The Canadian government in recent years has banned government scientists from talking about a growing list of research topics including snowflakes, the ozone layer, salmon, and previously published work about a 13,000-year-old flood.
Now it seems the scientists are talking back.
Researchers in 16 Canadian cities have called protests on Monday against science policies introduced under the government of Stephen Harper, which include rules barring government researchers from talking about their own work with journalists and, in some cases, even fellow researchers.
“There a lot of concern in Canada right now about government scientists not being allowed to speak about their research to the public because of the new communications policies being put into place,” said Katie Gibbs, director of a new group, Evidence for Democracy, which is organizing the protests.
The rallies, on university campuses and central locations in Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver as well as other cities, will be the second set of protests in a year by government scientists against the Harper government’s science policies.
Like last year, protesters have been asked to wear white lab coats on Monday.
The clashes with the government have been building for some time, as basic science budgets are cut back to divert more funds toward industry-focused research.
Last May, the government announced it was refocusing the mission of the country’s premier scientific agency, the National Research Council, into a series of “industry-themed entry points.”
Other government research centers, such as the High Arctic Research Station, or the Experimental Lakes, were completely defunded, but had some funds restored after public protests.
Meanwhile, the country’s sole Green Party MP last week accused the Harper government of allocating $100 million in Environment Canada research funds for a project advantageous to a pipeline project that has yet to win approval.
But it is arguably the government’s new information policies that seem to have produced the greatest sense of outrage.
Critics say the policies run counter to the open access policies in place for government scientists in America and Europe.
“It isn’t the way science is supposed to be. It’s not the way science used to be, the way I remember it in the federal government,” said John Stone, a retired Environment Canada scientist now working as a vice chair of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This year, Canada’s department of fisheries and oceans released a new set of rules barring scientists from discussing their findings with the public or publishing in academic journals.
The new guidelines required all scientists to submit papers to a departmental manager for review — even after they had been accepted for publication by an academic journal.
The proposed rules became public earlier this year after American scientists on a joint U.S.-Canadian project in the eastern Arctic took exception at the new conditions.
In 2012, National Research Council scientists were barred from discussing their work with NASA on snowflakes with journalists. Other government scientists have been barred from giving interviews on work published in leading academic journals.
In other instances, the federal government has been accused of burying or delaying publication of government science reports thought to contain politically damaging data.
The government was accused this month of delaying its annual report on greenhouse gas emissions — usually released in midsummer — because it was universally expected to show a double-digit rise in carbon pollution.
The finding could hurt Canada’s efforts to persuade Barack Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline from the Alberta tar sands.
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