All About ControlScientists have a habit of sharing their research widely. They engage in close examination of projects, meticulously noting their results, synthesizing data, coming to conclusions, and then repeat their experiments for the purpose of ensuring that results can be replicated. And then they generally set to work writing reports (scientific papers) on what they have been able to accomplish.
Sometimes there are significant breakthroughs, more often incremental increased knowledge about nature and science.
But research is most commonly an open-ended project, widely shared through publication of results in accredited scientific journals, the articles carefully vetted prior to publication by scientific peers to ensure accuracy and probity. Even when countries have uneasy relationships, as with the United States and Russia, their scientists exchange information and often collaborate on experiments.
The scientific community is generally an open one, with the exception of those within closed societies whose governments are secretive, controlling and dictate the manner in which their scientific communities are expected to act and react.
Canada is an open society, a liberal democracy. So, it is both surprising and immensely disappointing that the current government has taken steps to stifle experimental results, informing government scientists they may not freely share data without express permission.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientists have recently received notification that they may not promulgate findings without the express permission of managers assigned to the task of overseeing public disclosure. New publication procedures were sent along to federal fisheries scientists informing them that DFO managers will decide when and if studies can be published in external scientific journals.
This is by no means the first time or the first department where government scientists have been informed that they must submit requests for special permission to publish findings that would most certainly be of interest to other scientific groups, let alone the general public. DFO scientists have a tradition of collaborating with other researchers across Canada and abroad in assessments of various projects, from sea ice to wildlife contamination levels.
"This is a greater exertion of control over the communication of science. There is no other way to interpret it", said fisheries scientist Jeffrey Hutchings at Dalhousie University, whose opinion it is that the new rules will have a "chilling effect" preventing vital scientific findings from public distribution.
This represents an affront to academic freedom and a "potential muzzle", added Andreas Muenchow, of the University of Delaware. Dr. Muenchow has been collaborating with DFO scientists in the Eastern Arctic since 2003. He takes as much umbrage as Canadian researchers at the prospect of scientists being prevented from publishing findings, or sharing information with the media and the public.
He and DFO scientists deploy and retrieve instruments to asses oceanographic conditions in the Nares Strait running between Ellesmere Island and Greenland, where ice choking the strait may have a significant effect on ocean circulation.
"It's absolutely unbelievable", commented one federal scientist who preferred to remain anonymous, adding that the rules seem to indicate that the situation is "all about control".
The research office at the University of Delaware is negotiating with DFO officials to rework their agreement so that it no longer has the effect to "sign away my freedom to speak, publish, educate, learn and share", explained Dr. Muenchow.
The Government of Canada should allow itself to understand that it cannot and should not impose such restrictions on Canadian federal scientists who should remain free to speak, publish, educate, learn and share. Anything else represents a scandalously short-sighted and self-harming determination that will impact deleteriously on Canadian science.