Survey findings suggest that government agencies are blocking interactions between journalists and government scientists
US government agencies have put in place obstacles that thwart efforts by science journalists to effectively communicate government science, according to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The report is based on a survey of science writers, recently released by the UCS and the Society of Professional Journalists, as well as in depth interviews with journalists.
The UCS has concluded that the agencies pose four specific barriers to science writers. These are requiring preapproval for interviews with agency scientists, close monitoring of these interviews, denial of such interviews and the avoidance of tough questions. The majority of the survey respondents – nearly 57% – expressed concern that the public is not receiving all the information that it needs. The UCS says that agency public information officers often mediate journalists’ access to science. Although such staff members can play an important role in helping scientists and journalists work together effectively, the report states that they can also become obstacles to the free flow of information.
Overall, the report warns that restraining access to scientific information has ‘serious consequences,’ like muddling the understanding needed to solve problems, even among scientists themselves, and subverting the public interest for political or special interest gains.
Earlier this year, there were concerns in the UK that changes to the civil service code might prevent government scientists from speaking to the media. Similar measures in Canada have been blamed for preventing state-funded scientists from communicating their work.