Liberals Unmuzzle Canadian Scientists; Will U.S. Scientists Be Next?

November 11, 2015

The incoming Liberal Canadian government of Justin Trudeau with a single stroke has liberated Canadian federal scientists who were almost never allowed to talk to the news media under Conservative Stephen Harper.

The speed and ease of that revolution belies the "common wisdom" among many jaded reporters and PR professionals that muzzling of U.S. government scientists and officials is somehow inevitable and woven into the culture of government.

The Canadian move came less than 48 hours after ministers of Trudeau's government were sworn in. Under the new policy, federal scientists could talk to the media about their work without getting permission to do so.

“Our government values science and will treat scientists with respect. That is why government scientists and experts will be able to speak freely about their work to the media and the public,” Navdeep Bains, the newly installed minister of innovation, science, and economic development, said in a statement Friday.

The increasingly restrictive media access policies under Harper had been the focus of complaints from scientists and the media — including the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ). SEJ and other journalism groups complained about the policies to the Canadian government in 2008 and 2009, without effect.

The restrictions had prompted an investigation by Canada's Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault in 2013. The Harper government was especially sensitive about scientists discussing climate. The consensus among scientists worldwide is that human emissions are warming the globe — but the Harper government had steadfastly resisted policies to address climate change.

At many U.S. agencies, but not all, restrictive media access policies are still in effect.

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