their science; Kristi Miller and Max Bothwell among them. I think it’s fair to say that neither of those stories would have run under the previous administration.

Do other departments need to do a better job of both facilitating scientists communicating their research and helping promote government scientists, and does that vary across departments? Definitely. But keep in mind that when science departments were busy showing biologists and research scientists the door, they were also downsizing their communications departments, and these also need to see reinvestment. Communications professionals help publicize and facilitate the communication of the great work our federal dollars pay for.

One other point to keep in mind is that the folks in middle management- the ones that helped facilitate cuts to departments, and keeping a lid on science communications- are still there. The gang at the top has changed, but we shouldn’t be surprised that there’s resistance from the managing public servants that so dutifully carried out the reductionist mandate of the previous government.

Second- the official policy hasn’t changed. I’ll also agree with that. The problem is that the previous government wasn’t following the official policy- instead of allowing scientists to speak about their science (not policy, but science) without approval, this was clearly not the case (Max Bothwell’s experience was a great example of this, who was not granted an interview after 110 pages of e-mails among bureaucrats worried about upsetting the PMO at the time).

B. The issue was made up by disgruntled scientists. Citing the nearly 1,500 interviews that scientists gave leading up to the election, one of the articles seems to suggest that this is evidence of a lack of muzzling. More instructive would be what proportion of those interviews were denied (and remember, the policy since 2008 is that if the interview is about science, not policy, you don’t need permission, so one can ask why we have such good numbers on “granted” interviews in the first place). A survey conducted by PIPSC (the union representing government scientists) indicated that up to 40% of all media requests to scientists were denied in the years preceeding the last election. However, departmental reports would be more instructive to tell us the real numbers- hopefully that will be something revealed in the anticipated report by Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault, but there is no indication when that report will be released.

C. Despite the muzzle being off, we don’t see any news stories from government scientists. Again, plain wrong. Just because in the slow news days of summers we aren’t inundated by government science stories doesn’t mean it’s not being communicated (journalists and communications officers, and scientists, occasionally, take vacation too). Surely Mark Bonokoski knows that scientists aren’t usually calling up their reporter buddies to tell them their most recent findings- these usually come from press releases from journals, or in academics, from press offices of universities. For government scientists, these would come from communications departments, and that’s an area where I think reinvestment is still being made. Regardless, the evidence seems to suggest that when the journalists do call, the scientists are free to speak.

One example are the stories above from Miller and Bothwell regarding their experiences, which never would have happened under the previous government.

Miller has also talked about her ongoing research as well, something we needed a federal inquiry to hear about from her under the previous administration.

How about this: DFO scientists talking about their research on youtube (here and here). Great to see Lisa (Dr. Loseto, that is) being able to discuss her research program like this. Again, never would have gotten permission to do this previously.

Finally, look at any of DFO’s activity on it’s twitter feeds (@DFO_MPO, @DFO_Pacific, @DFO_Maritimes, @DFO_Science). Like never before, there’s interaction with the public, and promotion of regional science by regional scientists.

Are some departments doing better than others? Yes. Is there still room for improvement? Absolutely. But to suggest that everything is exactly the same and hasn’t changed is misleading and not supported by the evidence.

D. It was all some secret agenda (“their motives are suspect”). Maybe Mark should just pick up the phone and call a government scientist and see if he’s looped through a zillion approvals, or if he’s free to talk to the person about their research to test this theory. If newspapers want to promote conspiracy theories, that’s their prerogative. I’ll stick to the evidence.

So, after everything I’ve written here, am I surprised to be defending the government on science communication, especially DFO? A little, frankly, yes*. But maybe this response will encourage those departments to mount their own response, and demonstrate to the public what a good job they have done since October, and know they can do in the future in helping connect the public to the great science our government scientists are taking on.

___

*Don’t get me wrong, I still think a lot of what I wrote still holds true, and there’s all kinds of ways to help improve how federal science works. But it at least seems that they have started to recognize the importance of communicating the work of our scientists, from what I’ve seen since October.

