The Harper Government’s Science Communication Stinks, But Is it Censorship?

The long-term efforts of the Canadian Science Writers Association to get the Canadian government to let its scientists speak with the press have been getting some payback following the AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver.  But, regrettably, some of the responses are mischaracterizing the situation.

What is happening is that the government is making it very difficult for the press to speak to scientists employed by the government.  Other Canadian scientists are free to speak, and I don’t think it qualifies as censorship for a government to control what its employees can say in their capacity as employees or about work they did as employees.  When you add to this situation the fact that the research conducted by these scientists is published, it’s just not true to say “Canadians are not free to read about important scientific findings

I am not trying to defend the Canadian government.  There is plenty to disagree with about their policies of limiting the dissemination of government conducted research results.  But because they allow this research to be published, the problem is one of transparency, and not of censorship. It doesn’t help those seeking to change the policies to call the bad behavior something it isn’t.  Utilize Canadian open records and open government laws (whatever might be the equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act) to fight for the information.  Challenge denials and failures to comply with the law.

But until a government prevents its scientist employees from publishing their research for reasons that don’t fit generally accepted exceptions, it’s not censorship.  And don’t look to the U.S. for such shining examples of good conduct.  Nice policies don’t mean there are nice practices.