Federal scientists say Ottawa has made progress in efforts to un-muzzle science, but much more needs to be done

For Immediate Release

Ottawa, February 21 , 2018 – The Trudeau government has made progress in its efforts to reverse the impacts of muzzling under the previous government, says a new survey report released by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC). But, says the union that represents over 16,000 federal scientists, engineers and researchers, much more work needs to be done.

The report, titled Defrosting Public Science, updates the findings of a 2013 survey report titled The Big Chill, which found 9 out of 10 respondents (90%) did not feel they could speak freely to the media about the work they do. The latest survey, conducted by Environics Research a little over a year and a half into the Trudeau government’s mandate, found that that number had dropped to 5 out of 10 (53%).

“While that’s progress,” said PIPSC President Daviau, “it’s unacceptable that half of federal scientists still feel they can’t speak freely – even after negotiating new provisions that protect their right to speak freely about their work and science.”

Among the survey’s other findings were:

  • 20% of respondents said they had been prevented from answering a question from the media or public, compared to 37% in 2013,
  • 40% still believe Canada’s ability to develop policy, law and programs based on scientific evidence has been compromised by political interference, compared to 71% in 2013, and
  • 89% believe whistle-blowing laws should be strengthened, a percentage virtually unchanged from 2013.

“What these survey results show is that the process of removing the ‘chill’ imposed on federal scientists under the last government will take longer and require more deliberate efforts on the part of both the government and the public service to succeed,” added Daviau. “We believe that should include efforts to strengthen whistle-blowing laws so that federal scientists don’t have to risk sacrificing their careers in order to warn about concerns in the public interest.”

“Given everything we see happening to federal science in the United States,” she added, “it’s more important than ever that Canada set – and enforce – the right example for government science.”

The report recommends the government take several steps to improve efforts to unmuzzle scientists, including:

  • Promote scientists’ right to speak within science-based departments and agencies (SBDAs),
  • Continue to prioritize development and implementation of new scientific integrity policies within SBDAs, and
  • Enhance whistle-blowing protections for federal scientists.

Invitations to participate in the online survey, hosted by Environics Research, were sent to 16,377 federal scientists, engineers and researchers engaged in scientific work in over 40 federal departments and agencies. Of these 3,025 (18.5%) responded between May 29 and June 27, 2017. The survey is considered accurate [+ or – 1.8%,] 19 times out of 20. Read the full report here.

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For further information:

Johanne Fillion

613-228-6310, ext 4953 or 613-883-4900 (cell)