Reject (Gary Goodyear’s) Fear and Lies

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This pissed me off so much it made me come out of retirement on this blog.

So I (as I hope most of you did) listened with keen interest to the Science Debate hosted by Quirks and Quarks last weekend. I caught it when it was posted on Friday, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to catch it Saturday am (you can still find a link to the whole thing here: please give it a listen in case you haven’t).

Listening to Gary Goodyear (Conservative representative, and MP in Cambridge and former Minister of State for Science and Technology), I became furious with the level of misinformation given. I tweeted about it at length, and others have also taken to the blogosphere to set the record straight.

So, I storified it. Please feel free to check it out. I’ve added a few notes on tweets that might need some additional clarification (140 characters isn’t much).

 

Government scientist muzzling: perception, reality, and towards workable solutions

At the risk of flogging a dead horse, I’m posting a response to Andrew Leach’s recent response to my response… you get the idea, it’s an engaging and ongoing debate around the muzzling of government scientists and their ability to communicate their findings with the public.

On the plus side, there is now a public discussion about this issue that wasn’t happening a few days ago, which is fantastic. Only through discourse will we be able to really identify the problem and come up with solutions. Also, I think that Dr. Leach’s views are very similar to my own, and that we agree on a lot of the same things. That is, I am now quite certain Dr. Leach is not suggesting that scientists who publish some interesting paper on some interesting topic should not be able to put those results into lay terms and communicate them broadly when asked by the media.

What does concern me is that government managers are going to read Andrew’s original piece and say “See? Our worst fears are confirmed. Our scientists are chomping at the bit to call foul on anything they can, given any chance they can, so thank goodness we have such a locked-down, convoluted process for media approval so we can keep a lid on things.” I hope that doesn’t happen, and I think the truth is quite the opposite from this, for a number of reasons, which I hope to better outline below.

To reiterate, the part of the debate that Andrew has decided to focus on, or the area of this debate which most interests him, is the notion that government scientists, and their supporters, seek to be unmuzzled so as to raise alarms or seek a means of calling the government out on policy decisions- a role, that Andrew points out, is reserved for Officers of Parliament (e.g., those whose task it is to call the government out, like the Auditor General). In his response, and I think in partial defense of his original thesis, Dr. Leach refers to the recent survey that PIPSC released (this is the union to which I used to belong, representing those in the public service whom are engaged in Scientific research), which indicated that a large chunk (86%) of those surveyed “do not believe they could share their concerns with the public or media without censure or retaliation from their department” faced with a departmental decision or action that could harm public health. Is this what we expect of government scientists to do? Do we expect government scientists to realistically be put in this position in the first place, to play a role in holding the government to account?

“Maybe that’s not what anyone expects, and if so, that’s fine by me.”

I would like to think that most of us in this muzzling debate are on the side of saying that’s not what we expect, so great, we’re in agreement. As Dr. Leach points out in the first part of his response, this is a large, convoluted issue, with many aspects in terms of how government can limit scientific investigation through either program funding, staffing, and the like, all of which deserves a broader discussion. For the purpose of this post, let’s focus on the specific thesis under discussion.

Perception

In many ways, this debate, I think, boils down to perception. For instance, one could conclude that those higher up in government might actually share Dr. Leach’s concerns, as a justification for the current communications policies they have in place. Officially, you’ll be told that it’s Ministers that are the face of their departments, and are therefore the ones who should be talking about the work in their departments, not scientists. But that’s clearly not always the case- Heritage Minister Shelly Glover is not the one being quoted in the media about the Franklin Expedition, it’s Ryan Harris, a senior Parks archeologist. We do occasionally hear from government scientists from time to time, so clearly that’s not the issue.

