Survey finds government scientists unable to talk to the media about their work, even if the environment or public health are threatened

Nine out of 10 Canadian federal scientists say that they are not allowed to speak freely to the media about their work, according to results from a major survey. The vast majority also claim that speaking out without permission on a decision that could harm public health or the environment would land them in hot water.

Communications policies introduced by the Harper government have been accused of ‘muzzling’ Canadian scientists, requiring them to seek approval before discussing their work publicly. Results from The Big Chill report, commissioned by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), are the first to expose the scale and impact of the new guidelines.

The survey of 4069 federal scientists found that, owing to governmental restrictions, 37% had been prevented from responding to questions from the public and media, and 24% said they had been directly asked to exclude or manipulate information for non-scientific reasons. Worryingly, a further 86% said that they would face retaliation if they shared their concerns with the public or media about departmental decisions that could harm public health, safety or the environment.