It’s important to note that to defend the part of the debate that Andrew is most interested in, he is turning to the perception of those in a survey to do so. To be fair, he fully recognizes the subjective nature of the survey, but let’s dissect it a bit anyway, in the context of the current debate. There is a perceived notion among the majority of those surveyed that they are unable to share concerns around some scientific finding that would contravene government policy. First, it’s important to note that the question is a bit leading (“e.g., you know something that your family doesn’t that will harm them- would you tell them even if your employer says you can’t?”). The perception (and the question asked in the survey) presupposes that the government, having reviewed the evidence, had already willingly decided to put either human health of Canadians or the environment at direct risk; within the context of the current discussion, it also supposes now that a scientist has shown this risk over the course of a scientific study, the findings of which have been published in the scientific literature, but is not made available for comment to speak about the study. I think there are very few examples where this might truly be supported by actual examples- e.g., actual cases where the government is knowingly forging ahead despite the (published) risks outlined by their own scientists as published in the peer-reviewed literature, and were made unavailable for comment for fear they’d put these risks in more clear terms. Does a true disregard for the voting electorate like this occur commonly enough to justify such a perception among government scientists? I would suggest it isn’t, but could be convinced if shown evidence to the contrary (that’s the great thing about evidence-based decision making!). I’ll make the point here that this perception among government scientists makes for a weak defense of the original thesis. To move forward then, let’s ask the question, where does this perception among government scientists come from?

Reality

What we DO observe when we look at the track record of government science muzzling is that studies reporting seemingly innocuous results that have little import to government policy (e.g., studies about snowfall patterns or floods that occured 13,000 years ago) are the examples we hear about where government scientists are unable to communicate their results outside of the original publication- e.g., publish in the scientific literature, but fat chance if CBC or CNN wants to talk to you about it. Knowing that, put yourself in the shoes of all the other government scientists. If they aren’t going to let this person talk about this study, then what do you think they’d do if you conducted a study that makes their policies look bad?

Further, as mentioned before, every public servant- scientists, to administrative assistants, summer students, right up to the Clerk of the Privy Council signs the values and ethics code, where you agree that you’ll never speak out against the government or it’s policies while under it’s employment. So you start off from that perspective. Presumably, this gives the government all the power it needs to ensure it’s scientists don’t call them out on policy. As C. Scott Findlay pointed out in his response, it’s not the scientists whom are looking to question government policy- that’s for someone else, like the voting electorate.

Workable solutions

Dr. Leach ends his piece with a call for proposals of workable solution. Here’s one. Be okay with people being responsible for their own actions, and let people do the jobs they were hired to do. Nearly all the decision-making power in the federal public service these days is at the highest levels of administration. Need travel approval? Goes to the Assistant Deputy Minister. maybe higher. Need to hire someone? Get approval from your Regional Director, maybe higher. Have a media request? Good luck. In each case, there are often 3-5 levels of administration between the scientist making the request and the person doing the approval. Why is all the decision making so centralized? Surely these decisions can be made by people who are closer to those making the requests.  I’m all for some kind of approval mechanism, but surely it could be less convoluted than it is. Trust government scientists to follow the values and ethics code that they agreed to follow when you hired them. In short, trust your staff. Demonstrating to your staff that you trust them by delegating responsibility would be a great first step in resolving these issues. Keeping all the decision-making power so centralized just makes people feel undervalued.

Is this suggestion prescriptive enough? Perhaps not. Does it give clear guidelines for when it’s okay to limit communication vs. not? No. It forces managers (and scientists themselves) to use their common sense, seek guidance from their supervisors when needed, and follow the agreement they signed when they became public servants. As this current exchange between Dr. Leach, myself, and many others has made clear, this is a broad debate with many facets, but maybe we can start here.

Unmuzzle the scientists? Yes, please.

Never one to shy away from being provocative, Andrew Leach wrote an opinion piece in Maclean’s magazine about why we as a society should be okay with our federal government being in control of the messaging of the research performed by it’s public servant scientists. In it, he envisions government scientists waving the flag of their evidence-based discoveries against all other considerations for informing policy, because, surely, they must think this is the only thing worth considering.

Perhaps to suit the tone of the article, Andrew has adopted a fairly narrow (and in my opinion, naive view) of what it is that federal government scientists are looking for with regards to the ability to communicate their results more freely. To be fair, his main premise is: should government researchers 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?

In many ways, this point is moot from the start. See the Values and Ethics code we all signed when we started our jobs with the federal public service. Despite the assertions of Andrew Leach, no government scientist I know in their right mind would want to push their results and papers out into the world and be interviewed by the media to say just how much it contravenes the policy of the current government. To do so would be grounds for dismissal. But why not let them talk about their studies and results, without the policy-related questions? People do it all the time in interviews, including academics- just listen to Quirks and Quarks on CBC- few scientists are tromping out the “what we should be doing”, the vast majority are just really excited about the work they’ve done. E.g., state the facts, and conclusions, in an unbiased fashion, as we’d all like to do, and have the capacity to inform the public about our science. Over twitter, Andrew suggests that having their papers read by other scientists should be enough, but even he can appreciate the added buzz that goes along with articles when it ends up in the public discussion- he writes for Maclean’s, after all!

Returning to Andrew’s point in the article, to suggest that scientists think that their evidence should be considered above all else with regards to forming public policy (or, as Andrew puts it, “Those with the lab coats do not have a monopoly on evidence”),
pays little credit to the intelligent folks that are employed as government scientists. Having recently been one, we are all keenly aware of all the other issues at play in shaping good public policy, and that the scientific evidence under consideration (be it health impacts, environmental impacts, discoveries of other scientific importance) is only one part of the equation. An article that I’ve pointed to many times here by Jake Rice, Senior Scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, would seem to demonstrate that we are keenly aware of the nature of science and scientific evidence in informing public policy, and the need to keep that science free of bias such that it receives proper weighting at the policy table. That is NOT to say that it’s the only thing to consider, but when folks look back 30 years later on the cod stocks of Newfoundland, we can clearly evaluate what happens when policy makers place emphasis on short-term economic gains in the face of longer-term ecological (and ultimately, economic) stability.

In many ways, NOT letting government scientists do the talking is backfiring for the government, and badly. My strategy before leaving the public service was to make sure that I had university co-authors on any paper I published, to make sure that someone would be able to discuss the results. However, as Andrew pointed out in his article, university researchers are not as bound as the government’s own scientists with regards to what they can say. Take, for example, the recent PR disaster facing Environment Canada and NRC over John Smol, and the government research paper that he was involved in. Do you think that, were the lead government scientists permitted to discuss their research, that they would have had the same messaging as Smol? No way. Government scientists are bound by their Values and Ethics code of conduct, and are repeatedly reminded of it. Give them a chance to show that they know how to conduct good science, and can communicate it, too, without getting fired or going through the 7 circles of administrivia to get permission to talk about it.

As Andrew says, “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.” Hear hear. So why inflame the discussion by suggesting that the issue of muzzling is about something that it’s not?

I also agree with Andrew that there is a strong role for Government science, both with regards to the science one can do under it (as opposed to under academic science), and with the spot it gives you at the table when it comes to forming policy- that’s outlined in an early post over here. Ironically, though, since internal science capacity is so strapped with all the recent cuts to federal research departments, it’s groups like the Canadian Aquatic Resources Section of the American Fisheries Society that are in talks with the government now, keen to fill the holes that have been left. It seems that when you kick the scientists out of government, they get jobs in academia, and still try to give you the advice you employed them for in the first place.

And PS, Andrew, not all of us wear lab coats; something I am sure he is keenly aware of being a colleague of David Schindler. I tried my best to find the stereotype of economists, but I hate to say they weren’t terribly flattering. Of course, I don’t suggest nor have any reason to believe that these apply to Andrew, but that’s what you get with stereotypes in public writing. Andrew is a great writer, and has a lot of insightful things to say in his articles, but I feel like this one misses the mark entirely.

 

Career advice from a government science ex-pat

One of the earliest posts I wrote generated this comment, asking about my perspective on career advice in the public service vs. other outlets for scientific research.

The main question was: would I recommend new graduates focus their job search toward private/industry research, versus government research? The short answer is, I don’t have a lot of experience doing private or industry-embedded research, so I’ll say right now that I am not qualified to make that comparison. Instead, I’ll turn the question a bit, and answer this: would I recommend that new graduates in fisheries or aquatic science consider a position in the public service, specifically with Fisheries and Oceans Canada?

Good question. One might guess from reading the many entries on this blog that perhaps I am challenged by the prospect of continuing on in the public service, let alone recommend it as an option to someone else. [NOTE: from the perspective of the postdoc working in the public service, see the guest post that a colleague of mine wrote here last year].

Let me try and frame my answer in the most positive light possible. When I look around me, many of my colleagues have succeeded as government scientists *despite* the barriers and issues they have faced in the past. New barriers are emerging, but I suspect that the same ones that have found past success will continue to do so in future. In large part (and I think most of whom I am thinking of would agree with me), the success of these folks depends on their ability to “find ways” to make things work around the barriers; get the science done *in spite* of the thousands of forms and rules and micromanaging. I have tremendous respect for my colleagues who are able to maintain these successful programs, despite the barriers they face.

So, if you are particularly tenacious, and perhaps looking to find an exceptionally difficult path from A to B, then a job with DFO science is a challenge I would definitely recommend. In all seriousness, the future of good government science relies on folks with that kind of attitude who are willing to take that challenge on. My fear is that many of my colleagues are just getting fed up of the barriers, and either giving up, retiring, or looking elsewhere. I now count myself among them.

I’m particularly worried about what future job ads for DFO research scientists might actually look like. Recently, our Assistant Deputy Minister traveled right across the country, to discuss plans for moving forward with the department. Lots of discussion around “more with less”, as expected, but he also described his vision for what the next iteration of DFO scientist might look like. What was described sounded more like a science coordinator than a research scientist. That is- beg for scrips and scraps of targeted departmental funding, partner with universities to get the work done, feed the applied science questions back to the department to inform policy. This sounds not so bad on the surface, and frankly reflects a good deal of how business is done these days. But this is reactionary science; someone high enough in the administratosphere has been told there is a problem enough times that they have allocated dollars to it, and that’s what’s getting the science done. What about funding your research scientists to do the work that anticipates the *next* big problem? There was a distinct sense from what I heard that this is not what government research is anymore.

Things seem fundamentally broken at the moment- the administrative load seems unrealistically heavy; despite losing massive numbers of front-line staff, our administrative architecture seems nearly untouched (remember, Tony Clement told us that exactly the opposite was going to happen with these cuts, which the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s numbers show is not the case), buoyed by new and exciting ways to make more forms and templates to fill out when seeking approval for a single task.

Perhaps one day things will change, but will it be soon enough to retain—and perhaps more importantly, recruit—the best and brightest? Do you need the best and brightest to carry out reactionary science, and simply do what’s asked of them? Is that the job of a research scientist? If not, what picture does that paint for government science in the future?

As for me, I’ve had it. I commend my colleagues for carrying on in the face of what felt to me like the plight of Sisyphus, I’m done pushing that particular rock. I’ll see how well I fare with getting to the top of the mountain somewhere else.

With that said, I’ve probably got at least one more post in me, but after that, I think that’ll be it for me running this blog. I’m looking forward to spending more of my time conducting science, and blogging about that instead.

Cue the music…

 

This, Canada, is your new Minister of State for Science

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Today, Canadian scientists and those who support science and access to the researchers they fund hit the streets in at least 17 Canadian cities, and Stood up for Science. The event got great media coverage, and was a very active topic on social media throughout the day, trending on twitter in a number of major Canadian cities, and across the country:

Predictably, the government put forward a few folks to speak to what great support they provide to the scientific community. Importantly, Greg Rickford, Minister of State for Science and Technology, gave a telling interview on Ottawa’s CBC radio morning. It’s here, and definitely worth a listen:

http://www.cbc.ca/player/AudioMobile/Ottawa%2BMorning/ID/2406516576/

I thought, “Great- what a fantastic opportunity for a preview of how our new Minister of State for Science and Technology will deal with these very important issues.”

Greg Rickford

This Minister of Science and Technology, like his Government’s policies limiting the abilities of its scientists to do their jobs, is for the dogs.

In his interview, my impression was that Greg Rickford came off as defensive and arrogant, refusing to answer the interviewer on a few points, speaking over her throughout and talking to her like she’s a child in a kindergarten class at one point. The interviewer maintained her professionalism throughout.

More disturbing than his poor manners was what Rickford actually says in the interview. A few bits are worth highlighting here, but again, I would encourage you to listen to the interview yourself.

1. 9:35. Greg Rickford agrees that the government has directed it’s research towards applied science. I don’t think anyone is disputing this, and I don’t think that applied science is a bad thing- it’s typically been the focus of what most government departments have in the past done (with the possible exception of NRC before the current government started making changes to that department). The problem is that not all science (even applied science) results in a gidget that you can sell. Lots of applied science is used to figure out the ways in which the workings of nature affect human populations, and that information is used to inform government policy on, say, what the cause of algal blooms in lakes is (based on government science). Or the reason that people’s children are suffering from mercury poisoning (based on research here by a Canadian PhD student). You can’t sell that, but ask people how much they value clean water and fish that won’t make them sick- probably ranks up there with the value of any gidget you might be able to market. Not only that, but these discoveries have saved governments around the world untold billions of dollars in health spending and environmental costs. Notably, the above examples are both applied science, but it’s science that the government no longer funds, after cutting funding to the Experimental Lakes Area and cutting the contaminants research program from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

2. Rickford seems happy to admit there are significant constraints on the means by which government scientists are restricted in the communication of their findings. A: 12:15: “Scientists are aware of what they should and shouldn’t be disclosing”- so it’s clear there are things we are being asked *not* to disclose when it comes to communicating our research. Glad that’s out in the open.

3. 13:43. When asked about the thousands of opportunities every year that government scientists have had to communicate their work through the scientific papers they publish, Rickford clarifies: “Publications are not press conferences… that’s not a telephone interview.” So true, Greg, and that’s a major part of the problem. The general public aren’t reading scientific papers, they listen to the news. So how do you get that government science to the people? According to Rickford, we give them our scientific papers. As Rickford asks the interviewer, with all that scientific publishing,11:56,  “How much freer (sic) could you be?” Free enough not to have had every media request I’ve ever had flatly denied by the communications department- I’d like to be more freer than that, Greg.

4. 14:09- the interviewer asks if government science publications are “censored” or edited by government departments. She’s likely referring to the publication rules like the ones I have to go through in my department, where a manager who’s not been involved in the work has the power not to sign the copyright release on a paper (and therefore keep it from being published) if they don’t like what it says. And here’s the most telling quote of the piece: “Scientists work for governments, universities and private institutions. Would you expect that anything that they did in terms of publications wouldn’t be guided in some way by some overarching policy of their respective employer? That would be true of universities, I would suspect, and it would be true of scientists working in the private sector”.

Greg, you suspect wrong. Unlike the private sector, No university I have ever been at vets the publications of its professors and students for “appropriate messaging” like your government does.

So there you have it- this is the guy running the show for Science and Technology in Canada for the next two years (at least). In the humble opinion of this scientist, the need for Canadians to Stand Up for Science is more apparent than ever.